CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Supreme Court Narrows Exclusionary Rule

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of an Alabama man on drug and weapons charges, emphasizing that the exclusionary rule, which generally bars prosecutors from using evidence obtained by the police through improper searches, is far from absolute.

In a 5-to-4 opinion, the court upheld the federal conviction of Bennie Dean Herring, who from the court records appears to have been very unlucky as well as felonious in his conduct. In upholding the conviction, the court’s majority came to a conclusion that will most likely please those who complain about criminals going free on “technicalities.”

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January 14, 2009 in Criminal Law, Search and Seizure, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Incentive program gives prisoners second chance

Some defendants sentenced to imprisonment in the state corrections system now have an opportunity to be paroled early.

Offenders who are eligible for a Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive program can be released prior to their minimum sentence provided they complete required treatment programs while incarcerated, said Armstrong County President Judge Kenneth Valasek.

A state law passed in November permits the early release for nonviolent offenders sentenced to the state system.

In passing the law, the state legislature is "trying to provide an incentive to state prisoners to successfully complete all the required treatment programs as quickly as possible while they're in prison," Valasek said.

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January 14, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Immigration Cases Soar, Represent Half of All Federal Prosecutions

Immigration prosecutions have soared during the Bush administration, representing more than half of all federal prosecutions, up from 18 percent in the first fiscal year of Bush's presidency, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

In the most recent available month's numbers, a total of 11,454 immigration prosecutions in September 2008 represents a 700 percent increase from the same month in 2001, the year Bush took office, according to TRAC, which compiles data from the government's own records.

The shift in government enforcement raises the share of immigration cases as a proportion of all federal filings from 18 percent in fiscal year 2001 to 31 percent in 2004, the last year of Bush's first term, to 51 percent by fiscal year 2008, which ended in October.

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January 14, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Double Victory for Criminal Defendants

The Supreme Court issued two opinions this morning, both of them striking down lower court opinions that had favored prosecutors. Over at the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, professor Doug Berman is already proclaiming that the decisions offer further proof that theCourt is the "most pro-defendant appellate court in the nation on sentencing issues."


In Chambers v. United States, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing for a unanimous Court, the justices agreed that a conviction on the charge of "failure to report" to prison is not the kind of prior "violent felony" conviction that triggers a 15-year mandatory prison sentence for someone found guilty of illegal possession of a firearm.

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January 14, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court again rebukes Portage County judge

An Ohio appeals court has upbraided a controversial Portage County judge for a second time in as many weeks " this time for finding a young public defender in contempt.

The 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals found Wednesday that Municipal Judge John Plough "abused his discretion" when he fined attorney Brian Jones for refusing to proceed with trial in 2007.

Jones was just four months out of law school and had been assigned the case only the day before. Jones said he had a duty to his client to be able to prepare. Plough ordered the young attorney held and later fined him.

"I'm glad I've been exonerated," Jones said Friday in a telephone interview.

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January 14, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rejected juror figures in bid for new trial

In September 1997, an overweight black woman was excluded from a criminal trial jury in Binghamton because of a prosecutor’s claim that fat people tend to take sides with the defense.

Now, the black man who was convicted of gun and drug charges in that case may get a new trial.

Seth Dolphy, 32, a state prison inmate, claims the prosecutor used his opinion about the woman’s weight only as a pretext for keeping an African-American off the jury.

A federal appeals court that heard legal arguments on the case in Buffalo last fall has ordered a federal district judge to take a second look at the case of Dolphy, who was convicted in the case by a Broome County jury.

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January 13, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The BART shooting: Are violent protests the answer?

Oaklandriots What is it people used to say about urban centers during the civil rights protests of the '60s? Tinderbox.

No question that Oakland is a full-on bonfire, soaked in gasoline and just waiting for a match or two. Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson and reporter Henry Lee have provided readers a long running and deep image of a city off its moorings, from hapless (or absent or corrupt) government leaders to rampant homicide.

So is it the fuming frustrations of Oakland that provided the tinder for riotous, violent protest Wednesday night, and the shooting of Oscar Grant in a BART station the flame?

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January 13, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Speedy Trial Case Before Supreme Court This Week

After he was charged with hitting his girlfriend in the face, career criminal Michael Brillon sat in jail without bail for nearly three years, going through six public defenders before being tried for assault.

The delays paid off -- for Brillon, anyway: A Vermont court threw out his conviction and freed him from prison last spring, saying his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial had been violated.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case, trying to decide whether delays caused by public defenders can deprive a criminal defendant of that right. In particular: Whether governments can be blamed for such delays because they're the ones who assign and pay the lawyers for indigent defendants.

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January 12, 2009 in Criminal Law, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Obstruction of justice charge 'upped the ante' against Kent

The government raised the stakes in the criminal case against U.S. District Judge Sam Kent, now accusing a man who swore to protect the system with thwarting it instead, legal experts said Wednesday.

They said the obstruction of justice charge added with sexual abuse allegations against Kent this week boosts the government's overall case in several ways. That new charge may be the easiest to prove and carries a hefty 20-year sentence. It also takes the matter beyond the "he said/she said" standoff of the sexual charges.

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January 9, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Colorado Judge Allows Twitter In Courtroom

The courtroom now includes Twitter.

What?  Twitter inside the courtroom?

Yes, it’s true.  A Colorado judge recently approved the use of Twitter, and blogs, inside the courtroom to cover an infant-abuse trial.

Wichita Eagle (Kansas) reporter, Ron Sylvester, pushed for the court to allow the use of Twitter for his courtroom reporting.

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January 9, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Growing old behind bars

The number of older prisoners in Virginia has more than doubled in the past 10 years, creating new issues for the state's prison system.

CAPRON Winter sunshine slices through a narrow security window and falls on Aloysius Joseph Beyrer's white hair, slight shoulders and the linen covering his fractured hip.

Like the rest of the country, Virginia is coping with a growing number of aging inmates. Beyrer, 84, is the state's oldest and his home, the Deerfield Correctional Center, focuses on geriatric inmates.

In 1999, Virginia had 2,015 prisoners 50 or older. Today, there are almost 4,700, and by 2011, state officials expect there to be 5,057.

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January 7, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Kidnappings in Mexico Send Shivers Across Border

Four hooded men smashed in the door to the adobe home of an 80-year-old farmer here in November, handcuffing his frail wrists and driving him to a makeshift jail. They released him after relatives and friends paid a $9,000 ransom, which included his life savings.

The kidnapping was a dismal story of cruelty and heartbreak, familiar all across Mexico, but with a new twist: the daughter of this victim lived in the United States and was able to wire money to help assemble his ransom, the farmer, who insisted that he not be identified by name, said in an interview.

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January 5, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

'Justified homicides' more than doubled

One hour after revelers welcomed the new year in 2008, a motorist at a Northwest Side intersection fired three shots into 24-year-old Tomas Garza, moments after authorities said Garza threatened the motorist with a baseball bat in an apparent road-rage incident.

The killing, the first of 137 recorded in San Antonio last year, was an act of self-defense, police later determined, and was classified by department officials as a justified homicide.

While the total number of killings in San Antonio barely budged in 2008 — up only slightly from the 134 recorded the prior year — detectives noted an upswing in cases in which the shooter was found to be within his rights, from instances of apparent self-defense to protecting one's home and family.

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January 5, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Groups sue Bush over last-minute rule changes

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence sued the Bush administration yesterday in hopes of stopping a new policy that would allow people to carry concealed, loaded guns in most national parks and wildlife refuges.

"The Bush administration's last-minute gift to the gun lobby, allowing concealed semiautomatic weapons in national parks, jeopardizes the safety of park visitors in violation of federal law," said Paul Helmke, the group's president. "We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry concealed firearms in our parks."

An Interior Department spokeswoman refused to comment on the lawsuit, saying the department does not discuss pending litigation.

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January 2, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

'Lethal Warriors' in Iraq, linked to string of crimes back home

Reporting from Orange County and Colorado Springs -- They nicknamed themselves the Lethal Warriors, and during two tours in Iraq, the soldiers of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry regiment confronted some of the war's cruelest fighting, hunting insurgents through the warrens of Baghdad and Tikrit amid roadside bombs, mortar fire and close-quarters firefights. By June 2007, in what one field commander called the "heart of darkness," the unit was losing a soldier a day in a body bag or on a stretcher. Over two tours, 33 of them had died.

On Nov. 30, 2007, Kenneth Eastridge, a wiry, heavily tattooed survivor of the fighting, found himself at a rough Colorado Springs bar called the Rum Bay, not far from the unit's Ft. Carson base. Eastridge, a high school dropout from the projects of Louisville, Ky., had joined the Army to escape what seemed the dead-end prospects of civilian life, only to run repeatedly afoul of Army rules and face a court-martial.

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January 2, 2009 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Judges rule three-strikes sentence unconstitutional

California's three-strikes sentencing law suffered a blow Tuesday when a federal appeals court struck down as unconstitutional a 28-years-to-life sentence for a sex offender who failed to register with local police at the correct time of year.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case of Cecilio Gonzalez back to federal district court in Los Angeles for resentencing after finding his 2001 penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the 8th Amendment.

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December 31, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Emotions tested in a year of crime

The criminal landscape of 2008 reminded all of us how fragile — and strange — life can be.

It was a tragic year for police officers, with the Houston Police Department losing three to violent circumstances. As a result, Texas again led the nation for officer deaths in the line of duty.

2008 also was a tragic year for young children who apparently suffered at the hands of their parents — including a 3-month-old boy found stomped to death in a roadside ditch in Galveston and two Pasadena siblings whose burned bodies were found a week after they disappeared on Father's Day.

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December 31, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Feds consider searches of terrorism blogs

Homeland Security Department may soon start scouring the Internet to find blogs and message boards that terrorists use to plan attacks in the USA.

The effort comes as researchers are seeing terrorists increasingly use the Internet to plan bombings, recruit members and spread propaganda. "Blogging and message boards have played a substantial role in allowing communication among those who would do the United States harm," the department said in a recent notice.

Homeland Security officials are looking for companies to search the Internet for postings "in near to real-time which precede" an attack, particularly a bombing. Bombings are "of great concern" because terrorists can easily get materials and make an improvised-explosive device (IED), the department said.

"There is a lot of IED information generated by terrorists everywhere — websites, forums, people telling you where to buy fertilizer and how to plant IEDs," said Hsinchun Chen, director of the University of Arizona's Artificial Intelligence Lab. Chen's "Dark Web" research project has found 500,000,000 terrorist pages and postings, including tens of thousands that discuss IEDs.

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December 26, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

How To Prosecute a Shoe-Thrower

Muntadar al-Zaida, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, will stand trial Dec. 31, the BBC reported Monday. He's being charged with "aggression against a foreign head of state," which carries a prison term of between five and 15 years. If a reporter here in the United States flung his footwear at, say, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, would he do time?

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December 26, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jewish group leader complains about Rubashkin treatment

A leader of one of the country’s most prominent Jewish groups complained to the U.S. attorney general Wednesday about the treatment of a former Iowa meatpacking executive.

The complaint centers on the government’s decision to deny bail to Sholom Rubashkin, the longtime leader of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Ia.

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December 25, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)