CrimProf Blog

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

San Francisco Mayor Proposes Firetrucks on Corners to Deter Crime

On Monday, at a City Hall meeting with police and fire chiefs, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom suggested that parking fire trucks, manned with firefighters who aren't responding to emergency calls, on street corners of crime-prone areas could be a viable crime deterrent for the city to explore.  Mayor Newsom's idea comes in response to an increased crime rate in San Francisco.  The city has 19 reported homicides so far in 2005, whereas at this time last year, there were only 13, and Mayor Newsom wants to take more action to reduce these violent crimes. reports:  "(Mayor Newsom said), 'I think the homicide rate is outrageous. This is my biggest burden.'  He said the city needs to look beyond traditional policing and consider creative tactics, such as putting fire trucks on the streets. There already are plans in the works to park city ambulances in outlying neighborhoods later this year so they can respond to calls faster."  Firefighters union chief John Hanley agreed that the visible presence of fire trucks on corners may prevent some crime, but raised safety concerns.   "We're firefighters. We're not armed. My guys don't have bulletproof vests,'' Hanley said. More from the San Francisco Chronicle... [Mark Godsey]

March 9, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Pace CrimProf Files Ethics Complaint Against DA

Bennett Gershman, of Pace Law School, is one of a number of lawyers who have filed ethics complaints against the Westchester County DA.  The complaints have to do with the DA's public pronouncements about the guilt of particular defendants made at the time charges are filed. [Jack Chin]

March 9, 2005 in CrimProfs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Sperm Clock"

British scientists are studying methods of dating sperm found in the course of criminal investigations to corroborate or refute victim claims, as well as to defeat the tactic some rapists employ of smearing sperm beloning to someone else in the course of a rape. [Jack Chin]

March 9, 2005 in Technology | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

FBI's Chemical Bullet Lead Analysis Challenged

On Monday, a New Jersey appeals court overturned a murder conviction and ruled that the FBI crime lab's chemical bullet lead analysis ("CBLA") used to connect the bullets to the defendant is based on "erroneous scientific foundations."  Since 1980, this technique has been used in about 2,500 cases and mentioned in court testimony about 500 times.  The technique, known as "chaining," compares the chemical composition of a series of bullets' lead content.  For example, (as reported by the Associated Press), if analysts "find that bullet A is like bullet B and B is like C and C is like D and so on, they then conclude that A is the same as E because they are part of the same chain."  The National Academy of Sciences, a private organization chartered by Congress, has publicly questioned the technique in a report last year, but William Tobin, a retired FBI metallurgist, was the first to doubt its scientific validity.  He submitted testimony in William Behn's case, whose conviction was overturned on Monday.  Chaining was used to link bullets found at Behn's house to bullets found at the crime scene; this expert testimony was the only expert testimony not countered by Behn's defense, and the court wouldn't allow a conviction to stand based on this evidence alone.  The court stated,  "The integrity of the criminal justice system is ill-served by allowing a conviction based on evidence of this quality, whether described as false, unproven or unreliable, to stand."  Barry Scheck, president of the National Association of Defense Lawyers, aniticipates that the FBI's technique will be questioned in other courts.  "You can't use it [the chaining technique] for any probative evidentiary purpose. In many of these cases, people have been wrongly convicted."  More... [Mark Godsey]

March 9, 2005 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

How Easy Is Credit Card Fraud?

CreditcardfraudNotice how retailers rarely check your signature against your driver's license when you sign credit card receipts?  Internet prankster John Hargrave set out to determine just how easy it is to commit credit card fraud.  He got away with signing his name Kris P. Creme on a Dunkin Donuts receipt (left), signed another "transaction not authorized," and even drew parts of his body on the signature line.  The results of his credit card adventures can be found here and here.

(Note:  We do not condone credit card fraud even if hilarious) [Mark Godsey]

March 8, 2005 in Criminal Law | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Conference: Caught in the Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women and Families

March 17, 2005, at NYU Law.  Info here. [Jack Chin]

March 8, 2005 in Conferences | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

New Article Spotlight: Prosecuting Negligent Parents

CrimProf Jennifer M. Collins of Wake Forest has posted Crime and Parenthood:  The Uneasy Case for Prosecution of Negligent Parents on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

More than 5600 children die in this country every year as the result of unintentional injuries. Although these deaths are not all the result of parental negligence, a significant percentage are. Despite the prevalence of this phenomenon, we know almost nothing about how these cases are treated by the criminal justice system. Commentators frequently claim, without empirical support, that parents are rarely prosecuted, and prosecutors are relying on this common perception in making charging decisions in individual cases. This article broadens our understanding of how the criminal justice system treats parental negligence cases by reporting on the results of my empirical study examining one common cause of death, leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle. The results fly in the face of conventional wisdom: parents were in fact prosecuted in more than fifty percent of the incidents. Moreover, blue collar parents were far more likely to be prosecuted than parents from wealthier socio-economic groups.

The article then shifts from the descriptive to the normative, as it considers the extremely difficult question whether these parents should be prosecuted. Specifically, what should be the relevance of a defendant's emotional suffering when making a prosecution decision? The article argues that consideration of suffering is best left to the time of sentencing, because declining to charge defendants who are experiencing emotional pain as the result of the crimes they committed denigrates the lives of child victims and raises real concerns about equality of treatment

To obtain the paper, click here.  [Mark Godsey]

March 8, 2005 in Scholarship | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Bush Orders Courts To Review Convictions of Foreign Nationals on Death Row

From the DPIC:  "The White House has ordered state courts to consider the complaints of 51 Mexican foreign nationals on death row in the United States. This Executive Order is an abrupt international policy shift for the Bush administration and comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider what effect U.S. courts should give to a ruling in favor of the 51 foreign nationals by the United Nations' highest tribunal, the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The World Court found that the U.S. government had failed to comply with the requirements of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and it directed that U.S. courts give the Mexican foreign national inmates "meaningful review" of their convictions and sentences, without applying procedural default rules to prevent consideration of the defendants' claims. In his memorandum to the attorney general, President Bush stated that he had determined "that the United States will discharge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice" and he ordered the state courts to grant review. It is unclear if the Administration's decision will affect the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of the case."   More . . . [Mark Godsey]

March 8, 2005 in Capital Punishment | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 7, 2005

Georgia State CrimProf Ellen Podgor Comments on Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart refers to her prison time as "life affirming and life altering."  Stewart, who spent much of her prison time focusing on sentencing guideline-reform, claims she has truly changed.  Georgia State CrimProf Ellen Podgor, who recently authored Arthur Andersen, LLP and Martha Stewart: Should Materiality be an Element of Obstruction of Justice?, explained to the AP that Stewart probably is changed because the stigma of prison time affects white collar criminals much more than other criminals, and causes white collar criminals to genuinely reflect on their poor judgments that landed them with hard time.  A prison term ''is mind altering. I don't think it's just for the press what's being said (by Stewart about being changed)'' said Podgor.  On the other hand, noting the public's increased interest in Stewarts products and the increasing price of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. stock, Podgor differentiated Stewart's case from other white collar criminals: ''[T]he stigma, society's stigma, that is the greatest penalty faced by white-collar not happening here."  So as Stewart begins her 5 months of house arrest, only time will tell if her prison time affected her as it does most white collar criminals.  Fred Shapiro, a lawyer who served time for bank fraud in Philadelphia in the 1990s, and went back to prison for a separate episode of white-collar crime 10 years later commented, ''Everyone says they've changed after they've left prison, but...[c]haracter is who you are when no one is looking...[o]nly she will know if she has changed.'' More... [Mark Godsey]

March 7, 2005 in White Collar | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

ABA Race and Racism Committee Conference on Culture and Crime

April 2, 2005 at the University of Florida College of Law.  Schedule here, registration form here.  [Jack Chin]

March 7, 2005 in Conferences | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Two New Supreme Court Decisions Today

From  "The U.S. Supreme Court March 7 decided two cases related to the criminal justice system. In Wilkinson v. Dotson, No. 03-287, (here) the court held that state prisoners challenging the constitutionality of state parole procedures are not limited to pursuing relief under federal habeas corpus statutes, but instead may proceed by way of an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief. The court emphasized that success in such a challenge would not necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of a prisoner's confinement or its duration.

In the other case, Shepard v. United States, No. 03-9168, (here) the court, declining to "ease away" from Taylor v. United States, decided that the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924, which provides a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a firearm by a felon when the offender has three prior convictions of qualifying felonies, does not permit a sentencing judge who is determining whether a prior burglary conviction based on a guilty plea qualifies as a predicate felony under the statute to base that determination on police reports or other evidence that is beyond the charging document, the plea agreement, the record of the defendant's admission of the factual basis for the plea, or comparable judicial records used or made in adjudicating guilt in the prior case."  The Berman Blog has insight on Shepard here.  [Mark Godsey]

March 7, 2005 in Supreme Court | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Former FBI Chief and Former Federal Judges Ask Supreme Court to Review Ohio Capital Case

From the DPIC:  "Former FBI Chief and federal judge William Sessions recently joined two other former federal judges and a prosecutor urging the U.S. Supreme Court to consider an appeal from Ohio death row inmate John Spirko. In their brief, Sessions and his colleagues assert that the prosecution argued a theory at Spirko's trial that it had to know was at least partly suspect. "When the ultimate penalty is at issue, justice demands scrupulous conduct from prosecutors. It is not enough for a prosecutor to weigh all of the evidence, determine that a defendant is guilty, and pursue such a verdict vigorously if he holds back information unfavorable to his desired outcome," reads the group's brief.  Ohio originally charged Spirko and a co-defendant with the murder of postal worker in 1982. Evidence has since surfaced indicating that the state had photos showing that the co-defendant was 500 miles away at the time of the murder. Spirko maintains that those photos should have been turned over to the defense. The co-defendant was never tried for the murder and the state eventually dropped charges against him."  More . . .  [Mark Godsey]

March 7, 2005 in Capital Punishment | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Exoneration Roundup

Here's a story on a study of whether fingerprint analysis can give rise to valid scientific opinion. Here's an article about a Virginia case where a trial judge has been asked to resolve a conflict between three rock-solid eyewitnesses who are contradicted by a DNA test.  An article from Minnesota explains the difficulties public defenders face when they deal with cases involving complex scientific evidence.  [Jack Chin]

March 7, 2005 in Exoneration Innocence Accuracy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

California Death Penalty Paying for Both Sides

Berkeley CrimProf Franklin Zimring and USC CrimProf Michael Brennan are quoted in this article about why California has 20% of the United States death row population but only 1% of the executions, and the costs flowing from the strong feelings on both sides. [Jack Chin]

March 7, 2005 in Capital Punishment | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Invalid Search Warrant Severable

Here's a case from the South Carolina Court of Appeals holding that while a search warrant was unconstitutionally overbroad for lack of a particualr description, the invalid portions could be severed from the valid portions, and the critical elements of the search upheld.  The court cited the LaFave treatise as well as state and lower federal court cases. Thanks to Flynn Carey for the tip. [Jack Chin]

March 7, 2005 in Search and Seizure | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Academic Job Site

Here.  It looks like it is just getting started, but there are some criminal justice jobs listed. [Jack Chin]

March 7, 2005 in CrimProfs | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Northwestern Law Professor Slams Law School Exams

Steven Lubet's article in The American Lawyer argues:  "There is almost nothing about the typical law school examination that is really designed to test the skills involved in law practice. And many aspects of exams are positively perverse. Take time pressure, for example. By their nature, exams are time-limited, usually to about three or four hours, during which it is necessary to assess the problems, decide on the answers, marshal the material (whether strictly from memory or from an "open book"), and then write, hopefully, coherent answers. There is no opportunity for reflection, research, reconsideration or redrafting. You simply dash off your answer and hope you got it right. No competent lawyer would approach a serious problem under comparable conditions (except in an extreme and extraordinary emergency); in fact, that would probably be malpractice."  More . . .   [Mark Godsey]

March 7, 2005 in Teaching | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

Terrorism Suspects Sent to Foreign Countries for Interrogation After 9/11

From  "The Bush administration gave the CIA extensive authority to send terrorism suspects to foreign countries for interrogation just days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.  Citing current and former government officials, the newspaper reported President Bush signed a still-classified directive that gave the CIA a broad power to operate without case-by-case approval from the White House in the transfer of suspects — a process known as rendition. 

The rendition program has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after several former detainees have complained of inhumane treatment and human rights groups have complained the operations violated American standards condemning torture.  While renditions were carried out before the Sept. 11 attacks, since then the CIA has flown 100 to 150 suspects to countries including Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan, former government officials told the Times."  Full story . . .   [Mark Godsey]

March 7, 2005 in Confessions and Interrogation, Homeland Security, International | Permalink | TrackBack (0)


Sentencing Law and Policy has a post on Booker and the crack/power disparity.  The award-winning Grits for Breakfast has a post on drivers' knowledge of the right to refuse consent and the granting of consent.  WhiteCollarCrimeProf has a post on Martha Stewart.  [Jack Chin]

March 7, 2005 in Blog Watch | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Happy Birthday to

McGruff, the Crime Dog, who turned 25 in February. He celebrated with dinner at Applebee's. [Jack Chin]

March 6, 2005 in Miscellaneous | Permalink | TrackBack (0)