CrimProf Blog

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lost-gun ordinances usually fire blanks

Lose a gun in Cleveland and fail to report it to police and you could face a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. But in the 12 years that ordinance has been on Cleveland's books, only two people have been taken to court for failing to report a lost or stolen gun.

That experience, and those of other cities, suggests that Pittsburgh's proposed ordinance on reporting lost or stolen guns and others cropping up all over the state and nation warrant neither the fear they are engendering in foes, nor the hope they inspire in advocates.

The target for anti-violence advocates is the so-called straw purchaser -- someone with no criminal record who can therefore pass a background check and buy a gun, but then sell it or let it fall into the hands of someone who uses it for crime. When police trace that gun back to the original purchaser, that person often gets off the hook by claiming it was stolen or lost.

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October 31, 2008 in Guns | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Why Did Key Angola Witness Go To The 'Dog Pen'?

Louisiana's Angola prison is often referred to as "The Farm." On one edge of its vast acres of corn and cotton are the prison's isolation cells, where two inmates, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, spent the past 36 years in solitary confinement. On the other side, high on a hill is a far more comfortable place: the dog pen.

"This is the place to be, I mean look around," says inmate Randolph Matthews, standing in front of a dozen barking dogs separated by cages. "There's no fences, you live in a house, you have perks. If you didn't know it, you would never know you were even in prison."


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

When the Police Go Through Your Email: Quirk of Search Law Sets Off Alarm Bells

When you look at your BlackBerry, you see a gadget full of important email, contacts and other files. Increasingly, authorities see admissible evidence.

In a small but growing number of cases, customs officials and police officers have been carrying out warrantless searches of the contents of laptops, mobile phones and other wireless devices. This spring, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in California ruled that "reasonable suspicion is not needed for customs officials to search a laptop or other personal electronic storage devices at the border," including international airports.

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October 31, 2008 in Search and Seizure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

19 crimes tied to mental health patients

State officials last week opened an investigation into the latest case of an Allegheny County mental health patient connected to a violent crime.

The state Department of Public Welfare doesn't comment on the details of such investigations, but the newest one coincides with the death of 39-year-old Dawn McGuire, whose decomposing body was found Thursday in the Shadyside apartment of David Wayne Alexander.

Police have charged Mr. Alexander, 40, with homicide. He told police that he strangled Ms. McGuire, according to a criminal complaint. The pair had lived together for several months.

Mr. Alexander, who has used a wheelchair since a car accident in North Carolina a decade ago, has a history of mental illness. Last year, he signed a court-ordered plan that compelled him to seek outpatient treatment at Mercy Behavioral Health.

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October 30, 2008 in Mentally Ill | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

L.A. announces plan to reduce backlog of unexamined DNA evidence from violent crimes

Top city officials Tuesday unveiled a plan to help the Los Angeles Police Department's crime lab reduce its massive backlog of unexamined DNA evidence from violent crimes, but they acknowledged that the funding for the proposal was less than certain.

Under the terms of the plan, which the City Council is expected to vote on today, the LAPD would allocate $700,000 to hire 16 more DNA analysts and support staff -- a boost of about 33% over current staffing. The city would also increase by $250,000 the funds earmarked to pay private laboratories that the LAPD hires to help with the daunting workload.

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October 30, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

After Hudson deaths, Chicago vows to fight rising murder rate

CHICAGO — he shooting deaths of three relatives of actress Jennifer Hudson are stirring debate about the reasons this city is the USA's homicide capital and adding urgency to efforts to stop the killing.

The bodies of Hudson's mother Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother Jason Hudson, 29, were found Friday. On Monday, the body of Julian King, 7, Hudson's nephew, was discovered. Police say William Balfour, 27, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson's sister Julia Hudson, is a "person of interest" in the case.

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October 30, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

FBI report: Anti-gay crimes up

Hate crimes against gays increased in 2007, up 6% from 2006 even though the overall number of hate crimes dropped slightly, the FBI reported Monday.

There were 7,624 hate crimes reported in 2007, down 1% from 2006. Crimes based on sexual orientation — 1,265 in 2007 — have been rising since 2005.

A hate crime is one motivated by bias against a person's race, religion, sexual orientation or other status.

"Until we make laws that make it clear these attacks are not OK, the nation will continue to be scarred," says Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. In 19 states, hate crime laws don't cover sexual orientation.

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October 29, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Two Mid-South men held in plot to kill Obama

Skinheadplot_t220 Two Mid-South men with strong white-supremacy beliefs are in custody after planning a state-to-state killing spree, targeting black citizens and ending with the assassination of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, federal authorities said Monday.

Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., near Jackson, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark., hatched their plan after they met on the Internet last month and discussed their shared interest in "White Power" and "Skinhead" philosophies, officials said.

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October 29, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ROY WASDEN: Proposition 5 would expand on the failures of Proposition 36

In November 2000, Proposition 36 won voter approval on the promises of lower prison populations, significant cost savings and lower crime rates by removing incarceration from the sentencing options available to judges dealing with drug defendants.

Under Proposition 36, judges can only order drug defendants to treatment. With no threat of incarceration, a judicial order to attend treatment is hollow and very few persons ordered into drug treatment even sign up for it. Defendants simply keep using drugs, almost always financed by criminal behavior. A precious few go to treatment and succeed but most addicts get sicker and sicker. They commit more and more crimes until their sickness and criminal behavior finally result in death or a sentence to incarceration for one of their other crimes.

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October 29, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State hopes new prisons, early release cut crowding

A steady rise in the number of inmates and the political risks of paroling prisoners early are complicating the state's efforts to ease crowded conditions in its prisons.

The 27 existing lockups now hold nearly 47,000 inmates, which is up from a population of just over 36,000 in 1998. The number of inmates is now 8 percent over the current capacity of 43,300.

And the tide keeps on rising. State Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard estimates that the overall prison population could top 57,000 by the end of 2012. Legislators' desire to be "tough on crime" and the public's fear of rising drug-related crimes have led to longer and more mandatory sentences.

Correctional costs, at $1.6 billion for 2008-09, are the third biggest item in the $28 billion state budget, after education and welfare costs.

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October 28, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Progress Is Minimal in Clearing DNA Cases

LOS ANGELES — Local and state law enforcement agencies have made uneven progress in reducing a nationwide backlog of cases awaiting DNA analysis over the past four years, according to reports filed by more than 100 agencies with the National Institute of Justice.

The patchy results came despite stepped-up efforts by the federal government, including nearly $500 million in grants since 2004, to help crime laboratories reduce the backlog.

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October 28, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Davis backers come in all stripes

In his Oct. 21 op-ed about the Troy Davis death penalty case, Spencer Lawton, the district attorney who prosecuted the case in 1991, asserts that: “The only information the public has had in the 17 years since Troy Davis’ conviction has been generated by people ideologically opposed to the death penalty, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused.” That is simply not true.

And the fact that it is not true matters, just as the fact that Davis, whose execution has been stayed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, may be innocent matters.

Neither Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr nor former FBI Director William Sessions can be characterized as ideologically opposed to the death penalty. That shoe does not fit. Nor does it fit the many citizens of Georgia who simply want to hold the Board of Pardons and Paroles to its word: “[We] will not allow an execution to proceed … unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.”

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October 28, 2008 in Capital Punishment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Varied, Troubled Past May Affect Credibility

Michael Mineo, the 24-year-old man who has accused the police of brutality, spends much of his time at the Brooklyn tattoo parlor where he works as a body piercer, friends say, and calls his friends from there his brothers and sisters.

He has applied for a city license to apply tattoos, though officials said he has yet to complete the licensing process, and friends say he favors industrial work clothes like Dickies and the music of the rapper Lil Wayne.

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October 27, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Residency restrictions for sex offenders popular, but ineffective

Despite research that shows sex offender residency requirements actually hamper the rehabilitation of offenders, jurisdictions across the country continue to pass them, including Allegheny County last year.

Experts say the laws, which prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, day care centers and parks, also don't work to help cut down on recidivism.

These types of residency restrictions have been passed in at least 30 states and thousands of municipalities nationwide. Even as prosecutors, criminal justice researchers and child advocates say they don't work, parents and legislators continue to push for the tough laws.

County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, who was the primary author of the local bill passed in October 2007, said he wrote the law that parents wanted.

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October 27, 2008 in Criminal Justice Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Controversial DNA plan uncertain

Immigrant advocacy organizations are decrying a proposal by the Bush administration to collect DNA samples from federal detainees, including illegal immigrants.

Under the plan, the DNA samples would be added to the FBI's national database, which contains the genetic codes of millions of felons, the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday.

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October 27, 2008 in DNA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Louisiana Court of Appeals Trashed 2,500 Habeas Patitions

A 2007 suicide note by a clerk of the Louisiana Court of Appeals who killed himself at the courthouse revealed that 2500 prisoner petitions had been summarily rejected over a period of 13 years without having been read.  According to a reporter, "Although every criminal writ application is supposed to be reviewed by three judges, he was deputed to winnow out any that had been filed pro se and arrange for their automatic rejection."  The Louisiana Supreme Court ordered that the petitions be considered by judges not involved in the improper rejection. (Opinion here) However, some, including Supreme Court Justice Weimer, objected to allowing judges from the same circuit decide the petitions, because all of the judges knew about the improper practices for at least several onths before taking any steps to remedy it.  In addition, it is not clear that all of the judges cooperated fully with the police investigation of the suicide. According to the Times-Picayune, "In one investigative report, a detective wrote that Chief Judge Edward Dufresne Jr. was being evasive when asked some questions about problems with [the clerk's] employment, and withheld a suicide note from police for several hours after Peterson's death, until after officers had left the building."  [Jack Chin]  Thanks to Ted Schneyer for the tip.

October 27, 2008 in Civil Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

G. Kristian Miccio Sturm College of Law Professor of Criminal Law

Miccio_250x375 Prof. Miccio is a nationally recognized expert on the law as it affects survivors of male intimate violence. She has written, lectured, litigated and testified, at Congressional and State Legislative hearings, on the issue of male intimate violence, women survivors and conceptions of state accountability. Miccio was the author of the NYS law that opened up the family and criminal courts to survivors of male intimate violence and one of the authors of the state’s mandatory arrest law in domestic violence cases. She has won numerous awards for her work on behalf of battered women-and for her teaching. And she has been interviewed by the print and electronic media on such matters as hate crimes, violence against women, Miranda, the OJ Simpson, Kobe Bryant and Laci Peterson cases, to name a few. At the College of Law, Prof. Miccio teaches criminal law and procedure, family law, jurisprudence, and seminars on the Holocaust, the Law and Domestic Violence. In 2007, Miccio was awarded a Fulbright and taught at University College of Dublin School of Law and lectured throughout Ireland on the issue of male intimate violence, the state and conceptions of state accountability. [Mark Godsey]

October 25, 2008 in Weekly CrimProf Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Debaters argue over Utah's approach to addressing polygamy

Is Utah selling out children or protecting the constitutional rights of its citizens? Those were the clashing views of two speakers debating the state's approach to dealing with polygamy Wednesday at the University of Utah's College of Law. Marci A. Hamilton, of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, charged Utah officials with "whitewashing" problems within polygamous communities. Kirk Torgensen of the Utah Attorney General's Office offered a defense, saying the state has successfully prosecuted individual cases without "throwing a net at a whole bunch of people because they happen to hold certain beliefs."

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October 24, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Prop. 5 is no boon to violent offenders

As a law professor who teaches criminal law and procedure in California, I feel compelled to weigh in on the debate over Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act. I write not as a supporter of Proposition 5 but as a law professor concerned that voters are provided correct information. A poor interpretation of Proposition 5, promoted by some biased parties, has so taken hold that several large newspapers (including The Times) have come out against the measure based on this view. I will propose what, in my view, is an accurate reading of Proposition 5 and its likely effect on California's criminal justice system.

Misleading claim: Proposition 5 gives criminals a "get out of jail free" card.

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October 24, 2008 in Criminal Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Judge backs county inmates in jail case

A federal judge has sided with inmates' claims that conditions in Maricopa County jails continue to violate their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake on Wednesday modified a 1995 judgment that laid guidelines for a wide range of issues in Maricopa County jails, including medical and mental-health care, population control and record keeping.

Maricopa County sheriff's officials said they plan to comply with the judge's orders.

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October 24, 2008 in Sentencing Corrections | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)