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2008 Prison News & Views

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December 2008


Judges rule three-strikes sentence unconstitutional

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says a 28-years-to-life penalty for a sex offender who failed to register at the proper time is cruel and unusual punishment.

By Carol J. Williams  

12-31-08 -- 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 re-sentencing after finding his 2001 penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the 8th Amendment. . . . Gonzalez's harsh sentence was grossly disproportionate to his "entirely passive, harmless and technical violation of the registration law," the appeals court said. . . . The California Penal Code requires a sex offender to register whereabouts annually within five working days of an ex-convict's birthday. Gonzalez had registered in Los Angeles County in May 2000 and confirmed his address a year later, meeting the yearly requirement but violating the deadline of his Feb. 24 birthday.


A ruling in Mass. on how many jurors it takes to make a trial

Sheri Qualters / Staff reporter

12-30-08 -- The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued a pair of decisions clarifying state law concerning criminal trials with fewer than the required number of jurors. . . . In one of two unanimous Dec. 23 decisions, the court affirmed that a defendant may constitutionally waive the right to a verdict by a six-member jury, the minimum required in district court trials in Massachusetts. Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Nicoll, No. SJC-10133 (Mass.). . . . The judge in the Nicoll case declared a mistrial without giving the defendant the option to waive the six-person requirement when a juror was disqualified because he recognized the first witness. According to Associate Justice Robert Cordy's opinion, the state was barred from retrying the defendant for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol on double jeopardy grounds.


Lawsuit begins with end of parrot

Inmates' rights questioned after man not allowed to make call

By Sean O'sullivan • The News Journal

12-29-08 -- The death of Freddy the parrot could be debated in federal courts. . . . It also could raise questions about the right of the accused to get "one phone call" after being arrested. . . . Thomas Goodrich charges in a lawsuit he filed this month that he never got that call, causing his expensive and beloved blue and gold macaw to starve to death. . . . Goodrich alleges he was held on a misdemeanor warrant in Young Correctional Institution for 12 days, unable to get word out to anyone to help him post bail or get food to his pet parrots. . . . It took him nearly 10 days to barter for a stamp to get a letter to a friend about his predicament, according to the suit that Goodrich filed without an attorney.


Thousands of Resentencings Narrow Gap Between Crack, Powder Cocaine Penalties

Mary Pat Gallagher, New Jersey Law Journal

12-23-08 -- Federal judges across the country have lowered thousands of crack cocaine sentences this year in a massive resentencing effort aimed at narrowing the disparity between penalties for the crack and powder forms of the drug. . . . A report released last week by the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows that since March, courts have handled 17,168 motions for a reduced sentence and granted 12,119 of them, or 70.6 percent. . . . Eighty-six of those motions were made in the District of New Jersey, where all but two were granted. . . . The slew of motions is the result of a change in the sentencing guidelines last year. In April 2007, the sentencing commission proposed an amendment to shorten sentences for crack cocaine offenses by lowering the base levels by two. The commission said it acted to alleviate the "urgent and compelling" problems resulting from penalties for crack cocaine that are the same as those for 100 times the amount of powder cocaine. Congress failed to act, so the change took effect on Nov. 1, 2007.


Court limits appeals

State's justices rule against free legal representation for cases between 1994 and 2005.

George Hunter / The Detroit News

12-23-08 -- Poor defendants who want to appeal a case after they pleaded guilty or no contest cannot get free legal representation if they were convicted between 1994 and 2005, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Monday. . . . The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 struck down as unconstitutional a Michigan law that barred the right to an appellate attorney for defendants who pleaded guilty or no contest. . . . On Monday, the state's High Court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision three years ago applies only to defendants who were convicted after the federal ruling, or before the law barring automatic appeals went into effect in 1994.

'Victim videos' grow — but still controversial

Defense counsel object to prejudicial impact of victim impact videos.

Vesna Jaksic / Staff reporter

12-22-08 -- Although prosecutors applaud the increasing use of courtroom videos and multimedia presentations as a means to humanize victims and demonstrate the impact of the crimes they are prosecuting, defense lawyers are worried about the prejudicial effect of playing on jurors' emotions. . . . Called "victim impact evidence," these presentations are typically produced by the victim's family and shown in the sentencing phase of a capital trial. . . . The videos — some of which are as long as 20 minutes and feature a mix of soft music, photography and narration — recently caused a debate among the U.S. Supreme Court justices, who disagreed about whether they should revisit the issue of their admissibility. . . . Because the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear the attempt to block the videos' use, observers expect prosecutors in more states to start using the tool more often.


Cuyahoga Jail lacks rules on prescriptions for inmates

Posted by Peter Krouse/Plain Dealer Reporter

12-11-08 -- The Cuyahoga County Jail has no formal policy for determining which inmates get their prescription medications shortly after arriving and which inmates must wait up to two weeks before they get their drugs. . . . Decisions are made case by case, with a medical assistants screening inmates upon arrival and a registered nurse conducting a more extensive physical, usually within two to three days. Some inmates, like Sean Levert, have to wait as long as 14 days to see a doctor before they're given medicine they were taking upon arrival. . . . Levert died March 30, six days after entering the jail. He surrendered 37 Xanax pills but was never given a new prescription. A coroner's report determined Xanax withdrawal contributed to his death.

Read all The Plain Dealer's coverage of the Sean Levert case.

Cuyahoga County jail's practice is in sharp contrast to the largest county jail system in the state. At the Franklin County jail, which includes Columbus, the staff has written guidelines for dealing with specific drugs. Inmates who arrive with a prescription psychiatric medications, for instance, must surrender them but are given a replacement bottle by the jail pharmacy right away.


Hospital videotapes may jeopardize child sex abuse convictions

By Tracey Kaplan, Mercury News

12-6-08 -- Santa Clara County prosecutors have learned of the existence of an estimated 3,000 videotapes of medical examinations in child sex-abuse cases dating to 1991 that never were provided to defense attorneys — evidence that in many of the cases could provide a basis to challenge convictions. . . . Prosecutors said the trove of tapes came to light after medical experts hired by two convicted defendants belatedly discovered videotapes in their cases and concluded they contradicted medical findings that sexual abuse had occurred. . . . In those cases the new evidence proved crucial — one conviction has been overturned, and the second is in jeopardy — but prosecutors say they do not expect the new videotapes to raise doubts in many cases. Still, the case files must be located and reviewed — a daunting task whose extent became clear only last week.


Prison officials ask for $66 million to help stop cell phone smuggling

By Mike Ward, American-Statesman Staff

12-4-08 -- State prison officials, moving to address the headline-grabbing security breach caused by smuggled cell phones, on Wednesday proposed spending nearly $66 million on high-tech gear to curb contraband. . . . The plan is more than twice as costly as an earlier-announced plan to beef up security at Texas' 112 state prisons and is larger than several past programs to build prisons. . . . Smuggled cell phones have been an issue since October, when death row convict Richard Lee Tabler was busted for possessing a phone on which more than 2,800 calls had been made in one month — including calls to a state senator. . . . "We have a responsibility to Texans to stop this ... right now and right here," Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the nine-member Board of Criminal Justice, which was meeting Wednesday at an Austin hotel. . . . Board Chairman Oliver Bell said, "The games are over. We've just given everyone 66 million reasons about why we're very serious about this."


Inmates earn time off sentences cleaning up human waste, bodily fluids

By Marie Rohde of the Journal Sentinel

12-3-08 -- Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. is giving inmates one hour off their sentence for every hour they work cleaning up the blood, urine, feces, saliva, vomit and other bodily fluids that dirties the House of Correction and the Criminal Justice Facility, which includes the jail. . . . "Look, somebody has to do it," Clarke told a reporter. "It's cost-effective because the alternative is to pay a county worker to do the job. With pay and benefits, that comes to $30 an hour." . . . No inmate is forced to do the work, Clarke said, and those who perform the distasteful tasks are given biohazard training and protective gear. . . . "This isn't heart surgery, and it's not like we're asking them to handle nuclear waste," Clarke said. "It's janitorial work, and they do have to be trained properly because of AIDS and hepatitis."

November 2008


Court says lukewarm food hot enough for prison

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

11-26-08 -- State prison rules say inmates are entitled to two hot meals a day - but it's up to prison officials to decide how hot is hot enough, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday. . . . Observing that prisoners have no right to be served food at "the most aesthetically pleasing temperature," the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco overturned a judge's ruling that would have required Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte County to turn up the heat on meals to inmates in the security housing unit. . . . About 1,100 inmates are held in security housing because of their crimes, prison conduct or gang affiliations. Two of them filed suit over the food service, saying their breakfast and dinner were usually lukewarm at best, despite a Corrections Department regulation saying all prisoners are entitled to three meals a day, "two of which shall be served hot." . . . The inmates aren't allowed in the prison cafeteria but get their meals in trays through a port in their cell doors. By that time, said J. Frank McCabe, a lawyer for the inmates, "the evidence was uncontradicted that (the food) was not hot."

You can access the ruling at this link.


State Supreme Court: Sentence for sex offenders overruled

Life in prison breaks Eighth Amendment

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

11-26-08 -- The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down another provision of the state’s tough sex-offender law, calling mandatory life sentences for offenders who fail to register a second time “grossly disproportionate” punishment. . . . In a 6-1 decision, written by Justice Robert Benham, the court said the life sentence imposed upon 26-year-old Cedric Bradshaw of Statesboro violates the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. . . . “We conclude the imposition of a sentence of life imprisonment is so harsh in comparison to the crime for which it was imposed that it is unconstitutional,” Benham wrote. . . . Georgia’s sex-offender law has been under legal attack on a number of fronts. It requires offenders to register their addresses within 72 hours after release and makes it a crime for them to live within 1,000 feet of places children congregate.

Larger Inmate Population Is Boon to Private Prisons

By Stephanie Chen, Wall Street Joural

11-18-08 -- Prison companies are preparing for a wave of new business as the economic downturn makes it increasingly difficult for federal and state government officials to build and operate their own jails. . . . The Federal Bureau of Prisons and several state governments have sent thousands of inmates in recent months to prisons and detention centers run by Corrections Corp. of America, Geo Group Inc. and other private operators, as a crackdown on illegal immigration, a lengthening of mandatory sentences for certain crimes and other factors have overcrowded many government facilities. . . . Prison-policy experts expect inmate populations in 10 states to have increased by 25% or more between 2006 and 2011, according to a report by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts. . . . Private prisons housed 7.4% of the country's 1.59 million incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons as of the middle of 2007, up from 1.57 million in 2006, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a crime-data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.


Calif. Appeals Court Revives Transgender Inmate's Claim Against Prison System

Evan Hill, The Recorder

11-18-08 -- Breaking new ground in California, a state appeal court ruled Friday that prison guards owe their inmates a special duty of care, potentially exposing prison officials to negligence suits if they fail to protect their charges. . . . The subject of Friday's unanimous decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal has been addressed by other states and federal courts, but never before in California. . . . "Prisoners are vulnerable. And dependent. Moreover, the relationship between [jailers and prisoners] is protective by nature," wrote Justice James Richman. "This, we conclude, is the epitome of a special relationship, imposing a duty of care on a jailer owed to a prisoner, and we today add California to the list of jurisdictions recognizing a special relationship."


Finally, there's a safe harbor

Exploited Youth

Cynthia Godsoe / Special to The National Law Journal

11-10-08 -- New york state recently enacted groundbreaking legislation, allowing youth younger than 18 arrested for prostitution to receive services and treatment programs instead of being criminally prosecuted. The Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act finally treats the teenaged boys and girls who are driven to prostitution as the victims they are. . . . The act will grant juveniles the services they deserve, bring state criminal laws in line with federal anti-trafficking laws, and punish the true offenders — those who patronize and pimp out juveniles. Other states should follow suit. . . . Police across the country have noted a growing number of juvenile prostitutes in the past decade. A recent study estimates that there could be several hundred thousand youth being paid for sex nationwide, and that girls most frequently enter prostitution when they are between 12 and 14 years old. There is overwhelming evidence that many of the young people prostituting themselves are driven there by abuse, threats and psychological coercion. And treating them as criminals re-traumatizes these already wounded youth. . . . Moreover, experts and even law enforcement agree that locking these kids up does not help them get off the streets, but rather leads to a "revolving door" of commercially sexually exploited juveniles. . . . These youth need services to address the underlying causes of their behavior, such as poverty, homelessness and family violence. They need medical and psychological care and safe housing in order to make a fresh start. And those who work with them agree that threatening them with criminal prosecution to secure services is not an effective way to reach this vulnerable population. Moreover, this "punish the victim" attitude is morally wrong and inconsistent with other state and federal laws.


Lawyer fights for fair treatment for sex offenders

By Diane Jennings / The Dallas Morning News

11-11- 08 -- At age 69, after more than three decades representing the worst of the worst, attorney Bill Habern is ready to ease into semi-retirement. But first he's committed to fighting for fair treatment – due process – for sex offenders. . . . The fight is as unpopular as any rapist or murderer he has ever represented – of which there have been many. Since graduating from law school at Texas Tech in 1972, Mr. Habern's clients have included the likes of an inmate accused of killing a prison warden and officer, an infamous child killer, and inmates who sued after being used as bait in prison dog training exercises. . . . Mr. Habern's passion for parole law, a narrow specialty practiced by relatively few lawyers, goes back decades.


Released child killer still fighting for freedom

Out of prison on type of parole since 2002, Raul Meza suing over confinement at Del Valle complex.

By Steven Kreytak, American-Statesman Staff

11-9-08 -- When child killer Raul Meza qualified for release from prison under the state's mandatory supervision law in 1993, state officials worked to find him a place to live despite protests that ran him out of six Texas cities. . . . A missed curfew violation sent Meza, who killed and sexually assaulted 8-year-old Kendra Page in Southeast Austin, back to prison a year later. . . . Now, Meza, one of Austin's most high-profile and notorious criminals, is again out of prison on mandatory supervision release, which is similar to parole. But in a contrast to their push to house Meza in the community in 1993, state parole officials continue to confine Meza at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle. . . . This week U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel will consider Meza's lawsuit against state officials, in which he claims he is being illegally deprived of the chance to reintegrate into the community.


Judge who gave short man probation ousted

by North Platte Bulletin staff and news services

11-6-08 -- The Cheyenne County District Court Judge who gained nationwide attention after sentencing a convicted child molester to probation because of his size, was voted off the bench Nov. 4. . . . Cheyenne County voters decided not to retain Cecava by a 52 percent to 48 percent vote. . . . Judge Kristine Cecava of Sidney is the eighth judge to be removed by voters since Nebraska adopted its judicial selection plan in the early 1960s. . . . Cecava sparked controversy in 2006 when she sentenced 5-foot-1, 100 pound Richard Thompson to 10 years of intensive supervised probation and commented that she feared for his safety in prison because of his size. . . . But what was not widely reported was that neither the Cheyenne County Attorney, who prosecuted the case, nor the probation office requested prison time for Thompson. The fact that a prosecutor does not ask that a criminal be sent to prison is often a key element in a judge’s sentencing order. . . . Thompson, 52, had faced up to 10 years in prison after being convicted of two counts of sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl. . . . When sentencing the 5' 1" tall Thompson, Cecava said, "So, I'm sitting here thinking this guy has earned his way to prison but then I look at you and I look at your physical size. I look at your basic ability to cope with people and, quite frankly, I shake to think of what might happen to you in prison because I don't think you'll do well in prison."

October 2008


Tape That Freed a Convict Turns Out to Be Fake

By John Eligon

10-31-08 -- Kareem Bellamy, who was released from prison two months ago after spending 14 years behind bars for a murder conviction, appeared in a courtroom in Queens on Friday morning — with his freedom again on the line. . . . Roughly four months ago, a judge vacated Mr. Bellamy’s conviction after the defense produced an audiotape in which another man confessed to the crime. In mid-August, the judge, Justice Joel L. Blumenfeld, released Mr. Bellamy on bail, pending a new trial. . . . But the informant who supplied the tape has since told the authorities that he staged the recording to “create this false evidence because I was paid thousands of dollars by the attorneys for Kareem Bellamy.” Mr. Bellamy’s lawyers acknowledged in court on Friday that the tape was fraudulent, but said they did not know it was fake when they received it. . . . Prosecutors asked Justice Blumenfeld, of State Supreme Court in Queens, to reinstate the guilty verdict and send Mr. Bellamy back to prison. The judge, however, allowed Mr. Bellamy, 41, to remain free on bail and set a hearing for Nov. 13 to resolve questions about the recording and to determine whether Mr. Bellamy belonged back in prison. In the meantime, Mr. Bellamy must wear an electronic monitoring device on his ankle, the judge said.


Cuyahoga County courts show true colors, false justice

Posted by The editors

10-29-08 -- The numbers are powerful enough to cold-cock any dewy-eyed defender of Cuyahoga County justice. So flagrant are the racial inequities in sentencing it seems as if our criminal judiciary slept through the civil rights movement. . . . White defendants are 55 percent more likely to face a misdemeanor charge than black defendants arrested for the same crime, Plain Dealer reporter Bob Paynter has found. Paynter spent six months examining court files and data covering hundreds of the lowest-level felony drug cases resolved between 2004 and 2007. . . . White defendants were 35 percent more likely to receive treatment in lieu of conviction. Out-of-town and suburban whites were at least 77 percent more likely than black defendants to walk away with misdemeanor convictions. . . . Judges, prosecutors, probation officers, defense attorneys -- they all need to get to work fixing a system so out of kilter that it showers whites (who hire private attorneys) with favoritism, and blacks (who are usually represented by public defenders) with felonies.


Attorney accused of smuggling heroin to county jail

by Joe Dana, 12 News

10-28-08 -- A Valley defense attorney is accused of providing more than just legal advice to his clients. . . . In police interview transcripts obtained by 12 News through a public records request, 34-year-old Jason Keller of Tempe admits that he served as a middle man for incarcerated members of the Mexican Mafia. . . . Keller says during meetings with clients and potential clients, he smuggled CD’s, heroin, a cell phone and a charger to inmates of the Maricopa County Jail. Keller also admits that he delivered written notes between jailed gang members who otherwise were not allowed to communicate with each other, according to the transcript.


Lawmakers grill Texas prison officials after 3 cellphones are found on death row

By Emily Ramshaw / The Dallas Morning News

10-21-08 --  Poor surveillance, inadequate staffing and under-paid, easily-corrupted corrections guards have allowed Texas prison inmates to easily obtain phones and other contraband, criminal justice officials acknowledged Tuesday, the day after three cell phones were recovered from death row. . . . One of these phones logged 2,800 calls over the last month, and was used by a convicted murderer to make threatening calls to Sen. John Whitmire, who said he was “disgusted” with top prison officials at an emergency hearing on Tuesday. . . . “We’re talking about life and death, about a death row inmate calling me and talking about my daughters,” Mr. Whitmire said. “I’m really disgusted with our prison officials because this is not a secret. Contraband is rampant… It is more secure at the Harris County Courthouse, in Houston traffic court, than it is” on death row.

Also Online States lack authority to jam prison airwaves

Sentencing Panel Mulls Alternatives to Prison

By Darryl Fears, Washington Post Staff Writer 

10-12-08 -- As the nation's inmate population climbs toward 2.5 million, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is considering alternatives to prison for some offenders, including treatment programs for nonviolent drug users and employment training for minor parole violators. . . . The commission's consideration of alternatives to incarceration reflects its determination to persuade Congress to ease federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws that contributed to explosive growth in the prison population. The laws were enacted in the mid-1980s, principally to address a crime epidemic related to crack cocaine. But in recent years, federal judges, public defenders and probation officials have argued that mandatory sentences imprison first-time offenders unnecessarily and disproportionately affect minorities. . . . If the commission moves ahead with recommending alternatives to Congress, it would send a strong signal to state sentencing commissions and legislatures, and could pave the way for a major expansion of drug courts and adult developmental programs for parolees, advocates said.


Race for DA puts justice system on trial

Bradford and Lykos emphasize reform, so many minor offenders get treatment rather than a cell

By Alan Bernstein, Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

10-11-08 -- Harris County voters looking for a district attorney candidate with a "tough on crime" theme are out of luck this fall. . . . The situation is a startling departure from the law-and-order tone set for the last 30 years by Republican former district attorneys John B. Holmes Jr. and Chuck Rosenthal. . . . But Rosenthal resigned in disgrace early this year, opening the door for Democratic candidate C.O. Bradford and Republican candidate Pat Lykos, former police officers who have never prosecuted a criminal case, to put the local justice system on trial instead. . . . Bradford, the former Houston police chief, and Lykos, a former felony court judge, make sure to mention, in a county known nationwide for its frequent use of the death penalty, that the worst criminal offenders should be prosecuted to the hilt. But, despite substantive differences between the contenders, they both put greater emphasis on reforming the system so that many minor offenders get drug or mental illness treatment rather than a cell in the already crowded jail.

Bars of trouble: Cell phones in jail

By Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

10-10-08 -- People in jail aren't supposed to have cell phones. . . . But across America, one way or another, they're getting them. . . . In Maryland, inmate Patrick Albert Byers Jr. used one to arrange the murder of a witness in a homicide case, prosecutors say. He's facing the federal death penalty. . . . In Canada, imprisoned drug lord Rivo D'Onofrio used cell phones to make thousands of calls to his cronies. "He gabbed for hours and hours," a prosecutor said. . . . In a notorious local case, drug kingpin Ronald Whethers used cell phones to run his narcotics empire from the Westmoreland County Prison, leading to a state law prohibiting cell phones behind bars. . . . Corrections officers at home and abroad are struggling with how to keep inmates from wreaking havoc by phone.


Medical reform in Calif. prisons heads to court

By Don Thompson, Associated Press Writer

10-5-08 -- With California struggling to pay its bills and facing another deficit, the receiver in charge of the state's inmate medical care will argue Monday for the right to take $8 billion from the state treasury. . . . The federal court hearing in San Francisco is one of two legal challenges weighing heavily on the California corrections department. In the other, a panel of three federal judges must decide whether to cap the state's inmate population to solve overcrowding. . . . Addressing both will be expensive. In addition to the billions for medical beds, the state has approved a $7.4 billion construction plan to add more space and relieve crowded prison conditions, although the program has been delayed amid partisan bickering in Sacramento. . . . The state has been trying to improve its delivery of medical services to inmates since federal courts found the system negligent and directly responsible for inmate deaths. . . . The court-appointed medical receiver, J. Clark Kelso, says the state has refused to provide him with any portion of the $8 billion he wants, with $2.1 billion of the total this year.


Justices hear debate on when defendant can withdraw plea

By Kate Coscarelli, Star-Ledger Staff

10-5-08 -- Just a sliver of criminal cases in the New Jersey court system go to trial. The vast majority -- 99 percent -- end in plea deals. . . . Yesterday, the state's highest court listened to a debate over when judges should let criminal defendants withdraw their pleas. For over an hour in Trenton, the New Jersey Supreme Court quizzed lawyers about the pressures in the court system that can lead to a person pleading guilty rather than going to trial. . . . The arguments centered on a pair of cases. . . . One involves Saleem Allen, a Hudson County man who pleaded guilty to carjacking and drug charges, but then tried to withdraw his plea, claiming the judge coerced him. The other had to do with the guilty plea entered by Tony Slater, of Cumberland County, on drug possession charges. Slater later said he was innocent and tried to withdraw his plea at the time of sentencing. . . . Prosecutors argued changing the way people can withdraw plea deals could slow the court system. About 38,000 cases ended in plea deals last year; even a small jump could be difficult to manage.

September 2008


Nearly 500 teens serving life terms in Pa. prisons

By Moriah Balingit, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

9-29-08 -- Pennsylvania leads the nation in teen lifers -- prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed as minors -- and last week legislators met to examine the issue for the first time. . . . In a courtroom in Pittsburgh, 18-year-old twins Devon and Jovon Knox faced exactly that fate -- life without parole -- for killing 18-year-old Jehru Donaldson in a botched car-jacking in July 2007, when they were 17. . . . They join the 444 teen lifers currently held in Pennsylvania prisons, which is about a fifth of the nation's total and 110 more than runner-up Louisiana, according to a May 2008 report by Human Rights Watch. . . . Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and called the hearing, said he was startled to learn that Pennsylvania held the No. 1 spot and that the United States is the only country in the world that regularly imprisons youths for life. . . . "That got my attention," he said. "I felt a responsibility to look at [the issue] ... which is why we held the hearing." . . . Some states have considered laws that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles or that would eliminate the penalty altogether. Five states and Washington, D.C., prohibit the practice altogether. . . . Last year in Pennsylvania, nine people were sentenced to life for crimes they committed as minors. Today, 10 people in Allegheny County await trial for crimes they committed as minors and could wind up in prison for life. (First- and second-degree murder are the only crimes that result in a minor being sentenced to life in prison.)


Fifteen jail beds don’t do Eugene justice, Municipal Court judge warns

By Edward Russo, The Register-Guard

9-25-08 -- Eugene should be jailing more scofflaws who violate the municipal code, the city’s top judge urged Wednesday. . . . The city’s senior municipal court judge on Wednesday said the City Council must pay for more jail beds or risk undermining the court’s ability to make violators face their punishment. . . . Presiding Municipal Court Judge Wayne Allen said the city needs 10 to 12 more jail beds to incarcerate offenders sentenced in his court. The city doesn’t have its own jail beds, but instead rents them at the Lane County Jail. The city already pays for 15 beds at the county jail, which houses people convicted of misdemeanors in municipal court and people convicted of felonies in state circuit court. . . . With an increase in “quality of life crimes” in Eugene, Allen told councilors, it’s more important for municipal court judges to have the option of putting people in jail instead of sentencing them to community service or work crews. Four out of 10 offenders sentenced to work crews don’t show up for their court-mandated labor, he said. . . . When residents are burglarized or assaulted “they expect something to happen” to the offenders, Allen said. “They don’t expect somebody to not show up for the road crew.”


Two Decades in Solitary

By John Eligon

9-24-08 -- He is one of New York’s most isolated prisoners, spending 23 hours a day for the past two decades in a 9-by-6-foot cell. The only trimmings are a cot and a sink-toilet combination. His visitors — few as they are — must wedge into a nook outside his cell and speak to him through a 1-by-3-foot window of foggy plexiglass and iron bars. . . . In this static existence, Willie Bosket, 45, seems to have gone from defiant menace to subdued and empty inmate. . . . It was 30 years ago this month that a state law took effect allowing juveniles to be tried as adults, largely in response to Mr. Bosket’s slaying of two people on a New York subway when he was 15. He served only five years in jail for that crime because he was a juvenile, sparking public outrage. But shortly after completing his sentence, Mr. Bosket was arrested for assaulting a 72-year-old man. . . . He once claimed to be at “war” with prison officials. He said he laughed at the system and claimed to have committed more than 2,000 crimes as a child. He set fire to his cell and attacked guards. Mr. Bosket was sentenced to 25 years to life for stabbing a guard in the visitors’ room in 1988, along with other offenses, leading prison authorities to make him virtually the most restricted inmate in the state. . . . Now Mr. Bosket, who has gone 14 years without a disciplinary violation, does mainly three things: read, sleep and think.


Court program helps inmates make a successful transition

By Emilie Lounsberry, Inquirer Staff Writer

9-24-08 -- Jumar Smith's past predicted an uncertain future. . . . He had a string of convictions when he was caught with a firearm. Under a tough federal gun law, he ended up with 57 months in prison. . . . But after Smith was released, he was invited into a novel program that seeks to help ex-offenders reenter society. . . . And Smith credits it with helping to steer his journey from ex-con to entrepreneur. . . . "It helps to keep me focused," said Smith, 33, who currently works for his cousin's cleaning service but is planning his own janitorial company and has been thinking about a demolition business.


Moldy Mattress Nets Inmate $295k

Jury: Lousy bedding violated Wisconsin felon's constitutional rights

The Smoking Gun

9-19-08 -- A Wisconsin man serving time for reckless homicide yesterday was awarded $295,000 by a federal jury that found the inmate's constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to spend two months sleeping on a moldy, waterlogged mattress. Reggie Townsend, 29, scored the six-figure windfall after a U.S. District Court panel decided that he was improperly treated while locked up in late-2004 at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution. The jury's special verdict can be found below. Following a jail riot, Townsend spent about 60 days in a 12' x 6' segregation unit he shared with another state inmate. During that period, the jury found that Townsend had to sleep on the cell floor atop a thin mattress adjacent to the shower. The mattress, Townsend claimed, soon became "wet, moldy and foul smelling" and was not replaced despite his complaints to jail guards.


Pr. George's Jail Death Is Ruled a Homcide

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post Staff Writer

9-18-08 -- Maryland's chief medical examiner has ruled that a 19-year-old suspect in the killing of a Prince George's County police officer was the victim of a homicide inside his county jail cell, law enforcement sources said today. . . . Ronnie L. White was strangled with an unknown f White's death, the sources say. . . . The report is being delivered today to State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey's office. Ivey has scheduled a 3 p.m. news conference to discuss the findings of the report.


Judge set to rule in Maricopa County inmate-rights case

by Lindsey Collom, The Arizona Republic

9-15-08 -- The fate of a 1995 court decision to protect the rights of inmates awaiting trial in county lockup is now in the hands of a federal judge. . . . U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake will decide whether to overturn or modify a judgment that laid guidelines for a wide range of issues in Maricopa County jails, including health care, population control and how many changes of underwear an inmate receives each week.


Long, Hot Bummer: Lawyers Face Three Months, and Counting, With No Pay

New York Lawyer, By Cheryl Miller, The Recorder

9-15-08 -- California's veteran corps of court-appointed appellate counsel knows the pain of state budget battles. . . . When lawmakers miss the constitutional deadline for adopting a spending plan — and they do, almost every year — the state stops paying lawyers representing needy clients in criminal and dependency appeals. Experienced lawyers know that they need to stash away some extra cash, take on a federal case or two or ready a line of credit to cover the bills while the governor and legislators squabble. . . . But this year is different. Already a record-setting three months late in passing a budget, the Legislature appeared nowhere near reaching an agreement as of Friday. And the Administrative Office of the Courts ran out of money to reimburse appointed lawyers' expenses back in July. Claims totaling $6 million from those attorneys have piled up at the AOC offices in San Francisco, where court staff can only wait to courier them to Sacramento for reimbursement at the first sign of a budget deal. . . . That's left even the savviest of assigned appellate lawyers wondering just how they're going to make ends meet — and what's going to happen to their profession. . . . "It's been OK, up until now," said Calistoga defense attorney Gordon Brownell, a veteran of numerous budget delays who survived the summer financially because of an unexpected payment from a federal appeal he's handling.


Attorney claims to know of real killer in '99 slaying

Wausau Daily Herald

9-3-08 -- A judge is expected to decide this afternoon if an attorney who might have information about a 1999 homicide in Wausau will have to reveal what he knows. . . . . James Emerson, 44, of Wausau is scheduled to go to trial in January on a first-degree intentional homicide charge in connection with the Dec. 4, 1999 death of Rhonda Mertes. . . . . According to court documents, attorney Ryan Lister spoke with another attorney who had been contacted by a person claiming to be the killer. . . . . “Lister was concerned about the moral dilemma of possibly seeing an innocent man go to prison when he knew who the actual perpetrator was,” a court document reads. . . . . Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Greg Grau also is expected to decide if an out-of-county jury will be used in the trial.


Judge frees man, chastised lawyer
By Robert Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

9-2-08 -- A Washington County man who has been sitting in local jails more than two years after his lawyer could have gotten him released was ordered freed today, accompanied by a judge's harsh criticism of the man's lawyer. . . . Joseph A. Shepard Sr. was last in court August 17, 2006 for a hearing on what evidence prosecutors would be allowed to use against him at trial. Shepard currently faces charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, conspiracy and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.


Critics: State fails DNA test

By Mike Underwood 

9-1-08 -- The Bay State is “lagging behind the rest of the country” in creating laws to preserve crucial DNA evidence and give convicts the right to use DNA to clear their names, critics said in the wake of a high-profile court fight over a DNA sample last week. . . . Massachusetts is among 25 states that have no written laws requiring DNA evidence to be preserved and one of only seven states with no laws granting inmates the automatic right to submit DNA to exonerate themselves, said the Innocence Project, which campaigns for DNA exonerations of the wrongfully convicted. . . . “Massachusetts is lagging behind the rest of the country,” said Eric Ferrero of the Innocence Project. . . . Questions of when DNA should be stored or destroyed made headlines last week when Keith Amato of Cape Cod won a two-year battle against the state after it failed to return a DNA sample he voluntarily supplied during the hunt for the killer of fashion writer Christa Worthington.

August 2008


Forgotten, man sits in jail for two years

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

8-31-08 -- Joseph A. Shepard Sr. sat in local jails for almost two years, assuming that his lawyer was making progress on his case and that drug-related charges against him would soon be resolved in federal court. . . . His family says lawyer Michael P. Kelly told them Shepard had pleaded guilty and would return home soon with credit for time already served behind bars. . . . Shepard never came home. . . . Shepard, 53, is a man the system forgot, apparently ignored by his own attorney — and the prosecutor and judge — as days ticked by in a municipal lockup where he was confined to a cell 23 hours a day. . . . Shepard was surprised when a reporter broke the news at the Jennings jail Wednesday night that his case had been forgotten. It was more than a month after prosecutors took steps to move the case forward, though he still had not been told about it by his lawyer. . . . "Good. That's what I've been hoping for — something like that," he said. "I kind of figured that, after two years of nothing happening."


California prisons prepare for gay weddings

Guidelines so far wouldn't allow the marriage of fellow prisoners

Associated Press

8-29-08 -- Now that same-sex couples can get married in California, state prison officials are trying to figure out what that means for gay inmates. . . . No prisoners so far have sought to arrange weddings with same-sex partners since the state Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to wed as of mid-June, according to Michele Kane, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. . . . Nonetheless, department lawyers are drafting guidelines to bring the state's 33 adult prisons into compliance with the court's ruling that same-sex couples must be treated the same as opposite-sex couples under the California Constitution, Kane said. . . . What they have determined so far is that would mean allowing gay inmates to marry someone on the outside, but not a fellow prisoner — the same rules that apply to straight inmates, according to Kane.

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Department Of Justice Announces More Than $10 Million in Grants for Prisoner Reentry Strategies to Protect Communities and Reduce Violent Crime

PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ --

8-27-08 -- The Department of Justice today announced more than $10 million in federal assistance to states to develop, implement, enhance and evaluate reentry strategies that will ensure the safety of the communities and the reduction of serious, violent crime throughout the United States. Funding was awarded through the President's Prisoner Reentry Initiative (PRI). A complete list of grant recipients can be found at . . . . "Supervising offenders in the community and preparing offenders for their return to their communities is a critical criminal justice priority," said Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. "This funding will be used to test and deliver new ways to meet these reentry challenges and ultimately protect public safety." . . . . PRI is a comprehensive effort that addresses both juvenile and adult populations of serious, high-risk offenders and is designed to reduce recidivism by helping returning offenders find work and access other critical services in their communities. Specifically, the initiative helps to develop model reentry programs that begin in correctional institutions and continue throughout an offender's transition to and stabilization in the community. PRI is supported by the Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and its federal partners: the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Labor. . . . . Earlier this month, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released an innovative web-based tool to help states and local officials improve their prisoner and inmate reentry efforts. This tool, which was developed with support from BJA, will help state and local government officials access different assessment instruments used in corrections systems across the nation to gauge the risks and needs of someone admitted to prison or jail.


Crack Resentencing Controversy Comes Before 11th Circuit

Defendants seek break under more lenient rules that came after their sentencing

Alyson M. Palmer, Fulton County Daily Report

8-22-08 -- Today, two of the most controversial issues in sentencing law -- the length of sentences for crack cocaine offenders and judges' ability to go outside the federal sentencing guidelines -- will intersect in arguments at a federal appeals court panel sitting in Atlanta. . . . The five cases from the Southern District of Florida, consolidated for oral argument at the 11th Circuit, have the potential to affect many other cases throughout Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The appellate chief at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta, Amy L. Weil, said she'd seen about a dozen motions by defendants in the Northern District of Georgia alone that raise the same issue. . . . In each case before the court today the defendant was convicted of a federal crack cocaine offense and sentenced before more lenient crack cocaine sentencing guidelines went into effect in November. Each is trying to get a new sentence based on the change in the guidelines but has been stymied because prosecutors argue they were sentenced as career offenders. (see below for related case briefs.)

11th Circuit: Firing Counsel Equals Waiving Right to One

Reversing panels, full court reinstates convictions of men who fought appointed lawyers but didn't want to go pro se

Alyson M. Palmer, Fulton County Daily Report,

8-22-08 -- Reversing course from rulings by three-judge panels, the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously that criminal defendants' rejection of their appointed counsel can amount to a waiver of their right to counsel altogether. . . . That conclusion came in the court's reinstatement of two convictions -- one of a man accused of making a series of bomb threats in Macon, Ga., and another man accused in the death of his 3-month-old daughter in DeKalb County. . . . Prior panels had found that the defendants had been deprived of their constitutional right to counsel when trial judges allowed them to represent themselves despite their indications they wanted a free lawyer -- just not the one they had been assigned. . . . But when the full 11th Circuit reviewed the cases, all 12 of the judges agreed to reinstate the Macon bomb threat conviction and only Judge Rosemary Barkett dissented from the reinstatement of the DeKalb murder conviction. In that case, she said the defendant should get relief because there was no record the trial judge warned him of the dangers of representing himself.


The heart of indigent defense
Judge looking to unify method of representing poor defendants

By Dennis Sherer, Staff Writer

8-20-08 -- We hear Miranda rights quoted so often on prime-time television dramas that most of us could recite it, in part, by heart: "... If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you ..." . . . But providing legal representation to indigent defendants is not a uniform system across the state of Alabama, something at least one state judge and representative would like to rectify. In Lauderdale and Franklin counties, judges appoint attorneys to represent indigent criminal defendants from a pool of lawyers who have volunteered for the duty. In Colbert County, a team of six attorneys handles cases for people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. . . . Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb worries that what she calls a hodgepodge of methods for representing the poor prevent some defendants from receiving adequate legal representation. She also has concerns about the amount of money some attorneys collect for representing indigent clients and would like the state to create an oversight committee to look out for the interests of poor defendants and state taxpayers.


CCA fires back with PR push

By: Frank Shyong

8-20-08 -- Bedeviled this year by negative publicity on several fronts, Corrections Corp. of America late last week launched a public relations push to counter what it says are biased reports. . . . The Nashville-based company has been under the microscope since its general counsel, Gus Puryear, was nominated for the federal judgeship of the Tennessee Middle district in February. . . . At the same time, activists have stepped up their work against the company, seeking the company’s contracts and other papers under public-record laws. . . . CCA’s response includes an advertising campaign pointing people to a new Web site that promises an “unfiltered, full, 360-degree view of CCA.” . . . The company has bought advertising on and the Web site of its sister publication, The City Paper. The company also published an open letter in The City Paper’s Monday print edition. . . . The campaign, designed by local firm MMA Creative, accuses "a local daily paper" of ideological bias that CCA spokeswoman Louise Grant says has produced a media smear campaign. . . . “It’s completely baffling,” Grant said. “We definitely think there’s a bias that’s been there for years and years.”


Court-ordered prison upgrades must be made

Excerpted from Monday's San Jose Mercury News:

8-19-08 -- The Legislature and the governor must stop pretending that they still control spending on prison health care. They lost that right two years ago because California's treatment of prisoners was so awful that a federal court ruled it violated the U.S. Constitution. Federal Judge Thelton Henderson turned control over to a court-appointed receiver who was given authority to put an end to the dozens of needless inmate deaths. The receiver, Clark Kelso, has been patiently trying to work with the Legislature to ease the burden of funding prison health care improvements during the budget crunch. But his patience is wearing thin -- with good reason. The Legislature should stop trying to block Kelso's call for $8 billion in bonds to upgrade medical facilities.

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Ex-inmate helps make Bush nominee 'controversial'

By Travis Loller, Associated Press Writer

8-14-08 -- Had this been like most nominations for federal judgeships, the chief lawyer with Corrections Corporation of America might have been packing up his office and heading for the courthouse by now. . . . But a determined opponent - a former prisoner at a Corrections Corporation of America facility in Clifton, Tenn. - has worked tirelessly to see that would not happen. . . . And he may have succeeded. . . . More than a year after President Bush nominated Gustavus A. Puryear IV to become a U.S. district judge in Nashville, the 40-year-old's appointment appears to be in serious trouble, thanks in no small part to Alex Friedmann, a convicted armed robber turned inmate advocate. . . . Friedmann, 39, contends Puryear is unqualified because he lacks experience in federal courts - he's been involved in only two federal trials - and might have a potential conflict of interest in hearing cases that involve CCA.

Click for website: Tennesseans Against Puryear


Inmate Disappears While On Funeral Pass

Victim Spotted Woman In Downtown Santa Cruz

8-6-08 -- A woman who was in jail awaiting trial on charges of stabbing a Santa Cruz man escaped after a judge gave her a 12-hour pass to attend a funeral. . . . Santa Cruz police said Denise Jones was told to return to jail by 8 p.m. Friday, but she never returned. . . . Investigators said the man Jones stabbed called police and reported that he saw her in the downtown Santa Cruz area near where he was stabbed. . . . Jones was originally arrested on June 17 after witnesses identified her as the person who stabbed a man during a fight outside of the Asti Café.

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July 2008


California to Begin Integrating Prisons for Men

Some Warn That Racial Tension Will Explode as Others Predict Increased Tolerance

By Ashley Surdin, Washington Post Staff Writer 

7-27-08 -- Male prisoners in the nation's largest corrections system, long kept segregated by race in an effort to temper violence, will soon be sharing cells with inmates of other ethnicities. . . . A program aimed at integrating California's prisons for men will begin in coming weeks at two facilities and will be extended to the state's 28 other penitentiaries over the next year or so, officials said. . . . Segregating prison housing has long been the system's unwritten policy. But after an inmate's civil rights lawsuit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a mediated settlement led the state to reverse course despite many inmates' opposition. . . . Officials now argue that segregation perpetuated racial divisions and that integration would lessen them.


Man accused of hiring hit man had indicted judge as attorney

By Ann McGlynn, Courier Lee News Service

7-27-08 -- Dan Dostart sits in a jail cell, accused of attempting to hire a hit man to kill his ex-wife. . . . Dostart, formerly of Waterloo and the Quad Cities who now lives in Hiawatha, was indicted last week in federal court in Cedar Rapids for using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire. He has pleaded not guilty. . . . According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Dostart and his ex-wife, Jamie Mortimer, are both 1983 Waterloo East High grads. . . . In April, in an interview with the Quad-City Times, the retired Air Force man expressed frustration with how his divorce attorney handled his marriage dissolution. His attorney was Kyle Williamson, who went on to become an associate court judge but now faces federal charges of his own: fraud, identity theft and forgery. . . . “He just kept making promises and not following through,” Dostart said at the time. “He continually let me down.” . . . Dostart’s ex-wife could not be reached for comment. Her phone number has been disconnected. . . . The divorce wound through the courts for 3½ years. Dostart thought the judge made a mistake in the initial disposition of the case, and he asked Williamson to ask the judge to correct it.

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Court limits defendant's right to seek mercy

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

7-25-08 -- A criminal defendant's right to address the judge before sentencing and plead for mercy without being cross-examined, a right traced back to 17th century England, doesn't exist in California, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. . . . In a case from San Mateo County, the justices ruled unanimously that a defendant who is about to be sentenced must be treated like any other witness - testifying under oath and subject to cross-examination by the prosecutor - when asking for leniency. . . . The ruling upheld a five-year prison sentence for Blaine Allen Evans, who was convicted in 2004 of receiving stolen property - a drill that had been taken from a van in Belmont. . . . During the sentencing hearing, Evans' lawyer argued for probation and drug treatment but did not call his client as a witness. Superior Court Judge Robert Foiles denied probation and was about to pronounce sentence when Evans asked to speak. Foiles refused and sentenced him to prison. . . . Such a statement, known as allocution, is allowed by statute in federal court, and was authorized by a California appellate court in another case in 1994. The state's high court overturned that appellate ruling Thursday and said Evans, even if he was willing to appear as a witness, had waited too long to make his request.

How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects?

A discovery leads to questions about whether the odds of people sharing genetic profiles are sometimes higher than portrayed. Calling the finding meaningless, the FBI has sought to block such inquiry.

By Jason Felch and Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

7-19-08 -- State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona's DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles. . . . The men matched at nine of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people. . . . The FBI estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white. . . . In the years after her 2001 discovery, Troyer found dozens of similar matches -- each seeming to defy impossible odds. . . . As word spread, these findings by a little-known lab worker raised questions about the accuracy of the FBI's DNA statistics and ignited a legal fight over whether the nation's genetic databases ought to be opened to wider scrutiny. . . . The FBI laboratory, which administers the national DNA database system, tried to stop distribution of Troyer's results and began an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to block similar searches elsewhere, even those ordered by courts, a Times investigation found. . . . At stake is the credibility of the compelling odds often cited in DNA cases, which can suggest an all but certain link between a suspect and a crime scene.

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Protests against Susan Atkins' release request expand

L.A. Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and other prosecutors are urging the state parole board to deny a 'compassionate release' to the Charles Manson follower who is ill with terminal cancer.

By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

7-14-08 -- A growing chorus of prosecutors and others are urging state prison officials to reject former Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer Susan Atkins' request for "compassionate release" because of a terminal illness. . . . A state board will take up the issue Tuesday, with officials saying it's cost more than $1.2 million to provide medical care and security for Atkins after her diagnosis with brain cancer in March. . . . The state Board of Parole Hearings has received about 100 letters concerning Atkins' possible release, most of them against the convicted killing being allowed to leave prison. . . . In a July 11 letter to the chairman of the state Board of Parole Hearings, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Atkins' "horrific crimes alone warrant a denial of her request" to be released because she is dying. The board is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday to consider Atkins' request, which, if approved, would then place the matter before a Los Angeles County judge.


Judge bars sexy tomes from Supermax inmate

Mailroom employees had withheld sexually explicit books and magazines from the prisoner under a 1996 law.

By Felisa Cardona, The Denver Post

7-13-08 -- Mark Jordan won't be receiving magazines or books that contain nudity or sexually explicit material now that a U.S. district judge has decided keeping Jordan from receiving those images in prison does not violate his constitutional rights. . . . Jordan, a prisoner at the ultra-high security Supermax in Florence, sued the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and challenged the Ensign Amendment, a 1996 law designed to prevent federal prison employees from spending resources on delivering pornographic materials to inmates. . . . Jordan, 32, testified before Chief Judge Edward Nottingham Jr. that he never subscribed to Playboy, Penthouse or Hustler. Jordan, serving time for bank robbery and murder, represented himself during the two-day trial. . . . Jordan said he was sent a copy of a book showing images derived from the "Kama Sutra"; D.H. Lawrence's "Divas and Lovers," which contained images of erotic art; and a magazine, Juxtapoz, which contained cartoon nudes. . . . Prison mailroom employees withheld those publications from Jordan, and he sued, arguing his First Amendment and due-process rights were being violated.


Prison shuts the book on novelist

Inmate author's sales violate policy

Titan Barksdale, Staff Writer

7-6-08 -- Victor Martin has been writing since he was a child, but he didn't realize it could be a career until he became a convict. . . . A few years ago, Martin became a published author, writing four novels while lying in his bunk in a state prison in Elizabeth City. His books, which feature a high-rolling criminal named Unique, have a following among readers of what is known as "urban fiction," a popular literary genre characterized by explicit tales of inner-city crime life. Martin's books are available on . . . But Martin says prison officials are shutting him down, saying his novels violate a policy that bars inmates from conducting business behind bars. . . . Martin, a 32-year-old habitual felon with several theft-related convictions, says the policy violates his right to free speech. Martin's attorneys are challenging the policy, which they say prison officials have used to confiscate Martin's manuscripts and discipline him for writing. . . . "When I'm trying to do something positive, they want me to stop," Martin said in a telephone interview from the Elizabeth City prison. "The way I see it, they want me to stay stagnant and not do anything." . . . Martin's current publisher, Marcenia Waters of Charlotte, says Martin plays a small role in business affairs related to publishing. Her self-owned publishing company makes the arrangements for printing and distribution and handles the income from Martin's latest book, "Unique's Ending." . . . Waters said she became a fan of Martin's writing after hearing about him through word of mouth. She wrote to him in prison, and they developed a relationship through letters. Eventually, she offered to publish one of his books.


Prisoner death 'vigilante justice,' county official says


7-1-08 -- A prisoner killed in a Maryland county jail on Sunday was a victim of "vigilante justice," Prince George's County Chief Executive Jack Johnson said. . . . Ronnie White, 19, died of strangulation and asphyxiation and had two broken bones in his neck, an autopsy showed. . . . An attorney for White's family said that because White was being held in solitary confinement at the Prince George's County Correctional Center, a corrections officer would have had to let whoever killed the prisoner into his cell. . . . His death came two days after his arrest in connection with the death of Prince George's County police Cpl. Richard Findley, who died Friday after being struck by a truck. Authorities believe that White was driving the truck, which was thought to be stolen. Police were attempting to flag it down when Findley was struck. . . . "The killing of the officer is absolutely abhorrent, but also, Mr. White was presumed innocent and deserved his day in court just like any other citizens," Johnson said Monday night. "We live in a constitutional democracy, and no one has the right to be judge and jury."

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June 2008


Fairness of law to be judged

Mandatory sentences: Georgia's Supreme Court will consider proportion.

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

6-29-08 -- The judge had only one option when he sentenced Cedric Bradshaw: life in prison. . . . Bradshaw had not committed murder, rape or armed robbery. His offense was failing to properly register as a convicted sex offender for a second time —- even though he had repeatedly tried to follow the law. . . . "Mr. Bradshaw, the court could say a lot of things about the law, the wisdom or not of it," Bulloch County Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed said as he sentenced the 25-year-old Statesboro man on Dec. 20, 2007. But the law calls for a mandatory life sentence, and that's what Bradshaw got. . . . On Monday, the state's highest court will consider whether the law is unconstitutional on grounds it is cruel and unusual punishment. . . . No other state calls for a life sentence for failing to register as a sex offender the second time, and even rape and armed robbery convictions in Georgia do not carry mandatory life terms, said Bradshaw's lawyer, Robert L. Persse, the circuit public defender in Statesboro.


Police corruption panel lawyer fired after she questions Taser zap of teen

By Alison Gendar, Daily News Police Bureau Chief

6-29-08 -- A lawyer for the Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption said she was fired when she asked too many questions about the NYPD's use of force. . . . Willa Bernstein, one of the commission's investigating lawyers, said she thought her job was to critique the NYPD's Internal Affairs cases. . . . "The real job description should have been: 'Just go along. Don't rock the boat,'" she said. . . . Bernstein said she was fired from her $75,000-a-year spot in October after the chief of NYPD Internal Affairs complained to her boss that she had an "anti-police" bias. . . . Bernstein said there was a target on her back after she questioned why police officers Tasered a violent teenage suspect after he was shackled and handcuffed in a police stationhouse.


Delay of DNA tests helped guilty go free

By Jennifer Emily & Steve McGonigle / The Dallas Morning News

6-27-08 -- DNA testing could have freed Patrick Leondos Waller seven years ago from a life sentence for armed robbery and kept the real criminal in prison. . . . . But because former Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill objected, Mr. Waller's efforts to obtain genetic testing were delayed until last fall. That was long enough for the man science has now identified as the perpetrator to elude justice for the crime that also included a rape and kidnapping. . . . . DNA tests have now cleared Mr. Waller. The district attorney's office said two men who recently confessed to the 1992 crime cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired. One of the men, whom DNA evidence definitively links to the crime, was paroled in February after serving 15 years for burglary. . . . . Had Mr. Hill granted testing earlier, the man's parole may have been denied and he could have served the remainder of his 45-year sentence, a top prosecutor and Mr. Waller's attorney said Thursday. . . . . "We've done all we can," said Mike Ware, who oversees the district attorney's conviction integrity unit. "If the test had been done earlier, we could have confirmed it and notified the parole board."


Kids don't belong in adult court system
Safety, rehabilitation must be core missions

By Sara Totonchi For the Journal-Constitution

6-25-08 -- It's nice to know that according to the 2008 Kids Count Essay, "A Roadmap to Juvenile Justice Reform," Georgia is making progress in measures that impact the well-being of children. However, Georgia needs to change policies that allow the practice of prosecuting and incarcerating large numbers of kids in the adult criminal justice system. Children are simply not safe in the adult corrections system. Youth incarcerated with adults are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted and eight times more likely to commit suicide than youth held in juvenile justice facilities. . . . There are reasons why children can't vote, drink or engage in contracts —- they think and act differently, like children. While the adult system tends to emphasize punishment over rehabilitation, rehabilitation is at the core of the mission of the juvenile justice system. And research shows that children can change.

Nichols says DA in on cover-up

By Steve Visser, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

6-25-08 -- Brian Nichols is accusing Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard of covering up misconduct by a prosecutor and is asking the trial judge to throw out the death penalty and certain evidence. . . . Nichols has entered a mental health defense to four killings in the Fulton County Courthouse shooting case, which happened when Nichols escaped from custody during his rape trial March 11, 2005. . . . Nichols contends in a court filing Tuesday that his former prosecutor in the rape case —- now a possible key witness in his murder case —- engaged in criminal misconduct before his rape trial. Moreover, Nichols and his high-powered legal team contend that Howard has refused to hand over information about the alleged misconduct. . . . In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Tuesday, the former prosecutor, Gayle Abramson, and her husband, Rand Csehy, accused Nichols' lawyers of trying to derail the murder case by defaming Abramson with a wiretap conversation that concerned another murder investigation. . . . "Not only is this document factually inaccurate and filled with intentional falsehoods, but it is incomplete," the two former prosecutors said.


Supreme Court Says Right to Counsel Begins With First Appearance Before Judge

Justices begin final week before adjourning for summer

Tony Mauro, Legal Times

6-24-08 -- A defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches at his first appearance before a magistrate, whether or not the prosecutor is also on hand, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday. . . . The Court's 8-1 decision in Rothgery v. Gillespie County, Texas, came as the justices began their final week before adjourning for the summer. The justices will take the bench again on Wednesday and possibly one other day this week. . . . The ruling in Rothgery dealt with a Texas "magistration" procedure under which a defendant goes before a magistrate judge, has bail set, and can be imprisoned -- all without the involvement of a prosecutor or the appointment of defense counsel. . . . Walter Rothgery had been picked up in Fredericksburg, Texas, based on an erroneous California police report and was arrested as a felon with a firearm. He was jailed for a period, but posted bail. It was not until six months after his initial appearance before a judge that counsel was appointed -- at which point the lawyer documented the erroneous report and got Rothgery's indictment dismissed.

Taste-Testing Nutraloaf

The Prison Food That Just Might Be Unconstitutionally Bad.

By Arin Greenwood  jurisprudence


6-24-08 -- Nobody thinks prison food is haute cuisine, but could it be so bad it's unconstitutional? The question comes up more often than you might think, and there's one dish in particular that so offends the palates of America's prisoners that it's repeatedly been the subject of lawsuits: Nutraloaf. . . . Nutraloaf (sometimes called Nutri-loaf, sometimes just "the loaf") is served in state prisons around the country. It's not part of the regular menu but is prescribed for inmates who have misbehaved in various ways—usually by proving untrustworthy with their utensils. The loaf provides a full day's nutrients, and it's finger food—no fork necessary. . . . Prisoners sue over Nutraloaf with some regularity, usually arguing either that their due process rights have been violated (because they are served the punitive loaves without a hearing) or that the dish is so disgusting as to make it cruel and unusual and thus a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Typical of these suits is the 1992 case LeMaire v. Maass. Samuel LeMaire slit a man's throat before going to state prison and attacked his prison guards and fellow prisoners with sharpened poles, feces, and a homemade knife once inside. LeMaire was then put in a Nutraloaf-serving disciplinary unit. Among other complaints about the accommodations there, LeMaire argued that Nutraloaf was cruel and unusual and thus violated his 8th Amendment rights.


Attorney-client calls from jail recorded

Did prosecutors listen? It's unclear

By Greg Moran and Kristina Davis, Union-Tribune Staff Writers

6-21-08 -- The San Diego County Sheriff's Department unplugged a system this week that records all phone calls from jail inmates after outraged defense lawyers realized their conversations with clients also were being recorded. . . . A lawyer for the Sheriff's Department said the recordings, which defense lawyers say are privileged conversations protected by law, were made because of an inadvertent glitch in the telephone system. . . . But defense lawyers said the eavesdropping is a felony under state law and can carry penalties of up to $5,000 per call. . . . They are also concerned that prosecutors – who have access to the recording system from their desktop computers – could have been privy to conversations, too. . . . In at least one case, a defense attorney filed a motion this week seeking to get the District Attorney's Office removed from his case. . . . Jim McMahon, a lawyer with the county Alternate Public Defender, said he found out that his calls with client Robert Crouse were recorded when he heard them on a disc provided by prosecutors. It was in a package of materials that all prosecutors are required to turn over before trial.


Report Finds Racial Disparities in the Severity of Punishment

By Robert E. Pierre, Washington Post Staff Writer 

6-13-08 -- The nation's juvenile justice system metes out harsher punishment to black and Latino youths, locks up thousands of children for relatively minor offenses and ultimately makes them more dangerous, according to a national study released yesterday. . . . "We are generating more violence and criminality in our effort to interrupt it," said Douglas W. Nelson, president and chief executive of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which conducted the study, during a news conference yesterday. "We routinely fail to recognize that children are different than adults. We need to alter the context in which we serve kids." . . . Nelson's remarks came with the release of the foundation's annual Kids Count report, which measures the well-being of America's children in 10 categories. The report shows reductions in the rates of child deaths, teenage births, high school dropouts and teens who are not in school or working. Four areas increased: low-birthweight infants, children in single-parent homes, children in poverty and children in families in which no parent works full time. . . . The percentage of newborns weighing less than 5.5 pounds, who are at greater risk of dying in infancy or having long-term problems, is the highest in 40 years. It was the only category in which Maryland worsened from 2000 to 2005, when the percentage of low-birthweight babies in the state rose from 8.6 to 9.1.

Facing 'Crisis,' Public Defenders May Refuse Cases

Constitutional Dilemma: 'Severe' Budget Cuts Could Force Public Defenders to Turn Away Thousands of Poor Defendants

By Scott Michels ABC News

 6-13-08 -- Faced with what they call severe budget shortfalls, several public defender offices across the country say they may soon begin turning away thousands of poor criminal defendants. . . . Statewide public defenders in Kentucky and Minnesota and local offices in cities such as Atlanta and Miami say budget cuts are forcing them to fire or furlough trial lawyers, leaving the offices unable to handle misdemeanor and, in some instances, serious felony cases. . . . The cuts leave states scrambling to find a solution to a constitutional dilemma: The Sixth Amendment requires the government to either provide poor defendants with lawyers or release them. . . . "It is an impending legal crisis in our state," Joseph Lambert, the chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, told ABC News.

Suicides Follow Child Pornography Prosecutions

Dan Levine, The Recorder,

6-9-08 -- Defendants who keep child pornography on their computers make tempting -- and relatively easy -- targets for federal prosecutors. . . . Few offenders elicit so little sympathy from all frequencies of the political spectrum. The cases are incredibly difficult to fight, according to defense lawyers: So long as the feds lawfully search the computer, stiff mandatory minimum sentences reduce plea bargaining leverage to nil. . . . The Justice Department has escalated its efforts since announcing Project Safe Childhood in 2006, filing 27 percent more indictments last year. Now, the psychological weight of child porn prosecutions -- for family members, lawyers, judges and defendants themselves -- is beginning to emerge. . . . In the Northern District of California alone, four child porn targets have committed suicide over the past nine months, according to government court filings in two separate cases. One additional defendant tried to kill himself in February, court records indicate. . . . "I'm not surprised the numbers are up, frankly," said San Francisco solo Miranda Kane, a former federal prosecutor who litigated and supervised child pornography cases for the government. "It's a devastating thing to be exposed, and you're publicly shamed. We would go to great effort to keep the victims' names out, but defendants' names are right there in the [San Francisco] Chronicle all the time."


9th Circuit Says Judge Botched Murder-for-Hire Trial

Dan Levine, The Recorder,

6-4-08 -- The judicial careers of Richard Tallman and William Fletcher are uniquely intertwined. But the next time they're in the same room, best not bring up the "fed-a-pult" guy. . . . The two judges ascended to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals together, part of a deal whereby President Bill Clinton got Fletcher, his relatively liberal buddy from his Oxford University days, seated on the court, in exchange for choosing a conservative. . . . Fletcher landed on a panel reviewing a bizarre 2005 murder solicitation trial in Idaho, which Tallman had presided over by designation. And in a 72-page opinion released Friday, Fletcher found Tallman erred when he denied defendant David Hinkson a new trial despite evidence the government's key witness had committed perjury. . . . "The district court mistakenly believed that impeachment evidence may never provide the basis for a new trial," Fletcher wrote. "Our cases do not so hold." . . . Senior Judge Procter Hug Jr. sided with Fletcher, while Judge M. Margaret McKeown disagreed. . . . "In granting a new trial, the majority has assumed the role of a super trial court rather than a reviewing court," McKeown wrote in dissent. "The bottom line is that nowhere does the majority give any deference to the district court's detailed findings." . . . Tallman is regarded as one of the most reflexive law and order judges on the court. And for any law enforcement booster, the facts of this case are decidedly red meat.


Texas criminal justice reform sought by top judge - but how?

By Steven Kreytak

6-4-08 -- An all-star panel of criminal justice system participants— including Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and University of Texas Criminal Defense Clinic Director William Allison — were announced today as part of a broad call for criminal justice reform in Texas. . . . What has not been determined is exactly how the group will go about pursuing goals such as improved quality of representation for indigent defendants, improved crime lab reliability and eliminating improper interrogations. . . . Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey announced in a press release today the establishment of the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit. . . . “This is a call to action,” Hervey said in the release, “…it is time to act now and move for reform.”


Attorneys Wants Beaten Inmate Released

by Cliff Judy

6-3-08 -- Attorneys argued Tuesday morning why an inmate beaten at the Sedgwick County Jail should be let out.  Edgar Richard was hospitalized with a broken jaw and several skull fractures in February. . . . The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department says a guard tried to give Richard his medication, but he refused it and tried to leave his cell. . . . Richard was returned to the jail last week, and his attorneys say he should be moved back to a health care facility.  They've already discussed temporary solutions like Via Christi's Good Shepherd facility in east Wichita. . . . Larry Wall, Richard's civil attorney, says the man suffers from short-term memory loss now and still needs to relearn how to chew, eat, and swallow.


Defense lawyer sets up Web site soliciting tips

Associated Press

6-2-08 -- A lawyer who represents a Massachusetts man charged in the killing of Greenwich developer Andrew Kissel has set up a Web site he hopes will generate leads to clear his client. . . . Mark Sherman, the lawyer for Leonard Trujillo of Worcester, Mass., said his client was not involved in the stabbing death of Kissel in April 2006 in his Greenwich mansion. . . . Sherman said Trujillo, 21, plans to plead not guilty to charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. . . . Police also charged Trujillo's cousin, Carlos Trujillo, Kissel's driver, with conspiracy to commit murder. Trujillo, 47, of Bridgeport, pleaded not guilty. . . . The two men were charged in March. . . . Kissel, 46, was tied up and stabbed to death in his Greenwich mansion in April 2006, just days before he was to plead guilty in a multimillion-dollar real estate fraud case. . . . The Web site,, solicits tips to provide leads confidentially through e-mail and also includes discussion boards where visitors may leave comments about the case.

May 2008


Four years is justice delayed to a ridiculous extreme

Four years is justice delayed to a ridiculous extreme

5-17-08 -- If the case of convicted murderer Joseph P. Nazarini had dragged on much longer, he might have been sentenced to time served and walked out of court a free man. . . .That is, of course, an exaggeration, but it is no exaggeration to say that no one should sit in a county jail for four years before being brought to trial. . . .And it is a statement of fact that if Nazarini has been brought to trial within six months and shipped off to a state penitentiary, the county would have saved about $95,000, enough to keep a deputy sheriff on the road for more than two years. . . .The saga of Nazarini, now 59, begins with the Feb. 5, 2004, stabbing death of his wife, Denise, 52, in their Boardman home. He delayed calling police for 24 hours after the stabbing, but he quickly gave police a confession. . . .Nazarini’s initial pleas of innocent by reason of insanity was a contributing factor in much of the delay. . . .Hospitals balked when asked to produce records of Nazarini’s previous psychiatric treatment. They even ignored court orders for the records.

Fiscal Pressures Lead Some States to Free Inmates Early

By Keith B. Richburg and Ashley Surdin, Washington Post Staff Writers

5-5-08 -- Reversing decades of tough-on-crime policies, including mandatory minimum prison sentences for some drug offenders, many cash-strapped states are embracing a view once dismissed as dangerously naive: It costs far less to let some felons go free than to keep them locked up. . . . It is a theory that has long been pushed by criminal justice advocates and liberal politicians -- that some felons, particularly those convicted of minor drug offenses, would be better served by treatment, parole or early release for good behavior. But the states' conversion to that view has less to do with a change of heart on crime than with stark fiscal realities. At a time of shrinking resources, prisons are eating up an increasing share of many state budgets. . . . "It's the fiscal stuff that's driving it," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that advocates for more lenient sentencing. "Do you want to build prisons or do you want to build colleges? If you're a governor, it's kind of come to that choice right now." . . . Mauer and other observers point to a number of recent actions, some from states facing huge budget shortfalls, some not, but still worried about exploding costs.


When Law Prevents Righting a Wrong

The Nation -- By Adam Liptak

5-4-08 --  STAPLES HUGHES, a North Carolina lawyer, was on the witness stand and about to disclose a secret he believed would free an innocent man from prison. But the judge told Mr. Hughes to stop. . . . “If you testify,” Judge Jack A. Thompson said at a hearing last year on the prisoner’s request for a new trial, “I will be compelled to report you to the state bar. Do you understand that?” . . . But Mr. Hughes continued. Twenty-two years before, he said, a client, now dead, confessed that he had acted alone in committing a double murder for which another man was also serving life. After his own imprisoned client died, Mr. Hughes recalled last week, “it seemed to me at that point ethically permissible and morally imperative that I spill the beans.” . . . Judge Thompson, of the Cumberland County Superior Court in Fayetteville, did not see it that way, and some experts in legal ethics agree with him. The obligation to keep a client’s secrets is so important, they say, that it survives death and may not be violated even to cure a grave injustice — for example, the imprisonment for 26 years of another man, in Illinois, who was freed just last month. . . . A lawyer’s broad duty to keep clients’ confidences is the bedrock on which the justice system is built, they argue. If clients did not feel free to speak candidly, their lawyers could not represent them effectively. And making exceptions risks eroding the trust between clients and their lawyers in future cases. Experts in legal ethics are quick to point out that the various players in the adversary system have assigned roles and that lawyers generally must tend to a limited one. . . . “Lawyers are not undercover informants,” said Stephen Gillers, who teaches legal ethics at New York University. Indeed, said Steven Lubet, who teaches legal ethics at Northwestern, few clients would confess to their lawyers if they knew the lawyers might some day choose to disclose that information.


Dallas County district attorney wants
unethical prosecutors punished

By Jennifer Emily & Steve McGonigle / The Dallas Morning News

5-4-08 -- The Dallas County district attorney who has built a national reputation on freeing the wrongfully convicted says prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence should themselves face harsh sanctions – possibly even jail time. . . . "Something should be done," said Craig Watkins, whose jurisdiction leads the nation in the number of DNA exonerations. "If the harm is a great harm, yes, it should be criminalized." . . . Wrongful convictions, nearly half of them involving prosecutorial misconduct, have cost Texas taxpayers $8.6 million in compensation since 2001, according to state comptroller records obtained by The Dallas Morning News. Dallas County accounts for about one-third of that. . . . Mr. Watkins said that he was still pondering what kind of punishment unethical prosecutors deserve but that the worst offenders might deserve prison time. He said he also was considering the launch of a campaign to mandate disbarment for any prosecutor found to have intentionally withheld evidence from the defense.

April 2008


Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’

By Adam Liptak

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. . . . Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations. . . . Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences. . . . The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

Immunity for prosecutors

Miscarriages of justice cannot be rectified by allowing lawsuits against prosecutors.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial

4-19-08 -- It's hard to imagine a more sympathetic plaintiff than Thomas L. Goldstein, a Long Beach man who spent 24 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. But the U.S. Supreme Court would be making a mistake if it allowed Goldstein and other wrongfully convicted defendants to sue prosecutors for management decisions that may have contributed to their convictions. . . . This week, the court agreed to review a decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Goldstein may seek damages from former L.A. County Dist. Atty. John Van de Kamp on the theory that the district attorney failed to institute procedures to make sure that trial prosecutors knew if their witnesses had received favors from the government. . . . One such witness, Edward Fink, had testified that Goldstein, his cellmate, had confessed to shooting a neighbor. Fink denied that he had received favors from county officials for incriminating Goldstein, but years later it emerged that Fink had served as a police informant and had received reduced sentences. That fact was known to some officials in the district attorney's office, but not to the trial prosecutors.


High court rules that predators can face charges for online messages

By Globe Staff

4-18-08 -- The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a person can be charged with enticing a minor simply by sending online messages. . . . Lawyers for a man appealing his conviction on a child enticement charge argued that he never engaged in anything more than “sending words” over the Internet. They argued that the law required the man to do something more, such as travel to an agreed rendezvous location. . . . Ruling in the case of Commonwealth v. Richard Disler, the SJC disagreed, saying that a person can be charged with enticement, if, with criminal intent, they “employ words, gestures, or other means” to induce a minor to enter or stay in a vehicle, building, or outdoor space. . . . “There is nothing in the language [of the law] that supports the defendant’s contention that, in addition, there must be an overt act in order for the crime of child enticement to occur,” the court said. . . . Disler was convicted after exchanging a series of instant messages with undercover police officers who were posing as a 14-year-old girl.

U.S. to Expand Collection Of Crime Suspects' DNA

Policy Adds People Arrested but Not Convicted

By Ellen Nakashima and Spencer Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writers

4-17-08 -- The U.S. government will soon begin collecting DNA samples from all citizens arrested in connection with any federal crime and from many immigrants detained by federal authorities, adding genetic identifiers from more than 1 million individuals a year to the swiftly growing federal law enforcement DNA database. . . . The policy will substantially expand the current practice of routinely collecting DNA samples from only those convicted of federal crimes, and it will build on a growing policy among states to collect DNA from many people who are arrested. Thirteen states do so now and turn their data over to the federal government. . . . The initiative, to be published as a proposed rule in the Federal Register in coming days, reflects a congressional directive that DNA from arrestees be collected to help catch a range of domestic criminals. But it also requires, for the first time, the collection of DNA samples from people other than U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who are detained by U.S. authorities.


Senator Schneiderman, Innocence Project and Others Champion Mandatory Electronic Recording of Interrogations

4-14-08 -- On Friday, April 11, State Senators Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan/Bronx), Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), John Sabini (D-Queens), John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) and Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), Assemblymember Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), and leading criminal justice advocates took part in a public forum to address wrongful convictions and Mandatory Electronic Recording of Interrogations. . . . At the forum, expert testimony was presented by Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Nicholas A. Gravante, the attorney who represented Frank Esposito in People v. Esposito, the representatives for Long Island native Martin Tankleff, who was present at the forum, Thomas P. Sullivan, a former United States attorney and national expert on recording custodial interrogations, Jeffrey Szabo, Deputy County Executive and Chief of Staff to Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, and Jeffrey Deskovic, who was exonerated in 2006 after serving 15 years in prison for a murder and sexual assault that he did not commit.

States expand taking of DNA

All felony suspects fair game in some

By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY 

4-14-08 -- States are dramatically expanding controversial DNA sampling. . . beyond convicted felons to include tens of thousands of suspects arrested on felony charges before they are tried. . ..  Twelve states have laws that permit sampling for some or all felony arrests, up from five in 2006, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says. Another 21 are considering such proposals, according to, which tracks DNA-related laws. . . . Provisions in most of the new laws call for destroying samples if suspects are acquitted or charges are dropped. After a sample is destroyed, the DNA cannot be matched to other crimes in the database. . . The fast-growing legislation, once applied narrowly to sex offenders and convicted felons, worries civil liberties advocates who believe the testing amounts to a clumsy forensic dragnet. . . . "In our system, you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty," says Maryland state Sen. Lisa Gladden, a Democrat, who opposed a DNA sampling plan offered by Gov. Martin O'Malley, also a Democrat. . . . Despite such objections, the technique is gaining popularity as a law-enforcement tool. The expansion "is definitely picking up steam," says Donna Lyons, criminal justice director at NCSL. . . . Beginning in July, South Dakota and Kansas will require all felony suspects to provide DNA samples. In January, California and North Dakota will do so. In California alone that could double the number of state samples in the federal DNA data bank from 1 million to 2 million, state Attorney General's Office spokesman Gareth Lacy says.

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Search for Justice

Abigail A. Orr, Waukee, Iowa

Published Sunday, April 13, 2008

To the editor:

I am starting this group, A Search for Justice, on behalf of my dear friend Kevin Garner. In February 2007, Kevin was arrested for vehicular manslaughter in Fairbanks; he was convicted in October 2007. It is now April, and he has not yet been sentenced.

His case was very controversial because the victim was laying in the road at 3 in the morning when Kevin hit her. She also had three times the legal limit of alcohol in her system, plus twice the recommendation of cold medicine in her. She was either passed out in the road dying of hypothermia or dead when Kevin hit her.

I have had no choice but to accept his conviction, and I am not saying that he should not be punished. I believe it is cruel and unusual punishment to let him sit in jail for over a year — six months since he has been convicted — without knowing his sentence. I believe justice has not been served here, and though it infuriates me, all I can do is write about it. The presiding judge, Judge Olsen, passed sentencing on to a three-judge panel because he believes Kevin has a higher chance of rehabilitation than most. The panel could have given him a lesser sentence than the minimum according to Alaska law; but yesterday (April 4, 2008) the panel gave the case back to Judge Olsen, prolonging Kevin’s sentencing.

Can you imagine, after being convicted of a crime, sitting in jail for over a year, having one judge give it to a three-judge panel, having those judges give it back to the original judge, and six months after being convicted still not knowing your sentence? Is that justice? Please join if you feel you or a loved one has been unjustly treated by our criminal justice system.

To take a closer look at this support group simply follow this link:

There is strength in numbers my friends, so please consider joining this group in support of justice for all members of society!

Cigarrest to Stop Smoking in 7 Days!

As Many Crack Convicts Are Freed Early, Will Crime Rise?

Of the 19,500 drug offenders eligible over the next 30 years to apply for early release, 3,417 have had their sentences reduced as of Monday.

By Alexandra Marks | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

4-9-2008 -- In an effort to eliminate a legal inequity – one that has hit African-Americans especially hard – federal judges have begun reducing the sentences of thousands of crack-cocaine offenders. . . . Some police groups and prosecutors, as well as US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, assert that in trying to right a historic wrong, violent criminals are headed en masse back to the streets. . . . So far, indications are that this is not the case because the release process has safeguards built in. Statistics from the US Sentencing Commission, as well as interviews with federal public defenders and criminal-justice experts, indicate that federal prisoners who are to be released early are predominantly nonviolent and have good conduct records while in prison. Of the 19,500 drug offenders eligible over the next 30 years to apply for early release, 3,417 have had their sentences reduced as of Monday. Of the 1,500 inmates eligible for immediate release, dozens so far have been let go in the past month. . . . "There has been no release of a flood of violent criminals," says Michael Nachmanoff, federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia. "The people who are being released ... overwhelmingly had cases where there was no violence whatsoever and who were given unduly harsh sentences. And now, their sentences are being reduced by a modest amount." . . . Critics worry the crime rate, which has already ticked upward, will continue to increase as more prisoners apply for a sentence reduction. The Justice Department, for example, has pointed out that according to the Sentencing Commission's own analysis, nearly 80 percent of the 19,500 who would be eligible for early release had prior criminal records. Of the 1,500 eligible for immediate release, about one-quarter carried a weapon or were with someone who carried a weapon when they were arrested. . . . "This tells us those who are eligible for early release are very likely to commit another crime," Attorney General Mukasey told the Fraternal Order of Police earlier this year.


Fewer batterers put into programs

Victims' advocates fault plea bargains

By Maria Cramer, Globe Staff

04-08-08 -- As domestic homicides more than doubled in Massachusetts, judges across the state sent only about half as many batterers to abuse intervention programs last year as they did in 2003, according to public health officials. . . . The plunging numbers are raising concerns among victims' advocates that judges are too readily accepting plea bargains that allow offenders to attend shorter anger management classes instead of the more rigorous batterer-intervention programs. . . . Beyond that, state officials and advocates worry that fewer victims are taking their cases to court, for a variety of reasons. Among them: victims afraid of retaliation, illegal immigrants who are afraid to become involved in the criminal justice system, and a key Supreme Judicial Court ruling that puts more pressure on victims to provide often difficult testimony in their cases. . ..  "If there are fewer prosecutions and fewer people being ordered to batterer intervention, it all starts to look like a pattern of lack of accountability for perpetrators," said Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc. "It should then be no surprise that there are more homicides."


Attorney General Proposes Alternative Court For
Nonviolent Crimes  (AP)

04-06-08 -- Nonviolent offenders could avoid prison through an alternate court system being pushed by Attorney General Henry McMaster as both a better way to rehabilitate people and save the state money. . . . McMaster says nonviolent offenders are often turned into hardened criminals by jail sentences. He is suggesting a combination of counseling, drug treatment, school, work and restitution to help those offenders make up for their crimes and turn their lives around.


Lawmakers hear pleas for second chance

By Katherine Gregg, Journal State House Bureau

04-02-08 -- One after another, advocates for the erasure of criminal records urged state lawmakers yesterday to give people a second chance, free of their sometimes messy pasts. . . . “By passing this legislative bill, you’re giving people opportunities to find better jobs so that they can get off the dole,” said Ramon Martinez, president and chief executive officer of the Hispanic advocacy group Progreso Latino. . . . Even Albert E. DeRobbio, chief judge of the Rhode Island District Court, sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee urging support for one in a trio of bills up for a hearing yesterday that were aimed at cleansing criminal records so people can tell prospective employers they have never been convicted, or giving judges discretion to lift the prohibitions against people with records obtaining licenses to work, for example, as travel agents, movers, auto mechanics and nursing assistants. . . . Current law allows the expungement of a single, nonviolent offense from the record of a first-time offender five years after he or she has completed a sentence for a misdemeanor; 10 years after completing a sentence for a felony.

March 2008


U.S. Supreme Court to review '94 murder case

By Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times staff reporter

03-19-08 -- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether to reinstate the murder conviction of the driver in a fatal drive-by shooting of a Ballard High School student 14 years ago. . . . The Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments this fall in the case of Cesar Sarausad II, who was a 19-year-old University of Washington engineering student when Melissa Fernandes was fatally shot at Ballard High on March 23, 1994. . . . The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had overturned Sarausad's second-degree murder conviction because it determined that King County Superior Court Judge Larry A. Jordan erred when he told jurors Sarausad could be convicted of murder regardless of whether he knew of any plan for a killing. . . . The appeals panel ruled that the jury should have been told Sarausad could be convicted of murder only if he knew the triggerman had a gun and planned to kill. . . . The state appealed the 9th Circuit decision, and the Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear the case.


Murder Defendant Found Man to Win Case: Himself

High School Dropout Prevails at Pr. George's Trial

By Ruben Castaneda, Washington Post Staff Writer

03-17-08 -- It's an axiom known by every lawyer and judge in every courthouse in the land: A man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. . . . Try telling that to Harold J. Stewart. . . . Last month, Stewart, a 42-year-old high school dropout, defended himself in a murder case in Prince George's County, where he was accused of beating a sleeping man to death with a baseball bat. . . . The trial lasted three days. Stewart called no witnesses. The jury deliberated less than an hour. . . . The verdict: Not guilty of first-degree murder. Not guilty of second-degree murder. . . . "Everybody told me I was crazy to represent myself," Stewart said in an interview. "I had no choice. They were obstructing my rights." . . . The obstructionists, in Stewart's view, included county prosecutors, the trial judge, the assistant public defender who represented him at his first trial (which ended in a mistrial), the private defense lawyer who represented him between the two trials, jail officials he says unfairly denied him access to the law library and the state Attorney Grievance Commission. . . . "Oh, wow," Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said when told of the case. McCarthy said he was not aware of a pro se defendant in Montgomery winning an acquittal in a serious felony in his 27 years as a prosecutor there.


Prison Reform Campaigns Need a Few
Thousand Volunteers ASAP

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird is an ordained minister and a 37-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. She volunteers her time as founder and director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect UNION. The UNION is active in prison reform and criminal justice issues. She is a mother and grandmother and focuses on human rights and restorative justice. She is also the host of television series "Cayenne Common Sense" and publishes a daily online newsletter to subscribers.

It certainly is good to see ordinary people in action registering voters and getting behind candidates that are really going to represent the will of the people. . . . Since we won our campaign to get the legislators to pass a bill that could release frail elderly, terminally ill and medically incapacitated people in October, many people have written to me begging UNION members for help with their campaigns, . . . There are no rescuers, no group representing prisoners in California can call 1,000 or more people to the Capitol to show the lawmakers we are intelligent enough to organize. This is where we need to focus on building up our troops so that we can do initiative campaigns because we have enough funds and volunteers lined up in advance. . . . No group has this in place except for Drug Policy Alliance who spent ten years building up to 25,000 members and raised $9 million dollars. This is the right way to do it folks. Having 500 small, fractured groups out there, especially those that just pass email and don't do any real campaign is not as smart as having one or two large ones. . . . The state runs on groups, if you haven't built yourself a voting machine, no one hears your voice. . . . Within the UNION network, we have some dynamic people who are working for reform without enough funds and volunteers. People on the sidelines who don't write to editors, post at the news sites, show up to important hearings three times a year at least in Sacramento, who never register voters or bring new people into the movement are blocking reform. . . . Everyone wants to win so this is how we need to break it down right now because permanent decisions are being made which impact all of us involved in prison reform, education or nursing.

February 2008

New High In U.S. Prison Numbers
Growth Attributed To More Stringent Sentencing Laws

By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post Staff Writer

02-29-08 -- More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according to a report released yesterday. . . . With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States. . . . The growth in prison population is largely because of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been particularly affected: One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group. . . . The report compiled and analyzed data from several sources, including the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and Bureau of Prisons and each state's department of corrections. It did not include individuals detained for noncriminal immigration violations. . . . Although studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect may be less influential than changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents and the proportion of young people in the population, report co-author Adam Gelb said.


Drawing the Line: Treatment or Prison


02-27-08 -- Every day, judges send mentally ill people to prison for crimes they committed without taking their medication or visiting mental health professionals on a regular basis. . . . Lawmakers and the criminal justice system in North Carolina are struggling to address this complicated problem in a political climate that lends little priority to mental health issues. . . . As some of the state’s most vulnerable people have fallen through the cracks of society and had difficulty getting the treatment they need, many have found themselves in trouble with the law. . . . State-run mental hospitals have more admissions than ever, and North Carolina’s overcrowded prisons and jails have become treatment centers by default. When a person with mental illness is arrested for a crime, law enforcement officers aren't always prepared to deal with a mentally unstable person.  The mentally ill person moves through the system along with criminals considered lucid and sane.


Is Ricky Really a Sex Offender?

California’s registry for life may soon include promiscuous kids

By Hanna Ingber Win

02-25-08 -- When Ricky was 16, he went to a teen club and met a girl named Amanda, who said she was the same age. They hit it off and were eventually having sex. At the time Ricky thought it was a pretty normal high school romance. . . . Two years later, Ricky is a registered sex offender, and his life is destroyed. . . . Amanda turned out to be 13. Ricky was arrested, tried as an adult, and pleaded guilty to the charge of lascivious acts with a child, which is a class D felony in Iowa. It is not disputed that the sex was consensual, but intercourse with a 13-year-old is illegal in Iowa. . . . Ricky was sentenced to two years probation and 10 years on the Iowa online sex offender registry. Ricky and his family have since moved to Oklahoma, where he will remain on the state’s public registry for life.


State Supreme Court throws out life-without-parole sentence for convicted rapist

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

02-25-08 -- State prosecutors cannot obtain a sentence of life in prison without parole against someone who rapes a child unless they are seeking the death penalty, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday. . . . In a 4-3 opinion, the court said a Grady County judge lacked the authority to sentence Rodolfo Lopez Velazquez to life without parole for the June 2005 rape of a 7-year-old girl. Velazquez, who must now be resentenced, faces a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. . . . Prosecutors told the court that they hadn't sought the death penalty in the case because were barred from doing so in a case involving rape when the victim is not murdered. . . . But Justice Harris Hines, writing for the majority, said that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977 ruled the death penalty unconstitutional only for the rape of an adult woman. Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Georgia Supreme Court "has yet addressed whether the death penalty is unconstitutionally disproportionate for the crime of raping a child," Hines wrote.

Editorial: More oversight needed for lawyers posting bail

San Antonio Express-News

Earning a living as a criminal defense attorney is a tough job and often not very lucrative. . . . Over the years, some local lawyers have diversified their legal businesses and taken on the role of bail bondsmen. . . . It is a practice frowned upon by the American Bar Association because of the ethical implications, but it remains legal in Texas. . . . An investigation into the dual legal roles played by some local lawyers by Express-News reporter Karisa King revealed that more than 250 lawyers in Bexar County posted bonds for their clients last year. . . . A handful of lawyers represented the bulk of the lawyer bond business with 18 lawyers each signing bonds totaling more than $1 million.


9th Circuit: No Sovereign Immunity for DA Contractors

Dan Levine, The Recorder ,

02-10-08 -- Private companies that run diversion programs administered by dozens of California district attorneys are now open to legal attack. . . . A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Wednesday that state sovereign immunity does not extend to American Corrective Counseling Services, a private contractor hired by the Santa Clara County DA's office to go after individuals who passed bad checks. . . . Because ACCS is a private contractor, the 9th Circuit should not even undertake the test it uses when various government bodies seek immunity, Judge Marsha Berzon wrote. Extending sovereign immunity to a private company would be a "category error," she wrote. . . . "Examples of category errors include inquiring into the gender of a rock or into which day of the week is reptilian," Berzon added in a footnote. . . . Ninth Circuit Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima and 8th Circuit Judge John Gibson, who sat by designation, joined Berzon's opinion in Del Campo v. American Corrective Counseling, 08 C.D.O.S. 1647. . . . Deepak Gupta, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen Litigation Group who argued the plaintiff's case, said the opinion is especially important in an age of increased privatization of governmental functions.

A Shameful Record

New York Times Editorial

02-06-08 -- The United States leads the world in a shameful category: the number of people it has locked up for life without parole for crimes committed by juveniles. Juvenile crime should not be taken lightly, but young people should not be completely written off. . . . According to Human Rights Watch, 2,380 people in this country are serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they turned 18. That makes the United States an extreme global outlier. Sentencing juveniles to life without parole is at odds with international law; the vast majority of the world’s countries ban the practice. . . . Some juvenile criminals commit horrible crimes, and the justice system should punish them accordingly. Juveniles, though, are not adults. Even their brain development is different, making them less able than older people to resist impulses. Consideration should also be given to the nature of the crime. In some cases, juveniles have been imprisoned for life for acting as accessories or lookouts for adults. Putting a 16-year-old who played such a role in jail for perhaps 65 years is an extraordinarily harsh, and expensive, societal response.


Judge Rules to Dismiss Cases of 17-Year-Olds Seen as Adults

By Katie Zezima

02-06-08 --A Rhode Island judge ruled Tuesday that felony cases brought while state law briefly treated 17-year-olds as adults would be dismissed or transferred to Family Court. . . . The judge, Daniel A. Procaccini of Superior Court, ruled that about 100 pending cases would be dismissed. Cases in which a grand jury has returned an indictment will be transferred to Family Court, but they can be returned to Superior Court if the attorney general thinks the crime is egregious and should be elevated to the adult level. . . . “It is apparent that defendants’ rights were violated by their direct placement in the adult criminal system,” Judge Procaccini wrote. . . . The dismissed cases can be refiled in juvenile court, according to the ruling. . . . Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch appealed the ruling Tuesday, saying in a statement that it puts cases that should be in Superior Court in limbo. . . . “This state of uncertainty is not fair to victims and their families,” Mr. Lynch said.


Despite objections, many sex offenders freed

Mass. DAs cite frustration in two cases

By Maria Cramer and John R. Ellement, Globe Staff

02-04-08 -- Massachusetts judges and juries released 37 of 60 convicted sex offenders between July 2006 and June 2007 over the objections of prosecutors who said they were too dangerous to set free, according to court records. . . . The rate of sex offenders released is in sharp contrast to the outrage expressed yesterday by police and prosecutors after the arrest of a sex offender who allegedly raped a 6-year-old boy in a New Bedford library. . . . A judge released Corey Saunders in 2006, even though prosecutors and two court-appointed psychologists had argued that he posed a threat to children. . . . "It certainly disturbs me when people the court has had an opportunity to hold [are released] instead, and they commit additional crimes," said Michael O'Keefe, district attorney for the Cape and Islands and president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. . . . When a convicted sex offender is about to be released after serving a prison sentence, prosecutors are automatically notified. If they think the offender is a risk to commit a new crime, they can recommend that a judge or jury send the offender to the state facility in Bridgewater reserved for men declared to be sexually dangerous.

Objection! Perversion of justice, again

By Howie Carr

02-04-08 -- If you see former Gov. Jane Swift this weekend campaigning for John McCain, be sure to thank her for the 2002 appointment of the sex offender-friendly Superior Court Judge Richard Moses. . . . Moses is the 62-year-old judge who cut loose a filthy pervert sex offender named Corey Saunders a year ago over the vociferous objections of a prosecutor and three psychologists. The extremely compassionate judge noted that young Corey once had a teddy bear, and what was the big deal anyway? He had a low IQ and hadn’t attacked any little boys for seven years. . . . The fact that the Level 3 sex offender had spent those seven years locked up, with no little boys available, apparently didn’t register with the judge. You know the rest of the story: The pervert Moses released now stands accused of raping a 6-year-old boy in the stacks of the downtown New Bedford Public Library. . . . Would it surprise you to learn that, as a law student, this Moses was a legal intern for the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts? He was.

January 2008


Releasing Crack Convicts Early

The first batch of convicted crack cocaine dealers will be getting out this year, and Virginia will feel the brunt.

By Emma Schwartz

01-28-08 -- The first batch of convicted crack cocaine dealers will getting out this year, and Virginia will feel the brunt. . . . In the coming months the first trickle of convicted crack cocaine dealers is expected to head home from prison months, if not years, earlier than expected—a result of recent changes in the sentencing guidelines that will retroactively lower the punishment for most defendants convicted of peddling the addictive drug.


Court Rules Inmates Can't Sue for Property Loss

By Robert Barnes, Washington Post Staff Writer 

01-23-08 -- Abdus-Shahid M.S. Ali's lawsuit against prison guards was based on allegations of harassment and mistreatment. But the Supreme Court's decision yesterday that he is barred from suing rests on an ambiguous federal statute that has confounded the courts and sharply divided the justices. . . . It involves the word "any." . . . Ali's lawsuit alleging a missing Koran and prayer rug is barred under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the court said in a 5 to 4 ruling, because the law includes prison guards among those immune from suit. . . . The confusion in the courts comes because the immunity is mentioned in a section of the law that blocks lawsuits against the government over the "loss of goods, merchandise or other property" detained by customs or excise officers. The law then adds "or any other law enforcement officer."


Woman jailed for refusing court-required psych exam

Ordered tested after conviction for sidewalk counseling at abortion business

By Bob Unruh, © 2008

01-18-08 -- An Iowa grandmother has been banished to jail, including a night in isolation, after refusing to give in to a judge's demand that she submit to a psychiatric exam and take psychotropic drugs if prescribed to mitigate her opposition to abortion, her husband has confirmed. . . . "It is not 'my body, my choice?'" Donna Holman told Johnson County District Court, giving new meaning to a common pro-abortion slogan, in her pleadings submitted in support of her request for a reconsideration of her sentence. . . . "I find it especially strange and abhorrent that a female judge would somehow think it is normal for Planned Parenthood to systematically kill babies in the womb, but abnormal for me to oppose these serial killers," the court pleading said. "Is it not hypocritical for this court to acknowledge a women's purported right in seeking medical help for destroying her child, while denying me the basic right to refuse 'medical help?'' . . . "This court is apparently questioning my morality!" she wrote.


In Child Porn Case, a Digital Dilemma

U.S. Seeks to Force Suspect to Reveal Password to Computer Files

By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post Staff Writer

01-16-08 -- The federal government is asking a U.S. District Court in Vermont to order a man to type a password that would unlock files on his computer, despite his claim that doing so would constitute self-incrimination. . . . The case, believed to be the first of its kind to reach this level, raises a uniquely digital-age question about how to balance privacy and civil liberties against the government's responsibility to protect the public. . . . The case, which involves suspected possession of child pornography, comes as more Americans turn to encryption to protect the privacy and security of files on their laptops and thumb drives. FBI and Justice Department officials, meanwhile, have said that encryption is allowing terrorists and criminals to communicate their plots covertly.


Locking up kids for life

California can sentence criminals under 18 to life without parole. It's cruel and unusual punishment.

Los Angeles Times Editorial

01-16-08 -- California is paying a heavy price for its get-tough-on-crime attitude, with an underfunded and overcrowded prison system, the nation's worst recidivism rate and a rotten international image as the state with the highest death row population. But of all the inequities of a dysfunctional penal system and harsh state laws, few can touch our predilection for discarding the lives of children who commit crimes before they're old enough to fully understand the consequences of their actions. . . . Sentencing youths under 18 to life without the possibility of parole is a violation of international law that has been banned in nearly every country in the world except this one. A recent report by Human Rights Watch identified just seven people outside the United States who have been subjected to this cruel and unusual punishment -- but it found 227 in California, which leads the nation in juvenile injustice.


Prisoner's lawsuit says it was too easy to escape

SCOTT A. GOMEZ: Removable ceiling tiles and sub-par door locks were "an open invitation," his suit says. . . . He fell and hurt himself while trying to rappel down the side of a Colorado jail. He blames his injuries on inadequate security.

By DeeDee Correll, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

01-13-08 -- Scott Anthony Gomez Jr. made his first break from the Pueblo County Jail two years ago. . ..  He pushed up a ceiling tile, hoisted himself into the ventilation system and climbed until he reached a roof. Then he shinnied down the wall on bedsheets fashioned into a rope. . . . Caught two days later, he was back in his cell. . . . The next time, Gomez again pried loose a ceiling tile and vanished into the guts of the building. But as he tried to rappel on bedsheets down the side of the 85-foot building, he fell. . . . Now the would-be Houdini is suing the sheriff of the southern Colorado county, saying authorities caused his injuries by making it too easy to fly the coop.


Freed without bail -- with a deadly result

'Unsuitable for release,' Curtis Harris still got out. He apparently shot his wife, then himself.

By Andrew Blankstein, Mitchell Landsberg and Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers 

01-08-08 -- There was no lack of warning. Curtis Bernard Harris had a long history of violent, abusive, criminal behavior, including twice seizing his estranged wife and terrorizing her. . . . Still, a judge in Pomona released Harris from jail late last month, allowing him to tie up any loose ends before being sentenced to prison in the most recent of those cases. The judge freed him even though the Los Angeles County Probation Department said he was "unsuitable for release." . . . On Saturday, a maid cleaning a Whittier motel room found the bodies of Monica Thomas-Harris, 37, of Upland and Harris, 34, of Chino. Harris apparently shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself, West Covina Police Lt. Ron Mitchell said. . . . The deaths immediately raised questions about Harris' being freed on his own recognizance -- a decision by L.A. County Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher that was not opposed by prosecutors.


Ga. Supreme Court Wrestles With Case of Banishment

In its brief, state concedes judge may have gone too far in imposing banishment from all but one county as parole condition

Alyson M. Palmer, Fulton County Daily Report,

01-08-08 -- Justices of the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday wrestled with the case of a man who claims to have been unconstitutionally banished from all of Georgia except rural Toombs County. . . . At issue was Gregory Mac Terry, who has spent the past 12 years in prison after pleading guilty on allegations that he had threatened his estranged wife. Terry's lawyer, McNeill Stokes, says his client had an opportunity for parole in 2001, but he was returned to prison because his banishment from all but one of Georgia's 159 counties meant he couldn't complete a work release program that was not available in Toombs County. . . . Terry has a tentative parole date for 2009.


11th Circuit Wrestles With Sentencing

Panels split in upholding sentences in child pornography and bribery cases that fell below sentencing guidelines

Alyson M. Palmer, Fulton County Daily Report

01-03-08 -- To many, the justices from the U.S. Supreme Court last month sent a simple message to appeals courts around the country: When reviewing the sentencing decisions of trial judges, back off. . . . But last week a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled that he's not rolling over. . . . Judge Joel F. Dubina's response to the high court came in a case in which federal prosecutors in Florida had challenged as too lenient a seven-year sentence for a distributor of child pornography. The sentence was more than five years under the sentencing range outlined in the federal sentencing guidelines, but over Dubina's dissent, two other judges affirmed the seven-year term. . . . That decision appears to follow the deferential approach adopted by the high court in a pair of major sentencing decisions issued Dec. 10, Gall v. United States, 128 S.Ct. 586, and Kimbrough v. United States, 128 S.Ct. 558. . . . Dubina complained the seven-year sentence was "substantively unreasonable" under Gall.


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"We lay it down as a fundamental, that laws, to be just, must give a reciprocation of right; that, without this, they are mere arbitrary rules of conduct, founded in force, and not in conscience."
-- Thomas Jefferson--
(Notes on the state of Virginia, 1782)


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Inaugurated on January 27, 2008
Updated 01/25/2012