Posts tagged as:

crime and punishment

News of criminal babies

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

Nine-month-old infant fingerprinted after being charged with assault and attempted murder in Pakistan [Lowering the Bar, BBC]

Follow-up: baby gets off on technicality. @DavidBCohen1 on Twitter: “This sends a bad message to violent babies.”

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It’s no longer a specifically enumerated crime to do that on the streets of Houston in an annoying or flirtatious way [Volokh]

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  • After criticism of heavy-handed Ankeny, Iowa police raid on persons suspected of credit card fraud, not actually reassuring to be told militarized methods needed because one house occupant had firearms carry permit [Radley Balko, more, more]
  • Advocates strain mightily to fit unpopular Dunn verdict into Stand Your Ground theme [David Kopel, Jacob Sullum] More: sorry, pundits, but Rasmussen poll shows public’s plurality SYG support unshaken [Althouse]
  • “‘Drop the Cabbage, Bullwinkle!’: Alaskan Man Faces Prison for the Crime of Moose-Feeding” [Evan Bernick, Heritage] “Criminalizing America: How Big Government Makes A Criminal of Every American” [ALEC "State Factor"]
  • “We’ve also bred into dogs … an eagerness to please us.” Bad news for K-9 forensics [Balko]
  • “Has overcharging killed the criminal trial?” [Legal Ethics Forum] Is the “trial penalty” a myth? [David Abrams via Dan Markel, Scott Greenfield]
  • What if cops, as opposed to, say, gun owners, were obliged by law to purchase liability insurance? [Popehat]
  • That’s productivity: North Carolina grand jury managed to crank out roughly one indictment every 52 seconds [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
  • “When do awful thoughts, shared with complete strangers, become criminal actions?” [Robert Kolker, New York mag]
  • Why grants to local police departments are among the federal government’s most pernicious spending [Radley Balko, whose new Washington Post blog/column is thriving]
  • How bad did you think Florida prosecutor Angela Corey was? She might be worse [Balko, earlier]
  • “The unintended consequences of compensating the exonerated” [Will Baude]
  • Thousands of Americans are behind bars following shaken-baby convictions. How many are innocent? [Jerry Mitchell, Jackson Clarion-Ledger/USA Today, earlier here, here]
  • Private probation as “judicially sanctioned extortion racket” [The Economist]
  • “DOJ to Prohibit Profiling Based on Religion, National Origin, and Gender in Federal Investigations” [FedSoc Blog]

An official with the Department of Justice has signaled that the administration may be willing to consider much more extensive use of presidential clemency for inmates serving long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses under the former sentencing regime, a development I welcome in a new Cato post. Further observations from Mark Osler and Doug Berman (“there are currently over 3,500 pending pardon and commutation applications at the White House right now” which makes it a little odd to suggest that the missing ingredient is more applications) and more [excerpts from speech by Deputy Attorney General James Cole].

  • Under new Illinois law, third offense of tossing cigarette to ground will be a felony [Andrew Stuttaford]
  • “The New York Times calls for prosecutors to establish an ‘open file’ policy to combat prosecutorial misconduct.” [Nicole Hyland, LEF; New York Times; Radley Balko, whose column at the Washington Post has now launched]
  • “Three Arrests Illustrate the Impact of New York’s Silly Seven-Round Ammunition Limit” [Jacob Sullum]
  • Forfeiture reform on the agenda in Michigan? [John Ross/Reason, Institute for Justice, earlier]
  • Speaking of law enforcement for profit, more on the proliferation of fees and third-party collectors that can land minor miscreants in “debtors’ prison” [Fox News; related, Balko]
  • “Want to stop repeats of Columbine and Newtown? Deprive mass killers of the spotlight. Can the media do that?” [Ari Schulman, WSJ via @garyrosenwsj]
  • “She’s regretted the lie that sent him to prison ever since.” [NY Mag]

A reform proposal floated in a 2010 Cato Institute policy analysis is now becoming a pilot project in one Texas county. More: Greenfield.

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I’ve got a new op-ed for Bloomberg View (first time I’ve appeared there) calling last week’s venture in presidential clemency “mingy and belated” and, if aimed at prison overcrowding, “like trying to bail out Lake Michigan with a paint can.” On Thursday President Obama commuted the sentences of eight inmates caught up in the crack cocaine sentencing fury, all of whom had already served at least 15 years for what were often relatively peripheral involvement in the drug trade. Clarence Aaron, for example, was serving three life sentences without possibility of parole for a first-time nonviolent offense. Many advocates from all political viewpoints pushed for Aaron’s release, among them Debra Saunders who wrote dozens of columns on his case in the San Francisco Chronicle over the past 12 years (Also in Minneapolis Star-Tribune and other papers, and AP roundup of opinion columns; & Scott Greenfield, Pardon Power).

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Someone must have deactivated the Dallas Morning News’s B.S. detectors [Amy Alkon] The paper’s editors uncritically cheer new proposals from Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Ted Poe for legal changes including wider use of forfeiture and more draconian sentences for johns. More: “There have been two compelling-prostitution cases filed in Har­ris County this year. Not 300,000. Two.” [Mark Bennett] Yet more: the paper corrected 11/24.

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Over Labor Day weekend, hundreds of teenagers held an illegal party in the upstate New York home of former NFL star Brian Holloway. They left a wide swath of photos on social media, and Holloway put up a website identifying more than 100 of the 300 partiers. “But rather than apologize to Holloway for their children’s behavior, some parents have contacted their lawyers to see what legal action they can take” against him. [New York Daily News; response from radio personalities Chuck and Kelly, WGY]

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Mark Hansen in the ABA Journal with an overview of how crime labs have finally come under scrutiny following a “string of shoddy, suspect and fraudulent results” in Boston, New York, North Carolina, Nassau County, N.Y. and elsewhere.

In St. Paul, Minn., assistant public defender Lori Traub stumbled into her local lab’s problems and

says she was horrified by what she found: The lab, an old-fashioned “cop shop,” was run by a police sergeant with no scientific background, had no written operating procedures, didn’t clean instruments between testing, allowed technicians unlimited access to the drug vault, and didn’t have anyone checking anyone else’s work. Analysts didn’t know what a validity study was, used Wikipedia as a technical reference, and in their lab reports referred to “white junk” clogging an instrument.

It gets much worse. A West Virginia state serologist, following the DNA clearance of a man he had previously identified as a rapist, “was eventually found to have falsified test results in as many as 134 cases during a 10-year period.” Oklahoma City Police Department crime lab chemist Joyce Gilchrist

who testified as a prosecution expert in 23 death penalty cases, including those of 12 inmates who were later executed, was fired in 2001 for doing sloppy work and giving false or misleading testimony. Nicknamed “Black Magic” by detectives for her seeming ability to get lab results no other chemist could, Gilchrist was never prosecuted for her alleged misdeeds, though she reportedly was named a defendant in at least one lawsuit against the city by a convicted rapist who was later exonerated.

More: And according to a new paper, it turns out that many state police labs are actually paid per conviction, a practice that tends to incentive false-positive error.

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Some reactions, and cautious praise for the changes, from Tim Lynch at Cato, Ken at Popehat, and J.D. Tuccille at Reason (and more on lawmakers’ reaction).

In my new CNN.com piece I argue that we shouldn’t let anger over the Zimmerman acquittal shred the rights of criminal defendants: “awarding new powers to prosecutors will likely mean that more black people will end up behind bars.” [CNN](& Steele; thanks for Instalanche to Glenn Reynolds)

P.S. Some may wonder whether a toughening of hate crime laws might be an exception to the general rule that minorities have much to fear from a broadening of grounds for prosecution. Leaving aside whether the hate crime issue has any relation to the Martin/Zimmerman case (few lawyers believe Zimmerman could be found guilty of a hate crime, and when the FBI investigated him last summer it found no evidence of racial motivation; more on this from Michelle Meyer), per FBI statistics for 2011, blacks are actually overrepresented among persons charged with hate crimes, at 21 percent compared with 14 percent of general U.S. population.

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  • “I’m looking at Sarge, like, ‘What am I writing him for?’ The sergeant said, ‘Blocking pedestrian traffic.’” [Brian Doherty]
  • “No one is innocent: I broke the law yesterday and again today and I will probably break the law tomorrow” [Alex Tabarrok, BLT]
  • Alabama officials reviewing NTSB-funded weekend roadblocks where motorists were asked for breath, blood and saliva samples [Montgomery Advertiser] “Maybe the NTSB should become a Common Rule agency” [i.e., subject to Human Subjects Research rules; @MichelleNMeyer]
  • New Jersey bill would require driver in some traffic mishaps to hand over cellphone to cop [S. 2783 (Holzapfel, Sen.) via @MeckReal]
  • “In Dubai airport, three poppy seeds from a bread roll fell in a Swiss man’s clothes and got him four years in prison” [@SanhoTree on BBC 2008 report]
  • “Hookup Shocker: The Sex Is Legal, but Talking About It Is a Felony!” [Jacob Sullum] “The Man Who Abused Me is Not on the Sex Offender List (The One who Saved Me Is)” [Free-Range Kids; related on registries, Michele Goodwin, Bill of Health]
  • “Senator Ervin, ‘No-Knock’ Warrants, and the Fight to Stop Cops from Smashing into Homes the Way Burglars Do” [Radley Balko guestblogging at ACLU; yesterday's post on Balko's new book, and more ("7 Ways The Obama Administration Has Accelerated Police Militarization")]

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“A law working its way through [the French] parliament would grant amnesty to workers who have ransacked their company’s offices or threatened their bosses during a labor dispute.” [USA Today via Jon Hyman]