Posts tagged as:

crime and punishment

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]

As part of the wrangling over remedies imposed by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, the federal government is demanding that tobacco companies be made to run ads declaring that the government was right and they wrong on various controversial issues, and in particular that they confess to having lied on purpose. A demand for judicially imposed self-denunciation, and in particular a demand that private actors be ordered to assert ideologically charged propositions that do not reflect their actual inward beliefs, should disturb civil libertarians, it seems to me, even if it does not disturb the U.S. Department of Justice. I’m quoted at 4:47 in this report by the BBC’s Ben Wright.

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  • “Once your life is inside a federal investigation, there is no space outside of it.” [Quinn Norton, The Atlantic]
  • “Cops Detain 6-year-old for Walking Around Neighborhood (And It Gets Worse)” [Free-Range Kids] “Stop Criminalizing Parents who Let Their Kids Wait in the Car” [same]
  • Time to rethink the continued erosion of statutes of limitations [Joel Cohen, Law.com; our post the other day on Gabelli v. SEC]
  • “Are big-bank prosecutions following in the troubled footsteps of FCPA enforcement?” [Isaac Gorodetski, PoL]
  • The “‘professional’ press approach to the criminal justice system serves police and prosecutors very well. They favor reporters who hew to it.” [Ken at Popehat]
  • Scott Greenfield dissents from some common prescriptions on overcriminalization [Simple Justice]
  • Anti-catnip educational video might be a parody [YouTube via Radley Balko]
  • “Too Many Restrictions on Sex Offenders, or Too Few?” [NYT "Room for Debate"]
  • Kyle Graham on overcharging [Non Curat Lex] “The Policeman’s Legal Digest / A Walk Through the Penal Laws of New York (1934)” [Graham, ConcurOp]
  • “D.C. Council Proposes Pretty Decent Asset Forfeiture Reform” [John Ross, Reason] And the Institute for Justice reports on forfeiture controversies in Minnesota and Georgia.
  • Does prison privatization entrench a pro-incarceration lobby? [Sasha Volokh, more]

Philadelphia: “Union Workers *Probably* Torched a Quaker Meetinghouse Over Christmas” [John Ross; Steve Volk, Philadelphia Magazine] The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has compiled a report [PDF] on ways in which state laws exempt unions and their members from otherwise applicable criminal laws [Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner ("Union organizing exempted from stalking laws in four states"), Nathan Benefield/Commonwealth Foundation] Columnist Fred Wszolek says the sponsors of “Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week” might need to cast their net a bit wider. And see
August 1999 post in this space (unions have secured for themselves immunities from civil liability far more extensive than most businesses dream of); Grover Norquist/Patrick Gleason, Reuters (exemptions from anti-stalking laws).

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Scott Greenfield, contra Radley Balko, believes the idea would prove “problematic, if not disastrous,” in real life, especially if enacted in the form of two-way fee-shifting (as distinct from a one-way fee payable only to defendants). It is worth noting that although legal systems around the world predominantly embrace loser-pays principles in civil litigation between private parties, they more or less uniformly decline to carry a similar principle over to criminal prosecution.

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A two-part post, with part 1 on the law as applied to the facts, and part II on sentencing, prosecutorial discretion, and the appropriate targets for reformist energy. Earlier here (& Greenfield; Timothy Lee and Mike Masnick on plea bargaining).

Environment roundup

by Walter Olson on January 17, 2013

In recent days media outlets, including respectable ones like Washington Post “WonkBlog”, have circulated an infographic on rape incidence claiming (among other things) that false accusations of sexual assault are a vanishingly rare phenomenon. The chart claims to be sourced to official statistics, but Mark Bennett digs in a bit and finds a pile of at best strained speculation, at worst made-up nonsense. [Defending People]

P.S. This supposedly corrective piece at Slate is if anything worse than the chart it purports to correct, straining to minimize false accusation as even rarer than portrayed. (It’s worth remembering that its author, Amanda Marcotte, has a bit of a history herself when it comes to credulity on this subject.) Bennett again provides a needed corrective: “Forensic DNA typing laboratories — as numerous commentators have noted — encounter rates of exclusion of suspected attackers in close to 25 percent of cases.” (& Greenfield; and an informative followup from Bennett regarding the incidence of false accusation.) Yet more: Washington Post ombudsman says mistakes were made.

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December 31 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 31, 2012

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