I just posted a few days ago about the many scandals of state police forensic labs that have been found to employ corner-cutting or shoddy methods in the course of obtaining positive identifications and convictions. What I didn’t realize is that — according to a new paper by Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks in the journal Criminal Justice Ethics — many crime labs actually are paid by the conviction. That practice goes on in states that include Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia. If we incentivize false-positive identification, should we really be surprised when it happens? [Radley Balko]
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.
State’s attorney Angela Corey fires the IT director who testified critically regarding the state’s non-sharing of evidence with George Zimmerman’s counsel. [Florida Times-Union] And Jacob Sullum’s latest: “Prosecutor Says George Zimmerman Is Guilty No Matter What Happened in His Fight With Trayvon Martin” [Reason]
Cy pres, public-sector style? “A veteran Manitoba Crown attorney has been fired after he dropped charges against a Winnipeg company involved in a workplace accident — only to have the company make a substantial financial donation to a charity he oversees.” The prosecutor has defended his actions on the grounds that he did not direct the donation and that “the company made its own decision to choose the charity he was connected to”; he is not alleged to have benefited from the charity. [Winnipeg Free Press]
Some locals are “stunned” that Justice would drop the River Birch case after four years of vigorous prosecution, and wonder whether there is any link to recent resignations and misconduct charges among high-level figures in the U.S. attorney’s office. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, more, earlier]
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).
Programmer Aaron Swartz, a founder of RSS syndication and Reddit, committed a series of trespasses and hacks at MIT so as to download millions of papers from the JSTOR academic database, possibly with the plan of making them freely available through file sharing. When caught he returned the files and JSTOR did not recommend prosecution. In September Timothy Lee wrote in Ars Technica that while there was no excuse for Swartz’s actions, it was also mystifying that federal prosecutors were going to such lengths to stack up felony counts and legal theories under the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) that could send the popular techie to prison for life. Now Swartz, who is known to have been afflicted by depression, is dead, a suicide at age 26. [Jonathan Blanks, Lawrence Lessig, Glenn Greenwald, Patterico interview with Swartz lawyer Elliot Peters, Scott Greenfield, Orin Kerr (disputing premise that prosecutors overcharged), Timothy Lee/WaPo]
If you’re high-ranking figures in a federal prosecutor’s office, don’t resort to pseudonymous rants on comment boards to settle scores, especially not if it means commenting on open cases that your office is handling [three now-resigned officials from the U.S. Attorney's office in New Orleans; WWL, Gambit, Daily Mail]
How a seemingly unlikely assortment of libertarians, religious conservatives and small-government advocates have been helping to turn around the debate on incarceration. [David Dagan and Steven Teles, Washington Monthly]
In the New York Daily News, Lawrence Cunningham argues that skewed economic incentives — some of them advanced by the actions of federal prosecutors, who applied muscle in a tax-fraud settlement to press for the casino-ization of Aqueduct Race Track — contributed to the deaths of 21 racehorses, most of whom were entered in races with purses artificially inflated so as far to exceed their own economic worth. “Politicians and prosecutors should not direct business changes without understanding their significance. What’s happening to the horses at Aqueduct could have been prevented.”
And we’re not just talking the amateur meth kind. [Scott Greenfield]