aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Decision in Troy Anthony Davis case expected tomorrow
Condemned cop killer Troy Anthony Davis, whose case has gained international attention because of his claims of innocence, will learn Monday whether he will get another chance to win a new trial or remain on death row.
The Georgia Supreme Court posted on its Web site Friday that it will publish its opinion on the case Monday.
Davis was sentenced to death in Chatham County for the 1989 murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. But since Davis’ trial, seven prosecution witnesses have recanted their trial testimony in sworn affidavits and signed statements.
In November, during arguments before the state Supreme Court, Davis’ lawyers argued that he should either be granted a new trial or be given a court hearing in which a judge weighs the recantation evidence.
Banks stop people from speaking their truth
So I just finished telling the tale of cops going bonkers over the possibility that ordinary citizens would have the opportunity to rate their performance on the job.
Which reminds me of a similar story about congress caving to the banking industry at a hearing of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions last Thursday. Elizabeth Warren was a panelist:
The first panel was four regular people who wanted to give first-hand information about their experiences with their credit cards. While the reps from Cap One, Chase and Bank of America went on for hours about their customer friendly policies and how much value they provided free to consumers, the people who had different stories were never allowed to utter a single word.
The people who had been invited to testify had flown in from around the country with their credit card bills in hand, only to learn that they couldn’t talk unless they would sign a waiver that would permit the credit card companies to make public anything they wanted to tell about their financial records, their credit histories, their purchases, and so on. The Republicans and Democrats had worked out a deal “to be fair to the credit card lenders.” These people couldn’t say anything unless they were willing to let the credit card companies strip them naked in public.
Via Kevin Drum, who observes:
Hmmm. That’s pretty much how we used to treat rape victims in court, isn’t it? Why the Democratic majority felt like it had to agree to this “compromise” is a little hard to fathom.
In any case, Warren has a good question: does this policy apply to credit card companies too? “I asked if the credit card companies were going to testify to such factual statements, would they be required to produce the data to back up the claims so that we could all see it and evaluate it....I never quite understood the Congressman’s reply.” Actually, I have a feeling she understood it perfectly. It’s only got two letters, after all.
Later on Friday Steve Autrey, one of the people who had been invited to testify before the House subcommittee, made his testimony available as a post on Credit Slips. I’ve excerpted some choice phrases here:
My relationship with Capital One goes back to 1999, when I was solicited with an offer for a Visa card with a “fixed” 9.9% rate card. [In July, 2007] Capital One advised me in a billing insert that my “fixed” rate of 9.9% was being raised to 16.9%. No reason or explanation was given â€“ I was not late on payment, and had not utilized the entire credit limit. This was a unilateral change to the terms of our agreement.
In August, of 2007, I wrote a letter to Mr. Richard D. Fairbank, Chairman, President, and CEO of Capital One, at their McLean, Virginia home office. My written statement will contain a copy of Capital One’s response which includes the line, “Unfortunately, changes in the interest-rate environment or other business circumstances may require us to increase rates, even for fixed-rate accounts in good standing.”
Other issues should be of concern to this committee as well. My wife holds a Capital One-issued MasterCard credit card. Last October, she experienced a medical emergency and had to leave work to spend hours at a medical facility to receive tests and treatment. Arriving home later that evening, she immediately logged on to the CapitalOne.com website to pay her bill online. It was approx. 9:00pm on the due date. Although she made the payment on the due date, it was 6 hours past the 3:00pm cutoff time.
For being six hours late on her payment, she was hit with a $39.00 punitive fine labeled as a “late fee.” That late fee, when added to her account, pushed her balance over the limit by $16.00. It was at this point that Capital One added a second $39.00 fine in the form of an “Over the limit fee” to her account.
Last March Professor Warren discussed the abusive lending practices of credit card companies with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. It’s worthwhile listening. I excerpt some of it here.
Cops go bonkers over RateMyCop.com
Let’s begin with Radley Balko’s telling of the saga:
So even as police departments across the country are setting up sex offender registries, drug offender registries, and posting the mugs and names of suspected johns online, they also took a great deal umbrage early this month when Gino Sesto set up a site called RateMyCop.com. The premise is simple: Sesto wrote to police departments across the country, and obtained a list of the names and badge numbers of their officers. He then posted the names online in a format broken down by state and city, and encouraged users to rate their experiences with individual officers. All of the information he posted was already open to the public. He didn’t post the identities of any undercover officers.
Police groups went nuts, making the dubious argument that posting the publicly-available names and badge numbers of police officers on the Internet somehow jeopardized the safety of individual officers. Sesto said he had even planned on adding a feature that would allow individual officers to write responses to complaints made against them. But police groups persisted.
Jerry Dyer, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, told Wired the site could give citizens the opportunity to "unfairly malign" individual officers, and said he’d be asking the legislature to pass a law making sites like RateMyCop.com illegal.
On Monday TechDirt noted Arizona police were complaining about it:
The site doesn’t have pictures, addresses, or other personal information on the site. It only lists officers’ names and the department they work for. But this is still too much for the Tempe police department. “If everybody went home everyday and you had the whole world ranking your job, we do make mistakes, but other days we do great things,” said one Tempe police officer. I’ve have a lot more sympathy for the guy if this wasn’t true of a ton of other professions. When I do a stupid blog post, you guys all leave comments saying so. Most restaurants and retail business have complaint cards so customers can complain about bad service. There are a ton of sites where consumers rate hotels, bands, restaurants, books, and a ton of other stuff—such as rating teachers (although some people do want to make that illegal too). The big difference is that police officers have the force of law behind them, so they need to be held to a higher standard than other professions...When a police officer screws up, the result can be innocent people being harrassed, humiliated, arrested, injured or killed.
On Wednesday, Wired’s Threat Level reported that GoDaddy pulled the site:
RateMyCop founder Gino Sesto says he was given no notice of the suspension. When he called GoDaddy, the company told him that he’d been shut down for “suspicious activity.”
When Sesto got a supervisor on the phone, the company changed its story and claimed the site had surpassed its 3 terabyte bandwidth limit, a claim that Sesto says is nonsense. “How can it be overloaded when it only had 80,00 page views today, and 400,000 yesterday?”
GoDaddy’s is a checkered past:
Unfortunately for the startup, the company it chose for hosting is known to be quick to censor its customers. In January of last year, GoDaddy took down entire computer security website—delisting it from DNS—to get a single, archived mailing list post off the web.
On that occasion, at least, it gave the site’s owner 60 seconds notice. GoDaddy notified Seto by posting its “Oops!” message to his public website.
“You put on my website for me to call you, when you have my phone number?,” says Sesto.
Gideon says the irony’s coming in buckets:
Curiously, police agencies have no problem with Cops Writing Cops, which is a site for cops to trash other cops for not showing them “professional courtesy”.
So a website where cops can complain about, essentially, getting ticketed, arrested and charged for breaking the law is okay, but a website where the public they serve does that is unacceptable.
I conclude in agreement with Radley:
The good news is, the site’s back up, now, though it isn’t clear who’s hosting it.
Me, I think police departments should be required to post all citizen complaints against individual officers online in a searchable database. Individual officers, their union reps, or their departments could post responses or explanations to frivolous claims. Police officers are public servants. Not only that, they’re public servants with the power to arrest, detain, and use lethal force. If certain officers are the subject of repeated complaints and aren’t being properly investigated internally, the public ought to be informed of that. This culture of secrecy—and of intimidating anyone who dares question it—isn’t healthy.
And further agreement with Threat Level’s Kevin Poulsen’s prediction that:
A year from now RateMyCop.com will have won public service awards. Good cops, and clean departments, will have come to think of the site as a friend, and its founders will be sought-after speakers at police gatherings. Hosting companies that reject them on “health and safety” grounds will look like fools and cowards.
If they want to waste their time with legislation, bring it on. Such legislation, says Poulsen, “wouldn’t pass constitutional muster in any court in America.”
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Jones introduces ‘offensive materials’ legislation
State Senator Emanuel Jones, who very correctly complained and called for an investigation of the political release and distribution of the Genarlow Wilson sex video in that controversial case, has followed up with legislation.
[A] Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would make it a crime to distribute offensive material introduced as evidence in a court proceeding.
When a Douglas County jury convicted then 17-year old Genarlow Wilson of child molestation in 2005, a video tape of that act was shown as evidence in court.
Afterwards, the prosecuting district attorney gave copies of the tape to lawmakers at the same time they were considering a bill that would have reduced Wilson’s sentence.
The US Attorney for Georgia described the tape as child pornography, the possession and distribution of which is a federal offense.
Senator Emanuel Jones (R-Decauter), from Atlanta authored the measure, which he says would protect minors from having video evidence distributed outside of a trial or court proceeding.
“In today’s video age, with YouTube and MySpace, and all these other sites around that cater to our kids, that their privacy, in the event that something happens, their identity is going to be protected from the media.”
The measure now goes to the Senate Rules Committee for review, while similar legislation is being considered by the House of Representatives.
If passed, violation of the proposed law could result in a prison term of up to twenty years.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Civil Libertarian contratian
Jeffrey Rosen says Obama’s a proven civil libertarian:
Mr. Obama made his name in the Illinois Legislature by championing historic civil liberties reforms, like the mandatory recording of all interrogations and confessions in capital cases. Although prosecutors, the police, the Democratic governor and even some death penalty advocates were initially opposed to the bill, Mr. Obama won them over. The reform passed unanimously, and it has been adopted by four other states and the District of Columbia.
In the Senate, Mr. Obama distinguished himself by making civil liberties one of his legislative priorities. He co-sponsored a bipartisan reform bill that would have cured the worst excesses of the Patriot Act by meaningfully tightening the standards for warrantless surveillance. Once again, he helped encourage a coalition of civil-libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives. The effort failed when Hillary Clinton joined 13 other Democrats in supporting a Republican motion to cut off debate on amendments to the Patriot Act.
I flat-out, whole-heartedly love that stuff. Especially the mandatory recording of interrogations. I’m posting on this story today after reading it yesterday and reflecting on it. In light of the earlier WaPo piece, I find this passage just a bit distressing:
...the core constituency that cares intensely about civil liberties is a distinct minority - some polls estimate it as around 20 percent of the electorate. A polarizing president, who played primarily to the Democratic base and refused to reach out to conservative libertarians, would have no hope of striking a sensible balance between privacy and security.
Mr. Obama, by contrast, is not a knee-jerk believer in the old-fashioned liberal view that courts should unilaterally impose civil liberties protections on unwilling majorities. His formative experiences have involved arguing for civil liberties in the legislatures rather than courts, and winning over skeptics on both sides of the political spectrum, as he won over the police and prosecutors in Chicago.
As a former grass-roots activist, Mr. Obama understands the need to make the case for civil liberties in the political arena. At a time when America’s civil-libertarian tradition has been embattled at home and abroad, his candidacy offers a unique opportunity.
Emphasis mine. I get that we’ve got a lot of educating to do, but I’m not seeing that we can do it without the courts.
I keep referring to my work with the students. I did a session on Google objecting to Microsoft’s hostile takeover bid for Yahoo! The students love the corporate giants who give them free stuff (and make Rosen’s 20% look high).
My hope is that there will be more substance to a civil liberties strategy that will include deliberations and not merely the belief that we’ll all just fall in line.
Telco immunity: who’s shielding who?
President Bush said last week that telecommunications companies that helped government wiretapping efforts need protection from “class-action plaintiff attorneys” who see a “financial gravy train” ahead. Democrats and privacy groups responded by accusing the Bush administration of trying to shut down the lawsuits to hide evidence of illegal acts.
But in the bitter Washington dispute over whether to give the companies legal immunity, there is one thing on which both sides agree: If the lawsuits go forward, sensitive details about the scope and methods of the Bush administration’s surveillance efforts could be divulged for the first time. [...]
Peter Eliasberg, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney involved in cases against AT&T and Verizon, said that if the cases proceed, the plaintiffs could submit an interrogatory to the carriers seeking answers to the questions: Did you turn over customer phone records en masse to the government? Did you receive a warrant or a subpoena?
Answers to those questions, he said, might reveal that “everybody in the country” has had their phone calls “combed through, and lots of people will be outraged.”
Kevin Drum has a lawyer commenter who says:
“The general counsels and legal departments of telcos are extremely accomplished and always protect their company’s interests meticulously. They have been dealing with wiretapping and surveillance agreements with the government and law enforcement for over seven decades, this was not a matter of first impression to them; and in difficult and unique cases, I have never seen them not insist on indemnification. Never.”
Kevin’s thinking some enterprising national security journalist ought to start prying into indemnification:
Obviously some of this stuff is guesswork, though pretty well-founded guesswork, and [commenter] bmaz suggests that the press ought to show some interest in the possible existence of indemnification agreements. I agree. If they exist, it would mean the telcos have never been exposed in any way, and immunity would have no effect on their willingness to cooperate with the government in the future. It would also explain why the Bush administration was able to keep the telcos on board so easily even after the Protect America Act expired three weeks ago.
Friday, February 29, 2008
1 in 100 behind bars in “free” America
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.
Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”
But Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and a former federal judge, said the Pew report considered only half of the cost-benefit equation and overlooked the “very tangible benefits - lower crime rates.”
You know, that last statement is just plain disputable. Correlation is not causation. More police on the streets means less crime. But locking more people up all by itself does not reduce the crime rate.
I’ve quoted Glenn C. Loury a number of times before for asking in The Boston Review last summer, why are so many Americans in prison?
Loury says that ”we have become progressively more punitive...because we have made a collective decision to increase the rate of punishment.”
From his 5,200 word piece:
One simple measure of punitiveness is the likelihood that a person who is arrested will be subsequently incarcerated. Between 1980 and 2001, there was no real change in the chances of being arrested in response to a complaint: the rate was just under 50 percent. But the likelihood that an arrest would result in imprisonment more than doubled, from 13 to 28 percent. And because the amount of time served and the rate of prison admission both increased, the incarceration rate for violent crime almost tripled, despite the decline in the level of violence. The incarceration rate for nonviolent and drug offenses increased at an even faster pace: between 1980 and 1997 the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses tripled, and the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses increased by a factor of 11. Indeed, the criminal-justice researcher Alfred Blumstein has argued that none of the growth in incarceration between 1980 and 1996 can be attributed to more crime:The growth was entirely attributable to a growth in punitiveness, about equally to growth in prison commitments per arrest (an indication of tougher prosecution or judicial sentencing) and to longer time served (an indication of longer sentences, elimination of parole or later parole release, or greater readiness to recommit parolees to prison for either technical violations or new crimes).
This growth in punitiveness was accompanied by a shift in thinking about the basic purpose of criminal justice. In the 1970s, the sociologist David Garland argues, the corrections system was commonly seen as a way to prepare offenders to rejoin society. Since then, the focus has shifted from rehabilitation to punishment and stayed there. Felons are no longer persons to be supported, but risks to be dealt with. And the way to deal with the risks is to keep them locked up. As of 2000, 33 states had abolished limited parole (up from 17 in 1980); 24 states had introduced three-strikes laws (up from zero); and 40 states had introduced truth-in-sentencing laws (up from three). The vast majority of these changes occurred in the 1990s, as crime rates fell.
We’re locking our citizens up at rates higher than anyplace else in the industrial world—our incarceration rate is 40% higher than Russia, for example. We can kid ourselves that we’re doing it to reduce crime if we like. But one day the truth will come out, if for no other reason than the raw expense of it!
Monday, February 25, 2008
Adam Walsh Act provisions ignore real harms
Sarah Tofte, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, has an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer today:
State lawmakers will need to decide whether to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act on sex offenders or lose federal money for law enforcement. The choice for states is to dramatically increase their registration and community-notification requirements for convicted sex offenders by 2009 or lose significant federal law enforcement grant money.
It doesn’t seem like a difficult choice. Who wouldn’t want to support laws targeting convicted sex offenders and be paid for it? Yet legislatures from Arizona to Illinois to Rhode Island are leaning against implementing the law. Because once you get past the painful emotions and look hard at the problem of child sexual abuse, it turns out that sex-offender registration and community-notification laws might not actually prevent sexual violence.
Sex-offender laws are based on two popular myths about child abuse: that children have most to fear from strangers, and that sex offenders will repeat their crimes. In fact, more than 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows. And authoritative studies show that three out of four sex offenders do not re-offend within 15 years of release from prison. In fact, 87 percent of sex crimes are committed by people with no previous sex-offense convictions.
The Adam Walsh Act doesn’t tackle the real dangers to children, and contains disturbing provisions. It requires states to register and identify online children 14 and older who commit sex offenses. Many states treat juvenile sex offenders differently from adults, exempting them from community notification. They understand that young sex offenders respond well to treatment and have an excellent chance of rehabilitation - and that crimes they committed as children should not haunt the rest of their lives. Thus the Illinois legislature, knowing it was acting in conflict with the Adam Walsh Act, recently overrode the governor’s veto of a law exempting child offenders from online registration.
RELATED: LA’s CityBeat had a piece last week worried that California’s registry for life may soon include promiscuous kids. You’ve got to wonder, are we really trying to protect the kids? Or just lock them up?
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Moving on to Mississippi, you’ll remember that Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks served more than 30 years in a penitentiary there for crimes they didn’t do. Radley Balko’s been doing a bang-up job following these cases when few others have.
West still stands by his testimony. He’s now saying that even if Brooks and Brewer did not commit the two murders a third man has since confessed to committing, his testimony wasn’t incorrect: Brewer and Brooks still bit those little girls. To believe West, you’d have to believe that in two cases that occurred at about the same time, two men living just miles apart coincidentally each repeatedly bit a little girl in their care just hours before a third man unknown to either of them abducted, raped, and killed said little girls.
Alternately, you could believe that Dr. West is a quack who makes shit up. I know which theory my money’s on.
Balko follows up with another piece this week in Slate in which we learn something of the man who performed the autopsy and hired Dr. West to do the bite analysis. He’s Dr. Steven Hayne who has come to monopolize Mississippi’s criminal autopsy system over the last 20 years. Balko says that system is in disrepair, that state officials have had plenty of warning that something is wrong, and they’ve steadfastly refused to do anything about it:
According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a doctor should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. Dr. Hayne has testified that he performs 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies per year. Sources I spoke with who have visited Hayne’s practice say he and his assistants will frequently have multiple bodies open at once, sometimes smoking cigars and even eating sandwiches while moving from corpse to corpse. They prefer to work at night, adding to their macabre reputation.
Hayne isn’t board-certified in forensic pathology, though he often testifies that he is. The only accepted certifying organization for forensic pathology is the American Board of Pathology. Hayne took that group’s exam in the 1980s and failed it. Hayne’s pal Dr. West is even worse. West has been subject to exposÃ©s by 60 Minutes, Time, and Newsweek. He once claimed he could definitively trace the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich left at the crime scene back to the defendant. He has compared his bite-mark virtuosity to Jesus Christ and Itzhak Perlman. And he claims to have invented a revolutionary system of identifying bite marks using yellow goggles and iridescent light that, conveniently, he says can’t be photographed or duplicated.
Mississippi’s system is set up in a way that increases the pressure on forensics experts to find what prosecutors want them to find. The state is one of several that elect county coroners to oversee death investigations. The office requires no medical training, only a high-school diploma, and it commonly goes to the owner of the local funeral home. If a coroner suspects a death may be due to criminal activity, he’ll consult with the district attorney or sheriff, then send the body to a private-practice medical examiner for an autopsy. The problem here is that a medical examiner who returns unsatisfactory results to a prosecutor jeopardizes his chance of future referrals. Critics say Hayne has become the preferred medical examiner for Mississippi’s coroners and district attorneys, because they can rely on him to deliver the diagnoses they’re looking for.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Evidence of malice?
Thanks for the link, Maggie. And the tip.
I’ve been posting a lot about kids today and here it turns out we’ve got an Atlanta teen, Michael Murphy, who even the veteran prosecutor handling the murder case he’s in jail for isn’t convinced is guilty. So why’s the kid in jail nine months after the crime?
The prosecutor’s DA boss, Paul Howard, told him to try the kid as an adult on murder charges that carry an automatic life sentence if convicted:
Howard declined to comment other than to say, “The indictment speaks for itself.”
Defense attorney Rusty Mayer insists his client isn’t the one to blame for the June 17, 2007 shooting of Byron Watson, 18, who died a couple of days later.
Instead, Mayer claims that Watson was with a group of 15-20 teens who had surrounded Murphy’s Mills Street apartment near the Georgia Aquarium. They were angry with Michael Murphy’s mom, Teresa Murphy, who then worked as a security guard at the complex, Mayer said.
“She had run several of the kids off or had them arrested for selling weed or trespassing,” Mayer said.
Teresa Murphy, who legally carried a gun, also made enemies in her other jobs â€”tracking down fleeing suspected felons as a bounty hunter and snitching on lawbreakers as a criminal informant to Atlanta police.
So she was frightened when she spotted the group of teens walking up to her apartment. She yelled for her son, who also had a gun, to come to her aid.
Someone from the crowd yelled: “Pull the tool!” which Michael Murphy feared meant he or his mother was about to be shot.
Some serious self-defense. Adds Maggie:
[T]he autopsy shows the victim was hit from the back, meaning it’s more likely the shot came from the crowd, who was also firing. A good DA looks at that information and sees that trying this case is probably not worth their time. And a Assistant DA in Fulton County did just that. He was going to send the case to Juvenile Court to be dealt with on lesser charges. ...given the situation, you’d think the least they could do is let this kid out. But no bond has been granted. Instead the Judge berated the kid for having a gun. (And this is in Georgia! Where we’re regularly expanding the gun rights of our citizens! In fact, it seems like given the political climate, we’d be leaning in the kid’s favor instead of against him.)
Now Prosecutors can often be kept in check by defense attorneys and Judges. But the more serious the charge, the more leeway that prosecutor is going to get. All Murphy has going for him right now is time, but it looks like that’s time he’ll be spending in jail. I’m hopeful the case will turn out now, but how much is being lost in the mean time?
Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of willful malicious prosecution (and I tell you, I really have to wonder) it reeks at the very least of prosecution for the sake of re-election—as opposed to prosecution for what I, the common man, understand to be the legitimate reason: to make a safer city.
Social Networks, predators, & neglecting the real problem
Techdirt reports on yet another study demonstrating that social networks aren’t breeding grounds for sexual predators:
Over the past few years there has been a huge number of grandstanding politicians claiming that social networks like Facebook and MySpace were breeding grounds for online predators, who were trying to entice children. They’ve been pushing for new laws, basically so they can get into the papers along with some quip about how they are out there protecting “the children.” Of course, it turns out that the entire premise is faulty. A few years back we pointed to a study that showed the problem was entirely exaggerated. Very few kids were approached by predators and most who were could easily brush it off, so long as they had been educated about the risks. Now there’s a new study out going even deeper in noting that sexual predators are unlikely to pretend to be teenagers using social networks, but rather are very upfront about who they are and what they want. In most cases, the victims knew that they were chatting with an older person, and believed that they were in a legitimate relationship, rather than being tricked. Once again, this suggests that all the hype and new laws being proposed to deal with the “problem” of predators on social networks are misplaced. The focus should be on basic education. Teach kids to have some “internet smarts” and they’re probably going to be just fine.
While I agree with the education conclusion, what I find tragic is the truth that most of the victims knew that they were chatting with an older person.
The real crisis is these kids need adults to engage, appropriately, with them on the topic of sex. Now that I have a young person living in my household (regular readers will recall that my nephew lives with us) I know just exactly how overwhelming the challenge of that can be.
So if you care at all about the facts… if you have kids—or just honestly care about them—and want to make a difference and help address these issues, here are some important resources:
A danah boyd post from a May 2007 panel of social scientists, Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization.
Stephanie Booth reacts to MySpace removing the profiles of 29,000 convicted sex offenders: Online Predator Paranoia.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Kennedy Brewer & willful malicious prosecution
Just a bit more on Kennedy Brewer:
Brewer was convicted in 1995 of the rape and murder three years earlier of Christine Jackson, the child of his girlfriend. In 2002, he was freed from Death Row after DNA tests on semen on her body revealed a DNA profile that was not his, but he was held in jail several additional years as prosecutors decided whether to retry him.
Neufeld said the DNA in the case linked another man, Justin Albert Johnson, 51, to the girl’s murder. Concerned that local authorities would not handle the case fairly, the Innocence Project asked the state attorney general’s office to undertake a new investigation.
Huh??? The DNA showed he didn’t do it but he was held in jail several additional years as prosecutors decided whether to retry him.
And all bullshit happy talk anchors can ask is if he’s angry for being wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years??? How about asking about willfully malicious prosecution???
Richard Moran, a professor of sociology and criminology at Mount Holyoke College, finds that it’s real and it happens:
My recently completed study of the 124 exonerations of death row inmates in America from 1973 to 2007 indicated that 80, or about two-thirds, of their so-called wrongful convictions resulted not from good-faith mistakes or errors but from intentional, willful, malicious prosecutions by criminal justice personnel. (There were four cases in which a determination could not be made one way or another.)
Yet too often this behavior is not singled out and identified for what it is. When a prosecutor puts a witness on the stand whom he knows to be lying, or fails to turn over evidence favorable to the defense, or when a police officer manufactures or destroys evidence to further the likelihood of a conviction, then it is deceptive to term these conscious violations of the law - all of which I found in my research - as merely mistakes or errors.
Mistakes are good-faith errors â€” like taking the wrong exit off the highway, or dialing the wrong telephone number. There is no malice behind them. However, when officers of the court conspire to convict a defendant of first-degree murder and send him to death row, they are doing much more than making an innocent mistake or error. They are breaking the law. [...]
Even if we limit death sentences to cases in which there is “conclusive scientific evidence” of guilt, as Mitt Romney, the presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts has proposed, we will still not eliminate the problem of wrongful convictions. The best trained and most honest forensic scientists can only examine the evidence presented to them; they cannot be expected to determine if that evidence has been planted, switched or withheld from the defense.
The cause of malicious unlawful convictions doesn’t rest solely in the imperfect workings of our criminal justice system â€” if it did we might be able to remedy most of it. A crucial part of the problem rests in the hearts and souls of those whose job it is to uphold the law. That’s why even the most careful strictures on death penalty cases could fail to prevent the execution of innocent people - and why we would do well to be more vigilant and specific in articulating the causes for overturning an unlawful conviction.
If only the Left could turn “malicious prosecutors” into the kind of demon buzzword the Right has made the term “activist judges.” Those prosecutors need to be reigned in.
Kennedy Brewer: I’m mad as hell!
From The Today Show this morning:
JENNA WOLFE, anchor: And finally, an emotional day in a Mississippi courtroom as a man once sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of a three-year-old girl is now free. Kennedy Brewer was freed Friday, more than a week after another man confessed to the crime. That man is already doing time for murdering another child in the same community. Brewer has been in prison since 1992 and he talked about how he got through that time in prison.
Mr. KENNEDY BREWER: You have to find the strength to make it like that. You have to find strength. And I found strength through God. Through the word of God I found strength. And by my family sticking by me, that was my strength.
WOLFE: An emotional Brewer says he is not angry, he just wants to spend time now with his family.
That’s the news. Now back to Lester, Amy and Chris.
I am sick to death at this kind of story being casually reported by happy-talk reporters. Specifically, that these stories routinely include that the victims of these horrible institutional injustices are “not angry.” And that’s the best these reporters can do, ask is the guy angry after 15 years of a life that cannot be recovered. Reduced to a happy ending story for their crappy little news segment!
A search of my 130 blog feeds finds no one—not one post—mentioning Brewer. A Google News search finds more, but not nearly enough. How in God’s name can this not be news???
LATER: For this I have added Talk Left to my reader.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Baptist Day not so fertile at the Capitol
Hundreds and hundreds of Southern Baptists descended on the state Capitol today. Political Insider explains why:
The top priority of Southern Baptist Day was to free a specific piece of legislation trapped in the House â€” H.R. 536, a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish the state’s interest in a human embryo at the moment of fertilization.
House Republican leadership has been hesitant to move the bill, which would require two-thirds approval for passage, because it would expose moderate GOP members in an election year.
Objections to the measure, intended to challenge Roe. v. Wade, include worries that it might threaten commonly used forms of contraception. And suburban women are a key ‘08 voting demographic.
The state’s largest Christian denomination got behind the proposed amendment last November - DVDs and literature were sent to every member church - and have quickly learned that campaign blandishments don’t always translate into results at the Capitol.
“You can’t treat us as a voting bloc during the campaign and ignore us when you get into office,” said a frustrated Bucky Kennedy, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vidalia and president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. “We’ve been used. We’d just like to see a little action.”
Yes and the kind of action they want could just bring about the kind of Democratic resurgence we want in Georgia.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Truly inconceivable: life begins at fertilization in Georgia
On Super Tuesday a young woman student said to me that she was “ardently pro-life” and that would determine her vote. When I asked about contraception she answered that, in fact, she wondered how much of a role the state should have in reproductive choice.
That’s the kind of response I’ve had from many pro-life young people here. It makes me wonder if perhaps young conservatives are more truly conservative than their elders.
On that same Super Tuesday the AJC had this opinion piece by Maureen Dowd on Bobby Franklin and Martin Scott, two Georgia legislators targeting the reproductive choices of women in Georgia:
A Republican House member from Rossville, Scott wants a constitutional amendment that would define human life as beginning at the point that egg and sperm meet. According personhood at the moment of fertilization means more than the end of legal abortion. It also jeopardizes the legality of many forms of birth control—from the pill to the IUD—because they block the fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.
Scott’s amendment is silent on abortion, although the legislator admits that his intent is to overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as what he calls its “culture of death.”
Franklin dispenses with any such subterfuge in his wild-eyed anti-abortion legislation. House Bill 1 outlaws all abortions and calls for the death penalty for doctors who perform them. The Marietta Republican has urged this extreme policy for years, but the House leadership has ignored him. However, this year Franklin has won a hearing in front of a House Judiciary subcommittee, suggesting that the climate at the Capitol has warmed to him and chilled toward women.
Both bills confer on the single cell created when a sperm penetrates an egg the same moral status and legal rights as a living, breathing human being made of trillions of cells. Such a change would have dramatic impact on many areas of law and life.
They don’t stand a chance in hell in passing. And such bills might even make the young students here think twice and move them away from their elders.
RELATED: The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in the 1970s calling for the legalization of abortion that was reaffirmed in 1974, again in 1976. So how did abortion become the signature issue of the religious right?
According to one of the architects of the religious right, who told me this directly, after they had organized on the issue of Bob Jones University and more broadly the issue of government interference in these schools, as they understood it, there was a conference call among these various evangelical leaders and the political consultants who were trying to organize them into a political movement, and several people mentioned several issues. Finally the voice on the end of one of the lines said, `How about abortion?’ And that’s how abortion was cobbled into the agenda of the religious right, late in the 1970s in preparation for the 1980 presidential election.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Castle Doctrine
The talk of the town this week here is a violent home invasion in which the invader shot the homeowner and was shot and killed himself by the homeowner’s son. As it happens, on the Talk of the Nation Thursday the focus was the Castle Doctrine:
The Castle Doctrine allows law-abiding citizens attacked in their own homes (their “castles") to respond with force, even deadly force, to protect themselves - though the law varies from state to state. Self-defense laws are back in the spotlight after two recent cases in which intruders were shot and killed by homeowners.
Jonathan Turley, professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, had written about those two cases on his blog and was one of the guests.
He explains that “Castle Laws” or “make-my-day laws” came about because the common law rule believed that “it’s not worth shooting someone for property.” So these laws became a politically expedient way to get rid of that by saying that anytime someone enters your domicile or home you are allowed to use lethal force.
The problem is…
Prof. TURLEY: ...they pretty much solved the problem that didn’t exist; that juries really didn’t convict people that shot burglars, you know? You didn’t - it’s hard to find a jury that says, gosh, you know, you were really harsh with that guy that kicked the door of your room in.
So there wasn’t a great need to pass the law, but it’s very popular politically. It resonates with people. But the ironic thing is that the laws are almost always used in mistake cases; that they involve people who shoot their spouses and shoot their neighbors.
Actually, this is a seasonal thing. We see most of these cases during the holidays. When people get drunk, they go to a development with a like-looking house and get shot by their neighbors… they drop their keys and they go through that side window and they end up staring right down the barrel of a gun.
Turley says that, as a consequence, the drive for more of these laws has slowed.
Law or no law (ours passed in March of ‘06 - though you’d be hard-pressed to find someone prosecuted for shooting a home invader prior to that) the sentiment here favors the armed homeowner, even among those in the more liberal college crowd I run with.
With a small police force spread across a much larger geographical distance, I understand it in a way I never had before. I even shot a gun for the first time in my life after moving here. Still, I don’t expect I’ll be shooting one again any time soon.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Genarlow Wilson (epilogue)
The Daily Record publishing a must read piece naming B.J. Berenstein “Newsmaker of the Year” is an opportune moment to take a look at some of what’s happened since the October 26 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that freed Genarlow Wilson.
Genarlow is set to begin classes at Morehouse College next month. And three of his co-defendants were released from prison this week by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles:
The Board voted to release Adrian Willis, Ryan Barnwell and Cornell Robinson… Their release comes more than a month after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Wilson’s sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. The news also comes as lawmakers prepare to revisit a tough sex offender law during the legislative session starting next month. [For more on that, see here.]
B.J. Bernstein, Wilson’s lawyer, hopes lawmakers take the case into consideration.
BERNSTEIN: Listen, it’s one thing when you’re dealing with sexual offenders but restrictions that don’t help children don’t need to be there.
With those releases only one of the original “Douglasville Six” remains behind bars.
The case of Joshua Widner, a Hampton, GA high school dropout who had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 18, who also received 10 years for non-forcible oral sex but lost before the GA Supreme Court a year before Genarlow got there, was considered to be an “insurmountable” challenge for Wilson and Berenstein. But the court set Wilson free.
A month later the Henry County District Attorney agreed to an unusual deal that let Widner out of prison after serving less than five years. My take: What choice did he have?
Given that the high court seemed to go out of its way to show how Widner could not benefit from Wilson’s case, the DA was under no legal pressure:
Widner still will need to register as a sex offender, McGarity explained to him. That was a primary complaint by Wilson’s supporters about his sentence.
Asked about the sex offender registry, Widner’s lawyers said they didn’t think they should look a gift horse in the mouth.
And what of Wilson prosecutor David McDade?
The Daily Record tried to talk to him for the Beresntein story but found he “has been in a death penalty trial for weeks.”
Apparently, McDade won:
“I’m mighty proud of Douglas County jurors,” McDade said. “It’s the 15th time in a row they’ve returned a death verdict when we’ve sought one. We’ve got the death penalty every time we sought it.”
The defense attorney wonders about that braggadocio:
Part of the record in the case, developed before the trial, shows “that David McDade is completely out of step with the rest of this state and has sought the death penalty five times more often than the average prosecutor in Georgia,” Moore said.
“I personally believe we have seen signs that the Georgia Supreme Court may be growing weary of Mr. McDade’s over zealousness,” Moore said.
That last via Maggie, who’s weary of McDade and his ilk too.
B.J. Bernstein: Daily Report’s Newsmaker of the Year
What the Daily Report calls B.J. Bernstein’s Impossible Victory was winning freedom for Genarlow Wilson, the young Georgia man found not guilty of raping a 17-year-old girl but convicted of molesting a 15-year-old girl when he was just 17.
For that crime, later called by the state Supreme Court’s majority “consensual” oral sex, he was sent to prison to serve a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. For that victory, the Record has named Berenstein “Newsmaker of the Year.”
The 7,000 word piece backing up the accolade published today by the Record is the most thorough telling of the Wilson saga I’ve seen since the October 26 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that the 10 year sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment:
Perhaps the key to Bernstein’s success was in never wavering in her conviction that her client’s situation was unjust-and that she could set things right. “People read into it what they want-that you’re either crazy, or that you’re wanting publicity at that point, and that it’s pride.” But, she asks, “At what point are you crazy when you believe the law can change?”
Berenstein has often been called a savvy manipulator of the press.* Her game plan was to change the law and so, she says, that’s what she set out to be:
She knew that she would need to raise awareness about her client’s troubles in order to change the relevant statutes. And so she began a public opinion campaign.
“Definitely, it was a conscious decision to reach out to the media to get the statute changed.” That seemed both logical and appropriate, she explains. “You can argue whether a court is influenced by the media or not,” she says. “But the Legislature? Public opinion matters greatly, period.”
The legislature thwarted that first plan.
Prosecutor David McDade was legislative chair of the Georgia District Attorneys’ Association and a regular presence at the state Capitol. He passed around a video of the crime that convinced Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson that Wilson was guilty of rape despite what the jurors ("screaming and crying when they learned their decision meant a 10-year mandatory jail term") ruled.
They also accused Berenstein of putting on a show with the pro bono case in order to promote herself:
Perhaps the best rebuttal of the suggestion that Bernstein was mainly seeking fame for herself is the relatively modest, anonymous setting in which she practices law now.
A visitor to Bernstein’s second-floor offices at Colony Square in Midtown is greeted by a friendly receptionist-who’s answering the phones for Bernstein, as well as other nearby professional offices. There’s no marquee in the waiting area announcing you’ve entered the offices of The Bernstein Firm, where Bernstein and her colleague Sherry Boston have offices similar to those housing first-year associates at corporate firms.
Bernstein says she had to leave her more distinctive offices near City Hall East in August because she had been working on Wilson’s case pro bono for so long. With her focus on Wilson, she says, she wasn’t bringing in enough paying business to keep busy the three other lawyers in her firm, who have since departed.
But Bernstein isn’t complaining, easily talking about her relationships with her young clients. She says she bonds with her young clients more than others. “I joke Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ I don’t have any kids, but I have lots of kids,” says Bernstein.
The article is a must read. It shows Berenstein to be everything a good lawyer should be. Congratulations B.J.!
* One press victory, a New York Times editorial, Free Genarlow Wilson Now, was published one year ago today.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Judge bans shoplifting teens from shopping
Just down the road in Dublin, GA:
There are six shopping days left before Christmas, but for five Laurens County teens, the shopping season is over - for a while.
The five juveniles have been officially and legally banned from entering any retail establishment in Laurens County, thanks to Juvenile Court Judge William L. Tribble, who issued the bans as part of the court’s sentencing for shoplifting.
“No more shopping sprees for you, courtesy of the Juvenile Court of the Dublin Judicial District,” said Judge Tribble, “or should I say ‘no more stealing sprees’?”
One by one, the five separate shoplifting cases were called before the judge’s bench Tuesday. Soon it became apparent that the judge had decided to give each defendant a little something extra along with the regular sentence of probation.
The first to appear before the judge entered a guilty plea to the shoplifting lifting charge along with a theft by taking charge. “She’s already on probation for other theft charges,” Tribble said as he studied the teen’s record, “in fact there’s seven theft charges and one burglary charge here.”
“I’m placing you under house arrest,” Tribble told the 15-year-old defendant. He then addressed the child’s mother, “and you are now her jailer ma’am. She is to go home, close the door, do not go outside except for medical emergency.”
“What about church your honor?,” asked a woman observing the proceedings who identified herself to the judge as pastor Cynthia Rolle of the St. Paul AME Church. “If our church van picks her up and her mother too, may she come to church?”
Judge Tribble found the pastor’s offer amenable and revised the sentence, “You are not allowed to go anywhere except for medical emergency and church - if this church sends a van to get you, you may go.”
Tribble asked the pastor if the church had a means to address habitual thieves.
“We do your honor, we have a viable youth program,” said Pastor Rolle.
“She’s got seven theft charges and burglary,” Tribble reviewed. “Just what does it take to teach someone not to be a thief?” Tribble asked aloud, but no one in the courtroom responded with an answer.
Good for that judge! I hope the kids will be better for it. Asked he, “Do you know how to shop online?”
Justice Department no-show at hearing on KBR gang-rape case
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing [yesterday] into the allegations of Jamie Leigh Jones, a young Texas woman who claims she was drugged and gang-raped by her fellow KBR/Halliburton employees in Iraq—and then imprisoned and threatened with the loss of her job after reporting the incident to her bosses. KBR has denied the allegations.
While Jones courageously testified before the committee, no one from the Justice Department bothered to show up. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski sent a letter [PDF] yesterday to Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) explaining that the Department was unable to testify because of its “pending investigation” into the incident, which occurred more than two years ago.
Conyers’ reaction from a prepared statement:
Simply put, it is unacceptable for our own Department of Justice to refuse to testify today. The letter they sent me last night does not begin to respond to the tragedy and injustice that we are looking at now. The department claims to be committed to law enforcement in Iraq, but 1) they will tell us nothing about what is being done in Ms. Jones’ case; 2) they cannot give us even one example of a prosecution where the victim was a civilian contractor employee in Iraq; and 3) they cannot describe any steps they have taken to ensure that such Americans in Iraq can report crimes by contractor employees there to federal law enforcement and that prompt investigation and prosecution will occur. The American people and this committee have the right to demand justice and accountability, and I intend to see that that is exactly what we get.
Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas) also testified before the committee. Jones’ father got help from Poe in getting Jamie Leigh freed. In his prepared testimony Poe said that his office had been contacted by three women other than Ms. Jones about sexual assaults they sustained while working for KBR in Iraq.
Jamie Leigh Jones says she has been contacted by 11 other women who have also been assaulted by contractors in Iraq.
LATER: Crooks and Liars has video of Jamie Leigh’s testimony.
Monday, December 17, 2007
1 down, 36 to go: NJ abolishes the death penalty
In a 44-36 vote last week, the Democrat-run New Jersey state assembly replaced the death sentence with life in prison without parole.
Gov. John Corzine is expected to sign the bill into law today.
On Saturday the NYTimes editorialized that it was a long time coming:
By clinging to the death penalty, states keep themselves in the company of countries like Iran, North Korea and China - a disreputable pantheon of human mistreatment. Small wonder the gyrations of New Jersey’s Legislature have been watched intently by human rights activists around the world.
Spurred in large part by the large and growing body of DNA-based exonerations, there is increasing national unease about the death penalty. The Supreme Court is poised to consider whether lethal injections that torture prisoners in the process of killing them amount to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment, an exercise bound to put fresh focus on some of the ugly details of implementing capital punishment.
SEE ALSO: Are you one of those who buy into the death penalty as deterrent argument? Then let’s test it!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Change the Juvenile Justice code in Georgia
The AJC has a Q&A with former prosecutor and DeKalb County district attorney Tom Morgan:
A 17-year-old high school student takes a nude picture of his 17-year-old girlfriend and sends it via cellphone to his friend.
Does he realize he’s trafficking in child porn?
Two things I’ve learned from working with teenagers,” says J. Tom Morgan, former DeKalb County district attorney. “Either, one, they don’t know the laws, or two, they don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions.”
Know the laws??? How could they??? Morgan says himself that he didn’t know of the one above until it resulted in child porn charges against both the sender and the recipient of the photo. And what public policy good do such laws serve?
Here’s the lesson we teach - uneven application of the law, there’s no rhyme or reason and happenstance gets you caught:
Q: How do you tell a kid to drive 55 mph on I-285?
A: There is no good answer. Don’t kill the messenger because you don’t like the message. It’s 55. You may be the one busted for driving 70.
I tell the college kids at school that they are our future, that they can accept a system with such bad outcomes or they can go out and fix what my generation has so clearly screwed up!
In the meantime, I support the efforts of JUST Georgia to change the juvenile justice system in Georgia. I’ll do everything in my power to help them.
RELATED: The NYTimes says Missouri has turned its juvenile justice system into a nationally recognized model of how to deal effectively with troubled children:
More pandering to paranoia in the guise of public safety
Texas plans to do criminal background checks during emergency evacuations before allowing evacuees to board rescue busses. Er, why?
The idea, according to Jack Colley, is to keep sex offenders and others who may be wanted by police off the same buses used by the most vulnerable during an evacuation: the elderly, disabled residents and children.
“This will allow us to help them evacuate,” Colley said of sex offenders and others wanted for crimes. “We’re not going to leave anyone.”
Oh, how kind of them. They’re going to help the criminals and sex offenders evacuate.
And how, precisely, will they handle that in the chaos of an emergency evacuation?
“We’ll have procedures and we’re not going to advertise what they are,” [Mr. Colley] said.
Gee, golly. That makes the confidence just rise up inside of me!
Via Maggie at Of Counsel, who wonders what the public safety issue really is:
The article doesn’t say this is a response to any incident that’s previously occurred. And given that buses are full of people and people have eyes, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to “vicitmizeÃ¢â‚¬Â� a fellow busrider. [...]
They claim they are after only those with outstanding warrants, sex offenders, and parolees. I’m not sure why they’ve chosen these three groups. If you’re evacuating the jail, what are you going to do with a person with an outstanding warrant? Are local police really going to have time to deal with that in an emergency?
Yes, I’m real sure their super-secret procedures will work all of that out.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I mentioned earlier this week the exoneration of John White after he was shown by DNA evidence to be innocent of a 1979 rape. As previously reported, there was a “cold hit” from the DNA to another person in Georgia’s database. Turns out it was to James Parham, who was in the same lineup that White was picked out of nearly 30 years ago. It’s an amazing coincidence, since White was the suspect police had their eye on and Parham was used only because he was already in the local jail. Worse, the description the victim gave didn’t even fit Parham. (She wasn’t wearing her glasses. Cliche, but true.)
This information surfaces on the final day of hearings for the House Study Committee on Eyewitness Identification Procedures. Hearings started back in September and they’ve heard from those falsely identified as well as those who made false identifications. White himself was brought to today’s hearing. Law enforcement has argued against regulations. I am very very hopeful that we can take some strong steps forward. Very few states have ventured into this territory and there’s a lot of information out there that needs to be disseminated to the public and the legislatures. A proposed draft of legislation was put out at today’s hearing.
RELATED - Justice is the victim.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
* At the end of last year, 1 of every 31 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or on supervised release.
* An estimated 2.38 million people were incarcerated in state and federal facilities, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2005.
* Of that 2.38 million, 38% are Black.
* Of that 2.38 million, a bit under 5% are women. “The female jail and prison population has grown at double the rate for men since 1980; in 2006 it increased 4.5 percent, its fastest clip in five years.”
* About 15,000 people were held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities, an increase of 43 percent over last year.
* “In several states, incarceration rates for blacks were more than 10 times the rate of whites. In Iowa, for example, blacks were imprisoned at 13.6 times the rate of whites, according to an analysis of the data by the Sentencing Project.”
* “Still, many prison systems are accommodating record numbers of inmates by using facilities that were never meant to provide bed space. Arizona has for years held inmates in tent encampments on prison grounds. Hundreds of California prisoners sleep in three-tier bunk beds in gymnasiums or day rooms. Prisons throughout the nation have made meeting rooms for educational and treatment programs into cell space.”