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Showing posts from October, 2009

Supreme Court of Pa vacates 6500 juvenile convictions.

by shmuelmanThu Oct 29, 2009 at 10:04:17 PM PD

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled late Thursday that almost all juvenile delinquency cases heard by former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella from Jan. 1, 2003 to May 31, 2008 must be thrown out.
Ciavarella took millions in kickbacks to incarcerate juvenile offenders in private detention facilities. This is an excellent link about this story, one of the most egregious abuses of judicial power (outside of appointing Bush President) in the history of the United States. and Michael Conahan ,who was serving as president judge of the Luzerne County Common Pleas Court, a position that allowed him to control the county-court budget, entered a plea deal that would have them serve 7 year sentences. The federal judge presiding over the case, 83-year-old Edwin M. Kosik, last month rejected the plea agreements Ciavarella and Conahan had signed in exchange for their admissions of guilt.Read on...

Justices will scrutinize life sentences for youths

By Robert Barnes Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009 It did not take long for the judge to determine that the convicted rapist in front of him was irredeemable.
"He is beyond help," Judge Nicholas Geeker said of Joe Harris Sullivan. "I'm going to try to send him away for as long as I can." And then Geeker sentenced Sullivan to life in prison without the possibility of parole. At the time, Sullivan was 13 years old. Now, 20 years after that sentencing in a courtroom in Pensacola, Fla., the Supreme Court will consider whether Sullivan's prison term -- and what his supporters say is an only-in-America phenomenon of extreme sentences for juveniles -- violates the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Read on...

Witness to an assault: Must you report it?

By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY

Police investigating the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside a school dance are finding that a California law may make it impossible to prosecute as many as 20 people who saw the rape and did nothing. A state statute requires that people must report to police any information they have about the sexual assault of children under the age of 14. There is no law requiring people do the same for victims over that age."The fact that our victim missed that age by a very short time …" said Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan. "It's just very offensive that there's no statute we can use to show that we condemn their behavior."Read on...

How Could It Be Against the Law to Spread Public Information?

By Charles Mostoller, AlterNet. Posted October 29, 2009.
An activist shared on Twitter what he heard on his police scanner, and now faces serious federal investigation.

The hazmat team rushed into Elliot Madison's home in Queens, N.Y., and headed straight for the kombucha tea brewing in a corner, assuming that the outspoken anarchist was concocting a chemical weapon.Now Madison, 41 -- who is under investigation by a federal grand jury for violations of a rarely used anti-riot statute -- has denounced the probe as politically motivated and in violation his constitutional rights.Madison was arrested on Sept. 24 at a hotel outside Pittsburgh, accused under Pennsylvania law of aiding protesters at the G20 Summit by listening to a police scanner and then sending out Twitter feeds on the location of police, helping protesters to avoid arrest.Read on...Seems like Obama's Department of Justice is picking up right where George Bush's left off - Tom

Task Force: Signing of Hate Crimes Measure Is Historic

"Laws embody the values of our nation, and through the enactment of this hate crimes law, our country has — once and for all — sent a clear and unequivocal message that it rejects and condemns all forms of hate violence, including crimes motivated by hatred of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."— National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea CareyWASHINGTON - October 28 - President Obama today signed federal hate crimes legislation into law. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act will help protect people against violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, gender, national origin and disability by extending the federal hate crimes statute. It will provide critical federal resources to state and local agencies to equip local officers with the tools they need to prosecute hate crimes. National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey will attend the commemorative event later today at …

"Freakonomics" Authors Tell You How to be a Good Prostitute

Posted by Sady Doyle, Comment Is Free at 2:30 PM on October 26, 2009.
The men behind "Freakonomics" offer a stunningly shallow and flawed view of sex work as a career option for women.

Good news, ladies. You, too, can make millions by charging for sex! And you'll just have a slam-bang, gee-golly splendiferous time doing it, too -- at least if you absolutely adore the sort of men who pay for it. Be warned, however: Disliking those men will consign you to the minimum-wage ranks of sex professionals, forever longing for the big bucks you could be earning, had you only an appropriately chipper attitude.Such is the advice of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame. They are back with a new book, Superfreakonomics, and recently they unveiled a bit of it in the form of an excerpt about how to succeed as a prostitute.Freakonomics, of course, is the science of choosing an appropriately wacky or controversial subject (sumo wrestlers, abortion), applying a little…

Teaching The Kids A Lesson

by digby

Following up on my post earlier today about the new "warning label" on the tasers, here's some rather disturbing news on the same subject:

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Board of Juvenile Affairs on Friday moved ahead with plans for legislation and rules to allow the use of pepper spray and Taser devices in secure facilities.


Rep. Wade Rousselot, D-Okay, said he intends to sponsor legislation that would allow OJA staff to use chemical spray and or Tasers to protect themselves and obtain control of juveniles in a facility.

Read on...

Critics, including civil-rights lawyers and human-rights advocates, called the training bulletin an admission by Taser that its guns could cause cardiac arrest. They called it a stunning reversal for the company, which for years has maintained that the gun was incapable of inducing a cardiac arrest. (Image:

And don't forget this story from Taser Inernational. Tom

Spiritual Misguidance

October 21, 2009 6:06 PM

If you're going to find religion while committing an armed robbery, the least you should do is leave the scene without violating any of the Ten Commandments. Otherwise you look like a hypocrite.

Gregory Smith, pictured, entered an Advance America Cash store, pointed a gun at a clerk and soon asked her to pray with him, according to police in Indianapolis, IN who have surveillance video of Smith on bended knee in prayer with the victim (seen at right).

Read on...

Judges reject California plan to cut prison crowding

The panel threatens to impose its own plan if the state does not submit an acceptable one within three weeks.By Michael RothfeldOctober 22, 2009 Crowded conditions at the state prison in Lancaster. A three-judge federal panel has given the Schwarzenegger administration three weeks to come up with an acceptable plan for reducing the California prison population. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times / March 2, 2007)
Reporting from Sacramento - Three federal judges on Wednesday forcefully rejected a Schwarzenegger administration proposal to ease prison overcrowding, threatening to impose their own plan for reducing the inmate population if the state does not submit an acceptable one within three weeks.

The panel said California officials had failed to comply with their order to produce a plan to pare the number of state prisoners by 40,000 within two years. The judges agreed to postpone a decision on a request by inmates' lawyers to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in contempt of court f…

Screams, Flames Among Horrors of Botched US Executions

by Lucile Malandain

Signs against the death penalty are seen in front of the Supreme Court in Washington DC in 2008. (AFP image)
WASHINGTON — US executions are meant to be clinical and humane, but for some they end up resembling medieval torture, complete with the smell of burning flesh, screams, and scenes so gruesome that witnesses faint.

"We put animals to death more humanely," reporter Carla McClain said of a 1992 execution she witnessed, in which Donald Eugene Harding writhed and thrashed in an Arizona gas chamber for over 10 minutes before dying.

Last month, Romell Brown became only the second man to leave a US execution chamber alive, after 18 failed attempts to administer the lethal injection.

Read on...

In a switch, police invite scrutiny of racial profiling

By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

DENVER — By the time police Sgt. Robert Motyka responds to the disturbance call at a local hospital emergency room, the man at the reception counter is clearly agitated.

His speech is unintelligible. He becomes frantic as the officer slowly approaches, urging him to calm down. In a blur of flailing arms, the man reaches for something in his back pocket.

Motyka has no time to consider the possible consequences of one of the most potentially combustible scenarios in America: a confrontation between a black man and a white officer.

Read on...

DOJ to Issue New Guidelines on Medical Marijuana Busts

By Jeralyn, Section Crime Policy

Bump and Update: Here is the text of the DOJ memo. The Department of Justice is sending out a three page memo to prosecutors in the 14 states that have legalized medical marijuana with new guidelines for prosecutions. According to unnamed officials, ... [the memo] emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.Without a doubt? Sounds like there's some wiggle room. [More...]At the same time, the officials said, the government will still prosecute those who use medical marijuana as a cover for other illegal activity. The memo particularly warns that some suspects may hide old-fashioned drug dealing or other crimes behind a medical marijuana business.Read on...

Playing God? Texas Jury Consulted Bible Before Sentencing Man to Death

Posted by Liliana Segura, AlterNet at 12:30 PM on October 16, 2009.
Khristian Oliver is set to be executed next month, after jurors used Old Testament passages to determine whether he should live or die.

Last week I wrote about Texas Governor Rick Perry's craven attempts to cover up proof that he signed off on the execution of an innocent man. Crazy, yes? But crazier than a pack of jurors who consult the Bible before deciding whether to sentence someone to death?From Amnesty International:Khristian Oliver, 32, is set to be killed on 5 November after jurors used Biblical passages supporting the death penalty to help them decide whether he should live or die.Amnesty International is calling on the Texas authorities to commute Khristian Oliver's death sentence. The organization considers that the jurors' use of the Bible during their sentencing deliberations raises serious questions about their impartiality. A U.S. federal appeals court acknowledged last year that the juror…

Swine flu prisoner's dilemma

Posted on: October 16, 2009 6:18 AM, by revere

Via Crof's blog (invaluable, as always) I learned of the decision of Massachusetts state health officials to vaccinate state prisoners before the rest of the population:Prison officials warn that inmates could quickly spread the flu if not inoculated -- particularly those in high-risk groups such as AIDS patients. Middlesex Sheriff James DiPaola told the Boston Herald that prisons were the perfect flu "breeding ground." DiPaola dealt with riots in a Cambridge jail when rumors of swine flu spread there. (AP)State legislators are already complaining that there are other, more vulnerable groups that deserve to be at the head of the line. That's probably true, but like a lot of things about flu, this one raises some knotty questions which we can choose to ignore but which we shouldn't. Let me raise a couple of them.Read on...

Facial Profiling

Can you tell if a man is dangerous by the shape of his mug?

By Dave JohnsPosted Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009, at 10:36 AM ET

On Nov. 27, 2008, Indian police interrogators came face to face with the only gunman captured alive in last year's bloody Mumbai terror attacks. They were surprised by what they saw. Ajmal Kasab, who had murdered dozens in the city's main railway station, stood barely 5 feet tall, with bright eyes and apple cheeks. His boyish looks earned him a nickname among Indians—"the baby-faced killer"—and further spooked a rattled public. "Who or what is he? Dangerous fanatic or exploited innocent?" wondered a horrified columnist in the Times of India. No one, it seems, had expected the face of terror to look so sweet.

The notion that a man's mug reveals his character is an age-old bias. Since Aristotle, people have thought it possible to infer personality traits from the face and body, an art known as physiognomy. The practice grew popular in the …

AbortionWorldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress

Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress was
written by Susheela Singh, Rubina Hussain, Akinrinola
Bankole and Gilda Sedgh, all of the Guttmacher Institute,
and Deirdre Wulf, independent consultant. The report was
edited by Peter Doskoch and copyedited by Haley Ball;
Kathleen Randall supervised production.
The authors thank the following colleagues for their comments
and help in developing this report: Elena Prada and
Michael Vlassoff, for reviewing the literature; Alison
Gemmill, for providing research support throughout the
project; and Ann Biddlecom, Sharon Camp, Susan A.
Cohen, Leila Darabi, Patricia Donovan, Stanley K.
Henshaw, Ann Moore, Cory L. Richards and Gustavo
Suárez, for reviewing drafts of the report. Special thanks
are due to Jacqueline E. Darroch and Stanley Henshaw
for assistance with data interpretation and to Evert
Ketting for providing data from various European countries.
All are affiliated with the Guttmacher Institute,
except for Elena Prada and Evert Kettin…

Behind Montana Jail Fiasco: How Private Prison Developers Prey On Desperate Towns

Justin Elliott | October 12, 2009, 3:14PMWith the unraveling of the deal for the shadowy American Private Police Force to take over and populate an empty jail in Hardin, Montana, it's pretty clear that the small city got played by an ex-con and his (supposed) private security firm. But an investigation by TPMmuckraker into how Hardin ended up with the 92,000 square foot facility in the first place suggests that, long before "low-level card shark" Michael Hilton ever came to town, Hardin officials had already been taken for a ride by a far more powerful set of players: a well-organized consortium of private companies headquartered around the country, which specializes in pitching speculative and risky prison projects to local governments desperate for jobs.The projects have generated multi-million dollar profits for the companies involved, but often haven't created the anticipated payoff for the communities, and have left a string of failed or failing prisons in the…

The High Cost of Empty Prisons

By ROBERT GANGI Published: October 11, 2009

LAST Wednesday, changes to New York’s notorious Rockefeller drug laws went into effect, allowing judges to shorten the prison terms of some nonviolent offenders. This measure will further reduce New York’s prison population, which has already declined, in the past 10 years, from about 71,600 in 1999 to about 59,300 today. (The state’s crime rate also dropped substantially during that time.)

Nevertheless, mainly because of opposition from the correction officers’ union and politicians from the upstate areas where most of our correctional facilities are, the state has been slow to close prisons. It was not until earlier this year that policymakers in Albany, confronted with fiscal crisis, mustered the will to shut three prison camps and seven prison annexes — a total of about 2,250 prison beds — in a move that is expected to save $52 million over the next two years.

Read on...

Just in case you missed this editorial from Sunday's New York Times…

New Taser rules for Toronto police

Officers instructed to aim lower and avoid firing at suspects' chestsPublished On Tue Oct 13 2009

Toronto Police have changed their Taser-use policy, instructing officers to avoid hitting the upper chest of a suspect when using the weapon.The change was made over two weeks ago after Taser International, Inc., the weapon's U.S. manufacturer, issued a bulletin instructing users not to aim the weapon at the chest of a suspect to avoid impact to the heart."What (the bulletin) says is to aim slightly lower and stay away from the upper chest area," said police spokesman Mark Pugash.Read on...This story will not be a surprise to Crimbrary readers. There have been far too many fatalities in Taser incidents. And now after denying any problem Taser finally says to not aim for the chest of a suspect. Crimbrary says this weapon should be banned for domestic police forces. Tom

4 Supreme Court Cases That Will Say a Lot About the Direction of Our Country

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted October 12, 2009.

Would a Human Sacrifice TV Channel be protected by the First Amendment? Answers to this and other key questions will be answered.

As the Supreme Court kicked off its new season last week with a brand new justice on the bench, the cases on the docket provided a fascinating glimpse into the judicial soul of the country.In the first days alone, there were cases involving dog fighting, a controversial cross on public land, and a number of prickly criminal justice issues.The months to come will test laws on some of the most controversial issues of our time, including guns, sex offenders and the uniquely American question of whether teenagers can be sentenced to life without parole. The outcomes will tell us a lot about the future direction of the Roberts court, and what it might mean to have Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the bench.Read on...

Police stop more than 1 million people on street

By COLLEEN LONG (AP) – 11 hours agoNEW YORK — A teenager trying to get into his apartment after school is confronted by police. A man leaving his workplace chooses a different route back home to avoid officers who roam a particular street. These and hundreds of thousands of other Americans in big cities have been stopped on the street by police using a law-enforcement practice called stop-and-frisk that alarms civil libertarians but is credited by authorities with helping reduce crime.Police in major U.S. cities stop and question more than a million people each year — a sharply higher number than just a few years ago. Most are black and Hispanic men. Many are frisked, and nearly all are innocent of any crime, according to figures gathered by The Associated Press.And the numbers are rising at the same time crime rates are dropping.Read on...Does anyone know? If you are stopped by the police randomly, on the street in Canada, what are your rights? Do you have to answer questions? Do …

Franken Wins Bipartisan Support For Legislation Reining In KBR’s Treatment Of Rape

In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolatedcase.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) proposed an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR “if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.” Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday, Franken said:Read on...Franken's first legislation. Vitter, Ensign, and McCain all voted against the amendment. Tom

New Oklahoma law will publicy post details of women’s abortions online.

On Nov. 1, a law in Oklahoma will go into effect that will collect personal details about every single abortion performed in the state and post them on a public website. Implementing the measure will “cost $281,285 the first year and $256,285 each subsequent year.” Here are the first eight questions that women will have to reveal: 1. Date of abortion
2. County in which abortion performed
3. Age of mother

Read on...

Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Becomes Active Tomorrow: 1,500 Incarcerated People Eligible for Resentencing and Release, Judges Now Have Discretion

Governor Paterson to Mark Milestone at Brooklyn Courthouse on Wednesday at 10 a.m.An Army of Legal Advocates and Human Service Agencies Stand Ready to Provide Reentry, Drug Treatment and other Services
NEW YORK - October 7 - On Wednesday, October 7, key elements of the Rockefeller Drug Law reform go into effect: Decision making authority is returned to judges, who can now divert people suffering from drug dependency into treatment and other service programs, instead of prison. And nearly 1,500 people currently incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses under the Rockefeller Drug Laws can petition the court for resentencing and, if approved by a judge, will be released.

Read on...

Republican Gomorrah: The Shattered GOP, Taken Over by Authoritarian Radicals, Is Incapable of Compromise

This is a long interview with Max Blumenthal author of "Republican Gomorrah". I've highlighted a couple of sections. If you're interested in the social/religous context of the "official opposition" in the U.S., it is worth browsing the whole thing. - Tom

"R.J. Rushdoony was a survivor of the Armenian genocide, who came to this country and became a theologian. He's the descendant of six generations of high priests, and he laid out a plan in several tomes for replacing the federal government, the secular government, with a totalitarian theocracy in which functions like road building and medical care and schooling would be provided by the church. The criminal justice system would be turned over to the church and run according to Leviticus case law, so disobedient children, adulterers, loose women, etc., would all be executed.

And, of course, you know, many of the people he influenced didn't take it as literally as Rushdoony did but he, as I sai…

Singing the same tune? International continuities and discontinuities in how police talk about using force

by Waddington, P.A.J., et al. Crime, Law and Social Change 52, 2, (2009): 111-138.

This article is available online to members of the U. of T. community. It is also available in print at the Centre of Criminology Library, University of Toronto.

This article focuses on a research project conducted in six jurisdictions: England, The Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Venezuela, and Brazil. These societies are very different ethnically, socially, politically, economically, historically and have wildly different levels of crime. Their policing arrangements also differ significantly: how they are organised; how their officers are equipped and trained; what routine operating procedures they employ; whether they are armed; and much else besides. Most relevant for this research, they represent policing systems with wildly different levels of police shootings, Police in the two Latin American countries represented here have a justified reputation for the frequency with which they shoot people, w…

Prisoners get drunk on swine flu hand gel

Alcohol hand gel meant to combat swine flu has been banned from a prison after inmates started eating it and became embroiled in a drunken brawl.

Inmates have been drinking the liquid soap placed on their wing after realising it contained alcohol. The detergent was meant to beat off the threat of swine flu in the Verne Prison on Portland, Dorset.
However, instead of rubbing it into their hands, inmates at the category C prison have been placing their mouths over the dispensers and consuming it. Prison officers had expressed their concerns at suddenly having to deal with a number of drunken convicts before the brawl erupted.
Read on...Where is all the Centre's Purell going? Tom

Mysterious Private Security Firm Gets Control Of Empty Jail In Small Montana Town

Justin Elliott | September 30, 2009, 3:16PM
A shadowy private security company that has no known clients but claims to have helped foreign governments combat terrorism and will protect anything from cruise ships to Pakistani convoys has taken over a jail in a small Montana town, with plans to build a law enforcement training facility on the property.

Michael Hilton
The state legislature is looking into the matter and residents of Hardin, MT, were alarmed last week when executives from the firm, American Police Force, showed up in the town, which does not have its own police department, with Mercedes SUVs bearing "City Of Hardin Police Department" decals.And the town has had to tamp down reports on conspiracy Web sites that APF plans to impose experimental H1N1 vaccines on residents under threat of quarantine in the jail.Read on...See this story too. Tom

Justices take on potentially landmark gun rights cases

By Bill Mears
CNN Supreme Court Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Setting the stage for a dramatic battle over gun rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday accepted an appeal challenging the ability of state and local governments to enforce strict limits on handguns and other weapons.

The question before the courts will be whether Second Amendment protections apply to local gun ordinances.
The high court returned from its summer recess, meeting in private to consider thousands of pending appeals that have piled up the past three months. The Second Amendment case from Chicago was the most anticipated of the petitions, and oral arguments will be held sometime early next year. Nine other cases were also accepted for review. At issue is whether the constitutional "right of the people to keep and bear arms" applies to local gun control ordinances, or only to federal restrictions. The basic question has remained unanswered for decades, and gives the conservative majority on the high cou…

Commentary: Polanski's crime can't be excused

By Leslie Morgan Steiner
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of "Crazy Love," a memoir of domestic violence. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Historically, women's rights and status in America have been viewed by both men and women as "soft" issues -- worthy but marginal. Real problems are the serious ones -- financial crises, international confrontations, nuclear arms, trade disputes, Mafia murders, the Steelers/Ravens game (if it looks close). But ills that plague the daily lives of women like rape, incest, prostitution and domestic violence -- not so much. However, with Hillary Clinton perched atop the State Department, Michelle Obama in the White House, Oprah, Katie and Diane dominating television, and Arianna Huffington running the blogosphere, so-called "women's issues" may finally get the attention they deserve.
Read on...