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Showing posts from November, 2009

State Courts at the Tipping Point

Published: November 24, 2009

State courts are not just another government agency. They are at the center of the nation’s legal system and enforcement of the rule of law, handling more than 95 percent of all civil and criminal litigation. This vital institution — constitutionally, an independent, co-equal branch of government — has been spiraling into crisis as cash-starved states struggle with huge deficits.

In a sobering speech earlier this month at a gathering of the New York City Bar Association, Margaret Marshall, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, warned that because of budget cuts in tough economic times, state courts across the country stand at “the tipping point of dysfunction.”Chief Justice Marshall’s sense of alarm is well founded. Reductions in financing have led to some overdue efficiencies that states might not have made if the recession had not forced their hands. But in too many cases, the cuts are already impeding core court functions, forcing…

Feeling Nervous? 3,000 Behavior Detection Officers Will Be Watching You at the Airport This Thanksgiving

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted November 24, 2009.

Nearly 100,000 passengers were pulled aside by TSA behavior watchers last year, and it remains to be proven whether you can spot terrorists by the looks on their faces.

Here's a question to ponder the next time you're taking off your shoes at airport security: Can you spot terrorists by the look on their faces?For the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the answer is yes. For the past few years, airports across the country have been using what many call "behavioral surveillance" to weed out potential hijackers among us, by covertly examining travelers' facial expressions and body language as they go through security. Unlike those airport employees who herd us along as we remove our shoes and relinquish all liquids over three ounces (with dubious results), this new program, named "Screening Passengers by Observational Techniques," or "SPOT," is carried out by TSA employees who …

Black Teacher May Get 15 Years in Prison for Cutting in Line at Wal-Mart

By Devona Walker, The Loop. Posted November 25, 2009.

This is not how our criminal justice system is supposed to operate.

Think about the story of Heather Ellis, then think about the fact that half of the people in the United States prison system are Black folks, even though we make up just 13 percent of the population. Then, ask yourself if our criminal justice system is operating the way it's supposed to operate.Three years ago, Heather Ellis, a college student at the time, was waiting on line at Wal-Mart. She decided to get into another line, then got into a verbal altercation with customers. The cops were called. And she is facing a possible 15-year sentence in prison.Black folks keep focusing on Ellis' background — she's a young school teacher with no record. Seemingly a good person, right? While that is true, my point is that should be irrelevant. Even if Ellis were a convicted felon, even if she had been stuffing DVDs down her pants, she should still not be fa…

All power to the people

And speaking of lost causes… there’s a fascinating new documentary making the rounds that you might want to keep an eye out for. William Kunstler: Defending the Universe is a sometimes stirring, sometimes confounding but ultimately moving portrait of the iconoclastic and controversial defense lawyer who was sort of the Zelig of the radical Left throughout most of the 1970s. Somehow, he became THE key legal champion for the Chicago 7, The Black Panther Party, anti-war activist Father Daniel Berrigan, the American Indian Movement and the ill-fated inmates who initiated the Attica prison riots.

However, beginning sometime in the 1980s (for reasons known only to himself, or perhaps just merely in keeping with the inherently contrarian nature of a defense lawyer) he slowly but surely turned to The Dark Side (at least in the opinion, and to the chagrin, of many of his professional cohorts and former “co-conspirators”). He started to take on high-profile cases involving clients who were, well…

Daily Kos TASERS: How Police & TASER, Inc. Bamboozle The Press

by Zwoof
he following is an excerpt from an article instructing Law Enforcement personnel how to explain to the media why Taser victims die from Excited Delirium, a non-existent medical condition. When law enforcement administrators are confronted by the
media event surrounding a Sudden In-Custody Death (SICD), they
often do not know what to say. Many times, what the chief says
during an unplanned media event will haunt that chief for a long
time and provide a basis for unpleasant cross-examination during
a civil trial.

Police & Security News; SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2007 VOL. 23 ISSUE 5 (PDF) The article deals with language and terms. For example, do not say, "The officer shot
the man with an ECD." ECDs are not firearms, but the word "shot"
will imply that notion. Instead, say the ECD was "deployed." Also,
do not use the word "tased," as this not only negatively impacts
the trademark, TASER
, but it also helps to perpetuate the use of
this improper word, and…

This Seeming Brow of Justice


Every fall they pack Sanders Theatre to the rafters. A spellbinding philosopher takes the stage before a rapt crowd of Harvard students, and soon enough the cavernous space becomes a classroom where the bright shades of Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant and John Rawls are summoned to have their say on the enduring questions. What is the good life? Is pleasure the highest end, or is something else? Are acts moral because they lead to good consequences, or because they are done on principle? To keep the discussion grounded, the class--called simply "Justice," it now regularly enrolls more than 1,000 undergraduates--is asked to confront these quandaries in the context of hard cases brought to life by the philosopher's trademark hypothetical situations or policy dilemmas culled from newspaper articles.

Read on...

This is a nice read for a Sunday morning. Tom

Cop Tases 10-Year-Old Girl

Arkansas mother suggested stun gun treatment for unruly daughter

NOVEMBER 18--An Arkansas cop tasered an unruly 10-year-old girl after her mother called police to report that the child was crying, screaming, and refusing to go to bed. The tased girl, Kiara Medlock, is about 65 pounds and 4' 6", according to her father. Anthony Medlock, a truck driver who does not live with the fifth grader and her mother, provided TSG with a recent photo of his daughter, which can be seen at right.Read on...

Manhattan TransferThe right's nonsensical arguments against trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York.

By Dahlia Lithwick

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Opposition to the Obama administration's plan to try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his confederates in a federal court in New York City is hardening into two camps. One is concerned that we may be unwittingly playing into the terrorists' hands. The other is incensed that we already have. What both camps share, besides a kind of unhinged logic and complete disregard for the legal process, is an obsessive fascination with the accused. The result is a broad willingness to sacrifice our commitment to legal principles in favor of the symbolic satisfaction of crushing the hopes and dreams of a motley group of criminals. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, firmly in the first camp, is hopping mad that we are poised to make all the suspect's dreams come true. As he said on ABC's This Week: "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, when he was first arrested, asked to be brought to New York. I didn't think we were in the bus…

What Makes a Prison "State of the Art"?

By Brian PalmerPosted Monday, Nov. 16, 2009, at 7:44 PM ET

Thompson Correctional Center

Federal officials visited a correctional center in Thomson, Ill., on Monday, to see if it might be appropriate for housing detainees from Guantanamo Bay. A statement from the governor's office described the prison as a "virtually vacant, state of the art facility." What makes a prison "state of the art?"A triangle shape, in part. Modern prisons are generally designed with three sides, no more than two stories of cells lining the perimeter, and communal activities like dining in the center. The shape supposedly allows guards stationed in the middle to see every corner of the building, with better sight lines than you'd get from a rectangular layout. (The triangle design came into fashion in the United States after World War II and soon spread to other countries.)Read on...

Texas Accounts for Half of Executions in US but Now Has Doubts Over Death Row

Overturned convictions and growth of DNA forensic evidence shake state's rock-solid faith in capital punishmentby Chris McGreal in Livingston
"Old Sparky", the decommissioned electric chair in which 361 prisoners were executed between 1924 and 1964, at the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, Texas. (AFP/File/Fanny Carrier) Even in Texas they are having their doubts. The state that executes more people than any other by far – it will account for half the prisoners sent to the death chamber in the US this year – is seeing its once rock-solid faith in capital punishment shaken by overturned convictions, judicial scandals and growing evidence that at least one innocent man has been executed. The growth of DNA forensic evidence has seen nearly 140 death row convictions overturned across the US, prompting abolition and moratoriums in other states that Texas has so far resisted.Read on...

U.S. Deports Lou Dobbs

CNN Host Had Been Living Illegally In Country Since 1961Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez, alias "Lou Dobbs," is escorted by DHS agents to the airport to be sent back to Mexico.WANTAGE, NJ—Acting on anonymous tips from within the Hispanic-American community, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Wednesday deported Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez, who for the last 48 years had been living illegally in the United States under the name Lou Dobbs. According to the Department of Homeland Security, federal agents stormed the undocumented immigrant's home in an evening raid just hours after the 64-year-old newscaster suddenly announced that he was resigning from CNN, and immediately placed him on an Aeromexico flight departing from Newark Liberty Airport.
Read on...Shocking. Tom

BCCLA demands policy for VPD Olympic sonic gun

A representative for the Vancouver Police Department confirmed to the BCCLA last week that the VPD has acquired an LRAD (Long Range Acoustical Device) crowd control weapon for the 2010 Olympics. He advised that the VPD would be using the device to ensure that police instructions were clearly heard. The sonic gun fires a concentrated beam of sound at its targets that can cause hearing damage and temporarily disrupt vision.

BCCLA President Robert Holmes pointed out that even as the Taser inquiry has not yet reported back, police are acquiring another high tech device that could be used to cause grievous pain. “This crowd control weapon was obtained without any public discussion and without any defined policy for its safe and proper use being set in advance. Tasers were also brought in through such an ill-considered and backwards approach.”

Read on...

That's right folks. Fresh after being tested on citizens in Pittsburgh during the G20 summit, Vancouver Police rushed right out to get …

Feds Wanted Private Data on All Visitors to Liberal News Site

By Daniel Tencer, Raw Story. Posted November 11, 2009.

A Justice Department subpoena requesting information on visitors to an independent news site is raising serious privacy concerns.
A Justice Department subpoena requesting all available information on all visitors to an independent news site is raising serious privacy concerns, and questions about how much information the US government is storing about its citizens' news reading habits.Privacy watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation has released an extensive report on a "bogus" attempt by a US attorney in Indiana to get, an independent left-leaning news site, to hand over all the data it had about all the users who visited the site on a particular day.Further adding to civil libertarians' and privacy watchdogs' concerns is the fact that the Justice Department ordered Indymedia to keep silent about the request.Read on...And have the feds requested any data from any conservative, rightwing hate s…

Ugly Truth: Most U.S. Kids Sentenced to Die In Prison Are Black

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted November 11, 2009.

The U.S. stands alone in the world in condemning thousands of juveniles to life without parole. And race is a huge factor. Will the Supreme Court even consider it?
This is the second in a two-part series on juvenile life without parole. Read Part One here.On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases that could have major implications for the way juvenile offenders are treated in our criminal justice system. Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida both involve men who are serving life without the possibility of parole for crimes they were convicted of as teenagers -- crimes in which no one was killed.Joe Sullivan was only 13 years old when he was accused of sexually assaulting a 72-year-old woman in her Pensacola, Fla., home, hours after he and a group of older teenagers robbed her house. Sullivan, who reportedly suffers from mental disabilities, insisted that, while he participated in the robbery, he did not commit the ra…

The Trouble With ‘Zero Tolerance’


Congress took a reasonable step in 1994 when it required states receiving federal education money to expel students who brought guns onto school property, but states and localities overreacted, as they so often do. They enacted “zero tolerance” policies under which children are sometimes arrested for profanity, talking back, shoving matches and other behavior that would once have been resolved with detention or meetings with the students’ parents. This arrest-first policy has been disastrous for young people, who are significantly more likely to drop out and experience long-term problems once they become entangled in the juvenile justice system. It has led to egregious racial profiling, with black and Hispanic students being shipped off to court at a higher rate than white students. And it has been a waste of time for the police to haul off children to the courts when they should be protecting the public from real criminals. School officials who want to back away from the f…

A National Disgrace


Two courts, one in Italy and one in the United States, ruled recently on the Bush administration’s practice of extraordinary rendition, which is the kidnapping of people and sending them to other countries for interrogation — and torture. The Italian court got it right. The American court got it miserably wrong.

In Italy, a judge ruled that a station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency and 22 other Americans broke the law in the 2003 abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, a Muslim cleric who ended up in Egypt, where he said he was tortured.Two days earlier, a federal appeals court in Manhattan brushed off a lawsuit by Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was seized in an American airport by federal agents acting on bad information from Canadian officials. He was held incommunicado and harshly interrogated before being sent to Syria, where he was tortured. He spent almost a year in a grave-size underground cell before the Syrians let him go.

Read on...

A New Yor…

The Business of Intelligence

Corporate intelligence-gathering harkens back to COINTELPROby Tim Groves

TORONTO—In the US, a new model of law enforcement has emerged in which police, military, security contractors and large corporations are collaborating on intelligence gathering. Are the 2010 Olympics ushering this new paradigm into Canada?The security committee for the 2010 Olympics Task Force, based in Washington State, is at the forefront of planning US security efforts for the games. According to The Globe and Mail this group brings together government agencies from both sides of the border, more than 100 from the US and 17 from Canada. Documents acquired by The Dominion reveal that this committee consists of not only the US Military, Canadian Forces, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but also “Pacific Northwest Private Sector Company Volunteers.” The amount the US will spend on Olympic security has not been disclosed.
Read on...

Moral panic in the dock

I can think of nothing worse than reshaping the criminal justice system to prioritise victim

David Wilson

Over the past 24 hours victims' champion Sara Payne has been pleading for government to "redefine" and "reshape" the criminal justice system to give greater priority to the victims of crime – even though she acknowledges that her own experience of the justice system has always been positive.Not only has it been hard to escape Payne – whose daughter Sarah was murdered in 2000 by the known paedophile Roy Whiting, and who has since that awful crime campaigned for a "Sarah's Law" to give parents information about convicted child sex offenders – but it also remains difficult to be seen to criticise her position. To do so appears insensitive and cruel, although frankly if we want to take her seriously we must leave sentiment behind and expose her thinking to a much more critical analysis than it has so far received.Should the criminal justice system b…

Forever Young

By Dahlia LithwickPosted Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009, at 5:02 PM ET

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear a case testing whether the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits sentencing a teen to life in prison without parole. Punishment is generally deemed "cruel" if it's more than "graduated and proportional." It is constitutionally "unusual" if imposed so infrequently "that a national consensus has developed against it." If those concepts sound squishy and vague to you, well, you can just imagine what Antonin Scalia is feeling right now.

The seeds for this particular constitutional battle were sown in Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in a 2005 case, Roper v. Simmons, banning capital punishment for juveniles. That case hinged on the growing national consensus against executing teens, bolstered by scientific studies finding teenage brains to be underdeveloped in ways that make their owners less culpable th…

HBO’s “The Wire” Earns Credits

Contributing Writer

Michael K. Williams speaks passionately about poverty, injustice, and inequality along with other actors from HBO’s The Wire.

Harvard students will be able to watch the “The Wire” for class credit next year.

At a panel last night, stars of the HBO hit series joined Harvard professors in discussing the applications of the show—which depicts the struggles of urban life in Baltimore—in understanding and combating real urban social issues.

“‘The Wire’ has done more to enhance our understanding of the systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the poor than any published study” Sociology Professor William J. Wilson said.

Read on...

A Powerful Idea on Youth Violence

Published: November 4, 2009 As a former beat cop, Ron Huberman, the new chief of public schools in Chicago, learned long ago that violence among young urban people could not be solved simply by hauling ever larger numbers of children off to jail. With the prompting and support of his boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Mr. Huberman is trying a new approach to the violence that has killed and maimed hundreds of young people and turned Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods into precincts of terror and despair. The ambitious plan will offer mentoring, counseling and jobs to high-risk students. To determine who they are, Mr. Huberman analyzed the cases of more than 500 young people who were killed or wounded in gun violence over the last two years. The analysis suggests that nearly 10,000 of the city’s 113,000 high school students are at risk of becoming victims of gun violence and need help.

Read on...

A New York Times editorial. Tom

A faith-based prison is pushed

The privately run lockup would have only Christians on its staff.

By BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Published: 11/2/2009 2:22 AM

WAKITA — This tiny town near the Oklahoma-Kansas state line north of Enid may soon own the country's only all-Christian prison, with Christian administrators, employees, counselors and programs.

The idea is backed by Wakita's leaders, has some support from state officials, and, its founders believe, is able to pass constitutional muster.

"If Chicken Little doesn't come to town, we'll be open in 16 months," said Bill Robinson, the founder of Corrections Concepts Inc., a Dallas nonprofit prison ministry that is spearheading the project.

Mayor Kelly George said officials of this town of 380 were fully behind the project and have done everything they need to make it happen.

Read on...

Does this sound like a good idea? Tom

Update: Another story about this prison.

Man tased as his house burned - No kidding!

by African American Political PunditTue Nov 03, 2009 at 02:04:15 PM PSTTasing in America has gone out of control. Last night I learned about how a Minneapolis Police officer tased a man with his hands on a squad car. Yes, the officer used a Taser on the mans neck while he was in a non-combative stance, and his hands on the squad car. Now we learn that a man was tased outside of his home, as his house burned. African American Political Pundit's diary :: ::
Get this, According to Sarah Steimer at at Kent News Net the resident, Mike Bartlett, said he was returning from downtown for his cell phone when he noticed his sister's room on fire. He ran in to make sure she was not there and continued to find his friends in the basement and alert them of the fire. He said his cousin's girlfriend was sleeping upstairs so he went back in the house to retrieve her.Read on...

Know Your Rights: What to Do If You're Stopped by the Police

July 30, 2004 Know Your Rights: What to do if You're Stopped by the Police

To fight police abuse effectively you need to know your rights. There are some things you should do, some things you must do and some things you cannot do. If you are in the middle of a police encounter, you need a handy and quick reference to remind you what your rights and obligations are.Print this page and carry it in your wallet, pocket, or glove compartment to give you quick access to your rights and obligations concerning police encounters. Download the PDF.Think carefully about your words, movement, body language, and emotions.Don't get into an argument with the police.Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.Read on...This came up in an earlier Crimbrary post. This is dated (2004) and is American. I'll see if I can find something similar for Canada and post in an update. Tom

Ten Things You Can Do to Reduce Incarceration

The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Criminologists have found that when too many people are incarcerated the crime rate actually increases. Imagine if we spent some of the $60 billion a year prisons cost on education, job training and healthcare. Paul Butler, a law professor, former federal prosecutor and author of Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice suggests ways to undo the damage caused by overincarceration. If you have state specific resources send them to 1 Do your jury duty. If you are a juror in a non-violent drug case, vote not guilty. Jury nullification--an acquittal based on principle--is perfectly legal. The framers intended jurors to be a check on unjust prosecutions and bad laws. Click here for more information.
2 Pay a kid to graduate. A report by the RAND Corporation found that paying students to finish high school prevented more crime than the toughest sente…

Can Our Shameful Prisons Be Reformed?

By David Cole

With approximately 2.3 million people in prison or jail, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world—by far. Our per capita rate is six times greater than Canada's, eight times greater than France's, and twelve times greater than Japan's. Here, at least, we are an undisputed world leader; we have a 40 percent lead on our closest competitors—Russia and Belarus. Even so, the imprisoned make up only two thirds of one percent of the nation's general population. And most of those imprisoned are poor and uneducated, disproportionately drawn from the margins of society. For the vast majority of us, in other words, the idea that we might find ourselves in jail or prison is simply not a genuine concern.For one group in particular, however, these figures have concrete and deep-rooted implications—African-Americans, especially young black men, and especially poor young black men. African-Americans are 13 percent of the general popul…

Schools' zero-tolerance policies tested

By Oren Dorell, USA TODAY

Parents and elected officials across the USA are demanding that schools slacken zero-tolerance policies that are meant to reduce violence because strict adherence has lead to some students being forced out of school for bringing items such as eyebrow trimmers and a Cub Scout's camping tool to campus. The most recent high-profile case involved Zachary Christie, a 6-year-old who was suspended for five days on Sept. 29 after he brought a camping utensil that was part knife, fork and spoon to Downes Elementary in Newark, Del. School officials considered it a dangerous instrument and suspended the boy, adding that he couldn't return to Downes until he completed at least 45 days at an alternative school."I think it's crazy that they don't use common sense," says Debbie Christie, Zachary's mother and the school's PTA co-president.As news of Zachary's case spread, the school began to receive hundreds of calls protesting its decisio…

16-Year Old Got Life Without Parole for Killing Her Abusive Pimp -- Should Teens Be Condemned to Die in Jail?

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted October 31, 2009.

Two cases in the Supreme Court could alter the fates of over 2,500 people serving life without parole for crimes they committed as teenagers.

This article is the first in a two-part series about juveniles and harsh sentencing.Sara Kruzan was 11 years old, a middle school student from Riverside, Calif., when she met a man -- he called himself GG -- who was almost three times her age. GG took her under his wing; he would buy her gifts, take her and her friends rollerskating. "He was like a father figure," she recalls.Despite suffering severe bouts of depression as a child, until then, Kruzan was a good student, an "overachiever" in her words. But her mother was abusive and addicted to drugs; as for her father, she had only met him a couple of times. So, more and more, GG filled in."GG was there -- sometimes," she said. "He would talk to me and take me out and give me all these lavish gifts and do…