Friday, August 31, 2012

Celebrating Fifty Years Of Criminology at U Of T: Tuesday November 20, 2012, 2pm to 7pm

4:30pm to 5:30pm KEYNOTE ADDRESS/EDWARDS LECTURE
5:30pm to 7:00pm Reception
Sponsored by the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies, Faculty of Law, and Woodsworth College RSVP by November 1st, 2012 to crim.events@utoronto.ca
If you are a person with a disability and require accommodation, please contact Lori Wells at 416-978-3722 x226 or email crim.events@utoronto.ca to make appropriate arrangements
The Hon. Justice Ian Binnie:
“Taking Wrongful Convictions Seriously”

Justice Binnie will be introduced by the Hon. Roy McMurtry, former Chief Justice of Ontario, former Attorney General of Ontario, and former High Commissioner to the UK.

A New Initiative: The Tony Doob Scholarship Fund

The Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies is establishing a new scholarship fund in honour of Professor Tony Doob, on the occasion of his retirement from the university. With your generous support, the Centre will be able to provide much-needed financial aid, in this age of high tuition fees, for criminology undergraduates and for graduate students at the Centre. Canada’s foremost authority on criminal justice policy, Tony Doob, taught criminology at the University of Toronto for over thirty years.

 At many other institutions, high-profile researchers have few undergraduate teaching obligations, but our policy has always been that everyone, no matter how eminent, should do
significant undergraduate teaching. Thus, for many years Tony taught the ‘Introduction to Criminology’ compulsory course through the Woodsworth Criminology program. He also taught seminar courses on research methods, youth justice and, later, data analysis.


Tony’s ever-helpful, one-on-one work with students is legendary. Foryears, undergraduates working with Tony used the Centre’s computers to do statistical analyses of realworld criminal justice data. Today, he continues to supervise some PhD students, and he will be teaching the graduate methods course this fall. He also continues to mentor former PhD students, to write op-ed pieces and
give media interviews on criminal justice, and to support all Centre faculty and students in our own work. Tony is still, as ever, the first person to come into the Centre in the morning.

Apart from conducting his own scholarly research on courts and other issues, he co-directs Criminological Highlights, a research digest (funded by the Ontario Ministry of the
Attorney General) that is read by public officials, judges, journalists, and others who want accessible
information about useful research on crime and criminal justice. (To subscribe to this free digest,
email anthony.doob@utoronto.ca or rosemary.gartner@utoronto.ca).

We are now asking Tony’s former students, the Centre’s many alumni and friends, and Tony’s vast network of colleagues in Canada and abroad to consider a significant donation to The Tony Doob Scholarship Fund. Matching funds can make donation dollars go further: for example, for
each $25,000 amount that is endowed, the university will match the annual payout so that deserving students get double the amount they would just from the endowment.

If 100 alumni and friends contribute $500 each, we will have enough for two endowed funds,
one for undergraduates and one for graduate students. Please consider making a major donation
to honour Tony’s long and distinguished career, but of course, any amount is welcome.
To donate, please visit our website at http://www.criminology.utoronto.ca and click on The Tony Doob Scholarship Fund.




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Cold Cases: Unsolved Crimes That Keep Us Up At Night (QUIZ)


Crimescene 
 
In TNT’s hit show, The Closer, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson is the LAPD’s eponymous case-clincher. Known for her unorthodox tactics and razor-sharp instincts, she’s the one the Major Crimes Division turns to when there’s a case that needs a confession.

Throughout history, however, there have been crimes that have since gone unsolved. From Jack the Ripper to the Zodiac murders, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa to the drowning of Natalie Wood, the following are some of the cases that still keep us up at night with unanswered questions.
See if you can fill in the pieces to the puzzles below.



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Justice Department Closes the Book on CIA Torture and Deaths in Custody

The Justice Department has closed a probe on Bush-era torture and killings by CIA agents, and has decided against prosecuting anyone.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that the Justice Department “declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a ­conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The probe was opened in 2009, and looked at the cases of about 100 prisoners. The last two cases looked at are now officially closed, with no charges coming.

The probe of the CIA was the Obama administration’s only effort to look at prosecuting those who implemented the Bush regime of torture on alleged militants and terrorists captured in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the administration never considered going after those top-level administration officials who crafted the rationale behind the torture of prisoners, which violated US and international law.

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Seems the only people getting prosecuted in the U.S. these days are protestors, and demonstrators.  Tom

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Goodbye, Liberty! 10 Ways Americans Are No Longer Free

Our most fundamental rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are under assault. But the adversary is Big Wealth, not Big Government as conservatives like to claim. Consider:

Life? The differences in life expectancy between wealthier and lower-income Americans are increasing, not decreasing.
Liberty? Digital corporations are assaulting our privacy, while banks trap us in indebtedness that approaches indentured servitude. The shrunken ranks of working Americans are being robbed of their essential liberties – including the right to use the bathroom.

The pursuit of happiness? Social mobility in the United States is dead. Career choices are increasingly limited. As for working hard and earning more, consider this: Between 1969 and 2008 the average US income went up by $11,684. How much of that went to the top 10? All of it. Income for the remaining 90 percent actually went down.
These changes didn't just happen. Wealthy individuals and corporations made it happen – and they're still at it. Meanwhile, Corporate America's wholesale theft of your individual liberties has been rebranded as a fight for … the corporation's individual liberty.

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In Sentencing Criminals, Is Norway Too Soft? Or Are We Too Harsh?

It’s not very often the concept of restorative justice gets much play outside scholarly publications or reformist criminal justice circles, so first, some credit for Max Fisher at The Atlantic for giving it an earnest look last week. In seeking to explain Norway’s seemingly measly twenty-one-year sentence for remorseless, mass-murdering white supremacist Anders Breivik—a sentence that is certain to be extended to last the rest of his life—Fisher casts a critical eye on the underlying philosophy that animates that country’s sentencing practices, finding it to be “radically different” from what we’re used to in the United States. When it comes to criminal sentencing, he notes, the United States favors a retributive model—in which an offender must be duly punished for his crimes—over a restorative model that “emphasizes healing: for the victims, for the society, and, yes, for the criminal him or herself.”

“I don’t have an answer for which is better,” he says at the outset, acknowledging that his own sense of outrage over Breivik’s sentence—like that of many Americans—“hints at not just how different the two systems are, but how deeply we may have come to internalize our understanding of justice, which, whatever its merits, doesn’t seem to be as universally applied as we might think.”

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Reports Ryan’s Diet of Whoppers

Has there ever been a more dishonest presidential campaign than the one Republicans are waging right now?

That’s a serious question, and it adds poignancy to the tragicomic spectacle of this frankly ridiculous gathering. The one indisputable truth we hear from speaker after speaker at the Republican National Convention is that this is a consequential election. The country faces huge challenges and fundamental choices, and the two major parties have very different ideas about the way forward.

Anyone familiar with this column knows that I prefer the progressive vision over the conservative one. But I believe it’s not possible for the nation to set a course without a vigorous, honest debate—and I know there can be no such contest of ideas without agreement on factual truth.

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday night was another demonstration that he and presidential nominee Mitt Romney have no apparent respect for the truth. Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, boasted this week that “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” I’ll say.


Fraudulent advertising used to be regulated sort of .  Now the liars just shrug. And the public shrugs.  Doesn't make for a good political environment.  Tom

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Justice for Voters in Texas and Florida

Republicans in Texas and Florida have been in the vanguard of the pernicious, widespread efforts to suppress voting by Hispanics and blacks. Fortunately, federal courts are seeing these efforts for what they are: a variation on the racist laws that disenfranchised millions before those tactics were outlawed by the Voting Rights Act.

A three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday unanimously rejected Texas’s voter ID law, which required court approval to take effect. The court described the law, known as SB 14, as “the most stringent in the country.” 

Under the law, voters who do not have a driver’s license might have to pay $22 to get documents necessary to obtain a state ID card, and some would need to travel 250 miles round-trip to get the card. The court said, “Undisputed record evidence demonstrates that racial minorities in Texas are disproportionally likely to live in poverty and, because SB 14 will weigh more heavily on the poor, the law will likely have retrogressive effect,” reducing the number of minority voters.


This is an editorial in the New York Times. Tom

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Speed up B.C. court process, 270-page report urges

British Columbia’s justice system must transform itself from a “culture of delay” to a “culture of timeliness,” the head of a government-ordered review says.

Geoffrey Cowper, a lawyer with Fasken Martineau, made dozens of recommendations in a report of 270-plus pages issued on Thursday. Premier Christy Clark appointed Mr. Cowper in February to lead the legal-sector review of the justice system after excessive delays caused more than 100 cases to be stayed last year and endangered thousands more.

However, the government did not commit immediately to act on his recommendations.
Mr. Cowper proposes a province-wide plan to reduce crime, and measures that would revise how prosecutors handle cases and resolve them sooner. His primary aim, he said, is reducing delays and backlogs, and he suggests a system to track cases to prevent them from being stalled.

“In my consultations, there’s really one topic on which there appears to be universal agreement: the system works too slowly,” Mr. Cowper told reporters in a news conference at a downtown Vancouver hotel. “People also agree that delay undermines all of the goals of the justice system.”

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Friday, August 24, 2012

In Norway, a New Model for Justice

ON Friday a Norwegian court will hand down its verdict on Anders Behring Breivik, who, on July 22, 2011, detonated a bomb in central Oslo, killing eight people and wounding hundreds more, then drove to Utoya Island, where he shot and killed 69 participants in the Norwegian Labor Party’s youth camp. 

The world’s attention is focused on whether the court will find Mr. Breivik guilty or criminally insane, and there has already been much debate about how the court handled the question of his sanity. But there is far more to it. Because it gave space to the story of each individual victim, allowed their families to express their loss and listened to the voices of the wounded, the Breivik trial provides a new model for justice in cases of terrorism and civilian mass murder. 

It is true that, on one level, the trial is not just about the state of Mr. Breivik’s mind but forensic psychiatry itself. The trial featured two psychiatric reports, the first concluding that at the time of the crime Mr. Breivik was psychotic and delusional, the other that he was rational. The spectacle of two teams of psychiatrists brandishing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and its Norwegian equivalent, only to draw radically opposed conclusions, undermined many Norwegians’ faith in forensic psychiatry. 


This is a New York Times op-ed.  Breivik was found sane and sentenced to 22 years in prison.  Tom

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Harper Doctrine: Once a Criminal, Always a Criminal

Liberal and Conservatives have agreed that our criminal justice system should rehabilitate offenders — until now




In February 1993, Canada’s crime rate stood at an all-time high, Brian Mulroney was prime minister, and a Conservative-dominated House of Commons committee released a report on crime prevention that held no surprises for those who followed criminal justice policy. It described the “inherent inadequacy of the criminal justice system” as a means of addressing the problem, pointing out: “If locking up those who violate the law contributed to safer societies then the United States should be the safest country in the world. In fact the United States affords a glaring example of the limited impact that criminal justice responses may have on crime....Evidence from the U.S. is that costly repressive measures alone fail to deter crime.”

The committee chair, Conservative Member of Parliament and former RCMP officer Bob Horner, told the press, “If anyone had told me when I became an MP nine years ago that I’d be looking at the social causes of crime, I’d have told them that they were nuts. I’d have said, ‘Lock them up for life and throw away the key.’ Not any more.”

Skepticism about the idea that imprisonment constitutes a good solution to the crime problem began decades before these stark statements. In 1938, for example, a Royal Commission examining the country’s penal system concluded: “The undeniable responsibility of the state to those held in its custody is to see that they are not returned to freedom worse than when they were taken in charge. This responsibility has been officially recognized in Canada for nearly a century but, although recognized, it has not been discharged. The evidence before this Commission convinces us that there are very few, if any, prisoners who enter our penitentiaries who do not leave them worse members of society than when they entered them.”

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CU-Boulder Chancellor: Faculty Must Allow Students With Concealed-Carry Permits To Have Firearms In Class

A top administrator at the University of Colorado says if a professor doesn't like his students legally bringing guns to class, he'll have to holster his emotions.

Jerry Peterson, a professor and chair of the CU-Boulder Faculty Assembly, told colleagues he'd cancel his class if a student brought a gun there.

"My own personal policy in my classes is if I am aware that there is a firearm in the class -- registered or unregistered, concealed or unconcealed -- the class session is immediately canceled," Peterson said. "I want my students to feel unconstrained in their discussions."

Shortly after Peterson's comments were reported, CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said he can't do that.

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Guns In School: Plainfield Police Propose Storing Assault Rifles In High Schools To Protect Students

An Illinois community southwest of Chicago is astir after the local police chief proposed a new method to protect students: bring more guns to school.

Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek wants officers regularly assigned to district high schools to be allowed to keep an AR 15 semi-automatic rifle under lock and key in school offices so they are better prepared to handle school shootings, if the situation were to arise.

School officers will be the only ones able to access the weapons, NBC Chicago reports. Konopek notes that training exercises have shown that officers are "much better equipped to handle this type of incident" while using a long gun -- with greater range, accuracy and stopping power -- versus a handgun.

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Are Police in Schools Making Students Safer, or Putting Them at Greater Risk for Abuse?

Police intervention in our public schools is on the rise. Whether that's a good thing for students has yet to be determined.



In spring 2012, student organizer Malik Alaya began rallying students to respond to proposals for school closures in his Bronx district. While passing out flyers in a hallway, he was spotted by the school’s safety officer and sent to the dean’s office. Whatever happened inside that office led to the decision to summon a representative of the New York Police Department’s School Safety Division, and Alaya was ticketed for his actions . Less than two weeks later, he received another ticket for filming police officers on a subway platform while they conducted a stop and frisk. 

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In Texas, Don’t Even Mention Abortion

The Republican-controlled State Legislature in Texas and Gov. Rick Perry are perfectly willing to endanger the general health and welfare of low-income women to further their agenda of eroding abortion rights. And, now, a federal appeals court has given them a green light to do that, at least temporarily.

A federal district judge had placed an injunction on a state regulation that excludes Planned Parenthood affiliates, which do not provide abortions, from receiving state money through the Women’s Health Program pending the outcome of a lawsuit brought by the clinics. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit lifted that injunction on Tuesday. 

It is impossible to overstate the callousness of the state regulation and the harm it will inflict. The program serves more than 100,000 uninsured, low-income women, with the federal government paying 90 percent of the roughly $40 million that it costs. The feds are now phasing out support because the rule violates federal law. 


This is an editorial in the New York Times.  Tom

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Fees, Fines, and Debt: How Governments and Companies are Jailing Poor People to Make a Buck

This week’s St. Louis Patch dispatch reported this story:
Wakita Shaw’s troubles started with a $425 payday loan, the kind of high-interest, short-term debt that seldom ends well for the borrower . . .  Shaw was surprised in May of last year to hear that the St. Louis County police were looking for her. She and her mother went to the police station. They arrested her on the spot. They told her the bail was $1,250… People do go to jail over private debt. It’s a regular occurrence in metro St. Louis, on both sides of the Mississippi River.”
Last week, a San Diego paper covered how motorists given speeding tickets for $35, actually end up owing the state $235 (including a criminal conviction fee, state court construction charge, and DNA identification fee).
Similarly, Ricardo Graham was incarcerated in Rhode Island for 40 days because he couldn’t pay court fees. He was jailed and held for a bail of $745 – while the state paid $4,000 to incarcerate him – and lost his job due to his imprisonment.
Across the country, states and local governments are raising and aggressively collecting criminal fees and fines (including court fees, jail stay fees, and even public defender fees). Often, failing to pay these fees lands people in jail. Courts are supposed to hold hearings to determine whether a person has the means to pay before punishing them for nonpayment. Instead, courts are bypassing this key constitutional safeguard and simply jailing those who can’t pay their fees.

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Study: Elected Judges Hand Down Harsher Sentences Closer To An Election

A study by Loyola law Professor Carlos Berdejó and Berkeley business Professor Noam Yuchtman finds that elected judges in Washington state hand down demonstrably higher sentences during the lead up to their reelection bid, and that this spike in sentences drops shortly after the election is over:




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GOP Approves ‘Most Conservative Platform In Modern History’

A week from the 2012 Republican National Convention, Republican committee members spent Tuesday articulating and affirming the principles they stand for in a draft of the official party platform. Led by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) and featuring other Tea Party stars like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the committee approved a draft of the platform McDonnell said “will reflect the heart and soul of the Republican Party” and one committee member called “the most conservative platform in modern history.”
Here are some highlights:
  • NO ABORTION IN CASES OF RAPE OR INCEST. The proposal for a “human life amendment” passed without a hitch — and without any exceptions for rape or incest. The committee didn’t stop there; they also adopted language that would ban drugs that end pregnancy after conception, which could potentially include Plan B, the “morning after pill.”
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Inklings of a Crackdown in the Madison Capitol

On Saturday Steve Books, a long-time Veterans For Peace activist, was arrested and taken away in handcuffs for chalking, "This is far, far, far from over," on the sidewalk next to the Capitol. He was fined $205.05 and issued a citation for “conduct otherwise prohibited” under Wisconsin Administrative Code 2.14.

The arrest comes shortly after David Erwin was named the new chief of the Capitol Police. Erwin had been serving as Scott Walker’s personal bodyguard in the state’s Dignitary Protection Unit. A former Marine Drill Sergeant and commander of the State Patrol Air Support Unit, Erwin’s style of leadership is proving to be much different than that of the former chief, Charles Tubbs, who was known for his community policing techniques.

Last week Erwin met with a group of legislative staffers who were concerned about their personal safety at work. A staff member of a Democratic lawmaker who wishes to remain anonymous attended the meeting and reported that much of the discussion revolved around protesters and how to interact with them. Erwin allegedly advised those in the meeting to take self-defense classes.

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Chalk a Sidewalk, Go to Jail

MAP: Across the nation, police are arresting adults and even citing kids for temporary drawings.

"I draws what I like and I like what I drew!" sings Bert, the affable sidewalk artist in Disney's Mary Poppins. He doesn't know how easy he's got it. If Bert lived in one of a dozen American cities, his colorful chalk drawings of boats and circus animals could very well land him in jail.

Take the recent example of Susan Mortensen, 29-year-old mom in Richmond, Virginia. In March, Mortensen was arrested for allowing her four-year-old daughter to draw on rocks at a local park with sidewalk chalk. This month a judge sentenced her to 50 hours of community service helping to strip and repaint 200 boundary posts on a bridge. Mortensen told a local TV station that her daughter is now "very nervous around cops" and "very scared of chalk."

That's not all. One week ago in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, police cited two teenagers for decorating a street with chalk renditions of a whale and a sea turtle. The kids must now appear in court and pay a fine to be determined by a district judge. James Donnelly, Doylestown's police chief, told a local newspaper that the chalking was "an attempt at vandalism" that could lead to the use of more permanent materials.

Chalk. The gateway art supply.

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Gun Control? Dream On.

Why am I even bothering to write about gun control? That was going to be my opening sentence when this column was to be focused on the Aurora, Colorado, movie-theater massacre: twelve people murdered and fifty-eight wounded, some very severely, by James Holmes, demented neuroscience graduate student. Then came the massacre at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin: six killed and three wounded by Wade Michael Page, 40-year-old white supremacist and leader of a racist hardcore band called End Apathy. And even after this horrific crime, which the FBI is calling “domestic terrorism,” my opening is the same: Why am I even bothering to write about gun control? End apathy? Fat chance. If even the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, one of Congress’s own, by Jared Loughner, another hyperarmed madman, didn’t move her pro-gun colleagues or their constituents, nothing will.

Remember the Million Mom March? In May 2000, 750,000 women gathered on the National Mall to call for what are often referred to as “reasonable” controls on guns, like background checks at gun shows and handgun registration (as opposed to “unreasonable” curbs like making it illegal to buy weapons intended to kill people—for example, handguns or AK-47s, let alone 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet). Today you might as well stand on the Mall and sing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

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Well, at least we know we're free


As long as we don't take photographs in public:

Q.
It seems like photographing in public is becoming a crime.

A.Literally every day, someone is being arrested for doing nothing more than taking a photograph in a public place. It makes no sense to me. Photography is an expression of free speech.

Since 9/11, there’s been an incredible number of incidents where photographers are being interfered with and arrested for doing nothing other than taking pictures or recording video in public places.

It’s not just news photographers who should be concerned with this. I think every citizen should be concerned. Tourists taking pictures are being told by police, security guards and sometimes other citizens, “Sorry, you can’t take a picture here.” When asked why, they say, “Well, don’t you remember 9/11?”

I remember it quite well, but what does that have do to with taking a picture in public? It seems like the war on terrorism has somehow morphed into an assault on photography.

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Stop-and-Frisks Fail to Pull More Guns Off the Street, NYPD Stats Show

The number of guns taken off the street by the NYPD has dropped during the Bloomberg era despite a 600 percent increase in stop-and-frisks, DNAinfo.com New York has found.

During the past two years alone, the number of firearms seized by police has fallen 13.5 percent from 3,908 in 2009 with 510,742 frisks, to 3,443 last year, when the NYPD stopped and frisked a record-busting 685,724 New Yorkers.

And last week the NYPD reported that during the first half of this year, firearm seizures continues to fall to 1,613, compared to 1,705 during the first six months of last year. The downturn came as the NYPD conducted 337,434 stops-and-frisks — a figure that keeps the NYPD on pace to match last year’s record-busting total.

By comparison, during Bloomberg’s first year in office in 2002, the NYPD recovered 4,069 guns — but the police stop-and-frisked only 96,000 people that year, according to NYPD data.

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Criminalizing Dissent

I was on the 15th floor of the Southern U.S. District Court in New York in the courtroom of Judge Katherine Forrest last Tuesday. It was the final hearing in the lawsuit I brought in January against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. I filed the suit, along with lawyers Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran, over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). We were late joined by six co-plaintiffs including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg.

This section of the NDAA, signed into law by Obama on Dec. 31, 2011, obliterates some of our most important constitutional protections. It authorizes the executive branch to order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. Those taken into custody by the military, which becomes under the NDAA a domestic law enforcement agency, can be denied due process and habeas corpus and held indefinitely in military facilities. Any activist or dissident, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can be threatened under this law with indefinite incarceration in military prisons, including our offshore penal colonies. The very name of the law itself—the Homeland Battlefield Bill—suggests the totalitarian credo of endless war waged against enemies within “the homeland” as well as those abroad.

“The essential thrust of the NDAA is to create a system of justice that violates the separation of powers,” Mayer told the court. “[The Obama administration has] taken detention out of the judicial branch and put it under the executive branch.”  

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The psychology of lone gunmen

One might be mistaken for thinking that the recent shootings in Aurora and Wisconsin, as part of a trend of distinctively modern mass-murders, could only be understood with reference to distinctively modern phenomena. Indeed, factors such as resurgent neo-Nazism, an atomised society and a glorification of trigger-happy vigilantes in popular culture are all elements which can clearly been seen as contributing to an environment in which such tragedies can occur.

Increasingly though, as the crimes relentlessly re-occur, such analyses fall somewhat short. A purely modern engagement with this most troubling of issues provides an understanding of the criminal, and an understanding of society, but no clear reason for why so many individuals decide to engage with society in this particular fashion. Perhaps we must look at these cases from an alternative viewpoint to provide some insight.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Marvin Wilson Execution: Texas Puts Man With 61 IQ To Death

Texas authorities executed Marvin Wilson, a 54-year-old death row inmate, on Tuesday night after his attorneys failed to convince state and federal courts that he was mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling.

Wilson was declared dead at 6:27 p.m. local time. He cried out to his gathered family members as he expired, Texas officials said.

"Give mom a hug for me and tell her that I love her," Wilson said.
"Take me home, Jesus. Take me home, Lord," he continued. "I ain't left yet, must be a miracle. I am a miracle."

The Supreme Court late in the afternoon rejected without comment a last-ditch appeal by Wilson's lawyers, clearing the way for his death by lethal injection. The appeal cited a 2004 psychological exam that pegged Wilson's IQ at just 61. The Texas benchmark for mental retardation is an IQ of about 70 or less.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Can You Fake Mental Illness?

How forensic psychologists can tell whether someone is malingering.

When someone commits a horrific, inexplicable crime, we naturally wonder whether he’s mentally ill: Who but a crazy person could do such a thing? But when a killer acts crazy after his arrest, we also might wonder whether he’s preparing for his trial. That’s the speculation around Colorado shooter James Holmes, whose psychiatric treatment and bizarre behavior in court and prison make people wonder whether he’s truly insane or building a case for an insanity defense. It leads to the question: Can a criminal get away with faking insanity?

Experts have been debating that question since the creation of the insanity defense in the mid-19th century. To avoid the noose or the guillotine, criminals of the era would fake symptoms from the then-emerging field of psychology. It soon became a cat-and-mouse game: Criminals would act out their understanding of insane behaviors, and alienists (the era’s term for psychologists) would write studies on how to detect those “malingerers.” Most techniques relied on the investigators’ experience and powers of observation—looking for inconsistencies in symptoms, waiting until the suspect tired of the game, or simply catching a telltale look in his eye. As the Austrian criminologist Hans Gross wrote: “The shammer, when he thinks no one is looking, casts a swift and scrutinizing glance on the Investigating Officer to see whether or not he believes him.”

Today, less than 1 percent of felony defendants raise an insanity defense, and a tiny fraction of those succeed. Yet in a state like Colorado, where proving insanity can avert a death sentence, the temptation to appear mentally ill must be strong. And so modern forensic psychologists, just like their forebears, watch for malingering with a sharp clinical eye. They determine whether the symptoms match those of well-studied pathologies and whether the signs remain consistent over time. They also can apply a battery of tests that essentially fake-out the faker.

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Too Many Prisoners

The Justice Department in its recent annual report on federal sentencing issues wisely acknowledged that public safety can be maximized without maximizing prison spending. As it noted, the growing federal prison population, now more than 218,000 inmates, and a prison budget of almost $6.2 billion are “incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.” 

The department calls for reforms “to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive.” Yet it fails to address sentencing changes that should be made, which would significantly reduce the problem of overincarceration in federal prisons. 

Last fall, the United States Sentencing Commission issued a comprehensive report that said mandatory minimum sentences are often “excessively severe,” especially for people convicted of drug-trafficking offenses, who make up more than 75 percent of those given such sentences. Mandatory minimums have contributed in the last 20 years to the near tripling of federal prisoners, with more than half the prisoners now in for drug crimes. 


This is a New York Times editorial.  Tom

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Canada’s inexplicable anxiety over violent crime

While recent data show crime in Canada is on a downward slope, a new public opinion poll suggests Canadians believe otherwise. According to a Forum Poll done for the National Post, the recent mass shootings and media coverage have the majority of Canadians fearing “a violent crime wave.” Jake Edmiston breaks down the results.

PERCEPTION VS. STATS
The telephone survey asked 1,639 Canadians whether they thought violent crime was increasing — 54% agreed, one-third disagreed and the remainder responded that they were unsure. Females, lower-income households and Conservatives were more likely to believe in a growing crime problem.
The majority opinion conflicts with a July 24 Statistics Canada report that showed the overall crime rate and violent crime rate are on a steady decline. The violent crime rate in Canada dropped 5% last year, though homicides and sexual assault against children saw an increase.

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Sikh Temple: In the Wake of Yet Another Massacre, What Will it Take to Stop the Gun Madness?

The reason we can't have a sane, adult discussion of how to cut down on random gun violence is simple: the NRA has hoodwinked gun owners.

The United States is not the only country to experience the horrors of mass shootings. We are, however, the only society in which a serious discussion of tighter gun controls doesn't follow incidents like the massacres we've seen at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin or the movie theater in Aurora. In fact, in most countries these kinds of tragedies result in some kind of concrete legislative action.

The reason we can't have a sane, adult discussion of how to cut down on random gun violence is simple: the NRA has hoodwinked a lot of reasonable gun owners into believing that there's a debate in this country over banning firearms altogether. We'll never be able to have a serious discussion about how to cut down on gun violence until that group accepts the actual terms of the debate. And the NRA has a vested interest in making sure they remain obscure because the organization represents gun manufacturers and a small, highly ideological minority of gun-nuts, rather than (typically responsible) gun  owners.

And that means that, at least in theory, there is political space for a new kind of gun control advocacy – one that isn't about whether Americans have a right to bear arms, but instead explicitly advocates  safe and responsible  gun ownership, a goal the polls tell us most gun owners would embrace.

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Texas Set To Unconstitutionally Execute A Mentally Retarded Man Next Week

It is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. So Marvin Wilson, a Texas inmate scheduled to be executed next Tuesday, should not constitutionally face the death penalty. As a court-appointed psychologist’s report details, Wilson is mentally retarded:
[Wilson] required repeated instruction for doing even simple things, such as cutting the grass. Mr. Kelly also noted that Marvin Wilson had significant reading problems. He had a difficult time keeping up when playing football. He could never understand how to run even simple plays. Mr. Kelly also noted that Mr. Wilson seemed to have a difficult time dressing himself properly. He could not color coordinate and sometimes wore mismatched socks. He. also would wear his belt so tightly that it would “almost cut of his circulation”. Frequently his shirt was buttoned incorrectly. Some of these problems continued even into adolescence. Mr. Kelly indicated that when Mr. Wilson was younger he tried to get some simple jobs involving things like sweeping the floors at a local store. However, he would lose the jobs quickly because he wasn’t “fast enough”. Mr. Kelly specifically recalled Mr. Wilson working at Wizard Car Wash. Even though he was assigned the simple duty of working at the drying station, he apparently was fired after a few days because of his inability to do the job. Mr. Kelly also noted that Mr. Wilson exhibited difficulty doing any kind of task that required logic or thinking. He never learned how to count money correctly until he was older. . . .

It is my opinion that the WAIS -III is the most valid indicator of adult intelligence now in current usage. On the WAIS-III Mr. Wilson earned a Verbal I.Q. of 61, a Performance I.Q. of 68, and the Full Scale I.Q. of 61. This places him within the mildly retarded range of intellectual ability and below the 1st percentile.

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Private Prisons Cost Arizona $3.5 Million More Per Year Than State-Run Prisons

Private prisons, touted as a cost-efficient alternative to state-run penitentiaries, are not living up to their promises in at least one state. A new study of Arizona’s private prisons finds that the state is actually losing money — $3.5 million a year — by turning their inmates over to for-profit corporations.

According to the Tucson Citizen’s analysis of Arizona’s three oldest private prison contracts, the rate to hold one prisoner for one night has increased 13.9% since the contracts were awarded. Compared to the cost of state-run prisons, Arizona overpaid for its private prison beds by $10 million between 2008 and 2010.

The cost of these private prison contracts was no surprise to the legislators who awarded them. In an earlier investigation, the Citizen discovered the Legislature was well aware how expensive the private prisons were and simply circumvented a law requiring corporations to show cost savings before receiving a contract. In 2012, the Legislature repealed the requirement entirely — as well as a requirement that the state conduct a review comparing the quality of private and public prisons.

After removing any incentive to maintain facilities, the Legislature made things even easier for these corporations by guaranteeing their prisons will always be 100 percent occupied:

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Police alone can't stop gangs, Toronto Chief Bill Blair says

Two weeks after Toronto was shaken by the largest mass shooting in its history, Police Chief Bill Blair sees the gang violence at its root not as one neighbourhood’s problem but a social issue that demands solutions from Toronto’s business and community leaders.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Chief Blair said police keep track of people involved in or associated with gangs – roughly 2,100 – and of those about 500 or 600 are considered “really violent.”

The long-term solution, he said, involves preventing these mostly young men from so-called priority neighbourhoods from going down this road by interceding in their lives when they are much younger. That involves continuing to provide opportunities, including employment, but first requires learning “more about these kids and find out where we lost them.”

“By the time you go, with a 14- or 15-year-old, and try to get them into a program and play basketball, some of these young guys are so completely lost to us that they represent such a significant danger, all we can do is protect everyone from them,” Chief Blair said.

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Let's Just Say It: The Republicans AND the Media Are the Problem

Many mysteries plague us regarding the press coverage of the Obama era, but one strikes me as central to our political predicament. Why, after everyone else has given it up, do members of the mainstream media persist in helping to hide—and therefore empower—the radicalization of the Republican Party?

The GOP strategy was clear from the start. Republicans, circa 2009, were no longer interested in bipartisan solutions to America’s problems. As then–Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told National Journal, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Senator Jim DeMint famously promised healthcare reform could be used to “break” Obama from day one. And that was before the Tea Party even existed.

Part of the problem, for far too long, was that President Obama collaborated in the charade. He was so invested in the notion that both sides could just get along and legislate together that he couldn’t part with the illusion he had helped to create. His communitarian rhetoric, together with his compromise-in-advance legislative strategy, was always oriented toward inclusiveness, consensus-building and, ultimately, political passivity. As a result, Obama allowed the Republicans to stymie his ability to act on behalf of most of his agenda, beginning with the underfunded stimulus and carrying through with virtually every single initiative he undertook throughout the first two years of his term.

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Three Rulings Against Women’s Rights

At a time when abortion rights and women’s access to affordable contraception are threatened by political attacks, judges in three newly decided federal cases failed to preserve constitutional protections for women.

On Monday, Judge James Teilborg of the United States District Court in Phoenix upheld an Arizona law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April that bans all abortion procedures at 20 weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period, which is about 18 weeks after fertilization. 

It is the most aggressive of the previability abortion bans passed recently by a handful of states. It defies binding Supreme Court precedent that prevents states from banning abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb, which generally occurs at about 24 weeks. 

To get around that pesky barrier, Judge Teilborg erroneously characterized Arizona’s outright ban as a permissible “regulation” that limits only “some” previability abortions. To make that argument, he relied, in part, on the fact that the ban contains a dangerously narrow exception for a “medical emergency.” 

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New York’s Used Police Shells, Reloaded for Sale

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s attacks on the gun industry are legion, and familiar far beyond the boundaries of the city he runs. They were heard again just hours after the shooting massacre in Aurora, Colo., in his calls for tightened gun control.

So it may come as a surprise to some that in June, New York City sold more than 28,000 pounds of the Police Department’s spent shell casings not to a scrap metal company, as it has in the past, but to a Georgia ammunition store. The store, Georgia Arms, routinely buys once-fired shell casings, reloads them with bullets and sells them to the public. 

The store sells bags of 50 bullets, at about $15 each; per Georgia’s gun laws, no questions are asked and no identification or registration is required. It is a transaction that could not occur in New York City, where it is illegal to possess ammunition without a license to own a gun, and where obtaining a license to own a gun is harder than in most other states. 

The sale of shell casings to Georgia Arms is perfectly legal and not uncommon; other police departments sell their used casings. And many of its “factory loaded” bullets, as the second-generation rounds are known, are sold in bulk to police agencies for use on their own firing ranges. They are less expensive than new ammunition. 


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From Aurora to Anaheim, Guns Are Going Off Everywhere

Welcome to the abattoir—a nation where a man can walk into a store and buy an assault rifle, a shotgun, a couple of Glocks; where in the comfort of his darkened living room, windows blocked from the sunlight, he can rig a series of bombs unperturbed and buy thousands of rounds of ammo on the Internet; where a movie theater can turn into a killing floor at the midnight hour.

We know about all of this. We know because the weekend of July 20 became all-Aurora-all-the-time, a round-the-clock engorgement of TV news reports, replete with massacre theme music, an endless loop of victims, their loved ones, eyewitness accounts, cellphone video, police briefings, informal memorials, and “healing,” all washed down with a presidential visit and hour upon hour of anchor and “expert” speculation. We know this because within a few days a Google search for “Aurora movie shootings” produced over 200 million hits referencing the massacre that left seventy-plus casualties, including twelve fatalities.

We know a lot less about Anaheim and the killing of Manuel Angel Diaz, shot in the back and in the head by that city’s police just a few short hours after the awful Aurora murders.

But to the people living near La Palma Avenue and North Anna Drive, the shooting of Manuel Diaz was all too familiar: it was the sixth, seventh or eighth police shooting in Anaheim, California, since the beginning of 2012. (No one seems quite sure of the exact count, though the Orange County District Attorney’s office claims six shootings, five fatalities.)

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Women claim ‘hairy legs’ profiling; police face new G20-related lawsuit

Women claiming to have been profiled because of their hairy legs are among a group of seven people planning to serve a $1.4-million claim against police on Wednesday arising out of the violence-marred G20 summit two years ago.

The group from Hamilton alleges the police wrongfully arrested them on June 27, 2010 – a day after vandals went on a rampage in downtown Toronto – as they emerged from a Yonge Street restaurant, their lawyer said.

They allege they were kept for hours in handcuffs, then held for more than 24 hours at a makeshift detention centre in the city’s east end before being released without charge. One of the plaintiffs also alleges she was sexually assaulted during a roadside strip search.

None of the claims has been proven or tested in court.

In a statement, lawyer Davin Charney said one of the seven asked the reason for their arrest and an officer told them police “would make one up.”

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