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Showing posts from August, 2013

Bradley Manning’s Excessive Sentence

The 35-year sentence a military judge imposed on Pfc. Bradley Manning Wednesday morning was in some sense a vindication of his defense: following his conviction last month on charges of violating the Espionage Act, Private Manning faced up to 90 years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to lesser versions of those crimes that exposed him to 20 years behind bars. For a defense lawyer, a sentence of one-third the potential maximum is usually not a bad outcome. But from where we sit, it is still too much, given his stated desire not to betray his country but to encourage debate on American aims and shed light on the “day to day” realities of the American war effort.

Certainly, Private Manning faced punishment. 
In providing more than 700,000 government files to WikiLeaks — extensive excerpts of which were published in The New York Times and other publications — he broke the law and breached his responsibility as a military intelligence analyst to protect those files. …

Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers Whistleblower, Sees Bradley Manning's Conviction As The Beginning Of Police State

The NSA surveillance of millions of emails and phone calls. The dogged pursuit of whistleblower Edward Snowden across the globe, regardless of the diplomatic fallout. And the sentencing of Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for giving a cache of government files to the website WikiLeaks. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg sees these events as signs that the United States is becoming a police state.

"We have not only the capability of a police state, but certain beginnings of it right now," Ellsberg told HuffPost Live Wednesday. "And I absolutely agree with Edward Snowden. It's worth a person's life, prospect of assassination, or life in prison or life in exile -- it's worth that to try to restore our liberties and make this a democratic country."

Ellsberg was a military analyst with the RAND Corporation in 1969 when he secretly copied thousands of classified documents about U.S. decision-making during the Vietnam War. In 1971,…

The Conservative War on Prisons

American streets are much safer today than they were thirty years ago, and until recently most conservatives had a simple explanation: more prison beds equal less crime. This argument was a fulcrum of Republican politics for decades, boosting candidates from Richard Nixon to George H. W. Bush and scores more in the states. Once elected, these Republicans (and their Democratic imitators) built prisons on a scale that now exceeds such formidable police states as Russia and Iran, with 3 percent of the American population behind bars or on parole and probation.

Now that crime and the fear of victimization are down, we might expect Republicans to take a victory lap, casting safer streets as a vindication of their hard line. Instead, more and more conservatives are clambering down from the prison ramparts. Take Newt Gingrich, who made a promise of more incarceration an item of his 1994 Contract with America. Seventeen years later, he had changed his tune. “There is an urgent n…

The Real Costs of Policing the Police

SETTING aside the legal wisdom of the recent decision by a federal judge against the New York Police Department and its stop-and-frisk policy, one thing seems clear: the judge’s remedy will be enormously expensive and time-consuming to implement, and at a time when the number of stops is falling dramatically.

No one, of course, should be stopped by a police officer on the basis of skin color or ethnic origin. The judge, Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, found that the benefits of ending what she considers to be unconstitutional stops would far outweigh any administrative hardships. 
Still, the reforms she has laid out are sweeping in their impact on the department and its 35,000 officers, who have been excoriated and vilified in the months leading up to the trial and in the aftermath of the ruling. 
The city has filed a notice of appeal, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he hopes the appeal process would allow current stop-and-frisk practices to c…

2.7 Million Children Under the Age of 18 Have a Parent in Prison or Jail - We Need Criminal Justice Reform Now

Reform criminal justice now. That was the core message US Attorney General  Eric Holder delivered recently to the American Bar Associationand our nation. He declared that "too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason" and at great public expense.

Seeking to cut imprisonment rates and spending while protecting the public, Holder has directed the Justice Department to charge non-violent drug offenders with less severe federal crimes. Beyond reducing the use of mandatory minimum sentences and shortening prison times for lower-level drug felons, while reserving more serious charges and longer sentences for violent and higher-ranking drug traffickers, the Justice Department supports sentencing more people to rehab than (re-)imprisonment for crimes rooted in drug abuse and addiction.

Those reforms, among others, according to Holder, will do more for "the lives being harmed, not helped, by a criminal just…

Access to justice in Canada ‘abysmal’: CBA Report

Access to justice in Canada is being described as “abysmal” in a new report from the Canadian Bar Association, which calls for change by 2030.Access to justice in Canada is being described as “abysmal” in a new report from the Canadian Bar Association, which also calls for much more than “quick fix” solutions. The summary report, released Sunday at the association’s conference in Saskatoon, says there is profoundly unequal access to justice in Canada.
“Inaccessible justice costs us all, but visits its harshest consequences on the poorest people in our communities,” says the report.
Report author Melina Buckley says one of the biggest concerns is the growing number of people who represent themselves in civil cases.

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South Carolina City Approves Plan To Exile Its Homeless

Many homeless people in Columbia, South Carolina are facing an arduous choice: vacate downtown or be arrested.

That’s because last week, the Columbia City Council unanimously approved a new plan — the Emergency Homeless Response” — to remove homeless people from the downtown business district. Here’s how the initiative, which was spearheaded by Councilman Cameron Runyan, will work.

Police officers will now be assigned to patrol the city center and keep homeless people out. They will also be instructed to strictly enforce the city’s “quality of life” laws, including bans on loitering, public urination, and other violations. And just to ensure that no one slips through, the city will set up a hotline so local businesses and residents can report the presence of a homeless person to police.

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Peter MacKay insists Conservatives are not moving Canada toward U.S.-style justice

When newly minted Justice Minister and Attorney General Peter MacKay addresses the Canadian Bar Association for the first time on Monday, don’t expect him to follow in the footsteps of his U.S. counterpart and unveil a new direction for the justice system.

While U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week announced to the American bar a plan to shift away from mandatory minimum sentences and heavy-handed incarceration measures — a misguided direction the Canadian government is headed, according to its critics — MacKay insists Canada is on the right track when it comes to law and order.

In fact, he argues Holder’s plan shows the United States is actually taking a page out of the Canadian playbook.

“I’m glad to see that he, to some degree, is moving in the direction that we’ve already moved,” MacKay told Postmedia News in his first one-on-one interview since he was shuffled out of the Defence Department and into the Justice portfolio last month.
“They’re talking about movi…

5 Reasons Why This Week Was Historic for Ending America's War on Drugs and Cruel Incarceration Policies

Stop-and-frisk is ruled unconstitutional and Sanjay Gupta changes his opinion about marijuana on national TV.

It happened at a dizzying pace. One big victory for the drug and prison reform community after another. The Attorney General addressed our massive prison problem, the DEA continues to be scrutinized for its shady law enforcement tactics, a federal judge ruled the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactic unconstitutional, a major media personality admitted he was wrong about marijuana's health risks, and New York City's Comptroller released a report explaining why marijuana should be legalized.

All of this is great news for advocates of sensible drug policy, civil rights, privacy rights, and prison reform.

1. Eric Holder Gets "Smarter On Crime"
On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech at the American Bar Association's annual meeting in which he announced a major shift in criminal justice policy aimed at addressing unfairness in the jus…

On policing, New York should look to L.A.

Now that a federal court has ruled against its 'stop and frisk' policies, NYPD would be wise to learn from a reformed LAPD. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Monday insisted that his city's "stop and frisk" police practices were constitutional, despite a federal judge's finding that they were racially discriminatory and violated the 4th and 14th Amendments. But it's almost beside the point whether Bloomberg is on solid legal ground and whether his appeal can succeed. New York's confrontational approach to law enforcement has bought short-term results at the cost of alienation and resentment, and its leaders would be wise to let the trial court's ruling stand — and to learn a lesson from Los Angeles.

For decades, this city mastered the dark art of enforcement by intimidation. The Los Angeles Police Department cultivated an us-versus-them relations…

A Verdict on Racial Profiling?

A judge has ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional and racist. But will it stop?

A federal judge‘s ruling has finally affirmed what activists in New York City have been saying for years: The New York City Police Department (NYPD) policy of “stop-and-frisk” is legalized racial profiling and harassment. The long-awaited decision came in response to a lawsuit by eight plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk. But more fundamentally, it was the product of an activist movement that has for years highlighted the racist implications of this policy. The longstanding campaign to stop “stop-and-frisk” gained new momentum in the aftermath of high profile cases of police brutality and murder.

In February of 2012, unarmed African American teenager Ramarley Graham was gunned down in his bathroom by NYPD officers claiming they saw a gun in the waistband of his pants. This case helped to mobilize thousands of New Yorkers to take to the streets more than a year ag…

Police To Hand Out Doritos Instead Of Arrests At Pot Party

On Craigslist, “420 friendly” means a potential housemate welcomes marijuana use in their place. Nowadays, Seattle could use the label to describe the whole city: at an annual hemp and marijuana festival, the Seattle PD will be handing out Doritos to revelers.

Washington State’s voters decriminalized marijuana use by ballot referendum last November. The new law has allowed police to come up with a more creative approach to policing Hempfest, a long-running pro-cannabis extravaganza, than one that has to at least nominally worry about arresting the errant toker.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Seattle police have partnered with Doritos to distribute bags of the snacks emblazoned with descriptions of the new law. Revelers will be able to learn about their rights while enjoying a tasty treat.

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7 Shocking Ways Colleges Have Trivialized Rape

Universities are some of the worst offenders when it comes to undermining the problem of rape and violence against women.

 One of the most persistent problems anti-rape and anti-domestic violence activists face is the inability of people to see these crimes as crimes. In theory, yes, we all understand that abusing someone is wrong and criminal, but all too often it becomes easy in individual cases to write off the incidents, which usually happen between people who know each other, as less a matter of criminal justice and more just interpersonal squabbling, instead of as a systemic problem that affects all of us. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding is perpetuated by institutions that would rather see these problems as personal problems than cultural problems in order to protect their reputation. Universities are often some of the worst offenders.  Here’s a list of some of the euphemisms and coded terms colleges and universities have used that minimize or even trivialize the…

Race, Lead, and Juvenile Crime

I know, I know: I'm a broken record on the subject of lead exposure in kids and crime rates 20 years later. But there's lately been a renewed focus on black crime and black incarceration rates, as well as the racial profiling of blacks and Hispanics in New York City's stop-and-frisk program. Guess what? The lead theory has something to say about that.

For starters, did you know that arrest rates for violent crime have fallen much faster among black juveniles than among white juveniles? They have, as the charts below show. Rick Nevin explains why:

African-American boys disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system were also disproportionately exposed to lead contaminated dust as young children, because black children were disproportionately concentrated in large cities and older housing. In 1976-1980, 15.3% of black children under the age of three had blood lead above 30 mcg/dl (micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood), when just 2.5% of white chi…

California’s Continuing Prison Crisis

California has long been held up as the land of innovation and fresh starts, but on criminal justice and incarceration, the Golden State remains stubbornly behind the curve.

Over the past quarter-century, multiple lawsuits have challenged California’s state prisons as dangerously overcrowded. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court found that the overcrowding had gotten so bad — close to double the prisons’ designed capacity — that inmates’ health and safety were unconstitutionally compromised. The court ordered the state to reduce its prison population by tens of thousands of inmates, to 110,000, or to 137.5 percent of capacity. 
In January, the number of inmates was down to about 120,000, and Gov. Jerry Brown declared that “the prison emergency is over in California.” He implored the Supreme Court to delay a federal court order to release nearly 10,000 more inmates. On Aug. 2, the court said no. Over the furious dissent of Justice Antonin Scalia, who reiterated his warni…

Barrister who called young girl,13, a 'sexual predator' suspended from abuse cases

Attorney General to consider whether to ask Court of Appeal if suspended eight-month jail sentence was unduly lenientAnti-sexual abuse campaigners, among them the author who successfully put Jane Austen on the £10 note before having to fend off the resulting torrent of online rape threats have reacted angrily after it emerged that a man who admitted having sex with a 13-year-old girl walked free from court; while his victim was described by the judge and prosecution as sexually “predatory”.
Neil Wilson, 41, faces having his eight-month suspended jail sentence reviewed after the Attorney General Dominic Grieve agreed to look into the case yesterday. And the Crown Prosecution Service was forced to admit that its own prosecutor acted “inappropriately” when he placed a portion of the responsibility upon the victim in court.

This afternoon, the CPS said that it is considering the involvement of the barrister in question, Robert Colover, in future sexual cases and that it &quo…

How California Prisons Got To Be So Insanely Overcrowded

California has been ordered to release nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of the year to resolve a notorious overcrowding problem that's been brewing for decades. The Golden State's prison crisis reached a fever pitch in 2011 after the Supreme Court said the overcrowding amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment." Now all eyes are on liberal Gov. Jerry Brown, who insists the public's safety will be jeopardized if he releases the inmates. The mass release would only bring prisons down to 137 percent of their capacity.

So how did California's prisons get to be so dreadfully overcrowded in the first place? The state actually had a reputation for an ultra-progressive penal system before 1980, according to the radio documentary "Prisons in Crisis: A State of Emergency In California." Then California began aggressively increasing sentencing in the late 1980s and 1990s in response to nationwide fear about high crime rates. Several high-profil…

10 Reasons Lawyers Say Florida's Law Enforcement Threw Away George Zimmerman's Case

A growing chorus of attorneys and analysts say Zimmerman didn't face anything like a serious trial.

 Florida law enforcement, from the local police to the special prosecutor overseeing the Trayvon Martin case, did not want to see George Zimmerman convicted of murder and deliberately threw away the case, allowing their prosecution to crumble. A growing chorus of attorneys and analysts who know jury trials and courtroom procedure say this is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the parade of otherwise incoherent missteps by George Zimmerman’s prosecutors.  “I find it personally difficult to believe it was not thrown,” said Warren Ingber, a New York-based attorney who has practiced law for decades. “I am far from alone in this assessment, and it reveals even harder truth why this case was a miscarriage of justice.”

Ingber detailed his reasons in a letter sent to a NPR’s "Left, Right and Center" program after its liberal analysts would not touch that possi…

Locking Up Millions of Americans Isn't Just About Punishing the Underclass, It's About Raking in the Dough

The murder of a teenage boy by an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, is only one crime set within a legal and penal system that has criminalized poverty.

Debbie Bourne, 45, was at her apartment in the Liberty Village housing projects in Plainfield, N.J., on the afternoon of April 30 when police banged on the door and pushed their way inside. The officers ordered her, her daughter, 14, and her son, 22, who suffers from autism, to sit down and not move and then began ransacking the home. Bourne’s husband, from whom she was estranged and who was in the process of moving out, was the target of the police, who suspected him of dealing cocaine. As it turned out, the raid would cast a deep shadow over the lives of three innocents—Bourne and her children.

The murder of a teenage boy by an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, is only one crime set within a legal and penal system that has criminalized poverty. Poor people, especially those of color, are worth nothing to corporations …

Reversing Course, ALEC Supports Reform Of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

The American Legislative Exchange Council was a driving force behind moves to impose tougher sentences and inflate the U.S. prison population. But on Monday, the conservative, corporate-backed group adopted model legislation that would reform draconian mandatory minimum prison sentences, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which sponsored the legislation.

The ALEC Board of Directors passed a version of the Justice Safety Valve Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in both houses of Congress to give judges discretion to reduce statutory minimum sentences that impose onerous sentences for a range of drug and other crimes, FAMM Florida Project Director Greg Newburn told ThinkProgress. ALEC Legislative Director Cara Sullivan did not return an email inquiry from ThinkProgress. She did, however, tell the Daily Caller in an email response that the bill would help “ensure lengthy sentences and prison spaces are reserved for dangerous offenders, allowing states to focus th…

The Illusion of Juror Sophistication

Like most people on juries, the six jurors thrown into the Zimmerman trial were totally unprepared.

American jurors, totally untrained in the legal system, are led to think they are more intelligent and sophisticated than they are. Alone, they are capable of some independent thought. Forced into a room with others, they are a disaster. Although states select potential jurors differently, they are usually drawn randomly from a list of driver’s licenses or lists of registered voters. They are average people, a cross-section of Americana, people content with their lives, unencumbered and blissful, just the type of people lawyers want judging their trials because most people lack the sophisticated skill sets of reasoning and logic needed to be a juror.

Lawyers often decide which jurors to use in a trial based on the potential juror’s perceived lack of ability to think logically. A lawyer once told me that he always chooses jurors with strong religious beliefs because “a p…

In Bid for Tanks, NH Police Label Protest Groups 'Terrorists'

Disclosure comes amidst growing call against militarization of police forcesIn a bid to bring armored vehicles to the small, capital city of Concord, New Hampshire, the local police department is trying to exploit peaceful activist groups such as Occupy New Hampshire and the libertarian Free State Project as "terror threats." Through a right to know request, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union (NHCLU)—as part of an ongoing project against the militarization of local law enforcement agencies—obtained a grant filed by the Concord Police Department requesting $258,000 from the Department of Homeland Security for an armored BearCat vehicle.

"The State of New Hampshire’s experience with terrorism slants primarily towards the domestic type," the grant states, adding that—with groups such as the "Free Staters" and Occupy NH active and presenting "daily challenges"—the "threat is real and here."

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