Thursday, March 27, 2014

Canada’s Supreme Court has rejected its new member. Here’s how this changes Canada’s constitutional debate

On Oct. 3, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Federal Court of Appeal Judge Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). In the Canadian system, the prime minister has wide discretion in choosing Supreme Court judges (Parliament has no advise-and-consent function), so the process of filling a vacant seat is normally a fairly straightforward affair.

Not this time. On Friday, in a stunning 6-to-1 decision, the SCC announced that Justice Nadon was ineligible to serve on the court and that his appointment was void. How is it that Canada’s final court of appeal was left to assess and ultimately reject one of its own members? It’s an extraordinary case, one that is a product of Quebec’s unique representational guarantees, as well as the longstanding constitutional ambiguity that surrounds the SCC itself.

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Canada Blocking UN Support for Harm Reduction: Observers

Observers attending international drug control negotiations at the UN Commission for Narcotic Drugs last week in Vienna say Canadian negotiators helped block the inclusion of life-saving harm reduction health strategies within future international drug policies.

"It was clear that the delegation's hands were tied," said Don MacPherson, director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and adjunct professor in the faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. "Our diplomatic delegation had instructions from Ottawa to not mention harm reduction and to get the term deleted from the statement."

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Man Convicted Of Domestic Violence Can’t Possess A Gun, Supreme Court Rules

When it comes to “domestic violence,” even pushing or grabbing can be sufficient to bar federal gun possession, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in a unanimous ruling issued Wednesday morning.

The ruling could have significant implications in interpreting which state domestic violence laws bar gun possession. For women in particular, domestic violence is one of the biggest risks associated with gun ownership. A Violence Policy Center review of 2011 FBI crime data found that 94 percent of female homicide victims were murdered by a male they knew, and 61 percent of those killers were a spouse or intimate acquaintance. Female intimate partners were more likely to be killed by a gun than any other weapon.

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Only in America: 16-Year-Old Locked Up for the Rest of His Life

Juwan Wickware wasn't the shooter. But he and more than 2,500 others nationwide will enter prison as teenagers, grow into adults, and die – all behind bars.

This is not right. The sentence must fit the crime, and we cannot throw away kids' lives.
Here's Juwan's story: When he was 16, he and another young kid robbed a pizza deliveryman. Both kids were armed with guns. Tragically, his friend shot and killed the man. Although this was Juwan's first offense, and despite a documented learning disability, troubled home environment, and a psychological evaluation concluding that Juwan could be rehabilitated, the judge sentenced Juwan to life in prison with no possibility of parole (LWOP). The boy who pulled the trigger was acquitted because a witness could not identify him.

Juwan is one of over 350 people serving this sentence in Michigan alone—the second highest number among states in the U.S. Today, the ACLU is representing thirty-two of these Michigan prisoners in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a Washington,
D.C.-based tribunal charged with examining allegations of human rights abuses committed by members of the Organization of American States, which includes the United States.

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The Gospel of Citizens United: In Hobby Lobby, Corporations Pray for the Right to Deny Workers Contraception

“[C]orporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”
— Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting in Citizens United
“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression.”
— Judge Timothy Tymkovitch, Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, writing for the majority in Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius
If right-wing America had set out to design a Supreme Court case that combined all of its political fetishes, it could not have done better than to come up with Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius, a devilishly complex assault on Obamacare, women’s health care rights in the workplace, and the embattled idea that the Bill of Rights is for people, not corporations. The outlandish claims of the company involved would not have a prayer except for Citizens United, the miracle gift of 2010 that just keeps giving.

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Hard times: Top British writers blast prisoner book ban

An alliance of British authors have some harsh words for the government's new rules that prohibit prisoners from receiving the works of their favorite authors while serving time behind bars.
The book ban, which falls under the government’s Incentives and Earned Privileges initiative passed in November, denies inmates the right to receive packages from beyond the walls of the prison unless they can prove “exceptional circumstances” such as a health condition.

The ruling, which seems to fly in the face of the country’s rich literary heritage, has come under fire from a number of eminent British writers, including Alan Bennett, Sir Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Irvine Welsh and Nick Hornby, who signed their names to a letter blasting the decision.

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Report: Global executions up 15 percent in 2013

The number of known executions around the world rose almost 15 percent in 2013, and the United States was among the five countries putting the most people to death, a new report says.

The Amnesty International report released Wednesday comes shortly after a stunning decision this week by an Egyptian court to sentence to death 529 alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood after a two-session trial. The London-based rights group has called the action "grotesque."

The new report said the 778 judicial executions in 22 countries the group was able to count last year don't include the thousands of people put to death in China, where such information is a state secret. China's foreign ministry referred a question about its executions last year to the justice ministry, which did not respond to phone or fax.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fast-track executions?

What's wrong with this picture?
Exonerations of wrongly convicted prisoners are at an all-time high. Last month, the governor of Washington put executions on hold because, since 1981, when the state last updated its capital punishment laws, a majority of the 32 death sentences that were imposed were overturned. More than a dozen other states have also called a halt to executions, for various reasons.
And yet, three former California governors — George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis — are urging the state to speed up a clearly flawed process of deciding who's to die. Their approach could theoretically limit the state appeals process, which now generally takes 12 to 15 years, to five years.

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This is a LATimes op-ed.  Tom

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Britain's prison overcrowding crisis surges 'close to the brink'

The country is on the verge of its worst prison overcrowding crisis since 2008, leaving the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, fighting for his political future.

Mr Grayling has quietly sanctioned emergency measures, after it emerged that there were only 265 free spaces left out of an 85,800 capacity across the England and Wales prison estate. This is the most crowded that prisons have been since the coalition took power nearly four years ago.

To avert the crisis, privately run prisons will be paid to cram more inmates into their cells. The managers of these 14 private sector prisons include Serco and G4S, the companies at the centre of a scandal last summer, when the Ministry of Justice was billed for the monitoring of non-existent electronic tags.

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Bratton Cracking Down On Grave Subway Menaces: Acrobats, Sleepers and Churro-Selling Ladies

It's been two months since new-old New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton was sworn in, and much of the press coverage so far has focused on the NYPD's renewed interest in jaywalkers as part of Vision Zero, the initiative to end traffic deaths. But as the New York Times reports, much of that has focused on walkers, not drivers: jaywalking tickets are up eightfold over the same time last year. That's been sort of a mixed bag from a public relations perspective, with the nadir being 84-year-old Kang Chun Wong, who says he was beaten up by police officers trying to give him a citation.

As it turns out, Bratton's sick of talking about jaywalking and most especially Wong's alleged beating, which he calls "an isolated event." Instead, he'd rather discuss the other big plans he's got to make your city even safer, starting in the subway. Capital New York points us to a delightful interview Bratton did with WPIX yesterday morning where he laid out his plans to tackle the biggest menaces of the underground: sleepers, panhandlers, churro-sellers, and the "It's showtime!" dudes.

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America’s punishment addiction: how to put our broken jails back together

In the United States, people can land in prison for life over minor offenses. They can be locked up forever for siphoning gasoline from a truck, shoplifting small items from a department store or attempting to cash a stolen check. Sentences across the United States in the last 30 years have doubled. Roy Lee Clay, for example, received in 2013 a sentence of mandatory punishment of life without parole for refusing to accept a plea bargain of 10 years for trafficking 1kg of heroin. Even the sentencing judge found this “extremely severe and harsh”. The bigger picture: a recent Human Rights Watch report found that the threat of harsh sentences leads 97% of drug defendants to plead guilty rather than exercise their right to a public trial.

Most citizens are shocked when they hear such reports. Federal judge John Gleeson of New York said that the way prosecutors use plea bargaining “coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away”. Federal judge Mark Bennett of Iowa has described the “shocking, jaw-dropping disparity” of prior-conviction enhancements to force a plea bargain in a case.

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Success of "My Brother's Keeper" Will Rely on Removing Racial Disparities from Our Criminal Justice System

Last month, President Obama introduced a new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which brings together government, business, philanthropy, the faith community, nonprofits, and others to work together to create more pathways to success for young men of color. The President spoke of current racial disparities and their historical roots, saying, “The plain fact is, there are some Americans who in the aggregate are consistently doing worse in our society. Groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions, groups who have seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century, in this country, are boys and young men of color.”

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What America's Users Spend on Illegal Drugs

In January 2012, the U.S. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) asked RAND to generate national estimates of the total number of users, total expenditures, and total consumption for four illicit drugs from 2000 to 2010: cocaine (including crack), heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. Drug users in the United States spend on the order of $100 billion annually on these drugs (in 2010 dollars). While this total figure has been stable over the decade, there have been important compositional shifts. From 2006 to 2010, the amount of marijuana consumed in the United States likely increased more than 30 percent, while the amount of cocaine consumed in the United States decreased by approximately 50 percent. These figures are consistent with supply-side indicators, such as seizures and production estimates. Methamphetamine consumption rose sharply from 2000 through the middle of the decade, and this was followed by a large decline through 2008. Heroin consumption remained fairly stable throughout the decade, although there is some evidence of an increase in the later years. For all of the drugs, total consumption and expenditures are driven by the minority of users who consume on 21 or more days each month.

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How Effective Is Correctional Education, and Where Do We Go from Here?

More than 2 million adults are incarcerated in U.S. prisons, and each year more than 700,000 leave federal and state prisons and return to communities. Unfortunately, within three years, 40 percent will be reincarcerated. One reason for this is that ex-offenders lack the knowledge, training, and skills to support a successful return to communities. Trying to reduce such high recidivism rates is partly why states devote resources to educating and training individuals in prison. This raises the question of how effective — and cost-effective — correctional education is — an even more salient question given the funding environment states face from the 2008 recession and its continuing aftermath. With funding from the Second Chance Act of 2007, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, asked RAND to help answer this question as part of a comprehensive examination of the current state of correctional education for incarcerated adults and juveniles. The RAND team conducted a systematic review of correctional education programs for incarcerated adults and juveniles. This included a meta-analysis on correctional education's effects on recidivism and postrelease employment outcomes for incarcerated adults, as well as a synthesis of evidence on programs for juveniles. The study also included a nationwide survey of state correctional education directors to understand how correctional education is provided today and the recession's impact. The authors also compared the direct costs of correctional education with those of reincarceration to put the recidivism findings into a broader context.

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The realities of intimate partner homicide

Just like OJ Simpson’s 1994 trial for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, Olympian Oscar Pistorius’ trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp has catapulted intimate partner homicide back into the news. Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges, but was found liable for his former wife’s death in a civil suit. Pistorius’ guilt or innocence remains an unanswered question.

While the unfortunate truth is that husbands and boyfriends kill their partners with disturbing frequency, these cases are the ones that we watch with rapt attention to every trial detail. Our culture is obsessed with falls from grace, especially when it involves a fabled sports hero and his beautiful partner.

Regardless, the problem of a partner killing a loved one is real. And while the overall rate of homicide has declined, the proportion of female homicide victims that are killed by their intimate partners remains stubbornly high.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Violence Is at the Core of What All of Us Should be Fighting Against on International Women's Day

Yesterday was a bad day for pretty much anyone who cares about racial equality, voting rights, police violence and that vague thing we call “justice.” But leave it to the brilliant Angela Davis to turn the blow into a rallying cry to counteract violence — both institutional and intimate.

First, here’s what happened. After an intense lobbying campaign by the police union — officially called the Fraternal Order of Police; you’ll see why the name is important later — the senate blocked President Obama’s nomination of Debo P. Adegbile to be the chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Adegbile, who headed the NAACP’s legal defense fund for years, was tarred by the police’s union, and subsequently by Democrat and Republican senators alike, for having helped represent journalist and Black Panther member Mumia Abu-Jamal in an appeal of his death sentence for allegedly killed a Philadelphia police officer.

No matter that Adebgile and the team won the appeal. Or that Abu-Jamal’s case is riddled with inconsistencies. Or that Adebgile has been a leading champion of voting rights and civil rights for decades.

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How U.S. Law Enforcement Uses 50,000 Volts Of Electricity To Keep Defendants In Line

When Jonathan Keith Jackson was sentenced to death, he stood before the jury wearing an electronic shock device around his waist that could have thrown him writhing to the floor at any moment.

The California Supreme Court upheld the use of what is known as a stun belt during his sentencing Monday, reasoning that even if the trial judge were wrong to equip Jackson with the remote controlled shock belt, it was not critical to the jury’s sentencing decision.

But the ruling came over the strong objections of Justice Goodwin Liu, who noted findings entirely ignored by the majority that the fear imposed by the belt can change the defendant’s ability to function, communicate, and his demeanor during testimony.

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The GOP’s Attack on Basic Rights Continues

All those rights Americans cherish, those fundamental human and political freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution, Republicans contend those aren’t really inalienable rights or anything solid or permanent like that.

See, according to the GOP, some Americans are sub-citizens who don’t deserve rights equal to those enjoyed by, well, the right-wing. Republicans think they’re right, and anyone who disagrees doesn’t deserve rights.

Republicans managed to highlight that perverse plank in their political platform over the past several weeks as they proposed—and sometimes actually passed—legislation limiting the fundamental rights of specific groups of American citizens. That includes gay Americans, African-Americans, and Americans who are members of labor unions. Right-wingers sought to seize from these Americans their rights to vote, protest and live free from discrimination.

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Rick Perry at CPAC Panel on Criminal Justice: ‘Shut Prisons Down. Save That Money.’

Pat Nolan strode to the podium and rattled off the facts: more than 2 million Americans are in prison, meaning one in every hundred adults is incarcerated. Fewer than half of those in prison are there for violent crimes; most are drug offenders; and state budgets are badly strained by maintaining this system. Then he read a quote: “Only a nation that’s rich and stupid would continue to pour billions into a system that leaves prisoners unreformed, victims ignored and communities still living in fear of crime.”

This wasn’t an ACLU convention nor an academic confab, however—it was the Conservative Political Action Conference, the infamous annual showcase of the far-right boundaries of the Republican Party. Just before this panel on criminal justice reform began, former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was onstage accusing President Obama of lying about Benghazi and pronouncing that “the IRS is a criminal enterprise.”

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College and university women sign open letter in support of Anne-Marie Roy: 'rape culture is pervasive'

International Women’s Day
We stand with Anne-Marie Roy. We’ve been there too.

As women who have held elected positions at our college or university students’ union, we write in solidarity with Anne-Marie Roy, the President of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO). Anne-Marie was recently the target of sexually violent comments made by several men who held elected positions at the University of Ottawa. Several of these men initially threatened to sue Anne-Marie if she was not quiet about the disgusting comments.

Anne-Marie has bravely chosen to not be intimidated, to make the comments public and to speak out. As women who have held positions similar to Anne-Marie’s, and who have also dealt with sexism and misogyny while elected, we know that we must as well.

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The modern return of Vagrancy Law

by Joe Hermer

The crime of 'being suspicious' seems to be making a return as the state seems ever more keen to police the poor and vulnerable. The recent case of 'stolen food' from Iceland is a perfect example.

The abandoned prosecution against three men for ‘skipping’ food from an Iceland grocery bin in North London last month caused public outrage and disbelief. A recurring feature of this story was that the men were charged under an ‘archaic’ and ‘obscure’ section of the Vagrancy Act 1824. The impression left by the media was that the current vagrancy law is a rarely used relic of Victorian times.

To present vagrancy law today to as ‘archaic’ and quaint statute makes invisible one of the most important but least understood police powers concerning poor people. In a series of complex maneuvers embedded within the leviathan like reforms to fight crime and disorder, the powers of the 1824 Vagrancy Act have been resuscitated in a way that has not been seen for more than a century. Indeed, the 1824 Vagrancy law has been re-purposed over the last decade as a truly modern tool to police poor, vulnerable and ‘suspicious’ people in public spaces.

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Criminal cases plunge across Toronto

The benches in youth bail court look like pews in a church. People sit in clusters — young people with their relatives, lawyers, friends — all praying for a favourable outcome.
On a Monday in late February, there is room to spare on the benches at the bail court at 311 Jarvis St. Two girls in dangling earrings and hoodies whisper in the back row. Across the aisle, a boy, slim, his head down, sits next to his parents as his lawyer translates the proceedings into Mandarin. A few other knots of people are scattered among the rows. One bench is completely empty.
About 45 minutes into the hearings, the judge calls for a recess. There is no one left to come before the court.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Striking down prostitution laws

Mariana organized this panel on striking down prostitution laws. It was taped by the CBC and is available as a podcast on The Sunday Edition.

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Push for consecutive mandatory minimum sentences may run afoul of Criminal Code

The Conservative government has tossed another challenge at the country’s judges, upping the ante on mandatory minimum sentences with U.S.-style “stacking minimums” intended to keep people who commit sex crimes against children in jail longer.

“There is an outcry for this, from police, from prosecutors, and most notably from victims,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in an interview, speaking about the tougher sentencing measures for child sex crimes in a bill tabled in Parliament this week. The bill must be debated and voted on before it becomes law.

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New Vera Report Takes Stock of State-level Mandatory Sentencing Reforms

Today, twenty years after the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—commonly referred to as the Crime Bill—established a federal three strikes law and unleashed a cascade of state-level truth-in-sentencing reforms, a seismic shift away from tough-on-crime policies is well underway. In a new policy report, Playbook for Change? States Reconsider Mandatory Sentences, Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections finds that more than half of all states have taken steps to roll back mandatory sentences since 2000, with 32 bills passed in just the last five years. Most of this legislative activity has focused on adjusting penalties for nonviolent drug offenses by taking one or a combination of three approaches: expanding judicial discretion by creating so-called “safety valve” provisions, limiting automatic sentence enhancements, or repealing or revising mandatory minimum sentences.

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The Laws That Are Blocking 1 in 5 African Americans From Voting

An estimated 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting because they have criminal records.
The laws that block ex-felons from the right to vote range state by state. Some individuals that have lost their right to vote have committed serious crimes but in several states a misdemeanor would block you from the voting booth. The issue gained national attention last week when Attorney General Eric Holder called the laws “unnecessary and unjust.” Take a look at the stats below for more details on who’s disproportionately affected by the nation’s current sentencing laws:

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Michigan Man Accidentally Kills Himself While Demonstrating Gun’s Safety

On Sunday evening, a 36-year-old was showing his girlfriend how safe his guns were by holding them to his head and pulling the trigger, when one of them fired, according to reports by the girlfriend to police. The victim, whose name was not released, was pronounced dead at the scene in his Oakland County, Mich., home. The girlfriend said the victim had been drinking most of the day, according to CBS Detroit.

Accidental gun deaths are alarmingly common. But they sometimes occur even while in pursuit of gun safety. Just last week, a Florida man accidentally shot himself in the leg just after leaving a gun safety class. He said he had been inspecting the new gun and had been “manipulating the slide,” according to the Palm Beach Post. Last year in Ohio, a gun safety instructor accidentally shot a student during class. And in 2012, a Virginia man accidentally shot himself and his wife during a gun safety class.

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Cop To Man Filming Him: You Don’t Have Freedom of Speech

A dispute between Baltimore County police officers and a man that filmed them arresting two people in Towson, Maryland, is raising questions about civilians’ rights to videotape cops.

Officers became combative when the bystander refused to put away his camera. One told the man to “get it out of my face.” Another officer told the man to “shut your fucking mouth or you’re going to jail.” The man later said, “I thought I had freedom of speech here,” to which an officer replied, “You don’t. You just lost it.”

Watch the full video here (warning: some explicit language):

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“Stand Your Ground” Nation

Ever since George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin in his Sanford, Fla., gated community, it’s become an article of faith that the rash of lethal shootings in public places—from the Florida moviegoer who was killed after a texting and popcorn-throwing incident to Jordan Davis, shot in his car at a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station to last week’s lethal shooting in an Arizona Walmart—is attributable to the “stand your ground” laws enacted over the past decade in 26 states across the country. Aggressive human interaction, post-Trayvon, now follows a painfully familiar pattern: An altercation occurs. Someone says he feared for his life. An unarmed victim (often young, black, and male) is shot and killed. The headlines either explicitly or implicitly invoke “stand your ground.”

Last week, Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, an unarmed man, got into a fight with Cyle Wayne Quadlin at a Walmart in suburban Arizona. Quadlin opened fire midargument and killed Chee. Officers decided not to charge Quadlin because, they concluded, the killing was in self-defense. According to the police spokesman, “Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he ‘was in fear for his life.’” Just a week earlier, a jury in Jacksonville, Fla., found Michael Dunn guilty on four counts of attempted murder but did not convict him on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn shot and killed Davis, also unarmed, because the music coming from his car was too loud. Dunn claimed he saw something like a gun in the vehicle, and that was apparently enough for some members of the jury to conclude that Dunn hadn’t committed first-degree murder.

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Should a death row inmate's life hinge on an IQ test?

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about a Florida man, Freddie Lee Hall, who faces execution for a 1978 murder. Hall is intellectually incapable of understanding the arguments, but the state of Florida says that it has the right to execute him nevertheless, in a case that spotlights both the barbarity and the absurdity of the death penalty.

This page has a long history of opposing capital punishment on the grounds of morality, overwhelming evidence of its misapplication and public expense, among other things. But even if we did see sense in the practice, we would see none in applying the death penalty here, despite the brutality of the crime. Hall and a partner were convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering Karol Hurst, who was 21 and pregnant; later that day, they allegedly shot and killed a deputy sheriff during a confrontation. This case centers on the Hurst murder.


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