Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.
Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:
With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.
The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.
The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”
Chicago’s police department is running an “off-the-books interrogation compound” that attorneys liken it to the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site, according to a chilling report from the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman.
Suspects, like the trio of potheads who wanted to attack Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters with a slingshot and marbles in protest of the NATO summit, are taken to “Homan Square.” But no one is ever booked inside it walls. No public, searchable record of their time there is generated. Neither their families nor their attorneys are informed of their whereabouts. Lawyers attempting to gain access are turned away, even if their clients are in custody inside.
At some point they have to do the paperwork and prosecute you. After they get your confession, you wind up back in the paperwork.
Suspects allege being beaten, kept in chain link cages, and shackled for extended periods while held inside Homan for as long 24 hours, without access to a lawyer, before being transferred precincts for booking or simply released.
“They just disappear,” said Anthony Hill, a criminal defense attorney, “until they show up at a district for charging or are just released back out on the street.”
Brian Jacob Church, one of the NATO Three, was picked up for suspected terrorist plotting in connection with protests against the NATO summit. He was taken to Homan Square, handcuffed to a bench for 17 hours, and interrogated without being read his Miranda rights. Anticipating he might be arrested in connection with the protests, Church had scrawled an attorney’s phone number on his arm, and explicitly demanded an opportunity to call that lawyer. That request was denied.
“I had essentially figured, ‘All right, well, they disappeared us and so we’re probably never going to see the light of day again,’” Church said.
Since the raid that resulted in Church’s arrest was well publicized, a team of attorneys was simultaneously searching for him to offer their services. Through 12 hours of active searching, he and his co-defendants could not be located. No booking record existed. Attorneys ultimately complained to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Only then did they learn about Homan Square, and only hours later were Church and his co-defendants taken for booking at a police precinct.
“Homan Square should be on the same list as every other facility where you can call central booking and say: ‘Can you tell me if this person is in custody and where,’” Brzeczek said.
“If you’re going to be doing this, then you have to include Homan Square on the list of facilities that prisoners are taken into and a record made. It can’t be an exempt facility.”
The NATO Three were ultimately found guilty of lesser charges (possessing an incendiary device and “mob action”), but acquitted of terrorism related offenses.
[D]efense attorneys, bolstered by undercover police recordings that prosecutors played in court, argued that the three were “goofs” who talked big and were goaded on by two undercover police officers.
[T]hey were frequently drunk, high and unable to complete simple tasks, once missing out on a protest because Church had to wait for his pot dealer.
One of the undercover officers told an apologetic Church that he needed to make a to-do list in the morning before smoking pot.
Church also said he wanted to attack four police stations but didn’t want to Google the locations of two of them. Chase advocated attacking Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters with a slingshot and marbles.
Church declined when Nadia Chikko, one of the undercover officers, asked Church if he wanted to try out one of the Molotovs they’d built with four empty beer bottles, some gasoline and a cut-up bandana from Mehmet Uygun, the other undercover officer.
“I’m too (expletive) cold to be going anywhere. I want to wrap up in my blanket and sleep,” he said.
A lawyer named Eliza Solowiej told The Guardian that she had represented a man who had already been entered into Chicago’s central booking station, and she had personally observed him in a police station without any injuries. Thereafter, someone changed his name in the system and had him moved to Homan Square without any record of the transfer. After his time in Homan Square, he was then taken to a hospital to be treated for head injuries he had incurred sometime in the interim.
Another lawyer reported taking a call from a worried mother. She believed her 15-year-old son had been arrested, but she was having trouble finding where he was being held. After “12, maybe 13” hours, the 15-year-old was released without charges.
Chicago police at first did not respond to The Guardian’s questions about the facility. Once the story was initially published, the department issued a statement insisting there was nothing untoward taking place at Homan, that records are generated for arrests, and that if “lawyers have a client detained at Homan Squire, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them.”
As noted by The Guardian, the statement does not address how long into an arrest or detention those records are generated, or whether they are made available to the public, such as family members looking for relatives who have been picked up and attorneys searching for their clients. The department did not respond to The Guardian’s request for clarification on that issue.
[A] retired Washington DC homicide detective, James Trainum, could not think of another circumstance nationwide where police held people incommunicado for extended periods.
“I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking for hours and hours and hours. That scares the hell out of me that that even exists or might exist,” said Trainum, who now studies national policing issues, to include interrogations, for the Innocence Project and the Constitution Project.
On May 28th, 2014 around 3:00 a.m. in Habersham County, Georgia a SWAT team raided a house the police believed to be occupied by Wanis Thonetheva, an alleged drug dealer. In the chaos of the raid instead were four children and up to four adults. The youngest of the children, 19 month-old “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was burned and permanently disfigured from a flash-bang grenade which set the play pen he was sleeping in ablaze.
No drugs or contraband of any kind was found in the home. Also absent from the residence was the man they were looking for.
Bou Bou was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where he was put into a medically induced coma. Doctors were not sure if the toddler would ever wake up but fortunately, he did.
This is not by any means, the end of the Phonesavanh family’s problems with Bou Bou’s medical expenses around $1.6 million and surgeries into adulthood. These expenses, by the way, that will not be paid by the county or the departments responsible for severely injuring this child.
In the aftermath of this botched SWAT raid, several Georgia legislators are looking to reform the use of “no-knock” raids. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) introduced a bill he’s calling “Bou Bou’s Law” which would require a slightly higher standard for no-knock raids than required by SCOTUS. Bou Bou’s Law would require “the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”
In the House, Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) introduced a similar bill which would go even further by requiring that no-knock raids be conducted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. unless the judge issuing the warrant “expressly authorizes” another time. Tanner’s bill also requires that each department keep records of each raid which would be compiled with all the other records around the state into an annual report which would be sent to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House.
While these are laudable reforms which I would hope would pass any state legislature, these reforms do not go nearly far enough. Several of the articles I read in preparing this post had titles like “No Knock Warrants Could be a Thing of the Past.” In reading over these bills, I’m not quite that optimistic. As Jacob Sullum pointed out at Reason, its not at all clear that Bou Bou’s Law would have prevented the raid from happening. The police at the time thought their suspect was probably armed; it probably wouldn’t take much to convince a judge to issue the no-knock warrant.
As I took another look at Rep. Tanner’s bill, I saw no language that would restrict the hours of the standard knock and announce raids. His bill seems incredibly vague to my lay reading “all necessary and reasonable force may be used to effect an entry into any building or property or part thereof to execute such search warrant if, after verbal notice or an attempt in good faith to give verbal notice by the officer directed to execute the same of his or her authority and purpose”.
Its human nature to stretch and bend language in such a way that is favorable to one’s objectives. I can imagine the police “interpreting” this law to mean they could gently knock on the door at 3 a.m., speaking in a barely audible voice “Police, search warrant open up,” counting 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, CRASH!
There is some concern by those who think that even these modest reforms put the police in unnecessary danger – police lives matter. I’m of the opinion that ALL lives matter and propose some (admittedly) radical ideas as to how and when SWAT tactics and/or police searches should be used to protect the life and liberty of all concerned:
– If the reason for a surprise raid on a residence is that the evidence could be quickly flushed down a toilet or easily destroyed by other means, then this isn’t enough reason for such a raid in the first place. A couple of ounces of any drug flushed down a toilet is not sufficient reason to put the lives of those in the residence or the police at risk.
– SWAT should not be used at all unless its an active shooter situation, a hostage situation, or credible reason to believe there will be active, armed resistance to the search. Unless there is a very real clear and present danger, leave your military grade toys at the station.
– Each and every police officer involved in the search wears a camera (preferably on the head to have a true POV). All video from the search would be made available to the suspect’s defense attorney.
– The police departments involved are responsible for any and all “collateral damage” to life and property. In the event an innocent life is taken, the individual officer(s) responsible should be treated as anyone else who takes a life. Investigation/prosecution would be conducted by an independent investigators and prosecutors.
– Absolutely no raids or searches of any kind between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. (though stakeouts and other activity which does not require interaction with the suspect(s) during these hours is permissible).
I’m sure that some if not all of these ideas are too radical for many lawmakers. If we really believe that “all lives matter”, however; these proposals should be thoughtfully considered.
If you would like to make a small donation to help pay Bou Bou’s medical expenses, go to this GoFundMe page which has raised nearly $43k so far.
With the plethora of news stories about police misconduct, excessive force, non-indictments, and the understandable corresponding outrage to such perceived injustices in the waning days of 2014, certain law and order types thought it proper to offer some advice to stop the bloodshed. Quite simple advice really: obey the laws and/or cooperate with the police.
But maybe instead of “simple” I should say “simplistic.” It seems most of those who offer such advice are middle aged white guys who don’t fit the profile the police look for when they decide to stop someone who “looks suspicious.” Take this jackass by the name of Kelly Ogle for example:
It use to be simple… when you come in contact with a police officer, you do what they say.
Unfortunately, an unrealistic distrust of police officers is being fostered by some protesters, even some public officials, which is disgraceful.
Just “do what they say” and everything will be just fine huh?
Don’t tell that to NY Jets RB Chris Johnson. Johnson was recently pulled over in Orlando, Florida for rolling through a stop sign. According to a source close to Johnson, the police asked permission to search his vehicle. Because Johnson didn’t feel like he “had anything to hide” or wanted to “be cooperative,” he foolishly waived his Fourth Amendment rights and allowed the police to search his vehicle.
What did “cooperating” with the police get him? A second degree misdemeanor charge for having his lawfully owned firearm improperly stored in the vehicle according to Florida law. There’s a good chance that Johnson didn’t know he was breaking the law. As we have heard ad nauseum, ignorance of the law is not a legal defense for breaking the law (unless of course, you happen to be a cop).
Just over a month ago, I offered what I believe to be more constructive advice than that the aforementioned badge worshiper. There is a way to be respectful of the police while firmly and intelligently asserting your rights. It seems that had Johnson followed advice similar to mine than that similar to Kelly Ogle’s, he would likely not have been arrested.
Here’s their promotional video explaining the project:
Even if this project doesn’t quite get off the ground, its good to see that there are people out there thinking about how to mitigate the reality of the numerous criminal laws on the books. But until that day comes, understand that when you are stopped by the police, they stopped you because they have some suspicion that you are breaking a law that you may or may not be aware of. Don’t help them by waiving your rights (“just cooperating”) as Chris Johnson did. You can’t assert your rights if you don’t know what they are. Now that you have found these links (here,here, and here), there is no excuse for ignorance of these rights.
Are you pro-life? Opposed to big government? Do you believe in reducing government spending? Do you support the death penalty? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may want to re-think your position on the death penalty. As supporters of life, liberty, property, and limited government, I believe that all conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty.
I used to be a staunch supporter of the death penalty. I firmly believed that one should repay an “eye for an eye” or a “life for a life.” I can remember exactly where I was when I reformed these beliefs. It was on January 23, 2006 and I was participating in the March for Life in Washington DC. As I was walking down Pennsylvania Ave, I noticed a sign that read: “Pro-Life No Exceptions.” I thought back to the many debates with my girlfriend at the time, when she would ask me how I could be pro-life but still support the death penalty. Being pro-life, I had to ask myself, “how could I say that I support life, but support the state-sanctioned taking of life?”
Cost of the Death Penalty
Furthermore, as someone who believes in limited government, I also had to ask myself another important question. “If I don’t trust the government to make decisions about my wallet, how can I trust the government to make decisions about killing people?” Crazy, right? Oftentimes, we conservatives and libertarians rail against government spending, and rightfully so. So why do we still overwhelmingly support a policy that costs taxpayers about four times more than cases where the death penalty is not involved?
This figure only takes into account the cost of trial. We also have to take into account the costs for appeals and to house prisoners. According to Forbes:
And let’s not forget about appeals: in Idaho, the State Appellate Public Defenders office spent about 44 times more time on a typical death penalty appeal than on a life sentence appeal (downloads as a pdf): almost 8,000 hours per capital defendant compared to about 180 hours per non-death penalty defendant. New York state projected that the death penalty costs the state $1.8 million per case just through trial and initial appeal.
It costs more to house death penalty prisoners, as well. In Kansas, housing prisoners on death row costs more than twice as much per year ($49,380) as for prisoners in the general population ($24,690). In California, incarceration costs for death penalty prisoners totaled more than $1 billion from 1978 to 2011 (total costs outside of incarceration were another $3 billion). By the numbers, the annual cost of the death penalty in the state of California is $137 million compared to the cost of lifetime incarceration of $11.5 million.
The Death Penalty and Crime Deterrence
I often hear the argument that the death penalty is the best method of reducing the murder rate. After all, if one is facing the threat of death, one would be less likely to commit murder, right? Well, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, states which impose the death penalty had an average of 4.4 murders per 100,000 people as opposed to only 3.4 murders per 100,000 people in non-death penalty states.
Furthermore, let’s look at the murder rate based on region. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the South consistently has the highest murder rate per capita, yet they have, by far, the most executions (as the chart shows below) since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976.
MURDER RATES PER 100,000 PEOPLE
EXECUTIONS SINCE 1976(As of 11/19/14)
If the death penalty is a deterrent for crime, shouldn’t the states with the most executions have the lowest murder rate per capita?
The Death Penalty and The Innocent
According to the Innocence Project, at least ten people have been executed in cases where there is evidence that may exonerate them. Since 1973, 150 people on death row have been exonerated through new evidence and been pardoned, acquitted by a new trial, or had their charges dismissed. In 2014 alone, seven death-row inmates were exonerated including Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman, who were convicted of murder in 1975. These men spent 39 years on death row, their entire adult lives. Yet if supporters of the death penalty had their way, these men would have been executed 38 years ago.
I prefer to adhere to the saying by conservative jurist Sir William Blackstone that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
Albert holds a J.D. from Barry University School of Law as well as an MBA and BA in Political Science from The University of Central Florida. He is a conservative libertarian and his interests include judicial politics, criminal procedure, and elections. He has one son, named Albert, and a black lab puppy, named Lincoln. In his spare time, he plays and coaches soccer.