Category Archives: Police Watch

The Nutmeg State’s Senate Passes Bill Protecting Right to Record Police AND Abolishes the Death Penalty in the Same Week

This week, the State of Connecticut made progress in the right direction on the criminal justice front on two issues I care deeply about: the right of individuals to record the police in public and abolishing the death penalty.

Earlier today, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill 42-11 that would hold the police liable for arresting individuals who record their activities in public. Carlos Miller writing for Pixiq writes:

The Connecticut state senate approved a bill Thursday that would allow citizens to sue police officers who arrest them for recording in public, apparently the first of its kind in the nation.

As it is now, cops act with reckless immunity knowing the worst that can happen is their municipalties [sic] (read: taxpayers) would be responsible for shelling out lawsuits.

Senate Bill 245, which was introduced by Democratic Senator Eric Coleman and approved by a co-partisan margin of 42-11, must now go before the House.
The bill, which would go into effect on October 1, 2012, states the following:

This bill makes peace officers potentially liable for damages for interfering with a person taking a photograph, digital still, or video image of either the officer or a colleague performing his or her job duties. Under the bill, officers cannot be found liable if they reasonably believed that the interference was necessary to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law or municipal ordinance; (2) protect public safety; (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation; (4) safeguard the privacy of a crime victim or other person; or (5) enforce Judicial Branch rules and policies that limit taking photographs, videotaping, or otherwise recording images in branch facilities.

Officers found liable of this offense are entitled, under existing law, to indemnification (repayment) from their state or municipal employer if they were acting within their scope of authority and the conduct was not willful, wanton, or reckless.

While I think the fourth and fifth exceptions to the law could be problematic, this should go a long way toward holding the police accountable.

As if this wasn’t enough good news, just yesterday Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in the Nutmeg state. CNN reports:

(CNN) — Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law Wednesday that abolishes the death penalty, making his state the 17th in the nation to abandon capital punishment and the fifth in five years to usher in a repeal.

The law is effective immediately, though prospective in nature, meaning that it would not apply to those already sentenced to death. It replaces the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the state’s highest form of punishment.

“Although it is an historic moment — Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action — it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration,” Malloy said in a statement.

Connecticut isn’t a state that comes to my mind when I think of a death penalty state and for a good reason: only 2 people have been executed in that state in the last 52 years (both of which wanted to be executed), according to the governor. So, if the administration of the death penalty is so infrequent, why does this abolishing of the death penalty even matter? I think Gov. Malloy said it quite well in his signing statement: “Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve.”

Keep up the good work Connecticut!

Hat Tip: The Agitator

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Frontline Investigates the State of Forensic Science in “The Real CSI”

Is the forensic science used in the courtroom reliable? The PBS documentary series Frontline makes an attempt at answering this question in an episode entitled: “The Real CSI.”

I cannot recommend this episode enough.

Watch The Real CSI on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Also, the producers of this episode hosted a live chat for viewers to ask some follow-up questions (I’m sorry I missed it). Here is the archive from the chat.

Related Posts
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Dr Michael West Filmed Committing Attempted Murder
An Innocent Man Was Probably Executed on Gov. Rick Perry’s Watch…Not That Anyone Cares
200 Innocent and Counting
25 More Reasons for Criminal Justice Reform

SCOTUS: Police Placing GPS Tracking Device on a Vehicle Without Warrant Violates the Fourth Amendment [or Does it?]

How about some good news on the civil liberties front to kick off the week for a change? Robert Barnes writing for The Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in United States v. Jones stating that the police placing a GPS tracking device on a person’s vehicle and tracking said vehicle over days, weeks, or months without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

[…]

Alito’s point was that it was the lengthy GPS surveillance of Jones itself that violated the Fourth Amendment and that “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”

“For such offenses,” he wrote, “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”

The only disagreement among the Justices was whether or not the decision went far enough to protect individuals in a 21st century world based on a 18th century law (i.e. the Fourth Amendment).

Hey, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in awhile and in even rarer cases, 9 Supreme Court Justices.

***Correction/Further Analysis***
If you followed the link to The Washington Post article, you might notice that the parts I quoted don’t match up exactly. This is because the article has since been edited with a more complete explanation of what United States v. Jones really means. It appears that I put entirely too much trust into what was being reported in the media here and elsewhere (and I still haven’t gotten around to reading the opinion for myself).

Doug Mataconis (who is a lawyer; I am not) was the first to point out that the coverage of this ruling isn’t quite as good from a civil liberties perspective as the media would have us believe:

I think all you can really say is that, under circumstances of this case, the Court found that the use of the tracking device without a warrant was impermissible. As the majority opinion notes, however, the Government attempted to raise in their arguments to the Supreme Court the theory that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to believe that Jones was the leader of a drug gang. Under such a theory, the use of the tracking device would have theoretically been justified even without a warrant.

You can read a more detailed analysis from Doug here Outside the Beltway.

Doug also pointed me to this article by Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy post entitled “What Jones Does Not Hold”

It seems that I wasn’t the only one mislead about the true impact of this ruling. Even Radley Balko at The Agitator had to make some corrections to his post regarding this case and made reference to the same post by Kerr as well as an even more discouraging analysis from Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog.

GRANDMA GOT INDEFINITELY DETAINED (A VERY TSA CHRISTMAS)

Lyrics:

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
coming home to visit Christmas Eve
You could say she had a right to counsel
but some folks in the Congress disagree

she was flying home to our house
when she got checked by TSA
thought she might be Abdulmutallab
when they looked at her X-ray

Her hair had recently been colored
she paid cash for her Christmas gifts
two things apparently the Congress
says just might make you a terrorist

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
coming home to visit Christmas Eve
you could claim there’s no right to due process
but check the 5th amendment and you’ll see

they say they need to have these powers
to help protect this free country
but if it takes these steps to do so
what is it we are protecting?

Now she’s an enemy combatant
as if that makes any sense
the only thing that she’s combating
is her unpredictable incontinence

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
trying to come visit Christmas Eve
they took her rights in order to…protect rights..
the most genius plan ever in history

Grandma got indefinitely detained now
never made it home on Christmas day
she always wanted to live in Miami
at least now she’s 90 miles away

5 New Orleans Cops Convicted on 25 Counts in Post-Katrina Shootings

A new chapter in one of the more disturbing occurrences following hurricane Katrina came to a close today in a jury verdict that found 5 New Orleans cops guilty on 25 counts.

The AP reports (via The Houston Chronicle):

NEW ORLEANS — A federal jury on Friday convicted five current or former New Orleans police officers of civil rights violations in one of the lowest moments for city police in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: the shooting deaths of a teenager and a mentally disabled man as they crossed a bridge in search of food and help.

[…]

Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon were convicted of civil rights violations in the shootings that killed two people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the storm. They face possible life prison sentences.

Retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman and the other four men also were convicted of engaging in a brazen cover-up that included a planted gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports. The five men were convicted of all 25 counts they faced.

[…]

Faulcon was found guilty of fatally shooting Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, but the jury decided his killing didn’t amount to murder. Faulcon, Gisevius, Bowen and Villavaso were convicted in the death of 17-year-old James Brissette. Jurors didn’t have to decide whether Brissette was murdered because they didn’t hold any of the defendants individually responsible for causing his death.

The documentary series Frontline had an investigative report on this case entitled “Law & Disorder” (episode below).

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Policing the Right Way: A Positive Personal Encounter with a Highway Patrolman

Many of my detractors may assume that I am someone who encounters the police on a regular basis since I am very critical of bad cops. The truth is personal encounters with the police are very rare for me; it’s very rare that I get pulled over and I haven’t had the cops called on me since I was in my early 20’s.

Well, my streak of not getting pulled over came to an end last Thursday. I was driving to my mother-in-law’s house when I saw the dreaded flashing lights in my rearview mirror. As I pulled over having no idea why I was being stopped, I started thinking about the “10 Rules for Dealing with Police.”
With my window rolled down and my hands on the steering wheel (always a good idea to keep your hands where the police can see them) the highway patrolman asked why I thought he pulled me over. I shrugged and patiently waited to hear his response.

So why did I get pulled over? I didn’t have a license plate on my front bumper. The bracket for my front plate had broken off some months ago. When he told me his reason for pulling me over, I pointed to the plate that I had put just inside the front windshield. From there the patrolman explained that by Colorado law, the plate has to be attached to the front of the vehicle because sometimes the plate falls off in hit-and-run collisions (a plate left at the scene makes it very easy to identify the vehicle’s owner).

I have lived in three states, one of which does not even require a front plate at all (at least when I lived there). I wasn’t sure exactly what the Colorado law was so I took the gamble that placing the plate on the dash would be good enough. It wasn’t.

Of course there’s the old expression: “ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law.” The patrolman was well within his rights to write a citation but he chose to give me a verbal warning instead. A verbal warning and something else: a business card with his name and badge number.

The patrolman handed me the business card and said that I could call the number on the card to make a comment about the stop whether good or bad.

“When did they start doing this?” I wondered. I was taken aback. What kind of comments would I leave if I actually called the number?

As I reflected on this, on balance I thought the patrolman did his job well. Though he could have written the citation, he decided to inform me instead of punish me. For my part, I followed rule #1 (Always be calm and cool) and was very respectful (again, this may surprise my detractors that I wasn’t being snarky toward the patrolman. It probably helped that my wife answered the one question that annoyed me: “Where you folks headed?”). In following this first rule, I didn’t need to worry about the other nine.

But the thing that impressed me the most about this encounter with an officer of the law was the business card. Apparently the Colorado DPS actually cares about how well their patrolmen do their jobs! How refreshing! This in a time of police scandals, use of unnecessary force, and “professional courtesy” that has plagued the Denver Police Department and departments across the country.

What the business card policy (?) says to me is that yes, the police work for me. It’s a statement that recognizes that the job of the police it to serve and protect me: their customer, their boss, the person who pays his salary.

This is how the police should do their jobs and I hope this is something we will see more of more generally.

Double Standards

Now, I’m not one to regularly bang the feminist drum around here… But this is f’ing ridiculous:

Officer Sashay Brown returned to work in May after having her second child. At first, she worked a desk job. Soon after, though, she was forced to patrol the city streets under a new department policy that was meant to force officers who had made dubious claims of health issues back to the street. The Washington Examiner first reported the new policy last week.

“Because of my condition, I am unable to wear my [bulletproof] vest,” Brown wrote in her June 12 request to be detailed back to her station on limited duty. “Wearing my vest is extremely painful and could clog my ducts and slow down the production of my milk supply.” She was then checked out by a department doctor, who advised that Brown be given a limited-duty desk job.

In a June 24 memo to Brown, medical services branch director William Sarvis wrote, “I have reviewed your case and determined that you will not receive authorization to participate in the limited duty work program.”

Sarvis said that until department doctors determine Brown is fit for full duty, she’d either have to take sick leave, or unpaid leave if she didn’t have sick days left.

I’ve been known to offer criticism for some police policies, such as the paid vacations administrative leave that officers often get placed on after shooting someone in a questionable fashion. Or, of the viability at all of public sector unions that work to allow “spiking” of pensions to ensure that officers retire at higher pensions than they ever received in salary. That goes without even getting into the militarization of police in the drug war and the “thin blue line” mentality towards whistleblowers that seems to pervade the industry.

I just don’t understand how you can have a workplace where all that goes on, but if a woman who wants to continue working, and has been advised by the department’s own doctor to go on limited duty, she gets told she has to take sick time or unpaid leave.

I simply can’t imagine such a double standard to be evidence of anything other than outright discrimination.

My family and I spent the past weekend with some friends in northern California, both of whom are police officers. We were discussing work, vacation time, etc, and the husband asked me how my employer accounts for sick time, and I told him that sick time is paid, accounted for separately from vacation time, and generally not really worried about unless someone abuses it to the point where it needs to be addressed. His response: “At least in the private sector you’re allowed to address it. We have some guys taking the max 25-30 days sick every year and can’t do a thing.”

I’m sure the new department policy in this case was put in place to crack down on people abusing the system — something that likely has been going on for many years. Applying the policy in what appears to be such a tone-deaf discriminatory manner is not likely to win them any PR points, and might get them slapped with a lawsuit. Well done, morons!

Tim Masters, Anthony Graves, and Cory Maye Each Receive Some Semblance of Justice

More often than not, when I write about the criminal justice system generally or write about specific cases the news is very bad. This time I have not one, not two, but three very positive developments in three separate cases that have to this point been very negative.

#1 Larimer County Commissioners will Not Cap Compensation Tim Masters or Other Wrongfully Convicted in its Jurisdiction
Larimer County, CO like most governments at all levels is looking for ways to save money to deal with budget shortfalls. But is capping the damages for those the county has wrongfully convicted a reasonable way to address some of this shortfall? A majority of the commissioners say ‘no.’ Kevin Duggan writing for The Coloradan reports:

A proposal to limit the compensation a wrongfully incarcerated person could receive from a local government got a firm thumbs-down Tuesday from the Larimer County commissioners hours before Tim Masters was formally exonerated for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick.

With the Masters case in mind, the commissioners said they would not support a suggestion from county staff to seek state legislation that would cap damages someone who was wrongly convicted and jailed may recover.

[…]

Commissioner Steve Johnson said he understood the goal of saving taxpayer money, but a cap on damages wasn’t the way to do that.

The best way to avoid paying out for wrongful incarcerations is to not let them happen, he said. Those in the judicial system have to make every effort to ensure innocent people are not convicted, he said.

“It just seems to me that having a high award possibility is almost like a deterrent to law enforcement and everybody else,” he said.

Masters received a combined $10 million settlement from Larimer County and the city of Fort Collins last year to settle a lawsuit over his prosecution and conviction for the 1987 slaying of Hettrick. Masters served 10 years in prison, but his conviction was vacated in 2008 based on DNA evidence.

#2 Texas Gov. Rick Perry Does the Right thing by Signing a Bill to Compensate $1.4 Million to Wrongfully Convicted Anthony Graves
After spending 18 years in prison (10 years on death row) Anthony Graves was denied a modest compensation of $1.4 million from the State of Texas. As I wrote in February, Graves was denied the compensation because the Texas Comptroller’s office determined that Graves was not entitled to the compensation because the phrase “actual innocence” appeared nowhere in the judge’s ruling that reached that obvious conclusion. To Gov. Rick Perry’s credit, just over a week ago he reversed this injustice by signing a bill that would grant Graves the full amount of the compensation.

Perry on Friday signed a bill that will compensate Graves for his imprisonment, including more than a decade on death row.

With Perry’s signature, the legislation takes effect immediately.

State law allows $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, tax-free.

[…]

A bill “relating to claims for compensation for wrongful imprisonment and group health benefits coverage for persons wrongfully imprisoned” — specifically addressing Graves’ case — was adopted by the Texas Legislature with no opposition during its regular session this year.

Kudos to Gov. Perry and the Texas Legislature for doing the right thing for Graves and other wrongfully convicted Texans.

And now last but certainly not least…

#3 Cory Maye Accepts Plea Deal; Will be Released Soon
The final chapter of the Cory Maye case is nearly closed. After spending nearly 10 years in prison, Cory Maye will finally be released in a matter of days. Maye accepted a plea deal to a lesser charge of “culpable negligence” manslaughter which carries a 10 year sentence but will be given full credit for the time he has served.

While this is not the ideal, just outcome this is probably about the best that could be hoped for. Yes the double standard between non-cops shooting cops by mistake vs. cops shooting non-cops by mistake is extremely frustrating but this is the world we live in. From a letter Maye provided Radley Balko to share with his supporters Maye explains:

I realize a lot of people are going to wonder why I accepted a plea. We just felt that regardless of the facts and evidence that pointed in my favor, there was the possibility that one or more jurors could not see it my way, causing a mistrial. That could leave me sitting here another nine months or more, or longer if it keeps repeating that way.

This is Mississippi, and some people refuse to let go of their old ways from the old days. I just didn’t want to put my family through any more heartache, and didn’t want to have to wait any longer. It was take a chance of a mistrial, or grab hold of my future and be the man/father/friend that I can be, and that my family loves and misses.

Given the shenanigans the prosecutors and their witnesses got away with in the original trial, one can hardly blame Maye for taking the deal, securing his release, and getting as far away from Mississippi as possible.

The Cory Maye case is the case is one that has transformed how I view the criminal justice system over recent years. The idea that an individual could be convicted and put on death row for defending his home against who he believed to be unlawful intruders who turned out to be police conducting a no-knock raid made me question everything I thought I knew about the system. As I followed this case at The Agitator, I was introduced to many other similar cases of injustice and concluded that our system is far too prone to error for me to continue supporting the notion of the death penalty. I’m hopeful that many others were similarly touched by this case and that this will eventually lead to reforming the system for the better.

As these three cases demonstrate, justice may not be possible but with people in high places doing the right thing (often from pressure from regular concerned citizens) a semblance of justice is possible.

Liberty Rock: “No Knock Raid” by Lindy

It had to happen sooner or later – a song about no knock raids. Be warned, this music video contains disturbing footage from actual no knock raids. But you know what? This is an issue that we should be disturbed about.

What disturbs me the most is the double standard concerning shootings in these raids. The police routinely kill innocent individuals in the course of a raid while unsuspecting home owners who kill who they believe to be criminal intruders who turn out to be cops do time. Recent examples: An Albuquerque, New Mexico man shot a cop in the groin; he will do three years. In the neighboring State of Arizona, 5 SWAT officers have been cleared of any wrong doing when they shot honorably discharged Iraq war veteran who served two tours as a Marine Jose Guerena, 22 times and didn’t allow paramedics access to him for more than an hour which resulted in his death.

Some of the footage from the Guerena raid appears near the very end of the video.

Repost: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Last Friday, June 17, 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs.” As Jacob Sullum points out here, the drug war didn’t actually begin with Nixon and it’s not likely to end on Obama’s watch (even though the Obama administration admits that current drug policy over this period has been a failure). In marking this dubious anniversary, I thought it would be apropos to repost one of my very first blog posts: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High.

Those of you who are familiar with my writing here and elsewhere might notice the style is a little different than my normal, more conversational second person style (i.e. I refer to “you” the reader frequently). This is because this essay was originally a writing assignment (note the APA format) for a college writing class I was taking at the time even before I got into blogging (I’ll leave it to you to guess what my grade was). This also means that some of the sources I used are older than what is available now. I have since learned a great deal more about how and why the war on (some) drugs is a failure. The following essay is by no means comprehensive but I still stand by these arguments as well as others we have offered here at The Liberty Papers.

Even in the face of reasonable arguments, proponents of prohibition say legalization would cause “moral destruction of the human soul” (Hannity around the 18 minute mark on this video) or say that those of us who would support anything from decriminalization to harm reduction strategies to outright legalization should spend some time with individuals or families whose lives have been destroyed because of drugs. I would counter that emotional argument with another and suggest that drug war proponents spend some time with Kathryn Johnston’s family or the many other “isolated incidents” whose victims have been (in some cases, innocently) traumatized, maimed, or killed as a result of a no knock raid gone wrong. I wonder if these actions resulting from the current drug policy cause any moral destruction of the human soul?

********************************************************************************************************************

    Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Could legalizing drugs be the answer to reducing drug use in America? Most people would probably call that idea crazy. Why would the government want to encourage drug use? This is a misconception most people have when the taboo topic of legalizing drugs is brought up. Many people believe that because something is legal, the government is somehow saying it is right. Tobacco is a legal product yet it is constantly under attack. When was the last time the surgeon general told the public that tobacco is safe and healthy? Could this reasoning apply to other drugs that are currently illegal, yet kill far fewer people than tobacco? In fact, tobacco kills more people every year than all illicit drugs combined (McWilliams, 1996). What would happen if tobacco was suddenly illegal? Would people who want to smoke try to find and buy cigarettes despite it being a banned substance? What would the consequences be of this prohibition? The result of course would be a complete failure, just as the prohibition of drugs has been a failure. There are three main reasons why the prohibition of illegal drugs should end: it is ineffective, it causes unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system, and above all, it is dangerous.

Prohibition is Ineffective
America spends roughly $30 million (Federal and State) a day to fight the war on drugs (Stossel, 2004). The White House is requesting for congress to appropriate an additional $556.3 million for the 2005 fiscal year above the 2004 figure of $12.1 billion (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). If money was the solution to the drug problem, it would have been solved by now. Unfortunately, money and the programs the money supports has done very little to solve the problem.

While politicians fight this war from the comfort of their air conditioned offices, law enforcement officers see things from another perspective. An organization of police officers who oppose the drug war known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), conducted a national survey among police officers. The survey found that 95% believe America is losing the drug war. Over 90% believe that treatment and prevention is more effective than incarceration. When asked what would happen if drugs were discriminations or legalized, 30% of the police officers believed there would be no effect or that usage would go down (McNamara, 1995). Based on these statistics, one could imagine the frustration these police officers are dealing with and the morale for fighting on cannot be very high. Retired narcotics officer and LEAP board member, Jack Cole put it this way:

After three decades of fueling the [drug] war with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get,cheaper,and more potent than they were 30 years ago. While our court system is choked with ever-increasing drug prosecutions our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nationÂ’s fastest growing industry, with two million incarcerated-more per capita than any industrialized country in the world. Meanwhile drug barons continue to grow richer than ever before (2002).

One might conclude that with this number of people serving time for drug offences, this would be an effective deterrent. While some people may decide not to take drugs because of the sentences associated with them, most rightly conclude that the odds of getting caught are very slim. The people who are most likely to get caught are the poorest Americans. Police concentrate their efforts to fight drugs on the poor neighborhoods. The rich are less likely to get caught because police do not typically patrol rich neighborhoods unless there is a reason to suspect the illegal activity (McWilliams, 1996). Even innocent people who happen to be poor are not exempt from punishment. Strict drug laws for public housing tenants go beyond the offenders themselves. The law states that tenants are responsible for anyone who enters the property, who participates in illegal drugs in any way, on or off the premises. This means that parents who are doing the best they can to be productive citizens could be evicted from their home if their teenager brings drugs into the home. The Supreme Court ruled that the law does, in fact apply to the tenant regardless of whether the tenant has knowledge of the criminal activity or not (Pilon, 2002). Is it right for the government to remove innocent people from their homes in the name of fighting the war on drugs?

Prohibition Puts Unnecessary Strain on the Criminal Justice System
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders is a major cause for prison over crowding. Violent offenders, who have no mandatory minimum sentence requirements for their crimes, are released early to make room for non-violent “criminals” who do (Cole, 2002). Federal sentencing guidelines require a five year prison sentence for possessing a single gram of cocaine. One gram is equivalent to a single packet of sugar (FAMM, 2002). Approximately 4,000 people are arrested daily for selling or using drugs. Roughly a half million non-violent drug offenders are in prison right now, who committed no other crimes (Stossel, 2004). A drug felon is more likely to spend more time in prison than someone who steals, rapes, molests children or even kills (McWilliams, 1996). Is society better off locking up someone for drugs than any of these other more serious offences?

Making room for a half million non-violent drug offenders means allowing a half million violent felons to roam free. Peter McWilliams, author and expert on consensual crimes, made this observation and stated:

Here’s how over worked law enforcement is in the United States: Only 21% of the people who commit murder and negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, or arson are ever arrested; 79% of them – almost four out of five get off scot-free (1996, p200)

In an effort to alleviate the problem of overcrowding prisons, some jurisdictions have turned to “drug courts” as a solution. Recognizing the ineffectiveness of incarceration, Florida policy makers created drug courts as an alternative for first time non-violent drug offenders. Through the drug courts, drug offenders are given a chance to seek treatment instead of serving prison time. Florida’s drug courts have served as a model for the rest of the country (Facts.com, 2002). In fact, the White House is recommending an increase of an additional $32 million for fiscal year 2005; nearly twice the amount appropriated in 2004 for these drug court programs (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). While forced treatment is a better alternative than prison, treatment is only effective for those who truly want to get help. Even if drug users kick the habit, the criminal record that goes with it still has its consequences.

Drug Prohibition is Dangerous and Breeds Crime
Drug prohibition, as well intentioned as it may be, has at least one more consequence: it breeds crime and is dangerous. Why is it that people who, after being released from prison, return to a life of crime? Do they like being criminals? To answer these questions one must consider this: convicted felons cannot apply for federal student loans, have a difficult time finding jobs, have a difficult time buying or renting homes and are prohibited from voting (unless their civil rights are restored). There are no distinctions made between violent and non-violent offenders; a felon is a felon (McWilliams, 1996). The criminal record leaves ex-convicts with very few choices. The only market these most of these people qualify for is the black market. The experience of being locked up with violent criminals teaches inmates how to commit more crimes better.

Only 15% of people who try illicit drugs become addicts (Cole, 2002). For this unfortunate 15%, they find themselves desperate for more. Because prohibition artificially inflates the price of drugs, addicts resort to crime that does harm other people. Unless the addict happens to be very wealthy, stealing, selling drugs and prostitution are a few options for those whose daily drug habit can cost between $200 and $400 (McWilliams, 1996). Participating in the drug trade is very profitable but dangerous. When one dealer encroaches on another dealerÂ’s territory, very bad things happen. Things like drive-by-shootings, which oftentimes endangers the lives of innocent people (Cole). If drugs were legalized, the price would drop dramatically and the drugs could be obtained safely. Even chronically addicted people would spend no more than $5 a day. Supporting a $5 habit would be a great deal easier than supporting a $400 habit. All that would be required would be a part-time job (McWilliams, 1996). In fact 80% of all crime is related to drugs one way or another. It is then reasonable to believe that legalizing drugs would reduce crime by 80% (Cole). Law enforcement could then use its limited resources on the other 20%.

Prohibition is also responsible for much of the health risks commonly associated with banned drugs. Risks include: selling drugs to minors, dirty needles and paraphernalia, uncertain dosages, and contamination (McWilliams, 1996). If drugs were legalized, the government could regulate and set quality control standards for all drugs; much like alcohol and tobacco. To keep children from purchasing drugs, the seller would have to be licensed and could only sell to adults. Currently, drug dealers sell to anyone who will buy them, including children. Quality control standards would result in a lower occurrence of overdoses. The users would know how potent the product is by its labeling. Dirty needles and paraphernalia would no longer be an issue (Cole, 2002). The drugs could also be taxed to fund treatment programs to help those who want to get off drugs as well as drug education programs for schools.

Conclusion
The very idea of legalizing drugs is a scary prospect to most people. Upon further examination however, one thing is very clear: the current strategy is not working. Though the risks would be dramatically reduced, a number of people would still overdose. Regrettably, though drugs would be less accessible to children, some would still get their hands on them. Minors drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes despite both products being illegal, legalizing drugs would have similar effects. As terrible as that may sound, the drug problem could at least be contained through legalization. Granting amnesty to those who have been convicted of non-violent drug offences along with legalization, regulation, treatment and education would go a long way to reducing drug use and crime in general. It is unrealistic to believe that America will ever be 100% drug free. A certain number of people will use drugs no matter what the laws are. Prohibition continues to do more harm to society than drugs ever will. Ending prohibition, though not a perfect solution, would do much less damage. This effective solution would relieve much of the burden on the criminal justice system and would make America a safer place to live. Until America as a whole believes this and plans to do something about it, our society will remain “high” on its arrogance.

References
Cole, J. A. (2002). End prohibition now!. Retrieved April 22, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/endprohnow.htm

FAMM (2002). Crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://famm.org/si_crack_powder_sentencing.htm

Facts.com (2002, February 15). Drug courts. Retrieved April 8, 2004, from http://80-www.2facts.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ICOF/Search/i0700280_1

McNamara, J. D. (1995, April 9). Cops view of the ‘drug war’. San Francisco Examiner,. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/copsview.htm

McWilliams, P. (1996). Ain’t nobody’s business if you do: The absurdity of consensual crimes in our free country. Los Angeles, CA: Prelude Press.

Pilon, R. (2002, September 9). Tenants, students, and drugs: A comment on the war on the rule of law. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.cato.org/pubs/scr2002/pilon.pdf

Stossel, J. (2004). Give me a break: How I exposed hucksters, cheats, scam artists and became the scourge of the liberal media…. New York: HarperCollins.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (2004, March 1). National drug control strategy FY 2005 budget summary. Retrieved April 10, 2004, from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/budgetsum04/index.html

Controversial Organization Admonishes Soldiers and Peace Officers to Defend the Constitution

Every soldier and every police officer swears an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” but as a practical matter, what does this mean? What happens if the CO issues an order that violates the Constitution; is soldier or peace officer still required to carry the order out? What if the order in question comes from the President of the United States?

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of an organization established in 2009 called Oath Keepers, says that not only do soldiers and peace officers have a right to refuse to carry out an order that violates the U.S. Constitution but a sworn duty to disobey the order. Rhodes, graduate of Yale Law School, veteran, former firearms instructor, and former staffer for Congressman Ron Paul’s D.C. office, started Oath Keepers in response to what he perceived as an erosion of civil liberties that has escalated since 9/11.

Oath Keepers’ critics (particularly on the Left) believe the organization to be a Right wing “extremist” organization full of Birthers, Truthers, militia members, hate groups, and various other conspiracy theorists. In this article in Reason, Rhodes clears the air. Also, found in the organization’s bylaws:

Section 8.02
(a) No person who advocates, or has been or is a member, or associated with, any organization, formal or informal, that advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States or the violation of the Constitution thereof, shall be entitled to be a member or associate member.

(b) No person who advocates, or has been or is a member, or associated with, any organization, formal or informal, that advocates discrimination, violence, or hatred toward any person based upon their race, nationality, creed, or color, shall be entitled to be a member or associate member.

So what specifically makes Oath Keepers so controversial? My guess would be their list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey”:

1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.

2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people

3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.

4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.

5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.

6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.

7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.

8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”

9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.

10.We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

Imagine how much freer our country would become if everyone in law enforcement and in the military adopted this creed and took their oaths seriously?

You Would Never Confess to a Crime You Did Not Commit? Don’t Be So Sure

Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.

In support of our fundraising efforts for The Innocence Project, I have decided to dedicate at least one post per week over the next four weeks to the cause of criminal justice reform – many of which are the very reforms The Innocence Project are working to bring about. With just 2 weeks left of this fundraising campaign, 208 “Innocence Partners” combined efforts has raised over $10,000 of the $20,000 target. As of this writing, you readers have already donated $375 – 75% of our $500 goal! Thanks to everyone who has donated so far or plans to donate. Remember: your donations are 100% tax deductible.

One more brief note before I get into this post’s topic of false confessions. Just three days ago, Thomas Haynesworth became The Innocence Projects’ 267th exoneree and was released from prison after serving 27 years for three rapes that DNA tests and other evidence prove he did not commit (well, technically he was paroled; The Innocence Project is now trying to have his conviction overturned via the Virginia Court of Appeals or by a pardon from the governor who says he will consider pardoning Haynesworth).

False Confessions

A skilled interrogator knows all sorts of ways to persuade individuals guilty of committing a crime to confess. The problem is, the same interrogator’s methods can often persuade individuals who are innocent to confess as well.

But why would an innocent person confess to crimes as serious as rape and murder, you ask? This is some of what The Innocence Project has learned:

In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.

These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.

Why do innocent people confess?
A variety of factors can contribute to a false confession during a police interrogation. Many cases have included a combination of several of these causes. They include:

•duress
•coercion
•intoxication
•diminished capacity
•mental impairment
•ignorance of the law
•fear of violence
•the actual infliction of harm
•the threat of a harsh sentence
•Misunderstanding the situation

The documentary series Frontline episode “The Confessions” (below) profiles a case where eight individuals were charged in large part due to five confessions for a rape and murder of a Norfolk, Virginia woman. Only one of the five confessions turned out to be true and the actual perpetrator admitted he acted alone.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

How can false confessions be minimized? One common sense reform The Innocence Project is pushing is simply passing laws which would require all interrogations to be recorded. If the men in the above case had their confessions recorded, the interrogators wouldn’t have the ability to have each rehearse their confessions until it fit with their theory. Every lie and every threat by the interrogators would be replayed for the jury to hear. Only then could the jury have a more complete context of the interrogation.

Additional Thoughts on Recording Interactions with the Police

In response to the above post, Tom Knighton made some very good points in a blog post of his own regarding mandatory recording of interrogations that bear repeating here:

Littau suggests simply recording interrogations as a tool for preventing false confessions as the jury would hear the whole situation and perhaps make up their own minds regarding the so-called confession. I’m going to go so far as to suggest this as a tool for protecting law enforcement officers, as well as suspects. Recorded interrogations can also tell that an officer didn’t coerce a confession, assault a suspect, or anything else they may be accused of.

Transparency is always preferable to non-transparency when it comes to government, even in the law enforcement sector. By recording interviews, an agency opens a window on the process and protects everyone involved.

As the old saying goes, there’s three sides to every story. In the criminal justice system there’s the suspect’s side, the state’s side (or referred sometimes to as “the people’s” side), and the truth. Recording all interactions between the police and the suspect provides something very close to the truth (I say close because even video evidence can be limiting due to a variety of factors).

Really I think that all police interactions should be required by law to be recorded if the person doesn’t have access to a lawyer at that particular moment (and even then, the interaction should be recorded unless the lawyer wishes otherwise). Every police stop, every search warrant, and every raid on a person’s home should be fully* recorded; resulting video should be kept unedited** so both sides can examine the evidence fairly.

Of course, this all assumes that the purpose of our criminal justice system is to get to the truth.

*In the case of police raids, something that Radley Balko advocates (which I agree with fully) is that every SWAT or police officer who takes part in a raid should be required to have a camera mounted on his/her person – preferably helmet mounted. This would present the events how they happened from multiple points-of-view.

**Editing, destroying, or omitting such a video should be considered a crime akin to any other tampering or destruction of evidence.

Good Work — Almost There

Merely a week ago, I posted about a fundraiser for the Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project is a non-profit group working to offer legal services to convicts claiming innocence who have a chance to prove it. Living in as free and just a country as we manage to have, there are still mistakes — many more than we likely realize. Those on the wrong end of those mistakes often have nobody willing to fight for them, even if they are truly innocent.

The Innocence Project hoped to get 200 individuals to set up web pages attempting to raise $100 each for a total fundraising goal of $20K. Given the modest but wider reach of this blog, I set up our page with a goal of $500, and I think it’s a good one, because we’re over 60% there.

If you haven’t rattled the cup yet, I highly recommend you do so. You’re working to help people who have been unfairly beaten by the system clear their name. If that’s not enough, it’s tax deductible, so every dollar you donate reduces the amount the system has to railroad others.

We’re less than $200 from the goal. Go help out someone who needs it.

“Don’t Forget Your Homework…or Your Miranda Card”

I don’t know how much play if any this story has received in the national media but it has been a subject of local news and talk shows here in the Denver media market. Basically, an 11 year old boy drew a disturbing picture for his school counselor and later that evening, the boy was hauled off to jail in handcuffs and booked – fingerprints, mug shots, and all as if he were a hardened adult criminal. The video below goes into more detail.

 

Local Denver talk show host Peter Boyles, as a result of this case and others like this case, has concluded that perhaps it would be prudent for school students of all ages to bring some sort of “Miranda Card” like the one shown below to be presented to school administrators or even (especially) the police. Boyles said that until just a few years ago, he was of the opinion that kids should be taught to trust the police and answer any questions they might have – just as the parents of this young boy did. Now he says that perhaps we should teach our children the exact opposite.

Is this really what it’s coming to now – having to teach our elementary age children the “10 Rules for Dealing with Police” even before they are taught the facts of life?

Maybe so. But there is also another lesson that might be useful for children and hopefully this boy has learned this lesson: don’t be afraid to question authority figures. In the case of this boy, all the authority figures failed him. His counselor failed him by encouraging to draw the picture in the first place without offering any words of caution. The school administrators should have coordinated their approach with the counselor rather than involving the police. The boy’s parents encouraged him to speak openly with the police who then used unnecessary heavy handed tactics that undoubtedly traumatized the child. His trust was betrayed by them all.

Clearly, this is a troubled boy who needs help and was already receiving therapy before government intervention. Why not let those professionals who actually know what they are doing do their jobs?

Now as a parent, I am put in a difficult position. What am I supposed to tell my kids about how to deal with the police? I don’t want them to disrespect the police but at the same time, I don’t want them to grow up having the false notion that the police will always act in their best interests if only they “cooperate.”

It’s a very sad commentary to be sure.

Reason.tv’s Tim Cavanaugh Interviews Steve Silverman of the Flex Your Rights Foundation

Money quote from the interview:

“Asserting your Constitutional rights is not a trick in any way. What the police officers do is a trick […] police officers are legally allowed to lie.”

You can watch the 10 Rules for Dealing with Police series in its entirety here (which I highly recommend whether you are one who rarely encounters the police or a “cop magnet”).

For more additional information on how you can flex your rights, go to flexyourrights.org

ACTION ALERT: Call/Write NJ Gov. Christie and Tell him to Pardon Brian Aitken

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this case involving a lawful gun owner being caught in the snare of New Jersey’s strict gun control laws, here’s a summary of what happened:

On January 2, 2009 Brian was arrested for illegal possession of firearms while moving from one residence from another. All of the firearms were legally owned—Brian passed three different FBI background checks to purchase and had even cleared an FBI screening for employment as a data researcher handling confidential information for a banking security software firm. His integrity, character, and right to own was not in question…so what was?

New Jersey statutes make it illegal for anyone without a concealed carry permit to possess a firearm even if it’s otherwise lawfully owned. The only way to lawfully possess firearms in New Jersey is through exemptions to the law like driving to and from a shooting range or moving residences. However, as they are exemptions from the law they must be raised during trial therefore removing the presumption of innocence for the charge of possession.

[…]

Several witnesses, including the arresting officer, testified that not only did Brian have multiple residences but that his car was packed with his personal belongings–so much so that it took the police 2 hours and 39 minutes before they found Brian’s guns locked and unloaded in the trunk of his car, exactly as NJ law dictates. Brian knew this because only days earlier he had found out through the NJ state police how to legally transport his firearms in NJ. The officers, believing Brian had done nothing wrong, then offered to leave the firearms at his parents’ house, but when they wouldn’t fit in his father’s safe the supervising officer decided to arrest him instead.

[…]

During the trial it became clear to everyone in the courtroom that Brian fit the exemptions of the law for moving between residences. However, the judge withheld the law from the jury, thereby ensuring a guilty verdict. Regardless, the jury returned from deliberation three times specifically requesting to be read the exemptions of the law. One can only assume that this was so they could find Brian not guilty. The judge and the prosecutor made it clear that they had no intention of allowing Brian to walk out an innocent man. They were more interested in a guilty verdict than truth and justice.

It seems pretty clear to me that the judge (who was not reappointed by Gov. Christie) and prosecutor want to make an example of Mr. Aitken. By all accounts, Aitken went out of his way to obey New Jersey’s absurd anti-gun laws but somehow finds himself serving 7 years in state prison.

There is a very good possibility that Gov. Christie (R) will pardon Aitken as Christie seems to be sympathetic in this case. He’s already getting quite a flood of messages into his office to do the right thing but I believe we should join in and encourage even more to do the same.

Call Gov. Christie at 609-292-6000 and politely leave a message to set Brian Aitken free so that he can spend his Christmas with his family instead of behind bars.

You can also join “Free Brian Aitken” on Facebook. Go here for additional details.

***UPDATE***

I’m very pleased to announce that this action alert can be cancelled: Gov. Christie has commuted Aitken’s sentence to time served. Go here to read my update on the case.

Thanks to all who participated in this action alert.

Airport Activism Anyone?

With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up (and busiest travel day of the year), a group of concerned citizens is calling November 24th “National Opt-Out Day.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 is NATIONAL OPT-OUT DAY!

It’s the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an “enhanced pat down” that touches people’s breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner. You should never have to explain to your children, “Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.”

The goal of National Opt Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change. We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we’re guilty until proven innocent. This day is needed because many people do not understand what they consent to when choosing to fly.

For more details, go here.

Since I won’t be flying, I won’t personally be participating in National Opt-out Day but I strongly encourage all who are to participate. I’m also interested in what experiences are when/if you are given the “porno or grope” option. I’ll have an open thread ready for you to tell us what you witness or experience.

In closing, here is a short segment from Judge Andrew Napolitano’s “Freedom Watch” called “Right to Know” concerning your 4th Amendment rights.

Men Cited For Engaging In Battlefield Simulations Near Childrens’ Playground

First it’s chess. Then Sun Tzu. Eventually you have a militia on your hands overthrowing the government. That’s how these things progress, right?

The scourge must be stopped at its source!

A group of seven mild-mannered chess players are due in criminal court next month after police officers from the 34th Precinct issued them summonses for playing their favorite board game in Inwood Hill Park.

The men were ticketed on Oct. 20 for being inside of Emerson Playground, a children’s play area off limits to adults unaccompanied by minors. But the men were in an area furnished with stone chess and backgammon tables — separated from the play area by a fence.

“There is a problem in this area with drug dealing, but the police have time to write tickets to people playing chess?” asked Yacahudah Harrison, 48, one of the men who received a summons for “Fail[ing] to comply with signs.”

“Under my direction, uniformed officers routinely enter the parks to enforce closing times and other regulations; all designed to protect the community,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“The NYPD allows for officers to issue summonses in lieu of effecting an arrest for appropriate offenses.”

But Inwood residents expressed outrage that the NYPD would target the chess players in light of the men’s history as caretakers and teachers for the next generation of Inwood chess players.

“This is a positive thing for our kids to see and do, it’s a positive mental activity for them,” said Regina Christoforatos, 38, whose 6-year-old daughter Zoe has been learning chess in the park.

(emphasis added)

The police captain claims that this is to protect the community.

What community needs to be protected from games of chess played in the park?

Hat Tip: Free Range Kids

Quote of the Day: No, Cops Do Not Have Any Expectation of Privacy Edition

Anthony Graber, the man who was charged for violating Maryland’s wiretapping law for recording on his motorcycle helmet cam and posting a video to YouTube of an undercover cop who pulled a gun on him during a traffic stop will not spend the next 16 years of his life in prison. Hartford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr. dismissed the charges explained (correctly) that the police do not have an expectation of privacy while on duty and in public.

“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. ‘Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes’ (“Who watches the watchmen?”).” – Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr.

Just a gentle reminder to public servants that they work for us and are accountable to us, not the other way around.

Hat Tip: Hammer of Truth

Related: Cato Presents:Cops on Camera

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