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February 2010 Archives

Colorado Bill Proposes Changes to Drug Sentences

Colorado is looking at making its first large-scale drug-sentencing reform.

New proposed legislation (House Bill 1352) is aimed not only at saving the state money but finding ways to offer drug offenders less jail time and more rehab, the Denver Post reports.

Ponzi Alert! The Bernie Madoff of South Florida

They call him "Bernie Madoff on crack." He's 47-year old Scott Rothstein, the disbarred Florida lawyer who allegedly swindled investors out of $1.2 billion. He acquired this title not because of the magnitude of his Ponzi scheme but rather, because of how fast he made a name for himself.

And now, the Feds are sticking him with a RICO suit -- a legal action under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. And the prosecutors are going one step further, trying to include his conspirators in the case as well. 

The Miami Herald reported that Rothstein is accused of mail, wire and bank fraud, in addition to charges of money laundering. He could face over 20 years in prison if prosecutors can make the charges stick. 

Facebook Sex Scam: Anthony Stancl Gets 15 Years

The Wisconsin teen behind a Facebook sex scam, Anthony Stancl, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Stancl, 19, pleaded no contest to two felony charges over posing as a girl on Facebook to collect naked pictures and blackmail his male classmates for sex. He accepted a plea deal of felony charges of repeated sexual assault of a child and third-degree sexual assault in exchange for prosecutors dismissing 10 other charges, as previously discucssed.

Maine Legislature Proposes State Policy for Guns in Parks

The Maine legislature is considering sticking to its own state policy instead of following the new federal rules allowing guns in national parks.

That could make Maine the first state to specifically cut against the new federal law, which allows licensed gun owners to take firearms into national parks and wildlife refuges.

LA County Sheriff: New Policy on Armed Suspects

There's a new sheriff in town.

Well, not exactly...

But the L.A. County Sheriff's Department has issued a new policy for chasing armed suspects.

Another Round in Texas Judge's Ethics Investigation

According to a report by the Austin American-Statesman, last Wednesday, prosecutors filed a papers before the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct in an effort to have the Honorable Sharon Keller removed from her position as the Chief Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In this on-going case, discussed in a prior post, the charges against Judge Keller stem from her actions on September 25, 2007, when she refused to keep the court clerk's office open to receive a late and last minute appeal by attorneys for death row inmate Michael Richard, scheduled for execution that evening.

ePoker Sites Hedging Their Bets

The online gambling industry might be under attack. A 2006 law, which goes into effect in June, expands the authority of the Department of Justice to shut down online gambling operations.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) was passed with an intent to cut off monetary flow from American gamblers to online casinos. For online casinos and e-poker websites, this could pose a huge problem with 2.5 million American players and $30 billion in revenues from the United States. The law seeks not only to go after the online gaming venues but also the financial institutions that house funds related to online gambling. The Act will impose the threat of prison time as well as civil penalties to noncompliant parties.

LA District Attorney Steven Cooley Targets Pot Shops

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley is living up to his promises to target clinics selling pot for profit.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles has aggressively begun action to shut down what Cooley claims are illegal marijuana dispensaries. The city is suing three collectives and is looking to evict more than 18 others from their stores, saying they have violated state laws.

The lawsuits allege the outlets have repeatedly violated state laws and seek injunctions for them to stop selling marijuana.

Virginia House Pass Bills to Relax State Gun Laws

Virginia House lawmakers have pushed through a series of bills making it easier to buy and carry guns.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the 20 gun-related bills include lifting the ban on buying more than one gun a month, allow guns to be taken into bars, emergency shelters and locked in cars. In addition, new legislation would allow the names of applicants for concealed handgun permits to remain undisclosed to the public unless the applicant gives written consent for disclosure of the application.

Judge Upholds Expulsion of NY Senator Hiram Monserrate

So far, State Sen. Hiram Monserrate is on the losing side of his legal battle to fight his expulsion.

According to the Associate Press, a judge rejected his attempt to block Monserrate's expulsion from the Senate and to stop a special election March 16 to replace him.

NC Man Exonerated By State Innocence Commission

Gregory F. Taylor was exonerated after being wrongfully convicted of killing a prostitute. 

In addition to the vindication the North Carolina man may feel, Taylor also became the first man exonerated by a state mandated innocence commission.

According to the New York Times, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is the only agency of its kind in the country.

CA Prisons: Early Release Program Sparks Legal Battles

California's new early release rules have sparked legal battles.

New rules on early release, passed as part of legislation aimed at reducing the state's prison population, are facing several legal challenges related to early release from county jails.

According to the Sacramento Bee, both the Sacramento and Orange County sheriff's unions, along with the Crime Victims United of California have all filed lawsuits to stop the law from taking effect.

CA Prisons: New County Jail Early Release Rules

With a federal court mandate to reduce its prison overcrowding, and a looming budgetary crisis, California has begun to roll out its new early release program.

The state has been ordered to trim its prison population in an effort to fix long known prison problems. The state would also like to reduce its $60 billion budget deficit.

As a trailer to last year's budget, California passed legislation aimed at trimming the state's inmate population by 6,300 in 2010 through a combination of parole reforms and early release initiatives, such as the grant of time credits for inmates who complete educational programs.

The legislation to reduce the inmate population also included changes to the early release calculation for inmates in county jails.

Judge: Sheriff Joe Arpaio to Face Contempt Sanction

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in the hot seat again.

This time the self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" may face a contempt sanction.

A federal judge has found grounds to impose sanctions against the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for destruction of records in a lawsuit involving racial profiling.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow said the sheriff's office was negligent for not holding onto the documents. The case centers on Arpaio's use of volunteers and deputies to sweep through Latino areas in search of immigration violators. In addition, his officers admit to deleting their e-mails about the patrols and shredding records of traffic stops made during the sweeps.

Supreme Court Justice Kennedy on CA's Three Strikes Law

California's excessive prison sentences, along with the state's three strikes law, have caught the attention of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court addressed Pepperdine University School of Law and discussed his view of California's over-incareration problems, criticizing the state's three strikes law.

According to the New York Times, Justice Kennedy not only disapproved of how the three strikes law puts people behind bars for 25 years to life if they commit a third felony, even a nonviolent one, but of the fact that the law's sponsor was the correctional officers' union -- saying, "... that is sick."

CA Prisons: Cuts Coming to Inmate Rehab Programs

There seems to be no one solution for cost cutting measures to help California's prison system.

Amongst other changes, this will likely mean job cuts at inmate rehab programs at CA prisons.

That's the latest effort by the state to slash prison costs by laying off hundreds of workers who run rehabilitation programs.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, over the next several months, laying off prison workers is expected to cut $250 million from rehabilitation spending in prisons. The cutback may be a temporary fix for the state's $60 billion deficit, but in the long run it could result in higher recidivism rates.

Report: NY State Laws Strip Parolees of Voting Rights

Under New York law, prisoners and those on parole are stripped of their voting rights

A new report released, Jim Crow in New York discusses the impacts of the state's criminal disenfranchisement law.

According to the New York Times, the state's criminal disenfranchisement provisions, like those deployed in the South were enacted nearly 140 years ago. New York and many other states adapted their criminal codes to punish those offenses with which they believed freedmen were likely to be charged, including bigamy, vagrancy, petty theft and burglary, according to the report by Brennan Center for Justice.

The report cites this targeted criminalization, along with the disenfranchisement of those convicted of felonies, with suppression of African-American political power for decades. 

Officials Consider Military Commissions over 9/11 Trials

Discussions about where to hold the upcoming 9/11 trials are continuing to unfold.

The Obama administration is weighing the pros and cons of trying professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court lower Manhattan.

The administration is looking at abandoning a civilian 9/11 trial.

According to the Associated Press, Attorney General Eric Holder is now open to other possibilities for hosting terror trials before a military commission instead of the civilian trial originally planned for New York City.

Army Discharges Military Mom for Refusing to Deploy

The Army discharges Spc. Alexis Hutchinson and the military mom gets to be with her son.

So what's the catch?

Hutchinson, a single mom will now be demoted from specialist to private and lose all military and veteran benefits for refusing to deploy to Afghanistan.

According to the Associated Press, instead of facing criminal charges at a court-martial, the Army cook will be discharged by the military to care for her infant son.

Update: NY Senator Hiram Monserrate Fights Expulsion

State Sen. Hiram Monserrate Hiram Monserrate may be headed back to court after he was convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge for dragging his girlfriend through his apartment lobby.

But this time lawmaker plans on going back to court to fight his expulsion from the Senate. He is filing a suit in federal court to block a special election March 16 to replace him.

According to the Associated Press, the New York Senate voted 53-8 voted to oust Monserrate. The vote makes Monserrate the first sitting state lawmaker expelled since 1861.

Court Weighs Teen Sexting and Child Pornography Charges

The first criminal case of teen sexting has reached its way to a U.S. Appeals Court. According to Reuters, is it the first U.S. case to see what the constitutional rights of sexting are. Sexting, which is a combination of the words texting and sex, is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos between cell phone users. Teen sexting is a problem because the dissemination of sexual photos of underage users can be considered child pornography.

This case involves a Wyoming County prosecutor in Pennsylvania who allegedly threatened 16 teens to participate in a "re-education" course on why sexting was wrong or face charges of child pornography. Three of the teens reportedly declined the counseling. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Wyoming County D.A. for misusing his authority by threatening to bring baseless child-pornography charges in order to coerce the teens to attend counseling. The lawsuit also claims that the criminal charges are an unconstitutional punishment against the teens and their parents for refusing to attend counseling.

Poor Medical Record Keeping in Maricopa County Jails

An investigation into Maricopa County's jail health care system shows serious medical record-keeping problems, patient care safety issues and could open taxpayers up to liability.

According to the Arizona Republic, Correctional Health Services treats inmates held in the jails, which are operated by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Health-care workers and detention officers work together to provide medical care for inmates, but their policies and procedures don't always line up. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is suing for control of the system, now overseen by the Board of Supervisors.

Connecticut Could Suppress Inmate FOIA Requests

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is designed to ensure public access to government records. But should inmate FOIA requests be honored to the same extent?

Connecticut is at the center of a heated debate around whether state law should allow prison inmates to access to personal information, which could threaten employee safety and harm or harass corrections officers?

According to the Associated Press, Connecticut is considering whether to restrict prison inmates from using freedom of information laws to get guards' personnel and arrest records and files affecting the inmates' own legal cases.

TN Lawmakers Address Juvenile Center Sex Abuse

Tennessee lawmakers are trying to figure out how best to protect youth from sexual abuse at a state juvenile center.

Their action is in response to a federal report released naming Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville as having one of the highest rates of sexual abuse in the country.  

Governor Schwarzenegger: Send California Inmates to Mexico

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California is still figuring out how to address its prison problems. One part of the plan has been the early release of some inmates. Another way perhaps to ease its overcrowded prison system might be to send thousands of undocumented California inmates to specially built jails in Mexico.

Early release of prisoners looks like it could reduce the prison population by about 6,500 inmates over the next year.

Shipping some inmates to Mexico is the latest idea being floated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cost-cutting measure, the Associated Press recently reported. Governor Schwarzenegger said exporting 20,000 inmates that are illegal immigrants to jails south of the border could help the state's finances by billions of dollars.

Michigan Governor Grants Commutations at Record Rate

Many Michigan prisoners may be glad to have their sentences commuted, but some victims' families feel just the opposite.

They are unhappy that Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is granting commutations at a record rate. She has freed 124 prisoners in the last two years -- including killers -- and is on pace to commute more sentences.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Gov. Jennifer Granholm insists that most of the freed prisoners pose no threat to the safety. But this has left some victims' families disappointed that the people who killed their loved ones will not die in prison.

In addition, many worry that the governor cannot be sure that the state's freed killers will not kill again.

Rod Blagojevich Reindicted: No Honest Services Fraud Charge

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was reindicted on corruption charges by a federal grand jury.

According to Reuters, prosecutors reindicted Blagojevich because the constitutionality of the law underpinning some of Blagojevich's original charges -- honest services fraud -- has been challenged and is currently the subject of U.S. Supreme Court review in another case.

Apparently, prosecutors do not want to wait around to see if the honest services fraud statute holds up.

Police Investigate Online Gang Activity

Although social networks like Facebook and Twitter are designed to connect people with friends it's also become a tool for tech-savvy gangsters. They have taken much of their gang activity online.

According to the Associated Press, many gang members now use Facebook and Twitter to send messages, boast about crimes and to share intelligence about rival gangs.

As a result, law enforcement is hitting the virtual world of online social networking and gaming Web sites to find the bad guys. Police now go on line to track conversations and incriminating information from gang members' Facebook accounts.

Georgia Gun Laws Could Get Overhauled

Georgia lawmakers could overhaul current Georgia gun laws and allow weapons just about anywhere -- even handguns on college campuses.

The proposed broad legislation would lift a ban on firearms in most public buildings, churches and even the state Capitol. It would allow gun owners with permits to carry in college campuses. The places where Georgia gun laws would ban firearms would mainly be limited to jails, courthouses and prisons.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, school officials and student leaders bristle at the proposal, House Bill 615. They worry that allowing guns onto college campuses could pose risks and lead to violence on their campuses.

DOJ Defends Decision to Charge Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is shouldering much of the responsibility for the decision to charge the Christmas Day terror suspect in the civilian system.

According to the Associated Press, US Attorney General Eric Holder's letter was the latest in response to the public criticism that the arrest and FBI interrogation of the Detroit suspect was a mistake that cost a chance to learn important information. Holder said the decision by the Department of Justice is consistent with earlier practices from the previous administration.

New Sex Offender Law May Help with Housing Options

Miami-Dade County is leading the push for softer residency restriction laws for convicted sex offenders in order that they may find a place to live.

A new sex offender law may help with housing options.

Time Magazine reports that a new sex offender law will help clean up the eyesore of tents and shacks under a Miami bridge that has become living quarters for convicted sex offenders forced into homelessness.

In addition, the new county ordinance will supersede some of the stricter residency laws passed by local municipalities, which ban registered sex offenders from living near schools, parks, bus-stops and day care centers. Officials say, the law, which takes effect in the upcoming days is aimed at creating one standard to protect children while giving sex offenders housing options.

Delaware to Resume Lethal Injections

Delaware's death penalty is back on and the state will resume lethal injections.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state's death penalty as constitutional, allowing Delaware to resume carrying out executions that have been on hold since 2006.

According to the News Journal, the courts warned that although the state's death penalty does not cause unnecessary or unconstitutional suffering as claimed by 18 death-row inmates in the class-action lawsuit, executions must be carried out with a degree of seriousness and respect.

Teen Driver Gets Jail Time for Fatal DWI & Facebook Photo

Teen driver Ashley M. Sullivan was already in a heap of trouble after she was convicted of killing her boyfriend while drunk driving.

The seventeen-year-old plead guilty to negligent homicide and DWI and was going to be charged as a minor.

But during the months after the crash a judge found a Facebook photo the teenager posted on her Facebook web page captioned, "Drunk in Florida" and Sullivan's legal troubles only got worse, the Buffalo News reports.

New Rules Set for NY Partial Match DNA Evidence

A new rule allowing partial DNA matches now provides NY law enforcement with some extra help tracking down criminals.

According to the New York Times, a controversial new state rule now allows investigators to take DNA from a crime scene that does not exactly match someone in the state's DNA database and pursue suspects whose DNA that closely resembles that of someone on file.

This sophisticated means to track down criminals is called a partial DNA match. Searches can now be narrowed to query relatives of people whose DNA is already in the state database.

California Supreme Court Upholds Parts of Jessica's Law

The California Supreme Court rejected several constitutional challenges to Jessica's Law, which is designed to keep sex offenders from living near parks, schools and other places where children gather.

According to the Associated Press, a 5-2 court ruled that Jessica's Law (Proposition 83) does not violate the rights of sex offenders to apply the law retroactively if they were on parole when the law was adopted.

In addition, the high court ordered more hearings to determine claims by four ex-convicts who say they cannot find a place to live because of residency restrictions. The court ruled that it was not presented with enough evidence to support or refute their claims.

Sex Offenders After Prison: Lifetime GPS Monitoring?

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Following their release from prison, sex offenders are already required by law to register or notify local law enforcement.

In addition, many are required to wear a GPS (Global Positioning System) or an electronic monitoring device which tells law enforcement officials the exact location of the offender 24 hours a day.

The length of time sex offenders are assigned to electronic monitoring varies from state to state. It can be months, years and in some cases a lifetime.

So, why do some states require lifetime GPS monitoring of some sex offenders?

California Supreme Court Examines Jessica's Law

The California Supreme Court is questioning the legality of Jessica's Law violates and whether sex predators should be treated differently from other violent offenders.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Supreme Court ruled that a provision of Jessica's Law to lock up sexually violent predators indefinitely may violate constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Next, a fact finding hearing will examine the issue further.

White House Officials Discuss 9/11 Trials Backup Plan

Cold feet by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and complaints from residents who say the 9/11 trials should be moved out of Manhattan has prompted the Obama administration to consider a backup plan.

According to the Wall Street Journal, White House officials seem to be open to moving the 9/11 trials away from downtown Manhattan. Currently, they are discussing a contingency plan amid the growing number of objections to hosting terror trials in NYC.