Category: Crime

When will all states protect poor defendants’ rights?

At any one moment, there are close to half a million people in jails across the U.S. who are locked up simply because their cases haven’t gone through the system, and they are too poor to post bail. Despite retaining the presumption of innocence, they are behind bars.

A Federal Reserve study found that a majority of Americans would not be able to come up with $400 in an emergency situation. As long as the current cash-bail system remains the primary arbiter of who is released before being put on trial, a majority of pretrial detainees will continue to be those who are poor. According to Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, only 10 percent of those held pretrial actually should be, because they pose a threat to public safety or are a flight risk.

Ironically, it is incredibly expensive to detain so many people pretrial. States and local governments spend roughly $9 billion a year detaining the legally innocent…

For those who cannot afford bail and have to remain in custody prior to trial, their time behind bars can last for months, or in some cases years. The Criminal Law Reform Project at the American Civil Liberties Union reviewed state laws nationwide. Some states—like Vermont, Washington and Wyoming—mandate that charges be presented to a grand jury for indictment or acquittal within days. Others don’t have charging statutes with time limits. As a result, arrestees in 20 states, including Alabama, Massachusetts, and Ohio, could conceivably be held indefinitely while waiting to be formally charged. Depending on how local jurisdictions interpret the right-to-counsel, many poor inmates will also have limited access to legal representation while they wait.

RTFA for some great interactive maps that take you state-by-state.

Pic of the day

Click to enlargeReuters/Mohamad Torokman

A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Bet El, near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah…

Just in case you hadn’t noticed that young people are still being murdered by the apartheid regime in Israel. They fight back against tanks and guns with stones.

Dumb crook of the day

Authorities say an 18-year-old man drove a stolen car to police headquarters to pick up court papers about a previous auto theft he was involved in — documents that were found in yet another stolen car.

Carnell Eugene Butler now faces charges in three stolen car cases.

St. Petersburg police say officers found a stolen Infiniti on Sunday. Inside, they found Butler’s documents related to a June auto theft arrest.

Detectives contacted Butler, who arranged to pick them up. When he arrived at police headquarters, a detective arrested Butler and found keys to a Hyundai Sonata in his pocket. The car was located a block away.

It, too, had been reported stolen.

Butler is being held without bond

Cripes! They got the kid on a three-fer.

Life inside our southern neighbor

Mexico cartels
Click to enlarge

Update to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s assessment of the areas of dominant control for the major drug trafficking organizations operating in Mexico based on a comprehensive review of current DEA reporting, input from DEA offices in Mexico and open source information…

Ain’t nothing like a long winter vacation in the sun, eh?

How a prison debate team beat Harvard — David Register

David Register, Darryl Robinson, Rodney Spivey, and Paul Clue.

The debaters of the Bard Debate Union at the Eastern New York Correctional Facility are methodical in their approach to their craft. They take the stacks of materials they are provided and carefully comb through each item, extracting the specific pieces of data they will use to support their claims. They are critical of one another and push each other to improve. They practice constantly.

This hard work is all done within the confines of a maximum security prison. Our debaters face a unique set of obstacles – they wait weeks to receive the information I gather for them from internet sources, and they have limited time to type and print their ideas. But everything paid off last month when the team, whom I coach, beat Harvard in a debate about whether public schools should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students.

Most of the overwhelming media attention about this debate has focused on the fact that our students were victorious. No one has yet told the story about how they prepare for debates.

I started the Eastern branch of the Bard Debate Union in the summer of 2013. The goal was to provide a competitive outlet for Bard students at Eastern that would mirror what was happening at the Bard Debate Union on the college’s main campus, where my wife and I co-direct the undergraduate team. Bard Debate Union members see themselves as part of one team, despite the obvious physical distance between the two branches and despite the fact that prison rules mostly prohibit them from debating together…

When they aren’t in class, BPI debaters request time in the school to meet. When they can’t get into the school, they talk debate in their cells, the yard and the mess hall. They verbally spar with BPI students who are not on the debate team, and talk with their families – creating for themselves a group of informal coaches. And some of the veterans of the team, like Rodney Spivey and Darryl Robinson (among many others), have worked tirelessly to help build the debate team at Eastern into what it has become by welcoming and training new members.

Our debaters spend hundreds of hours preparing in the three to four months they usually have to get ready for a debate, in addition to carrying full course loads.

On 18 September, after facing off against Harvard at the prison, our debaters were deemed the winners by a veteran panel of debate judges…from Cornell…Our debaters were honored that members of Harvard’s team were willing to engage them in competition, and the contributions and character of these Harvard debaters should be celebrated.

It is critically important to remember that our debaters are students first and debaters second – and prisoners a distant third. By the time I encounter BPI students, they have been trained by an incredibly gifted group of faculty members, so I deal with highly literate and intellectually curious students.

One of the primary goals of the Bard Debate Union at Eastern is to provide a robust civic education, in which our students learn how to engage in their own governance. Many of our debaters openly express the desire to someday make positive contributions to society. I have no doubt that they will.

An example of what can be accomplished, what rehabilitation of convicts can be achieved.

I have no idea of the background of these young men. In addition to being ex-cons [when they get out] they face the additional handicap of being Black in a racist nation. Hopefully, they will have an opportunity to confront circumstances based upon what they have become – not who they once were.

Feds counting killings by US coppers — finally

The US government is trialling a new open-source system to count killings by police around the country, in the most comprehensive official effort so far to accurately record the number of deaths at the hands of American law enforcement.

The pilot program was announced by the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, on Monday and follows concerted calls from campaigners and lawmakers for better official data on police killings, after a nationwide debate about race and policing was sparked by protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

In anticipation of the launch, further details of the Department of Justice program were shared with the Guardian, which publishes The Counted, a crowdsourced investigative project that attempts to track all those killed by US law enforcement in 2015. The program is understood to be already active, with a view to full implementation at the start of 2016.

The program will be run by the DoJ’s statistics division, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and is seen internally as a more robust version of the currently defunct Arrest Related Deaths Count, which published annual data between 2003 and 2009 using statistics supplied by some of the United States’ 18,000 law enforcement agencies. The BJS eventually stopped collecting this data in 2014 as the level of reporting varied dramatically from state to state, due to the voluntary nature of the program.

The new program, Lynch said on Monday, will start by procuring open-sourced records, such as media reports, of officer-involved deaths, and then move towards verifying facts about the incident by surveying local police departments, medical examiner’s offices and investigative offices.

This approach is near-identical to the one employed by The Counted. A BJS official told the Guardian that the methodology would essentially standardise data collection, meaning the DoJ would no longer have to rely on voluntary reporting by local law enforcement. It is understood that The Counted along with the Washington Post’s police shootings count are being monitored as part of the DoJ program.

RTFA for some discussion, some bullshit, from government officials. Some truth leaks through.

Still, we’re witnessing a good example of citizens and journalism together shaming the government into doing their job. Casual engagement based on budget and happenstance isn’t a productive way to serve the public.

Kudos to everyone from The GUARDIAN to localized groups like #blacklivesmatter for keeping the pressure on.

Ben Bernanke says – More should have gone to jail for causing Great Recession

This season, Ben Bernanke was able to sit through an entire Nationals game.

During the financial meltdown in 2008, the then-chairman of the Federal Reserve would buy a lemonade and head to his seats two rows back from the Washington Nationals dugout, a respite from crisis. But often he would find himself huddling in the quiet of the stadium’s first-aid station or an empty stairwell for consultations on his BlackBerry about whatever economic catastrophe was looming.

“I think there was a reasonably good chance that, barring stabilization of the financial system, that we could have gone into a 1930s-style depression,” he says now in an interview with USA TODAY. “The panic that hit us was enormous — I think the worst in U.S. history.”

With publication of his memoir, The Courage to Act, on Tuesday by W.W. Norton & Co., Bernanke has some thoughts about what went right and what went wrong. For one thing, he says that more corporate executives should have gone to jail for their misdeeds. The Justice Department and other law-enforcement agencies focused on indicting or threatening to indict financial firms, he notes, “but it would have been my preference to have more investigation of individual action, since obviously everything what went wrong or was illegal was done by some individual, not by an abstract firm.”

He also offers a detailed rebuttal to critics who argue the government could and should have done more to rescue Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy in the worst weekend of a tumultuous time. “We were very, very determined not to let it collapse,” he says. “But we were out of bullets at that point.”

I happen to think Bernanke did a lot of good things right – and a few useless and wrong. Hindsight is always thrilling.

Please RTFA, watch the interview. USAToday doesn’t run the most stable online presence in American news; so, I hope all these links continue to work correctly. And, yes, I have my own list of individual crooks who should have done time – starting with everyone at the top of Countrywide Mortgage.

US deaths from gun violence vs. US deaths from terrorism

In his impassioned address in the wake of Thursday’s horrible shooting at an Oregon community college, President Obama issued a challenge to the media. “Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side by side on your news reports,” he asked.


Here’s what that looks like (at least, for 2001-2011, the period for which we could find the most reliable data quickly courtesy of the State Department, the Justice Department, and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko).

gun deaths chart

Any surprises? Think we have fair and balanced priorities?

Chicago calls for stricter gun laws – again – after 14 people shot overnight

Click to enlargeArmando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

Fourteen people, including two young boys, were shot in Chicago over a 15-hour period from Monday night to Tuesday morning.

Six people were killed and at least eight were wounded, following two consecutive weekends when more than 50 people were shot in the city.

Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and police officials repeated their calls for stricter gun laws and a more robust criminal justice system.

“I’m angry about what happened here and I think I speak for everybody,” Emanuel said on Tuesday. “And I think I speak for everybody when I say enough is enough.”

RTFA here if you think you need more details of our gun plague.

The Tribune has been tracking gun violence in Chicago for four years and regularly reports record-breaking incidents of gun violence.

The shootings these past two weeks follow a four-week period in August, when more than 40 people were shot each weekend. At least 2,300 people have been shot in the city this year, which the Tribune said is 400 more than were shot in the same period last year.

The four other people shot from Monday night to Tuesday morning include a two-year-old boy, who was grazed by a bullet in an accidental shooting. Police said he was in good condition.

“Here we go again,” said Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy. “We’ve had the same conversation over and over. What do we have to do? We have to hold criminals responsible.”

The “criminals” include Congress. Cowards and copouts. The criminals include the NRA. The criminals include politicians up and down the line lacking courage enough to challenge the gun manufacturers lobby who sell fear as much as death.

Yes, the criminals include lawyers who found a profitable career on playing off mediocre legislation against chickenshit courts, bought-and-paid-for judges. That includes more than judges owned by political interests; but, those who cave in to foolish political trends which have nothing to do with reality.

I could roll on for pages on all the currents that bring us to this whirlpool of death. Yes, it includes the history of corrupt, racist police departments. Chicago being one of the worst. None of it takes away from the consummate cowardice and failure of Congressional political hacks. They couldn’t provide leadership to a hound dog looking for a meal in the city garbage dump.

A horrifying death in an American jail

During his 17-day stay in jail, 32-year-old David Stojcevski lost 50 pounds, hallucinated, and experienced seizures and convulsions. It was all caught on a security camera that jailers were supposed to regularly watch. But no one helped — and Stojcevski died.

Now, the FBI is investigating the death, according to Detroit News.

The horrifying death of Stojcevski in the Macomb County, Michigan, jail — first reported by Local 4 — is drawing national attention as the latest example of horrific neglect and brutality by the criminal justice system. And unlike previous cases, it was all caught on video — making it easy to see exactly what went wrong.

But beyond the gruesome images and FBI investigation, Stojcevski’s death speaks to a much larger problem in the criminal justice system: In many cases, jails aren’t staffed, trained, or resourced to deal with cases like Stojcevski’s. But they continue locking up excessive numbers of people, even when it might not be necessary…

Macomb County sheriffs picked up Stojcevski in 2014 after he failed to pay a $772 traffic ticket for careless driving. Stojcevski was placed in a jail cell and later a mental health cell, even though a nurse who evaluated Stojcevski suggested putting him in a drug detox unit.

He was supposed to serve 30 days in jail for not paying the ticket. But he would be held there, naked (inmates don’t wear clothes in the mental health unit, apparently for their own protection), until his death, 17 days after he was locked up…

Over 17 days, Stojcevski displayed typical withdrawal symptoms. He didn’t eat, likely due to withdrawal-induced nausea. He shook and appeared to experience seizures. He seemed to hallucinate, reenacting a previous fight with an inmate. On his last two days, he laid on the floor, shaking and in clear distress.

During all this time, staffers rarely tended to Stojcevski’s needs, even though his cell was under surveillance 24 hours a day. As he lay on the floor shaking and not eating his food over 48 hours, no one showed up to help until the very end. But it was too late — he was pronounced dead at the hospital…

By definition, an overcrowded jail doesn’t have the staff to handle all the problems that arise in these facilities. In Stojcevski’s case, it’s possible that staffers didn’t respond to his clear medical crisis because no one was available, either to watch the 32-year-old or to care for him…

There are also signs that jail staff simply didn’t know how to treat an inmate with medical needs like Stojcevski. As two mental health experts told Local 4, Stojcevski was clearly suffering from a medical condition even as jailers did nothing to care for him.

Or – as so often is the case – jail staff, administrators, county officials and, ultimately, voters, just don’t care a rat’s ass about what happens to people in jail.