When children murder – what sentence may the courts impose?


Who speaks for Cole Cannon?

Nearly 10 years ago, in Lawrence County, Ala., a 14-year-old boy holding a baseball bat stood over a man he had robbed and repeatedly beaten, telling him, “I am God. I’ve come to take your life.”

After hitting the man in the head a final time with the bat, the 14-year-old and a friend set the man’s trailer on fire. Despite the beating, Cole Cannon was still alive and conscious. He managed to ask, “Why are y’all doing this to me?” Then he was burned alive.

The boy, Evan Miller, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, even though he was just 14 when he committed the crime. His friend, 16 at the time of the crime, was allowed to plead guilty to felony murder in exchange for testimony, and sentenced to life with a chance of parole.

Miller’s case, along with the Arkansas case of a defendant who also was sentenced to life without parole for a homicide committed at age 14, is set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday.

At issue is whether the Constitution bans a sentence of life without parole for those who committed murder while under age 18, or whether some crimes are so repellent they demand the harshest punishment short of the death penalty, no matter what the age of the defendant

The odds are pretty good the U.S. Supreme Court, or at least a narrow majority of the nine justices, will find the Miller sentence and others like it constitutionally excessive…

“This case presents important constitutional questions regarding the propriety of imposing a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole on a 14-year-old child … ,” his petition to the Supreme Court said. “Evan Miller is one of only 73 [U.S.] children who have been condemned to be imprisoned until death for an offense committed when they were 14 years of age or younger. Evan, like nearly all of these young adolescents, was sentenced under a statute that made a life-without-parole sentence mandatory, precluding any consideration of his age or other mitigating circumstances which would call for a sentence of less than lifelong incarceration. …

More and more often I reject the concept of mandatory sentences. First, because anyone called by appointment or election to be a judge should be capable of making such decisions. If not, it is the responsibility of those who put him or her in office to rectify the mistake. Second, circumstances can vary widely enough to allow for a complete human and humane range of responses to crime.

In general – for example – I do not support the death penalty. Do I think it should be removed as a choice? No. Once again, I support a solution placing responsibility for final judgement under the guidance of a judge – not what may be a slogan for re-election.

I will never forget what we’re judging is a sentence for someone found guilty of a terrible crime. Who speaks for the victim?

Smuggling Pic of the Day


REUTERS/Australian Customs/Handout

A Mr Potatohead toy containing 293 grams of ecstasy seized by Australian Customs at a mail centre in Sydney…The parcel was posted from Ireland and sent to a residential address in Sydney’s western suburbs.

This is from a Reuters series on sort of stealthy smuggling tricks – that didn’t work.

Forget the money, follow the sacredness that is your totem

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor of business ethics at N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business…parts of this article were excerpted from his new book – which means we’ll probably see him on TV in the next week visiting with either Tom Keene or Charlie Rose.

In the film version of “All the President’s Men,” when Robert Redford, playing the journalist Bob Woodward, is struggling to unravel the Watergate conspiracy, an anonymous source advises him to “follow the money.” It’s a good rule of thumb for understanding the behavior of politicians. But following the money leads you astray if you’re trying to understand voters…

Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish. When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.

The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.

A good way to follow the sacredness is to listen to the stories that each tribe tells about itself and the larger nation. The Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith once summarized the moral narrative told by the American left like this: “Once upon a time, the vast majority” of people suffered in societies that were “unjust, unhealthy, repressive and oppressive.” These societies were “reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation and irrational traditionalism — all of which made life very unfair, unpleasant and short. But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic, capitalist, welfare societies.” Despite our progress, “there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation and repression.” This struggle, as Smith put it, “is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.”

This is a heroic liberation narrative. For the American left, African-Americans, women and other victimized groups are the sacred objects at the center of the story. As liberals circle around these groups, they bond together and gain a sense of righteous common purpose.

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British coppers adding spy cameras to traffic wardens


Smile — you’re on candid camera!

Spy cameras are being hidden in traffic warden identity badges so they can film motorists who object to being handed a parking ticket.

The device is so small it would be missed by anything other than a close examination and wardens are under no obligation to tell someone they are being recorded.

The only signal is a small sticker on the badge saying “CCTV in operation”. Civil liberty campaigners last night warned the move was a worrying expansion of the surveillance state and feared the technology could be open to abuse.

A number of local councils have bought the cameras to provide evidence in disputed cases. Wardens are only supposed to switch them on if they believe a confrontation with a motorist is likely.

But Nick Pickles, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “A tiny warning on a badge hardly constitutes telling someone they’re being recorded. At the very minimum it should be a legal requirement that the member of staff informs the other person they are being recorded, but in reality it’s just another attack on our privacy and treats every member of the public as being under suspicion…There is nothing to stop the cameras being activated in inappropriate situations and abused.”

Of course, we’re under suspicion. We’re always under suspicion. And the people who determine that – often – are barely capable of replacing the batteries in their one-size-fits-all electric handbook of who is a suspect.

Coppers throughout the United States already are wearing hat-cams, shoulder-cams, badge-cams, every device you can imagine to be used for recording any intervention with a civilian. Nothing is ever done when the narrative is broken by the copper turning off the device – or when it is switched back on. Field-expedient editing is common. And easier than dealing with the ever-popular dash-cam which has been used to convict police of abuse and brutality as well as to defend their actions.

If government wants to add to the omnipresent shield of surveillance than it must include the police as thoroughly as it does ordinary “suspects”.

Whistleblower wins $18 million in bank foreclosure fraud

Attorney Lynn Szymoniak had spent a career investigating insurance fraud when a bank moved to foreclose on her Florida home in 2008. Almost four years later, the fraud she said she uncovered by combing through mortgage documents earned her $18 million.

Szymoniak, 63, is among six whistle-blowers who will pocket $46.5 million as part of a $25 billion national foreclosure settlement that state and federal officials reached in February with five banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

“When they did this to her, they picked the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place,” Richard Harpootlian, Szymoniak’s attorney in two whistle-blower cases, said in an interview. “They stuck their hand into the beehive.”

Szymoniak’s examination, in which she relied on her experience as an insurance-fraud investigator, led to her claims against banks for submitting fraudulent documents to the federal government asserting that they owned loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, she said.

The national foreclosure settlement with the five banks, which resolves claims of abusive foreclosure practices, provides mortgage relief to borrowers, pays $1.5 billion to those who lost their homes to foreclosure, and sets standards for how the banks service mortgage loans.

As part of the agreement, whistle-blower claims are being settled for about $228 million, according to court papers filed in federal court in Washington. A group of six whistle-blowers will receive $46.5 million out of that amount, said Alisa Finelli, a Justice Department spokeswoman…

Her work quickly uncovered widespread document fraud in the mortgage industry, she said, and eventually led to the filing of her whistle-blower cases in 2010.

The settlement underscores the benefits provided to taxpayers from whistle-blowers and the incentives for those who expose fraud through so-called qui tam cases, Brandon Peak said.

“This is what qui tam actions are for — to incentivize people to come forward and expose fraud,” he said. “The taxpayers actually receive this money back that they never would have received absent these whistle-blowers….”

When Barack Obama signed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act in May 2009 he put a doomsday weapon in the hands of employees and ordinary citizens with information that would blow the whistle on corporate crime and fraud. This is the act that put these rewards into the hands of Lynn Szymoniak and her peers.

That doesn’t diminish her courage in facing down the banks involved in her foreclosure. RTFA for details and anecdotes. Worthwhile reading.

Woman finds she’s “married” to 3 men as part of immigration scam


Anna Vargas and her real hubbie, Angel Poggi

New York City woman Anna Vargas thought she was happily married — she just did not know she was “married” to four guys, The New York Post reports.

The 37-year-old Queens mom was the victim of an identity-theft nightmare, in which a parade of mysterious creeps arranged fake marriages by using her birth certificate, which she lost some 16 years ago.

Vargas had no idea what was going on — until she tried to get married in 2004 and was heartbroken to find her application for a license rejected by the City Clerk’s Office. She was turned down after records showed she was “married” twice in 1996, once to a man from Mexico and once to a man from Ecuador…

It was not clear why the men got married to women using her identity, but often such ID theft involves immigration scams…

The ceremony was moved to Long Island, where she and fiance Angel Poggi said their “I dos” and prepared to live happily ever after.

Then out of the blue in 2009, one of her other “husbands,” a man from Ecuador, turned up and slapped her with divorce papers.

When she refused to sign those documents and hired a lawyer, the Ecuadorean man showed up at her mother-in-law’s house. “Luckily, my mother-in-law had a picture of our wedding day,” Vargas explained. “She said, ‘Is this the person you were married to?’ He said, ‘No.'”

Vargas decided to go back and clear her name with the City Clerk’s Office. On Jan. 25, Administrative Law Judge Joan Salzman ruled that Vargas was indeed the victim of fraud and nullified the two 1996 marriages.

Unfortunately, her troubles are not over, as Vargas also discovered another fake marriage in her name, on Long Island, and is fighting to erase it.

Lesson learned? Keep track of your legal documents especially those concerning your identity.