Is this a record the United States should be proud of?

Researchers found that 149 people were cleared in 2015 for crimes they didn’t commit — more than any other year in history, according to a report published Wednesday by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School. By comparison, 139 people were exonerated in 2014. The number has risen most years since 2005, when 61 people were cleared of crimes they didn’t commit…

The men and women who were cleared last year had, on average, served 14.5 years in prison. Some had been on death row. Others were younger than 18 when they were convicted or had intellectual disabilities. All had been swept into a justice system that’s supposed to be based on the presumption of innocence, but failed.

The high number of exonerations shows widespread problems with the system and likely “points to a much larger number of false convictions” that haven’t been reversed, the report said.

Here are some patterns the organization found in 2015 exonerations:

Official Misconduct

About 40 percent of the 2015 exonerations involved official misconduct, a record. About 75 percent of the homicide exonerations involved misconduct…

False Confessions

Almost 20 percent of exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on false confessions — a record. Those cases overwhelmingly were homicides involving defendants who were under 18, intellectually disabled, or both…

No Crime Was Actually Committed

In about half of the exonerations in 2015, no crime was actually ever committed by the people put behind bars — a record, according to the report. Most of these cases involved drugs. Some included homicide or arson…

Flawed Forensic Evidence

Many of last year’s exonerations involved flawed or invalid forensic evidence. According to the Innocence Project, improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful conviction…

Faulty Eyewitness Identification

False identifications of innocent people happened in several cases the exoneration registry report outlined.

The Innocence Project says eyewitness misidentification of a suspect plays a role in more than 70 percent of convictions that are later overturned through DNA evidence…

Here’s the worst of it

There’s no clear data on how many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project, citing multiple studies, estimates from 2 percent to 5 percent of prisoners are actually innocent. The U.S., which leads the world in incarceration of its citizens, has approximately 2 million people behind bars. That means a wrongful conviction rate of 1 percent would translate to 20,000 people punished for crimes they didn’t commit. On death row, 1 in 25 are likely innocent, according to a recent study.

Innocent until proven guilty. Really?

Violent death in San Salvador

Removing crime tape San Salvador
Removing crime scene tape – afterwardsReuters/Jose Cabezas

Violence has risen steadily in El Salvador since a 2012 truce between the country’s two main gangs began to fall apart in 2014.

Last year was the most violent on record, with a 70 percent increase in murders from the previous year and a surge in attacks by street gangs…

The number of homicides reached an estimated 6,650 in 2015, from 3,912 the year before, said Miguel Fortin Magana, director until Dec. 31 of the National Forensics Institute of El Salvador.

“It’s a real pandemic,” he said.

The homicide rate is more than 103 per 100,000 inhabitants, making the country of 6.4 million among the most violent in the world, according to Insight Crime, a foundation that analyses organized crime.

RTFA. Work your painful way through the images recorded by Jose Cabezas.

I don’t doubt for a minute our country could offer something useful to this poor, tortured nation. We certainly didn’t have a problem training murderers in their military for civil war in the past.

Life in a banana republic-state

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“When an Albuquerque couple caught a man burglarizing their garage, they asked him to stop.

“When that didn’t work, they pulled out a rifle and a handgun, and held him at gunpoint until police officers arrived…”

“Upon arrival, I observed an older male … pointing some type of rifle at a male suspect on his knees,” an officer wrote in a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.

“Lujan, while being handcuffed, told police that he had recently been released from the county jail. Jail and court records show he got out Wednesday after posting bail in a July drug case.”

“Homeowner George Kennedy, 70, told officers that he was in his garage when he noticed a man loading items into a sport utility vehicle nearby. Kennedy saw that some of the items the man was loading – including a generator and a cooler – were his…

“He went over to the man, later identified as Lujan, and asked him to stop, but Lujan continued loading the items, according to the complaint. Kennedy went inside and got his wife, Rebecca Kennedy, 66, and they armed themselves.

“They held Lujan until officers arrived…”

“When police searched Lujan, they found keys belonging to Rebecca Kennedy in his pocket. Police also discovered that the SUV Lujan was loading the stolen items into was stolen…”

“Lujan was arrested, charged with residential burglary and booked back into jail.”

BUT – this is New Mexico. Even a former governor admitted life here is more like living in the 3rd World than a modern nation. We have a judicial system that is a perfect example of that. There are no standards. Care and concern for ordinary citizens does not exist.

Lujan was taken back to jail. Remember he just violated his bail from a drug case. No worry. Going before a judge on the burglary charges, he was released on his own recognizance. No need for bail, then, you see.

Back on the streets.

Unlike the USA, Ireland hopes to treat drug addicts like addicts

On Monday, the minister in charge of national drug strategy said that Ireland’s next government will likely move toward decriminalizing all drugs, the Irish Times reported. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin also said that the country will open up injection rooms for heroin addicts, where users can obtain and use the drug — under strict medical supervision — without resorting to criminal traffickers and dealers.

This does not mean that Ireland stores will begin selling marijuana, heroin, and cocaine anytime soon. But if the next government takes up the plan outlined by Ó Ríordáin, it would remove criminal penalties for the possession of these drugs, eliminating the risk of prison time for drug possession, while criminal penalties remain for manufacturing, trafficking, and selling the substances.

Ireland wouldn’t be the first country to do this. In a move that got a lot of media attention, Portugal in 2001 decriminalized all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Reports from Portugal have found largely promising results, with drug use remaining relatively flat as more people get treatment for their drug problems.

But Portugal didn’t just decriminalize; it also paired up decriminalization with a much greater emphasis on public health programs for drug addicts. That seems to be what Ireland is trying to do, as well. And at a time when the US is dealing with a harrowing opioid painkiller and heroin epidemic, Portugal and Ireland’s radical approaches could provide a lesson to America.

Which presumes the United States once again recognizes health as a public need with public solutions.

…Eliminating or at least diminishing the stigma surrounding these drugs could also come with a public health benefit: It would make it so that people aren’t as scared to get help when they need it. This is what a 2009 report from the libertarian Cato Institute found when it looked at Portugal’s decriminalization scheme: “The most substantial barrier to offering treatment to the addict population was the addicts’ fear of arrest. One prime rationale for decriminalization was that it would break down that barrier, enabling effective treatment options to be offered to addicts once they no longer feared prosecution. Moreover, decriminalization freed up resources that could be channeled into treatment and other harm reduction programs.”…

The details of Ireland’s new drug policies are still being worked out. But the country’s current government seems interested in adopting an approach that focuses first on treating instead of imprisoning drug users. And Ó Ríordáin seems convinced that the next government will continue along that path with full decriminalization…

But more broadly, the new Irish approach is increasingly becoming the new norm. As more countries take another look at the war on drugs and its failures to significantly cut down on drug use, they’re looking to rely less on law enforcement and more on doctors and hospitals to deal with drug abuse and addiction. Ireland is just the latest high-profile example of this shift. America, as it deals with its opioid epidemic, might not be too far behind.

I manage to be both an optimist and a cynic. I believe much of the educated world will continue to move towards solving substance abuse questions as a public health issue. I don’t include the United States in that equation.

Internal corruption is what the Border Patrol really needs to crack down on


John Carnett/PopSci

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, is vulnerable to “systematic corruption” by drug cartels, smugglers and other criminals, and investigations of its internal abuses are “chronically slow,” according to a Homeland Security Department report that reveals glaring problems in the agencies that police the nation’s borders.

The abuses are so widespread that Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, should add nearly 350 criminal investigators to target internal corruption and the use of excessive and unnecessary force against migrants, the report concludes. That would boost the internal affairs roster by nearly 166%.

Arrests of border agents and customs officers “far exceed, on a per capita basis, such arrests at other law enforcement agencies,” the…report notes.

“Until this is reversed, [Customs and Border Protection] remains vulnerable to corruption that threatens its effectiveness and national security,” warns the report, which was requested by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The scathing assessment by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, an independent group that reports to Johnson, also is the latest to slam the Border Patrol for lack of accountability for hundreds of shootings by agents…

In May, the Customs and Border Protection internal affairs office absolved dozens of Border Patrol agents of criminal misconduct in 64 shooting incidents between January 2010 and October 2012, including 19 that resulted in deaths. The Justice Department is still considering charges in three other cases.

Yup. They investigated themselves.

Critics along the Southwest border and in Mexico long have argued that the Border Patrol operates with little transparency or accountability.

Indeed, one of the report’s recommendations is that agents and officers “must wear visible name tags identifying their last name on all uniforms at all times,” a practice that critics say is often ignored. A video posted online of a 21-year-old woman in New York state being Tased at a roadside checkpoint last month shows a Border Patrol supervisor wearing a green tactical vest with no visible name tag…

Vicki B. Gaubeca, co-chair of the Southern Border Communities Coalition…said the report showed how Customs and Border Protection “falls short of law enforcement best practices” and needed to change.

She said the recommendations would help change the Border Patrol “culture of ‘we need to do our job at whatever cost and the only life that seems to be valued is the life of the agent'”…

Understand that this service is probably hiring folks who don’t qualify for TSA. Doesn’t that inspire confidence?

Antihypertensive drug may remove major component of drug and alcohol addiction

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Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have successfully stopped cocaine and alcohol addiction in experiments using a drug already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat high blood pressure. If the treatment is proven effective in humans, it would be the first of its kind — one that could help prevent relapses by erasing the unconscious memories that underlie addiction…

Scientists once believed that drug addiction was simply a physical craving: Drug addicts who became sober and then later relapsed merely lacked willpower. But that view has gradually shifted since the 1970s.

Today, most experts acknowledge that environmental cues — the people, places, sights and sounds an addict experiences leading up to drug use — are among the primary triggers of relapses. It was an environmental cue (a ringing bell) that caused the dogs in Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiments to salivate, even when they couldn’t see or smell food.

Led by Hitoshi Morikawa…a team of researchers trained rats to associate either a black or white room with the use of a drug. Subsequently, when the addicted rats were offered the choice of going into either room, they nearly always chose the room they associated with their addiction.

Then one day, the researchers gave the addicted rats a high dose of an antihypertensive drug called isradipine before the rats made their choices. Although rats still preferred the room they associated with their addiction on that day, they no longer showed a preference for it on subsequent days. In fact, the lack of preference persisted in the isradipine-treated group in ways that couldn’t be found in a control group — suggesting the addiction memories were not just suppressed but had gone away entirely…

Addictive drugs are thought to rewire brain circuits involved in reward learning, forming powerful memories of drug-related cues. Antihypertensive drugs all block a particular type of ion channel, which is expressed not only in heart and blood vessels but also in certain brain cells. The researchers found that blocking these ion channels in brain cells, using isradipine, appears to reverse the rewiring that underlies memories of addiction-associated places…

“Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted,” Hitoshi Morikawa said. “Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted.”

Morikawa noted that because isradipine is already labeled as safe for human use by the FDA, clinical trials could potentially be carried out much more quickly than with nonapproved drugs.

Regular readers of my personal blog know I’m not especially positive about dealing with junkies. It’s just the streets where I grew up don’t ever seem to lose that population. I don’t spend much time on the range of reasons why – or why not. There hasn’t been any diminishing of my cynicism over a long, long time.

This sounds positive. This sounds potentially useful. My basics haven’t changed. I still think we can take the crime out of drugs by completely decriminalizing drug use. That removes most costs from addiction and from society. But, this is an addition to treatment worth following up on in serious research.

Stoned drivers safer for everyone than DWI

NHTSA

A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finds that drivers who use marijuana are at a significantly lower risk for a crash than drivers who use alcohol. And after adjusting for age, gender, race and alcohol use, drivers who tested positive for marijuana were no more likely to crash than who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving.

So much for coppers and politicians who were certain easing laws on ganja were going to kill us all.

The chart above tells the story. For marijuana, and for a number of other legal and illegal drugs including antidepressants, painkillers, stimulants and the like, there is no statistically significant change in the risk of a crash associated with using that drug prior to driving. But overall alcohol use, measured at a blood alcohol concentration threshold of 0.05 or above, increases your odds of a wreck nearly seven-fold.

The study’s findings underscore an important point: that the measurable presence of THC (marijuana’s primary active ingredient) in a person’s system doesn’t correlate with impairment in the same way that blood alcohol concentration does. The NHTSA doesn’t mince words: “At the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment…”

What we do need, however, are better roadside mechanisms for detecting marijuana-related impairment. Several companies are developing pot breathalyzers for this purpose.

We also need a lot more research into the effects of marijuana use on driving ability, particularly to get a better sense of how pot’s effect on driving diminishes in the hours after using. But this kind of research remains incredibly difficult to do, primarily because the federal government still classifies weed as a Schedule 1 substance, as dangerous as heroin.

Reinforcing for the umpteenth time that our government really doesn’t give a crap about accuracy, evidence-based conclusions or the truth about much that’s important.

Think about that while everyone from Congressional hacks to the White House to assorted media sycophants, right-wing and barely-left-wing do their level best to encourage our participation in jolly wars in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, etc..

And, yes, let’s keep on picking up the tab for 750+ military bases around the world. Hey, we’re the richest country in the world, right? We can afford it.

Lots of ordinary citizens know the War on Terror, the War on Drugs – are just as [un]necessary as ever.

Drug cartel members link Mexican police to massacres of migrants


Meanwhile – Relatives of 43 missing students protest at the presidential residence in Mexico City –
– victims of the same interlocking directorate of government and gangsters in Mexico

With the Mexican government facing widespread public outrage over the alleged role of police and other officials in the September forced disappearance of 43 students, and the killings of at least six others, from Ayotzinapa Normal School, the country’s federal prosecutor (PGR) has for the first time declassified a document on the suspected participation of police in the kidnapping and massacre of hundreds of migrants in San Fernando massacres of 2010-11.

The new revelations, along with key U.S. documents on how violent drug cartels gained control of local police forces in parts of Mexico during the last decade, are the subject of “San Fernando-Ayotzinapa: las similitudes” (“San Fernando-Ayotzinapa: the similarities”), an article published online…in Mexico’s Proceso magazine in collaboration with Michael Evans and Jesse Franzblau of the National Security Archive.

According to declarations from members of the Los Zetas drug cartel named in the newly-declassified “Tarjeta Informativa” (“informative note” or “information memo”), the police acted as “lookouts” [“halconeo”] for the group, helped with “the interception of persons,” and otherwise turned a blind eye to the Zetas’ illegal activities.

Those crimes included the summary execution of 72 migrants pulled from intercity buses in San Fernando in August 2010 and an untold number of similar killings that culminated in the discovery, in April 2011, of hundreds more bodies in mass graves in the same part of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The victims were mainly Central American migrants making their way to Texas, which borders Tamaulipas to the north. The state’s highways are at once primary avenues for migrants and highly-contested narcotrafficking corridors.

One of the police detainees cited in the memo, Álvaro Alba Terrazas, told investigators that San Fernando police and transit officials were paid to deliver prisoners to the Zetas

If the facts surrounding the San Fernando case seem eerily familiar, it is beacuse they follow pattern seen over and over again in recent years. Like the Ayotzinapa case, the San Fernando massacres are symptomatic of the dirty war of corruption and narcopolitics that has consumed parts of Mexico over the last decade. Killings like these are disturbingly common, and the forces behind the mayhem—usually drug cartels counting on the collaboration of, at a minimum, local police—are remarkably consistent.

RTFA for more details of government corruption than the most cynical might imagine.

The task of decriminalizing the Mexican government is Herculean. It feels like that nation and the government should take a year or two off from every other activity and simply focus on jailing all the politicians and their gangster compadres. Only then might Mexico start all over again as a free and democratic nation.

Dumb crook of the day

Ryan Mullins

A North Carolina man was arrested after he allegedly stole a safe from a pharmacy and then dragged it behind his car. The suspect, Ryan Mullins, may have gotten away with it too, except he passed an officer while he was driving.

The 22-year-old allegedly swiped the safe from Family Care Pharmacy and dragged it for more than two miles before the officer saw him.

Individuals near the pharmacy reportedly saw Mullins’ vehicle parked outside with the safe nearby.

“You could just tell he was messing with something and having a struggle,” witness Carmen Fickling told WCTI12. “A lot of things crossed through my mind as to what could possibly be going on and none of them were good. But I never expected to see him pull a safe with the rope. It was strange.”

Mullins is charged with felony breaking and entering, larceny, possession of stolen goods, two felony counts of trafficking opium or heroin, one count of safe cracking and misdemeanor DWI.

The 100-pound safe reportedly contained prescription drugs.

Here in New Mexico we take a somewhat warped pride in being the home of some of the dumbest crooks in America. I think we should make Ryan Mullins an honorary New Mexican.

Busted throwing football into prison exercise yard


Not-very-good athlete of the day

A Michigan man faces felony charges for allegedly trying to hurl a football stuffed with heroin and cell phones into a state prison yard…

The man hopped out of a vehicle on Sunday morning and heaved the football, which landed short, between two security fences at a state prison in Jackson, Michigan, about 75 miles (120 km) west of Detroit, prisons spokesman Russ Marlan said…

The football had been sliced open, stuffed with drugs, phones and chargers and stitched back together, Marlan said.

The man, identified as Christen Deon-Sterling Moore of Detroit…was charged with furnishing contraband and cell phones to prisoners.

A prison officer apprehended the would-be quarterback and the driver after seeing him toss the football and turned them over to Michigan State Police, Marlan said.

It was not clear who the intended receiver was, Marlan said.

We already know that being a crook doesn’t require lots of smarts. Apparently, having a strong throwing arm doesn’t always make it to the job description either.

Thanks, gracie