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All articles with the "Crime" tag.

Published: Thu, 22 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2018 13:06:04 -0500


People Stuck in Jail Because They're Poor Have New Hope

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 14:15:00 -0500

If you're arrested in Nashville, you can pay your bail to be freed. If you can't afford bail, you can wait in jail. But they charge you for that as well: $44 a day. Now Councilmember Freddie O'Connell has introduced a resolution to end the daily fees, which he describes as a "non-sentenced form of financial punishment." These prisoners have only been charged with crimes, not convicted. And if they cannot afford bail, they're unlikely to be able to pay jail fees. And no, the fees aren't levied to cover the costs of jailing people. The money actually goes into the general fund and can be spent on anything in the budget. Fortunately, Nashville is apparently not pushing very hard to collect them. As the Nashville Scene notes, judges waive millions of dollars in jail fees each year, and even when they don't, the city only actually collects a small percentage of the fees. Still, for fiscal year 2015, Nashville extracted more than $1.5 million from people who had been merely been accused, not convicted, of crimes. The effect is yet more financial pressure pushing poor citizens to accept whatever prosecutors offer if it will help get them out of jail, thus increasing the likelihood of they'll end up with criminal records that follow them around. The Pretrial Justice Institute has calculated that people who end up stuck in jail because they cannot afford bail are more likely to have their lives disrupted after just a few days—losing their jobs and incomes—and are therefore more likely to plead guilty. Nashville isn't the only place seeing a push to reform mechanisms that leave people who haven't been convicted stuck behind bars. This month Philadelphia's City Council voted in favor of a resolution to end the practice of cash bail in Pennsylvania. City Lab notes that a third of the people sitting in Pennsylvania's jails are there because they cannot afford bail. The city's new district attorney, Larry Krasner, supports such a change. (UPDATE: Krasner announced this afternoon he would end the practice of seeking cash bail for low-level offenses) Likewise, Atlanta's new mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, signed an ordinance this month that eliminates cash bail for a host of low-level, nonviolent crimes. Local activists had drawn attention to the oppressive and thoughtless use of cash bail in the court system that had left a homeless man in jail for three months because he couldn't afford a $200 bond for soliciting donations in a roadway. And yesterday in California, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced his office will not appeal a state court's decision ordering a new bail hearing for a 63-year-old man who has been in jail since May, unable to cover his $350,000 bail. The man, Robert Humphrey, is charged with entering an apartment, threatening the resident, and stealing a $5 bottle of cologne. In a press conference, Becerra declared his support for changes to California's bail system so that decisions are based on "danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket." A legislative effort to reform California's pretrial services and minimize cash bail stalled last year, but a new push is underway. If it passes, California will join New Jersey, which implemented a pretrial assessment system that did away with cash bail last year, and Alaska, which did the same at the start of 2018 (and are now working out some kinks in the system).[...]

City Orders Businesses to Join Its Police Surveillance System

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 12:25:00 -0500

City leaders in Saginaw, Michigan, are drafting local shops into the crime-fighting business. The city has ordered local businesses to install video cameras and to turn over footage to the police on demand. Saginaw City Council voted unanimously yesterday to pass an ordinance requiring certain types of businesses (with "characteristics which may tend to increase the risk of criminal activity on their premises") to install a minimum of three surveillance recording cameras. These must be in operation whenever the business is open, and one camera must be positioned to record the face of each person entering or leaving. Not all businesses are covered by the new rules, but if you spend time in Saginaw, you're likely to walk into one of these places. Besides some obvious choices—banks, gun shops, check-cashing businesses—the ordinance covers all hotels, gas stations, pharmacies, cell phone dealers, and places that sell liquor (or allow liquor to be consumed on the premises, like a banquet hall). All these businesses will have a year to install their surveillance systems, subject to approval and inspection by the Saginaw Police Department. Then, if "a crime occurs" involving the business (the ordinance is written very vaguely), the establishment will provide the recording of the incident to the police. If the business resists, police will attempt to get a search warrant. Businesses are required to retain all recordings for at least 30 days; if the police contact them about a crime, they have to retain their recordings of the incident for at least 60 days. Businesses will be subject to inspections of their surveillance systems whenever the chief of police damn well pleases. The new law states the chief or a designee can inspect the system at any "reasonable" time to make sure it's in compliance with the city ordinance, which also seems like a nice way of getting around any demand by a business that police get a warrant to review footage. Police could also use such a demand to access surveillance for purposes other than investigating a crime. You would think that the city of Saginaw, population around 50,000, must be in the midst of a massive crime wave. The opposite is true. While Saginaw's violent crimes historically are far above average, overall crime in the city has dropped significantly over the past decade. As in many other American cities, Saginaw's crime is on the decline and has been for a while. But that's not enough for city leaders who want to force businesses to install (and pay for) equipment that lets the police snoop on folks. A recent beating and robbery of a 65-year-old woman captured on surveillance footage in Saginaw is being used to make the case that video recording devices should be mandatory. Saginaw Police Chief Bob Ruth claims businesses can get compliant surveillance systems for $300–$350. This quote from Ruth, in Michigan Live, has a confounding use of "we," which seems to indicate that Ruth doesn't even recognize that private businesses are not there to do the city's bidding: "I think the extra work that we're doing is far outweighed by the quality of work we're going to get in the end, on the way we'll be able to solve cases. It's really going to help us." [emphasis added] Those who attempt to defy the city's ordinance will face fines for each day they are out of compliance. And eventually they could lose their business licenses. It's not unusual for a city or a police department to attempt to force a business to shell out for surveillance equipment and other costly security demands when violent crime or drug dealing frequently takes place on or near the premises. Officials use "nuisance abatement" procedures and zoning rules to essentially force them to help the police or get shut down. It's less common for a city to make these demands in advance and absent any evidence that a particular business is a crime incubator. Ruth says he's gotten good feedback from business owners for the ordinance. If businesses are all on board, what did they actually need the ordinan[...]

A Cure for Mass Shootings Doesn't Exist

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 00:15:00 -0500

Every time there is a mass shooting, a chorus goes up: "We must do something to keep this from happening again. We can't tolerate it any longer." Revulsion understandably creates a demand for remedies. But every time, we do nothing, to the fury of those who denounce the inaction as shameful. There is a simple explanation, though, for the inaction. It's not that the National Rifle Association is all-powerful, that too many Americans are blind to reason, or that most are complacent about wanton slaughter. It's that there are no plausible options that offer more than the faintest prospect of preventing a massacre in the next year or the next decade. Our constitutional framework was not designed to facilitate drastic government action. It was designed to prevent it in the absence of a clear and durable public consensus. In this instance, there is none. Mass shootings are a horrific problem that is peculiarly resistant to solutions. To a great extent, public policy is impotent. Until the advocates of new restrictions can make the case that they would make a difference, little is likely to happen. What answers do they offer? One is reinstituting the federal ban on "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines that was in effect from 1994 to 2004. Another is expanding the federal background check system to cover private sales. Another is to make it easier to flag people with mental health problems and bar sales to them. These are not necessarily wrong, but they are unpromising. Though an AR-15 may be particularly useful for mass shootings, there are many substitutes that fire just as rapidly and use equally destructive ammunition. A ban on high-capacity magazines would be a puny impediment to someone like the killer in Parkland, Florida. Mass shooters, Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck told me, "always use multiple guns and/or multiple magazines, enabling them to easily fire many rounds quickly even if they had only smaller-capacity magazines. And they do not need guns that fire fast, because they do not fire fast during their crimes." The Parkland shooter had multiple magazines. A 2013 study of the 1994 law for the National Institute of Justice said, "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence." It also said, "Should it be renewed, the ban's effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement." Even if the law had any positive effect then, it would be far less likely to help today, because there are far more of these guns now. In 1994, Americans owned about 1.5 million "assault weapons." The number is now around 8 million. Restoring the 1994 law would not eliminate them. It would only block new sales—and foster new models engineered to get around the new rules. People would be able to keep and buy the "assault weapons" already out there. Background checks for private sales would make it harder for felons to acquire guns. But mass shooters have typically gotten their arms legally from licensed dealers as the alleged killer in Parkland did. Yes, it might make a difference if the United States emulated Australia by outlawing certain guns and requiring owners to surrender them. Constitutional issues aside, that sort of law couldn't be passed here—or enforced. It belongs in the realm of fantasy. Broadening the exclusion for mental health problems would mean penalizing millions of people who pose no danger. It would also deter troubled gun owners from seeking treatment. "To say no one with mental illness should have a gun—how do you accomplish that?" Ronald Honberg, senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, asked The New York Times. "Does that mean anybody that goes to a therapist for depression or anxiety should be reported and put in a database and prohibited from purchasing a firearm? That would impact a fair number of police officers." None of this is to argue against any changes whatsoever. Some reforms could modestly reducing gun crime[...]

Brickbat: No Good Deed

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) When Mike Becker heard his family was being threatened by a man with a gun at an Independence, Missouri, store, he rushed to the scene with his own gun and confronted the man. Police arrived shortly after, and Becker put his gun down and raised his hands. Then he was shot by a cop."I was figuring, 'How the hell do they shoot him?' He never pointed a gun at the cops," said a witness. "He complied with everything they said."

Alabama Prosecutor, Sheriff Threaten to Put More People in Prison in Order to Keep Seizing Massive Amounts of Property

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 12:35:00 -0500

Lawmakers are considering eliminating the authority of Alabama police and prosecutors to seize and keep citizens' property and money without actually convicting them of any crimes. Unsurprisingly, prosecutors and sheriffs in Alabama would like to keep the gravy train going. But they're surprisingly blunt in admitting that they're in it for the money. In Alabama, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors rake in millions each year through state and federal asset forfeiture programs, seizing people's property and keeping it for themselves, often without ever convicting anybody of an underlying crime. A recent study showed that in a quarter of all civil forfeiture cases in Alabama, no underlying charges are ever filed, and in more than 40 percent of all civil forfeiture cases, the underlying crimes revolved around marijuana. Due to lax state reporting requirements, it's not even clear how extensively local police are turning to civil asset forfeiture. In January two Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would require that prosecutors actually convict people of crimes in order to keep their stuff. It would put the burden on the state to prove that the property they want to seize is connected to a crime, rather than for the defendant to prove their innocence. It would move the proceeds of forfeiture to the state's general fund to eliminate the profit incentive for police and prosecutors to try to seize whatever they could get their hands on. And it would close a loophole that would forbid local law enforcement agencies from bypassing restrictions by participating in the federal "equitable sharing" Department of Justice forfeiture program. On Monday, the head of the Alabama District Attorney's Association and the Alabama Sheriffs Association teamed up with an op-ed that urges against reforms to asset forfeiture. Much of the commentary is similar to other misleading defenses of civil asset forfeiture that we've seen. The commentary insists that "Law enforcement uses civil asset forfeiture only to go after criminals, and state law already guarantees a process that is clear and fair for any person to challenge forfeiture in court. State law also provides built-in safeguards that protect the property of those who have committed no crime." The commentary here completely, deliberately ignores that because this process takes place in a "civil" system, challenging forfeiture requires people to pay for attorneys themselves. Yet, a good half of the forfeiture cases analyzed by a report put the total value of the seizure at less than $1,500, making the prospect of hiring an attorney to fight back a difficult proposition. And the commentary fails to note that the legal standard to seize somebody's property in a civil system is a threshold far lower than getting them convicted of a crime. The system is purposefully designed to be able to take somebody's stuff without actually proving that they are "criminals." Then op-ed writers Brian McVeigh and Dave Sutton warn that requiring successful prosecutions will lead to them filing more charges against people: Requiring criminal convictions would result in more criminal charges filed and more people going to prison for lesser crimes. Consider pretrial diversion programs, such as drug court, for example. These programs allow people arrested for nonviolent crimes, including some drug charges, to go into treatment and other programs that keep them out of prison. Participants in these programs are not convicted of a crime, so under the proposed change, the only way to deprive them of their ill-gotten gains would be to prosecute them. When you find yourself threatening to find more reasons to put even more citizens in jail in order to protect your revenue stream, it's maybe time to take a step back and think about what you're doing. Also, the bill they're attacking does allow for forfeiture to be pursued as part of a plea agreement, so this claim is wildly misleading. It does not,[...]

Judge Reduces Woman's Prison Sentence Because She Got Sterilized, but It Was Totally Her 'Choice'

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 14:05:00 -0500

(image) It would be unconstitutional—and unconscionable—for a judge to order a woman to be sterilized as punishment for a history of check fraud.

So instead a federal judge told Summer Thyme Creel that she would get a shorter criminal sentence if she voluntarily chose to get herself sterilized.

Creel agreed, and so U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot in Oklahoma City yesterday sentenced her to a year in federal prison and to pay more than $15,000 in restitution for passing counterfeit checks.

The Oklahoman reports that federal guidelines recommend a 16-month sentence for Creel's crimes, but the judge had the freedom to sentence her to up to 10 years. Friot said at her sentencing that he was giving her a shorter sentence specifically because she agreed to get sterilized.

Bafflingly, he also claimed that he wouldn't have counted it against her had she chosen against getting sterilized, even though in his order last summer he specifically told her that he would take into consideration whether she had.

The justification for making this "suggestion" to Creel is that she's a chronic drug user who had seven children by the age of 34 and a criminal history of check fraud. She tested positive for meth twice between the point that she pleaded guilty last year and her sentencing this week. The father of four of her children is in prison for murder.

But what does sterilizing Creel have to do with stopping her from committing crimes? No longer being able to have kids doesn't prevent her from either engaging in further check fraud or consuming more drugs. Imagine the outcry if the judge had tied her sentence to whether she'd agree to get an abortion the next time she gets pregnant.

Based on The Oklahoman's coverage of the case, the judge seems willfully obtuse about the fact that, given his position and his control over Creel's future, his "suggestions" will be treated differently:

The judge chided a prosecutor for telling him in a sentencing memorandum Creel has "a fundamental constitutional right to procreate."

The prosecutor in the memo had cited a 1942 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found unconstitutional Oklahoma's Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act.

"This is rather curious," the judge said of the prosecutor's position on the issue. The judge then pointed out the 1942 decision had involved involuntary sterilization. He said the prosecutor apparently overlooked that fact.

Friot insists it was entirely her choice as to whether she got sterilized. It's not unlike how we all "choose" to pay taxes. You don't have to pay taxes. You can also choose to go to prison. It's totally your choice, though.

Immigration Authorities Want Access to All the Raw Intelligence the Feds Already Collected on You

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 12:35:00 -0500

Now that Congress and the president have renewed and expanded federal foreign intelligence surveillance authorities to be used on Americans and people on American soil, immigration officials want in on the information. It's not enough for Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, and immigration officials to demand to see our papers at checkpoints and stops within the United States, to try to implement facial recognition scans at airports and entry points, to try to demand access to our phones and laptops, and to start scanning license plates. Now, the Daily Beast reports, they want to officially be treated like an intelligence agency and have greater access to information collected through secret surveillance. While this is by no means a new push confined to the current administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) probably has the friendliest ear they've had in a while in President Donald Trump. Betsy Woodruff explains: If ICE joins the Intelligence Community, then its officials will have increased access to raw intelligence, unfiltered by analysts. This could prove useful to both of the agency's components: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which investigates transnational crimes, including drug trafficking, money laundering, cybercrimes, and arms trafficking; and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), which arrests and detains undocumented immigrants. For anybody who remembers the privacy debate surrounding the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) amendments, the list of crimes ICE investigates is very relevant. When Congress renewed Section 702, they officially gave the FBI authorization to use this foreign intelligence law to secretly snoop on American citizens in order to investigate a list of federal crimes. That authorized list aligns very nicely with the types of crimes ICE investigates. So if ICE were to get greater access to federal intelligence, thanks to the renewal and expansion of Section 702 of FISA, immigration officials would also get additional access to secret data collected about Americans, not just immigrants. And Section 702's renewal puts some wonky warrant rules in place. If an American citizen is suspected of a crime that ICE is investigating, officials are required to get a warrant to get access to an American's private communications. But if they are not the subject of an investigation or their communications get collected in intelligence-gathering that's not about fighting crime, they do not. So, weirdly, Americans have more due process protections from warrantless snooping if they're suspected of crimes. For the purposes of ICE surveillance, it's very easy to imagine that an American communicating with an immigrant (here legally or not) having his or her phone calls or communications accessed without even knowing about it. So if ICE is allowed to intrude further into the realm of intelligence, that increases the number of federal officials allowed to have access to secret snooping not just of immigrants or people in foreign lands, but of Americans here at home as well.[...]

Brickbat: Understood in Any Language

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Connecticut state police have charged court interpreter Mahfuz Alhamid with kidnapping after he tried to lure a 12-year old girl out of court. The girl was waiting for her mother, who had a probation hearing, when Alhamid asked her if she would kiss him and go to the parking lot with him.

What Is the Truth About Illegal Immigrants and Crime: New at Reason

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 10:31:00 -0500

Right-wing restrictionists are working overtime to convince the American public that unauthorized aliens are "bad hombres" who commit crimes. President (image) Trump talked at length in his State of the Union address about the two Long Island girls killed by MS13, an El Salvadorian gang, as if this was somehow representative of the undocumented population in general. And National Review recently ran a piece by a former US Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow trying to prove with "hard" data and stats that undocumented aliens were much more crime prone than others.

But Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh found some fundamental errors in Kirsanow's analysis that completely discredit his conclusions. He shows that although the data about immigrant crime rate is not perfect, what there is suggests the opposite of what Kirsanow claims.

Restrictionists Are Misleading You About Immigrant Crime Rates

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 10:30:00 -0500

President Donald Trump never misses an opportunity to depict unauthorized immigrants—especially of the Hispanic variety—as "rapists and criminals." He did it again in his State of the Union address when he drew attention to two Long Island teenage girls killed by the El Salvadorian gang MS13. Those deaths are tragic, but they don't say much one way or the other about the propensity of these immigrants to commit crimes. You wouldn't, however, know that from restrictionist pundits who are working overtime to sell the "illegal immigrants are criminals" narrative. A case in point is former US Civil Rights Commission member Peter Kirsanow's recent piece in National Review purporting to show that these immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than the native born. But Kirsanow uses incomplete and cherry-picked data—and makes rookie mistakes in interpreting it to boot—that eviscerate the credibility of his case. Kirsanow is correct that most of the disagreements over the criminality of undocumented immigrants could be resolved by better data. But that doesn't absolve us from accurately reading the data we do have. Kirsanow, however, does not. His entire case is based on a gross misreading of the 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), a federal program that partially reimburses states and localities for the cost of incarcerating certain criminal aliens. The SCAAP report shows that in 2009, there were 295,959 criminal aliens incarcerated in state and local prisons at any given time that year. From this number, he subtracts those in the country legally and assumes that the balance gives one the total number of illegal immigrants incarcerated that year. He compares that number with the population of illegals in various states to estimate their crime rates. Then he compares that rate with the crime rate of citizens to come up with a massively inflated "incarceration rate" of these aliens. But here's the problem with his analysis: Kirsanow assumed, as some others before him with only a passing familiarity with these databases, that the 295,959 figure refers to the number of individuals incarcerated. In fact, it is the total number of incarcerations. In other words, if a criminal alien was incarcerated for 10 short sentences, released after each one, and then re-incarcerated, then that single alien would account for 10 incarcerations under the SCAAP figure for that year. But Kirsnaow counts that as 10 individuals. However, when it comes to estimating the incarceration rate of natives, Kirsanow compares the number of individuals incarcerated with their total population. This nonsensical apples-to-oranges comparison yields an exceedingly unfavorable "incarceration rate" for undocumented immigrants. Indeed, for three of the five states he examines, the undocumented incarceration rate is 10-100 points higher than the natives, when more credible studies show that the reality may be closer to the opposite.* Kirsanow failed to appreciate that the purpose of the GAO report was to estimate the reimbursement that Uncle Sam owes state and local governments for incarcerating criminal illegal immigrants. Thus, the agency was only interested in the total number of incarcerations over the course of a year. It didn't care to separate out the number of offenses from the number of offenders. That is why the GAO report is nearly worthless for any scholarly attempt to estimate illegal immigrant crime rates. A quick look at American Community Survey (ACS) data further confirms just how out-of-line Kirsanow's estimate is. (The ACS is an annual mini-census that, among other things, gathers information about prisoners in adult correctional facilities. It doesn't report on the broad legal status of immigrants but does indicate whether they [...]

Baltimore Cops on Trial for a Criminal Conspiracy That Looks a Lot Like Everyday Policing

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 15:03:00 -0500


In theory, the Baltimore Police Department's now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force was an elite unit dedicated to finding illegal guns. In practice, prosecutors say, it was an armed robbery and extortion conspiracy carried out under color of law. Its members allegedly used their police powers to detain people, take their money, and keep it.

Two of those members are currently on trial. Another six have pled guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Some of the allegations against the officers are exceptionally egregious. Discovering $200,000 in the safe of a house they entered without a warrant, they stole half, then staged a videotaped "search" in which they "found" and "seized" the rest. They carried BB guns to plant on anyone they might shoot, and they toted around a robbery kit that included ski masks, crowbars, and a grappling hook.

But listening to the cooperating officers' testimony, what's striking is how closely many of the activities offered as evidence of a criminal conspiracy resemble tactics commonly used by police in cities nationwide.

For example, former detective Maurice Ward testified on Tuesday that Task Force officers would routinely run or drive police vehicles at high speed toward groups of people standing on the street. If they ran away, that would serve as an excuse to search them for cash. Officers would also target vehicles and pedestrians based on age and sex, or the type of car being driven, then invent false pretenses for stopping them, such as unfastened seatbelts or tinted windows.

The fact that the officers were looking for money and drugs to keep for themselves is unusual. But many of the methods they used are not. So-called "pretext stops" and aggressive attempts to scare people into running from the police are common police tactics. It is also both legal and common for cops to take cash from people they stop, whether or not those people are ever charged with any crime. That's how civil asset forfeiture often works: Cops take cash off from people they stop in traffic or on the street, and those people have to sue to get it back. The police often end up spending the money on their own departments.

In other words, the chief difference between this criminal conspiracy to commit armed robbery and the kind of questionable law enforcement that goes largely unremarked-on every day in America was who ultimately got to keep the money. This has not gone unnoticed by lawyers defending the two officers, who told the jury that their clients are guilty only of stealing cash from the police department. Everything else they did, including "seizing" cash off the people they jumped, was ordinary, legal police practice.

The sad thing is, they might just be right.

New York Gov. Cuomo Proposes Positive Criminal Justice Reforms

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 08:00:00 -0500

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a new push for criminal justice reform in his state. If he gets his way, there will be fewer unnecessary pretrial detentions, fewer delays in bringing people to trial, and tighter restrictions on civil asset forfeiture. Cuomo announced the reform effort as part of his state of the state address yesterday. As always, the devil will be in the details. But Cuomo's list of proposals is certainly laudable on the basics. The biggest would be to eliminate cash bail for misdemeanor and nonviolent felonies, replacing it with a pretrial system of freeing folks if they're not dangerous and keeping track of them to make sure they return to court. In many states, a reliance on cash bail has led to an unbalanced environment where people languish in jail based on whether they can pay, not on whether they're a danger to their communities or a flight risk. The end result is that poor people charged with low-level crimes end up stuck in jail awaiting a court date. And they can end up waiting a very long time. Sometimes defendants end up pleading guilty just because they've essentially served their likely sentence while waiting for their trial. Simply being arrested for low-level crimes ends up being the equivalent of being convicted and sentenced. New Jersey changed its pretrial system last year to all but eliminate cash bail and replace it with a risk-based assessment designed to determine who remains in jail and who is freed. This year we will see a legislative push for such a shift in California, where a similar effort stalled last year. State-level bail reform may be the central criminal justice reform of 2018, particularly given Attorney General Jeff Sessions' lack of interest in federal reforms and given the new drug war panic sparked by opioid-related deaths. In addition to the bail reform, Cuomo is proposing that police be banned from seizing your stuff unless you've actually been arrested. In other words, he's tackling civil asset forfeiture, where police and prosecutors are able to take and keep people's property without actually convicting you of a crime. Disappointingly, Cuomo's proposal will not go as far as to require a conviction. But requiring an arrest will at least reduce some really abusive roadside stop forfeiture situations, where police pull a vehicle over, search it to see if the driver has lots of cash, and—if he does—declare that the driver must be involved with some sort of illegal drug activity and seize the money. Because they have no actual evidence, they don't actually arrest the suspect; they just take the cash. Then the owner has to fight in court to try to get his money back, essentially having prove his innocence. Cuomo has also called for better disclosure of evidence between prosecutors and defense attorneys, and he wants to require that the defendants themselves (not just their lawyers) agree to waive the right to a speedy trial. He also hopes to remove some rules that ban people with criminal backgrounds from getting state licenses for various occupations outside of law enforcement fields, and he plans to stop the practice of suspending people's driver's licenses for drug convictions when the crimes did not involve driving. The full list of Cuomo's proposed reforms can be read here. This is not the actual legislation itself, though, and he's going to have to battle police, prosecutors, and the bail bond industry to get this passed.[...]

Here's a Novel Idea: Hold Both Caller and Police Officer Responsible for Deadly 'Swatting'

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 12:25:00 -0500

A Los Angeles man has been arrested for telling police a hostage situation was underway at a home in Wichita, Kansas. His claim was a lie, and the police fatally shot a man in the ensuing raid. Tyler Barriss, 25, is accused of calling city hall in Wichita claiming that a shooting and hostage situation were unfolding at a local home. Barriss apparently was attempting a "swatting" prank on somebody he was having an argument with online over the video game Call of Duty. "Swatting" pranks are nasty stunts where a caller draws a SWAT team out to an innocent party's home by calling the authorities and pretending a dangerous crimeis taking place there. They've grown increasingly popular over the past few years as a way of frightening or getting revenge on somebody. Barriss was not having a dispute with Andrew Finch, 28, a father of two in Wichita, nor anybody else at the address he sent police to. The person Barriss was arguing with had given him a fake address. A SWAT team showed up at Finch's door, and when he went outside to see what was going on, a police officer shot and killed him. This appears to be the first time somebody has been killed by a swatting prank, though people have previously been shot and injured. Barriss has a criminal background and was previously arrested for calling in phony bomb threats to ABC Studios in Los Angeles. An example of how pioneering this case is: Right now the police and prosecutors don't seem able to tell the media what Barriss is actually being charged with. He's being held on a felony warrant without a bond, but the charges might not be revealed until his first court appearance this week. The case has unfortunately quickly and predictably turned into a "Who's to blame?" question. It's literally in the headline of New York Times' coverage of Finch's death: "Fatal 'Swatting' Episode in Kansas Raises Quandary: Who Is to Blame?" Is it Barriss, who fabricated a crime? Or is it the officer, who shot an unarmed, innocent man? This is a false dilemma. Both are to blame. If Barriss is indeed the man who called the police, he is responsible for sending a group of armed people into an environment where they believed violence was happening and innocent lives were at stake. Now, what that looks like in terms of holding Barriss criminally responsible is a complicated and challenging problem. Libertarian lawyer Ken "Popehat" White has suggested rewriting laws to make swatting somebody a felony. Read his explanation here. But that doesn't mean the officer who shot Finch behaved appropriately. It's frustrating and depressing to see that, even when the police know they made a very serious mistake, they are circling the wagons. From The New York Times: Chief Livingston said Mr. Finch, who was unarmed and apparently not the intended target of the online prank, did not immediately comply with officers' commands and moved his hands to his waistline, leading one officer to fear he had drawn a weapon. That's right—they went straight to the well-worn "The officer thought he was reaching for a weapon" defense even though we all know by now that he was just some random guy. Finch's mom says the police never announced themselves. Finch had no way of knowing that he was in danger of getting shot. And yet police are instinctively trying to pin the mistake on Finch. The Times notes that laws typically allow officers to shoot people when they "reasonably believe" they are in danger. This has created an environment where police officers are incentivized to exaggerate a sense of danger because it will allow them an excuse for mistakes and even for reckless behavior. Livingston's responses to the shooting are very much a concern, because they don't suggest that he sees any sort of problems in th[...]

Breaking News Before Local Cops Do Lands Laredo Vlogger With Felony Charges

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 07:55:00 -0500

Posting local crime news online before the cops do could land you felony charges in Texas. That's what Priscilla Villarreal—who runs a hyper-local Laredo news page on Facebook called LaGordiloca—found out last week. LaGordiloca's nearly 84,000 followers and Villarreal's wide range of posts (often in both English and Spanish) on community events haven't earned her consideration as "official" media from the Laredo Police Department (LPD), apparently. And the department doesn't seem too keen on honoring the First Amendment rights of ordinary folks. Police last Wednesday charged Villarreal with two counts of "misuse of official information," a third-degree felony. The information she allegedly misused was provided to her by a longtime patrol officer with the department charging her. We're not talking about whistleblower stuff or private details about investigations. This wasn't information classified as non-public or prohibited from disclosure under Texas public-information law. It concerned things like local arrests and traffic accidents—information that was already or would soon be made publicly available. But LPD's Public Information Office would generally control the timing (and framing) of its release, with selective tips given to professional media outlets and an official statement posted to the LPD website and to social media. Villarreal subverted this process. According to the Laredo Morning Times, this is the first misuse of information case prosecuted in Webb County. Police have been investigating since July and have already pored through Villarreal's phone records. Phone records reveal hundreds of texts since the beginning of the year between Villarreal and LPD Officer Barbara Goodman, according to the criminal complaint against Villarreal. (Goodman, a 19-year veteran of the department, was placed on administrative leave last week pending internal and criminal investigations.) These tips helped Villarreal break stories before "official news media" did and post them to the LaGordiloca Facebook page before the LPD posted it to theirs. And this allowed Villarreal to gain "popularity in 'Facebook,'" the complaint states. That last bit—police saying Villarreal's goal in sharing information was personal attention, not public dissemination of the news—is crucial to the charges against her. Of course informing the public and gaining Facebook popularity aren't mutually exclusive, no more so than selling advertising and breaking local news is for more traditional media outlets. But for police purposes here, it's only the personal-gain part that matters. Texas law says a person can be guilty of misuse of official information if they solicit or receive information from a public servant, the official "has access to [that information] by means of his office or employment," the info "has not been made public" yet, and the person receiving it does so "with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another" (emphasis mine). Villarreal was clearly not trying to harm or defraud anyone by publishing local news to LaGordiloca, so police must show that she did so "with intent to obtain a benefit" in order to make the misuse-of-information charge stick. On a GoFundMe page soliciting help to pay for an attorney, Villarreal describes LaGordiloca as performing services that "local media outlets fail to provide" and going behind closed doors "whether it be the City Council Chambers, The Judges Chambers or the Police Department." "I strongly believe that censorship only hinders the advancement of a society," writes Villarreal. "I strongly believe in freedom of information and freedom of speech. I am in NO way a scholar of a higher learning institute but I am in my [...]

Florida Bill Would Make it a Crime to be the Victim of Auto Theft

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 11:00:00 -0500

(image) Florida state Rep. Wengay Newton (D–St. Petersburg) is so tough on auto theft that he wants to punish the crime's victims as well.

Newton has introduced a bill that would make it a criminal offense to have your car stolen if you leave it unlocked with the keys inside. His legislation would make this a second-degree misdemeanor; violators would face fines of up to $500 and jail time of up to 60 days.

But only if the person who steals the car is a minor. Having the same unlocked car stolen by an adult would not be a criminal offense.

"We have a lot of juveniles getting access to vehicles unlawfully. However, these juveniles are not using guns or force. These vehicles are pretty much just left running with keys in them," Newton told WTSP. He claims his bill would "close this floodgate of a crime of opportunity."

Leaving one's car unlocked can already lead to a citation in Florida, but a Tampa Bay Times analysis found that these are rarely issued.

Not surprisingly, this proposal has prompted some pushback from people who say it's unfair to crime victims. That includes a number of law enforcement officials.

"I don't think it would be appropriate to charge a victim for a crime," Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter told the Tampa Bay Times. "When we're trying to build trust in the community, it wouldn't really breed a culture of trust between victims and law enforcement." St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway expressed similar sentiments, pointing out to the paper that "people won't report it, or they'll lie to us."

Newton insists his bill wouldn't punish real victims. "I had a lady follow me after a panel, saying let me get this straight, Representative, you want to punish me because they steal my car?" Newton said to WTSP. "I said no ma'am, only when you give it away."