Friday, January 30, 2015

Cops and Robbers

On January 16, 2015, Attorney General Eric Holder made promising changes to the policies regarding federal adoption of property seized by state or local law enforcement under state law in order for the property to be forfeited under federal law (“federal adoption”). Prior to this press release, federal law enforcement agencies could adopt property seized by state or local law enforcement agencies to prevent property from being returned to criminals. However, in order to seize the property, law enforcement officers only need to show that the property is related to criminal conduct by the preponderance of the evidence. Permitting law enforcement agencies to keep these assets potentially incentivizes many asset forfeitures. This may explain the findings of a recent Washington Post investigation, which revealed that law enforcement agencies have seized $2.5 Billion since 2001 from people who were never charged with a crime.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Addressing Concerns with Body Cameras

File:Lapel cameras (9816063276).jpgAfter the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner, many have called for police to wear body cameras, and some police departments have already begun to implement the devices.  Body cameras would resolve most of the factual disputes that can arise during a police encounter; however, skeptics have brought to light several societal and privacy concerns that we must address before fully incorporating a camera into the police uniform.  First, departments must create strict protocol regarding the activation and deactivation of the body cameras.  Second, departments must establish proper standards for the use and storage of the video.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Living and Dying Behind Bars: The Implications of Juvenile Life Without Parole

To the outside world, fifteen-year-old Jacob Ind seemed to have it together. He got good grades, was a member of the debate club, and even played on the high school football team. But behind closed doors, his life was out of control. He never felt loved. Not by anyone. Not by his mother who was cold, critical and distant, and certainly not by his alcoholic stepfather who was a mean drunk. Jacob dreaded coming home. His mother never shied away from telling him that he was an unwanted mistake and it was difficult to escape his stepfather’s violent rages and inappropriate sexual predilections. For years Jacob and his older brother Charles suffered horrific sexual abuse at the hands of their stepfather, Kermode Jordan. Jordan would wait for the boys to come home, sneak up behind them and then drag them into the bathroom where he would tie them to the toilet, undress them and proceed to abuse them. Sometimes Jacob’s mother would taunt him and sometimes she would even join in.  He couldn’t take it anymore. In the early morning hours of December 17, 1992, Jacob shot and killed his mother and stepfather. On June 17, 1994, he was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. As required under Colorado law at the time, he was given a mandatory sentence of life without parole. Now thirty-seven years old, Jacob has spent the majority of his life behind bars. The entire trajectory of his life was determined before he was even old enough to drive a car. Jacob, like the hundreds of individuals sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes that they committed as children, will likely die behind bars.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Incentivized Witnesses: A Threat to Prosecutorial Integrity?

On December 18, 2014, Rickey Dale Wyatt became the 325th person in the United States exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing.  Wyatt had been charged and convicted of aggravated rape stemming from an incident occurring on November 1, 1980.  In 1981, he was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison.  Wyatt initially secured his release in 2012 through the assistance of the Innocence Project, in cooperation with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit.  This unit, started in 2006 under then-District Attorney Craig Watkins, was the first of its kind in the United States. Today, the Center for Prosecutorial Integrity credits these such units with “forging a new model of justice,” and the organization’s front page contains links to sixteen units in thirteen states, the most recently created in Pima County, Arizona.  In light of the creation of these units, perhaps it is a good time to examine the role prosecutorial practices play within the overall scheme of prosecutorial integrity.  More particularly, this blog post will focus on the use of informants and incentivized witnesses in the prosecutorial scheme.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Lack of Due Process for Immigration Detainees

The right to due process of the law is something that we take for granted as Americans. Although at times we may not feel that due process is achieved or that the criminal justice system is perfect, it is generally accepted and expected that due process is a right and is the goal. Except for a few limited rights specified in the Constitution, the rights this country is founded upon are not granted only to American citizens. They are extended to all within our borders. They are meant to give people peace, security, hope, and the structure they need to be happy, productive members of society. Because of these guiding principles and beliefs the United States has welcomed many waves of immigrants—people who made sacrifices to leave behind past circumstances, full of hope for a better life in a new home. This has occurred for centuries. Why then, is there a question about whether we will welcome and protect those fleeing from the direst of circumstances?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Police Use of Force: Insufficient Training

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two part blog post examining police use of force. Part one examines the deferential legal standards applied to police use of force. Part two examines the relationship between officer training and police use of force.

Continuing from last weeks post on the deferential legal standards that allow police officers to use force without fear of any form of accountability, this second part focuses on the need to train police officers to be members of a community. To facilitate trust amongst the citizens living in the neighborhoods they patrol, officers can unilaterally diminish the frequency with which they must resort to force.  As such, the police departments should foster this idea in the way they train current and future police officers.

Jones v. United States: Punishment Without Conviction?

Federal sentencing law is widely applied to punish offenders not only for offenses of which they have been convicted, but also, in the same proceedings, for offenses of which they have not been convicted.  When convicted of at least one charge, a judge may consider relevant conduct in sentencing the defendant, and even increase the sentence for charges that were never charged.  Scholars are split on the subject.  On the one hand, some argue the use of relevant conduct at sentencing is often legitimate.  Others object to the practice because “the addition of the relevant conduct result[s] in the identical punishment range which the defendant would have encountered had [they] been convicted on all counts.”

Friday, January 2, 2015

Your Pets and the Police

Dogs. They are man’s best friends. They give unconditional love and loyalty, asking for nothing in return. These animals become a part of the family. It is no wonder that there are approximately between 70-80 million dog owners in the United States, which amounts to between 37 to 47 percent of all households.  With dog ownership being so prevalent in the United States, it is not hard to imagine that these animals may also become involved in situations concerning people—namely interactions with police.