No on Proposition 47

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Proposition 47 on California's ballot would reduce a potload of felonies to misdemeanors.  The District Attorney of San Francisco is a sponsor.  On the other side of the Bay, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley is against it.  She has this op-ed in the SF Chron:

Vote NO on Proposition 47. It is a Trojan horse. Under the guise of protecting schools and neighborhoods, Prop. 47 turns certain crimes into misdemeanors and exposes Californians to significant harm. For instance, Prop. 47 makes possession of date-rape drugs into a misdemeanor at a time when we're combatting sexual assault on college campuses. Too many people fall prey to identity theft. By reducing the crime of identity theft to a misdemeanor, Prop. 47 carries neither consequence to the thief nor relief to the victims, who are forever haunted by the aftermath of the crime.

All communities struggle with gun violence. Stolen guns are often used to commit violent offenses, shootings and murders. Too many children and innocent bystanders have died from gunfire. Stealing a firearm, under Prop. 47, would be only a misdemeanor. That reduction does nothing to ensure safe neighborhoods or create safe schools.

Nitrogen Executions Considered Seriously

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We have mentioned several times on this blog the possibility of dumping lethal injection and returning to gas as a method of execution.  One possibility is to simply displace oxygen with a neutral gas, the cheapest and most readily available of which is nitrogen. Amy Jenson reports for KXII:

State Representative Mike Christian of Oklahoma City suggests using nitrogen gas for executions. Christian says it would be painless for inmates and affordable for Oklahoma.

Local State Representative Pat Ownbey says he's in favor of a more humane method, and wants to see more research on the gas.  Now, several professors at East Central University in Ada will take on the task.

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Christian has organized a team of researchers at East Central University to study the gas and its effects. Professor Michael Copeland claims nitrogen hypoxia will make people feel euphoric or drunk. If a person inhales nitrogen gas, the person will quickly become unconscious and die within minutes.
As I noted on this blog over three years ago, I experienced hypoxia in the altitude chamber in Air Force flight training and know it to be painless from that personal experience.

The Oklahoman has this editorial, concluding "state lawmakers, Christian in particular, deserve credit for taking a serious, thoughtful approach to this ultimate application of government power."

News Scan

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American Man Confesses to Brutal Murder in Indonesia: Police in Indonesia have announced that a Chicago man has confessed to murdering his girlfriend's mother in a Bali hotel while the three of them were there on vacation last month.  BJ Lutz of NBC Chicago reports that 21-year-old Tommy Schaefer and his 19-year-old girlfriend were arrested in Bali after hotel employees found the body of the woman's mother in a suitcase in the trunk of a taxi.  Both Schaefer and his girlfriend have been charged with murder, and if found guilty, face a possible death sentence.

New York Man Charged in Violent Weekend Homicide: A New York man with a lengthy criminal past has been arrested and charged with the stabbing death of his wife.  Tina Moore of the New York Daily News reports that 56-year-old Martin Migliozzi, who has several prior arrests for drug possession, stabbed his wife multiple times with a pair of scissors Sunday afternoon in what authorities believe may have been a dispute over drugs.  Migliozzi is facing charges of murder, manslaughter, and criminal possession of a weapon.

Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty in Pregnant Woman's Murder: Prosecutors in Somerset, Pennsylvania have announced plans to seek the death penalty against a man who allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend and her baby.  The Associated Press reports that 25-year-old Denver Blough shot his girlfriend, who was 8 ½ months pregnant, in their apartment on May 31.  The baby was delivered by Caesarean section right before the woman died, but the baby was pronounced dead a few weeks later due to complications from the shooting.  Blough remains in custody on two counts of criminal homicide and other charges related to the shooting.
Here in the United States, we get to vote separately for a national legislature, which deals with foreign and military affairs, interstate commerce and other matters which need to be decided on a national level, and for a state legislature which is supposed to have control over those matters that can be handled more locally.  The line isn't as crisp as it used to be, or, in my opinion, as it should be, but it's there, and those separate elections serve to keep government more responsive to the will of the people.  Canada and Australia also have federated governments.

Englishmen, though, only get one legislative vote -- for their representative in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.  That may be about to change, Nicholas Winning and Jenny Gross report in the WSJ.

How to Increase Gross Domestic Product

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The Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded yesterday by the Annals of Improbable Research.

And the prize in economics goes to [drum roll] ...

ISTAT -- the Italian government's National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

The full list is here.

Catch and Release

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Federal Judge Richard Kopf at Hercules and the Umpire has this post with a funny cartoon and a serious point.  Down in the comments, he concedes that the point is poorly worded in the original post and substitutes this wording:

My point is really two fold: (1) most of the folks I see should go to prison and most reasonable observers would agree; (2) in the few "close" cases where a judge must decide between prison and probation, I am not good at making that decision personally and [18 U.S.C.] section 3553(a) is not much help.

Jury Tampering

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In Seattle, jury selection has finally begun in the trial of a notorious case that has already been delayed far too long by bizarre rulings by the trial judge.  Here are links to prior posts in this case:

May 2013:  Strength of the Evidence
Sept. 2013: Wash. Sup. Ct. Overturns Bizarre Ruling on the Strength of Evidence
Oct. 2013:  Prosecutor's Discretion to Seek the Death Penalty
July 2014:  Washington Supreme Court Reverses Another Absurd Order in the McEnroe/Anderson Case

CarnationTrialJuryTampering.pngNow, I am informed, the Washington Coalition Against the Death Penalty is handing out flyers at the entrance to the courthouse.  Hundreds of persons have been summoned for the venire, so naturally a large portion of the people entering the courthouse on this day will be prospective jurors.

The flyer is here.

Coincidence that WCADP chose this day and this location to hand out flyers?  Of course not.  This is jury tampering, and it is a crime.

News Scan

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Convicted Felon Murders his Six Grandchildren: A Florida man who spent time in prison a decade ago for the accidental shooting death of his son killed his six grandchildren, his adult daughter, and himself Thursday afternoon in a gruesome murder-suicide.  Corinne Lestch of the New York Daily News reports that 51-year-old Don Spirit had a lengthy criminal history dating back to 1990. He was sentenced to three years in prison in 2003 for being a felon in possession of a gun when he accidentally shot his 8-year-old son during a camping trip.  Spirit called an emergency dispatcher yesterday to warn police that he may harm himself or others, but when the authorities arrived, he had already killed his six family members and himself.

Execution Date set for Convicted Killer: The Missouri Supreme Court has set an execution date for a man convicted of murdering a mother and her two children more than a decade ago.  Jeff Phillips of KSPR News reports that Mark Christeson killed the woman and her children after she refused his sexual advances. His co-defendant in the case agreed to testify against him and was given a life sentence in exchange for prosecutors dropping the death penalty.  Christeson is scheduled to be put to death October 29. If the execution is carried out as planned, he will become the ninth death row inmate executed in Missouri this year. 

Murder Rate on the Rise in South Africa: Authorities in South Africa are reporting that 17,000 murders took place between March 2013 and March 2014, resulting in a 5% increase over the previous year.  Christopher Torchia of the Associated Press reports that along with the increase in murders, South Africa is also experiencing an increase in home robberies and carjackings as well.  Police say it has been hard to control the escalating murder rate because in most cases, the victim and the murderer know one another.

Additional Shakespeare Autopsies

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Following up on Wednesday's Richard III story, Alexandra Petri in the WaPo offers up a bit of dark humor on other Shakespeare tragic characters. The first two are from Scotland, appropriately in light of today's news.

Asset Forfeiture

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John Yoder and Brad Cates, former directors of USDoJ's Asset Forfeiture Office, have this op-ed in the WaPo:

Last week, The Post published a series of in-depth articles about the abuses spawned by the law enforcement practice known as civil asset forfeiture. As two people who were heavily involved in the creation of the asset forfeiture initiative at the Justice Department in the 1980s, we find it particularly painful to watch as the heavy hand of government goes amok. The program began with good intentions but now, having failed in both purpose and execution, it should be abolished.

Asset forfeiture was conceived as a way to cut into the profit motive that fueled rampant drug trafficking by cartels and other criminal enterprises, in order to fight the social evils of drug dealing and abuse. Over time, however, the tactic has turned into an evil itself, with the corruption it engendered among government and law enforcement coming to clearly outweigh any benefits.
Sky News is projecting that Scottish voters have chosen to remain in the United Kingdom.

The National Crime Victimization Survey, which showed a bump up for 2012, showed a reversion back for 2013. The graph to the left is from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, Criminal Victimization, 2013.

Update:  BJS issued a correction September 19.  There was a problem with the scale on the original figure.  I have pasted in the corrected figure.

California's Execution Protocol

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One of the lesser-used provisions of California's Administrative Procedure Act permits interested persons to petition for a regulation to promulgated.  We at CJLF have filed petitions on behalf of murder victims' families formally asking CDCR to establish by regulation an execution protocol.

It has been two years since CDCR said the Governor had directed it to develop a one-drug protocol to eliminate the problems and the litigation over the three-drug method.  There is simply no excuse for taking so long.

CJLF's press release is here.
One of the strongest arguments for continuing to hang tough on imprisonment, and refusing to become unnerved by the racially-charged hectoring of the "Incarceration Nation" crowd, is easy to summarize:  Prison works.  When we have more prison, we have less crime. When we have less prison, we have more crime. It's not a whole lot more complex than that.

This was confirmed once again by statistics posted today on Sentencing Law and Policy, run by my friendly (if defense-leaning) adversary, Doug Berman.  Prof. Berman notes that newly released BJS statistics show that we had a modest decline in crime in 2013.  This is the first time in the last three years that crime went down; it went up in 2011 and 2012.

OK, quick now, what else happened in 2013?  Right you are:  For the first time in the last three years, going back to 2010, the prison population went up.

What an amazing coincidence!!!  But just how amazing is a story that needs to be told, lest we fall for the "smart" sentencing line.

Smart?

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Eugene Robinson is a columnist for the WaPo whom I don't often agree with.  This column is about Hillary Clinton and her fuzzy message, and it is mostly off-topic for the blog.  I was struck by one paragraph, though.

In the book, Clinton rejects the idea of choosing between the "hard power" of military might and the "soft power" of diplomacy, sanctions and foreign aid. Instead, she advocates "smart power," which seems to mean "all of the above." When I hear officials talking about "smart" this or "smart" that, I hear a buzzword that is often meant to obscure policy choices rather than illuminate them.
Second the motion.  And it's not just officials.

News Scan

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Crime Rate on the Rise in Seattle: Statistics released by the Seattle Police Department show that crime is on the rise, prompting the city to increase the number of police officers patrolling the streets.  Tom Yazwinski of Fox 13 reports that compared to 2013, crime is up 13% across the city of Seattle, including a 21% increase in homicides and a 44% increase in motor vehicle thefts.  Authorities haven't revealed a possible explanation for the uptick in crime, but are hopeful that an increase in police presence will yield a positive result.

Jury Recommends Death Penalty for Convicted Killer: An Ohio jury has recommended that David Martin, who was convicted of capital murder last week, be sentenced to death for his crime.  Sade Hurst of WKBN News reports that Martin was found guilty of robbing, kidnapping, and killing 21-year-old Jeremy Cole and shooting a 25-year-old woman in her home in 2012.  The judge presiding over the case has the final say on sentencing, and is expected to announce his decision next week.

Couple Convicted of Craigslist Murder Sentenced to Life: A newlywed couple who admitted to murdering a man they met through Craigslist 'because they felt like it' has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  John Beauge of Penn Live reports that the young couple agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for avoiding a possible death sentence.  In addition to the murder charge, the pair also plead guilty to charges of aggravated assault, robbery, and possession of an instrument of crime.

Constitution Day

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Yesterday was Constitution Day, the 227th anniversary of the Federal Convention's formal proposal of a new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation.

I like to stress that the document was only a proposal on that day, not the supreme law of the land.  It only became a contract between the people and their government, and hence the supreme law, when ratified by the people.

Personally, I would prefer that Constitution Day be the date of ratification, but that's a bit hard to pin down.  By its terms, the Constitution formed a union of nine states and was the supreme law of that union on the day the ninth state ratified. That would be New Hampshire on June 21, 1788.  Everyone knew, though, that the new union had no chance without the big dogs, Virginia on June 25 and New York on July 26.  It's a bit spooky how close those votes were.
Mary Kissel at the WSJ interviews "Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow George Kelling on his famous theory of policing and how it's fared in practice."

Despite the title and subhead, Kelling's first point is that "Broken Windows" is about more than policing.

Here's the theory in a nutshell.  If a window is broken in a neighborhood and no one fixes it, it's a sign to all that nobody cares.  People prone to vandalism become more bold, while people who would like to keep the neighborhood up become more likely to take a "why bother?" attitude.  Things spiral downward, ultimately increasing major problems, including crime.

Taking care of problems that some people regard as petty actually does matter a lot.

Dr. Kelling, BTW, is a long time friend and advisor of CJLF, as was his co-author, the late James Q. Wilson

Texas Execution

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Michael Graczyk reports for AP:

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- A Texas woman convicted of the starvation and torture death of her girlfriend's 9-year-old son a decade ago was executed Wednesday evening.

Lisa Coleman, 38, received a lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-day appeal to spare her.

She was pronounced dead at 6:24 p.m. CDT, 12 minutes after Texas Department of Criminal officials began administering a lethal dose of pentobarbital.

Cold Case Autopsy

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Breaking news from the Wars of the Roses, 1485 ... Nick Kirkpatrick has a story in the WaPo headlined, King Richard III was probably hacked and stabbed to death in battle, according to a new study.  Prior posts:

Digging Up Richard III

My Kingdom for a DNA Identification

News Scan

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Jury Recommends Death Penalty in Triple Homicide: A Los Angeles, CA jury has recommended that a 37-year-old man convicted of murdering three people in 2009 be sentenced to death for his crimes.  The City News Service reports that in addition the first-degree murder convictions, Robert Louis Caballero was also found guilty on two counts of kidnapping, one county of firearm possession by a felon, and evading police.  Caballero's two co-defendants have also been convicted of first-degree murder and are awaiting sentencing. 

Arrest Made in Decades-Old Cold Case Murder: Authorities in Ohio have arrested the man they believe is responsible for the 1981 killing of a police officer.  Frazier Smith of WHIO News reports that 63-year-old Mitchell Ruble, who was also a police officer, killed the deputy at his home after he was terminated from the department for using excessive force while on duty.  Ruble is currently in county jail without bond.  

Convicted Murderer Sentenced to Death: A Louisiana man who escaped from prison and murdered a Florida college student while on the run has been sentenced to death.  CBS News reports that 43-year-old Kentrell Feronti Johnson, along with two other men, escaped from a Louisiana prison facility and fled to Florida where they kidnapped a graduate student and beat him to death, leaving his body in an open field.  One of Johnson's co-defendants has also been sentenced to death for the crime while the other plead guilty to all charges in exchange for a life sentence.
The title of this post is the headline of a story by Geoffrey Mohan in the Los Angeles Times.  He reports on "a 10-year study that [was designed to] compare how children would fare under prolonged therapy and tutoring aimed at improving social and cognitive skills, and whether their adult fates would differ from similar children who did not participate."
When law enforcement becomes about anything other than behavior, we're in trouble.  Thus, when people get picked out for prosecution because they're black, it's reprehensible and subversive.  It's also indecent.  Ditto for when they are picked out for prosecution because they're white, as almost certainly happened to George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case.  There, it got to the point that one leading and (ordinarily) pro-defendant academic was openly hoping for Zimmerman's conviction even though it was clear early on that the State would not be able to meet its affirmative burden, under Florida law, of disproving self-defense.

The same thing may be happening now to Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson, who has the misfortune to be white.  Does anyone think the banshee cries for his indictment would be anything like what they are if he were black? He may deserve indictment, mind you, and a good deal more than that.  But he doesn't deserve it any more or less because of his race.

A recent editorial in the liberal Washington Post decries the results of politically correct law enforcement in our mother country.  It seems that British authorities are turning a blind eye toward an epidemic of child rape because  -- ready now?  --  the people doing it are Pakistani immigrants, and the police wouldn't want to face charges that they are anti-Muslim.

Well I guess not.  But I have not yet heard why protecting Muslim little girls from being sold and traded into prostitution is anti-Muslim.  More important, in a sane world, the possibility of such accusations would count for nothing.  What would count for police and prosecutors is doing your job without caring about the latest version of Whinerism.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, along with Sen. Jeff Sessions, has been taking the lead in exposing the truth about the now-quite-dead Smarter Sentencing Act.  Today, he put a hole in one of the main arguments for it  --  that it will save a bunch of money.

Of course, we can always save money, in the short run, by cutting the prison population and thus incarceration costs.  In this sense, the more we cut, the more we'll save.  Think of the boatload we would save if we just let 90% of them loose!

The problem with this argument, as with most borne of the blinkered ideology that sees felons as victims who'd massively contribute to society if we'd just shovel social services at them, is that it sees only one side of the ledger while ignoring or trivializing the other.  Senator Grassley put some reality (and honesty) into the debate by his announcement today citing none other than the CBO.  It turns out that a goodly chunk of the money we'd save on one end would be paid out through the other.  Imagine that. 

News Scan

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Texas to Execute Murderer: A Texas woman convicted of murdering her girlfriend's 9-year-old son is scheduled to be executed Wednesday after spending eight years on death row.  Mitch Mitchell of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the young boy had been abused for several years and at the time of his death, he weighed only 35 pounds and had more than 250 scars on his body.  If the execution is carried out as scheduled, 38-year-old Lisa Ann Coleman will become the ninth person executed by the state of Texas this year.

Illinois Man Found Guilty of Killing Teen: A Chicago man has been found guilty of murder in the stabbing death of a 14-year-old girl in 2011.  CBS Chicago reports that John Wilson Jr., who was out on parole at the time of the murder, stabbed the girl multiple times and left her for dead after she discovered him burglarizing her family's home.  Wilson was convicted in 2002 for robbery and sentenced to 11 years behind bars.  He only served eight years of his sentence and was released on parole. 

Death Row Inmate asks for Stay of Execution: A Pennsylvania man convicted of murdering three people and sentenced to death has asked a federal judge for a stay of execution.  Brian Bowling of Trib Live News reports that 34-year-old Miguel Padilla, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, murdered three people at a night club in 2006 after his friend was denied admittance.  Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed Padilla's death certificate earlier this week after he exhausted all of his state appeals.

Governor Races

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The previous post noted the Oregon governor's race.  Here are a few notes from elsewhere around the country.

In New Mexico, incumbent Governor Susana Martinez has opened up a commanding 18% lead over Attorney General Gary King in an Albuquerque Journal poll.  Real Clear Politics has moved this race into the "Likely GOP" column.  A commanding win in a "blue" state would make Martinez, a former district attorney, a credible possibility for the 2016 national ticket.

In Colorado, the Denver Post has the race too close to call.  RCP calls it a toss-up.  Unlike Kitzhaber, Hickenlooper may pay a political price for his death penalty weaseling.  The Post says "only" 18% consider that a "major factor" in their decision, but 18% is a lot in a tight race.  Of course, it depends on how many of those 18% are swing voters as opposed to people who would vote for the proverbial yellow dog before Hickenlooper, but given the across-the-political board support for the death penalty we often see in "crosstabs," with even self-designated "liberals" split about even, I have to think at least a couple percent of those 18 are people who might have otherwise voted for Hickenlooper.

Reprieves and Volunteers

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Harrison Latto, attorney for Oregon death row "volunteer" Gary Haugen, has this op-ed in the Oregonian.

The most puzzling aspect of the reprieve Gov. Kitzhaber granted to my client Gary Haugen is why he chose the utterly unprecedented device of a reprieve of indefinite duration, which will expire as soon as he leaves office, rather than using the more conventional method of commuting Haugen's death sentence to life in prison.

News Scan

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Convicted Murderer to be Released: An Arizona man sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder will soon be released after serving only 44 years.  Kelsey Hess of The Republic reports that 62-year-old Ray Chatman was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery when he was 17-years-old.  He was originally sentenced to death for the crime, but three years later   a court reduced his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.  Recently a judge agreed to vacate his original conviction in exchange for him pleading guilty to second-degree murder, making him eligible for release.  

Murderer Pleads Guilty to Avoid Death Penalty: A Florida man has agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and spend the rest of his life behind bars in order to avoid a possible death sentence.  Daphne Duret of The Palm Beach Post reports that 58-year-old Serge Motti had arranged to meet with the victim for a drug deal, but at the meeting Motti murdered the man and then ran his girlfriend over multiple times before shooting her as well.  Motti was convicted of murder in New York in 1979, but was  paroled and relocated to Florida.   

CA Bill Aimed at First Time Offenders: A California bill awaiting approval from Governor Brown would allow first time offenders convicted of misdemeanors to have their criminal record wiped clean if they agree to plead guilty or no contest to certain crimes. K. Puenta of the Los Angeles Register reports that Assembly Bill 2124 would allow judges to defer sentencing for individuals found guilty of certain 'non-serious' offenses, and if certain conditions are met, the offense would be wiped from the record within a year.  The governor has until the end of the month to either veto the bill or sign it into law.  Governor Brown vetoed a similar bill last year.

One More Reason to Disdain "International Law"

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When we trust justice to a tribunal whose success depends on the voluntary cooperation of thugs, justice is the one thing we won't get.

Trouble Brewing

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I think our readers will be able to figure this one out for themselves.  Some of the President's judicial picks have been first-rate minds and very good people.  Still, a priori, a prosecutor probably would not want an Obama-selected judge sitting on a close criminal case.

See also this article about the largely unnoticed stakes in the upcoming elections.

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