Sen. Tom Cotton Speaks Truth to Power

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Sen. Tom Cotton spoke on the Senate floor today to put the lie to the mass sentencing reduction bill supported by the Inside-the-Beltway Establishment. The bill's backers include President Obama, Speaker Paul Ryan, Deputy Senate Majority Leader John Cornyn, Deputy Minority Leader Dick Durbin, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and prominent Republicans and Democrats such as Mike Lee and Corey Booker. If that is not The Establishment, there is no such thing as The Establishment.

Sen. Cotton doesn't care. He is ready to spill the beans on sentencing "reform" no matter how powerful its supporters. He did so in his Senate speech today:

There is much debate about the wisdom of this bill. That is, like most bills we discuss in this chamber, a judgment call. But there cannot be debate over the facts of this bill. We have to be very clear on what this bill, by its own text, is designed to do.

Proponents of the bill often invoke four phrases to describe the felons to be released under the terms of the bill: "first-time," "non-violent," "low-level," "drug possession" offenders. Yet none of those four descriptors is accurate.

Or, to be less polite than Sen. Cotton, the advocacy for this bill has been intentionally and repeatedly deceptive.

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CA Man Gets Death Penalty:  A California man was sentenced to death Friday for the 2012 shooting deaths of four people outside a Northridge boarding home.  Debbie L. Sklar of My News LA reports that 34-year-old Ka Pasasouk was convicted in November on four counts of first-degree murder for the Dec. 2, 2012 murders of four people while "fueled by drugs and alcohol." He was allegedly seeking revenge on one of the victims, whom he'd had an altercation with months earlier, and killed the other three victims in an effort to eliminate witnesses.  Pasasouk was also convicted on one count each of attempted murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and assault with a semiautomatic firearm, for confronting other people nearby prior to the shooting.  Almost a year before the incident, in Jan. 2012, Pasasouk was released from prison under Realignment.

ISIS Attacks Expected to Worsen:  The Pentagon's head of military intelligence told a security conference Monday that he expects the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group to pick up "the pace and lethality" of attacks in 2016 in order to expand its operations.  Rudy Takala of the Washington Examiner reports that Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart said that he expects ISIS to expand operations in Egypt in particular, but also parts of Africa and Asia as well, including Mali, Tunisia, Somalia, Bangladesh and Indonesia.  According to Stewart, ISIS attacks will worsen "because it seeks to unleash violent actions and to provoke a harsh reactions from the West, thereby feeding its distorted narrative."

Ferguson to Vote on Justice Dept's Agreement: 
City council members in Ferguson, Mo., are set to vote Tuesday on an agreement with the Justice Department to overhaul the police and court systems, which has the potential to financially cripple the city.  Andrea Noble of the Washington Times reports that the consent decree follows months of negotiations between city leaders and the Justice Department, which produced a scathing report after the 2014 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, calling out the Ferguson Police Department for exhibiting racial inequalities.  The decree includes reforms to the city's police department, such as training Ferguson officers to "recognize unconscious racial stereotyping," requiring more stringent accounting of police use-of-force incidents and limiting court fines and jail time for minor offenses.  The agreement is estimated to cost city officials $3.7 million in the first year; the city operated with a budget of $14.5 million and a budget deficit of $2.8 million this fiscal year.  The city could face legal actions if it refuses to comply.

The Black Lives That Didn't Matter

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The National Association of Assistant US Attorneys has produced a short video (a little over a minute) about the murders of three African Americans, a mother and her two daughters, by Wendell Callahan.  Callahan had a violent past, and had been sentenced to federal prison for trafficking in hard drugs (crack cocaine). Nonetheless, he was released early courtesy of Congress's 2010 version of "sentencing reform." But for his early release, his three victims would be alive today.

When one black man, Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO  --  a fellow who was 6'4" and weighed 292 pounds  --  was shot by a policeman in legal self-defense, the story was the subject of hundreds of outraged national headlines.  When the three defenseless black people in Columbus, OH got their throats slit by a man who earned his way to prison, but then was released early as a "low level, low-risk" prospect, not a single component of the national media has written a news story about it.

Lesson of the day:  Black lives matter plenty when they service the liberal criminal justice narrative that Amerika stinks. Otherwise...well, hey, look, chill out.

The video is here.

Assault With a Cold-Blooded Weapon

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Terry Spencer reports for AP:

Florida wildlife officials say that 24-year-old Joshua James threw a 3.5-foot alligator through a fast-food restaurant's drive-thru window in October, according to multiple news outlets. He's charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Bail was set Tuesday at $6,000.

Officials say the incident occurred at a Palm Beach County Wendy's. They say that after an employee handed James his drink, he threw the alligator through the window and drove off. No one was hurt. James was arrested Monday.

James also is charged with illegally possessing an alligator and petty theft.

The Real Force Behind Sentencing Reform

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The main sentencing reform bill, the SRCA, was effectively withdrawn today by its sponsors after it became clear that it had failed to hoodwink enough senators to get enacted.  See my post here.  

But we shouldn't kid ourselves.  They'll be back.  The forces working to reduce sentences are too powerful and too determined to just give up.

Contrary to much of what we hear in the press, the main backers are not libertarian Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee and many people at CATO.  Republicans have given a good deal of political cover to this plainly pro-criminal proposal (tell me again who principally benefits from reduced sentences?), but they are not the prime movers. For reasons I remain unable to fathom  --  since the bill is a political loser in addition to being bad for the country  --  they have allowed themselves to be enlisted in someone else's cause.

And who would that be?  George Soros would be a good guess, as would Al Sharpton and the NACDL.  Good, but we need to look a little higher.


We have heard a good deal about the "growing momentum" of the "bi-partisan consensus" for sentencing reform.  One would think that, with such a supposed consensus, the reform bill (the SRCA) would breeze through Congress.

Ooops.

Here's today's press release from chief co-sponsors Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin:

"Over the course of the last year in putting together this bill, we listened to a diverse set of views and came up with a consensus piece that passed the committee by a 15-5 vote.  Now, as we look to floor consideration, we're again listening to colleagues, including those who have well-documented concerns with certain aspects of the bill.  We're working to find a path forward that addresses some of those concerns while maintaining both the core principles and significance of the bill and the broad bipartisan support that the bill has already garnered.  How those changes will look is still being determined, but we're moving ahead to get a bill ready to be considered on the Senate floor."  

Translation:  The current bill is dead meat.  We have to make its wording more opaque to try to fool more people.

Well, good luck with that.  A fancy dance with wording isn't going to make the mind-numbing surges in heroin and murder go away.  It won't make the ocean of risky early releases through the Sentencing Commission go away.  It won't make the early release/child murders of Wendell Callahan go away. 

The problem is not failure to smooth over unnamed "concerns."  The problem is reality.  
There are three ways to fix Florida's death penalty law -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

The good way is to pass a true unanimity law, requiring the jury to be unanimous one way or the other, i.e., the California/Arizona model.  The bad way is to continue with nonunanimous penalty verdicts, okay for now but leaving an issue to attack the law in the future.  The ugly way is to adopt a single-juror veto system, the kind that caused the grotesque miscarriage of justice in the Colorado theater shooting case.

The House Judiciary Committee's Criminal Justice Subcommittee chose the bad way on February 2, recommending PCB CRJS 16-07.  At least they rejected the amendment for the ugly option.

In the Senate, on the other hand, the ugly option was adopted in SPB 7068.

My letter to the Senate committee chairman, recommending the good option, is here.  No one seems to be listening.
Heather Mac Donald is, as usual, here to set the record straight in a commentary featured by the Marshall Project titled Black and Unarmed: Behind the Numbers.  In it, she examines the Washington Post's data on fatal police shootings compiled over the last year, warning that some people are taking the Post's recently completed 2015 database as "evidence that the police are gunning down unarmed blacks out of implicit bias."  This assumption, based on data that is significantly lacking in facts and detail, doesn't tell the whole story.

Such misleading data is, no doubt, fueling the rage of the Black Lives Matter protest movement by omitting the many critical specifics behind the data that would surely silence its self-created pandemonium.  The WaPo's data fails to "convey highly-charged policing situations" and misinforms its readers by failing to recognize that many of the cases "are more complicated and morally ambiguous than a simple 'unarmed' classification would lead the reader to believe."

The facts speak for themselves:  All cops are not racists.  Fatal shooting incidents involving unarmed black men are very, very rarely the result of racial bias.  If one comes away from this piece continuing to maintain that belief, while persisting to ignore the routine civilian violence claiming black lives on a daily basis across the U.S., then they are not advocating for truth, but rather, a false narrative.
The Washington Post's "fact checker" evaluated Sen. Tom Cotton's statement that the SRCA would "release thousands of violent felons."  It's analysis is here.  It concludes:

There are thousands of inmates -- 11,524, to be exact -- who would be eligible for resentencing under the Senate bill. But not all of them are convicted of a violent crime, and it's unclear exactly how many of these inmates would actually get their sentences shortened if the bill became law. There are 3,433 inmates in the two sections that include people who may have been convicted of a violent felony. Even then, those inmates may be there because of a sweeping law that has been found to impose excessive sentences.

Cotton is of the opinion that drug traffickers are still "violent felons," even people who are not technically convicted of a crime of violence. We can't fact-check opinions, but we'll note that "violent felons" generally conjures the image of a murderer, not a drug dealer caught illegally possessing a gun -- or just a bullet.

Cotton's claim minimizes the provisions in the bill that target actual violent offenders while alleviating excessive sentences for low-level drug offenders. The bill is intended to address over-incarceration of low-level, nonviolent offenders. Even if all eligible inmates petition for a reduced sentence, the ultimate decision is with a federal judge. Cotton creates a misleading impression of this complex legislation, and earns Two Pinocchios.


Now let's fact-check the Post.  Three Pinocchios.



News Scan

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Chicago Shootings Continue to Soar:  Over the weekend, two people were killed and 24 others were wounded in shootings across Chicago, with homicides in the troubled city in the first eight days of February, falling just four short of last February's total.  The Chicago Tribune reports that between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning alone, one man was killed and at least 10 others were wounded in shooting incidents.  The city has seen 16 homicides since the start of the month and 73 since the start of the year, with 330 people shot since Jan. 1, more than double from the same period last year.

NJ Law Prevents Some Retired Cops from CCW Permits:  A New Jersey gun law is preventing some retired police officers from being granted permits to carry concealed weapons.  Fox News reports that since the law doesn't specifically address whether retired public university police officers are permitted to obtain a permit, "there seems to be some discrepancy in whether [state] university police are viewed as working for state agency."  John Kotchkowski and Robert Dunsmuir, two retired University of New Jersey police sergeants, were denied right-to-carry permits, stemming from the 1997 law that was enacted after the murder of a police chief who was killed when he attempted to stop a carjacking.  Kotchkowski says that the denial of a right-to-carry permit makes him feel as if the law is saying that he "wasn't a real cop."  Last month, a judge refused to grant Kotchkowski a permit on appeal, and Dunsmuir's appeal is to be heard in March.

S.F. Hands Illegal Over to ICE, Igniting Furor:  After San Francisco police officers actually complied with federal immigration authorities, handing over an illegal immigrant wanted for deportation, they are being criticized for violating the city's "sanctuary city" policy that bars law enforcement from detaining people for immigration authorities unless they are wanted for a serious crime.  William Bigelow of Breitbart reports that the controversy surrounds 31-year-old Pedro Figueroa-Zarceno, an illegal immigrant who failed to appear at an immigration hearing in San Antonio in 2005 and then was arrested in 2012 for drunk driving and remained in the U.S.  When he reported his car stolen to San Francisco police in November 2015, a background check that found he had missed the hearing ten years earlier triggered a warrant for his arrest, and he was taken into custody the following month when he came to the station to obtain his vehicle, and was subsequently handed over U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  However, he was released from jail last Wednesday after San Francisco police were slammed for violating the city's 2013 "Due Process for All" ordinance.  ICE spokesman James Schwab asserted that Figueroa-Zarceno was one of the "at-large foreign nationals who meet the agency's enforcement priorities, including convicted criminals and other individuals who pose a potential threat to public safety."  The case is currently being reviewed.
The death penalty came up briefly in the Clinton-Sanders debate.  Even though it came second, let me quote Sanders first:

MADDOW: Senator Sanders, you have singled out the death penalty, and Senator Clinton's support for the death penalty, as an issue that makes it hard to consider as progressive in your mind...

SANDERS: ... Look, I hear what the Secretary said, and I understand, but look, there are -- all of us know that we have seen in recent years horrible, horrible crimes. It's hard to imagine how people can do, bomb, and kill 168 people in Oklahoma City, or do the Boston Marathon bombing, but this is what I believe, and for a couple of reasons.

Number one, too many innocent people, including minorities, African Americans, have been executed when they were not guilty. That's number one. We have to be very careful about making sure about that.

Too many?  Name one, Senator Sanders.  Name one demonstrably innocent person executed in the modern capital punishment era (1976+).

For many years, Roger Coleman was the poster boy as the absolutely, incontrovertibly innocent person wrongfully executed.  Then improved DNA technology conclusively proved him guilty.  Oops.  Then they latched on Cameron Willingham, a case where the arson evidence was shown to be inconclusive.  (Contrary to myth, the arson evidence does not affirmatively show accidental fire.)  When AP contacted the jurors, every one they could find said that would have made no difference, because it never was the forensic evidence that convinced them in the first place.  The most damning evidence against Willingham was his own words and actions, all of which still stand.

"We have to be very careful about making sure about that."  Correct.  And we are.

News Scan

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New York Police Officers Shot:  Two NYPD Officers patrolling a public housing project in the Bronx were shot Thursday night.  Fox News reports  that a male and female officer, whose names have not be released, were shot when they encountered two people in a seventh-floor stairwell in the complex by a man who was later found dead by an apparently self-inflicted wound.  Both officers are expected to recover from their injuries.  In January another officer was shot and injured in the Bronx when he responded to reports of a street fight.   

CA Sex Offender on Probation Arrested For Rapes:   A registered sex offender free on probation in Whittier California as been arrested for sexually assaulting two teen-aged girls.  ABC7 reports that  28-year-old Richie Corvera abducted a 15-year-old girl in a high school parking lot last Friday and assaulted her at a nearby motel.  A day earlier in the same parking lot Corvera lured a 14-year-old girl into his car and assaulted her in a motel.  Police believe that there may be additional victims.  Thank goodness California is addressing its over-incarceration problem by keeping low-level offenders like Corvera on the streets under light supervision.      

Ninth Circuit Voids AZ Death Sentence:  A divided panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the death sentence of a brutal Tuscon murderer.  Madison Alder of Cronkite News reports that the Court's two-judge majority lead by Judge Stephen Reinhardt announced that all of the lower courts which had reviewed and rejected murderer Robert Douglas Smith's claim that he was intellectually disabled during the murder were wrong, and that a low IQ test in 1964 proved that Smith was too retarded to have been responsible for the kidnapping, rape and grisly murder of 29-year-old hitchhiker Sandy Owen.  Subsequent tests found that Smith had a near normal IQ.  After raping her twice, Smith initially tried unsuccessfully to strangle Owen to death,  then held her down while an accomplice stabbed her several times, which also failed to kill her.  Smith then tried to break the woman's neck.  She was finally killed after they crushed her head with a rock. 

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Death Penalty Sought Against CA Baby Killer:  The district attorney for Santa Clara County is seeking the death penalty against a San Jose man.  Tracey Kaplan of the San Jose Mercury News reports that District Attorney Jeff Rosen will seek the death penalty against 42-year-old Alejandro Benitez, charged with murder in the commission of a dangerous felony, stemming from forcing a 16-month-old boy into a sex act "so brutal that it tore up his lips and throat before suffocating him."  Benitez has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer argues that because of a recent National Registry of Exonerations report showing that five inmates sentenced to death were exonerated last year -- though none of them were in California -- means that Rosen's decision "validates a deeply flawed system."  Other death penalty opponents argue that the extra costs incurred from a death penalty trial is reason enough to ban capital punishment and not seek it against Benitez.  CJLF legal director Kent Scheidegger, however, praised Rosen's decision, saying that no money is wasted "if it's one of the worst of the worst crimes," adding, "That's what a DA should do."

Cartels Using Kids to Divert BP Agents:  A Border Patrol union official testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee panel Thursday, revealing that drug cartels are bringing unaccompanied children to the Rio Grande valley in order to distract border security officials from smugglers and drug traffickers.  Joel Gehrke of the Washington Examiner reports that Brandon Judd, a National Border Patrol Council official, told the subcommittee that drug cartels have contributed to the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America that has grown steadily since 2011 by driving them to the middle of the desert, where the children then cross over the Rio Grande and surrender to Border Patrol.  This tactic "completely tied up our manpower and allowed the cartels to smuggle whatever they wanted across out border," said Judd.  He also noted that with every new policy adopted, such as Department of Homeland Security's recently reinstated policy requiring Border Patrol officials to release more of the immigrants they arrest, gives the cartels a new loophole to exploit.

License Reader Company Stirs Controversy in TX:  A controversial issue is arising out of Texas, as a tech company is requesting a 25% cut of debt collected from the "deadbeats and scofflaws" tracked down by its license plate-tracking system.  Perry Chiaramonte of Fox News reports that the tracking database, developed by Vigilant Solutions, captures license plate information and converts it into a computer-readable file that tags the plate number and a time stamp before being placed into the database, much like GPS technology.  The system has been scrutinized for both its possible infringement on Fourth Amendment rights and the way in which it has transformed Texas police agencies into employees of Vigilant, as they must pay the 25% cut in order to keep the equipment the company provides.  Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation is challenging the system as an invasion of privacy and abuse of public safety protocols.

Mass Early Release Is Just the First Step

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Most of the time when we're urged to reduce prison sentences, we're earnestly told that a good chunk of the money we'd supposedly save will be "invested" in more careful and active supervised release.  Probation, which is both cheaper and more humane than incarceration  --  so the argument goes  --  will be expanded to help insure we maintain public safety.

Did you think that's actually what sentencing "reformers" are planning?

Think again.  A sample:

This Data Brief demonstrates for the first time that America suffers from "mass probation" in addition to "mass incarceration." Although probation has often been thought of as an "alternative" to prison or jail sentences, the U.S. has achieved exceptional levels of punitiveness in both incarceration and community supervision...

[S]tates should closely reexamine the numbers of people who are placed on probation each year, and the lengths of terms they are required to serve. Options for "early termination" of the lowest-risk and most successful probationers should be explored. Some experts in the field allege that probationary sentences do little to control crime, and frequently do more harm than good.

The plan is not to end "mass incarceration."  The plan is to end punishment.  For years, these people have been telling us that the criminal is the victim, and the problem is not crime, but Amerika's callousness and cruelty.  It's time for us to understand they mean what they say.
Q:  Who's willing to admit that early release from prison creates a danger to the public?

A:  One of the fellows who got out early.

Thus this story from News9 in Oklahoma:  

GARVIN COUNTY, Oklahoma -

The two suspects in Monday's double shooting in Garvin County were arraigned Tuesday.  

21-year-old Trevor Noland and 18-year-old Roger Arles both face charges.
 

According to police, Noland and Arles stole a pickup from three of their friends, and shot two of them in the head....

Just 12 days ago, Noland was released from prison after serving just half of a three year sentence for illegally possessing a gun. 

Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes said Noland wouldn't have had the opportunity to shoot anyone if he had served out his full sentence.


But wait.  It gets better.

 

Georgia executed murderer Brandon Jones shortly after midnight, using pentobarbital.  As usual with single-drug barbiturate executions, there were no complications.  AP reports:

Jones was initially still with his eyes closed and then swallowed a couple of times and moved his head slightly. He opened his eyes at 12:36 a.m. (5:36 GMT) and turned his head to his left, appearing to look toward a clock hanging on the wall. Then he closed his eyes again and took a few deep breaths before falling still.
Few of us are going to die that peacefully or painlessly.  So why was there a bitter 6-5 division in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals?  Because the State of Georgia will not disclose the source of its pentobarbital. 

Is that a genuine problem?  No, as Judge Marcus explains for the majority (emphasis added):

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GA Executes its Oldest Death Row Inmate:  The oldest inmate on Georgia's death row was executed by lethal injection early Wednesday for the decades-old murder of a convenience store manager in suburban Atlanta.  Kate Brumback of the AP reports that 72-year-old Brandon Astor Jones asked the U.S. Supreme Court justices to block his execution citing two reasons:  his challenge of the state's lethal injection secrecy law, which keeps confidential those involved in an execution, and that his death sentence was disproportionate to the crime.  His requests for stay were denied Tuesday evening.  In 1979, Jones and another man, Van Roosevelt Solomon, shot and killed store manager Roger Tackett in the course of a robbery.  Solomon was executed by electric chair in 1985.

FL Delays Execution, Works on New System:  In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hurst v. Florida last month that found flaws in Florida's death penalty system, the state's highest court delayed the execution of a condemned murderer on Tuesday, just one week before he was scheduled to die.  Steve Bousquet of the Miami Herald reports that in January, the U.S. Supreme Court held  Florida's sentencing procedure improper because it allows judges to reach different decisions than juries, with juries playing "only an advisory role in recommending death."   Florida's Legislature is considering different approaches to correct the problem.  The inmate at the center of Tuesday's decision, Michael Lambrix, 55, was sentenced to death for the 1983 slayings of two people, though the jury's death recommendation was not unanimous for either murder.  His attorney argues that the ruling should apply to all 388 death row inmates, but the Florida Attorney General's office says it should not apply to already-decided cases.

What Happened to John Cornyn?

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The title of this post is taken from today's Powerline entry by my friend Paul Mirengoff.  It also coincides with a question I was asked just two hours ago on another thread.

Sen. Cornyn is the senior senator from Texas.  Quite oddly, it seems to me, he has reversed years of his prior enthusiastic and well-reasoned argument against mass (and retroactive) sentencing reductions.  Instead, he has aligned himself with President Obama, George Soros, Al Sharpton and the SEIU in support of the the current Senate sentencing reform proposal.

The short answer is:  I don't know what happened to Sen. Cornyn, but it's certainly a question worth exploring.
Those backing sentencing "reform" tell us that, for the last 25 years, the government (broadly speaking) has made thousands of mistakes in deciding whom to imprison and for how long  --  but now we can trust the same government to decide whom to release and how early.

Does that sound right to you?  

The Wendell Callahan triple murder case should disabuse us of this notion, as well as illustrate its high and irreversible costs. But the Callahan matter is not alone. Note, for example, this story in the Denver Post:  "Parolee Arrested in Homeless Murder Was Touted as Model of Success."   

A parolee recently charged in the death of another homeless man was touted by a state parole administrator as a model of success in a meeting with legislators just 16 days before the fatal stabbing.

Calvin Johnson, 44, who allegedly called himself "Calvin/Elijah the prophet/crazy killer" in a text after the slaying, faces one count of first-degree murder in the New Year's Day death of Teodoro Leon III.


The sentencing reform bill presently treading water in the Senate would restore a version of parole, albeit by a different name. Are the federal authorities that much better than those in Colorado in figuring out whom to release early?  Were they with Wendell Callahan? 

Digital Forensic Examination

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The current FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin has an article that reads like something you would see on a television "CSI" show and dismiss as utterly unrealistic.  But it is real. 

John McHenry and Michael Gorn report on a child pornography investigation from Sarasota, Florida.  High resolution images "included adult hands and pornographic images of infants."  The images were high enough resolution to get fingerprints off of them, nailing the perpetrator.

News Scan

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Feds Plan to Cut Border Monitoring:  U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to reduce aerial surveillance on the Texas-Mexico border by roughly 50% compared to recent years.  Julian Aguilar of the Texas Tribune reports that the request comes as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports new surges of illegal immigrants crossing the border: between October and December 2015 in the Rio Grande Valley, 10,560 unaccompanied minors from Central America illegally crossed the border, a 115 percent increase from the year prior. Central American family units entering Texas increased by 170 percent to 14,336.  In the El Paso sector, 1,030 unaccompanied minors surged at the border, an increase of nearly 300 percent.  On top of the flow of more migrants from Central America, 28,400 Cubans recently entered Texas through CBP's Laredo office, fleeing Cuba to the U.S. after the Obama administration announced plans in 2014 to re-establish ties with the country.  Gov. Greg Abbott says that given the recent flow of migrants along the southern border, more, not less, surveillance and security resources are needed.

Facebook Bans Sale of Guns:  Following Friday's announcement that Facebook will ban users from facilitating the sale of guns, parts and ammunition on the popular social media website, the White House is not saying whether the decision stemmed from pressure from the Obama administration.  Nicole Duran of the Washington Examiner reports that the administration admitted to meeting with Facebook to address the loophole but refused to comment on whether this action came from any specific request.  Licensed dealers have been granted an exception to post and present their inventory online but are now required to have the transaction occur elsewhere, not on the website.

Lifelong Sex Offender GPS Monitoring Upheld:  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 decision, ruled Friday that requiring a convicted sex offender to be fitted with a GPS anklet for life does not violate the constitutional ban on retroactive punishment, despite the law being passed after a the offender's conviction.  Andrew Blake of the Washington Times reports that the decision overturned a federal judge's ruling that it was unconstitutional to make 72-year-old Wisconsin child sex offender Michael Belleau, who was civilly committed to a secure treatment center in 2004, wear an electronic monitoring bracelet when he was released from civil commitment in 2010, two years after the requirement was put on the books.  Belleau's 2012 lawsuit argued that the requirement was unconstitutional since it retroactively punished him for conduct made criminal "after the fact" and amounted to unreasonable search and seizure.  However, the appellate panel said last week that the requirement "is not punishment; it is prevention," noting that the objective is to protect children rather than punish sex offenders.

L.A. County Accidentally Freed Murder Suspect:  A paperwork error has resulted in the erroneous release of a murder suspect from the Los Angeles County jail over the weekend.  Joseph Serna of the LA Times reports that 37-year-old Steve Lawrence Wright, accused of a 2011 gang-related murder, was sentenced last week to five days in jail for a contempt of court conviction he received while awaiting trial, for which he had to attend court.  When transferred back to the Inmate Reception Center from court, the docket number for his contempt of court case was accidentally put in the box where his murder case should have gone, making it appear that he was due for release on Saturday instead of being held without bond pending trial.  His Saturday afternoon release went unnoticed until 9:30 p.m. that evening.  In 2013, 24 inmates were mistakenly released early after being processed by the Inmate Reception Center, dropping to 21 in 2014 and six last year.


Sign Up to Be One of the Lucky 200

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What happens when the "criminals-are-victims" mentality takes over, and your obligation to live within the law is no longer considered a cornerstone of citizenship?

This happens:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- They say crime doesn't pay, but that might not be entirely true in the District of Columbia as lawmakers look for ways to discourage people from becoming repeat offenders.

The D.C. Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a bill that includes a proposal to pay residents a stipend not to commit crimes. It's based on a program in Richmond, California, that advocates say has contributed to deep reductions in crime there.

Under the bill, city officials would identify up to 200 people a year who are considered at risk of either committing or becoming victims of violent crime. Those people would be directed to participate in behavioral therapy and other programs. If they fulfill those obligations and stay out of trouble, they would be paid.

The bill doesn't specify the value of the stipends, but participants in the California program receive up to $9,000 per year.

I have to tell you, $9,000 is more than I make teaching my course at Georgetown Law, and I haven't even lifted any of my students' wallets.  

Jailbreak: A Love Story?

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The search is over.  Three California inmates who managed to escape a Santa Ana jail are back in custody.  The prison teacher arrested last Thursday for allegedly aiding in their escape, however, is being released due to insufficient evidence, for now at least.

Since the daring January 22 escape, word has circulated that the English-as-a-second-language teacher, Nooshafarin Ravaghi, and one of the escapees, Hossein Nayeri, had a relationship that was "close" and "personal," highly atypical for a prison teacher and an inmate, not to mention inappropriate and completely banned.  It is believed that Ravaghi provided Nayeri and two other inmates, Bac Duong and Jonathan Tieu, with a printed photograph from Google Earth to help them escape from the maximum-security facility.  Authorities believe she may have helped them on the outside as well.

The Significance of the Ted Cruz Victory

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Tonight, against the predictions of almost all the recent polling, Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa Republican primary.  The finish was: Cruz 28%, Trump 24%. and Rubio 23%.  No one else even reached 10%.  In my opinion, the Republican nominee is all but certain to be one of those three.

The question for this blog is whether Sen. Cruz's victory has any significance for the major criminal law issues facing our country.  I think the answer is "yes."
The national media have been quite subdued in reporting the murders of three African Americans in Columbus, Ohio by Wendell Callahan.  Years before, Callahan, a man with a violent past, had been sentenced to federal prison for trafficking crack cocaine. He was released four years early because of a sentencing "reform" bill Congress passed in 2010.  But for the early release, his three victims  --  a mother and two daughters, aged 10 and 7  --  would be alive today.  See my post here.

Put another way, this was preventable murder.  And prevention was easy.  All we had to do was keep a violent man trafficking hard drugs in prison for his original sentence.

Preventable murder is about as odious a thing as one can imagine.  You would think the usual cadres of criminal justice protesters would be up in arms.  Where's Black Lives Matter, now that three black lives have been thrown away courtesy of a law that was passed as the remedy for supposed injustice?  I haven't heard a peep. Maybe some black lives matter more than others.

Fortunately, Debra Saunders of SFGate is paying attention.

News Scan

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Record Number of Chicago Homicides in January:  In the first month of 2016, Chicago recorded the highest number of homicides since 2000.  Aamen Madhani of USA Today reports that the city recorded 51 homicides in January of this year, compared to 29 in 2015 and 20 in 2014.  Additionally, 241 shooting incidents were recorded, more than double the 119 recorded last January.  The police department maintains that gang conflict and retaliatory violence are the main drivers of the spike in homicides, though they acknowledge that the increased scrutiny the department faces in the wake of the court-ordered release of a video showing the fatal shooting of a black teenager, as well as a decrease in investigative stops following the implementation of new rules on Jan.1, have also played a role.

Legislation Introduced to Combat Drug Epidemic:  An Ohio senator, in response to the heroin and prescription drug epidemic sweeping Ohio and the nation, is calling for the passage of new legislation that aims to curb addiction.  Curt Mills of the Washington Examiner reports that Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, warned during the weekly Republican address that heroin and prescription drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of injury-related deaths in the country.  First responders at an Ohio fire department say that they currently respond to more overdoses than fires.  Portman's bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, would focus on prevention and education, and aid in the funding of recovery programs.  Lawmakers in several states across the country, from Utah to North Dakota, have introduced similar legislation after seeing a dramatic increase in overdoses related to heroin and prescription drugs in their communities.

GOP Chairman Presses DOJ on Sanctuary Cities:  Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, warns Attorney General Loretta Lynch that if she does nothing to prevent sanctuary cities from receiving federal law enforcement grants, he will take it upon himself to act.  Caroline May of Breitbart reports that Culberson has called on Lynch to change the grant process for Department of Justice regarding sanctuary cities which that fail to comply with federal immigration authorities.  Culberson plans to block funding for those jurisdictions in future appropriations bills and budgets if the Attorney General does not make the changes. In 2014, over 300 sanctuary cities in the U.S. released more than 9,000 criminal aliens that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was seeking to deport.  In the following months, more than 2,300 of those released went on to commit new crimes.
Every now and again, a single case crystalizes an argument so powerfully that there's not much left to say.  Recently, I wrote about one such case, the triple murder (of a mother and her two daughters, aged 10 and 7) by a crack dealer with a violent history who was out on early release because of Congress's 2010 version of "sentencing reform."  Had he remained in jail for his original sentence, the mother and the two kids would be alive today.

We all know that errors in sentencing are inevitable, because errors in human judgment are inevitable.  Accordingly, we know that some inmates will be incarcerated too long, and others, not long enough.  

The only adult question, then, is this:  Who should bear the risks and costs of inevitable error  --  the criminal, who made his own choice and assumed his own risks, or the future victim, who never had a chance?

The question answers itself.

So does the question posed by Judge Jack Weinstein's most recent adventure in judicial defiance:  Does a felony-level child pornographer deserve a prison sentence of zero?
Yesterday I was on KPCC's Air Talk with Larry Mantle.  The program page with audio is here. The topic of discussion was Gov. Brown's initiative to make every convicted felon eligible for parole at the completion of the base term for the present offense, effectively giving the parole board the power to wipe out all sentence enhancements imposed for prior convictions, no matter how many or how violent.

As usual, the other guest was someone who disagreed with me, and as usual Mr. Mantle was quite evenhanded in moderating.

The most interesting moment occurred during a call-in.  The caller frankly admitted that she had gone to prison for manufacturing drugs for sale, and after getting out she returned to the drug trade.  Even so, she insisted it was totally unfair that she got a sentence enhancement for the prior.  I was quite taken aback.  Judge for yourself whether I had a good answer.

News Scan

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TX Cop Killer Executed:  A Texas man who was convicted in the 2007 murder of a Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden was executed Wednesday.  Bob Price of Breitbart reports that 35-year-old James Garrett Freeman was sentenced to death by lethal injection for killing 34-year-old Game Warden Justin Hurst.  Hurst had spotted Freeman hunting at night from his truck when a high-speed chase ensued, ending when Freeman emerged from his disabled vehicle and mercilessly fired several rounds from a .357 Sig caliber pistol and an AK-47 at Hurst and other officers.Hurst, a 12-year veteran of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, was the 18th Texas game warden killed in the line of duty since the position was created in 1895. Freeman is the second person to be executed in the state this year.

Criminals, not Cops, Most Threaten Black Lives:  A report by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research contradicts claims made by the Black Lives Matter movement, finding that a higher percentage of whites and Hispanics are killed by police and the bigger threat to blacks comes from violent criminals within their own communities.  Jose R. Gonzalez of CNS News reports that Manhattan senior fellow Heather Mac Donald found that four percent of black homicide victims are killed by police compared with 12 percent of white and Hispanic victims, while the number of blacks killed by other blacks is 90 percent.  The report concludes that the BLM movement "has been a counterproductive distraction from the real violence facing black communities: violence from criminals, not the police."

Jail Teacher Arrested for Helping Inmates Escape:  A jail teacher has been arrested for allegedly assisting three inmates escape from a California jail last week.  Gillian Flaccus and Robert Jablon of the AP report that 44-year-old English as a second language teacher Nooshafarin Ravaghi, part of the inmate program since 2014, is believed to have developed a relationship with the probable mastermind of the breakout, 37-year-old Hussein Nayeri, and provided him and two other inmates, 43-year-old Bac Duong and 20-year-old Jonathan Tieu, with Google maps to plot an escape route from the Orange County jail.  Whether her role may have been deeper is still being investigated, including whether she provided tools the inmates used to cut through the metal gate and rebar.  All three inmates were awaiting trial for violent crimes, such as torture and murder, when they managed an elaborate escape in which they crawled through plumbing tunnels, reached an unguarded section of the roof and rappelled down with bed linens.  One of them, Duong, was ordered deported to Vietnam in 1998, but never was. Update:  Duong has turned himself in.  The other two escapees are still at large.

Gov. Brown's Plan Will Affect Plea Bargaining:  Legal experts say that California Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed plan to give more inmates a chance for early release will likely diminish prosecutors' leverage in negotiating plea bargains.  Maura Dolan and Marisa Gerber of the LA Times report that a provision in Brown's proposal would allow for a parole hearing after inmates complete their sentences for their base crime, regardless of the inmate serving consecutive sentences or having sentencing enhancements, which will result in some loss of power for prosecutors in negotiating plea deals with defendants.  CJLF legal director Kent Scheidegger agrees with other legal experts that the plan is "dismantling a system that was carefully put together over time," and fears the defense bar may even try to use the measure to gut the three-strikes law.  "When we have a huge crime problem, we do something about it," he said.  "And when crime rates drop, people forget about it and we go back to old fallacies."  

Delaware Death Penalty Repeal Defeated

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I am told that the Delaware House of Representatives today voted down the death penalty repeal bill (SB 40), 16-23.

I feel like it's the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.  The enemy has made a hard thrust and gained some ground, but we have now stopped his advance, and a renewed push in the right direction is in the near future.

Update:  Randall Chase has this report for AP.

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