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News Scan

Federal Fingerprint Initiative:  Ivan Moreno of the AP reports on the controversial federal program that seeks to identify illegal immigrants using fingerprints taken during arrests - a program that might end up having a much greater impact on illegal immigration than the new Arizona law.  Part of the Secure Communities program, fingerprints of anyone arrested in a participating jurisdiction will be run against FBI and DHS immigration records to check the arrestee's immigration and prior arrest status.  Although most jurisdictions are not currently participating, 35,000 people have already been identified as illegal immigrants previously arrested for serious felonies and 205,000 as illegal immigrants arrested for less serious crimes, since 2007.  ICE plans on implementing the program in every jail in the country by 2013.  Opponents claim the law deters victims from reporting crimes and creates an incentive for racial profiling.

Polygamist's Rape Conviction Reversed:  The Utah Supreme Court today
reversed the rape convictions of Warren Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as reported by the AP.  (That's a splinter group, not the real Mormon Church.)  Jeffs was originally convicted in 2007 for performing a marriage ceremony between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin, but the court reversed and ordered a new trial based on improper jury instructions.  Jeffs currently faces criminal charges in Texas as well, including sexual assault of a child and aggravated assault, based on a 2008 church ranch raid.  An extradition hearing was canceled after today's ruling, and Texas authorities will have to initiate new proceedings to extradite Jeffs to face these charges.  

Zoloft Case Gets Re-Do:  Meg Kinnard of the AP reports that Christopher Pittman of South Carolina will be retried for killing his grandparents.  Pittman was 12-years-old when he shot his grandparents to death and set fire to their home.  Pittman's case gained notoriety when he claimed his use of the antidepresent drug Zoloft caused him to commit the crimes.  (See C&C previous post here.)  In an order today, South Carolina Circuit Judge Roger Young ordered a new trial based on Pittman's defense team's failure to adequately pursue a plea bargain or explain to Pittman the possible benefits of such a deal.


This "my lawyer was ineffective because I would have pled guilty to a lesser charge so I should get a new trial" argument needs to be interred. If you get a fair trial after rejecting a plea deal, then counsel was not ineffective in the constitutional sense. The right to counsel is there to secure a fair trial--if you get one, you cannot complain.

The Zoloft decision doesn't make sense. The defense attorneys are being faulted for not explaining to the defendant the difference in the sentences for murder (which is what he was convicted of) and voluntary manslaughter (which he was never charged with). I have spoken with people that were involved in the prosecution and no plea offer was ever made. To me, it appears nonsensical to find ineffective assistance of counsel based on the assertion that "I would have pled to that if I'd known about it" when that was NEVER an option. It sounds to me more of the post conviction relief judge second guessing the prosecution and defense on whether or not it SHOULD have been on the table. I have a feeling this "new trial" may be short lived once the state court of appeals weighs in on it (BTW- the defendant lost his direct appeal).

I'm interested in reading the judge's order. I checked South Carolina's court website, and it looks like they publish the circuit court orders a few days after they are released. If and when the order is released, I'll post a link to it.

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