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California Says It Will Meet Prison Reduction Goal: California prison officials announced yesterday they expect to meet their long-term goal of reducing the prison population by 33,000 or 23 percent in an effort to relieve overcrowding in state prisons and provide better medical and mental health care for inmates. The state is relying primarily on a controversial law set to take effect October 1 that will shift thousands of low level offenders to local custody. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's projection conflicts with a report issued by a nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's office earlier this months urging the department to seek deadline extensions. Don Thompson of Associated Press has this story.

Missouri Maintains Death Penalty Procedure: Jim Salter of AP reports that U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey has rejected a challenge by Missouri inmates to the state's execution protocol. The lawsuit claimed that Missouri does not get valid prescriptions for its execution drugs and challenged the state's use of non-medical personnel to administer the drugs intravenously. Judge Laughrey ruled the inmates failed to show that anyone suffered as a result of non-medical personnel delivering the drugs. "Plaintiffs present neither an injury already suffered nor demonstrate any certainty that Plaintiffs will ever be subject to severe pain..." Joseph Luby, a Kansas City attorney who represented some of the inmates, said it was unclear whether they would appeal.

Plea Bargains Necessary, But Risky: Paul Rosynsky of the Oakland Tribune has this piece on the necessary, but sometimes troubling, function of plea bargaining in our criminal justice system. About 90 percent of all criminal cases charged in California are settled through plea bargains, according to Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. Levenson says the process is essential given the criminal justice system's dwindling resources, but can be risky. Highlighting the issue are the cases of Lawrence Denard and Willie Torrence, charged with shooting to death three-year-old Carlos Fernando Nava during a failed attempt to kill two rivals. Both men have violent criminal histories, but have been free to walk the streets as a result of plea bargains. "Every time you make a deal, you have to worry, 'Is this the bad apple that is going to cause trouble down the road?' " Levenson said. "It is the risk inherent in plea bargaining, and you hope you make the right decision."

Police Question Dugard Kidnappers About Other Missing Girl: Hayward, California investigators last week questioned Phillip and Nancy Garrido, the abductors of Jaycee Dugard, about the unsolved disappearance of nine-year-old Michaela Garecht in 1988. Phillip previously told police that he was responsible for at least three more abductions and dozens of date rapes, but denied responsibility for the high-profile disappearance of Garecht. Phillip and Nancy both continued to deny involvement during their recent interview with police, but investigators plan to look at evidence taken from their Antioch compound. Eric Kurhi of the Oakland Tribune has this story.

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