Recently in Notorious Cases Category

An Officer Doing His Job

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Barry Latzer, Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has this article at City Journal.

The case against Pantaleo rests on the supposed chokehold that he used to make the arrest. He never sought to choke Garner to death, or even injure him. He was doing his job, taking a resisting man to the ground, as NYPD regulations provide. Had Garner been cooperative, as the officers requested, the confrontation would never have happened. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way," Pantaleo's partner had told him.
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Police should not be afraid to carry out their duties. The Pantaleo case tells cops that, even if they're just doing their job, they can't count on institutional support if the incident becomes a media sensation. New York City's safety, like that of any city, depends on police feeling secure in performing their duties. It's time to end Officer Pantaleo's ordeal. NYPD chief James O'Neill and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions should step up to the plate and dismiss the unwarranted charges against him.

Liberals Discover Problems with Clemency

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For years on this blog, I have campaigned against scattershot clemency for federal felons. While there is without doubt a place for clemency, and the Framers were wise to make it available to the Executive Branch, it can also be abused  --  as my liberal critics suddenly discovered over the weekend.  This was after years of their telling us that America needs to be a land of mercy and second chances, that we're too quick to look to punishment rather than understanding, there's an inherent political influence in prosecution and sentencing, and that older people in particular are good bets to remain in (or to be returned to) the community, because they're unlikely to re-offend and, well, simply because it's inhumane to incarcerate the elderly.

If anyone heard liberals repeat a single word of this years-long refrain in connection with Sheriff Joe, please quote it and link to it.  I sure haven't.

Pardoning Sheriff Joe

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President Trump pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio Friday, as he hinted he would at the earlier rally in Phoenix.  Arpaio was the Sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix.  Shane Harris has this article in the WSJ on the divided reaction within the Republican Party.  The WSJ also has this editorial on the negative side of the reaction.

Retaining Counsel With Dirty Money

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Nicole Hong reports for the WSJ, "Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán, the Mexican drug lord awaiting trial in New York, wants to hire private lawyers. But they may have to join the case without any assurance of getting paid."

Guzmán is presently represented by the federal defender.  His potential private lawyers want "blanket, prospective assurance" from the government that the money he uses to pay them won't be forfeited.  The government, unsurprisingly, said "fuggedaboudit," or something to that effect.

See this post from last year on the Supreme Court's fractured decision in Luis v. United States and Dean Mazzone's article that I linked to yesterday.  Continuing with the WSJ article:

Mr. Guzmán wants to hire a team led by Jeffrey Lichtman, most well-known for securing an acquittal for John A. Gotti, son of the notorious mob boss. The team also includes A. Eduardo Balarezo, William Purpura and Marc Fernich, all of whom have had experience defending mobsters or drug traffickers.
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"This is still America. The man deserves not only his choice of counsel, but he deserves a fair trial," Mr. Lichtman said.
Um, yes, this is still America, but a defendant does not have, and never has had in this country, a choice of counsel he does not have the money to pay for.  Indigent defendants get the counsel they are appointed.  Is the rule any different for a defendant who has money obtained illegally and forfeitable to the government?  No, but tracing the money can get complicated.

As for the right to a fair trial, is every trial in which the defendant is represented by a public defender inherently unfair?  I don't think so.

Evil or Crazy?

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When a shocking incident such as the Charlottesville car-murder occurs, we have to wonder if the perpetrator is evil or crazy.  Six years ago, Jared Loughner killed six people and wounded many others at a congressional event in Tucson, Arizona, and most people initially believed it was an act of political terrorism.  It turned out Loughner was floridly schizophrenic.

From the picture emerging out of Virginia, it appears that James Fields is mostly evil but maybe a little crazy.  Dake Kang and Sarah Rankin have this story for AP.  Along with being an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, it appears that he beat his own mother and threatened her with a knife.  He also was diagnosed with schizophrenia at one point, but it does not appear so far that his mental illness was on the same scale as Loughner's.

Bill argues in this post that the crime calls for the death penalty.  At this point, Fields has been charged with second-degree murder, which would preclude that sentence.  The charge could be upgraded as further facts develop, however.  Stay tuned.
Zusha Elinson reports for the WSJ:

SAN FRANCISCO--During his campaign, President Donald Trump repeatedly pointed to the wrenching story of Kate Steinle--a young woman allegedly murdered by an undocumented Mexican--as a prime example of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

Now, the man accused of killing Ms. Steinle, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, will soon be on trial, refocusing attention on an issue that Mr. Trump has continued to emphasize as president.
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The defendant, a repeat felon who was deported five times, has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder of Ms. Steinle, 32, while she walked on pier with her father on July 1, 2015. The single bullet that killed Ms. Steinle ricocheted off the ground before hitting her, ballistics experts have testified.
Elinson goes on to note the irrelevant statistic, furnished by a criminology professor, that immigration in general does not increase crime rates.  That has nothing to do with anything at issue.  The defendant in this case is not just an immigrant.  He is a habitual criminal who has been repeatedly deported and just waltzed back over our porous border.  We need to have enough control over our border that alien criminals who are deported stay deported.  Those who oppose having that degree of control have the blood of the victims on their hands.

Road Rage Murder

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From Crime Watch PA:

The West Goshen Police Department and the Chester County District Attorney's Office continue their investigating of the homicide of Bianca Nikol Roberson, 18, of West Chester, PA.

On June 28, 2017, at approximately 5:30 p.m., law enforcement initially responded to a report of a serious automobile accident in the area of Route 100, just north of Route 202, that resulted in the death of Bianca Nikol Roberson, who was operating a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu.  Subsequent investigation revealed that Roberson suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

Law Enforcement have been interviewing numerous witnesses to the incident and have been reviewing several sources of video surveillance of the roadway and surrounding area.  Law Enforcement are requesting assistance with locating a red, possibly Chevrolet, pickup truck that was involved in the road rage incident with Bianca Roberson's vehicle and was seen fleeing from the scene.  The truck was last seen exiting Route 202 southbound, at Paoli Pike.  The driver of the truck is described as a white male, 30-40 years of age, blonde hair, and a medium build.  The West Goshen Police along with the Chester County District Attorney's Office continue to follow-up on multiple leads in the investigation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:  If you have information on this crime, any serious crime, or wanted person, call Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers Toll Free at 1-800-4PA-TIPS.  All callers remain anonymous and could be eligible for a CASH REWARD.
Chester County is west of Philadelphia.

Jury Nullification At Work

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How many times we have heard, mostly from libertarians, that juries should be free to disregard what they view as an unjust law, or even merely an over-reaching prosecution, to acquit a defendant even if, on the facts presented and the law given by the judge, the argument for a guilty verdict is emphatic?

The Internet is livid that a policeman was acquitted in the shooting death of Philando Castile.  The NYT has this (relatively restrained) story.

I cannot be sure, as no one outside the jury room can be sure, of the reason for this acquittal, which seems as wrong to me as it does to almost everyone commenting on it. From what I can see, even if the officer responded in panic and emotionally-charged over-reaction, he's still guilty of manslaughter.  I saw many cases over my years as a prosecutor, and the only "justification" I can discern for the outcome here is that the jury thought a police officer, always subject to mortal danger even in a "routine" traffic stop, should not be convicted no matter what.  This view may be seen by some as plausible or even compelling.  It is not the law.

This is the reason I've always argued that jurors must put aside personal views, no matter how strongly held, and follow the law, no matter how wrongheaded they think it to be. The alternative is scattershot vigilantism, the very thing civilization was developed to avoid.

Nullification fans, do you like your handiwork?

My View: Mueller Is Conflicted Out

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UPDATE:  An op-ed I adapted from this post was published today in USAToday. I am linking it in my entry this morning.

It's scarcely news by now that the appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of Bob Mueller to be Special Counsel to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 election is the Big Story in criminal law circles.

I know Mueller very slightly, having met him only once, when he was Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.  From what I know of his reputation, he is an honest, no-nonsense, effective prosecutor.

Under the present circumstances, however, and not without regret, I have concluded that he cannot continue to serve as Special Counsel.

Willingham Prosecutor Cleared

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The anti-death-penalty crowd very earnestly desires a case of a demonstrably innocent person actually executed, and if they can't find a real one they will just invent one.  Employing the Lenin Principle, if they can simply repeat enough times that Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent of burning to death his baby daughters, he will become innocent.  The original New Yorker article on the case was a shameless piece of propaganda, as demonstrated in this post.  After the first year, it seemed like we were making some progress on balanced coverage, as noted in this post, but as time went on the only people interested in the case were those with an anti-death-penalty agenda, and that has become the overwhelmingly dominant narrative.

In their quest, they went after the original prosecutor in the case for a claimed Brady disclosure violation.  Interestingly, in Texas you can take a bar discipline case to a local jury, so that is what former prosecutor (and now judge) John Jackson did.

Regrettably, the only coverage on the decision I can find is by the Marshall Project, an advocacy group masquerading as journalists.  So we have to take the story with a heaping tablespoon of salt.  The WaPo is printing this report instead of devoting actual journalism resources to it.  Update:  Michael Kormos has this article on the verdict in the Corsicana Daily Sun, the local paper for the venue.  Regrettably, the article has no information on the trial or the evidence presented that convinced the jury the charges were groundless.

Remembering the Boston Marathon Murders

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The Boston Marathon murders four years ago were shocking even to those of us whose prosecution experience has shown us some of the worst in human nature. The only good thing I ever heard of to come out of it is reflected in this story from boston.com. 

Image result for martin richard
You cannot make this up:

WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) - The man accused of killing two people in Howland during a shooting on his property butted heads with the prosecutor during his arraignment on Thursday.

Nasser Hamad is facing two counts of capital murder and six counts of attempted murder charges with gun specifications.

During a hearing Thursday, Hamad questioned whether Prosecutor Chris Becker was Jewish and then accused him of threatening his son.

But it gets better.  The defense lawyer also chimed in.

How soft do we have to get on our very worst criminals before people stop accusing us of being inhumane to them?  The case of Norway demonstrates that there is no limit, so we might as well not even worry about that.

As noted on this blog back in 2011, Anders Breivik's sentence of 21 years comes to about 14 weeks per life taken.  The lives of innocent people are pretty cheap in Norway if you only get 14 weeks for taking one.

Yet, as noted here last year, a Norway court found that even this outrageously lenient sentence was being executed inhumanely because Breivik's "three-room prison suite furnished with a treadmill, a refrigerator, a DVD player, a Sony PlayStation, a desk, a television, and a radio" was too isolated.

Today, Agence France-Presse reports:

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has not been treated "inhumanely" by being held in isolation in prison, an Oslo appeals court has ruled, overturning a lower court judgment.

"Breivik is not, and has not, been subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment," it said.

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Sally Yates and Me

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I was never Deputy Attorney General or Acting Attorney General or anything close. But a long time ago, in my days in the US Attorney's Office, I had my Sally Yates moment.  As a mostly obscure, but in that one instance somewhat prominent, federal prosecutor, I disagreed with the White House about the proper litigating position in a high profile case, one that was on its way to the Supreme Court.

Ms. Yates chose her path.  I chose a different one.  

El Chapo in U.S. District Court

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Nicole Hong reports for the WSJ:

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the Mexican drug lord who evaded U.S. authorities for years and built a billion-dollar narcotics empire, is expected to make his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom on Friday.

Mr. Guzmán, who successfully escaped twice from maximum-security prisons in Mexico, was extradited to the U.S. late Thursday. His arrival came as a surprise to many, even to U.S. officials, who said Friday that they didn't know he was coming until the day of the extradition.
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