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Social Networking Fears Befuddle Some Courts, Lawyers

"What is Twitter?" befuddled criminal defense attorney Scott Rosenblum asked after a St. Louis judge instructed a jury to stay away from it. Social networking Web sites like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace are creating a buzz in St. Louis area courts, where there are worries of the kind of jury misconduct seen elsewhere, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In some places, jurors have electronically polled friends about how to vote on a verdict. Some have revealed biases before deliberations. Experts say the quick and quiet communications provide an opportunity to skew justice.

Anne Reed, a Milwaukee attorney who blogs about juries, suggests that worries may have ballooned nationally because judges and lawyers are uncomfortable with new technology. "Most older lawyers and judges have no personal exposure to these ways of communicating," Reed said. "They've only heard about the scary things that their children are doing with it. So when it suddenly pops up unexpectedly in the courtroom, it's startling to them."

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CA Proposes To Cut Inmate Population By 8,000

California prison officials have proposed reducing their inmate population by 8,000 by the middle of next summer as part of a $400 million budget hit Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has laid on them, says the Sacramento Bee. State corrections director Matt Cate said his agency hopes to achieve the population reductions through parole changes, raising the dollar limit on grand theft, and giving inmates more time off for good behavior.

Cate did not provide line items on how his cost-cutting initiatives will add up to $400 million. He said he will send a package of bills to the legislature this week. The package's approval is needed for the changes on parole, the time credits and the dollar-value adjustments on property crimes such as grand theft, which have not been changed since 1982.

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New Execution-Retardation Issue At High Court

04.27.09deathchamber

A case that began with a child's brutal murder in the basement of an abandoned Cincinnati building goes to the U.S. Supreme Court today, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. The court's decision could mean life or death for the killers convicted in the 1992 case - even though they may be retarded. Aaron Raines, 10, was kidnapped from a park; police found his body that night.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded defendants were ineligible for the death penalty. An Ohio could then determined that one of the convicts in the Cincinnati case was was mentally retarded and should be moved off death row. The other defendant's claim of mental retardation with the court is pending. The high court now must decide whether holding a post-conviction hearing to determine the mental capacity of anyone sentenced to death before the 2002 ruling violates double jeopardy.

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To Save Money, Cleveland Police To Drive Black Cars

Cleveland police cars may become unrecognizable, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer: The classic black-and-white cruiser will be replaced in phases by cars that feature a mostly black paint job. The cars will be all black with "Cleveland Police" on the side, the word "Police" in large blue letters framed by dynamic white stripes. The Cleveland Police logo behind the front wheel well is small and understated.

The motive for change isn't the element of surprise; it's saving cash. "We'll save $750 per car," said Lt. Thomas Stacho, police spokesman. The savings is in the cost of the custom black-and-white paint job, since the cars come standard in black. The city plans to purchase 102 new full-size police cruisers soon, and the new scheme will save $76,500. The savings on the entire fleet would be closer to $300,000.

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Gun Sales Surge: Buyers Don't Trust Obama

On the gun counter at Ace Sporting Goods in Washington County, Pa., reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, customers are greeted with a picture of President Barack Obama next to the caption, "Salesman of the Year." The publisher of The Outdoor Wire, an online publication for the outdoors industry, credited Obama with sparing the gun industry the same kind of slump that has decimated the automakers. The White House denies planning to pursue gun controls, but many gun owners don't trust the president.

The surge in sales actually began during the election, when then-candidate Obama emerged as the front-runner. It intensified after he won. Many of those buyers are first-time gun owners. More than 4.2 million firearms background checks were performed from November 2008 through January, an increase of more than 31 percent above the 3.2 million checks from the same period a year earlier.

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Internet Making Sex-Crime Enforcement Harder

Internet advertising makes enforcement of laws against the sex trade more difficult than in the past because the industry is no longer confined to the streets. There, Dallas vice squad Lt. Christina Smith tells the Dallas Morning News, "you stop, you make the case, and you have the arrest." With prostitutes on the Internet and customers cruising from their homes, officers must browse the sites, make a phone call to set up a "date," wait for a call back, then go to the location – where the suspect may or may not show up. "It definitely is more time-consuming," she said.

Discerning who is looking for paid sex from who's just looking for NSA (no strings attached) sex is difficult. The ads often use acronyms or code words. A "cuddy buddy" is a "friend with sexual benefits." A reference to "150 roses" or "flowers" means $150 in exchange for sex. Dallas police have learned to read between the lines. "I have a little cheat sheet of the terminology," Smith said. "Oh, that's what they're talking about."  Smith said that to avoid becoming a victim, users should be cautious and refrain from risky behavior.

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Nearly 1/4 Of High School Students Get Drug Offers At School

There were 1.7 million victims of nonfatal crimes at school involving students ages 12-18 in 2006, including 909,500 thefts and 767,000 violent crimes (simple assault and serious violent crime), say the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education in a new compilation of school safety data. The report also found that in 2007, 8 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon in the previous 12 months, and 22 percent reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property.

During the 2005–06 school year, 86 percent of public schools reported that at least one violent crime, theft, or other crime occurred at their school. The full report can be found at the U.S. Bureau of Justice  Statistics Web site.

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Arizona Travelers Worry About Drug Crime

Phoenix's image as a mecca for golfers, conventioneers, and snowbirds is being clouded by dark tales of brutal Mexican drug cartels snatching rival smugglers from homes and holding them for ransom, says the Arizona Republic. The result is anxious travelers faced with frightening headlines, and worried politicians and tourism officials trying to cope with what they call exaggerated tales of violence. "I'm concerned about the city's image," Mayor Phil Gordon said. "When I travel to places like Washington or Chicago, people ask me what's going on here. Some people have the impression that we're some kind of cowboy city instead of the fifth-largest city in America."

Although the 725 kidnappings-for-ransom in Phoenix during the past two years have been mostly bad guys abducting other bad guys from drophouses full of smuggled immigrants and drugs, congressional leaders are publicly warning that that could change. "Innocent victims are at risk of being caught in the crossfire," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), during a recent meeting of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He is chairman of the committee, whose hearing last week in Phoenix on border violence helped shine a national spotlight on the problem.

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Odds Low For Woman's Execution In Florida

Will Casey Anthony of Orlando face the death penalty if convicted of killing her daughter, Caylee? It's not statistically likely, says the Orlando Sentinel Only one of 392 current death-row inmates in the state is a woman. Only 16 have been singled out to be executed in 82 years; the lives of 13 were spared when the sentences were vacated or commuted to life.

Death-penalty expert Victor Streib said there are few women on death row across the U.S. because only about one in 10 murders is committed by a woman. Those killings usually don't rise to the level of death-penalty cases — ones considered especially heinous, ones committed by violent habitual offenders or those committed during another crime, said Streib, a law professor at Ohio Northern University. Society sees women as the "source of life," Streib said, and there is a general urge to protect them. Juries could be biased, finding it harder to condemn a woman to death than a man. Florida executed Judy "The Black Widow" Buenoano in 1998 and Aileen Wuornos in 2002.

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When Census Taker Calls, Where Do Inmates Really Live?

About 13,500 inmates live in 13 prisons in one state Senate district in rural upstate New York. Sen. Elizabeth Little believes they should be counted in the census as area residents, says the Washington Post.  Civil liberties groups and the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative says counting inmates distorts population numbers in New York and other states, showing rural areas more populous than they are and undercounting urban areas. States rely on population to draw legislative districts.

The Census Bureau has no plans to change the way it counts prisoners in 2010. Spokesman Robert Bernstein said, "We're following the concept of 'usual residence' -- where the person lives and sleeps most of the time." The Prison Policy Initiative says that seven New York state legislative districts would not meet their minimum population requirement without including inmates.

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