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Light Penalties Given In NYC Police Officer Chokehold Cases

From 2009 to 2013, a New York City police oversight board substantiated nine complaints by people who said  police officers restrained them with a chokehold, a banned tactic that may have played a role in the death of a Staten Island man last week, the New York Times reports. In each of the nine cases, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that investigates police misconduct, recommended that the Police Department pursue the strongest form of punishment for the officers: an administrative trial, which could lead to termination.

The police commissioner has the final say, and in all but one of the cases decided, the officers were not disciplined, or were given the lightest possible sanction: a review of the rules. The department’s response in the nine cases raised uncomfortable questions for the Police Department, which prohibits chokeholds because of the risk of serious injury or death, but in practice appears to treat the maneuver as little more than a lapse.

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Number Of Unaccompanied Kids Crossing TX Border Drops, White House Says

The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in recent weeks appears to be dropping substantially, reports The Hill. While an average of 355 unaccompanied children crossed the Rio Grande every day in June, an average of 150 migrant children per day were apprehended crossing the border over the first two weeks of July, said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. Earnest said it was unclear why the numbers had dropped, though he said the White House believes the administration’s “response and efforts to work with Central American leaders to publicize the dangers of the journey,” and efforts to tell immigrants they’d be sent back to their home countries, “have all played a part.”

Despite the decrease in migrant children captured across the border, the White House is still encouraging Congress to pass the $3.7 billion supplemental immigration request it unveiled this month. Earnest said “efforts to support deterrence, address the root causes of migration and build our capacity to provide the appropriate care for unaccompanied children and adults traveling with children” remained “critical to managing the situation.” Also yesterday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that he planed to deploy 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the border in a bid to address the crisis. 


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U.S. Criminal Justice System Now The Caretaker Of The Mentally Ill

An overwhelmed criminal justice system has become the de facto caretaker of Americans who are mentally ill and emotionally disturbed, says USA Today. From police departments and prisons to courthouses and jails, the care of those who are mentally ill weighs on law enforcement authorities, many of whom acknowledge they lack both resources and expertise to deal with the crushing responsibility. In a series, the newspaper will explore the human and financial costs the U.S. pays for not caring more about nearly 10 million people with serious mental illness.

About 1.2 million people in state, local and federal custody reported some kind of mental health problem, a 2006 Justice Department analysis concluded. Though the report included a broad definition of "problems'' — from mere symptoms to severe illness — the numbers represented 64 percent of those in jails, 56 percent of state prison inmates and 45 percent in the federal prison system. In one of the nation's largest detention systems, Chicago's Cook County Jail, Sheriff Tom Dart keeps a running tally of the incoming mentally ill cases on his Twitter account.

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Will Federal Prisoners Get Legal Help To Reduce Their Drug Sentences?

Most lower federal courts have ruled that federal prisoners do not  have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the sentence modification proceedings judges must conduct to reduce retroactive sentencing guidelines. Consequently, none of the nearly 50,000 federal drug offense prisoners who may soon become eligible for a reduced sentence have any right to legal assistance in seeking this reduced sentence, says Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman on his Sentencing Law and Policy blog..

Many federal public defender offices have traditionally made considerable efforts to provide representation to those seeking reduced sentences.  But even the broadest guideline reductions applied retroactively in the past (which were crack guideline reductions) applied only to less than 1/3 of the number of federal prisoners now potentially eligible for reductions under the new reduced drug guidelines. Berman suspects that public defenders are unlikely to be able to provide significant legal help to a significant number of drug offenders who will be seeking modified sentences under the new reduced drug guidelines.

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FBI To Start Recording Interrogations; False Confessions Still Possible

The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies soon will begin recording the interrogations they conduct, says NPR. It's a reversal of decades of policy and, the Obama administration says, a demonstration that agents act appropriately, without coercing suspects. Some big loopholes remain in the policy, though. Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project says that "recording, although it's not perfect, will go a long way to not only creating a neutral record, not only helping police, but also being able to demonstrate when a false confession occurs."

Keith Swisher, a professor at Arizona Summit Law School, argues that even innocent people can be coerced into false confessions under pressure from authorities. "Many of us will give them the answer these authorities want to hear," he says. "It's even a more dangerous situation when you have intellectually disabled individuals being interrogated or you have young individuals being interrogated."

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Border Crisis Leads To More Federal Investigations Of Money-Laundering

The increasingly costly and divisive border crisis is pushing federal investigators to crack down on money-laundering schemes they say are being used to smuggle thousands of Central American children into the U.S., reports the Los Angeles Times. Agents from the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), are targeting suspicious patterns of deposits and withdrawals through "funnel accounts" held at U.S. banks.

Human-smuggling rings are using such bank transactions to fund their activities, officials said. In recent months, the arrests of several low-level money launderers, drivers, scouts and guides have bolstered and expanded the government's ongoing effort. Nearly 57,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, have been apprehended crossing into the U.S. since Oct. 1, overwhelming Border Patrol stations and social services. As a result, federal anti-money-laundering agents who once focused on dismantling violent drug cartels are turning their investigative firepower to human-smuggling networks.

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How St. Petersburg Mayor Went Off The List To Find New Police Chief

A day after St. Petersburg, Fl., Mayor Rick Kriseman interviewed his top four candidates for police chief last month and introduced them to the community in a public meet-and-greet, he got on a plane to Dallas. He was  unsettled, unconvinced that any was the right fit, says the Tampa Bay Times. At a conference that weekend, Kriseman sought advice from other mayors. They all had the same message: Don't settle. Don't be afraid to scrap the list.

Over the next several days, Kriseman put out feelers for chiefs he might want to recruit. One, it turned out, was close to home: Clearwater, Fl., Police Chief Anthony "Tony" Holloway. Kriseman cold called him, and liked him immediately. Two weeks later, they met at a diner outside both their cities. Kriseman said he asked Holloway the same questions he'd asked the others. This time, he liked everything he heard. "I came away very impressed and convinced this was the guy," Kriseman said yesterday, a few hours after officially announcing Holloway as the new chief. "The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was." Praise poured in for Holloway, 52.

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Could High Court Cellphone Ruling Curtail Federal Post-9/11 Surveillance?

Privacy rights advocates hope the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling last month on cellphone privacy will have a broad impact on the clash between privacy and technology, perhaps leading to decisions striking down the government's post-9/11 surveillance of Americans' telephone records, says USA Today. The justices' 9-0 ruling that police need a warrant to search a cellphone was arguably the most significant of the 2013-14 term. Unlike cases decided by 5-4 margins, Chief Justice John Roberts' cellphone opinion was notable for "the emphatic, emphatic message from the court that digital is different," says Jeffrey Fisher, the Stanford University law professor who successfully argued one of the two cellphone cases, Riley v. California.

Now the question is: How different? Different enough to topple a 35-year-old court precedent that denied privacy protection to telephone records shared with third parties? Different enough to call into question the use of drones, surveillance cameras and other forms of high-tech snooping? Different enough to jeopardize national security operations? Theodore Simon, incoming president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, foresees "a sea change in how one would look at future cases that in any way involve searches and seizures, and where there is the possibility of the revelation of significant personal data."

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Some TX Defendants Draw Detective Checking Their Poverty Claims

Some criminal defendants requesting a court-appointed lawyer in Waco, Texas' McLennan County have received something very different: a visit from a detective, reports the Texas Tribune. Last November, the county assigned sheriff’s detective Eric Carrizales to investigate whether defendants requesting a lawyer are really as poor as they say they are. Local officials praised the unusual idea as a way to save the county money by rooting out false claims by people who can afford to hire a private attorney.

The scheme has drawn criticism from criminal defense advocates, who warn that low-income defendants are being intimidated into waiving their right to a lawyer. “It’s savings at the expense of defendants' rights,” said Andrea Marsh of the Texas Fair Defense Project, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the public defense system. “Defendants are not pursuing counsel because they don’t want to let an investigator into their house.” The issue highlights the challenges facing Texas’ county-based approach to meeting the constitutional obligation of providing lawyers to those who can’t afford one. Texas ranked among the bottom five states in per-capita spending on indigent defense in 2008, according to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

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Decriminalization Of Sex Work Could Sharply Decrease HIV Infections: Study

The decriminalization of sex work could significantly decrease global HIV infections among female sex workers, leading to a reduction of at least a third in three countries examined by researchers, says a new study reported by the Washington Post. In a paper presented today at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, researchers who studied HIV among female sex workers in Canada, India and Kenya concluded that infections could be reduced by 33 to 46 percent in those countries.

“Across all settings, decriminalization of sex work could have the largest impact on the HIV epidemic among sex workers over just 10 years,” said Kate Shannon, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, the study's lead author. “Governments and policymakers can no longer ignore the evidence.”

 

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TCR at a Glance

The ‘War’ Against Whistleblowers

July 19, 2014

Hackers and free speech activists gather in New York to denounce what they call unprecedented government efforts to prosecute leakers

Indigent Defense Spending Stalled

new & notable July 18, 2014

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that government spending on indigent defense steadily dropped from 2008 to 2012