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U.S. Senate Panel To Examine Police Rape Investigations

Concerned that police departments nationwide fail to investigate rapes fully, a congressional committee will examine the issue next week at a hearing spurred partly by a Baltimore Sun examination of the systemic underreporting of sex crimes. The Senate Crime and Drugs subcommittee has asked representatives of the Office of Violence Against Women to appear in Washington to discuss the problem, says the Sun, as well as a Pennsylvania woman jailed by police who erroneously accused her of making a false rape report.

The Sun reported in July that Baltimore for years led the nation in the percentage of rape cases in which police concluded that the victim was lying, with more than 3 in 10 cases called "unfounded." Other cities have seen disturbingly high percentages of uninvestigated or dropped race cases in years past, and a women's advocate in Philadelphia pushed for the congressional hearing after the Sun's investigation reignited concerns. The newspaper's report "made me believe that all of the issues [in other cities] were not just idiosyncratic problems, but that there is likely a chronic and systemic failure in police departments," said Carol Tracy, head of the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia. "I think it's important to expose it, and to encourage the federal government, which has very little jurisdiction around this, to nevertheless exercise greater accountability on the data that it does receive." Tracy's group reviews rape reports marked as unfounded by Philadelphia police. The hearing was authorized by panel chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.)

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Complaints Against Detroit Police Up 36% In 8 Years

Citizen complaints against the Detroit Police Department continue to rush in at more than 1,700 a year, showing that more needs to be done to clean up alleged misconduct, says the Detroit Free Press, quoting a report by the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.  The board said the complaints range from sexual harassment to excessive force. Twenty cases from 2009 were considered major offenses, resulting in the suspension of officers without pay.

The number of complaints has hovered around 1,700 annually since 2007, a 36 percent increase over 2002. The report faults the department for complying with only 39 percent of a 7-year-old federal consent decree aimed at rehabilitating an abusive department. Among the failures was a slow response to citizen complaints. The police board is urging the department to do a better job of recruiting police officers who "meet the moral and ethical requirements to be a Detroit Police officer." The recommendations include conducting more in-depth background investigations of applicants, holding recruitment fairs to hire Detroit residents, and clearly showing the standards and expectations of a police officer.

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"Unbelievable Malevolence" Cited In Boston Pizza Delivery Murder

Three people charged with killing a Boston pizza delivery man had a plan, a prosecutor said yesterday, and they carried it out with cold calculation. The three are accused of luring him to a vacant house, stabbed him repeatedly, and then taking what little he had, including the pizza. Two men and a woman, ages 17 to 20, were held in the killing of Richel Nova, 58.

The bloodstained pizza box was found under a car with three slices of pizza still inside. “Every new piece of evidence we uncover makes this crime more despicable,’’ Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said yesterday. “Taken together, they paint a picture of almost unbelievable malevolence.’’

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Pittsburgh Police Officers Get A Technology Upgrade

Today, in the front seat of each Pittsburgh patrol car is a sturdy, wireless laptop that generates maps, streams information from 911 calls and, with the swipe of an officer's "Smart Card," provides access to criminal databases, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We're creating this technology in-house," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Sixty patrol cars now have tiny printers that produce waterproof citations and can read and extract information from scanned driver's licenses.

Officers in one area are testing windshield-mounted video cameras that remotely upload footage when they drive within 300 feet of a station. A microphone on the officer's lapel records conversations during traffic stops, providing proof of what happened if disputes arise. "Obviously, the film won't lie," Ravenstahl said. The new technologies reduce paperwork and allow officers to return to the station less frequently, said Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson. The wealth of information also keeps officers safer, said Sgt. Eric Kroll, who coordinates new technology training. "There's no lost communication between 911 and the officer," he said.

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TN Gang Members Accused Of Faking Court-Ordered Local Service

To a group of suspected gang members in East Nashville, community service was just another racket: If you had enough money, you could buy your way out of it, The Tennessean reports. Federal prosecutors say the gang faked court-ordered community service work with the help of a local nonprofit devoted to fighting gangs and violence. Members acted with impunity, because of a lack of oversight by probation agencies.

A wide-ranging gang racketeering case exposed an apparent lack of checks and balances, allowing a handful of criminals to buy their way out of performing community work and cheating the criminal justice system of an alternative form of punishment, education, and rehabilitation. Administrators say budget constraints make it impossible to check on whether everyone ordered to perform community service work actually does it. Judges have dealt with the problem for years, sometimes creating their own systems of accountability where government has not.

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Prosecutors May Need Probable Cause For Cell Phone Locations

In the first appellate ruling on a cutting-edge privacy issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit declared that cell phone location data may trigger Fourth Amendment concerns and that prosecutors demanding access to such records may be required at times to satisfy a probable cause standard, reports The Legal Intelligencer. The ruling is a setback for the Justice Department, which  argued that judges are required under the Stored Communications Act to issue orders for access to such data whenever prosecutors show that it would be "material" and "relevant" to an ongoing investigation.

The appellate court largely adopted the position of a coalition of civil rights and privacy groups who argued that judges must be free to decide when to demand that prosecutors satisfy the probable cause standard. "Because the statute as presently written gives the magistrate judge the option to require a warrant showing probable cause, we are unwilling to remove that option although it is an option to be used sparingly," said U.S. Circuit Judge Dolores Sloviter. The ruling was hailed as an important protection of privacy rights by professor Susan Freiwald of the University of San Francisco School of Law, an expert in the area of privacy and technology, one of two lawyers arguing against the government. Freiwald said the larger importance of the appellate court's decision was the panel's rejection of the Justice Department's reading of the statute as well as the government's arguments about the modern-day implications of two significant decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s.

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After Fatal Crash, VA Won't Allow U.S. Work Permit Cards As ID

Virginia is no longer allowing federal work permit cards to prove someone's legal status when obtaining driver's licenses or identification cards after a fatal crash involving a Benedictine nun and a Bolivian man, accused of drunk driving, who immigrated to the U.S. illegally, the Washington Post reports. The state motor vehicle department changed its policy to remove the federal government's I-766 permit from the list of documents that can be used to demonstrate "proof of legal presence." A spokeswoman called last month's death of Sister Denise Mosier, 66, the "catalyst" for the change. Carlos Martinelly-Montano, 23, is accused of swerving into the path of a vehicle carrying Mosier and two other nuns on their way to a retreat.

Martinelly-Montano, who had entered the U.S. illegally at age 8 with his parents, had been awaiting a deportation hearing after convictions for drunken driving in 2007 and 2008. Immigrant advocacy groups decried the move as a political overreaction. "From a legal point of view, it's just plain stupid," said Crystal Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "There are so many people who are here legally, and that's the only documentation they are able to produce."

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NC Inmate Gets $10K Settlement; Says He Was Pepper Sprayed Naked

A North Carolina prison inmate won a $10,000 settlement from the state after filing a lawsuit alleging he was repeatedly pepper-sprayed by corrections officers - twice while he was naked, the Charlotte Observer reports. Inmate Bill Rayburn contended officers at Lanesboro Correctional Institution sprayed him four times last year after he asked to be moved away from an inmate who'd been threatening him. Then, Rayburn said, those officers refused to let him wash off the burning chemical.

An investigation by the state correction department found that employees involved in the incident had violated the agency's use-of-force policy. That policy says guards may use pepper spray to deter "violent, threatening or aggressive" inmates or to defend against an assault. Inmates are supposed to be given "an immediate opportunity" to wash off the chemicals. After that investigation, state officials replaced a top administrator at the prison and disciplined six other prison employees.

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Death Penalty: Uphill Challenge For CA Attorney General Candidate

California’s next attorney general must deal with a federal court challenge on prison overcrowding, a battle over gay marriage, how to proceed if a marijuana-legalization ballot measure passes, and whether to follow other states in cracking down on illegal immigration, among many issues, says Stateline.org. Voters have historically focused on one issue above all others in the attorney general's race —  how tough the candidate is on crime, even though it’s local district attorneys who are responsible for criminal prosecutions.

A Field poll this summer found 70 percent of Californians backing the death penalty. That’s why in this historically Democratic state, the Democratic candidate for AG, a twice-elected San Francisco district attorney, Kamala Harris, is widely thought to face an uphill battle in November against Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley. In contrast to Cooley, who is an unambiguous supporter of the death penalty, Harris personally opposes capital punishment, typically favoring life without parole. Harris has pledged to carry out capital punishment whenever her office handles a death row appeal, the same stance as current AG (and gubernatorial nominee) Jerry Brown, who also personally opposes the death penalty. Harris’ reputation for hesitancy in seeking capital punishment could be one of the biggest challenges she faces on the campaign trail.

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Veterans In Buffalo Federal Cases Can Enter Special Treatment Court

Former military members who end up in the federal criminal justice system in Buffalo, N.Y., may have a chance to enter a local court dedicated to their rehabilitation, reports MainJustice.com. It's the first time that military veterans charged with some federal crimes can participate in the Buffalo Veteran's Treatment Court, the first such tribunal in the U.S., established in 2008.

"As a lifelong prosecutor, I have sadly come to realize that our criminal justice system, with increasing regularity, finds itself coming into contact with individuals who are military veterans," said U.S. Attorney William Hochul. "Often times that contact is the result of mental health and/or drug and alcohol dependency issues related to their military service. Experience has shown that our traditional criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with these veterans." The Crime Report explored the issue of veterans and the criminal justice system in this series: http://thecrimereport.org/2009/11/10/from-the-battlefield-to-prison-troubled-soldiers-and-the-u-s-justice-system/

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