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ATF: It's Illegal For Medical-Marijuana Patients To Have Guns

A new memo from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says it is illegal for him or any registered medical-marijuana patient to own or possess firearms or ammunition, reports USA Today. Last week's letter from the ATF's Arthur Herbert gave federal firearms licensees guidance on what to do if a firearms customer reveals that he or she is a medical-marijuana patient.

Jon Svaren, a 15-year Navy veteran who was honorably discharged in 2009, is a medical-marijuana patient who is recovering from a surgery last November to repair a severe injury to his back. Svaren is also a gun owner who hunts and uses guns on the farm to control vermin. "To take away my Second Amendment rights is contrary to everything I've ever fought for and contrary to every oath of enlistment I've taken," Svaren said. "Marijuana is a lightning-rod subject," said Dave Workman of the newspaper Gun Week. "The media — and the gun prohibitionist lobby in particular — would say the gun lobby wants to arm drug addicts."

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Is California Prisoner Realignment a "Bait and Switch" Plan?

Los Angeles County expects 15,000 additional criminals under California's justice realignment plan that takes effect tomorrow, NPR reports. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is not happy. "This has all the markings of a bait and switch," he says. The state is sending the county $120 million to take care of its prisoners for the next nine months. Yaroslavsky has seen the state play this game before. "They promise us everything now, they shift this huge responsibility from the state to the counties now, and then a year or two or three from now, they will forget about that commitment, and it'll be — then was then and now is now, and we'll be left holding the bag," he says.

Starting tomorrow, those convicted of nonviolent crimes, mostly drug offenses, won't be sent off to state prison anymore — they'll be locked up locally. On top of more prisoners, there will be more parolees. Nonviolent criminals released from state prison will now be placed under the supervision of L.A.'s already troubled probation department. In the first year, that could add as many as 8,000 cases to local officers' workloads. L.A. Probation Chief Donald Blevins says, "I've never seen a period of time where there is so much change with regard to the criminal justice system. I'll be honest with you: I think it's welcome change; I think it's time to do things differently."

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Congress Weakens The Need to Prove Criminal Intent

For centuries, the notion of mens rea, Latin for "guilty mind," has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. Latin for a "guilty mind." The Wall Street Journal says this legal protection is being eroded as the federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them. What once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time.

In 1790, the first federal criminal code listed fewer than 20 federal crimes. Today there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, plus thousands more embedded in federal regulations. One controversial new law can hold animal-rights activists criminally responsible for protests that cause the target of their attention to be fearful, regardless of the protesters' intentions. More than 40 percent of nonviolent offenses created or amended during two recent Congresses had "weak" mens rea requirements at best, says the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Rep James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chairman of the House crime subcommittee, wants to clean up the definition of criminal intent as part of a broader revamp of the criminal code. "How the definition of mens rea is applied is going to be one of the more difficult areas to figure out a way to fix," he said.

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Court Monitor Says Detroit Police Have Finished Most Reforms

A court-appointed federal monitor gave the Detroit Police Department high marks in its eight-year effort to reform the force, the Detroit Free Press reports. Monitor Robert Warshaw said the department has complied with 78 percent of the reforms it agreed to carry out in 2003 to curb excessive force, mistreatment of prisoners in police lockups, and illegal arrests of potential witnesses at homicide scenes.

Warshaw credited Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. for inspiring the department to embrace the reforms. Warshaw said the department still has problems, including reviewing and investigating use of force incidents in a timely manner. Warshaw's report came soon after a man sued the department and two officers in federal court, saying they sucker-punched him at the MGM Grand Detroit casino in July and filed false assault charges against him. The man's lawyer released a video of the episode Monday.

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CA Survey Finds Voters Staunchly Support Death Penalty

As death penalty opponents work to get a ballot measure before California voters next fall to abolish capital punishment, a new Field Poll indicates the initiative would be a tough sell, reports the Sacramento Bee. More than two-thirds of state voters – 68 percent – favor keeping the death penalty, the poll found, with 27 percent favoring abolition and 5 percent expressing no opinion.

"We've polled on this for 55 years," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. "It's changed a little here and there, but just removing the death penalty as a potential punishment is opposed. That's pretty clear." Death penalty opponents launched an effort in August to replace capital punishment with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, something they said would save the state millions of dollars each year. On that point, the new poll found that more voters – 48 percent – now support imposing a life-without-parole sentence for first-degree murderers than those who favor the death penalty – 40 percent – in such cases. "I think what the public had in mind is the use of the death penalty for very heinous crimes, like multiple cop killings or terrorists," DiCamillo said.

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Dead Man Appeals Homicide Conviction From the Grave

A convicted Spokane, Wa., killer who committed suicide four days after he was sentenced to life in prison is appealing his case from the grave at taxpayers' expense, reports the Seattle Times. Christopher Devlin, 57, a long-haul truck driver, was convicted a year ago of killing a man who had been set to testify against him in an assault trial, and was sentenced to life in prison. More than a year ago, he was found dead of an overdose in his jail cell.

Despite his death, Devlin's attorneys and his sister, who had herself appointed trustee of his estate, are moving ahead with the appeal in hopes of clearing his name. They insist the state should pay for it because Devlin was broke when he died. For nearly a century,  convictions like Devlin's were automatically dismissed in Washington and most states if the defendant died before exhausting all of his appeals. Gregory Link, an attorney for Devlin, contends that a recent decision by the state Supreme Court  should clear the way for the appeal to move forward. Because Devlin's estate is insolvent, Link said, the appeal should be funded by the state. Spokane prosecutor Mark Lindsey disagrees.

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