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Activists, Prosecutors Call For Changes To OK Rape Law After Ruling

Activists and prosecutors in Oklahoma called for changes to a state law on forced oral sex after a court rejected the prosecution of a teenage boy in Tulsa because his 16-year-old accuser had been intoxicated to the point of unconsciousness, the New York Times reports. “Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation,” said the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling. Advocates for rape victims said the decision was not surprising given the inconsistency of state sexual assault laws that leave legal gray areas. Some experts said the ruling should jolt states into examining their laws.

Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania-based National Sexual Violence Resource Center said, “Each state does have a unique set of laws, and you do find, unfortunately, sometimes that things you thought were covered aren’t.” Kansas law clearly states what Oklahoma does not: It includes a line for when the victim “is incapable of giving consent because of the effect of any alcoholic liquor, narcotic, drug or other substance.” The Oklahoma case involved on a 17-year-old boy who was accused of rape after he and a group of high school students gathered in a Tulsa park to drink and smoke marijuana in 2014. Witnesses said the girl had been drifting in and out of unconsciousness and had been unable to walk.

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California Marriage Fraud Case Tied To San Bernardino Terrorists

FBI agents have made three arrests for alleged marriage fraud among relatives and a friend of last year's San Bernardino terrorists, the Los Angeles Times reports. Syed Raheel Farook, brother of gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, and his wife were charged conspiring to create a sham marriage between Enrique Marquez Jr. and Mariya Chernykh. Chernykh was charged with fraud, misuse of visas, perjury and lying to federal investigators. Prosecutors said they determined Marquez was paid $200 a month for marrying Chernykh, who took part in the wedding only to gain legal status in the U.S.

The arrests were the latest development in the FBI's widening investigation into the attacks carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik. The couple died in a gun battle with law officers after the killings. “We owe the victims, and the entire community of San Bernardino, a thorough investigation that uncovers all criminal activity surrounding these events,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.

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Iowa Sentencing Reform Expected To Reduce Minority Numbers In Prison

Legislation aimed at reforming criminal sentencing laws for low-risk inmates convicted of drug crimes and providing more flexibility for robbery cases was approved by the Iowa House and Senate this week, reports the Des Moines Register. The bill, which was sent to Gov. Terry Branstad, is expected to help reduce the number of minorities behind bars, particularly African Americans, said Sen. Steve Sodders, chairman of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee. African Americans constitute about 25 percent of Iowa’s prison population, while they comprise only 3.3 percent of the state’s population.

The bill allows nonviolent drug offenders who are not classified as high-risk to re-offend to be eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of their mandatory minimum sentence. The legislation will be retroactive, and will apply to current inmates as well as new prisoners. It does not apply to offenders assessed as high-risk to re-offend for either violence or victimization, and it will not eliminate minimum mandatory sentences. The legislation also creates a new offense of third-degree robbery, which would be an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years behind bars. Advocates said it would provide more flexibility for the justice system. It would apply to cases in which people involved in robberies commit a simple assault, allowing them to avoid a felony charge and a longer prison sentence.

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State District Attorneys Back New Version Of Federal Sentencing Reform

A new version of the U.S. Senate's pending bill to change federal sentencing practices is due out today, and the National District Attorneys Association is endorsing it. NDAA represents 2500 elected and appointed district attorneys at the state level and their 30,000 assistants. The group told Senate leaders this week, that after "months of changes and good faith negotiations, our organization feels the latest version of the bill strikes the appropriate balance between targeting the highest level drug traffickers plaguing our communities, while simultaneously decreasing crime rates and addressing the burgeoning prison population." 

NDAA President William Fitzpatrick, District Attorney of Onondaga County, N.Y., noted that, "Communities across this country have shifted to embrace rehabilitation and the opinion that certain individuals in our federal prison system are serving sentences that are too long compared to the crime they committed." The revised bill makes clear that the "three strikes" rule for drug crimes applies "to serious violent felonies, ensuring that we use prison for those we are afraid of, not those whom we are mad at based on their behavior,"  NDAA said. The new bill limits the retroactivity of sentencing reductions that would keep "truly dangerous individuals" locked up, Fitzpatrick said. This afternoon, senators led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) will release the new version of the bill and announce new co-sponsors.
 

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White House Presses States To Reduce Solitary Confinement In Prisons

The Obama administration is pressing individual states to join its mission to cut back on the use of solitary confinement in prisons, in the hope of reining in a practice that is still widespread despite having been denounced as potentially amounting to torture, The Guardian reports. The drive from the White House and Justice Department is tacit recognition that without the cooperation of state corrections departments and legislatures, the goal of reducing solitary confinement will remain a pipe dream. There are as many as 100,000 people in segregated cells in the U.S., a number that sets the country apart from most of the rest of the world and exceeds the entire prison populations of countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

President Obama has announced reforms that would dramatically reduce the use of solitary, or “restrictive housing”, in the federal prison system, which accounts for only 10,000 of the total in solitary. The administration is spreading the message by incorporating its 50 "guiding principles" on the use of solitary into the National Institute of Corrections training program for corrections officers, and it has worked with the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice, which is pioneering a new approach to incarceration called “safe alternatives to segregation.” The administration also is encouraging professional bodies such as the American Correctional Association and the Association of State Correctional Administrators to wield their influence at the state level.

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Las Vegas Crime Up 15%; Gangs, Prison Releases, Heroin Blamed

Violent crime is up 15 percent this year in Las Vegas after rising five percent last year, says Clark County, Nv., Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas Sun reports. "I'm losing a lot of sleep over the issue," Lombardo said. "The most important thing I can do is provide a blanket of safety to this community. About half of this year's 62 homicides are linked to gang activity, Lombardo said. He has reconfigured his gang unit to focus on specific gangs rather than just "driving around and hoping you encounter the right people."

Lombardo blames the increase in violence partly on "depopulation of prisons across the nation,"  including inmate releases under California's Proposition 47, which reduced some felonies to misdemeanors. University of Nevada Las Vegas criminologist Emily Salisbury theorized that the rise in violent crime could be due to the availability and purity of heroin and the gangs that fight over control of the market.

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