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TX Court, In 5-4 Vote, Rejects Delay On Schizophrenic's Execution

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a request to delay the looming execution of a schizophrenic death row inmate, the Texas Tribune reports. Voting 5 to 4, the court cited jurisdictional grounds in declining to stay Scott Louis Panetti’s execution, scheduled for December 3. Panetti’s attorneys argue he is to incompetent to be put to death. The Wisconsin native was sentenced to death for the 1992 shooting deaths of his in-laws. At the time, Panetti, who represented himself at trial and dressed up in a cowboy suit in court, was a diagnosed schizophrenic and collected federal disability checks because he could not work. 

The 56-year-old’s mental health is deteriorating, his attorneys say, and his recent paranoid delusions have included believing that someone is putting “Satanic graffiti” on his cell walls, and that state officials are watching him through pumpkin decorations. The appeals court ruled that it couldn’t revisit a lower court’s refusal to grant a stay because his attorneys had not filed a proper motion “on or after the 20th day” before the scheduled execution. Dissenting Judge Elsa Alcala disagreed with the majority’s “overly formalistic interpretation.”  “This court, at best, deprives appellant of a fair opportunity to litigate his claims,” she wrote. “At worst, this court’s decision will result in the irreversible and constitutionally impermissible execution of a mentally incompetent person.” 

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Significant Reforms Still Likely In DOJ Probe Of Ferguson Police

"The federal civil investigation into the Ferguson Police Department will continue and has the potential to result in some very significant reforms," William Yeomans, who supervised police investigations as a top Justice Department official, tells the Los Angeles Times. The civil investigation into the Ferguson Police Department is examining whether there is a pattern of violations of citizens' rights. Such investigations can take considerable time but are more likely to yield results than federal criminal investigations, experts say.

Justice Department officials say investigators are looking into whether Ferguson police have a history of using excessive force against suspects and are examining past lawsuits against five of the city's police officers, including one in which a man with mental health problems was killed with a Taser. They are also reviewing allegations that traffic stops occur disproportionally in black neighborhoods and that unwarranted traffic citations are fueled by the municipality's thirst for money. Traffic tickets provide a quarter of Ferguson's revenue, according to one study. The Justice Department also is looking at the treatment of detainees in the Ferguson city jail.

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FL Corrections Chief Out After Scrutiny Of Abuse, Corruption In Prisons

Michael Crews, the embattled secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, announced he will step down, after months of scrutiny involving abusive corrections officers, suspicious inmate deaths and a poor record of inmate healthcare delivered by private contractors, the Miami Herald reports. Crews’ exit had been rumored for weeks. It comes amid allegations of widespread agency corruption and the failure of Crews’ top law enforcement officer, Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, to investigate wrongdoing in the prison system. Crews’ deputy, Tim Cannon, will replace him on an interim basis. Crews, the sixth prisons chief in eight years, presided over the state’s largest agency, with 101,000 inmates, 56 prisons and 21,000 employees.

After stories about abusive corrections officers and inmate deaths, Crews announced in August the firings of more than two dozen guards, as well as prison reforms designed to address deficiencies in the way inmates, especially those with mental illnesses, are treated. A study by a criminal justice think-tank concluded the reforms were not radical enough to change a culture that has led to dangerous, brutal and in some cases, deadly, prisons. “Both the firings and recommendations remain reactive steps, internally limited, and still do not address systemic weaknesses and failings of accountability,’’ said the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University.

 

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Cleveland Probe Of Officer's Killing Boy, 12, Could Take 3 Months

The police killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland on Saturday has resulted in headlines around the world, scrutiny from an attorney for the boy's family, the ire of politicians and the wrath of Internet "hacktivists," says the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A first-year officer, who officials have not named, got out of his car and told the 12-year-old boy to raise his hands. Instead, police said he reached for what proved to be an airsoft-type gun, a replica of a semi-automatic handgun that shoots pellets.

The officer fired two shots from less than 10 feet away. A least one of the bullets hit Tamir in the stomach. Questions about the shooting arose when police said that a 911 caller told dispatchers "the gun was probably fake." An investigation into the shooting by the police department's Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team could take up to three months.

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Police May Use Body Cams Without Asking Permission, WA AG Says

Police need not ask permission to use body cameras to record their interactions with the public in most circumstances, says Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Conceding his office was in uncharted territory because the technology is relatively new, Ferguson said citizens must assume interactions with on-duty police are public and thus officers are under no obligation to turn off body-cams even when asked, the Seattle Times reports.

Ferguson said citizens have the same right to film uniformed police officers in public. The state Supreme Court “has recognized that a conversation between a police officer and a member of the public that occurs in the performance of the officer’s duties is not private,” Ferguson said. Noah Purcell, solicitor general for the Attorney General, said that in most circumstances an officer still can legally record audio and video in private settings. “If it’s a confrontation with a police officer, it’s not private; it doesn’t really matter where it’s happening,” Purcell said.

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Will Texas Execute A Mentally Incompetent Inmate Next Week?

On December 3, Texas plans to execute Scott Panetti, who was convicted in 1995 for murdering his in-laws with a hunting rifle. The New York Times says in an editorial that Panetti is guilty but severely mentally ill, and has been for decades. During his trial, at which he was allowed to represent himself, Panetti, 56, dressed in a cowboy suit and attempted to subpoena John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ.

The Supreme Court has said that Panetti must have a “rational understanding” of why the state plans to kill him. The Times say that "by any reasonable standard ... Panetti is mentally incompetent." Texas argues that he is exaggerating the extent of his illness, and that he understands enough to be put to death. The Time opines that Texas "cannot pretend to be adhering to any morally acceptable standard of culpability if it kills someone like Scott Panetti"

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Virginia Gang Rape Case: Are Universities Hiding Their Assault Problems?

Last week, Rolling Stone published a graphic and horrifying story of a gang rape that allegedly occurred at a University of Virginia fraternity house in  2012. A student named Jackie did not report her assault to the police but did share her story with a dean responsible for dealing with sexual assault. Jackie tried to find statistics about sexual assaults at UVA but couldn’t find any. She says a dean told her, “nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.” Even after more complaints of gang rapes at the same fraternity, the school apparently did not open an investigation until this year.

Slate says, "The gist of the piece is that survivors of rape and sexual assault are shuffled into a system that all but encourages them to stay silent and avoid the criminal justice system." A more devastating accusation: Everyone at UVA knew this was a rape school and no one did anything to stop it. Now President Teresa Sullivan says all the school's fraternities have been suspended effective immediately. Slate contends that UVA is the rule, not the exception, and asks whether "we think universities are moving toward solving the campus rape problem or inadvertently colluding in hiding it?"

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Talks Raise Hopes Of Reviving Justice Reinvestment In Oklahoma

With Oklahoma's prison population well over capacity, talks between the governor’s office and a national nonprofit have some advocates wondering: Is 2015 the year for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma? The Oklahoman says Gov. Mary Fallin's office met with representatives of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The group helped the state formulate a Justice Reinvestment Initiative that the legislature passed in 2012.

Yet a dedicated funding source was never put in place and a committee formed to implement the program clashed with the governor’s office before disbanding. The fact that Oklahoma locks up more people per capita than almost any other state means more Oklahomans are affected by the issue, said former House Speaker Kris Steele. The political climate has become so focused on being “tough on crime” it is difficult to implement change. “The real test is going to be if [Fallin] tries to test the water and move forward, what happens when somebody stands up and says ‘Governor Fallin is being soft on crime,’” Steele said.

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Crime Rates Keep Declining, Americans Keep Believing They're Rising

Last week, the Gallup organization issued a poll that showed a large majority of Americans incorrectly believe crime increased last year. says The Mendoza Line. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said there was “more crime in the U.S than there was a year ago.”  Only 21 percent correctly said there was less crime. FBI says violent crime reports fell  4.4 percent last year compared to 2012. The reported violent crime rate per 100,000 people fell 5.1 percent. Similarly, the rate of reported property crimes declined by 4.8 percent.

Fourteen of 20 times that Gallup asked this crime question, Americans got it wrong. The exceptions are 1989, 1990, 2000, 2001, 2005, and 2006. The same trend emerges for property crimes. Americans incorrectly said crime went up 17 out of 20 times, when property crime had actually declined.

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TCR at a Glance

What the Ferguson Grand Jury Missed

commentary November 25, 2014

Why did the killing of a young black man by a police officer capture our attention—and challenge the national conscience?

Crime and Prison Population Fall in N.C.

new & notable November 21, 2014

A series of justice reinvestment reforms in North Carolina have created a more efficient system, according to a report by the non-profit ...

Does 'Right-to-Carry' Lead to More Crime?

new & notable November 20, 2014

Laws that allow concealed weapons in public are associated with higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder, according t...