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Cosby Case To Proceed; Prosecutors Puzzled By No-Prosecution Pledge

Veteran prosecutors were puzzled by the promise by former Montgomery County, Pa., District Attorney Bruce Castor never to prosecute comedian Bill Cosby, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Such deals rarely happen, prosecutors said, simply because it is impossible to know what new information might emerge. When the deals do emerge, they said, it is critical to get the agreement in writing. Castor testified Tuesday on the aggravated indecent-assault charge against Cosby that his 2005 announcement not to file criminal charges amounted to a pledge that his office, and his successors, had dropped the case forever. The agreement not to prosecute was not in writing.

Yesterday, Judge Steven O'Neill ruled that the promise was not legally binding, and ordered that the criminal case proceed to a preliminary evidentiary hearing. Thomas Bergstrom, a former assistant U.S. attorney and one of Philadelphia's most prominent criminal defense lawyers, said that in all of his career, both as a government prosecutor and as a defense lawyer, he had never been party to such an offer. "Prosecutors by and large typically do not make agreements to not prosecute," Bergstrom said. "That is really extraordinary."

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LA Public Defenders Short Of Funds, Turning Away Defendants

For many of those accused of the most serious crimes in New Orleans, there will be no visit from an attorney; no help in negotiating a bond; no investigation into their alleged offense, reports NPR. Public defenders say they don't have the resources to handle the city's indigent caseload after a million-dollar budget shortfall. They are turning away some suspects who can't afford to pay for their own legal representation. "And without that, there could be evidence that go missing. There could be videos that are erased or taped over. Witnesses' memories fade," says Orleans Deputy District Defender Jee Park. "So there are many unfortunate circumstances that can arise if you don't have an attorney who is working on your case right away from day one."

This office handled 22,000 cases last year. Now, there's a waiting list for felony suspects who've been granted a court-appointed lawyer. Marjorie Esman of the ACLU of Louisiana says, "People are going to be languishing in jail. It's gonna backlog the court system for who knows how long until this can be resolved." The ACLU has filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of suspects who can't afford lawyers. Esman says they have a constitutional right to legal representation. Louisiana has the nation's highest incarceration rate. It also has one of the highest rates of exonerations. New Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards acknowledges the public defender overload around the state. He says there's no plan for more funding with the state facing a $1.9 billion budget shortfall.

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O.J. Simpson Trial Wouldn't Have Dominated Media Today: Toobin

A ten-part dramatization of O.J. Simpson's murder case, “American Crime Story: The People vs. O. J. Simpson,” is showing on FX,but such a case that dominates the U.S. media is unlikely to happen again, says Jeffrey Toobin, whose book is the basis for the TV series. Writing in the New Yorker, Toobin says the trial of Simpson, who was acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, combined everything that obsesses Americans: race, sex, violence, sports, Hollywood, and the only eyewitness was a dog. 

The jury's verdict came on October 3, 1995. The media environment then contributed to the story’s ubiquity. There was no social media, and the technological dark age meant that the Simpson story was much harder to avoid than it would be today. There was gavel-to-gavel coverage on CNN and now-defunct Court TV. Now, with the multitude of cable channels, to say nothing of the entire Internet, to draw attention away from a trial like this one, the Simpson case "would be just a single plant in the vast media jungle," Toobin says. Today, two-minute videos go viral, not months-long trials. A similar trial would probably not be on television today anyway, because the spectacle "led to a backlash against cameras that has endured," Toobin says. He concludes that the case "seems likely to remain unique, an anomaly in the legal world and popular culture." 

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FL Jury Awards $23M To Cyclist Paralyzed In Police Shooting

After spending three years wondering why a Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy shot him, leaving him paralyzed for life, Dontrell Stephens got an answer yesterday from a federal jury: You didn’t do anything wrong; Sgt. Adams Lin did, reports the Palm Beach Post. A jury of six women and two men agreed Lin violated Stephens’ constitutional rights by intentionally using excessive force when he shot Stephens after stopping him in 2013 for riding his bicycle erratically in 8 a.m. traffic. The jury said Lin and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office should pay the 22-year-old man $23.1 million for the medical care and treatment he will need for the rest of his life.

His longtime court-appointed guardian spoke for him. “It means his young black life matters and he didn’t do anything wrong,” said attorney Evett Simmons. “It’s hard to believe you can ride your bike with a cell phone and end up paralyzed for life.” Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s spokeswoman said, “The jury verdict reached today is both shocking and disappointing.” The agency and Lin plan to appeal. Lin testified he had mistaken a cell phone Stephens was carrying for a gun when he fired four rounds four seconds after confronting Stephens. 

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Gun-Law Changes On Ballot In Maine, Nevada, Possibly Other States

In 2014, voters in Alabama, Missouri, and Washington State passed gun measures in state ballot initiatives. This year, there will be votes in other states. A Maine background check initiative that backers hope to put on the state ballot in November could make Maine the 18th state to require background checks on most gun sales and transfers between private parties, reports The Trace. going beyond the federal requirement that only mandates checks on sales conducted by licensed dealers. Nevadans will vote on an initiative that would require most gun sales and transfers — including those between private, unlicensed parties — to go through background checks. 

In Ohio, advocates are pushing for a measure that would allow cities to enact their own gun ordinances, a power curtailed by a 2006 state law that overturned gun restrictions such as assault weapons bans and handgun registration requirements in more than 20 Ohio cities. In California, in collaboration with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed five measures that would significantly strengthen gun restrictions, including a prohibition on possessing large-capacity military-style magazines. In Iowa. Oklahoma, and Minnesota, proposed gun measures would change state constitutions and must pass the legislature before they go on the ballot.

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Islamic Group Says Tampa Police "Active Shooter" Drill Impugns Muslims

Before a mock "active shooter" demonstration by Tampa police yesterday Senior Corporal Jared Douds told a crowd of hundreds that mass shooting perpetrators come from a variety of backgrounds. "Unfortunately, after all the studies the federal government has done, they haven't had an absolute demographic," he said. The drill itself sent a different message, a local Islamic relations group tells the Tampa Bay Times. A Tampa police officer pretending to be the shooter wore a scarf that, according to the group, reinforced mistaken perceptions about Muslims. "I think it's sad, and it's really irresponsible for the Tampa Police Department to reinforce negative stereotypes," said Hassan Shibly of the Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

Tampa police said the scarf wasn't meant to portray any group as violent. Instead, it was meant to protect the officer's neck during the mock attack, said police spokesman Steve Hegarty. During the drill, officers exchanged fire using pellets that can leave welts, he said, which is why the officer also wore body armor and a helmet. Hegarty said Douds' presentation took care to emphasize that attackers don't fall into any one group. "They're not all young men. They're not all Muslims." Experts say Tampa police should have put more thought into how they depicted the shooter. "Context matters here," said Terje Østebø of the University of Florida's Center for Global Islamic Studies. "I think it's pretty regrettable that they didn't think that better through."

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Justice System Didn't Prevent Seattle Homeless Camp Shooting: Columnist

Three Seattle teenagers allegedly shoot five people, killing two of them, and police suspect they did it to collect on a drug debt owed to their mother. It’s clear multiple systemic and individual failures had to contribute to what happened last week, writes Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large. No one could have predicted the actions these three are accused of, but a lot of people could have seen trouble ahead, Large says. Stories about the case are full of red flags that don’t require hindsight to see.

The brothers being held are 13, 16 and 17. Police believe they walked into a homeless encampment known as The Jungle and shot five people on Jan. 26. The oldest brother has been convicted in the past of robbery and theft for crimes committed mostly when he was 12. Two years ago, the now-16-year-old was charged with robbery (taking a backpack from a fellow middle-school student), and last year he and some friends reportedly hijacked a taxi and led police on a chase. An officer reported the teen said the chase was “fun and exciting.” The 13-year-old has been arrested before, too, and police said he laughed while talking about the shootings with an informant. They came into contact with the criminal-justice system, but that contact didn’t steer them to a better path, says Large.

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Violence In New Orleans' New Jail Reported At "Unacceptable Level"

Violence in the New Orleans jail continues at "absolutely an unacceptable level," even after inmates were moved to a new facility, a court-appointed expert testified in federal court yesterday, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. For nearly four years, Orleans Parish Prison has been under a court-ordered consent decree to make the jail safer and more secure for inmates and the deputies who guard them after a court found in 2013 that conditions at the former site violated the constitutional rights of prisoners. The city of New Orleans owns and funds the jail, which the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office operates.

Susan McCampbell, a court-appointed monitors, said with a 50 percent staff turnover in 2015, and a lack of training and supervision, the employees who do stick around can't properly perform their jobs. "In an environment where the inmates have more experience with the facility than the staff, inmates are always trying to be the ones to run the jail," McCampbell told U.S. District Judge Lance Africk. From Sept. 15 to Dec. 31 last year, the first month's inmates were housed in the new $145 million jail complex, McCampbell said there were 200 inmate-on-inmate assaults, 44 uses of force by staff, and 16 assaults on staff. "At a well-run direct-supervision facility, it's an oddity to have an inmate-inmate assault," she said. "And in this facility, it's almost a daily occurrence." 

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San Bernardino Known For Terrorism Case, But Its Police Force Is Suffering

The nation knows the San Bernardino, Ca., Police Department for its heroism on Dec. 2, when its officers led a perilous search for a husband-and-wife terrorist team that had fatally shot 14 people and wounded 22 others at a holiday party. The daily reality for San Bernardino’s finest is entirely different: a corps savaged by budget cuts, rattletrap equipment, crushing workloads and sunken morale, reports the New York Times. Since the city went bankrupt in 2012, its tax base swept away by the recession, officers have retired or moved to other departments in droves. “We had an exodus, everyone jumping ship,” said one detective. At its peak in 2008, the department employed 346 sworn officers. Today, there are 220, a 36 percent reduction.

Jarrod Burguan, the department’s chief and a 24-year veteran of the force, said the slide had been tough. “We’d never been an agency before that people left for other departments — the type of place where people said, ‘I don’t like working here,’ ” he said. “If anything, we attracted guys because it was a place where it’s fun being a cop.” In November, Burguan proposed a five-year, $50.6 million rebuilding plan, adding officers and, new cruisers to combat what FBI data say is one of California’s highest crime rates. San Bernardino has long been a cop’s kind of town, where drugs, gang wars and the manifold problems of a large lower-income population gave rookies more action and valuable experience than a cushy suburban assignment would offer. A city of about 215,000 people, half Hispanic, San Bernardino suffered in past decades as its biggest employers — an Air Force base, a nearby steel mill — were shuttered. At the same time, criminal gangs began moving in, forced from Los Angeles by a police crackdown and gentrifying slums.

 


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