Washington, D.C.'s Council today is poised to make the city one of the nation’s most lenient for marijuana possession, easing penalties that most often ensnare African Americans including a potential one-year jail sentence that is expected to be reduced to a $25 fine, reports the Washington Post. To keep the odor of marijuana from wafting across the nation’s capital, city lawmakers pulled back from an even more liberal proposal to buffer residents from arrest: Smoking marijuana in public would remain a crime, akin to toting an open can of beer, and would carry a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail.
Amid growing support locally and nationally for legalizing marijuana, D.C. lawmakers said they are acting out of an interest in greater social justice when it comes to pot arrests, not civil liberties to allow more drug use. By leapfrogging many states in loosening its marijuana laws, the city is firmly planting itself in a national debate over legalization — even as questions remain about how much a new law might accomplish. Decriminalizing possession of marijuana, but leaving the act of smoking the drug a crime, critics say, will keep alive concerns about racial profiling in arrests. It also will add gray areas in policing: D.C. officers would not be able to arrest on the smell of marijuana, for instance; they would have to see the smoke. And being marijuana-impaired in public would not be a crime equal to public intoxication — unless it occurs behind the wheel.
An unlikely alliance between Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) could "make politically possible the most significant liberalization of sentencing laws since President Richard M. Nixon declared war on drugs," says the New York Times. Holder wants to make prisoners eligible for early release if they were sentenced under the now-abolished crack cocaine guidelines. He wants judges to have more discretion when sentencing nonviolent drug offenders.
Libertarian-minded Republicans see long prison sentences as an ineffective and expensive way to address crime. “This is the definition of how you get bipartisan agreement,” Paul said. “It’s not splitting the difference. It’s finding areas of common interest.” In the House, libertarians and Tea Party conservatives will be crucial to the final decision on the issue. Some Republicans say they are the ones being consistent on matters of protecting liberties, and that Holder’s push for changes to sentencing laws is a step in their direction, not the other way around. Holder says the GOP support "makes it much less likely that people are going to be attacked as soft on crime, which is why we very consciously styled our efforts as being smart on crime.”
A Columbus principal suspended a boy, 10, for three days after the child pointed a “ lookalike firearm” -- his finger -- at another student in class and pretended to shoot, the Columbus Dispatch reports. “I was just playing around,” said Nathan Entingh, a fifth-grader. “People play around like this a lot at my school.” Other kids have been caught playing pretend gun games on the playground at the school and weren’t suspended, he said.
Principal Patricia Price has warned students about pretend gun play numerous times this year, and everyone should know the rules by now, district spokesman Jeff Warner said. Nathan put his finger to the side of the other student’s head and pretended to shoot “kind of execution style,” Warner said. “The kids were told, ‘If you don’t stop doing this type of stuff, there would be consequences,’” Warner said. “It’s just been escalating.” Warnings included three newsletters sent home with kids, he said. The boy’s father, Paul Entingh, said no one felt threatened, and it’s the adults who are acting childish in their response to a 10-year-old’s misstep. Since so-called zero-tolerance policies on guns and drugs swept the nation after the Columbine shootings in 1999, Columbus schools have had several similar incidents.
A new study following up on a 1980s report about mandatory domestic violence arrest policies in Milwaukee found an increased death rate among victims when suspects were arrested, rather than merely warned, by police, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The foundational question being begged by this research is an important and understudied one: Is the criminal justice system the best societal response to non-felonious domestic assault?," said Police Chief Edward Flynn. Victims were 64 percent more likely to have died of all causes, such as heart disease, cancer or other illness, if their partner was arrested rather than warned, and among African-American victims, arrest increased early mortality by 98 percent while white victims saw mortality increased from arrest by 9 percent.
Victim advocates described the study as "flawed" for attempting to apply old data to present-day policies. "Thankfully for victims of domestic violence, we don't live in the 1980s anymore," said End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. "Twenty-five-year-old data cannot be used to conclude that domestic violence arrests are dangerous to victims." The Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment from 1987-1989 was done by Lawrence Sherman of the University of Maryland and Cambridge University. The new study was co-authored by Heather Harris of the University of Maryland. Sherman acknowledged that a problem with examining long-term effects is that societies don't stay the same and conditions can change. He hopes the research prompts more attention about whether these policies are good for victims and if so, which victims.
Florida’s death penalty came under fire from a key Supreme Court justice yesterday as a divided court considered the role of low IQ scores in exempting convicted murderers from execution, says McClatchy Newspapers. Swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy joined more liberal justices in questioning Florida’s rigid IQ score threshold for determining intellectual disability. That raised the possibility that the court might strike down the strict IQ rule used by Florida, Idaho, Kentucky and several other death-penalty states.
Kennedy raised doubts about Florida’s administration of the death penalty and the long delays that have ensued. His implicit criticism went beyond the current case of Freddie Lee Hall, 68, who has been on death row since 1978. “The last 10 people Florida has executed have spent an average of 24.9 years on death row,” Kennedy reminded Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor. “Do you think that is consistent with the purposes of the death penalty, and is it consistent with sound administration of the justice system?” Pressed several times, Winsor noted that Florida lawmakers had addressed “a number of issues” Kennedy raised with passage of legislation last year. Many prison inmates have since challenged the state’s Timely Justice Act, which is now before the Florida Supreme Court.
Juvenile justice advocates are trying to change laws in New York and North Carolina to treat 16- and 17year-olds as...
This month is the 50th anniversary of the Kitty Genovese murder in New York City, when supposedly 38 people witnessed the crime and did nothing. NPR interviews Kevin Cook, author of the new book, "Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America." Cook says the witness count is misleading. Although 38 people did see her attacked through their windows, "most of them could no longer see her after just a minute or two. When there was nothing left to see, they went to bed and there was then a second attack," NPR says, quoting Cook.
One teen who lived across the street insists that his father did call the police but got no answer. There was no 911 system at the time. One of the sad quotes from the case was that of a wife who told her husband, "Thirty people must have called the police by now." The 911 telephone system arose from the Kitty Genovese case and now if you lift a finger and call the police you can anonymously call in a tip and get a police car going to where it needs to be, says NPR.
The murder trial of South Africa "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius is turning into a media frenzy because it is the first...
Florida state senators are poised to pass landmark legislation aimed at better protecting Floridians from rapists and child molesters today, the first day of the annual Legislative session, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I don't want to let one more day go by without making Florida scorched earth for sexual predators," said Senate President Don Gaetz. A package of four bills would toughen sex-crime sentences, increase community monitoring, and keep more of the most dangerous offenders confined after their prison terms end. It would provide the most comprehensive overhaul of sex offender legislation in more than a decade.
Gaetz said he will take the "unusual step" of moving the bills right through from debate and a preliminary vote to what he is certain will be final passage. "We will break precedent, we will break tradition, we will bring the bills to the floor immediately," Gaetz said. "I don't want one more child to be a victim of violent sexual predators. I want to move these bills as quickly as we can. We've already waited too long." The action comes in response to the Sun Sentinel's "Sex Predators Unleashed" investigative series in August that found nearly 600 sex offenders had attacked again after the state had a chance to stop them. House Speaker Will Weatherford said the legislation is a priority in his chamber as well, and he aims to take it up during the second week.
Back in 2010, a Florida jail deputy snapped a routine booking photo of Meagan Simmons, who had been arrested on a DUI charge. The Tampa Bay Times says the mugshot turned out like a glamour shot, and it launched a thousand memes. "Guilty of taking my breath away." "This is what a model inmate looks like." "Arrested for breaking and entering your heart." On countless websites, Simmons, 28, became known as the "attractive convict." Last year, the mother of four tweeted "look who made the cut!" when her photo was part of an Inside Edition special about hot mugshots. She did interviews with the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail.
Last week, she indicated she's had enough publicity. In a lawsuit, Simmons accused the background check website InstantCheckmate.com of using her picture for commercial and advertising purposes, without compensating her or even getting her permission. "At the end of the day, this is actually about intellectual property," Matthew Crist said. "If someone is going to use your image they need to pay you for it." He likened the issue to Colgate using Tom Cruise's image to sell toothpaste without his permission. Interest in the photo simmered in August 2012, when a compilation of images were posted to men's interest site the Chive under the headline: "Who knew mugshots could be so attractive."