In an article about the National Registry of Exonerations, the Tulsa World notes that 23 Oklahomans have been cleared of crimes in the past 25 years that together had already cost them about 200 years in prison. Nationwide, courts have determined that 1,250 people who together had already spent roughly 12,000 years in prison were wrongfully convicted, and there are likely many more wrongfully convicted inmates not yet document.
Gathering details on cases where the accused were eventually exonerated can help reform the justice system, experts say. The National Registry of Exonerations is a publicly available database that includes exonerees' demographic information, types of crimes they were charged with, and factors that led to their exonerations. It has two goals, said Samuel Gross, the registry's co-founder and editor: to make the criminal justice system more willing to consider new evidence and to learn about the processes that contribute to a false conviction in the first place.
The case has fostered an unlikely alliance between groups more often found at opposite sides of the political spectrum: the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian research organization, and the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2010, city officials decided that the text of the gun ad, inscribed in bold letters within a large heart, sounded like political speech and ordered them removed from 50 city-owned bus shelters. Korwin filed a lawsuit claiming that his right to free speech had been violated. A lower court ruled against Korwin last year, and the Goldwater Institute appealed on his behalf.
The Cleveland Plain Dealers reports that Ariel Castro’s jailhouse suicide on Sept. 3 was “perhaps inevitable,” according to a report by two prison experts released Tuesday. Castro was despondent and fearful of perceived threat from guards and other inmates, reported law professor Fred Cohen and Lindsay Hayes, project director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives. They said infractions by Castro’s prison guards, who missed required rounds and falsified logbooks for the day of his death, did not lead to the suicide.
Castro was sentenced to life in prison on Aug. 1 for kidnapping, raping and imprisoning three females in his Cleveland home for more than a decade. In the report, Castro was described as a narcissistic and demanding inmate who blamed his criminal behavior on “his long-standing addiction to pornography and the mutual culpability of his victims.” He appeared “oblivious to the realities of his future situation,” the report found, and he was “incredulous that the media and other inmates should treat him so poorly.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau has fired two white police officers who scuffled with a group of black men, then used racial slurs while berating local police investigating last summer’s incident in Green Bay, Wis., reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The firings of officers Brian Thole and Shawn Powell, both military veterans who were on the department’s SWAT team, will kick off an automatic appeals process. The officers have been on paid administrative leave since July.
At least one of the officers also disparaged Harteau as a lesbian in the June 29 incident, which was partly recorded on video and described in a 40-page Green Bay police report. The officers, who were off-duty, were not charged with any crime in Green Bay, but the department there reported the incident to the Minneapolis department, prompting the internal affairs process that led to Tuesday’s firing.
Nearly three years after he became perhaps the youngest Indianan ever sentenced to prison as an adult, Paul Henry Gingerich – given a second chance in the courts – has agreed to a plea deal that could set him free when he turns 18, reports the Indianapolis Star. At 12, Gingerich was sentenced as an adult to a 25-year prison term for a 2010 murder conspiracy in the shooting death of a friend's stepfather. Even with credits for good behavior, that could have kept him in locked up until his mid-20s, with the final years likely spent in an adult prison.
The deal struck yesterday by his attorney and a prosecutor could see Gingerich, now 15, released on probation as early as 18 — so long as he continues to behave well in prison. Just as important to his family, the deal likely means Gingerich will never go to an adult prison, where the prisoners are older and their range of crimes more severe. The deal comes after Gingerich won an appeal for a retrial, but it is also being guided by what some refer to as "Paul's Law," a new state law granting the courts greater flexibility in blending aspects of juvenile and adult sentences. It also grants judges the leeway to revisit a juvenile's case after sentencing — even to modify the terms for children showing progress toward rehabilitation.
For months, Arizona murder convict Jodi Arias was a television staple, every minute of her trial broadcast live while commentators railed nightly about the case. Arias spent weeks on the witness stand and did a series of media interviews. The Associated Press reports that Arias has vanished from view since her trial ended in May "and the judge has done a complete about-face," shutting the media and public out of most hearings. "The trial court has gone from transparency to blackout and bewilderment," said attorney David Bodney, who represents media outlets, including the Arizona Republic. "There have been repeated flagrant violations of the public's constitutional right to attend proceedings."
A jury couldn't reach a verdict on Arias' sentence. Prosecutors are pursuing a second penalty phase with a new jury in an effort to get the death penalty. Arias, 33, admitted she killed her boyfriend in 2008 but claimed it was self-defense. Judge Sherry Stephens has held hearings behind closed doors as the next steps of the case unfold almost entirely under a shroud of secrecy. She has heard arguments over sequestering the new jury, moving the case out of Phoenix, Arias' desire to fire her lead attorney and allowing live television coverage of the retrial, among other issues. The case languishes without public scrutiny even as Arias' legal tab is being picked up by taxpayers at a cost exceeding $1.7 million.
Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools lead to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that hurt minority students, cities and school districts are rethinking their approach to minor offenses, reports the New York Times. In Broward County, Fl., the nation's sixth largest school district, two years ago, more students were arrested than in any other state district, most for misdemeanors like possessing marijuana or spraying graffiti. Schools around the U.S. have seen suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor nonviolent offenses climb together with the number of police officers stationed at schools.
The policy, called zero tolerance, first grew out of the war on drugs in the 1990s and became more aggressive after school shootings like the one at Columbine High School in Colorado. Last month, Broward veered in a different direction, joining other large school districts, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and Denver, in backing away from the get-tough approach. Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior. These efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.
The United States Attorney in Manhattan has brought down terrorists, gang members, corrupt politicians and crooked executives, but budget cuts and hiring freezes may force the office to make difficult choices about which cases to pursue, reports the New York Times. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told a lawyers group yesterday that his office could reach crisis mode. He has 210 assistant U.S. attorneys, almost 20 fewer than in 2011. He loses about 22 a year through attrition, and they are not being replaced.
“Today, in New York City, while we continue to have a gang problem, we do not have the level of murder and mayhem that so plagues Chicago that its mayor is practically begging for federal funds and federal help,” he said. “Do we want tomorrow’s New York to look like today's Chicago? I don’t think we do.” Bharara appeared at a hearing of the New York County Lawyers’ Association on the impact of budget cuts on the justice system. Other witnesses included the chief judges of the city’s federal courts; Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney in Brooklyn; and David Patton, the federal public defender.
A federal lawsuit by the National Shooting Sports Foundation seeking to overturn the Connecticut gun control law passed this year in response to the shootings last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School was dismissed yesterday, the Hartford Courant reports. Chief U.S. District Judge Janet Hall ruled that the firearms trade group lacked the standing to challenge the law.
The trade group, based in Newtown about 3 miles from Sandy Hook school, represents every major gun manufacturer and 8,000 smaller firearms-related businesses. The shootings at Sandy Hook, in which 20 children and six women were killed, led to a strict and far-reaching gun control law in Connecticut. The legislation bans the sale of more than 100 types of military-style rifles, penalizes gun owners who don't register with the state police by Jan. 1, and limits large-capacity magazines to 10 bullets. The foundation charged that the law was adopted improperly as an emergency certification and did not pass both houses before it was signed by the governor.
As state legislators grapple with a widening epidemic of scrap metal thefts, the question of how to crack down has touched a fundamental ideological nerve — how much government regulation is too much, reports Politico. The need for action has increased along with the skyrocketing price of copper and other metals, which has led to a spike in the number of metal thefts resulting in billions of dollars in damages to state and local governments and to private businesses. “It’s a problem that’s out of control,” said Washington Rep. Roger Goodman, who sponsored a bill last year. “It hasn’t been a high priority for law enforcement because they have crimes against persons they have to pay attention to first. So with limited resources, metal theft has continued unabated. Many states remain largely unequipped to deal with the massive incidents of theft reported each year.”
Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and California, among others, are poised to consider new bills next year that aim to tighten control over the sales of stolen metals. These efforts follow successes in states like Washington and Tennessee, which have already taken steps to curb the problem. In Pennsylvania, one of the hardest-hit states, a bill seeks to amplify existing requirements on metal processors by requiring them to register formally through the state Attorney General’s office and join a centralized, industry-wide transaction database that would be accessible to law enforcement agencies.