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Supreme Court Rejects Mandatory Prison Term In Iowa Gun Case

The Supreme Court today overturned a mandatory minimum 15-year prison term in an Iowa case under the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, based on the fact that Richard Mathis had five convictions of burglary before his federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The 5-3 majority said Mathis' enhanced sentence was not justified because the "elements" of Iowa's burglary law are broader than those of "generic burglary." Justice Anthony Kennedy, concurring in the result, said the ruling "is a stark illustration of the arbitrary and inequitable results produced by applying an elements based approach to this sentencing scheme."

Today's ruling reversed an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which had upheld Mathis' sentence. In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer expressed fears that the court decision "will unnecessarily complicate federal sentencing law, often preventing courts from properly applying the sentencing statute that Congress enacted."

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Feds Charge 300 In Largest Crackdown On Medicare, Medicaid Fraud

About 300 people in more than half the states have been charged in the largest federal crackdown to date on health care fraud, NBC News reports. Those arrested account for more than $900 million in false billings to Medicare and Medicaid, according to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services. Among those arrested are 60 licensed medical professionals, including 30 doctors. The billings were for treatments or services deemed medically unnecessary or for services that were never provided at all, including home care, medical equipment, and phony prescriptions.

In one cases five people were arrested in Brooklyn, accused of cheating Medicare and Medicaid in an $86 million scam in which they paid kickbacks to patients who then received unnecessary physical and occupational therapy. The five are accused of funneling more than $38 million worth of reimbursements on the $86 million in bills through several New York shell companies that purported to provide consulting, marketing and advertising services but were actually intended to hide the money from the IRS and avoid taxes. Among those charged were a licensed occupational therapist and a licensed physical therapist. "As this takedown should make clear, health care fraud is not an abstract violation or benign offense. It is a serious crime. The wrongdoers that we pursue in these operations seek to use public funds for private enrichment," said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

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FBI Says Only Seven Old Civil-Rights Murder Cases Remain Open

Scores of civil rights murders remain unsolved by states and the U.S. Department of Justice, NPR reports. More than a half a century ago, three civil rights workers in Mississippi - James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner - were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. This week, the Mississippi attorney general declared the case officially closed, and there are many unsolved civil rights-era cases like this. The FBI has looked into a total of 112 cases. Only seven remain open, active investigations, and only a handful have been successfully prosecuted.

Many suspects and witnesses have long since died. The memories of many who still are living have faded. Many of these crimes were never investigated because local and state authorities at the time were very much against the civil rights movement. Journalists have been a big catalyst in looking at these cases, particularly Jerry Mitchell at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Ms., and Stanley Nelson of the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La. They are part of The Civil Rights Cold Case Project. The seven open cases date from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, around the South. There are also open cases that aren't on that list. 

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Police Fear Activist-Officer Friction In Austin May Spin Out Of Control

Late on a Saturday night three months ago, Austin police tackled a man as dozens of revelers swarmed around to watch the drama. Police accountability activist Antonio Buehler, whose group Peaceful Streets deploys across the city to film officers on patrol, raced with cameras rolling to film the action, says the Austin American-Statesman. Officers began yelling at Buehler: “Back up! Back up right now!” and placed themselves in front of the camera. “You aren’t going to be that close to us!” one shouted. A police shift supervisor was confronted by Buehler, who says an officer deliberately stuck his crotch in his face while he was kneeling down to shoot video.

Videos of the incident help illustrate what police officials and others describe as escalating tension between officers and camera-clicking citizens, leading to arrests of photographers and allegations of misconduct against police. In the several years since its cameras started rolling, Buehler’s group has documented thousands of hours of Austin police activity and produced videos highlighting police misconduct and creating internet sensations. The work has generated millions of clicks on YouTube. Some fear the friction between police and activists could spin out of control. “It’s not going to take much of a spark to cause a fire,” said police Lt. Todd Smith, who has routinely witnessed interactions between activists and officers. “It has the potential to become a dangerous situation. I’m afraid it is going to embolden somebody to do something that causes an unmanageable situation for the police officers.”

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Ruling Blocking Obama Immigration Plan Intact In 4-4 High Court Split

The U.S. Supreme Court today dealt President Obama a harsh defeat, splitting 4-4 over his plan to spare millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally from deportation and give them work permits. The even split means that a lower court order that blocks the plan remains in effect, Reuters reports. The court, with four conservative justices and four liberals after the death of Antonin Scalia in February, had appeared divided along ideological lines during oral arguments on April 18. The case was brought by 26 states led by Texas that sued to block Obama's 2014 executive action on immigration that bypassed Congress.

Obama's plan was intended to let about 4 million people, those who have lived illegally in the U.S. at least since 2010, have no criminal record and have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, enter a program that shields them from deportation and supplies work permits. The court did not issue a ruling on the merits of the main legal question, so its action set no legal precedent to bind future presidents. 

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Indianapolis Uses "Social Disorder Index" To Set Police Target Areas

To decide what areas it wants to target, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is using a simple equation. Called the social disorder index, the equation maps out which areas have the most crime, and which crimes are occurring in those areas, reports the Indianapolis Star. Each type of crime is given a number; for example, a homicide would be a five. The crime numbers are totaled, then the areas with the highest numbers are mapped out in yellow, purple, and red. The colored areas are given grid numbers, and officers look to see what types of crime are occurring there, as well as whether the same people repeatedly show up in reports.

"Having an area to focus on is much better than willy-nilly going through neighborhoods; it's a way for us to really address the problem," said police commander Chris Bailey. When police don't know where the problem areas are, they have to stop random people, leading to negative encounters and harming relations with the public, Bailey said. The social disorder index helps police target high-crime areas and allows them to form police beats so officers can become familiar with an area and form relationships in the community, said Police Chief Troy Riggs. Last Saturday, when police conducted their biggest sweep in department history — Operation First Step — its aim was to remove the most violent offenders and those with a propensity for violence from the streets. The social disorder index helped police find which areas and people they wanted to target.

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No Firings, Prosecutions Of NY Prison Employees In Inmate Escape

Within hours of last year's escape of two murderers from a maximum-security New York state prison last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would be “shocked” if any corrections officers had been involved in the breakout. An exhaustive report from the state inspector general singled out 20 uniformed and civilian employees whose laziness, incompetence, and dereliction of duty enabled Richard Matt and David Sweat to escape. Two employees were imprisoned after pleading guilty last year to aiding the inmates, but there have been few, if any, serious consequences for the 18 others, the New York Times reports. None has been fired, and the Clinton County district attorney says none will be criminally prosecuted.

They included a captain, two lieutenants and five guards who admitted to falsifying documents to make it look as if they had conducted nightly rounds; an officer who missed a foot-and-a-half-wide hole cut in the back wall of a cell during an inspection; and a guard who spent his time reading at his desk in the prison tailor shop, while another employee spent hours each day with one of the inmates plotting the escape. The Times says three prison workers were recently suspended without pay; six retired rather than face departmental disciplinary charges but are collecting their full state pensions; and nine are still on the job. State officials said they were hamstrung in what they could do to punish prison employees by the collective bargaining agreement with the corrections officers’ union, which makes it almost impossible to fire a guard.

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