A week before actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a drug overdose, the Supreme Court restrained what one federal prosecutor called "the strongest tool" U.S. authorities have to go after dealers in such cases, and now some U.S. drug prosecutions are getting sent to rehab, reports ABC News. "We may not be able to meet the standard of proof in those cases," the U.S. Attorney in Vermont, Tris Coffin, said of overdose cases involving a cocktail of drugs. "It will have some impact." A federal judge in Kentucky has vacated the most severe charge against Harold Salyers, 53, a father who was certain to spend decades in prison after being convicted last year of selling heroin to a man who then died. In Alaska and Ohio, defense attorneys are hoping their clients can similarly benefit from the high court decision.
On average, drug traffickers in federal cases are sentenced to less than seven years behind bars. But "when death or serious bodily injury results," the dealer can face a mandatory minimum of 20 years and as long as life in prison. Federal authorities have long sought the stiffer charge when a dealer's drugs contributed to an overdose. In January, the Supreme Court ruled the dealer's drugs need to do more than just contribute, they need to be "the straw that broke the camel's back," as one Justice Department official put it. That's "problematic," especially in overdose cases where an accused dealer's drugs are not the only drugs involved. Nearly half of all overdoses involve multiple drugs, federal statistics indicate.
As deportations have reached nearly 2 million under President Obama, Janet Murguia, prsident the nation's largest Latino advocacy group, the National Council of La Raza, denounced the president as deporter-in-chief, reports NPR. "Our community really is in crisis," Murguia tells NPR. "And we believe that the president can do more to stop unnecessary deportations."
Murguia says the Obama administration should "better implement their own policy when it comes to prosecutorial discretion." She says many Latinos believe "that if you don't have a criminal record and you've been here contributing, then you shouldn't be selectively deported. On the other hand, if there has been a criminal record established by these individuals, I think people understand the laws have to be in place to protect the interests of the U.S. But I think there is a lot of disagreement over how the administration is implementing the policy around prosecutorial discretion."
New York City police officers soon will be armed with two new crime-fighting tools: a digital tablet and a mobile app, reports the Wall Street Journal. In the next three months, the NYPD will roll out a pilot program equipping officers with a computer tablet outfitted with an application that can access a trove of police databases. The app connects to the NYPD's Domain Awareness System, which includes everything from arrest records to the text of 911 calls in real-time.
"Just about everything I can access in my office, they will be able to access in their patrol car, on their walking beat, as they're responding to a crime," Commissioner William Bratton told the New York City Police Foundation, which raises money for NYPD initiatives. He called the project "the future of the New York City Police Department." Giving police speedier access to the databases is a "significant officer-safety issue," he said. Officers responding to a 911 call may get information about outstanding warrants and gun permits for people associated with the address. Such data would provide "an overview of the location that they are responding to," Bratton said. Officers now primarily receive information they could view on the app--if they get it at all--over police radio.
Two official probes into Montana's criminal-justice system have prompted a closer look at how sexual-assault cases are investigated and rapists punished in this sparsely populated state, reports the Wall Street Journal. Montana's top court will soon ruile on a rare state complaint against a judge for an "overly lenient" 30-day sentence in a rape case involving a teacher and a student, in which the judge commented that the 14-year-old victim was "older than her chronological age." The judge, G. Todd Baugh, apologized for the comments and wrote in response to the state's judicial-standards commission that he had "failed to promote public confidence in the judiciary."
Separately, the U.S. Justice Department alleged after an 18-month probe that prosecutors in Missoula discriminated against women by giving sex-assault cases low priority. The prosecutor's office denie the charge. The same investigation, spurred by allegations against University of Montana football players, led to agreements last year by Missoula police and the university to change how they handled rape investigations. "We are a very small state: people don't want to prosecute their neighbor and they hold onto this old belief that the victims asked for it—and victims never ask for it," said Marian Bradley of the Montana National Organization for Women, which submitted a complaint against Judge Baugh to the judicial-standards commission.
An investigation by the Massachusetts inspector general found that convicted former state chemist Annie Dookhan was the “sole bad actor” at the state drug lab where she mishandled evidence. The Boston Globe says the probe also found that the lab had major management problems, raising questions about an additional 2,300 cases not handled by her. "The Drug Lab lacked formal and uniform protocols with respect to many of its basic operations, including training, chain of custody and testing methods. This lack of direction, caused in part by the Drug Lab’s lack of accreditation, allowed chemists to create their own insufficient, discordant practices," said Inspector General Glenn Cunha.
The 2,300 samples will be submitted for further testing to determine whether the lab’s conclusions were accurate. Dookhan’s falsification of test results raised doubts about tens of thousands of cases, throwing the state’s criminal justice system into turmoil. The lab where Dookhan worked was shut down in 2012 after her crimes began to come to light. While recommending scrutiny of Dookhan’s cases and calling for further scrutiny of some additional cases handled by the lab, the inspector general’s report, which examined the lab’s activities from 2002 to 2012, stopped short of saying all the cases handled by the lab should be reviewed. The state bar association, civil liberties activists, and defense attorneys disagreed. Dookhan was sentenced to three to five years in prison.
The Affordable Care Act could become "the biggest piece of prison reform the U.S. will see in this generation," Newsweek contends. That's because the ACA may inadvertently change the makeup of the U.S. prison population by getting early help to those with mental health and drug abuse issues, ultimately reducing recidivism and saving states millions, if not billions, of dollars annually. The “epidemic of incarceration over the last four decades,” as Josiah Rich, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University and co-founder of The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital, puts it, can be mostly attributed to addiction and mental illness. “The natural history of these diseases, when not treated, leads to behaviors that, in our society, result in incarceration,” he says.
Medicaid left out poor, single, male adults without dependent children, the same demographic most likely to end up arrested and incarcerated. Now eligible under Medicaid, "a lot of people who are going to jail for mental illness or substance abuse related crimes could potentially avoid jail,” says Marsha Regenstein, the director of the National Public Health and Hospital Institute, and a professor of health policy at George Washington University. Of course, these people are hard to reach, and eligibility doesn’t ensure coverage or healthier behavior.
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.