Through careful negotiations, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate working on the criminal-justice reform bill announced yesterday came to a compromise on how to reduce mandatory minimums, reports the National Journal. Instead of cutting them in half, lawmakers would expand the “safety valve” that allows exceptions to the tough penalties. Describing the talks that led to the compromise, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), “He is not a lawyer, but boy is he a sharp negotiator. I cannot tell you how many hours we spent, our staff spent going back and forth trying to find some common ground.”
The safety valve proposal would give courts and judges more room to look at more individual cases when sentencing, instead of being wedded to tight guidelines, but also would give Grassley assurances that sentences would not be reduced unilaterally. “We had to carefully walk our way through it. There was nothing automatic about it,” Durbin said about the negotiations. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said, “Sen. Grassley should be congratulated and commended for his efforts to be open-minded on the topic where most people said it was impossible for him to move on it. The man is a thinker." The final sticking point was how to handle concerns of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) about how the legislation dealt with the criminal records of juveniles. Some conservatives are still weary of the reductions in mandatory minimums. “My impression is they probably went further than I am comfortable with,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
A new lawsuit charges that private probation company in Tennessee is violating racketeering laws by jailing impoverished people who fail to pay court fines for traffic violations and misdemeanor offenses, and by refusing to waive fees for the indigent, the New York Times reports. Seven probationers, many of them sick or disabled and living on as little as $129 a month in food stamps, say they lost housing, jobs and cars, sold their blood plasma and went without food after threats by the company that they would be jailed if they did not pay.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nashville, alleges that Rutherford County and the company, Providence Community Corrections are violating racketeering laws by extorting money through “the wrongful use of fear.” The company said: “Providence Community Corrections’ mission is to encourage people to complete their probation successfully per the terms set by the courts ... In each of the states we serve, we steadfastly comply with the laws governing the probation system.” As private probation has become widespread, so have lawsuits alleging abuses. Companies offer local governments the promise of collecting more of their outstanding court fees and fines. Civil rights advocates say that such debts often go unpaid because of the debtors’ poverty and that aggressive efforts to collect the money under threat of incarceration impose a strain on vulnerable people. In Alabama and Georgia, lawsuits have curbed the use of private probation companies.
Virginia handles the execution of convicted murderers in a precise and professional way. Serial killer Alfredo Prieto lived the final moments of his life with his own version of professionalism, maintaining the same passive look he held through his three long trials, and defiantly refusing to show any remorse or regret as he issued a rehearsed final statement similar to a pro athlete being interviewed after a game, says Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman, who witnessed it. He thanked his “supporters” and then snapped, “Get it over with.”
They did. He entered the death chamber at 8:52 p.m. last night and was dead by 9:17 p.m. A diverse crowd of witnesses watched every moment intently, some in the chamber with him, some victims’ family members and friends in a room peering through one-way glass, and then about 18 more people — lawyers, corrections officials, and four reporters. "We watched what appeared to be an utterly painless death for a man who brutally killed nine people and devastated nine families, " Jackman says.
Jeffery Beasley, inspector general of the Florida Department of Corrections, is stepping down to assume another role at the embattled agency, reports the Miami Herald. His announcement comes after more than a year of widespread criticism and allegations by corrections officers, inspectors, law enforcement officers and prisoners that he and others in his office failed to investigate, and in some cases, may have even thwarted, investigations into the suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates.
Beasley suggested that the local, state and federal inquiries into inmate deaths would reveal no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Beasley, 41, also said he is not being “run out on a rail,’’ but rather, elected voluntarily to move into a new role as head of the inspector general’s intelligence division, which is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking. “This is a phenomenal move and opportunity,’’ Beasley said. The move comes at the same time that Melinda Miguel, Gov. Rick Scott’s chief inspector general, released the results of her probe into claims made by a handful of current and former investigators who alleged that Beasley directed them to back off criminal probes into wrongdoing in the agency, and when they failed to do so, placed them under bogus internal affairs investigations. Miguel concluded there was no “substantive evidence’’ that Beasley had pressured staff to keep investigations in house rather than pursuing criminal charges.
Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk made her long-awaited return to work yesterday, resurfacing after a battle with depression and proclaiming that’s she’s never felt better, the Dallas Morning News reports. “I’m excited to be back at work here today,” she said. “I’ve missed the courthouse, and I’ve missed my colleagues. These past nine weeks have been tough, but I am stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been.” Hawk’s emergence marked the first time she has addressed the public in person since she stopped coming to work in late July.
The next month, after the Morning News reported that she hadn’t been to work in about three weeks, Hawk said she would take an unpaid leave of absence to deal with a “serious episode of depression.” Her mysterious disappearance and subsequent depression announcement fueled courthouse talk about Hawk’s leadership. Since taking office in January, she has fired several high-ranking staffers, faced allegations from paranoia to financial misconduct, and acknowledged that she secretly sought treatment for prescription drug use during her campaign. Hawk did not take questions after her 40-second statement yesterday. She said she plans to give her employees and the public the answers they “deserve” next week.
Decals stating "Blessed are the peacemakers" no longer appear on vehicles of the Houston County, Al., Sheriff's Office vehicles based on a recommendation by the county administrator, reports Al.com. Administrator Bill Dempsey told the Dothan Eagle he advised Sheriff Donald Valenza to remove the Biblical (Matthew 5:9) decals after hearing threats of a lawsuit from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation also sent the sheriff a letter asking him to remove the decals because they violate the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Dempsey said that after speaking to a local attorney and the county's insurance carrier it was determined a lawsuit over the decals would be too expensive. "We have been in meetings with the sheriff for the past week, and we told him we support what's written on the stickers and we support the spirit of it," he said. "But unfortunately, from a legal perspective, we could spend hundreds of thousands and still likely lose."
For the first time, the New York City Police Department is establishing guidelines, backed by a sweeping new tracking...
The call for Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s ouster is growing louder, as national and state police associations joined their Dallas counterparts in an unusual move to request “a change in the leadership philosophy” at the police department, the Dallas Morning News reports. Two City Council members have called for his removal; only the city manager has the authority to dismiss Brown, who has been chief since 2010. The mayor and city manager have continued to support Brown. The Dallas Police Association has continued to beat the drum for change at the top. The Texas Municipal Police Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Black Police Association and the Dallas, state and national Fraternal Order of Police have joined the chorus clamoring for his removal.
“We are here today, unified by our belief that the Dallas Police Department is broken,” said Rochelle Bilal, vice chair of the National Black Police Association. Critics allege that Brown has promoted his friends and retaliated against officers who spoke out against him by transferring them to undesirable positions. National Fraternal Order of Police president Chuck Canterbury said the fact that he and Bilal flew to Dallas and were joined many other groups was “a bold statement.” Canterbury’s organization is the nation’s largest police group, with more than 300,000 members. It’s unusual for a large number of local and national police groups to jointly call for change in a department’s leadership, said Mike Walker, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former police commissioner in Paterson, N.J.
The long-awaited Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is being unveiled today in the U.S. Senate. A bipartisan...
For months, police trying to solve a Long Island robbery spree had little evidence to identify a man in a hoodie and black ski mask holding up one gas station or convenience store after another until he made off with a stack of bills that investigators had secretly embedded with a GPS tracking device. Within days, reports the Associated Press, a suspect accused of pulling off nearly a dozen heists was behind bars. GPS is now used "as a matter of course in our investigations," said Nassau County Police Chief Steven Skrynecki. The tiny satellite-connected devices, embedded by the manufacturer or slipped by police into stacks of cash, pill bottles or other commonly stolen items, are raising questions from legal experts over what they see as the potential for abuse by law enforcement authorities.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court set constitutional boundaries on the police practice of planting GPS trackers on suspects' vehicles to monitor their movements. It stopped short of saying a warrant is always required. That narrow ruling didn't address the embedding of GPS devices pre-emptively in objects that are apt to be stolen. Nor did it address how long police can engage in tracking or how they can use that information. That has left judges with little guidance. "This is the latest chapter in the challenge to the Fourth Amendment by new technology," said George Washington University law Prof. Jonathan Turley. "There is always a concern technology can outstrip existing constitutional law. Now it's up to the courts to decide when police departments can use this technology to facilitate an arrest and prosecution."