Archive | Blind Justice

Sending fewer juveniles to adult court

William Palmer Trial - Courtroom Drama 

Due to the increased use of community-based programs, Kings County, Washington, prosecutors are sending fewer juveniles to adult court than ever before. 

Several U.S. Supreme Court rulings since 2005 have stated that juveniles are “prone to immaturity and impetuosity, [and] often fail to appreciate risks and consequences” and gave discretion to judges to tailor their sentences for juveniles and not adhere to strict sentencing guidelines.

According to Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s juvenile-justice report, in 2016 police referred 67 juvenile cases in King County to prosecutors involving 16 and 17-years-old juveniles who were accused of violent crimes.

These crimes were: first degree robbery: 43.3%, murder: 26.7%, drive-by shooting: 16.7%, first degree assault: 6.7% and first-degree burglary: 3.3%. Of these, 34 were charged in juvenile court and 30 were sent to superior (adult) court.

Out of the 30 cases sent to adult court, the majority involved African American youths (43.3%), followed by Hispanic (26.7%), Asian/Pacific Islander (16.7%), and then Caucasian (6.7%) and Native America (3.3%).

King County prosecutors have broad discretion to decide which court the juveniles who commit these violent acts will be prosecuted and how lenient the court is with sentencing.

To decrease racial disparity that is apparent in Satterberg’s report, the county has been successfully using community-based programs to work with these youths outside the court system and decrease the number of cases filed against juveniles.

One such program is the weekend workshops in the 180 Program, which began in 2011 after conversations Satterberg had with Pastor Doug Wheeler. Held monthly and funded by the prosecutor’s office, the program has helped 1,500 youths avoid charges.

Successful completion of the program means that the misdemeanor charges will be waived before they are filed with the court system. In fact, there were 1,600 cases filed in 2016, 16% less than the year before, compared to 8,000 cases twenty years ago.

Using Satterberg’s report as well as individual court records of the cases, the King County Bar are tailoring prison sentences of juveniles whose cases get sent to adult court.

Automatically sending these juveniles into the adult system does increase recidivism, according to the Washington Institute for Public Policy. 

When combined with community custody or supervision, this approach has greatly reduced length of sentences that otherwise would have been much longer.

There is growing support among Washington lawmakers to decrease the number of crimes eligible for automatic jurisdiction in adult court. However, there are risks to being too lenient as the court will lose any jurisdiction over the minor when he or she reaches 21 years of age.

“Cases should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and even violent crimes should not be auto-declined to adult court,” said attorney Stephen Hamilton. “Other factors such as the juvenile’s age and case history should be considered; we should help these juveniles see a better future for themselves rather than automatically sending them to jail, where they will learn to be better criminals.”


The land of property rights, with one notable exception


Even if I didn’t have friends who were NDNs, just as a human being, it’s hard to mix the hypocrisy of taking Indian lands. Charlie Pierce:

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA—The involvement of the indigenous populations in both the United States and Canada in the opposition to various pipelines, including the Keystone XL, should come as no surprise. As we have said, the abuse and misuse of the eminent domain process in the construction of the pipeline here has been an effective organizing tool to bring together environmentalists and ranchers to oppose the project. And if it is nothing else, the history of the native peoples on this continent is the greatest example of eminent domain abuse in human history. They know better than anyone the feeling that greater forces from the outside can overwhelm and threaten long-standing ways of life.

On Tuesday, in a basement ballroom of a downtown hotel, the Ponca, Santee, Omaha, and Winnebago peoples organized a treaty among themselves, and several other tribes, expressing their opposition to the pipeline. From the start, here and in Canada, the indigenous peoples of the continent have been at the heart of the opposition to projects like this one, most visibly during the extended confrontation over the Dakota Access pipeline. In Nebraska, the alliance between Native Americans and ranchers, particularly over issues of eminent domain, not only was shot through with remarkable historical je ne sais quoi, it was a pragmatic decision based on common interests. People shouldn’t buy the right to steal your land. The Native people are familiar with this phenomenon and with how angry its victims can become.


Connecticut court rules vulgar rant at store manager is protected speech

Judge Bans Mention Of ‘Muslims’ And ‘Islam’ At Public Meeting

Finally, some respect for us vulgarians!

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a woman who vulgarly insulted the assistant manager at a supermarket was protected by free speech rights under the constitution and will be acquitted of a misdemeanor.


In 2013, Nina Baccala was detained in Vernon when she used profanity to insult an assistant Stop & Shop manager. She allegedly became angry when the manager told her that it was past time to complete a money transfer via Western Union.


Ms. Baccala was found guilty of breaching the peace and received a sentence of 25 days’ jailtime.


The case was appealed, and Ms. Baccala’s lawyer argued that insults and name calling do not come under the “fighting words” exception to free speech rights under the constitution.


All of the Supreme Court justices agreed that her sentence should be thrown out. Specifically, four were in favor of an acquittal, and three voted for a new trial.


In writing for the majority, Justice McDonald explained that while the words that Ms. Baccala said to the manager were offensive, they were not criminal.


Additionally, under Federal constitutional law, the evidence presented was not sufficient to corroborate Ms. Baccala’s conviction. Justice McDonald noted that saying words that are offensive or cruel is not criminal unless this would cause a “reasonable person” to retaliate immediately with violence.


Justice McDonald added that managers are quite often confronted by upset and frustrated patrons who angrily express themselves. Managers and those in positions of authority are expected to deflate a hostile or fraught situation.


The prosecutor argued on appeal that Ms. Baccala’s tirade should be considered “fighting words,” and Connecticut’s law regarding breach of peace law grants individuals to be prosecuted for “abusive language.”


The exemption for “fighting words” in the rights of free speech started with a decision by the United States Supreme Court from 1942, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, where the Supreme Court spelled out the fighting words doctrine, which was a limit on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.


Attorney Peter Billings commented, “This ruling correctly protects the free speech rights of Connecticut’s citizens and Ms. Baccala was rightfully exonerated.”

Pennsylvania’s Criminal Justice Reinvestment Initiative announced

020434 Inside Capitol Building Harrisburg PA, 3-27-2012

The US criminal justice system should be consistent, fair and predictable. Often, parole and probation and parole violations are handled inconsistently.

Late June, Pennsylvania announced reforms called justice reinvestment, including punishment  that is characterized as both “swift and certain,” consisting of brief stays in jail for small violators. This is expected to shrink the jail inhabitants by 1000 in the next three years, and save the state $108 million, which will be reinvested to cut recidivism and improve public safety.

Swift-and-certain penalties for probation violators was created by a Honolulu judge hoping to get recidivist drug offenders out of his courtroom. Recidivism was reduced by 50 percent.

The new report described how Pennsylvania could shorten delays for those who serve brief sentences in Pennsylvania prisons while focusing on improving probation.

Critics have cast doubt, claiming that efforts based on punishment have not produced desired results. Specifically, a swift-and-certain program trial last year in Delaware reported no gains resulting versus current probationary practices.

A US-wide trial supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice found no decrease in new arrests and sometimes, the rate of probation revocation grew.

Pennsylvania’s plan produces savings by granting automatic parole for those serving short terms after completing the minimum (with good behavior). This could get people released on parole up to five months ahead of schedule.

Other report recommendations include:

  • Using more risk-assessment means to assess release conditions or bail before trial. These are pushed as a secure means to get low-risk people out of jails, but some claim that the tools are racially biased. Currently, 12 of 57 counties in Pennsylvania use these tools.
  • Create a state-wide probation governing body which bolsters county probation departments and increase funding. Pennsylvania gives only $100 out of the $830 yearly bill for each probationer to the counties; other states contribute a great deal more.

Chester County, Pennsylvania began its program in 2016 for high-risk drug offenders on probation with sporadic weekly drug tests. If someone denies using drugs and tests positive, they receive five days’ jail time but if they admit using drugs, they get two days’ in jail. There used to be nine months of incarceration for probation violations. Remarkably, to date, the rate of positive tests for drugs is down to 7.5 percent from 41 percent and the probation revocation rate has dropped to 40 percent from 59 percent.

Philadelphia is not participating, and their probation detainers are growing the jails’ population. Approximately 50 percent of the city’s prison population is incarcerated on detainers, rendering those people not bail eligible.

Defense attorney Amato Sanita noted that “with the research indicating that even a short time in jail increases someone’s chances of another arrested, we see that the juxtaposition of consequences is key to justice reform.”

Florida’s updated “Stand Your Ground” law declared unconstitutional

Florida State Capitol

A Circuit Judge in Miami-Dade has found that lawmakers went beyond authority granted to them to create the law that forces the prosecution to disprove a self-defense claim made by a defendant during the pre-trial process instead of in front of a jury.

The judge held that the change in the law should have been created by the state’s Supreme Court and not by the Legislature.

Prosecutors see this as a big win. They opposed the law, which they think made easier for defendants to get away with violent crime and murder.

The Attorney General said that they would appeal the order. Most likely next step is the appellate courts and the Florida Supreme Court.

The powerful National Rifle Association lobbied for the law, a controversial update to “Stand Your Ground” originally passed in 2005. Critics say that the divisive self-defense law creates a shoot-first mentality – and gives killers a free pass. It got rid of a citizen’s duty to withdraw before the use of deadly force against a threat.

Additionally, the law allowed judges to more easily dismiss criminal charges before a jury hears the case if they decided that a defendant took action in self-defense.

The governor of Florida signed the new law into effect recently.

Currently, at pre-trial hearings, prosecutors must discredit a defendant’s self-defense claim, which basically essentially compels the State to try a case two times. They must prove a defendant was not acting in self-defense by the standard known as “clear and convincing” evidence.

The judge, Milton Hirsch, is known for being a leader on deciding important legal issues that upset norms. For example, he found that that the County’s inmate detention policy was in violation of the constitution. Last year, the judge ruled that a sentencing plan for the death-penalty was not constitutional, which was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court.

Defense attorney Brian Leifert noted, The new law continues to put the burden of proof on prosecutors that a crime was committed and simply perpetuates the very foundation of our criminal justice system – “innocent until proven guilty.”


Mueller empanels grand jury against Trump

Rusia critica la política “miope, ilegítima y sin perspectivas” de Trump

The Wall Street Journal says that special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a new grand jury in Washington, DC to consider criminal charges against Americans involved in Russian election interference. Reporters Del Quentin Wilber and Byron Tau say the move is “a sign that [Mueller’s] inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase.” “This… Continue Reading →

Great news for some students

Public Service Loan Forgiveness


Tens of thousands of people who took out private loans to pay for college but have not been able to keep up payments may get their debts wiped away because critical paperwork is missing.

The troubled loans, which total at least $5 billion, are at the center of a protracted legal dispute between the student borrowers and a group of creditors who have aggressively pursued them in court after they fell behind on payments.

Judges have already dismissed dozens of lawsuits against former students, essentially wiping out their debt, because documents proving who owns the loans are missing. A review of court records by The New York Times shows that many other collection cases are deeply flawed, with incomplete ownership records and mass-produced documentation.

Some of the problems playing out now in the $108 billion private student loan market are reminiscent of those that arose from the subprime mortgage crisis a decade ago, when billions of dollars in subprime mortgage loans were ruled uncollectible by courts because of missing or fake documentation. And like those troubled mortgages, private student loans — which come with higher interest rates and fewer consumer protections than federal loans — are often targeted at the most vulnerable borrowers, like those attending for-profit schools.

At the center of the storm is one of the nation’s largest owners of private student loans, the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts. It is struggling to prove in court that it has the legal paperwork showing ownership of its loans, which were originally made by banks and then sold to investors. National Collegiate’s lawyers warned in a recent legal filing, “As news of the servicing issues and the trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises.”

This is nice!

Donald Trump's legal team tries to refute his 'under investigation' tweet

It’s widely believed Flynn is already cooperating, so who’s next?

A veteran federal prosecutor recruited onto special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is known for a skill that may come in handy in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team: persuading witnesses to turn on friends, colleagues and superiors.

Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal fraud section before joining Mueller’s team last month, is best known for two assignments – the investigation of now-defunct energy company Enron and organized crime cases in Brooklyn, New York – that depended heavily on gaining witness cooperation.

Securing the cooperation of people close to Trump, many of whom have been retaining their own lawyers, could be important for Mueller, who was named by the Justice Department as special counsel on May 17 and is investigating, among other issues, whether Trump himself has sought to obstruct justice. Trump has denied allegations of both collusion and obstruction.

“Flipping” witnesses is a common, although not always successful, tactic in criminal prosecutions.

Robert Ray, who succeeded Kenneth Starr as the independent counsel examining former President Bill Clinton, noted that Trump’s fired former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has already offered through his lawyer to testify before Congress in exchange for immunity, suggesting potential willingness to cooperate as a witness.

“It would seem to me the time is now to make some decisions about what you have and what leverage can be applied to get the things you don’t have,” Ray said, referring to Mueller’s team.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and others close to the president already have hired their own lawyers to help navigate Mueller’s expanding probe and ongoing congressional investigations.

Kathryn Ruemmler, who served as White House counsel under former President Barack Obama, said Weissmann is willing to take risks to secure witness testimony that other prosecutors might not. Ruemmler worked with Weissmann on the Justice Department’s Enron task force that investigated the massive corporate fraud that led to the company’s 2001 collapse.

Site Meter