States Take a Fresh Look at Snitching

Legislatures around the country are considering—and passing—bills to tighten rules governing the use of criminal informants. The “new wave of reforms” is long overdue for a practice that has historically been secretive and under-regulated, writes a University of California law professor.

Nobody likes a snitch, but never have so many people been doing so much about it.

Legislatures around the country, from Texas to Montana to New York, are considering and passing bills to better regulate the use of compensated criminal witnesses. As the New York Times Editorial Board complained just a couple of months ago, “[m]any prosecutors are far too willing to present testimony from people they would never trust under ordinary circumstances.”

Apparently state lawmakers agree.

Almost all of the legislation requires better tracking and disclosure. It has become an article of common sense that if the government is going to pay its criminal witnesses for evidence and testimony, it should have to keep track of them, their histories and those rewards—and disclose that information to the defense.

Texas has been a leader in this regard, passing comprehensive new requirements in July. Such reforms are driven first and foremost by the fear of wrongful conviction: Compensated witnesses hoping to gain their own freedom obviously have strong incentives to lie.

Better tracking and disclosure also strengthen the integrity of the adversarial system. While Supreme Court cases like Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. U.S. already require prosecutorial disclosure, constitutional rules have turned out to be relatively weak guarantees that the defense will get salient information about informants in their cases. These new state laws are an important effort to level the adversarial playing field and improve its accuracy as well as its integrity.

Lots of states are going further, however. They are rethinking not just what the government should disclose about its informants but under what circumstances it should be permitted to use them at all.

Many states are trying to get the bench more involved, requiring pretrial reliability hearings in which judges act as gatekeepers to evaluate informant reliability before those informants get in front of a jury.

These procedures are like the Daubert hearings currently used to screen experts and they have the same rationale: Informants, like experts, are paid and controlled by one side, hard to cross examine, and often exert undue influence on lay juries. Both Washington and Montana considered exemplary legislation that would require reliability hearings in all cases.

Some legislators have worked on limiting the benefits that informants can receive, or, in death penalty cases, banning them altogether. Other states have taken a different tack, recognizing that unreliability is just one of many challenges raised by the creation and use of informants.

For example, parents around the country were shocked to learn that some college campus police pressure students into becoming informants. The coercion of young people and other vulnerable targets became headline national news several years ago when 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman became an informant to work off a minor drug charge in Tallahassee, Florida. She was killed during a dangerous sting operation, and her death led to the passage of Rachel’s Law which required Florida police to come up with stronger informant guidelines.

This year, North Dakota set a new standard for reform with Andrew’s Law, named after college student Andrew Sadek who was killed after being pressured into becoming an informant by a local drug task force.

At least eight states—California, Illinois, Mississippi, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington—considered these sorts of new rules in 2017. Some of the bills passed, some didn’t—often legislation like this takes a couple of years to become law—but they all reflect a deepened awareness of the informant challenge and the legislative commitment to better regulate it.

Here are some highlights:

  • Texas passed comprehensive reform requiring prosecutors to track and disclose their informants’ criminal history, past testimony, and benefits. The New York Times called it “the most comprehensive effort yet to rein in the dangers of transactional snitching.”
  • Andrew’s Law in North Dakota prohibits campus police from using students as informants. State police may only use informants with a written agreement. Of particular note, Andrew’s Law bans the use of child informants under the age of 16, one of very few states to do so.
  • Illinois came very close to re-instituting reliability hearings. The state previously required them in capital cases: now that Illinois no longer has the death penalty this bill will require pretrial hearings for all jailhouse informants.
  • Montana’s Senate Bill 249 introduced comprehensive legislation that would require, among other things, electronic recording of informant statements, greater prosecutorial disclosure, pretrial reliability hearings, and cautionary jury instructions.
  • Washington recently considered two bills. One from 2016 would have required pretrial reliability hearings in all informant cases. The other would have required enhanced prosecutorial disclosure. Barry Scheck, founder and director of the Innocence Project, wrote that the Washington legislation was a “key advance” and that it represented an opportunity to “ensure that the strongest protections are in place for the innocent.”

This wave of new reform has been a long time coming.

The innocence movement warned us for years that criminal informants are a leading cause of wrongful conviction. In Orange County, California, a multi-year ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal has derailed numerous homicide and gang cases and triggered a federal investigation.

Alexandra Natapoff

Almost every week brings a new media story about an informant case gone awry. Criminal informants have historically been secretive and under-regulated; today, this problematic law enforcement practice is getting its much-deserved day in the sun.

Snitching will never be the same.

Alexandra Natapoff is Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. She is a national expert on the use of criminal informants, author of Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (NYU Press 2009), and runs the educational resource website Snitching.Org. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police Infiltrate Anti-Fascist Group: “The Only Asshole at the Protest Was a Cop”

Reading from the Voice Media empire: An attorney representing a student protest group claims “outrageous conduct” by local law enforcement. The reason? The lawyer argues that undercover officers were improperly embedded among the nonviolent protesters, whose largest offense at a March rally appears to have been jaywalking. Westword has the story.

The post Police Infiltrate Anti-Fascist Group: “The Only Asshole at the Protest Was a Cop” appeared first on True Crime Report.

Reading from the Voice Media empire: An attorney representing a student protest group claims “outrageous conduct” by local law enforcement. The reason? The lawyer argues that undercover officers were improperly embedded among the nonviolent protesters, whose largest offense at a March rally appears to have been jaywalking. Westword has the story.

The post Police Infiltrate Anti-Fascist Group: “The Only Asshole at the Protest Was a Cop” appeared first on True Crime Report.

from http://www.truecrimereport.com

Tuesday round-up

Tuesday round-upAfter Sunday’s imposition of new restrictions on entry into the United States by nationals from eight countries, the Supreme Court yesterday removed the pending entry-ban cases from the October argument calendar and directed the parties to address the effect on the cases of both the new order and the scheduled October 24 expiration of the […]

The post Tuesday round-up appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Tuesday round-up

After Sunday’s imposition of new restrictions on entry into the United States by nationals from eight countries, the Supreme Court yesterday removed the pending entry-ban cases from the October argument calendar and directed the parties to address the effect on the cases of both the new order and the scheduled October 24 expiration of the refugee provisions in the previous order. Amy Howe has this blog’s coverage, which first appeared at Howe on the Court. Additional coverage comes from Laura Meckler and Brent Kendall in The Wall Street Journal, Richard Wolf in USA Today, Ariane de Vogue at CNN, Gary Gately at Talk Media News, Greg Stohr at Bloomberg, Robert Barnes and Devlin Barrett in The Washington Post, and Josh Gerstein at Politico, who reports that “the Supreme Court’s new order seems to be a signal that at least some justices are eager to get rid of the pending cases without deciding them on the merits.” In The New York Times, Michael Shear, Ron Nixon and Adam Liptak report that dismissal of the cases as moot “would allow [President Donald Trump] to avoid a definitive ruling on whether he had violated the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom and exceeded his statutory authority to control the country’s borders, as civil rights lawyers had argued.”

Yesterday the justices convened for the first time since June for their “long conference,” at which they considered the hundreds of cert petitions they received over the summer. Surveys of some of the notable petitions come from Kevin Daley at The Daily Caller, who notes that so far “the Court has accepted a paltry 32 cases, less than half the number of cases they typically hear over the course of a term,” and Scott Bomboy at Constitution Daily, who reports that “[d]uring the long conference, the Justices will accept more cases than usual but also reject a much-higher percentage than usual, because of the sheer bulk of the cases before them.”

Counting to 5 (podcast) features a discussion of Epic Systems v. Lewis, in which the court will decide whether employment agreements that ban collective resolution of workplace disputes violate federal employment laws, which will be argued on October 2, the first day of the new Supreme Court term. At his eponymous blog, Ross Runkel notes that, because the Department of Justice switched sides in the case after the change in administration, “we will have the rare treat of watching the US Solicitor General arguing in favor of the employers and the NLRB’s General Counsel arguing in favor of the NLRB and the employees.”

The Associated Press reports that “opponents are lining up to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out Ohio’s system for removing inactive voters from the rolls,” filing amicus briefs in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. Additional coverage comes from John Myers in the Los Angeles Times, who reports that California is one of 11 states that filed a brief opposing the Ohio system, and from Sabrina Eaton at Cleveland.com, who reports that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also filed a brief in support of the challengers.

In The Washington Post, Robert Barnes reports that “extraordinary developments in Wisconsin,” where partisan-gerrymandering case Gill v. Whitford arose, “have given the public an inside look at what usually is a top-secret process — and confirmation of the adage that in redistricting, legislators choose their constituents, not the other way around.” At Slate, Nicholas Stephanopoulos, argues that “[j]ust by changing how district lines are drawn—without persuading a single voter—gerrymandering warps the entire political system,” and that without “judicial intervention …, in gerrymandered states, the government will persistently flout the public will.”

Briefly:

  • At Law.com, Marcia Coyle and Tony Mauro report on several Supreme Court-related projects that “will soon be coming to the big and small screens.”
  • At The Atlantic, Garrett Epps laments that “as the first Monday in October, which opens the Supreme Court’s 2017-18 term, bears down upon us,” “[n]ot since the New Deal crisis of 1937 has the Supreme Court been so clearly revealed to the world as fully enmeshed in the rankest partisan politics.”
  • At The Federalist, Margot Cleveland argues that the free-speech right asserted in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which the court will decide whether the First Amendment allows a state to require a Christian baker to create a cake for a same-sex wedding, is “a breastplate for believers who seek protection from laws which would require them to violate their conscience, as such protection is no longer offered by the Free Exercise Clause of the constitution.”

We rely on our readers to send us links for our round-up.  If you have or know of a recent (published in the last two or three days) article, post, podcast, or op-ed relating to the Supreme Court that you’d like us to consider for inclusion in the round-up, please send it to roundup [at] scotusblog.com. Thank you!

The post Tuesday round-up appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

from http://www.scotusblog.com

A Farmer’s Revenge

     On July 3, 2012, police in Newport, Vermont, a town of 5,000 ten miles from the Canadian border, arrested Roger Pion for possession of marijuana. The Orleans County prosecutor also charged the 34-year-old farmer with resisting arres…

     On July 3, 2012, police in Newport, Vermont, a town of 5,000 ten miles from the Canadian border, arrested Roger Pion for possession of marijuana. The Orleans County prosecutor also charged the 34-year-old farmer with resisting arrest. The next day, Pion posted his $15,000 bail and walked out of jail.

     A month later, on August 2, 1012, Roger Pion drove his parent's 15-ton farm tractor into town. He pulled the massive machine onto the Orleans County Sheriff's Office parking lot, and in monster truck derby fashion, drove over and crushed seven of the county's police cruisers. Deputies sitting at their desks yards away, due to the noise from their office air conditioning units, didn't hear Mr. Pion flattening more than half of the department's patrol car fleet.

     Stunned bystanders looked on as Pion, after driving his tractor on top of the row of police cars, headed out of town. Since farm tractors do not make good get-away-vehicles, an officer with the Newport Police Department, two miles out of town, pulled the car-crusher over. After a scuffle, the city officer took Pion into custody.

     When the monster tractor rolled off the pancaked police cars, it left behind $250,000 in property damage. The Orleans County prosecutor charged Mr. Pion with seven felony counts of unlawful mischief, one count of leaving the scene of an accident (this was no accident), and aggravated assault of a police officer. A magistrate set Pion's bond at $50,000. The Great Vermont Patrol Car Destroyer was housed in the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

     If Roger Pion enrolled in some kind of anger management program, maybe he would at least learn how to take out his anger on the right people. The sheriff's office, the agency whose vehicles he flattened, had nothing to do with his July 3 marijuana bust. He should have been furious with the police department.  

     In October 2014, State's Attorney Alan Franklin and defense attorney Chandler Matson agreed that the police vehicle masher had been insane at the time he pancaked the cars. As a result, the local folk hero was not prosecuted. 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The Entertainment Value of High-Profile Criminal Trials

     A court room isn’t quite a theatre, but there’s something inherently dramatic about it all the same….Ever since the dark ages of the Salem Witch Trials, court proceedings have been public affairs. Trials represent the goal of governmental transparency. It makes sense that a crime against society should be tried before the eyes of that same society. But somewhere along the line, that public interest became public entertainment. Trials began to be televised, in a slightly edited fashion. Commentary on trials came to resemble the commentary on a major sporting event. For high profile cases, crowds gather outside court rooms in hopes of getting a seat in the gallery. [American’s first high-profile trial, the Webster-Parkman case, took place in Boston in 1850. Since then there have been hundreds of such judicial spectacles and dozens of “Crimes of the Century.”]

     Last year the floodgates opened completely and the line between reality TV and the criminal trial became blurred in…the trial of Jodi Arias, then accused of the murder of  her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The trial was streamed in its entirety on Youtube. The only censored information was the sidebars. Prosecutor Juan Martinez actually signed autographs outside the court house, and posed for pictures with “fans” who traveled from across the globe to attend the lengthy trial….

“10 of the Most Entertaining Criminal Trials,” TheRichList.com, March 13, 2014      

     A court room isn't quite a theatre, but there's something inherently dramatic about it all the same….Ever since the dark ages of the Salem Witch Trials, court proceedings have been public affairs. Trials represent the goal of governmental transparency. It makes sense that a crime against society should be tried before the eyes of that same society. But somewhere along the line, that public interest became public entertainment. Trials began to be televised, in a slightly edited fashion. Commentary on trials came to resemble the commentary on a major sporting event. For high profile cases, crowds gather outside court rooms in hopes of getting a seat in the gallery. [American's first high-profile trial, the Webster-Parkman case, took place in Boston in 1850. Since then there have been hundreds of such judicial spectacles and dozens of "Crimes of the Century."]

     Last year the floodgates opened completely and the line between reality TV and the criminal trial became blurred in…the trial of Jodi Arias, then accused of the murder of  her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The trial was streamed in its entirety on Youtube. The only censored information was the sidebars. Prosecutor Juan Martinez actually signed autographs outside the court house, and posed for pictures with "fans" who traveled from across the globe to attend the lengthy trial….

"10 of the Most Entertaining Criminal Trials," TheRichList.com, March 13, 2014      

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Novelists Should Write For Themselves

My biggest struggle as a novelist is to put my own story on paper–not to be influenced by what I think my editor, my publisher, my friends, or the reader wants to see on the page. I need to get these people out of my writing space and focus on writing…

My biggest struggle as a novelist is to put my own story on paper--not to be influenced by what I think my editor, my publisher, my friends, or the reader wants to see on the page. I need to get these people out of my writing space and focus on writing my story. If it resonates for me, it will resonate for my readers.

Joan Johnston in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, edited by Andrew McLeer, 2008 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Young Readers Have Different Tastes Than Adults

Children and adolescents have their own distinctive ideas concerning humor, politics, and prose, and their tastes in these matters may strike older readers as sophomoric, gauche, ill-informed, or just dead wrong. Conversely, the young have a way of not…

Children and adolescents have their own distinctive ideas concerning humor, politics, and prose, and their tastes in these matters may strike older readers as sophomoric, gauche, ill-informed, or just dead wrong. Conversely, the young have a way of noticing that good manners can be oppressive, that the past is often irrelevant, and that emperors are sometimes naked. In short, the young are not lesser beings; they're just different.

Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, 1998 

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Petition of the day

Petition of the dayThe petition of the day is: Great Plains Lending, LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 17-184 Issue: Whether a generally applicable federal statute, which is silent as to its applicability to Indian Tribes, should nevertheless be presumed to apply to Indian Tribes.

The post Petition of the day appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Petition of the day

The petition of the day is:

17-184

Issue: Whether a generally applicable federal statute, which is silent as to its applicability to Indian Tribes, should nevertheless be presumed to apply to Indian Tribes.

The post Petition of the day appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

from http://www.scotusblog.com

Man arrested for pouring hot water on 2-year-old girl

A Florida man faces charges for pouring scalding water on a 2-year-old child. Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said Jonathan Lee Howard, 26, was arrested Sunday for child neglect after the toddler was burned while in his care. The 2-year-old girl was airlifted to a local hospital, where she was treated for severe burns on her…

A Florida man faces charges for pouring scalding water on a 2-year-old child. Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said Jonathan Lee Howard, 26, was arrested Sunday for child neglect after the toddler was burned while in his care. The 2-year-old girl was airlifted to a local hospital, where she was treated for severe burns on her...

from http://nypost.com

Categories: Uncategorized

Mom, husband plead not guilty after girl’s remains found in burn pile

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A southwest Missouri couple pleaded not guilty in the death of the woman’s biological daughter, who was living with them after spending her earlier life with an adoptive family in Minnesota. Attorneys for 39-year-old Rebecca Ruud and 31-year-old Robert Peat Jr., of Theodosia, entered pleas for them Monday in separate appearances in…

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A southwest Missouri couple pleaded not guilty in the death of the woman’s biological daughter, who was living with them after spending her earlier life with an adoptive family in Minnesota. Attorneys for 39-year-old Rebecca Ruud and 31-year-old Robert Peat Jr., of Theodosia, entered pleas for them Monday in separate appearances in...

from http://nypost.com

Categories: Uncategorized