Observations 16 to 85 percent of federal suspects in criminal matters concluded are declined from federal prosecution. 80.8 percent of the 631 civil rights violation suspects were declined from federal prosecution. 85.8 percent of 197 threats against the president suspects were declined from federal prosecution. Federal prosecutors have options beyond bringing charges in federal court. […]
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Colorado violates the Constitution by requiring defendants whose convictions were reversed to file civil suits to recover court fees and costs.
A man and a woman in Colorado who were cleared of charges in different sex crimes are entitled to a refund of thousands of dollars in court fees and costs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today. The high court ruled in favor of Shannon Nelson and Louis Madden. Nelson’s convictions of sexual assault against children were reversed, but she was ordered to pay $8,193, mostly in victim restitution. Madden’s sex-crime convictions were also reversed, and he was told to pay $4,413, including a fee for genetic testing of sex offenders.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that “due process does not require a refund of costs, fees, and restitution when a defendant’s conviction is reversed,” but the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that Colorado requires defendants whose convictions were reversed to file a civil suit to recover their money. That violates the Constitution’s guarantee of due process of law, she said. Justice Samuel Alito concurred in the result, and Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.
Judge Thomas Low got emotional while sentencing Keith Vallejo, a former Mormon bishop who had been convicted of 11 counts of sexual abuse. “The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man,” Low said. “But great men sometimes do bad things.”
Complaints are mounting against Utah County Judge Thomas Low, who praised a former Mormon bishop as “extraordinary” before sending him to prison for sexually abusing two women, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Low got emotional last week as he sentenced Keith Robert Vallejo, whom a jury convicted of 11 counts of sexual assault charges. “The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man,” Low said. “But great men sometimes do bad things.” Two women testified that Vallejo had inappropriately touched them during separate stays at his Provo home in 2013 and 2014.
Julia Kirby, who was 19 when Vallejo, her brother-in-law, abused her, said she was shocked by Low’s words to her abuser and plans to file a judicial complaint against him. Restore Our Humanity, an advocacy group for sexual assault victims, said it too will file a complaint. Director Mark Lawrence said Low’s comments showed “absolute disregard” for Kirby, who was sitting in the courtroom. Criticism of Low began in March, when he allowed Vallejo to remain free on bail pending sentencing–and return home to his wife and eight children–even a jury convicted him. Kirby said she felt the decision indicated that Low did not believe that she and the other woman had been abused.
Police said they found no indication of foul play in the death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African American woman to serve on the New York Court of Appeals. She had been reported missing by her husband the day before her body turned up in the river not far from her Harlem home.
Sheila Abdus-Salaam, an associate judge on New York State’s highest court and the first African-American woman to serve on that bench, was found dead on Wednesday in the Hudson River, reports the New York Times. Police responded about 1:45 p.m. to a report of a person floating by the shore near West 132nd Street in Upper Manhattan. Abdus-Salaam, 65, was taken to a pier on the Hudson River and was pronounced dead.
Police said they found no sign of foul play. Her body showed no trauma and was fully clothed. She lived in Harlem, about a mile from where her body was found, and had been reported missing the previous day by her husband. Since 2013, Judge Abdus-Salaam had been one of seven judges on the State Court of Appeals. Before that, she served for about four years as an associate justice on the First Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, and for 15 years as a State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan.
Police are looking into whether the shooting was connected to recent threats against Judge Raymond Myles or an apparent road-rage incident that left him with serious injuries last year.
Cook County, Il., Judge Raymond Myles persuaded his neighbors to install surveillance cameras on their homes. Now those same cameras could help solve yesterday’s fatal shooting of the judge, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Detectives are considering a variety of motives including robbery and possible links to a beating the judge suffered in 2015 and recent threats that he’d received. Myles, 66, was shot at about 4:50 a.m. outside his home. His 52-year-old girlfriend was shot in the leg. A neighbor said he was in his home when he heard a woman outside yelling, “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!” Then he heard about five gunshots.
Police don’t believe the shootings were random. Myles’ girlfriend encountered the shooter on a concrete pad between the house and the garage, said Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples. The two “exchanged words” and the woman was shot. The woman didn’t appear to know the shooter, Staples said. Myles came out of the house in response to the noise. He and the gunman argued and the man shot Myles multiple times before running away, Staples said. Police said they are looking into whether the shootings are connected to recent threats against Myles or an apparent road-rage incident that left him with serious injuries last year.
Observations Federal Data: 16 to 50 percent of federal crimes are deferred from prosecution, per “Federal Justice Statistics.” State Data: 34 percent of state felony cases are not convicted (approximately nine percent involve a deferred adjudication or diversion outcome), per “Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties.” Author Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking […]
Debt-relief programs allow prisoners to reduce the money the owe to the court system and avoid modern-day debtors’ prisons.
Inmates in Virginia’s Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail are allowed to do community service to work off the debt that they rack up in fines and fees on their way through the court system, Stateline reports. Under the debt-relief program, developed by the City of Charlottesville and two surrounding counties, the inmates’ debt is reduced by $7.25, the state’s minimum wage, for each hour they work. Inmates put in hours at jobs, such as clearing trash or maintaining parks, for various government agencies. The judges, prosecutors, court clerks and jail administrators who developed the program say it helps to keep people from being thrown into a spiral of debt with little or no way of paying off their fines and fees, particularly as interest on the debt mounts.
“It doesn’t take long for court fines and fees to build up on people and if you create a mountain that’s too high to climb, people give up hope,” said Charlottesville Judge Robert Downer Jr. “This [program] lets people meet their obligations and holds them accountable but it gives them a way forward.” Other states have similar programs that are aimed at helping people dig out from under court-ordered debt that the national Conference of State Court Administrators warns often cannot be paid off and can even trap people in a “modern-day version of debtors’ prison.” Georgia, New Mexico and Washington state, for example, let people work off debt with credits commensurate with the minimum-wage does. Michigan in some cases allows people to reduce their debt by meeting education requirements like getting a GED diploma. It can be challenging to start programs because courts in many states are largely dependent on the money from fines and fees to finance their operation.
A guilty plea is likely to win you less leniency in sentencing if you’re an African-American male, according to a study published in Justice Quarterly this month. With 95% of all convictions the result of guilty pleas—many of them arranged through plea bargaining—the study authors argue that more attention needs to be paid to potential bias in the early phases of case processing.
Black male defendants are less likely to receive lower sentences when they agree to plead guilty than black females or whites of both genders, a new study found.
The study, published this month in Justice Quarterly, based its findings on data from 907 felony cases represented by public defenders in a circuit court in one of Florida’s larger counties.
The authors— Christi Metcalfe, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal justice at the University of South Carolina; and Ted Chiricos, professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University—examined the factors that predict likelihood of plea across race and gender, and potential racial disparities in the plea value regarding charge reduction.
The study findings suggest that black defendants –and black males in particular—are less likely to plead guilty than white defendants, the authors said, adding that when guilty pleas are entered, black male defendants get the worst value for their plea.
While the authors say the data is not sufficient to conclude that the disparities are due to racial or gender bias, they argue that many defendants behave as if they assume such biases exist, further distorting justice system outcomes.
“If plea bargaining is viewed as advantageous for its more lenient sentencing outcomes, it appears that black males, and to a lesser extent white males, are disadvantaged in a system that relies heavily on plea bargaining”—particularly when, as the authors note, 95% of all convictions are the result of a guilty plea.
This summary was prepared by TCR intern Davi Hernandez
Untangling who is lying in criminal cases can be “absolutely daunting,” former prosecutor Richard Scheff tells the Philadelphia Inquirer. “There can be any number of reasons why people change their statements.”
Changing stories told on the stand after convictions is so common, court watchers have a name for it: “Testilying.” A stark reality of the criminal justice system is that people lie. They lie to stay out of jail, to get out of jail, to curry favor with cops, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Police sometimes lie, too. Untangling who is lying in criminal cases can be “absolutely daunting,” said lawyer Richard Scheff, who recalled wrestling with the issue when he was a federal prosecutor. “There can be any number of reasons why people change their statements.”
Scientific advances in crime solving — especially DNA testing — have freed the wrongfully convicted and proven guilt. Almost as a rule, experts say, courts don’t like to reopen old cases without compelling scientific evidence. Jennifer Creed Selber, former chief of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office’s homicide unit, acknowledged witness recantations are a “pervasive” problem. She believes witnesses usually recant because they fear retaliation from defendants. “If we attempted to prosecute every witness that perjures themselves, it would be a completely unworkable and impossible situation.”
The Inquirer reviews how a testilying controversy played out in a 2012 review of a 1991 murder case.
Observations Is Project Exile Donald Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ primary anti-violence effort? Launched in 1997 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, homicides in Richmond exhibited a 22 percent yearly decline, compared with the average reduction of about 10 percent per year for other large U.S. cities. Author Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for […]