Amid Probe, Trump Legal Team Explores Pardons, Conflicts

The president’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and discussing Trump’s authority to grant pardons aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe.

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, reports the Washington Post. Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of his legal advisers. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Trump’s lawyers and aides are scouring the professional and political backgrounds of investigators hired by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation — or even build a case to fire Mueller or get some members of his team recused.


Want to Snip Your Jail Time? Get Sterilized, Says TN Judge

Judge Sam Benningfield in rural White County, Tenn., has offered the 30-days-off deal for two months. Sixty men and women have signed up. The ACLU says the idea is unconstitutional.

Inmates at the White County jail in rural central Tennessee are being offered 30 days off their sentences if they agree to be sterilized, reports UPI. Judge Sam Benningfield said he introduced the program May 15 to both men and women as a way to prevent procreation by repeat drug offenders and others accused of crimes. “I understand it won’t be entirely successful but if you reach two or three people, maybe that’s two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win-win,” he told WTVF-TV in Nashville.

So far, 32 women have had a Nexplanon implant put in their arm, which can prevent child birth for up to four years. Thirty-eight men have signed up to get a vasectomy, which can be permanent. District Attorney Bryant Dunaway said he does not support the idea, which he called unethical. It might also be unconstitutional. “Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail time and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional,” said Hedy Weinberg of the Tennessee ACLU. “Such a choice violates the fundamental constitutional right to reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity by interfering with the intimate decision of whether and when to have a child, imposing an intrusive medical procedure on individuals who are not in a position to reject it.”


Miami Murder Rate Plunges to Historic Lows, But Why?

The city once labeled “Paradise Lost” as drug-driven murder spiked to 300 a year in the 1980s had just 26 homicides in the first six months this year. Police and community leaders cite several reasons, including a citizenry fed-up with gun violence that has grown more willing to engage with law enforcers.

Is Miami, once labeled “Paradise Lost” by Time magazine because of a searing homicide rate fueled by a crippling drug trade, now one of the safest major cities in the U.S. when it comes to gunfire deaths? The Miami Herald reports that of the 26 homicides in the city through June 30, only 16 were due to gunfire. Both numbers represent historic lows for a city that often racked up close to 300 homicides during the 1980s and which has seen those numbers drop by about 75 percent over the past three years.

Police and some community leaders attribute the drop to a combination of factors: sharing of intelligence between policing agencies, more parental involvement, a persistent cry from the community to end gun violence, even new medical life-saving techniques used by surgeons who have learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We had to build bridges to open lines of trust and communication,” said Miami-Dade Homicide Maj. Calvin James. “Somewhere in the past these relationships were lost. So we made changes. And we’re starting to see the fruits of those changes.”


The OJ Overload: Media Turns Back Clock to 1994

The live TV coverage of the former football star’s Nevada parole hearing was “astonishing,” says criminologist James Alan Fox. What if the media gave that much time and attention to important criminal justice stories, like the broken parole system?

What if the media gave as much attention to the country’s broken parole systems as it lavished on O.J. Simpson’s parole hearing Thursday in Nevada? Writing in USA today, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox says, “What is quite astonishing is that the hearing and the board’s quick decision (granting parole) were broadcast on every major television network, including sports-oriented ESPN…If you didn’t know better, it would seem, given the pervasive attention, that we were swearing in a new president of the United States, not gawking at a convicted felon.”

It is no wonder that Americans are ill-informed about fundamental issues of their criminal justice system, Fox writes, since “the level of overexposure rings more of entertainment than news.” He concludes, “There is an important line beyond which the news coverage of criminals can become excessive and offensive. That line was crossed today.”


Feds Shutter 2 Online Drug Markets; Dealers Move to a 3rd

Hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions touted the demise of two “dark net” drugs sites, AlphaBay and Hansa, dealers began migrating to another, DreamMarket. The scenario highlights the whack-a-mole challenges of policing drugs sold online.

Two of the largest online black-market sites have been shuttered in a law enforcement crackdown, but drug dealers have moved in a hurry to a third “dark net” emporium, where listings of fentanyl and heroin have already spiked, reports NBC News. The newfound popularity of DreamMarket highlights the whack-a-mole challenges of policing drugs sold online even as government officials touted the the death of the other two sites, AlphaBay and Hansa.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that AlphaBay — described as a major source of fentanyl and heroin that has been linked to overdose deaths — had been seized and closed down. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it “likely one of the most important criminal investigations of the year.” The so-called dark net is a part of the Internet that can only be accessed by specialized software or hardware and contains clandestine websites not found through normal search engines. Alphabay and Hansa advertised drugs, chemicals, counterfeit documents, weapon and computer malware among many other items and services, cloaking users in anonymity. Authorities said AlphaBay alone was responsible for at least a billion dollars worth of commerce, using bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. But as soon as authorities shut down AlphaBay, sellers began migrating to other sites, according to Kela Targeted Cyber Intelligence, a Tel Aviv company that monitors the dark net.


Poland Mulls Proposal to Wipe Out Supreme Court

A contentious bill that is racing through the legislative process would dismiss the country’s current Supreme Court judges and let President Andrzej Duda appoint new ones. There were mass protests against the proposal in Warsaw and other cities, and the European Union has voiced stern opposition.

Poland’s Senate opened debate Friday on a contentious draft law that would dismiss the country’s current Supreme Court judges and let President Andrzej Duda appoint new ones, reports the Associated Press. Earlier, a special Senate commission swiftly reviewed and approved the bill, which critics say opens the door to political influence over the nation’s top court. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Warsaw and other cities, demanding it be repealed. Critics say they proposal violates the nation’s constitution. A vote by the full Senate was expected later Friday.

Top judicial bodies in the neighboring Czech Republic took the unusual step of issuing a statement calling the latest steps by the Polish government “an unprecedented attack on judicial independence.” The European Union has also condemned the proposed law and the speed with which it was pushed through. European Council head Donald Tusk, Poland’s former prime minister, says the proposed law contradicts EU values and is hurting Poland’s international image. Both the Polish Senate and lower house are controlled by the conservative Law and Justice party. The bill needs only Senate approval before Duda signs it into law.


Under Fire, Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn Hires an Attorney

Edward Flynn, the city’s longtime chief, has hired legal counsel after what he viewed as a threat to his job security in a dispute over the city’s police pursuit policy.

Embattled Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has hired an attorney to represent him in the wake of a Fire and Police Commission order to change the city’s police pursuit policy, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal. Attorney Franklyn Gimbel said Flynn hired him “to consult with him about the threats that were included in his Fire and Police Commission directive related to employment.” Last week, the commission ordered Flynn to submit a revised pursuit policy to the panel by July 27. The directive came after months of study and public testimony about police chases and how the policy may be influencing a culture of reckless driving and playing a role in the local drug trade.

The order said that “failure to comply with this directive may result in disciplinary action by the board, including discharge, suspension without pay or reduction in rank.” Gimbel said, “I’ve never seen a communication from a Fire and Police Commission in Milwaukee to the chief that essentially says, ‘Do this or else.’ I view it as an ultimatum threat, and I don’t think it’s an appropriate.” Flynn’s decision to hire Gimbel comes amid tension with the Milwaukee Common Council. Last week, Alderman Tony Zielinski unveiled a proposal that would give the council the power to fire the city’s police chief.


PA Court Bars Retroactive Sex Offender Registration

The state supreme court said sex offenders convicted before a 2012 law was enacted cannot be compelled to adhere to registration protocols required under the law.

Nearly 4,000 crime victims will be affected by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling this week that bars the retroactive extension of registration requirements for sex offenders, reports State Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm said her office is reaching out to all of them as it tries to gauge the impact of that ruling, which the divided court issued Wednesday in a Cumberland County case. The majority ruling by Justice Kevin M. Dougherty established that state officials can’t increase the amount of registration time required for sex offenders who were convicted before the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was adopted in 2012.

Several convicted sex offenders had filed legal challenges to retroactive registration orders. Dougherty found that the SORNA requirement that offenders must register with state police is a “punishment” and so cannot be increased retroactively. Storm said her agency is working with its legal teams to determine how the Supreme Court decision will affect 3,929 sex crime victims who receive SORNA notifications for older cases. Victims can call her office at 800-563-6399.


San Antonio Debates Value of ShotSpotter Technology

Two city council members have questioned whether the gunfire-locating technology is effective in reducing crime. The Texas city has been testing the technology in two neighborhoods for the past year.

Two San Antonio city council members are questioning the value of SpotShotter, the subscription system that dozens of American cities use to detect the location of gunshots, reports KHOU-TV. Councilman Cruz Shaw said he does not favor an extension of the city’s $270,000 trial of ShotSpotter when the contract expires. For the past year, the pilot program has been pinpointing gunshots in two areas, east San Antonio and on the west side.

“I think we need to reconsider the effectiveness of the ShotSpotter program since it has shown to lead to almost no arrests,” Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said. Shaw said, “We need to be pro-active, not reactive.” In a statement, the San Antonio Police Department said, “We are continuing to evaluate the program’s effectiveness as there are a few months left on the contract.”


Judge Orders Air Conditioning for Some TX Inmates

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison says 475 vulnerable inmates at the state’s Pack Unit prison should be able to live in units cooled to no more than 88 degrees. Critic says “human beings have been baked inside Texas prisons.”

In what the Houston Chronicle calls “a searing 100-page rebuke of the Texas prison system,” a federal judge ordered the state to provide air-conditioned living quarters for elderly, disabled and other heat-sensitive inmates at the Pack Unit prison northwest of Houston. The ruling — which chastises prison officials for “obstruction” and “deliberate indifference” to inmate suffering — gives the state 15 days to draft a plan to ensure that 475 vulnerable inmates have living units cooled to no more than 88 degrees and that 1,000 others have easy access to indoor respite areas. The prison must develop a heat-wave policy to prevent further injuries and install insect-proof window screens. U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ‘s ruling does not require air conditioning throughout the prison, but suggests staff could adjust housing assignments to make sure inmates with health problems sleep in cooled dormitories.

Ellison, who spent five hours at the prison in 2014 to feel the heat for himself, cited Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s writing on Siberian prison conditions. “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Ellison wrote. Rejecting the argument that air conditioning wasn’t available to inmates in past generations, he said, “No one suggests that inmates should be denied up-to-date medical and psychiatric care, or that they should be denied access to radio or television, or that construction of prison facilities should not use modern building materials. The treatment of prisoners must necessarily evolve as society evolves.” The state vowed to appeal to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “Texas taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars to pay for expensive prison air conditioning systems, which are unnecessary and not constitutionally mandated,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Wallis Nader of the Texas Civil Rights Project said “human beings have been baked inside Texas prisons.”