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One Dollar at a Time: How Well-Connected Activists Are Destroying the American Justice System

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According to a new report by the American Bar Association, both civil and criminal courts are unable to enforce justice due to budget cuts and inadequate funding.

The courts of our country are in crisis. The failure of state and local legislatures to provide adequate funding is effectively — at times quite literally — closing the doors of our justice system. At the same time, Congress has reduced its support for both the federal courts and other programs that directly and indirectly support our justice system at the state, county and municipal levels. . . Our courts, already short-staffed, have thus been forced to lay off judges, clerks and other personnel just as they are being inundated with hundreds of thousands of new foreclosures, personal and small business bankruptcies, credit card and other collection matters, domestic fractures, and the many other lawsuits resulting from the Recession. . .

To cite but one state’s experience, the courts in Georgia have seen their funding shrink 25% over the last two years, such that their budget (which must also pay for prosecutors) now constitutes a mere 0.89% of the state’s overall budget.

These are real problems that affect not just the poor but also anyone seeking recourse for civil cases or business matters.  Middle-class and business people are finding themselves at the end of a very long and slow line when they need access to a courtroom.

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Of course, it’s still money-burning time at agencies like the Department of Justice, where they are spending more than ever “coalitioning” on pet projects with the A.C.L.U., the Open Society Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (click on each link to see just one program subsidized by your tax dollars, at their behest).  Such elite members of the prisoner’s-rights-only lobby can go directly to Eric Holder when they want to intervene between the great unwashed public and the criminals they vigilantly defend.

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Meanwhile, the prisoner’s rights lobby has succeeded in nearly pricing the death penalty out of existence.  Every frivolous appeal means that some other citizen is being denied access to courtrooms they — not the activists — subsidize.  From Oregon:

Convicted killer Robert J. Acremant, judged delusional, was moved off of Oregon’s death row two months ago, spared by a deal that got him a life sentence instead. . . Acremant admitted killing a Medford lesbian couple, binding them and shooting them in the back of the head in 1995. His publicly paid lawyers have been contesting the case since a jury in 1997 sentenced him to die. . . One avenue of appeal alone cost taxpayers $317,000.

$317,000 for just one appeal; fourteen years of appeals and counting, until the state gave up and commuted his sentence.

Robert Acremant

Acremant admitted killing a man and two women.  What was there to reconsider?  Well, thanks to the death penalty activists, every last thing.  And by creating this system of mandatory, endless appeals (with help from journalists and academics who have deceived the American public into believing that death rows are filled with innocent men), they have succeeded in defunded criminal justice to a point where we prosecute fewer people who belong behind bars.

The goalposts for these activists is to abolish the death penalty, then abolish life-without-parole, and eventually whittle down sentencing to the good old days of the 1970’s, when even aggravated murder wasn’t hard time.  It’s unconscionable and anti-democratic to do this by placing fiscal pressure on the courts, and thus the American taxpayers, but “unconscionable” isn’t a label that seems to bother.  Instead, now that their tactics are working, they are even pretending that their motive is to save money:

Defense attorneys say changing how murderers are prosecuted could get the public the same result most often seen now — life sentences — at less cost.

But the moment the death penalty’s off the table, don’t expect a single activist to declare victory and retire from the fray: they’ll just get up the next morning and start making life sentences as expensive to litigate as death sentences once were, as prosecutors in Oregon point out:

Prosecutors are pushing back, saying defendants would be far less likely to take plea deals if the death penalty weren’t hanging over them. The savings that reformers promise would be swallowed by new and expensive criminal trials, they say. . . “We have many people who are aggravated murder defendants who plead guilty to aggravated murder and either take a true life sentence or an extremely long mandatory minimum who would never do that if there was not a death penalty involved in the equation,” [Multnomah County chief deputy district attorney Norm] Frink said.

Here is one of Robert Acremant’s many appeals.  Take the time to read it, to see the sort of litigious junk that really gets murderers off death row — not “innocence.”  Here is a raw jailhouse interview with Acremant, in which he describes the pleasure of killing three people, just for the hell of it (the interview starts at 5:57).

And think about this, as you watch a killer laugh: everything these activist groups want, they can achieve, while making us foot the bill and simultaneously de-funding our courts . . . as we’re forced to live alongside criminals who certainly don’t move into George Soros’ neighborhood, nor Chuck Feeney’s,  when they’re sprung loose.

Serial Killer Bobby Joe Long: Why Florida Courts (And Those In Other States) Are Really Out Of Money

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This is Bobbie Joe Long:

Serial Killer Bobbie Joe Long

Bobby Joe Long raped scores of women in the Tampa Bay area and murdered as many as 11 and possibly more.  He confessed to multiple murders and there are mountains of evidence, including a victim who escaped and left personal items in his bedroom to prove she had been there.  Bobby Joe Long has been behind bars since 1984.  27 years later, we’re still paying for his legal games.  How many millions of dollars has he cost us in all that time?

He is the real reason why the entire Florida Court system is in danger of shutting down for lack of money.

Sure, there are other reasons.  There’s these guys . . .

Hon. Paul Hawkes, FL Rep. Marti Coley(R), Hon. Brad Thomas

Appellate Judges Paul Hawkes and Brad Thomas, who went on a wild spending spree with 48 million taxpayer dollars to build what is being dubbed the Taj Mahal of courthouses, complete with mahagony-lined private suites for . . . Paul Hawkes and Brad Thomas.  Yes, they are wearing cunning hardhats with their names engraved on them.

Florida’s “Taj Mahal” Appeals Court

There’s also cash flow problems due to another real estate boondoggle, the foreclosure crisis.  The State Bar says they will run out of operating funds very, very, very soon.  And what happens then?

“The courts are running out of money, and if we run out of money, we cannot keep our doors open,” said 10th Circuit Judge John Laurent, chair of the Trial Courts Budget Commission.  “It’s important we keep the doors open. One reason is access to justice, and one is public safety. I don’t think we could go for several months without a court system. No, that’s not an experiment we want to participate in.”

Access to justice and public safety: good things.

But the real problem with funding our justice system is the limitless resources and vast latitude given to any criminal who ever gets convicted of anything.  If they get convicted, that is.  According to a group of researchers who put together a list of every time Bobbie Joe Long skinned his knee or bumped his nose, his first rape charge came in 1971, when he was only 18 (a juvenile record might be sealed).  Before that he shot his dog to death through her vagina, but, whatever.  The girl wasn’t believed.  Nor apparently was his wife, a few years later.  Nor was the next rape victim who dared to put herself through reporting him in 1981, only to see him receive probation for lesser charges, then demand a retrial, receive one from some compassionate judge, and walk free, acquitted that time.  Then there was the twelve-year old girl he tried to abuse while in police custody (he got two days for that crime).  There was the hospital job where he was fired for sexual abuse of the patients, but nothing else was done.  He was hired by several other hospitals after that. Then in 1984, a gunpoint abduction charge that was reduced, astonishingly, to a fine to pay for the damage to the woman’s vehicle (which she had crashed in order to escape him).

When you read through a record like this, it’s hard to see the criminal justice system as anything other than a sort of playground for inhuman psychopaths, with defense attorneys and judges standing on the sidelines virtually encouraging the Bobbie Joe Longs of the world to go out and kill again.  I find it very hard to believe that, with the exception of the police, any of the public servants who came into contact with Long in all those years felt the least bit motivated to get him off the streets.  He did everything short of walking into a police station and confessing to raping and murdering women, and then he finally even did that, and then the location of the game changed slightly, but the courts kept playing with him and encouraging him, and they continue to do so today.

Meanwhile, what percentage of his victims received so much as one day in court to address the vicious rape and attempted murder they barely survived, or the murder of someone they loved?  How many serious violent crimes, even murders, attributed to Long were carelessly shelved without a second thought?

The reality of our criminal justice system is this:  we could spend ten times as much as we do today and 75% of crime victims still wouldn’t see their cases addressed by the system.  Liberals care only about criminals, and, increasingly, conservatives care only about cutting costs.  And liberals control the judiciary, and conservatives control the purse strings, especially in Florida.  The math isn’t hard to do.

In 1970, when Bobbie Joe Long was just beginning his violent career, Milton Eisenhower, one of the most respected criminologists in the United States, complained that of the 10 million serious crimes committed annually in the United States, only one-and-a-half percent resulted in even temporary incarceration of anyone.  Those numbers are probably better today.  But the people we trust to keep us safe have grown worse: they’re no Milton S. Eisenhower, who actually believed the justice system should protect the innocent and punish the guilty.  Bobbie Joe Long will have many more taxpayer-subsidized days in court, probably in the Taj Mahal, which is essentially a playground for him and his peers.

Burglary is Not a Non-Violent Crime: In Oakland, It Isn’t Even a Crime

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Well, OK, that’s not exactly true. But in July, Oakland police announced that, due to budget problems, police will no longer respond to a long list of crimes, including residential burglary where the home invaders are unknown.

I’m sure it didn’t help that the city had to spend so much money responding to the recent liberation of sports shoes and consumer electronics in the name of Oscar Grant.

Shoe Locker Looter Wearing an Oscar Grant Mask

That’s a lot of money that could be spent on doing things like protecting people’s property, going instead to prevent protesters from destroying even more Mom and Pop franchises and delis and phone kiosks and other symbols of oppression.

Maybe there should be an enhanced penalty for premeditated rioting.

Meanwhile, want to train to become a burglar?  Move to Oakland.  Though I don’t recommend living there, because home insurance rates are about to shoot up.  For everyone, of course, not just burglars and looters.  Funny how that works.

I spent way too much time yesterday fruitlessly searching for a comment I’d seen on a police blog, one that perfectly sums up the dangers of lowering the bar on criminal behavior this way.  The commenter, a cop himself, was writing about the war on cops.  He pointed out that virtually every cop killer has repeatedly cycled through the court system, learning along the way that he could get away with practically anything.

Even more troubling, the widespread belief that so-called non-violent crimes like drug trafficking and residential burglary don’t merit prison terms is creating a generation of criminals who not only have no fear of consequences but actually feel entitled to commit crimes.  Whenever they find naive people to support them in their belief in these “rights,” they also feel more entitled to direct their resentment and rage at symbols of law enforcement, namely cops.

We should not underestimate the perniciousness of reinforcing the notion that it is “unjust” to punish people for things like breaking into other people’s houses.

Oakland has actually codified that mindset.

These trends are especially dangerous for women. Back when Georgia was implementing its DNA database by collecting DNA from all felons, not just sex offenders, something really shocking showed up in the first few hundred “hits” (where a felon’s sample matched previously unsolved crimes).  Many men who only had prior records for burglary or drugs or aggravated assault were identified as rapists in stranger rapes that had gone unsolved.

That begs a few questions, questions which, sadly, law professors and criminologists are utterly disinterested in asking.  Too bad, because they’re extremely relevant in the ongoing debate about prosecuting or not prosecuting certain crimes and how we choose to spend our shrinking justice budgets.

For example, how many of these men were previously caught committing rapes but were granted non-sex offense pleas by money-conscious prosecutors who didn’t think they could get rape charges to stick?  In one of his several trips to prison, my own rapist got more time for resisting arrest and B&E than for sexually assaulting another victim — more time for breaking into a window than a woman’s body — thanks to one such money-saving plea.  I’ve got a file cabinet stuffed with other examples of serial rapists — and serial killers — given multiple chances to rape and kill, thanks to routine, money-saving courtroom shortcuts.

They don’t call them “bargains” for nothing.  These types of offenders also now have enhanced abilities to do pre-assault dry runs in Oakland and other places that are ratcheting back law enforcement.

Now, with less enforcement of these lesser crimes, more serious offenders stand to get away with even higher quantities of violent crime.  A sex offender operating in Oakland can rest confident knowing that the police won’t be showing up to investigate his fishing expeditions.  Does anybody believe the that the tiny fraction of burglars who end up in a courtroom in Oakland won’t benefit from the downgrading of this crime?

And what is happening in Oakland is the future for everyone, the logical consequence of decades of pricing justice out of reach — for us non-offenders, that is.  We spend so much on largely useless “rehabilitation” and frivolous appeals that there is no money left to actually enforce the law.  This is how violent recidivists are made, and how cops get killed, and why the rest of us are forced to spend more and more of our money insuring our lives and looking over our shoulders.

In the 1990’s, elected officials were able to turn New York City around by doing precisely the opposite of what Oakland is doing today.  Expect opposite results, as well.

Is Solitary Confinement The Really Expensive Part?

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Ah yes, the silly season. Reporter claiming to be writing about solitary confinement jumps right into equating solitary confinement with “hard-line criminal justice polic[y]” instead.  According to this view, solitary confinement is not, as one might think, a rational response to the dangers created by extremely violent offenders.  Nor is it a way to protect prisoners who might be vulnerable to harm because of their appearance, orientation, or gang status.  Nor even a response (one that ought to be appreciated) to the endless lawsuits filed against corrections facilities demanding protections for prisoners — protection from themselves, or others.

Nope, in the eyes of the media, every issue relating to incarceration and crime is just another opportunity to lash out at allegedly “draconian” sentencing policies.  In this view, using less solitary confinement to address budget constraints isn’t a sign that prisons are having to deal with the financial downturn like everyone else.  Using less solitary confinement is:

a dramatic acknowledgement, analysts say, that states can no longer sustain the costs of hard-line criminal justice policies.

Hmmm, which analysts?  And what’s so “hard-line” about using solitary?  Don’t prisoner activists want maximum safety for inmates?  If corrections officers didn’t care about prisoner safety, they wouldn’t bother spending more of their budgets to separate prisoners from each other, right?

What’s really being protested (I mean reported) here is incarceration itself.  What the activists want is nobody going to prison, ever.  Thus, this even more incoherent comment on the use of solitary confinement, dialed in to fill the article’s next slot:

“The whole philosophy of being just tough — locking people up and throwing away the key — has not solved the problem,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, Democratic chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Well, luckily, nobody does that key thing.  And “solved” which “problem”?  The problem of crime?  According to Sen. Whitmire, incarceration doesn’t solve the problem of crime.  So . . . what does this have to do with solitary confinement?  Are we supposed to stop putting criminals in solitary confinement or stop putting them in prison?  Or are we just supposed to sit here listening to meaningless claptrap, nodding our heads?

Unsurprisingly, unlike Whitmire, corrections spokespeople aren’t in the mood to play politics with what is, for them, a life-or-death issue:

Decisions to return dangerous inmates to the general prison population anger some prison officials, who say the changes could threaten the safety of corrections officers and other inmates.  “The departments of correction are rolling the dice with public safety. … This is going to blow up,” said Brian Dawe of the American Correctional Officer Intelligence Network, an association of officers.

Elsewhere, here’s the guy whose picture appears in the yellow pages under “Solitary Confinement: Arguments For”

Robert Gleason

For seven days, Robert Gleason Jr. begged correctional officers and counselors at Wallens Ridge State Prison to move his new cellmate. The constant singing, screaming and obnoxious behavior were too much, and Gleason knew he was ready to snap.  On the eighth day — May 8, 2009 — correctional officers found 63-year-old Harvey Gray Watson Jr. bound, gagged, beaten and strangled. His death went unnoticed for 15 hours because correctional officers had not followed proper procedure for inmate head counts at the high-security prison in southwestern Virginia.  Now, Gleason says he’ll kill again if he isn’t put to death for killing Watson, who had a history of mental illness. And he says his next victim won’t be an inmate.  “I murdered that man cold-bloodedly. I planned it, and I’m gonna do it again,” the 40-year-old Gleason told The Associated Press. “Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row.”

This is a much more direct discussion of solitary confinement.

Gleason already is serving a life sentence for killing another man. He fired his lawyers last month — they were trying to work out a deal to keep him from getting the death penalty — so he could plead guilty to capital murder. He’s vowed not to appeal his sentence if the judge sentences him to death Aug. 31.  “I did this. I deserve it,” he said. “That man, he didn’t deserve to die.”

There are no innocents here.  The victim had a pretty ugly record, too:

Watson was serving a 100-year sentence for killing a man and wounding two others in 1983 when he shot into his neighbor’s house in Lynchburg with a 10-gauge shotgun. According to prison records, Watson suffered from “mild” mental impairment and was frequently cited for his disruptive and combative behavior.  Watson was sent to Wallens Ridge on April 23, 2009, a day after he set fire to his cell at Sussex II State Prison. Gleason and Watson became cellmates on May 1, 2009.

This is the reality of prison — scores of violent men locked up for our safety, and their safety, while activists circle outside, trying to come up with any reason whatsoever to get them free again, as we foot the bill.

In the days the two spent locked in an 8-by-10-foot cell, Watson would talk about how he had “drowned” two television sets because they “had voodoo in them,” Gleason said.  He would also belt out “I wish I was in the land of cotton” from the song “Dixie” and other songs at all hours, scream profanities and masturbate. In the chow hall and in the recreation yard, Watson would get inmates to give him cigarettes for drinking his urine and clabbered milk.  “You can’t be upset with someone like that,” Gleason said. “He needed help.”  Gleason said his requests to separate the two were met with mockery and indifference by correctional officers and prison counselors. He said he knew what he’d do once officials refused to put Watson in protective custody.  “That day I knew I was going to kill him,” he said. “Wallens Ridge [prison] forced my hand.”  It was after midnight when Gleason used slivers of bed sheets to tie Watson’s hands and arms to his body and fashioned a gag out of two socks. He later removed the gag and gave Watson a cigarette, telling him it would be his last. Gleason said Watson spit in his face when he went to take the cigarette out of Watson’s mouth, so he jumped on his cellmate’s back and beat and strangled the man.

Interestingly, the D.A. immediately offered Robert Gleason a plea deal in Watson’s murder.  Gleason demanded death row instead:

[Attorney Ron] Elkins had offered to let Gleason plead to second-degree murder. He also offered to drop the capital murder charges and come back with a charge that didn’t carry a death sentence. Elkins wouldn’t say why he made those offers.  However, capital murder cases are typically lengthy and expensive, especially as appeals wind through the courts. Even though Gleason confessed, Elkins said he proceeded cautiously to ensure the case couldn’t be overturned on appeal.

Here is the real financial crisis in the justice system: a defense bar that has undermined our ability to afford prosecutions to such an extreme degree that prosecutors actually have second thoughts about trying a murder case . . . when they’re not busy being worried about affording the endless, frivolous appeals that will inevitably follow.

Just think about how many thousands of lesser crimes get dismissed every day because it “costs too much” to try them.

Think about how many prosecutions never go forward because of the high price of endlessly re-trying every conviction.

But that — that’s not the type of thing you read about in the paper.

No Answers Yet in Mr. X Case. Lots of Questions.

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The print news coverage of the Michael Harvey trial continues to skirt important questions:

  • Why did the Fulton County (Atlanta) D.A.’s office fail to act for at least three years once DNA evidence linked Harvey to the brutal 1994 murder of Valerie Payton? According to news reports, they identified Harvey’s DNA in 2005 and arrested him in 2008.
  • And why didn’t the G.B.I. make the link between the Harvey’s DNA and Valerie Payton’s rape kit back in 2002 or 2003, at the latest, when they were supposed to have entered his sample into the state database for which they’re responsible?

Meanwhile the AJC’s coverage is even more confusing today than it was a few days ago:

Harvey was released from the Georgia prison system in 2007 after serving two years on an aggravated assault conviction. He also was imprisoned four other times since 1980 for crimes such as aggravated assault with intent to rape, burglary and car theft.  Police arrested him in 2008 in connection with Payton’s death.  His DNA was linked to the crime in 2005, the Fulton District Attorney’s Office said Monday.

OK, don’t ask the D.A. to explain himself about the three-year gap between the DNA match and the murder charges.

But do explain this: how could Harvey have been in the “Georgia prison system” in 2007 when that isn’t recorded in the Georgia Bureau of Corrections database?  The database reports a different record, and they, at least, unlike Fulton County, keep coherent records and behave as if the people who are paying their salaries have a right to know what they are doing:

STATE OF GEORGIA – INCARCERATION HISTORY
INCARCERATION BEGIN INCARCERATION END
02/04/2003 06/14/2003
05/12/1998 09/16/1999
02/04/1985 11/01/1985
10/23/1980 11/02/1984

Maybe Harvey was in the county jail.  But that is Fulton County jail, not the “Georgia prison system.”  The paper seems to be saying (without saying too clearly) that there are these other aggravated assault charges for which he was imprisoned in 2007 (for how long is also unclear).  But he never got sent up to the state system for them.  So, at most, that must have been a sentence of a year or less, which would have placed Harvey in a courtroom in Fulton County after his DNA was linked to a heinous murder, and the D.A. should have known about the match.  Yet that evidence wasn’t, apparently, even brought up in court, or else (one must hope) he wouldn’t have been released in 2007, right?

Also, wouldn’t recidivism sentencing have kicked in by then, murder charges (so bizarrely) notwithstanding?  We do have laws about getting popped for several violent offenses in a row, and they should have applied to Harvey, with his prior kidnapping conviction (His attempted rape conviction presents an interesting quandary: rape counts, but does attempted rape?  It should: why reward failure to complete the crime?).  So in addition to all the other apparently squandered chances to do something about Harvey’s ties to a murder, was the 2007 aggravated assault yet another situation in which some Fulton County Judge didn’t bother to enforce Georgia’s laws? Is it another situation in which Fulton County’s D.A. utterly failed to bother to investigate the criminal history of the defendant and ask the judge for appropriate sentencing?

Why did yet another person with a long history of serious violent and felony property crime (not to mention a DNA link in a bloody murder) stroll into court some time between 2003 and 2007 for another violent crime and get sentenced, apparently, to some brief stint in county jail, if that is indeed what happened?  Where is the curiosity about any of this?  It’s pretty clear it happens every day.

And I still wonder whether Harvey’s multiple aggravated assault charges aren’t actually pled-down sex crimes.

How overwhelmed is Fulton’s criminal justice system? Who is responsible for taking three years to get around to charging Michael Harvey with murder after the belated DNA match, for this?

Payton had over 50 carvings on her body when she was found, and a photo of her 8-year-old son was placed on her stomach, Ross said during opening arguments. Handwritten on the back of the photo were the words, “I’M BACK ATLANTA, MR. X,” written in a block style with all capital letters, Ross said.

There seems to be an insinuation (again, not a very clear one) either in the AJC coverage or coming from the D.A. himself that the reason all of this unfolded so slowly is because Michael Harvey isn’t suspected in any of the other unsolved murders of prostitutes that were so thick on the ground in the 1990’s.

You know, that he was merely the suspect in one heinous murder.

Is the D.A.’s office so swamped (or distracted) that murders are taking decades to process while the murderers are left on the streets to commit more crimes?  For, in reality, Harvey’s DNA should have been taken and compared to outstanding rape-and-murder kits back in 1996, when he was convicted for rape, or in 1999, before he was released, or right away in 2002, when he was re-incarcerated.  There were the beginnings of a good DNA database before 1999, and the first people who were entered into it were people with sex offense convictions, like Harvey.  By 1999, when he was released, that database should have been functional enough to check at least the outstanding rape/murder cases in the state, like Valerie Payton’s death, against the DNA of convicted sex criminals, if it mattered enough to anyone.

Which, apparently, it didn’t.

Or was Payton’s rape kit one of the many left stockpiled on a shelf somewhere in the Atlanta Police Department while Bill Campbell mouthpiece and Chief of Police Beverley Harvard, no friend of rape victims, jetted around the country picking up awards and running political interference for her boss, the soon-to-be convicted mayor?

Harvard presided distractedly over some of the most bloody years on Atlanta’s streets.  Thanks to such official neglect, multiple opportunities to get sexual predators off the streets were simply squandered.  Was the Valerie Payton murder another one?  Was another raped and murdered mother just not important enough?

Or was it the GBI that screwed up? Were they the ones sitting on Valerie Payton’s rape kit?  Michael Harvey’s DNA sample?  You have to really wonder what’s going on, when the spokesperson for the agency is busy telling the public not to worry about all the sex offenders they’ve lost track of but can’t be bothered to explain whether or not his agency is responsible for delays in processing these DNA samples during the time that a murder suspect with a long record of violent crime was still in state custody.

If GBI spokesman John Bankhead or Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard ever came forward and said, Look, we just don’t have enough resources to even pay appropriate attention to murder cases, they would receive resounding support from the public.  But instead, it seems that both men are refusing to explain what went wrong in this investigation.  And they are enabled in flying under the radar by many things, including a Clerk of Court system that behaves as if the public is not entitled to know what’s going on in their courts.

A clever ninth grader could create a database system for sharing court outcomes with the public, using nothing more than his lunch money for implementation, but, sadly, there are no clever ninth graders working at the Clerk of Court’s office.  So long as an uninformed public continues re-electing political cronies to the head offices of the Clerk (and the print media remains silent on that and other well-known, substandard practices), that situation will not change for Atlanta.

Why is there no political push for sunshine in the courts? Neighborhood advocates have worked to great effect with the police to make streets safer, but those efforts are ultimately wasted if similar scrutiny is not applied to the court system, which is directly responsible for repeatedly releasing both violent and property offenders.

This is why full disclosure and frank discussion of the criminal history of offenders like Michael Harvey is so important, and why it is so unsettling that the D.A. is not being forthcoming with that information.  Here is a known alleged killer, and it seems that nobody acted with appropriate speed to restrain him.  Two, or five, or eight years ago, it would have been far easier to try Harvey for this murder.  Fourteen years ago, when he was tried for another rape and should have had his DNA tested, it would have been easier still.

Now, it seems like an afterthought.  And everybody involved seems to be covering each others’ mistakes.  This is justice on the cheap.  We’ve all been accepting utter neglect of most criminal behavior for so long that it doesn’t even seem noteworthy that an accused killer has been walking the streets all this time, in plain view.

Criminal Appeals: Why Was Serial Rapist Ali Reza Nejad Out on Bond?

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The good news: U.S. Marshals in Houston caught violent serial rapist Ali Reza Nejad after he slipped off his ankle monitor and fled Georgia upon hearing that the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed his conviction and 35-year sentence last week.

Nejad, Before and After Dye Job

The bad news? Violent serial rapist Ali Reza Nejad was allowed to stroll out of prison after being convicted of two rapes, while his case worked its way through the ridiculous and expensive appeals process in Georgia’s horribly overburdened courts.

More bad news? We all paid for Nejad to play Georgia’s horribly overburdened court system from the comfort of his own home.  Then we paid to track him down again after he fled.  Why on earth didn’t anybody in a position of authority bother to think through the potential effect of the Supreme Court’s negative ruling on this crazy serial rapists’ state of mind and go pick him up, or at least put him under constant surveillance, before he found out that he was heading back to prison for the rest of his adult life?

And why was he allowed out of prison to await appeal on frivolous grounds, anyway?  All rapists are dangerous criminals, but this guy qualifies as central-casting-woman-loathing-sexual-sadist-armed-with-a-gun-escalating-and-stalking-prostitutes-dangerous.

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Criminal Appeals

Nejad appealed his conviction on two grounds: the perennial ineffectual counsel claim, and his lawyer’s insistence that there is some gray area in defining a gun as a deadly weapon.  None of this was about whether Nejad did, indeed, pull guns on women and rape them: it’s just meaningless technicalities piled one on top of another until the courts can’t function or somebody slips up and lets a serial rapist like this back onto the streets.

(I can’t link directly to the pdf files for the Georgia Appeals Court decision that led to Najad being wrongfully released or the Georgia Supreme Court decision that reversed the overturning of his trial verdict and sent him back to prison, but you can access the pdf files by typing Najad v. State.)

As to the first claim, famous-defense-attorney-type Brian Steel, who has been practicing criminal law in the courts and on front pages in Georgia for a very long time, insisted that he had both completely and repeatedly lost the capacity to function as even an ordinary lawyer, let alone a really famous one, throughout the entire trial.

An Appeals Court judge devastatingly called Steel out on this fiction and expressed concern that what the lawyer might be trying to do was perpetrate fraud.  It’s worth reading this and pondering the court’s suggestion that defense attorneys are knowingly front-loading their representation of clients with errors in order to get them off later, when there’s no other expectation of acquittal.  Ugly stuff:

SMITH, Presiding Judge, concurring specially.
I concur fully in the majority opinion, but write separately to point out an area
of increasing concern in claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Trial counsel’s
testimony in this case demonstrates a worrisome trend with serious implications for
the bar
and the administration of justice.
Taking the record on appeal at face value, we are presented with several
possible and equally questionable explanations for trial counsel’s testimony at the
hearing on the motion for new trial. Trial counsel may, despite his many years of
experience, simply have been unaware of the well-established rule of law governing
a defendant’s right to testify. Or he may have in fact so instructed his client in order
to provide a ready-made reversible error on appeal in the event of a conviction. Or
he may have testified untruthfully at the hearing on the motion for new trial in order
to provide his former client with a basis for reversal of his conviction.
None of these possibilities, which are by no means exhaustive, reflects well
upon trial counsel. Whether he is so incompetent as to call into question his ability to continue in this area of practice, or whether he has conducted himself in such a manner as to perpetrate a fraud upon the court, is not for us to say.
But we view any of these possibilities with alarm. The trial court was similarly concerned, asking trial counsel, “Don’t you think you have some responsibility to the system?”  Typically, trial counsel in such situations testify primarily to the factual details of their conduct and decisions, and admit errors only with reluctance and with due regard for their professionalism and pride in their work. The developing trend of emphatically and even eagerly testifying to one’s own incompetence or misconduct is dangerous to the administration of justice, particularly if it is allowed to continue without any consequences for the testifying trial counsel.

There are no consequences, no matter what the defense bar does, or lies about doing.  That’s why we have so many rapists and murderers walking the streets.  Beginning, middle, and end.  We’re all at their mercy, in a system they have been jerry-rigging for half a century.

The Georgia Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision, reversed the appeals court on the determination of incompetent counsel.  They observed that nobody has a positive duty to continually inform a defendant that he may, in fact, testify.

They also reversed the appeals court’s ruling that the jury should have been asked to decide whether holding a pellet gun to someone’s head is assault with a deadly weapon.  It’s extremely settled law that wielding a gun, even a pellet gun, that way is assault per se with a deadly weapon.  I’m surprised that appeals court agreed with Nejad’s lawyer on this matter.  Here is the Supreme Court:

During the jury instructions concerning the two counts charging Nejad
with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the trial court informed the jury
that the crime is committed when the accused, with a deadly weapon, places
another person in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent
injury.
The trial court then told the jury that “A pellet gun in the shape of an
automatic weapon is per se a deadly weapon.” The Court of Appeals ruled it
was error to give the “per se” charge, reasoning that a pellet gun is not a per se
deadly weapon and it was for the jury to resolve whether the manner and means
by which it was used made it a deadly weapon. Nejad v. State, supra, 296 Ga.
App. 163 (2).  A firearm is a deadly weapon as a matter of law. Wyman v. State, 278 Ga.
339 (4) (602 SE2d 619) (2004). A firearm pointed at a victim and reasonably
appearing to the assault victim to be loaded is a deadly weapon as a matter of
law, regardless of whether it is loaded and, under such a circumstance, the trial
court does not err when it takes the issue of “deadliness” from the jury.

So there you have it. Ali Nejad picks up prostitutes, rapes them at gunpoint, and does the same to so many women that word gets around on the streets.  The police catch him, being excruciatingly cautious to protect his rights in the process; the courts try him, being excruciatingly cautious to protect his rights in the process; the case is decided by jurors being excruciatingly cautious to protect his rights in the process — and then the moment he is convicted, the free-for-all game-playing begins.

From the moment jurors return a guilty verdict, everything’s perpetually up for grabs, at our expense.  As the manipulations by the defense bar grow more and more extreme, judges and prosecutors can only protest impotently.  We’ve designed a system in which defense attorneys can say anything, do anything, cost the rest of us anything, intentionally throw a trial, intentionally bankrupt the courts — but they cannot be held responsible for this conduct.

I predict that the only people who will be blamed for the Nejad debacle are the people who would have kept him in prison in the first place: the officers tasked with monitoring him after a judge let him go free to await the outcome of the appeals process.  They don’t deserve any blame.  They caught Nejad, twice now.  It’s the rest of the system that has failed to keep the public safe.


Killer Craig Wall Given $1000 Bail, Kills Again: When Prosecutors Act Like Defense Attorneys

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Craig Wall

This guy, Craig Wall, a violent convicted recidivist felon, is a suspect in the murder of his five-week old son earlier this month.  The baby’s mother then received a restraining order on Wall, and when he violated it last week, he was arrested.  The investigation into the baby’s death — the fact that he was a murder suspect — should have been presented in court after his arrest.  But the prosecutor simply didn’t mention it.  Instead he offered Wall a plea deal, a small fine in exchange for pleading guilty.  Wall even rejected the plea (hey, why take halfsies if it’s clear that nobody is going to bother to hold you responsible for anything, anyway?).  He was granted bond instead — for $1,000 — also with the prosecutor’s blessing.

Then Wall walked out of the courtroom and killed his baby’s mother.

Who’s responsible?

~~~

The better question might be, who isn’t responsible? The prosecutor’s boss, Pinellas County State Attorney Bernie McCabe, said he was “dumbfounded” by his employee’s actions.

Bernie McCabe, state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco counties, said his staff needs to be reminded of fundamental principles that were not followed in this case.  His chief assistant, Bruce Bartlett, plans to meet today with prosecutors who handle misdemeanor hearings.  “They are being paid to be advocates and not just stand there with their hands in their pockets,” Bartlett said.

Good for McCabe for acknowledging that something is horribly wrong.  The question remains whether this is an isolated incident or the status quo in the offices McCabe oversees.

Wall is accused of stabbing to death Laura Taft, 29, early Wednesday . . . Two days earlier, Wall was released from the Pinellas County Jail on a $1,000 bond after a bail hearing. No one at the hearing mentioned that Wall was a suspect in the death of his 5-week-old son this month, even though police had noted that fact in the arrest affidavit.

So information about a murder charge is not even mentioned in a court hearing to determine whether a defendant who has violated a restraining order is too dangerous to be released on bond?  What, then, does get mentioned?

Was the prosecutor just not doing his job?  Or is he one of many prosecutors who are using their office to train to become defense attorneys — the more lucrative, and in many powerful circles, more culturally admired job?  Was the prosecutor simply overwhelmed by work and forced to try to settle this case — any case — with minimum effort?  This is how we starve the courts.

And what of the judge?  What does he have to say?

~~~

Here is a related murder case in Orlando, with some interesting statistics.

Courts in Crisis? Thank a Defense Attorney.

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So suddenly the Fulton County Courts cannot function, thanks to a huge planned budget cut.  But how were they functioning before, with violent felons and repeat offenders getting a free stroll out the door for a variety of reasons?  This is a scene playing out across the country:

Georgia’s biggest court system warned Wednesday that a 2010 Fulton County proposal that cuts $53 million from the judicial budget could force them to shut down the courthouse, jeopardize death penalty cases and slash as many as 1,000 jobs.

Fulton County’s judicial leaders declared an “economic state of emergency” and warned that the cuts, which amount to about a fourth of Fulton County’s judicial budget, would lead to drastic changes at the Fulton County Jail, the sheriff’s office along with prosecutors, judges and public defenders.

“This is not something you can adjust to,” said Doris Downs, the county’s chief superior court judge. “This is going to dismantle the justice system.”

The proposed cuts, which were released last week, are part of a spending plan that would slash the county’s funding by $148.2 million in 2010. Downs and other judicial leaders said the cuts came as a surprise to them and urged commissioners to rethink the spending plan before it plunges the legal system into a “crisis.” . . .

Among the possible aftershocks, said Downs, is a more aggressive early release program to lower jail expenses.

Not so fast.

If judges feel they must circumvent justice for even more victims, they had better allow the public to see precisely how many victims are being denied justice already, through failures to prosecute offenders or sentence them properly, and then let the public decide where resources should be cut.  It’s their money.  And their safety.

If the courts want the public to support their efforts to prevent these budget cuts, they must start having a conversation with the public.

The sanctimonious anti-incarceration activists who call themselves journalists are howling that the real emergency is that we must find more more money to spend on death penalty defendants.  Or else the most horrible thing will happen: murderers won’t get phalanxes of silk stocking lawyers jetted in, all expenses paid, to bloviate about nothing for months on end while making a mockery of the notion of truth in justice.

This is a crisis manufactured by the defense bar.  This is about defense lawyers taking away the public’s right to decide whether or not to try people for death by spending all their money on the defense of one man, then crying poor, stomping their feet, and demanding that all defendants get as many lawyers as the last defendant.

They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this anymore.  Where does it say that defendants deserve teams of expensive private lawyers, rather than public defenders?  The public gets public prosecutors on a shoestring: why do certain criminals fly first class on our dime?  None of this has anything to do with “fair trials” or “the right to a defense”: it is the defense bar pillaging the system to force legislation by other means — the destruction of death penalty trials.

And no matter what you think of the death penalty, don’t think they’ll stop there: life without parole is the next thing in their sights, once death penalty trials are priced out of existence.

Why have we permitted jury selection to bloat into weeks-long parades of experts?  Why has the right to an attorney morphed into the right to six private activist lawyers jetted in to game the system with frivolous inanities as earnest journalists fancying themselves “speaking truth to power” lovingly cover the spectacle?

And, meanwhile, how many cases end up not being prosecuted at all because of such charades?

Before the courts simply inform the public that they will have to accept more violent criminals walking because the defense bar went on a bender, they must speak up about the real costs and pressures on the system.  They must open their books.  And they must finally stand up to the dysfunction they know is ruling the Clerk of Court’s Office and other parts of the system.

Everybody knows which things waste money and which people have no business representing the justice system.  If the public is going to be asked to take yet another hit, they at least deserve an honest conversation in the process.

Contretempestuousness or Tempestucontretemps in Marvin Arrington’s Courtroom

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Pardon the brief hiatus from journalistic ethics week, which I’ll just roll over into journalist ethics fortnight, Jane Austen style.

Everybody was behaving so ethically out there, I just lost steam.  Nobody ran headlines falsely accusing the families of the D.C. sniper victims of being “vengeful” for saying things like: “It helped to see the completion.  It helped to a degree,” upon witnessing John Muhammad’s execution.  Nobody made utterly false allegations of prosecutorial malfeasance, claiming, “[t]here are several documented cases where DNA testing showed that innocent people were put to death by the government,” then refused to correct the record when it was brought to his attention that there are actually no documented cases where DNA testing showed that innocent people were put to death by the government (and that’s according to death penalty opponents).

~~~

Nope, everybody in the fourth estate is just behaving so well, there’s no point in blogging about such things, especially when another outburst of crazy in the Fulton County Superior Court is raising troubling questions, again:

A disagreement between a judge and a senior assistant prosecutor last month erupted on Thursday into a heated confrontation in a back hallway of the Fulton County Courthouse between the judge and the district attorney. . . The fracas is rooted in an Oct. 6 murder trial of Randy Murray, charged with killing a man in a dispute in order to steal some marijuana.

In a nutshell (you can read the details here), Judge Marvin Arrington lashed out at a Senior ADA during a murder trial and ordered her to pay a fine for “trying to be smart” with him.  District Attorney Paul Howard told his ADA not to pay the fine, and Arrington subsequently had the attorney taken into police custody when she showed up in court on a different case.  Howard and Arrington then had a “ruckus in the back hallway,” as Arrington put it, in his inimitable legalese; Arrington filed a contempt order against Howard and his ADA; the Georgia Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of the order, and now everyone’s waiting to see what happens when the second shoe drops, joining a growing pile of other second shoes littering the hallways of the Fulton County Superior Court.

Paul Howard denies behaving threateningly to Arrington.  Here is what he had to say (Arrington, in contrast, had his say by throwing an lawyer into jail for allegedly dissing him, remember):

Howard issued a statement on Thursday saying, “The Contempt Order issued by Judge Arrington in this case is just plain wrong. It sullies the reputation of one of the finest, most honorable and ethical lawyers in this country.

“The transcript of the October 6th case shows clearly that [Senior ADA Linda] Dunikoski was courteous and professional at all times while standing up for her right to cross-examine a defendant charged with murder. Judge Arrington, for some unknown reason, did not allow her to complete her cross-examination after only 45-minutes of questioning.”

He continued, “As is my right as District Attorney, I orally objected to the wrongful and illegal incarceration of Ms. Dunikoski. Her incarceration was demeaning, inappropriate and injudicious. My office disagrees with Judge Arrington’s characterization of my actions and welcomes further examination of this matter.”

I’ve had my own strange run-in with Arrington, which I’ll detail next week.  So have many others.  Arrington is a lightning rod, but there are more important issues that, I hope, won’t be subsumed by the Sturm und Drang of personality conflict and fist-cuffies:

  • Was Arrington wrong to shut down ADA Dunikowski’s cross-examination of a defendant in a murder case?  Did his attitude, or judgment (or judicial philosophy) stand in the way of doing his job, which is to ensure that jurors receive all appropriate information about a defendant in order to make an informed decision about his guilt?
  • If so, is anybody going to actually do something about it?  When is the state going to acknowledge that it can’t run a judicial oversight board on the pocket change collected from redeeming soda cans in each courthouse?  Or is everyone going to keep behaving as if judges are simply above scrutiny, no matter the consequences of their carelessness, inattention, or sheer violation of the Georgia Code?
  • Likewise, are there going to be any consequences for Arrington’s rash act of interrupting another court proceeding to have an ADA arrested?  Is anybody in the media going to ask him, point-blank, whether he thinks he did the right thing in interrupting the people’s business and using the power of the bench that way?  Or is this headline just going to fade away, like all the rest?

I wish the media would be more forthcoming and inquisitive about the operations of the courts.  The public is denied access to virtually every important aspect of the functioning of our court system, and they can only gain partial access to what is going on if enough of them actually skip work to go sit in every courtroom, every day, observing all the proceedings, because the powers-that-be in the justice system deem their own actions above public scrutiny.  Spend a week or two reading this blog from the Orlando courts, and you’ll get an idea of what you’re missing.

When things erupt in soap opera fashion, it’s all good fun, or not (until somebody loses an eye, of course), but we need to be more than entertained (or horrified).

It is unacceptable that the judiciary chooses to keep their actions cloaked in darkness, rather than making the effort to make every case disposition available to the public (not to mention their dockets, so we can see who is getting what done, or not).  It is a disgrace that we cannot log onto the internet and see the outcome of every criminal case.  These records are, of course, being recorded electronically behind closed doors.  It would take about two lunch breaks for some Georgia Tech student to install a system to share this data with the public, along with court transcripts detailing the real goings-on in our courtrooms.

I had several people ask me questions about the judges up for election this time, and I couldn’t offer any information.  The fact that there is no way to evaluate the performance of any individual sitting judge is a situation that desperately needs to change before the next election.  If somebody decided to run for Judge (and let’s not forget Clerk of Court, still firmly in the grip of the machine-politics-patronage-cabal) on a platform of bringing total transparency to his or her courtroom, imagine the difference that simple, ethical, democratic gesture would make.

Redding Trial Update; Expose on Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission

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From reader Chris Murphy, who attended the Jonathan Redding hearing to determine if Redding will be required to provide information to a Grand Jury about his partners in the murder of John Henderson:  

I was at that last hearing. The judge, Kimberly Esmond Adams, was looking for any excuse to allow his attorney into the grand jury, which goes against the rules. She delayed the decision, and it never was publicized what she ruled. That’s the kind of s**t that passes for justice: make a ruling, but do it when no one is around, if possible.

Does anybody know what happened?  Will Redding be required to appear before the Grand Jury?  The trial has already been delayed by a motion by Redding’s defense attorney in which she argued that her client didn’t understand the fact that he was being charged with murder.

~~~

Such are the criminal courts these days. They are our courts, but judges pretend as if the public has no right to know what they are doing.

And in Georgia, judges are abetted in secrecy by a judicial performance review system that is the weakest, most toothless, in the nation.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution published a good article on the subject — I would only disagree with their description of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission as “one of the slimmest in the nation.”  I think it’s probably the weakest.  The state spends more money every year on a hundred utterly unnecessary things.  Yet, curiously, nobody in the legal community makes a peep.

So what can be done?  It will require legislation to grow the commission to a reasonable size and legislation to require these people to behave as if they are operating in America, not some Soviet-style, untouchable, secret bureau.

It’s your money, and it’s your court, folks.  You’re not going to be able to get the Bar Association, or any other legal group to do this: lawyers know better than to challenge judges.  And judges are shamefully silent on even the worst abuses and incompetence perpetrated by their peers.

Legislators didn’t “accidentally” forget to fund the Commission tasked with overseeing judges’ actions, you see.  Look at the names in this usual-suspects list, and you begin to see how lawyers and politicians are the same animal in this state — an animal that feels really comfortable telling you to butt out if you have concerns about the way things are being run in the courts.

No, this is a good old-fashioned conspiracy, and it starts at the Capitol, and it involves both parties — Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, but they agree that they don’t want nosy non-lawyers demanding accountability from them and the friends they put on the bench.

There are people sitting on those benches all over the state who have utterly no business being in a courtroom.  Somebody outside the system is going to have to demand change and wrest some power away from the cozy cabal that protects judges — from the legislative hearing rooms at the State Capitol to the powerless Commission.

(How do you prevent real reform?  Create a powerless reform board and declare victory.)

It is a disgrace that Mike Bowers had to step in to take on the investigation of Kenneth E. Fowler, but the bigger disgrace lies in all the other incompetent judges who don’t have anybody taking a stand against them.  So I would ask: why isn’t Bowers, not to mention other well-connected lawyers, doing more to change the state’s absence of a real Judicial Qualifications Commission?  Where is the ever-so-principled Roy Barnes, who sees a white suit in every mirror he passes?  The ersatz-populist Sonny Perdue, our own chubby Jacksonian?  Has anybody even seen Thurbert Baker recently?  Did he move?

(Well, but, it’s their friends on the bench.)

Why isn’t the A.C.L.U. screaming bloody murder about the secrecy of these reviews?

(Answer: they love incompetent judges.  Incompetent judges often cover their tracks by grandstanding on behalf of “poor victimized defendants” and other claptrap that plays well in the press.  And the defense bar sticks some of the worst judges on the bench in the first place: when it’s pro-defendant judges doing wrong, especially letting offenders off in violation of state law, don’t expect the A.C.L.U. to complain.)

But the prosecutors don’t show much backbone, either.

Until people start demanding that their elected officials actually fund the Commission and demanding disclosure of their activities, judges in Georgia will remain firmly above the law.

Ash Joshi: “But Being a Quisling Apologist for Murderers is my Job”

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Another great in-depth story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about chaos in the courts.  Note that Metro Atlanta courts other than Fulton County aren’t catch-and-releasing murder defendants like muddy-tasting catfish, like Fulton does.

Volume is no excuse: volume of cases means that judges and prosecutors should be appealing to the public for support and banging down doors at the Georgia General Assembly for more resources, not lowering standards.

Note, too, the line-up of apologists who try to explain away the problem rather than admitting that the D.A.’s office needs more and more-experienced prosecutors, and the Fulton Superior Court desperately needs an intervention.

I’m glad to see Fulton D.A. Paul Howard taking a stand:

“I, like law enforcement officials and 99 percent of the citizens I meet, believe such releases should rarely happen.”

In a statement, Howard said judges are blaming police and prosecutors for their own “seemingly poor judgment.”

Atlanta police Lt. Keith Meadows, head of homicide, was similarly annoyed. “To say we’re presenting weak cases, that’s just disingenuous,” he said.

The homicide unit has a 92 percent conviction rate, Meadows said in an interview Friday.

But if things are so bad that murder defendants are getting released because a hearing isn’t held within the required time-period, doesn’t the prosecutor’s office need more manpower?  Howard said recently that he does not need more prosecutors, but evidence suggests otherwise.  Paul Howard would have a very receptive audience if he went to the people of Atlanta and said: “I need 20 more prosecutors to actually put a dent in violent and property crime.”

Meanwhile, spokespeople for the Fulton County Superior Court seem to be arguing that because some people are acquitted of murder charges, it’s OK to routinely release remorseless predators onto the streets before trial:

Downs’ office pointed out several murder cases since 2007 in which charges were either dismissed, reduced or the defendant was acquitted.

This is an argument for releasing dozens of murder defendants on bond?  Well, heck, since some people are acquitted (no proof of innocence, in many cases), why don’t we just do away with the courts?  Why arrest anyone?

Creepy quisling of the week award, however, must go to Ash Joshi, who continues to believe that it was, as Martha Stewart would say, a “Good Thing” that his client, Antoine Wimes (see here and here), managed to bond out on the undisputed and cold-blooded murder of an innocent African immigrant, a gift of trust that Wimes cashed in by battering a woman into a coma and using an infant as a baseball bat:

Ash Joshi, a former Fulton prosecutor who represents Wimes in the murder case, said at first blush, the number of released murder suspects is “staggering.” But “as you have a greater volume of cases, there will be a number of weak cases. What is frustrating to a prosecutor is you believe a person is guilty but don’t have the evidence. A judge has to act on the evidence.”

Joshi said there were several factors in Wimes achieving bond: “His age, there was not a great deal of evidence and he had good ties to the community.” About 20 relatives attended the hearing. Joshi argued Wimes would not be a threat to the community.

Prosecutor Jack Barrs disagreed. “This was just a person who shot and killed somebody for no reason that’s apparent to the state or anyone else,” Barrs said at a pretrial hearing. “It indicates that there is great concern that he is a danger to the community at large.”

Last week, Joshi was unapologetic, saying he did everything he could to get his client a bond, just as prosecutors fought to oppose it.

“They did their job, and I did mine,” he said.

Hollywood and Grisham-esque fantasies aside, Joshi’s job actually is to act in the best interest of his client.  It’s a measure of how grotesque and degraded the defense bar has become that Joshi cannot conceptualize that “best interest” for a trigger-happy, sociopathic adolescent might be restraining him from taking more innocent lives until a judge manages to squeeze his murder trial in between all the other important things they’re busy doing at the Fulton County Superior Court.

Remember Mark Barton, the day-trader killer who gunned down 22 people, killing nine of them, in Atlanta in 1999?  Clever defense tactics protected him from paying the price for murdering his first wife and mother-in-law in cold blood, and so Barton went on to bludgeon his second wife and two young children in a similar fashion, before ripping nine additional, innocent families apart.

Was that in Mark Barton’s best interest?

Remember when the murder rate dropped through the floor in New York City?  That happened because judges, prosecutors, social service agencies, police, council-people, and the mayor (yes, the loud-mouthed, choleric, cross-dressing, adulterous-yet-oddly-effective Giuliani) teamed up to take responsibility for crime, to stop pointing fingers, and to stop defending the lumbering, crumbling behemoth that was the New York State justice system.

Atlanta can’t hope for a loud-mouthed, choleric, cross-dressing, adulterous-yet-oddly-effective mayor in this election season, I think.  But we can still dream.  Imagine the sea change if the people we entrust to enforce public safety actually stood up together and said: “Yes, the system is broken.  We really need to fix it.”

Murder by Anti-Incerceration Activism

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From a City Journal article by Heather Mac Donald.  How the murder of 17-year old Lily Burk could have been prevented:

The recent arrest of a vicious murderer in Los Angeles vindicates—tragically, only after-the-fact—several policing and sentencing policies that anti-law-enforcement advocates have fought for years. . .

On July 24 at around 3 pm., 17-year-old Lily Burk was walking down a midtown Los Angeles street on an errand for her mother. A 50-year-old homeless parolee with a three-decade-long rap sheet confronted the high school senior as she approached her Volvo. . .

At 4.52 pm, Samuel pulled the Volvo into a Skid Row parking lot at Alameda and 5th Street and abandoned it. Burk had already been murdered, her head beaten and throat slashed open with a broken bottle; her body was left in her car. . .

Samuel then walked nearly a mile through Skid Row, drinking beer from a paper bag in violation of L.A.’s open container law. Two LAPD officers on horseback stopped him for the public-drinking offense and questioned him. He told them that he was on parole and agreed to be searched, according to the police. They found a crack pipe in his pocket and arrested him. The post-arrest search of Samuel turned up a Volvo key and a cell phone. The next morning, a worker from a Skid Row business discovered Burk’s car with her body in it. Samuel’s prints were in the car; his clothes had blood on them.

Samuel’s apprehension shows the enormous power of broken-windows policing, which the American Civil Liberties Union has fought against on L.A.’s Skid Row and throughout the country.. . . When officers question people in high-crime areas for misdemeanor offenses, they regularly find warrant absconders and parole violators. In 1996, a New York police officer nabbed a young man jumping a subway turnstile, a crime that a decade earlier had been regarded as simply an inevitable response to poverty and too trivial for the police to worry about. The turnstile-jumper, John Royster, turned out to be wanted for an ongoing campaign of terror against women in New York that included murder, rape, and a nearly lethal beating; had he not been picked up for the subway offense, he undoubtedly would have gone on to assault more women.

Of course, the effectiveness of broken-windows policing in capturing Charles Samuel is only half of the story.  The other half is the story of how anti-incarceration activists, and their allies in the judiciary, kept Samuel out of prison in the first place, despite his brutal, violent, recidivist record of crime:

California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law is the most reviled sentencing policy in the country—reviled, that is, by the anti-incarceration lobby. It allows prosecutors to seek a sentence of 25 years to life against an offender who has already served time for two violent or serious felonies when he is convicted of a third felony.

Anti-law-enforcement advocates fancifully charge that the law’s main effect is to send away hapless sad sacks whose only misstep was to succumb to the urge for a pizza when they didn’t have enough change in their pockets to buy a slice. These advocates regularly lobby Sacramento to loosen or repeal the law.

Mac Donald is right: the only time the media writes about three-strikes, it is to push a questionable sob story.  There is no discussion of these laws when they are used to finally get a violent recidivist off the streets.  The media will bang the drums when some offender with a long rap sheet finally kills someone.  But then they go back to playing amnesiac and reflexively opposing the laws that could have prevented the crime in the first place.

In Atlanta, for example, it appears that everybody has forgotten about the various sentencing and judgment errors that ended in Eugenia Calle’s murder.  Apparently, there will be no professional consequences for the judge and prosecutor who let Shamal Thompson walk as a “first offender” (for the third time), rather than enforcing Georgia’s minimum mandatory law, as they were required to do by law.  Are we all just going to collectively forget what happened, until the next time the next recidivist captures our attention by killing someone?  No consequences for offenders and no consequences for the prosecutors and judges who fail to do their jobs and put them away: a perfect circle.  No wonder judges so frequently identify with offenders, and not with the rest of us.

Heather Mac Donald:

Samuel was a good candidate for a third-strike sentence, thanks to an earlier attack that foreshadowed Burk’s murder. In 1986, he walked up to an elderly man sitting on his porch in San Bernardino (in the so-called Inland Empire east of Los Angeles), grabbed the man’s cane and beat him with it, then forced him inside his home and demanded money. When the old man could only come up with ten dollars, Samuel commandeered the man’s car and drove the owner to an ATM. The terrified senior citizen was unable to withdraw any money, however, whereupon Samuel struck him with his cane again, punched him in the stomach, and threatened to kill him if he called the police, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Samuel pled guilty in 1987 to robbery, residential burglary, and car theft and was sentenced to six years. He became eligible for a three-strikes sentence in 1997, following a conviction for another San Bernardino burglary (the 1986 robbery and burglary charges counted as his first two felonies). But his rap sheet failed to note that the 1986 burglary was a residential burglary, as opposed to a non-residential break-in. Only residential burglaries count as “serious” felonies for three-strikes purposes; breaking into a store, office building, or commercial space is regarded as “non-serious” and can be repeated indefinitely without triggering a three-strike step-up in sentencing. (So much for the idea that the three-strikes law is blindly draconian; in fact, it makes careful—perhaps overly careful—distinctions between felonies.)

To make a long story short (I am quoting too much already: read the article, it’s good), Samuel managed to avoid three-strikes in 1997 because somebody did not accurately record his prior record, and no prosecutor caught the error (sound familiar?), and he avoided three-strikes again in 2006 because another prosecutor, bowing to anti-incarceration activism, did not request the sentence (sound familiar?).  Over the years, he got other breaks as well and was most recently sentenced to a “community drug treatment program” despite the routine insistence that violent offenders are not permitted to take advantage of such options.   Now a 17-year old girl is dead, brutally murdered.  How many other people did he get away with killing?

Much misinformation about three-strikes laws circulates in the media:

  • When activists say three-strikes laws offer no room for the get-out-of-jail card that is judicial (in)discretion, don’t believe them.  Even California, with by far the strictest three-strikes law in the country, still allows judges and prosecutors discretion to release violent, repeat offenders to the streets.  Georgia’s law is utterly toothless, with judicial discretion over-ruling virtually any consequences for crime by allowing judges to suspend all time to be served at the times of sentencing.
  • When district attorneys tell you they don’t need addition resources, they are playing politics with your safety.  Nobody seriously believes that any district attorney’s office has the resources to actually enforce the law.  The law has not really been enforced in this country for decades.  Every district attorney’s office is so short-staffed, in comparison to the real quantity of crime, that virtually every offense gets brief consideration by some harried prosecutor and then a generous plea deal.  Criminals know this and act accordingly.  Until that changes, no district attorney should go around claiming that he doesn’t need resources.  Paul Howard.
  • It is 2009.  Even I have learned to use computers, and I am a recalcitrant luddite.  The average computer tech could design a system during his lunch break that would record and database all prosecution, sentencing and incarceration outcomes.  By suppertime, the data could be available to the public on the internet.

However, if people really knew what was happening in the criminal courts, a lot of heads would roll.  Judges and prosecutors would find themselves answering for the leniency so ingrained at every level of the system that it seems natural — so long as you don’t look too hard, and it is not your daughter they are burying this week.

No-Snitch Children and No-Punishment Adults

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Every weekday, I receive a useful summary of crime, policing, and justice news stories called Crime and Justice News, compiled by Ted Gest at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  Considering that there are so many relevant articles from which to choose, Gest and his assistants do a good job of spotting national trends.

But, sometimes, reading through the report is singularly depressing, not only because crime is depressing, but because the trends in crime prevention that crop up regularly these days seem doomed to failure.

In yesterday’s Crime and Justice News, the first two stories on the list, taken together, are particularly grim:

Detroit Kids Say No-Snitch Culture Ingrained
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Clergy and civic groups have joined Detroit’s new leadership in calling for an end to youth violence — specifically targeting the no-snitch culture that says it’s better, and safer, to turn a blind eye to criminal acts. Kids on the street are saying: Good luck, reports the Detroit News. “In this city, it’s come down to a combination of fear and I don’t care,” said Antonio Bolden, 15. “When it comes to the no-snitch thing, this city is too far gone.”

Chief County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said, “Without people telling what they know to law enforcement we would have anarchy in the streets.” Some say that’s already a good description of Detroit. . .

Detroit News

A Formula For Less Crime, Less Punishment
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If punishments for wrongdoing are sporadic and delayed, increasing severity has only modest impact. That’s why quintupling the prison and jail population has failed to get us back to the crime rates of the early 1960s. So says public policy Prof. Mark A. R. Kleiman of UCLA in When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, from Princeton University Press this summer. . .

Washington Monthly

There’s no need to explain why the “No-Snitching” article is depressing.  But even though Kleiman’s research is well worth a read — he argues that immediate consequences and zero tolerance for infractions can make parole and probation highly effective and reduce the need for prison sentences — his theory doesn’t have a chance of working.

Not because, as some would argue, we are philosophically wedded to harsh, long incarcerations, but because precisely the opposite is true.  Too many powerful people are so opposed to incarceration, particularly for drug crimes, that they will be no more willing to enhance probation and parole with threatened prison terms than they were to enhancing other types of sentencing.

The real problem is the power of the defense bar and the many ways they have devised to bankrupt the justice system.  That’s where all the money went.  You can spend all day jiggering the system at its edges, but if you don’t tackle the bloated, kleptocratic defense bar, with its stranglehold on procedure and evidence rules, you will accomplish nothing.

The other problem is dumbing down justice.  Academicians can come up with wonderful plans, but by the time they get enforced, they don’t look the same anymore.  We already have rules governing the behavior of people on parole, and often they simply get ignored.  We already have minimum mandatory laws that are supposed to “weed out” the worst offenders, and judges ignore them.  We already have a vast network of “community sentencing” and drug court options, and a lot of them are scams.

The only thing that guarantees that people will not re-offend during a certain time period is incarceration.

But anti-incarceration activism and the economic crisis are now working hand-in-hand to drive states to abandon crime-fighting and replace it with “job training” and “community outreach,” the money for which is showering down from federal deficit-spending largess, not scraped out of strained state and city budgets.  All of which would be lovely if only it (a) actually worked and (b) didn’t instantaneously disappear into the voluminous pockets of political cronies.

Add to that, (c) nobody in high-crime communities labors under the illusion that serious and repeat offenders are actually removed from the streets now, so communities are already spiraling out of control.  Fixing parole is a band-aid.  Activists talk about the need to empty the prisons and overturn minimum mandatory sentencing, but in reality, it’s already done.  The streets are already crawling with violent recidivists who are already getting a mere slap on the wrist for their seventh, or twenty-seventh offenses.

The Detroit News article has some interesting quotes from community members who are demanding more law enforcement and harsher sentencing — not less, as many experts propose.  But then the reporter lays the blame for lax enforcement of laws and short prison terms at the feet of prosecutors and police, as if they are the ones who want to let suspects walk and felons plead down.

Where is the blame for the criminal bar, the defense attorneys, the pro-criminal judges — the real source of the culture of leniency?

Meanwhile, academicians and policy makers continue to insist that the only “solution” is to empty the prisons.  I suspect they will win.  Then we’ll all be back in 1993, with Detroit leading the way.

At least criminology will remain a growth profession.

Another Entirely Accurate Critique of the Miami Homeless Sex Offender “Crisis”:

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From PROTECT, the National Association to Protect Children:

Miami’s Julia Tuttle Causeway fiasco–where about 70 “registered” sex offenders have been herded under a bridge to live–is being challenged in court by the ACLU.

PROTECT wrote about the situation earlier this year (See “Gimmicks Gone Wild,” March, 2009 Newswire), calling it a “cynical game of sex offender dumping.” The New York Times reports today that Miami probation officers are telling released sex offenders to go join the encampment, because there are virtually no area rental apartments to be had that don’t violate local residency restriction ordinances for “registered” sex offenders.

Miami area officials, like those in many jurisdictions around the country, are passing the ordinances in a desperate gesture to keep released sex offenders away from children.

The New York Times reports that Florida Governor Charlie Crist “placed the responsibility [for monitoring released offenders] squarely on local governments.”

As long as state politicians continue to peddle sex offender “registration” schemes as a low-cost alternative to incarceration and intensive probation and parole, local authorities will continue to fall back on ineffective zoning ordinances and highway bridges as their main public safety strategy.

The Tech Crime Wave. What Can Be Done. What Can’t Be Done.

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What can be done about crime in the neighborhoods around Georgia Tech?  As reported by the AJC, the youths who have been arrested — and the ones who are yet to be caught — are perhaps the most dangerous type of criminal: immature and armed.  As James Fetig, an administrator at Georgia Tech, observed:

“[o]ne concern is the age of the criminals. Police tell us they are between 16 and 19,” Fetig said. “This is not a time when young men tend to consider consequences. We are very concerned that one of these robberies could go terribly wrong and have terrible consequences.”

Here is another concern: young men charged with gun crimes often walk out of courtrooms in Atlanta with little or no punishment — merely emboldened to commit more crime.  How often does this happen?  Nobody will say.  The DA’s office does not release such statistics.  The AJC has done nothing to produce such numbers.  The Fulton County Justices will not tell us.  The Clerk of Court?  Ha.

It is amazing that something so clearly in the public interest as the disposition and sentencing in criminal cases is secreted away from public scrutiny.  Yet, there it is.  And that is a major reason why people in Home Park and elsewhere throughout Atlanta will continue to live as prisoners in their own homes.

When you look at instances where prosecution and sentencing statistics have been released, it is easy to see why judges (and, sometimes, prosecutors) don’t wish for the public to know how they are spending their time.  In Orlando, Florida, which has an active court-watching culture, the Orlando Sentinel conducted this shocking study of sentences handed down for gun crimes:

The state’s 10-20-Life law — passed by state legislators and signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999 — promised crime-weary voters that armed criminals would face long, no-bargain prison terms. Florida quickly spent $500,000 on newspaper, radio and TV ads spreading the message: “Pull a gun: 10 years. Fire a gun: 20 years. Shoot someone: 25 years to life.” . . .

[B]ut few suspects in Orange County get such tough mandatory penalties even as the campaign to end gun violence enters its 10th year, the Orlando Sentinel has found.

Only 5 percent of 7,437 suspects arrested in Orange County on gun charges from 2003 through 2007 received mandatory sentences, court and prison records show.

The record is even worse for suspects arrested with an AK-47 or other assault weapons, those military-style rifles that police officials say warrant the most serious punishment when misused. Just less than 2 percent of such cases in Orange County produced mandatory terms.

Do not believe that Atlanta is any different.  It may be worse.  It is the rule, not the exception, that offenders get a free pass on their first adult conviction.  It is the rule, not the exception, that most cases get pled down, usually a process involving prosecutors agreeing to redefine the charge to avoid minimum mandatory laws.  In Orlando:

Records show a third of all gun cases in Orange County were dropped by prosecutors who screen incoming cases. Additional cases were dismissed, bargained down or acquitted — casualties of evidence problems and the need to keep nearly 80,000 cases moving through justice system every year.

The vast majority of suspects receive very little punishment.

And when a defendant caught with a gun does not get charged, he may still qualify, the next time, for judges’ absurd passion for letting all “first time offenders” walk free.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out exactly how many times the Georgia Tech area defendants have been arrested and released, or allowed to plead down, as in the following?

What happened to Daryl Barndo Ford demonstrates why tough sentences are rare.

Four years ago, the 22-year-old was arrested in Orlando when drug agents seized a fully automatic assault rifle, a pistol and 16 grams of crack cocaine.

Because Ford was a felon with six prior arrests, state and federal laws prohibited him from having any type of firearm. When caught hiding under his mother’s bed, Ford had eluded three arrest warrants for weeks by sleeping in local motels rather than the family’s Clear Lake home.

The AR-15 rifle found in Ford’s locked bedroom had been converted illegally to fire automatically like a machine gun, according to police reports. Two ammunition magazines were taped together so the weapon could be reloaded instantly after firing a 20- or 30-shot burst.

As part of 10-20-Life, Ford faced a minimum three-year sentence if the office of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar successfully prosecuted him as a felon with a firearm.

Problems arose when police did not want to disclose the identity of an informant who led them to Ford. And Ford’s mother would not say whether Ford had exclusive access to the locked bedroom. So prosecutors cut a deal.

Dropped were felony charges of dealing crack, possessing a machine gun, possessing a gun with altered serial numbers — a common sign of a stolen weapon — and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Ford pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.

His punishment: 23 days in jail.

Since then, Ford has been arrested six more times on drug and gun charges. His longest sentence to date: six months in county jail.

Ford has now accumulated a dozen known arrests for drug and gun charges.  He is a repeat felon.  And judges and prosecutors in Florida still have not obeyed state laws requiring them to sentence him to at least three, if not ten years behind bars.

How do people like Ford continue to walk?  Why do judges get away with ignoring the will of the people, who have decided, legislatively, that certain crimes require mandatory minimum sentences?  Usually, it appears, prosecutors simply do not try to put offenders away for the minimum time because they are overwhelmed by cases.  Pleas must be negotiated in nearly all cases if prosecutors are going to have the time to prosecute anyone.  Why is the system like this in the first place?  Because, contrary to what the mayor and academicians and newspapers will tell you, we have lots of crime and lots of criminals.

We also release criminals back to the streets every day because the criminal bar has succeeded in twisting the system until it simply does not resemble a rational search for the truth.  The ridiculous latitude in suppressing evidence, for example, efficiently and speedily re-delivers criminals to the streets,  No other country has a system so hell-bent on excluding evidence from scrutiny.

And so, Daryl Ford loose on the streets with his dozen convictions is what we get.  We get streets saturated with criminal activity, so much so that authorities are forced to simply throw up their hands and say: We know they’re guilty, but we have to let them go.  We know they will eventually kill innocent people, but we don’t have the resources to even begin enforcing our own laws as they are written.

And still, the Pew Foundation and the editorialists and many criminologists keep telling us that the problem is too much incarceration, too harsh sentencing.  These claims do not even begin to stand up to real evidence, of course:

Light sentences are no rarity in assault-weapons cases. In the 243 cases analyzed by the [Orlando] Sentinel that went to court, prosecutors won 112 convictions, but just seven suspects received the 10-20-Life penalties. In 43 cases, the state dropped the gun-related charges in return for pleas to lesser crimes, such as possession of drug paraphernalia.

Of those convicted, 83 served less than a year in jail. The median sentence was six months. . .

All charges were dropped in 40 percent of the 243 cases. Reasons for those 97 dismissals included insufficient evidence and problems with victims and witnesses.

The remaining 34 cases include defendants still awaiting trial, fugitives and seven defendants tried in U.S. District Court under federal law. Two of the federal suspects were acquitted over an invalid search warrant. The other five received sentences of five to 17 1/2 years.

Out of 243 cases of gun crime in Orlando in 2008 involving assault-weapons, only seven defendants received the minimum penalty required by law.  This is not the type of fact you will find in the highly influential Pew Center report urging lawmakers to cut back on incarcerating convicts — because we’re just too harsh on the poor guys.  It is not the type of fact you will find in most newspaper articles purporting to examine the criminal justice system.

It is the type of fact you should think about the next time you are staying late at the library and need to figure out how to safely make your way home.  And it is definitely what students should think about after they matriculate and leave the dangerous parts of town behind, because there are still children living in those places, without a way out.

What can Georgia Tech students and all the other beleaguered residents of Home Park do to make their streets safer, not just temporarily, or for this semester?  They should go to court.  They should go watch a day or a few days of processing violent criminals, and tell other people what they saw there.  They should take that Orlando Sentinel article and try to replicate that research in their own city — or pressure the newspaper to do so (newspapers being in the business of trying to get readers to read them these days), because catching gun-wielding criminals is only the first part of keeping them off the streets.

We don’t even know how bad it is in the courts.  We don’t know what we don’t know, and there is little excuse for not knowing it in a metro area with hundreds of thousands of undergraduates, thousands of professors, three law schools, and millions of residents.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 4: Britteny Turman, Grace Dixon, and Frank Rashad Johnson Denied Justice in Atlanta

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On Sunday, May 10, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article by Bill Torpy that raises troubling questions about what is going on in Atlanta’s courtrooms.  Like this April 10 story by Steve Visser, Torpy’s story focuses on an element of the justice system that receives less attention than policing but is arguably far more responsible for the presence of dangerous felons on Atlanta’s streets: the choices, both legal and administrative, made by Atlanta’s judges.

We invest judges with extraordinary power.  We allow judicial discretion in all sorts of sentencing and administrative decisions.  Legislators have tried to limit judges’ discretion in recent years by imposing minimum mandatory sentence guidelines and repeat offender laws.  But Georgia’s sentencing guidelines still give judges far too much latitude to let criminals go free.  Also, far too many judges have responded to this legislative oversight (aka, the will of the people) by simply ignoring the intent, and even the letter, of those laws.

Not long ago, I was sitting in a Tampa courtroom listening to a request to overturn a particularly egregious lapse in judicial discretion in the case of Richard Chotiner.  Chotiner is a former nurse who used his status as a caregiver to sexually assault a developmentally disabled young man.  He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to fifteen years behind bars.  Then the judge let him go, to wait out his appeals as a free man.  To say that this decision was unusual is an understatement; nonetheless, facing criticism, the judge dug in.  Next, he allowed Chotiner to remove his ankle monitor on some trumped-up claim of needing to undergo physical therapy, and then refused to require Chotiner to put the monitor back on after the “therapy” was completed.  It’s hard to see the judge’s decision to remove the ankle monitor as anything other than a petulant reaction to being criticized in the first place.

In other words, this judge decided that his ego was more important than the victim’s peace of mind, public safety, or justice itself.  And when another judge was called upon to re-evaluate the first judge’s lack of judgment, Judge Number Two said that while he would not have let Chotiner go, he certainly was not going to second-guess the brillant legal mind of his esteemed colleague, etc. etc. etc.

Chotiner is still on the loose, though Judge Number Two actually did second-guess Judge Number One’s decision to remove his ankle monitor and ordered it put back on.  I suppose we weren’t supposed to notice that logical inconsistency while swooning in abject gratitude that one of these Apollonian deities had deigned to throw a few scraps the victim’s way.

Now, thanks to Bill Torpy’s article, Atlantans can watch a similar Olympian battle of wills not unfold in the Fulton Superior Court.  Expect other judges not to act to rein in the behavior of Judge Marvin Arrington, who once again completely forgot that he isn’t yet presiding over a fake television courtroom.  Expect the chief justice to not speak out in the face of yet another miscarriage of justice, and to not look into the chain of events that put yet another attempted murderer back on Atlanta’s streets.  They are, after all, judges.  The rest of us should mind our place.

This time, Arrington released a violent criminal who shot a fellow Morehouse student three times with a handgun.  He then treated the court to another episode of what goes on in his mind, saying:

[The attempted murderer] needs to have a curfew. He needs to be in a dorm where you can get some study time. Take organic chemistry and physics. Make him some A’s . . . All of them got cars.  Don’t need no dern car. They need a MARTA card.”

Let me attempt to summarize.  If you have repeatedly shot a person with a handgun, what you need to do is not go to jail, but study more and take public transportation.  That should fix it.

Just like the judge who wouldn’t judge another judge in Tampa, Arrington did feign some harsh words for the defense.  He actually cut the defense attorney off in mid-sentence (!), declaring:

“No more excuses. He doesn’t have any reason to give for not being successful.

“Where is the mama?

“Better put your arms around him and make sure he goes in the right direction. If he comes back here, I’m going to put him in jail. J-A-I-L.”

Then, after spelling out the word J-A-I-L in harsh tones for emphasis, Arrington let Joshua Brandon Norris go free.

OK, I’m not being completely fair to Marvin Arrington. As Torpy’s article explains, an inexperienced prosecutor, and thus the prosecutor’s boss, D.A. Paul Howard, agreed to the crazy plea deal in this case (Allowing a plea in a case of attempted murder means that the sentencing law needs to be changed.  Or, conversely, enforced, with penalties accruing to judges who fail to follow the law).  But regardless of the prosecutor’s actions, it is still Arrington’s courtroom.

Of course, there were reports of other crimes by Norris.  Serious ones.  Like, gun stuff.  Like grinding a bar glass into a girlfriend’s face.  Such things are apparently meaningless, however, in the halls of the bizarro-world of the Fulton Superior Court, where shooting somebody gets you sent to study hall, and aiming a gun at two women gets you — well, nothing.  Here is Torpy’s article.  I’ve quoted from it extensively because it is important — please go to the website and read the whole thing:

Tale of two students with a twist
Shooting victim won’t be Morehouse Man, but suspect to earn degree.

By Bill Torpy
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, May 10, 2009

Joshua Brandon Norris is expected to graduate soon and become a Morehouse Man, with all its prestige. At 22, he’s had a good run during his time at Morehouse College. He drove a Hummer, co-owned a fashion store at Perimeter Mall and owns a stylish $450,000 townhouse.

He also shot another student.

Quite a lifestyle for someone whose dad is a cop in Nashville (see below).  That must be some clothing store.

Across the country, Frank Rashad Johnson, the victim, attends Sacramento City College and lives with his mother, trying to save money. He, too, wanted to be a Morehouse Man.

“My great-uncle was a classmate of Martin Luther King’s,” Johnson said. “It has a long history of exemplary students and good men. It was my dream school.”

But all that fell apart when he was shot three times outside a school-related Halloween party near Atlantic Station in 2007. Police reports say Norris was kicked out of a nightclub, had words with Johnson after bumping into him outside, then shot the fellow Morehouse student during a struggle in the street.

Pause on this for a moment.  One shot, two shots, three shots, six shots in all.  In a public place.

Completing a Morehouse degree is vital to Norris. Fulton County Judge Marvin Arrington ordered him to do so after he pleaded no contest to a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The deal calls for six years of probation and comes with first-offender status —- meaning Norris’ record will be wiped clean if he stays out of trouble.

“You’re getting the break of your life,” Arrington said during the Jan. 27 hearing.

Arrington was accepting a plea offered by the prosecution and the defense.  But he could have done any one of a number of things.  Instead, he went off on his routine about staying in school, as if the situation were somehow not real, a pantomine, or an after-school special.  It’s crazy, how the courts have been hijacked by this type of foolishness.

The arrangement constitutes a bizarre twist of fate for Johnson.

“I sit at home, still recovering from my wound, painfully aware my Morehouse dreams have become a nightmare,” Johnson wrote to Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard after hearing about the deal. “My victimizer (and almost murderer) received a closeted, secretive, back-door slap on the wrist and is now back at Morehouse, moving forward with his educational aspirations without having paid any price for his crime.”

This is the person who is not at Morehouse.  The president of Morehouse chose an attempted murderer over this young man, the victim of his crime.  Nice message to send, President Franklin.

[District Attorney Paul] Howard recently investigated how the case was handled after receiving questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I am uncomfortable with the quality of the prosecutorial services provided … in this matter,” Howard wrote the family. Reid Thompson, the prosecutor who cut the deal, resigned.

Howard surely must have approved the plea deal.  And so, this must be routine.  If the public cannot count on its prosecutors to demand justice, then they have no protection against violent criminals.

The case is an example of how a relatively new prosecutor got caught up in Arrington’s crusade to save young black men. Of an overworked department dealing with a hard-charging defense attorney. Of a victim not getting his just due in court. And, says Johnson’s family, of a young man once again escaping serious criminal charges.

I’d like to know more about how Arrington’s crusade to save young black men ended up with someone who tried to kill a young black man receiving a get-out-of-jail-free card for a serious, violent felony, while the actually endangered young black man who didn’t try to kill anybody got the shaft.

And nearly killed.  But it gets worse.

The deal came after Thompson, a former Fulton police lieutenant who became an attorney in 2005, heard Arrington’s up-by-your bootstraps message in court weeks earlier, according to a transcript of the hearing. Last year, Arrington removed whites from his courtroom to lecture black defendants on proper behavior.

“We’ve got this young man who’s coming back to Morehouse now, he’s close to graduation,” Thompson told Arrington. “Sending him to state prison for two years, I don’t think that would be in the state’s best interest. Hopefully, this will be the lesson he needs.”

This is the prosecutor speaking.  That’s insane.  He resigned?  He should return his salary.  But I imagine there will be a reward system in place for him in academia somewhere.  And why, precisely, was the choice between two years in prison or no time at all?  This was attempted murder, firing a weapon in a public place.  The Code of Georgia does not allow for “attainment of a college degree” as punishment for this crime:

Georgia Code, 16-5-21

(a) A person commits the offense of aggravated assault when he or she assaults:

(1) With intent to murder, to rape, or to rob;

(2) With a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury; or

(3) A person or persons without legal justification by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward a person or persons.

(b) Except as provided in subsections (c) through (i) of this Code section, [not applicable] a person convicted of the offense of aggravated assault shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 20 years.

Can anyone explain to me how it is that Judge Arrington, and D.A. Paul Howard, agreed to quietly circumvent this law?  Why aren’t they resigning?  It really is time for new blood at the D.A.’s office.

[The victim, Frank Rashad] Johnson complains his voice remained silent during the hearing. Actually, not only was his voice absent, but a version opposite of what police reports said happened that night was presented. In the hearing, [Prosecutor] Thompson said [victim] Johnson was kicked out of the nightclub before a fight started outside. And the defense attorney picked up from there, telling the judge Johnson and his friends surrounded his client’s Hummer and threatened him.

But several police reports in the court file say it was Norris who was kicked out of the party, one that Johnson never entered. And the reports say Norris returned to his vehicle after arguing with Johnson, then drove back, slammed on his brakes and got out with a gun.

The prosecutor makes the defense’s case, contradicting police reports.

Meanwhile, back in the victim’s world:

Johnson said prosecutors repeatedly told him they were up against a “prestigious” attorney. “I think they were intimidated by him,” he said. “It infuriates me I was never able to give anyone my sense of outrage or my story.”

Here are the details of the crime.  I also doubt it’s the only such case in the Fulton courts.  If you’re searching for the reason why innocent people keep getting killed in Atlanta, here it is:

According to police reports, witnesses said the events of Oct. 31, 2007, unfolded this way:

Norris and his girlfriend were escorted out of a Halloween party at LITKitchen. Norris bumped into Johnson, who was waiting outside. The two exchanged words and Norris walked to his Hummer, drove back and screeched to a halt —- a point nearly every witness mentioned.

Witnesses said Norris jumped out and pushed the gun at Johnson’s face. Johnson struggled with Norris as he fired at least six shots. Three bullets hit Johnson in the leg. Norris fled.

Norris turned himself in a week later after conferring with a lawyer and was released on bond.

Norris’ identity was known.  Why did it take a week to get him?  Was he hiding?  Was his father, a Nashville cop, involved in hiding him?  And since he was on the run for a week, why the hell did a judge let him free on bond, instead of holding him to make sure he didn’t run again?

Who, precisely, let Norris bond out?  To do this:

Eight months passed, and then last summer, Fulton prosecutors moved to revoke Norris’ bond after learning he was accused of smashing a glass in his ex-girlfriend’s face at a Nashville bar. She received severe cuts in her forehead requiring eight inches of stitches, police reports said.

The victim’s aunt, Kelly Carr, told police “when she went to the ER her niece told her Brandon had done this to me.” The aunt also said, “the victim is scared of the suspect because he is out on bond for attempted homicide” and Norris’ stepfather, Daniel Turner, a Nashville cop, “pulled her from the room and said his son, wanted to see/speak with [the victim].”

An officer reported this to internal affairs, which investigated and cleared Turner. The victim was “completely uncooperative,” Nashville police reported.

The victim was scared out of her mind.  And why not?  It’s not as if anybody was protecting her.  Only people like Norris get protection from this system.  Victims learn to shut up.

During Norris’ bond revocation hearing in Fulton last August, the woman testified she was cut when a fight broke out in the Nashville bar while she walked toward Norris’ table. He was cut in the hand in the same fight, according to testimony. Prosecutors later dropped the matter.

Which prosecutor dropped the matter?  What is happening in Paul Howard’s office?  The scariest part is that this level of dysfunction cannot be unique.

How many Joshua Brandon Norrises are walking Atlanta’s streets?  Why isn’t Paul Howard screaming from the rooftops for more resources, if things have gotten so bad that he does not ever try to put attempted murderers away?  Why isn’t the Mayor helping him?  Why isn’t the Chief of Police?  Why aren’t they standing in the city council, and the county commission, and the state legislature, every single day, pleading for the resources to keep killers off the streets?

But in the end, the decision gets made by the sitting judge: Marvin Arrington.  And then his peers do what judges do when other judges fail to enforce the law: they do nothing.

Of course, there’s more:

In another case in Fulton court files, Clark Atlanta University students Britteny Turman and Grace Dixon say Norris pulled a gun on them during a traffic dispute near Morehouse in November 2005. The women, in recent interviews, said Norris screamed profanities and followed them in their car for several blocks.

“He was laughing like it was funny when [he waved his gun and] we both ducked,” Turman said.

“I don’t understand why he didn’t get kicked out of Morehouse,” Dixon said. “He shouldn’t have been there to do this to somebody else.”

The two say they heard no follow-up from Fulton solicitors. Morehouse officials declined to answer questions about Norris.

In fairness, Marvin Arrington never said anything about saving young women.

Asked about Norris’ plea deal in the shooting, Arrington said he has “close to 100 cases a week” and doesn’t remember it. But he recalled the Nashville assault case when Norris came before him during the plea hearing.

“This is the young man who was whipping a young lady?” the judge asked.

Then he let him go.  Told ’em to study hard.

Johnson [the shooting victim] last month got a letter from Morehouse President Robert M. Franklin after the Johnson family repeatedly contacted the college after the plea deal.

Franklin suggested Johnson return. “Your matriculation would be a wonderful triumph over adversity,” he wrote.

Johnson aspired to becoming a Morehouse Man, as have three generations of relatives. But he has soured on that.

“Honestly, I don’t want to do that; I don’t feel safe there,” he said. “The situation is all backward to me.”

Is anything stopping Paul Howard from prosecuting Norris for his armed attack on Britteny Turman and Grace Dixon?

When the judge in Tampa let Richard Chotiner walk away from a sexual assault conviction, television host Bill O’Reilly stepped in to protest Chotiner’s release.  I hope that O’Reilly would be similarly interested in the release of Joshua Brandon Norris, and the grotesquely raw deal delivered to his victims, Britteny Turman, Grace Dixon, and Frank Rashad Johnson.  They have a right to justice.

Just Killing your Girlfriend With an Icepick, Nothing “Heinous”: How Defense Attorneys Starve The Courts

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Last week, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that jury selection in the Silver Comet Trail murder trial might be delayed because defense attorneys were complaining that they are owed 60K. This week, the judge in that case reached a sealed agreement with the defense council, and jury selection is — slowly– going forward.

The funding pool for capitol defense attorneys in Georgia was depleted earlier this year by the fees charged by the team of lawyers who defended courthouse killer Brian Nichols.

But that’s not the whole story. Activist lawyers are playing up the funding crisis in order to try to end the death penalty in Georgia. I wrote about the ways the defense bar is politicizing the costs for capitol defense here.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering why our courts are in financial crisis, thank a defense attorney:

Death-penalty cases clog court system with delays

Prosecutors, families seek trial dates

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Monday, April 06, 2009

Frederick Lee Gude is a proven killer. The only question is: when will a jury decide whether the state should kill him?

Gude was indicted in 2004 on charges he murdered his girlfriend, Jacquelyn Nash, 54, by stabbing her more than 30 times with an ice pick. . .

The newest Gude case has never come to trial. . .

In the Gude case — described by one prosecutor as “cut-and-dried” — Senior Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore said she handled almost all the pretrial legal matters — more than 70 by November 2007 — but she delayed setting a trial date because it appeared the high-profile Brian Nichols’ capital case was about to start trial and she didn’t want to overburden the court system.

Seventy pretrial motions in one “cut-and-dried” case. Seventy separate considerations taking up hours and hours of courtroom time, lawyer’s fees, and salaries for support staff and security before the trial even begins. Lest you imagine that such motions are anything other than the defense bar’s strategy for forcing us to lessen sentences for even the worst criminals, consider just one of the motions defense attorney Thomas West apparently made in making the case for a lesser sentence for Gude:

“We contended it was cruel and unusual to seek the death penalty in a case where you are just accused of killing your girlfriend and not something more heinous. … In the past, the district attorney has not sought the death penalty in these circumstances.”

Just killing your girlfriend and not something more heinous. By stabbing her with an ice pick 30 times. Not heinous, that.

It would be interesting to know precisely how much money was spent by Fulton County taxpayers so that Thomas West could argue that hacking somebody to death with an icepick is less heinous than other crimes

***

In Steve Visser’s article, Fulton County D.A. Paul Howard lays blame for trial delays on Superior Court Judges. Howard is doubtlessly right that judges bear responsibility for failing to move their cases along. But behind the judges’ recalcitrance lies a deeper, systemic problem: defense attorneys have twisted the criminal trial system into something that no longer even slightly resembles a search for the truth.

Two books on the subject:

Guilty: The Collapse of Criminal Justice, by Judge Harold J. Rothwax (Warner Books, 1996). Rothwax was a trial judge in New York State for twenty-five years. Although he started his career as a card-carrying ACLU defense lawyer, he came to see that procedural rulings on evidence, questioning, self-incrimination and juries had tilted the balance of the courts to defendants and damaged the ability to effectively prosecute wrongdoers.

Trials Without Truth: Why Our System of Criminal Trials Has Become an Expensive Failure And What We Need to do to Rebuild It, by Professor William T. Pizzi (NYU Press, 1999). Pizzi, a former prosecutor turned law professor at University of Colorado, compares several European-nation criminal trial systems with our own. European courts are far less likely to exclude evidence, and the cult of the defense attorney is largely avoided — resulting in attention to the facts of the case, rather than the grotesque game-playing that predominates here. What a refreshing idea. Also readable.

***

One more note on Frederick Gude’s criminal past: apparently, he has killed at least two other people. The Georgia Department of Corrections lists Gude’s prior record as follows:

STATE OF GEORGIA – CURRENT SENTENCES
CASE NO: 430193
OFFENSE: VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 07/31/1998
SENTENCE LENGTH: 5 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
STATE OF GEORGIA – PRIOR SENTENCES
CASE NO: 74249
OFFENSE: NOT AVAILABLE
CONVICTION COUNTY: CONVERSION
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE
CASE NO: 74249
OFFENSE: MURDER
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: LIFE
CASE NO: 74249
OFFENSE: ESCAPE
CONVICTION COUNTY: PUTNAM COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 1 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
STATE OF GEORGIA – INCARCERATION HISTORY
INCARCERATION BEGIN INCARCERATION END
11/10/1999 09/08/2003
10/13/1983 05/07/1986
05/21/1969 10/24/1977

So he received “life” for a previous murder conviction, in addition to a five-year voluntary manslaughter sentence in 1998, and now he is on trial for murder again. The Corrections website doesn’t include the date for the previous murder, but I imagine it was the crime for which he was sent away in 1969, because eight years was a very long time to serve for any sentence back then. Including a life sentence.

Life, you see, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in the courts.