Monthly Archive: February 2020

Algorithms Fail to Make Bail Less Biased

A leading argument behind the current movement to limit or eliminate bail is that the traditional cash bail process discriminates against minority arrestees.  Tom Simonite of Wired reports that to fix this disparity,  many jurisdictions are utilizing computer software to peruse nine factors about an arrestee including age,  past convictions and current charges.  No data on an arrestee’s race are considered.   The Oakland, CA nonprofit  MediaJustice found that these algorithms are used in 46 states to guide judicial decisions on bail, sentencing, parole and probation.  Law enforcement representatives have been skeptical, noting that using software to decide which arrestees are held in jail or set free removes responsibility from those charged with making those decisions, who should be encouraged to err on the side of caution.  The software doesn’t consider public safety.

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Virginia Legislature Moots D.C. Sniper, Jr. Case

The Virginia Legislature has passed, and today the Governor signed, a bill creating the possibility of parole for anyone who commits any number of murders if the killer is even one day short of his eighteenth birthday at the time of the last crime.

Among the beneficiaries of this ill-considered legislation is Lee Malvo, the younger of the D.C. Sniper pair who murdered twelve people during their 2002 reign of terror. Malvo’s case is presently before the Supreme Court, but in light of the legislation the parties have stipulated for it to be dismissed.

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Who You Gonna Appeal To?

When the legislative or executive branches of government violate the Constitution, we generally look to the courts for correction. But where do you go when a rule of the Supreme Court itself violates the Constitution?

The Constitution gives the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over, among other cases, suits between States. See Art. III, § 2, cl. 2. Congress has made that jurisdiction exclusive, i.e., a State can’t file its suit against another State anywhere else. See 28 U.S.C. § 1251(a). Yet the Supreme Court’s Rule 17 requires States to ask permission to file an original suit there. Is that constitutional? I have long believed it is not, and today I have some distinguished company. But where would an aggrieved State appeal this question?

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Exposing the False Narrative of Criminal Justice Reform

Beginning in 2011, shortly after Jerry Brown began his third term as Governor, a series of bills he signed into law, and several ballot measures financed by progressive criminal justice reform advocates have changed California’s criminal justice system.  Since the late 1980s, state laws and policies, many adopted by the voters as ballot measures, reduced violent and property crime crime rates in California by 50% and homicide by more than two-thirds, by increasing sentences for repeat offenders and cracking down on quality of life crimes like drug use, vagrancy, vandalism and theft.  All of this has changed over the past nine years. Today, selling and using drugs, stealing property valued under $950, sleeping and going to the bathroom on city sidewalks and parks are no longer punishable offenses.  Repeatedly stealing cars, burglarizing businesses and beating your wife, girlfriend or children are no longer crimes that come with a prison sentence and some 30,000 criminals who were serving time for these crimes have been released back onto the streets, along with rapists and murderers that new laws have made eligible for early release.

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Tennessee Executes Quadruple Murderer

Nicholas Todd Sutton who, at age 18, killed his grandmother, a high school friend and a Knoxville contractor in 1979, then killed a fellow prison inmate in 1985, was executed in the electric chair at 7:28 p.m. last night.  The Tennessean reports  that Sutton, who found religion while his appeals dragged through the courts, told observers, “I’m just grateful to be a servant of God.”   Jack Durschlag of Fox News reports that Sutton’s killing spree began in 1979 when he knocked his grandmother Dorothy Sutton unconscious with a piece of firewood, wrapping her in garbage bags and chaining her to cinder blocks before throwing her alive into the Nolichucky River.  He later shot and killed Charles Almon, 46, and beat his friend Charles Large, 19, to death.

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Ruling Bars Restrictions on Felon Voters

A panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a District Court’s preliminary injunction to block enforcement of a Florida law that requires 17 ex-felons to fulfill the financial obligations of their sentences before they are allowed to vote.  The law was passed by the Florida Legislature last year to clarify a 2018 initiative constitutional amendment adopted by voters which gives felons the right to vote after they have competed “all the terms of their sentence including parole and probation.”  The legislative measure specified that fines and restitution are also among the terms of the sentence.  On January 16, the Florida Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion finding that fines and restitution are part of a criminal’s sentence, but did not address any federal constitutional issues.  In its Per Curiam opinion issued today the Circuit panel upheld the District Court injunction in a case where a group of 17 ex-felons have sued claiming that denying them the vote because they cannot afford to pay the fines and restitution required by their sentences, violates the 14th Amendment.  The panel determined that the plaintiffs had a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of this claim.  The injunction only allows the 17 ex-felons involved in the lawsuit to vote.  The state’s estimated 1.4 million felons who have not yet paid off their fines and restitution will be restricted from voting until the lawsuit is resolved.  The state intends to petition the Eleventh Circuit seeking en-banc review of the panel’s ruling.

The Progressive Prosecutor Project

Andrew McCarthy has this article in Commentary with the above title.

May I introduce to you, then, a new and uniquely destructive actor on the 21st-century scene: the progressive prosecutor.

For such law “enforcers,” the obstruction of immigration-law enforcement barely scratches the surface. The agenda here is to obstruct prosecution itself.

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A Pardon for an Antique Crime

“Misprision of felony” is failure to report a felony committed by someone else. It is not a crime in most states, either abolished long ago or never a crime in the first place, but it curiously survives in the federal criminal code. In 1998, Edward DeBartolo, then owner of the SF 49s, pled guilty to this crime as part of a deal. Today, President Trump pardoned him, Catherine Lucey reports in the WSJ.

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Leaving San Quentin

On January 29, California’s prison agency announced a pilot program to move some death row inmates out of San Quentin to one of five other prisons. The press has only picked up on it in the last few days. A lot of the reaction has been to statements in the press reports. The actual regulation was not easy to find, but after finding it I conclude that it is mostly implementing the initiative the people approved and I had a hand in writing. Continue reading . . .