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Burglary is a Violent Crime

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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.

Thirteen Strikes and Still Not Out. The Media Gets Three-Strikes Wrong Again. Robert Ferguson is Not a Victim.

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Reporters searching to illustrate the cruel and arbitrary nature of California’s three-strikes law have struck out again.  Their careless advocacy is actually providing opportunities to inform the public about facts that should have been part of the reporting on this subject all along.

Particularly, that the three-strikes law isn’t arbitrary.   Prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing to apply “three-strikes,” or not.  All that hype about an hysterical public forcing prosecutors and judges to send away shoplifters and pot smokers for life sentences?  Not true.  Prosecutors choose to forgo three strikes from 20% to 40% of the time when they could use it.

Petty criminals striking out for a series of minor property crimes?  Not true.  The California law actually requires the first and second “strikes” to be for serious and/or violent crimes.  When the third crime is a lesser offense, that’s when prosecutors often choose not to pursue enhanced sentencing.

Three convictions over a lifetime, even for youthful offenses, and then you’re out?  That’s not the way the law works.  Look at the real records of the people sentenced.  Routinely, only some of their prior “serious and/or violent” offenses are counted as first and second strikes.

Yet the wildly slanted reporting continues.

For years, the media poster boy of three-strikes was Jerry DeWayne Williams, mythically incarcerated for life for stealing a slice of pizza (a story that is not true, no matter how many times it is fervently recounted by overstimulated sociology professors — see my post, here).  In fact, Williams has been arrested three more times with virtually no consequences since that not-actually-serving-life-for-pizza-theft incident.  He threatened to kill someone, in front of a police officer, and got released.  He violated probation — twice — and got released.  Yet the “experts” don’t relay such facts to their students when they rant against three-strikes laws and the cruelty of the American Justice System in the front of the classroom.

Nor do they explain why they have been using such an inane falsehood to illustrate their arguments against this law for more than a decade now.  Have they no better case to make?  Such as, maybe, a real one?

Recently, the activists-cum-academicians-cum-journalists excitedly found another fake “three-strikes victim” to play up.  Robert Ferguson, an ugly piece of work, became an instant hero when he shoplifted a bag of cheese from a grocery store and a prosecutor tried to have him put away for 11 years, prompting wild outcry.  Activist rage ran high against the prosecutor, and the “arbitrary” system, and the cruelty that lies in people’s hearts, etc. etc. etc.

Thanks to another little-contemplated fact of three-strikes laws — that judges also may exercise sentencing discretion — Ferguson will actually be out of prison in about two years.  Yet the newly-minted myth of his oppression will undoubtedly live on in the hearts of sloppy reporters and college professors.

It is now apparently a hanging offense for a prosecutor to so much as request a strict sentence for a career criminal.

And, contrary to newspaper reports, Ferguson did more than steal a bag of cheese.  That was the less serious charge,  not that you would read it in the paper.  Marcos Breton, of the Sacramento Bee, offers a bracing corrective to the hagiography being built up around Robert Ferguson:

Robert Ferguson is the definition of a recidivist criminal, in and out of prison since the early 1980s.  He didn’t just steal a bag of Tillamook shredded cheese worth $3.99 from Woodland’s Nugget Market. He stole the wallet of a mom tending to her sick kid at a 7-11.  He’s broken into people’s homes numerous times. And every time he’s been released from prison, he’s committed new crimes and gone back in.  He could have been sentenced to life in prison long before now. His public defender, Monica Brushia, confirmed he has six strikes against him with all the burglaries and crimes he’s committed over the years.  Ferguson just hasn’t been sentenced that way. . .

Some would argue that 11 years is still too severe for Ferguson’s crimes – and [Yolo County Judge Thomas] Warriner agreed. With time served, Ferguson could be on the street in less than two years, Brushia said.  “He hasn’t gone around hurting people,” said Brushia, who added that Ferguson can’t control his bipolar impulses.  So what happens when he gets out of prison next time? “I told him, ‘You really need to stay medicated and get the psychological help you need,’ ” Brushia said.  Does Brushia think he’ll stay clean? “I’m not a fortune teller,” she said.

How contemptuous of her.  She should have to repeat that to Ferguson’s next victims.  For that matter, does she really think she’s doing her client a favor, getting him released to a situation where, according to her, he is a constant danger to himself and actually innocent people (if this bipolar stuff is true, rather than being the latest excuse reeled out to justify anti-social behavior)?  Ferguson has 13 previous convictions.  He has spent 22 of the last 27 years in prison for other crimes.

13 convictions.  13.  Six separate burglaries.  And it makes the international wire services and shrieking headlines in Europe when some prosecutor asked a judge to do something to protect the public from him?

It’s worth repeating that Ferguson was not only being prosecuted for shoplifting cheese.  He had an additional, more serious crime, for which the prosecutor was seeking the enhanced sentencing.  He thuggishly robbed a woman who was distracted when her sick child vomited in a 7-11.

Imagine if the media had reported truthfully:

Career Criminal With 13 Convictions Tried for Robbing Mother Tending Her Sick Child, Additional Theft

That sounds lots worse than what was reported by the brave truth-tellers of the MSM:

Man Who Put Cheese Down His Pants Faces Life Sentence

Make that “sounds worse” to everyone except the criminal-fetishizing New York Times, which calls the assault on the mother “petty theft,” and CBS News, which calls the robbery of the mother, and I quote, “(extremely) petty theft.”  Nice.

Marcos Breton continues:

The truth is, there is a good chance Ferguson will victimize someone again. He has nearly 30 years’ experience as a career criminal.  What if he breaks into a home, stumbles in on a family and panics?

Good point.  He’s a mentally ill career criminal who has already escalated to breaking into houses and attacking individuals in public spaces.  Who, besides Ms. Brushia, wants to bet that will end well?

The prosecutor in this case, Jeff Reisig, has been demonized. However, as Breton explains, Reisig virtually never uses three-strikes:

[I]n the end, Reisig wasn’t seeking a life sentence. After a psychologist’s report indicated that Ferguson is bipolar, Reisig sought 11 years.  Since 2000, only 12 people – less than 1 percent of Yolo’s felony caseload – have been sentenced to life under the state’s “three strikes” law, Reisig said.

To summarize: for the past ten years, more than 99% of the felons walking into a Yolo County courtroom have not been subjected to three strikes, and 12 were, a little more than one per year.  Yet this is not good enough for the activists: they want 100% of all felons to be given endless second chances.  In their eyes, every criminal is simply a misunderstood saint.  In their eyes, we are the only real criminals, for wanting to be safe.

The dishonesty of the media on three-strikes is impressive. Ferguson’s more serious offense goes largely unreported in the rush to condemn the prosecutor and make up sheer lies about the workings of our justice system.  Fewer than 1% of felons in Yolo county get three-strikes, and yet the New York Times uses the story to groundlessly blame the California budget crisis on the three-strikes law, squeezing in some misinformation about Jerry DeWayne Williams for good measure.  Meanwhile, misrepresentations spreads around the world.  The UK Telegraph gets the sentencing wrong and doesn’t include the wallet theft; the Guardian, likewise, runs multiple, inaccurate stories that neglect the actual charges and misrepresent the law.  What an embarrassment, all around.

This website has real statistics on California’s “three strikes” law.

Richard Elliot Reports on Catch and Release in Atlanta: Who Needs a Plea Bargain When The Police Aren’t Even Allowed to Detain Youths For Breaking into Your House?

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What happens when you strip away consequences for holding a gun to somebody’s head, or kicking in somebody’s back door?  What happens when you tell a 16-year old that the worst thing that will happen to him if he commits a serious crime is a few months behind bars, hardly a threat to a child who views incarceration as a sign of street cred?  And what happens when you prevent police from even detaining the kids who just broke into your neighbor’s house?

This is what happens to the offender:

The 18-year-old who was shot dead Saturday by Macon police officers had been released from prison in September, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections Web site.

The DOC’s inmate query site said Bradley Gastin was paroled Sept. 16 from Rogers State Prison in Reidsville. On April 29, 2008, he began serving a three-year sentence for robbery by force, according to the site.

Gastin walked out of prison, early, two months ago.  Now he is dead, after trying to run over police officers during a carjacking.  Thank God no police officers were killed, in what is only the latest dangerous situation directly traceable to the broken juvenile justice system:

Macon police say Gastin and 20-year-old Tommy Lee Hardy Jr. on Saturday carjacked a Ford Expedition and later rammed a Macon police car with the stolen vehicle.

Two police officers, who were standing near the police car, fired several shots that killed Gastin, who was driving the Expedition.

Hardy is now charged with armed robbery and carjacking.  That means the young men had a gun in that car.  They held a gun to somebody’s head and then tried to kill some cops.  At what point does the public get to see the dead youth’s juvenile record, to see precisely how many times some judge let him walk in the past?

Who wins here?  Only the people who have decided that grandstanding against law enforcement is more important than protecting the public — or protecting the offenders from themselves.

~~~

Meanwhile, Channel 2’s Richard Elliot reports an infuriating story about the Juvenile Justice’s Detention Assessment protocol, which forces police officers to release juvenile offenders immediately back onto the streets for crimes like drug trafficking (certain drugs), escape with a dangerous weapon, cruelty to children, and burglary.  I couldn’t find the story on the Channel 2 website, but the Dekalb Officers blog links to it here.

Imagine calling the police to report a break-in in progress in your neighbor’s house.  The police come and catch the youths running down the street with your neighbor’s laptop and gun.  What happens next?  Well, unless they have serious priors or pending felonies (which would require somebody in the courts actually doing something about what they did the last time) the police have to let them go with an order to appear in court.

Before your neighbor gets home from work, the gang that rolled his house will be back on the streets again.

Looking for whoever called the police on them.  In other words, you.

The same goes for calling the cops on that kid tearing down a street sign, or breaking a car window, or selling drugs, or prostituting themselves.  Intervening at all has become an extremely high-risk activity: why get involved at all?

It could be said about many of these crimes, but why is burglary even on the list of so-called “catch and release” offenses?  Why have we dumbed down the horrifying act of violating somebody’s home?  The Juvenile Justice system is playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.  And still, despite the manifold, tragic failures of such leniency, the drumbeat continues that we are too harsh with juveniles, we have to offer more “services” instead of incarceration, we lock up too many kids and throw away the key.

Bunk.  None of that is the least bit true.  Despite massive hype to the contrary and breast-beating by the usual suspects, there are very, very few youths in the state system serving adult sentences for their crimes.  Meanwhile, Atlanta, and every other city, is knee-deep in recreation centers, after-school care, interventions, recreation, and so on and so on and so on.  It’s a giant patronage machine used as much to organize political machines and get out the vote, frankly, as to “provide services” where they are needed.  I know.  I’ve seen those payrolls.  I’ve written those grants.

When somebody starts telling the truth about that, maybe more kids will get the help they really need — speedy removal to detention centers for long enough time to turn their lives around, or at least keep them, temporarily, out of harm’s way.

For, as frustrating as the story Richard Elliot uncovered may be, it’s the tip of the iceberg.  He’s just talking about the youths who don’t get detained for even one night.  How many youths charged with even more serious crimes bond out on after a day, or a week, or a month?  How many of those cases simply disappear into the worm-hole of the courts?

I spend a lot of time blaming anti-incarceration advocates for creating such a dangerously lenient system, but, in fairness, a lot of the built-in leniency is just as much a product of the politics of fiscal conservatives who don’t want to spend the money it would take — or bother expending the political capital for the fight — to fund the courts, monitor the performance of judges, and actually get “tough on crime.”

When the state legislatures return to work this year, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Some Preliminary Observations About Walter Ellis, the Milwaukee Serial Killer

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The Walter Ellis case is still unfolding, but there are already lessons to be learned.

One of those lessons is that police agencies around the country are on the verge of connecting serial rapists and killers to many unsolved crimes, thanks to DNA and re-opening cold cases.  The picture that is emerging of these men will change what we know about serial offenders.

It will also, hopefully, change some assumptions about what goes on in our justice system.  Many people believe that we are too harsh on offenders, that people deserve one or two or five “second chances,” that rehabilitation works, and that minimum mandatory sentencing and “three-strikes” laws are too harsh.

The Walter Ellises of the world pretty much drive a stake into such preconceptions:

AP — MILWAUKEE — Walter Ellis was anything but unknown in his north side neighborhood in Milwaukee — a mix of condemned and run-down houses with some nicer, newer homes.  Even as the bodies of suspected prostitutes began turning up in garbage bins and abandoned buildings near his home, the stocky Ellis had regular — sometimes violent, often friendly — interaction with neighbors and family, and more than a dozen run-ins with police.

If those run-ins were scrutinized, what would they tell us?  How many times did some judge let him walk?  How many times did a prosecutor decided it wasn’t worth sending him away for a few months?

Ellis was not a stranger to law enforcement, with 15 arrests since 1978.

How many times did he get first-offender status?  Time served?  Community counseling?  Simply no prosecution at all?  Would minimum mandatory laws or three-strikes laws have kept him off the streets?

He’s received probation or fines for burglary . . .

Probation for burglary.  Nice.  The DNA database “hit” lists are littered with rapists whose only prior convictions were for burglary, or drugs.  Sometimes rapists were allowed to plead down to burglary when there was a rape but prosecutors didn’t feel the victim would be believed.  Sometimes these men were caught entering or hiding in a house before they committed a planned sexual assault.  For many decades, burglary was a commonly-known get-out-of-jail-fairly-free card for rapists.

So when a judge gives a burglar probation because “burglary isn’t a serious crime,” he or she may very well be letting a sex offender walk free.  All residential burglars should be required to provide DNA samples.  Too bad that didn’t happen before Walter Ellis murdered this woman, in 2007.  Her murder, and others, could have easily been prevented:

Ouithreaun Stokes

[Ellis has] received probation or fines for . . . delivery of a controlled substance and retail theft. He also has faced charges of soliciting prostitutes, battery, robbery and recklessly endangering safety, all of which were later dismissed. He received a 3-year prison sentence for drug possession in 1981.

When you see a drug possession conviction, think about this: often offenders will agree to plead to drug offenses if other charges are dropped.  Often, the drug charge is the one most easily proved, even though the offender is known to be responsible for other crimes.  So when people claim that we live in a prison state because “X% of offenders are in prison for non-violent drug charges,” realize that a substantial percentage of these people committed other crimes.  They just weren’t prosecuted for them.

It was in 1988 that [Walter Ellis] pleaded no contest to second-degree reckless injury. According to the criminal complaint, he hit his ex-girlfriend in the head several times with a claw hammer, causing her to get 30 staples and more than 22 stitches. The complaint said the woman woke and found him standing over her, smelling of alcohol and accusing her of cheating. She got out of bed, they struggled, and he hit her with the hammer, it said.

It looks like the AP got it wrong: it was 1998, not 1988.  Attempted murder with severe physical injury.  Good thing it was just a domestic, or else he might have gotten life in prison, you know?  Ah, the magic of plea bargaining: attempted murder – domestic violence = second degree reckless injury = five years.

Police have said Ellis’ DNA matches that found on nine women ages 16 to 41 who were killed in a three-square-mile area from 1986 to 2007.

Wow.  Too bad nobody in the courts took that claw-hammer-to-the-brain-thing very seriously.

Here is an excellent blog-post tracing Ellis’ crimes and incarcerations.  The blogger, Kathee Baird, gets the offense dates right, unlike the AP.  She observes:

Online court records show Ellis has been busted at least twelve times for crimes against people as well as property crimes and that he once lived near the area where many of the homicides occurred.  It appears that every time that Ellis was incarcerated the strangulation killings on the north side subsided. Between 1987 and 1994 there were no homicides that fit the North Side Stranglers m.o. . . .

Back to the AP:

Ellis, sentenced to prison, was supposed to have DNA taken before he was released in 2001 under a state law that mandated taking samples from people convicted of a felony.  The state Department of Corrections said it did take the sample, but the state Justice Department said it has no records showing they ever got it. On Wednesday, legislators demanded to know why the DNA sample never made it to crime analysts. If it had, police say, the case might have been solved before the last of the slayings occurred in 2007.

Our justice system is criminally lenient.  We have a pathological contempt for rape victims: we still utterly lack the public will to put rapists away.  What, you say?  This must be an isolated case?

50,000 Felons Released Without Submitting DNA

CHICAGO – About 50,000 felons have been released from Illinois prisons and county probation systems without submitting DNA samples.  Under Illinois law, every felon sentenced on or after Aug. 22, 2002, must provide DNA. The samples are stored in databases that can be used to link suspects to other cases.  A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections says nearly 10,000 felons were released from state prisons without providing DNA. And Attorney General Lisa Madigan‘s office estimates county probation departments didn’t get samples from 40,000 additional felons due to delays in implementing the law.  DuPage County State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett helped push for collecting DNA from felons. And he says the failure to get samples from all felons means “serial murderers and rapists have probably remained on the loose.”

Back to Milwaukee:

In 2006, Ellis pleaded guilty in a hit-and-run involving Carolyn S. Prophet, 57, of Milwaukee. Prophet, who is disabled and has problems walking, said Ellis hit her car repeatedly and then swore and threatened her.  “The man is a psycho,” she said. “He kept ramming me.”  Bystanders stepped in when he got out of the car, she said. Ellis told them he was going to call police at a pay phone but never returned. She said the police who investigated the crash told her they knew Ellis from prior run-ins.

And then what happened?  Did anything happen?  Didn’t his other violent crimes lead to a long prison sentence?  Didn’t his 12 crimes against persons matter?  Doesn’t ramming a disabled, elderly person with a car count for anything?

The following comments by Ellis’ neighbor are chilling.  The woman says that Ellis is a good guy and yet that he is unpredictably violent and dangerous.  She doesn’t blame him for any of this, or even for threatening her repeatedly: she blames other people for “not helping him.”  This is what happens when people convince themselves that prior criminal acts should be overlooked, and the courts reflect that belief:

[Ellis’] neighbor[] said that as a child she tried to avoid walking past Ellis’ house — “He would come and just hit you out of nowhere,” she said.  But Jordan said Ellis seemed to have changed when she saw him about a year ago at a birthday party. She described him as pleasant and intelligent. She said she was shocked to hear of his arrest, but wishes someone would have helped Ellis early in his life.  “When I look back at it, all the indicators were there,” she said. “That behavior, the violent nature in him was already embedded.”

Maybe something will be learned this time.  Maybe nothing at all.

The New Normal: Atlanta

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I, for one, think newspapers are being rejuvenated by their current financial crisis.  The old-fashioned, insular newsroom, with its disturbing status quo on crime reporting (defendants are victims of society; victims are society, and thereby guilty of something) is becoming a thing of the past.

Over the holiday weekend, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran this must-read story by Bill Torpy, in which he examines the real costs of retail burglaries for small business owners:

Last week, [Dana] Spinola’s Midtown business — fab’rik, one of her three metro Atlanta stores — was broken into by one of the smash-and-grab burglary crews that have increasingly plagued city merchants. It was, she figures, the 15th break-in during that store’s seven years of business.

“At this point, we’re surprised they got in,” Spinola said. To thwart burglars she had installed unbreakable glass, alarms, sensors and gates, and hired in-store security.

“I’m hardened to it. It’s a $2,000 robbery, not a $40,000 robbery. You don’t call insurance on this level,” she said. Besides, she adds, “We’ve never had anything recovered.” . . .

An informal check of several businesses that have been burglarized in the past year found that several have gone under or are teetering.

“It could definitely put you under,” Spinola said. “It can break your spirit.”

The “vicious cycle” can become a “quality of life issue,” said Buckhead Coalition president Sam Massell. “We all pay for it with higher insurance rates. It hurts employment. It hurts the tax base. The mom and pop stores are valuable to the city.”

Early last month, thieves smashed through the window of the popular Blue Genes boutique near Lenox Square and made off with $100,000 in merchandise. It was the seventh break-in in eight years, Jennifer Arrendale, who owns the store with two sisters, said at the time.

“We lost everything,” she said.

Add these business losses, job losses, and extraordinary security expenses to the tab for our failure to impose consequences for committing crimes.  Then consider the human toll on those who are risking their lives just by arriving at work in the morning or shutting down their stores at night.  Anyone who has ever worked a cash register or turned out the lights in a stockroom at closing time knows what it feels like to suddenly sense a threatening vibe:

Wendy Jackson, owner of Signature 4 Men on Lenox Road and frequent crime victim, said the thieves are savvy enough to surveil the businesses before they strike.

“They scope out the stores when the jeans come in, the high-end jackets, the sunglasses. They want to pinpoint where they’ll go [when they break in],” she said. “It’s out of control, out of control.”

Jackson has engaged in an arms race with Atlanta’s punks: They throw a rock through the window, she installs steel gates, so the next time they drive a truck through the window. She puts in a buzzer to screen customers who enter, so the thieves send a respectable-looking fellow to the door. He gets buzzed in, “then they bum rush the store,” she said, and run out with thousands of dollars of merchandise.

She now keeps less inventory, can no longer obtain insurance, works seven days a week to cut labor costs and would love to get out of her lease and the business. “These guys will ruin your life,” she said.

Last year, Lafayette Brazil’s boutique on Peachtree Road was hit by a robbing crew that pepper sprayed workers. Two men arrested in connection with the robbery at Brazil’s and a similar one at a Decatur boutique, Kaleidoscope, are still being held in Fulton County jail awaiting trial.

After 14 years at the site, Brazil closed. “After a while, you can’t keep getting robbed,” he said.

Kaleidoscope’s owner, Camille Wright, like many other retailers, complained that the penalties for and prosecution of smash-and-grab artists are light. “The only reason [authorities] went after the guys at my store is because there was an assault involved,” she said.

And if there had not been an assault?  Let’s tell the truth about the court system.  The thieves would get quick probation, or nolo prosequi, or their first or fifth first-time-offender free passes out the door.  Maybe a plea to a lesser offense, a drug charge, which might seem undesirable but actually opens doors to community-based treatment and approbation from those who view all drug offenders as victims of society.   This is the new normal in Atlanta, yet it is not particularly new.  Despite all the headlines screaming about our “Prison/Industrial Complex,” recidivist felons have been strolling out of jail with a slap on the wrist for forty years now.  Such as, this one.

Yet in some places, politicians are considering lowering the bar even further by making retail burglary a misdemeanor offense in order to save money.  In reality, they needn’t bother: prosecutors already can’t afford to prosecute retail burglaries and other crimes, so, as shop owner Camille Wright rightly observes, most cases of retail theft are simply pleaded away to nothing or dropped:

The problem got so bad last year that Atlanta police formed a task force to nab the so-called “Blue Jean Bandits,” who rampaged through high-end fashion stores and carried off tons of high-priced denim. Criminals employ a wide range of methods, including smashing windows of closed stores, driving trucks through protective gates and even overpowering retail clerks in the middle of the day.

The spree seemed to die down late last year but picked up again this spring.

“It’s back with a vengeance,” said Sgt. Archie Ezell, who heads the police department’s retail theft task force. He said the department made 32 arrests in “smash” cases last year but more criminals seem to be rushing in to take their place. A spokeswoman for the Fulton County District Attorney’s said 35 smash- and-grab cases have been indicted, 15 have resulted in convictions and 16 are still open.

“Kids are being recruited for this; they’re 13, 14 and 15 years old,” he said. “They are told nothing will happen to them if they are caught.”

I’d be interested to know the sentences for each of those 15 convictions.

Store owners ought to start reaching out to Atlanta’s court-watchers whenever thieves get caught.  That may help to slow down the revolving jail doors.

There is no justification for people being forced to live this way.  It’s madness.  When you read a newspaper article like this one, and hear the voices of crime victims who are perfectly aware that the system has failed to protect them, you have to ask how it is that we have gotten to this crazy place.

Allow me to introduce you to the source of the problem.

The source of the problem of not-removing-offenders-from-the-streets is something I like to call the Academic/Activist/Advocacy Complex (AAAC), an incredibly powerful network of “institutes” and “researchers” and professors and professional protesters and policy makers all united in the goal of ensuring that people do not go to prison when they commit crimes.  These people believe that incarceration itself is not only a crime but the only type of crime that matters.  They do not believe in deterrence.  They do not believe in personal responsibility.  They believe that the thugs who just drove a car through the front of your store for the third time this year should not be punished for doing this, or even prevented from doing it again, but should be “understood” and offered sympathy and job training and other types of financial and emotional support.

These people despise crime victims, because acknowledging the reality of victimization makes it (temporarily) harder for them to engage in their fantasy life, in which they are heroes and heroines “uplifting” poor, misunderstood criminals.  Browbeating the rest of us with their virtue.

It is a dangerous indulgence.  It is also a lucrative career choice.

Luckily, sentencing policy is set by the states, not the federal government, for the Justice Department is now firmly in the hands of the AAAC.

And an enormous showdown is brewing between state legislatures that try to hold the line on crime (though they’re not enthusiastic about paying for it) and the AAAC.  It will be played out directly on the backs of homeowners and business owners who are already reeling from the economic downturn.  It has been played on ordinary citizens’ backs for some forty years now, but the battle is about to accelerate, fueled by the need to cut state budgets and by stimulus money being offered by the feds for certain offender-centered projects (prisoner re-entry, community sentencing pilot programs, sentencing “reform”).

Interestingly, many newspapers are no longer firmly in the AAAC corner on this fight.  Even the New York Times has begun to show cracks in its reflexive pro-criminal preferences.

When you see the following institutions in the news, being quoted on their research, know that they are dedicated to keeping criminals on the streets, at any price to you and me:

The Pew Center on the States, Corrections and Public Safety (Pew Center Charitable Trust)

Families Against Mandatory Minimums

The Vera Institute of Justice

The Sentencing Project

The Justice Policy Institute

Central to the AAAC ideology is the belief that incarcerating criminals is a bad thing because it dis-unites communities.  But what happens to communities when decent people live under siege?  This question is answered, with dismaying clarity, at the end of Torpy’s article:

[B]lue jeans, jackets and sunglasses are quickly sold on the street at a fraction of the retail price. It’s an operation the public tacitly supports. “People are like, ‘It’s too bad for you, good for me,’ ” [store owner Camille] Wright said. “People have no guilt” in buying goods they know are stolen.

Adrene Ashford, owner of Adrene Boutique in the Castleberry Hill area south of downtown, has seen a resurgence in crime. Her store was hit twice in April. . . Ashford said a distrust of customers has crept into her life.  “You don’t even know how mad it makes you. They come in the store. They smile in your face, flirt with you and then come back to rob you.”

An Important Law Georgia Still Does Not Have: Arrestee DNA Databasing

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Back in the 1990’s, Georgia Lt. Governor Mark Taylor made it a priority to build the state’s DNA crime database.  He did this long before other states got on board, and for many years Georgia was rightly viewed as a leader in using DNA to solve violent crimes.  Taylor was driven by his strong commitment to victims of rape and child molestation who had been denied justice.  He did not heed the civil rights and convict rights lobbies who tried to stir up hysteria over using DNA to solve crimes (ironically, these same activists are howling over the Supreme Court’s utterly reasonable decision last week not to enshrine post-conviction DNA as a blanket, federal right, when 46 states already guarantee it, as even Barry Scheck admits: don’t believe virtually anything you read about this case on the editorial pages).

Taylor’s leadership on DNA databasing yielded an extraordinary number of database “hits” long before other states got their databases up and running.  In 1998, only convicted and incarcerated sex offenders were required to submit DNA samples in Georgia, yet 13 repeat-offender rapists were immediately linked to other sexual assaults, and scores of “unidentified offender” profiles were readied to be used if those offenders were finally caught and tested.

The convicted-and-imprisoned-sex-offenders-only database also revealed a chilling reality: many of the prolific rapists whose DNA matched other sex assaults had only ever been convicted of non-sex crimes such as drug crimes, burglary, and robbery.

Any prosecutor of a certain age will tell you that, before DNA evidence, it was so difficult to prosecute rapists that prosecutors often made the choice to allow rapists to plead to non-sex offenses such as burglary just to (temporarily) get them off the streets.  This strategy was directed at serial, stranger sex offenders who were known to the cops but managed to avoid conviction because the public was so resistant to finding anyone guilty of rape.  Taylor’s database made this injustice to victims visible.

Unfortunately, the types of injustice (to victims) and justice (against offenders) the database revealed was of little interest to the media.

Nevertheless, for several years, Georgia’s DNA database quietly withstood efforts by “civil rights” activists to shut it down.  In 2000, the legislature expanded DNA testing to all incarcerated felons: 70 crimes were immediately solved, including serial rapes committed by convicts who had no prior rape convictions.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the database again, adding felony probationers — that weird category, the existence of which should splash some cold water on heartfelt feelings that we are far too harsh in sentencing and imprisoning criminals.  In the real world, even violent felons still routinely walk away with nothing more than probation for their crimes.

As of a year ago, thanks to the expansion of the database, 12 of these “felony probationers” were linked to serious crimes through DNA.  That’s 12 fewer violent offenders on the streets.

Still, no paper.  Few headlines.  Fewer editorials.  And, eventually, Georgia began to fall behind other states in DNA databasing.

As I write this, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has briefly emerged from his offender-kumbaya-fervor to sign a bill requiring all people arrested for felonies to submit DNA samples for analysis — just like they submit photographs and fingerprints.  Florida now joins 20 other states that are using DNA to investigate and solve crimes (Denver D.A. Mitchell R. Morrissey has a good website explaining the use of DNA in the courts).

But Georgia still languishes on the list of states that do not require DNA samples to be drawn upon arrest for a felony.  Here is a chart comparing state laws from the DNA Resource Report.

In 2008, the Georgia Legislature did pass Senate Bill 430, which started out as a felony arrestee DNA database bill but got watered down through the legislative process.  It emerged as little more than a statement affirming that prosecutors may ask the GBI to check a suspect’s DNA sample against the existing database so long as “the sample was obtained through a search warrant, consent of the suspect, court order, or other lawful means.”  Then it concludes: “The bureau [GBI] shall not add a DNA profile of any such suspect to any DNA data bank except upon conviction.”

In other words, a bill that started out attempting to add felony arrestees to the state database morphed into a bill specifically restricting arrestee DNA from being added to the state database.  I’d like to know the story behind this watering-down, particularly as it occurred at the same time when other states were successfully expanding their DNA databases to include felony arrestee samples under certain conditions.

Why did Georgia fold?  Is there another bill in the works?

If you still aren’t convinced that arrestee DNA databasing is an urgent need, take a look at the website for DNA Saves, the organization Dave and Jayann Sepich started after their daughter Katie was raped, strangled and set on fire in New Mexico in 2003.  Her offender was arrested and convicted of several other crimes, but his DNA had never been databased, so her murder went unsolved and he went free to continue attacking women for three years after Katie’s death.

How many victims of murder and rape in Georgia would have been protected by such a law?

Meanwhile, here is a statement from FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey to the St. Petersburg Times correcting some of its inaccurate and fear-mongering press on the issue of arrestee DNA:

A valuable tool in fighting crime

Your editorial regarding the new Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA database legislation failed to provide the public with a full picture.

This initiative, once funded, will expand Florida’s DNA database to include samples from persons arrested for felonies. The process is no different from the way Florida already stores and handles fingerprints from arrests. Like the current law on fingerprints, the DNA legislation has provisions for removal of the file when a person arrested for a felony meets certain requirements.

The database in its current form has been a great investment for our citizens; every month it generates an astounding 230 hits. These hits match an unknown DNA sample left at a crime scene to a known felon whose DNA is already on file, or links two or more unsolved crimes. It’s an invaluable investigative tool.

Including felony arrests means more samples in the DNA database and more crimes solved. It also means crimes will be solved faster and, most important, crimes will be prevented. Taking DNA at the first felony arrest ensures that DNA is taken from those offenders who evade felony conviction time and time again. It ensures that DNA from the first felony will be matched to that offender’s next crime, halting further victimization and saving lives.

Florida becomes the 21st state to take samples from felony arrestees. There is no other tool that can prevent violent crimes as efficiently and effectively as this. The Legislature got it right. Our citizens expect this level of protection. I think they deserve it.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee

I certainly deserved it: too bad it wasn’t there to help me in Florida when I needed it.  Worse, too bad it still doesn’t exist to protect victims in Georgia.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 2: Hiding In Plain Sight

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The MySpace Page (thanks, to Grayson) of the “30 Deep Gang” is, according to the creator, “all about money.”  There are images of dice, diamonds, blocks of gold, rap stars, and twenty dollar bills.  There is a photograph of a young man pointing a gun at the camera, and another photo labeled “Lil’ Wayne . . . Prostitute Flange” showing a smiling woman towering over the rap star.  In the “friends” section, there is a picture of a young man with the caption, “Zone 3 shawty money men da longway.”  Zone 3 is where bartender John Henderson was murdered, and the police are looking for “30 Deep Gang” members in Henderson’s death.

Zone 3 is also where I used to live, and the sound of gunfire was a regular thing there.  In order to get by you had to ration your response to it, or you would spend every day responding to it, which is an impossibility.  This is what the mayor and the chief of police are denying whenever they announce that residents are being hysterical about crime.  Residents police themselves, even more than criminals are policed.   Innocent people are held captive by the threat of violent crime, but, still, there are people who believe it is distasteful to demand to be freed.

You cannot say that crime is abnormal when the criminals actually define themselves by the police zone they live in.  Clearly, crime is the most normal thing to these young men.  The page’s creator, “$Booman Da S***$,” describes himself this way: “single, straight, Capricorn . . . income: $30,000 to $45,000.”  Income?

Another “30 Deep Gang” friend is a pretty young woman flashing two fingers at the camera: her photograph reads, “F*** Yo Baby Mama She Aint Got No Money.”  A culture that says this about women is a dead culture.  Four of the fifteen “friends” are photographed taking photographs of themselves with cellphones.  They stare at the phones in their own hands, hypnotized.

“OmG iTZ KiTTy KaTT” poses sexually, staring into her phone; “Tonio(Y.M.G. B***h)” holds a cellphone in one hand and a gold chain in the other.  This is not about money but about poverty.  People who take photographs of themselves with twenty-dollar bills or gold chains or cellphones in their hands cannot think of anything else to do.  These are portraits of tragically stunted lives.

Is it at all surprising that people like this seem prepared only for future acts of violence, then prison time, the way others prepare themselves for the SAT, then college?

After the murder of John Henderson, some in the media agonized over whether the killing was done “gangster style,” as if the angle of the gun mattered in discerning the intention of the murderer.  Some actually reported the killing as an accident, as if shooting an unarmed crime victim in the leg, manhandling him to a locked room, then shooting him again through the door is something that just happened.  This type of thinking is a sickness that benefits nobody beyond the person who prides himself in believing it.

On the “30 Deep Gang” page, the young man pointing the gun at the camera is holding the weapon sideways.  He is very clear about his intentions.  Why is it hard for so many otherwise well-educated people to see this?

Mission Creep: Burglars With Drug Problems. And Drug Courts With Burglar Problems. And Reporters With Truthiness Problems.

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Atlanta is not the only city where recidivists with long records of serious crime are being permitted to avoid jail sentences because they are also drug addicts. From the Ithaca Journal, Ithaca, New York:

In a plea deal with prosecutors, a Groton woman charged with taking part in burglaries in three counties has been sentenced to time served, five years probation and ordered to attend drug court for local crimes.

Judge John Rowley sentenced Julianna Salerno, 30, on Friday after she pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary in Tompkins County Court. Salerno admitted that she waited in a vehicle and “acted as a lookout” for Daniel Samson, 25, of Groton, when he broke in and stole items from a building at Treman State Park.

Salerno and Samson were charged with six counts of third-degree burglary, four counts of third-degree criminal mischief, and petit larceny, a misdemeanor. . .

They were also linked to Cortland County burglaries at the Greek Peak Ski Resort and Hope Lake, and Cayuga County burglaries at Salmon Creek Sports, Grisamore Farms, Badman’s Bushel Baskets Produce, Ron’s Corner Store, Triangle Restaurant and Longpoint State Park, according to law-enforcement officials. [Ithaca Journal, “Groton Woman Receives Sentence,” 4/27/09, fee for viewing]

More than a dozen burglaries, and this woman is being offered probation and community-based treatment, instead of conviction and incarceration, because she has a drug problem. This type of story, which plays out every day, severely challenges the conventional wisdom that our prisons are stuffed with otherwise innocent drug addicts serving long sentences for merely possessing drugs. Claims that prison populations have expanded because states are locking up mere addicts are not true either, as this chart on inmates from the Department of Justice clearly shows:

The problem, again, is lenient judges, not to mention a system so steeped in anti-incarceration ideology that the mere idea that someone might expect to go to prison for committing a dozen burglaries can no longer even be taken for granted. The judge who sentenced Salerno apparently felt the need to say out loud that there was some possibility that she might go to jail despite her addiction:

While acknowledging Salerno’s actions may have been a “drug-related crime spree,” Rowley told her that she’ll be facing incarceration if she doesn’t adhere to her probation terms and treatment programs.

In other words, Salerno was permitted to get away with at least a dozen crimes against others, but if she messes up in rehab, a crime against herself, then the state might decide get serious with her. Is it any wonder that people have a hard time believing that the justice system is there to protect the rights of anyone except criminals?

Drug courts were never supposed to be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for people with long offense records. They were supposed to be used to divert first-time offenders whose primary offense was drug-related. But even the term “drug-related” has been twisted: now, apparently, any crime committed by a drug addict is “drug-related,” as the judge in the case above above uses the term.

Another example of abusing both the concept of drug courts and the concept of “drug-related” crime, from the Baltimore Sun — note the reporter’s empathy for the criminal, and his disturbing efforts to downplay his crimes:

Break-In Artist Finally Gets Into Drug Program

Peter Hermann | Baltimore Crime Beat

Michael D. Sydnor Jr. is finally getting the help that he needs.

This is no small accomplishment, as District Judge George M. Lipman made cle[a]r when he learned that the drug-addicted defendant suspected of fueling a plague of car break-ins in downtown Baltimore had been accepted into an inpatient treatment program.

“Hallelujah,” the judge said, a pronouncement not often heard from the bench, and certainly not from this jurist, who apologized several times for being too preachy during Friday morning’s docket at the Hargrove District Court in South Baltimore. He told one man, upset that being sent off to jail meant his car would be towed, “I don’t wipe people’s noses.”

No, the judge doesn’t wipe people’s noses, but that probably needs to be put into the record, just to be clear, because he otherwise plays head cheerleader for repeat felons, as does the reporter. The victims? Well, never mind them: insurance will cover their losses.

Here is reporter Peter Herman’s heart-wrenching account of the court’s efforts to “help” Syndor. Note the way Syndor’s crimes become “petty,” “nonviolent,” and things that “drive people crazy” in the reporter’s hands, as if he is writing about some kid bouncing a basketball against a curb, not a repeat felon breaking into people’s cars, actually committing violent crimes, and betraying an utterly frightening disregard for the law:

I first wrote about Sydnor back in February, painting the 40-year-old as the face of a problem that drives residents crazy and tourists out of the city. Day after day, police reports of car break-ins pile up from Federal Hill, around the Inner Harbor and to the far edges of Canton.

Cell phones used to be the prized catch, but now navigational devices, iPods and iPhones are all the rage, usually stolen by addicts seeking electronics to hawk for a quick buck to score a quick high, a never-ending cycle of car-to-needle-to-car that ends up costing us thousands upon thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums, car window repairs and replacements for stolen items.

Sydnor is charged with breaking into two cars in January at a garage at 218 N. Charles St., and authorities tell me he’s suspected in other break-ins at garages at The Baltimore Sun and Mercy Medical Center on North Calvert Street. He has been in jail for the past three months awaiting word on a coveted, hard-to-get drug treatment slot, and his cases will be put on hold until he gets through the program.

Police have arrested Sydnor more than 100 times in the past 15 years and he’s been convicted dozens of times, mostly of seemingly petty, nonviolent offenses.

“Mostly of seemingly petty” offenses? What about the other ones? This isn’t journalism: it’s a mutual admiration club with three members: judge, reporter, and predator.

And these admiration clubs so frequently get out of hand, which is why I question one of the main tenets of drug court: that the judge and the offender form a relationship in which the judge takes a personal interest in the offender’s progress. Do we really need to be encouraging judges to be even more enamored of their “patriarchial/matriarchial” roles vis-a-vis criminals? Haven’t enough innocent victims of crime paid, with their lives, for these special moments of bonding, Hallelujahs, slap on the backs, and all?

Shouldn’t people like this be getting their drug and alcohol counseling in prison, as they’re serving time for their crimes?

Given how he reacted while sentencing Sydnor, the judge in this case might as well have been openly berating the public for its failure to leap to Sydnor’s aid by providing him with a bed, on demand, in a drug rehab center. Yet even a brief perusal of Sydnor’s incredibly long record indicates serial neglect on the part of Baltimore’s judiciary to protect the public from this man’s violence. In 1996, Sydnor was found guilty of assault (neither petty nor non-violent). Even though he refused to acknowledge his guilt and was found guilty, he was given only a suspended, one-year sentence — in other words, no time at all. He quickly ended up back in jail again, this time for second-degree assault, and received one year again, another example of judicial carelessness.

The record grows worse as time goes by. Drug dealing, narcotics dealing, felony theft. There are 147 separate court appearances in his record. Assault, second degree, in 2005, some 97 cases in? One month in jail. And this is what reporter Peter Hermann calls a non-violent, minor record? Have they lost their minds, or do they just despise the law-abiding public?

What do you call a 100+ time offender, appearing before Judge Lipman (who is, unsurprisingly, a former defense attorney)?

You call him a good candidate for drug court.

Jean Valjean, Selling Crack to Pay Child Support?

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The economy may be declining, but the marketplace of improbable claims is doing just fine. In this story from the New York Times, a neighborhood advocate in Columbia, South Carolina, claims that the bad economy is driving men to sell drugs in order to meet their child support obligations:

“Why can’t we get a step up in patrol?” asked Mary Myers, president of the tenant association at the Gable Oaks apartment complex in the northern part of the city, condemning what she says is a marked increase in drug dealing and gang-related violence in recent weeks.

“It’s going to get worse,” Ms. Myers said. “You’ve got guys who have kids, who are on the hook for child support. If selling drugs is the only way they can get the money, they’re going to do it.”

Hmmm, is this even a little bit true? Did the reporter identify even one person in all of South Carolina who used to have some legitimate job but has turned to the crack trade to make child support payments on time? Or is this just another example of the shockingly sloppy, ideology-driven naivety that defines Times reporting on crime?

People have been permanently banished from journalism for less than this. But when it comes to justifying the actions of criminals, the Times is so shameless that a sort of glazed-eyed credulity takes over their stories.

Nobody is entering the drug trade in order to make child support payments. Street dealers sell drugs in order to sustain their lifestyles, or at least those parts of their lifestyles not entirely subsidized by taxpayers. We pay the rent, utilities, food and medical care for their female relatives, children and girlfriends — and they crash with relatives or women they hook up with, on our dime, a lifestyle amply documented in Times reporter Jason DeParle’s very well-researched book, American Dream. We give them free utilities and rent, fistfuls of free bus tokens, pocketfuls of W.I.C. vouchers and food stamp credit cards — that often get traded for cash on the black market. So long as drug dealers don’t marry any of the women they live with, and so long as those women become single mothers, we pay the bills.

When drug dealers get sick, they go to the emergency room, and we pay for their medical care. When they go to prison, we pay for everything. When they have to appear in court, we pay for their lawyers, for the court costs, for our lawyers, for the judge, for the policeman who brought them in.

What do they pay for? Drugs. Stupid stuff. Electronics, cars, pricey clothes. That is the domestic economy of the street drug trade, not getting laid off from Thom McAn and hitting the streets so you don’t fail to make your next child support payment on time.

In fact, there has been absolutely no reduction in aid for people dependent on the government since the economic crisis began. People who didn’t pay to feed their own kids in the first place aren’t stealing televisions or selling drugs to feed them now.

In fairness, the Times reporter does float a few believable thoughts about the effect of the economy on crime control:

With the punishing economic downturn, police officers in many American cities are confronting what they describe as a surge in property crime. At the same time, many are being forced to improvise and make do with less: The recession is shrinking the finances of local governments, limiting the resources of police departments.

Fewer cops, furloughed prosecutors, and shuttered courtrooms equals more crime. And it’s entirely believable that some types of economic crime would increase as ordinarily employed people lose their jobs:

“When people get desperate, they’re going to feed their family,” said Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, whose jurisdiction includes parts of Columbia and its suburbs.

Sheriff Lott has noticed a pronounced increase in insurance fraud and credit card scams in recent months. “When you catch people and ask them why they did it, they’ll say: ‘I’m desperate. I can’t pay my bills.’ ”

Insurance fraud and credit card scams, I can believe. Selling crack to buy diapers (that your girlfriend is already getting free through W.I.C.)? Bunk.

Here is the real reason we can’t control crime, buried, oddly, in the article’s first paragraphs, before the familiar tune from Les Misérables begins to tinkle:

Sgt. E. M. Marsh peers into the darkness, through the rain-speckled windshield of his Chevy Impala police cruiser, and recognizes the sinewy man in the black stocking cap.

“I locked this guy up already,” he says, as his headlights flood the parking lot of an apartment complex north of downtown. “A year ago, he was breaking into every house in this neighborhood, stealing laptops, DVD players.”

Now he is back out in the world.

We can’t control crime because somebody can get caught “breaking into every house in the neighborhood” and still be out of jail within weeks, or months. Now why doesn’t the Times ever write about that?

Here’s Why I Loved Reading the St. Petersburg Times When I Was in College

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The St. Pete Times has recently begun running a “mugshot” feature, like the ones published in cheap tabloid form and sold in convenience stores.  It’s a sad day for that institution (the Times, not convenience stores).

Here is the type of reporting for which the Times used to be routinely known.  It offers real insight into a tragic crime and –unlike so much reflexively pro-criminal reporting, like this disturbing L.A. Times whitewash — explores the price innocent people pay for our collective failure to put criminals away:

Pasco County deputies: 89-year-old Port Richey woman beaten, sexually assaulted

By Erin Sullivan, Times Staff Writer 
In Print: Thursday, April 9, 2009


PORT RICHEY —

Three masked men broke into the home of an 89-year-old woman early Wednesday morning, beat her in her bed and sexually assaulted her. Before they left, they ransacked the house in the Palm Terrace Gardens subdivision.

The woman went to a neighbor’s home for help and was taken to a hospital.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office got a call from the hospital at 6 a.m.

Authorities say the woman was released later that day and is recovering. Her name and address are withheld because of the nature of the crime.

She couldn’t give detectives a good description of the men because they covered their faces. Detectives think there might be a link between this crime and another that happened to the woman.

On April 2, her house was broken into and her red Pontiac Sunfire was stolen. It was later recovered.

Wednesday afternoon, few people on the streets in Palm Terrace Gardens — just north of Ranch Road and east of Zimmerman Road — knew what had happened that morning.

“You have to be pretty low to do something like that,” said Beverly Mills, a petite 17-year-old with glasses and cornrows. She and four other teens stood at the edge of a parking lot on Areca Drive, across from the Palm Terrace Civic Association building. The doors were locked. The phone is disconnected.

“We hear sirens all the time,” Beverly said.

Suddenly, a black Pontiac swerved over to them, missing them by inches.

“Who is that?” said Shakira Merritt, 16.

The driver screeched to a halt, leaned out and screamed an expletive.

“What?” Shakira said.

He sped off.

“Who was that?” Shakira asked.

They didn’t know. The group paused for a moment and then continued their conversation.

It wasn’t yet 5 p.m., but the streets were full. Toddlers in diapers on Big Wheels cycled out on the street in front of cars. Dogs and cats roamed loose, as did ducks from a nearby lake. Kids and adults walked in the road, playing basketball. A woman in an electric wheelchair rode slowly down a street smoking a cigarette, with a toddler in her lap.

At a corner lot home, a 75-year-old woman worked in her yard. She does not want to be named because she fears her neighbors.

“Oh, mercy me,” she said, when asked how the area has changed in the 26 years she’s lived there. She walked to her front lawn, in her robin’s egg blue work gloves, her faded pink sweatshirt with tissues shoved in one cuff, her hair kept back in a kerchief.

“The lawns were beautiful,” she said. “And look at it now.”

Her second husband wanted to move here, so they did. He died 13 years ago. Now she lives alone with her cockatiel, who is 15.

She says she’s had bottles thrown at the house. People steal things, such as her water hose, plants, a frog statue, even her metal address sign with two doves of peace.

She has more than a dozen security lights on the house and driveway. Before she goes to sleep, she checks outside every window and opens the door to look in the courtyard. As soon as the economy gets better, she’s selling her house and moving.

“I’m afraid,” she said.

But when told of the attack on the 89-year-old woman earlier that day, her expression didn’t change. She was not shocked. She talked of 11 and 12 year-old kids who wander the streets at 1 a.m.

“Where are their parents?” she asked.

A few minutes later and a few streets over, a black SUV weaved the breadth of Foxbloom Drive, curb to curb, tires squealing. People got out of its way and watched it as it tore down the street and turned left in a cloud of smoke.

And then everyone went back to what they were doing, continuing their chats and walks and yard work, dogs barking, life as usual.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. 

***

UPDATE: Three teenage boys have been charged with the rape, beating and attempted murder of the 89-year old woman.  They are suspected of having burglarized her home in an earlier crime.  Anyone who believes we should reduce burglary to a misdemeanor crime — essentially eliminating penalties for it, given the realities of plea bargaining, should think about this: breaking into a person’s home is a troubling violation of another person’s privacy.  Once you have become immured to violating others that way, it’s not such a big step to breaking and entering somebody else’s body, especially when authorities start to officially treat burglary as a minor offense.    

Tools for Activists: Just Say No (To Releasing Dangerous Inmates)

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With a hat tip to Chris, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Fulton Inmates to be Released Before Trial,” by Steve Visser.  It’s worth quoting extensively, to grasp precisely what is being done:

Fulton County court officials say they can save taxpayers $5.5 million a year by releasing suspected criminals from jail — inmates whom judges have balked at freeing because of the likelihood they would commit another crime before their trials.

How did they arrive at 5.5 million in savings?  Is it simply the difference between incarceration and probation for X prisoners for Y months?  What about the cost of anticipated new crimes — police, homeowner’s insurance, losses, new court dates, new attorney’s fees?  Pain and suffering?  Loss of public safety?

People won’t have to worry, said Superior Court Administrator Judy Cramer, because officials are starting a program Wednesday that ensures the bad boys will be watched a whole lot closer.

The county has hired five more staffers to closely supervise inmates who previously didn’t qualify for pre-trial release because of their character, lack of permanent address or who had weak community ties.

We know what some of the inmates who already qualify for release are capable of: what on earth are these people capable of?

The monitors will each carry a caseload of 35 released inmates they will meet with each week until the cases are resolved at trial, said court spokesman Don Plummer. The monitors will also meet regularly with family, employers or friends of the people they are supervising, Plummer said.

Five times 35 is 175.  Is that 175 armed robbers?  Aggravated assailants?  Since they have a set number already, then tell us the types of crimes this cohort is accused of committing. 

Plummer said the monitors would be able to meet the tough schedule of an average of seven meetings a day — along with other home and employment visits. “This isn’t going to be a featherbed job,” he said. “They are going to keep these people on a really tight leash.”

Imagine going to seven different appointments in one work-day.  Every day.  In Atlanta traffic.  Now imagine that half, or more, of your appointments are with people who do not have a permanent address and are prone to not show up for things because, well, they’re repeat offenders, and most of them have probably given a probation officer the slip before. 

Chief Jailer Riley Taylor doubted if a new supervised-release program would do much to take pressure off the jail — which is normally filled to its court-ordered capacity of 2,250 inmates — or off taxpayers’ wallets.

Thank you, Chief Taylor.  Thank you for talking to the public.  That’s what a public servant is supposed to do.  We could use some more of that.

“They want to fund the court system more to refine it more and they’ve tried that in the past and the math hasn’t worked out,” said Taylor. “Historically the jail population catches back up after new initiatives come into play.

“The whole system has to be retooled.”

So, basically, what the Chief Jailer is saying is that this won’t save $5.5 million dollars because the jail will just fill up again, which means that decisions are already being made to not incarcerate a certain percentage of law-breakers, or to release a certain percentage of law-breakers prior to trial, because the prison is already full.  And it’s not as if they’re going to start releasing high-risk prisoners without having released every possible allegedly low-risk prisoner first: what kind of sense would that make?  No, they’ve already released all the people who can cobble together a home address, or who haven’t committed a serious, violent crime yet — and they’re still beyond capacity, so they have to start releasing the people they know will commit more crimes, and have committed serious crimes.  And, yet, it “hasn’t worked before” (which means they have tried this before — at what human cost?).

The county has to find a way to resolve cases more quickly so that either jail inmates are freed or they are shipped to the prison system, Taylor said. More than 1,200 inmates — half the permitted population of 2,250 — have been in jail for more than a year without their cases coming to trial, according to county figures.

What has caused this backlog?

[Superior Court Administrator] Cramer acknowledged the “Intensive Supervision Program” won’t save any money if the jail beds remain full. He said it is among a several court-system initiatives designed to chip away at the county’s backlog of 6,000 unresolved, indicted cases.

The court system has just been funded to pay three retired judges to help clear up the backlog of murder, rape and robbery cases which now pack the jail, Cramer said. There is currently just one judge handling that workload.

Wow.  There is one judge handling murder, rape and robbery.  That’s crazy, especially in a county that has managed to waste million of dollars on corrupt boondoggles like FanPlex.  Oh, and this won’t work, but they’re doing it anyway.

The superior court has also dedicated one superior court judge to handle property crimes such as burglary and car theft, Cramer said, and is resolving most of those cases by pleas — often to probation — in less than two months, on average.

Break into somebody’s house, get probation.  Get out, break into somebody else’s house.  Pretty sweet.

The court system’s next aim is to get Superior Court judges — there are 19 in all — to develop uniform case-management standards for handling serious crimes that bog down in the court system, Cramer said.

Judges traditionally have run their courtrooms as they wished — with varying degrees of efficiency.

“Serious crimes” are “bogging down in the court system.”  That’s terrifying.  Since even breaking into someone’s home has been dumbed-down to a minor offense, what constitutes a serious crime these days? 

Enough is enough.  Fulton County Superior Court Judges need to come clean, now, about their efficiency rates.  Are they even working nine-to-five?  All of them?  If they are, and if they oppose this plan, the public needs to hear from them.  If there is a resource emergency in the courts (and there is), then why the silence from the judiciary?  Have they asked the legislature for money?  Have they appealed to the County Commission?  Do they have plans to request stimulus money instead of releasing felons to prey on the innocent?  Have they reached out to the public?  Why doesn’t the public know?  This is a situation begging for transparency.

In order to solve this problem, an essential mindset needs to change.  For far too long the courts have been an insular world, a closed loop in which scrutiny by the public is viewed with barely-concealed irritation, if not outright contempt.  ‘If you’re not a lawyer, then what the heck are you doing asking questions,’ is the attitude I’ve sometimes (not always) encountered — and all lawyers must maintain good relations with judges, so don’t expect them to complain if they see a judge not keeping up with his or her docket, or just not working at all, or serially letting violent felons go free.  

In a circuit like Fulton County, some of these judges also practice far too much leniency with criminals, worrying exclusively about their needs, ignoring victims of crime.  It’s a predictable outcome of the culture of insularity and politics that exists in the judicial appointment process.  Victim advocates — and community members seeking accountability — are treated like peasants who must beg favors at the door.  Information is contained with Kremlin-like security.  

Atlanta has outgrown this system.  

It’s time for the Fulton County Courts to open their doors to citizen scrutiny in a meaningful way.  Of course, it would have been useful for some of the many law professors and criminologists in the city to take a lead on this, but in my experience, academicians are interested in only one question regarding the criminal justice system: how do we get prisoners out of jail?

So I wouldn’t count on the professorate to do the footwork needed to find out exactly how broken the courts are in Fulton County.  But citizens can do the job, first by opposing this mass release of dangerous prisoners, then by seeing what is really going on in the courts.

*** 

Call your county commissioner and the two “at-large” commissioners and demand a citizen review panel.  By non-lawyers, for obvious reasons.  And while you’re on the phone, tell your commissioner that you oppose the pre-trial release plan that’s been sprung on the public, fait accompli.  Think of all the people who have been killed recently in Atlanta by people who should have been behind bars at the time: Harish Roy.  Eugenia Calle.  Who else?  John Henderson?  Octavia Atkins?  Brutus Jones?  Chastity Jones?  The AJC cannot report on every murder, so surely there are more.  Here are the contact numbers for the Fulton County Commissioners:

At-Large Commissioners:

John H. Eaves, Ph.D. District 1 (At Large) Chairman Email John Eaves 404-730-8206 Chairman Eaves’ extended website 

Robb Pitts District 2 (At Large) Email Robb Pitts 404-612-8210

District Commissioners:

Lynne Riley  District 3 Email Lynne Riley 404-730-8213

Tom Lowe  District 4 Email Tom Lowe 404-612-8218

Emma I. Darnell  District 5 THE MIGHTY FIVE [sic] E-mail Emma  404-612-8222

Nancy A. Boxill  District 6 Email Nancy Boxill  404-612-8226

William “Bill” Edwards  District 7  Commission Vice Chairman Email William Edwards  404-612-8230

Don’t Know Your District?  Check the Commissioners’ websites. 

What Is Your Personal “Aggregate Burden of Crime”?

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On Tuesday, I wrote about the debate that’s raging over incarcerating convicts or releasing them to “community sentencing” programs of one type or another.  Proponents of community or alternative sentencing argue that we save tax dollars when people convicted of crimes get to stay at home for therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions instead of being removed from the community and sentenced to prison terms. 

However, these anti-incarceration advocates do not count the additional costs that arise whenever a person under “community control” (or a prisoner released early) commits more crime – costs that range from additional police and justice system expenses to the injury, fear, suffering, and financial losses experienced directly by their victims and indirectly by other community members.

A friend in Atlanta describes his own “aggregate burden of crime”  (I have removed some identifying details):

“When I first moved in, and the house was about to fall down, I was burglarized twice, believe it or not.  Looking at the condition of the house, you would have thought, this guy has nothing.  But, they came in twice anyway.  Didn’t take anything, because the boys next door heard them and ran them away.  I wasn’t there.  However, they had everything electronics in my suitcase, ready to go.

I then spent about $1,300 for the installation of the security system, and $28.95 a month for monitoring.  Later on, after I bought the TV, $1,300 for flat screen, which they took, I upgraded the system and cost me another $300 – $400 dollars.  J.W. had to come by and re-install the deadbolts that are keyed on both sides.  I know the argument about flippers on the inside lock (code for the city), but I changed them to keyed on the inside.

He charged me about $250.00 for everything, because he also drilled into the windows, with those metal cylinders to stop the opening of the windows.

Now, my nerves after those next two times of coming into my house almost made me sell the house and move.  But, to where?”

That’s $350 per year for home monitoring, $1,850 for installation of safety devices, and $1300 in losses.  Not to mention the home and auto insurance rates he must pay to live in the inner city, which are substantially higher than elsewhere; the high taxes he must pay to support the police and the courts, and the immutable fact that many offenders already live on the public dime, in subsidized housing with subsidized food and subsidized healthcare, all paid by the same people they victimize. 

And what cost do you put on peace of mind, after being broken into four times?

Those are the direct costs incurred by one victim who is surely not the only victim targeted by the offenders who broke into his house.  Does anyone break into only one stranger’s home?  This is not Les Misérables: they are not stealing bread to feed a starving child.  It is a lifestyle, one that simultaneously destroys the lifestyles of decent, compassionate, hard-working people like my friend. 

***

Criminologists in America do calculate the “aggregate burden of crime” here, but these statistics (see here, here, and here) never make it into public debates or newspaper articles.  Why not?  Why is the debate about incarceration versus “community sentencing,” or “three strikes laws,” or other crime-stopping initiatives carried out without any acknowledgement of the financial burdens communities face when offenders are not incarcerated? 

In contrast, in Britain and Wales, the “Economic and Social Costs of Crime Against Individuals and Households” statistics have been part of the public debate about crime policy for several years.  Here are the official 2003/2004 numbers.  Costs counted include: physical and emotional impact on direct victims, value of property stolen, property damaged/destroyed, victim services, lost output (significant for murders), health services, criminal justice costs, and costs in anticipation of crime.

Rather than relying on the Pew Center Report, which deceptively promises vast savings every time a convict doesn’t go to prison, it’s time for American journalists to begin seeking out better data on recidivism, crime costs, and the actual effectiveness and expenses arising from drug courts, other community sentencing programs, and judges’ decisions to simply let offenders go without punishment.

The Tiny Burglar, Shamal Thompson, and Johnny Dennard: Recidivism and Sentencing in Georgia

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Atlanta is designed to be a neighborly city — so neighborly, in fact, with its vast downtown neighborhoods of suburban-style houses with yards, that it is entirely possible to get to know the criminals who cycle through the court system and end up in your driveway over and over again, rifling for change in your car. For years, I watched one such person wander the streets of my neighborhood, and I chased her away from my own car more than once — the worry wasn’t losing pocket change from the console but having to replace a broken window or jammed door lock, which can run to hundreds of dollars.  

She acted like a stray dog, and so I came to treat her like one, shouting at her out my window to get off my lawn. Of course I pitied her.  She was small, wizened and jerky from dyskinesia, and I knew the streets and her addiction must be hard on her.  She dressed to look like a male — less as a statement of sexual identity than as an effort to protect herself from sexual attack, I suspect.  Homeless women and women in the criminal “lifestyle” are very vulnerable to rape.  

I believe she spent as much time as possible casing my neighborhood, instead of choosing the dangerous housing projects south of us, or the more affluent homes north of us, because there were people around who could be robbed while feeling obliged to protect her from violence: we were the “just right” neighborhood for committing crimes — not too hot, not too cold.  On a few occasions, I gave her food while scolding her about coming onto my yard: I am not as heartless as the activists posting here from “Changing Lives Through Literature” seem to believe.    

Why didn’t I call the police on her?  I did, more than once.  But after the first few times, I stopped calling them when I saw this woman up on my neighbors’ lawns or on my lawn, peering into cars and houses.  It’s not that the police didn’t respond.  But by the time they arrived, the woman would be gone, or trotting down the street hollering that she didn’t do anything, and the police would say they couldn’t do anything without evidence of the crime I had just interrupted. Trespassing was my word against her word: nothing would come of it, they would say.  I stopped demanding police reports.  Most of the cops were incredibly gracious, but they were spread thin and operating under leadership that prevented them from doing their jobs.  What is the point of arresting and processing a tiny little drug addict scrounging for pocket change, when she will simply be given a place to sleep for the night, then released in a day or a few days by a judge who is either exclusively sympathetic to criminals by temperament or forced to act so because there is pressure from above to spend as little as possible on “non-violent” crimes?  

For the police, every such arrest meant hours of processing paperwork and many more hours in court.  So there was a policy — written or unwritten, I don’t know — to “encourage” callers to agree to do nothing unless or until property damage occurred or a situation escalated to violence.  This policy was roundly abetted by Atlanta’s atrocious 911 operators.  I rarely met a cop who was anything less than professional, but the 911 operators behaved as if you were interrupting their manicure.  Or worse.

Of course, dumbing down the justice system like this is a dangerous game, and, of course, it ended in tears. The day came when I looked out my window and saw the wizened little drug addict using a rock to break my neighbor’s back window.  Exasperated, I grabbed my portable phone and ran out my front door to call the police.  I hadn’t seen the Corvette parked in my neighbor’s driveway, or the two men sitting in it.  By the time I did, I was standing outside with a phone in my hand, yelling at the woman to stop breaking glass.  One of the men came out of the car fast, and started running at me.  He wasn’t small, and he wasn’t defenseless.  

But I was lucky.  I had a dog, a pleasant-though-ominous-looking Weimerainer.  The Weimerainer hadn’t moved from his bed much in years; he was deep in his dotage and completely blind, but he somehow sensed through several walls that I was in danger and tore out of the house towards the man, who wisely retreated to his car.  The dog wandered off to relieve himself, but the men didn’t risk getting out of the car again, and I was even able to make note of their license plate number as they collected the tiny burglar and drove away.

There is a lot more to this story, and I will get to the rest of it another day, but right now I want to stick to that moment in my front yard.  I had been lulled, not entirely voluntarily, into dealing with the tiny burglar as a nuisance, not a threat.  The police treated her that way (also not entirely voluntarily), and the courts treated her that way, and surely the good people at “Changing Lives Through Literature” would look at her and see nothing more than a victim of bad luck who needed empathy, not incarceration.  But, in reality, I didn’t know what the tiny burglar was thinking when she skittered off my front yard or accepted a handout.  She could have been thinking about slitting my throat as she took food from my hand.  She wasn’t just some tragic, dyskinesiatic moppet: she was also a career criminal who got up every morning and began trying (albeit very badly) to commit crimes, and she probably attempted or committed thousands of crimes over the decade-and-a half I saw her walking the streets.     

Then finally, one day, she brought dangerous men to my neighbor’s house, and if they had been armed, I could have been murdered in my own front yard, phone in hand, bleeding to death as a bored 911 operator put me on hold to examine a chip in one of her acrylic nails.

***

Below is the Georgia Code on recidivists and sentencing.  I would be grateful to hear from a legal practitioner who can paraphrase it, for, as I read it, the code grants judges enormous latitude in sentencing second offenders — essentially permitting them to do as they please.  Even after three prior felonies, it only suspends the possibility of parole for the fourth felony while still allowing the judge to define that sentence. There may be other sentencing guidelines that enter here.  The recidivism law does require life without parole for conviction for a second “serious violent felony” (this means murder or felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery).  But what about repeat offenders like the tiny burglar?  How often has she been arrested, processed, then released back on the streets by a judge who decided that her crime wasn’t worth the court’s time?  And at what point does a judge’s decision to table a prosecution conflict with enforcement of the recidivism law?

These are the types of questions that never seem to be addressed, even in the aftermath of an horrific, preventable crime like the murder of Eugenia Calle.  In that case, it appears that one Fulton County judge failed to so much as check Shamal Thompson’s record in other jurisdictions before wrongfully granting him a first offender status for which he did not qualify.  There is still no public word on possible censure for Judge Cynthia Becker.  Why on earth not?  Doesn’t the public deserve some answers?  Is it common to fail to check for prior convictions in other jurisdictions before sentencing offenders?  Does this happen every day?  Is the judiciary simply hoping that this question will go away?  

Are judges not abiding by the law?

And what about  Johnny Dennard, who had at least five burglary convictions when he was convicted for burglary a sixth time and was released to an “outpatient treatment center” rather than being sent to serve the (apparently mandatory) minimum five years for the crime?  Is the prosecutor appealing the sentence?  If not, why not?       

UPDATE FROM PAUL KERSEY, ATL:

“I want to let you know about the latest news I heard concerning the Shamal Thompson case. Last week a local TV station aired a story that included an interview with the DeKalb District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming. When asked why Thompson was allowed to receive first-offender status for his burglary charge in 2006, Fleming said it was because his conviction in Gwinnett County had not been properly entered into the computer system used to keep track of such things. Of course that still doesn’t let DeKalb off the hook, as I imagine there are other ways to check for such information. And it certainly does not let Judge Becker off the hook. Gwinnett confirmed the person who was supposed to enter Thompson’s conviction was aware there was a problem when they attempted to enter the information, but apparently it was never corrected.”

***

Georgia Code § 17-10-7.  Punishment of repeat offenders; punishment and eligibility for parole of persons convicted of fourth felony offense
   (a) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, any person convicted of a felony offense in this state or having been convicted under the laws of any other state or of the United States of a crime which if committed within this state would be a felony and sentenced to confinement in a penal institution, who shall afterwards commit a felony punishable by confinement in a penal institution, shall be sentenced to undergo the longest period of time prescribed for the punishment of the subsequent offense of which he or she stands convicted, provided that, unless otherwise provided by law, the trial judge may, in his or her discretion, probate or suspend the maximum sentence prescribed for the offense.   (b)(1) As used in this subsection, the term “serious violent felony” means a serious violent felony as defined in subsection (a) of Code Section 17-10-6.1.

   (2) Any person who has been convicted of a serious violent felony in this state or who has been convicted under the laws of any other state or of the United States of a crime which if committed in this state would be a serious violent felony and who after such first conviction subsequently commits and is convicted of a serious violent felony for which such person is not sentenced to death shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life without parole. Any such sentence of life without parole shall not be suspended, stayed, probated, deferred, or withheld, and any such person sentenced pursuant to this paragraph shall not be eligible for any form of pardon, parole, or early release administered by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles or for any earned time, early release, work release, leave, or any other sentence-reducing measures under programs administered by the Department of Corrections, the effect of which would be to reduce the sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, except as may be authorized by any existing or future provisions of the Constitution.

(c) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, any person who, after having been convicted under the laws of this state for three felonies or having been convicted under the laws of any other state or of the United States of three crimes which if committed within this state would be felonies, commits a felony within this state other than a capital felony must, upon conviction for such fourth offense or for subsequent offenses, serve the maximum time provided in the sentence of the judge based upon such conviction and shall not be eligible for parole until the maximum sentence has been served.

(d) For the purpose of this Code section, conviction of two or more crimes charged on separate counts of one indictment or accusation, or in two or more indictments or accusations consolidated for trial, shall be deemed to be only one conviction.                                

 

Burglary is Not a Non-Violent Crime, #2: A Lesson on DNA and Recidivism

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In today’s St. Petersburg Times, on a double murder in Masaryktown, Florida:

The feet belonged to Patrick DePalma Sr., 84. He lay on his stomach, head and torso halfway into the den, a mess of blood by his head. He wore a blue sweat suit; his slippers were astray nearby.

Evelyn DePalma, 79, sat on the floor, upright against a twin bed and the wall of the southeast bedroom. She wore a red sweat suit and a pair of slippers. Blood stained her clothes, the bed, the wall, the door, the carpet and a pair of wooden shoes next to her.

They had been stabbed to death with a long-bladed knife.

The house was ravaged, as if someone had been looking for something. His blood appeared on a shower curtain; hers on the pantry — both far from where they eventually died.

Deputies retraced their steps and left. Yellow crime scene tape wrapped the house for two weeks.

The brutal murder of Evelyn and Patrick DePalma occurred in October, 2006, and the case went cold.  15 months later, Robert William Jardin was arrested on an unrelated burglary charge.  Luckily, he was found guilty, and found guilty in Florida, where all convicted felons, even those who receive probation for their crimes, are required to submit DNA samples to the state. 

Jardin was sentenced to probation and was forced to submit a DNA sample.  Six months later, in June 2008, his DNA was finally processed into the state database, and he was matched to the brutal double murder of the DePalmas.

What would have happened if the judge had decided to waive charges in the burglary case because it was “just a burglary,” or had let him plead down to a misdemeanor crime, or deferred prosecution entirely and allowed Jardin to enter a community-based treatment program instead?  

  •  Innocent people would remain under suspicion for the murder of the DePalmas.
  • A brutal murderer would still be walking the streets.
  • The DaPalma family would still be denied justice, and a double murder would go unsolved.

Florida has a very good DNA database collection law, which you can see here.  But the law can only be enforced after judges take the step of finding suspects guilty of certain crimes.  

Georgia’s DNA database law was expanded in 2007 to include certain felony probationers, including burglars.  So a Robert William Jardin would have been subjected to DNA testing — right under the wire — in Georgia as well.

The 2007 revision of Georgia’s DNA law is one of the many innovations in DNA databasing that has Georgia and Florida ahead of most states, innovations that date back in Georgia to the tenure of then-Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, who championed the database for solving sex crimes against children and adults.  If Robert William Jardin had committed burglary and been sentenced to probation in most states, he would not have been required to provide a DNA sample, and the DaPalma’s murder would still be unsolved.  

But the law is only as good as the judges who sentence defendants.  

Here are the legislators who passed Georgia H.B. 314, the 2007 expansion of Georgia’s DNA database law. House members Jay Neal, David Ralston, Burke Day, Mike Coan, Barry Fleming, and Billy Mitchell.  And Senator Jeff Mullis.

Last August, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that Georgia had reached the milestone of recording 1,000 “hits” on the database for unsolved crimes.  Their press release contains interesting information about the relationship between burglary convictions and unsolved rapes, highlighted below.  

GBI’s DNA Database Reaches 1000 Confirmed Hits

DECATUR –   The DNA Database at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime lab or CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) today reached 1000 hits to unsolved cases with the matching of DNA from an incarcerated state prisoner to DNA evidence from a 1987 rape of an 84-year-old Atlanta woman.  The offender is currently serving a life sentence at Hancock State Prison for the rapes of two elderly women in Atlanta.  At the request of the Atlanta Police Department, the GBI located the original biological evidence from the 1987 case and processed it for DNA for entering in the database.

GBI Director Vernon Keenan stated, “The 1000 hits on unsolved cases shows the value of DNA for Georgia law enforcement and for the public safety of all Georgia citizens by helping solve violent crimes that otherwise may have gone unsolved. We are grateful for the past support of the Georgia General Assembly in recognizing the importance of DNA in solving crimes.”

The GBI began DNA testing in 1991 and implemented CODIS in 1998.  At that time under state law, only those convicted and incarcerated for sex offenses were included in the database. For the next two years, the database solved 13 rapes and other sexual crimes by linking evidence to an incarcerated sex offender.  The current success of the program stemmed from the expansion of the offender law by the Georgia legislature in 2000 to include all incarcerated convicted felons. In the first year after expansion over 70 cases were solved. The majority of DNA hits since 2000 have been for rape cases but the primary crimes these offenders were incarcerated for are drug, burglary or robbery related.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the DNA database statute to include certain felony probationers.  There have been 12 DNA hits to probationers.

Currently, the GBI DNA database contains 162,390 samples. Of that total, 155,184 are offender samples and 7,206 are forensic or evidence samples. 

# # # # #

“The majority of DNA hits since 2000 have been for rape cases but the primary crimes these offenders were incarcerated for are drug, burglary or robbery related.”

For many decades, difficulties in prosecuting rape cases encouraged prosecutors to offer burglary pleas in some cases where the primary crime was actually rape.  Once DNA databasing was implemented and expanded to include burglars, robbers, and other felons, a startling number of men whose only prior records were for drug or burglary charges turned out to be rapists — including prolific, serial rapists.  Any time somebody chooses to break into a private residence, they have crossed a dangerous line.  When will the courts respond accordingly?

 

 

Burglary is Not a Non-Violent Crime, #1

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From the Bradenton Herald, in Bradenton, Florida:

 

MANATEE — A Northwest Bradenton woman was pistol-whipped in a botched burglary Friday afternoon, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

The 84-year-old woman was taken to Blake Hospital after a man in his 20s came into her house, in the 8200 block of 19th Avenue Northwest, hitting her over the head with a pistol. The gun caused two lacerations to her head, according to authorities.

Just before 11 a.m., the woman was in her bedroom when the attacker ransacked two bedrooms first, before going into the victim’s bedroom and then attacking her. 

How Many Gold Mercedes Are There Out There?

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THE average citizen hardly needs to be persuaded that crimes will be committed more frequently if, other things being equal, crime becomes more profitable than other ways of spending one’s time.

–James Q. Wilson, “Thinking About CrimeAtlantic Monthly, September, 1983

 

Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that police in Clayton County may have solved a whole lot of Metro Atlanta crimes when they arrested four men and charged them with “breaking into dozens of businesses,” and “stealing more than 200 flat-screen televisions” throughout the city.

The article announcing the arrests mentioned “50 investigators from 17 police agencies [who] joined forces last year after noticing a spike in burglaries and flat-screen TV thefts.”  Just last Wednesday, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington announced the formation of a presumably different multi-jurisdictional task-force to address flat-screen thefts.  

I imagine citizens weary of crime would say: “I don’t care who’s doing what, just get them off our streets.”  

Add to that, “this time.”  For, of course, at first glance, at least two of the men have faced previous charges in Clayton County alone (the current crime spree extends to Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Douglas Counties — a wide swath on the map — and I have not checked those yet).  Devon Sherman Anderson was charged in Clayton with simply battery, disrupting a public school, and disorderly conduct in 2004, the year he turned 18.  The first two charges were dropped, and he received six months probation on the third.  Schoolyard fight?  Maybe.  Or it could be the first adult charge after a lifetime of juvenile crimes, which are sealed. Bershan Lewis‘ record is more extensive.  It also begins the year he turned 18: it was a busy year for him.  He was charged with four counts of entering autos.  

Prior to the current charges, neither man’s records indicates a major crime wave (some of the charges that appear more than once are simply working their way through different courts).  But the crimes with which they have now been charged seem outlandishly prolific.  If they are guilty, they have been driving Anderson’s gold Mercedes all over the metro area for months, or years now, committing crime after crime after crime.  

That’s a lot of broken glass, insurance hikes, and security expenses for small businesses. It’s also a lot of employees of sports bars and laundromats who have the eerie task of opening or closing the doors when nobody else is around, hoping that whoever committed the last break-in isn’t coming back.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution story reports that the men named themselves the “Hit Squad” and that an AK-47 was found in one of their homes.  Anderson’s new charges include armed robbery, and there are more charges to come.  

There were nearly 10,000 burglaries in the city precincts alone in 2008.  

People are scared, and tired.  They are sick of hearing that prisons are overcrowded and that judges are looking for alternatives to incarceration for people with records like Johnny Dennard’s.  Dennard had at least five burglary convictions when he was arrested on the most recent charge.  He was convicted a sixth time and released to an “outpatient treatment center” rather than being sent to serve the (apparently mandatory) minimum five years for the crime.

How many burglaries net you six convictions in our broken justice system?