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Leniency Lunacy: Atlanta’s CBS News Tackles Recidivism, Judicial “Discretion,” and Fulton County Prosecutors Going Easy on Repeat Offenders

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Hat tip to Paul Kersey:

Atlanta CBS News Investigative Reporter Joanna Massey dissects the problems in the courts.  This is thoughtful reporting (here is part 2), and hopefully there will be follow-up on points raised by the story, such as:

  • Why is it that county prosecutors do not so much as try to enforce Georgia’s recidivism laws?  The prosecutor in the story tells the reporter that she uses her discretion in every case.  Well, if discretion means someone who has been arrested 69 times and accused of multiple violent crimes gets released back onto the streets again, then maybe discretion needs to be taken out of the hands of the Fulton County D.A.’s office in the form of a real recidivism law for Georgia.
  • Why, for that matter, don’t prosecutors have the mindset of seeking to impose the recidivism law in every possible case?  All victims deserve to be treated equally.  The law should be applied evenly.  Allowing criminals to get away with crimes inevitably tells them — especially impressionable juveniles and the mentally ill — that there will be no consequences for their actions.  Anybody who has lived with a three-year old knows the consequences of that.  The ethical culture of the D.A.’s office needs to change.
  • We’re not doing criminals any favors by letting them get away with — well, escalating patterns of violence until they get sent away for life.  Ricky Love, the offender profiled in the news story, does not appear to have a state prison record.  If that is true, it means that exactly none of his 69 arrests or multiple convictions got him state time — not robbery, not assault.  In other words, somebody in the D.A.’s office, the courts, or both, dropped the ball 69 times in a row.
  • What political motive lies behind Paul Howard continually insisting that his office does not need more resources?  Who is he trying to appease by saying that, when it is so obviously false?  The prosecutor in the news story appears to have been told not to acknowledge that her caseload prevents her from examining every defendant’s full record.  She sure looks caught out when she says:  “You deal with the facts that you have on that day, on that case, and you make a judgment call.”  The city needs more prosecutors, of course, if prosecutors don’t even have the resources to know who they are convicting.
  • Why did Judge Craig Schwall agree to release this offender?  He can pass the ball to the prosecutors, but he has discretion, too.  Every time I watch a judge suddenly getting tough on an offender, it reminds me of all the times they didn’t do it when nobody was watching.  There needs to be new standards for judging judges at election time, something a little more judgmental than “check incumbent box.”
  • And that will require information.  Data.  A new transparency at the Fulton County Clerk of Court’s office.  Why has nobody filed impeachment papers on Fulton Clerk Cathelene Robinson?  She is standing in the way of the residents of Atlanta gaining access to the records of criminal convictions, pleas, and non-prosecutions, records they will need to see in order to understand what is happening in the courts.  How to reform the dysfunctional Fulton Clerk of Court’s office?  The state body overseeing them is the Georgia Superior Court Clerk’s Cooperative Authority (GSCCCA).  More on this later…
  • Atlanta could easily take a page from Houston County, located in the center of the state.  The Houston County District Attorney provides immediate web access to all case events and sentencing outcomes, so people there can see precisely what the DA’s office is doing at every phase of a prosecution.  What would it cost to post these records in Fulton?  They must be databasing them internally, right?  People have a right to know what their prosecutor’s office is doing.
  • The Court Watch volunteers are heroes.  The Court Watch program in Atlanta needs to grow.  And while Paul Howard deserves a lot of credit for creating a court-watching program in conjunction with his office, I hope the Atlanta Court Watchers will also branch out and grow into an independent organization.  It is important to witness those cases where the nobody invites you to watch, too.

Recidivism Follies

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Atlanta’s not the only city where elected officials are getting terrorized by recidivist thugs . . .

Why Did Vernon Forrest Have to Die to Get Charman Sinkfield off the Streets?

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Three men are now in custody for the murder of boxer Vernon Forrest.  Of course, two are recidivists with state records and histories of getting off easy for multiple crimes, and the third is probably just too young to have accumulated a non-juvenile record yet.  The man they killed was a world-champion athlete who founded a charity in Atlanta to help the mentally challenged.  How many times does the same sickening story have to play out?

Forrest’s mother told the Atlanta Journal Constitution she hopes the three men never leave prison again:

“I’m praying for justice to be done,” Mildred Forrest said early Thursday evening.. . . “I want to see them prosecuted to the fullest,” she said. “I don’t want to see them out of jail any more.”

Why doesn’t the justice system get serious about repeat felons before they kill?

It was twenty year-old Damario Ware who first pulled a gun on Forrest outside a gas station.  How many times has Ware done this before?  He had to be brazen to attack a powerful professional athlete, and he had to know what he was doing to get his victim’s guard down by asking for money.  You don’t commit that type of crime the first, or the tenth time you’ve got a gun in your hand.  He obviously had no fear of consequences from his victim, or from the courthouse, which is located a few block away.  That would be his stomping grounds, in and out and in and out on a few city blocks.

I did not bother trying to access Ware’s prior record in Fulton County because I did not feel like taking my chances by phone with the Fulton Clerk of Court’s office, but I hope somebody in Atlanta is compiling the criminal histories of all three of Forrest’s killers.

Jquante Crews drove the getaway car.  He has six known aliases and has already served two one-year sentences in state prison.  He is 25 years old.  How do you accumulate six aliases by the time you’re 25?  Has he ever done anything legitimate?  You have to wonder about a person’s family, when they live like this and nobody does anything about it.

On paper, shooter Charman Sinkfield’s criminal history — at least the Cobb County part, which you can view on-line — is a tangle of drug offenses, probation revocations and thefts.  He has served three separate prison terms since 2000.  Of course, his first adult charge occured right around the time of his 18th birthday, so there is doubtlessly a sealed juvenile record, as well.

Sinkfield seemed to get arrested a lot in the company of family members.  If the state had taken his crimes seriously and removed him from that toxic environment when he was 15 or 18, would he be on a different path now?

Since the age of 22, Sinkfield has spent 46 months in prison and 56 months out of prison, not counting possible stints in the Fulton County system, which I cannot access on-line.  Presuming a life sentence for Forrest’s murder, he is now facing thirty or more years behind bars.

Here are the parts of Georgia’s recidivism law that could have been applied to Sinkfield, had anybody cared to do so:

§ 17-10-7. Punishment of repeat offenders; punishment and eligibility for parole of persons convicted of fourth felony offense:
[A]ny person convicted of a felony offense in this state . . . 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. . . [A]ny person who, after having been convicted under the laws of this state for three 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.

The highlighted parts are what render this law meaningless: they give judges absolute discretion to suspend the entire sentence for any non-violent crime, even the eighteenth time somebody appears before them.  The highlighted parts are the reason why psychopaths in East Atlanta continue to walk the streets after their tenth burglary conviction, and why Charman Sinkfield continued to walk the streets after being convicted of multiple crimes and refusing to follow the terms of his parole.

How much was Sinkfield emboldened every time he gamed the system and won?

Charman Sinkfield should have been in prison on the night he killed Vernon Forrest.  If only some prosecutor had used Georgia’s recidivism law at some point in Sinkfield’s criminal career, and some judge had agreed to impose a real sentence, Forrest would still be alive, and Sinkfield wouldn’t be facing life in prison or the death penalty.  Two men’s lives could have been saved.

“Leniency” hardly sounds lenient when you look at it that way.

Murder by Anti-Incerceration Activism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heather Mac Donald:

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

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

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

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

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

Some Other Elected Officials Who Should Be Shown the Door

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Amazing, the amount of work it takes to get our leaders to the point of appearing to do their jobs.  But the job of getting elected officials to do their jobs, alas, is never done.  The mayor and chief of police have promised more police on the streets by next summer (and if this promise is not kept, they will be long gone anyway, so accountability is moot).  A weekend crime sweep netted 159 arrests, including many for outstanding warrants, which means that enough manpower was deployed to do what is supposed to be done all the time: pick up people with outstanding warrants.

In other words, in the last five days, the mayor briefly did her job by addressing the crime problem while only slightly denying it; the chief of police was spotted in the same zip code as his office, and law enforcement officers were given enough resources for all of 48 hours.

So far, so good.  But now those 159 arrestees are in the hands of the District Attorney and the Court.  And that, my friends, is where everything falls down.

~~~

There are two compelling crime stories in Sunday Paper this week.  “Back on the Streets Again: Midtown Battles the Same Offenders Over and Over” addresses the problem of the courts.  Patrick Bray and Stephanie Ramage profile just a few of the repeat offenders emboldened by the justice system’s inability to hold them accountable for their actions:

Midtown resident Kim Bannerman was attacked in her minivan while stopped at a traffic light at the corner of 5th Street and Peachtree Street one day in June.

Her attacker, Kim Paige, a Midtown vagrant with mental issues, stood in the street obstructing traffic and then climbed on the hood of Bannerman’s van, maneuvering around to the driver’s side window and attempting to pull Bannerman out of the van by her hair.

How many times has Kim Paige attacked strangers on Atlanta’s streets?  Well, that’s hard to figure.  The Clerk of Superior Court, Cathelene Robinson, does not post criminal records on the Clerk of Court’s website.  She does, however, dedicate a portion of the website to a yearbook-like photo collage of her own life.  The website also weirdly features a “History of Fulton County” cribbed from someplace else, in which we learn:

North of the Chattahoochee River what is now Fulton County is quite different than Atlanta and its environs. Although rapid growth is battling history in an oft repeated scenario, the quiet, aged roads of Milton County sing a song of a different era, when horseless carriages were preceded by horsedrawn ones and you would see your next door neighbor every other week.

What, one might ask, is this corn-pone blathering doing on the Clerk of Court’s website, instead of access to the criminal records that comprise the office’s actual business?  Perhaps it has to do with pretending (pretending badly) to proffer the never-delivered “History of the Fulton County Court,” for which Ms. Robinson’s impressively corrupt mentor and predecessor, Juanita Hicks, was handsomely paid (hit the link for some good advice from Maureen Downey about recalling Robinson).

Taxpayers may not be able to look up Kim Paige’s criminal record to determine precisely how worried they need to be the next time she mounts a car hood and starts trying to pull the occupants out by their hair,   but they can learn that Clerk of Court Cathelene Robinson’s motto is: “Whatever you chose to be, strive to be the best.”

And that is just one sign of the chaos in judiciary.  But it is an important one, and the first that should be fixed.  Without systematic access to the outcomes of criminal cases, there is no way to know if the courts are functioning at all.  There is no way to know which judges are enforcing sentencing and recidivism laws, or which violent offenders are being allowed to walk by the district attorney — no way to make informed decisions at election time or evaluate the “alternative sentencing” programs being forced down people’s throats.  Why are the courts permitted to operate in secrecy?

From the Sunday Paper article:

Besides [Kim] Paige, the [Midtown Ponce Security Alliance] MPSA is keeping an eye out for several other vagrants they don’t want to come back. One is Kenneth Lamb. Known as the “barefoot panhandler,” Lamb has spent most of his adult life in prison for rape, aggravated assault and robbery. . . Yet another concern is Ricky Love, who is currently in jail after years of terrorizing people in Midtown. The Fulton County Superior Court convicted him in September 2008 for aggravated assault. Love was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment but credited with two years already served in pre-trial detention. The judge suspended the remainder under two conditions:  Love must undergo treatment for mental health issues and banishment from Fulton County. . .

“Unless they are caught with a gun or drugs on them, the judges are not going to do anything and the suspects know that,” says one policeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

~~~

So how many of those 159 defendants arrested in the weekend sting are already out on the streets again?

How many mentally incompetent or young offenders among them are learning the lesson — right now — that they can get away with attacking someone or stealing something?

Below is the record for Kenneth Lamb’s state incarceration history — in other words, for those crimes deemed serious enough to bump him up to state prison, not just arrest-and-release or a stint in county jail.  I’m hypothesizing, because I don’t have the records in front of me, and Cathelene Robinson is busy scrapbooking on the Fulton County Superior Court website, but it looks to me that case #127823, for aggravated assault, robbery, motor vehicle theft, armed robbery, rape, and conversion, netted Lamb four seven-year sentences in 1980, and he walked out of prison 3 years, 8 months later.  Two months after that (at the most), he raped again, and then again, and there is little reason to doubt that he committed other rapes for which he was not caught or convicted.

Because studies claiming that sex offenders are not prone to recidivism are bunk.  And the police routinely close several rape cases when a serial offender gets sent down for one or two.

So the next time your neighbor chews you out for not expressing proper empathy for the “harmless” homeless person breaking into your basement or grabbing strangers by the hair on the street, tell them to contemplate Kenneth Lamb’s record, or any one of the thousand of others that illustrate the failure of our justice system to protect the public (including, for that matter, the actually harmless homeless, who are the easiest prey).

LAMB, KENNETH C

GDC ID: 0000220527

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
YOB: 1962 RACE: WHITE GENDER: MALE
HEIGHT: 5’09” WEIGHT: 162 EYE COLOR: HAZEL HAIR COLOR: BROWN
SCARS, MARKS, TATTOOS
TATTOO/MEDIUM BODY
INCARCERATION DETAILS
MAJOR OFFENSE: POSS OF COCAINE
MOST RECENT INSTITUTION: BALDWIN STATE PRISON
MAX POSSIBLE RELEASE DATE: 09/30/2006
TENTATIVE PAROLE MONTH: NOT ALLOWED IN THIS CASE
ACTUAL RELEASE DATE: 09/30/2006
CURRENT STATUS: INACTIVE
KNOWN ALIASES
A.K.A. LAMB,KENNETH
A.K.A. LAMB,KENNETH CHARLES
A.K.A. LAMB,KENNETH L
STATE OF GEORGIA – CURRENT SENTENCES
CASE NO: 608522
OFFENSE: POSS OF COCAINE
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 01/03/2006
SENTENCE LENGTH: 0 YEARS, 4 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
STATE OF GEORGIA – PRIOR SENTENCES
CASE NO: 177743
OFFENSE: poss of marijuana
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 01/08/1985
SENTENCE LENGTH: 0 YEARS, 12 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
CASE NO: 177743
OFFENSE: AGG ASLT W INTNT TO RAPE
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 01/08/1985
SENTENCE LENGTH: 20 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
CASE NO: 177743
OFFENSE: RAPE
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: 05/03/1984
SENTENCE LENGTH: 5 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
CASE NO: 127823
OFFENSE: NOT AVAILABLE
CONVICTION COUNTY: CONVERSION
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE
CASE NO: 127823
OFFENSE: RAPE
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 7 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
CASE NO: 127823
OFFENSE: ARMED ROBBERY
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 7 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
CASE NO: 127823
OFFENSE: ROBBERY
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 7 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
CASE NO: 127823
OFFENSE: THEFT MOTORVEH OR PART
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE
CASE NO: 127823
OFFENSE: ROBBERY
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: 7 YEARS, 0 MONTHS, 0 DAYS
CASE NO: 127823
OFFENSE: AGGRAV ASSAULT
CONVICTION COUNTY: FULTON COUNTY
CRIME COMMIT DATE: N/A
SENTENCE LENGTH: NOT AVAILABLE
STATE OF GEORGIA – INCARCERATION HISTORY
INCARCERATION BEGIN INCARCERATION END
07/20/2006 09/30/2006
03/14/1985 02/20/2005
07/11/1980 03/04/1984

No-Snitch Children and No-Punishment Adults

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit News

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

Washington Monthly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least criminology will remain a growth profession.

Crime Denial at the New York Times: An Update

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Yesterday, while writing about the Times‘ willful misrepresentation of a child sexual assault conviction, I noted:

[W]hen I see an offender with a record of one or three instances of “inappropriate touching,” I suspect that’s the tip of the iceberg.  I suspect the conviction is the result of a plea bargain agreed to just to get the sick bastard away from the child and onto a registry, which is the most victims can reasonably hope for in the courts these days . . .

Well, it didn’t take long to illustrate that point.  From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Convicted Rapist Sentenced to Life — Again

Barry Daniels was supposed to spend the rest of his life in prison when he was convicted in 1978 of raping a child.

Instead, he served 19 years and was released, returning to Cincinnati where he worked for more than a decade as a maintenance man.

On Tuesday, Daniels was back in court, to be sentenced after he was convicted of raping another child, a 9-year-old girl last September.

Prosecutors had offered Daniels a plea offer of — you guessed it — sexual touching.  Just like this guy, whose fib about his own crimes was credulously reported as fact in the New York Times:

Patrick Wiese, 48 . . . said he served time in prison after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately. . .

Unfortunately for the nine-year-old victim in Cincinnati, Barry Daniels refused the plea offered to him, and the child was forced to testify against her rapist.  Fortunately, the jury believed her and sent Daniels to prison for life — again.  Hopefully this time it will stick:

The girl testified during the trial and, despite the stress and embarrassment, proved to be a star witness.

Before the jury was seated, prosecutors [had] offered Daniels a plea offer – to try to prevent the child victim from having to testify – that would have resulted in him pleading guilty of sexually touching the child and being imprisoned for a maximum of five years.

Note that Daniels was offered a sentence that would have put him back on the streets in five years or less.  Prosecutors were willing to essentially “disappear” the rape of a child to get him back into the system, to spare the child more trauma, and, doubtlessly, to avoid incurring the costs of a trial.  Such are the economics of justice these days: a child rapist who rapes another child after being released early is offered a slap on the wrist.

Chillingly, Daniels was willing to take his chances.  And why not?  It’s practically impossible to seat a jury these days in which there is not at least one knucklehead who imagines he is playing Atticus Finch, or re-playing 12 Angry Men, or who just believes that there is never any way to know that anybody is actually guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of anything.

The Daniels jurors did none of these things, bless them.  But if I was guilty of raping a nine-year old child, I’d still take my chances with a jury.  And when you see news articles bemoaning society’s cruel treatment of “men who did nothing more than sexually touch a child,” remember to ask yourself what they really did.   

Blogging Crime Versus “Disappearing” It: Chicago and Atlanta

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Chicago:

In Chicago, something interesting is happening as “twittering” and blogging and e-mail bring in first-hand reports that deviate from official versions.  It is hard to whitewash incidents of violence and rioting when people are reporting them in real time and police are going back over their incident reports to compare notes later.

Take a look at two different sources discussing the Taste of Chicago event.  First, there is the official statement, reported in the Chicago Tribune:

The volatile vibe remained at this year’s holiday fireworks and food festival along Chicago’s lakefront, and authorities Saturday detailed the arrests of eight people accused of carrying guns or knives and several fights that triggered stampedes for the exits Friday evening.

Unlike last year’s pre-July 4 celebration — when one person was killed and several were injured — police said no one was shot in the vicinity of the Taste of Chicago on Friday.

“No Shootings This Year,” reads the headline, a low bar to set.  But is it true?  Here is Mike Doyle, reporting from the blog Chicago Carless:

To compare the stories, I jotted down a thumbnail list of each version of events–the official, and the insider. Here’s what I found:

Events Reported to News Media by City Officials

–One gun-related arrest in afternoon (gang member with shotgun in bag.)
–Arrests for unspecified reasons at Buckingham Fountain at 8:30 p.m.
–No mention of early fireworks start.
–One major fight at 9:45 p.m. (30-person gang melee at Michigan and Congress.)
–Various small, unspecified incidents.

Events Reported by Second City Cop Blog

–Gang members “take over” Buckingham Fountain area and by one account officers are told by police commanders (“Gold Stars”) to “leave it alone, let them have it.”
–911 dispatchers report two people shot at Buckingham Fountain.
–A potential effort (noted here and here) to silence radio reports of shots fired or gang fights.
–Gangster Disciples “50 deep” walking through Taste grounds and throwing gang signs.
–Latin Kings platooning along Roosevelt Road and heading towards Taste grounds.
–Multiple gang fight calls (10-1s.)
–“Numerous chases” and “multiple weapons recovered.”
–Fireworks start at least half-an-hour early.
–At least ten significant gang fights along Michigan Avenue in addition to the large melee as crowds left the southern end of the Taste grounds.

Next, I checked in with my Twitter followers and performed several searches of Twitter’s public timeline to look for tweets that might bear out the Second City Cop version of events. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

“my first year at the taste of chicago fireworks and go figure a shooting occurs 10 ft away from me!” (@chibookgrl, 7:00 p.m. Jul 4th)

Doyle’s appeal for more information bring in detailed accounts of fights and even a possible shooting.  Cops are under enormous pressure to downgrade crimes.  Prosecutors are under enormous pressure to write off charges.  How much crime gets “disappeared” these ways?

Atlanta:

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the activity of court-watching is providing residents with criminal-by-criminal details of crimes that could have been prevented, if only some judges would actually incarcerate some offenders at some point in their fulsome careers.  Here is only the latest career criminal, finally put away, thanks probably to the mere fact that, this time, somebody was watching when he walked into the courtroom, as reported by intrepid IntownWriter and court-watcher Marcia Killingsworth:

Arrested over 27 times and with three prior felony convictions, Andre Keith Grier returned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob’s courtroom this week. This time, he came to enter guilty pleas to negotiated charges. . . .

Here’s the final outcome on the three cases:

  1. Robbery and Burglary:  15 years to serve 10 years; balance probated. The conditions of his probation are a drug evaluation and treatment, a job, and to stay away from Zone 6.
  2. Theft by Receiving Stolen Property:  10 years to serve
  3. Entering Automobile:  5 years to serve
    Theft by Taking:  10 years to serve to run concurrent
    Possession of Tools:  5 years probation consecutive with the same terms as Case 1 and restitution to the victim.

“All of cases run currently, so the total sentence is 15 years to serve 10 years with balance on probation,” Schwartz says. “Although he is parole eligible, with his record and the robbery charge he is not likely to be paroled until he has completed the majority of his sentence.”

Make that armed robbery charges.  Holding a gun to somebody’s head ought to be enough to get you sent away for ten years, no questions asked, but that does not always turn out to be the case.  I am hesitant to criticize judges at precisely the juncture when they being to respond to citizen demands for real incarceration for serious crimes, but I still have to ask — what happened in court the other 24 times he was arrested?

And that leads to another question: whither those other 24 alleged crimes?  What becomes of them, statistically?

Killingsworth reminds readers:

Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Andrew Schwartz says he believes the presence of neighborhood representatives made a difference. “In my opinion, the reason Mr. Grier received this sentence is because of your community’s involvement and willingness to come to court.”

Here is a notice from the Fulton County CourtWatch about a pending case involving another serious repeat offender.  Several things about his record stand out:

–Demetrius Lester is an 17-Time Convicted Felon.*
–Lester is charged with 3 Felonies – Theft by Receiving (Auto), Criminal
Damage to in the Second Degree and Fleeing & Attempting to Elude.
* The previous notice stated that Lester had 18 prior felony
convictions.  Another review showed that one Burglary case had been
reduced to Theft by Receiving (Misdemeanor).  Therefore, he has 17 prior
convictions.

Seventeen convictions.  What on earth were the sentences?  There are repeat offender laws in Georgia.  If they have so little teeth, or if some loophole is enabling judges to ignore them, why isn’t the legislature doing something about it?

Not to make light of this man’s behavior, but when I looked up his state prison record, I could not help but be amazed by the number of aliases he has accumulated:

KNOWN ALIASES
A.K.A. HAWKINS,DENICO
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETERIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRE
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRIC
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRIUS MICHAEL
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRTIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS MICHA
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUIS MICHAEL
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETRUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMETTUIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DEMTRIUS
A.K.A. LESTER,DOMETRE
A.K.A. RACKO,FREDDY
A.K.A. ROOKS,TRAVIS
A.K.A. SMITH,DARRLY
A.K.A. SMITH,DARRYL
A.K.A. VESTER,DEMETRIUS
A.K.A. WOODS,ANTONIO

Freddy Racko? That’s not a very good alias.  If I met somebody named Freddy Racko, I would assume they were doing something illegal.

OK, back to not being amused. Lester/Hawkins/Racko/Rooks/Smith/Vester/Woods has three separate burglary convictions.  Two homes and a church, this man entered.  Four separate convictions for breaking into cars.  One conviction for possession of firearm by a felon.  Not one, but two terrorist threats and acts convictions.  Two obstructions of a law enforcement officer.  One criminal interference of government property.

Eight separate stints in state prison, and who knows how many arrests.  This is beyond revolving door justice.  More from Fulton County CourtWatch:

Facts:  Around 10:00AM on Tuesday June 9, 2009, Officers J. Storno and
I. Streeter of Zone 3 saw the Defendant driving without a seatbelt in
the area of Grant Terrace and Georgia Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312 (between
NPU-W and NPU-V).  Upon initiating a traffic stop, the Defendant sped
away at a high rate of speed and in a manner that was dangerous to the
public.  At one point, the vehicle flew off the ground and caused a
smoky haze upon landing.  The Defendant finally hit a telephone pole and
fled on foot.  Officers Storno and Streeter were eventually able to
apprehend the suspect after an extended chase.

I have spoken to the victim of the car theft.  He has been left without
a vehicle and has endured a significant financial hardship as a result
of having his car stolen.  His vehicle was a total loss and the
insurance company had to pay off his lien-holder, leaving the victim
without a car. Fortunately, no one was injured during Defendant’s
attempt to elude the police but, according to the officers, he was
driving in a manner that easily could have injured someone.  Defendant
is also suspected in other car break-ins in the Summerhill and Grant
Park neighborhoods.  One incident was caught on video and posted on You
Tube, but a positive ID was not able to be made.

Criminal History:  Defendant has 17 felony convictions, including 5
prior convictions for Entering Auto (all in Fulton County), 3 prior
convictions for Burglary (2 residential, 1 for burglarizing the Georgia
Avenue Presbyterian Church), as well as convictions for Terroristic
Threats, Interference with Government Property and Sale of Marijuana.  I
have obtained certified copies of all of his convictions and will be
presenting them in court.

The District Attorney is asking for the maximum penalty which is 16
years in prison (10 years for Theft by Receiving, 5 years for Criminal
Damage to Property in the Second Degree and 12 months for Fleeing and
Attempting to Elude).  However, under the law, the judge can sentence
the Defendant to anything, including straight probation.  The District
Attorney has recidivised the Defendant under OCGA 17-10-7(c), therefore
the Defendant will have to serve every day of the prison sentence he is
given, if any, without parole.

Community Support is greatly appreciated to keep this repeat offender
incarcerated.

So what is the problem?  It’s called 17-10-7 of the Georgia Code.  It requires people convicted of a second felony to serve their entire sentence.  Sounds good, right?  Except there is nothing in Georgia’s recidivist code that prevents judges from suspending that entire sentence after delivering it.  Thus Freddy Racko can climb into your car, steal it, endanger police and civilian lives, and total the car — yet still walk away without a single day in prison.

Hopefully, it won’t happen this time.  But how many times has it happened with Racko(Lester) before?  How many times, outside those 17 convictions, have charges against him been dropped?  How many charges were dropped in the process of assigning those 17 felonies?  It boggles the mind.

And remember, those are only the times he got caught.

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.”

Court Watching in Atlanta Scores a Victory — and Kudos to Judge Wendy Shoob

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From Marcia Killingsworth’s always informative blog, Intown Writer, this story of keeping career criminal Andre Grier off the streets.  For now, at least:

[R]ecently, CourtWatch Coordinator Janet Martin and one of our community prosecutors Assistant District Attorney Kimani King alerted us to State of Georgia vs. Andre Grier 09SC77314, a case coming before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy L. Shoob.

This was a bad guy, but we knew that wasn’t enough to ensure that he wouldn’t be put back out in our neighborhoods. According to the information we got from the DA, Andre Grier’s record includes 27 arrests with at least three felony convictions. He was also convicted of entering auto and he has at least two drug convictions. At the time the latest incident occurred – a car break-in – he was out on bond on robbery charges that were later upgraded to armed robbery.

Grier was in court to ask to be released on bond. And not just any bond, a signature bond, which – as I understood it – he just signs his name, puts up no money and swears to be good if they let him out.  Additionally, although he had two other bonds on pending charges which he had committed while he was out on bond, he was asking to have this third bond lowered.

Really, who could make this up?

Here is what happens when the curtain gets pulled back on the criminal courts.  One might ask: why would Andre Grier assume he could be released on a signature bond when he had two other bonds pending for crimes he had committed the last two times somebody had let him walk, once on a serious, violent gun crime?

Because the last two times he appeared before a judge in Fulton County, that judge did let him walk.  And out of 27 arrests, he was convicted only three times.  What happened to the other 24 crimes?

If you are Andre Grier, out there committing crimes, 9 times out of ten when you get arrested, there are no consequences.  Not bad odds, especially considering that the police cannot possibly have caught you every single time you commited a crime.

But this time, Andre Grier’s assumptions about the justice system did not pan out:

So Andre Grier was brought before Judge Shoob (whose name every CourtWatcher and their neighborhoods will remember when judicial elections come up).  Judge Shoob was discerning enough to note Grier’s record. In doing so, she outlined to the defendant and his lawyer – in an Are-you-sure-this-is-what-you’re-asking? tone – that he had been arrested in January, and while he was out on bond for that one, he committed the crime he was there for today… and that these two most recent crimes were while he was out on bond for yet another pending case – the armed robbery – and that in essence, he was asking to be let out a third time – well, third time’s the charm, right? – even though he had violated the terms of his previous releases.

I’m thrilled to see this.  But what does it say about the Fulton Superior Court that such vigilance is noteworthy?  Who let Grier walk free after he pulled a gun on an innocent victim a few months ago?  Why is it that anybody who has been arrested for armed robbery gets released from jail while charges are pending?  Marcia continues:

Judge Shoob observed to Grier that it appeared that every time he was released on bail, he went back to the same neighborhood and committed the same kinds of crimes, and yet he expected to be released again as he had been before.

But I guess Grier got “third time’s the charm” mixed up with “three strikes and you’re out.”

Judge Shoob didn’t.

She told him that he was not getting out of jail today or tomorrow or anytime soon. In fact, she said, with the armed robbery on top of his other convictions, he was looking at a mandatory 10 years to life sentence. So, she said, Mr. Grier, you are not going anywhere for a long, long time. No bond. Back to jail. Period.

That’s a good outcome.  Hopefully, as more people become involved in CourtWatch, there will be fewer outcomes like the one Andre Grier was expecting.

“National Network for Safe Communities” or More of the Same Old Song?

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The newest hot thing in crime reduction is actually an old idea that has been tried again and again, at staggering cost, with little objective evaluation of the results.  It is now being re-packaged as an initiative called National Network for Safe Communities, and several large cities are already signing on.  The idea is to “reach out” to the most prolific criminals, the ones who control drug dealing and gang activities, and try to engage them in dialogue to get them to stop dealing, robbing, and shooting — before threatening them with prison.

To put it another way, cities overwhelmed by crime will hand over yet another get-out-of-jail-free card to offenders who already, in reality, have fistfuls of them.  Cities will reinforce the status and egos of the worst offenders by engaging them in “dialogue”  (predictably, some of these offenders will simply use their new status to grow their criminal enterprise, like this M-13 gang member/executive director of Homies Unidos, a “nationally recognized anti-gang group”).  Cities will create and subsidize larger numbers of expensive, redundant, slush-fund “job outreach programs” and “youth intervention initiatives” and “community summits” and “lock-downs service provision weekends” — more, that is, than even exist now.

This is an act of desperation. Every decade or so, this idea gets the green light, or at least a new name.  Then a whole lot of money gets pumped into completely unaccountable non-profits.  Next, unsurprisingly, the politically-connected activists who draw their salaries from said non-profits declare success; newspaper reporters pen feel-good stories (before, occasionally, moving on to exposés); politicians declare victory; then academicians with ties to the politicians and activists go in and create positive “evaluations” of the programs they have been asked to evaluate positively (nobody ever reports failure: it simply is not done).

I used to (unwillingly) play this racket, so I know how it works.

How do you justify shelling out millions of dollars to essentially non-existent “jobs programs”?  First and foremost, you set your “program goals” ridiculously low.  Here is an example from yesterday’s news: according to the Boston Globe, the Boston Foundation recently set out to fund-raise 26 million dollars to institute a safe communities gang intervention program.  26 million dollars, yet their “goal” was to have “13 new street workers in targeted neighborhoods by March” and eventually 25, as well as paying existing non-profits to provide vague and redundant services like “job training” and “family support.”

Wow.  Those are some good-paying community outreach jobs.

Of course, months and millions of dollars later, they have not even succeeded in the paltry goal of getting 13 workers on the ground.  Instead, the “coalition” of community groups, all expecting fat handouts, has dissolved into predictable warfare over who gets what.  Rather than reducing gang conflict, it might be said that the program has succeeded in fomenting more of it.  Nonetheless, at the end of five years, so long as they manage to produce 25 people who will claim to have been doing “gang outreach,” then they will meet their “program goals.”

In my painfully vast experience of performing community outreach, I have learned a couple of hard and fast rules:

  • The most effective community workers are the ones who get paid the least and have the lowest profile in “coalition” boondoggles — because they choose to spend their time actually helping people, not lining their pockets.
  • Beware all expenditures on laptops, Blackberries, cell phones, computer software, car rentals, print materials and tee-shirts with logos: these materials are inevitably “provided” at ten or twenty times the actual cost through “vendors” who often turn out the be married to politicians or just friends of the mayor.  The electronics will inevitably disappear.
  • With the exception of Job Corps, which addresses the needs of late-adolescent foster care children in residential settings, and Goodwill, which is an amazing organization, “job training” is largely a mythical creature.  I have never seen a job training program (besides Job Corps and Goodwill) in Atlanta that was not essentially fake.  You get a bunch of computers (see vendors, above), stick them in a church basement (paying the politically-connected minister for “rent”), and then pay a couple of kids or homeless guys to put on a show for the academician who shows up to evaluate the program (who also gets paid).
  • A very substantial proportion of any outreach grant gets spent on pricey conferences where activists (who are getting paid to attend) meet with other activists (who are getting paid to attend) in nice hotels and eat nice meals (that are paid for) while pretending to exchange ideas and information.  Sometimes, these banquets and hotel events don’t have any purpose beyond celebrating or congratulating the program participants and the providers.  In both cases, expensive silk-screened tee-shirts and caps and bags and other gimmies must be manufactured to commemorate the event (at ten to twenty times the actual cost, see above).
  • The less likely the idea, the more likely it is to be endorsed by someone.  The less successful the outcome, the more successful the next grant application cycle will be, because the “demonstrable need” will have risen.  Funding for failure is the formula; funding for fantastical failure, the gold standard.  Success in Boston is being measured by the fact that someone managed to get a handful of ex-con “outreach” workers onto the streets with a mere 8.8 million dollars.  They did decide against spending $50,000 to play laser tag with gun felons.  I think.

Underlying this latest round of “gang leader outreach” programs is a solid criminological insight: small numbers of youths are responsible for the majority of urban crime.  David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay, designed the “persuasion-based” policies of Safe Communities after his research detailed these concentrations of crime.

So why not move into high-crime areas and build strong, comprehensive cases against these prolific offenders, instead of “reaching out” to them and essentially excusing their latest crimes?  When I look at a program like Safe Communities, I see failure in the courts.  It has simply become too difficult to put even the worst, most violent criminals away.  Community leaders, negotiating with their hands tied behind their backs, are forced to try to break bread with offenders instead, especially in the current anti-incarceration regime.

Then there’s the care and feeding of the “outreach machine,” which can derail even the most promising and well-intentioned intervention program.  Every city has one, a slick, politically-connected, vocal, and corrupt cabal that makes their living off a steady flow of block grants and foundation money and community development funds.  Cut off their money, and you will find yourself on the receiving end of protests staged by people who figured out a long time ago that paying a few homeless guys to hold up signs and chant slogans for the 5:00 news is a great way to make a fast dime.

It takes considerable political courage to stand up to this racket.  Nevertheless, reality eventually intrudes.  A couple of years, a bunch of scandals, millions of dollars, and a few avoidable deaths later, expect cities to quietly abandon these programs again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vast majority of suspects receive very little punishment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His punishment: 23 days in jail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Fulton County, Georgia to Put More Defendants Back on the Streets (Translation Provided)

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Why not spend the money actually trying the cases instead?  Why bother having a justice system at all?

Court Program to Save Fulton $5.5 Million

A program that began April 1 will increase the number of defendants given pretrial release is expected to save Fulton County taxpayers more than $5.5 million a year in jail costs.

That’s “savings” as in “we’re going to shuffle these costs further down the line in some crazed and futile attempt to get through this budget year, knowing full well that our deception will be papered over by our criminologist friends (thank you, Pew Center!!!) who are busy inventing statistics that don’t take into account the added costs arising from additional victimizations, additional police investigations, and additional court cases that will result from releasing offenders pre-trial — not to mention the overall effect of further reducing the dwindling consequences for committing crimes.”

The Superior Court of Fulton County’s Pretrial Services will operate the new Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) which was recently funded by the Fulton County Commission. The program will provide rigorous supervision of defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria.

That’s “defendants who don’t qualify for release under existing criteria” as in “we already let a shocking number of people go before trial or case disposition — boy, you would probably be really surprised to see some of the people we let go — but we’re still so utterly disorganized and underfunded and distracted and in some cases, just lazy, that we’re going to swing open those prison gates just a little bit wider.”

Over the past decade the Court’s existing Pretrial Services program has racked up an impressive record of reducing jail costs while ensuring that over 95 percent of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings.

That’s “over 95% of program defendants show up for all scheduled court hearings” as in “5% of the people who do something serious enough to end up in jail don’t show up in court after we let them go before trial.  Since we have an acknowledged backlog of some 6,000 cases, that’s 300 absconders just from the cases that are backlogged.”

The new ISP will supervise about 150 additional defendants per month.

Candidates for the program are:

• Youthful defendants charged with non-violent crimes that the Judiciary deem appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available.

That’s “appropriate for release if heightened supervision is available” as in “since we already release juvenile offenders almost automatically, even if they have been involved in home invasions or gun crimes or assaults, these kids are really scary, but we’re going to let the go anyway if heightened supervision is available.

• Defendants whose community ties cannot be “verified” or those who have not established a six month residency in the Atlanta metropolitan area
•Defendants, with little or no criminal history, charged with property crimes who do not meet normal pretrial release criteria.

That’s “little or no criminal history” as in “pretty much everything is little criminal history these days, especially since we keep giving people first-offender status for their sixth or eighth crime” and “property crimes that do not meet normal pretrial release criteria” as in ” kicking down your front door and luckily nobody got killed.  This time.”

•Defendants referred to the ISP by a judge.

That’s “referred by a judge” as in “like the judge who let rapper T.I. free on a gun charge because he’s rich, or the judge who let murderer Shamal Thompson go because he said he was a wedding dress designer.”

ISP release requirements may include:

That’s “may include” as in “not will include or must include, but may include.  Or, thus, may not.”

•In-person office contact twice a week
•Weekly field visits to defendant’s home/employer
•Curfew
•Electronic Monitoring
•Seek full-time employment if not already employed.
•Attend in-house life skills programs or community service programs.
•Be employed or actively seeking employment or school
•Defendants without high school diploma must enter GED program
•Social service agency referrals where appropriate
•Immediate sanctions in response to program infractions

That’s “immediate sanctions” as in “is that anything like the sanctions attempted murderer Joshua Norris didn’t receive when he threatened two young women with a gun while he was out on bail for repeatedly shooting another person, as in, no sanctions, unless you count being praised for stayin’ in school and then having all your other violent gun charges reduced to community service by fawning court officers as a sanction?”

The ISP will notify the Court, District Attorney, and Defense Counsel of any violations of release conditions.

That’s “will notify . . . of any violations” as in “What?  They do this already, don’t they?”

***

Here is a troubling statistic: the Department of Justice reports that in 2002 (the latest figures available)  one-third of all defendants arrested for felony crimes were “active” in the system at the time of their arrest — in other words, on parole, probation, or pre-trial release.

Here is another troubling statistic: “[t]he Fulton county jail currently has a backlog of about 880 prisoners who have been awaiting trial — most for felonies like murder, rape or armed robbery.”

32% of the people booked into the system for new felony crimes are under court supervision yet on the streets when they commit those crimes, and most of the people currently incarcerated but available for pre-trial release in Fulton County are charged with felonies like murder, rape, and armed robbery.

Hypothetically, how much money could Fulton County save if it reduced the felony crime rate by 32%  —  by not letting people out of jail while awaiting trial or finishing their sentences?

Vaut mieux prévenir que guérir. Except, apparently, in the Fulton County Courts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is the mama?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also shot another student.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The arrangement constitutes a bizarre twist of fate for Johnson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And nearly killed.  But it gets worse.

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

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

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

Georgia Code, 16-5-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, back in the victim’s world:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, there’s more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Lavelle McNutt: Another Serial Rapist Allowed to Walk the Streets of Atlanta

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Last week, I wrote about Lavelle McNutt, a serial rapist given many second chances. His Georgia Department of Corrections record is a record of something else, as well: our failure to imprison repeat offenders, even after the 1994 sentencing reform law was passed.

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported a few weeks ago, McNutt’s first adult rape conviction, for two separate rapes in New York State, occurred in 1976, just after he turned 18. When you see an 18-year old convicted of a serious offense, you have to wonder about the contents of his sealed juvenile record: 18-year olds don’t wake up one day, break into the first house they see, and rape the occupant. They usually start experimenting with sexual abuse early in adolescence, victimizing their siblings, peers, and other easy targets. How many children and young women had already been sexually assaulted by McNutt by the time he aged out of the juvenile system?

I believe those victims exist, and that unlike Lavelle McNutt, they were abandoned by society. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the football coaches and college presidents who treated McNutt like a victim because he was a rapist abetted him in his crimes, thus sentencing his victims to a lifetime without justice.

The two rape victims in the New York State cases were also denied justice, only in a different way. McNutt was sentenced to a preposterously light term of five years for the two rapes. He served less than three years of that, and by 1979 he was a college student at Atlanta’s Morehouse University. Almost immediately, he was charged in another sexual assault, this time for aggravated sodomy. In May, 1979, he began serving a seven-year sentence for that crime. He got out in three years.

In 1982, Lavelle McNutt was 24 years old and already had three adult sexual assault convictions on his record. Two years later, he was convicted of aggravated assault in Clayton County. Was that a rape case, pled down to a non-sexual charge? He also had a burglary conviction in Fulton County, date unknown. Burglary and aggravated assault charges from the early 1980’s might very well have been rapes, or attempted rapes. Atlanta was notorious at that time for going easy on sex offenders — thanks largely to irresponsible jurors who rendered sex crime prosecutions almost impossible to win, regardless of the circumstances. An ugly contempt for victims of rape was the status quo in the courts. The malaise incited by public prejudices towards victims crashed the entire system, and Atlanta was a rapist’s paradise. And a victim’s nightmare. It would be very interesting to know more about those crimes.

In 1984, McNutt was sentenced to five years for the aggravated assault. Oddly, he did serve nearly all of that sentence, receiving only a few months off, probably for the time he was behind bars awaiting sentencing. This is another reason I suspect that the underlying crime was something more serious than aggravated assault. In any case, for five years the public was protected from him. Pre-sentencing reform, this was the best a prosecutor could do. In August, 1989, he was free again.

In 1992, McNutt was charged in Fulton County with the offense called “Peeping Tom.” Funny as that sounds, he was probably casing out a victim to rape or amusing himself between more serious attacks. He received three years for the Fulton crime and 12 months for a crime labeled “other misdemeanor” in Gwinnett County. He was out again two years later, in 1994.

Georgia’s sentencing reform law was passed in 1994. It was supposed to enhance sentencing for repeat offenders and extend sentences significantly for so-called “serious violent offenders.” But the law was passed with several default mechanisms that enabled judges to keep releasing repeat offenders onto the streets. Consider this language:

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 [italics inserted]. (O.C.G.A. 17-10-7)

In other words, a criminal must be sentenced to the maximum penalty the second time he is convicted of a felony unless the judge decides to sentence him to something other than the maximum penalty, such as no time at all, as in the case of six-time home burglar Johnny Dennard. What is the point of a law like this? The point is that the criminal defense bar still controlled the Georgia Legislature in 1994, and other elected officials lacked the courage to stand up to them. The rest of the story is that too many judges betray disturbing pro-defendant biases, even when it comes to violent predators like Lavelle McNutt.

Nevertheless, other portions of the 1994 sentencing reform law did strengthen sentences for repeat offenders. In 1996, McNutt was charged with aggravated assault and stalking in Fulton County. Aggravated assault is not one of the “seven deadly sins” that trigger sentencing as a “serious violent felon” under the 1994 act: if it were, he would have been sentenced to life without parole due to his prior rape convictions.

Yet even as a “non-serious violent felon” repeat offender, McNutt was still required under the 1994 sentencing reform act to serve the entire sentence for his crimes. But he didn’t. He was sentenced to six years and served less than four. He walked into prison in January, 1997 and walked out again three and a half years later, in July of 2000. Even counting the time he may have spent cooling his heels in the Fulton County jail before being transferred to the state prison (or maybe not), he was out of prison four years and two months after the date of the crime for which he was sentenced to no less than six years behind bars, with no parole.

Here is the code section that restricts parole for four-time felons:

[A]ny 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. (from O.C.G.A. 17 -10-7)

Can anybody explain the fact that McNutt was granted parole? Who let him go early, apparently in direct violation of Georgia’s reformed sentencing law? Did the prosecutors fail to record his three prior felony convictions dating back to 1976 — two rapes (counted as one, unfortunately), aggravated sodomy, and the 1984 aggravated assault? Did the judge ignore the law of Georgia in sentencing McNutt? Did the Department of Corrections ignore the no-parole rule? Who is responsible?

For that matter, why didn’t the judge give McNutt a longer sentence in the first place? How could any judge look at the accumulated evidence of violently predatory sexual behavior, of repeat offenses rolling in after each brief incarceration, and not decide that it was his or her duty to protect the public for longer than six years? Does anybody on the criminal justice bench in Atlanta even contemplate public safety in sentencing?

Furthermore, why was McNutt charged with stalking and aggravated assault for the same incident? Was he actually attempting to commit a sexual assault? Could he have been charged with attempted sexual assault instead, a charge that would have triggered the life sentence (read: 14 years) as a serious violent felon and repeat offender? Was he permitted to plead to a charge that didn’t carry life imprisonment? Did the Fulton prosecutor’s office do everything it could do to keep McNutt off the streets, given his disturbing prior history and relentless sequence of serious crimes?

Also, was McNutt’s DNA checked before he was released from prison in 2000? Could other rapes have been solved, and charged, before he walked out of prison again? How many rapes could have been prevented, including the four recent Buckhead-area sex crimes, if this had been done? His first adult rape conviction occurred in 1976 — his latest rape charges occurred quite recently. Does anybody believe he took a twenty-year hiatus from hunting and torturing women?

Until his most recent arrest, Lavelle McNutt had been a free man since July, 2000, working in Atlanta-area restaurants, even managing them. He wasn’t hiding. As if his prior record isn’t bad enough, the current allegations about him are sickening: an informant reported that he carried “duct tape, wigs, lubricant and sex toys” in his car, to use during sexual assaults. We have all certainly helped him along on the road to perfecting his torture of women.

Why doesn’t a case like this capture the imagination of Atlanta’s many criminologists and law professors who rail endlessly against the putative cruelty of three-strikes laws (when they aren’t busy inventing fake statistical measurements to downplay the city’s crime numbers)? Why aren’t elected officials asking some very hard questions about the enforcement of the laws they passed? Why isn’t the GBI offering a clarification about the status of McNutt’s DNA profile, the date it was entered into the state database, and the number of rape kits it matched?

Why isn’t somebody calling for an audit of the possible prosecution, sentencing, and parole errors that released McNutt to the streets, over and over and over again?

Recidivist Chutes and Ladders: The Russell Burton Record

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The children’s board game, Chutes and Ladders, offers a clearer template for understanding our criminal justice system than a hundred studies put forth by academicians and think tanks.  Here is one example:

Russell Burton, who has been called a “Ted Bundy in the making,” was born in 1967.  According to the Los Angeles Daily News, when Burton was 17, he was arrested in Lancaster, California and charged with “breaking into a woman’s apartment and fondling her in bed.”  “Fondling” is a troubling term here: you fondle your child, or a puppy.  When you break into a woman’s house and try to rape her, that isn’t “fondling.” (“81 Years for Sexual Predator,” L.A. Daily News, 4/27/05, fee for link)

LADDERS:  But apparently, the judge felt otherwise.  A Los Angeles Juvenile Court Judge allowed Burton to avoid prosecution for B & E and attempted rape — by joining the Army.  The Army accepted him, and he was stationed in Georgia.  Thus, in 1984, nearly ten years after the first hard-won battle for rape law reform, the sentence for breaking into a woman’s house and attempting to rape her could still be no sentence at all.

Columbus, Georgia has paid a high price in violent sex crimes.  Several serial offenders have cut a bloody path through that town —  and the Army did precious little to stop at least two of them.

On September 3, 1987, Burton pulled alongside a car being driven by three teenage girls in Columbus, Georgia, near Fort Benning, where he was stationed.  He got the girls to pull over by indicating that something was wrong with their car, pointed a gun at them, and forced them to drive to a remote area.  He raped one girl and orally sodomized the other two.

Benning was 19 years old when he committed this crime.  The sophistication of the attack and the high risk involved — multiple victims, gun use, confrontation in a public place, abduction from one location to another — indicates that he was already an experienced, violent rapist.

CHUTES: In 1988, Burton was sentenced to life for the rape, 20 years for the kidnapping, and 20 years for the sodomy.  He entered prison in Georgia with a life sentence.  There was no sentence of life without parole in Georgia at that time.

Astonishingly, life without parole only became an option in Georgia a few week ago, during the 2009 Georgia General Assembly (previously, a prosecutor had to try for the death penalty to qualify a case for life without parole).  Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, when Democrats controlled the Georgia legislature, defense attorneys controlled the judiciary committees.  Credit where credit is due: such sentencing reform only became a reality in Georgia when Republicans took over both chambers.

LADDERS:  In any case, Burton didn’t have to wait for any parole board to cut him loose: the United States Court of Appeal for the 11th Circuit did that in February, 2002, fourteen years after he was sent away for life.  The Court granted Burton a new trial on the grounds that the district attorney “inappropriately” mentioned that Burton had exercised his right to remain silent when he was arrested.  Now, I know that constitutional attorneys would argue that mentioning Burton’s demeanor upon arrest is horribly prejudicial and tramples all over his rights.  But this blog isn’t a courtroom, so facts can be stated in plain English here: a violent sexual predator was released from prison because a prosecutor told the truth about what the violent sexual predator did when he was arrested, instead of not telling the truth about it, in a court rigged to let criminals off for virtually anything, instead of designed to discover the actual truth of a case.

Rigged like the fairway games at a sleazy carnival.

Or a dice throw in a children’s board game.  Such is our appeals process.

MORE LADDERS:  Burton was released from prison pending a new trial.  Then somebody decided that it wasn’t worth spending the money to try him again — thus deciding that the safety of women is less valuable than other things we could be spending money on, like appeals for violent rapists like Burton.*  In 2003, he was permitted to plead guilty to one count of rape and three counts of kidnapping in exchange for time served.

MORE CHUTES:  It turned out to be a good thing that Burton was required to plead to a sex offense.  Rapists used to be routinely permitted to plead down to non-sexual offenses.  That is why a high percentage of the first several thousand rapists identified through DNA matches had prior records only for crimes such as substance abuse and burglary, two common pleas that allowed predators to move from place to place and continue committing sex crimes with impunity.

Burton moved back to California and was required to register as a sex offender, which turned out to be one of the many, many thousands of good things that arise from sex offender registries — things you will never read about in any newspaper, of course.  Newspapers depict registering sex offenders as terribly cruel and ineffectual.

Anyway, after the good judges of the 11th Circuit threw Burton’s life sentence out on a technicality, and after the State of Georgia declined to try him again, it took him less than a year to go on a violent, crazed hunting spree against women.  It may have taken even less time, for there are no guarantees that Burton didn’t attack women in Columbus, or elsewhere in Georgia, or Alabama while he was awaiting the re-trial that never happened.

What is certain is that in 2004, freshly arrived from Georgia, he stalked and tried to abduct a woman in a parking lot in Palmdale, California.  The woman escaped.  He then attacked a teenager with a knife, trying to drag her into his car.  She escaped, and he was arrested.  After his arrest, three young girls came forward and reported the following crime:

The girls said a man approached them at the store saying he had car trouble and needed a ride, Lankford said. When he climbed into their car, he threatened one girl with a screwdriver and forced the sisters to take him to another town and back. He then forced one sister to drive his car while he rode with the other two. At a second parking lot the sister driving his car jumped out, and the man ran to his car and sped away. (“Felon Chargd in New Crimes,” Columbus Ledger-Inquirer, 3/2/04, fee for link)

These are the types of crimes that end with children’s bodies melting in the desert.  Luckily, those five victims escaped, but who didn’t?

By 2004, Burton was a fluent advocate for his own rights.  Upon arrest, he said to the police, “I’m a child molester, I want my phone call, and I want my attorney.” (ibid.)  Here is where the sex offender registry comes in: had he not been listed as a sex offender, he certainly would not have mentioned his prior convictions, and he might have been let free to await trial before the three young girls had time to see him in the newspaper or the judge learned of his record in Georgia.  Such things happen all the time, as readers of this blog know.

So the sex offender registry law may have saved lives in California that week.  The next time you read a news story condemning registries, remember Russell Burton.

CHUTES: In 2004, Burton was tried in Los Angeles Superior Court and found guilty of stalking, attempted kidnapping, making terroristic threats, and possession of cocaine.  His sentence for these crimes illustrate the effectiveness of California’s “three-strikes and you’re out” laws:

Burton’s sentence consisted of three terms of 25 years to life plus a one-year weapons enhancement and a five-year prior-serious-felony enhancement. (“Rapist’s Sentence Cut by 25 Years,” Los Angeles Daily News, 10/30/06, fee for link)

A dozen years earlier, prior to sentencing reform, Burton would likely not have received such a long sentence for these crimes, even though he has proven that he poses a serious threat.  And without the “three-strikes” rule, any sentence he did receive would have been slashed automatically the moment he set foot in prison.

LADDERS and CHUTES:  Burton immediately set to appealing his new convictions.  Why not?  In 2006, an appeals court agreed to throw out one of his 25-year sentences, the one for stalking, on the grounds that following a woman from one shopping mall to another did not rise to the level of stalking (the more people learn about the substance of most appeals, the better).  But in addition to doing this, the 2nd District Court of Appeals of California also rejected Burton’s claim that the three-strikes law constituted cruel and unusual punishment because so much time (14 years, to be precise) had elapsed between his crimes.  Here is what the court had to say, as reported in the Los Angeles Post:

“His prior strikes were for serious, violent offenses. So were two of the three convictions for which he was originally sentenced here, presently including the attempted kidnapping of a young woman, using a knife,” the ruling said.

“The interim between the two sets of offenses was consumed mostly by imprisonment, which did not restrain appellant from recommencing the same type of crime upon release. Given appellant’s unbroken history of violent crime, we cannot find this case to be one of the admittedly rare ones in which the recidivist sentence is unconstitutional,” the appeals court said.

CHUTES, CHUTES, CHUTES.  It looks as if Burton has finally lost in his bid to be free, thanks to the public outrage over repeat offenders that inspired changes in state laws and sentencing policies.  We won the game, this time.

But none of these laws are carved in stone, and many voices, including highers-up in the new Justice Department administration, are clamoring to roll back sentencing guidelines, overturn three-strikes laws, and eliminate sex offender registries.  The federal Adam Walsh law, requiring states to participate in a national registration system, is officially in limbo, short-circuiting the next stage of information-sharing between the states.  We’re at an information impasse in other ways, too: if any private industry in America had an IT network resembling that used by most courts, they would cease to exist.

The price of incarceration is eternal vigilance, too.

*Re-trying Burton doubtlessly would have been difficult, especially for the victims.  And it is always a risk to involve jurors in rape cases, for prejudices against rape victims persist and in many ways have grown stronger.  Too many people feel it is their duty to root for convicts as under-dogs, and they stupidly romanticize anyone appealing a case — until it’s their own daughter or mother who gets raped.  But difficulties like this are also used as an excuse to do nothing at all to restrain violent offenders in the interest of saving money in an overwhelmed and under-staffed court system.  This should have been a case where all stops were pulled out to keep Burton in prison.

And So It Begins. . . The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council Strikes Again (With Your Money)

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From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Jury selection in Silver Comet case may be delayed

Prosecutors and defense attorneys Monday discussed delaying for a week jury selection in the capital case against a man accused of killing a woman on the Silver Comet Trail.

The talks began after Michael William Ledford’s attorneys told Paulding County Superior Court Judge James Osborne they may try to withdraw from the death-penalty case because they are not being paid.

Of course, it is the capitol defense bar that bankrupted the defense system in the first place.  Nothing is too good for a capitol defendant — they get multiple, silk-stocking lawyers on the public dime.  Ordinary people waiting for a divorce to work its way through the courts can pay their own way and cool their taxpaying-heels doing so.  You’ve got to kill someone to get access to a support staff like this.

Last month, Osborne ordered the cash-strapped [hmmm] Georgia Public Defender Standards Council to pay bills submitted by defense lawyers Tom West and Jimmy Berry. Those bills now total more than $60,000, West said.

Osborne interrupted the first day of jury selection to consider a motion to hold the council in contempt for not paying the fees. Osborne expressed frustration that the local public defender’s office has money to defend shoplifting cases while the council cannot pay lawyers defending a man whose life is at stake.

Osborne suggested he could order the defender’s office be shut down so Ledford’s lawyers would get paid. But he rejected the contempt motion because Ledford’s lawyers failed to properly serve the council with their motion.

These crack lawyers spent 60K of the public’s money before the trial even started, and yet they somehow bungled an invoice, so consequently an entire courtroom staff — judge, secretaries, guards, transcriptionists — have to stop proceedings and reschedule work, and scores of citizen jurors facing profound disruptions to their lives and jobs are now facing even more uncertainty in this difficult job market?

Does anybody really believe that, after months of alleged non-payment, West and Berry suddenly had to file a motion demanding their fees on the first day potential jurors had to disrupt their own lives to appear in court?  Besides, isn’t invoice-bungling just defense-attorney-tactic #1009 designed to intentionally drive up the costs of trying capitol cases?  Having failed to win their battle with the public or in the legislature, the defense bar has taken this fight to the courtroom, intent on bankrupting public coffers in order to get what they could not get through legitimate means — an end to capitol punishment.

When I see a clearly orchestrated delay like this one, I have to ask: who’s in on it?  Clearly, West and Berry.  What about the local public defender’s office, the highly politicized Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, and the even more highly politicized Georgia Capitol Defenders?  Are they really “dragging their heels,” or are they grandstanding along with Berry and West as part of their stated mission to end capitol cases in Georgia?

Even though they clearly don’t view themselves this way, the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council and Georgia Capitol Defenders are taxpayer-funded agencies.   So here’s the civics lesson for the day: go to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council website.  It’s your website, after all, part of the executive branch of Georgia. Now click on “Death Penalty” to get to the Georgia Capitol Defenders homepage.  You pay for this, too.  Funny, though, it doesn’t look like a government agency website: it looks like the personal homepage for some steroid-addled professional wrestler.

It’s your money, as the McClatchy New Service (motto: “truth to power”) explains in the interestingly titled article: “In Georgia, Group of State-Funded Lawyers Does Whatever is Necessary.”

Apparently, one of the things necessary to a good capitol defense in Georgia is Michael Mears selling his book, or, rather, using taxpayer funds to sell his book.  Click on the “clock” icon on the Georgia Capitol Defenders website.  This is all that comes up:

History of the Death Penalty in Georgia
The Death Penalty in Georgia – A Modern History 1970-2000
Hardback edition includes information such as complete statistics: death sentence, inmate lists.
Author, B Michael Mears, Multi-County Defender, Copyright 1999
Price: $10.00 inclusive of postage
To purchase hardback copy, mail request with check or money order made payable to “GIDC” to:

Att: Robin Fisher
Georgia Indigent Defense Council
104 Marietta Street, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30303

Aren’t you glad we’re using our tax dollars for this?  I’m going to stick my copy right next to the History of the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk of Court’s Office that we also paid for, just as soon as disgraced former Fulton County Superior Court Clerk of Court Juanita Hicks gets around to actually writing it (see this marveolusly bracing editorial by Maureen Downey on the subject).

Of course, shilling a book using taxpayer funds is small, though pricey, potatoes.  The real problem is the vast network of taxpayer-funded employees embedded in the Georgia Capitol Defender’s office who are using our money to lobby against the laws we have passed, instead of representing defendants in capitol cases, which is what we are paying them to do.  Take a good look at their staff.  No fiscal recession in here, Bob.

Meanwhile, district attorneys throughout the state are being forced to send prosecutors home on furloughs, resulting in huge backlogs of criminal cases (many of which will never be tried because of budget-cutting).  See this eye-opening article by Houston County DA Kelly R. Burke, which refutes the claims by the defense bar about the purportedly unilateral effects of budget cuts on defendants (incidentally, Burke manages to provide his constituents with excellent, easily accessed information about what is going on in the courts — while Fulton County and the City of Atlanta spend astronomically higher amounts of money on “public information” without providing any).

So why aren’t any of the dozen or so attorneys from the stretch-limousine staff of the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ office actually sitting at the defendant’s table alongside Michael Ledford in the Silver Comet murder trial?  Those dozen staff attorneys are busy with other things, you see:

The office provides assistance in death penalty cases by: (1) providing training and assistance to attorneys who have been appointed to defend defendants charged with a capitol offense; (2) serving as co-counsel to assist local appointed lead counsel in trial and direct appeal of cases involving defendants facing the death penalty; (3) accepting appointments to provide direct representation as lead counsel in death penalty cases based upon the circumstances of each individual case.

Let me translate: first we pay for the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ staff, then we pay a second time for so-called “local” counsel (which isn’t always local to Georgia because they’re local to other places, like Washington and New York).

How many capitol cases are being tried in Georgia at any given time, anyway?  How much “training and assistance” do public defenders need?

Of course, the public servants at the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ office are busy, spending much of their time filing appeals, premised on the notion — manufactured by the public servants at the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ office — that the good work they do is never good so long as even one blood-soaked psychopath gets the chair.

Talk about job security.  All we have to do in order to reign in their outrageous “training and assistance” budget is let all murderers go free.  Or, conversely, we could ask legislators to audit Georgia Capitol Defenders.  Taxpayers are already funding much of the ideological anti-death penalty movement through university and law school budgets.  Isn’t that enough advocacy on the public dime?

Or we could give in and allow a bunch of activists-cum-advocates derail the democratic process “by any means necessary.”  Then they’ll doubtlessly move on to overturning Georgia’s new Life Without Parole law.  The anti-death penalty movement is already laying the groundwork for this transition.

Expect that bill in the mail, too.

***

The hot air that keeps legal Zeppelins like Georgia Capitol Defenders afloat is serial claims that innocent men are continually being discovered on death row.  It’s not true, despite much careless press to the contrary, but that is a subject for another day.  Tomorrow, I will offer a closer look at the horrific consequences of one life sentence overturned on a technicality — the case of a violent recidivist transplanted to Georgia by a criminally lenient California judge — a favor we returned to the Golden State, in spades.

Meanwhile, the judge in the Silver Comet case should prevent the process from being derailed by naked political maneuvering by the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, or the Georgia Capitol Defender’s office, or whichever branch of the defense bar is responsible for this particular pricey delay.  Tom West and Jimmy Berry misfiled an invoice?  Tough luck: take it off the 60K they’ve already manufactured in pre-trial fees.

They’re supposed to be smart, competent lawyers supported by all the collective wisdom and guidance the taxpayer-subsidized Georgia Capitol Defenders has to offer, right?  Enough is enough.

Recidivism Roulette

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I am traveling to Atlanta this week, so I will stick to a subject that comes painfully easy: recidivism.

Research confirms what common sense has been telling us all along: fewer than 10% of offenders commit 70% of all crimes. Some career criminals admit to hundreds, even thousands of felonies. This should not surprise us: does anybody really believe that people go out and rob one convenience store, or break into one house, then spend the rest of their time mowing their lawns and working nine-to-five?

The fact that there are super-predators out there doesn’t mean that the garden-variety burglar can’t be pretty prolific, too. Many criminologists make it their business to deny both types of recidivism (the big kind and the little kind).  They do this in order to promote a philosophy of crime control that can be summarized this way: “prisons cause crime, not criminals, so if you don’t put people in prison, they won’t become recidivists.”  Which is true, at least on paper, for if you don’t put people in prison when they break into one house, they won’t be counted as recidivists when they break into the next house.

Even a passing glance at academic studies comparing recidivism rates reveal substantial flaws: usually, ex-inmates are tracked for very brief time periods after incarceration, and only certain types of incarceration are counted as repeat offenses.  With the prevalence of plea bargaining, the vast majority of crimes simply get shelved, never to appear on anyone’s record. And with the sealing of juvenile records, crimes committed during some of the most prolific years for criminal behavior are intentionally excluded from recidivism statistics. Academic claims about recidivism are almost universally meaningless.  (Here is an interesting article on the subject as it plays out in Canada.)

***

In Atlanta this week, a particularly horrifying case of violent recidivism is making its slow way to a courtroom. In 2006, Jennifer Ewing was raped and murdered while exercising on the Silver Comet Trail. Michael Ledford, on probation for a previous rape, is charged with the crime: the evidence against him is indisputable.

Defense attorneys don’t like the term “indisputable” unless they can work it to their advantage, which they do by claiming that the mere existence of indisputable evidence means that their client cannot get a fair trial — because “fair” has come to mean “endless tugs at the get-out-of-jail-free card.”  Thus expect a grotesquely expensive jury selection process, then grotesquely expensive hearings disputing Michael Ledford’s mental incompetency, and, throughout, demands for a mistrial because the public happened to find out that Ledford was caught for Ewing’s murder covered in blood, and he has done this before.

How many women has Michael Ledford really raped?  Convicted of rape in Georgia in 1991, he received a heavy sentence for a rape at that time and also served more of that sentence than you usually see, ten full years in prison and ten more on probation.  Ten years behind bars is not unusual today, but few rapists spent that much time in prison prior to the sentencing reform of the mid-1990’s.  So what was the reason for throwing the book at him back then?

I suspect he was a prolific rapist, and police knew it, even though he was only charged with the one crime.  Ledford was 29 when he was sent up for rape; rapists usually start committing sex crimes in their teens.  What was he doing between the ages of 19 and 29?  Who knew about it?  The victim in the 1991 assault told the court that Ledford would doubtlessly rape again.

She was right.  Another question: what was Ledford doing between his release in 2001 and his arrest for Jennifer Ewing’s murder in 2006?  Mowing his lawn?  Working nine-to-five?

The public is being asked to absorb the sure-to-be-excessive legal bill as Ledford’s lawyers attempt to use the strength of the evidence against him to get him off.  The public is also being asked to accept arguments that recidivists belong in the community, not behind bars.  They should not accede to either without receiving full disclosure about many things, including the real criminal histories of people like Michael Ledford: juvenile records, plea bargains, shelved cases, and all.

More Americans in Prison Than (fill in the blank). Here’s the Unasked Question: Why Do We Have So Many More Criminals Committing So Much Crime?

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In merely the latest of an endless series of proclamations that we must do something to get our prison population in line with other countries’, Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Senator Jim Webb have teamed up to create a blue-ribbon panel to rehash the usual themes: reducing levels of drug criminalization, freeing the mentally ill from jails, exploring alternatives to sentencing, and enhancing prisoner re-entry services.  Their goal is to reduce the prevalence of prosecutions so that our incarceration statistics come to resemble statistics in European nations.  Of course, crime, especially violent crime, is vastly more prevalent here; thus, higher rates of incarceration.  But that subject is verboten.  Efforts to avoid acknowledging crime in a discussion about responses to crime lead to convoluted statements like the following:

We are doing something drastically wrong,” said Webb, whose plan also aims to improve the US response to armed gangs, especially drug-related groups, as it seeks to bring the prison population down from about 2.4 million people.

And this, directly from the normally straight-shooting Senator Webb:

“We are not protecting our citizens from the increasing danger of criminals who perpetrate violence and intimidation as a way of life, and we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail,” said Webb.

So, we are going to bring down the prison population but improve the response to armed gangs?  Let more people out of jail but protect our citizens from violence?  Look at the prior records of people in Georgia who were identified as rapists after DNA sampling became the law.  Mostly, they had prior records for burglary and drug charges, not violent crimes.  If we had not been enforcing the law for these crimes (as many are proposing now), and sending these men to prison (not community control, where they would not be tested), then scores of rapes would have gone unsolved.   

Is it really true that we have the wrong people behind bars and not enough of the right people there? Or is the truth more simple (albeit troubling): could we actually need to put more people behind bars to ensure public safety, European incarceration statistics notwithstanding? 

I agree with one stated goal of the commission: I’m all for improving services to the mentally ill.  But prisons don’t cause substandard mental health care; they are merely one of the two institutions of last resort (the other being homeless shelters) that deal with the chronically mentally ill in the absence of long-term inpatient treatment.  The prison system has served this thankless role since the 1970’s, when inpatient facilities were shuttered as a result of civil rights lawsuits.  Ever since, people who cannot or will not take care of themselves have been “free” to make their way on the streets, for better or worse.

No amount of fiddling with the criminal justice system will change this fact.  Nor will activists permit a return to institutionalization, no matter how enlightened and humane.  Taking so much as one homeless schizophrenic off the streets and placing her in an institution, even if she is assaulting passers-by and in constant danger of victimization herself, will only result in an endless series of expensive (and taxpayer-subsidized) lawsuits to restore her to her previous condition, no matter how imperiled and degraded.

Activist lawyers know they can sue to de-fund any effort to move homeless people from jails or the streets to other institutions.  And so we will be left with dockets jammed with lawsuits and a billion-dollar prosecution and indigent defense bill, and nothing else will change, except that we will be that much more unable to fund the prosecution of predators and felons.

This is, of course, the real aim of the anti-incarceration crowd.  Depleting criminal justice resources, either through endless appeals or endless lawsuits, has been more effective at freeing higher percentages of criminals than any other strategy.  If you don’t have the money to pay prosecutors, you can’t prosecute crimes.  If you furlough police, they don’t have time to show up in court to testify.  If defense attorneys don’t get paid, trials can’t proceed. Courts from Oregon to Jacksonville have been forced to suspend prosecutions because their budgets are depleted.  Once the courts are in a financial crisis, the pressure to shed lower-level prosecutions grows into mass abandonment of most prosecutions.  

Every day, thousands of citizens are already denied justice for victimizations large and small because we have already severely rationed their access to the justice system.  Their stolen car, or lawn-mower, or television set will not be taken seriously because nobody has the time or money to take it seriously.  If you live in Oregon, that guy rooting around in your garage, or assaulting a security guard, isn’t even facing jail time anymore:

In Lane County, the number of prosecutors has dropped from 28 to 23 in less than a decade, according to Chief Deputy Patty Perlow. That means the district attorney’s office funnels hundreds of defendants accused of nonviolent crimes — such as forgery, criminal trespass and theft of goods worth less than $750 — into a program that fast-tracks their cases. If defendants agree to pay restitution and take a correspondence course about the impact of their bad behavior, their charges will be dismissed.

Perlow was exasperated last year after winning a felony conviction against a man who stole shoes from the University of Oregon bookstore, then injured a security officer by slamming him against a wall. The judge sentenced the man to a year in the Lane County jail, but because of budget cuts, there wasn’t room for him. The man served less than a day.

“It was embarrassing,” Perlow said. “It was a waste of everyone’s time.”

And yet, in the press, this reality barely registers, because it flies in the face of the preferred media storyline: 

America incarcerates more people than (Iran, China, Germany, South Africa).  See how this article on the Webb/Specter task force summarizes such comparisons, in lieu of a discussion of the reality of crime in America:

More than one percent of adults in the United States sit behind bars. . .

By comparison, China, with a population of one billion people, was second in the world with 1.5 million inmates, followed by Russia with 890,000 people in the slammer, the study said.

America’s incarceration rate exceeds that of nations like South Africa and Iran.

By comparison, 93 people in Germany are in prison for every 100,000 people, including minors, the Washington-based independent research group said. The rate is about eight time higher in the United States: 750 per 100,000.

Therefore, such stories go, incarceration in America is illegitimate. 

What is left out of this story, of course, is the relative prevalence of crime in America.  I defer to a reader:

I used to live in Slovenia, which has a crime rate approaching zero. Believe me, to live without real fear of crime is an incredibly liberating feeling. Conversely, when I lived in Brooklyn, I did actually have to live every minute looking over my shoulder, a way of living that is really draining.                                                                                                                                                                                                              -Mark Nuckols

The following, simple fact seems beyond the comprehension of nearly every daily newspaper in the United States:

We have more people in prison because we have more criminals committing crime here.

More On The Oakland Police Killings

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In an article purportedly about Lovelle Mixon’s criminal record (he has been linked to one rape through DNA and is being investigated in another), the San Francisco Chronicle inexplicably chose to give the deceased quadruple murderer several column inches to assert his innocence, good intentions, and career goals.  He apparently thought he was a pretty good guy, carjackings, attempted murders, and sundry crimes notwithstanding:

Mixon’s version

Mixon told authorities that in the attempted carjacking, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did not act responsible and allowed someone else to act just as bad,” according to the report. “Now I have to take responsibility for it all.”

Mixon also is quoted in the report as saying he planned to move away to “a better area, get a job, and hopefully in about two or three years get my own business, raise my kids in a responsible way.”

“I wish I could fix or make up for what happened,” Mixon was quoted as saying. “But I can’t, so I am going to attempt to make the best out of it and learn as much as possible to help me when I get out.”

At the time, Mixon had a 1-year-old son but was not paying child support because he was unemployed, the probation report said.

In 2000, he worked for six months as a grocery packer for Webvan in Oakland, making $10 an hour, the report said. The next year he spent three months as an inventory worker for another Oakland company and made $9 an hour.

How, precisely, do you call arming yourself and committing a violent carjacking “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”?  How do you “make the best” of the fact that you have beaten and could have killed an innocent victim?  How do you “take responsibility” for a crime by denying that you intended to commit it?

The real problem isn’t that Lovelle Mixon said these things.  The problem is that so many of the people who are entrusted to keep the Lovelle Mixons of the world from harming others say and believe the types of things Mixon said about himself.

A judge believes the lies of a recidivist burglar who claims he has stopped offending (with some exceptions, of course) and shouldn’t go to jail for his latest crime because he might lose his (probably imaginary) job. Naive activists buy (with your tax dollars) into the idea that violent recidivists will change their ways if only they get the chance to read a good book, and recidivists are set free to read books with them.   

And a publicly-funded radio station gives a cop killer his own show.  Did Lovelle Mixon listen to Mumia Abu Jabal’s taxpayer-subsidized cop-hating ravings on Bay Area radio before gunning down four police officers?

Pushing back against all of this pro-criminal, anti-victim sentiment is hard.  Being a cop-killer on death row gets you your own radio show and endless cachet with academicians and media types, the people who set the terms of debate about criminal justice in America.  Being a crime victim gets you silenced, first by the criminal, then by the opinion-makers.  But to the credit of the San Francisco Chronicle, they do preface Lovelle Mixon’s words with the words of the man he car-jacked.  They’re worth reading carefully:

Victim’s story

The victim, Francisco Cardenas, told police that Mixon was holding a gun as the three “got me out of my car, telling me to shut up,” court records show. As he tried to run, the assailants hit him.

“Then I saw one of them shooting his gun at me,” Cardenas said. “After that, I don’t remember any more.”

Cardenas required 16 stitches. The men drove off in a car without stealing the truck, and police arrested Mixon and the others a short distance away. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.

In a sentencing report, San Francisco probation officer Yvonne Williams wrote that Mixon’s juvenile record was that of a “cold-hearted individual who does not have any regard for human life.” She said state prison was the only way to “to rein in this man’s proclivity for violence.”

Somebody needs to promote Yvonne Williams and let the rest of us see what she saw in Mixon’s juvenile record.  If Williams’ words had been taken seriously, four men might be going home to their wives and children tonight.  

And somebody else needs to ask the question: why wasn’t Mixon charged with attempted murder?  Is bad aim a murder defense?

“What Went Wrong” in the Murder of Four Oakland, CA Police [Update #1, Below, 3/24]

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Yesterday morning, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about “what went wrong” in the quadruple murder of police officers in Oakland, California.  The focus of that story was police procedure — an understandable line of inquiry with four policemen’s lives lost at two crime scenes.  Today, both the Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times ran stories covering the problems that arise when violent offenders like Lovelle Mixon, the man who killed the officers, are released on parole.

The Chronicle, however, starts every story by stressing how rare it is that parolees resort to violence.  And, of course, killing four officers is a thankfully rare tragedy.  But, as the Chronicle itself notes, fully two-thirds of California parolees are returned to prison for violating parole.  That’s two-thirds of the state’s 122,000 parolees.  Is violence really “rare” in this vast group of offenders?  Why do some newspapers reflexively minimize such horrific numbers, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the murder of four policemen?  There are more than 16,000 parolees in California currently wanted for parole violations.  12% of parolees in California abscond immediately upon leaving prison.  

There is nothing “rare” about these events.

When hashing out what went wrong in a violent crime, it’s also easy to lose sight of the most important thing that “went wrong”: a criminal chose, of his own free will, to violently victimize others.  No discussion of the details of the crime should distract from this fact.  Denial-laced justifications for Mixon’s choices and behavior — ‘parolees need more re-entry services,’ or ‘it’s prison that makes people more violent,’ or (my favorite) ‘he didn’t want to go back to jail,’ — are offensive yet predictable commentaries in the aftermath of violent crime.  Here are some factors other than Lovelle Mixon’s own choices that enabled Mixon to kill four innocent public servants over the weekend:        

Factor #1:  Lenience in sentencing.  In 2002, Mixon was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and armed robbery.  He was out on parole by 2007.  Assault with a deadly weapon + armed robbery = five years in prison?

Factor #2:  More Lenience in Sentencing, and Parole:  Mixon violated parole in 2008 and served nine more months in prison but was released to parole again.

Factor #3:  Lenience in Granting Parole.  In the Chronicle: “[t]he  California’s parole system has been thrust into the spotlight by the killings, but, in fact, experts say, it has been deteriorating ever since 1977, when the state’s determinate sentencing law went into effect.  Determinate sentencing means that when a prisoner is given a parole date, he must be released. Nuances about past offending behavior and whether someone is really suitable for parole go by the board.”      

Of course, the main factor remains this: Lovelle Mixon was a monster.  

To their credit, several in Lovelle Mixon’s family have reached out to the officers’ families with condolences.  But his sister is urging sympathy for Mixon.  “I don’t want people to think he’s a monster,” she said, “He’s just not. He’s just not.”    If murdering four people doesn’t make you a monster, what does?  Assault with a deadly weapon?  Rape?  (Mixon’s DNA was identified in a rape kit the day before he went on a killing spree).  Is it really too much to ask that the rehabilitation of Mixon be deferred to a later date?  

Of course, families say such things.  Mixon was hiding in this sister’s apartment: he murdered two of the officers in the room where her four-year-old slept.  

ABC News reported that a crowd of people “taunted police near the scene of the first shooting.”  The print media has not commented on this report.  Why not?

***

Update #1: Victor David Hanson writes about the “Therapeutic Impulse” of excusing criminals’ actions and the Oakland police killings in an article in Pajamas Media titled “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Part One.”

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.

Just Not Putting Recidivists Away, Georgia

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From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Parolee With Long Record Wanted in Child Molestation.”  Does anybody keep track of recidivists in Georgia?

A parolee with an extensive criminal history is wanted in Smyrna allegedly for molesting a 15-year-old girl and exposing himself to woman at a car wash.

A few months after he was released from prison, Buckner exposed himself to a neighbor who captured his image on her cell phone camera. Buckner was fondling himself at the time. McDuffie said he pleaded guilty to public indecency in July 2008. The detective did not know why he was not sent back to prison.

The Cobb County Superior Court lists 17 charges against Buckner prior to his recent crimes (I am assuming that Daniel Dwayne Buckner and Daniel Dewayne Buckner are the same person), including firearms possession, battery, and terroristic threats.  Then there is the child molestation and two counts of indecent exposure.

I once had a cop tell me that indecent exposure is a “day job for rapists.”  Not all flashers move on to rape, he said, but rapists flash people all the time for low-rent kicks. 

I can’t believe I’m asking this question, but are judges following the law on recidivism?  What will it take for them to check with other jurisdictions, and even their own counties, for prior records before they let people walk out the courthouse door?   Is legislation needed to force their hand?  Or is something else at work here?  If so, what?   

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.                                

 

The Pew Center Study, Repeat Offenders, and the Real Price of Crime

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From The Tennessean

Cons commit crimes after early release

Sentencing guidelines enable repeat offenders

A college student is kidnapped, brutalized and murdered. A mother looks up from changing her baby’s diaper to find a gun pointing in her face. A 62-year-old man is bludgeoned with a baseball bat in a mall parking lot.

The crimes share one trait, aside from their brutality. In each case, the person charged with the offense was an ex-convict, out on probation or parole — a situation Tennessee prosecutors and law enforcement leaders say is all too common because of how the state sentences its convicted criminals. . . .

Amanda Sue Kelley, 19, was arrested seven times last year on charges that ranged from drug possession to domestic assault and theft. In January, police say, she wrenched open the door of a parked car, pointed a gun at a woman changing her 13-month-old daughter’s diaper in the back seat, and demanded cash. . . .

It costs about $63.90 a day to keep someone behind bars in Tennessee. A day monitoring someone’s probation or parole costs $2.95.

“We really need to do a better job of sorting our offenders by risk,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. “This is less and less an issue of being tough on crime or soft on crime and more an issue of giving the taxpayers a better return on their dollars.” 

The Pew Center study, “One in One Hundred,” has attracted a lot of attention — but less obvious is the Center’s ideological anti-incarceration bias.  The Center did not include what is known as the “Aggregate Burden of Crime” in its analysis of the price of incarceration versus the price of community sentencing.  The aggregate burden of crime, which measures the total economic effect of crime on victims, communities and the offender, offers a picture of the real cost of incarcerating convicts versus letting them go free — not a one-line argument comparing the day-to-day cost of probation to the day-to-day cost of incarceration.

There is no excuse for excluding the other costs that inevitably arise when people who should be in prison commit additional crimes — unless the study is simply designed to sway public opinion towards letting convicts back on the streets.  

In 1996, the Department of Justice issued a far more comprehensive, less ideological study called “Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look”  which placed the cost of crime for victims at $450 billion dollars per year.  And in 1999, Professor David A. Anderson published another study, titled “The Aggregate Burden of Crime,” which placed the annual cost of crime at 1.7 trillion dollars a year.  Here is a description of his study:

Anderson takes into account all costs which would not exist in an ideal society totally free of crime. That includes the cost of private preventative measures such as locks, safety lighting, alarm systems, fencing and private security guards. In addition it calculates the cost of crime-related injuries and deaths, including medical care, lost workdays, pain, and fear, and the opportunity costs of time spent preventing, carrying out and serving prison terms for criminal activity. Finally, it mentions a $28 billion decrease in property values of real estate and buildings that are cheaper than similar facilities because they are located in high-crime areas. The costs associated with living in the suburbs to avoid crime in the city center are also discussed, since there are significant costs for activities such as commuting and parking. 

If the Pew Center had really intended to quantify the difference in cost between incarcerating offenders and releasing them to the community, they would have had to first figure out the number of crimes committed each year by offenders who could have been sentenced to prison, or kept there without parole, but who were instead released to commit more crime.  Then they would have had to plug in the price of this additional victimization.  Absent that, they are operating on the assumption that no parolees or probationers ever commit crimes.  

Victim and community expenses appear nowhere in the Pew Center report.  When you focus narrowly on the price differential between daily incarceration expenses and parole/community control expenses, you are intentionally excluding the bulk of expenses born by innocent people — victims, bystanders, and neighborhoods — who have been impacted by illegal activities.  That’s not just bad public policy: it’s dishonest public policy.

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?

 

 

Should Judges Assign More Community Therapy For Recidivists?

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LAST MAY, the wired world was treated to an unpleasant, yet hardly unique, slice of Atlanta’s public transportation system via “MARTA GIRL,” a video that showed a deranged young woman berating and threatening an elderly train rider.  The older woman dealt with the barrage of threats by doing what any sane consumer of public transportation knows to do instinctively: stare straight ahead and pretend that some screeching lunatic or addict isn’t threatening to harm you.

Awful things were made visible on the video.  In a train filled with physically able passengers, nobody stepped forward to shield an elderly woman from an aggressive assailant who was inches from her face, screaming that she was going to “beat [the elderly woman’s] ass.” 

Men who could have contained the young woman (“N.Z.”) did nothing.  The person who videotaped the assault did something, I suppose, by recording and posting the video.  But how do you justify taping an incident like this instead of trying to stop it?

Were these people afraid to intervene, lest the situation escalate?  Dressed as she was, if N.Z. had a concealed weapon, it was concealed creatively.  But instead of stepping in, a few men merely called out from their seats, telling the girl to calm down.  “Chill, it’s an old lady, man,” said one lackadaisical observer.

N.Z. continued down the train’s aisle and lashed out at another passenger.  He rose up and grabbed her by her hair, and a short slapping match ensued.  Now there was physical violence in addition to the assault on the elderly woman: two crimes.  Yet nobody made a move to call the police.  Even after they exited the train, it appears that none of the witnesses contacted authorities.  N.Z. was arrested and charged with a crime only after the video was circulated on-line. 

Were these people afraid to report N.Z. because they anticipated sharing a future train with her?  Were they even afraid of drawing attention to themselves by calling police from the station?  Did they expect (reasonably) that their complaints would be dismissed?  (And were they?)  Or did this incident simply seem ordinary and not worthy of action?  

Whichever is true, such are the terms of the new, negative social contract: I will ignore your abuse of someone else if you do not abuse me next.  The man who reared up from his seat and grabbed N.Z.’s hair only after she started lunging at him may be seen as merely exercising the soft terms of this contract.

BUT AFTER SHE WAS ARRESTED, of course, the N.Z. story became a story about something else: this time, the controversy over releasing mentally ill and drug-addicted defendants to “community treatment” centers instead of incarcerating them.

Like so many defendants — drug-addicted, mentally ill, youthful or not — N.Z.’s needs and problems became the sole focus of the judiciary as soon as she set foot in court.

As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, N.Z. was already on probation for a previous attack on a transit officer when she attacked the elderly train rider.  According to the solicitor in her most recent case, N.Z. had “a lengthy criminal history of violent outbursts” and “never showed up for the mental health diversion program in another case.”   

She had faced no consequences for failing to perform the requirements of probation in the officer’s assault – seeing a probation officer and performing community service.  Even though she further violated the requirements of probation by committing another assault (or two), DeKalb County State Court Judge Barbara Mobley chose to halt the criminal case against N.Z. and refer her to a “pretrial diversion program for mentally ill people” instead of allowing the state to prosecute her.

By “dead-docketing” N.Z.’s prosecution, Judge Mobley told the public that their safety simply did not matter – because N.Z. has a mental illness.  In other courtrooms, other judges are delivering the same message to other communities: “your home being broken into doesn’t matter because the defendant has a drug addiction,” or, “your car being stolen doesn’t matter because the defendant is a youthful offender.”  

N.Z. seemed aware of this double standard, if little else, as she stood hollering on the train.  Out of all the people there, only N.Z. felt comfortable asserting her rights to legal protection.  On the video, you can hear her shrieking it:

“I’m pressing charges.  I’m pressing charges.  I’m pressing charges.”