“Defendants Have the Right to Remain Silent. . . Victims Have the Right to be Heard”

I found this quote on the website for the Larimer County, Colorado District Attorney’s office. It is a neat sentiment: well-intentioned, not overly ambitious. It is, in other words, a fitting description of the aims of victims’ rights laws.

It is also utterly untrue. ... 

Continue Reading →

A Personal Look At Drug Court and Community Sentencing

This week, I have been writing about alternative sentencing and drug court. My perspective is shaped by experiences as a “community outreach” worker, witnessing the gaming that takes place when non-profits and private companies are granted fat government contracts with little oversight to monitor and provide therapy to offenders in the community. We are playing with fire whenever we turn over important government duties, like protecting the public, to private individuals – especially when there is no oversight.

Community control supervised by private companies and non -profits have become the status quo, however – and now community monitoring has become one of those things, in our twisted judicial system, that is increasingly viewed as a defendant’s right. ... 

Continue Reading →

Rehabilitating Adam and Eve, But Not Adam and Steve (Or Eve, Actually)

Sorry for the absence of a blog post yesterday. I went into Tampa to attend a hearing to appeal a judge’s inexplicable and unheard-of release of a convicted sex offender as the offender waits out the appeals process. Appallingly, the hearing judge yesterday decided that it was more important to honor the feelings of a fellow judge than to consider the safety of the victim and the community, and he refused to overturn the prior judge’s strange and inappropriate decision to release the convicted sex offender. Richard Chotiner remains free as he appeals his 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting a mentally handicapped man. I plan to write about this awful case next week.

*** ... 

Continue Reading →

Breaking out the Bubbly: National Drug Court Month

National Drug Court Month is just around the corner, so I am going to spend this week taking a closer look at some of the claims being made about the effectiveness of drug courts. By next week, the canned press releases will be seeping out all over the news in the form of stories lifted directly from the press kits provided by advocacy groups such as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Rather astonishingly, the NADCP press kit asserts that “for twenty years, drug courts have saved millions of lives.” Millions? Really? In New York State, which has one of the larger state drug court systems, only 20,400 people have graduated from drug court since the program began, and nobody can say how many of those people stayed sober for more than a few years after they left the scrutiny of the courts. No man is an island, but really — millions of lives? ... 

Continue Reading →

Justice Delayed + Tax Dollars Wasted = Justice System Starved

Apparently, while it may be hard to be a pimp, as the popular song goes, it isn’t particularly hard to be a defendant in a child molestation case:

DragonCon founder’s health might keep him from standing trial

Edward Kramer was charged in 2000 with molestation children

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ... 

Continue Reading →

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

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

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

Continue Reading →

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

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? ... 

Continue Reading →

Tea and Sympathy: How Recidivists Get Away With Multiple Crimes.

Yesterday, I wrote about Russell Burton, who got away with violent sex crimes in two different states thanks to a sympathetic judge, an apathetic military command, and a psychopathic appeals system.

Burton is in good company. With sex offenders, in particular, there always seems to be somebody willing to step up and offer a helping hand. Such behavior is not limited to ladies who latch onto serial killers like frowsy pilot fish. Distinctively non-marginal people like college presidents and judges often assume the role of head cheerleader for some of the worst repeat offenders. ... 

Continue Reading →

Headline: “Series of Mistakes Helped Ex-Cop Escape” (Tools for Activists).

From today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A string of mishaps — including uncertainty about whom to call, voice mail messages left unanswered for hours and previous false alarms — combined to help double-murder suspect Derrick Yancey remove his ankle monitor and escape house arrest, according to a report issued Wednesday. . . ... 

Continue Reading →

Children Killing Children

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution, on a triple shooting near Turner Stadium: “Boy Slain in Attack Near Turner Field was Just 15.”

Nick, whose last name is being withheld, was lying roughly 10 feet from his back door when paramedics arrived at his southwest Atlanta apartment. He died Monday night at Grady Memorial Hospital. His half-brother, Andre, remains in critical condition at Grady, though friends and family say he is expected to recover. They’ve asked that the two teenagers’ surnames not be published for fear of retribution. . . ... 

Continue Reading →

Two Atlanta Stories. Detect A Pattern Yet?

Another doctor in the news for sexual offenses (thanks to Paul K).  And another predator free on bail before trial has disappeared– this time a DeKalb County cop accused of murdering his wife and a handyman:

A former DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputy, out on bond as he awaited trial in the deaths of his wife and a day laborer, has gone missing, authorities said Saturday. ... 

Continue Reading →

Columnist Rick Badie on Crime

A thoughtful column by Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Rick Badie on the ways people are changing their lives to deal with the threat of crime.  It raises a question: is crime really more prevalent because the economy has gone south?  The kids (and they are kids) and young adults running robbery rings and invading homes to steal televisions aren’t doing these things on their hours off from some legitimate work, and there has been absolutely no reduction in levels of support available from social services, so (unlike the rest of us) they aren’t being squeezed in their home lives.  

This is a criminal subculture.  If anything is making them seem more aggressive now, it is police furloughs and the collapse of the courts.  Backlogs in court hearings, ever more intense pressure to let people go on first, second, tenth offenses, cases simply being dropped because there aren’t the resources to try them — this is what puts more, and bolder, criminals on the streets.   ... 

Continue Reading →

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

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

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

Continue Reading →

Tools for Activists: Good News From The Courts, For A Change

I’m not a glass-half-full type of person.  But this story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution really must be categorized as a half-full glass: thanks to a lawsuit by the indomitable organization, Children’s Rights, headed by Ira Lustbader, children in foster care in Fulton County, Georgia are now one tiny step closer to being accorded the type of legal representation we routinely subsidize for murderers and rapists: 

Fulton County has made significant progress in reforming its troubled legal services for children in foster care, according to a report by a court-appointed monitor of the system. ... 

Continue Reading →

Article on Atlanta Crime in the Chicago Tribune

An interesting article in the Chicago Tribune today, about Atlanta’s drug gangs: “Mexican Drug Cartels Spreading Roots in Atlanta”:

Atlanta, with its prime location for easy distribution, has become a major hub for drug trafficking by the cartels and a principal distribution center for wholesale-level cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to the eastern United States, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said. In 2008, Atlanta led the nation with $70 million in confiscated cash, according to the DEA. That is more than double the $32 million seized in Chicago in 2008. ... 

Continue Reading →

What Is Your Personal “Aggregate Burden of Crime”?

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.  ... 

Continue Reading →

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

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.   ... 

Continue Reading →

Should Judges Assign More Community Therapy For Recidivists?

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. ... 

Continue Reading →

How Many Gold Mercedes Are There Out There?

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

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

Continue Reading →

The Case of the Missing Zero or 785 Officers

WHAT a difference a month makes. Or does it?

A few short weeks ago, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington and Mayor Shirley Franklin were working overtime to insist that residents’ concerns over crime were overblown. “The city is safer now than it has been in decades,” the Mayor callously announced when the brutal murder of bartender John Henderson mobilized residents to demand more police on the streets. ... 

Continue Reading →

Atlanta Redux

The problems created by crime are so vast, and crimes are so numerous, and the arena of agencies created to address them are so dysfunctional and interwoven, that it is maddening to look at the police chiefs and the courts and the lawyers and the mayors and the prisons and the prisoners and the legislators and not just throw up your hands and say: “There’s nothing I can do.”

This type of despair is what drives us to crumple on the couch and switch on the Nancy Grace and pretend that what we are doing is watching somebody doing something real about “the problem of crime.” ... 

Continue Reading →

The Anatomy of Yet Another Unnecessary Murder: How the Justice System Failed Eugenia Calle and Is Failing Us All

Introduction

What follows is a preliminary effort to piece together Shamal (aka Jamal) Thompson’s long and troubling journey through Georgia’s broken criminal justice system prior to February 17, 2009, the day he murdered* an innocent cancer researcher named Eugenia Calle.  Ten months earlier, a DeKalb County Superior Court Judge named Cynthia J. Becker let Thompson walk free from what should have been a ten-year sentence for burglary.  She did so on the grounds that he was a first-time offender.   ... 

Continue Reading →