Saturday, May 31, 2014

Did local cops blow it in the Elliot Rodger case?

Police investigating mass-murder Elliott Rodger did not check to see if he made any recent handgun purchases as per California's centralized database.  The officers also knew Rodger had posted suspicious videos on You-Tube but did not check them out.  These steps should have been taken before they went to visit Rodger.  Couldn't one of the half-dozen deputies who went to Rodger's residence to interview him have checked this out before/while they visited him?  This is sloppy police work in a potentially violent situation.  Of course, we will never know if taking these steps would have saved lives.  However, the missing information would probably have made the police more aggressive in investigating the case.  Perhaps they would have asked for consent to search the home.  Perhaps some of the folks who post this violent stuff hope the cops will get pushy and stop them.Who knows? Nonetheless this looks like sloppy police work.

California has some of the toughest gun-control regulations in the nation.  However, officers have to take advantage of the laws for them to work. Many argue that we don't need any more gun control laws,--what we need is aggressive enforcement of the laws currently on the books.  Finally, the case shows that we  need new mechanisms to locate and investigate those who are real threats.  This will not be easy as people in this country have lots off rights.  However, the obsession with social media that many have should make it easier.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

4 New U.S. Supreme Court decisions

Looks like the Justices may have worked over the holidays.  4 decisions were released.  3 of these were CJ related.  the most interesting was:
"Plumhoff v. Rickard
Is fifteen shots too many to stop a police chase? Apparently not.
A defendant took off, leading to a high-speed chase across state lines. At one point, he was boxed in but continued to try to get away. Officers fired fifteen shots at the car, while it was trapped, and then while it was successfully getting away. The driver and a passenger both died.
Excessive force? Not so much, per the majority. Seven justices concurred with Alito's assessment that, "It stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended."
Justices Ginsburg and Breyer declined to join that portion of the opinion, but all nine justices agreed that regardless, qualified immunity applied, since it was not clearly established that a barrage of fifteen bullets might be too many."  This makes sense to me.  However, the interests of innocent people and non-dangerous suspects must be accommodated.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Slap on hand sentence for female former TX DPS trooper

A female former Texas DPS Trooper, Kelly Helleson  was give a "slap on the hand" with a lenient sentence for the roadside body cavity search of 2 women.  Many were outraged by the sentence of  2-years probation and a $2,000 fine.  At least the Trooper was fired and lost her law enforcement license.  The victims got a settlement from the state.   The incident was caught on a police vehicle cam.  The trooper's male partner did nothing to intervene.  The video is  available and there was a link in a post here months ago.

Temporary Civil Committment of the "dangerous"

There is always a controversy when we try to balance civil rights against public safety.  One debate, currently going on in Colorado, involves the proper standard for temporary  civil commitment for evaluation.  What should the government have to prove to detain and evaluate those who may pose a threat to public safety? Many murders "telegraph" their intent via social media, conversations, etc. The Aurora theater mass-murderer James Holmes is a "poster boy" for those advocating relaxing the standard from the current "imminent danger to self or others" test used in Colorado and some states. A majority of states use less stringent standards involving "recent threats" and/or "substantial risk of physical harm to self or others."  Recent mass murder in CA will stimulate further debate.  How long should be have to wait to deal with people who are obviously deteriorating in a dangerous fashion?  What is our obligation to the "suspect?"   Would relaxing standards make a difference.  There is research that suggests it would.  According to the Denver Post (5/25/14 p. 10B): "Researchers at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley reported in 2011 that there is a strong association with lower homicide rates in states with broader commitment criteria and increased access to inpatient psychiatric care. After controlling for gun-control laws, poverty levels and other demographic factors, researcher Steven P. Segal concluded that better-performing mental health systems contributed to lower homicide rates."

Read more: Debate rages in Colorado over involuntary holds for mental illness - The Denver Post

Thursday, May 22, 2014

U.S. S.Ct.: reasonable suspicion established by anonymous 9-1-1 call.

In a recent opinion, consistent with precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court held that under the circumstances, a partially corroborated anonymous 9-1-1 call was sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion for a stop of a vehicle.  The corroboration established the reliability of the tip/informant.
Soure:  A great publication, the FLETC informer, May 2014. If you are in law enforcement, CJ or just interested in the law, subscribe here.  You won't be disappointed. It's free, give it a try!

United States Supreme Court
Navarette v. California, 2014 U.S. LEXIS 2930 (U.S. Apr. 22, 2014)
A police dispatcher received an anonymous call from a woman stating a silver Ford pickup truck had just run the woman’s vehicle off the roadway. The woman provided the pickup truck’s license plate number, approximate location and direction of travel. The dispatcher broadcast the woman’s information and a few minutes later police officers saw a silver Ford pickup truck with the same license plate number, near the location and traveling in the same direction reported by the woman. The officer conducted a traffic stop, and as he and a back-up officer approached the pickup truck, the officers smelled the odor of marijuana. The officers searched the pickup truck, found four large bags of marijuana and arrested the driver, Navarette, and his brother, who was a passenger.

Navarette moved to suppress the marijuana, arguing the anonymous 911 call did not provide the officers reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop.
The California Court of Appeal disagreed and affirmed the lower court’s decision denying Navarette’s motion to suppress the marijuana. Navarette appealed. The United States Supreme Court held the traffic stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion Navarette was driving while intoxicated.

The court held the 911 call was sufficiently reliable to credit the woman’s claim that Navarette’s truck had run her vehicle off the road. First, the woman described the truck, provided its license plate information and gave the truck’s location to the 911 dispatcher. Second, the police officer located the truck approximately 19 miles away from the scene of the incident, approximately 18 minutes after the 911 call. Third, the woman’s use of the 911 system was a factor to take into account when determining the reliability of the information she provided. The 911 system had features that allowed for identifying and tracing callers, which would allow a reasonable officer to believe that a person might think twice before calling in a false report. Consequently, the woman’s detailed, firsthand description of Navarette’s truck and dangerous driving along with the timeline of events suggested the woman called 911 shortly after she was run off the road, which entitled her tip to be considered reliable by the police officer.

Next, the court recognized a reliable tip will justify an investigative stop only if the tip creates a reasonable suspicion that "criminal activity may be afoot." In this case, the court held the woman’s report of being run off the roadway created reasonable suspicion of an ongoing crime such as drunk driving. The court stated that running another vehicle off the road suggests lane-positioning problems, decreased vigilance, impaired judgment, or some combination of recognized drunk-driving cues. Because the 911 call established reasonable suspicion to stop Navarette, the officer did not need to follow Navarette to personally observe suspicious driving before conducting the traffic stop."


Saturday, May 17, 2014

D.C.'s registration requirement and assault weapon ban upheld

A U.S. District Court judge in D.C. upheld all challenged portions of D.C.'s current anti-gun laws which are the most draconian in the nation.  An appeal will be taken.  Another defeat for the Second Amendment.  Stay tuned.

Time to get serious about corporate and white collar crime

GM was fined $35 million for its decade-long cover up of an ignition switch defect.  The defect has been linked to at least 13 deaths.  However, $35 million is less than one day's revenue for GM. This is "punishment"?  This is going to deter GM and other big auto makers?  Since the major economic and financial collapse a few years, massive crime and corruption has been unmasked on Wall Street and many major institutions.  However, "white collar" and corporate crime have been with us for many decades.  The American people need to stand up and say "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."  We need to get serious and get moving on this.  I propose:
1. A National Commission, similar to the one LBJ set up on crime decades ago, to assess the problem and suggest solutions.  This will draw attention to the issue.  We can take a comprehensive look at the research, look at various state and other national laws, begin discussions. etc.  Obviously, it needs to be funded adequately, and the commission members must represent the mainstream political spectrum.
2.  Prosecutors, police, agencies and attorneys general and others with responsibilities in these areas need to be turning more attention to these crimes.  Violent crime is generally down. More resources are need to fight white collar and corporate crime.
3.  Congress and state legislatures need to address some things right now--such as dangerous auto defects.  Penalties need to be greatly increased, oversight and monitoring need to be increased, etc. For deterrence to work, penalties need to be serious and the chances of being caught have to be strong.
4. Voters need to throw out those who are not serious about these problems and put in those who  are.
5.  Elected officials need to appoint agency officials, prosecutors, etc. who are serious about these problems.
5.  At the same time we have to assure that due process and property rights are respected and that we don't create conditions that will seriously hurt the economy.  We have to avoid "throwing the baby out with the bath water." 
6.  Although it may sound radical to some, we need to get over the "too big to let fail" syndrome.  The assets of repeat offenders should be forfeited and auctioned off and sold to those who  will keep the business going and get serious about internal reform.
It will take awhile to pull it all together.  Even then, legislation and policies will have to be refined over time.  I'm made as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.  Let's get this thing going!  Let the study, analysis and debate begin.

TIH: Brown v. Board of Education 1954--One of America's long-delayed but finest moments.

On this date in 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a long-overdue landmark decision--Brown v. Bd. of Education.  It overruled Plessy v Ferguson and other cases, and held that racial segregation in public schools violated the equal protection clause on the 14th Amendment.  This was perhaps the Warren Court's greatest achievement.  It started the wheels turning slowly at first, but ultimately led to energizing the civil rights movement for all legally  "disfavored." groups  (prisoners, farm workers, Hispanics, women, gays, etc.).  Fulfilling the momentum started by the Union victory in the Civil War and the post Civil War amendments (13th, 14th and 15th), the decision was one of America's finest moments.  Having fought and won World War II against Nazi racial supremacists,  it was time for American to clean it's own house.  Although not all would agree, the Warren Court, more than any other, made individual rights a legal reality for Americans.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Suspect in custody pulls gun and fires at police at station

Denver police arrested the suspect, and transported him to the police station where he pulled a gun and fired  a shot at officers.  Officers then shot the suspect, ending the gun fight.  Obviously, police failed to adequately search the suspect. He had been arrested on drug charges and an outstanding felony warrant. This was not a jaywalking case. Fortunately, this example of sloppy police work did not result in any deaths.  Complacency can sometimes be fatal.

VA scandal: example of government agency malfeasance

The VA administrative scandal as reported by the NYT.
"Even as doctors’ patient caseloads were growing, the pressure on them to see even more patients intensified after the department established its new 14-day measurement for new patients, whistle-blowers and congressional officials say. And that pressure is what led to the creation of an off-the-books waiting list in Phoenix, according to a retired doctor who has become the leading whistle-blower on problems there.
The whistle-blower, Dr. Sam Foote, said in an interview that veterans would commonly wait for six to nine months after calling for an appointment before they would be booked in the official system. But the “creation” date of the original request would be falsely logged in the official system as falling within 14 days of the appointment date, making it appear that the hospital was meeting the department’s time requirements.
“They went to the creation date to stop the cheating, but that’s when the secret waiting list was used to get around the creation date,” Dr. Foote said."

Like all countries, the U.S. has a long history of scandals involving administrators and administrative agencies.  Most people think of elected officials when they think of government corruption, incompetence and unethical behavior.  There is probably more of a problem in administrative agencies which actually conduct the business of government. Recent U.S. examples are BATF's incredibly stupid Operation Fast and Furious, the Benghazi affair, and the IRS scandal involving tax-exemptions.

The dynamics of such scandals, whether involving elected officials or agency heads or employees are similar.  A whistleblower or media watch dog sounds the alarm.  The official  or agency issues denials, stonewalls, and/or tries to minimize the damage.  Coverups and document withholding follow.   The official and agency promise to look into the problem and fix-it by more training, more reporting, etc.  Legislative investigations follow.   Stonewalling and cover-ups continue.  The agency fires a few people and the public forgets about it.  If it's an official, he  or she promises to get "help" or rehab, or manages to lie him/herself out of it.  With a short time, it's back to the usual unethical, incompetent business as usual.  Police scandals are the prime model.  Rather than look at systematic and/or traditional factors that lead to or allow the scandal, the problem is blamed on a few 'rotten apples.'

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Protestors and commencement speaker choices.

First Amendment freedoms of speech and press are not only required to be respected at all government-sponsored institutions.  They should also be respected at private institutions because they are consistent with the goals of higher education.  Exceptions can be justified for non-governmental institutions that clearly have a specific missions (e.g. Catholic Universities).  Most institutions are dominated by left-wing faculty and administrators.  It is thus not surprising that students tend to lean left.  One facet of this is faculty and students opposing commencement speakers who are not "politically correct."  As the NYT states: "Most of the incidents have involved complaints from the left, usually aimed at conservative figures, but not all. "  It is important to note that private and religious institutions (e.g. Catholic) are not covered by the First Amendment.  However with regard to public institutions, on both the left and right, First Amendment violations are tolerated against the right "victims."  However, the Amendment will be trotted out anytime the suppressors themselves are challenged.  Hypocrisy aboutconstitutional rights is one of the factors that threatens the rights of everyone

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Interesting First Amendment Case: Politician sued by activist

A Colorado State Rep obtained a protective order against a political activist.  A court later refused to make it permanent.  The activist filed a First Amendment lawsuit.  If the facts are as alleged, it looks like we have another self-righteous politician with little or no respect for the First Amendment.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Experts recommend one-drug executions and other reforms.

 Shortly after a 3-drug execution in Oklahoma went awry (see post below) a panel of "experts" recommended one-drug executions and suggests other changes in the process.  I agree that we do need to seriously tighten-up how capital cases and executions are handled in this country.

Convictions voided because of NYPD Detective's misconduct

Because of serious misconduct by a NYPD homicide detective,  a NY judge voided the murder convictions of 3 men.  Fortunately, none were executed although one died in prison. The detective, now retired, repeatedly used a very questionable informant as a witness.  Research shows this is often the cause of convicting the innocent and/or denial of a fair trial. 

Justice Sotomayor's ideology

The NYT has an interesting article on Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who is now in her 5th year on the Court.  She has not disappointed her appointer, generally taking the liberal stance.  She took heat, but, but despite marginal qualifications, was still confirmed by the Democratic majority in the Senate in spite of her remark that
"“I would hope,” she said, “that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Of course, at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing she described the remark as a "rhetorical flourish."  Personally, I agree with the conservative National Review that her dissent in the recent "affirmative action" case was a "a case study in the moral and legal corrosion that inevitably results from elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law.” Linda Chavez, a New York Post columnist, said Justice Sotomayor was “unable to divorce her legal reasoning from her own sense of racial grievance.” (quote from NYT at link). We have too many cultural/ideological warriors on the Court and not enough "Justices."  IMHO, the Justice who comes closest to actually deciding cases on something other than ideology is Justice Kennedy. (see post below on ideology and First Amendment cases)

Ideology drives Supreme Court First Amendment decisons

This new study by respected researchers suggests that Supreme Court Justices tend to support the First Amendment more when the speaker's views are consistent with the Justice's ideological leanings. The study suggests that the Court's conservatives are more guilty than the liberals.  Like many court watchers, these researchers and this blogger contend that a Justice's ideology (irrespective of whether the Justice leans left or right) drives their decisions in "hot button" cases more often than the facts, precedents, etc.  I would be nice to have a few more "Justices" on the Court and a few less ideologues of any stripe.

"Affluenza" Defense Case

One of the newest defenses is "affluenza."  It is used typically by young defendants from wealthy families.  It is argued that their wealth, insulated lifestyle, etc. limit their perspective, empathy, moral development,  etc.  It is not formally a recognized defense yet, but it may get jury or judge sympathy and provide an excuse for a light sentence.  This case may be an example. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

Supreme Court decides against qualified immunity in police use of force case.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 5th Circuit's grant of qualified immunity in a police use of force case.  This case does little to provide guidance to police.  The Court concluded:
"In articulating the factual context of the case, the Fifth
Circuit failed to adhere to the axiom that in ruling on a
motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the
nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences
are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U. S. 242, 255 (1986). For that reason, we vacate
its decision and remand the case for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion."

Supreme Court on government public meeting prayer and Establishment Clause

The prayer was upheld here.  Under these specific circumstances, a prayer before a  public town meeting does not equal "an establishment of religion."  I have no problem with the decision.

Supreme Court Refuses Another 2nd Amend case

Continuing its frustrating pattern of refusing to decide a case about carrying firearms outside the home, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging a NJ law.
The issues were:
 (1) Whether the Second Amendment secures a right to carry handguns outside the home for self-defense; and (2) whether state officials violate the Second Amendment by requiring that individuals wishing to exercise their right to carry a handgun for self-defense first prove a “justifiable need” for doing so.
 This pattern is starting to become a dereliction duty.  There was a Circuit split which is one of the situations in which the Court often steps in.  The Constitution does not mean one thing in CA and another in NJ.   Preventing that is one of the main functions of the Court.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

OT: Music recommendation; Caleb Johnson, America Idol, Faithfully, Journey

I'm a big fan or rock and roll, esp. hard/non-metal rock.  In spite of my low techiness I have an i-Pad.  I love the thing.  My wife and I also watch many of the amateur talent shows (e.g. the voice, American idol)  Most of the music is not worth crowing about.  However, I strongly recommend Idol contestant Caleb Johnson's rendition of "Faithfully." (It is available at the i-Tunes store and elsewhere). It is better than the Journey original although it follows it closely.  The Judges and Coach Randy loved it!   If Caleb doesn't win, it will be a travesty.  He is far and away the most polished performer.

"Find my iPhone:" thefts and citizen recovery issues

Smartphone theft is rampant.  Some victims are confronting their thieves.

Anti peoples guns rights talking heads miss important point about Ga.'s new gun laws

Most critics of Georgia's new gun laws call it "insanity," "going mad" and similar names.  It has been misleadingly labelled the "guns everywhere" law without noting that the expansion of places where guns can be carried applies only to licensed carriers.  Isn't it interesting how facts are omitted from some people's descriptions of the law? This borders on propaganda and being unethical.  Of course that's now politics is conducted by both the left and right in this country.

Economist engaging in misleading the public/propaganda?

The Economist is one of my favorite news magazines. It is generally balanced and covers the world.  It has a good sense of newsworthiness and is generally very insightful and perceptive.  However, in this article it entitles "George is for gun-lovers" it shows a picture of an individual with an AR-15 rifle stuffed in his waist band.  The main controversial point of the law is that it expands the rights of those with licenses to carry handguns, not semi-automatic rifles.  Shame on the Economist!

National schizophrenia on the Second Amendment

According to the Economist, in recent years, 16 states have strengthened laws affecting gun owners, 17 have weakened/liberalized their laws and the rest have made no significant changes.  Every state now has licensed carry in one form or another.  In at least one case, a federal courts forced the state's hand (Illinois)  However, the ease of obtaining a license varies markedly across the nation. Former N.Y.C. mayor and billionaire has pledged $ 50 million to fight the trend.  His ostensible target is the NRA.  His real target may be Second Amendment rights.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Detroit: Justifiable Homicide Capital of the U.S. & case study on the necessity of protecting 2nd Amendent Rights

In this editorial, we find "When faced with an imminent threat, citizens are justified in defending themselves, even with deadly force. Michigan’s self-defense laws support that principle.
But citizens should not have to fend for themselves as a matter of course when it comes to public safety. Although Craig is right in saying the confrontations in a home invasions can’t be blamed on him, it must be his priority to re-establish — quickly — law and order in Detroit’s neighborhoods.
The chief is on record as saying more legal guns in Detroit would make the city safer, and has not backed down in advocating for appropriate self-defense. Craig is not encouraging vigilante-style violence, but rather defense in situations of imminent danger.
But not all Detroiters are capable of protecting themselves in such a manner. Relying on an armed citizenry is not the answer to Detroit’s effort to improve public safety. But Detroiters don’t feel confident in the police to protect them. That explains the rise in legal gun ownership.
The number of valid concealed pistol licenses in Wayne County increased by 10,000 from 2012 to 2013. At the beginning of 2013, there were just over 70,000 concealed pistol licenses in Wayne County, the highest rate of all Michigan counties. According to Michigan State Police, that number is now about 81,000.

From The Detroit News:

Yes, not everyone can use guns to defend themselves.  Yes, the city and state have obligation to provide more protection.  However, the right exists whether the police can protect everyone or most everyone or not.  Of course, it is highly unlikely that any police force could do any of this.  But such ability is irrelevant to the basic underlying, pre-existing natural law right.