Author Archives: SHG

Leave It To The Pros

That’s professionals, not prostitutes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not what I meant. Doug Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy points to a new law review article by William & Mary lawprof Adam Gershowitz that raises a very interesting idea. It begins with an explanation:

When a fatal traffic accident happens, we expect the local police and prosecutors to handle the investigation and criminal charges. When a fatal airplane crash occurs however, we turn instead to the National Transportation Safety Board. The reason is that air crashes are complicated and the NTSB has vast expertise. Without that expertise, investigations falter.

It then gets to its point:

It is easy to point to a similar series of mistakes by local prosecutors and defense attorneys in many death-penalty cases around the country. If we are to continue utilizing capital punishment in the United States, the death-penalty system should follow air crash model, not the car crash model. Capital cases should be handled by an elite nationwide unit of prosecutors and investigators who travel to capital murder sites the way the NTSB travels to airplane and other catastrophic crashes.

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Butthurt Bites Bainbridge (and lawyers are laughing) (Hasen Update: What About ME!!!) (Bainbridge Update: Counting to 3)

Among the handful of truly important things within the legal academy, intellectual honesty was pretty high on the list.  It was fine to disagree about something, but misstating facts (or, as lawyers are more inclined to call it, lying through your teeth), was not only frowned upon, but the kiss of death for scholarly respectability.  It appears that someone took a crayon and crossed it off the list.

When Judge Richard Kopf questioned the Supreme Court’s decision to wade into the deep end of controversy, he closed with this phrase:

As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu.

Colorful, even if not your cup of tea.  Naturally, he was attacked for his fresh mouth nasty fingers by the prissy, who found his use of the vernacular disturbing.  This was noted in my plea for the judge not to cease writing, which included the criticism of three law professors, Stephen Bainbridge (who bizarrely called Judge Kopf’s post “thinly veiled anti-Catholicism”), Rick Hasen (who felt that it undermined the dignity of the judiciary) and Jonathan Adler, who had no reason but didn’t want to miss the train. Continue reading

Why Does Nashville Police Officer Michael Pyle Hate Babies?

An 8-day-old infant was inadvertently locked in a car on the way out of the pediatrician’s office. The firefighters couldn’t get the door unlocked, so the doctor, Stacey Williams, got a hammer from her office to break the car window and free the baby, even though this wasn’t quite the way the firefighters preferred to deal with the situation.  Enter Metro cop and brave hero, Michael Pyle.

PyleOfficer Michael Pyle was dispatched to the call after firefighters said an unruly person was interfering with their rescue attempts.

Unruly? Continue reading

Command Presence Doesn’t Care About The Black Robe

In the courtroom, the judge is god.  But on the street, the judge will do as he’s told.  In New York, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Raffaele was taught that painful lesson, although he never really appeared to get it.  In California, it was Judge David Cunningham’s lesson to learn.

[Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham] claimed that two campus officers cuffed him and threw him into the back of a squad car after he had finished his morning workout at a gym in Westwood on Nov. 23, 2013.

The officers acted after he got out of his car to retrieve his car insurance and registration information and refused orders to get back in his car, the university said.

You have to love it when the media reports that the judge “claimed” something happened, just like ordinary folks do. From the LA Times: Continue reading

The Magic Bullet Isn’t Always Shiny

For years, one of the rallying cries of the defense bar and criminal justice advocates has been to require recording of interrogations.  That would prevent a laundry list of ailments, from coercive questioning that led to false confessions to revelation of police duress that would show how a defendant’s free will was overcome.  The jury would then be able to see how the sausage was made, for better or worse.  Yes, that would fix the problems.

I was never quite so sanguine.

Whether it’s videotaped confessions, or double-blind sequential line-ups, we insist that this will “fix” the system.  They may well improve things, at least until law enforcement figures out a way to use it against us.  But our expectations in magic bullets has no better chance of being the fix than did those 9 squad car cameras have of showing the reporter being subjected to excess force.

It’s not the procedures or the equipment that makes things go terribly wrong.  It’s the people, the judges, prosecutors and police.  It’s the criminal defense lawyers as well, who lack the nerve to fight the good fight.  No one has come up with a magic bullet that will change the people.

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The Integrity To Walk Away (and the guts to do so) (Update)

No one likes to think of themselves as incapable of doing that for which they went to school, were trained, dedicated their career.  This is especially true of lawyers, who sometimes view their ticket to practice law as a bullet-proof shield that allows them to take on the responsibility of another person’s life with impunity.  Modesto, California lawyer Steven O’Connor saw it differently.

From the Modesto Bee:

Defense attorney Steven O’Connor said in court that he was not competent and wanted off the case.

“I’m not going to proceed in this case,” O’Connor told the judge. “You can find me in contempt. You can notify the State Bar.”

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/2014/07/08/3429539/defense-attorney-threatens-to.html?sp=/99/1571/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

O’Conner was defending Nicholas Harris in a murder case, and lost in the guilt phase.  It would have been far better had he realized that he wasn’t up to the task before trial, but he didn’t. Better late then never. Continue reading

Frustration, Hopelessness and a Whole Lot of ‘Vettes

The connection between the world of insanity and a world that comes far closer to criminal defense turned out to be Copwatch, a site dedicated to police accountability.  It was a tenuous connection at best.

Jerad Miller — who along with his wife, Amanda, gunned down the Vegas police officers before dying during a shootout with police — was one of Cop Block’s 780,000-plus Facebook fans.

But after the killing of two officers, the ugliness beneath the surface quickly appeared:

The celebrating began before the coroner could collect the bodies of Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, the Las Vegas patrol officers ambushed and executed while eating at a pizzeria last month.

“The good news is, there are two less police in the world,” read an entry on the Facebook page for CopBlock.org.

The post was visible for less than a day, but it attracted at least 6,300 likes and comments by the time the page’s administrators removed it.

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Who’s The Boss, Albuquerque Edition

Albuquerque is a pretty cool name for a city, provided your name isn’t James Boyd.  The APD has been under the spotlight for rampant violence, which has been attributed not to a culture of evil, but piss-poor training.  It didn’t help that Jack Jones was in total control of training, given his view that:

“Evil has come to the state of New Mexico, evil has come to the Southwest, evil has come to the United States,”

But the culture that allows, that encourages violence and police abuse can be cured, if only the right people are put in positions of leadership, so they may serve as shining beacons of propriety and integrity for all cops to follow.  So the Albuquerque Police Department chose to promote Commander Timothy Gonterman to Major Timothy Gonterman. Continue reading

The Pendulum and the Mule

Why does it seem as if the pendulum swings one way far faster than the other?  Wasn’t it just the other day when judges were calling for the Smarter Sentencing Act, decrying the harsh excesses of the Sentencing Guidelines and calling for the end of mandatory minimums?

The New York Times notes that judges in the Eastern District of New York, which happens to include JFK Airport, are coming to the conclusion that drug mules are getting away too easy.  They’re now having “second thoughts” about the Guidelines sentences:

To avoid clogging up the court, the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn has embraced a strategic approach that allows couriers to plead guilty and offer information in return for lighter sentences. The policy reflected a view among many prosecutors that the mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses — which require prison terms of five years and higher in these smuggling cases — were too harsh on defendants who were typically nonviolent and disadvantaged. Continue reading

Come Home Dirty and Bruised

Babies smell wonderful.  And they have the added virtue of being there, right where you put them down, when you’re ready to pick them up again and take another whiff.  But eventually, babies grow up. They have to, no matter how much you wish they didn’t.

In a New York Times op-ed, John Beckman, an English prof at Annapolis, writes that all children should be delinquents.

By making things, breaking things and taking real risks, by becoming citizens in our ad hoc community, we used the fallow days of summer to put our Catholic-school education, and our parents’ parenting, to the test. Trial and error often proved that they were right. But in discovering what we enjoyed most — not what we were taught to enjoy — we also discovered new parts of ourselves: artists, engineers, combatants, daredevils, explorers, criminals, comedians and more. Our summer fun was a field study in life, which is the last thing we would have thought at the time.

We were typical of our era. Throughout the 1970s in America, much of the adult world was losing its grip — economically, politically, socially. But that didn’t stop kids from having fun in groundbreaking ways. If anything, it left kids freer to experiment and reboot a moribund popular culture; this was the decade that spawned hip-hop, skaters and punks.

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New Smartphone Day: Be Afraid (Update)

For years, I was able to trade up my cellphone for a new one within three months of the end of my Verizon contract.  The trick was to keep me as a customer, as acquisition costs were steep and it was worth the loss of a few months to keep me loyal.  Plus, the cellphones were always free.  It was the Schick Razor approach to technology: Give them the razor and they’ll buy the blades.

Ironically, I had a phone called a razor for much of the time.  The old Star Tac and flip phone were history, and there was a new “G” always tempting me.  When I took the dive to my first smartphone, it was a shock.  Verizon must have assumed they had me in a vise grip, as the  smartphone was no longer free, plus they dumped an activation fee on me.  I wasn’t as put out by the cost of the phone as I was outraged by the fee.  It was pure, unadulterated greed, a fee for nothing. Sure, they gave a nonsensical excuse, but everyone knew it was a lie. The reason for the fee was that they wanted more money.

Still, I had to get new phones for everyone, and with my kids in need of reliable smartphones now, I pushed forward.  It’s two years later, and the once-shiny smartphones have dulled. The batteries are dying. The camera has issues. The connection, once strong and fast, is now gasping for breath.  Smartphones truly are smart. After a year and a half, they start to die in almost perfect coordination with the need for a new phone and contract. It’s genius in precision obsolescence. Continue reading