Your Money or I’ll Bratwurst You

Deangelo Dixon robbed a bank.  No, his name will not loom as large as Jesse James, nor will he be glorified in a romantic crime movie with only modest nudity. If anything, his name will be forever linked with Polish meat, for which he has Judge Frank Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit to thank. Apparently, Judge Posner passed on the opportunity to do personal, off-record research to write the opinion.  Good all.

In United States v. Dixon, the court considered the distinction between bank robbery by use of a dangerous weapon and bank robbery by intimidation.

A more promising argument is that the conviction should have been under §2113(a) (bank robbery by intimidation) rather than §2113(d) (violation of §2113(a) by using a dangerous weapon or device). In one robbery Dixon waved at tellers a bag containing a stiff object and threatened them, saying “Five seconds or I’m gonna shoot”. In the other Dixon brandished an object with a long barrel and directed a teller to “give him the money or he would shoot” The object in both robberies was not a gun but a butane lighter with a long barrel.

Continue reading

SCOTUSCare

While King v. Burwell falls outside my wheelhouse (which means whatever I may say about it should be taken with a grain of incredulity), the New York Times editorial on this great victory for the law compels me to write.

Its core claim — that an ambiguous four-word phrase buried deep in the 900-page law eliminates health insurance for millions of lower-income Americans — was preposterous. The entire point of the law, as embodied in the title of its first chapter, is “Quality, affordable health care for all Americans.”

That explains why the USA PATRIOT Act must be good law. After all, look at the name.  The “point of the law” has nothing to do with the substance of the law. Good intentions don’t control; words do. Glorious purpose covers a great many faults, not the least of which is the government’s facility at coming up with grand names and missions followed by crappy, poorly conceived, horribly written laws that wreak havoc. Continue reading

Schneiderman Fills The Gap

After the grand jury fiasco orchestrated by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan that returned “no true bill” for the murder of Eric Garner, there were cries for the return of a special prosecutor to handle cop killings. The rationale was straightforward, that local prosecutors were too close to police, relied upon police, and therefore couldn’t be trusted to prosecute cops.

That explanation makes sense, though it wasn’t necessarily the case. There were, are, prosecutors willing to do their job, even if it meant indicting cops.  But then, others have failed, miserably, deliberately, disgracefully, to put all their empty rhetoric about crime and punishment to the test when it’s one of their beloved police officers on the wrong end of a killing.  And it’s happened too often.

So Governor Andy Cuomo felt the need to do something.  From the AP:

With lawmakers unable to agree on an approach as the legislative session ended, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday he’d use executive power to appoint Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for a year as special prosecutor for police killings.

Continue reading

The Wood Revelations (Update)

Jonathan Banks, having taken the helm when Cato Institute took over the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project from Packratt, was kind enough to capture and storify the twits of Michael A. Wood Jr., a former Baltimore police officer who left the force in 2014.  They are, to say the least, explosive.

Here is what Wood had to say:

So here we go. I’m going to start Tweeting the things I’ve seen & participated in, in policing that is corrupt, intentional or not.

A detective slapping a completely innocent female in the face for bumping into him, coming out of a corner chicken store.

Punting a handcuffed, face down, suspect in the face, after a foot chase. My handcuffs, not my boot or suspect Continue reading

Revenge Porn: The Funny and The True

At Reason,* Elizabeth Nolan Brown tries to out-funny John Oliver, whose tune has changed from ridiculing those who are too fragile to withstand the “hurtful” comments on twitter to championing the end of revenge porn.

Dear Good People of the U.S. who want to stop The Bad Things from Happening: Great! I, too, want to stop The Bad Things from happening. Most people do. But we have got to talk about this impulse to accomplish good things by simply making all the bad things into federal crimes. It’s an easy-to-stumble-upon—aka lazy—solution that ultimately fails us all, even when the actions in question are undoubtedly unsavory.

Brown raises a good point on the issue of overcriminalization, our impulse to use the bludgeon of criminal law to eliminate Bad Things from happening, and she borrows John Oliver’s funny opening line to make her point. Good stuff. But not adequate, and that’s a problem.

One of the issues that lawyers, Mark Bennett in particular, have tried hard to convey is that the constitutional rights involved, the unintended consequences, the chilling effects, go far beyond what can be easily seen on the surface. It can be hard to appreciate problems that aren’t obvious to the shallow observer, but laws aren’t parsed for their obvious purpose, but the unintended harm they will cause down the road. Continue reading

Blinded By The Lights

There are two basic choices if you feel the need to do something when you’re blinded by the headlights of the car coming in the opposite direction.  There’s the Woody Allen/Christopher Walken option, not advisable.  Or you can flash your lights, a long time courtesy to alert the other driver that his high beams may be on.

Deven Guilford picked the second option, which didn’t sit well with the driver of the oncoming car, Eaton County, Michigan Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Jonathan Frost. Via Radley Balko:

Frost has said he was not using his high beams, but was driving a new police car that apparently had unusually bright headlights. He even told Guilford that he had previously pulled over other drivers for flashing their brights at him — all of whom had mistakenly thought he was using his high beams — and let them off with warnings. This would seem to indicate that Frost was driving with headlights that other drivers found distracting and potentially dangerous. Yet instead of looking into the matter, he continued to pull people over, essentially for the crime of being distracted by his lights.

So Sgt. Frost was basically being a douche about driving around with lights that weren’t on high beam, but were sufficiently bright to cause driver after driver to think otherwise. Continue reading

Defending Murder With A Side of Pizza

It’s not easy to turn a quadruple murder into an internet joke, but that’s what happened after police used the DNA found on Domino’s pizza crust to identify the accused murderer of Savvas Savopoulos, his wife Amy, their son Philip and their housekeeper Veralicia Figureroa. Who orders pizza during a robbery and resultant murder?  According to the police, that would be Daron Wint.

The first effort at defending came from Robin Flicker:

Robin Flicker, a lawyer who has represented suspect Wint in the past but has not been officially hired as his defense attorney, says police are zeroing in on Wint because his DNA was found on pizza at the crime scene. The only problem, Flicker said is that Wint doesn’t like pizza.

“He doesn’t eat pizza,” Flicker told ABC News. “If he were hungry, he wouldn’t order pizza.”

Continue reading

When Cops Can Shoot

Amnesty International has released a report on the state of law enforcement in the United States, and it’s unattractive. As reported in the Guardian:

Every state in the US fails to comply with international standards on the lethal use of force by law enforcement officers, according to a report by Amnesty International USA, which also says 13 US states fall beneath even lower legal standards enshrined in US constitutional law and that nine states currently have no laws at all to deal with the issue.

Contrary to the way in which shootings are portrayed by journalists who repeat police press releases as if they actually meant something, police are theoretically constrained by law, as is everyone else. It’s just not the same law, despite the fact that there is “no officer safety exception in the Constitution.”

The ordinary presentation to the public is by some chief or spokesmodel, who explains that a shooting was within departmental policy.  This is a nonsensical point, although journalists rarely question it.  Departmental policy is not law.  Departmental policy is whatever the big cheese at the police department decides it is, and not even the almighty chief gets to create policy that violates the law.  The chief does not dictate when cops can shoot, when cops can kill. Only the law can do that. Continue reading

The Understandable Murder

The link was sent here by Mike Paar, who sends over a lot of links, mostly about cops or prosecutors behaving badly. This one was different, and the subject line reflected it: “Call them out when they do wrong, but praise them when they get it right.”

In Carson City, Nevada, District Attorney Jason Woodbury declined to prosecute a murder.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that 88-year-old William Dresser was arrested in January 2014 for killing 86-year-old Frances Dresser, his wife of 68 years.

She was at Carson Tahoe Hospital after a fall at home caused permanent paralysis.

Carson City District Attorney Jason Woodbury says Frances Dresser expressed a desire to no longer live and that her family requested William Dresser not be prosecuted.

It’s not that Woodbury couldn’t prosecute, but that he didn’t want toContinue reading

The Brief and Perpetual Lifespan of Fatherhood

When the nurse put my daughter into my arms moments after her birth. I had no clue. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to feel. The wise nurse told me to sing her a song, so I did. To this day, my family makes fun of me for my song choice, and I can’t explain it. It just happened.

No moment changed my life more. Up to then, I lived for myself. My lovely wife too, but really myself, and she was just an adjunct to my life, as I was to hers. But this was different. For the first time in my existence, there was someone more important to me than me.

The first decade was one of emerging joys. Sure, a million problems, but they came with the turf.  The smile, the hug, the kiss, made the problems disappear. I was one of those dads who chose to spend time with my kids, who went out of his way to find reasons to be with them.  They needed me, and that gave me purpose. Continue reading

Fear of Towels

Despite the dearth of facts, there are enough to reach an immutable conclusion. Los Angeles police shot a man in the head without justification, no less avoidability.  From the LA Times:

The man flagged down officers about 6:35 p.m. at Los Feliz Boulevard and Tica Drive south of Griffith Park, according to a police account.

“This person extended an arm wrapped in a towel. The officer exited the vehicle and said, ‘Drop the gun, drop the gun,'” LAPD Lt. John Jenal said.

Then at least one officer shot the man, officials say. 

After the shooting, a video was taken of the cops rolling the man over, revealing the gaping wound in his head, in order to cuff him.  This aspect, caught on video, has given rise to more, and harsher, criticism than the shooting.  The question of why they would risk manhandling someone who took a bullet to the head, and thus needed aid while posing no threat, to cuff him was paramount. Continue reading

Justice Thomas’ Box

As noted in the New York Times’ editorial, Justice Anthony Kennedy seized the opportunity to write a concurring opinion in Davis v. Ayala to go a bit orthogonal.  The case was a habeas corpus review of the defendant’s Batson challenges, the prosecution having used its peremptory strikes to cleanse the jury of dark skin.

But that wasn’t the issue in the case. The issue was that in justifying the use of challenges to rid the jury box of anyone remotely close to the defendant’s life experiences, the prosecutor was allowed to make his pitch privately to the judge so as not to reveal his secret, masterful strategy.  Of course, this meant the defense was flagrantly denied due process, but some things must give way if the prosecution is to be assured of a win.

The Supreme held that the offending conduct was harmless error, because the defendant was GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY. No harm, no foul. Move along, nothing to see here.

But while agreeing with this outcome, Justice Kennedy took the opportunity to note that Ayala’s world post-conviction was awfully quiet. Continue reading