Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chris Christie sounds good...but how is he on crime?

I caught the last half of Chris Christie speaking at the GOP National Convention last night. I am impressed with his willingness to be tough on government spending and to make real efforts to cut spending in New Jersey. 

He used to be a federal prosecutor; how does that affect him and his ideas about crime? Some call him smart on crime.
This legislation gives victims access to more information from prosecutors, assists victims of violent crime with medical expenses out of funds paid by offenders, and entitles victims to appear in court for all proceedings. Perhaps most importantly, the new law requires a judge to consider a victim’s statement before accepting a plea bargain. Moreover, the law gives victims a tool to enforce these protections, as it gives them legal standing to file motions to ensure that their interests are recognized.
I don't know enough about the New Jersey law here to have a solid opinion on this but I would rather see reforms that make plea agreements much less common and trials more common. Yes, I imagine a world where the defendant can exercise his Constitutional right to a trial, a world where the prosecution actually has to prove their case. Instead, these reforms sound like another heavy hammer for the prosecution.

Christie also is pushing the use of drug courts to keep drug law offenders out of prison. That sounds compassionate but there are plenty of questions about the effectiveness and fairness of those drug courts.

We must make our voices heard. The current focus on the need to cut government spending is a great opportunity to suggest reform of the current justice system. A reduction in the number of prisons and prisoners would save taxpayer money and it would keep productive members of society in society where they can remain productive. Fewer broken families, too. Fewer people labeled for life as felons or sex offenders...or both. Fewer asset forfeiture cases...the list goes on and on.

Monday, August 27, 2012

how much would he have gotten if he weren't a former police officer?

A former police officer was sentenced to eight years in a federal prison for charges related to child porn. He was charged with two counts of possession which carries does not carry a mandatory minimum of five years.

The cops found 2,995 pictures and 44 video files on his hard drive. That's a lot of child pornography by any standard. Eight years, though. Does that seem like a light sentence to you?

Only comparatively speaking, of course. Spending any time in prison because of photos and videos is too much. Even with that number of images....and even if you used to be a policeman.

Edited to note that federal charges of possession do not carry a mandatory minimum sentence.

Friday, August 24, 2012

this is how the media foments hysteria over sex offenders

In a story about a man sentenced to life in prison for first degree sexual assault of a child, the reporter goes all out in his efforts to make the story as lurid as possible. Sex offenders are supposed to be terrifying, after all.
He didn't fit the Jerry Sandusky model to a T. 

Then again, maybe Omaha resident Darrel G. Meyer was more in the mold of Penn State's convicted child molester than anyone realized.  

Football coach. Purported mentor of children. Program builder. Respected community member.  

The case is already shocking. A man admired and respected in the community raped a little girl over several years.

That's not enough for Todd Cooper, though. He found a way to pull the Jerry Sandusky story into this. Sandusky stories get attention. 
Meyer, 64, didn't prey on the number of children Sandusky did — at least not that authorities are aware of. 
That must have been satisfying, typing those words. Imagine! This man might have been just like Sandusky! Sex offenders are such easy targets, aren't they? Who will protest the slimy suggestion that this man is guilty of more, much more? 

Except he isn't just like Sandusky. This man has not been accused of sexually assaulting anyone other than one little girl. What Cooper wrote is despicable. least not that authorities are aware of is an assumption, an accusation. 

Todd Cooper is not a least not that authorities are aware of.
As much as once a week for nearly five years, he raped her, molested her and manipulated her. He groomed her, showered her with diamonds and other gifts, and silenced her, for a time, by threatening to kill himself or to cart her off to Boys Town. 
Yes, he sounds like a bad, bad man. And maybe he really is that awful, I don't know. The details--grooming, showering her with gifts, silencing her--should convince me.

And yet...and yet:
After pleading guilty in May in a plea deal to two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child, and with a mandatory minimum 15 years on each count, it was almost assured he would spend the rest of his life in prison. 
Ah. A plea deal. Well, that changes things, doesn't it? 

A plea deal means the prosecution never had to prove anything. They didn't have to prove the raping or the molesting, let alone the grooming, the gifts, the silencing. The prosecution merely had to make the accusations.  But, you say, he did plead guilty! He must be guilty, then.

It is possible, perhaps even probable that he is guilty of something. Maybe even something awful. But we'll never know, will we? Without a trial where the evidence is laid out and examined by a jury, we will never know. 

Instead, we are left with Todd Cooper's breathless--reprehensible!--attempts to make the story worse than it already is. 
...the question was whether he would show up [for the sentencing]. Meyer had been living in Omaha after posting $30,000 bail last summer. 

After he walked in and plopped down in the front row of the fourth-floor courtroom, one of the lead detectives in the case raised her eyebrows and said: “I'm shocked that he's here.”  

Meyer's attorney, D.C. “Woody” Bradford of Omaha, said no one should have been.
Again, Cooper tries to make mountains of molehills. No matter what the lead detectives said, and no matter whose eyebrows were raised, there was no question that the man would appear for his sentencing. He pled guilty, he put up a substantial bond, he didn't leave town, he attended therapy, he found support groups. Cooper, though, needed to embellish with "plopped down" and with the eyebrows.

Todd Cooper is not a stupid man. What he did was deliberate. It was wrong.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

new hampshire has new law on jury nullification

New Hampshire's governor signed a law that recognizes the right of a jury to decide whether a law is applied justly.
"[A] Right of Accused. In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy."
This is important.

A friend once told me that when he served on a jury, he knew the defendant was really blameless but my friend said he had to decide based on the facts of the case. Not true of course, but jurors do not know this. The judge won't tell them, the prosecution certainly won't tell them, and the defense is forbidden to tell them. However, jurors always have the right--the responsibility--to decide that the law is not just in the case before them.

Now, in New Hampshire, the defense IS allowed to tell the jury about jury nullification.
I have the feeling this New Hampshire law will end up having a tremendous effect on the American judicial system as a whole. If enough people start nullifying drug laws in New Hampshire, eventually New Hampshire prosecutors will be forced to stop prosecuting drug offenses in that state entirely. In 2010, a Montana case never even made it to trial because prosecutors could not find enough people who would be willing to convict a person based on drug charges. 
Let's hope that's the way it works out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

fail to register; go back to prison

This man was sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison because he did not register for the sex offender registry when he moved to a new city. He served out his sentences for earlier convictions and he isn't accused of any further sexual wrongdoings.

He had moved to his new city for a job. I don't know his story except for what is in that brief article; it is possible that finding a job was very difficult for him as a felon on the sex offender registry. His job is gone now. Instead of letting him be a contributing citizen, his registration requirements have turned him into a cost to society. For two and a half years, we will pay for the cost of incarcerating him.

Could his earlier crimes have been heinous? Sure. I don't know. Do we require all violent criminals to register? No. Sex offenders are treated as if they all present an inordinate danger to society. More danger than those who commit murders, more dangerous than those who commit armed robbery.

This man, and all sex offenders, are not required to register because of the crimes they committed or because they are particularly dangerous. If that were true, a decision would be made about the degree of danger presented by each offender. Instead, everyone convicted of a crime that is considered a sex offense must register. For example, a violent rapist must register and someone who looked at child porn must also register. No distinction is made between the two crimes even though one is violent and one is not. Both offenders have their addresses published and both are labeled in public as sex offenders.

This man will spend two and a half years in prison not because he is dangerous but because he didn't register. They have made an administrative detail into a crime.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

what to say when someone is going to prison?

By now, we have told many people what is happening with our family. Everyone has been very kind. They listen, they are sympathetic. They worry.

What most of them don't do, though, is ask how things are going. Much like people on other occasions of grief, friends are afraid to say the wrong thing. They don't want to bring up a painful subject. They don't want to spoil our day with a reminder that my husband will be leaving.

Here's the thing: We can't put it out of our minds, so you are not reminding us. The painful subject is always with us.

What should you say to someone who has a family member about to go to prison? Simple acknowledgement that this is a terrible time for our family is a great start. It does help us to know that someone out there remembers that we are suffering. If you worry about beginning a conversation that you are not prepared for (we really do understand that others are shocked about the child porn), don't worry. Most of the time, we don't want to talk about it, either. We do not interpret expressions of support as support for the crime, if that thought worries you.

One wonderful friend texts me with mundane news about her garden and the weather, always including a "thinking of you" message. One day, she texted, "Your heart must be broken." She is simply thinking of me, remembering that we have difficult days. Isn't that really what you want to tell us?

Try that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

improving the sex offender registry?

In a recent discussion about the sex offender registry, suggestions were made about how it could be improved, how it could be made more effective. I think we can neither improve it nor make it more effective. We must abolish it.

No matter how the sex offender registry is designed, no matter how narrowly we craft its purpose, the sex offender registry will become the ugly thing it is today. One suggestion is to put fewer people on the registry, only the really dangerous offenders. The problem with this is that when there is a decision to be made about how dangerous a man is, a judge will err on the side of caution. Sure, this guy probably won't do anything bad but if he does, the judge could be held responsible. Judges will put more people on the registry than they need to. Prosecutors will push to put convicts on the registry.

Isn't that how we got to the point where all sex offenders are on the registry and some are on it for life? The registry did not begin like this.

I do believe there is a tiny number of people who are so dangerous that they should be...should be what? Should  be in prison for life? Should be on a registry for life? Should be supervised for life? Should be committed to an institution for the mentally ill? For life? 

Are we not already living among dangerous people? We don't know who they are or what they will do, yet we live among them. First offenders have to come from somewhere, after all. What do we do now about unknown dangers? Don't we manage that risk as it is? We accept a huge risk every time we drive our cars in traffic and we think nothing of it. 

Why do the very words "sex offender" send some people into a tailspin of fright?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

sex offender registry makes murders more possible

In an interview with detectives, Drum said he shot and killed Blanton and Ray because they were sex offenders, according to probable cause papers filed in Clallam County Superior Court. 
"Drum also stated that he had intended on driving to Jefferson County (Washington state) where another sex offender lived, with the intent to kill him too," the papers said. 
Clallam County prosecutor Deborah Kelly said at a court hearing on Monday, where Drum was ordered held without bail, that he had told investigators he planned to keep killing sex offenders until he was stopped.
Both Blanton and Ray were required to register as sex offenders after serving their respective sentences. They followed the law and registered, making it possible for Drum to find them easily.
Drum has a criminal record with convictions for residential burglary and drug offenses. 
Please note that Drum was not required to register as a burglar. If he had been required to register as a burglar, would he have been prevented from committing murder? Nope. If he had been required to register as a burglar, would his two victims have known to avoid him? Nope. 

Why do people think the world works differently for sex offenders? The sex offender registry makes targets of sex offenders. Is that really okay with you?

Monday, August 6, 2012

just say No!

This man made one simple mistake: He let the cops search him and his vehicle. He thought he had nothing to worry about because he had nothing to hide.

I have begun telling my kids how to respond if they are ever stopped by police. I tell them to say, "I do not consent to any searches." I tell them that even if the cops are polite and friendly they should still refuse consent to a search, even when they are sure they have nothing to hide. I think of this as preparation for the day when they will be driving with their friends in the car. When friends are in the car, they could spill pot, drop pills, leave something behind that law enforcement could find suspicious.

The justice system is controlled by bureaucrats, people who follow the rules and don't know how or when to discriminate among details.

All of this was supposed to be temporary. James hoped that after 12 months, his record would be wiped, and he could find his way back into the finance industry.   
He was wrong. While his probation officer told James that he could break curfew if he was working late (and only then), she didn't tell him that he needed permission from the judge do so. This led to him being charged with violating his probation, and the extension of his punishment until March 2008. And those two years were more than enough time for every third-party private background-check company in the state to register him as having pled no contest to a possession charge.

Just as with this man, even when the situation is generally understood to be unjust, the justice system has no way to stop, think, and reconsider. No way to back out of the course it is set upon.

It is best to Just say No.