Daily Archives: April 9, 2008

Chief Justice reflects on first year at helm

Wow, it’s already been a year since the CT Supreme Court got a new Chief Justice. In an interview with WFSB, Justice Rogers reflects on a year at the head of the Court.

Part of her agenda for the past year has been courthouse security:

As she met with judges during her first year in the state’s top judicial job, Rogers said she heard the same concern over and over: There’s a lack of security in Connecticut courthouses.

Judges across Connecticut, particularly those working in older buildings, confided that they don’t feel safe.

“They shouldn’t,” Rogers said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “There’s not adequate security for these buildings.”

She asked for additional funding for more marshal positions, but that money didn’t make it into the Governor’s budget.

She has also focused on opening the courts to the public and the media, which some have not taken to too kindly (*cough*Norm*cough*), and has asked a Commission she appointed to re-examine how judges are evaluated.

She formed a 42-member Public Service and Trust Commission, which has held more than 90 focus group sessions and spent thousands of hours on a three- to five-year strategic plan for the branch that is due to be released soon.

The ideas range from making sure all courthouses open at 8:30 a.m. to reaching out to minority law students and encouraging them to seek judgeships or apply for Judicial Branch jobs.

Despite all this, she has found the time to author 30 opinions. Thirty!

From what I’ve seen of her in oral argument, I’ve been impressed. She seems to be extremely well prepared and asks intelligent, pertinent questions. For my CT practitioners: what are your impressions of her first year in office?

Texas polygamist raid based on defective warrant?

Grits is all over the story that the search warrant and accompanying affidavit used to enter and search the polygamist compound headed by the now convicted Warren Jeffs may be illegal.

For starters, the initial warrant named the wrong person. Dale Barlow, the 50-year old man who an anonymous phone call accused of marrying and assaulting an underage girl. Barlow is actually on probation living in Arizona, says he’s never met the girl in question, and has not been arrested.

Indeed, they can’t even find the 16 year old girl who’s phone call set off the whole chain of events. None of the information on which authorities based the raid appears to have panned out. The error regarding Barlow in the warrant could easily wind up creating a “fruit of the poisonous tree” situation where none of the evidence from the compound searches can be used in court.

So if the first warrant targeted the wrong person, and the second, expanded warrant was based on observations from the first, I don’t see how these warrants stand up in court, though maybe some attorneys in the crowd have additional thoughts. Several criminal defense lawyers interviewed on CNN also questioned the breathtaking scope of the warrants.

As a commenter correctly points out, the exact scope of the warrants will need to be seen to determine if they are indeed illegal. Grits also raises another interesting issue about whether some of the laws the sect has been accused of violating were passed specifically as a challenge to their religious beliefs.

This Texas mess just got a lot more interesting.

Innocents on Death Row: Who’s counting?

John Holdridge, who argued State v. Courchesne last month before the (CT) Supreme Court, has this opinion piece at HuffPo, arguing that the number of exonerations from death row make a strong case for a moratorium on the death penalty.

One of the primary reasons is the recent explosion in the number of death-row exonerations, which the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) now puts at 127. In response, some proponents of capital punishment have taken to arguing that many of the freed death-row prisoners are not in fact innocent.

The rest of the article is a good read (or riddled with inaccuracies, if you’re a proponent), but this last sentence piqued my curiosity. What do you consider to be “innocence”, when talking about exonerations? Do you restrict this definition to factual innocence or should it include legal innocence as well?

The DPIC number comes from the inclusive definition of “innocence”. I take factual innocence to mean that there is no credible evidence of an individual’s guilt. How is this different from legal innocence and why is such a distinction necessary or even worthwhile?

In 2005 testimony before Congress, [Oregon prosecutor Joshua] Marquis submitted a document [PDF ]which denied that my former client, Michael Ray Graham, and his co-defendant Albert Burrell were released from Louisiana’s death row because they were innocent. The author of the document claimed that they were released “only because there was insufficient evidence of guilt.” In fact, Graham and Burrell were released after the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office informed a court that there was “a total lack of credible evidence linking Graham and/or Burrell to the crime.”

So, what do you think?

Second Chance in Connecticut?

I have long supported greater prisoner re-entry and rehabilitation programs (as you all may know), so I was happy to see that President Bush will sign the Second Chance Act today.

In a sharp change in attitudes about incarceration, many states and private groups have recently experimented with “re-entry” programs to help released prisoners fit back into their communities and avoid new crime.

The strategy will get a major boost this week. President Bush is to sign the Second Chance Act in a public ceremony on Wednesday, making rehabilitation a central goal of the federal justice system. In a sign of how far the pendulum has swung, the measure passed Congress with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.
With the new law, the federal government is to provide more money and leadership in a field where progress is likely to be difficult at best, experts agree.

The law authorizes the spending of $165 million a year for grants to promote and experiment with support services and methods to assess which offenders are more like to commit more crimes.

So will the passage of this bill have any impact in Connecticut and will Connecticut take re-entry programs and rehabilitation more seriously? It seems that there may be a chance. Mike Lawlor, judiciary committee co-chair, was “active” in the Council of State Governments and he has been pushing for a similar focus on re-entry in Connecticut and will be in attendance at the bill signing ceremony today.

While much of the criminal justice debate in Connecticut has centered around mandatory-minimums and harsh three-strikes laws, there apparently is more going on that the press has not cared to report.

But state House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said that behind those disagreements are wide support for re-entry programs backed by Lawlor, co-chairman of the legislature’s judiciary committee.

“We have a ton in common,” he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s commissioner of correction, Theresa Lantz, has repeatedly testified in legislative hearings that supervised-release programs are highly effective. Like most governors, Rell has shown little interest in an expensive prison expansion program.

Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments, said the new push for re-entry programs grew from a realization in the states that a multi-billion-dollar expansion of prisons alone cannot check crime.

Let us hope that this is indeed true and that the legislature will take re-entry seriously. It is foolish to think that we can prevent crime and that the only solution is to lock people up for long periods of time. The sooner we turn our focus and resources to providing released inmates the tools with which to integrate into society, the sooner we start making our communities safer.