But for video: everywhere edition

The Verge has this well-done video report on the growing use of personal video cameras by law enforcement to record everything that they do. While dashboard cameras have been in use for a while, this technology records from the vantage point of the individual officer and is being used as a supplement to the ubiquitous cell phone recording technology that we all have at our fingertips today.

I’ve long been a proponent of recording every interaction that the police have with private citizens; it helps not only to expose abuses of power but also to settle interminable arguments between the prosecution and defense on the voluntariness of statements.

Of course, there are still logistical issues to be worked out, such as when does the officer have to turn on the recording and there are still questions of just how to interpret what is being seen on the screen, but at least the conduct is out in the open for all to observe, rather than a secret act which can be hidden behind a wall of blue.

Bonus: this fantastic, lengthy piece by Radley Balko on why we need to stop exaggerating the threat to cops. On the other hand, this may not be the best thought to combine with videotaping every interaction an officer might have.

 

 

A prior restraint on due process

[Fair warning: the only things I know about the First Amendment are what I learn from reading Popehat and Randazza and that it's a good thing.]

See updates below.

A story that I first read here at Reason last week is increasingly gaining steam and it is this: In the pending case of the People of Colorado vs. James Holmes, the trial judge entered a pre-trial order ‘Limiting Pretrial Publicity’ as well as several “gag” orders preventing prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement officers from discussing certain details of the case with the press.

In July 2012, a reporter at Fox News named Jana Winter published a “scoop” about a diary penned by the Aurora suspect James Holmes. Here is what she “revealed”:

“Inside the package was a notebook full of details about how he was going to kill people,” the source told FoxNews.com. “There were drawings of what he was going to do in it — drawings and illustrations of the massacre.”

A second law enforcement source said authorities got a warrant from a county judge and took the package away Monday night. When it was opened, its chilling contents were revealed.

Both of FoxNews.com’s sources said the intended recipient of Holmes’ notebook was a professor who also treated patients at the psychiatry outpatient facility, located in Building 500, where the first suspicious package was delivered. It could not be verified that the psychiatrist had had previous contact with Holmes, who was a dropout from the school’s neuroscience doctoral program and had studied various mental health issues and ailments as part of his curriculum.

So, recently, James Holmes’ attorneys filed a motion with the court seeking to disclose the source of the leak. The gag order, of course, applies only to the parties to the proceeding and most certainly not to the press, see Nebraska Press Association vs. Stuart. For a judge to prohibit the press from writing about a public case would be a prior restraint on speech and that is almost universally prohibited.

Treating juveniles as adults: there are no winners

Just try to imagine the circumstances that lead a man to abandon his teenage son in a criminal courtroom and walk away, never to have contact with him again. Imagine the trauma already felt by a 15 year old boy, charged as an adult, told he’d have to walk around with a felony conviction and register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and then turn to see the only person there to support him – his father – leave during a recess and never come back.

That’s what happened to one young teen in New London, CT, back in February. The Day has this absolutely heartbreaking story of the problems of juvenile sex offenders, the harsh laws that we have and the absolute lack of any viable treatment options for these teens (The Day has chosen to name the 15 year because he’s being tried as an adult; I disagree with their tact, so I’m not going to name him).

Racism in the death penalty? We’re North Carolina after all!

Tar_Heel_postcard

What do you call people from North Carolina? Whatever that word is, they were faced with a choice: do they appear to be racist murderers or just plain Northeastern Liberal Sissies?

I know what I’d choose and I know what stereotype says that the North Carolinians would choose. And proving that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, they chose the former. The Senate just repealed (here‘s the bill) the Racial Justice Act, which allows inmates to use statistics to prove that their death sentences are obtained based on racial injustice.

Just last year I was congratulating the Second in Flight State for a decision reversing the death sentence for a man who proved that racial bias played a significant role in the jury selection process. The opinion by Judge Weeks [PDF] said that:

Race played a “persistent, pervasive and distorting role” in jury selection and couldn’t be explained other than that “prosecutors have intentionally discriminated” against Robinson and other capital defendants statewide, Weeks said. Prosecutors eliminated black jurors more than twice as often as white jurors, according to a study by two Michigan State University law professors Weeks said he found highly reliable.

The opinion relied in part on a study [PDF] by Michigan State University. This was all made possible due to the Racial Justice Act, an avant-garde piece of legislation enacted in North Carolina that did exactly what the United States Supreme Court prohibited a quarter century ago in McCleskey v. Kemp.

The penalties of gun control

Gun Control™ is here and it’s here to stay. This is not about whether we should have reasonable limits on the ownership, sale and transfer of weapons (we should) or even whether the limits proposed are reasonable (eh) or whether some types of weapons should be outright banned (arguable) or whether you’re a moron for waiting this long to realize that the State has been infringing on your rights and whittling away at them for decades (it has).

We can talk about the incomprehensible argument that there should be no limit on the ownership of guns because only criminals use guns in a criminal way (I think there’s a word for this linguistic marvel but I’m too tongue-tied to think of it right now), which is accurate, because once you use a gun in a criminal way, you’re a criminal (but we won’t), or we can talk about just how much you’re going to need a lawyer now that some types of ownership has been outlawed (but that would just be me rubbing it in), so instead I’m just going to complain about how this bill will succeed only in making life worse for my clients.

Because it will do just that.

Spin

Couldn’t this article “James Holmes’ Victims Applaud Death Penalty Plan: ‘I Want Him Dead'” just as easily have been titled ”James Holmes’ Victims Conflicted on Death Penalty Plan”? See this paragraph:

Family members are divided on whether Holmes should get death, according to investigative sources. Some are philosophically opposed to the death penalty, others support it and still another group wants death for Holmes, but they don’t want to endure a trial.

More inaccurate sensationalist bloodthirsty drive readers to the page by appealing to their basest instincts bullshit.

State to establish dangerous weapon offender registry

You knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of time. Doesn’t matter that we weren’t the first state to rush to pass gun control laws, as long as we’re the one with the best laws. And having the best laws means having the toughest laws and having the toughest laws not only means heavy regulation but also By-God-We’re-Going-To-Punish-The-Hell-Out-Of-You.

And so here we are. Along with bans on high capacity magazines and universal background checks, we also have “the nation’s first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry”. An idea that Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney has proposed before (here‘s a 2011 Courant article on that proposal), the registry requires that:

[I]ndividuals must register with DESPP if they have been convicted of any of more than 40 enumerated weapons offenses (mostly gun offenses) or another felony that the court makes a finding involved the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon.

Individuals must register with DESPP for a total of five years after their release into the community. During that time they must keep their registration address current at all times, and they must check in once per year, on the anniversary of their release, with local law enforcement in the town where they currently reside. Unlike Megan’s List, this registry will not be public. Instead, it will be available to law enforcement only.

In addition, this mega compromise super-awesome-best-in-the-world-bill naturally also “significantly increases penalties for many firearms trafficking and illegal possession offenses.” Of course it does.

These provisions will do nothing to stop another Adam Lanza. These provisions won’t affect James Holmes.

What they will do is further oppress an already oppressed segment of society. Now poor black and Hispanic defendants will have two more procedural hurdles to jump through and more opportunities to commit crimes.

So why not just take everyone who’s committed a crime and make them register somewhere with some agency. And we’ll make them undergo some rigorous testing when they’re released, so we can probe them and see if they’re doing the right thing. Maybe we can call it, hmm, let’s see, probe…probate…probation! Yes. Probation. And when they’re on probation they have to report to an officer of some sort. Someone who keeps tabs on them. Let’s see. What shall we call this Officer of Probation? Okay, nevermind, we can come back to that.

What’s that? We do that already? Oh. But what’s one more registration requirement, right? I mean, all of our other registries are working so wel-oh, wait.

Also included in the bill are a bunch of mental health provisions. Because now apparently the mantra is that people don’t kill people, but mentally ill people use guns to kill people. Whatever.

If you accept that flawed premise as the root cause of all gun-related evil (as has been bandied about by many since the mass shootings of the past few years); that these are mentally ill people who are committing crimes and of course no sane law abiding citizen would ever use a gun in an unlawful manner (of course they wouldn’t; once they do they aren’t law abiding anymore), then the question becomes, what to do with those that are mentally ill and thus predisposed to crime? Or are criminals mentally ill because only mentally ill people commit crimes with guns? And if we have such a large gun problem, that means that there are many people who are mentally ill, correct?

The truth, of course, is that some mentally ill people commit crimes, some sane people commit crimes, some mentally ill people don’t commit crimes and some sane people don’t commit crimes. What’s also true is that our prisons are filled with people who did commit crimes because they are mentally ill and there are zero options available to treat and assist them and prevent them from re-offending. Putting them on a fucking list isn’t going to solve anything.

So what’s plainly missing from these “mental health provisions” is any mention of mental illness among the prison population and the taking of any steps to address that huge neglected problem. At least a quarter of all inmates have mental illnesses and in a society where there are fewer and fewer resources being assigned to diagnose and treat those mental illnesses, any bill that proposes to make mental health reforms but doesn’t so much as mention the incarcerated population (in a bill that is all about criminals and criminalizing conduct, no less, wtf, is this crazy season?) is a joke.

WAIT. It’s April Fool’s Day today, right? That’s got to be it. That’s the only explanation. Whew. Good one, Connecticut legislature.