Sundown comes to East Haven


East Haven, CT generally has two claims to fame: being a predominantly Italian-American populated town and being in the middle of the collision of tectonic plates during the Paleozoic Era, which led to the formation of Pangaea (yeah, bet you didn’t know that!). And now, rapidly, the town is intent on adding a third selling point: a sundown town.

Residents of Connecticut will have heard these stories for years now: the systematic harassment of and discrimination against minorities, mainly Hispanic, who comprise about 5% of the town’s population. For example, Father James Manship was arrested in March of 2009 after he started videotaping the harassment of Latinos [what is up with cops and videotaping in the Havens?]. During that same incident, police inexplicably ordered the owner of a store to take down expired license plates that adorned his walls:

On the evening of his arrest, at around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 19, Father Manship walked into My Country Store, a convenience store in East Haven run by Ecuadorians. Inside, the police were removing over 60 expired license plates that had been hung as decorations in the store. The license plates were government property, the officers had said, and they were confiscating them.

After the police arrested the priest, they noticed that the store was equipped with security cameras. Elio Cruz, a leader in New Haven’s Virgen Del Cisne Ecuadorian community, was in the store that night. “When [the police officers] realized there was videotaping from My Country Store, they went crazy,” Cruz recalled later. “They said it was illegal and they tried to grab the computer.”

Matute said that three officers entered the back room without his permission and searched the shelves in his storeroom. When they found the hard drive containing the store’s digital security camera footage, they wanted to take it, but Matute wouldn’t let them, he said. Matute said that the officers then called a detective to bring a video camera to record the security footage off of the computer screen, but the detective’s camera didn’t work.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. In October of this year, some Latino residents of East Haven filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, after the DOJ had opened an investigation into police tactics:

Death penalty abolition bill filed and waiting

It isn’t even January yet and already state legislators are “pre-filing” bills to be voted upon in the next session of the state legislature. As expected, first among them is a death penalty abolition bill with State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield as its proponent. Holder-Winfield, you may recall, spearheaded the first abolition bill two years ago, which passed both the House and Senate and was ultimately vetoed by “only a month left until she’s gone, wooohoo” Gov. Rell.

Holder-Winfield has also introduced other necessary criminal justice reform legislation, like adopting the best practices for eyewitness identification procedures and videotaping interrogations. He has “pre-filed” a bill addressing the former once again.

Of course, with the just concluded Hayes trial and the upcoming circus in the trial of his co-defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky, the debate on the death penalty bill is likely to be emotional, contentious and close. But no one can accuse Holder-Winfield of falling prey to the typical abolitionist tendencies of avoiding confrontation and “waiting for the right moment”, which almost never materializes, because there’s always a heinous crime around which the pro-death penalty folks will rally.

With newly elected anti-death penalty Dan Malloy taking over the reins of the State for the next 4 years, there’s a sliver of hope for abolition.


Queensland, Alabama

If you look closely, you can see "South Pacific Ocean". Alabama is no longer part of the US! Yay!

Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of geography will quickly realize that Queensland is not in Alabama at all. Queensland is in Australia and Alabama is, well, somewhere down south where we like to pretend doesn’t exist.

But the two have come together in this mind-boggling and ultimately bordering on illegal vendetta prosecution of Gabe Watson for the murder of his wife Tina, in 2003.

And while the rest of the world is busy getting up in arms about Julian Assange and Sweden and Britain and bail and the US and possible prosecutions [that’s SEO, n00bs], it falls upon me to bring you this sorry tale of overreaching and choice of law.

Back in ’03, Gabe and Tina, newlyweds, went to Queensland for its great barrier reef and it’s picturesque setting for a honeymoon. As most people not named Gideon are wont to do, they went scuba diving and that’s where tragedy struck. Tina drowned and died. Gabe returned to Alabama where he lived for 5 years until an Australian court indicted him for the murder of Tina Watson. He voluntarily returned to Queensland and through the good work of his lawyers was able to secure a plea bargain wherein he pled guilty to manslaughter, for “failing to perform his duties as dive buddy” that resulted in Tina’s death. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison, which was later increased to 18 months by Australian “authorities”:

After objections from Tina Watson’s family and Alabama Attorney General Troy King that the sentence was too lenient, Australian Attorney General Cameron Dick increased Watson’s time by six months.

What does this have to do with Alabama? Well, that’s where he’s from and that’s where Tina was from, so a few months ago, AL prosecutors indicted the proverbial ham sandwich: two counts of capital felony. Australia, bless their reformed souls, agreed to deport Watson only if AL agreed to take the death penalty off the table.

So, you’re probably wondering, how in [insert deity of choice]’s name does Alabama have jurisdiction? The crime, whatever it may be, occurred almost 10,000 miles away, on the other side of the planet. AL prosecutors’ assertion is that he killed Tina for insurance money, a plot that was hatched in AL before going to Queensland where he completed it.

The problem with that theory is this:

The stupid; it hurts the brain

no caption needed

There are few topics in the criminal justice arena that get the masses’ blood boiling as much as sexual assault and the “rights” of those accused of these horrible crimes. When it comes to rape, people generally don’t care about the rules or the Constitution or the fact that no matter how awful and hideous the crime, the procedures must be followed. Which is why we end up with stories like the one I linked to yesterday from the State of Washington:

Of course, even those accused of horrible crimes are entitled to a defense. And just because someone is accused of being a rapist doesn’t make it so. But victims also have rights, and asking them to relive the trauma of a sexual assault via a cross-examination by the perpetrator sure seems to be a violation of them.

Thankfully, there have been efforts to address the situation. Last year, a bill was introduced that would appear to protect defendants’ and victims’ rights alike by allowing the former to question the latter via closed-circuit television or through a surrogate attorney. And while the bill stalled in the state legislature, a similar proposal is expected to be reintroduced in the next legislative session — and recent events ought to persuade previously skeptical politicians.

This is stupid in so many ways, it hurts the brain. How? Let me count the ways. First, as I’ve written extensively, there’s the Constitution:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to […] be confronted with the witnesses against him.

That right of confrontation is “the right physically to face those who testify against him, and the right to conduct cross-examination.” Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987).

The reasoning is explicit and clear: to have the person making the allegation face the defendant and the jury and look them in the eye. After all, if you’re going to accuse someone of a crime, at least have the conviction to do it face to face:

As the United States Supreme Court has asserted, a defendant’s “literal right to `confront’ the witness at the time of trial … forms the core of the values furthered by the Confrontation Clause.” California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 157 (1970); Delaware v. Fensterer, supra; Davis v. Alaska, supra, 315; Dowdell v. United States, 221 U.S. 325, 330 (1911). The clause was originally conceived as a safeguard “to prevent depositions or ex parte affidavits … being used against the prisoner in lieu of a personal examination and cross-examination of the witness in which the accused has an opportunity, not only of testing the recollection and sifting the conscience of the witness, but of compelling him to stand face to face with the jury in order that they may look at him, and judge by his demeanor upon the stand and the manner in which he gives his testimony whether he is worthy of belief.” Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 242-43 (1895); see also 5 J. Wigmore, Evidence (3d Ed. 1940) §§ 1365, 1367.

But in almost all cases, this confrontation is had between the accuser and the defendant’s lawyer. The lawyer, who is trained and well-versed in the rules of evidence and who will keep the questioning relevant and professional. The concern in the story that’s the focus of the post is pro-se questioning by defendants, who tend to go off the rails and sometimes seek to bully, embarrass and badger witnesses. Or ask completely irrelevant questions and upset the whole trial. Sure, that’s a concern. But that’s a concern with anything a pro-se defendant does. And here, yet again, there’s that pesky constitution:

Wednesday is still link dump day

because it's been just too damn long

Too many browser tabs, not enough motivation to turn them into posts. My excess, your bounty. Or something:

  • What has to be the story of the week and case-in-point in re my tirades against the press and its coverage of the #hayes trial: mother of the victim of a murder sees murderer plead to 30 years in jail, then goes outside courthouse where gaggle of #hayes reporters twiddle their thumbs, bangs on 3 news vans and not one is interested in this woman’s loss. Shame. Shame on us all. To top it off, this happened a month ago and we’re just hearing about it. You tell me the press’ coverage of #hayes wasn’t about race or socio-economic status. Just try.
  • If it’s Wednesday, it must be time to get a-round-tuit.
  • Does routinely sampling DNA from people who are merely arrested violate the 4th Amendment?
  • Prosecutor says listening to call between defendant and his attorney was a “good faith mistake”.
  • A CA judge ruled that laws restricting where sex offenders can live are unconstitutional.
  • Co-defendants, Bruton, Crawford, hearsay… oh, my! A primer.
  • Georgia keeps having to dismiss murder cases because they don’t got no money.
  • The Texas Tornado on TSA, public fondling and specific intent. Gamso on why the Government always lies.
  • Housing, jobs key to re-entry.
  • Apparently, some people think that pro-se defendants shouldn’t have the right to cross-examine the complaining witness [this may actually be worth an entire post. Have at it, blawgers].

And finally, in the “Rivalry That No One Cares About And Also Proves That Ivy Leaguers Are Just Not Funny” category, this immensely stupid video that some Haahvard types made about Yalies. I turned it off at the 00:57 mark with the “Yale student murdered and stuffed in a wall” joke. See if you fare better.

Guilt by convenience

[I was going to go with the far more catchy title “If you’re innocent and you know it and you really want to show it, plead guilty” sung to the tune of – you know what? Stop that. Don’t judge. You try writing funny and interesting blog posts every day. Sheesh. Nowadays everyone’s a damn critic.]

So let’s start first with this statement a month and a half ago, from the Mayor of New Haven and the New Haven Police Chief:

“This is America.  Anyone can film anytime they want, including you, me and the PD while on duty,” Mayor DeStefano stated.

“Assume you’re being videotaped all the time when you’re out there,” [Chief] Limon said he has been telling his officers.

Limon said he has upcoming in-service training sessions for his rank and file will include an “update about legal procedures on interfering and videotaping issues.” He’s also looking into putting together a “policy to let officers know what are the exceptions” to when citizens can take video.

He was too slow with that training. Because this happened:

In the midst of swirling controversy about cops and cameras, Luis Luna was put under arrest for filming police in action—not by a rogue patrolman misunderstanding official department policy, but by none other than the assistant chief of police.

Luis Luna (pictured) [not here], a 26-year-old from Wallingford, was arrested on College Street early in the morning of Sept. 25 while he was using his iPhone to videotape police.

According to a police report, his arrest was ordered by Assistant Chief Ariel Melendez, who had told him not to film police breaking up a fight. Read the report here.

Luna said police took his iPhone from him and erased the video he had made. He was charged with interfering with police and spent the night in jail.

Oops. Now, I’m not going to get into the whole “police vs. cameras” angle on this story, because others have covered longer and more effectively. What I want to talk about is what happened on October 8:

IL committee proposes serious reforms to the death penalty

The Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee has published its 6th and final report on changes to the death penalty – both in substance and procedure – in Illinois. The Committee, established in 2003 was charged with studying reforms to the death penalty in IL over 5 years. In 2008, its tenure was extended a year. Every year, the committee has issued a report, this being the final one. From the NYT:

The report found that taxpayers spend huge sums on prosecution of an inordinate number of death-penalty cases, though we’ve seen 18 death sentences since 2003; that prosecutors seek the penalty as a bargaining ploy in pursuit of a lesser guilty plea and sentence, and that $64 million has been spent on civil damage awards to men whose death row convictions were reversed.

One of the recommendations of the committee is to conduct a comprehensive cost study. One of the committee members, however, has done some digging of her own. Leigh B. Bienen, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University School of Law, has a forthcoming law review article in which she details the high cost and financial incentives of retaining the death penalty:

Since 2000, she learned, $100 million in taxpayer money has been spent via the Capital Litigation Trust Fund. That honey pot was meant to ensure defense counsel in capital cases, especially in places where public defender offices aren’t staffed adequately and must enlist private lawyers. But prosecutors made sure that the fund would also pay for their often-ample nonsalary expenses, including those for investigators, not just for private defense counsel and the nonsalary expenses of public defenders.

St. Clair County has a per-capita murder rate of 13.36 per 100,000 citizens, and it prosecuted 17 capital cases from 2000 to 2008. By comparison, DuPage County, with a per-capita murder rate of 0.93, prosecuted 21. Madison County, with a rate of 4.24, prosecuted 18, while Sangamon County, with a rate of 4.59, prosecuted 3. How about this: Jefferson County got $2.5 million to prosecute 2 capital cases — neither wound up in a death sentence — while Macon County got $943,858 to prosecute 14. Cook County is the state’s homicide champion, accounting for 75 percent of murders, and consistently charges murders as death penalty cases, triggering the state payments to both sides. But the county brings few capital cases to trial, often procuring a plea to a lesser charge.

So we don’t get retribution, deterrence or rehabilitation but, instead, inducements to pursue capital cases. Counties get a virtually bankrupt state to pick up a fat tab and “to maintain a very expensive and dysfunctional system of capital punishment,” Mrs. Bienen wrote.

According to this editorial:

Illinois spends $20 million a year to prosecute and administer capital cases, according to the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The Capital Litigation Trust Fund, which pays for legal appeals in death penalty cases, has cost $100 million since 2003.

One final point on cost: in Connecticut there are no reliable numbers on the cost of the death penalty. This isn’t because we’ve forgotten how to count (although the Gov’s race fiasco might suggest that), rather because the state’s attorneys and the judicial branch do not keep track of how much they spend on capital cases. The only agency that does is the public defender’s office. If that doesn’t tell you something, read this excellent piece in the Hartford Courant by business columnist Dan Haar, who crunches the numbers and concludes that the death penalty is a damn waste of money.