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US prisons very unlike Norwegian prisons

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In the US, for example, many prisons are run by companies that seek to make a profit from incarcerating prisoners, which of course means cutting costs. These companies generally have little or no regard for the prisoners in their keeping—including one that took away prisoner’s wheelchair in revenge for the prisoner reporting misconduct. Alice Ollstein reports at ThinkProgress:

The for-profit prison health care company Corizon continues to fight accusations from around the country that they have abused or neglected the inmates in their care.

In a new case in Fresno County, California, an inmate with a degenerative spinal disease says a Corizon doctor took his wheelchair away in retaliation for his previous complaints about her. When detectives with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office investigated the complaint, they found the company had also appeared to have falsified and altered the inmate’s medical records to cover up the abuse, as documented in a search warrant revealed by the local ABC channel.

These allegations come just four months after Corizon took over operations at the jail, a $100 million contract they won based largely on a promise to save Fresno County $5 million.

Nearby California counties have found that lawsuits against the company for the death of inmates can make an originally cheap contract quite expensive. The company paid the largest wrongful death settlement in state history in February to Alameda County, and promised to end its cost-cutting tactic of using less-trained vocational nurses instead of registered nurses.

Corizon also paid a settlement last week — the amount is secret — to the family of an inmate in Minnesota who died in their care. Jerrell Hammond, 34, begged Corizon doctors to be taken to an emergency room in the hours leading up to his death from blood clots. The case follows several other wrongful death and neglect lawsuits against the company from other inmates and their families that have been filed in recent years, including a case in which Corizon staff put a notereading “faker” in a suffering inmate’s medical file, then later destroyed the note when he became partially paralyzed due to lack of treatment.

And in Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union is investigating multiple claims that Corizon staff have been denying HIV medication to inmates. Corizon responded that the allegations are “untrue” but refused to comment further. Local advocates warn the situation is causing a public health crisis both in the jail and the greater community as untreated offenders are released.

Early this year in the same county, an inmate died after not receiving his epilepsy medication.

Corizon is currently gunning for a $66 million contract to take over operations at DC’s two local jails, paying for ads on Twitter and Google, hiring local insidersto lobby on their behalf, and enlisting the powerful PR firm Edelman.

Referencing the many lawsuits against the company, which can be massively costly for any county or city that works with Corizon, the Chair of the DC Counciljust announced his opposition to awarding Corizon the contract.

The US not only imprisons a higher proportion of its citizens than other nations (and the difference in incarceration rate is substantial), it also treats its prisons inhumanely as a matter of routine—as in Florida and New York, where prison guards routinely beat prisoners to death or close to death.

This conduct is particularly shameful when, as we see, the people imprisoned are often innocent, railroaded by unethical prosecutors and inadequate public defenders.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2015 at 6:43 pm

A new way to reform the criminal justice system

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Douglas Starr reports in the New Yorker:

Last year, the district attorney’s office in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, blew a case. The chairman of the county’s Republican Party, Robert J. Kerns, had been accused of rape by a woman who worked at his law firm. The woman said that Kerns had offered her a ride after an alcohol-fuelled office party. Along the way, she said, he gave her wine and raped her in his Mercedes, and then again in her home. Hospital reports showed bruising consistent with a sexual assault, and DNA on the woman’s underwear was consistent with Kerns’s profile. A key piece of evidence was a urine test apparently showing the presence of Zolpidem, commonly known as Ambien. Prosecutors secured a grand-jury indictment on more than a dozen criminal counts, including rape and aggravated indecent assault. Afterward, they held a press conference.

Several months later, a toxicologist hired by Kerns’s defense took a closer look at the lab report. Although the word “Zolpidem” appeared, what the document indicated was that the test had detected “less than” five nanograms per milliliter, which in this case was zero. Kerns’s lawyer got in touch with the prosecuting attorneys, who were horrified to realize that they had misinterpreted the findings—a rookie mistake.

“It was a huge embarrassment,” Risa Ferman, Montgomery County’s district attorney, told me. She and her staff had plenty of evidence that Kerns had committed a sexual assault, but, because the drugging was written into the indictment, they had to drop charges and refer the case to the Commonwealth’s Attorney General’s office. A newspaper called the incident a “fiasco.”

Normally after such a mistake, the D.A. would fire the responsible parties and announce that she had cleaned house. Instead, Ferman did things differently: rather than find a culprit to blame, she held a series of meetings to discover the organizational errors that had led to the mistake. “These were skilled professionals,” she told me, who had not set out to sabotage their case. What factors, she wondered, had caused competent people to make bad choices?

In asking this question, Ferman was following a procedure alien to the justice system but entrenched in the health-care and transportation industries. A few decades ago, administering anesthesia was one of the most dangerous medical procedures, and had a mortality rate of about one in ten thousand. By analyzing the circumstances of those deaths through an independent review process, experts learned that a few simple equipment changes could save lives: making the nozzles and hoses of oxygen and nitrogen incompatible, for instance, so that patients could not be given the wrong gas. Today, the death rate involving anesthesia hovers at around one in a hundred and eighty thousand.

Nowadays, flying a commercial airplane is one of the safest things that you can do, notwithstanding high-profile tragedies such as the crash of a Germanwings flight last week. That’s because, after each accident, the National Transportation Safety Board conducts a thorough and objective review, protecting involved parties from prosecution and liability, and focussing solely on improving safety. (Even though the N.T.S.B.’s findings are made public, the information is not admissible as evidence in court.) Many improvements, from the strip lighting along the aisle to the way in which cockpit staff communicate with each other, resulted from this review process, often referred to as “sentinel event analysis.”

A series of experiments over the past year has aimed to build similar safeguards into the justice system. A veteran Boston defense attorney, James Doyle, observed the proliferation of exoneration cases in the post-DNA era and has worked on a number of reform efforts. “No one gets into this job to convict innocent people,” he told me. “The real problem is developing the capability for dealing with inevitable mistakes.” He wondered if “sentinel event analysis”— reviewing legal errors in a blame-free environment—could tease out the sequence of factors that might have contributed to a mistake and, perhaps, lead to a more accident-proof legal system.

Sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, Doyle travelled the country interviewing police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and victims’-rights groups, among others, culminating in a kind of summit meeting in Washington, D.C. Based on his work, the Institute organized an experiment in which three jurisdictions—Milwaukee, Baltimore, and a third, in Philadelphia—volunteered to do a systems analysis of a high-profile failure. The Montgomery County experiment, conducted in parallel with the N.I.J. study, was a fourth.

In every case, the horrendous legal accident turned out to have multiple causes embedded in the legal system. There was no single bad actor. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2015 at 12:23 pm

Totally missing the impact of the Indiana law

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Lesley Clark writes in McClatchy: “Republican presidential hopefuls are lining up behind a controversial Indiana law that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers by invoking religious freedom.”

She totally misses the point. Religious beliefs are very personal and idiosyncratic. A Christian, for example, might turn away someone who’s divorced, since Jesus condemned divorce. Or some might believe that African-Americans are the cursed descendents of Ham, as the Mormons once held (and some Mormons might still believe). Or a person might refuse service to someone of another religion, a “pagan” or “heathen” of one sort of another.

Really, the law allows businesses to refuse to serve anyone, since the test is personal religious belief, and that can be pretty much anything. Gays and lesbians are only a small part of it.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2015 at 5:52 pm

The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison

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Very different penal philosophy in Norway, described in the NY Times Magazine by Jessica Benko:

Like everything else in Norway, the tw­o-­hour drive southeast from Oslo seemed impossibly civilized. The highways were perfectly maintained and painted, the signs clear and informative and the speed-­monitoring cameras primly intolerant. My destination was the town of Halden, which is on the border with Sweden, straddling a narrow fjord guarded by a 17th-­century fortress. I drove down winding roads flanked in midsummer by rich green fields of young barley and dense yellow carpets of rapeseed plants in full flower. Cows clustered in wood-­fenced pastures next to neat farmsteads in shades of rust and ocher. On the outskirts of town, across from a road parting dark pine forest, the turnoff to Norway’s newest prison was marked by a modest sign that read, simply, HALDEN ­FENGSEL. There were no signs warning against picking up hitchhikers, no visible fences. Only the 25-­foot-­tall floodlights rising along the edges hinted that something other than grazing cows lay ahead.

Smooth, featureless concrete rose on the horizon like the wall of a dam as I approached; nearly four times as tall as a man, it snaked along the crests of the hills, its top curled toward me as if under pressure. This was the outer wall of Halden Fengsel, which is often called the world’s most humane maximum-­security prison. I walked up the quiet driveway to the entrance and presented myself to a camera at the main door. There were no coils of razor wire in sight, no lethal electric fences, no towers manned by snipers — nothing violent, threatening or dangerous. And yet no prisoner has ever tried to escape. I rang the intercom, the lock disengaged with a click and I stepped inside.

To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.

The treatment of inmates at Halden is wholly focused on helping to prepare them for a life after they get out. Not only is there no death penalty in Norway, there are no life sentences. The maximum term for any crime is 21 years — even for Anders Behring Breivik, who is responsible for probably the deadliest recorded rampage in the world, in which he killed 77 people and injured hundreds more in 2011 by detonating a bomb at a government building in Oslo and then opening fire at a nearby summer camp. “Better out than in” is an unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service, which makes a reintegration guarantee to all released inmates. It works with other government agencies to secure a home, a job and access to a supportive social network for each inmate before release; Norway’s social safety net also provides health care, education and a pension to all citizens. With one of the highest per capita gross domestic products of any country in the world, thanks to the profits from oil production in the North Sea, Norway is in a good position to provide all of this, and spending on the Halden prison runs to more than $93,000 per inmate per year, compared with just $31,000 for prisoners in the United States, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.

That might sound expensive. But if the United States incarcerated its citizens at the same low rate as the Norwegians do (75 per 100,000 residents, versus roughly 700), it could spend that much per inmate and still save more than $45 billion a year. At a time when the American correctional system is under scrutiny — over the harshness of its sentences, its overreliance on solitary confinement, its racial disparities — citizens might ask themselves what all that money is getting them, besides 2.2 million incarcerated people and the hardships that fall on the families they leave behind. The extravagant brutality of the American approach to prisons is not working, and so it might just be worth looking for lessons at the opposite extreme, here in a sea of blabaerskog, or blueberry forest.

“This punishment, taking away their freedom — the sign of that is the wall, of course,” Gudrun Molden, one of the Halden prison’s architects, said on a drizzly morning a few days after I arrived. As we stood on a ridge, along with Jan Stromnes, the assistant warden, it was silent but for the chirping of birds and insects and a hoarse fluttering of birch leaves disturbed by the breeze. The prison is secluded from the surrounding farmland by the blueberry woods, which are the native forest of southeastern Norway: blue-­black spruce, slender Scotch pine with red-­tinged trunks and silver-­skinned birches over a dense understory of blueberry bushes, ferns and ­mosses in deep shade. It is an ecosystem that evokes deep nostalgia in Norway, where picking wild berries is a near-­universal summer pastime for families, and where the right to do so on uncultivated land is protected by law.

Norway banned capital punishment for civilians in 1902, and life sentences were abolished in 1981. But Norwegian prisons operated much like their American counterparts until 1998. That was the year Norway’s Ministry of Justice reassessed the Correctional Service’s goals and methods, putting the explicit focus on rehabilitating prisoners through education, job training and therapy. A second wave of change in 2007 made a priority of reintegration, with a special emphasis on helping inmates find housing and work with a steady income before they are even released. . .

Continue reading.

The US prison system pretty much ignores rehabilitation altogether. The assumption is that those who serve their sentence and are finally released will soon return, and the way US prisons are run ensures that that’s what happens.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2015 at 2:29 pm

One cop, 12 brutality and corruption lawsuits

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And where were the superior officers? Busy protecting the cop and excusing what he did? It’s an ugly story.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2015 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The courts are leading us in the wrong direction: Another “state secrets” misjustice

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Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

At the center of it is an anti-Iranian group calling itself “United Against Nuclear Iran” (UANI), which is very likely a front for some combination of the Israeli and U.S. intelligence services. When launched, NBC described its mission as waging “economic and psychological warfare” against Iran. The group was founded and is run and guided by a roster of U.S., Israeli and British neocon extremists such as Joe Lieberman, former Bush Homeland Security adviser (and current CNN “analyst”) Fran Townsend, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and former Mossad Director Meir Dagan. One of its key advisers is Olli Heinonen, who just co-authored Washington Post Op-Ed with former Bush CIA/NSA Director Michael Hayden arguing that Washington is being too soft on Tehran.

uani

This group of neocon extremists was literally just immunized by a federal court from the rule of law. That was based on the claim — advocated by the Obama DOJ and accepted by Judge Ramos — that subjecting them to litigation for their actions would risk disclosure of vital “state secrets.” The court’s ruling was based on assertions made through completely secret proceedings between the court and the U.S. government, with everyone else — including the lawyers for the parties — kept in the dark.

In May 2013, UANI launched a “name and shame” campaign designed to publicly identify — and malign — any individuals or entities enabling trade with Iran. One of the accused was the shipping company of Greek billionaire Victor Restis, who vehemently denies the accusation. He hired an American law firm and sued UANI for defamation in a New York federal court, claiming the “name and shame” campaign destroyed his reputation.

Up until that point, there was nothing unusual about any of this: just a garden-variety defamation case brought in court by someone who claims that public statements made about him are damaging and false. That happens every day. But then something quite extraordinary happened: In September of last year, the U.S. government, which was not a party, formally intervened in the lawsuit, and demanded that the court refuse to hear Restis’s claims and instead dismiss the lawsuit against UANI before it could even start, on the ground that allowing the case to proceed would damage national security.

When the DOJ intervened in this case and asserted the “state secrets privilege,” it confounded almost everyone. The New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo noted at the time that “the group is not affiliated with the government, and lists no government contracts on its tax forms. The government has cited no precedent for using the so­-called state­ secrets privilege to quash a private lawsuit that does not focus on government activity.” He quoted the ACLU’s Ben Wizner as saying: “I have never seen anything like this.” Reuters’s Allison Frankel labeled the DOJ’s involvement a “mystery” and said “the government’s brief is maddeningly opaque about its interest in a private libel case.”

Usually, when the U.S. government asserts the “state secrets privilege,” it is because they are a party to the lawsuit, being sued for their own allegedly illegal acts (such as torture or warrantless surveillance), and they claim that national security would be harmed if they are forced to defend themselves. In rare cases, they do intervene and assert the privilege in lawsuits between private parties, but only where the subject of the litigation is a government program and one of the parties is a government contractor involved in that program — such as when torture victims sued a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen, for its role in providing airplanes for the rendition program and the Obama DOJ insisted (successfully) that the case not go forward, and the victim of U.S. torture was thus told that he could not even have a day in court.

But in this case, there is no apparent U.S. government conduct at issue in the lawsuit. At least based on what they claim about themselves, UANI is just “a not-for-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group” that seeks to “educate” the public about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program. Why would such a group like this even possess “state secrets”? . . .

Continue reading.

Remember Obama’s promises about “transparency”? When words go one direction and actions go another, which do you believe?

And something very odd is going on in that case. Read the entire article, because there’s more. Later in the article:

But in some important respects, this latest abuse is a step beyond that. It’s certainly true that legally immunizing brutal violations of human rights on secrecy grounds (as both the Bush and Obama DOJs have done) is worse than preventing a Greek billionaire from prosecuting a lawsuit. But to intervene in a private lawsuit in order to shield an extremist neocon group from the consequences of their actions — through secret meetings with the judge in which unaccountable “secrecy” assertions are made — is even more offensive to basic legal rights than what has preceded it.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2015 at 1:14 pm

Absurd Fourth Circuit ruling embodies everything that’s wrong with drug raids

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Radley Balko points out in the Washington Post an example of how courts are moving away from decisions based on common sense, the general welfare, and the Constitution and toward decisions to justify a police state. It’s a long column, and it deserves reading and wide dissemination.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an appalling decision in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal 2005 drug raid in Maryland. In fact, the opinion encapsulates everything that’s wrong with sending militarized police barreling into homes to serve search warrants on people suspected of nonviolent, consensual crimes.

Here’s what happened:

In May 2005, police in Cambridge, Md., received an anonymous tip that there was drug activity going on in the duplex at 408 High St. (Yes, that’s the real name of the street.) They did a trash pull and found what they claimed to be two plastic bags, one from each apartment, that contained marijuana residue. That’s it. That’s the probable cause for what happened next.

At 4:30 a.m. on May 6, SWAT teams from the Cambridge Police Department conducted simultaneous raids on the two apartments. According to the police, during the raid on the upstairs apartment, resident Andrew Cornish emerged from his bedroom carrying a knife, which was still in its sheath. The police say Cornish then confronted them, at which point one of the officers shot Cornish in the face and forehead. Cornish died. According to the court, the police found “a small amount of marijuana” in the apartment. By the officers’ testimony, the raid took less than a minute.

Cornish’s father, Andrew Kane, filed a lawsuit. After a lot of pretrial procedural motions, a federal jury finally ruled in Kane’s favor in December 2012, awarding him $250,000. The police and city appealed. And last month, by a 2-1 vote, the Fourth Circuit panel overturned the jury’s award.

There’s a lot to break down here. But let’s first start by noting one very important issue that is not in dispute — whether the massive amount of force the police brought to bear in this case was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. As far as the federal courts are concerned, it was. As Judge Pamela Harris points out in her dissent, “The point here, to be clear, is not to take issue with the Officers’ decision to execute a search warrant based on marijuana traces by way of a military-style nighttime raid.”

Harris is correct. The courts long ago decided that dangerous, punishing SWAT-style raids to search for pot — even when there is no evidence of distribution — are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. A lawsuit arguing otherwise will be promptly tossed.

But it’s worth considering the absurdity of that position. In the 20 or so years leading up to the American Revolution, the British crown began stationing troops in the streets of Boston to enforce England’s tax and import laws. The British troops and enforcement officers were armed with writs of assistance, or general warrants that gave them broad powers to search colonists’ homes. They didn’t need to establish probable cause, or even specificity as to a person or residence. The abuse that came with those warrants made Boston a hub of revolutionary fervor, and memories of that abuse are why the Founders created a Fourth Amendment after the war.

But while today’s search warrants require both specificity and some evidence of wrongdoing, in many ways the colonists had more protections than we do today. For example, the British soldiers could serve warrants only during the day. And they were always required to knock, announce themselves, announce their purpose and give the resident time and opportunity to come to the door to let them in peacefully. This was all in observance of the Castle Doctrine, or the idea that the home should be a place of peace and sanctuary and that it should be violated only in the most extreme circumstances. Even then,

the Castle Doctrine had a rich history in English common law, a tradition that carried over in the United States until the Supreme Court began chipping away at it in drug cases, beginning in about the 1960s.

Today, of course, authorities can break into homes without knocking. They can conduct raids at night. In theory, we’re today protected by the requirement that authorities show probable cause before serving a warrant, but given the deference judges give to police and prosecutors in much of the country and the boilerplate language you’ll often find on warrant affidavits, you could make a good argument that in many jurisdictions the probable cause protection is little more than a formality. In any case, if the Fourth Amendment is due to the Founders’ offense at British soldiers forcibly entering homes in daylight hours after knocking and announcing to search for contraband, it seems safe to say that the Founders would be appalled by the fact that today, dozens of times each day, heavily armed government officials break into homes, often at night, without first knocking and announcing, in order to conduct searches for contraband.

Drug raids weren’t always conducted this way. In fact, as I point out in my book, the no-knock raid wasn’t even something that organically grew out of policing. . .

Continue reading.

The changing view is that your home is no longer your castle, it’s the state’s castle, and the state can enter as it chooses, including battering down the door and with weapons drawn—and, too often, with weapons fired. The state is taking over, whether we like it or not, and takeover is being aided and abetted by our legislators, courts, and Executive branch.

Please read the entire article. It shows how far down the road we have gone. For example, later in the article:

Harris makes another important point in her dissent: There’s a huge double standard at play here in the sort of composure, good judgment and decision-making the courts demand during these raids. That is, they demand all three from the people on the receiving end of the raids, and none of the three from the police.

I commented on the article in the Washington Post:

This is a giant step on the path to a police state, and the push toward becoming a police state is coming not only from the courts but also from legislators and the executive branch (which includes law-enforcement responsibilities). I am saddened to see the US move so strongly in this direction, but the signs are everywhere, and we do not have legislators to oppose the move in that direction. Some do, but they are outnumbered (dare I say outgunned?) and underfunded. The corporate state likes a police state, provided corporations control the police: the corporations can thus keep order and slap down dissenters (cf. union busting in the US from the 19th century onwards: it was the police and the national guard who were called in to attack union members to break up strikes). What we see is the process of the US becoming a fascist state.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2015 at 11:47 am

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