Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘crime

The DNA Backlog Crisis

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I didn’t even know about this one, but it’s interesting. Ben Protess writing for ProPublica:

Kellie Greene spent three years living in fear, waiting for police to catch the stranger who raped her.

Her fear slowly turned to bewilderment over the bureaucratic tangle that continues to put women like her at risk of violence.

First there was the three-year wait for a crime lab to test the DNA evidence that her attacker left on her leggings. Then, when the test results finally came back, she was horrified to learn that the man had committed an earlier rape. His DNA from that case was backlogged for two years, leaving him free to break into her Orlando, Fla., apartment, where he beat and raped her for almost an hour in 1994.

"Had they been able to test the DNA in that earlier case, my rape would have never happened," she said.

After her attack, Greene joined other rape victims in a crusade to expose the backlog of untested DNA evidence sitting in freezers and on shelves in police departments and crime labs nationwide. She spoke out about her ordeal in hopes of sparing other women similar pain.

In 2003, her efforts appeared to pay off. Greene stood with Attorney General John Ashcroft at the White House when he announced that the U.S. Justice Department planned to spend a billion dollars to eliminate the backlog. The aim of the mission: to help labs swiftly identify murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals so they couldn’t strike again.

But at the same time, the Justice Department, along with Congress and state legislatures, adopted a conflicting agenda: to collect more DNA samples from wider swaths of the population.

The result: Today, 15 years after Greene began her campaign, the backlog continues to soar. At least 350,000 samples from murder and rape cases — many of them involving sexually abused children — remain untested, according to the federal government’s best estimates. In 2005, labs across the country saw their DNA backlogs nearly double.

Part of the uptick comes from …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2009 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law, Technology

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The world’s biggest diamond heist

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Fascinating story. It begins:

Leonardo Notarbartolo strolls into the prison visiting room trailing a guard as if the guy were his personal assistant. The other convicts in this eastern Belgian prison turn to look. Notarbartolo nods and smiles faintly, the laugh lines crinkling around his blue eyes. Though he’s an inmate and wears the requisite white prisoner jacket, Notarbartolo radiates a sunny Italian charm. A silver Rolex peeks out from under his cuff, and a vertical strip of white soul patch drops down from his lower lip like an exclamation mark.

In February 2003, Notarbartolo was arrested for heading a ring of Italian thieves. They were accused of breaking into a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center and making off with at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils. The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can’t explain exactly how it was done.

The loot was never found, but based on circumstantial evidence, Notarbartolo was sentenced to 10 years. He has always denied having anything to do with the crime and has refused to discuss his case with journalists, preferring to remain silent for the past six years.

Until now.

Notarbartolo sits down across from me at one of the visiting room’s two dozen small rectangular tables. He has an intimidating reputation. The Italian anti-Mafia police contend he is tied to the Sicilian mob, that his cousin was tapped to be the next the capo dei capi—the head of the entire organization. Notarbartolo intends to set the record straight. He puts his hands on the table. He has had six years to think about what he is about to say.

“I may be a thief and a liar,” he says in beguiling Italian-accented French. “But I am going to tell you a true story.”

It was February 16, 2003 — a clear, frozen Sunday evening in Belgium. Notarbartolo took …

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Written by Leisureguy

14 March 2009 at 8:32 am

Posted in Daily life

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Trust Big Business & the magical hand of the Free Market

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I don’t trust either, and here’s an example of why:

The Georgia peanut plant linked to a salmonella outbreak that has killed eight people and sickened 500 more across the country knowingly shipped out contaminated peanut butter 12 times in the past two years, federal officials said yesterday.

Officials at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which have been investigating the outbreak of salmonella illness, said yesterday that Peanut Corporation of America found salmonella in internal tests a dozen times in 2007 and 2008 but sold the products anyway, sometimes after getting a negative finding from a different laboratory.

Companies are not required to disclose their internal tests to either the FDA or state regulators, so health officials did not know of the problem.

The peanut butter and paste made at the company’s Blakely, Ga., plant are not sold directly to stores but are used by manufacturers to make crackers, cookies, energy bars, cereal, ice cream, candies and even dog biscuits. Some of the country’s biggest foodmakers, including Kellogg and McKee Foods, which produces Little Debbie brand snacks, have recalled more than 100 products made with the tainted ingredients, and the list keeps growing.

Federal investigators also said yesterday that they had found four strains of salmonella at the Georgia plant, including one in a sample taken from the floor near a washroom. Only the Typhimurium strain of Salmonella enterica has been linked to the outbreak…

Continue reading. Killed eight people. Knowingly shipped out contaminated peanut butter. Sounds like first-degree homicide to me, and I hope the president of the company, along with the chain of command of responsible managers, go to prison for life.

Many years ago, General Electric was found to have been involved in price-fixing on large generators. Several of the managers involved went to prison. To prison, I repeat. That certainly woke up managers nationwide.

Written by Leisureguy

28 January 2009 at 9:48 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

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Crime and drug policy report

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Mark Kleiman looks over the published Obama Administration stance on crime and drug abuse and finds it a little light, though (as he says) this new Administration has yet to really tackle these issues. His post is well worth reading.

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25 January 2009 at 10:44 am

What’s the crime scene at your university?

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You can check here. California State University — Monterey Bay seems to be okay.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2008 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Education

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Crime rankings by city, 2007-2008

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Here’s the list (PDF) sorted is descending order (highest crime rating at the top). Other ways to slice the data and more information can be found on this page (lots of links). (Baltimore is number 12; Philadelphia is number 22; New York is number 259.)

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2008 at 9:51 am

Posted in Daily life

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The crime explosion in mid-size cities

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A thoughtful and alarming article by Hanna Rosin in the new Atlantic Monthly, well worth reading. It begins:

To get to the Old Allen police station in North Memphis, you have to drive all the way to the end of a quiet suburban road until it turns country. Hidden by six acres of woods, the station seems to be the kind of place that might concern itself mainly with lost dogs, or maybe the misuse of hunting licenses. But it isn’t. Not anymore. As Lieutenant Doug Barnes waited for me to arrive one night for a tour of his beat, he had a smoke and listened for shots. He counted eight, none meant for buck. “Nothing unusual for a Tuesday,” he told me.

Barnes is white, middle-aged, and, like many veteran cops, looks powerful without being fit. He grew up four miles from the station during the 1960s, he said, back when middle-class whites lived peacefully alongside both city elites and working-class African Americans. After the 1968 riots, Barnes’s father taught him the word curfew and reminded him to lock the doors. Still, the place remained, until about 10 years ago, a pretty safe neighborhood where you could play outside with a ball or a dog. But as he considered more-recent times, his nostalgia gave way to something darker. “I have never been so disheartened,” he said.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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Security cameras worthless, except…

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they make people feel a little better. Via Schneier on Security, this article:

San Francisco’s 68 controversial anti-crime cameras haven’t deterred criminals from committing assaults, sex offenses or robberies – and they’ve only moved homicides down the block, according to a new report from UC Berkeley.

Researchers found that nonviolent thefts dropped by 22 percent within 100 feet of the cameras, but the devices had no effect on burglaries or car theft. And they’ve had no effect on violent crime.

Mayor Gavin Newsom called the report “conclusively inconclusive” on Thursday but said he still wants to install more cameras around the city because they make residents feel safer.

“When I put the first cameras in, I said, ‘This may only move people around the corner,’ ” he said. “But the community there said, ‘We don’t care, we want our alleyway back.’ No one’s actually had a camera up that they wanted torn down in the community.”

But not all city officials think it’s wise to spend money on public safety measures if the best thing that can be said about them is they have a placebo effect for worried residents.

“In their current configuration they are not useful, and they give people a false sense of security, which I think is bad,” said Police Commissioner Joe Alioto-Veronese. He added that previous studies of security cameras in other parts of the country have also shown that they do not deter violent crime.

The article continues with the findings—such as the effect of the cameras was to move homicides 250 feet away. The homicides still happened, just not so close the cameras.

Here’s a good discussion of the issue (via Schneier) and Schneier has an excellent lengthy comment on the feeling of security vs. the reality of security. That comment begins:

Security is both a feeling and a reality, and they’re different. You can feel secure even though you’re not, and you can be secure even though you don’t feel it. There are two different concepts mapped onto the same word — the English language isn’t working very well for us here — and it can be hard to know which one we’re talking about when we use the word.

There is considerable value in separating out the two concepts: in explaining how the two are different, and understanding when we’re referring to one and when the other. There is value as well in recognizing when the two converge, understanding why they diverge, and knowing how they can be made to converge again.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

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Stupidest legal arguments from Bush Administration

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Dahlia Lithwick from Slate:

This time last year, I offered up a top 10 list of the most appalling civil-liberties violations by the Bush administration in 2006. The grim truth is, not much has changed. The Bush administration continues to limit our basic freedoms, conceal its own worst behavior, and insist that it does all this in order to make us more free. In that spirit, it seemed an opportune moment to commemorate the administration’s worst legal justifications and arguments of the year. And so I humbly offer this new year’s roundup: The Bush Administration’s Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments of 2007.

10. The NSA’s eavesdropping was limited in scope.

Not at all. Recent revelations suggest the program was launched earlier than we’d been led to believe, scooped up more information than we were led to believe, and was not at all narrowly tailored, as we’d been led to believe. Surprised? Me neither.

9. Scooter Libby’s sentence was commuted because it was excessive.

Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was found guilty of perjury and obstructing justice in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame. In July, before Libby had served out a day of his prison sentence, President Bush commuted his sentence, insisting the 30-month prison sentence was “excessive.” In fact, under the federal sentencing guidelines, Libby’s sentence was perfectly appropriate and consistent with positions advocated by Bush’s own Justice Department earlier this year.

8. The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch.

We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders. When, in January 2007, the Information Security Oversight Office asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the dispute, Cheney recommended the executive order be amended to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office altogether. In a new interview with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek, the director of the ISOO stated that his fight with Cheney’s office was a “contributing” factor in his decision to quit after 34 years.

7. The Guantanamo Bay detainees enjoy more legal rights than any prisoners of war in history.

This has been one of the catchiest refrains of the war on terror, right up there with the claim that the prisoners there are well-fed and cared for. The government brief in the December Supreme Court appeal on the rights of these detainees to contest their detentions proudly proclaimed that the “detainees now enjoy greater procedural protections and statutory rights to challenge their wartime detentions than any other captured enemy combatants in the history of war.” That certainly sounds plausible. But as my colleague Emily Bazelon detailed here in Slate, a vast gaggle of historians, constitutional scholars, and retired military officers vehemently dispute that characterization of the legal processes afforded the detainees. The argument that Guantanamo prisoners have greater rights than they would otherwise be afforded relies on deep distortions of both fact and law.

6. Water-boarding may not be torture.

Water-boarding is torture. It’s torture under the Geneva Conventions and has been treated as a war crime in the United States for decades. The answer to the question of its legality should be as simple as the answer to whether boiling prisoners in oil is legal. But in his confirmation hearings to become U.S. attorney general, Michael Mukasey could not bring himself to agree. He claimed not to have been “read into” the interrogation program and to be incapable of speculating about hypothetical techniques. He added that he did not want to place U.S. officials “in personal legal jeopardy” and that such remarks might “provide our enemies with a window into the limits or contours of any interrogation program.” Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seems to be catching on to what it means when senior legal advisers find themselves incapable of calling water-boarding torture.

5. Everyone who has ever spoken to the president about anything is barred from congressional testimony by executive privilege.

This little gem of an argument was cooked up by the White House last July when the Senate judiciary committee sought the testimony of former White House political director Sara Taylor, as well as that of former White House counsel Harriet Miers, in connection with the firing of nine U.S. attorneys for partisan ideological reasons. Taylor was subpoenaed in June and, according to her lawyers, she wanted to testify but was barred by White House counsel Fred Fielding’s judgment that the president could compel her to assert executive privilege and forbid her testimony. As Bruce Fein argued in Slate, that dramatic over-reading of the privilege would both preclude congressional oversight of any sort and muzzle anyone who’d ever communicated with the president, regardless of their wish to talk.

4. Nine U.S. attorneys were fired by nobody, but for good reason.

Of course, the great legal story of 2007 was the unprecedented firing of nine U.S. attorneys who either declined to prosecute Democrats or were too successful in prosecuting Republicans. After months of congressional hearings, subpoenas, and investigations, the mastermind behind the plan to replace these prosecutors with “loyal Bushies” has yet to be determined. The decision is instead blamed on a “process” wherein unnamed senior department officials came to a “consensus” decision. No one is willing to name names, even though the firings were ostensibly legal, because, in the words of the president himself, these prosecutors all “serve at the pleasure of the president” and can be fired for any reason. Nevertheless, the firing of the nine U.S. attorneys—many of whom had stellar records and job reviews—remains shrouded in secrecy, although at least according to everyone who’s testified, they were all fired for good reasons (which also cannot be articulated).

3. Alberto Gonzales.

I am forced to put the former attorney general into his own category only because were I to attempt to round up his best legal whoppers of the calendar year, it would overwhelm the rest of the list. As Paul Kiel over at Talking Points Memo so aptly put it earlier this year, Gonzales was and is clearly “the lying-est attorney general in recent history.” Kiel went on to catalog Gonzales’ six most egregious legal lies of the year, but I’ll focus here on just two. First, his claim at a March press conference that he “was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on” with respect to the U.S. attorney firings. This was debunked shortly thereafter when Kyle Sampson testified that Gonzales was frequently updated throughout the process. Second, his April testimony that he had not “talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven’t wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations,” which was promptly contradicted by Monica Goodling’s testimony about his efforts to coordinate his version of the story with hers.

2. State secrets.

Again, it’s virtually impossible to cite the single most egregious assertion by the Bush administration of the state-secrets privilege, because there are so many to choose from. This doctrine once barred the introduction into court of specific evidence that might compromise national security, but in the hands of the Bush administration, it has ballooned into a doctrine of blanket immunity for any conduct the administration wishes to hide. The privilege was invoked in 2007 to block testimony about its torture and extraordinary rendition program, its warrantless surveillance program, and to defend the notion of telecom immunity for colluding in government eavesdropping, among other things. No longer an evidentiary rule, the state-secrets privilege has become one of the administration’s surest mechanisms for shielding its most egregious activities.

1. The United States does not torture.

First there was the 2002 torture memo. That was withdrawn. Then there was the December 2004 statement that declared torture “abhorrent.” But then there was the new secret 2005 torture memo. But members of Congress were fully briefed about that. Except that they were not. There was Abu Ghraib. There were the destroyed CIA tapes. So you see, the United States does not torture. Except for when it does.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 4:58 pm

The investigations into the torture tapes

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John Dean reflects:

By my count, there appear to be no less than ten preliminary investigations underway, following the revelation that the CIA destroyed at least two sets of videotapes (containing hundreds of hours of footage) of “advanced interrogation” techniques being employed in terrorism investigations. In fact, every branch of government is now involved.

Within the Executive Branch, according to news reports, the CIA’s General Counsel and Inspector General are investigating. The Department of Justice is investigating. On Capitol Hill, both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are investigating. In addition, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is inquiring as to whether the Federal Records Act has been violated. And Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has made preliminary inquiries as well.

The Bush Administration has shown that it is not very good at investigating itself, so no one should hold their breath for the outcome of either the CIA or Justice Department investigation. And Attorney General Mukasey has dismissed an independent special counsel inquiry as very premature. The Democratic-controlled Congress could get to the bottom of all this, but one should bear in mind that our elected representatives have yet to get to the bottom of the political firing of U.S. Attorneys (although, to be fair, they did get former Attorney General Gonzales to resign). Today, Congress suffers from a degenerative spinal malady, and while they can bark, they appear unable to bite.

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Written by Leisureguy

15 December 2007 at 9:33 am

Why do they do it? Scammers and their mindset

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Very interesting article:

 You wonder whether they were just broke or thought they were a bit smarter than everybody else. Wonder if you got close enough, could you detect small stains of guilt on their white collars? Wonder, had the buttons to their consciences come undone?

When he reached for ice cubes, did it bother him that money was in the freezer? Did it shame her that she had to turn an extra bedroom into a closet for all those clothes she bought with money intended for children? Was she ever struck by pangs of remorse as she allegedly stole millions while masterminding the largest theft from a local government ever uncovered in the Washington area? Did they purse their lips with a bit of disgrace as they drank from the Versace tea set? Did the tea go down easily? Did their houses stand straight? The ones they bought from crooked deeds?

With so many scams recently against the public trust, one wonders: What goes through the minds of workers who scam and steal and defraud the government of money that is not theirs?

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Business, Government

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Fighting crime efficiently and effectively

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Interesting notion:

Both crime and prison populations could be reduced dramatically by focusing on the “power few” criminals who commit the most crime, according to Lawrence Sherman, Director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor of Criminology at Cambridge University, UK. His paper will be published online this week in Springer’s Journal of Experimental Criminology.

Using data across a wide range of research, Sherman shows that most crime is committed by a small fraction of all criminals, at a tiny fraction of all locations, against a tiny fraction of all victims, during a few hours a week. By focusing police, probation, parole, rehabilitation, security and prison resources on these “power few” units with the most crime, the study shows how society could stand a far better chance at crime prevention without raising costs.

“Billions of dollars in criminal justice costs are wasted each year on people and places with almost no risk of serious violent crime,” said Sherman, “while the high-risk targets receive far too little attention.” Citing rising homicide rates in Philadelphia since 2002, his research shows how more rehabilitation for a tiny number of offenders may have been able to prevent many of the murders.

The study shows that the key to making the most out of these extreme concentrations of crime would be to test prevention strategies aimed only at these few crime locations, times, situations, victims or offenders. By investing more effort in experiments aimed at finding effective solutions to the predictably serious crime problem caused by the “needles in the haystack,” governments around the world could move much quicker to reducing crime and violence. By investing equal effort in low-risk and high-risk offenders, these strategies now yield unequal results — wasting most of the money on targets unlikely to cause serious harm.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2007 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

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Excellent! Take that, Dianne Feinstein

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ThinkProgress:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) will offer an amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow to “strike retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies alleged to have assisted with the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.” From his statement:

Granting retroactive immunity for companies that allegedly went along with this illegal program is unjustified and undermines the rule of law. Not only would retroactive immunity set the terrible precedent that breaking the law is permissible and companies need not worry about the privacy of their customers, but it would likely prevent courts from ruling on the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. This program was one of the worst abuses of executive power in our history, and the courts should be able to rule on it once and for all.

Read his recent letter to the editor responding to John Ashcroft on the issue in The New York Times HERE.

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14 November 2007 at 2:08 pm

Corruption in Alaska

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Man, it’s bad up there. When people betray the public trust, penalties should be doubled, in my opinion, with no possibility of parole.

ANCHORAGE — When the FBI came looking for corruption in Alaska politics, it found an excellent perch in Suite 604 of the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, the state capital. There, a profane septuagenarian named Bill Allen did business throughout a 2006 special session called to set taxes on the oil industry. With hundred-dollar bills in his front pocket for ease of access when lawmakers turned up with their hands out, the oil-services company executive turned in a bravura performance before the pinhole camera that federal agents installed opposite his favorite chair.

“Let me count first here,” Allen said, shushing a former statehouse speaker as he counted out a bribe in video footage entered as evidence in the lawmaker’s September trial, one of several crowding the docket of the federal court here.

On another tape, Pete Kott, the former Republican speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, crowed as he described beating back a tax bill opposed by oil companies. “I had to cheat, steal, beg, borrow and lie,” Kott said. “Exxon’s happy. BP’s happy. I’ll sell my soul to the devil.”

“Well, that will stay in this room,” one lobbyist said as a midnight session wound down.

It did not, of course. Since breaking into public view a year ago when federal agents raided lawmakers’ offices and homes — finding $32,200 neatly stacked in a closet of Kott’s condo — the federal probe has produced four indictments, three convictions, three guilty pleas and a rapt audience keen to see how high into Alaska’s political hierarchy the rot reaches.

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Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2007 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

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Some surprises regarding identity thieves

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The surprises (for me) were the perpetrators:

Identity thieves are typically young, work solo, and rely on the Internet for fewer than one-fifth of their crimes, according to a new study of Secret Service cases.

The Center for Identity Management and Information Protection also found that “insider” employees were the offenders in just one-third of the cases. Employees who stole identity information often worked in the retail industry, the report found.

“There are some common perceptions we have that identity theft involves a person sitting at a computer hacking into corporate or individual computers. … Certainly it is happening, but it is a crime that is happening in a multitude of ways, some of it as simple as stealing mail out of a mailbox,” said Gary Gordon, a professor of economic crime programs who founded and heads the center at Utica College.

The Department of Justice-funded study, which was to be released Monday at a news conference in Washington, D.C., differs from previous studies because it focused on identity thieves and their methods, rather than victims, said Michael Stenger, Assistant Director of Investigations for the Secret Service, which agreed to open its case files to the center.

Researchers reviewed 517 cases closed by the Secret Service between 2000 and 2006. Two-thirds of the cases were concentrated in the Northeast and South and there were 933 defendants. The Federal Trade Commission has said about 3 million Americans have their identities stolen annually.

The study found that 42.5 percent of offenders were between the ages of 25 and 34. Another 18 percent were between the ages of 18 and 24. Two-thirds of the identity thieves were male.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2007 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life

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US finds itself alone again: life sentences for juveniles

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The US believes that children and adolescents can deserve life sentences, with no parole:

Last year the United Nations voted on a resolution to abolish life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young adolescent offenders. The vote was 185 to 1 in favor of abolition, and the United States was the lone dissenter. Until 2005, moreover, when the Supreme Court outlawed the juvenile death penalty under the Eighth Amendment in the case of Roper v. Simmons, twenty states had allowed the execution of murderers who committed their crimes before the age of 18.

In this column, I will explore ways of thinking about crime in the U.S. that might help explain this punitive approach to juvenile offenders.

The Law Treats Juveniles as Presumptively Impaired

Many critics of the juvenile death penalty, prior to Roper v. Simmons, argued that such harsh penalties for juvenile offenders are radically at odds with the way the law ordinarily treats adolescents. With a drinking age of 21 and a voting age of 18, our law otherwise appears to embody the view that minors are not capable of making choices and governing their actions in the way that adults are.

In addition, most states have “parental involvement” statutes that require a minor who wishes to obtain an abortion to notify, or obtain consent from, at least one of her parents first (with exceptions for various circumstances). If we believe that adolescents are impaired enough to justify an across-the-board ban on drinking and voting and a requirement for consultation with parents before an abortion, then why would we choose to visit draconian penalties upon them when they violate the criminal law against homicide?

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

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More on telecoms and illegal surveillance

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From The Anonymous Liberal:

Did the Senate Intelligence Committee Disclose Key Evidence of Telecom Illegality?

It sure looks like it. Empty Wheel highlights this important and largely overlooked passage from the Senate Intelligence Committee report that accompanied its proposed FISA bill:

The Committee can say, however, that beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

The Committee has reviewed all of the relevant correspondence. The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President. [my emphasis].

In other words, one of the certifications provided to the telecoms (presumably the one issued during the period in 2004 when James Comey refused to sign off on the program) was signed not by the Attorney General, but by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Why does that matter? Well, as Empty Wheel explains, under the current law, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(a)(ii), telecommunications providers are permitted to provide information and assistance to the government only if they are provided with:

(A) a court order directing such assistance signed by the authorizing judge, or

(B) a certification in writing by a person specified in section 2518 (7) of this title or the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required

And as you’ve probably already guessed, the White House Counsel is not one of the people specified in section 2518(7), which includes the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and various state law enforcement officials in the case of a state-related investigation.

Why couldn’t the Bush administration get the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or the Associate Attorney General to sign the certification? Because they all thought the program was illegal and were prepared to resign over it. That’s why.

So, unable to get any of the proper people to re-certify the program, the Bush administration appears to have simply provided the telecoms with a facially defective certification. That means that for at least a period of 60 days, the telecoms were providing information to the government without a court order and without a valid certification. Those who have been following this issue closely have long suspected that this was the case, but the Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed it in no uncertain terms (though nowhere in the report does the committee acknowledge the significance of this fact).

I doubt that the significance of this disclosure was lost on the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the various lawsuits, however. As I write this, they are undoubtedly discussing how best to utilize this new and valuable piece of evidence.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 2:44 pm

Alberto in a heap of trouble now?

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Looks like Alberto may be facing some serious charges:

 As our collective interest has shifted from the incompetence of the former attorney general to the independence of the next one, it’s easy to forget that Alberto Gonzales may be in heaps of legal trouble. Virtually every public explanation of his surprising and abrupt resignation this summer was a benign one. Everyone (including we at Slate) was focused on the political justifications for Gonzales’ resignation, rather than the legal ones. We speculated that Josh Bolten forced Gonzales out, that he finally wearied of being the nation’s scratching post, that he had to leave when Karl Rove did. None of those explanations really made sufficient sense—especially for a man who had just vowed to stay on to the end, and recently finalized his fall schedule. There was no reason for Gonzales to leave when he did—he’d likely gotten away with turning the whole Justice Department into the president’s personal playground, then covering it all up with half-truths. But maybe he didn’t get away with it after all, and that’s the real explanation for his departure.

John McKay, one of the U.S. attorneys allegedly fired for improper political reasons, suggested just this in a speech last week before the Federal Bar Association. McKay claimed that Gonzales may be facing criminal prosecution, and soon. Describing an eight-hour meeting he had last June with investigators from the DoJ’s Office of the Inspector General, which may file its report to Congress before Thanksgiving, McKay predicted that the investigators will recommend criminal prosecution of Gonzales for lying under oath.

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Written by Leisureguy

26 October 2007 at 1:52 pm

Limitations of fingerprint identification recognized

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An important decision in Baltimore:

A Baltimore County judge has ruled that fingerprint evidence, a mainstay of forensics for nearly a century, is not reliable enough to be used against a homicide defendant facing a possible death sentence – a finding that national experts described yesterday as unprecedented and potentially far-reaching.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Susan M. Souder’s order bars prosecutors from using at trial the partial fingerprints lifted from the Mercedes of a Security Square Mall merchant who was fatally shot last year during an attempted carjacking at the shopping center. Prosecutors say the fingerprints – as well as those found in a stolen Dodge Intrepid in which witnesses said the shooter fled the mall parking lot – link a 23-year-old Baltimore man to the killing.

In her ruling, Souder outlined the long history of fingerprinting as a crime-solving tool but says that such history “does not by itself support the decision to admit it.” In explaining her reasoning in a 32-page decision, the judge leaned heavily on the case of an Oregon lawyer mistakenly linked through fingerprint analysis to the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

With defendant Bryan Keith Rose scheduled to go to trial today in Towson, prosecutors and defense attorneys in the capital case declined to comment yesterday on the judge’s ruling.

But others who have researched the issue and litigated cases involving fingerprint evidence said the decision – if it stands up on appeal – could have implications that reach even beyond the use of fingerprint evidence in criminal courts.

“The repercussions are terrifically broad,” said David L. Faigman, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law and an editor of Modern Scientific Evidence: The Law and Science of Expert Testimony.

“Fingerprints, before DNA, were always considered the gold standard of forensic science, and it’s turning out that there’s a lot more tin in that field than gold,” he said. “The public needs to understand that. This judge is declaring, not to mix my metaphors, that the emperor has no clothes.

“There is a lot of forensic science that is considered second to fingerprinting,” Faigman added, mentioning firearms and toolmark analysis, hair identification, bite pattern analysis and evidence used in arson investigations as examples. “If fingerprinting turns out to not be so good, people could start questioning that science as well.”

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Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2007 at 10:40 am

California prisons soon cost more than California universities

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The silly war on drugs, with incarceration with mandatory minimum sentences are the only tool (think: brain surgery with a hammer), is costing more than people know:

Halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco is Solano Correctional Facility, nestled against a series of rolling hills, on the outskirts of the small city of Vacaville.

From the prison’s guard towers, the view is fairly beautiful: a Mediterranean-type vista of sun-browned grass and squat trees covering green hills, underneath the endlessly deep California sky. But from the windows of the dorms and cellblocks where the inmates live, all they can see is a slender patch of sky.

Inside some of the housing units at Solano, inmates take showers in rooms open to the entire dorm — including guards, both male and female. As naked men soap themselves off, other inmates go about their business in front of them. Hundreds of men share a handful of toilets, as well as the mildew-and-mold-infested open shower area. “There’s maybe 10 operable toilets for 200 guys. You come back from chow in the morning, you stand in line 10-to-20 minutes to use the toilet,” says 47-year-old Michael Donoho, a heavily tattooed repeat offender (drugs, robbery, spousal abuse).

Meanwhile, two one-time gyms — that in better days hosted boxing rings for prisoners — have served as “temporary” dorms since the mid-’90s. Today they house more than 200 inmates apiece. Prisoners are stacked on row after row of triple bunks, with three feet of floor space separating one bunk frame from another. Nobody expects the gyms to return to their intended function anytime soon.

Safety is also an issue. The top bunks in the gyms are well over five feet off the ground and have no railings around them. It is, according to prisoners, fairly common for slumbering third-tier inmates to roll off their narrow metal beds onto the hard floor during the night.

But the sounds of sleeping men falling aren’t the only noises heard after dark. During the long hours of the night, two correctional officers walk the floor and one more stands watch on a raised tier with a gun at the ready. Prisoner representatives from every race sit awake, perched atop their bunks, grimly scanning the walkways in case a rival from another race-based gang decides to launch a small-hours attack.

In the summer, large industrial-scale fans never stop whirring, and when the voices cease in the hours between lights-out at 10 p.m. and the 3 a.m. wake-up for inmate culinary workers, their whir eats its way into the mind. Add in all of the other sounds of a large, security-based institution, and you have the ingredients for mental chaos.

“The whole time I’ve been locked up, I’ve never gotten more than three hours of good, solid sleep,” says a 46-year-old inmate who is serving a six-year sentence on methamphetamine charges. “Alarms going off, guys running around, cops yelling. It’s been a real eye-opening experience.”

When Solano opened in 1984, it was intended to hold 2,610 inmates. Twelve years later, five dormitory buildings were added to the original structure, boosting the prison’s capacity by a thousand inmates. No additional buildings have been added in the past 11 years, yet the sprawling, gray concrete and razor-wire institution now holds 6,111 prisoners.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Government

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