Monday, February 25, 2013

Please may this never happen to me

I've been going to visit prisons and jails since I was a baby law student. They're all very much the same and yet different. The procedures for setting up attorney visits with inmates are all pretty similar. We get special rooms or the entire visiting area to ourselves. Sometimes we are made to have a guard kept near us, sometimes not. Sometimes we're put in rooms that have panic buttons. Sometimes it feels like we've been put somewhere we might never be found again.

It always makes me a tad nervous to be inside the secured area. Once you're inside the sally port, you're a little bit at their mercy. Someone in a control room has the final say on whether you get back outside. Wherever they put you for your visit, you can't leave that spot until a guard or employee escorts you back out. When you get to your visiting area, you almost always have to wait for your client to be brought in. Even if you've set the visit up in advance, you inevitably end up waiting a bit for the client. Time is not of the essence in a lot of prisons and jails. The guards have other things to do and what are you going to do about it, anyway? You're on their turf.

I've always wondered what would happen if I were inside, in the belly of the beast (for some of my visits, I go right into the maximum security cellblocks themselves), when something happened. A disturbance, a missing inmate at count, something that would lead to the facility being put on lockdown. I'd like to believe that the guards would take care of me, keep me safe, get me out as soon as possible. I've also wondered what would happen if my visit coincided with a shift change and the new shift didn't know I was there. Could I just be forgotten about?

I really want to believe that wouldn't happen. But I'm sure this guy wanted to believe it, too. I'm not going to say this is my ultimate nightmare, 'cause there was no physical injury and my deepest fear isn't represented in this scenario. But it's up there. Being trapped somewhere, being unable to get out, no access to food or water. No way to communicate with the outside world (can't take your cell phone into a jail). Four hours in a small room with no sign of anyone coming for me would feel like a very, very long time. I don't think I would take it well. Not at all. I do believe I would be traumatized. And, yes, I think I would consider a lawsuit because I would have some very real emotional injuries.

You can't say that out loud

You can never read too much into it when the US Supreme Court declines to hear a case. They get thousands of cert petitions each year and only accept about 70-80. A lot goes into deciding which cert petitions to grant and which to deny. Cases may not be set up in the ideal procedural posture to reach an issue. An issue may be too similar to something they recently considered. It may not be an issue that comes up very frequently, and thus isn't a high priority. A cert denial is definitely not at all a judgment on the merits of an issue. (Well, almost never.)

Sometimes even when cert is denied, you can still get comments by the Justices. Most often, it's because someone on the court feels strongly that cert should have been granted. But today, there was a slightly different comment. Today, SCOTUS denied cert on a case out of Texas involving a drug conspiracy conviction. The defendant's argument at trial was that he was unaware of what his companions were up to. Which prompted the prosecutor to say, "You've got African-Americans. You've got Hispanics, and you've got a bag full of money.  Does that tell you -- a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, 'This is a drug deal?'"

Oh boy, oh boy. What an awful, awful thing to say. What a blatantly racist, atrocious thing to say. I knew that deep down in places we don't talk about at parties that some people still think this way. But it's really shocking to see it in print, especially to know it's the line of thought a federal prosecutor used to convict a guy on a conspiracy charge. The defendant was convicted and appealed that conviction, arguing at least in part that the prosecutor's blatant racial bias prejudiced him and violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial devoid of racial profiling.

With the cert denial, though, Justices Breyer and Sotomayor felt compelled to say something about how appalling the comment was and that a cert denial should not in any way, shape, or form be taken as somehow condoning the comment. The two Justices went on to say they were troubled by the Justice Department's initial failure to acknowledge the impropriety of the comment. (It's a sad truth that many prosecutors knee-jerk reaction is to say the comments are not misconduct when they would be better served by admitting the comments were wrong, but then arguing that they didn't affect the overall outcome of the case.) The comment by the two Justices was short, sweet, and well-stated. Probably didn't take them any time at all.

The fact that these two Justices issued a comment on this cert denial made the news. What struck me, though, and what bugs me now is that only two of them signed on to this statement. Where are the others? Ginsburg at least? Why didn't all 9 Justices have the decency to condemn the prosecutor's statement? (Or 8 if Kagan was off the case for having been at the Justice Department while the case was active.) I know I'm living in a dream world, but I want to see completely inappropriate conduct being called out. It's an easy, cowardly way out to quietly deny cert and say nothing. We all know what this prosecutor said is beyond the pale. And once two Justices were already committing to writing a short comment, it wouldn't have cost any of the others much to sign on. Let Sotomayor do the work and take some of her credit. Easy. But they didn't. 7 (or possibly 6) Justices chose to just let this go. That troubles me.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is cross-examination just for jerks?

I'm a criminal law junkie. I don't think that's a surprise to anyone and I don't think there would be any point to my trying to deny it. I'm such a junkie that on a snow day, when I am officially freed from having to do anything other than knitting and reading and playing with my pup, I am watching live court proceedings from a death penalty trial out of Arizona. I haven't much followed the case against Jodi Arias, but I do know a little something about it. (One of my favorite celebrity gossip sites has been covering it a lot.) She admits she killed her ex-boyfriend by lots of stabbing and I think some beating and perhaps a gunshot or two. She says it was all self-defense. The prosecution, naturally, doesn't buy it. As it turns out, today is the very day that the prosecution got to start its cross-examination of Arias.

So while I am waiting for my banana bread to bake,  I thought I might just watch the first part of the cross-exam. The commentators built it up as being potentially explosive, fabulous, on par with the great movie cross-exams we all remember. Well, after only 20 or so minutes, I have to say I'm not impressed.

I don't understand why some attorneys think the only way to conduct a cross-examination is belligerently. Challenging every little thing, demanding yes and no answers, yelling at the witness to answer the question in a way that no normal person would answer it, trying to make mountains out of molehills.

He started his cross-exam by trying to challenge one of Arias' claims that she got upset with the boyfriend, Travis Alexander, on two occasions, one when he said she would turn out like her mother in a tone that suggested that would be a bad thing, and one when he said something insulting about her grandfather. The prosecutor started by pointing to a time when Arias jokingly called her sister dumb (as if we haven't all at some point said the same thing about our own siblings). He then went on to make a huge, big deal about how she holds other people to a different standard about making insulting comments than she does. Umm... Sort of the way we all do when it comes to family? As in I can say whatever I want to about my family member, but nobody else had better! Geez, doesn't everyone apply that particular double standard?

Then he asked if her if she could see a woman's face in a particular situation. She kept trying to explain that she could see part of it, but not all of it. He kept demanding a yes or no answer, even asking the judge to direct her to answer the question. But, come on, how is anyone who saw part of a face supposed to answer the question of whether you saw the face? Wouldn't we all clarify that the answer really isn't either a straight-up yes or no? This wasn't the only example of badgering the witness to give a yes or no answer even though a plain yes or plain no would be misleading either way.

This style of just badgering the witness for no reason other than to badger the witness seems like such bad strategy to me. Does it really work with juries? To me, this guy is coming across as an impatient, rude jerk. I'm not terribly inclined to believe the self-defense theory because of how very much she killed this guy, but this cross-exam is not helping the state in my view. I am unimpressed when I read cross-exams like this, where the questioning attorney (often, frankly, the defense attorney) picks apart minor little details that are so easily understood and explainable as completely normal human behavior. (Calling it small before and tiny now, for example. Who cares?)

If this guy is supposed to be a bulldog who conducts a great cross-ex, well, I'm not impressed. Maybe if this is how cross-ex is supposed to be done, it's just as well I'm not a trial attorney because this isn't for me. Luckily, my banana bread is done so I can settle in on the couch and move on to DVDs and clearing out my DVR. I don't really want to watch another several hours of an attorney senselessly and without any strategic flow beating up on a witness, even if it is one who might well be guilty of murder.

Banging my head on the Drew Peterson wall

Drew Peterson is back in court and thus back in the news this week. His defense team has fractured and some of them are now arguing Peterson should get a new trial because the others royally screwed up. And throughout all the news coverage remains this crazy misperception that this case involves some novel hearsay issues.

Peterson's trial was the first in Illinois history where prosecutors built their case on hearsay, thanks to a new law tailored specifically for the case, dubbed "Drew's Law."

I'll give all the criminal attorneys a few minutes to stop laughing and wipe the tears from their eyes.

Are you good now? No? Ok, another minute.

That might just be the most outrageous, ridiculous, hyperbolic nonsense I have ever read in any article ever about any criminal law issue. Maybe I'm overstating it a bit. But not by much.

Apparently not everyone read my previous post on the Drew Peterson case and my efforts to educate the public about hearsay in general and this case in particular have failed. But, goodness, I would still expect any decent reporter or editor to grasp that no, this case is most definitely not the first time a prosecution in Illinois has built its case on hearsay. Quite the opposite, in fact. If any of you can point me to a single criminal trial that did not involve hearsay, I would be amazed. Hearsay comes in all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I think it would be virtually impossible to have a trial without hearsay. Hearsay is  not some big, bad wolf of non-evidence that must be kept out of court at all costs. The vast majority of evidence, in fact, involves some form of hearsay. 'Cause hearsay is just a statement made outside of court, so every document in the world is hearsay.

It's making me crazy the way people continue to act as though this case is some rare outlier, raising novel issues. It isn't. Not even a little bit. But the lawyers involved and the journalists who quote them are allowing this wrong perception to be widely held, which just means that people are thinking there is some grave injustice here when there isn't. Believe me, if there were a terrible, novel, unjust application of law here, I would be the first one to say so. I would scream from the rooftops. I think I have established my ability to rant about injustice, including a lot of things that a lot of people would think were just minor, petty grievances. I have a special ability to rant about Confrontation Clause issues, which are my specialty.

It seems to me that the job of a journalist shouldn't be to take the word for it of the people involved in a situation. Especially when it is acknowledged that those involved parties have a vested interest in things being a certain way. But when things really aren't that way, it ought to be incumbent upon the journalists reporting on the story to point that out.

If a journalist would actually do that in Peterson's case, perhaps we could get away from the silly, and utterly false, claim that hearsay has never before been the basis of a trial in Illinois!

Or that Drew's Law was some radical change in the law! (It wasn't: it just codified a doctrine that had existed in common law forever. And the statute is actually more protective of a defendant than the doctrine.)

Or that Drew's Law was even the basis for admission of any of the hearsay statements that were admitted at his trial! (It wasn't! Applying the statute, the trial court found the statements were inadmissible, but the appellate court said the less protective common law doctrine should apply and thus the statements could come in at trial.)

But none of these facts are being reported. And they are facts, not just my opinion or interpretation. Too bad you'll never read any of it in a news article about the Drew Peterson case.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Warren Lee Hill isn't dead yet. Since his execution was set for 7 pm EST tonight, he would be dead by now if the state of Georgia had its way. Hill's intellectual functioning would seem to make him ineligible for the death penalty per US Supreme Court law, but that hasn't stopped his execution from proceeding.

Frustratingly, the Georgia Court of Appeals stay of execution was not based on the question of his mental capacity. Instead, the stay is based on arguments about Georgia's protocol for carrying out executions.

But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals also issued a stay! And THAT stay is on the intellectual functioning question. Huzzah.

Of course, a last-minute stay doesn't ultimately mean anything. Last-minute stays are fairly commonplace. In the end, though, we still wind up killing a lot of those guys (and the very occasional gal) who received stays. I'm not in a position to know whether this stay means Hill really has a chance at avoiding execution or not. All I do know is that he's alive now and where there's life, there's hope.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hey Georgia, we don't do that

Back in 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled that executing defendants who were developmentally disabled (or MR or whatever the preferred term is these days) was cruel and unusual punishment. The case was Atkins v. Virginia. We shouldn't be taking the lives of people who don't understand why they're being punished as they are, who lack the intellectual skills to comprehend what they did wrong or what they could have done instead. Etc., etc. It's the same basic argument for why we don't execute juveniles.

With juvenile defendants, it's easy to draw a bright line rule. If the crime was committed before your 18th birthday, no death penalty. In the case of Atkins defendants, though, the bright line gets pretty blurry. The generally-accepted threshold for being considered developmentally disabled is an IQ of 70. But it's never quite that simple for a number of reasons. First, you give any one person multiple IQ tests and you'll get different numbers every time. We can confidently say someone's true IQ is somewhere in a 5 or 10 number range, but there's no definitive way to pin it down to one number. Second, even after a number range is established, there is still a subjective determination that ultimately has to be made by a court.

In the post-Atkins world, there is still a lot of controversy surrounding individual defendants. Perhaps no state has engendered more controversy on this topic than Georgia. That state's legislature has enacted a law that requires that a criminal defendant making an Atkins claim has to prove his or her lack of intellectual functioning beyond a reasonable doubt. No other state imposes such a burden on defendants. But that burden has been upheld thus far. (See Head v. Hill, 587 S.E.2d 613, 2003.)

So this is where we stand on Monday night, with Warren Lee Hill's execution set for Tuesday, even though all the medical experts who have evaluated Mr. Hill now agree that he should qualify for Atkins protection. Mr. Hill's defense attorney has been fighting this fight for 16 years now and is undoubtedly working frantically now to get some court somewhere to stop this thing. You would think, though, that no one should have to work this hard to keep a man every expert agrees is developmentally disabled from being executed in a nation where our highest court has declared we don't execute the developmentally disabled.

SCOTUS and cameras

Adam Liptak of the New York Times has a story today about the United States Supreme Court's reluctance to allow cameras in their courtroom. First, on a side note, how do I get Adam Liptak's job, getting paid to cover SCOTUS? I could go for that.

But on to the substance. Before Justices Sotomayor and Kagan were confirmed to the Court, they both expressed approval of the concept of putting cameras in the Supreme Court. Open government is good, transparency is good, access to the Court is good kind of approval. Now, though, both Justices are pulling back, suggesting that cameras in the Supreme Court would be a bad idea. I hate to criticize members of the highest court in the land, but their arguments for their new position are specious. At best.

The argument against cameras in the Supreme Court goes something like this. Most of the arguments are way over the heads of most observers, so there would be no point in making them available to the general public. Having cameras subjects the arguments to the possibility of being reduced to soundbites. And some Justices and lawyers might act differently if there were cameras in the courtroom, a difference that would not be beneficial to the pursuit of justice.

Now that I've repeated these arguments, I think calling them specious was too kind. These arguments are insulting, disingenuous, and beyond illogical.

It is insulting to suggest that most arguments are far beyond the capacity of most Americans to follow, so there's no point in letting them try. It's also disingenuous because all of the information about the arguments are already readily available to the public, if they know where to look and have the interest. Any brief written to the Supreme Court is easily available on the web. Full transcripts of the arguments are made available on the Court's own website, usually early afternoon on the very day the cases were argued. The public already  has access to the Court's materials and people already follow the cases. And, of course, the decisions are also available to anyone on the web.

Reporters routinely cover the Court's arguments and decisions. (For big news agencies, there is a Court beat, worked by people like Adam Liptak.) News readers and watchers follow the stories, comment on web forums, talk about the decisions with friends, write blog posts, and engage in Facebook dialogues. The substance of the arguments are already out there, they're just weighted toward people who are better readers as opposed to those who learn better by hearing.

So a) the arguments are already out there for all those stupid Americans to try to muddle through. But b) an awful lot of Americans aren't stupid and really can follow the arguments, even if they don't have J.D.s from Harvard. And here's the real argument, even if they don't, even if most Americans are dumb as stumps and really aren't capable of understanding what those brilliant men and women in the black robes are saying, that is no basis for one branch of government to keep the public in the dark. There's no IQ test required before anyone can get access to attending Supreme Court arguments in person. Random Joe Schmos and Jane Does regularly attend, even if their feeble minds aren't up to the task of following along. Access to government isn't limited to the intellectual elites. Imagine if C-Span decided that it wouldn't cover Congressional hearings or debates that delved too deeply into technical issues beyond the comprehension of most Americans.

Similarly, the soundbite argument falls apart quickly. Because the arguments are already covered by the press and the transcripts are already readily available, the arguments are already at risk of being reduced to soundbites. (Like how everyone thinks of the Citizens United case standing for the proposition that "Corporations are people!" even though the majority opinion said no such thing.) What happens now is that television news covers arguments by showing one of those court drawings of the relevant Justice and having the reporter read the direct quote the reporter thinks is significant. As it stands now, anyone who wants to know the greater context can track down the transcript and read the whole argument. So how is it worse to have the intrepid news reader track down the video  of the argument and watch it instead of read it? Those of us in the court business know how different a cold transcript can feel from the actual proceedings, so wouldn't the public get an even better sense of the true context of those soundbites if they could hear the tone of voice and see the body language? I don't see how anyone can honestly claim the answer is no.

Finally, the idea that justices and lawyers would pander to the cameras is straight out of 1995. Yes, Judge Ito pandered to the publicity and yes, the OJ Simpson trial was a media circus of epic proportions. But let me posit a few theories. One, the major problem with Judge Ito wasn't that there were cameras in the courtroom, but that he wasn't a good judge. And that trial was a perfect storm of DNA evidence coming to the forefront, cameras in courtrooms for the FIRST time, in a case that was way too long and complicated, and, most importantly of all, involving one of the highest-profile defendants the public had seen in decades. We probably shouldn't be basing ideas on cameras in the courtroom on one disastrous trial from nearly two decades ago.

Cameras are a routine matter now in courtrooms throughout the country. This hasn't been a bad thing. It's become so expected in so many jurisdictions, the people working in the courts don't even notice anymore. Just as it's hard for us to remember what it was really like when we couldn't get a hold of our friends when they weren't at home, we now just accept that we live in the YouTube age when cameras are everywhere. Plus, there's the basic fact that court proceedings are already recorded for posterity. That's the whole idea of the phrase "for the record." We need everything to be noted, transcribed just as they happened, so that other courts can know exactly what happened and review the proceedings for error. Video cameras are just the latest technological advance for recording things. It's the natural progression of things. So, yeah, I think the court system's integrity will survive being recorded using the technology that's ubiquitous. And I think it's pretty futile to fight it for much longer.

Furthermore, what does it say about our Supreme Court Justices if they, themselves, think that they would behave like clowns if they were suddenly put on camera? There are only 9 Supreme Court slots, whereas there are hundreds (thousands, even?) of lawyers and judges throughout the land who would be well-qualified for those slots. I'd suggest that any Justice who can't resist pandering to a camera in a way that s/he could resist pandering when it's only to several hundred people in the gallery and a written transcript that will be available forever doesn't deserve to hold one of those select 9 seats. How little do these Justices think of themselves and their colleagues?

If I argued before the Supreme Court and lost to arguments as lacking in intellectual rigor as these arguments, I would be ranting for the rest of my life about it. I'm incredibly disappointed in both Sotomayor and Kagan for expressing these illogical arguments. I don't understand what the real reluctance is among the Justices. It seems a little silly that in 2013 they are still so stuck in these dinosaur views that they suck in the new Justices as soon as they take their seats on the bench. It makes me think there is some super secret objection that they just aren't willing to state out loud. But if the highest court in the land fights so hard against allowing the public to see what it does, they really ought to be required to give an explanation that doesn't fall apart with the slightest analysis.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Killer kids

One of the most difficult questions facing any society is what to do with children who commit serious crimes. It's a topic that has long been on my radar. I wrote a research paper on juvenile justice for my 9th grade English class. In law school, I did a summer internship at a public defender office working with juvenile defendants. Juvenile defense is something I could happily have dedicated myself to had my career path taken me there.

When cases come up like the Arizona case a few years ago in which an 8-year-old boy was accused of shooting his father or the one just last week in Washington where two 5th-graders are accused of plotting to kill a classmate, I pay attention. Honestly, these cases often make me glad my career path has taken me in a different direction because spending my days facing children in these impossible situations might be too much for me. I'm not sure we have a good answer for how to treat these children. Though I do know that prosecuting children as adults and throwing the book at them isn't the right answer.

In the state of Washington, children are prosecuted in the juvenile justice system between the ages of 12-18. Below the age of 12, children aren't prosecuted as a matter of course. Instead, they would be treated as children in need of care. The judge, though, has the opportunity to find that they have sufficient mental capacity to be tried in juvenile court. (I shudder to think that there are undoubtedly those who think they should be prosecutable in adult court.)

Apparently, the motive in this case is that the intended victim was rude and said mean things. One might extrapolate bullying from that, or it might be more generic 5th grade boys and girls hate each other stuff. I'm not sure motive counts much when we're talking about 11-year-olds. Between undeveloped reasoning skills and lack of impulse control, it just isn't fair to try to assess their actions in the same way we would with adults. It also isn't fair to punish them the same way.

Obviously, kids who carry guns around thinking they're going to kill a classmate need intervention. They need help, counseling, quite possibly a change in custody. But they don't need to be written off for the rest of their lives as if they're irredeemable. We do enough of that with people who have reached the voting age. Let's not start with kids who haven't even hit puberty yet.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Consequences are a good thing

I may have German ancestors, but I don't think I inherited a tendency toward Schadenfreude. Well, not much of one, anyway. I don't take delight in the misery of others. Well, not much, anyway.

But I am a fan of accountability. It's frustrating to all of us in the defense bar to see the police who intentionally lie on the stand, who violate the 4th and 5th Amendments, and who are caught doing these things keep their jobs. Too often, they don't seem to face any consequences. Same with prosecutors who withhold exculpatory information, a clear violation of long-standing US Supreme Court directives (based in constitutional principles), or who violate a defendant's right against self-incrimination or right to the assistance of counsel, or who commit misconduct in their questioning of witnesses and arguments to the jury but keep trying cases and keep skirting the rules.

As I said when that Texas state trooper was dismissed in January after committing one of the most invasive 4th Amendment violations I've ever heard of, I do not delight in the idea of anyone losing his or her livelihood, suffering the financial devastation of job loss. But the integrity of the criminal justice system demands that the police and prosecutors who abuse the system suffer consequences. We can't allow the chronic violators to remain a part of the system. So, no, I don't delight in the misfortunes of the individuals who lose their jobs or suffer demotions. But I do appreciate it when state agencies take their constitutional obligations seriously by holding those individuals who flout those obligations accountable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My new gig

If you think I've been a little quiet over here, it's probably not just in your head. See, as it turns out, I actually do have interests outside of the law and gay rights. I read books. (I've challenged myself to read 100 books this year and I am ahead of schedule). I do have friends and even occasionally hang out with them.

And I knit. I knit a lot. I knit so much, I've become a bit of an expert at it. So much so that they're letting me blog all about it here.

So that's one hobby I've gotten to pay for itself. I just have to find a way for my shoe habit to do the same. And I promise I am not abandoning this blog. I just have to get better at time management.
Diana Medley of Indiana is having a tough few days on the internet. She deserves it, so what the heck, I'll pile on. A group of parents of Sullivan High School students started an effort to have a "gay-free" prom. Medley became the public face of that effort after making particularly heinous comments. It's bad enough to want to keep the gays out, to want them to stop asking for "special rights" when what you really mean is to stop asking for equal access, or to complain about the gays pushing their "lifestyle" in your face by existing like normal people. Medley goes way beyond that. She says gays have "no purpose" in life. She is sorry, but she just doesn't understand "it."

It's the Diana Medleys of the world that I just don't understand and never will. (Side note: she's a special needs teacher...) Why are people so ugly about homosexuality? Why is this the sin that some people think should get teens banned from prom? I don't see these parents (and students as well) looking to ban fornicators or liars or kids with criminal records from the prom. Just the gays.

Medley and her motley crew think that having gays and lesbians at the prom would be offensive to them. How do these people not see that they are the offensive ones?

I'm so, so over the anti-gay thing. It's ugly. It's arbitrary. It's nonsensical. And it's mean. But even with all that said, I still would never tell the gay haters (and, yes, that's what this is) that they can't go to prom, no matter how much more fun prom would be without them. Because I'm not a mean jerk. Unlike the Diana Medleys of the world.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The death penalty is hard on everyone

One of my biggest beefs with the death penalty is how draining it is. It's a tremendous financial drain, with trials costing far more than non-capital murder cases. It's a drain on resources, requiring more attorneys per side,  more experts, more investigators. Attorneys file and argue more motions, so judges have to set aside more days for hearings. More prospective jurors have to be called and given questionnaires and interviewed in jury selection.

And it's emotionally draining on everyone. The longer trials and the additional sentencing phase that delves into every nook and cranny of the defendant's life are exhausting for everyone. Then there's the emotional toll on the people who actually have to perform the executions. I don't care how right or morally justified anyone thinks it is: killing a person takes a toll. If it doesn't, there's something seriously wrong with that person.

This father of a murder victim wants you to know it's tough on the victim's family as well. After enduring 10 years of litigation since his son's murder, this father is now asking the Colorado legislature to abolish the death penalty, calling it a broken system that he and his family have been trapped in. If his son's killer were just subject to a life sentence in prison, the case would likely be long over by now.

We throw so much time and money and emotional energy into this process of intentionally killing people. And we do it all acting as though it doesn't really cost us anything. But it does. It takes a toll on everyone involved. Why do we continue to insist that it remains a worthwhile endeavor? It isn't.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

For the love of dog

Who couldn't love this face? She's so sweet and earnest and so very simple in her needs. All she needs is a warm, soft place to sleep, yummy food and the occasional treat, some tummy scratches, a few tosses of the orange squeaky ball, and a few trips outside each day. Oh, and someone to love her. I like to think that I've done a pretty good job. I've certainly tried my best to do right by her because that's what I signed up for when I got a dog.

I understand that dogs aren't children. I understand that some people think I coddle my dog or that dogs don't need as much of our time and attention as kids do. I know some people think it's ok to leave dogs outside as long as they have some shelter and are given food and water.

But I also know that dogs are sweet, loving, living creatures and they have needs. People who aren't willing or prepared to meet those needs have no business having a dog. If you don't have time to see your dog for up to 14 hours a day, if you aren't able to pay for someone to come take the dog for a walk, or if you aren't thoughtful enough to see if maybe your neighbor can check on the dog for you, then don't have a dog.

Every dog deserves a safe home with loving people who can meet that dog's needs. It infuriates me to see a dog not receiving the care and treatment it deserves. I hate being put in the position of having to go to bed knowing there is a sad, neglected dog next door and having to feel like I'd be committing a crime if I took the poor thing into my home for the night. I don't appreciate having to ponder taking actions that would permanently damage a relationship with a neighbor.

If you can't take better care of your dog, do the right thing and find the dog a new home. At this point, Maddie and I would gladly step up.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, February 4, 2013

Crime labs aren't perfect

I am shocked, SHOCKED, to find gambling in this establishment! The New York City ME's Office has found at least 50 cases in which it didn't upload DNA results to a state database. Ok, in the grand scheme of forensics lab mix-ups, this really isn't that bad. But this is supposed to be a pretty top of the line lab, with solid protocols and procedures and they still make mistakes like this. And I always have to wonder what are the mistakes we aren't hearing about.

I just want everyone to remember things like this when they hear about scientific evidence in a criminal case or in a courtroom. Scientific evidence is not infallible. It is only as good as the scientists who handle the evidence. (Which, Courts, is why we need the scientists to come and testify in court rather than just submit reports. Duh!)

Crime labs everywhere should be running these kinds of checks on themselves, auditing their work regularly. They should be open about the problems they find. All of that adds credibility and reliability. All defense attorneys have encountered those lab analysts who believe they can do no wrong. The DNA hack used by the prosecution in the Amanda Knox case famously testified that her lab has no controls for contamination, runs no tests to rule it out, etc., because they don't make mistakes so there's no need. With that attitude, I bet she wouldn't run any checks on her database, either.

Of course, what prompted the New York Medical Examiner's Office to uncover this data problem was the realization that one of their lab techs had failed to catch DNA evidence in 26 rape cases. So it's not like we can be sure this lab regularly runs quality checks on its work. Perhaps that lab is just a pipe dream for me. The reality is that no crime lab is perfect. They're all going to make mistakes. They shouldn't hide from that fact, they shouldn't stick their heads in the sand and pretend it couldn't possibly be true. The best crime labs out there don't think they're infallible.

What I would love to see is for other crime labs to take some initiative and conduct their own audits now, before they are on notice of a problem. I do like my pipe dreams.
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