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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Prison Vote

The L.A. Times, Washington Post and Associated Press today summarized a new research paper published by the nonpartisan Pew Center. The report confirmed what some of us already knew, but with startling clarity.

1. At the start of 2008, the U.S. has more than 2.3 million people in prisons and jails. The U.S. leads the world in numbers and percentages of population in that statistic, more than in China (despite its far greater population) or Russia.

2. One out of nine black men between 20 and 34 is behind bars. For white men, the number is 0ne in 30.

3. Nonviolent offenders make up about half of the prison population.

4. Florida, which doubled its prison population in the last 15 years has experienced a smaller drop in crime than New York, which eventually reduced the number of inmates below the 1993 level.

5. The study concluded that while "imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect is influenced by the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents, and the percentage of young people in the population."

6. State governments spend over $50 billion per year, the feds $5 billion, to incarcerate 1 out of every 100 American adults.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Justice ... update

Today, the L.A. Times reported that California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George withdrew his proposal to shift work to lower appellate courts intended to speed up death penalty appeals.

He did so because of supposed budget constraints which would reduce the amount of money available to pay the salaries of clerks for appellate judges, deputy attorneys general to prosecute, and attorneys to defend in these cases.

Aww.... too bad.

Oh, and he didn't mention yesterday's post here as motivation.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Justice Delayed Is ...

"Justice delayed is justice denied."

Who says?

In my own experience, the exact opposite is more often true:

justice delayed is ... justice perfected, or at last ... finally attained.

The cliché is usually attributed to 19th Century English politician, William Gladstone, who also said,

"Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear."

Gladstone it seems was something of an enigma:

he opposed the abolition of slavery and proposed recognition of the Confederate States Of America.

On the other hand, he favored universal suffrage, at least for men, and opposed British imperialism.

His supporters called him the "Grand Old Man." His rival, Disraeli, preferred "God’s Only Mistake."

The "justice delayed" phrase is widely quoted these days by proponents of speedy justice for criminals. Prosecutors, victims rights advocates, politicians calling themselves "Conservatives," (don’t know what old Gladstone would call them) all bemoan delays built into the justice system.

Some years ago, Californians voted overwhelmingly for something called "The Speedy Trial Initiative" which was meant to streamline the trial process. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George has been lobbying for a reform of the appellate process to relieve his court from the obligation to hear every capital appeal. He wants to transfer the onus to intermediate appellate courts (which are more numerous), just like other cases. The Supremes could then simply review the lower court’s opinons without the need to spend the time of independent judgment.

Those in power are annoyed by the fact that there are more than 600 people on the state’s death row, many of whom have been waiting for years to have cases heard. Many have no lawyers appointed to represent them. Others have been slogging through complicated and seemingly endless habeas corpus proceedings, bouncing back and forth from state and federal courts.

The only fly in the speedy justice ointment is that every day or two a "criminal's" conviction or death sentence is reversed after years and years of languishing, when new evidence uncovers the IN- justice that actually happened all those years ago. DNA tests (or other technological marvels) or reneging snitches and / or eyewitnesses or dishonest jurors are unwrapped, proving that the initial verdicts, which had been affirmed by all the courts along the way were dead wrong.

Miscarriages of justice are not limited to capital cases.

The L.A. Times today reported that the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University Law School (guided by Prof. Gerald Uelman) and the California Innocence Project at Cal Western Law School in San Diego "have succeeded in helping to exonerate 11 people, two based on DNA evidence, nine on other grounds... The two Innocence Projects are now actively investigating 288 cases and have a backlog of 700 cases." (L.A. Times, California, Saturday, February 24, 2008, p.B-3).

The facts were part of a Times article devoted to reporting the findings of a "blue ribbon commission" chaired by former L.A. D.A. John Van De Kamp, which found that exonerated prisoners, many who have served decades in prisons before being released, were inadequately compensated by the state for the loss of their freedom.

Advocates of speedy justice would have denied such prisoners any of the processes that had reviewed and eventually overturned their wrongful convictions and sentences by terminating their rights to appeal and habeas corpus to federal courts or to re-file dismissed appeals when new evidence is exposed.

The conservative strain of The Law favors certainty and cost efficiency in its justice system and closure for victims and their families over the nuisance of interminable appeals.

After all, as old GOM observed: "Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

American Pride

Michelle Obama’s been taking heat from the right wing media & radio nutties for saying that in this campaign she’s felt proud of America for the first time in her life.

"What?" the super patriots howl, "Nothing in her lifetime? Typical liberal anti-Americanism !"

The candidate’s spinners have been frantically trying to mend the perceived gaffe — "She really meant that she’s proud of her hubby," some have whimpered.

Wrong answer.

I completely agree with Ms. Obama.

She was born two months after JFK’s assassination. Apart from the passage of the Civil Rights Act when she was about 2 years old, the moon landing when she was 5, and the U.S. victory over the USSR in hockey when she was 16, what has she experienced to make her proud of her country.

Let’s see: She’s lived through the following tragedies:
Race riots (Watts, Detroit, etc.)

1968 (MLK, RFK, Chicago, etc.)
The Iran Hostage Crisis
the Reagan years ("Greed is good")
Serbian genocide
Bush 41
African genocide
The Savings & Loan Scandal
Bush 43
Hilton, Spears & Lohan
the Home Mortgage debacle.

Makes ya proud, huh?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Random Thoughts From My Calendar

February 8, Friday:
I meet a San Francisco habeas lawyer to talk about a couple of cases I have a "past" with. More about the details at some future date.

February 11, Monday:
Spend the day in court in the second day of a preliminary hearing that the D.A. had estimated at one day. Because of her absurdly low estimate, the judge was peeved that I spent so much time in the tedious job of cross-examining the many witnesses she decided to put on. At 4 p.m., the judge recesses the case until the 28th, when we will resume.

February 12, Tuesday:
Lincoln’s birthday - a court holiday. (They also take 2/18, next Monday - President’s Day). I spend it preparing billing and filing.

February 13, Wednesday:
I appear in Van Nuys to represent my client who had sex several times with a 12 year old girl. He is 40. He can’t quite understand why the D.A. wants him to do 11 years. He told the appointed shrink that he had drunk 36 beers before the first time, 15 the second time, and 9 the third. The shrink thought he was exaggerating - about the number of beers. I wonder if he had to drink less each time to get in the mood. I give him until the 27th to decide whether to take the deal or coerce me to trial.

February 14, Thursday:
I spend some time watching Roger Clemons squirm before a House Committee, answering their softballs & innuendos. These congressmen all claim to have been prosecutors in their youth, but none can ask a decent lawyerlike question to a witness. Of course, like all prosecutors they only know how to ask leading questions prepared by their staffs which they’ve never seen before. Given a time limit of 5 minutes, they ask one 5 minute question, which is really a statement or argument followed by "Isn’t that right?"

February 17, Sunday:
In the L.A. Times, there is a story about California prison inmates who have served more time than they should due to incompetent prison officials who can’t understand the complex sentencing laws. I sympathize. I don’t understand them either. There are so many enhancements and amendments to the statutes that no one involved can accurately predict any sentence.

Even misdemeanors are a joke. On a DUI, where the stated fine is, say, $300, the total cost to the defendant is over $1000 because of penalty assessments - like lab costs, police education, ink, air, whatever.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

While preparing for an upcoming trial, I leave one ear open for the political shows. As proof of my ability to multi-task, this is what I (think I) heard:

MSNBC: "... Based on our exit polling we are calling the state for McCain because none of the Huckabee supporters could find the right polling place..."

CNN: "... On the Democratic side, exit polling showed that Obama was preferred by people who described themselves as ‘cool dudes’and Clinton was favored by people who described themselves as ‘blondes.’..."

ESPN: "...Clinton won Massachusetts because of big margins among sports fans who used to boo Jim Rice and burn crosses on Bill Russell’s lawn..."

PBS: "... Obama won North Dakota and Utah because of overwhelming support of African American voters — both of them... This breaking news, the Black voter in Utah has been deported..."

CNN (Lou Dobbs):" ... Clinton is dominating the Hispanic vote in California, except for the one young Hispanic male who can’t get a fake driver’s license..."

MTV: When asked if Clinton’s wins in New York and New Jersey could be seen as a repudiation of his endorsement of Obama, Robert De Niro asked, 'Are you talkin’ to me? He insisted again and again that "He’s good, yes he is, he’s good'..."

FOX: "... As Criswell predicted, tornadoes in Tennessee suppressed the vote except for Huckabee supporters who saw it as a sign from God ..."

MILITARY CHANNEL: "... It was a night for home state loyalties: Huckabee and Clinton won Arkansas, Clinton also won New York, Romney won Massachusetts, Obama Illinois ... and McCain won Iraq and Afghanistan, narrowly lost Viet Nam, where he was fondly remembered, having resided in Hanoi for five years..."

Other than those developments, the highlight of my day was leaving a rollerball pen uncapped in the pocket of the first new dress shirt I've bought in a year.

The best news: Tomorrow not super Wednesday.