CA Federal Court Threatens Gov. Brown With Contempt

In a strongly worded 71 page opinion, a three judge panel from the Eastern District of California has threatened California Governor Jerry Brown with contempt for failing to come up with a plan to reduce California's prison population. The court has given Brown and the state numerous chances. The Supreme Court denied Brown's appeal and he still refuses to comply.

The April 5 opinion is here. The docket with links to other court orders is here. Read More

Pre-Dawn Raid at Guantanamo, Detainees Rebel

Guards at Guantanamo this morning conducted a pre-dawn raid of Camp 6, the communal housing block where most of the inmates are on a hunger strike. The purpose was to move the hunger-striking inmates to maximum security cells.

The detainees fought back. According to Guantanamo officials:

“Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons, and in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired,” according to a statement issued by the prison camps at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. “There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees.”

….“In order to reestablish proper observation, the guards entered the Camp 6 communal living spaces to transition detainees into single cells, remove obstructions to cameras, windows and partitions, and to assess the medical condition of each detainee,” the prison said.

Yesterday, Guantanamo's prison camp Commander was replaced. Read More

Zimmerman Case: Attorney Warfare and Witness 8

As I wrote the other day, George Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara filed a motion for sanctions against Florida prosecutors for withholding information favorable to the defense. It was a very civilized pleading, supported by factual instances, letters and e-mails.

Late yesterday, in response, the state filed one of the most scurrilous, unprofessional pleadings I have ever had the misfortune to read. I have uploaded it here.

I cannot imagine such a pleading being filed in our federal courts by any Assistant U.S. Attorney. If this is acceptable protocol for Florida state prosecutors, I'm glad I neither practice nor live there.

I have no interest in the diatribe contained in the pleading. But I do want to discuss a few factual allegations and the legal issue.[more..]

The Witness 8 Letter

The state attached to its motion a handwritten letter from Witness 8, dated March 19, 2012, the day she was interviewed by Martin family lawyer Benjamin Crump. The “letter” is her version of what she heard on the phone with Trayvon Martin the night of the shooting. Thanks to Diwata Man for transcribing it:

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George Zimmerman Lawyers Seek Sanctions Against Prosecutor

There are lots of new developments in the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case. Before I get to them, some readers will remember that about 10 days ago, I wrote about the newly released ABC recording of a portion of Benjamin Crump’s March 19, 2012 interview with Witness 8 and said I would follow-up with analysis.

My analysis turned out to be more than 10 typewritten pages and difficult to convert into a blog post with accessible links. I posted it earlier today, in pdf format, since it is far too lengthy for a blog post.

Although it was written before the defense filed a 58 page motion asking Judge Nelson to reconsider her denial of its request to depose Martin family lawyer Benjamin Crump, and this week's Motions for Sanctions against the State, I think it is still relevant and also provides some context, especially for those who haven't followed all the goings on with Witness 8, the woman who says she was on the phone with Trayvon minutes before the shooting.

Now on to the recent developments:

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How to Save DOJ Money Without Furloughs

Attorney General Eric Holder sent out a memo to Justice Department employees Friday (available here) saying he transferred $150 million from DOJ’s funds to the Bureau of Prisons to avoid mass furloughs of prison guards and staffers.

Absent this intervention, we faced the need to furlough 3,570 staff each day from the federal prisons around the country. The loss of these correctional officers and other staff who supervise the 176,000 prisoners at 119 institutions would have created serious threats to the lives and safety of our staff, inmates, and the public.

The Department’s actions can protect BOP’s facilities only through the end of the fiscal year in September and these actions do not address the serious life and safety issues that the BOP faces next year under continued funding at the post-sequestration levels.

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CO Prison Chief Murder: Suspect Killed in Shootout

ebel387

A suspect in the murder of Colorado prison chief Tom Clements has been killed in a shootout with Texas police. The suspect, a 28 year old white supremacist and parolee from a Colorado prison, was stopped by a police officer in Texas. He shot the officer and took off.

The officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest. Two shots were to the chest and did not injure him. The third shot grazed his head. He was able to radio in the car description.

According to a live news conference I just watched here, it was a a drug interdiction stop. The officer had no idea the driver might be connected to the Colorado shooting of Director Clements.

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Bill Introduced to Provide Some Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Relief

jails220

I think the biggest problem in our criminal justice system for the past 25 years has been rigid mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul introduced the bi-partisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013. According to Sen. Leahy:

The bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 expands the so-called “safety valve” that allows judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum in qualifying drug cases to all federal crimes. By giving judges this greater flexibility, they will not be forced to administer needlessly long sentences for certain offenders, which is a significant factor in the ever-increasing Federal prison population and the spiraling costs that steer more and more of the justice budget toward keeping people in prison, rather than investing in programs that keep our communities safe.

Currently a “safety valve” provision allows low-level drug offenders to avoid mandatory minimum penalties if certain conditions are met. The bill we introduce today would extend that safety valve to all Federal crimes subject to mandatory minimum penalties, allowing a judge to impose a sentence other than a statutorily designated mandatory sentence in cases in which key factors are present. The judge would be required to provide notice to the parties and to state in writing the reasons justifying the alternative sentence.

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Supreme Court : Copyright Infringement Cases, Different Outcomes

The record companies are happy today. Text book publishers and authors are not.

The Supreme Court has denied cert in the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a native American who uploaded, downloaded or otherwise shared 24 songs on Kazaa, a now-defunct music file-sharing service, for personal use. The record companies sued, and the ultimate judgment against her, after several retrials and appeals with jury verdicts as high as $1.9 million, was $222,000, or $9,250 per song. The issue, according to the Petition for Cert (which includes the 8th Circuit and trial court's opinions in the Appendix portion):

Is there any constitutional limit to the statutory damages that can be imposed for downloading music online?

Under the copyright infringement statute, it is not necessary for the record company to show actual damages or that the infringer profited from the work. It can seek statutory damages, which allow up to $150,000 for each infringement. The remedies section of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 504, provides:

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