Criminal Law Newsletter August 2016

The following is a compendium of news reports over the past month that may be of interest to our AG offices who are involved with criminal law issues. Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Association of Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses a view as to the accuracy of news accounts, nor as to the positions expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles. 

Legislation

In Alabama, the legislature is considering bills that would provide for tougher penalties for crimes committed against law enforcement officers. The bills include HB 48 (which expands eligibility for the death penalty); HB 49 (which increases the class of felony associated with assaulting law enforcement officers and provides for a pay raise); and HB 52 (which expands the definition of “hate crimes” to include crimes against first responders, such as police officers, firemen, or emergency medical service officers).

In California, lawmakers failed to pass any major legislation regulating police body cameras. The state already has strict laws blocking most law enforcement information from becoming public through open records requests, although some prosecutors have released selected footage from officer-involved shootings to explain why they haven’t filed charges in those incidents.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed over a dozen criminal justice bills that are intended to reduce the prison population and help the formerly incarcerated become employed after their release.

In Oklahoma, ballot measures will allow voters to decide in November whether to reclassify some felony drug crimes as misdemeanors (State Question 780) and require the state to estimate the savings from reducing jail terms associated with those crimes, earmarking the amount saved for recidivism prevention programs (State Question 781).

Training

“Establishing Innocence or Guilt” will be held August 29-30, 2016, in Plano, Texas, and will focus on understanding and preventing wrongful convictions. The training is sponsored by The Center for American and International Law.

The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys is holding the Sixth Annual National Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conference in Austin, Texas, from September 14-16, 2016.

“Breaking the Blue Wall—The Civilian Police Partnership for Oversight in Minneapolis,” which is sponsored by Minnesota Continuing Legal Education, will be held on September 15, 2016 in Minneapolis.

The Vermont Law Review will hold a day-long symposium on September 16, 2016 titled “Criminal Culpability—Who Deserves Punishment?” Panelists include Prof. Peter Henning, who spoke at NAGTRI’s Anticorruption Academy earlier this month.

Policy

In a piece called “An Overview of Recent State-Level Forfeiture Reforms,” counsel for the Heritage Foundation outlines recent changes to the civil asset forfeiture laws.

The Huffington Post details—and supports—a letter signed by more than 90 law professors defending the use of a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard for campus rape cases.

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced plans to end the use of private prisons for federal prisoners. Shares for Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group Inc., two large private prison contractors, plummeted more than 35% after the announcement.

The DNA testing lab use by the Austin (Texas) Police Department has been shut down as a result of a Texas Forensic Science Commission audit that concluded that untrained staff and improper testing procedures imperiled the validity of the test results.

In the Courts

A restaurant in Fairbanks, Alaska, has entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor that charged it with violating state food safety laws. In a case brought by the Alaska Attorney General’s Office, The Pump House LLC admitted that it had served elk instead of the claimed “reindeer tenderloin” since at least 2013 and agreed to pay $50,000 in fines.

In Boston, two men have pled guilty in connection with a scheme to obtain perjured testimony in a 2012 criminal trial. David Forlizzi and Fred Battista paid three witnesses to testify falsely—and a fourth to absent herself from the state—during their insurance fraud trial. The trial judge overseeing the insurance fraud case referred the perjury scheme to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

Two documents that prosecutors referred to as “manifestos” have surfaced in the case against Dylann Roof, the man accused of killing nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. The documents allegedly include a list of churches and may shed light on why Roof targeted the Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.

Judges in the Southern District of New York have bemoaned the decrease in criminal trials in their district, which dropped to 50 trials in 2015—the lowest since 2004—and reflect a nationwide trend of increased plea bargaining in state and federal criminal cases.

Other News of Interest

The Oxford University Press describes five types of crime that are associated with the Pokémon Go craze—both by and against players: theft, trespass, harassment, dangerous driving, and issues with data security.

An article about a police officer and gang member who was murdered by the Mexican Mafia discusses the reach of the gang into law enforcement circles and the federal racketeering prosecution of some of the men responsible for the officer’s death.


Amie Ely is the Editor of Criminal Law Newsletter and may be reached at 202-326-6041. The Criminal Law Newsletter is a publication of the National Association of Attorneys General. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please e-mail aely@naag.org.

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