The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute
Criminal Law Newsletter May 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.
The inaugural NAGTRI Corruption Newsletter was published on May 16, 2016.
Nominations have openedfor the first ever NAGTRI Anticorruption Academy, an August 15-19, 2016, training in Colorado Springs for prosecutors in attorney generals’ offices. The keynote speaker is scheduled to be Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office has convicted about a dozen current and former state legislators, including the former Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker, of corruption-related offenses.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has signed a criminal justice reform bill, SB 367. The bill creates new charter schools in juvenile detention centers; shields criminal records of some first-time offenders; allows some offenders to keep their driver’s licenses and retain eligibility for food stamps; increases parole eligibility for drug-related offenses and non-violent felonies; and requires state licensing boards to consider if a felony conviction “directly relates to the occupation” for which the offender seeks to obtain, renew, or keep a license before using that conviction as grounds to grant, renew, or revoke that license.
The Oklahoma Senate Committee has passed new legislation to change the state’s forcible oral sodomy law, in the wake of a decision by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn a conviction where an unconscious 16-year old girl was sexually assaulted. The amendment would criminalize the oral sexual assault of a victim incapable of consent.
In Alaska, Senate Bill 91, an omnibus criminal justice reform bill, has been passed by the state legislature. The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission helped draft the legislation, which aims to reduce the prison population by decreasing sentences and increasing the use of electronic ankle monitoring. Some, if not all, of the projected savings will go towards treatment, prevention, and supervision programs intended to reduce Alaska’s 67% recidivism rate.
The Michigan State Senate has introduced a package of 20 bills intended to lower recidivism rates and reform parole guidelines. The bills in the package would, inter alia, collect data on, and define, recidivism; institute separate programming for 18-22 year old inmates; and require the parole board to justify parole denials.
The Governor of Connecticut is pushing the legislature to consider a bill, SB 505, that would raise the age for juveniles to 20 years old and allow most defendants charged with misdemeanors to be released on bail.
Two criminal justice bills, SF 3481 (reducing sentences for defendants convicted of drug crimes, in the Senate) and HF 3468 (setting guidelines on police body cameras, in the House) are moving forward in Minnesota.
A debate is brewing between the leader of an organization representing federal prosecutors and an organization representing district attorneys about Congress’s attempts to reduce prison sentences. While the National District Attorneys Association sent a letter to Senate leaders supporting the reduction of mandatory minimum sentences, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys is opposed to the legislation.
The American Bar Association’s Prescriptions for Criminal Justice Forensics Conference is scheduled for June 3, 2016, in New York City. Topics include DNA, arson investigation, emerging trends in forensic science policy, and debates about the encryption of data.
Registration is open for the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016, a one-day event examining Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement and compliance policies and practices. Panels include “Brazil: Enforcement And Compliance Basket Case or Success Story?”
In an overview of the limitations of DNA “matches,” The Atlanticdetails a case in which errors in a Houston crime lab caused a false DNA match, resulting in a 16-year old being unjustly convicted of rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Prof. Peter J. Henning argues that the battle between Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice has hastened a necessary conversation about the balance between the Government’s need to obtain information for law enforcement purposes and some individuals’ desires to prevent access to their data.
Since the Supreme Court concluded in D.C. v. Heller that the Second Amendment guarantees the fundamental right of an individual—rather than a “well-regulated militia”—to possess firearms, other courts have granted more protections to gun owners and sellers. On May 16, a federal judge in the District of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction forbidding police from enforcing a component of the firearm carry law that required applicants to show a “good” or “proper” reason that they should be permitted to carry a gun. The law in DC was patterned after Maryland, New Jersey, and New York carry laws that were found to be constitutional.
In the Courts
Last weekend, a 15-year old track star with a 3.7 GPA was murdered in Chicago by a 13-year old girl. The girls were fighting in the South Side, and the 13-year old’s mother handed her the knife that she used to fatally stab DeKayla Dansberry to death. Mother and daughter have been charged with first-degree murder.
A federal judge has blocked enforcement of a Louisiana criminal law that requires online booksellers, publishers, and others to electronically verify customers’ ages before providing access to materials that could be deemed harmful to children. Concluding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail upon their claims that the law violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutionally vague, Chief Judge Brian Jackson (M.D. La.) issued a preliminary injunction.
Two men have been extradited from Mexico in connection with the murder of Jaime Zapata, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent, and the non-fatal shooting of his colleague Victor Avila. The defendants were charged with ambushing the victims on a highway in north-central Mexico on February 15, 2011, a crime to which several members of the Zetas drug trafficking organization have pled guilty in U.S. federal court.
A Virginia woman who claimed to be a “life coach” and a psychic has entered a guilty plea in federal court to fraud charges. She told her victims she needed their money and jewelry to “lift” curses and that she would “cleanse” this property by burying it in a box—and then return it to them when the curse was lifted. Instead, she took the property and used it as she wished.
A Baltimore police officer’s bench trial on misdemeanor criminal assault charges in connection with the arrest and death of Freddie Gray concluded on May 18, with closing arguments by both parties.
Other News of Interest
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt released a 106-page report of a multi-county grand jury that had been charged with reviewing recent botched executions. In that report, the grand jury criticized state officials as careless and sometimes even reckless, detailing how a pharmacist ordered the wrong drug—which multiple state employees failed to notice. That wrong drug was used in one execution. During the next scheduled execution, when someone realized that the execution team did not have the correct drug, the “IV Team Leader” and a pharmacist reported that the available drug was medically interchangeable with the drug called for by the protocol, and the Governor’s general counsel pushed for the execution to go forward. It was, nonetheless, halted.
Thirteen law enforcement officers were given Medals of Valor by President Obama for risking their lives to save others.
A deputy sheriff in Mesa County, Colorado, was killed in the line of duty. After his death, he continued saving lives by donating his organs. CNN profiles the life and family of Deputy Sheriff Derek Greer and the man whose life was saved by the heart he donated.
“Meet the Ungers,” a lengthy piece that includes interviews with both defendants and victims, explores the reach of the Unger case in Maryland, which has resulted in the release of 230 prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes several decades ago.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.