Criminal Law Newsletter September 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

Pending federal legislation to reduce mandatory minimum sentences in drug crimes and increase judges’ sentencing discretion has stalled in Congress, perhaps as a result of a rash of shootings of police officers this summer and political pressure during this election year.

In New Orleans, the City Counsel has passed an ordinance designed to stem the flow of stolen guns into the city by requiring people to report stolen firearms or face a $250 fine. The ordinance also creates gun-free zones in, inter alia, schools and city-owned recreational properties, and outlaws “negligent handling” of a firearm, defined as when a gun is “carried, brandished or displayed under circumstances that create a reasonable apprehension on the part of members of the public or a law enforcement officer that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed.”

Training

The Washington State Bar Association is hosting The 23rd Annual Criminal Justice Institute CLE from September 22-23, 2016 in Burien, Washington. The training is open to prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, and law enforcement professionals.

The American Bar Association is holding a webinar titled Landmark White-Collar Crime Trials: Individual Prosecutions in Wake of Major Disasters on September 26, 2016.

On November 18, 2016, in Cleveland, the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law will host a day-long Criminal Justice Forum Symposium titled The Role of the Prosecutor and the Grand Jury in Police Use of Deadly Force Cases.

Policy

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has voted on and is expected to release a report summarizing its evaluation of several areas of forensic science. PCAST is comprised of non-forensic scientists; the one member who has had nominal experience in that field, co-chair Eric Lander, is on the board of the Innocence Project and, months before this review of forensic science was authorized by President Obama, wrote about his belief in the need to substantially reform forensic science. The PCAST report is expected to conclude that only DNA analysis of single-source and simple-mixture samples and latent fingerprints are “scientifically valid and reliable,” and that none of the following fields of forensic science should be introduced as evidence in criminal cases: (1) DNA analysis of complex-mixture samples, (2) bitemarks, (3) firearms identification (that is, that a particular bullet was fired from a specific firearm), (4) footwear analysis (that is, that a particular shoe made a particular shoeprint), and (5) hair analysis. The report is also expected to recommend that the U.S. Department of Justice not seek to introduce evidence from forensic disciplines PCAST considers invalid and that federal judges—overruling precedent if necessary—refuse to admit evidence from those disciplines.

In the Courts

In Arkansas, a 75-year old convicted felon was arrested on state charges after he called the police to report that five of his guns had been stolen. When a police officer went to James Davis’s home as a result of the call, the officer saw additional firearms. A search warrant executed the next day revealed 12 guns and nine boxes of ammunition. As a felon, Davis violated both state and federal law by possessing the guns. During his arrest, Davis—who had used a gun during the 2001 assault that resulted in his conviction—told officers he intended to get more guns to replace those that had just been confiscated.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has overruled a federal district court’s decision to require federal prosecutors to release a list of names of uncharged co-conspirators in the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal. Prosecutors provided the names to defense attorneys in the case in January, and several media organizations argued for access to the name. The Third Circuit’s ruling came a day before lawyers began jury selection in the trial against Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, at which former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein is expected to testify as a cooperating witness for the government.

Other News of Interest

FinCEN (the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) has released an Advisory to Financial Institutions on E-Mail Compromise Fraud Schemes, which outlines ways in which criminals misappropriate funds by deceiving banks or their customers into making wire transfers. The Advisory gives a useful overview of how these illicit schemes generally work.

In Houston, Texas, the police department has complained that the civilian-run Houston Forensic Science Center has hired a call center that, among other things, put a homicide detective on hold for over an hour during a murder investigation. The Center was turned over to civilian control in April 2014 after mistakes that included a backlog of 6,600 untested rape kits and problems—detailed in our July edition of this newsletter— with people pleading guilty based on faulty narcotics field tests rather than waiting in jail for a lengthy time for the lab to complete a test of the alleged drugs.

Dallas District Attorney Susan Hawk has stepped down, issuing a statement that she is resigning to focus on her mental health. According to local news sources, Hawk has been absent for long stretches so she could be treated for an unspecified mood disorder during her two-year tenure as DA. Hawk was a judge prior to running for district attorney.

The New Yorkerpublished an article about “super-recognizers” with an uncanny ability to recognize faces, who are being used by London’s Metropolitan Police Service to review footage from close-circuit-television systems to solve crimes.

Washington D.C. Chief of Police Cathy Lanier is leaving her post to take a job with the National Football League. In a lengthy interview with The Washington Post, Lanier talked about her 26 years as a police officer in the District and said that “[t]he criminal justice system in this city is broken,” as it allows violent offenders back on the street to victimize vulnerable communities. Her remarks echo concerns she and the mayor raised in the summer of 2015, when there was a spike in murders, many of which were believed to have been committed by repeat offenders.


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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