The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute
Criminal Law Newsletter April 2017
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.
Based on Correction Departments concerns, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has vetoed a bill (HB 175) that would have prohibited solitary confinement for minors and pregnant women. She also vetoed a so-called “ban the box” bill (SB 78) meant to make it easier for felons to get job interviews, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (SB 61), which would have required law enforcement to obtain warrants before accessing electronic devices or using stingrays. Martinez, a former state prosecutor, has separately called on lawmakers to reinstate the death penalty.
In West Virginia, the House of Delegates has passed several bills that target drug crime. One bill (SB 202) limits the monetary amount of gift cards that pawnbrokers can purchase for any one individual, in an effort to prevent drug users from pawning gift cards to obtain drugs. A second (SB 220) makes it a felony to deliver or administer drugs that result in someone’s death. The third bill (SB 219), which would result in a drug sentencing scheme similar to that employed in Title 21 of the United States Code, establishes sentences for drug crimes based on the quantities of drugs at issue, and provides for aggregation of the amounts of drugs possessed by coconspirators for sentencing purposes. Another successful bill, HB 2980, would provide dedicated funding to the West Virginia State Police Forensics Laboratory by adding a $15 fee per defendant in certain civil actions.
Wisconsin lawmakers announced plans to introduce a proposal to amend their state constitution to give crime victims more rights. The legislation is dubbed “Marsy’s Law” and modeled after legislation in California. The proposal is supported by Attorney General Brad Schimel.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that he will not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, but will, instead, develop a plan to meet the needs of overburdened crime labs with a to-be-name senior forensic advisor and international Department of Justice crime task force.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is encouraging law enforcement agencies to re-enter finger and palm prints from cold cases into an upgraded national database. In addition to prints from arrestees and convicts, the database contains prints from employment background checks and visa applications. New searches have yielded arrests and convictions from crimes committed decades ago.
A new procedure for testing hair samples may reveal everything from age, to diet, to gender, to country of origin.
A federal judge denied a Department of Justice request for time to review a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department, which had been entered into under Attorney General Loretta Lynch. In his order, the judge wrote that it would be “extraordinary for the court to permit one side to unilaterally amend an agreement already jointly reached and signed.” The judge then granted the 227-page draft consent order after making minor modifications.
In the Courts
In New Mexico, Attorney General Hector Balderas has joined an appeal arguing that trial court judges are improperly denying requests that dangerous defendant be detained before trial. The cases arise under a 2016 amendment to the New Mexico constitution that permits judges to deny bail in felony cases where there is “clear and convincing evidence that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community.”
A Nevada man has ben charged with perjury based upon his testimony in his own 2016 criminal trial. Ethan Ray Wald was acquitted of sexual assault upon a child after that trial.
Gambler William “Billy” Walters has been convicted of insider trading in a case that Walters’s attorneys said would have included golfer Phil Mickelson as a witness—until Mickelson’s lawyers told them he’d assert his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. The former chairman of Dean Foods Co. testified during Walters’s trial that he provided inside information that allowed the gambler to make more than $43 million over six years of trading.
After a local district attorney recused himself, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office took over the murder case against Richard Shahan, a pastor accused of murdering his wife in 2013. Weeks before the trial was scheduled, the attorney general’s office dismissed charges against Shahan, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to go forward with the trial.
The New York Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal by Facebook seeking to quash a search warrant seeking the accounts of hundreds of Facebook subscribers and to make public the affidavit setting forth probable cause to search the accounts. The court concluded that it did not have jurisdiction under New York State law to consider Facebook’s appeal. (In the Matter of 381 Search Warrants Directed to Facebook, Inc.)
Training & Other Resources
The DC Bar hosts an April 18, 2017 webinar, “Leaving Government Employment: Ethical Issues for Attorneys,” from 9:30 to 11:45 am.
The Clear Law Institute will present a webcast on April 25, 2017, from 1:00 to 2:30 PM Eastern Time called “Conflicts of Interest for Attorneys: Identification and Waivers.”
On April 26, 2017, form 2:00 to 3:30 pm Eastern Time, the Defense Research Institute hosts a webcast titled “Facebook Grenade; (Ethically) Mining Social Media for Maximum Effect.”
Lawline.com will present “Taking the High Road: How to Deal Ethically with Bullies Who Don’t Play by the Rules,” a one-hour webinar, on May 4, 2017.
Other News of Interest
Platte County (Missouri) Prosecutor Eric Zahnd is facing an <href="#stream/0">ethics complaint over his treatment of a defendant’s character witnesses. After Darren Paden pled guilty to the long-term sexual abuse of a now-teenage girl, a number of Paden’s friends and relatives wrote sentencing letters to the judge. Zahnd’s office then pressured the witnesses to withdraw the letters, serving them with subpoenas and threatening to expose them as supporters of a pedophile. After Paden was sentenced, Zahnd criticized the “pillars of this community”—some by name—who had supported “a child molester.”
ProPublica examined five years of court records in Texas, concluding that, of the 981 cases that had been reported to police as potential hate crimes, fewer than one percent were successfully prosecuted as hate crimes.
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.