Friday, October 5, 2012

SCOTUS: Judges and Prosecutors are Incapable of Misconduct

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear the appeal of Sholom Rubashkin, sentenced to 27 years in prison in a case that involved a federal judge who was in on the planning of the case with government agents from the original raid on his business. The court is saying, in essence, that federal judges are not bound by any appreciable rules of conduct, and that there is no recourse for the citizen who is victimized by judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.

To the casual observer, the SCOTUS did the right thing. Here is a guy who broke the law, defrauded a bank, and got what he richly deserved, or at least that is how the media has portrayed this case. However, a number of people have taken a hard look at the conduct of Judge Linda Reade and have come up with a much different opinion: that what she did was an outright travesty of justice.

Judges and prosecutors have awesome powers and the SCOTUS already has ruled that they are immune from any challenges from private citizens. In the end, we have yet another example of the government "investigating" the government and declaring that the government has acted justly.

In rejecting Rubashkin's appeal, the SCOTUS also ignored legal pleas from a large number of former officials of the U.S. Department of Justice and civil liberties advocate Harvey Silverglate. When people of disparate political opinions are willing to join together and ask the High Court to examine the conduct of federal officials, this is something not to be taken lightly. Instead, even their opinions were blown off as though they were nothing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Federal Conviction Machine

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece on how federal prosecutors and judges have so rigged the system that the only thing left to do when charged is to plead guilty, guilt or innocence notwithstanding. This clearly is an immoral situation, especially when innocent people plead simply to avoid the draconian sentences that are handed down when federal juries, in their usual Pavlovian style, listen only to federal prosecutors.

The article here follows the fortunes of Kenneth Kassab, who originally was going to plead guilty to an explosives charge because his attorney just did not want to take the risk of trial. After an incident, Kassab changed his plea, went to trial, and actually was acquitted. The diagram below, I believe demonstrates just how rigged the federal system has become:

No doubt, federal prosecutors will claim that they garner in the convictions because they are great lawyers. However, in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, who pretty much is pro-prosecution: (the federal system) "effectively compels an innocent defendant to avoid massive risk by pleading guilty to a lesser offense."

So, when someone like Scalia, the prosecutor's best friend, says there is a problem, then there is a problem. (Thanks to James Bovard for the link)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sholom Rubashkin and the Unethical Judge

A couple years ago, I wrote on what I believed was a miscarriage of justice in the federal case against Sholom Rubashkin, the CEO of a now-shuttered kosher meat facility in Iowa. The Rubashkin case is one that draws a lot of different opinions, in part because there are so many elements involved from the hiring of illegal immigrants to accusations from PETA about mistreatment of animals to the issue of financial fraud.

I addressed each of those issues in a previous blog, but it seems to me that the worst part is the conduct of the federal judge in that case, Linda Reade, who immersed herself in the original immigration raid of the plant and who also seemed to have a role in directing how federal authorities should act. As Emily Bazelon wrote recently in Slate, Reade's involvement definitely seemed to cross the line of judicial impropriety:
Still, in asking the Supreme Court to take the case, Rubashkin’s lawyers—who now include former Solicitor General Paul Clement—are asking the justices to take a stand on Reade’s participation in the immigration raid planning. The argument is that Reade and the prosecutors had an obligation to tell Rubashkin’s lawyers about all that pre-raid planning. Except in very limited circumstances, judges aren’t allowed to meet with one side in a case without the other, and so those weekly meetings broke the rules. Several friend-of-the-court briefs have been written in support of Rubashkin’s position, or are on the way, and the signers include former judges and U.S. attorneys. One of the briefs was co-authored by my sister Lara, who is a clinical teaching fellow at the University of California Hastings law school, and lawyer Allison Ehlert.
Bazelon adds:
In response, Reade and the government have said there’s nothing to see here. The judge attended all those meetings simply to save her court a headache. Her support for the raid was about logistics, nothing more, and there’s no reason that wearing her administrative hat would have biased her against Rubashkin once she put her judge hat back on. Maybe so. But judges aren’t just supposed to be impartial, they’re supposed to make sure they don’t create the appearance of bias. Wouldn’t it be better, as a general rule, if judges who meet regularly with prosecutors in advance of a cascade of high-profile indictments didn’t hear the cases that follow? Rubashkin’s prosecution was the culmination of the raid, in a sense. Getting him was the best way to justify the spectacle of the processing of the sad sack Guatemalans on the cattle fairground, which we know from her comments to the New York Times Reade felt she had to defend (and which another federal judge in Iowa later called a “travesty”).
The larger problem here is that, practically speaking, federal judges have enormous leeway in deciding whether to take themselves off a case because of potential bias or perceived bias. When they make a bad call, there are rarely any consequences. In all likelihood, the Supreme Court will turn Rubashkin down and refuse to intervene this time, too. The jury who convicted Rubashkin sat for 18 days and reviewed more than 9,000 exhibits, and the justices probably have as little appetite for a do-over as they do for smacking down Judge Reade. But even if you can’t bring yourself to care much about the fate of Sholom Rubashkin, the oddities of this case don’t sit well. Judges shouldn’t be able to make up their own rules for policing themselves.
 While Bazelon is not sympathetic to the rest of Rubashkin's legal case (contrary to my own opinion), nonetheless I believe that when a large number of former federal legal luminaries are willing to file briefs with the court saying they have a problem with what has happened, then I believe this is not an ordinary situation. Like Bazelon, I do believe that the Supreme Court will defer to Reade's judgment, which I believe will be a terribly mistaken thing.

The Rubashkin camp has put out a video that I believe is worth watching, as it quotes my friend and mentor, Harvey Silverglate, and I believe it does make a good case for pointing out the travesties in this particular case. Yes, it does come from Rubashkin's supporters, but in federal criminal cases, we simply cannot depend upon either the government or the mainstream media (which generally adores federal prosecutors) to tell the truth.

The High Court is due to issue its decision on granting Rubashkin certiorari on September 24. Given the outrages that the SCOTUS already has unleashed in the past few years, I only can hope that for once in their lives the justices care about the things that judges and prosecutors actually do that either violate the law or are very suspicious. We shall see.

Friday, September 14, 2012

West Virginia Prosecutors Prove Once Again Why Individuals SHOULD be Permitted to Sue the State for Malicious Prosecution

The recent acquittal of Autumn Rae Faulkner in Elkins, West Virginia, in which a jury deliberated for only an hour, provides ironclad proof that prosecutors, state and federal, should NOT be protected with any kind of immunity, period. When jurors take only an hour to acquit -- and having served as a jury foreman, I can tell you that much of that time was spent on activities besides talking about the case -- one can bet that they made up their minds even before the prosecution rested its case.

Faulkner was accused of having sex with a 15-year-old student three times in 2008 and 2009. 

It is easy to surmise that prosecutors had NO case whatsoever, and either the so-called "experts" were the stupidest people in the room, or they were the most craven. I wish it were the former, but the latter dominates my thinking.

So, why did the prosecution bring the charges and destroy this woman's life in the first place? They did it because they can do it, and that is what they were telling everyone else. Prosecutors, you see, really don't care about guilt or innocence; they just love showing their authority, and since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors have absolute immunity, they also know that no one in the system will hold them accountable.

In reading the article on the acquittal, I am struck by the utter arrogance that prosecutors had, and the way they dishonestly went about presenting evidence:

Following the trial, special prosecuting attorney Steve Jory said he didn't believe there was anything else the prosecution could have done differently that would have altered the outcome of the case.

"I think we presented every piece of evidence we had available to present," Jory remarked. "The case was fairly tried and the jury made its decision. Apparently they didn't believe we had enough evidence to prove our case." 
 But it gets even better:

Mazzei also highlighted the fact that the state hadn't presented any DNA evidence.
"The state took phones and [Faulkner's] computer, her couch, her comforter, bedding, a car, and no evidence ever came out of that that would prove Mrs. Faulkner was guilty," Mazzei said.

During his final statement, however, Jory told Mazzei that the prosecution wasn't able to present any DNA evidence because "you wouldn't allow your client and her husband to give (DNA) samples and we could not complete lab analysis." When asked after the trial if the court could have compelled Faulker and her husband, Scott Faulkner, to submit their DNA for testing, Jory said that it was possible, but the previous prosecutor in the Faulkner case -- former Randolph County Prosecutor Richard Busch -- had failed to do so.

When asked why he didn't later ask the court to order the Faulkners to submit their DNA for analysis, Jory simply said "there were a lot of factors" involved. (Emphasis mine)
As anyone familiar with criminal law knows, if the state wants evidence, it can get it. My sense is that the prosecutors and police did not seek DNA evidence because they knew there was none, it so leaving things in the realm of mere speculation where they could use innuendo would be more effective. (I imagine prosecutors already had convinced members of the media that Faulkner was a predator, but most journalists will believe anything cops and prosecutors say.) To claim to a jury that the state could not get evidence because the defendant and her attorney told them they could not get it fails to pass the laugh test.

But, when it comes to the use of innuendo, nothing tops this:
The state's evidence - or its lack thereof - was the subject of (Rocco) Mazzei's closing arguments Thursday.
"The state has this theory that a whole lotta text messages somehow equals guilt of sex," Mazzei said, referring to the voluminous number of text messages Faulkner sent to the 18-year-old student based on documents the prosecution subpoenaed from AT&T. "[Jory] wants you to convict her on a number of text messages. You should require the state to prove that this theory ... as it is, this theory is mere speculation. You haven't seen the content of a single text message."
 Wow! So, prosecutors told the jurors that there were a great number of text messages, but did not show their content to jurors in hopes that they would be able to use their imaginations to surmise what Faulker MIGHT have written. As anyone familiar with teacher-student sex cases knows, text messages in the sort of situation prosecutors were alleging existed would have been filled either with sexual innuendo or outright graphic language.

What does this mean? It means that prosecutors read the messages and realized that not one of them were sexual, so they tried to deceive jurors, instead, by lying and suborning perjury.

Lord knows how much money Faulkner and her husband and family spent defending her against charges that obviously were false from the beginning. No doubt, the West Virginia school system will take its revenge by permanently sullying her record.

And what happens to prosecutors who financially ruin innocent people just because they can do it? Nothing. These are people who viciously ruined the lives of others in an attempt to make an obviously fraudulent case look to have substance.

Will the State of West Virginia take action? Don't hold your breath. Once again, we see why prosecutors should be sued; that is the ONLY way they will be held accountable.

Are these prosecutors the proverbial "bad apples" in a good barrel? Think again; in West Virginia, the entire barrel is rotten.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"On the Administration of Things"; My post today on The Agitator

This morning I spent time with a some men aged 80+ at a small roundtable discussion, and the topic dealt with the modern application of Claude-Henri de Rouvroy Saint-Simon’s dictum that “the government of men must be replaced by the administration of things.” While the topic of discussion dealt mostly with the Obama administration’s health carelaw, nonetheless I could see how it fits exactly into the modern American “justice” system and how it swallows millions of people while many of us watch in horror.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

I'm Blogging on The Agitator this Month

Radley Balko has asked me to blog on The Agitator this month. I'll be making periodic posts and also linking to this blog.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

More Updates on Tonya Craft Case: Will Georgia Voters Return Buzz and Outhouse to Office?

[Update]:Today is election day in the LMJC, and while House has no opposition and will be returned to the bench, there is a choice for district attorney. While I don't know Doug Woodruff and have not followed his campaign, nonetheless Buzz Franklin needs to be replaced if for no other reason than to send a message that people like him do not belong in public office.

This is not an official endorsement of Woodruff, but consider it to be an official Non-Endorsement of Buzz Franklin. That man does not deserve a single voter, period. [End Update]

In 1990 I was a jury foreman in a civil case in Walker County. The jury found for the plaintiff and afterward, the defense attorney and I had a long conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of his case.

Likewise, prosecutors often will speak to jurors after a verdict, be it guilty or not guilty. Prosecutors like to know what they did right -- and what they did wrong.

However, following the Craft verdict no prosecutor spoke to a juror. In fact, some of the jurors actually attempted to contact Buzz Franklin's office in order to be able to speak to either Chris "Cruisemaster" Arnt or Len "the man" Gregor. No one in that office was interested in speaking to a juror despite the opportunity.

This is highly suspicious. I have known prosecutors who believed they had a good case and lost, and they wanted to know why. In this case, Franklin even put out a statement after the trial attacking the jury and making a claim that Arnt and Gregor had put on a "compelling case for conviction." Now, if these men really believed Craft was guilty and that they had presented a great case to jurors, then I am sure they would have wanted to know what went wrong.

Instead, they continued to claim jury misconduct and lamented a child molester being set free. In other words, they continued to lie.

Lying is something that both Buzz Franklin and "judge" Brian Outhouse do, and they do it with ease. Outhouse, when confronted about a piddly thing like a campaign sign, lied to Channel 3 News. In other words, he could not even tell the truth about a small thing.

One hopes that the voters of the LMJC have had enough of these two miscreants. Franklin not only lied in his press release after the Tonya Craft acquittal, but he also refused to meet with any Craft jurors to find out just why they disagreed with him and the "compelling case for conviction."

If the LMJC voters do re-elect Franklin and Outhouse, they will be making a statement that they prefer dishonesty to honesty. Also, they had better hope that they don't fall into the system the way that Tonya Craft, James Combs, Brad Wade, and others have done, for they will find out the hard way that there are no honest people employed in the LMJC, or if they are honest, they are quite silent.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Suspicious Indictments in Marion County

There are few people more likely to rush to judgment when criminal charges are made than police officers and prosecutors that regard themselves to be the avengers of wronged victims. A rush to judgment almost always ends in tragedy with innocent people convicted and criminals running free.

What even is worse is when those "crusades" decide that a crime has been committed that in reality is non-existent. Mike Nifong went after the Duke Lacrosse players long after he was told that there was no evidence that anyone had raped Crystal Mangum. Likewise, Tonya Craft was railroaded even though she had molested no one, something that "judge" Brian House and his two henchman, Len "the man" Gregor and Chris "Cruisemaster" Arnt understood from the beginning.

From what I can tell, something similar is happening in Marion County, although I am reluctant to say that the detective involved is fundamentally dishonest like what we see in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit. Nevertheless, I am seeing a number of red flags that I believe need a hard and suspicious look from others.

Last month, a Marion County grand jury indicted Glenn Webster on 45 counts of child abuse and molestation, with the investigating detective being Beth Schindel. The story was in the Chattanooga TimesFreePress, and was the standard kind of piece one sees in such cases. The writer, Ben Benton, referred to the accuser, who is related to Webster, as the "victim," and not the "alleged" victim, as he should have done.

(Granted, the media in Chattanooga pretty much rushes to judgment in these kinds of cases. Witness how Channel 9 tried to convict Craft in its broadcasts, and even after the verdict, the WTVC news director told me that Craft very well could be guilty. In other words, according to some local media, the accusations are proof of guilt, a narrative that is not permitted to be disturbed under any circumstances, and certainly cannot and should not be dislodged by the facts.)

Benton's story mentions that Webster is a triple amputee (missing two legs and an arm), and that he has been well-known as a volunteer to the local Boy Scouts. I must admit this is interesting, First, how does a triple amputee do what was alleged, especially given that it should not be difficult for someone to get away from him?

Second, child molesters do not just do it to one kid. No, they almost always leave a trail, and what better place for a real child molester to do so than working as a volunteer with the Boy Scouts? I have not heard anything from other children or their families with whom Webster came into contact, and I would be quite interested to know whether other youngsters are making similar claims.

Unfortunately, the courts and the legislatures of this country have ruled that when it comes to rape, child molestation, and sexual assault, no corroborating evidence is needed for a conviction. The simple word of an accuser is all that is needed. In the Duke Lacrosse Case, a grand jury indicted Reade Seligmann for rape even though he had ironclad proof he was more than a mile away from the venue where the non-rape occurred. And I can guarantee you that a jury in Durham would have convicted Seligmann had the case come to trial, despite the evidence.

There was another story involving Schindel that also has made me highly suspicious of her investigative integrity, one involving the discredited "Shaken Baby Syndrome." The Marion County Sheriff's website says this about Schindel:
Detective Schindel works on a wide range of cases from property crimes to drug cases. While she has been successful in solving and convicting criminals in these situations, bringing justice to child sex crime and rape perpetrators remains a very high priority. Detective Schindel has put many offenders in such cases behind bars. Her goal is to be the voice for the victims in the courtroom and work every case aggressively. (Emphasis mine)
 While the words were written in praise, they also tell me that Schindel almost surely decides that the accusation is "proof" of guilt, and then she simply tries to pound the square evidence peg into the round hole of facts. Single-minded people like this are likely to aggressively put innocent people into prison and not lose sleep over their tactics.

Again, I don't know Schindel, and I don't know if she is a female version of Tim Deal, but I cannot be hopeful about her commitment to due process or the assumption of innocence. And then there is the "shaken baby" case, again from the TFP:
The "suspicious" death of a 3-month-old boy on Saturday triggered an investigation in Marion County, Tenn., and authorities say they're waiting for autopsy results to show whether a criminal act led to Colin Russell's death. 
The baby's father has been named a "person of interest" in the case, but no charges have been filed, according to investigators.
The story goes on:
Detective Beth Schindel spent several days in Nashville while Colin was being treated. She said medical scans and a magnetic resonance imaging scan done last week showed the baby had retinal hemorrhaging and brain trauma.  
Those injuries are similar to those found in cases of shaken-baby syndrome, she said.
Except that so-called Shaken Baby Syndrome might well be yet another medical hoax that activists and the media and courts have foisted upon innocent people. A lengthy New York Times article last year by Emily Bazelon laid out the hard facts that a lot of people in the medical community now reject that diagnosis -- a diagnosis that possibly has sent hundreds and maybe thousands of innocent people to prison. Bazelon writes:
A dozen years ago, the medical profession held that if the triad of subdural and retinal bleeding and brain swelling was present without a fracture or bruise that would indicate, for example, that a baby had accidently fallen, abuse must have occurred through shaking. In the past decade, that consensus has begun to come undone. In 2008, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, after reviewing a shaken-baby case, wrote that there is “fierce disagreement” among doctors about the shaken-baby diagnosis, signaling “a shift in mainstream medical opinion.” In the same year, at the urging of the province’s chief forensic pathologist, the Ontario government began a review of 142 shaken-baby cases, because of “the scientific uncertainty that has come to characterize that diagnosis.”
Before going further, I will add that in the Whitwell investigation, there also is evidence of broken ribs suffered by the child. However, until I know more, the fact still stands that there is considerable question about SBS. Bazelon writes:
 As the diagnosis of shaken-baby syndrome took hold in medicine, and prosecutors began to bring charges based on it, doctors testified that shaking could generate the same terrible force as throwing a child from a second-­story window. It turned out they were wrong. In 1987, a neurosurgeon named Ann-Christine Duhaime published a paper that included the autopsy results of 13 babies with symptoms associated with shaken-baby syndrome. In all of them she found evidence of trauma that was actually caused by impact. She teamed up with biomechanical engineers to create infant-sized dummies equipped with sensors to measure acceleration.“We shook them as hard as we could, and we thought something was wrong, because the accelerations we measured were unexpectedly low,” Duhaime says. Instead, the force level shot up when the testers released the dummies after shaking them, even if they hit a soft surface like a bed or a couch.

Later experiments confirmed this finding and have made some doctors and biomechanical engineers skeptical that shaking alone can cause severe brain damage or death. At the same time, the experiments have not ruled this out, Duhaime says. Among other things, the dummies are not live children, and while their heads and necks can exhibit the effects of acceleration, impact on brain tissue is still hard to model. 
Radley Balko, whose name has been mentioned many times before in this blog, also has taken on this questionable diagnosis: the Washington University Law Review, DePaul University law professor DeborahTeurkheimer argues that the medical research has now shifted to the point where U.S. courts must conduct a major review of most SBS cases from the last 20 years. The problem, Teurkheimer explains, is that the presence of three symptoms in an infant victim—bleeding at the back of the eye, bleeding in the protective area of the brain, and brain swelling—have led doctors and child protective workers to immediately reach a conclusion of SBS. These symptoms have long been considered pathognomic, or exclusive, to SBS. As this line of thinking goes, if those three symptoms are present in the autopsy, then the child could only have been shaken to death.
Moreover, an SBS medical diagnosis has typically served as a legal diagnosis as well. Medical consensus previously held that these symptoms present immediately in the victim. Therefore, a diagnosis of SBS established cause of death (shaking), the identity of the killer (the person who was with the child when it died), and even the intent of the accused (the vigorous nature of the shaking established mens rea). Medical opinion was so uniform that the accused, like Edmunds, often didn't bother questioning the science. Instead, they'd often try to establish the possibility that someone else shook the child.
But now the consensus has shifted. Where the near-unanimous opinion once held that the SBS triad of symptoms could only result from a shaking with the force equivalent of a fall from a three-story to four-story window, or a car moving at 25 mph to 40 mph (depending on the source), research completed in 2003 using lifelike infant dolls suggested that vigorous human shaking produces bleeding similar to that of only a 2-foot to 3-foot fall. Furthermore, the shaking experiments failed to produce symptoms with the severity of those typically seen in SBS deaths. 
The research implies that human beings simply cannot shake a baby to death without an accompanying impact to the head. SBS cases, however, frequently show no external injuries. This suggests that other causes are at work. Additional research has shown babies to be lucid up to 72 hours before classic SBS symptoms set in, casting doubt on the long-held theory that the child's caretaker at the time of death (or loss of consciousness) was the likely killer.
Balko goes on:

Last year, Discover magazine published a provocative article laying out much of this new research. Notably, the magazine found several specialists who have since changed their minds after testifying for the prosecution in multiple SBS cases. (At a post-conviction hearing for Edmunds, all of her defense experts said that when the case was tried in 1995, they would have testified for the prosecution.) One of those specialists is Ronald Uscinski, a student of Ayub Ommaya, the scientist whose research on monkeys in the late 1960s is thought to be the origin of the SBS diagnosis. When Uscinski went back and reexamined the study, he found no support for the way Ommaya’s research is currently being being used in the courtroom. 
"When I put all of this together, I said, my God, this is a sham,” Uscinski told Discover. "Somebody made a mistake right at the very beginning, and look at what’s come out of it."
Now, I doubt seriously that Schindel or any prosecutor in Marion County would care to read any of this literature, since it would mean fewer murder prosecutions for them. Prosecutors love to convict, and from what I have seen from the area where I used to live, few, if any, prosecutors care if the defendant is guilty or innocent. To them, everyone is guilty no matter what the facts might tell us.

Furthermore, I doubt that any attorneys that represent people in Southeast Tennessee or Northwest Georgia who are charged with SBS actually know that the whole diagnosis is under attack by medical professionals and researchers. (And if Brian House's courtroom, I doubt scientific literature even would be permitted to be used by the defense, given House's open hostility to anyone charged with a crime.)

As I said at the beginning, I don't know Glenn Webster or anything about him. I don't know his family, the accuser, or anyone else associated with the case, but I will say up front that I am very, very suspicious. Reading about Schindel does not make me think that there is an investigator who actually cares about getting it right. She seems to be satisfied with a strategy of the ends justifying the means, even if the ends is the conviction of innocent people.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Louis Freeh and the Sandusky Report

Standing before the podium with his reading glasses perched on his nose in a Really Serious Position, former FBI Director Louis Freeh read the summary of his damning report on what happened at Penn State University. The university, he intoned, was directly responsible for permitting Jerry Sandusky, the former football team defensive coordinator and now a convicted child molester, for preying on young "troubled" boys.

So far, the media response has been lockstep not only in its condemnation for Penn State and the late Joe Paterno, the legendary coach who won more games than any other NCAA Division I football coach in history, but also in its praise for Freeh. (I include links from the New York Times, ESPN, and CBS Sports.)

Not being familiar with the details of the report or the Sandusky case and the role of Penn State officials in trying to hide what they feared was happening, I will ask readers to judge the accuracy and tone of Freeh’s report and make their own assessments. However, before the media and legal world goes on to paint Louis Freeh in the most heroic terms, I would remind readers that probably any one of us could have written that report and made the same damning comments made by Freeh and his underlings. It hardly is heroic to come upon a situation after the fact and to write those things which apparently were obvious in hindsight.

No, I am writing in order to let readers know that this "heroic" Louis Freeh has some serious baggage of his own, baggage that includes covering up murders, whitewashing the most hideous domestic massacre since Wounded Knee, publicly making wrongful accusations, and further turning the Federal Bureau of Investigation into an entity that James Bovard accurately has called, "A Stasi for America." Louis Freeh does not deserve our praise; indeed, he does not even deserve our scorn. Instead, he deserves to be sitting in a cell at the federal Supermax Prison in Colorado, as the crimes he committed during his years at the FBI pale in comparison to anything done by Paterno, whose legacy Freeh has destroyed, or even Sandusky ever did.

Read the rest of the piece here.

Friday, July 6, 2012

America as South Park Nation: Where Life is a Bad Cartoon, Part II

Even though at our house we don't have television reception, we do have a TV and watch videos. My kids like to watch reruns of shows like "Bones" and "Castle," and I admit to enjoying the old "Nash Bridges" episodes.

All of these shows involve cops and other government officials "solving" crimes, and while the methods used at times might not exactly be constitutional, nonetheless they always get it right. Furthermore, the cops in these shows care about getting it right.

Once again, we see how Hollywood fantasy collides with reality. The "superdetective" who uses deduction and intelligence to solve a crime simply does not exist, anymore, or if in existence, is a very rare species. Instead, police today depend heavily upon preconceived "narratives" in which they decide at the beginning who is "guilty," and how to construct "evidence" to prove that guilt. If the evidence does not fit the narrative, then police either ignore it or get prosecutors to do the legal version of pounding square pegs into round holes.

I make this point because American law increasingly has moved in the direction where evidence no longer matters when it comes to determining who has committed a crime. For that matter, it does not even matter if someone actually has committed a crime; the only thing that is important is whether or not the authorities claim there has been a crime and that the "guilty" party will be punished.

Nowhere are "imaginary crimes" more prevalent in this country than in so-called sex crimes, be they rape, sexual assault, or child molestation, and no other set of "crimes" requires less proof for conviction. For all of the wistful talk of "revolution," Americans need to understand that a legal revolution already has occurred, as Congress, the courts, and the executive branch have teamed up to wipe out what once was called "due process of law."

While "due process" exists in form, it no longer means anything in substance, and the Mondale Act and the Violence Against Women Act have further eviscerated what have been called "the rights of the accused." Being that the main purpose of the VAWA was to get more convictions of assault, sexual assault, and rape against men, the law has been very successful, but only by spreading the net very wide (on the assumption that all men are rapists and women always tell the truth they when accuse men of rape) and eliminating requirements that the prosecution bring corroborating evidence.

It is important to remember that"sex crimes" in this era have become intensely political. Passage of the VAWA, just like the Mondale passage some 20 years earlier, had been preceded by huge amounts of propaganda claiming that rape and sexual assault were "epidemic," and that only the federal government could save the day, and the way to do that was to destroy due process, rules of evidence, and any sense of "fair play" when "sex offender" accusations were made.

For example, the so-called "rape shield" laws that exist under the VAWA umbrella prevent defendants from entering a lot of exculpatory evidence in the name of "protecting the victims' privacy." When combined with the "no drop" policy that the VAWA has encouraged, it becomes extremely difficult even for falsely-accused me to be able to avoid going to prison. (The assumption behind "no drop" is that a recantation of the charges by the original accuser always comes about because of "sexist" pressure placed by the male accusers. In reality, because prosecutors have so many legal weapons, "no drop" pretty much means that even innocent people are going to plead out to something even if there is no evidence except for the original accusation.)

Federal authorities were able to entice states to end due process in so-called sex crimes by offering huge amounts of money to state and local governments which not only can be used to prosecute such cases, but also for a number of other programs, such as battered women's shelters and the like. (Yes, rape and domestic violence exist, although the kinds of numbers that are thrown about such as more than a quarter of women attending college are raped are based upon very shaky numbers and methodologies.)

To put it another way, when crimes such as rape, sexual assault, and child molestation are alleged, innocence  really is not a defense at all. Thus, there is no need for government investigators to do an accurate of thorough job, as such work might uncover evidence that the charges are false, and police and prosecutors are loathe ever to admitting any kind of wrongdoing no matter how outrageous their actions.

The Duke Lacrosse Case and the VAWA

The infamous "rape" charges by a prostitute against three Duke University lacrosse players is a study in the injustices spawned by the VAWA, although most people do not understand the role this law played in the prosecution of what turned out to be a non-crime. Indeed, while the facts of the case are most telling, the VAWA provided the bedrock for prosecutor Michael Nifong's baseless charges. The account in Wikipedia explains the basic outline:
In March 2006 Crystal Gail Mangum, an African American student at North Carolina Central University who worked as a stripper, dancer and escort, falsely accused three white Duke University students, members of the Duke Blue Devils men's lacrosse team, of raping her at a party held at the house of two of the team's captains in Durham, North Carolina on March 13, 2006. Many people involved in, or commenting on, the case, including prosecutor Mike Nifong, called the alleged assault a hate crime or suggested it might be one.
In response to the allegations Duke University suspended the lacrosse team for two games on March 28, 2006. On April 5, 2006, Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler was forced to resign under threat by athletics director Joe Alleva and Duke President Richard Brodhead canceled the remainder of the 2006 season.
On April 11, 2007, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper dropped all charges and declared the three players innocent. Cooper stated that the charged players – Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans – were victims of a "tragic rush to accuse." The initial prosecutor for the case, Durham County's District Attorney Mike Nifong, who was labeled a "rogue prosecutor" by Cooper, withdrew from the case in January 2007 after the North Carolina State Bar filed ethics charges against him. That June, Nifong was disbarred for "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation", making Nifong the first prosecutor in North Carolina history to lose his law license based on actions in a case. Nifong was found guilty of criminal contempt and served one day in jail. Mangum never faced any charges for her false accusations as Cooper declined to prosecute her.
While this does explain what happened, nonetheless it does not tell how the case got as far as it did. People tend to blame Nifong's "rush to judgment" and the explosive response from the local community and the Duke University administration and faculty, but perhaps the most important element is left out: the influence of the VAWA which enabled Nifong to push what he and others knew to be baseless charges.

Following the party during which two strippers (actually prostitutes) left in a huff after it became clear that none of the players present were willing to pay for sex, especially after the two women literally had grossed everyone out with their antics during their "exotic dance," the women left in a car. After Mangum refused to leave the car driven by her partner for the night, Kim Roberts, Roberts called the police and an officer brought the drunken Mangum to a mental health facility called Durham Access.

While an intake nurse was examining Mangum, she asked the disheveled woman, "Were you raped?" Mangum said she had been, and from that point, the provisions of the VAWA took hold. If a woman claims to have been raped, a set of procedures then must be followed, and the first is for the alleged victim to be examined either by a physician or a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner or SANE.

Many SANEs are professional nurses who perform their duties admirably, but others simply are feminist zealots who see themselves as "anti-rape" crusaders and the SANE who helped in Mangum's examination, Tara Levicy, fell into the second category. While Levicy did not do the actual exam, nonetheless she signed the examination sheet (illegally, I would add), and then became the point person from Duke University Medical Center.

Levicy's role in this case was huge if for no other reason than she was a hook onto which Nifong and his supporters in the news media and at Duke University could hang their accusations. Even after word came from the state crime lab that there absolutely was no DNA that matched any of the players to Mangum, Nifong confidently went on with the case, knowing that North Carolina had done away with any requirement of corroborating evidence, thanks to the VAWA, and all it would take would be an accusation. Furthermore, as he told the media, a lot of the information that would discredit Mangum would not be permitted to be heard in court because of "rape shield" laws, another VAWA provision.

It could be said of the Duke case that there was no "there" there. It was a hoax, albeit a hoax kept alive by the VAWA, a dishonest prosecutor, the academic community, and a news media that never learns. By setting a required investigation into motion, one that came about even though Mangum recanted her charges while in the DUMC emergency room (although she revived them later), the VAWA did what it always does: establish a pro-prosecution bias from the start.

To get a sense of just how ridiculous the whole thing is, take the situation of Reade Seligmann. He was at the party, but left during the "dance" because he was disgusted with the whole thing. He called a cab, went to an automatic teller at a bank (where he was recorded by the bank's camera), went to a restaurant where he got something to eat, and then went to his dorm.

According to the clock at the bank, Seligmann was withdrawing money at the same time he supposedly was beating and raping Mangum. Ordinarily, not being present at the scene of the supposed crime while the "crime" was being committed at one time might have been seen as a strong alibi. However, the VAWA, along with other federal policies in cases of alleged sexual assault or rape, go by the ironclad premise that once an accusation of this kind is made, the authorities must pursue the charges as though they were true.

(Nifong, after being faced with this hard evidence, decided to change the timeline arbitrarily in order to pound the square evidence peg into the round hole of truth. Not surprisingly, the New York Times swallowed the whole thing, which is typical in these kinds of racially and politically-charged cases.)

Even when prosecutors find exculpatory evidence or it becomes clear that their star accuser is lying, for the most part they ignore the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the corner because of "no drop" policies. Even though North Carolina does not have such a policy, nonetheless once prosecutors in that state levy charges, they are loathe to give up stalking their "prey," no matter how specious the evidence.

One has to understand how close the Duke students came to being convicted for something that never happened. Although much of the national media (except the NY Times) turned against Nifong after defense attorneys revealed in a December 15, 2006, hearing that Nifong had hidden DNA evidence from the lawyers and had lied to judges during earlier proceedings, Nifong still had the "law" on his side.

First, much of the DNA evidence (that Mangum had the recent DNA of a number of unidentified males in her underwear -- none of it belonging to any lacrosse players, despite her description of the alleged attack)  fell into the category that Nifong believed would be withheld due to "rape shield" laws. Thus, to him, it was irrelevant even if it did impeach the "victim's" entire testimony.

Second, because the VAWA did away with the "corroborating evidence," the fact that there was no DNA evidence to fit Mangum's original claims was irrelevant; all that was needed for a conviction was tearful testimony from Mangum that Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans brutally assaulted and raped her, and had the trial been held in Durham, North Carolina, where there still exist a large number of "true believers" in Nifong's non-evidence, most likely the jurors would have felt the community pressure for a conviction.

For that matter, Mangum and Nifong already colluded in late December to change her testimony and timeline in order to do away with both DNA and Seligmann's rock-hard evidence that he was not at the scene when the alleged attack occurred. That Nifong's credibility was shot did not prevent the media (and especially Sports Illustrated) from heaping praise on Nifong for doing a 180. The mentality behind the VAWA and its supporters is such that prosecutors and their witnesses always are assumed to be telling the truth -- even when it is obvious that they are not.

Third, the State of North Carolina dropped charges in the case only after an exhaustive investigation by two seasoned prosecutors who, unlike Nifong, actually wanted to know what happened, not a fictional version of the event. Nifong was out of the case because the North Carolina State Bar did something that was unprecedented in state history: it filed misconduct charges against a sitting prosecutor before a criminal case had been fully adjudicated. The decision to charge Nifong came from a majority of one vote from the committee that fashioned the charges.

The investigators were stunned by not only the lack of evidence, but the dishonesty of the entire process, and  the two special prosecutors made it clear to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper that he should choose words that made it utterly transparent that the case had been a fraud. Yet, because of the VAWA, had the NC State Bar voted not to charge Nifong, most likely a jury in Durham would have convicted the three young men, and they still would be in a North Carolina prison.

Like the Mondale Act, the VAWA is able to enable more criminal convictions because the "rights of the accused" have been replaced with "the rights of the victims" (even if there are no real "victims"). Hearsay "evidence," once rejected by Anglo-American courts as being unreliable, is standard fare in "sex crime" cases. For a while, the courts even permitted children to testify on closed-circuit television from the judges' chambers so that the Sixth Amendment right of being able to "face one's accuser" could be ignored in the name of garnering more jury convictions.

While the VAWA has not been successful in doing away with the "facing one's accuser" provision of the U.S. Constitution, nonetheless by destroying "corroborating evidence" standards and by setting in motion a guilt-assuming process of non-investigation, any man is vulnerable to accusations from anyone who wants to make an accusation of rape or sexual assault, since the accusation itself is the "conclusive" evidence. Lest anyone doubt what I have written, the bizarre and utterly dishonest case against Harold Allen of Narragansett, Rhode Island, should give one much pause.

Patrick Lynch and Rape Charges against Harold Allen

In June 2007, Patrick Lynch, then the attorney general of Rhode Island, announced his office had charged Harold Allen of Narragansett with raping a woman 32 years before. Lynch, who then had aspirations of being the state's governor (his 2010 Democratic primary bid was unsuccessful), declared that Allen had raped a woman when both were 16 years old, and that the woman had "just remembered" via "recovered memory" therapy. (Lynch pointed ignored that "recovered memory" techniques had long been discredited, but like everything else in government and especially criminal law, what is discredited in the real world becomes standard fare when the state is involved.)

At least Nifong had an actual place and (sort of) time when the alleged assault against Mangum occurred. Lynch declared in his indictment that the rape had occurred sometime between April and October of 1975, and that the place where it allegedly happened also was unknown.

This was vintage VAWA: no one knew the date, time, or place, but a rape must have occurred because the woman, after having undergone therapy, claimed it was so. There was no corroborating evidence, nothing; only her claim. (The one "witness" said Allen had been at the girl's house, but Allen pointed out that the two were neighborhood friends, and that it was not unusual for him to have been at her place or elsewhere with her. After all, 16-year-olds generally tend to be social creatures.)

Yet, that claim was enough for Lynch to file charges. Unfortunately for him (and his political career) it became clear that even Rhode Island residents thought his antics were a bridge too far, and the AG soon after introducing the case with much fanfare went into retreat and dismissed the accusations. The real problem came because Rhode Island law created high standards of proof for charges involving "recovered memories," in large part because of the publicity garnered from earlier "repressed memory" cases that were strongly criticized by experts in psychology.

Without the VAWA, Lynch would not have dreamed about charging Allen with rape. Despite there being no evidence other than a woman's supposedly "recently liberated" memory, Lynch was free to file charges. Likewise, every male who reads this needs to understand that he, too, can find himself in the same situation. Because there is no statute of limitations on rape, any woman can accuse any man of rape after the fact, even if the two never had any contact, or even if they were in the same locality.

For example, assume that one of my female students was unhappy with her grade. She could get back at me by alleging that I raped her, and once she made her accusation, the following things would happen:

  • I would be arrested, handcuffed, marched before a media in a "perp walk," and have my mug shot then publicized in the media;
  • I would be suspended from my job and possibly fired;
  • The charges would be nationalized and I would be vilified from coast to coast;
  • In order to begin to be able to refute the charges, I would have to be able to account for every second of my time during a period perhaps of several months because the law would not require for her to be specific in either the time or the place when the alleged assault occurred;
  • The VAWA provisions would kick in if I were to find out that she had made false accusations before, because they would not be admissible as exculpatory evidence;
  • I would have tremendous pressure to plead to "something" because of mounting legals bills.
This is not paranoia. This is how the law operates today in this country. As I noted earlier, innocence no longer is a defense in American courts.

While most readers rightly are horrified at the reality of modern American law, there also are those people who believe that "rights of the accused" should not be in existence at all, and are quite happy with the state of affairs. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union at first objected to both the RICO and VAWA statutes because of the way these laws destroyed due process, but after both had been in place for a while, the ACLU dropped its opposition and actually praised the laws.

Why? The ACLU leaders approved of the outcomes. The RICO statutes allowed Rudy Giuliani to go after Michael Milken and others on Wall Street, and the ACLU saw it as a necessary thing in the battle to destroy capitalism. As for the VAWA, when feminism is involved, ultimately that is the side the ACLU will choose to support.

Giving up principles for politics is standard fare these days. For that matter, Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, declared after no inculpatory DNA was found in the Duke case that DNA did not matter. This from a person whose organization has gained freedom for wrongly-convicted people using...DNA evidence. In other words, many people will give up whatever principles they have in order to achieve certain political outcomes.

The substitution of politics for law ultimately creates South Park Nation where accusations automatically bring convictions, and we have arrived at that sorry point. We are not "in the process of getting there," as some might think. No, we are there, something that most Americans will refuse to realize -- until something happens to them, and by then it will be too late for them.

Monday, June 25, 2012

America as South Park Nation: Where Life is a Bad Cartoon, Part I

In the bawdy, satirical cartoon show, South Park, one episode seemed to be something akin to life imitating art (if one calls the show "art"). Called "The Wacky Molestation Adventure," the children in town are able to make their parents legally "disappear" simply by accusing them of molestation.

Not surprisingly, the children revel in their newfound power and the authorities are happy to go along, since everyone is against child molestation. The town soon is denuded of adults.

While South Park is supposed to be farce, nonetheless its plot is not far from the current situation in the United States, where a mere accusation of child molestation, child abuse, sexual abuse, or even rape can end in a legal nightmare for anyone falsely accused. As in the cartoon, when the epidemic of false accusations created circumstances that got out of control, we are seeing what happens in a country when people are empowered to make others disappear by the simple uttering of a lie.

As I have read the horrific story of the school bus monitor who was harassed to tears by a group of seventh graders, I cannot help but wonder if this whole "experiment" in empowering children to falsely accuse adults because we must "protect" children at all costs has played a role not only in that case but in the way children now interact with adults. On top of that, the regular use of accusations of child molestation in child custody battles certainly cannot help how children view adults, especially when the authorities literally coach them to lie.

When I was a student at Baylor School more than 40 years ago (at that time, Baylor was an all-boys military school), students often would find unpopular teachers and make things difficult for them. However, none of us could have imagined acting as the children on that bus did, especially when we were seventh graders. This would have fallen into the "unthinkable" category.

Of course, back then we did not have the authorities actively encouraging us to make accusations of serious crimes against adults, or at least accusations that patently were false. Unfortunately, since then we have seen the advent of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA, also known as the Mondale Act. This law plus subsequent federal statutes not only made false accusations more likely, but also placed government authorities in a position where they were to believe that ANY accusation was true and must pursue the charges as far as they possibly could take them.

The Mondale Act included two important provisions that would eviscerate rule of law and also empower children to go after adults that they didn't like. The first was money that was promised to state and local agencies to assist in prosecuting alleged abusers and for treating children that were abused. The second provision simply did away with the bedrock of Anglo-American law: due process, and in so doing eliminated many evidentiary standards that guaranteed innocent people would be convicted.

At the time, authorities needed corroborating evidence to go along with an accusation, as the simple word of a child with nothing else to help confirm the charges (such as evidence that the accused actually was in that place when the alleged molestation/abuse occurred) was not considered to be credible enough to put someone behind bars for a long time. By ridding the authorities of that troublesome requirement that the accused actually might have committed the acts, the wrongful convictions came and came and came.

During my coverage two years ago of the Tonya Craft case, I heard from another private investigator in Georgia, Ron DeLaby, who told me of a very sad situation. Schools regularly have assemblies in which students are told about "good touch, bad touch" situations with students then urged to report anyone who has given them a "bad touch."

One does not need much of an imagination to know what has happened because of this "touch" emphasis: students try to outdo each other in reporting these alleged crimes. Furthermore, if an adult has upset them, or maybe a parent or grandparent has punished a child for something or has kept a girl from seeing a certain boy, the incentive is there simply to get that person out of the picture.

In the case of which DeLaby spoke, after the girl and her friends went to the assembly, a number of them reported "bad touches," and the girl in question felt left out. She then accused her grandfather of molesting her, and he went to prison. Some time later, she recanted her story and told the authorities the truth, but already having nailed their prey, prosecutors were not interested in hearing what she had to say; her usefulness to them ended when the jury declared, "Guilty."

A number of prosecutors in this country have used the Mondale Act to catapult themselves to the national scene. Janet Reno engaged in especially abusive and dishonest tactics in securing high-profile child molestation cases and her crusading landed her the job of U.S. Attorney General during the Clinton years. (Reno demonstrated her love for children by massacring a large number of them in Waco just weeks after she was sworn into office.)

By eviscerating due process and rules of evidence, federal law has empowered prosecutors and has protected them when they engage in outright criminal activities. The Craft case was especially egregious, as prosecutors Chris Arnt and Len Gregor, "judge" brian outhouse, and Det. Tim Deal colluded to let Deal fabricate a document during the trial in order to fill a giant hole that the prosecutors had dug for themselves.

(Even in Georgia, fabricating evidence in a criminal trial is a felony, except that a representative from the Georgia State Bar told me that prosecutors only were "doing their jobs." So, if one wishes to live a life of crime and do it under color of law, prosecution should be the chosen profession.)

Furthermore, under the non-rules of evidence from the Mondale Act, Arnt was able to claim that molestation occurred without giving place, date, or time. In one ridiculous act, he even charged Craft with molesting Sandra Lamb's daughter in the house that Craft had purchased. However, the alleged molestation was supposed to have taken place long before Craft even lived there.

(Let me note that after the prosecution rested, "judge" brian outhouse upheld that charge, claiming that the prosecution had given "compelling evidence" for the truthfulness of that charge. What outhouse did not realize was that by then the jurors already had concluded that Arnt and Gregor were feeding them lies and that outhouse was enabling the whole sorry show.)

It is true that Craft was acquitted, but only after having to spend more than a million dollars in her defense to debunk charges that were transparently false. Sandra Lamb, who was ground zero for the false accusations, and her daughter knew exactly what they were doing. Arnt advised them that they had to get three children to make accusations, so they chose Tonya's daughter, who was the subject of a custody battle between Tonya and her ex-husband, Joal Henke, and the daughter of Jerry and Kelli McDonald, a child who simply did not make a particularly good witness, judging by her claim on the stand that she knew where Tonya had touched her because her mother said that was what happened.

Pre-Mondale Act, no prosecutor could have made the charges that Arnt and Gregor brought into the "judge" brian outhouse's courtroom. There was no corroborating evidence, nothing. However, Arnt wanted to use the case to catapult himself to stardom, Sandra Lamb wanted to get back at Tonya Craft for whatever petty reasons would motivate "Mommie Dearest," and Joal Henke and his wife, Sarah, wanted Tonya out of the way so that they could have her children. (Gregor just wanted another opportunity to impress people as "the man," not realizing that his courtroom antics revealed him as the buffoon he really is.)

Unfortunately, the Mondale Act is not the only federal statute that has made a mockery out of due process and rules of evidence. The Violence Against Women Act provides the same legal framework, which means that any woman can accuse any man of rape, and no matter how incredible or ridiculous the accusations, authorities MUST investigate them as though they were true, even if it is obvious they are a lie.

Remember the Duke Lacrosse Case? The charges stayed up for a year even though the authorities knew from the beginning that they were false. It was not the power of the accusation or the supposed "mountain of evidence" that prosecutor Mike Nifong claimed to have possessed (with the "mountain" really being a giant hole), but rather the provisions of the VAWA that kept the case alive and forced the families of the accused to spend about five million dollars even though the case never went to trial.

From Durham, North Carolina, to Narragansett, Rhode Island, the VAWA, like the Mondale Act, has enabled false charges of sexual assault and rape against people who were convenient targets for the authorities. As in the old Soviet Union, where anyone could make a troublesome neighbor "disappear" with a false accusation, the United States of America has become a place where innocent people don't have a chance when faced with judges, police, and prosecutors that prefer lies to the truth.

Next Up: The Violence Against Women Act and the injustices that it has spawned.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Victoria Sprouse and "Outcome Driven" Federal Prosecutors

Recent news from North Carolina that federal prosecutors have imprisoned “scores” of men who apparently broke no laws might have been shocking at one time in our nation’s history, but no more. Misconduct and lawless behavior by federal prosecutors in that state is approaching something of legendary proportions, but the immunity-protected lawbreakers have nothing to fear – unlike the innocent.

According to a USA Today investigation, federal prosecutors in North Carolina, who apparently were ignorant of the law (as were the judges that heard the cases) garnered convictions of men on federal weapons charges even though the law was clear that these men had not committed violations. According to the investigation:
Terrell McCullum did not commit a federal crime by carrying a shotgun and a rifle out of his ex-girlfriend's house.

But he is serving a federal prison sentence for it. And the fact that everyone — including the U.S. Justice Department— agrees that he is legally innocent might not be enough to set him free.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun.

Many of them don't even know they're innocent. 

That is bad enough, but what follows is worse:
Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.

Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.

"We can't be outcome driven," said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte. 

Indeed, Tomkins added, “We've got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that.” This is from someone whose prosecutors already did not “follow the law” in gaining convictions of innocent people, yet another example of the “heads I win, tails you lose” system of federal “justice.” It was “their job” to convict these men and have them sent to prison, and now that the incarcerated people are behind bars, federal prosecutors suddenly claim that even if they don’t have to follow the law, people wrongfully convicted are bound by it – in more ways than one.

If anything, federal prosecutors are totally “outcome-driven.” Their survival as federal employees, including promotions and raises, are determined by their conviction rates, the more convictions the better. Because they are protected by “absolute immunity,” they never have to worry about facing lawsuits or criminal investigations for wrongdoing. (Yes, criminal investigations supposedly are on the table, but it is a rare thing for federal officials to investigate themselves.)

Perhaps it is fitting that this latest scandal occur in North Carolina, as that state has been a cesspool of “justice” in both state and federal courts. North Carolina gave us the infamous Michael Nifong, the district attorney who fabricated charges against three Duke University lacrosse players, charges that Nifong knew from the start were false.

While Nifong was disbarred for his actions, one of the few prosecutors in the country ever to be disciplined at all, federal authorities refused even to investigate his actions even though his office made use of thousands of dollars of federal money in order to pursue the fraudulent lacrosse case. (State prosecutors are able to obtain federal money to aid with prosecutions in sexual assault, rape, and child abuse/molestation cases, and Nifong’s office used thousands of federal dollars to provide the false accuser, Crystal Mangum, with living expenses. They also used federal money in helping to pay for the actual investigation.)

Although federal prosecutors in North Carolina see no reason to pursue justice, they are quite zealous when it comes to going after people for non-crimes or “crimes” that are the product of the imaginations of prosecutors. The recent farce of a trial involving John Edwards ended somewhat appropriately when federal prosecutors decided not to retry the former U.S. Senator after comments from a deadlocked jury essentially ensured that getting a conviction would be impossible.

Edwards had huge amounts of personal resources to fight the “novel” charges by the feds (even federal prosecutors admitted they were stretching campaign finance law in order to make their claims) but others in North Carolina are not so fortunate. The vast numbers of wrongfully-convicted people there have no personal wealth by which to pursue appeals and even their actual innocence claims and, as the USA Today article points out, are derided by federal prosecutors not because they are untrue, but rather because prosecutors don’t want to be bothered by the inconvenience.

(The irony here is that the people convicted are expected to know the law backwards and forwards. The people that put them there, however, bear absolutely no responsibility to know the law and are not held responsible for their wrongful actions.)

 It is not just Edwards or the people featured in the USA Today investigation that are on the receiving end of wrongful behavior by federal prosecutors in North Carolina. Three years ago, Candice E. Jackson and I wrote about the wrongful conviction of Victoria Sprouse, a real estate attorney who was railroaded in a federal trial in Charlotte. As noted in that article and another one later, the prosecutorial misconduct was pervasive and dishonest.

(After reading the LRC pieces, lead prosecutor Matt Martens first claimed that I was a fictional character and that Sprouse herself had written the first article. However, to quote Descarte, “Cogito ergo sum,” and I really was the main author. Martens then claimed in court that Sprouse had dictated to me the contents of the piece, telling me what to write. That fell into the “howler” category, as people know better than to do something like dictate such things to me.)

Last year, a federal judge overturned Sprouse’s conviction, and federal prosecutors in Charlotte were not pleased, and their revenge was brutal and swift. This past week, Sprouse was arrested and charged with “bankruptcy fraud,” with the charges (while sounding “breathtaking” to the judge) based upon the flimsiest of reasons.

For example, because Sprouse already had lost her law license due to her criminal conviction, she had to do other work while under house arrest. The terms of her house arrest (while her case was being appealed) were draconian and she stayed within them, which meant that she was unable to have enough for living expenses.

Her sister wrote a check from a fund that the sister controlled, so now federal prosecutors are claiming that Sprouse had a “secret fund” that she kept hidden from the court. That is akin to a claim that because the Maryland State government pays me for my teaching at Frostburg State University, I “control” the state treasury.

However, the feds were not satisfied with dumping more felony charges upon Sprouse. She currently is being held without bond in the Mecklenburg County lockup, and is being kept in solitary confinement. To make matters even worse, because of all that was done to her, she was taking medication for depression, anxiety, and to be able to sleep. At the present time, all of those medications have been denied her.

We need to call this by its proper name: torture. Without medication, she will be sleep deprived, and solitary confinement also has been a mechanism used by police and prosecutors to break the will of targeted people and to cause them to lose hope, thus making a plea bargain easier. Federal prosecutors also were able to have her attorney removed because of alleged “conflicts of interest.”

Indeed, as I see it, what is being done to Victoria Sprouse is the epitome of “outcome driven” behavior by prosecutors. Sprouse had the effrontery to win an appeal against her federal masters, and their revenge was brutal and not unexpected. These are people who do things because they can do them, and they will not be satisfied until they either have driven Victoria Sprouse into her grave or into prison.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Will Campaign Signs Bring Down the Outhouse?

During Tonya Craft's trial, "judge" Brian House acted according to signals given by prosecutor Chris Arnt, and that was the least of his wrongdoing. In a previous post on this farce of a "judge," I listed a number of things that House did, all in violation of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct that supposedly governs Georgia judges.

At best, House is a dishonest judge. At worst, he is a criminal.

Because the Judicial Qualifications Commission in Georgia is toothless and because, frankly, people at the Georgia State Bar are completely impervious to wrongdoing by judges and prosecutors, House and his friends have figured that they are invulnerable. That is why House, Arnt, and Len Gregor, along with Tim Deal, figured they could get away with shredding the law during the Craft trial and why House figured that Catoosa County jurors were as craven as were he and his friends.

But now, "judge" Brian House is in hot water with the JQC. Why, as Callie Starnes of WRCB-TV says in her story, it seems that not only did "judge" House have campaign signs in his yard in violation of Georgia's ethics code, but then lied about it when she asked him about the signs:
"A judge, or a candidate for judicial election shall not publicly endorse a candidate for political office," said Jeff Davis, Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission's Director.

Channel 3 called the Judicial Qualifications Commission, or JQC, after receiving numerous tips about two local judges.

Pictures provided to Channel 3 show a banner on part-time Juvenile Court Judge Michael Giglio's law office endorsing Michael Caldwell for superior court clerk.

Superior Court Judge Brian House, who serves in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, leases the building to Giglio.

House also currently employees Caldwell as his assistant.

Channel 3 found a similar sign in front of House's Ringgold home.

According the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, judges are not allowed to publicly endorse a candidate for public office.
 But it gets even better. When Starnes confronted House about the signs, he engaged in what law schools call "Kettle Pleading" in which the person being accused tells three different -- and mutually-exclusive -- stories. Here is House's own version of Kettle Pleading:
Commission Director Jeff Davis says all judges know the rules.

"Every judge in the state is provided a copy of the code of judicial conduct, and is expected to know it, and expected to adhere to it," he told Channel 3 in a phone interview.

Channel 3 took a copy of the code of conduct when we paid a visit to Judge Brian House's home to ask about the signs.

He changed his story three times.

"I didn't put it there," said House, standing on his front porch Monday.

"I guess Mr. Caldwell did, I didn't put the sign up," he said, when asked who placed the sign on his property line.

"I have no idea who put it up there," House then said when asked if he believed Michael Caldwell would take responsibility for the sign's placement.

House then told us the sign was on his neighbor's property.

"I didn't put it there, I assumed Anthony put it there," he said.

Channel 3 talked to Judge House's neighbor, who tells us the sign is not his. He says it belongs to Judge House, and House didn't ask before placing it on the property line.
Granted, this is penny-ante stuff compared to the massive misconduct that "judge" House committed during the Craft trial and his actions that observers have told me occur in other judicial proceedings. In fact, I would say that one would need no more proof than this to declare that the JQC approaches issues in the same manner of which Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing when he told them that they will "strain out a gnat and swallow a camel."

Nonetheless, like Al Capone going down on tax evasion, I would say that anything which calls attention to the fundamental dishonesty and utter lack of integrity that characterizes Brian House is a good thing. Thus, in honor of this latest caper, I would like to present a new symbol for the "judge's" campaign, complete with inside decor:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alcohol, Lies, and Ambition: Another Texas “Justice” Outrage

“Good fences make good neighbors,” – Robert Frost in “Mending Wall”

 A Texas jury in 2007 believed prosecutors that claimed Hannah Overton deliberately force-fed salt into her foster child (whom she and her husband were going to adopt) four-year-old Andrew Burd until he became so ill that he soon died. Overton received the sentence of life without parole and is in prison.

The lead prosecutor, Sandra Eastwood, had desperately wanted to win and had told her second chair, Anna Jiminez, later would testify under oath that Eastwood had told her, “I will do anything to win this case.” Before the trial, Eastwood, the police, and, of course, the local media, already had demonized Overton and her family. During the trial, the prosecutors, judge, jurors, and the media pointedly ignored the very complex medical evidence that pointed toward the child having a rare disorder, and why not? These are people who hate complexity; simple narratives and villainous witches are much more preferable, especially when the accused might have religious beliefs that “sophisticated” people might discard.

The Overtons are Pentacostals and to Progressives that populate the mainstream media, Pentacostals are even stranger than men from Mars and have no place in a Progressive society. To make matters even worse, Nueces County District Judge Jose Longoria clearly sided with the prosecution and ensured that at best it would be a show trial. Jurors did what Texas jurors usually do: ignore any exculpatory evidence and convict, many times sending the accused to the execution chambers that are so frequently used in the Lone Star State.

Yet, things did not seem to make sense. Hannah Overton had no police record, was highly-regarded in her church, and had never engaged in any acts of violence against her children. Nonetheless, jurors and Longoria believed Eastwood and Jiminez when they claimed Overton somehow snapped under the pressure of having a fifth child and killed her soon-to-be-adopted son.

As often is the case in Texas, there was a story that was not told, and evidence that neither jurors nor the defense had seen, but that prosecutors knew. But Nueces County prosecutors also knew something else: Sandra Eastwood was an alcoholic and drug addict, and was well-known for lying. She was ambitious, and often impaired, and those two characteristics meant that defendants, and especially high-profile defendants like Hannah Overton, would be tried in circumstances not unlike what was known to happen in communist countries like the former U.S.S.R.

 Prosecutors are officers of the court, and they also are required by law and by the rules set by the Texas State Bar not only to act ethically, but also to report unethical or dishonest actions of themselves or their peers to the authorities. Instead, as is usually the case in all prosecutorial offices in this country, both state and federal, the “ministers of justice” of Nueces County were silent, as they protected their own.

 Anna Jiminez knew a lot of things about Eastwood, and later after Jiminez was elected Nueces County District Attorney, she fired Eastwood. As second chair, she knew the case file and she claimed later that she suspected Eastwood was withholding evidence in violation of the Brady ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and by the Rules of Conduct for prosecutors in the State of Texas. But while Jiminez reported Eastwood to her superiors, according to later testimony, she never reported Eastwood to the Texas State Bar, as was required by the rules of conduct that govern her as a lawyer and as a prosecutor. (Not surprisingly, Eastwood’s superiors did nothing. They enjoyed winning and if a few innocent people went to prison, that was collateral damage. And, anyway, everyone already knew that Hannah Overton was a monster.)

Fortunately for Overton, a number of people were not willing to accept this conviction and began their own investigations. The best journalism was done by Pamela Colloff of Texas Monthly, who had this excellent and lengthy article in January of this year, and readers can find the particulars of the case if they so choose. Instead, I will deal with the police and prosecutorial abuse that sent Hannah Overton to prison for a “crime” that never happened.

 Nonetheless, one cannot blame police for being suspicious when the four-year-old child was brought to the emergency room and then later died. Colloff writes:
The death of a child – particularly a sudden, unexplained death in which abuse is suspected – evokes strong emotions, even among seasoned investigators, doctors, forensics experts, and prosecutors. A more thorough investigation would have uncovered ample evidence to suggest that Andrew had an undiagnosed eating disorder, raising the possibility that he had unintentionally consumed too much salt on his own. But law enforcement officials are accustomed to handling child abuse cases, not medical mysteries, and salt poisoning is rare enough that most emergency room doctors will never encounter a case during their careers. Against the backdrop of possible abuse, authorities wasted little time. Larry was charged with injury to a child for failing to get Andrew timely medical attention. The onus for the boy’s death fell on Hannah, who was charged with capital murder.
As they do in so many situations, the local journalists acted as little more than stenographers. Writes Colloff:
Corpus Christi’s introduction to Hannah came the following week, when she and Larry were arrested and led past a bank of TV cameras outside the Nueces County jail. News reports that followed, prominently featuring their grim-faced mug shots, cast the Overton home as a house of horrors. (“More shocking details on abuse suffered by four-year-old before death,” began one breathless report.)
Colloff adds:
The media coverage of the case stirred widespread outrage. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times’s online comments section filled with the vitriol of readers, some of whom called for Hannah to receive the death penalty. (“You can just tell by looking at her how evil she is,” one wrote.) Fueling the public’s antipathy was an affidavit written by a CPS child abuse investigator named Jesse Garcia, who claimed that Hannah had admitted to forcing Andrew to drink two cupfuls of “chili with water” and quoted her as saying that she then “beat the shit out of him.” Garcia never produced any documentation or witnesses to corroborate his claim, and internal police memos show that law enforcement officials doubted the veracity of his story. Hess disavowed Garcia’s account at a court hearing regarding the Overton children, and prosecutors never entered Garcia’s affidavit into evidence or called him to testify at Hannah’s trial. (He was subsequently fired by CPS after having three car accidents on the job in less than six months.) But the damage was done: that Hannah had confessed to force-feeding Andrew and beating him was repeated, uncorrected, on the local news.(Emphasis mine)
Rudy Giuliani said during his infamous Wall Street prosecutions in the late 1980s that once he made the accusations, the media would do his work for him. Whether it was the “sophisticated” New York media, such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, or the newspapers and television stations near Corpus Cristi, the relationship between prosecutors and the press has been insidious. Journalists rush to judgment, as they did in the case against Michael Milken, the Duke Lacrosse Case, and the case of Hannah Overton. Later, after the truth comes out, media representatives claim that they have “learned our lessons” and promise not to jump to conclusions. And then they repeat the process again and again.

In the area of “justice” and criminal accusations, narratives are a powerful force, and most journalists and government agents like to keep them simple: Michael Milken and Jack Abramoff were greedy Jews who lost their way and broke the law to get rich; the Duke lacrosse players were “privileged” white “jocks” in a violent sport who brutally beat and raped a poor black woman because they believed they were so “privileged” that they could get away with it; George Zimmerman was a white racist who hated blacks and gunned down Trayvon Martin in cold blood. The simple stories were so compelling; evidence that undermined the narratives was ignored or shouted down.

And so it was with Overton. The police and prosecutors had their narrative, and they were not going to let their prey go free, and the media simply did what it always does. But the prosecution also withheld evidence, as was discovered in an evidentiary hearing that ended last month. Yes, while Texas is a place where at least two innocent men have been executed recently, and while prosecutorial misconduct has dominated other wrongful convictions in that state, even the Texas State Court of Criminal Appeals decided that the evidence that jurors said convicted Overton was questionable, and that the court needed to examine what had happened.

 For example, after he was brought into the hospital, Andrew vomited and doctors took samples, but the defense never was told about it nor given any information. Colloff explains:
Forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco who had testified at Hannah’s trial, then took the stand to explain how critical this sample would have been to understanding exactly what had happened to Andrew. Determining the precise makeup of his stomach contents and the time they were collected, she said, would have been pivotal in a case in which the defendant was accused of poisoning the victim. After reviewing all the evidence, Melinek said, she firmly believed that Andrew had ingested a fatal amount of salt on his own. Her opinion was bolstered by the testimony of Edgar Cortes, an emergency medicine pediatrician who had seen Andrew twice before his death. Cortes maintained that he had informed Eastwood prior to trial that the boy had suffered from significant cognitive delays. These delays, Cortes now testified, put Andrew at greater risk for eating inappropriate items and ingesting something lethal. Yet Andrew was portrayed during the trial as a normal four-year-old. As for why the jury never heard his medical opinion, Cortes stated, “I felt like the prosecution had its own theory about what happened.” 
At the evidentiary hearing ordered by the appeals court, Dr. Michael Moritz, one of the world’s leading experts on salt poisoning, told the court that none of the scenarios painted by the prosecution made sense, given all of the cases of salt poisoning he had seen:
Intentional salt poisoning, the doctor went on to explain, is extremely rare. When it does occur, the victims are often bottle-fed babies whose food supply can be easily tampered with. Moritz stated that there was only one documented case in which an older child—a five-year-old—was poisoned with salt, and there were obvious signs of a struggle, including lacerations to his lips and gums. Yet Andrew had no such lacerations. Typically, Moritz added, someone who salt-poisons a child is mentally ill or a drug addict and has a well-documented history of child abuse. “So what we’re seeing in this case does not fit with any cases of intentional salt poisoning in the literature,” Moritz said.
Judge Longoria periodically glanced down at the doctor when he spoke of children poisoning themselves, studying him with skepticism. Moritz described how “voluntary salt intoxication” almost uniformly happened to children who fit a narrow profile: they were between the ages of one and six, they had been in the foster system or were from abusive homes, and they had some form of eating disorder, such as pica. Andrew, who had tried to eat everything from cigarette butts to glow sticks to toothpaste, fit this profile well. 
Moritz had not testified at Hannah’s trial, and his testimony would seem to have been authoritative, but Nueces County prosecutors Doug Norman and Bill Ainsworth claimed that there was nothing new and that the jury’s verdict should stand no matter what. And then Sandra Eastwood took the stand.

 Eastwood admitted to being a recovering alcoholic who abused prescription diet pills during the trial. (Notice that while prosecutors will go after others who do the same, Eastwood got a free ride.) While she claimed to have turned over everything to the defense, it was clear that she was less-than-competent to give any useful information at all:
Under withering questioning from (attorney Garry) Goldstein, Eastwood answered “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” 72 times when asked whether she recognized notes written in her handwriting, emails sent from her own account, and papers signed with her signature. “I have trouble remembering phone numbers,” she said. “I have trouble remembering what I had for lunch yesterday. I think that’s normal. I had hundreds of conversations and there were thousands of documents, so I don’t remember specifics.”

 Goldstein became so exasperated with her that he asked if she remembered the trial itself. “You recall the trial, do you not?” he said. “The individual got life in prison.”

“The question is . . . ?” said Eastwood.

“Do you remember the trial?” Goldstein asked, his voice rising. “Yes,” she replied. “It ended in life without parole,” Goldstein scolded. “That means they spend the rest of their life in prison. You remember cases that have those kinds of consequences, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said softly. 
When Anna Jiminez took the stand, she said that she believed that Eastwood “was not truthful,” and that Eastwood had told her there had been no vomit or vomit samples taken. She admitted that she had no proof of Eastwood’s alleged misconduct, but then added that the kind of circumstantial evidence that made her believe Eastwood had lied was the kind of evidence that gets people convicted in criminal court.

With the hearing ended, prosecutors parroted their own views that the hearing had produced nothing to make them change their minds about Hannah Overton’s guilt. However, it is a very rare prosecutor who even admits that any conviction was wrong and Texas prosecutors are, well, Texas prosecutors: even when the evidence against them is overwhelming, they make up fantasy stories or just lie.

I have no idea how this case will end. Judge Longoria, as one might expect, ignored all of the medical evidence given to him and recommended that Overton not receive a new trial. However, he does not have the final say in this situation. In retrospect, there was no way that Longoria ever would admit to having made errors during Overton’s 2007 show trial, and it is a rare judge anywhere that will admit to having been wrong. Nonetheless, I imagine that with the media now questioning the verdict with the same ferocity that they once condemned Overton, even the Texas courts cannot ignore the firestorm. So, while it seems certain that Longoria will claim that “no new evidence” was introduced during the hearing, his superiors will overrule him.

As I see it, however, this case is much more than just another example of prosecutors bringing junk science into the courtroom and trying to make facts fit their narratives. The real story is that nothing is done about it, and that is because the U.S. Supreme Court – and especially the conservative wing – has torn down all of the fences that are needed to give ordinary citizens an opportunity to keep police, prosecutors, and judges honest.

In decision after decision, the SCOTUS has ruled that prosecutors must be given absolute immunity from lawsuits filed by people wrongfully convicted. True, the high court has claimed that official remedies exist such as criminal prosecution for wrongdoing or discipline by various state bars, including disbarment.

While this may sound good, one should remember that the disbarment of Duke lacrosse prosecutor Michael Nifong was extraordinary precisely because such actions by a state bar are extremely rare. Two years ago, I spoke to a member of the Georgia State Bar about extreme misconduct by two prosecutors in the district where I once lived, citing chapter and verse from the Georgia State Bar Rules for Prosecutors, and the woman to whom I spoke blew it off. “They were just doing their jobs,” she replied.

I asked, “Do you mean to tell me that suborning perjury (and the perjury was obvious, and some of the dishonest witnesses even have admitted to lying since the particular trial), lying to jurors during the closing arguments, making outrageous public comments, disrupting the trial with catcalls and loud noises, fabricating evidence and such are ‘their jobs’?” She hung up.

While it may sound highly official that prosecutors, police, and judges have government agencies which can levy charges and punishment upon them when they engage in misconduct, in truth, these agencies really are the proverbial foxes guarding the hen houses. Lawsuits filed by people actually injured by misconduct, however, are the only real mechanism that people outside the employment of government can employ to gain at least some matter of redress. Texas happens to be a big offender, but the problem is universal in this country.

Government agents in the “justice” system protect their own, as those entrusted with overseeing wrongdoing within their ranks operate according to a perverse logic: if the public were to see just how often misconduct and wrongdoing are part of the prosecutorial process, then the public would lose confidence in the honesty of the people engaging in misconduct and wrongdoing, and then might question that system that sends innocent people to prison or even their deaths. Got that?

Thomas DiLorenzo has written more than once that the government now has become the final judge and arbiter of its own actions, which destroys any meaningful systems of accountability. While government repeatedly tears down the fences that restrict the actions of government agents, it increasingly is erecting arbitrary fences around everyone else who is not part of the “club.” In the situation of prosecutorial misconduct, the problem is not “a few bad apples,” as prosecutors, judges, and the media tell us ad nauseum.

No, the barrel itself is rotten, and the few good apples that are left either are corrupted, compromised, or get out before they lose their souls.