Monday, August 30, 2010

Watching is a crime?

The resisting-arrest conviction last week of Felicia Gibson has left a lot of people wondering. Can a person be charged with resisting arrest while observing a traffic stop from his or her own front porch?

Salisbury Police Officer Mark Hunter thought so, and last week District Court Judge Beth Dixon agreed. Because Gibson did not at first comply when the officer told her and others to go inside, the judge found Gibson guilty of resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer.

Gibson was not the only bystander watching the action on the street. She was the only one holding up a cell-phone video camera. But court testimony never indicated that Hunter told her to stop the camera; he just told her to go inside.

Asked to explain the charge of resisting arrest, Salisbury Police Chief Rorie Collins provided general comments. He was not discussing the specifics of the Gibson case.

Post: What is “resisting arrest” or “resist, delay, obstruct an officer” in the performance of his/her duties?

Collins: “These are basically the same charge. Some call the charge simply “resisting arrest,” and some call it by its longer and more official title. This crime can be found in the North Carolina General Statutes under chapter 14, subsection 223 (G.S. 14-223).

“This crime is considered a Class 2 misdemeanor and involves:

“Any person who shall willfully and unlawfully resist, delay, or obstruct a public officer in discharging or attempting to discharge a duty of his office.

“Obviously, this charge is rather broad and can encompass many different types of actions that are designed to, or serves to hinder a law enforcement officer as he/she performs their duties.

“This charge is most commonly used in situations where a person who is being arrested refuses to cooperate and either passively or aggressively resists an arrest or tries to run away.

“Another very common situation in which this charge is used involves instances when an officer is conducting an investigation and the individuals with whom he/she is dealing provide a false identity when required to identify themselves.

“As you can imagine, there are also many other circumstances in which this charge would be appropriate.”

Post: If the police stop someone in a car in front of my house, do I have the right to stand in my yard or on my porch and watch?

Collins: “The answer to this question is not quite as clear cut as the first. The short and quick answer is, ‘yes,’ in general, you do have that right!

“However, just as with many other scenarios, it is important to remember that every situation is based upon its own merits/circumstances. There are some circumstances in which the police who have stopped the vehicle in front of your house may determine that it is in the interest of safety (the officer’s, yours or the individual stopped) to require that folks move. As with other circumstances, it is best advised that an individual merely obey by the officer’s commands.”

To draw our own conclusions, Hunter could have felt that he, the bystanders or the suspects were in danger that night on West Fisher Street. No problem there. But concerns about safety do not explain why Gibson was singled out for arrest. That lingering question will have even the most law-abiding citizens wondering where their rights stop and police authority starts.

Original report here

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

MN: City to pay $165,000 to "zombies"

Minneapolis will pay seven college kids who were jailed for having fun

The Minneapolis city attorney's office has decided to pay seven zombies and their attorney $165,000.

The payout, approved by the City Council on Friday, settles a federal lawsuit the seven filed after they were arrested and jailed for two days for dressing up like zombies in downtown Minneapolis on July 22, 2006, to protest "mindless" consumerism.

When arrested at the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and 6th Street N., most of them had thick white powder and fake blood on their faces and dark makeup around their eyes. They were walking in a stiff, lurching fashion and carrying four bags of sound equipment to amplify music from an iPod when they were arrested by police who said they were carrying equipment that simulated "weapons of mass destruction."

However, they were never charged with any crime.

Although U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen had dismissed the zombies' lawsuit, it was resurrected in February by a three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded that police lacked probable cause to arrest the seven, a decision setting the stage for a federal trial this fall. The settlement means there will be no trial.

"I feel great that the city is being held accountable for the actions of their police," said Raphi Rechitsky, 27, of Minneapolis, one of the seven zombies, who said he and his friends were performing street theater when they were arrested. He is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan L. Segal said it was in the best interests of the city to settle. "We believe the police acted reasonably, but you never know what a jury is going to do with a case," she said.

If a jury had concluded that the seven plaintiffs' constitutional rights had been violated and awarded $50,000 to each, plus defense attorney's fees, "it could have been quite substantial," Segal said.

Zombies had no IDs

Original report here

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Government Can secretly Use GPS to Track Your Moves

Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn't violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn't tracking your movements.

That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant.

It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell. It is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich.

This case began in 2007, when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents decided to monitor Juan Pineda-Moreno, an Oregon resident who they suspected was growing marijuana. They snuck onto his property in the middle of the night and found his Jeep in his driveway, a few feet from his trailer home. Then they attached a GPS tracking device to the vehicle's underside.

After Pineda-Moreno challenged the DEA's actions, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in January that it was all perfectly legal. More disturbingly, a larger group of judges on the circuit, who were subsequently asked to reconsider the ruling, decided this month to let it stand. (Pineda-Moreno has pleaded guilty conditionally to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana while appealing the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained with the help of GPS.)

In fact, the government violated Pineda-Moreno's privacy rights in two different ways. For starters, the invasion of his driveway was wrong. The courts have long held that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and in the "curtilage," a fancy legal term for the area around the home. The government's intrusion on property just a few feet away was clearly in this zone of privacy.

The judges veered into offensiveness when they explained why Pineda-Moreno's driveway was not private. It was open to strangers, they said, such as delivery people and neighborhood children, who could wander across it uninvited.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who dissented from this month's decision refusing to reconsider the case, pointed out whose homes are not open to strangers: rich people's. The court's ruling, he said, means that people who protect their homes with electric gates, fences and security booths have a large protected zone of privacy around their homes. People who cannot afford such barriers have to put up with the government sneaking around at night.

Judge Kozinski is a leading conservative, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, but in his dissent he came across as a raging liberal. "There's been much talk about diversity on the bench, but there's one kind of diversity that doesn't exist," he wrote. "No truly poor people are appointed as federal judges, or as state judges for that matter." The judges in the majority, he charged, were guilty of "cultural elitism."

The court went on to make a second terrible decision about privacy: that once a GPS device has been planted, the government is free to use it to track people without getting a warrant. There is a major battle under way in the federal and state courts over this issue, and the stakes are high. After all, if government agents can track people with secretly planted GPS devices virtually anytime they want, without having to go to a court for a warrant, we are one step closer to a classic police state — with technology taking on the role of the KGB or the East German Stasi.

Fortunately, other courts are coming to a different conclusion from the Ninth Circuit's — including the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court ruled, also this month, that tracking for an extended period of time with GPS is an invasion of privacy that requires a warrant. The issue is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

In these highly partisan times, GPS monitoring is a subject that has both conservatives and liberals worried. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit's pro-privacy ruling was unanimous — decided by judges appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Plenty of liberals have objected to this kind of spying, but it is the conservative Chief Judge Kozinski who has done so most passionately. "1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it's here at last," he lamented in his dissent. And invoking Orwell's totalitarian dystopia where privacy is essentially nonexistent, he warned: "Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we're living in Oceania."

Original report here

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Friday, August 27, 2010

False flag cell phone guns

One alleged reason that the police are so quick to take action against anyone who uses a cell phone to make a video recording of their activities is because the cell phone might actually be a weapon. And there are two reported incidents of firearms that are disguised as cell phones.

The first was discovered in 2000. The second was discovered in 2008. Their existence was verified by Snopes. There are a few problems with the reports though.

First, the only reports of these disguised firearms come from reports of the police finding them. There are no reports of anyone ever actually using these firearms. There is never even any follow-up to the stories, such as trials for those the police seized these firearms from.

Second, although the design of cell phones has changed during the eight years between the two stories, the pictures are nearly identical to the point where it is very possible that they are pictures of the same firearm. If they are not the same firearm then they were manufactured from identical cell phones by the same person and function the same way.

Third, there are only two incidents in eight years. One report could mean this is an isolated incident of one person trying to disguise a gun. More than one report means these are being manufactured in some bulk. But if they are being manufactured in that way why are there only two incidents?

To believe the official version of events it is necessary to believe that the government never runs any false flag operations. On the other hand, to believe that this is a set up by the government to give police an excuse to confiscate any cell phones (that coincidentally have cameras) is to be a conspiracy theorist. Never mind that when cell phones are returned the videos have been deleted.

Original report here

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Police: "If you come home to find your house burglarized and you call, we're not coming,"

Budget cuts are forcing police around the country to stop responding to fraud, burglary and theft calls as officers focus limited resources on violent crime.

Cutbacks in such places as Oakland, Tulsa and Norton, Mass. have forced police to tell residents to file their own reports — online or in writing — for break-ins and other lesser crimes.

"If you come home to find your house burglarized and you call, we're not coming," said Oakland Police spokeswoman Holly Joshi. The city laid off 80 officers from its force of 687 last month and the department can't respond to burglary, vandalism, and identity theft. "It's amazing. It's a big change for us."

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest police union, said cutbacks are preventing many police agencies from responding to property crimes. "The chiefs are putting the best face on this they can," Pasco said. "But think of this: that next property crime could involve a junkie who killed someone the night before."

In Tulsa, which lost 110 officers to layoffs and retirements, the 739-officer department isn't sending cops to the scene of larceny, fraud and car theft.

Tulsa police spokesman Jason Willingham says some residents have said they won't bother to report those crimes any more. "They think nothing is going to be done, so why mess with it," he said.

In the Boston suburb of Norton, police told residents there may be delays or no response at all to some calls, including vandalism. The department posted the new policy on its website. "We wanted to let people know about this," Norton Police Chief Brian Clark said. "We didn't want people to be surprised."

Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said the actions reflect are a reflection of the hard economic times across the country.

Original report here

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

North Carolina’s corrupted crime lab

A damning state report finds systematic abuse, including in death penalty cases

Greg Taylor served 16 years in prison after he was falsely convicted of murdering a prostitute in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was released in February by a special three-judge panel after it was discovered the blood police claimed to have found in his SUV wasn't blood at all. In the wake of that debacle, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered two retired FBI agents to conduct an investigation on the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) crime lab. The report came out last week, and it is damning.

The report found that SBI agents withheld exculpatory evidence or distorted evidence in more than 230 cases over a 16-year period. Three of those cases resulted in execution. There was widespread lying, corruption, and pressure from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials on crime lab analysts to produce results that would help secure convictions. And the pressure worked.

A stunning accompanying investigation by the Raleigh News & Observer found that though the crime lab’s results were presented to juries with the authoritativeness of science, laboratory procedures were geared toward just one outcome: putting as many people in prison as possible. The paper discovered an astonishingly frank 2007 training manual for analysts, still in use as of last week, instructing researchers that “A good reputation and calm demeanor also enhances an analyst's conviction rate.” Defense attorneys, the manual warned, often “put words into the analyst's mouth to try and raise inaccuracies.” The guide also instructs analysts to beware of “defense whores”—analysts hired by defense attorneys to challenge their testimony.

Forensic science in America is corrupted by a fundamental conflict of interest. In far too many states, crime labs fall under the auspices of law enforcement, usually reporting to the state attorney general. A forensic analyst's real aim should be to follow the science, even if results prove disappointing to bosses who are trying to secure convictions. But the pressure from prosecutors, even when it’s not overt (which it often is), produces bias even in the work of the most fair-minded analysts.

The relationships between SBI crime lab researchers and North Carolina prosecutors aren’t just cozy, they’re downright cuddly. The News & Observer reports that in one case two blood-spatter specialists ran through multiple experiments in order to produce even one that would make the blood patterns on a defendant's shorts support the prosecution's case. The two analysts are seen on video high-fiving after finally producing the desired result.

For those clinging to the notion that analysis in a law enforcement-managed laboratory can be independent, the newspaper uncovered prosecutor reviews of crime lab analysts indicating the contrary. In 2003, for example, prosecutor Ann Kirby, wrote in a review of a drug analyst, "If Lisa Edwards gets any better on the witness stand, the Johnston County defense bar is going to try and have her banned from the county!"

These weren't a few rogue analysts; the crime lab's problems extend across a wide array of forensic disciplines. Until 1997, the lab's serology unit didn't release negative test results as a matter of policy. If tests showed that a substance that police claimed was blood wasn't in fact blood, analysts simply kept those results to themselves.

Greg Taylor was wrongly convicted precisely because of this policy. A substance that police falsely identified as blood was found in Taylor’s truck. But the field tests that police use to find blood at a crime scene have a high margin for error. More sophisticated lab tests showed that the substance wasn’t blood, but a SBI analyst testified at Taylor's innocence hearing that technicians were told to ignore these tests if they contradicted the field-test results.

In another case, an attorney for a woman accused of killing her mother was shocked to learn that the lab's DNA tests on blood found at the crime scene matched his client. He called the lab and asked them to retest. They refused. He was finally able to obtain a court order for a new test. It was negative. It turned out that a lab technician had swapped the sample provided by his client with blood taken from the crime scene.

The SBI crime lab scandal is only the most recent story of forensics malfeasance. In recent years there have been forensics scandals in Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska, California, Michigan, Texas, and at the FBI. And this is only a partial list. At some point, it becomes sensible to conclude that these scandals aren't the result of isolated bad actors, but of a system that produces them.

Last year the National Academy of Sciences released a scathing report on the use of forensics in the courtroom, finding systemic problems ranging from analysts routinely overstating the implications of their test results, to the widespread use of forensic specialties like bite-mark analysis that have little basis in science at all.

Most forensic disciplines were invented by police investigators, not scientists. Courts have allowed these disciplines to be admitted into evidence before they've been subjected to any serious scrutiny from the scientific community. The methods used in most crime labs disregard critical scientific principles such as blind testing, competency testing, peer review, and statistical analysis. Yet when a forensic specialist testifies in the courtroom, his testimony usually carries the weight and veneer of actual science. (See here for some suggested reforms.)

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is a good illustration of the political hurdles standing in the way of fixing any of these problems. Cooper deserves praise for ordering such a comprehensive investigation. It takes guts for a politican to risk being labeled “soft on crime,” especially a politician who is a current or former prosecutor.

Still, Cooper was made aware of the problems in SBI as long ago as 2005, when he was pressed by local media and activists to look into how Floyd Brown, a developmentally disabled man who can't recite the alphabet past the letter K, was able to articulate to SBI investigators a detailed confession about how he murdered an elderly woman in his neighborhood. Brown seved 14 years in a mental institution before he was exonerated in 2007. Cooper didn't order an investigation into Brown's case until last year, and even then only in the face of a lawsuit.

And even after Cooper’s own damning report and the series of follow-on investigations by the News & Observer, Cooper is treating the SBI scandal as if it were a series of isolated cases and not a systemic problem. Cooper told the paper he sees nothing wrong with lab researchers consulting with prosecutors before performing their analysis, a practice proven to produce biased test results (SBI analysts are also discouraged from consulting with defense attorneys). He also objected to moving the crime lab to a different government agency so that analysts wouldn't be reporting to prosecutors, telling the News & Observer, "You don't want to hobble law enforcement by removing key tools such as technology to prevent them from solving crime." No, you don't. But moving the lab wouldn't do that. It would merely prevent analysts from feeling they need to please prosecutors by providing them with favorable test results.

More here

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The power of knowing your rights

Every American has the constitutional right to be politically active. But more and more, these are the Americans being targeted by the programs put in place to survey Muslims. Whether it’s the Tea Party, or the ANSWER Coalition, activists on both sides of the aisle are finding themselves the subject of inquiry. So, it’s important for Muslims, but also all Americans, to know what they can do to protect themselves when stopped, searched or arrested or searched by any law enforcement officer or federal agent.

To be clear from the outset, what follows does not constitute legal advice. I am not a lawyer. However, this is consistent with the advice of attorneys working for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), who should be consulted to clarify any misunderstanding.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads, “No person shall… be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”

This amendment is the single most important thing to keep in mind when visited by any officer or agent. The best thing you can do, even if you are a law abiding citizen, is keep your mouth shut and demand legal counsel. You are not obligated to answer any questions with two important exceptions. In most states you obligated to identify yourself by name if asked, and obligated to present your papers if stopped while driving.

Under current law, you have the legal right to have a lawyer present whenever speaking with law enforcement, whether you are a citizen or not. Refusing to answer questions cannot be held against you, but answering incorrectly, even by accident, could be construed as a serious crime. Even if your intention is to help law enforcement to the best of your ability you are safer, and your rights more secure, with a lawyer present.

Many people choose to cooperate without legal counsel imagining that officers will go easy on them if they have nothing to hide. Instead, what we have seen is that one interview leads to others as agents try to establish permanent informants in the community, or agents use minor discrepancies in someone’s recollection to threaten them with prosecution and coerce further cooperation. Always remember, lying to an agent, even by accident is a crime, but they can legally lie to you. What we have seen is that agents make promises, such as offering to resolve someone’s immigration issues, in exchange for help in an investigation, when in reality they never actually help the person, and likely don’t have the power to do what they promised anyway.

Remaining silent does not make you look guilty, and cooperating does not make things easier. The very best thing you can do when approached by a law enforcement officer is get their business card and tell them you will have your lawyer call them. Practice saying, “I will have my attorney call you” because it can be very nerve wracking the first time you have to say it to a man with a badge and a gun. Even if you don’t have a lawyer, this should buy you the time to find one. The ACLU, ALC and CAIR all offer free legal services, and the ALC has Arabic speakers on hand if needed. Their contact information is provided bellow.

If you decide to speak with an officer it’s very important to stay calm. Expressing frustration or appearing aggressive will escalate hostility. If they can reasonably claim that they felt intimidated or threatened by you they can hurt you. Understand that officers are trained to use deceptive and intimidating language to trick you. When they say “I’m going to have to ask you…” this is likely a request not an order. When in doubt remember even if you have already engaged in conversation you can choose to remain silent at any time. You can choose which questions you are comfortable answering and which you are not. Once you say you want a lawyer they officer should stop asking questions. If he does not, you can still remain silent.

If an officer comes to your door you do not have to let them in your home or office if they do not have a valid warrant. If they claim to have a warrant, you may ask to see it before allowing them in. If they do not have a warrant and you decide to speak to them it is best to step outside and close the door behind you. People have been arrested for making minor mistakes in conversations with law enforcement and if they decide to arrest you they can search the immediate area without a warrant. If you are standing in the door way they may search the room. So, it’s best to speak to them outside just in case.

If they have a warrant you should be polite, so as not to escalate tension, but you may still remain silent. It is a good idea to state, for the record, that you do not consent to the search so that they may not search beyond what is specified in the warrant.

In any interaction it is a good idea to get the names, badge numbers and business cards of all agents and officers involved. If you have a cell phone a good trick is to record the conversation by calling yourself and leaving a message. You’ll get 10-15 minutes of recording time that they cannot delete if they confiscate your phone.

Afterwards you should report the incident to the ACLU, ALC or CAIR. Reports are completely confidential and their legal services are free. These organizations document incidents on an ongoing basis and collaborate to identify patterns of rights violations. Even if you have been questioned in the past, reporting the encounter can help these organizations better protect the rights of all Americans in the future.

Original report here

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Monday, August 23, 2010

ACLU sues Illinois over absurd law forbidding recording of cops

There’s been a misconception in the media lately about it being illegal to videotape cops in three states; Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois. That’s not exactly true.

In Massachusetts, it is illegal to secretly record anybody without their consent, but there is no law against openly videotaping anybody in public with or without their consent, including cops. In fact, charges have been dropped against people who have been arrested for videotaping cops in public in Massachusetts.

In Maryland, state police and a certain prosecutor treat it as if it is illegal but another state attorney as well as the attorney general disagree that it is illegal to videotape cops in public. The debate should be settled entirely by the time Anthony Graber goes to trial on October 12. Also, the ACLU, which is backing Graber in this case, is asking the law to be further clarified.

That leaves us with Illinois where Radley Balko reported that it is illegal to audio record cops, even if they happen to be in public with no expectation of privacy.

Fortunately, the ACLU is now trying to change this law after filing a federal lawsuit in Chicago Wednesday to challenge the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, according to the Chicago Tribune:

Unfortunately, the article also builds on the misconception that it is illegal to record cops in public in other states.
Illinois is one of only a few states, including Massachusetts and Oregon, where it is illegal to record audio of conversations that take place in public settings without the permission of everyone involved.

In Oregon, it is not illegal to record conversations that take place in public settings because they would not have an expectation of privacy. This issue was clarified in a memo from the Beaverton City Attorney last month that was distributed to police departments, which didn’t stop a certain police chief to vow continuing arresting people videotaping officers in public.

The ACLU lawsuit mentions six Illinois residents who have faced felony charges for recording cops in public, including Charles Drew, a street arrest who is still awaiting trial for having recorded police who were shaking him down for trying to sell art without a permit.

Coincidentally, I received an email yesterday from Jeremy Lindsey who was investigated by Granite City Police Chief Rich Miller for posting videos of cops he shot in public. Lindsey ended up removing the audio from two videos in order to comply with the law.

This is what the chief told him in an email.
It is illegal to record a persons conversation without permission. In fact we are reviewing your post yesterday of Officer Klump to see if you violated he law. I am aware you have altered it today. I have the Original post. Also when at a call for service you should refrain from interfering or you are subject to arrest for obstructing. Chief Miller

While it is a step in the right direction for the ACLU to attempt to change state laws in compliance with common sense First Amendment laws, we need to go a step further and pass a national law that specifically allows citizens to videotape cops in public as long as they are not interfering.

The resolution introduced by Democratic Congressman Ed Towns last month is the first step in doing this. The National Press Photographers Association, which got involved with our Metrorail escapade, is also asking Towns to change his resolution to a Congressional Bill.

According to last month’s NPPA press release:
Despite consistent court rulings protecting the First Amendment rights of both citizens and the media to take photographs in public places, and despite many law enforcement agencies spelling it out in their official policies, the officer on the street either doesn’t get the word or decides to act on his own in the name of “security” or “terrorism laws,” often citing rules that don’t exist and exerting authority that’s non-existent. And recently in some states police have started citing old wiretapping laws that have been on the books for decades as their excuse for ordering photographers to cease videotaping officers as they’re doing their jobs in public, either during traffic stops or street arrests or while interfering with photographers who are breaking no rules and who are posing no threats to safety.

“It is extremely disturbing that some states have misrepresented the intent of wiretapping laws and modified them to affect news photographers and everyday people who are photographing or videotaping police actions in a public place,” NPPA president Bob Carey wrote to Rep. Towns today.

“We believe that such misuse of these state laws are unconstitutional and need to be addressed at both the state and national levels. NPPA has been dealing with police interference with visual journalists in public places for years. We are pleased that your Resolution is currently before the Judiciary Committee and we stand ready to testify if needed.”

Original report here

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Israel: Baranes awarded NIS 5m., 34 years after wrongful murder conviction

Thug police coerce confession

A man wrongfully convicted of murder was awarded NIS 5 million in damages by the Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday, over thirty years since he was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Amos Baranes, 66, was convicted in 1976 of the murder of 19- year-old soldier Rachel Heller, whose naked body was found on the side of a highway between Ceasariya and Or Akiva earlier that year. A few months after Heller's body was found, two separate special police investigative teams set up to crack the case hit a dead end.

Baranes was first questioned about the murder after he voluntarily went to police and offered to assist their investigation, saying that he was an acquaintance of Heller's from the Rutenberg Institute in Haifa. Several months later, after public pressure had forced police to set up a third special investigative team, Baranes was called back in for questioning and eventually confessed to the murder, after he was subjected to a violent interrogation in which he was deprived of sleep for four days and repeatedly struck by police.

In the ruling on Thursday, presiding Judge Magen Altuvia said that during the 1976 trial the court was not aware of evidence that may have helped Baranes' defense, therefore denying him the right to a fair trial.

Baranes' compensation includes NIS 4 million for his loss of freedom and social ostracism, NIS 720,000 for damage to his ability to be employed, NIS 144,000 for emotional suffering, and an additional NIS 95,000 for legal expenses.

Eight and a half years after he was sentenced to life in prison, Baranes' sentence was commuted by then-president Chaim Herzog. Baranes decided to continue the fight to clear his name and sought a full exoneration. A man of principle, Baranes denied all compromises that would have implied an admission of guilt, insisting on nothing less than a retrial to clear his name.

In 2002, Baranes was finally granted a retrial, which ended with the state retracting the murder charge it had filed against him. The 2002 acquittal was the first of its kind in Israel.

"All I can say is that the court accepted my version of the story and understood the depth of the scars that I have for the rest of my life," Baranes said Thursday. "For 30 years I was in the garbage of Israel. I wasn't a citizen, I was a war criminal. My words weren't heard. Today, they were heard clearly."

Baranes' story has fascinated Israelis for decades and was the subject of the 2005 docu-drama Murder for Life. The film covered the murder and the decades-long legal battle waged by Baranes to clear his name. The movie claims that Baranes' conviction was the result of conspiracy on the part of police and prosecutors to find a scapegoat for the murder, largely due to public pressure to solve the case.

The state has still never admitted that it erred in the identity of Heller's murderer, only that the investigation and trial of Baranes were flawed.

Original report here

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

A lying cop gets fired!

A SENIOR South Australian police officer has been sacked for helping to set up a fake internet dating profile that offered his ex-girlfriend for sex.

Detective Sergeant Darren James Clohesy was fired yesterday after he failed to attend a disciplinary hearing with Police Commissioner Mal Hyde. He received an 18-month suspended sentence and orders to perform 320 hours of community service last week after he pleaded guilty to offensive behaviour, breaching his bail conditions and improperly accessing the police computer system.

Clohesy, 41, helped to set up a fake profile on an adult internet dating site after his girlfriend, Tania Milsom, also a police officer, ended their relationship last year. The profile, dubbed "SexyMillie888", provided Ms Milsom's phone number and address, asking men to contact her for sex. A number of men went to Ms Milsom's home with plans of her house, with at least one knocking on her bedroom window.

"The commissioner determined Mr Clohesy's offending was of a serious nature and his behaviour unacceptable and incompatible with the service expected of a police officer," a police spokesman said yesterday. "Mr Clohesy did not attend today's hearing, nor was he represented."

Chief Magistrate Elizabeth Bolton said in sentencing Clohesy that he had provided personal information about Ms Milsom for a nasty, hurtful and malicious scheme. Ms Bolton said the plan had been designed to embarrass, frighten and degrade the woman who had rejected Clohesy.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, August 20, 2010

NC: Review finds flawed cases, including executions

Gov't-ordered review finds crime lab evidence errors in 190 NC cases, including 3 executions

Analysts at North Carolina's crime lab omitted, overstated or falsely reported blood evidence in dozens of cases, including three that ended in executions and another where two men were convicted of killing Michael Jordan's father, according to a scathing independent review released Wednesday.

The government-ordered inquest by two former FBI officials found that agents of the State Bureau of Investigation repeatedly aided prosecutors in obtaining convictions over a 16-year period, mostly by misrepresenting blood evidence and keeping critical notes from defense attorneys. The Associated Press obtained the review of blood evidence in cases from 1987 to 2003 in advance of the report's release.

It calls for a thorough examination of 190 criminal cases, stating that, at times, "information that may have been material and even favorable to the defense of an accused defendant was withheld or misrepresented."

The report does not conclude that any innocent people were convicted, noting the evidence wasn't always used at trials and defendants may have admitted to crimes. But it states prosecutors and defense lawyers need to check whether tainted lab reports helped lead to confessions or pleas.

Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered the review in March after an SBI agent testified the crime lab once had a policy of excluding complete blood test results from reports offered to defense lawyers before trials. The existence of the policy was later confirmed by a former SBI director. Agent Duane Deaver's testimony led to the exoneration of a murder convict imprisoned nearly 17 years.

Cooper said Wednesday that he will send the cases cited in the report back to the counties where they were tried for review.

The review by Chris Swecker and Mike Wolf, two former assistant directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, found 230 cases in which eight SBI analysts filed reports that, at best, were incomplete. Of those, 190 resulted in criminal charges and should be reviewed.

The report says the lab may have violated federal and state laws mandating that evidence favorable to defendants be shared with their lawyers. It also bolsters a long-held skepticism by defense attorneys, who have alleged the ostensibly neutral lab is in the pocket of law enforcement.

Besides the executions, the report urged a closer look at the cases of four people on death row and one whose death sentence was commuted to life.

The cases also include the 1993 murder of James Jordan, father of the NBA star, who was sleeping in his car along a highway when he was killed. Two men were sentenced to life in prison. The review states an SBI analyst reported that an examination of the scene indicated the presence of blood, but didn't say that four subsequent tests were inconclusive.

The problems detailed in the report follow similar story lines: Lab results that contradict preliminary tests indicating blood at a scene were routinely kept from defense lawyers. Those secondary results were in analysts' handwritten notes, but not in evidence presented at court.

The report blames the flaws on "poorly crafted policy, inattention to reporting methods which permitted too much analyst subjectivity; and ineffective management and oversight."

The review recommends looking at cases that were overstated or falsely reported to determine whether mistakes were deliberate, negligent or the results of typographical errors or confusion over reporting policy.

The lab's operations have changed substantially since 2003, when it began using more modern blood testing. Prosecutors also now have online access to all lab files, and can make them available to defense attorneys.

Deaver is linked to the five cases the report characterizes as the most egregious violations, and it accuses him of overstating or falsely reporting blood test results, including one in the case against Desmond Keith Carter, who was executed in 2002. In two of the cases, including Carter's, Deaver's final report on blood analyses said his tests "revealed the presence of blood" when his notes indicated negative results from follow-up tests. His notes indicate that he got a negative result because he didn't have enough sample left for the confirmatory test.

In three other cases, the review said Deaver's reports stated further tests were "inconclusive" or "no result" while his lab notes reflected negative results.

The Attorney General's Office said Carter confessed to the crime, and the evidence in question wasn't introduced at trial, the report said.

Deaver still works for the SBI, although no longer in the crime lab.

Swecker and Wolf said they couldn't determine how Deaver's mistakes happened, and they leave open the possibility that he didn't purposely misreport results.

Attorney David Rudolf, who has represented clients who have sued the SBI, said new trials should be given in all cases in which Deaver's testimony played a significant role. "Justice is the cornerstone of our society, and it can't be done on the cheap," he said in an e-mail.

Among the report's recommendations are: automation of historical lab files; posting of lab policies and other rules on a public website; and the appointment of an ombudsman to review lab issues or mistakes.

In addition to the Deaver cases, the review found 35 cases where a report states there were indications of blood and that no further testing was done. But handwritten lab notes reflect confirmatory tests got negative or inconclusive results.

In a third category, the review found 105 cases in which reports omitted negative or inconclusive results, instead saying there were chemical indications for the presence of blood.

The review found 85 cases in the least serious category, which involved reports that didn't mention negative or inconclusive confirmatory tests but did ultimately state that the presence of blood wasn't conclusive. In 80 of the cases, just one agent used the language.

Original report here

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dangerous child porn hysteria

One of the most significant consequences of the current hysteria surrounding child porn is also one of the least discussed: namely, how many innocent lives are ruined by the rush to punish almost anyone who is accused. It is easy to unknowingly download child porn onto your personal computer. Just click on the wrong link in a scam email or on an untrustworthy site you visit and -- voila! -- a virus can invisibly commandeer part of your computer for its own purposes. Sometimes the purpose is to broadcast advertising for Viagra or investment schemes; other times, it is to broadcast pornography far and wide and for free by using other people's bandwidth. Then, when the unwittingly-downloaded child porn is found on your computer, the police can use it as evidence against you. The burden of proving you are innocent is firmly on your shoulders.

The preceding scenario describes lives that are ruined by strangers who are trying to profit and don't give a damn about whom they harm in the process. But lives are also ruined by non-strangers who bear a grudge. The non-strangers include ex-partners, ex-spouses, rivals in business or love, resentful family members, 'wronged' friends, malicious neighbors, the envious... (Of course, the common factor in both types of ruination is the willingness -- nay, the eagerness -- with which law enforcement and the legal system turn, like ravening dogs, on anyone accused of this crime.)

Eddie Thompson was one such innocent life that was being ruined by a malicious non-stranger. In a commentary entitled "Planting Child Porn on Your Boss's PC Will Make Him Totally Regret Being a Huge Jerkface," Gizmodo reports: "Neil Weiner did not like his boss, Eddie Thompson. He also wanted Eddie's job. So he allegedly sent London police a CD filled with 177 pictures of child pornography, claiming they came from Thompson's computer. Investigating, police found 235 more images depicting child pornography on Thompson's computer, and he was arrested in 2006. His life was ruined. He claimed that the images must've been planted by a colleague, because he's "grumpy, bad tempered and irascible."

Weiner, a school handyman, shared a computer with Thompson, a school caretaker. Thompson was arrest in 2006. The UK Press reports: "When the allegations were made public, he and his wife became afraid to leave the house, after he received threats and when he returned from suspension to Swanlea secondary school, in Whitechapel, east London, where he had worked since 1993, he said he was shunned by "almost all" of the staff."

Weiner was arrested in 2007 when the mobile phone used to make the anonymous call to the police was traced to him. he has subsequently been convicted "of perverting the course of justice and two counts of possessing indecent images of children...He was placed on the sex offenders' register and remanded in custody, and warned by Judge David Paget that he faced a "substantial custodial sentence."

A statement Weiner had made at a BBQ the month before Thompson's arrest came out in court: he wanted to plant child porn on Weiner so he could have his supervisor sacked.

In short, Weiner is a profoundly stupid man. What if he had been a tad smarter and used a disposable phone for the anonymous tip to the police? What if he had refrained from venting his intentions at the BBQ? I expect Thompson would be cooling his heels in prison for a very long time; some of the child porn images were apparently Level 4, considered in Britain to be the second worst type. The police and court system may now posture as "aggrieved parties" but they are the active partners of the likes-of-Weiner because they accept and pursue anonymous tips, they presume guilt until innocence can be proven, they broadcast the names of those accused before trial, they encourage an atmosphere of hysteria within society on this issue....

If you are ever "set up" by a malicious non-stranger, I hope very much the culprit is profoundly stupid enough for even the police and the court system to have a clue that something is amiss.

Original report here

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

DC: FBI police harass student for photographing “sensitive” area

Jerome Vorus, who is becoming a full-fledged photo rights activist while still in his teens, had yet another confrontation Friday over his photography.

The 19-year-old college student was taking pictures outside the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington DC when an FBI police officer ordered him not to take her photo. First he turned on the video camera on his cell phone. Then he informed her that that she didn’t have an expectation of privacy.

“I wasn’t even taking her photo in the first place,” he said in a phone interview with Photography is Not a Crime.

As he was walking away, another FBI cop pulled up in a car and ordered him to stop. That cop told him he was not allowed to photograph a ramp that leads into a parking garage because it was somehow “sensitive” – even though it is not only visible from the public eye, it is off a public sidewalk.

The cop then demanded to see identification, prompting Vorus to ask if he was being detained. At first, the cop said yes, he was being detained; for photographing this so-called sensitive area, the one in which groups of people are walking by nonchalantly in the above video as the two men debate.

The cop, who doesn’t appear much older than Vorus, appears at a loss of what to do. He ends up calling his supervisor while telling Vorus he is free to leave. “I was followed for a block until I walked into an alleyway that is not accessible by vehicles,” he said.

Vorus is considering returning today. “I’m really trying to stand up for photographers’ rights and make it aware to law enforcement agencies that photography is not a crime,” he said.

Original report here (Video at link)

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The latest in a VERY long saga of injustice

In the 1988 film "A Cry in the Dark" (also called "Evil Angels"), Lindy Chamberlain was played by Meryl Streep

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton wants her daughter Azaria's death certificate to record how she died - and not the open finding that remains 30 years to the day since she was taken by a dingo.

In an emotional letter to what she calls "Open-Minded Australians", Lindy wants the Northern Territory government to have the courage to finally record a cause of death and let Azaria rest.

She says that it is Azaria who has been denied justice. "Our family will always remember today as the day truth was dragged in the dirt and trampled upon, but more than that it is the day our family was torn apart forever because we lost our beautiful little Azaria," she says in the letter released by her agent, Lauren Miller Cilento. "She will always ever be what this ongoing fight for justice has been all about. She deserves justice.

"In light of all the evidence before the commission this should be reflected on her death certificate and not the open finding that is there now."

Despite three inquests, a trial, Lindy's conviction for murder that was overturned and the country's first Commission of Inquiry, the death of Azaria remains officially unsolved. The police file is still officially open, the last inquest in 1995 recorded an open verdict, finding the cause of death as "unknown".

The 1987 commission, headed by Justice Trevor Morling, exonerated the Chamberlains. Their daughter was taken by a dingo from the family's tent while the family camped at what was then known as Ayres Rock - now Uluru.

"It is not like the eyewitnesses are dead or that there was not a recommendation from the Royal Commission and the NT Supreme Court who quashed our convictions," says Lindy, who is currently overseas. "It would not take more taxpayers money to do it. These courts were exhaustive, why not adopt their recommendations and stop wasting everyones time, money and intelligence?

"Lindy or a dingo was the NT claim. Their own Commission proved it was not me, as I had told them all along, so why don't they accept their own claim now? It makes one wonder are they really after the truth, or just too stubborn or proud to admit that a mistake has been made.

"Who knows the reason, but most of all please do not forget that a beautiful little girl died tragically on this date thirty years ago."

Convicted by a nation before even a trial had been held, Lindy says people should get a backbone and stop their obession with gossip. She says she has forgiven "everyone involved in creating the fiasco of the last thirty years and the public so willing to believe the worst and spread nasty rumours", including the police and politicians.

But despite that, she's still tough on those who believed in her guilt. "Come on Australia. Surely you cannot be proud of the fact that you can let yourself be duped again and again and come back for more of the same," she says.

"We used to be a proud nation who saw through corruption and were willing to give a fair go. How many times do you have to be hoodwinked and led along by the nose before you demand something better from our courts, police force, politicians and media?"

Original report here

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Long Beach Wrongful Conviction: Man Wrongly Jailed for 24-years Settles for $8M

An $8 million wrongful conviction settlement has been reached between the city of Long Beach, and a man who was wrongly jailed for 24 years for a murder conviction that was largely based on a testimony by an incredible jailhouse informant, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Thomas L. Goldstein, a Marine Corps veteran, was convicted of a shotgun slaying of John McGinest in 1979; after Edward Fink, the informant, testified that Goldstein confessed to the shooting while he and Fink were in the Long Beach Jail.

Twenty-four years later, a judge overturned the conviction after concerns were raised over Fink’s credibility. Apparently the prosecutors failed to inform Goldstein’s attorney that they had previously struck a deal with Fink in another case.

Goldstein was released from jail in 2004, and subsequently sued the Los Angeles County prosecutors who were involved in the case. The lawsuit asserted that officials routinely used jailhouse informants without confirming that they were telling the truth. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, stating the district attorneys are immune from wrongful conviction suits.

Goldstein also sued the city of Long Beach, who settled with him on Wednesday, August 11, 2010 for $8 million. Goldstein’s attorney stated, “The information the authorities suppressed would have led to his acquittal. Their conduct resulted in Tom spending 24 years in prison, years he can never recover.”

Original report here

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ignorance of the law is no excuse

Unless you work in law enforcement

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. That's the standard line motorists hear when they say they weren't aware of the speed limit, or gun owners hear when they say didn't know about the gun laws in the jurisdiction they happened to get arrested in. Yet that ignorance is pretty understandable in an America where just about everything is being criminalized. At the federal level alone there are now more than 4,500 separate crimes, and that's not counting the massive regulatory code, violations of which also can sometimes be punished with criminal charges.

As citizens, we're expected to know and obey all of these laws, in addition to state and local statutes and the relevant court opinions that interpret the breadth and depth of all of those laws.

But what happens when law enforcement officials don't know the law? What happens when they illegally detain, arrest, and charge you even though you've done nothing wrong? Unlike you, their ignorance doesn't result in arrest or jail. And unless the violation is pretty egregious, they're unlikely to be punished for it.

Consider the case of Brian Kelly. On May 24, 2007, Kelly was riding with a friend in the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Officer David Rogers of the Carlisle Police Department pulled Kelly's friend over for speeding. Rogers told the two that the traffic stop was being recorded with a microphone attached to his uniform. Kelly, who had a video camera with him, began recording the stop as well. When Rogers returned from writing a ticket, he noticed Kelly's camera. Rogers demanded Kelly turn the camera off and hand it over to him. Kelly complied.

Rogers then returned to his car and called John Birbeck, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County. Rogers asked Birbeck if Kelly's recording violated Pennsylvania's wiretapping law. Birbeck incorrectly told him it did. Rogers then called in back-up officers and placed Kelly under arrest. During the arrest, Rogers "bumped" (the term Kelly used in his lawsuit) Kelly, causing a staple from a rugby injury to rupture, causing Kelly's leg to bleed. Kelly spent the night in jail. He was eventually charged with a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed would later tell the Patriot-News that while he sympathized with Kelly not being aware that what he did was illegal, and that he might (graciously!) allow Kelly to plead to a misdemeanor, "Obviously, ignorance of the law is no defense."

Here's the problem: Freed was the one who was ignorant of the law. So was Birbeck. And so was Rogers. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that recording on-duty public officials is not a violation of the state's wiretapping law because public officials have no legitimate expectation of privacy while they're on the job. The order for Kelly to stop videotaping was illegal. So was Kelly's arrest and his incarceration. Freed eventually dropped all charges.

Kelly filed a civil rights lawsuit against Rogers and the town of Carlisle. In May of last year, Federal District Court Judge Yvette Kane dismissed Kelly's suit. The reason? As a police officer, Rogers is protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. In order to even get his case in front of a jury, Kelly has to show that Rogers (a) violated Kelly's civil rights, and (b) the rights Rogers violated have been clearly established. Even if Kelly can meet those two burdens, he must also show that Roger's actions in violating Kelly's rights were unreasonable.

So it isn't enough that the police are wrong about the law. They have to be very obviously wrong for you to collect any damages from a wrongful arrest.

Kane found that because Rogers sought advice from the local prosecutor's office it was reasonable for him to act on that advice, even if the advice happened to be wrong on the law. Moreover, Kane found that because the federal appeals courts have yet to find a specific right to make audio recordings of police, that right is not yet clearly established. Kelly is appealing.

Suing Birbeck isn't likely an option for Kelly, either. Prosecutors enjoy an even stronger protection called absolute immunity. Under absolute immunity, there is virtually nothing a prosecutor can do in the course of his job that would subject him to a lawsuit.

The contradiction couldn't be starker. Kelly, a citizen who neither works in law enforcement nor has been to law school, was arrested, jailed, and charged with a felony for not knowing that an antiquated law pertaining to wiretapping prevented him from using a wireless video camera to record a traffic stop that the police officer himself was recording. Even if Kelly had broken the law, at worst he made a recording of Rogers without Rogers' consent in addition to the recording Rogers was already making. Rogers wasn't harmed at all. And for that, Kelly could have gone to prison for seven years.

On the other hand, Freed, Birbeck and Rogers are all paid by taxpayers to know and enforce the law. Freed and Birbeck presumably went to law school, and presumably passed the Pennsylvania bar exam. Knowing the state's criminal code and the court decisions that affect it is a fairly integral part of their jobs. The harm caused by their ignorance of the law is far from insignificant: A man was wrongly arrested, detained, and jailed. His First Amendment rights were violated. And he was injured in the course of his arrest. Yet they won't be going to jail. In fact, they're unlikely to be sanctioned or punished at all.

And Kelly isn't the only person this has happened to. Last month, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania settled a lawsuit with Elijah Matheny, who was arrested and charged in 2009 for recording the police with a cell phone camera. Part of the settlement requires the Allegheny County DA's office to instruct local police that citizens in Pennsylvania have the right to record on-duty police officers.

That's a start. But it's one county, in one state. There have also been recent wiretapping arrests of citizens recording police in Maryland, New Hampshire, and Oregon, despite the fact that all three states have privacy provisions in their wiretapping laws, and that no court in the country has ruled that on-duty cops have an expectation of privacy in public spaces or while performing their official duties. The justification for those arrests is that the citizens of those states should know that antiquated laws covering the tapping of phone lines also make it illegal to record a police officer with a cell phone. But just as in Pennsylvania, it is law enforcement officials themselves who are wrong on the law. And even in the rare case where a wrongful arrest leads to a cash settlement, it's generally paid for by taxpayers, not the law enforcement officials who broke the law in the first place.

And the problem goes beyond wiretapping laws. Last month, police in Washington, D.C. detained and threatened to arrest Jerome Vorus, who photographed a traffic stop in Georgetown. D.C. Police Chief Kathy Lanier subsequently acknowledged on a radio call-in show that there's no law against photographing police in D.C., but then went on to excuse her officers' violation of the photographer's rights, explaining that cops don’t like having their photos taken because “we can have our pictures end up on all sorts of websites, and that can be dangerous for us." The message to D.C. cops? Citizens are permitted to photograph you, but nothing's going to happen to you if you stop those citizens from exercising their rights.

More here

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why have Australian authorites kept setting a dangerous criminal free?

FOR some reason authorities keep setting killer, alleged drug dealer and would be hit man Graham Potter free. The "Head and Fingers" killer, as he became known after murdering teenager Kim Barry in 1980, is on the run again - granted bail by a Melbourne magistrate on charges of conspiracy to murder.

Potter failed to appear in court in February and has been the subject of a manhunt ever since. Given his violent history, it is remarkable that Potter was once again allowed to go free.

His infamy began when he murdered 19-year-old Ms Barry, a casual acquaintance, after crossing paths with her on the dance floor of a Wollongong disco while on his bucks night in 1980. That night, February 6, he took Kim back to his flat where he hit her so violently with two blows to the head her skull was crushed, killing her instantly.

He then put her body in a bath and used a hacksaw to cut off her head and fingers to try to hide her identity. Kim's body was found two days later on the side of a mountain at Jamberoo, south of Wollongong. A bag containing her skull and fingers was found three weeks later.

When he was finally arrested after 36 days on the run, Potter said he could explain it all - two drug dealers dressed in dark glasses and suits killed her and made him cut up her body. It took the jury 67 minutes to disbelieve his fantastic tale and find him guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison, but only served 14 years, despite escaping from Bathurst jail in 1990.

After his release the former coal miner lived on the NSW South Coast and in 2002 moved to Tasmania with his wife Sheree Jones, his fiance at the time of the murder and who had married Potter while he was in prison.

Police allege that while in Tasmania he became deeply involved in criminal activity, particularly the drug trade. In 2008, Operation Inca set up by federal police arrested Potter over his alleged part in the importation of $440 million worth of cocaine and ecstasy - one of the largest in Australian history. He was extradited to Victoria but for some reason was granted bail.

Freed by the courts, Potter soon got himself involved in the Melbourne underworld and was again in trouble with the law, this time as a gun for hire. Victoria Police allege Potter and two other men were involved in a plot to kill two men, one an associate of Melbourne underworld figure Mick Gatto. One of the murders was allegedly to have taken place at the wedding of Gatto's son.

In May last year, despite his criminal history and police opposing his release, Potter was again granted bail. Not surprisingly, he failed to appear at Melbourne Magistrates Court on February 1 to face conspiracy to murder charges and has been on the run ever since. He was last seen in Woombye, in southern Queensland, on January 30.

Police would not reveal much about their hunt for Potter except that he was not to be approached and he sometimes used the alias Josh Lawson.

Retired detective Henry Delaforce worked on the Barry case back in 1980. "It was a gruesome murder. Potter had worked as a morgue attendant and was quite familiar with bodies," Mr Delaforce said.

Mr Delaforce said Potter was a pathological liar. "Liars of his calibre end up believing in their own innocence," he said. "He considered himself charming and suave and in some ways he could be, which is how I suppose he could get people's confidence."

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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Friday, August 13, 2010

DNA fingerprinting techniques 'can sometimes give the wrong results'

This is a pretty alarming study

DNA evidence is not an infallible tool for criminal investigations, experts have warned. Interpretation of samples can be highly subjective and prone to error, a study has found.

The incredibly small amounts of DNA in samples and pressure to gain a conviction can lead to bias, according to an investigation by New Scientist.

The magazine sent a sample of DNA from a real crime scene to 17 experienced analysts in an U.S. laboratory. The experts' differing results cast doubts over the technique's reliability.

The sample, from a gang rape, had already been used to convict a man - but only one of the 17 scientists came to the same conclusion. Four said the evidence was inconclusive and 12 said he could be excluded.

Itiel Dror, a University College London scientist who helped set up the investigation, said: 'It is time DNA analysts accept that under certain conditions, subjectivity may affect their work.'

Christine Funk, a defence lawyer in the U.S., said: 'The difference between prison and freedom rests in the hands of the scientist assigned the case.'

The chances of two people having the same DNA fingerprint are between 800,000 and one billion to one. But there are concerns that increasing reliance on tiny samples of blood and saliva, often from more than one person, leaves interpretation open to the scientist's judgment.

New Scientist added: 'Profiling is generally seen as infallible and always able to get its man. But DNA profiling is far from perfect.'

British experts said techniques used here are more advanced and highly regulated. Kay Francis, of the government funded Forensic Science Service, which handles the bulk of the police's forensics work, said: 'The UK has led the world in terms of breakthroughs in forensic science. North America is quite a bit behind in that aspect. 'A case is never hung solely on DNA evidence. The Crown Prosecution Service is very clear that nothing will go to court on just DNA evidence.'

Original report here

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

FL: Wet t-shirt leads to arrest

A Lake County mother was arrested at a children’s splash park after her white shirt got wet. Now, she's suing the city of Tavares over her arrest. She told WFTV police took an embarrassing situation and turned it into discrimination.

A hot day in April at the Tavares splash park turned into Janet Lovett's own personal nightmare. She took her 7-year-old son to cool off, but before the day was done she found herself behind bars, facing an arrest record for obstruction of justice and resisting arrest without violence. “I started shaking. I feel nervous. My son was inside park with husband. I was alone,” she told WFTV (watch full interview).

A park employee asked Lovett to leave, because the white t-shirt she was wearing had become wet and her padded bra was showing. She says she left, but outside the park gate a police officer approached her and asked her for ID and her name.

The police report indicates Lovett didn't give her name fast enough. The mom says she was scared and wanted to know why she was getting arrested.

Lovett’s attorney, Howard Marks, is demanding those same answers from the city. He says the police had no legal right to ask Lovett for ID, because no crime had been committed.

‘If they were wearing a bra, it's not illegal in the state of Florida. It's not indecent exposure. It's not a crime,” Marks said

Marks intends to sue the city for violation of civil rights, false arrest and malicious prosecution. He thinks there was more to her arrest that day than the outfit that was deemed inappropriate.

“Either the police were so lacking in training and so incompetent to the law or trying to ID someone who was a potential illegal alien,” Marks said.

Lovett is a U.S. citizen. The charges against her have since been dropped, but she still spent five hours in jail and paid a $1,500 fine.

The city of Tavares said it does not comment on pending litigation. The police chief told WFTV his officers operated within policy that day.

Original report here

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CA: Photojournalist wins settlement after frightening altercation with police chief

An Oakland Tribune photojournalist is now $99,000 richer thanks to the jackass who was school district police chief at the time.

In November 2008, Jane Tyska was covering an immigration demonstration when Oakland School District Police Chief Art Michel side-swept her with his car. Michel then stopped the car, jumped out and began threatening to arrest Tyska for hitting his car with her elbow. That’s right, her elbow.

You really have to hear the exchange in the above video to believe it.

I’m betting Michel assumed Tyska was only carrying still photo cameras because he then began insulting her as well as accusing her of inciting a riot.

Michel resigned two months after the incident.

This incident really demonstrates the importance of continuing to videotape in the face of adversity because without the videotape, we would have seen a completely different outcome.

Original report here (Video at link)

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not a penny for British man acquitted after six years in jail

"Innocent until proven guilty" does not apply in Britain, apparently. British law really has deteriorated

Sion Jenkins has been refused compensation for the six years he spent in jail accused of murdering his foster daughter. The former deputy headmaster had sought up to £500,000 damages for the prison term he served before he was acquitted over Billie-Jo’s death.

But although Mr Jenkins said he fitted ‘all the criteria’ for a payout, the Ministry of Justice rejected his request after officials assessed the case.

Rules state that applicants for miscarriage of justice compensation must show they are ‘clearly innocent’ if they are to receive money.

The snub, confirmed by informed sources, is a major setback for Mr Jenkins, who has always protested his innocence. He was initially found guilty in 1998 of 13-year-old Billie-Jo’s murder.

She had been battered to death with a metal tent peg on the patio of her foster family’s home. Six years after his conviction, he won an appeal against it and was released on bail pending a new trial. He was formally acquitted in February 2006 following two retrials when neither jury could reach a verdict.

Details of his compensation claim were revealed in 2008 after the publication of his book The Murder Of Billie-Jo. In it, for the first time, he mentioned his own prime suspect – a man he says he saw in the hall of his home in Hastings, East Sussex, on the day of the attack.

Around that time, Mr Jenkins said: ‘I believe the Government should compensate me for taking away my liberty for six years which also meant I lost the childhood of my daughters. ‘Family members have died while I was inside. I had a kicking while I was inside. I have raged inside because I have not been able to cope with what happened to me. ‘I believe the Government should pay for that. I have just filled in the forms. I am waiting for decision. I fulfil all the criteria. The amount is not the important thing.’

Billie-Jo was killed in February 1997. In the days after her death, Mr Jenkins was arrested for her murder. He has always maintained that he found her body when he returned from a trip to a DIY store.

After he was convicted, his wife Lois divorced him and moved with their four daughters to Tasmania, severing contact. Days after his acquittal she revealed how he had beaten her and their children. In her diary she alleged that her former husband had a history of domestic violence, violent mood swings and a fascination for corporal punishment. She had given similar evidence during his appeal hearing but the allegations were never heard by the jury. In a TV interview after his acquittal, Mr Jenkins denied the domestic violence.

During his first trial, it also emerged that he had faked his CV in order to get his deputy head post in Hastings, East Sussex. Mr Jenkins has since put this down to ‘stupidity’.

In February 2005, while awaiting the first of his two retrials, he secretly wed second wife Tina Ferneyhough, a 58-year-old millionaire art dealer.

Following Mr Jenkins’s acquittal, Sussex Police carried out a review of Billie-Jo’s murder but identified no new leads or suspects. A force spokesman said yesterday: ‘The murder of Billie-Jo Jenkins remains an unresolved case and is therefore subject to review in the event of any new and compelling evidence coming to light. ‘We will continue actively to pursue any viable lines of enquiry put to us, but none have emerged.’

Victims of miscarriages of justice are not automatically entitled to compensation after their original convictions are quashed. They must prove they are ‘clearly innocent’ to receive a payout. Claims for damages are considered under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The amount paid for ‘suffering and harm to reputation’ is judged by factors including the seriousness of the offence and severity of punishment, the conduct of investigation and prosecution of the offence.

If ministers rule an applicant deserves a payout, an independent assessor, often a senior lawyer is appointed to decide how much. The Ministry of Justice said: ‘In order for it to be shown that it is beyond reasonable doubt there has been a miscarriage of justice for the purposes of paying compensation, the applicant must be shown to be “clearly innocent”.’

The department refused to discuss the outcome of Mr Jenkins’s damages claim. It is not known whether he is appealing the ruling.

Original report here

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Judicial negligence in New York

Man murdered in Coney Island less than two weeks after shooting 2-year-old girl. In this case I rather like the outcome but it is disturbing that such heavy criminals can be so lightly released from custody

A Brooklyn thug who wounded a 2-year-old girl during a vicious gunfight was murdered yesterday — less than two weeks after he was sprung from the clink without bail.

Despite a rap sheet that includes 22 arrests, as well as pending felony charges from May, Vincent Carmona, 24, was set free just five days after he shot little Jayleen Jones in front of her Coney Island home, according to online court records.

Yesterday, Carmona was found shot three times — twice in the chest and once in the neck — around 3:15 p.m. on West 32nd Street and Mermaid Avenue.

The slaying was just blocks from where he wounded Jayleen on July 25. The girl was riding her bike in front of her home when she was hit by a slug as Carmona and Devin Dortch, 17, fired at a third man in revenge for an earlier mugging, cops said.

No motive was immediately known for yesterday’s bloodshed.

Carmona, whose has arrests for drug possession, robbery and larceny, was picked up the next day and charged with weapons possession, attempted assault and reckless endangerment.

After initially being held without bail, he was let go July 30. Carmona had another open felony case —on May 25, he was charged with making a terroristic threat and criminal trespassing. He was also released without bail on those charges.

Original report here

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Sunday, August 08, 2010


Wordpress has been having a service outage for at least the last couple of hours as at the time of writing so "Wicked Thoughts" has been inaccessible.

The MIRROR SITE is up to date, however.

OH: Cops attempt to justify arrest by calling themselves cowards and idiots

A woman in Ohio using her cell phone to videotape police questioning her boyfriend caused deputies to fear for their lives because she could have easily been holding a “cell-phone gun.”

After all, cell-phone guns have become the latest rage in the criminal underworld; everyday occurrences that threaten officers at every turn.

At least according to Delaware County Sheriff Walter L. Davis III:
In a statement, Delaware County Sheriff Walter L. Davis III said that cell-phone guns are an example of everyday items that have been altered into deceptive weapons that endanger the safety of officers and the public.

However, the Columbus Dispatch prodded a little deeper into this deadly trend and discovered that the sheriff was most likely hyping up the threat of cell-phone guns to justify his deputy’s arrest of the woman for videotaping them against their wishes.
Neither the sheriff’s office nor the Columbus office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has ever come across one of the black-market devices that apparently are made in Eastern Europe.

Several online sources, including Snopes, confirmed the existence of the these phones but say they very rare and they have not yet made it into the United States

Melissa Greenfield, the 115-lb, 20-year-old woman was wearing a neck brace when she began videotaping deputies talking to her boyfriend at a truck stop. She was charged with obstructing official business and resisting arrest, which are common contempt-of-cop charges.

Greenfield say when deputies returned her cell-phone, she discovered they had deleted her videos.

However, the sheriff says they did no such thing because that would have required a warrant and they are not going to twist the law in their favor.
Deputies did not delete any video, Davis said. A warrant would have been required to search the phone, and one was not obtained, he said.

And we are to completely believe every word out of Davis’ mouth because he would never tell a lie. Well, he might exaggerate about the widespread use of cell-phone guns. But lie? Never.

Original report here

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Australia: It's OK to tell police officers to 'f*ck off'

It would be dangerous to risk it in America, though

A Queensland magistrate has ruled that it is acceptable for people to tell police officers to "f*ck off". Magistrate Peter Smid yesterday threw out the court case against Mundingburra man Bardon Kaitira, 28, who swore at a female officer outside the Consortium night club on December 20, last year at 2.40am, The Townsville Bulletin reports.

Constable Belinda Young gave evidence that Mr Kaitira used the swear word twice towards her after a group of officers patrolling Flinders St East poured out his girlfriend's drink. "The defendant said 'f*ck off' and starting walking away and I asked: 'What did you say?'," she said. "He said 'f*ck off" again and then said: 'I don't like the police you think you are all heroes'.

"I told him it was an offence to swear at an officer and gave him two choices - a fine or be arrested." Mr Kaitira opted to be put in handcuffs and taken to the watch house.

After winning the landmark case he explained outside court why he pleaded not guilty - despite admitting to swearing at Constable Young. "On the night it was completely over the top and I didn't think it was fair," Mr Kaitira said. "Most people just cop a fine but I didn't want to do that."

The defendant instead read through hundreds of similar legal cases before employing a leading criminal barrister and a solicitor to take on his public nuisance case at a cost of $4622.11.

It was worth it for the horticulturist as Magistrate Smid said he was not satisfied Mr Kaitira committed an offence and police could be liable for his legal bills. "The defendant spoke normally, he had his hands in his pockets and walked away," Magistrate Smid said. "It's not the most polite way of speaking but those who walk the beat would be quiet immune to the words."

The magistrate said overall the conduct of the defendant was not a nuisance to the public because it didn't interfere with fellow night club goers.

"It was overkill by the officer who was not offended anyway," Mr Smid said. "But she pursued him clearly annoyed he hadn't shown remorse."

Defence barrister Justin Greggery said the case was "doomed to fail" from the start, arguing that saying the f-word to police was "not an offence". "It was simply f*ck off - a common enough expression which wasn't descriptive like f*ck you or you f*ck," he said. "Really the word has lost its affect due to its use in books, films, and general speech."

Mr Greggery added that police were trying to criminalise language, which set a dangerous precedent. "When they try to set the bar this low they are saying the word f*ck is criminal conduct," he said. "This is language they use themselves on the job (while arresting offenders and to other officers)."

However, police prosecutor Sergeant Richard Scholl argued Mr Kaitira's code of conduct was offensive and stinging towards the policewoman. "He displayed behaviour and made jibes with the intention to insult. Police should be shielded from this type of language and the community cannot accept it's OK for a private citizen to tell police to f*** off," he said.

Queensland Police Union President Ian Leavers agreed and called for an urgent appeal of the case, which could set a precedent in Queensland law. "It is a sad day when the courts and government say it is OK to use four letter words at police," he said. "To say it's OK to use offensive language at police in the street, who are just doing their job makes, no sense at all."

Mr Smid will decide today whether the Queensland Police Service will cover Mr Kaitira's legal bills, which legal counsel later reduced to $2527.50 after a successful outcome. By law the maximum amount that can be reimbursed is $1500.

The case follows that of Sydney student Henry Grech, who was cleared in May of an offensive language charge against police after a local court magistrate ruled the word "prick" was part of every-day speech.

Original report here. (Via Australian Politics)

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