Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lock 'Em Up And Throw Away The Sense

For all the happy talk of criminal justice reform (some of it genuine, some of it just that: happy talk), the get tough, lock 'em up and throw away the key, hang 'em high crowd has been largely silent. No more...here are a couple of good articles indicating how the brain-dead myopia of zero-tolerance still lives in many quarters.

First, "the prosecutor who says Louisiana should kill more people:"

Dale Cox, 67, who is the acting district attorney and who secured more than a third of Louisiana’s death sentences over the last five years, has lately become one of the country’s bluntest spokesmen for the death penalty. He has readily accepted invitations from reporters to explain whether he really meant what he said to The Shreveport Times in March: that capital punishment is primarily and rightly about revenge and that the state needs to “kill more people.” Yes, he really meant it.

And he has been willing to recount his personal transformation from an opponent of capital punishment, a belief grounded in his Catholic faith, to one of the more prolific seekers of the death penalty in the nation.
 
“Retribution is a valid societal interest,” Mr. Cox said on a recent afternoon, in a manner as calm and considered as the hypothetical he would propose was macabre. “What kind of society would say that it’s O.K. to kill babies and eat them, and in fact we can have parties where we kill them and eat them, and you’re not going to forfeit your life for that? If you’ve gotten to that point, you’re no longer a society.”
Wait, what? Baby-eating is a thing in Louisiana? A little Cajun hot sauce, cold beer and infant jumbalaya?
“What you’ve ended up with,” [Robert J.] Smith, law professor at UNC said, “is a personality-driven death penalty."

Mr. Cox’s personality has been under scrutiny here since he returned to being a prosecutor after two decades in insurance law. Lawyers who knew him as a congenial and adroit trial lawyer said that in recent years he had become sullen and solitary. They also have described him as becoming increasingly aggressive in the courtroom, in some cases even threatening defense lawyers with criminal contempt for filing opposing motions.
   
Several said this was not so much Mr. Cox as the culture of the office. They point to a historical racial disparity in the application of the death penalty in Caddo. Or they cite an incident in 2012, when two senior assistant district attorneys, both of whom continue to prosecute capital cases elsewhere in the state, were forced to resign from the office after they obtained machine guns from a military surplus program through what an inspector general found to be falsified applications. The men had belonged to a group of prosecutors who participated in firearms exercises as part of a unit known as the Caddo Parish Zombie Response Team, sporting arm patches around the office and specialty license plates on their trucks.
So, baby-eatin' parties and Zombie response teams? Do they know the Walking Dead is fiction down there?
Mr. Cox, who rose from first assistant to acting district attorney after his boss died unexpectedly in April, was never part of that group and disapproved of it. But he did not dispute that the work he does had changed him and left him more withdrawn.

He describes this as a natural result of exposure to so many heinous crimes, saying that “the nature of the work is so serious that there’d be something wrong if it didn’t change you.” He went on to describe violent child abuse, murders and dismemberments in extended detail, pointing to a box on his desk that he said contained autopsy photographs of an infant who was beaten to death. He volunteered that he took medication for depression.

“The courts always say, ‘Evolving standards of decency tell us we can’t do this or that,’ ” he said in an interview at his office, where he had been considering whether to seek death in one case and preparing to seek it in two others. “My empirical experience tells me it’s not evolving decently. We’ve become a jungle.”
[crickets chirping]

Happily, the voters have a chance to turn this man out of office (and perhaps get some psychological help) before any more people are sent unlawfully to the gurney in Louisiana.

But the larger issue remains: the kill 'em all types still exist out there. 

And nothing still brings 'em out of the woodwork like sex offenders. 

Teenager's Jailing Brings Call To Reform Sex Offender Registries:
That sexual encounter has landed Mr. Anderson in a Michigan jail, and he now faces a lifetime entanglement in the legal system. The girl, who by her own account told Mr. Anderson that she was 17 — a year over the age of consent in Michigan — was actually 14.

As an Indiana resident, Mr. Anderson will most likely be listed on a sex offender registry for life, a sanction that requires him to be in regular contact with the authorities, to allow searches of his home every 90 days and to live far from schools, parks and other public places. His probation will also require him to stay off the Internet, though he needs it to study computer science.

Some advocates and legal authorities are holding up Mr. Anderson’s case as the latest example of the overreach of sex offender registries, which gained favor in the 1990s as a tool for monitoring pedophiles and other people who committed sexual crimes. In the decades since, the registries have grown in number and scope; the nearly 800,000 people on registries in the United States go beyond adults who have sexually assaulted other adults or minors. Also listed are people found guilty of lesser offenses that run the gamut from urinating publicly to swapping lewd texts.

As Mr. Anderson’s defenders see it, his story is a parable of the digital age: the collision of the temporary relationships that young people develop on the Internet and the increasing criminalization of sexual activity through the expansion of online sex offender registries.
As we've noted here at TPE for some time now, the use and prevalence of sex offender registries is another holdover from the bad old days of the 90's when the git tuff craziness hit its zenith, and it was predicted that sex superpredators would fly through the air with capes, break into your house, and pillage your children. Or women. Or something. 

In addition to civil commitment, the registries are one of the more ignominious creations of the digital age, done under the guise of deterrence and public safety, but having no practical value in either, as has been shown in study after study for 20+ years now.

Nonetheless, they remain in effect (including stories of teenagers like this kid subsequently being pursued by other sex offenders who find his information online) because of moralist politicians and other c.j. practitioners who put their values before the evidence or the law.
The judge, Dennis M. Wiley of Berrien County District Court in Michigan, was apparently not swayed by their testimony. After Mr. Anderson pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree, the judge declined to grant him a special status intended for young offenders. The status, under the state’s Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, would have spared him inclusion on the sex offender registry and erased the conviction from his record if he did not violate probation.
During a sentencing hearing in April, Judge Wiley criticized online dating in general and berated Mr. Anderson for using the Internet to meet women.

“You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women, to meet and have sex with,” he said. “That seems to be part of our culture now. Meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.”
Er, I'm pretty sure "trolling for women to meet and have sex with" is not a fisherman's expression. But more importantly, while the behavior (which thanks to apps like Tinder, etc. is damn near ubiquitous today) may offend your morals, your morals have nothing to do with the law and/or sentencing.
The prosecutor, Jerry Vigansky, did not oppose a Holmes Act sentence, but noted that it had not been applied to two similar cases in recent months.

For some reason, Mr. Vigansky told the judge in court, this generation seems to think it is “O.K. to go online to find somebody and then to quickly hook up for sexual gratification.”

“That’s not a good message to send into the community,” he said.
Again: morals and values are irrelevant to criminal procedure, which you would think a judge and prosecutor would understand.

A politician, however, you wouldn't expect to understand.
Rick Jones, a state senator in Michigan and one of the authors of the state’s sex offender registry laws, dismissed that defense. The law requires people to be responsible for determining the age of their sexual partners, he said, and in a case like Mr. Anderson’s, the punishment seems appropriate.

“A 19-year-old knows that you have to be very careful, and you certainly should not be having sex with a 14-year-old,” Mr. Jones said in an interview. “In my opinion, society, over several decades, has become looser. People are meeting online, and that creates all sorts of problems. Now, people have all these crazy apps where you can locate people in your vicinity where people want to have a relationship. You should be very careful.”

He said he was not bothered by the terms of Mr. Anderson’s probation, which require him to stop using the Internet for five years.

“There are lots of jobs that don’t involve computers,” he said. “There are all sorts of trades. Truck drivers, welding. There are other opportunities.”
LOL. Or go pick up garbage...ain't no need for any fancy interweb stuff in that.

Again, my larger point in these articles is to make the suggestion that criminal justice reform is largely just political rhetoric, and the comments quoted above are still red meat to voting electorate who are still living back in the 90's.

And these folks will continue to put up obstacles (as Sen. Chuck Grassley put it, to the "leniency-industrial complex") going forward.

UPDATE: An excellent analysis of the voodoo science of "sex predator screening" better known as the Abel Assessment. 

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