Category Archives: Justice system failure

If Boston bombers had WMDs, then so did Saddam Hussein, quoting 18 USC § 921, explains what constitutes a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) these days.  The term “weapon of mass destruction” means destructive device.

The term “destructive device” means—

(A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—

(i) bomb,

(ii) grenade,

(iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,

(iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,

(v) mine, or

(vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;

So, anything that you can throw that contains more than a quarter ounce of explosive is a WMD.  Eventually, the terrorism label will be so over-used as to be essentially meaningless.  This is a common form of categorical inflation.  If you have laws that criminalize everyone, the concept of crime becomes meaningless.  If everyone is declared a hero, then the concept of heroism is meaningless.

Defining a quarter ounce of explosive as a WMD makes the concept of WMDs into a joke.  I mean, even a bigger joke than what Bush made out of it when he used it to fabricate an excuse to start a war with Iraq.

Former DA charged for misconduct. It’s a miracle!


Former Williamson County [Texas] District Attorney Ken Anderson was arrested and booked into jail and then released on bail Friday after a specially convened court found that he intentionally hid evidence to secure Michael Morton’s 1987 conviction for murder.

Of course, to any District Attorney looking for a pathway to, say, a judgeship, all that matters is getting convictions.  Innocence just isn’t all that important.

Sturns told the standing-room-only courtroom that the evidence showed that Anderson improperly concealed two pieces of evidence that could have helped Morton fight the murder charge:

• The transcript of a police interview revealing that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son, Eric, witnessed the murder and said Michael Morton wasn’t home at the time.

• A police report about a suspicious man who had parked a green van near the Morton home and, on several occasions, walked into the wooded area behind the house.

Sturns’ ruling is the first step in a potential criminal case against Anderson, who was Williamson County’s celebrated law-and-order district attorney for 16 years before he became a district judge in 2002. His current term as judge will end in 2014. State law does not require him to step down as the case against him progresses.

Interesting.  Where I work, it takes a lot less than sending an innocent person to prison for a quarter century to get my ass thrown out on the street.  I guess this shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that politicians tend to protect their own when making of the rules of conduct.

Wednesday Afternoon links

  • Two Texas cops indicted for illegally initiating a roadside body cavity search of two women stopped for littering.  The male officer who initiated the stop was charged with theft and the female officer who conducted the cavity search was charged with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of official oppression.
  • The FBI is pursuing real time Gmail spying power as top priority for 2013.  Because, if you have nothing to hide, why do you need privacy anyway?
  • Two years after being ordered to by the the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, the TSA is finally initiating the public comment period required before they can set up the full body scanners they’ve already been using since 2007.
  • Cost for a one-night stay in Paris for the Vice President?  $585,000.50   More than $100,000 more than his stay in London which only cost a measly $459,338.65  So, how many federal jobs could be saved from sequester if Biden were to do what VPs are supposed to do: nothing.

If you want government to intervene domestically, you’re a liberal.
If you want government to intervene overseas, you’re a conservative.
If you want government to intervene everywhere, you’re a moderate.
If you don’t want government to intervene anywhere, you’re an extremist.

“Need” now means wanting someone else’s money.
“Greed” now means wanting to keep your own.
“Compassion” is when a politician arranges the transfer.

After 23 years in prison, murder conviction vacated

From Reuters:

David Ranta, 58, spent 23 years in prison until the conviction integrity unit of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office concluded after a year-long investigation that the case against him was fatally flawed.

The whole case reeks of sleazy self-serving police work wherein an innocent man was convicted in 1991 and the real killer went free.  Police coached a 13 year old witness who to pick out of a police line-up.   A jail house snitch testified against Ranta in exchange for a lighter sentence.   One of the investigating cops claimed to have elicited a confession, but provided no corroborating evidence.  The actual target of the robbery testified that Ranta was “100 percent not” the killer.

When the case started to fall apart, prosecutors aggressively maintained the validity of the conviction.  In 1996 a woman testified that her deceased husband confessed to the murder and, in fact, an anonymous tipster actually identified the same man shortly after the murder.

It’s not about catching the bad guys.  It’s about getting a conviction, sometimes at any cost.

The case is the latest in a string of wrongful convictions that have gained media attention in recent months, creating a headache for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who faces a rare primary challenge in September as he runs for a seventh four-year term.

On Wednesday, a federal judge blocked Hynes’ office from retrying a man, William Lopez, whose 1989 murder conviction was overturned earlier this year after questions arose about witness accounts.

In 2010, a federal judge freed another man, Jabbar Collins, after he spent 16 years in prison for allegedly shooting his landlord. U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry concluded that Brooklyn prosecutors had relied on false testimony and threatened a witness and faulted Hynes’ office for continuing to deny any wrongdoing.

You can be sure that none of the cops or prosecutors responsible for these corrupt life-destroying convictions will ever face any consequences, which is precisely why these abuses of power are repeated constantly everywhere in the country.  Ranta’s lawyer plans to sue New York, but any judgement will be paid, not by the government employees who destroyed Ranta’s life, but by New York taxpayers.  The U.S. justice system takes care of its own.

There are no bad people…

There are only people with a great capacity to rationalize.

Pat HedgesThis is certainly the case with the state and federal officials who joined together to crucify Charles C. Lynch, who meticulously followed state law and set up a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California in 2006.   And no one was more enthusiastic in that crusade to destroy Lynch  than San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Pat Hedges (pictured at left).

While Lynch had the blessing of the city and repeatedly solicited guidance from the DEA on the federal ramifications of operating a dispensary under California state law,  he was still targeted by Sheriff Hedges.  Lynch was never charged under state law and Morro Bay police did not participate in the 2007 raid that started the train of events that would ultimately leave Lynch bankrupt.  But, the DEA was a willing partner in the sheriff’s campaign of against Lynch.

lynching-charlie-lynch-coverI just finished watching “The Lynching of Charlie Lynch” available in disc or streaming video from Netflix.  This documentary tells the story of a man who is, by any common sense definition, the epitome of a responsible member of the community and the absolute antithesis of a criminal.  His only crime was that he chose to follow the wrong set of conflicting laws and not a single member of the entire federal justice system had the courage or integrity to stand up and say “stop” to this vindictive little shit of a sheriff and his equally self-important buddies in the DEA.  About the only bright spot in the case was that the Judge, with no help from the Obama Justice Department, doled out the lightest prison sentence he could justify under federal mandatory sentencing requirements.

What is most disturbing about the Lynch prosecution is how clearly it illustrates the point that the federal government is willing to act completely contrary to the welfare and wishes of the population in pursuit of its own self-serving interests.   The only beneficiaries of the crusade against Lynch were members of the machine of state and most of that gain simply served to enlarge their already swollen egos.

I recommend the movie because it angers us and helps remind us that there are a lot of real casualties in the war against the drug warriors.  It’s the Charlie Lynches of the world who do the most to convince the public that the drug war is destructive and ineffective.  But it’s also the Charlie Lynches of the world who make up the wake of death and destruction left in the path of organizations like the DEA.  When it’s finally all over and the drug war is just painful memory, I wonder if we’ll ever see a monument to the fallen heroes who had the balls to challenge the mindless government automatons whose job it is to destroy other people’s lives in exchange for a weekly paycheck.

Of course, I’m sure the folks at the DEA easily manage to rationalize what they do.  Destroying people to save them probably makes perfect sense to them.

Carry a condom, go to jail

The problem with “crimes” like gambling, drug use, and prostitution is that there are no victims to file complaints with the police or testify against the perpetrator in a trial.  So, to catch people engaged in these kinds of consensual activities, police resort to sleazy deceptive sting entrapment tactics to trick people into doing something for which they can be arrested.  In effect, police become complicit in creating the crime for which they ultimately arrest someone.  This, by itself, makes the phrase “the land of the free” utterly ridiculous.  But, going after consensual criminals is a big part of the criminal justice industry, so don’t expect it to end anytime soon.

Cops have long since figured out that real criminals hide and don’t commit their crimes where anyone can see.  That makes them hard to catch.  But, ordinary non-criminal people are everywhere and they don’t hide what they do because they don’t have any criminal intent.  So, if their behavior can be criminalized, arrests would be easier and the assembly-line justice system can more easily be supplied with fresh bodies to prosecute and incarcerate.

Such is the case in New York City where, not only prostitution is illegal, but merely looking like some cops idea of a prostitute is cause for suspicion.  Suspicion then becomes justification for a search.  If condoms are found in the search, the cops can justify an arres based on the twisted logic that the person might commit prostitution in the future.  This is referred to as “precrime” and was popularized in the movie, Minority Report.

Molly Crabapple has a few words about this practice:

Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you.

But, it’s just an arrest.  How bad can that be?

Arrest is always violent. The NYPD may or may not break your ribs, but the process of arrest in America is still a man tying your hands behind your back at gunpoint and locking you in a cage. Holding cells are shit-encrusted boxes, often too crowded to sit down. Police can leave you there for three days; long enough to lose your job. If this seems obvious, I say it because the polite middle classes trivialize arrest. They talk about “keeping people off the streets.” They don’t realize that the constant threat of arrest is traumatic, unless it happens to them or their kids.

This is not a legitimate function of a justice system in any free country.  This is state sponsored persecution, plain and simple.  Of course, historically, persecution is never recognized as such by the people doing it.  As an adult, your sex life is your business and that applies even when sex is your business.  The government should have no more control over you than they have over any other business (which, by most libertarian standards, is way too much).

NSA: Our spying on you is Constitutional. Trust us.

Glenn Greenwald comments on governmental use of secrecy to avoid Constitutional challenge to its warrantless wire-taping.

Both the Bush and Obama DOJ’s have relied on one tactic in particular to insulate its eavesdropping behavior from judicial review: by draping what it does in total secrecy, it prevents anyone from knowing with certainty who the targets of its surveillance are. The DOJ then exploits this secrecy to block any constitutional or other legal challenges to its surveillance actions on the ground that since nobody can prove with certainty that they have been subjected to this eavesdropping by the government, nobody has “standing” to sue in court and obtain a ruling on the constitutionality of this eavesdropping.

Amnesty International sued the government over this very strategy and…

The Obama justice department succeeded in convincing the five right-wing Supreme Court justices to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, which vastly expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. In the case of Clapper v. Amnesty International, Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, released today, which adopted the argument of the Obama DOJ, while the Court’s four less conservative justices (Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan) all dissented. This means that the lawsuit is dismissed without any ruling on whether the US government’s new eavesdropping powers violate core constitutional rights.

So, the bottom line is this:

When the new 2008 FISA eavesdropping law was passed, all sorts of legal scholars debated its constitutionality, but it turns out that debate was – like the Constitution itself – completely academic. As both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly proven, they are free to violate the Constitution at will just so long as they do so with enough secrecy to convince subservient federal courts to bar everyone from challenging their conduct.

Now, what’s all this crap I keep hearing, often from libertarians, that the government’s job is to protect our rights?  Naively putting the government in charge of limiting its own powers is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.  The government couldn’t care less about your rights and when some politician suggests otherwise, he should be laughed off the stage.

P.S.  As you may have noticed, I tend to post about almost everything Greenwald says in his column at The Guardian.   Readers would do themselves a favor by skipping my posts and going directly to Greenwald’s column.  Nonetheless, I will continue to highlight his writings because he is a rarity in his prolific even-handed criticism of the rapid expansion of the police state under both political parties.  I am grateful that The Guardian gives him the means to reach a really broad audience.

Georgia rushes executions before execution drug expires

A story in The Guiardian claims that Georgia rushed to execute Andrew Allen Cook on Thursday and is likewise trying to execute Warren Hill before its supply of lethal injection drugs expire on March 1.

Georgia confirmed to the Guardian that its entire supply of pentobarbital expires on 1 March. The expiration date leaves the state in a quandary: it still has 93 men and one woman on death row, including Hill, but with no obvious means by which to execute them.

European pressure is behind the shortage of execution drugs.

The European commission, following unilateral action by the UK, has imposed restrictions on the export of medicines to all US corrections departments.

As a result of the European squeeze, Hospira, the only US manufacturer of sodium thiopental, an anaesthetic that was used widely in the triple cocktail of lethal injections, ceased production in 2011.

Because the shortage of sodium thiopental, states have switched to a single large injection of pentobarbital, but it too is in short supply as some manufacturers restrict its use to prevent it from being used as an execution drug.

As legal routes for the procurement of medical drugs have been successively shut down, several of the 33 states that still practice the death penalty have resorted to shady methods for acquiring them. Georgia was exposed in 2011 as having been one of the states that bought lethal injection drugs from Dream Pharma, an unlicensed company that operated out of a driving school in west London.

South Dakota apparently used a batch of pentobarbital procured from a local pharmacy to execute Eric Robert, but it it was discovered to contaminated with fungus.

Morning Links from The Agitator

Here are a few interesting links picked up from The Agitator.

  • Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams will no longer accept the testimony of six city police  officers.  So far, 270 cases have been thrown out, which seems to hint that there may be some question of the officers’ ability to tell the truth.  An investigation by the FBI is on-going but, of course, what is being investigated remains a secret.  As is typical of most cases of police misconduct, the cops have not been charged and remain on the force. I guess their job will be reduced to doling out street justice since they’re useless in any criminal prosecution..  From the article: “The Fraternal Order of Police has defended the officers, saying they were doing their job.”
  • Here is some helpful weapons training for cops who suffer from the handicap of trigger-pull hesitation when confronted by a threat from a child or pregnant women.  I’m guessing this might be an extension of whatever program was used to eliminate any hesitation an officer might have when it comes to shooting family pets.


  • Dayton, Ohio cops break down the door to a man’s home after noting that he failed to signal for a turn.  They apparently followed the man home, knocked at his door,  and when the man refused to answer, they used a battering ram to enter his house.  They then searched his house “for officer safety” and found drugs.  An Ohio appeals court declared the entry lawful based on precedent, but offered the consolation that they only did so because they had to.

Police lie! Oh my god! Who would have thought?

The New York Times has an interesting opinion piece about cops who lie in order to bolster arrest and conviction rates.  The article quotes Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner:

“Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

The article points out that even the NYPD (you know, that icon of truth and justice) isn’t exempt from this kind of behavior:

Remarkably, New York City officers have been found to engage in patterns of deceit in cases involving charges as minor as trespass. In September it was reported that the Bronx district attorney’s office was so alarmed by police lying that it decided to stop prosecuting people who were stopped and arrested for trespassing at public housing projects, unless prosecutors first interviewed the arresting officer to ensure the arrest was actually warranted.

So, why do they do it?

Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding.

Radley Balko has repeatedly warned about the bizarre incentives created by such programs.   Incentivizing any activity generates more of it and there is no incentive not to lie because cops are rarely held to account by their superiors, prosecutors, and certainly not by the public service unions that protect them from any repercussions from their abuses of power and lack of professional ethics.

But, it’s not just because of the drug war incentives.

Even where no clear financial incentives exist, the “get tough” movement has warped police culture to such a degree that police chiefs and individual officers feel pressured to meet stop-and-frisk or arrest quotas in order to prove their “productivity.”

The general claim of “tough on crime” is what defines almost any elected position in the criminal justice system.  Advancement is yet another incentive for high arrest and prosecution numbers, which explains why prosecutors aren’t too eager to know when cops are lying on the stand.  It’s all about quantity, not quality.

Exposing police lying is difficult largely because it is rare for the police to admit their own lies or to acknowledge the lies of other officers. This reluctance derives partly from the code of silence that governs police practice and from the ways in which the system of mass incarceration is structured to reward dishonesty.

Code of silence?  Really?  I’m stunned!  Another possible reason might be that the public mostly just doesn’t give a shit.  Most people, regardless of educational level, think that people who get arrested are almost certainly guilty.  Why else would they have been arrested?  It’s like our military operations where anyone we kill must, by definition, be an enemy (otherwise we wouldn’t have killed him).  And anyone who watches cop shows on TV knows that cops are hopelessly burdened with rules that make it almost impossible to get a conviction unless they “bend” the rules.

Luckily for most of us, this kind of behavior most often targets those who are poor and largely defenseless.  And minorities.  Well, they’re minorities until they get to prison anyway.