Monday, June 30, 2014

Much Anticipated Decision by SCOTUS today on 1st Amendment Rights as they apply to ObamaCare

Some Companies Can Refuse To Cover Contraception, Supreme Court Says

Monday, June 23, 2014

No Air Conditioning during the Summer- Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Texas inmates sue over lack of air conditioning

By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN

(CNN) -- Claiming that even the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is air conditioned, prisoners in Texas have filed a federal lawsuit over soaring temperatures in state prisons that they say have killed at least 12 prisoners in the last three years.
The suit, filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights clinic on behalf of the prisoners, isn't seeking monetary damages. It seeks cooler temperatures for the prisoners. Eighty-eight degrees to be exact.
The lawsuit, broadly concerned about the lack of air conditioning across state facilities, centers on a facility in Navasota, Texas, known as the Wallace Pack Unit. Located about 70 miles northwest of Houston, the facility houses about 1,400 men. As of January, the compliant said, 114 men over the age of 70 were housed there. They have no air conditioning, and the windows which do open provide little relief, the suit claims, leading to temperatures inside that often exceed those outside.
And outside it's hot.
The suit cites internal data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice which found that over the past three years the mercury topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. "Stainless steel tables in the inmate dormitories become hot to the touch" the complaint reads and "prisoners have to lay towels down on the table to rest their elbows while sitting."
In addition to the older inmates, the complaint said a number of men have various underlying medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to heat stroke, like 69-year-old Marvin Yates, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertension.
"I don't know if I will make it this summer. The heat and humidity are so bad inside I have trouble breathing," said Yates, one of three named plaintiffs, in a press release announcing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges some 20 deaths since 1998 and details names, ages and internal body temperatures of the victims, including cases where the body temperature recorded was well over 100 degrees. One man, 45-year-old Rodney Adams, died one day after his arrival. His internal temperature registered 109.9.
There is air conditioning in some parts of the facility. The law library, education building and visitation center all are equipped with air conditioning, according to the complaint, but the inmates are "rarely allowed" in these areas. The complaint also said that the warden's office and other administrative buildings have air conditioning.
County prisons also have air conditioning. Texas statute mandates those jails keep temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees inside, but the state system, according to the complaint, has no such requirement. The lawsuit alleges the conditions violate federal law and the inmate's constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment.
Men treated worse than pigs?
The lawsuit alleges that hogs on Texas Department of Criminal Justice property receive better treatment than the prisoners. "TDCJ policy requires temperatures be kept no higher than 85 degrees to ensure 'pig comfort,'" the suit said, adding that the department begins "to cool the pigs when the temperature goes above 74 degrees to keep the pigs 'comfortable.'"
Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the department couldn't comment on pending legislation. But he did spell out what the agency does to "mitigate temperature extremes." The agency provides water and allows for additional showers "when feasible." Clark also said the staff is trained to identify "offenders susceptible to heat-related issues."
Guards not immune
But according to the complaint the staff may also need to identify heat-related issues for one another, since they also have to go into the hot rooms of the prison.
"The correctional officer's union has made numerous public requests for the prison housing areas to be air conditioned," the complaint said, detailing one female guard who suffered heat exhaustion and dehydration.
The plaintiffs said the situation has led to the correctional officer's union lending public support to the suit.
Clark said the department doesn't have the money to make changes, conceding "a detailed cost analysis has not been done."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The CSI Effect- Juries Dependence on Forensics is Flawed as the Number of Wrongfully Convicted Keeps Growing

Forensic Science Isn’t Science. Why juries hear—and trust—so much biased, unreliable, inaccurate evidence.

Still photo from CSI.
The CSI effect has led American jurors today to expect a constant parade of forensic evidence during trials and to refuse to believe that this evidence might ever be faulty.
Photo by Monty Brinton/CBS Broadcasting

Nine days before death row inmate Earl Washington’s scheduled execution, his lawyers informed the state of Virginia that it was about to murder an innocent man. Forensic analysis of semen introduced at trial had convinced the jury that Washington, whose mental abilities matched those of a 10-year-old, had brutally raped and murdered a young woman in 1982. Washington’s lawyers uncovered evidence that the analysis was faulty. The state halted the impending execution, and following a gubernatorial pardon, Washington was released from prison in 2001. He had been there for 17 years.

How could forensic evidence, widely seen as factual and unbiased, nearly send an innocent person to his death? The answer is profoundly disturbing—and suggests that for every Earl Washington freed, untold more are sent to their deaths. Far from an infallible science, forensics is a decades-long experiment in which undertrained lab workers jettison the scientific method in favor of speedy results that fit prosecutors’ hunches. No one knows exactly how many people have been wrongly imprisoned—or executed—due to flawed forensics. But the number, most experts agree, is horrifyingly high. The most respected scientific organization in the country has revealed how deeply, fundamentally unscientific forensics is. A complete overhaul of our evidence analysis is desperately needed. Without it, the number of falsely convicted will only keep growing.
Behind the myriad technical defects of modern forensics lie two extremely basic scientific problems. The first is a pretty clear case of cognitive bias: A startling number of forensics analysts are told by prosecutors what they think the result of any given test will be. This isn’t mere prosecutorial mischief; analysts often ask for as much information about the case as possible—including the identity of the suspect—claiming it helps them know what to look for. Even the most upright analyst is liable to be subconsciously swayed when she already has a conclusion in mind. Yet few forensics labs follow the typical blind experiment model to eliminate bias. Instead, they reenact a small-scale version of Inception, in which analysts are unconsciously convinced of their conclusion before their experiment even begins.
The second flaw that plagues forensics is even more alarming: For decades, nobody knew how accurate forensic analyses were, or whether they were accurate at all. There’s no central agency that evaluates each test for precision or reliability before approving its use, and most were developed with barely a gesture toward the scientific method and with little input from the scientific community. Nor did the creators of forensics tests publish their methods in peer-reviewed scientific journals. And why should they? Without a government agency overseeing the field, forensic analysts had no incentive to subject their tests to stricter scrutiny. Groups such as the Innocence Project have continually put pressure on the Department of Justice—which almost certainly should have supervised crime labs from the start—to regulate forensics. But until recently, no agency has been willing to wade into the decentralized mess that hundreds of labs across the country had unintentionally created.
It might sound astonishing that undependable forensic tests have been able to slip through the cracks for so many decades. But in light of their origin and use, it’s really no surprise at all. Unlike medical diagnostic tools—which undergo rigorous testing by government agencies—forensic analyses are developed exclusively for law enforcement. Almost everybody will need a cancer screening some day, but you won’t need a semen analysis until you’re convicted of rape. So long as forensics remains the sole province of law enforcement, police and prosecutors have no incentive to screen their tests for accuracy once they’ve been adopted. Exposing a bad test might mean exposing a wrongful prosecution, and few prosecutors are eager to admit that they might be sending innocent people to prison.

In 2009, a National Academy of Sciences committee embarked on a long-overdue quest to study typical forensics analyses with an appropriate level of scientific scrutiny—and the results were deeply chilling. Aside from DNA analysis, not a single forensic practice held up to rigorous inspection. The committee condemned common methods of fingerprint and hair analysis, questioning their accuracy, consistent application, and general validity. Bite-mark analysis—frequently employed in rape and murder cases, including capital cases—was subject to special scorn; the committee questioned whether bite marks could ever be used to positively identify a perpetrator. Ballistics and handwriting analysis, the committee noted, are also based on tenuous and largely untested science. The report amounted to a searing condemnation of the current practice of forensics and an ominous warning that death row may be filled with innocents.

Given the flimsy foundation upon which the field of forensics is based, you might wonder why judges still allow it into the courtroom. The rather depressing answer is a combination of ignorance and laziness. In 1993, the Supreme Court announced a new test, dubbed the “Daubert standard,” to help federal judges determine what scientific evidence is reliable enough to be introduced at trial. The Daubert standard was meant to separate the judicial process from the quest for scientific truths—but it wound up frustrating judges and scientists alike. As one dissenter griped, the new test essentially turned judges into “amateur scientists,” forced to sift through competing theories to determine what is truly scientific and what is not.
The Daubert court clearly had little understanding of the complex, often contentious trial and error that goes into the establishment of an accepted scientific technique. It instructed judges to look to “the existence and maintenance of standards controlling [the technique’s] operation,” a strikingly opaque command tossed off with little explanation. Even more puzzlingly, the new standards called for judges to ask “whether [the technique] has attracted widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community”—which, as a frustrated federal judge pointed out, required judges to play referee between “vigorous and sincere disagreements” about “the very cutting edge of scientific research, where fact meets theory and certainty dissolves into probability.”

Faced with this unenviable chore, most judges have simply trusted prosecutors not to introduce anything that wouldn’t roughly fit the Daubert standard. The conventional wisdom is that, if a prosecutor introduces any truly egregious pseudoscience, the defense can introduce its own expert to refute it or can undermine it through aggressive questioning. It’s a comforting idea: Presented with conflicting scientific findings, jurors will sift out the truth.

Unfortunately, it is also entirely false. American jurors today expect a constant parade of forensic evidence during trials. They also refuse to believe that this evidence might ever be faulty. Lawyers call this the CSI effect, after the popular procedural that portrays forensics as the ultimate truth in crime investigation.

“Once a jury hears something scientific, there’s a kind of mythical infallibility to it,” Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the Innocence Project, told me. “That’s the association when a person in white lab coat takes the witness stand. By that point—once the jury’s heard it—it’s too late to convince them that maybe the science isn’t so infallible.”
If judges can’t be trusted to keep spurious forensic analysis out of the courtroom, and juries can’t be trusted to disregard it, then how are we going to keep the next Earl Washington off death row? One option would be to permit anybody convicted on the basis of biological evidence to subject that evidence to DNA analysis—which is, after all, the one form of forensics that scientists agree actually works. But in 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that convicts had no such constitutional right, even where they can show a reasonable probability that DNA analysis would prove their innocence. (The ruling was 5–4, with the usual suspects lining up against convicts’ rights.)
That leaves one last option: reforming the sprawling field of forensics itself. For years, this job proved nearly impossible, due in large part to what the National Academy of Sciences called the “extreme disaggregation” of forensics. Until lab technicians follow some uniform guidelines and abandon the dubious techniques glamorized on shows like CSI, forensic science will barely qualify as a science at all. As a recent investigation by Chemical & Engineering News revealed, little progress has been made in the five years since the National Academy of Sciences condemned modern forensic techniques.
There is, however, some hope on the horizon. The Obama administration has started to aggregate forensics practices, creating a National Commission on Forensic Science to develop uniform standards to be used across the country. The National Institute of Justice has also given out more than $1 million to fund research into the efficacy and consistency of commonly used forensics techniques.* More and more, labs across the country will know which methods of forensic analysis are trustworthy—and which are glorified pseudoscience.
But what about those thousands of people who’ve already been put behind bars based on evidence analysis that we know today to be utterly unreliable? Even those inmates fortunate enough to obtain capable counsel will often need access to biological evidence, which the Supreme Court has refused to grant them. Every state provides post-conviction DNA access in theory, but many states restrict access after a few years—which is sure to leave some innocent prisoners marooned on death row. Our national experiment in untested forensics may soon be coming to a close. But it hasn’t ended in time to prevent a few more people like Earl Washington from being sacrificed on the altar of pseudoscience.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cannibalism and murder: Grusome Crime Highlights Mental Health Concerns in Our Country

Tennessee man accused of chopping up woman and eating her remains

By Greg Botelho and Suzanne Presto, CNN
It wasn't enough for Gregory Scott Hale to kill his victim, authorities say.
He also chopped off her head, her hands, her feet. Buried her torso in a burn pile outside his south-central Tennessee home. And -- by his own admission -- ate some of her remains, according to the affidavit filed against him.
According to the same document, Hale confessed to the killing of the 36-year-old woman, identified as Lisa Hyder by Capt. Frank Watkins of the Coffee County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Department.
"Lisa was a sweet girl, a very pretty girl," her friend and neighbor Vicki Keenan told CNN affiliate WSMV. "... It's got to be a very sick mind to do something like that."
There's no indication Hale and Hyder knew each other before she was killed, apparently on Friday, said Watkins, who added that authorities don't have any reason yet to believe Hale had done this before.
Authorities learned about the apparently random crime on Sunday and arrested Hale a day later.
The affidavit says after killing her, the 37-year-old man put her slashed-off head and hands in a plastic bucket. Her feet and other cut-off body parts went into another bucket.
It was not known who, if anyone right now, is legally representing the accused. Numerous CNN calls placed Tuesday to his relatives and associates were not immediately returned.
Hale is being held in Tennessee on $1.5 million bond related to charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse.
His next scheduled court date is June 23.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

GREAT WIN FOR THE 4TH AMENDMENT!!! Cell Phone Tower Data protected!

Court: Warrantless Cell Tracking Illegal

Robert Galbraith/Reuters
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined people have an expectation of privacy in their movements and that the cell tower data was part of that. As such, obtaining the records without a search warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, the judges ruled.
"While committing a crime is certainly not within a legitimate expectation of privacy, if the cell site location data could place him near those scenes, it could place him near any other scene," the judges wrote. "There is a reasonable privacy interest in being near the home of a lover, or a dispensary of medication, or a place of worship, or a house of ill repute."
The ruling does not block investigators from obtaining the records — which show which calls are routed through specific towers — but simply requires a higher legal showing of probable cause to obtain a search warrant rather than a less-strict court order.
"The court soundly repudiates the government's argument that merely by using a cellphone, people somehow surrender their privacy rights," said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court, while not yet ruling on cellphone tower records, in 2012 decided that attachment of GPS devices to suspects' vehicles also constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. The justices did not, however, decided that investigators must always obtain a search warrant.
The 11th Circuit decision, which relied heavily on the GPS decision, applies in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The judges said other circuit courts had considered similar arguments, but not in a criminal case. Ultimately the issue will likely have to be resolved by the Supreme Court.
The ruling came in the Miami case of Quartavious Davis, who is serving a 162-year prison sentence for a string of violent armed robberies. The judges refused to overturn his convictions and sentence over the cellphone tracking issue. They applied a "good faith" exception preventing authorities from being punished for relying on a law later found unconstitutional.
The cellphone tower data used at trial placed Davis near six of the armed robberies for which he was ultimately convicted.
The appeals court did agree to a separate argument by Davis that his sentence was improperly enhanced for "brandishing" a firearm, sending the case back to Miami district court for resentencing on that issue alone.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Data surveillance centers- Are they violating your right to privacy?

Data surveillance centers: Crime fighters or 'spy machines?'

Friday, June 6, 2014

Two Stings in One Week for LCSO- Drug UnderCover Operation Nets 8 Arrests in Fort Myers

Drug sting nets eight drug dealers in Fort Myers

Thirty drug dealers in a neighborhood notorious for drug sales were targeted by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Thursday with warrants served on nine homes, eight people arrested and 22 others sought.

Operation Manor Meltdown, a three-month undercover narcotics investigation, was highlighted by the Lee sheriff’s office Thursday afternoon.

Sheriff’s office commander Matt LeClair said the operation started after 2 p.m. and by 3:30 had nabbed eight of the 30 drug dealers sought in Pine Manor, an area just south of Page Field and bordered by U.S. 41 and Summerlin Road.

LeClair said the prevalent drug being sold was cocaine but heroin, marijuana and pills were bought during the operation.“The nine residences we served search warrants on we made buys on,” he said. “And we made some buys on the street.”

LeClair said the operation’s result made a dent in the county as far as sellers go.
“But thirty sellers in one neighborhood is huge, extremely huge,” he said. “There is going to be an impact starting tonight. This is still a very active investigation.” Lt. Jeff Dektas, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said, “If you keep coming back we will continue to lock you up, it’s that simple.”

LeClair said the sheriff’s office wanted to let the public know it was taking a pro-active stance in Pine Manor and throughout the county.

“This neighborhood is notorious for drug sales,” LeClair said, adding that when he started with the sheriff’s office working that area 24 years ago it was a drug scene. “We still have a problem, but the sheriff is dedicated to this and will aggressively attack it,” he said, The investigation is the second one in Pine Manor in the past year. Last October the sheriff’s office conducted Operation Mind Your Manor and made drug-related arrests.

Connect with this reporter: MichaelBraunNP (Facebook) @MichaelBraunNP (Twitter)
Operation Manor Meltdown
Arrested (as of Thursday)
• Jerry Speed, 22
• Jadaris Banks, 23
• James Pierce, 23
• Willie Baskins, 23
• Reinaldo Cortez, 23
• Lindsey Hollins, 33
• Milton Thomas, 45
• Lisa Benjamin, 50

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sex Sting Operations are not as Open-and-Shut as Law Enforcement Would lead You to Believe

Online sex predator sting nets 24 arrests in Lee County

An online sex predator sting operation netted 24 arrests in the past week, including two men from San Carlos Park and one from south Fort Myers, the Lee County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday.
Josue Cardosa arrived at a house Monday, expecting to meet 14-year-old "Liz," the girl who posted an online personal ad titled "Get Me Pregnant W4M."
As Cardosa, 22, of San Carlos Park, would learn after deputies rushed and handcuffed him, finding a condom in his pocket, "Liz" was an undercover agent and the real poster of the perversely titled personal.
Cardosa and two other south Lee County residents were among the 24 men arrested in the past week as part of an online sexual predator sting disclosed Tuesday by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Between May 27 and Monday, investigators say the two dozen men arrived at an undisclosed location, expecting to meet teenage girls, only to find deputies ready to make an arrest. Those from south Lee County were Cardosa; 30-year-old Jose Pacheco, of San Carlos Park; and 20-year-old Caleb Barnhouse, of south Fort Myers.
Lee County sheriff’s officials said the sting, three months in the making and titled "Operation Safe Summer," used online ads, chat rooms and social media sites to locate men looking for sex with underage girls. In each case, online and text conversations turned sexual and a meet-up was arranged. When the men arrived, deputies initiated the takedown.
"We not only search for people out there on the streets, but we’re on the Internet, the phone lines, everywhere we need to be to catch predators," Lee County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Dektas said.
Sheriff’s officials called the online and text messages "very graphic," with the suspects describing "horrible" acts they intended to commit.
Online sex stings have become commonplace across the country in recent years, aimed at taking potential predators offline.
In October 2012, "Operation Spiderweb" netted 40 arrests, at least 31 of which resulted in convictions or plea agreements. (Resolutions for two of the 30 cases couldn’t be found.)
Among those successfully prosecuted: Alain Guevara, of Lehigh Acres, serving a 3 ½ year prison term; Gary Hall, of Cape Coral, scheduled for release from prison in 2019; and William Nockengost, of Cape Coral, early in a 19-year sentence on solicitation and attempted sexual battery charges.
But online sex predators stings haven’t been without legal challenges, evidenced by the seven men arrested by Lee County deputies in "Operation Spiderweb" who were acquitted by a jury, had their charges dropped or were never formally charged.
In one case, prosecutors dropped charges after it became clear a Collier County man didn’t know the age of the teen he was supposedly soliciting. In another case, law enforcement offered to give a defendant gas money to meet them, leading to accusations of entrapment, a motion to dismiss and, ultimately, the dropping of charges.
Danielle O’Halloran, a Fort Myers-based lawyer who represented one of the seven defendants, said "there were some problems and issues with the police work" in "Operation Spiderweb" that led to the legal issues.
"Law enforcement is making a movement to get these sex predators off the street, and everybody should appreciate that. I appreciate that," O’Halloran said. "However, you should make sure you’re protecting the rights of people who aren’t doing anything illegal online. You have to look at these cases very closely, and I think it’s not as open-and-shut as law enforcement would lead you to believe."
Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Schall noted law enforcement’s burden to make an arrest is probable cause, while prosecutors face the higher burden of "beyond a reasonable doubt."
"Would we like to see 100 percent prosecuted? Of course," Schall said. "But we respect what they move forward with and what they don’t."
Regardless of legal outcomes, the recent arrests are a reminder of the potential dangers lurking online, sheriff’s Lt. James Amrich said.
"The best advice to give is as a parent, you need to monitor what your children are doing, both on their smartphones and other media devices," Amrich said.