Category Archives: Crime

Small Town Expertise.

David Martin, the trial attorney for the executed Cameron Todd Willingham, said Willingham was guilty on Anderson Cooper’s 360 and dismissed as biased the science debunking the “science” that determined the fire was arson. While plenty of experts have called the arson investigators’ work mysticism and folklore, the fire investigator who found evidence of arson has basically dismissed them as lab rats who have never tackled a real fire. It’s similar to the argument Martin seems to be making here. His main point is that he’s been a trial attorney for 25 years, and that’s pretty much all he says in his defense.

Which might be the biggest problem when you’re talking about a major crime investigated in these small towns. College attendance rates in rural areas, especially in the south, lag behind the national average. So, in general, you have a population that would have more on-the-job experience than education in adulthood, and it’s hard to imagine that the population doesn’t value experience over book-learning. Hence the kind of populism that George W. Bush rode to the White House twice. It also may explain the “backfire effect” studies have found causing conservatives to believe their views more strongly when presented with evidence that shows its false.

Either way, if Cameron Todd Willingham’s case shows us anything, it’s that men like the prosecutor, who believed Willingham was a bad guy because he liked heavy metal music, have a lot of power in these places. And it’s not always true that they represent the best and the brightest.

A Case of Morals.

A Novel Approach to Violence in Chicago

It’s two weeks too late for  Derrion Albert, but the New York Times reports that a former police officer named Ron Huberman has a new plan for trying to protect the most vulnerable students from violence. It sounds a bit like CompStat.

. . . if Mr. Huberman’s hunch is right, about 10,000 high school students with the highest risk of becoming the next victims will be better off once his plan is in place this winter.

Financed by federal stimulus grants for two years, the $60 million plan uses a formula gleaned from an analysis of more than 500 students who were shot over the last several years to predict the characteristics of potential future victims, including when and where they might be attacked. While other big city school districts, including New York, have tried to focus security efforts on preventing violence, this plan goes further by identifying the most vulnerable students and saturating them with adult attention, including giving each of them a paid job and a local advocate who would be on call for support 24 hours a day.

From the study of the 500 shootings, Mr. Huberman said officials know that deadly violent outbursts are not truly random. The students at highest risk of violence, by statistics, are most likely to be black, male, without a stable living environment, in special education, skipping an average of 42 percent of school days at neighborhood and alternative schools, and having a record of in-school behavioral flare-ups that is about eight times higher than the average student.

Yep. Sounds Like Business as Usual.

Remember that David Grann piece in the New Yorker that asked whether Texas had executed an innocent man? Texas Governor Rick Perry replaced the chairman and two members of a commission set to hear evidence in the case. The new chairman appointed by Perry cancelled the hearing. A spokesman for the governor told the New York Times the reappointments were “business as usual.” Sounds that way, Texas.

More Justice in Texas.

From Texas Monthly

I think, as dispassionate observers of the legal system, we can all agree that Charles Hood probably got a fair trial despite the newly established fact that the prosecutor and judge were having an affair. Besides, if that was an issue, Hood’s lawyers should have just raised it at trial. What, don’t think so? Communist.

This is the highest court in Texas, but he might be able to appeal still in federal court. I can’t find any mention of it in the news stories.

Your Monday* Random-Ass Roundup: Heard ‘Em Say

Believe it or not, I’ve been known to be a jackass. Ask anyone who had the misfortune of knowing me in college. Or a couple years ago. I really hope President Obama isn’t asked about it anytime soon:


Anyway, lots of things have happened since our last Monday roundup. Here’s a few of them, a week and almost a full day later than usual. Sorry. I blame it on death panels and creeping socialism:

1. As you all probably know, President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” for his behavior at the VMAs. But that moment was supposed to be off-the-record, and so Terry Moran, the ABC reporter who tweeted the comment, took it down. ABC has apologized. (G.D.)

2. Alyssa agrees: maybe Kanye really does need a break. (Blackink)

3. One picture tells a million – or two million – lies. Politifact gets to the truth about the latest “tea party” in D.C. (Blackink)

4. A new poll says that 73% of doctors want a public option. (G.D.)

5. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich attempts to bring some sanity – and facts – to talk about the public option. (Blackink)

6. But even if there is a public option, Obama has plans to go beyond language in a House bill to make sure no public money goes to pay for abortions under health care reform. Why? (Blackink)

7. Speaking of health care reform, file this under everything is always good for Wal-Mart. (Blackink)

8. The FDA just approved a new vaccine against the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu. (Blackink)

9. Despite evidence to the contrary, many people, especially Southerners, think crime is on the rise. (Quadmoniker)

10. 50 Things being killed by the Internet. (Belleisa)

11. In eight states and D.C., being a victim of domestic violence is a pre-existing condition. No, really. (Blackink)

12. As if South Carolina tourism officials didn’t have a hard enough sell, a number of people have indicated they’ll be staying away from the Palmetto State following GOP Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst at President Barack Obama. (Blackink)

13. From Jonathan Chait’s fantastic review of a new biography about Ayn Rand: “‘She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that “he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people’; and she meant this as praise.” Well, that explains a lot. (Blackink)

14. This is rich: President Bush thought Sarah Palin was underqualified to serve on the national level. Well, he would know best. Also, he thinks Hillary Clinton has a “fat keister.” Classy. (Blackink)

15. Wow. A study in England found that when heroin was given to addicts in supervised clinics, drug use and street crime dropped dramatically. (Blackink)

16. Sort of related: Newly released FBI numbers show that we’re nearing epic fail in the “War on Drugs.” (Blackink)

17. Call it “The Chinese Dream“: a number of Africans are migrating to China in search of economic opportunity. In fact, a 10 square kilometer area in Guangzhou has been dubbed “Chocolate City.” (Blackink)

18. After years of being the envy of the nation, California’s higher education system- if not the state itself – could face a bleak future if it follows through on a plan for a large fee increases. (Blackink)

19. Reports of sexual misconduct of federal inmates by prison staff members have doubled over the past eight years, according to The Washington Post. In many places, as Matt points out, being sentenced to prison is a form of abuse itself.

20. A video of Quentin Tarantino’s best movie picks since 1992. And “Friday” made the list. (Belleisa)

21. Racewire calls Michael Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism, A Love Story,” his best work yet. (Blackink)

22. This post, from Booker Rising, is disgusting. And not even close to funny. There will be more on this later. (Blackink)

23. From Jacket Copy, the LA Times book blog, a site called Slaughter House 90210 which mixes pop culture images with literary captions. (Belleisa)

24. Is anyone really surprised that Jay Leno’s new show was not that funny? (Blackink)

25. The Face of Foreclosure: a Planet Money listener offers up aLink series of photographs outside the foreclosed home of Minneapolis woman Rosemary Williams. (Blackink)

26. South African runner and unfortunate international curiosity Caster Semenya has now been placed on suicide watch. I strongly agree with Pam: “She deserved — and deserves — so much better from the collective us than what she’s received.” (Blackink)

27. Michael Jordan will never let us forget that he was better than everyone else. Not even as he’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Blackink)

28. And give it up, New York. LeBron ain’t playing for the Knicks. Unless, of course, he somehow tires of playing on a winning team. (Blackink)

Told you I was a jackass.

* It’s actually Tuesday.

I Have a Little Bit of a Problem (With Sex Offender Registration).

(cross-posted from the League of Ordinary Gentlemen and U.S. of J.)

The thing that bothers me most about this New York Times piece on the efficacy of sex offender alert programs is… that it focuses on the efficacy of sex offender alert programs, and doesn’t bother to raise any objections to the idea of a sex offender alert program.  Indeed, it’s pretty much taken for granted that everyone wants some sort of program or registry that catalogs and monitors sex offenders.  So, at the risk of sounding objectively pro-sex offender, I’m going to say that I’m a more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of a sex offender alert program, and sex offender registries more generally.

The practical objections are pretty straightforward and are worth repeating.  For starters, the definition of “sex offender” is impossibly broad and varies from state to state.  In Virginia, for instance, a sixteen year old who has a sexual relationship with his fourteen year old girlfriend would would “qualify” as a sex offender, due to Virginia law giving sex offender status to anyone having sexual relations with someone under the age of 15.  And if, for whatever reason, he was arrested, prosecuted and convicted for having sex with his girlfriend, he would have earned himself a permanent spot on Virginia’s sex offender registry.  Indeed, that’s a relatively benign example; in several states, crimes like public nudity or public urination warrant inclusion on a sex offender registry.  Unsurprisingly, this loose definition of sex offender has left us with a ridiculously high number of registered sex offenders.  By the Economist’s count (and I recommend that you read the whole article), there are 674,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., and considering the huge range of crimes which warrant registration, there’s no question that a plurality – or even a majority – of those are unfairly listed as sex offenders. Which is made all the more problematic when you consider that sex offender registries often don’t provide enough information for the reader to make a judgment on whether or not the person in question is actually dangerous.

It doesn’t help that states continue to pass incredibly draconian sex offender laws.  In Georgia, for example, registered offenders are barred from living within 1,000 feet of any area where children may gather, including schools, libraries, parks and other public recreation facilities.  Furthermore, sex offenders are forbidden from even working with 1,000 feet of schools or child-care facilities.  The sheer number of restrictions associated with being a registered sex offender make it nearly impossible to carve out a life post-conviction and in all likelihood, play a significant part in contributing to the high levels of homelessness among convicted sex offenders.

Now, it’s worth saying that I understand why the public supports registering sex offenders; a significant number of those registered have committed terrible crimes against children, and it is important that parents can identify those offenders, considering the relatively high rate of recidivism among sex offenders.  That said, sex offender registration laws – as currently constituted – are mostly counterproductive.  The downside of registering thousands of people for crimes like public nudity or streaking  is that it becomes nearly impossible to monitor the offenders who pose an actual threat to children.  What’s more, the side-effects of harsh sex offender laws – homelessness, joblessness, heightened anxiety and stress – make it far more likely that serious sex offenders will commit further crimes out of desperation.

Trying to make life a little more comfortable for convicted sex offenders isn’t exactly popular, but it’s necessary.  Condemning men and women – most of whom have served their time in prison or on probation – to a lifetime of severe restrictions is counterproductive and manifestly unfair.  Sure, forcing sexual offenders onto the streets or into the poorhouses might make us feel good, but it does absolutely nothing to help us build safe and strong communities.