All Articles Tagged "criminal justice system"

“We Are Undermining Human Potential”: Sen. Cory Booker Rails Against Racial Disparities In Marijuana Convictions

March 17th, 2015 - By Kimberly Gedeon
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong/Getty Images

“This is one of those issues, like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, where it should pull all Americans together to say enough is enough,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) told Vox.

The Senator is baffled by the fact that both groups, Black and White, use and sell marijuana at the same rate, but African Americans are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for it. In New Jersey, Booker said, African Americans make up just 14.7 percent of the population but account for 61 percent of the prison population.

“You go to college campuses and you’ll get white drug dealers. I know this from my own experience of growing up and going to college myself,” Booker told Vox. “Fraternity houses are not being raided by police at the level you see with communities in inner cities.”

Booker is also rattled by the overwhelming number of prisoners incarcerated for drug-related crimes. Meanwhile, prisoners who are arrested for violent, more severe crimes are drastically lower. In 2013, nearly 100,000 prisoners were jailed for drug-related violations; in the same year, just under 10,000 were incarcerated for violent crimes.

This is a backwards criminal justice system that has its bull’s eye on the wrong offenders.

“What’s more dangerous to society: someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own home, or someone going 30 miles over the speed limit, racing down a road in a community? And yet that teenager who makes a mistake — doing something the last three presidents admitted to doing — now he has a felony conviction, because it’s more likely he’s going to get caught,” he said.

The New Jersey Senator also added that the lopsided focus on marijuana offenders is fiscally irresponsible. While we’re spending gross amounts of tax dollars to throw marijuana users and sellers in jail, we are also “undermining human potential” which has a “savage” and “disparate” affect on Blacks.

As you might have guessed, Booker is pro-deregulating marijuana. Marijuana laws, he says, are “off the rails” — the drug is so vilified that it’s created a class of so-called “criminals,” who, despite taking a hit or two, are law abiding citizens. Last week, the Senator introduced a “historic” bill that would force the federal government to acknowledge the drug’s medical value.

Leaving us with something to chew on, Booker added:

“…Every single day I would encounter good Americans who were being overly punished [for a] nonviolent drug offense, [which] was undermining their potential to contribute, to raise their kids, to have a decent life,” he said. “That’s just wrong. So every day that I’m here, that echoes in my conscience and drives me forward.”

Convicted Church Mentor Gets Life In Prison For Luring Teen Boys With Fake Web Profile

June 22nd, 2012 - By Alissa Henry
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"Antoine Johnson"


Lawrenceville, Georgia does not tolerate child molesters as 29-year-old Antoine Johnson found out this week.

The former intern and summer camp organizer at Hebron Baptist Church received a life sentence after being convicted of three counts of aggravated child molestation after he pretended to be a teenage girl and lured teen boys into having sex with him.

NewsOne reports:

Kristen is a 14-year-old girl.  She hangs out online and meets boys, promising to fulfill their sexual fantasies. Boys, of course, would line up for the chance to meet Kristen, and were willing to do anything to get with her.  But the catch was that in order to get the “goodies” from Kristen, you had to have sex with a grown man to prove your loyalty.

Not only were the expectations of Kristen frighteningly unrealistic, the even harsher reality is that Kristen didn’t even exist. Kristen was the online creation of Antoine Johnson.

Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Timothy Hamil called the scheme “absolutely diabolical” as he gave Johnson a life sentence in prison for molesting two boys, ages 13 and 14.  He was also sentenced for attempting to lure in a 15-year-old back in 2008.  Johnson did most of his dirty work on MySpace and would even get on the phone with the boys, telling them that “Kristen” would be next in line for good sex if they got with him first!

Johnson says that he created the online profile from a picture he took from a real girl.  He claims that he created the profile to help a friend’s younger brother overcome self-confidence issues.  One of the teens said that he went to meet Kristen one night and met Johnson instead.  At 2 a.m., the two had 0-ral sex in the driveway.

“At first I refused for a few weeks…but she kept asking me and asking me, and I gave in,” the boy said.

“I’ve been a prosecutor 13 years, and the defendant’s testimony was some of the most bizarre I’ve seen,” said  Assistant District Attorney Nigel Lush. “We got a look inside the mind of a true pedophile.”

When he wasn’t out hunting down young boys, Johnson spent his time as a mentor for boys at his church.  According to records, he mentored as many as 500 boys per week.

None of the children involved in this case were children Antoine met at church and he maintains that he didn’t touch any of the children he mentored.

The Gwinnette Daily Post says:

[Antoine] pleaded guilty to 11 counts of sexual exploitation of a child in connection with a cache of dozens of child Adult Videos films and hundreds of photographs found on his personal computer. He also copped to a count of enticing a child for indecent purposes and two counts of attempting to entice children. The judge tacked on 60 years of probation to restrict him from computer access or unsupervised contact with minors, should he ever be paroled. Prosecutors had offered Johnson a plea deal of 20 years in prison, but he balked at admitting in court to physically molesting the teens. On the stand, he admitted to lusting for young boys but blamed his impulses on a distant relative who molested him and exposed him to child pornography when he was 7 years old.

The newspaper also says there was no jury in the case. Antoine didn’t want the children to have to recount their story in front of a jury so he opted to have his case heard by the judge in a bench trial. After what the judge called “called three days of ‘gruesome’ testimony” he sentenced him to life behind bars.

I’m not minimizing his crime, what Antoine Johnson did is absolutely deplorable, but a life sentence seems excessive. Sometimes I wonder if the justice system in this country is much too quick to throw young black men away for the rest of their lives. True, Antoine is definitely a sicko who certainly doesn’t elicit any sympathy, but isn’t life in prison reserved for kidnappers and murderers?  The prosecutor recommended the harsh sentence saying “true pedophiles never get better” and in Antoine’s case, he won’t even have a chance to try.

Alissa is a freelance writer living in Columbus, OH. Follow her on Twitter @AlissaInPink

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Strauss-Kahn Rape Case Dismissed

August 24th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(AP) — Dominique Strauss-Kahn, his wife by his side, walked to a Manhattan courtroom through shouting protesters carrying signs that read: “Put the rapist on trial — not the victim.”  Just hours later, the French diplomat was a free man — his attempted rape case formally dismissed.  The former International Monetary Fund leader can leave the United States after he’s handed back his passport — which could happen as soon as Wednesday — but he will return to France to face an uncertain future that includes another investigation into an alleged sexual assault.  “I can’t wait to get back to my country, but there are some things I have to do first,” he said in French outside the posh Tribeca town home where he was kept under house arrest.

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Old Crack Sentences Shortened by New Drug Law

July 1st, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Los Angeles Times) — About 12,000 federal prisoners nationwide may soon be going home, some as much as three years early, under a U.S. Sentencing Commission decision to allow retroactive reductions in prison terms for inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses.  The commission voted unanimously Thursday to bring “unfairly long sentences” for crack offenders, mostly African Americans, more in line with the shorter terms given to powder cocaine offenders, often white and sometimes affluent.  Patti B. Saris, the panel’s chairwoman, said that when Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act last year, it “recognized the fundamental unfairness of federal cocaine sentencing policy,” and the commission sought to bridge the disparity between the two prison sentences.

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Supreme Court to California: Cut the Convicts

May 24th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Christian Science Monitor) — A sharply divided US Supreme Court ordered California Monday to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates, nearly a quarter of those incarcerated, saying the overcrowding in the state’s prisons violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.  The 5-to-4 ruling in the case, Brown v. Plata, upheld a ruling from a three-judge panel in California that called for the state to release between 38,000 and 46,000 inmates to attain a population of 110,000, still more than 137 percent of the system’s capacity. Since that panel’s 2009 ruling, California has transferred 9,000 prisoners to county jails. Deficiencies in California’s prison system have led to “needless suffering and death,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority. “After years of litigation, it became apparent that a remedy for the constitutional violations would not be effective absent a reduction in the prison system population.” Accompanying Justice Kennedy’s opinion was an appendix showing three pictures of the overcrowded facilities.  Critics of California’s prison system contend the cells are so overrun with inmates that proper care has been decimated. Kennedy cited examples of prisoners with physical or mental health needs having to wait months for inadequate care. One was an inmate who was held for nearly 24 hours in a cage and standing in a pool of his own urine. Others died while seeking medical attention that was seemingly delayed because of the backlog of cases.

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D.C. Medical Examiner's Office Loses Accreditation

May 19th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Washington Examiner) — The D.C. medical examiner’s office has lost its national accreditation because the agency’s chief lacks board certification, weakening the prosecution of criminal cases in court and potentially keeping the agency from moving into the city’s $220 million forensics lab set to open next year, city officials said.  The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is tasked with conducting autopsies in homicide cases. It also does the urine analysis for suspected drunk drivers in the District ?– the only means available for testing blood-alcohol levels as the city works to revive its alcohol breath-test program, which was shut down in February 2010 because the police department poorly calibrated the equipment.  Now that the long-troubled agency has lost its accreditation, defense attorneys can more easily attack in court the evidence that comes out of the office.

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Graham: Outsourcing Youth Rehab is Expensive and Cuts Family Ties

May 2nd, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(DC Centric) — Two D.C.teens recently escaped from centers in Maryland and South Carolina aimed at rehabilitating them.  D.C. spends approximately $67,000 a day to house 225 wards in so-called residential treatment centers, or RTCs, across several states, according to a recent Examiner article. Councilman Jim Graham, chairman of the city committee that oversees the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, slammed the RTC system recently, saying it’s not cost-effective or productive “Sending kids to Utah and Arizona and Tennessee and South Carolina raises our costs and cuts those ties. It is totally unacceptable, for example, that we do not have a juvenile substance abuse treatment program right here in DC. I hope to be able to change that shortly,” he said in an email.

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Lawyers Mine Social Media in Vetting Jurors

April 27th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Businessweek) — When jurors were chosen for the perjury trial of baseball star Barry Bonds last month, they were barred from using social media as they considered the case. Such a ban doesn’t extend to lawyers, who increasingly mine Facebook profiles of jurors to unearth biases that might hurt or help their side.  Facebook, Twitter, and other services have become a major resource for both prosecutors and defense attorneys, letting them glean more insight than they can get from jury questionnaires, says Joseph Rice, chief executive of Jury Research Institute, an Alamo (Calif.)-based trial consultant. “Social media has given us an incredible tool because it’s something jurors voluntarily engage in, and they post information about their activities or affiliations or hobbies,” Rice says. That reveals “their life experience or attitude that may have an impact on how they view the facts of the case.”

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Supreme Court Asks If Cops Can Track Suspects Without Warrant

April 25th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(Washington Post) — It’s a wide, wired world out there, more so every day, and the Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to let law enforcement take advantage of it to build cases against the bad guys.  The administration wants the justices to overturn a decision last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that said police must get a warrant before launching a long-term surveillance of a suspect using a global positioning device attached to the man’s car.  In overturning the conviction of a D.C. nightclub owner accused of being a prominent cocaine kingpin, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said the appeals court decision was not faithful to a Supreme Court ruling that people have no expectation of privacy when traveling along public streets.  “Prompt resolution of this conflict is critically important to law enforcement efforts throughout the United States,” Katyal told the court in a petition asking them to take the case of United States v. Antoine Jones .

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Prison Pipeline Comes at High Price

April 8th, 2011 - By TheEditor
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(The Root) –Reforming the nation’s criminal-justice system is one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time. One shocking fact illustrates why: More African-American men are entangled in the criminal-justice system today than were enslaved in 1850.  How did we get here? The rise in America’s penchant for punishment can be traced as far back as the 1964 presidential campaigns of Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, each of whom made law and order a defining plank of his platform.

President Richard Nixon continued the trend, framing Democrats as “soft on crime” and pushing for tough law-enforcement policies in opposition to President Johnson’s credo of tackling crime through a “war on poverty.” “Doubling the conviction rate in this country would do more to cure crime in America than quadrupling the funds for [Hubert] Humphrey’s war on poverty,” Nixon told voters.  Since then, Republicans have pushed — and Democrats have embraced — a so-called tough-on-crime approach to keeping us safe, one that emphasizes harsh measures after crimes have already occurred and that disproportionately punishes poor and minority communities rather than addressing the root causes of crime and preventing it in the first place.

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