All Articles Tagged "legal system"
(New York Times) — After decades of new laws to toughen sentencing for criminals, prosecutors have gained greater leverage to extract guilty pleas from defendants and reduce the number of cases that go to trial, often by using the threat of more serious charges with mandatory sentences or other harsher penalties. Some experts say the process has become coercive in many state and federal jurisdictions, forcing defendants to weigh their options based on the relative risks of facing a judge and jury rather than simple matters of guilt or innocence. In effect, prosecutors are giving defendants more reasons to avoid having their day in court. “We now have an incredible concentration of power in the hands of prosecutors,” said Richard E. Myers II, a former assistant United States attorney who is now an associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina. He said that so much influence now resides with prosecutors that “in the wrong hands, the criminal justice system can be held hostage.”
New York University, the largest private university in the United States, has agreed to pay an African employee a $210,000 settlement in a racial and national origin harassment suit. Osei Agyemang, who is from Ghana, filed a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010 that described him being verbally abused by a former mail room supervisor of NYU’s Bobst Library. Agyemang worked there under these hostile conditions between July 2007 and January 2009, during which time he was repeatedly called a ‘gorilla’ among other insults. Agyemang attempted to find relief from these abuses through proper NYU channels, but nothing was done to help him until his request for a transfer was granted. The New York Daily News reports:
An African immigrant received a $210,000 payout from NYU after his abusive mailroom supervisor repeatedly ridiculed him as a “monkey” and a “gorilla.”
“Do you want a banana?” his boss asked NYU employee Osei Agyemang in one of many racist remarks reportedly made to the native of Ghana from July 2007 through January 2009.
The boss mocked the immigrant’s accent as “gibberish,” while telling him “go back to your cage” and “go back to the jungle,” according to a September 2010 suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The settlement between the Manhattan university and the one-time worker at the Bobst Library was made public yesterday.
“This suit shows that ugly harassment and retaliation can happen anywhere, even at a prestigious university,” said EEOC attorney Gilliam Thomas, who represented Agyemang.
The EEOC release regarding the settlement further explains that the $210,000 sum granted represents “lost wages and compensation for the emotional distress” suffered by Agyemang. NYU will also be required to update its policies and procedures for dealing with racial and nation of origin harassment in a process that will be monitored by the EEOC.
Still, NYU calls the situation Agyemang suffered through unusual for the university. Spokesman John Beckman stressed to the press that the harassing employee is no longer with the school, adding: “Such behavior is extremely rare here, and totally at odds with the spirit of diversity and tolerance for which NYU is rightly known.”
(Bloomberg) — Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who may learn today that some or all of the criminal charges against him have been dropped, still could face liability in civil court. The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has invited Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault and attempted rape, to a meeting to preview tomorrow’s status hearing in the case, according to her lawyers. One of those lawyers,Kenneth Thompson, told the New York Times that he sees the invitation as part of a Vance plan to drop some or all of the charges. Thompson didn’t return a call or e-mail from Bloomberg News for comment on that remark. Diallo sued Strauss-Kahn this month in New York state court in the Bronx, alleging “violent and deplorable acts” occurred May 14 in his suite in the Sofitel, a midtown Manhattan hotel. She seeks unspecified monetary damages. Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.
Last week I was off from work, chillin’ at a friend’s house, watching Maury Povich, because what else can you watch in the daytime? And of course, he was having one of his infamous “You are/are not the father” paternity test shows. You know how it goes: after a sentimental introduction complete with baby pictures, some choice words between the baby’s mother, the possible dad and said dad’s new wife (who also is the lady in question’s ex-best friend and cousin), Maury, in true ringmaster form, rips open the manila envelope, pulls out a sheet of paper and says, “In the case of seven month old Burkina Faso Thomas, Bugsy, you are NOT the father.” Then comes the part when the surprised mother, who was certain of paternity prior to the test, bursts into tears and runs backstage to a waiting leather couch, while the newly-pardoned “dad” hi-fives audience members and does the Cat Daddy across the stage.
The paternity test shows are nothing short of pure, unadulterated, trash television. With that said, it is probably the most entertaining mess of humanity ever aired on television. Although, sometimes I do wonder what if Maury and the DNA Diagnostic Center, the official lab for the show, get it wrong. If we do the math, there are at least four paternity tests per show, five times a week, for months at a time. What if the samples are accidentally switched and Bugsy really IS the dad? Things that make you go, hmmm….
As conclusive as DNA tests can be, they are not full-proof. Which makes a recent decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia, a bit puzzling. In a split decision the court ruled that a federal statute authorizing the warrantless collection of DNA samples from every person entering the federal criminal justice system was reasonable and not in violation of the Fourth Amendment. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been collecting DNA samples and organizing them into a national database called the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, ever since the DNA Identification Act of 1994 was passed. The purpose of this national database is to allow state and local forensic laboratories to exchange DNA profiles and compare DNA found at crime scenes with DNA samples of convicted offenders on file in the CODIS system. Sounds like a good thing, right?
But, the six dissenting appeal judges said forcing arrested suspects to surrender a DNA sample to the government is a “severe” intrusion of privacy. In my mind the privacy issue, while important, takes a backseat to the accuracy issue of such a large-scale database. Many things can corrupt DNA, and as such, criminal investigations should be under closer scrutiny for their reliance on the sole use of this tool. That’s why it should come as little surprise that former supporters of DNA to verify the guilt or innocence of convicts are now campaigning against large-scale expansion of the practice.
State and local agencies, which are required to take these samples even for minor crimes, have reported a substantial backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples. This mad rush to build databases has in some cases impeded the ability of investigators to not only process evidence, but pursue investigations. As a result complaints have risen about mistakes at DNA labs around the country. In 2005 an independent audit discovered that Virginia’s nationally recognized central crime laboratory had botched DNA tests in a leading capital murder case. In 2006 a man, who had been convicted of raping and murdering an eighth grader based solely on DNA evidence, was freed after it had been determined that the sample had been contaminated. Recently the Las Vegas Police Department did an 11-minute YouTube video discussing the processing error in which DNA samples had been accidentally switched. That error resulted in the wrongful conviction of Dwayne Jackson for robbery and kidnapping. Jackson, who served a little over 3 years for the crime, recently received $1.5 million dollars in a settlement.
And if that isn’t convincing enough, consider this: In 1973 a 22 year-old nurse named Diana Sylvester was brutally sexually assaulted and murdered in her apartment. Although the police had a suspect in mind, the lack of corroborating physical evidence stalled the case. That was until 2003 when San Francisco police decided to reopen the case and test a slide with sperm, which had been swabbed from Sylvester’s mouth after her death. After running the profile through California’s DNA database a match was found in 70-year-old John Puckett. Although Puckett had a history of sexual violence there was no other physical evidence linking him to the crime. But Puckett was arrested, tried, and eventually convicted based mostly on the DNA match, which was portrayed as proof positive of his guilt.
But, as Jason Felch and Maura Dolan of the Los Angeles Times discovered, there is reason to believe that Puckett, might have been innocent of the crime, despite the DNA evidence. According to the journalists, when suspects are found by combing through large databases, also known as cold hits, the odds of false matches are exponentially higher. In Puckett’s case the actual chance of a false match is a staggering one in three. Even despite the new questions, Puckett remains in prison while his case awaits appeal.
It’s hard to imagine that a mistake made by science, could deprive you of your freedom. However, it is not necessarily the science that’s flawed, but the implementation. And if we were talking about collecting DNA at the crime scene, establishing a likely suspect, and then testing their DNA for a match, then the chances of false positives are next to zero. However, what we’re doing is generating suspects by querying a DNA database, which more than likely includes a wider cross-section of the public. And with so many DNA samples being added to the database daily, the odds of innocent people being charged for crimes they did not commit grows too. Given these facts, it’s not inconceivable that one day one of us could end up in Puckett’s situation. And it may be worse than being falsely accused of being the father of Lil’ Burkina Faso.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(New York Times) — In Brooklyn, a night in jail often lasts longer than one night. Sometimes it can drag out over two or even three nights. Last month, the city’s criminal courts reduced their weekend hours, shortening shifts in response to state budget cuts. Court officials promised to monitor the dockets “hour by hour and day by day” to ensure that prisoners were arraigned promptly. But the result has been what defense lawyers feared: People arrested may wait for days before appearing in front of a judge, particularly in Brooklyn Criminal Court, which handles the highest volume of arraignments. State law requires that the authorities bring defendants before a judge “without unnecessary delay,” which the state’s highest court has interpreted to mean 24 hours under normal conditions.
(New York Times) — There is perhaps no more fitting finale to a long legal career than a judgeship. Ascending the bench after years appearing before it can bring power, respect, personal satisfaction, reasonable hours and, often, free parking. There have traditionally been few steps beyond: Retirement. Or death. But across the country — and in New York, more than most places — being a judge has in recent years come with one big negative: the salary. New York judges have not had a raise in 12 years, making the state one of the more extreme examples of a growing pay gap nationally between judges and other professionals, including partners at top law firms, who can earn 10 times the salary of the judge before whom they are arguing a case. Now, for the first time in memory, judges are leaving the bench in relatively large numbers — not to retire, but to return to being practicing lawyers. Turnover in New York has increased rapidly in the last few years: nearly 1 in 10 judges are now leaving annually, a new study shows.
The sexual assault case surrounding former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been one disturbing twist after another. The past few months have been filled with rushed judgment and salacious rumors as Strauss-Kahn, once a strong favorite for a French presidential bid, was charged and held for the attempted rape of a Guinean chambermaid at a prestigious Manhattan hotel.
The most recent of these revelations was the prosecutor’s disclosure of “major holes in the credibility” of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. The district attorney’s office said that while the woman maintains she was assaulted, and DNA tests have confirmed ‘’unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter’’, the case has been jeopardized by her false claims during the investigation. The defense has already filed to have the charges dropped and now Strauss-Kahn is free on bond during the long holiday weekend.
Among the discoveries are the false claims involving the asylum of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who on her application mentioned a gang rape in her native Guinea. Investigators have determined that her account is different from what is contained in the asylum application. Also, it is alleged that the woman may have links to people involved in criminal activities, and that she had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible “benefits” of pursuing chargers. The accuser also admitted to investigators that she had lied about her income to qualify for subsidized housing, and had claimed a friend’s child as a dependent on tax returns to increase her refund.
There are also discrepancies as to what she did after the alleged attack. She initially said that after she had been attacked she waited in a hallway until Mr. Strauss-Kahn left the room, however she now admits that after the alleged attack, she cleaned a nearby room, then returned to Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s suite to clean there. Only after that did she report to her supervisor that she had been attacked.
This case has raised a number of questions for me from the beginning. As such, I chose to reserve judgment until more facts were revealed. And now, even after more information has been revealed, I still don’t know what to believe. What is clear though is that when it comes to rape, either you are a model victim or by the court of public opinion, you are not a victim at all.
It should be noted that prosecutors are maintaining that they still believed there is evidence to support the notion that Mr. Strauss-Kahn had forced the woman to perform sexual acts for him. However, it is those inconsistencies in her past, which will be a tough sell to jurors, even though Strauss-Kahn has also admitted to initially lying to investigators about having sexual relations with the chambermaid. Yet this hasn’t stopped the media from absolving him, especially since it was the same media that rushed to conviction in the court of public opinion. And now the same media outlets are trying to paint the accuser as a prostitute based on the opinion of “anonymous” sources.
Assuming that Strauss-Kahn did in fact rape the woman, it sucks that you basically have to live the life of Mother Teresa in order to be viewed as a victim. Yes, the alleged victim appears to have general credibility problems, but are those lies – lying on your taxes, fudging income eligibilities for low-income housing and falsifying a visa application to better your chance at the American Dream — any bigger than what many of us could conceivably accused of? More importantly, what does any of that have to do with the fact that she had the accused’s DNA on her and apparent bruising consistent with a non-consensual attack?
When it comes to the issue of sexual assault, people tend to respond to rape victims by a movie-esque portrait of what a rape victim should be. Unless she is bawling her eyes out and running and screaming, clothes half-torn from the scene of a crime, a la Jodie Foster in The Accused, than she failed to live up to the expectations of how a rape victim is supposed to react. However, as famed anti-violence advocate Roger Caniff wrote, “We don’t get our victims from Central Casting. We get them from life. Gritty, unrehearsed, unvarnished life.”
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(Orlando Sentinel) — Law schools in Florida have struggled for years to draw more minorities into legal fields long dominated by white men. Yet despite recruitment drives and other efforts to boost their enrollment, the numbers at some colleges have remained stagnant or have fallen off. That troubles scholars and college administrators as Florida becomes more and more diverse. Soaring tuition, tougher admission requirements and other factors have discouraged many minorities from seeking law degrees. At the University of Florida, black enrollment at the state’s largest public law school dropped 10 percent from fall 2006 to fall 2010, the national Law School Admission Council reported last week. The overall number of full-time minority students studying law dipped as well. Meanwhile, Hispanic enrollment fell by more than one-third at Florida A&M University’s law school in Orlando from 2008 to 2010. And even though black student enrollment remained about the same at Florida A&M, which has served mostly black students for decades, a smaller percentage of the law school’s student body is now black.
(Atlanta Business Chronicle) — The Atlanta City Council Monday sustained Mayor Kasim Reed’s veto of a proposal to reduce the number of municipal judges from 10 to eight. Council members voted 7-7 on the veto, which Reed issued after the council passed the ordinance two weeks ago. Overriding mayoral vetoes requires 10 votes, two-thirds of the 15-member council.
(New York Times) — On a cool September evening in 1981, a 44-year-old woman was getting into her car on the roof level of a Rush Street parking garage when a man pushed her into the front seat, then beat and raped her as she struggled in vain to get a good look at him. The man stuffed the bleeding woman into the trunk and tried to drive away, but he was stopped by an alert cashier who recognized the car but not the driver. When she heard the woman screaming and pounding from the trunk, the man jumped out of the car and ran. A few days later, the cashier picked Jerry Miller out of a police lineup. Mr. Miller, who had never been arrested before, had been stopped by an officer in the area several days earlier while seeking a job at a doughnut shop. The officer thought he resembled the composite sketch of the rapist. Mr. Miller was convicted of rape, robbery and aggravated kidnapping and spent 25 years in prison. Robert Weeks, the man later linked to the rape by DNA evidence, went on to rape or assault four more women, injure police officers in three other attacks and commit other robberies and beatings over 23 years.