Don’t Offend the Court with What You Wear

Murder Defendant Wears “Crime Pays” Tee Shirt to Hearing

A 22-year-old Philadelphia man charged with murder showed up for his preliminary hearing in September sporting a tee shirt with the words “Crime Pays” in bold letters across the front. Jeremiah Jakson appeared in court charged with the death of an art student who lived in the same boarding house. Police contend that he killed the woman during a robbery that netted him her laptop, camcorder and ATM card. He also stole her vehicle, but sustained burns to his upper body when trying to set it afire.

Jakson sartorial selection did not find favor with the court, however. Municipal Court judge Teresa Carr Deni, who was presiding over the hearing, immediately commented to Jakson that he had made “a very interesting choice of shirt.” She asked him how he came to be wearing the shirt, and he claimed that he had arrived at the jail with only the clothes on his back, and that he had been given the shirt by someone at the jail. When asked by the judge if it had occurred to him that the shirt might be offensive, and that it might be in his best interests to turn it inside out, he responded that he had not considered those possibilities. Deni then instructed Jakson’s attorney to go to the jail and confirm Jakson’s story, calling his choice of clothing “unacceptable.”

Jakson’s choice of clothing is not the only example of a criminal defendant choosing to send the wrong message to the court. In a high-profile case in New Jersey, defendant Kisha Curtis, charged with animal cruelty, wore a tee-shirt at her first appearance that said “Keepin’ it real like a Happy Meal.”

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Parents Face Loss of Home because of Son’s Misdeed

Critics Point to Attempted Forfeiture as Sign of System’s Failure

Attorneys filed a class action lawsuit in September, 2014, naming the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office as a defendant. The law claims that the DA’s office has abused the civil forfeiture program and is essentially using it as a profit center. The District Attorney’s Office says that the press has singled out a specific situation in an upscale neighborhood and wrongfully implied that it represents the program as a whole.

Christos Sourovelis, the lead plaintiff in the action filed in September, is a homeowner in Somerton. Last March, his son, Yianni, was arrested at their home for allegedly selling heroin. Police acknowledge that they have no evidence that Yianni was selling drugs at or out of the home. Nonetheless, in May, police showed up with an eviction notice, advising Sourovelis and his family that they were seizing the family’s $350,000 home under the city’s civil forfeiture program. Sourovelis was able to return to his home a week later after signing an agreement that his son would not live in the house.

The civil forfeiture laws evolved out of the “war on drugs,” with federal legislators giving U.S. attorneys the legal authority to seize assets ostensibly obtained with drug profits. The intent was to take away the profit motive. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have enacted similar laws, often extending beyond the reach of the federal laws.

Civil rights advocates contend that the Philadelphia D.A.’s office has consistently violated federal law by seizing homes without any notice or opportunity for a hearing. According to a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1993, unless there are “exigent circumstances”, i.e,. a situation where immediate action is necessary, the government is required to provide “notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before seizing real property subject to civil forfeiture.”

Critics of the civil forfeiture program, particularly in Philadelphia, allege that more than half of the civil forfeitures in Pennsylvania run through that office. They also contend that the Philadelphia D.A.’s office funds approximately 20% of its annual budget through the proceeds of forfeiture sales.

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At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To arrange a private meeting with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact us online or call our office at 717-233-5292. Let us help you avoid deportation. Se habla Espãnol.

Former Heads of Forfeiture Office Call for Program’s Termination

Former Forfeiture Chiefs Say System Has Become Corrupt

John Yoder and Brad Cates, both of whom have served as director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Office, have called for the program to be disbanded, contending that it is rife with corruption and improper practices. The program has come under intense scrutiny recently as critics have cited numerous examples of abuse.

In an article written for the Washington Post, Yoder and Cates said that the program, begun with the best of intentions, no longer serves the purpose for which it was created, and is no longer conducted as intended. Accordingly, they say, it should be abolished. Yoder service as director of the office from 1983 until 1985, and was succeeded by Cates, who served until 1989.

As perceived by Yoder and Cates, the civil forfeiture program was devised to remove the profit motive from drug operations. When it was created, there was considerable drug trafficking by cartels and organized crime. The original intent was to allow the government to seize cash obtained with drug profits, thereby neutralizing the monetary incentive to get into the drug business.

In 1986, however, the scope of what could be seized was broadened to include any purchases ostensibly made with drug money. Again, the intent was laudable, designed to prevent cash from being “laundered” through seemingly legitimate purchases or investments. Because of the success of the program, the types of crimes covered by the civil forfeiture program were expanded as well, with more than 200 criminal violations ultimately rendering assets subject to forfeiture.

Problems first started, according to Yoder and Cates, when states started enacting their own civil forfeiture laws, which typically involve less oversight than the federal laws. Then, as departments began to see how profitable the operation could be, many began using the proceeds to provide basic funding for their operations.

As with anything, government officials began to determine the best ways to maximize the amount obtained. Yoder and Cates say that forfeiture decisions would be made based on whether or not assets were owned free and clear, or had debt attached to them. (When the government seizes assets that have been pledged as collateral, they must pay off lienholders before taking any profit). So a district attorney may choose to attempt civil forfeiture on a house with no mortgage, but not on a car that still has debt attached to it.

Claiming that the forfeiture laws as they exist “turn our traditional concept of guilt upside down,” Yoder and Cates say it’s time that they be thrown out, and that other approaches be used.

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Florida Prison Guards Terminated after Spate of Inmate Deaths

32 Fired after Investigation Reveals Wrongful Behavior

In the aftermath of a call by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder’s office for an investigation into practices in Florida prisons, the state’s Department of Corrections has terminated 32 guards. Department Secretary Michael Crews said that all of those who were dismissed had been found to have engaged in either criminal acts or violations of prison policies and procedures. The investigation focused on the deaths of inmates at four prisons in Florida.

The incident that brought the problems to the state and national spotlight involved the death of a mentally ill inmate, Darren Rainey, in the Dade Correctional Institution in Miami. Rainey was serving a two year sentence for possession of cocaine. The investigation indicated that Rainey was accused by prison guards of defecating in his cell without cleaning it up.

To punish him for this alleged misdeed, Rainey was made to stand in a shower stall where he was sprayed with steam and near-boiling hot water. Witnesses claim they could hear Rainey screaming, promising over and over not to do it again. They also say guards taunted Rainey, asking him if the water was hot enough. Rainey was left to stand in the shower for over an hour. Guards returned to find him dead. When they went to move him, they found that his skin was coming loose, a condition medical experts call “slippage,” the result of his skin being “cooked.”

Investigators also found ample evidence that guards and officials at the Dade Correctional facility tried to cover up the incident. Corrections officers dragged his body to the infirmary, but never took any photographs, collected video footage or took any statements from guards or officers the night of his death. Furthermore, they did not save the 911 recording. They then alleged that Rainey had suffered a heart attack. They also claimed that the camera outside the shower malfunctioned right after Rainey was placed inside.

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Police Look for Better Ways to Respond to Mentally Ill Suspects

Training Program Set Up for Officers to Deal With Mentally Ill

As more and more high-profile confrontations between police and citizens tighten the focus on the ways that law enforcement officers respond to potentially dangerous situations, police departments are looking for ways to improve the skills of their personnel. One of the areas of significant concern involves how police officers deal with potential suspects who may have some degree of mental illness.

Law enforcement officers nationwide agree that the incidences of officers responding to a situation involving a mentally unstable suspect have increased dramatically over the last 30 years. In the 1980s, when state and federal funding to mental illness was substantially cut back, many mental health institutions were forced to close. As a result, many persons who would have been institutionalized were put on the streets. Unfortunately, this is still what happens to all but those with the most advanced degrees of mental illness.

More and more, police find themselves confronted with a potential suspect who has difficulty functioning in civilized society. For most officers, training in mental health issues and response to mentally ill suspects is either completely lacking or minimal. Now some departments are trying to change that.

In a program called Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT, law enforcement officers spend a week learning both how to recognize different types and degrees of mental illness, and strategies for calming individuals who may feel threatened or inclined to violence. The program arose in the aftermath of the death of a Memphis, Tennessee, man in the late 1980s. It focuses on compassion and attention, teaching an officer to convey an understanding, but also to identify ways out of a situation, should it escalate quickly.

The curriculum for the training was developed in conjunction with providers of mental health services. It is now used regularly at more than 3,000 precincts nationwide.

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At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To arrange a private meeting with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact us online or call our office at 717-233-5292. Let us help you avoid deportation. Se habla Espãnol.

Unconscious Racial Bias Still Prevalent, But Researchers Look for Ways to Combat

Scholarly Research Looks at Ways to Reduce or Minimize Unconscious Racial Bias

African American drivingExperts say that even the most “enlightened” people, individuals who regularly work and interact with persons of different color, still have some feelings of racial bias or discrimination. Studies show that for essentially all of us, there are ways that we subconsciously treat others differently based on racial traits or characteristics, or that minimize our contact with people we perceive to be different from us. Sometimes we are consciously aware of these feelings, but often we don’t even realize we are acting out our racial biases. In many instances, there are no life or death consequence, but as the shootings of unarmed black teenagers by white police officers in the last couple of years indicates, there can be potentially lethal implications.

Researchers are now looking at ways to determine and change potential subconscious racial biases. As early as 2001, scholars at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Washington found that they could temporarily change potential prejudices by showing subjects contrasting photos—persons of color who are generally revered, such as Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King, and Caucasians who have been associated with horrendous acts, from Ted Bundy to Adolf Hitler.

That study was a breakthrough, according to Calvin Lai, a doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia. Before that, the general consensus among scholars was that racial stereotypes or biases were unchangeable. Lai has been conducting research into a variety of ways that such racial prejudices can be reduced or overcome. He solicited proposals during his research, asking his colleagues to come up with any potential way to address the problem of racial stereotypes. Lai received 16 proposals and conducted an analysis of all of them. They covered a broad spectrum, from using visual and verbal cues to instill empathy to focusing on social wrongs perpetrated by white people. The most effective strategy, according to Lai, involves pairing a picture of a respected person of color with a picture of a heinous white person.

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At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To arrange a private meeting with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact us online or call our office at 717-233-5292. Let us help you avoid deportation. Se habla Espãnol.

Mass Killings Increase Dramatically in Last Seven Years

Study Shows Mass Shooting Have Tripled

Troubled teenagerAccording to a report issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in September, the number of incidents of multiple homicides in a firearms attack has tripled in recent years. The FBI looked at data related to shootings between 2000 and 2013, examining 160 cases. Officials cite two principal reasons for the increase—the accessibility of firearms and the notoriety of those committing the acts, leading to copycat killings.

Of the 160 mass shootings the FBI looked into, barely one quarter occurred between 2000 and 2006, with the rest taking place between 2007 and 2013. Officials found an average of six mass shootings during the first seven years of the study and nearly 17 per year in the last seven years. Seven out of ten incidents occurred in the workplace or at a school, and 60% were over before any law enforcement officers arrived. Almost half of the shootings resulted in the death of at least three people. FBI investigators did not look at any shootings involving gang or drug violence, however.

Investigators painted two primary profiles for perpetrators of mass killings—people who had “deeply held personal grievances” and those who sought to replicate the notoriety of others who committed mass killings. An expert at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virginia, said that the widespread media coverage of mass killings can inspire others to engage in mass violence. He also contends that many potential killers can be recognized before they become violent, by counselors, ministers, teachers and police. Most FBI offices receive weekly calls from people with concerns about a potential gunman.

Overwhelmingly, the shooters tend to act alone—only two of the 160 shootings involved multiple assailants. Far and away, shooters are male, with only six females committing mass shootings.

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At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To arrange a private meeting with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact us online or call our office at 717-233-5292. Let us help you avoid deportation. Se habla Espãnol.

Lawsuit Alleges Georgia Police Officers Have Unconstitutional Quota System for Tickets

Former DeKalb County Police Officer Acknowledges “Unwritten” Program

Police traffic stopThanks to the DeKalb County DUI Lawyers and to videotape of a police officer allegedly planting marijuana on a suspect, the spotlight has been turned on the DeKalb County (Georgia) Police Department, with accusations that the department put a quota system in place that encouraged unconstitutional arrests. A former DeKalb County police officer, interviewed by a local television news program, admitted that such a program, while unwritten, was “effectively communicated and enforced.” He said that officers were ranked according to the number of arrests they make, and that those who come up at the bottom are given less desirable work assignments.

The police officer accused of planting the drugs during a 2012 arrest was indicted in February, 2014. He turned himself in and was put on restrictive duty. Prosecutors say he faces up to five years in prison, if convicted. The officer, during the course of an internal investigation, admitted that the department had an arrest quota.

DeKalb County, however, is not the only Georgia municipality to have arrest or ticket quotas in place, according to former police officers. Allegations that Atlanta law enforcement officers have maintained quotas for years have been corroborated in court. Former Atlanta police officers charged with conducting illegal public strip searches—forcing suspects to pull their pants down in public—have responded that they had to do so to meet their daily arrest quotas. The officers indicated that they had to make at least five arrests every day—one for each person in their unit.

In addition, in 2010, an e-mail from a Roswell, Georgia, police department supervisor advised officers that of a mandatory annual DUI arrest quota for its officers, telling them their performance evaluations would be based in part on meeting the quota.

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At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To arrange a private meeting with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact us online or call our office at 717-233-5292. Let us help you avoid deportation. Se habla Espãnol.

21st Century Crime Dog Sniffs Out Hard Drives

Police Officer Trains Dog to Detect Digital Storage Devices

Police dogAs more and more documents and evidence have gone digital, police have experienced advantages and disadvantages. If external hard drives and other digital storage devices can be found, police have a wealth of information available. Finding those devices, though, can be the problem. A police department in Connecticut now has a new, old-fashioned weapon in its fight on crime—a police dog trained to locate digital storage media.

Jack Hubball, the officer in Connecticut, has a long history of using man’s best friend in the aid of law enforcement. He trained dogs in the 1980s to sniff out accelerants to help nail arson suspects. He has also worked with dogs who can locate illegal drugs or bombs. Now, he’s successfully worked with trainers to teach a dog to locate digital storage media, including flash drives, portable USB drives and external hard drives.

Hubball says that these devices can contain critical evidence in a wide variety of criminal investigations. Purveyors of child pornography often store images on external devices. Perpetrators of certain types of fraud may keep a second set of records on a digital device. Hubball took a wide variety of digital storage devices and looked for a common chemical element. Once he isolated a single chemical, he turned things over to Mike Real and Mark Linhard, professional dog trainers, who worked with Selma, a black Labrador and Thoreau, a golden Labrador. The dogs quickly learned to detect the substance, but the trainers took their time, teaching them to detect the chemical through clothes, metal boxes, concrete block, and even food and coffee smells.

Since being put “on active duty,” the dogs have had a number of successes, including the location of a memory card inside a sewing machine.

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At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To arrange a private meeting with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact us online or call our office at 717-233-5292. Let us help you avoid deportation. Se habla Espãnol.

Macy’s Liable for Death of Employee

Company Pays $950,000 Fine after Employee Decapitation

The retail giant Macy’s has agreed to pay a fine of $950,000 after an employee in the company’s Los Angeles distribution center was decapitated in a cardboard baler/compactor. The company also pleaded no contest to a criminal misdemeanor charge, according to the Los Angeles County DA’s office.

According to witnesses, 65-year-old Roy Polanco was operating the baling and compacting machine when he fell into the compactor, which had been modified to run without interruption. The machine had sensors designed to shut off the machine in such a circumstance, but the sensors were not working. According to prosecutors, the company removed a metal shield from the compactor, intentionally blocked the sensors, and erected a ladder so that workers could get into the machine. The company was charged with two felony counts of willfully violating safety standards. The district attorney sought a $1.5 million fine, but Macy’s negotiated a settlement.

As a part of the settlement, Macy’s has agreed to inspect all similar machines in its California stores and distribution centers. It must then obtain approval of all balers/compactors from the district attorney’s office.

The plea agreement, however, allows Macy’s to pay the fine and then come to court and have the conviction expunged. Furthermore, the district attorney’s office agrees not to “oppose the termination of probation or the expungement.” When asked why he agreed to such a deal, even though he originally brought felony charges against Macy’s (and a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to take the case to trial), prosecutor Daniel Wright said that the decision was not his, but was made by his supervisors in the LA County District Attorney’s Office. He declined any further comment.

An investigation, though, disclosed that Macy’s was represented in the case by Bill Seki, co-director of the Southwestern Law School’s Trial Advocacy Honors Program. The other co-director, Joseph Esposito, is currently an Assistant District Attorney, the number three prosecutor in Los Angeles County.

Contact Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP

At Laguna Reyes Maloney, LLP, we provide a free initial consultation to every client. To arrange a private meeting with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact us online or call our office at 717-233-5292. Let us help you avoid deportation. Se habla Espãnol.

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