Wednesday, December 28, 2011

World Peace Day Observance January 7

A celebration of World Peace Day will take place on Saturday, January 7, at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Fruitville Road in Sarasota. The event is sponsored by the South West Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice and will last from 9:30 am to 1:30pm, beginning with a complimentary continental breakfast.

The program will feature a presentation on Latino issues led by Kelly Kirschner, of Unidos Now and Louise Brumberg of Englewood, founder of Escuela Suenos De Luisa in Nicaragua. The annual Duisberg Peace Award will be presented to Rob Lorei, Director of Public Affairs at WMNF-88.5 FM and host of "Florida, This Week" on WEDU-TV. Lorei will moderate a panel of former peace award winners from this area, including Adam Tebrugge, Samar Jarrah, Andrea Blanch, and Mindy Simmons who will also present musical selections. A special appearance will be made by Faith Fippinger, human shield and first Peace Award winner, who returns to Sarasota for a family visit from three years overseas.

In addition to the formal program, over fifteen vendors will offer snacks and displays. Organizations participating are Veterans for Common Sense, WSLR, the Peace Education and Action Center, Transition Sarasota, Beyond War, Englewood Peace Initiative Coalition, Coalition for Concerned Patriots, Center for Religious Tolerance, Pax Christi- Manasota, and Peace and Justice Committees from St. Boniface, Sarasota Quakers, First Congregational Church, UCC, and Unitarian Universalists from Venice, Charlotte, and Manatee.

This event is open to the public free of change but donations are welcome for the school in Nicaragua. For further information, contact 941-721-3486.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Will Conservatives Help Advance Criminal Justice Reform in Florida?

Little progress has been made on criminal justice reform over the past decade. Laws grow more harsh, more crimes are created, greater numbers of people are sent to prison for longer sentences. Our only hope is that our legislature's failures have now caught up with them. The best place to save money in our budget is with meaningful criminal justice reform. Now some traditionally conservative groups are starting to understand.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

False Confessions May Lead to More Errors in Evidence, a Study Shows

A man with a low IQ confesses to a gruesome crime. Confession in hand, the police send his blood to a lab to confirm that his blood type matches the semen found at the scene. It does not. The forensic examiner testifies later that one blood type can change to another with disintegration. This is untrue. The newspaper reports the story, including the time the man says the murder took place. Two witnesses tell the police they saw the woman alive after that. The police send them home, saying they “must have seen a ghost.” After 16 years in prison, the falsely convicted man is exonerated by DNA evidence.How could this happen?

“False confessions can corrupt other evidence, both from laypeople and forensic experts,” says John Jay College of Criminal Justice psychologist Saul Kassin, summarizing a new study conducted with Daniel Bogart of the University of California Irvine and Nova Southeastern University’s Jacqueline Kerner. The findings, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, have far-reaching implications for judges and juries, prosecutors and defense attorneys.Confessions, when true, are an important tool in convicting criminals. But false confessions frequently play a major role in convicting innocent people. Experiments show that juries and potential witnesses are influenced by confessions even if they know they were coerced. Also in the lab, experienced polygraph examiners, fingerprint experts, and other experts, when informed of a confession, see what they expect to see—that is, evidence of guilt.

To back up these findings with real-life data, the psychologists thoroughly reviewed the trial records of 241 people exonerated by the Innocence Project since 1992. Of these, 59—or 25 percent—involved false confessions, either by the defendant or an alleged accomplice. One-hundred eighty—or 75 percent—involved eyewitness mistakes. The analysis revealed that multiple errors turned up far more often in false confession cases than in eyewitness cases: 69 percent versus fewer than half. And two thirds of the time, the confession came first, followed by other errors, namely invalid forensic science and government informants.

Kassin believes the findings “greatly underestimate the problem” because of what never shows up in court: evidence of innocence. Told the suspect confessed, “alibi witnesses back out, thinking they’re mistaken,” police stop searching for the real culprit. “We show that confessions bring in other incriminating evidence that is false. What we don’t see is a tendency to suppress exculpatory evidence.”The study throws doubt on a critical legal concept designed to safeguard the innocent: corroboration. Appeals courts uphold a conviction even if a false confession is discovered, as long as other evidence—say, forensics or other witness testimony—independently shows guilt. “What these findings suggest is that there may well be the appearance of corroboration,” says Kassin, “but it is false evidence that was corrupted by the confession—not independent at all.”Already, many states require that interrogations be taped, so that confessions are not coerced or taken when the suspect is in psychological distress. With this study, “Juries and judges have more reason to critically evaluate the conditions under which that other evidence was taken, too.”

###For more information about this study, please contact: Saul Kassin at APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Confessions that Corrupt: Evidence from the DNA Exoneration Case Files" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Divya Menon at 202-293-9300 or © Association for Psychological Science

Friday, November 04, 2011

Proposed Sarasota County Ordinances

Two new ordinances are under consideration by Sarasota County Government. The ordinances concerns second hand dealers and recyclable metals. The present text of the ordinances can be found here.

I am against these ordinances. Whether you agree or disagree, you have an opportunity to comment by sending an e-mail to

Here is what I sent in:

Dear Sarasota County Commissioners:

My name is Adam Tebrugge. I have been a resident of Sarasota County since 1979. I purchased my home in the City of Sarasota in 1986. I operate my law practice, Tebrugge Legal, in the City of Bradenton, though I practice extensively in Sarasota County. Though I am a member of many organizations, I am writing solely in my role as a private citizen.

I appreciate the work effort of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and the Sarasota County Attorney's Office in drafting the proposed ordinances. They have invited me to make recommendations for improving the ordinances. However, for the reasons I give below, I am recommending that you vote against each of the proposed ordinances.

The Ordinances Are Duplicative Of State Law:
I work primarily as a criminal defense attorney. Every day I defend persons charged with burglary, criminal mischief, theft and dealing in stolen property. State criminal law already provides for substantial punishment for each of these crimes. I do not understand why Sarasota County would need to pass ordinances on the same subjects.

The Ordinances Are Not Needed:
In the preamble to each ordinance, I find the statement: "Sarasota County citizens and businesses have suffered recent losses in excess of $7.9 million." No foundation or citation is provided to support this assertion. Even if true, I do not understand why a separate ordinance is needed when theft and dealing in stolen property are already crimes.

The Ordinances Will Likely Have a Severe Impact Upon Existing Businesses:
Honestly I am astonished at the number of regulations that these ordinances will place on existing businesses. The amount of record keeping and compliance that is required will be extremely burdensome. Essentially these ordinances require intense work by private businesses solely for the purpose of aiding law enforcement investigations.

Second Hand Dealers and Recyclers Are Already Cooperative With Law Enforcement:
In practicing criminal law in this area for the past 27 years, I have learned that businesses in Sarasota County routinely go above and beyond the call of duty to assist law enforcement with investigations. Ordinances of this type will discourage voluntary cooperation because of the mandatory compliance requirements and threats of penalties.

Enforcement of These Ordinances Will Unnecessarily Burden Sarasota County Government:
From what I understand, Sarasota Sheriff's Deputies and Sarasota County Code Enforcement Officers will have mutual enforcement responsibilities. I am of the opinion that members of each of these departments already have enough to do. Therefore, it appears to me that Sarasota County would have to undertake significant expenditures to hire additional staff to ensure compliance with these ordinances.

The Ordinances Will Discriminate Against the Poor:
I have worked with indigent citizens for my entire legal career. I know a lot of people who have worked collecting recyclable materials or second hand goods in order to maintain a meager economic existence. I am very concerned that the requirements of these ordinances will have a disproportionate impact upon those citizens of Sarasota who live below the poverty line. Many of the people I work with have no identification or bank account. I do not believe that Sarasota County is allowed to prohibit cash transactions as the ordinance appears to do.

The County May Be Incurring Substantial Legal Fees to Defend These Ordinances:
I have reviewed the ordinances carefully and had great deal of difficulty understanding the purpose behind them, the requirements upon our citizens and businesses, the enforcement mechanisms and the punishment for violations. I believe that if these ordinances are passed, Sarasota County will be paying to defend them in Court for years to come. I sincerely believe that money could be better spent on other efforts.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments.

Adam Tebrugge

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Criminal Justice Reform Making Progress in Florida?

Smart criminal justice reform is picking up political speed in Florida. Remember, 2012 is an election year and our elected representatives and senators will be listening. Let them know that you support being smart on crime. This means more drug court and less prisons, more flexibility and less minimum mandatories, and more emphasis on rehabilitation for the incarcerated citizens who will be returning to the community.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Second Chances

It is important to assist those getting out of prison if we don't want them to go back.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Prosecutorial Overreach

Minimum mandatory sentences have helped ruin the criminal justice system. So has punishing people for exercising their right to trial. Prosecutorial overreach is also a problem.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Smart Reform is Possible

Here is an important new report, subtitled: State's Reducing Incarceration Rates and Costs While Protecting Communities.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Know Your Rights part 2

The second part of my video on the Florida Criminal Justice System can be found here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The High Cost of Wrongful Convictions

The Better Government Association has produced a fascinating report on the high cost of wrongful convictions. The subtitle is: A Tale of Lives Lost, Tax Dollars Wasted and Justice Denied. Just looking at Illinois between 1989 and 2010, the estimated cost to taxpayers was 214 million dollars. Read the full report here:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Even Texas Takes on Criminal Justice Reform

Florida failed to enact any meaningful criminal justice reform this past legislative session. But even the State of Texas has now passed reforms to make the criminal system more effective, fair and cost conscious.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let's Focus on People, Not Prisons:

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released a report stating that the United States has the highest percentage of incarcerated citizens in the developed world and ranks ninth from the bottom in social spending. The report was included in what Business Insider calls a "massive pack of data" from the OECD discussing current social and economic conditions among the world's developed nations.

The United States imprisons 760 of every 100,000 citizens, according to the study. The only nation that comes anywhere close is South Africa, with a prison population of 329 prisoners per 100,000. The OECD average is 140.

Of the 34 nations included in the survey, the US ranks ninth from the lowest on social spending, above Australia, but below Ireland. France comes in at the top, followed by Sweden and Austria.
According to Business Insider, "Social spending is low on pensions, but high on prisons. Health spending is off the charts, but obesity and life expectancy are worse than average."
In spite of the fact that the US ranks low in terms of health care accessibility, Americans spend more on health care than any other nation in the world. It makes up 16% of the US GDP. The second highest is France, at 11.2%.

The OECD is a group of 34 countries founded in 1961 to "promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world".

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Do You Cut Prison Populations And Costs? By Focusing On Parole And Probation:

The Pew Center on the States, which has done a lot of groundbreaking research on criminal-justice policy, has a new report out showing that corrections represent the fastest-growing costs to state budgets second only to Medicaid. The prison population has grown by more than 700 percent since 1973, while costs over the last 20 years alone have grown more than 300 percent. According to Pew, about 40 percent of ex-offenders return to prison within three years -- cutting that rate by 10 percent would save $645 million. Not all the money spent on incarceration was wasted, but the Pew study makes it clear that we're now beyond the point of diminishing returns. Even as the prison population has ballooned, the study states that only about a third of the drop in crime is attributable to incarceration, and notably, 19 of the states in the study that cut their prison populations also experienced a drop in crime. The recidivism rate alone doesn't always tell the whole story, since some policies can make it look like states have developed effective policies for preventing people from reoffending when they're really just incarcerating more people who are less likely to recidivate. There are two states in the survey that bear looking at as starkly contrasting examples. The first is Oregon, which has done an incredible job of reducing its recidivism rate through policies like graduated sanctions. Oregon cut its recidivism rate to 22.8 percent, an almost 32 percent drop according to Pew. How? Oregon focused on parole and probation, like the other smart states: The change in the handling of offenders who violate terms of their supervision was striking. In the past, parole and probation violators filled more than a quarter of Oregon’s prison beds. Today violators are rarely reincarcerated. Instead, they face an array of graduated sanctions in the community, including a short jail stay as needed to hold violators accountable. Results of the Pew/ASCA survey confirmed this—only 5.9 percent of offenders released in 1999 and 3.3 percent of the 2004 cohort were returned to prison on technical violations. Then you have California, which simply re-imprisons parolees for technical violations, which increases both its prison costs and its recidivism rate. Where graduated sanctions are tailored to the violation, California just locks people back up. Most of these people aren't committing actual crimes, mind you. Here's the chart from the report. The light blue are technical violations, the dark blue represents new crimes being committed: Pew concludes that California alone could save $233 million in a year by cutting its recidivism rate by 10 percent -- corrections makes up about 11 percent of California's state budget. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill designed to help cut the states' prison population and therefore its cost to the state, so we'll see how that goes. Again, it's easy to focus on prison costs. But the point here is that when ex-offenders don't recidivate, that means they're more likely to get jobs and be parents to their children. There is a serious negative cumulative impact created by ex-offenders being unable to find licit employment and lead productive lives, one that has a drastic effect on the poor communities in which their populations tend to be concentrated. So states have a public safety and fiscal interest in getting this right, but there's more at stake here than just money. By Adam Serwer Posted 04/13/2011 at 09:00 AM at the American Prospect

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Illinois Proves (Again) That Ending the Death Penalty Saves Money

Thanks to Illinois, we now have more proof: ending the death penalty saves money - a lot of money - and quickly. So what is California (and Florida) waiting for? It's less than a month since Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the death penalty repeal bill, replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole and diverting the cost savings to victims' services. Just two weeks later savings had already reached $4.7 million! And that's just the tip of the iceberg. These first budgetary savings in Illinois came through the State Appellate Defender's office, which is the office that provides attorneys for men and women on death row who otherwise can't afford their own lawyer for appeals. With the end of the death penalty, that agency has been closed. Now the entire budget of nearly $5 million can be directed to victims' services. And some of the highly-trained and experienced attorneys from that office are elated at being out of work for such good reason. The 37 jobs once held by these lawyers perfectly illustrate why the death penalty is so expensive. When a poor person is sentenced to life without parole, the state goes to reasonable lengths to make sure the conviction was valid and due process was met by providing the person with a lawyer and paths to one appeal. But if the sentence is death, the state's responsibility is drastically more important. In order to make sure the state doesn't make the ultimate mistake and execute an innocent person, it provides poor people on death row with attorneys and investigators for habeas corpus, a whole other set of appeals. It's only in this second appeals process that people are allowed to present evidence that they are actually innocent, or mentally retarded, or were represented at trial by an incompetent attorney. And, because someone's life is at stake, capital appeals lawyers must be some of the best attorneys available and have more training and experience than their colleagues handling lower-stakes cases. Illinois had only 15 people on death row but it still needed an agency with 37 staff members and an annual budget of $4.7 million to defend them on appeal. California has more than 700 people on death row--almost 50 times as many. We have three state agencies that only work on death penalty cases, plus we hire private attorneys, costing the state $38 million each year. And that still is not enough to pay for all the attorneys needed: 45% of the people on death row in California do not even have an attorney for the habeas process yet. If California followed Illinois' lead, we could immediately close three state offices and lay off hundreds of death penalty attorneys, saving $38 million just as quickly as Illinois. And that's only the beginning. Prosecutors no longer charged with life and death decisions will be able to devote their time to other cases with lower stakes, saving the vast resources spent on death cases. Jurors will no longer have to go through exceptionally long selection processes to become "death qualified," or attend additional penalty phases to decide who lives and who dies. Those convicted will no longer reside in separate death row facilities with higher housing costs, and will have reasonably limited appeals that will never run the risk of executing an innocent life. In California, those changes would translate into these real dollars: » $4 million saved from cuts to the California Supreme Court» $12 million saved from cuts to the Attorney General's Office» $20 million saved by individual counties» $38 million saved by closing defense agencies» $63 million saved by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation» $400 million saved by avoiding the construction of a new death row Grand total: $1 billion in five years. These are the kinds of savings all of the other 34 death penalty states can expect to see if they follow Illinois' footsteps and repeal the death penalty. But here in California where we foot the bill for the nation's biggest, most expensive, and fastest growing death row, the numbers are astronomically high. Repealing the death penalty and replacing it with life without parole will provide real money right away that can make a real difference in people's lives. by James Clark

Sunday, April 03, 2011

State Budget Crisis Pushes Sentencing Reform

The bills are coming due for years of "tough on crime policies. With crisis comes opportunity as explained here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Company urged Florida not to use its drug in execution 'cocktail'

For years, Illinois-based Hospira Inc. worried about its drugs being used across the country for lethal injections. So, a company spokesman says, Hospira sent letters to all the states annually — including Florida — stating its opposition to the drugs' use to carry out death sentences.
But the states, including Florida, continued using at least one Hospira product in the three-drug "cocktail" approved for executions.

There was nothing illegal about that, but their continued use of Hospira products to execute inmates ultimately compelled the company last month to announce its decision to stop all production of its trademarked anesthetic, Pentothal. The supplies that states already have on hand are set to expire this year.

"Hospira provides these products because they improve or save lives and markets them solely for use as indicated on the product labeling," wrote Kees Gioenhout, Hospira's vice president of Clinical Research and Development, in a letter sent to Ohio in March. "As such, we do not support the use of any of our products in capital punishment procedures."

The Florida Department of Corrections has no record of any such letters sent to its headquarters in Tallahassee. "I have not been able to find the letter or anyone who remembers getting the letter," said corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. In an earlier e-mail, Plessinger wrote, "I can't find that letter. They didn't send it to the Secretary or legal or Institutions."
But Hospira spokesman Daniel Rosenberg said, "We sent letters to all the states. It was sent to Florida."

Hospira sent letters each year during the past decade, Rosenberg said, sharing concerns about the use of Hospira drugs in executions. Hospira was the sole manufacturer of sodium thiopental, or Pentothal, which was specifically listed in Florida's lethal-injection procedures spelled out by the Department of Corrections secretary in an April 2008 document.

In announcing its decision to cease making the drug, Hospira said it could not ensure that third-party suppliers would never sell the drug to state departments of corrections for use in executions. Authorities in Italy, where the drug was made, were also concerned about — and opposed to — the drug's use in executions in the United States.

When the Orlando Sentinel and its attorney requested Florida's Department of Corrections vendor history for the drug, the department denied the request, citing a state statute listing certain department records and information as confidential.

'Botched' executions
The Hospira situation is the latest example of the dilemmas death-penalty states sometimes face in finding humane ways to carry out their executions.
Florida's use of lethal injections came under scrutiny after the December 2006 execution of Angel Nieves Diaz. The convicted killer took 34 minutes to die and required two doses of the lethal drugs.

The state's use of lethal injection as its primary means of execution was adopted in 2000 as an alternative to the electric chair: "Old Sparky." Death-row inmates today may still opt for the electric chair, but the change to lethal injections as the primary method came after concerns about "botched" executions surfaced in using the electric chair. During 1990 and 1997, flames or smoke arose from inmates during electrocution.

Now that Hospira no longer manufactures Pentothal, Florida and many other states must seek alternative drugs. Many states used Pentothal as the anesthetic, followed by pancuronium bromide to relax muscles and potassium chloride to stop the heart. "We are in the process of establishing a new lethal-injection procedure," Plessinger said. "Currently no death warrants are pending; however, we will be ready to carry out a humane execution if a warrant is signed."
Soon after the Hospira decision, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced it would replace sodium thiopental with pentobarbital in its executions. The Ohio department noted in a Jan. 25 statement that pentobarbital is "widely available and manufactured in the United States."

Pentobarbital, more commonly used in euthanizing animals, has been used by Oklahoma officials in that state's lethal-injection process. It is also the drug being considered for use in Florida, Plessinger said last week.

On Thursday morning, Ohio used its remaining stores of Hospira's Pentothal to execute Frank Spisak, a triple murderer and longtime death-row inmate in that state. Ohio's old protocol called for that drug alone to be used in its executions.

In the future, Pentobarbital will be the sole drug used, said ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.
When asked about the Hospira letter opposing the use of its drug in executions, Smith said she was aware of the letter. Asked how the state responded, Smith said, "I don't believe there was an official response by Ohio in regard to that letter."

Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said she was not aware of the Hospira letter being sent to her department. Texas still has a small amount of Pentothal on hand, but, like Florida, that large death-row state is still reviewing alternative drugs for future executions.

A number of state attorneys general have written to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for the federal government's assistance in possibly obtaining overseas supplies of sodium thiopental, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

But Dieter expects most states will look at pentobarbital and other substitutes. In addition, he said a group of death-row inmates from three states has challenged the federal Food and Drug Administration for failing to review the quality of lethal-injection drugs coming from overseas.
As for the letters sent out by Hospira, Dieter said they signal that many in the health profession — drug manufacturers, doctors "or even the FDA" — want to distance themselves from the death penalty.

"It may not be the best public relations for a health company to be associated with a killing drug," he said. Though the Hospira letters probably had no binding effect, Dieter said "they do symbolize the growing sentiment that the U.S. is isolated in its use of the death penalty and that others are willing to take concrete steps, even to their economic disadvantage, to discourage such use."

By Anthony Colarossi, Orlando Sentinel10:45 PM EST, February 21, 2011 or 407-420-5447
Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel

Monday, February 21, 2011

Time to Get Smart on Crime

Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress provides the
112th Congress and the Administration with analysis of the problems plaguing our state and
federal criminal justice systems and a series of recommendations to address these failures. It
provides a comprehensive examination of the criminal justice system, from the creation of
new criminal laws to ex-offenders’ reentry into communities after serving their sentences.
Our broad recommendations range from helping to restore and empower victims to
identifying ways to protect the rights of the accused.

Americans depend on the criminal justice system to maintain our safety and security.
We expect the system to effectively deter crime and punish offenders, and rehabilitate those
who have served their sentences. We also demand that it treat victims and their families with
compassion and provide justice and safety for all Americans. We insist that it be fair, reliable
and accurate. Yet, too frequently, these laudable—but daunting—goals go unmet.
Central to our mission is offering recommendations that achieve these goals, while
reflecting the economic realities and acknowledging the new priority of return on investment.
Today, budget shortfalls and economic distress are plaguing states and placing greater
burdens on the federal government. States are confronting budge crises that threaten all
facets of the criminal justice system, including courts, prisons, police departments,
prosecutors, and public defenders.

To effectively tackle these challenges, we must abandon heated rhetoric and explore
policies based not on ideology, but on evidence. We must come together to forge a system
that works for everyone. For this reason, Smart on Crime incorporates cost-effective,
evidence-based solutions to address the worst problems in our system.

The efforts of the Smart on Crime Coalition are coordinated by the Constitution Project.
The Constitution Project (TCP) brings together unlikely allies—experts and practitioners
from across the political spectrum—in order to promote and safeguard America’s founding
charter. TCP is working to reform the nation’s broken criminal justice system and to
strengthen the rule of law through scholarship, consensus policy reforms, advocacy, and
public education. The full report is here:

Friday, February 18, 2011

Let's Put Criminal Justice Reform on the Florida Legislative Agenda!

As I travel around the state and meet FAMM supporters, I am asked again and again how you can help. Well, now’s your chance! The legislative session is right around the corner, and we need your help putting sentencing reform on the agenda!

Several important Florida state representatives and senators will help determine the direction of criminal justice reform this session. One of the most important is Senator Greg Evers (District 2), who is chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

To help convince Sen. Evers to help put sentencing reform on the agenda, I need each and every one of you to write a brief letter to Sen. Evers, explaining that you are a Florida resident, a FAMM supporter, and that you care about sentencing reform. After you’ve sent your letter, ask your friends, family members, and colleagues to do the same.

I posted a sample letter you can use as a guide on the Florida FAMM website.

If you want to use your own language, I suggest you cite some of the statistics available at the Florida FAMM page and mention the negative impact that our sentencing laws have on Florida’s budget problems. For better or worse, the budget has the attention of everyone in Tallahassee, and we should use that to our advantage. You should also feel free to share how mandatory sentencing laws have impacted you or your loved one.

Please remember that legislators are very busy, so shorter is often better; keep your letters to no more than one page. Also, and more importantly, keep your letter professional and polite!

You can contact Sen. Greg Evers by email at If you prefer to mail your letter, please address it to Senator Greg Evers, 24 North Tarragona, Pensacola, FL 32502. When you send your letter, please forward it on to me, both so I have a sense of how many have been sent and just as importantly, so I can thank you personally.

Let me add: it is vitally important that Sen. Evers receive as many letters as we can get to him. This is our first chance to let the legislature know who we are and what we want. Let’s let our voices be heard and heard loudly.

Finally, we have membership meetings coming up in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Orlando. Please keep an eye on your email for details about those meetings. And follow us on Twitter at @FloridaFAMM!

As always, thank you for supporting FAMM. We couldn’t do it without you.



Greg Newburn
Florida Project Director

Contact Florida FAMM
P.O. Box 142933
Gainesville, FL 32614
(352) 682-2542

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Trying to end the death penalty in Florida

Ron McAndrew and I spoke out against capital punishment before a great audience in Naples last evening. Ron is a former warden from Florida State prison who presided over several executions. He gives powerful testimony against the death penalty. Read more about his journey here:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is Criminal Justice Reform Inevitable?

Nationally, we’ve had two major developments in recent weeks that give whiffs of shifting political winds when it comes to what our criminal justice system should look like. Once thought of as liberal policies, calls for funding rehabilitation programs, keeping low-level offenders out of prison, and shrinking the size and scope of the criminal justice system are starting to come from some unexpected places.

First, there’s “Right on Crime,” an initiative launched in late 2010 by the Texas Public Policy Foundation that’s building a case for criminal justice reform from traditional conservative principles like small government and a heavy focus on program outcomes.

Then, this week, another group emerged in the national spotlight called the “Smart on Crime Coaltion.” Smart on Crime unites some traditionally unallied entities: the ACLU, the CATO institute, Heritage Foundation, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers among them. Their report, a series of policy recommendations to Congress is about 317 pages long and covers almost any crime policy you can imagine. The basic message? That our national patchwork of courts, prisons, and policies has not produced a sufficiently fair and effective criminal justice system. Among the recommendations are reducing the use of mandatory minimum sentences, increasing funding for rehabilitation programs, and ending the use of long term solitary confinement.

At the roots of both of these odd movements is the economic crisis. In a recent series of coming out op-eds, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of all people, articulated his reasoning for joining with the “Right on Crime” campaign. Gingrich, a possible presidential candidate for 2012, seems to have completely left his calls in the 1990s for building more prisons and toughening criminal sentences behind:

“There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections – 300 percent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.”

Already, this message is catching on with conservative politicians. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has proposed cutting prison sentences and reducing parole supervision for lower level offenders. Florida Governor Rick Scott has proposed pouring money into rehabilitation programs aimed at keeping offenders from returning to prison–which would eventually save the state money.

Will the public go along with it? Polling seems to suggest that when couched under the auspices of cost-savings, efficiency, and government accountability, the public is pretty warm to the idea of softening the national focus on incarceration and punishment. Combine that with the face of the message–those same Republicans who pushed for tougher sentencing and more prisons and have an almost untouchable “tough on crime” credibility–and criminal justice reform starts to seem inevitable.

Is it? That may actually be up to liberals–who on a national level are not taking up the issue with comparable force. And it may be up to the economy: if the money comes back, the public may lose their ambition for the hard work of cuts and reforms.

By Rina Palta KALW News

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Now is the time for criminal justice reform:

The Sarasota Herald Tribune gets it right with this editorial:

Friday, February 04, 2011

To save money, Florida should kill death penalty:

Now that the hunt is on to wring out every superfluous dollar in the state budget, how about getting rid of the death penalty?
Yes, the death penalty in Florida just might be the ultimate entitlement program we can't afford.
"The number of inmates since 2000 on Death Row dying of natural causes has now surpassed the number of inmates executed," Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon said recently.
Surely, Cannon must be wrong. That sounds preposterous.
But Cannon's right.
In the past 10 years, the state executed 25 Death Row inmates, which was fewer than the 30 who died of natural causes, according to a review by
Of the 392 Florida prisoners serving death sentences, 145 of them have been there for 20 or more years and 34 have been there longer than 30 years. The oldest inmate is 80. And another one, Gary Alvord, a Michigan mental institution escapee who fled to Tampa and killed three women, has been on Death Row for 37 years.
A long, expensive process
The state restarted executing inmates in 1979 and has averaged about two executions per year, a pace that far from keeps up with the supply of new arrivals.
Part of that is due to gruesome application errors with the state's execution methods, both in electrocution and lethal injections, that resulted in temporary moratoriums. But mostly, it's because the legal process involved in putting someone to death is long. And expensive.
It's cheaper to lock up inmates for life than to put them on the Death Row carousel of legal appeals. The annual difference in cost is about $51 million, according to a 10-year-old Palm Beach Post study. Another study by The Miami Herald estimated that it costs about $3.2 million to execute a prisoner as compared with $750,000 to lock that prisoner up for life.
Risk of killing innocent inmates
In some cases, their legal journey seems to border on never-ending.
Duane Owen, a sociopath who murdered a 14-year-old babysitter in Delray Beach in 1984, has had two trials and at least six unsuccessful appeals to the Florida Supreme Court.
Now, I know what you're thinking. The solution is to get in touch with our inner Texas and just start picking up the pace.
But recent developments in the analysis of DNA evidence have pointed out the unreliability of eyewitness testimony and have proven that people convicted of horrible crimes are sometimes wrongly convicted by over-eager prosecutors. The Illinois House of Representatives voted last month to abolish the death penalty eight years after its governor emptied Death Row after finding that a dozen innocent prisoners had been condemned to die.
And in Florida, Herman Lindsey was freed by the state Supreme Court a little more than a year ago, becoming the 23rd Death Row prisoner in Florida who had been exonerated since the death penalty was revived in 1979.
"The average time these exonerated prisoners spent on Death Row was eight years," said Mark Elliot, the executive director of Floridians for an Alternative to the Death Penalty. "If you speed the process up, you're virtually guaranteeing that you'll be executing innocent people."
And here's a little icing on this macabre cake.
The only U.S. maker of the lethal injection drug, sodium thiopental, got out of the business recently, and our would-be European suppliers don't want to export death-penalty drugs to America because of an unwillingness to enable our executions.
So there's a shortage of death-penalty drugs.
Ohio's response is to switch to pentobarbital - the drug veterinarians use to put down dogs.
So this just might be a perfect time for Florida to reevaluate.
As long as our Death Row inmates are dying of old age, getting rid of the death penalty could serve as a kind of twofer: We can rescue a bit of our humanity along with our tax dollars.

By Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, January 31, 2011

Ohio Should be the Next State to Abolish Capital Punishment

The man who helped craft the state's death penalty law wants to end capital punishment.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer wants the new governor, a fellow Republican, to abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences to life without parole.
At his swearing-in ceremony Pfeifer told reporters, "I think the time's right on this. You have Republicans in every direction. With that political configuration, it would be the most opportune time to seriously debate and discuss whether or not we have the death penalty."
Pfeifer called capital punishment a lottery.
He's right. Too often those who end up on death row are poor, people of color, and have mental illnesses or extremely low IQs.
Right now, Ohio has 157 inmates on death row. Of those, 43 were sentenced before a 1996 law gave juries the option of life without parole.
Here's the race breakdown according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: 81 are African American, 69 are Caucasian, four are Hispanic, two are Arab Americans and one is a Native American. Only one person on death row is a woman.
Across the country, we've seen over 100 men walk off death row because eyewitnesses lied or were mistaken, because the DNA didn't match, because police, prosecutors or lab techs made mistakes or mishandled evidence.
There have been 266 post-conviction DNA exonerations, according to The Innocence Project. Across the country, 138 death row inmates have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five have been in Ohio.
Kenney Richey spent 21 years on Ohio's death row. He is now a free man. An appeals court found his attorney was inept and the arson expert who testified in the case was no expert.
Joe D'Ambrosio was on Ohio's death row for 20 years. A judge ruled that prosecutors in Cuyahoga County withheld 10 pieces of evidence in his trial. He is now a free man.
We know we can't trust Ohio's justice system 100 percent. Just ask Michael Green, Donte L. Booker, Jimmy "Spunk" Williams, Brian Piszczek and Clarence Elkins. They were also wrongfully convicted.
And there are unresolved questions in other cases.
Tyrone Noling is still on death row for the 1990 murders of an Atwater Township couple. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. He was convicted based on what his three buddies said. They have all since recanted.
Arthur Tyler is on death row for killing a produce vendor. Minutes after the man was shot, another man confessed. He told friends, his mom, police and signed a confession. Then he got a deal with prosecutors and fingered Tyler.
Eleven years ago, the governor of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions after the death sentences of 13 people were overturned. Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, commuted all 167 inmates on death row. The committee he appointed to study the justice system came up with 85 suggested reforms.
Those reforms include having the police pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry even after a suspect has been identified, having all homicide suspect interrogations videotaped, not allowing the death penalty be considered for any murder convictions based on the testimony of a single eye-witness or accomplice, having all police, judges, prosecutors and attorneys working on capital cases get better training about the risk of false testimony by jailhouse snitches, the handling of forensic evidence, the risk of false confessions.
Unfortunately, we can't find and fix every flaw in the justice system.
Pfeifer is right. We need to do what Illinois did. Its House and Senate just passed a bill to abolish the death penalty.
Ohio should do the same.
Terry Collins watched the state of Ohio kill 33 men.
Every time he drove to work for each execution he wondered:
What if this one isn't guilty? What if somebody missed something? Are we really sure? What if we're wrong this time?
Collins retired last year as director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. He worked in the prison system for 32 years. He served as the warden of three prisons, Lorain Correctional Institution in Grafton, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville and Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe.
When Collins started working in the prison system in 1977, Gary Beeman was on death row. Beeman was exonerated in 1979.
"We have the greatest justice system in the world, but we're all still human," Collins told me. "As great as the system is, there can still be mistakes made. If you execute somebody, you cannot correct that mistake."
Across the country, we know of at least 138 mistakes that got corrected before it was too late. That's how many men have been exonerated from Death Row. Six were from Ohio: Beeman, Dale Johnston, Timothy Howard, Gary Lamar James, Derrick Jamison and Joe D'Ambrosio.
I called Collins after reading an opinion piece he wrote this week for the Columbus Dispatch. Collins is against the death penalty even though he carried out the law. He's watched 33 men die in the death chamber. He's also walked free men out of prison.
One man had served 10 years for a crime he didn't commit. It's hard to shake that joyful yet haunting scene in the prison lobby when an innocent man walks out of prison into his family's arms, a free man.
It frustrates Collins to read bloggers and hear comments from people saying they'd willingly do the executing.
Related coverage
Jan. 25: Retire Ohio's death penalty: Paul E. PfeiferJan. 26: Ohio switching to a new drug for lethal injectionsJan. 21: Ohio should abolish the death penalty: Regina BrettJan. 21: Lethal injection drug maker halting productionJan. 20: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer wants to scrap the death penaltyNov. 29: Tennessee justices halt executions over 'death by suffocation while conscious'More about death penalty
"It's one thing to say that, it's another to do that," Collins said.
Executions take a toll on the staff. No one is assigned to the execution team; it's made up of volunteers.
"Often their own families don't know they're on that team," Collins said. "It's not an easy job to prepare somebody to be executed."
He's against capital punishment for many reasons:
The state doesn't always put the worst of the worst on death row. Sometimes the worst offenders get plea bargains and lighter sentences.
The death penalty doesn't make people safer. "Having a death sentence hasn't stopped people from killing and viciously harming people," Collins said. There is no statistical data to prove it deters crime, he added. In prison, those serving life terms are the least likely to violate prison rules, according to Collins.
Life without parole is cheaper than the death penalty, he said. The trial would cost less without the death penalty phase. There wouldn't be endless appeals, attorneys and judges to pay. There wouldn't be a special death row unit to maintain.
Life without parole could actually be easier on victim's families. They don't have to return to court for endless appeals and suffer the roller coaster ride of stays of executions.
Collins believes a life sentence without the possibility of parole should replace the death sentence. An inmate would never have the chance to leave prison.
Instead of bragging about being tough on crime or criticizing others for being soft on crime, Collins believes it's time we got smart on crime.
"Putting people in prison for the rest of their life without the possibility of parole is not soft on crime," he said. "That penalty is severe enough."
Anyone who thinks life in prison isn't that bad has never been in prison, Collins said.
"The greatest freedom we have is our freedom. You take that away, we tell you what to eat, what to wear, who can visit," he said. "I've never had anybody come to me and say, 'Let me in the door.'"

Both articles by Regina Brett
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ask for the max on corrections reform: The State can Spend less, still protect the public, and turn lives around.

This week, the Legislature will be told how Florida can stop spending too much on prisons and getting too little back for its investment.
Today, two Senate committees that deal with criminal justice policy and spending will hear from reformers advocating that Florida join a national movement toward what has been called Smart Justice. On Tuesday, the members of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice will get the same message. Among the statistics they will hear are:
In 2000-01, 38 percent of new prison inmates had been convicted of crimes less serious than a third-degree felony, which comes with a maximum 5-year sentence. It is the least serious felony. Anything less is a misdemeanor. In 2008-09, 47 percent of new inmates had been convicted of those less serious crimes, many of them non-violent.
Most incarcerated juveniles are guilty of nonviolent or property crimes. Forty percent of juveniles are in custody for probation violations.
Half of Florida's prison inmates read at a sixth-grade level or lower. The number of mentally ill inmates has tripled in the past 15 years.
Roughly one-third of inmates who are released return to prison within three years. That rate has varied little over the past decade. But only 1 percent of the Department of Corrections budget is spent on programs to reduce what is called recidivism.
Gov. Scott's CEO-like approach to state government won't work in all cases. With criminal justice, however, his like-minded transition team zeroed in on these deplorable numbers and spent nearly 150 pages blasting the Department of Corrections. This business-oriented approach can reverse the get-tough political approach that created the problem.
Beginning in 1983, with the establishment of sentencing guidelines and the elimination of parole, Florida has focused on putting people in prison. Next came habitual offender laws and the elimination of "gain time" - earlier release because of good behavior. In 1995, the Legislature required that inmates serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Then Jeb Bush brought 10-20-Life for crimes with a gun.
And while Florida's crime rate has fallen over the past decade, other states have adopted Smart Justice policies, saved money and seen crime rates continue to decline. Ironically, a leader in this reform has been Texas, hardly known as a criminal-coddling state. A former Texas legislator will be in Tallahassee this week to explain how he spearheaded the reforms.
Florida TaxWatch calculates that flexibility in the 85-percent rule could save $53 million a year. A slight change in sentencing guidelines could save $31.4 million. Greater use of electronic monitoring could save $43 million. More effective rehabilitation, including increased use of faith-based prisons, could cut recidivism.
Gov. Scott has appointed two reformers to lead the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. While stressing that "our first job is public safety," Rep. Baxley said, "I'd like to put a sign on the prison door that says 'Don't Come Back.' ' To make that happen, smart and justice must go together in Florida.

- Randy Schultz, for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Want to Save Taxpayer Money? Stop Building Prisons!

The United States accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population, but if you're a prisoner, chances are you're locked behind bars in the land of the free, which accounts for 25 percent of the globe's incarcerated men and women -- nearly 2.4 million people.
Fueled by the war on drugs and “tough on crime” demagoguery, the U.S. prison population has surged over the past three decades, to the point that roughly one out of every 100 Americans is incarcerated – and one out of 32 is under some form of correctional supervision. As it stands now, an African-American male is more likely to be convicted of a felony than to graduate college.
That has to change.
Indeed, “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” writes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (!) in a recent Op-Ed coauthored by fellow conservative criminal justice reformer Pat Nolan of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Writing in The Washington Post, Gingrich and Nolan argue that the over-reliance on incarceration in the U.S. is a problem the new Republican Congress needs to address – for both moral and pragmatic reasons. “We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections - 300 percent more than 25 years ago,” they write. “The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.”
For years, debate over criminal justice policies has fallen into a traditional conservative-liberal trap, with Republicans on the one side calling for ever-more draconian laws to look “tough” on crime, and Democrats … well, doing the exact same thing, though presumably with not quite as much enthusiasm. Democracy!
But Gingrich and Nolan say the time for demagoguery is over, noting that throwing more and more non-violent offenders into prisons doesn't make us safer – more than half of those released from prison head right back within three years – and it's a practice both state and federal governments can ill afford to continue as they struggle with record budget deficits. While locking away prisoners and throwing away the key might make for a good campaign ad, “We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons,” they write, “and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”
Gingrich and Nolan's piece is part of campaign launched last month called “Right on Crime” – which includes the likes of former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese and the American Conservative Union's David Keene – that seeks to recast the debate over criminal justice policies by showing that even the most conservative right-wingers believe the country's prison building boom has gone too far, making the debate more about pragmatism than ideology. As they write in the Post, “If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.”
While not quite ready to do away with the war on drugs, Gingrich and Nolan say it's a waste of taxpayer money to send non-violent offenders to prison, where criminality is often nurtured rather than extinguished. And, notably, they take head-on the argument that the country's prison-building spree over the last few decades is responsible for improved public safety.
“While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years,” they note, “some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.”
Gingrich and Nolan aren't bleeding-heart liberals, and they aren't proposing that murders receive manicures instead of prison time. As conservatives, they're proposing modest, pragmatic reforms to the criminal justice system -- reforms Republicans would do well to consider if they're really serious about cutting the nation's deficit (I have my doubts). And really, if you're so concerned about the growth of state power, nothing says "Big Government" more than locking up a person -- literally taking away all their freedom -- over a non-violent offense that displeases some jerk in Washington.

by Charles Davis

Saturday, January 15, 2011

California Ignores Obvious Budget Solution: Cut the Death Penalty:

California's new governor Jerry Brown confronted the state's dire budget crisis this week when he released his budget proposal. True to his word, the proposal contains hard cuts to social services across the board, ensuring that California's most vulnerable will have an even tougher time staying healthy and making ends meet.
He was slightly less true to his word, though, when it came to his oft-repeated slogan that "everything is on the table." At least one overfunded, broken government program was allowed to keep its bloated budget without a single cut: the state's billion-dollar death penalty.
Did the governor miss this massive drain on funds, or is there a sacred cow in California's budget after all? Maybe he can be excused on the grounds that there's no "death penalty" line item anywhere in the budget. But, of course, the reason there's no "death penalty" line item is that the $1 billion the death penalty will cost over the next five years is hidden throughout a half-dozen judicial and corrections budget items — any one of which could be trimmed by the governor. Let's go down the line:
There's the $1 million per death penalty trial over and above the cost of non-death penalty murder trials, which comes from county prosecutors' budgets.
Then there's the $63 million per year extra spent housing people on death row and another $60 million spent on their appeals, again over and above the cost of housing and appeals for life without parole. Those costs are tucked away in the budgets for corrections, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office and public defense.
Finally, the kicker is the brand new death row facility we're about to build that will cost $400 million.
Over five years, that tally comes to just over $1 billion.
Now, repealing the death penalty in California can only be done at the ballot box, but defunding the whole system can be done with a few strokes of the governor's pen: just ask any senior citizen, recipient of in-home medical care, or single working parent. They'll tell you how powerful that pen can be when it comes to cutting government programs.
Alternatively, if the governor converted the sentences of California's more than 700 residents of death row to life without parole, he'd save that whole billion dollars in one swoop: no more extra housing costs, no more extra appeals costs, no more new death row. That's a lot of money that could go towards much-needed programs and services.
And it's not as if the people of the state are clamoring for more death penalty spending over other issues, like, education, crime prevention, health care, or social safety nets. While Gov. Brown may have assumed that the death penalty really is precious to California voters, his own election proved otherwise. Even after Meg Whitman saturated the airwaves bashing Brown for his anti-death penalty record, Californians still elected the guy. We also voted down a Senate candidate who campaigned on being pro-death penalty, and elected an anti-death penalty attorney general, Kamala Harris, over a prosecutor known nationwide for his aggressive pursuit of death sentences.
Why did we vote in Jerry Brown again? Maybe we're ready for some realistic and pragmatic change. Maybe we're ready to prioritize victims, community safety, and health above executions. Maybe we're ready to Cut This. Send Gov. Brown a message that if he's going to cut anything from California's budget, he should cut the death penalty.

Hey Florida, this applies to you as well !

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reduce wrongful convictions: Florida's new innocence panel must start to change the rules

When Linda Zavatkay identified her neighbor as the man who robbed and stabbed her in her Port Salerno home, she did so only after investigators pressed her to choose a suspect. She had been checking out the lineup for a while, and wasn't sure that she saw her attacker's face.
"It should have stopped right there," state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said of the witness identification procedure. "But because of the detective, she continued to look and felt pressured to ID someone." That someone was Todd Patrick Neely. Despite evidence that he was having dinner at a restaurant 12 miles away at the time of the 1986 crime, a judge convicted Mr. Neely of attempted murder and burglary based on Ms. Zavatkay's eyewitness identification and sentenced him to 15 years.
Six months later, an appeals court ordered a new trial for Mr. Neely after ruling that prosecutors improperly withheld information about another suspect. Prosecutors then dropped the charges.
Mr. Neely's case attracted national attention. Yet more than two decades later, most area police and sheriff's departments have not changed the procedures they use to obtain eyewitness identifications. Sen. Negron, who represented Mr. Neely and sits on Florida's Innocence Commission, wants to change that.
When the commission meets today in Jacksonville, Sen. Negron plans to suggest that it review the recommendations issued by the U.S. Justice Department 11 years ago designed to make eyewitness evidence more accurate. As reported by The Post's Susan Spencer-Wendel, the majority of law-enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast have failed to adopt those recommendations in their written policies and procedures. It's time they do so.
The Florida Supreme Court established the Innocence Commission last summer to study of the causes of wrongful conviction and measures to prevent such convictions. A national expert on eyewitness misidentification told commissioners in November that more than 30 percent of all eyewitness IDs are wrong, resulting in a huge number of innocent people behind bars. Gary Wells of Iowa State University said 12 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence in Florida, but an estimated 200 innocent people probably are still being held.
Sen. Negron will push for a pair of Justice Department recommendations that he believes are most important - "cautionary instruction" and double-blind administration of photo lineups. "Those are the two," he said, "that I think are the most promising to reduce wrongful convictions."
Cautionary instruction involves telling an eyewitness that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup, and that the investigation will continue whether the witness chooses someone or not. Double-blind administration means the person showing an eyewitness a lineup has no idea who the suspect is, which keeps him or her from influencing the eyewitness' choice. Although double-blind administration was not included in the Justice Department's 1999 guide, it was mentioned as a "direction for future exploration and field testing." That future is now.
According to a survey by The Post, only three of 32 area law-enforcement agencies have specific eyewitness ID policies and include key elements recommended by the Justice Department: the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, and the Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens police departments.
Although the Innocence Commission's final report is not due until 2012, Sen. Negron said members can agree to make certain recommendations sooner. If so, he will file a bill for the legislative session. If law-enforcement agencies will not adopt better procedures, the Legislature must act. Given the number of innocent people already exonerated, it's already been too long.
- Rhonda Swan,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
Posted: 11:50 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Death Penalty Support Wanes Amid Errors and Debate:

A little more than one generation after the United States Supreme Court reinstalled the death penalty as a sentencing option in criminal cases, and despite otherwise strong support for tough-on-crime laws, capital punishment in America is markedly on the wane. Executions are down dramatically. Death sentences are being recommended less frequently by juries and endorsed less often by judges. And wrongfully convicted death-row inmates in increasing numbers are being released from prison as a result of DNA testing and other exonerating evidence. Today, nearly half of the jurisdictions in the United States have not had an execution within the past 10 years.The statistics go on and on. Executions in America were down 12 percent in 2010 from 2009. They are down approximately 50 percent since 1999. Only seven states carried out more than one execution in 2010 -- almost all in the South or Southwest.The reasons for the decline are numerous and often interconnected. Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a clearinghouse for information about capital punishment, told me Thursday: "In essence, I believe that one issue, innocence, caused a cascade of other changes, such as improved quality of defense, more careful appeals, more thorough trials, and more acceptable alternatives for juries, all of which have contributed to the declining use of the death penalty."Indeed, in Texas, there have been 41 death-row exonerations in the past nine years, 21 alone in Dallas County. The Innocence Project, whose lawyers and investigators scour state court case files across the country for evidence of wrongful convictions, reported that its organization generated 29 exonerations in 2010. These are just some of the examples where the criminal justice system in the past has demonstrably made grievous errors in processing capital defendants. And what each of those specific examples has done is encourage both a renewed interest in examining dubious convictions (which in turn leads to more exonerations) as well as a heightened commitment by prosecutors, lawmakers, juries and judges to get capital cases right in the first place.Even though general support for the death penalty remains relatively high -- 64 percent of Americans supported it in an October Gallup poll and only 29 percent said there were opposed -- political and legal developments over the past decade or so have contributed to the slowing rate of executions and death sentences. As more Americans have become aware of parole restrictions -- as they have come to learn that "life sentences" can, indeed, be "life sentences -- they have eased their eagerness for executions. When given an option between capital punishment and life in prison, Gallup's respondents split almost evenly: 49 percent favored the death penalty, 46 percent favored the life sentence.These numbers are impacting the political dynamics of the debate over capital punishment. In 2007, for example, New Jersey became the first state to abolish capital punishment since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia. (Four years earlier, in Furman v. Georgia, the court had banned the death penalty across the country as a violation of the "cruel and unusual" clause of the Eighth Amendment). In Maryland, there has been a practical moratorium on capital punishment for at least the past year -- and it's going on six years since the last execution there. In New York, a judge struck down the state's capital statute in 2004, prompting lawmakers to study the matter in great depth but not reinstate it.Several other death penalty states, including Kansas, South Dakota and Colorado, have seen in just the past two years meaningful legislative debates over whether to repeal capital punishment. In Illinois, following a then-Gov. George Ryan-imposed moratorium against capital punishment arising from systemic abuse in the criminal justice system, lawmakers are poised to repeal the death penalty, a striking turnaround in a decade for a state that once had hundreds on its death row. Even in Texas, perpetually at or near the top in executions each year, serious talk about the repeal of the death penalty has emerged from the ashes of one embarrassing capital case after another.And while there is discernible movement away from the death penalty in some jurisdictions, there does not appear to be much movement toward it anywhere in the United States. In fact, even some conservative politicians and advocates have begun to make a fiscal case against the practice. In their view, the death penalty is simply too expensive to implement and an unnecessary drain upon precious state resources. California has spent, by many accounts, hundreds of millions of dollars since capital punishment was reinstated. Other states have spent similar amounts sending men and women to death row. The cost of a capital case, including appeals and other expenses, exceeds by an order of magnitude the cost of a non-capital murder case.Dieter says this trend could ultimately carve out a renewed push by the federal courts to again outlaw capital punishment everywhere. He told me: "If the current trend of fewer states using the death penalty continues, I believe the Supreme Court will eventually follow its Eighth Amendment precedents and find that our standards of decency have evolved to the point that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment. The number of states banning capital punishment will have to increase to numbers comparable to those that barred the execution of juveniles and the mentally retarded." He's referring here to the two big death penalty cases of the past half-decade or so in which the Supreme Court has sharply limited the circumstances in which capital punishment may be applied.
Analysis byAndrew Cohen

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Prisoner reentry becoming a priority

Attorney General Eric Holder today convened the inaugural meeting of the Cabinet-level "Reentry Council" in Washington to identify and to advance effective public safety and prisoner reentry strategies.

In addition to the Attorney General, the council includes Departments of Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan; Labor Secretary Hilda Solis; and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Members also include Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Michael Astrue; Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske; Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Melody Barnes; Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois; and Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jacqueline Berrien.

The council will address short-term and long-term goals through enhanced communication, coordination and collaboration across federal agencies. The mission of the council is threefold: to make communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; to assist those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax paying citizens; and to save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.

"Reentry provides a major opportunity to reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars and make our communities safer," said Attorney General Holder. "More than two million people are behind bars, and 95 percent of them will be released back into their communities. By developing effective, evidence-based reentry programs, we can improve public safety and community well-being."

Among its goals, the Reentry Council will meet semi-annually to leverage resources across agencies to reduce recidivism and victimization; identify evidence-based practices that advance the council’s mission; promote changes to federal statutes, policies and practices that focus on reducing crime; and identify federal policy opportunities and barriers to improve outcomes for the reentry community.

I am pleased to hear that this "Reentry Council" is up and running, and I am hopeful that they can and will get a lot done in the months ahead. And I think it would be especially cool if the Council had a public event with high-profile former felons like Martha Stewart and Michael Vick and Marion Jones to talk about some of their (especially positive and uncommon) reentry experiences.

From the Setencing Law and Policy blog