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Archive for October 28th, 2013

Ex-Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi Gets 3 Years in Prison

Rep. Rick Renzi

 
By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Ex-Congressman Rick Renzi of Arizona was sentenced Monday in Tucson to three years in prison for extortion, bribery, insurance fraud, money laundering and racketeering.

His co-defendant, James Sandlin, was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison for his role.

Renzi, 55, of Burke, Va., and Sandlin, 62, of Sherman, Texx. were convicted in June. Renzi was found guilty of 17 felony counts and Sandlin of 13.

“Mr. Renzi abused the power – and the corresponding trust – that comes with being a member of Congress by putting his own financial interests over the interests of the citizens he had sworn to serve,” Acting Assistant Attorney General  Mythili Raman said in a statement. “He fleeced his own insurance company to fund his run for Congress, and then exploited his position for personal gain. Mr. Renzi’s conviction and today’s sentence demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to fighting corruption at the highest levels of government.”

A Justice Department press release stated:

According to evidence at trial, Renzi, then a member of Congress from Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, promised in 2005 to use his legislative influence to profit from a federal land exchange that involved property owned by Sandlin, a real-estate investor.

At the time, Sandlin owed Renzi $700,000 in future payments from their business dealings, and Renzi threatened proponents of the land exchange that he would not support it unless they purchased Sandlin’s property in Cochise County, Ariz. When they refused, Renzi promised a second proponent of a land exchange that he would support the exchange if they purchased Sandlin’s property. According to an agreement reached in May 2005, Sandlin was paid $1 million in earnest money, out of which he paid $200,000 to Renzi. Just before Sandlin received the $1.6 million balance owed on the exchange, he paid an additional $533,000 to Renzi.

Evidence at trial further showed that from 2001 to 2003, Renzi engaged in insurance fraud by diverting his clients’ insurance premiums to fund his first campaign for Congress, and he subsequently sent false letters to his insurance customers and provided false statements to various state regulators who were investigating his activities.

 

 

 

Supreme Court to Decide Who Gets to Define “Mentally Retarded” for Purposes of the Death Penalty

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com
The cut-off IQ for the death penalty in Florida is 70 or less. Freddie Lee Hall scored a 71. He has been on death row for 35 years.

Hall was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and a deputy sheriff and, following the jury’s recommendation, the trial judge sentenced him to death. For 25 years he sat in his death row cell while his lawyers filed various appeals, all without success. Then the U. S. Supreme Court handed down Atkins v. Virginia in 2002, a 6-3 decision which held that the evolving standards of decency under the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment barred the execution of mentally retarded defendants. The case, however, left to the states the details of determining who was mentally retarded.

(Medical professionals rarely use the “retarded” term any more, preferring “intellectually disabled.” Since the cases and statutes continue to use the former term, I will too for the sake of clarity.)

The reasoning of Atkins was that the mentally retarded do not act with the same level of moral culpability because they lack the reasoning, judgment, and impulse control of normal adults. Although they still deserve sanctions for their crimes, executing them would not further the retribution and deterrence rationales which justify the ultimate penalty.

There were, perhaps, two subtexts in Atkins. First, the case was one more step in the growing public consensus in America that the application of the death penalty should either be eliminated or severely limited. It was one more chip in the capital punishment edifice that is incrementally crumbling.

Atkins was an important case in this evolution. Not only did it exempt another class of persons from the death penalty, but it recognized the development of a public consensus as a basis for doing so. The Court surveyed state legislatures and found 18 which had banned the practice. Add that number to the 13 which had at that time abolished the death penalty altogether, plus several others that had done so de facto and a trend became a consensus. Additionally the opinion included a provocative footnote suggesting a growing broader consensus against capital punishment. This the dissent vehemently decried, with Justice Scalia remarking that “seldom has an opinion of this Court rested so obviously on the personal views of its members.”

I wrote two columns earlier this year that in my view the death penalty was slowly dying and that outside of a small handful of states it has already become an anachronism. Full disclosure then and now, my personal view is that the death penalty in the 21st Century is morally wrong in a civilized society; that it can be freakishly wanton in its selection of people to execute; that its no-recourse finality strains the entire criminal justice system; that it provides precious little or no deterrence to craven impulsive murderers; and that there continues to be a possibility of a botched and inhumane administration of the instrument of death.

Most Americans, however, are increasingly concluding for entirely practical reasons that the application of the death penalty is simply too expensive, the appellate delays too laborious and uncertain, and the ultimate result too fraught with the intrusion of outside factors like race, poverty, unavailability of lethal drugs and the like.

More than any subjective factor of morality, the future of the death penalty is being determined by the growing sentiment that we simply cannot afford it. Even though a majority of Americans probably continue to believe that capital punishment is justified for the mass murderers we hear about on the news with disturbing regularity, they are no longer willing to pay the increasing price. Just as likely, pragmatic considerations in an era of economic insecurity affect those moral and practical decisions on whether as a society we need capital punishment.

The other point implied in Atkins is that the criminal justice system cannot guarantee a fair, reliable, and consistent result in capital cases involving an accused whose mental abilities are seriously subpar. Their limited ability to communicate and contribute to their own defense compromises even an effective defense counsel’s job. The result is that, either they plead to a non-capital sentence without a full consideration of their defenses, or they disproportionately face the one penalty which, if wrong, is unforgiving. Death.

Atkins seems to assume in its dictum that states will use the diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association. Most of the ones which at least nominally still have capital punishment do so. Juries, legislatures, judges, and governors have on quite a few occasions either rejected or overruled the death penalty for mentally retarded defendants.

However a few states have taken advantage of the Court’s lack of definition by so limiting its operation that some clinically mentally retarded defendants nevertheless receive a death verdict that is upheld on appeal. Texas, the death penalty capitol of America, is, of course, one of these states.

In Texas juries can disregard uncontroverted mental health expert opinion and decide that the defendant’s behavior in planning and executing the crime show that he was not retarded. Consequently, defendants with IQs in the 50s and 60s have had their death verdicts upheld.

A 2010 study by Marcus Boccaccini et al. published in the Law and Psychology Review showed that jurors are inclined to find adequate intellectual functioning much more readily that experts, even when diagnostic tests demonstrate that the defendant is retarded. Texas juries have few limitations in their discretion.

Georgia in one respect goes even further than Texas by requiring a defendant to raise the mitigation defense and then sustain the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he is mentally retarded.

The Florida statute used in Hall defines mentally retarded as two or more standard deviations from the mean standard intelligence test. In other words an IQ of 70 or lower. This “bright line” definition makes the advisory jury’s job easier, but it fails to take into account the multifaceted analysis of diagnosis performed by mental health professionals. Several other states use the same definition.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Hall to review the case this term. The defense lawyers are probably working on the Petitioner’s Brief already. The state will respond that Atkins intended to leave the definition to the states and that Florida’s statute was adequate in any event to adhere to the Court’s decision. The Supreme Court will probably set oral argument for this spring and could decide the case before its usual June recess.

It may be a close decision even thought the Court’s trend has been to follow the national sentiment to further limit the death penalty. Three of the six-member majority have left the Court (O’Connor, Stevens and Souter). One dissenter (Rehnquist) has left. The replacement Justices (Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan) could well be evenly split on the question. That leaves a potential 5-4 split to reverse the decision in Hall and remand it for a hearing to consider factors bearing on his disability in addition to the IQ tests.

The problem in Florida on this question is not the use of the IQ 70 bright line. That seems not unreasonable in this context. It is the exclusive use of the diagnostic test score which is the defect in the process.

Can we have a person deemed too disabled in one state but fit for execution in another? On the other hand, a person’s fate is already determined by the state where he chooses to commit a capital crime.

In addition to affecting the future of capital punishment in one of the few states still employing it, the Hall case presents an interesting example of the pros and cons for appellate courts to use general versus “bright line” rules to enforce the effectiveness of its decisions. An example of clearly defined directives is Miranda v. Arizona. Atkins was an example of the Court employing a broadly worded rule which allowed discretion on the part of law enforcement, judges and juries. Both have their merits and drawbacks in particular contexts.

Whatever the result in Hall, the momentum to reduce the efficacy of the death penalty is, in my opinion, irreversible.

 

Parker: Supreme Court to Decide Who Gets to Define “Mentally Retarded” for Purposes of the Death Penalty


Ross Parker

 Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.
  
By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com
The cut-off IQ for the death penalty in Florida is 70 or less. Freddie Lee Hall scored a 71. He has been on death row for 35 years.

Hall was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and a deputy sheriff and, following the jury’s recommendation, the trial judge sentenced him to death. For 25 years he sat in his death row cell while his lawyers filed various appeals, all without success. Then the U. S. Supreme Court handed down Atkins v. Virginia in 2002, a 6-3 decision which held that the evolving standards of decency under the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment barred the execution of mentally retarded defendants. The case, however, left to the states the details of determining who was mentally retarded.

(Medical professionals rarely use the “retarded” term any more, preferring “intellectually disabled.” Since the cases and statutes continue to use the former term, I will too for the sake of clarity.)

The reasoning of Atkins was that the mentally retarded do not act with the same level of moral culpability because they lack the reasoning, judgment, and impulse control of normal adults. Although they still deserve sanctions for their crimes, executing them would not further the retribution and deterrence rationales which justify the ultimate penalty.

There were, perhaps, two subtexts in Atkins. First, the case was one more step in the growing public consensus in America that the application of the death penalty should either be eliminated or severely limited. It was one more chip in the capital punishment edifice that is incrementally crumbling.

Atkins was an important case in this evolution. Not only did it exempt another class of persons from the death penalty, but it recognized the development of a public consensus as a basis for doing so. The Court surveyed state legislatures and found 18 which had banned the practice. Add that number to the 13 which had at that time abolished the death penalty altogether, plus several others that had done so de facto and a trend became a consensus. Additionally the opinion included a provocative footnote suggesting a growing broader consensus against capital punishment. This the dissent vehemently decried, with Justice Scalia remarking that “seldom has an opinion of this Court rested so obviously on the personal views of its members.”

I wrote two columns earlier this year that in my view the death penalty was slowly dying and that outside of a small handful of states it has already become an anachronism. Full disclosure then and now, my personal view is that the death penalty in the 21st Century is morally wrong in a civilized society; that it can be freakishly wanton in its selection of people to execute; that its no-recourse finality strains the entire criminal justice system; that it provides precious little or no deterrence to craven impulsive murderers; and that there continues to be a possibility of a botched and inhumane administration of the instrument of death.

Most Americans, however, are increasingly concluding for entirely practical reasons that the application of the death penalty is simply too expensive, the appellate delays too laborious and uncertain, and the ultimate result too fraught with the intrusion of outside factors like race, poverty, unavailability of lethal drugs and the like.

More than any subjective factor of morality, the future of the death penalty is being determined by the growing sentiment that we simply cannot afford it. Even though a majority of Americans probably continue to believe that capital punishment is justified for the mass murderers we hear about on the news with disturbing regularity, they are no longer willing to pay the increasing price. Just as likely, pragmatic considerations in an era of economic insecurity affect those moral and practical decisions on whether as a society we need capital punishment.

The other point implied in Atkins is that the criminal justice system cannot guarantee a fair, reliable, and consistent result in capital cases involving an accused whose mental abilities are seriously subpar. Their limited ability to communicate and contribute to their own defense compromises even an effective defense counsel’s job. The result is that, either they plead to a non-capital sentence without a full consideration of their defenses, or they disproportionately face the one penalty which, if wrong, is unforgiving. Death.

Atkins seems to assume in its dictum that states will use the diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association. Most of the ones which at least nominally still have capital punishment do so. Juries, legislatures, judges, and governors have on quite a few occasions either rejected or overruled the death penalty for mentally retarded defendants.

Read more »

FBI, CIA Could Have Prevented Assassination of JFK Had They Heeded Warnings

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

The FBI and CIA missed opportunities to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by not taking seriously enough threats from Lee Harvey Oswald, according to Philip Shenon’s new book, “A Cruel and Shocking Act,” reports the Orland Sentinel.

Days before the assassination, the president’s administration found a threatening note addressed to JFK.

The existence of the letter was never investigated by the Warren Commission because it had been destroyed.

The commission also didn’t know about a memo from former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who said Oswald even announced he was going to kill JFK, the Sentinel reports.

“There’s tremendous amount of material, much of it has only been released in recent years, that shows that both the FBI and the CIA were very aware of the threat that Lee Harvey Oswald posed,” Shenon said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Did Federal Agencies Miss Chances to Prevent Boston Marathon Bombing? Budget Cuts Delay Answer

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The government shutdown has caused more delays in a high-level investigation into whether federal agencies could have prevented the Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston Globe reports.

The furloughs and budget cuts have bogged down inspectors general of four federal agencies who are conducting a wide-sweeping review.

Before the budget hurdles, the officials had already notified Congress that it would not meet a September deadline.

When will they meet again? Nothing has been scheduled, the Globe reported.

President Obama’s Pick For Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Faces Tough Questions

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

To say Alejandro Mayorkas is on the hot seat may be an understatement.

President Obama’s pick for deputy secretary of Homeland Security is already under an FBI investigation for allegedly exerting influence to help a political insider with a visa application, the Washington Times reports.

According to the Times, he’s also made misleading and potentially false statements to Congress recently.

Mayorkas is currently in charge of a controversial immigrant visa program, the Times wrote.

Obama’s Spiritual Adviser Reveals Heart-Wrenching Newtown Massacre Details

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter lined up students before unloading his rifle, according to a new book by President Obama’s spiritual adviser, Joshua DuBois, the New York Daily News reports.

“The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama”  describes the horrific scene at the elementary school.

“How the gunman treated the children like criminals, lining them up to shoot them down. How so many bullets penetrated them that many were left unrecognizable. How the killer went from one classroom to another and would have gone farther if his rifle would’ve let him,” wrote DuBois, according to an excerpt of the book.

With DuBois at his side, the president met with families after 20-year-old Adam Lanza gunned down 26 people, 20 of whom were children.

“The President took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget,” wrote DuBois about the heart-wrenching meetings.

 

Homeland Security Agent Among Those Recovering After Shootout with Suspect

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

A Homeland Security agent is recovering after he and five local law enforcement officials were wounded during a shootout Friday in suburban Sacramento, the Associated Press reports.

The agent was hospitalized in serious condition this weekend after he was shot in the leg.  Four of the officers were wounded by shrapnel  and were treated and released.  Another officer suffered a jaw wound.

The suspect, Nathan Duran, 32, is accused of attempted murder after he triggered an hour-along standoff that forced the evacuation of nearby homes.

The agent, whose name wasn’t released, was chasing Duran on foot when the suspect shot him.

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