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Archive for April 5th, 2017

In the Age of Social Media, The Legal Duty to Report Crime

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Over the weekend NBC News and other media reported a story of the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Chicago by a group of juvenile boys. The painful media “angle” of the report was that the offenders had broadcast the brutal assault to 40 Facebook viewers, none of whom had reported the crime to police.

The Chicago Police Chief stated that he was uncertain whether any of the viewers would be charged criminally. He said that he was “disgusted” by their inaction and added, “Where are we going in society?”

The incident follows another one in Chicago in which 4 people taunted and beat a mentally disabled man and broadcast the crime, also by Facebook.

The most recent Chicago case occurred 53 years, almost to the day, after the notorious rape and murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese in March 1964, while observers saw and heard the brutal stabbing and her cries for help. A sensationalized New York Times article, two weeks after the murder, reported that 38 people had watched the murder and did nothing about it.

The article shocked readers across the country and came to represent a widespread “truth” about apathy in the big cities, the breakdown of the values of the 1950s, and the social anxieties of the years which followed.

Many of us became familiar with the Genovese case in our Psych 101 and Sociology textbooks in college, under the title “Bystander Effect” or “Bystander Syndrome,” as the supposed tendency of large groups of people who witness crimes to refuse either to come to the aid of the victim or to call the police. Dozens of movies, TV shows, books, and songs decried the “Bad Samaritan” tendency of people who predominated in modern life.

The problem with the story and its widespread consequences was that most of the reported “facts” were not true. Fifty years later studies showed that the events had been grossly exaggerated and inaccurate in many respects, especially the overstated number of  witnesses (actually probably 5 or 6, some of whom did call the police and try to help the victim). Only one man indicated that he had seen and heard  the assault and “did not want to get involved.”

Ironically the case did have some positive effects, the most obvious of which was the creation of the 911 police emergency system. And there have been other developments, good and bad, which have resulted from the popular reaction to the Genovese case.

But the media and police reports about failure of witnesses to come forward and assist in investigations have continued regularly. Which raises the question, what are the legal implications of the failure of a witness to report a crime?

It’s Misprison

The deliberate concealment of a person’s knowledge of a crime by a non-participant is called misprision. It was first recognized as a common law misdemeanor in 16th Century England and over the centuries it spread to the colonies.

Eventually statutes defining misprision replaced the common law. In the federal criminal code misprision is in 18 USC Sec. 4 (Whoever with knowledge of the commission of a felony conceals it and does not as soon as possible make it known to a person of authority is punishable by a potential $250,000 fine and a maximum of 3 years in prison.)

However, the general principle is that there is no legal duty to report crimes. Mere silence does not constitute criminal concealment. Misprision requires as elements a knowing and an affirmative act of concealment of the crime.

Although misprision has been a crime in the U.S. since 1789, it continues to be misunderstood and rarely employed by prosecutors. It is often confused with the crimes of acting as an accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice, each of which focuses on giving aid to a criminal.

Commonwealth v. Lopes (Mass. 1945) illustrates some of the difficulty with the statute as well as its legal distinctions with other offenses. There the defendant failed to report the discovery of a child’s body because to do so would expose his having an affair. The conviction was reversed because the defendant’s intent was to protect his exposure from a crime (adultery) not to conceal the discovered crime. But compare the case with US v. Baumgartner (6th Cir.2014)(misprision conviction upheld where a Tennessee judge lied to prosecutors and another judge to protect one of his former criminal defendants with whom he was having an affair and receiving drugs).

There are important exceptions to the general rule that failure to report a crime (without an act of concealment) is not a crime. These have been enacted by the states in particular situations. A few states (like Texas), for example, penalize the failure to report an offense resulting in a serious injury or death. Also there are “mandatory reporters,” such as parents, teachers, doctors and ministers, who are required to report certain crimes. Vets are required in some states to report animal abuse, and photo processers must report child pornography photos or videos. Some states make it criminal for a nurse or nursing home staff not to report abuse of the elderly or disabled. Additionally, there are “mandatory reporting crimes,” the most common of which is the failure to report child abuse.

Because even these exceptions are rarely prosecuted, few courts have tested their limits. What if the witness has a recognized legal privilege not to reveal a confidence? What if reporting could have 5th Amendment implications?

What if a judge, prosecutor, or federal agent receives information of a crime in another jurisdiction by a cooperating witness? Is he or she bound to disclose the information to the appropriate authorities in view of 28 USC Sec. 1361’s compulsion for officers of the US to perform their legal duty?

As the Bystander Syndrome encounters the social media obsession in the 21st Century, the duty to report crimes to law enforcement will continue to be more of an ethical and moral issue, as well as an important public policy subject.

Rap songs and t-shirts with inscriptions like “Snitches Get Stitches” will continue to challenge law enforcement’s need for pubic cooperation in order for officers and agents to protect and serve. The use of statutes like misprision will accomplish little to satisfy this need.

 

Parker: The Legal Duty to Report Crimes in the Age of Social Media

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.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Over the weekend NBC News and other media reported a story of the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl in Chicago by a group of juvenile boys. The painful media “angle” of the report was that the offenders had broadcast the brutal assault to 40 Facebook viewers, none of whom had reported the crime to police.

The Chicago Police Chief stated that he was uncertain whether any of the viewers would be charged criminally. He said that he was “disgusted” by their inaction and added, “Where are we going in society?”

The incident follows another one in Chicago in which 4 people taunted and beat a mentally disabled man and broadcast the crime, also by Facebook.

The most recent Chicago case occurred 53 years, almost to the day, after the notorious rape and murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese in March 1964, while observers saw and heard the brutal stabbing and her cries for help. A sensationalized New York Times article, two weeks after the murder, reported that 38 people had watched the murder and did nothing about it.

The article shocked readers across the country and came to represent a widespread “truth” about apathy in the big cities, the breakdown of the values of the 1950s, and the social anxieties of the years which followed.

Many of us became familiar with the Genovese case in our Psych 101 and Sociology textbooks in college, under the title “Bystander Effect” or “Bystander Syndrome,” as the supposed tendency of large groups of people who witness crimes to refuse either to come to the aid of the victim or to call the police. Dozens of movies, TV shows, books, and songs decried the “Bad Samaritan” tendency of people who predominated in modern life.

The problem with the story and its widespread consequences was that most of the reported “facts” were not true. Fifty years later studies showed that the events had been grossly exaggerated and inaccurate in many respects, especially the overstated number of  witnesses (actually probably 5 or 6, some of whom did call the police and try to help the victim). Only one man indicated that he had seen and heard  the assault and “did not want to get involved.”

Read more »

19-Year-Old Sports Memorabilia Collector Led FBI to Stolen Tom Brady Jerseys

The FBI returns Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette Stadium. Photo via FBI.

The FBI returns Tom Brady’s stolen Super Bowl jerseys to Gillette Stadium. Photo via FBI.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A 19-year-old sports memorabilia collector and avid Patriots fan provided FBI with the tip that led investigators to the person who stole Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jerseys.

Dylan Wagner said he sold an unrelated jersey on eBay to Martin Mauricio Ortega, who showed off his impressive collection, CBS Boston reports

“He sent me 30 photos of his collection. Front and center was Tom Brady’s Super Bowl 49 Jersey. I asked him outright, ‘How did you get that?’ and he says ‘I’ll tell you later,’” Wagner explained.

Dylan shared the photos with a friend, who happened to be an ATF special agent in Boston.

Special Agent Christopher Arone later heard about Brady’s missing game jersey after this year’s Super Bowl.

“He sent me a link to an ESPN article. It stated it is not the first time a jersey was stolen from Brady and it happened after the Seahawks Super Bowl,” Wagner recalled. “I couldn’t believe this guy would have the audacity to go in and steal something that someone worked so hard for.”

Ortega was spotted leaving the Patriots’ locker room with something tucked under his arm.

The FBI and police in Mexico were able to recover both Super Bowl jerseys and return them to the Patriots.

“I would love to meet Brady one day, hopefully. It would be a dream come true. I’m just really glad he gets his jerseys back,” Wagner said.

Social Media Backlash Follows FBI’s Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on Twitter

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI caught backlash Tuesday after tweeting a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. on the anniversary of his assassination.

“Today, on the anniversary of his assassination, the FBI honors the life, work, & commitment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to justice.” the FBI tweeted from its official account.

The FBI also included one of King’s favorite quotes.

“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said in the tweeted quote.

The FBI hasn’t also been so nice to King, who was repeatedly under surveillance by the bureau .

J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director during the height of the civil rights movement, is accused of sending King a blackmail letter that appeared to urge the activist to kill himself, the New York Post reports. 

The social media backlash was almost immediate.

“You have no f—ing right to co-opt the legacy of Dr. King nearly 50 years after you murdered him,” tweeted John Weiss, a writer and filmmaker.

“You shld have protected Civil Rights leaders, instead of running COINTELPRO smear campaign.” wrote Twitter user Kyle Linhares. “Evers, X, King might still be alive if you had.”

Jones: Jeff Sessions Shows No Respect for Black Lives After Consent Decree Review

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the Trump campaign.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the Trump campaign.

Solomon Jones
Philadelphia Inquirer

After the recent actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, even the few black voters who supported Donald Trump despite his bigoted campaign rhetoric must now admit the obvious. A vote for Trump was a vote for racist policies.

Sessions’ decision to order a broad review of federal agreements with dozens of law-enforcement agencies is nothing short of an attack on black and brown people. After all, those agreements were necessitated by systemic police abuses targeting minority communities. Attempting to pull out of those agreements – most of which have already been approved in federal court – delivers an indisputable message: Black lives don’t matter to the Trump administration.

And make no mistake. This is about black lives.

That truth is not lost on activists who’ve long fought systemic police abuses targeting blacks. Few of them are surprised that Sessions – who once was denied a federal judgeship based largely on allegations of racism – is the man leading the charge.

“Jeff Sessions’ entire career in the justice system is rooted in racism and anti-blackness,” Asa Khalif, who leads Pennsylvania Black Lives Matter, told me. “If there was ever a time to rally and stand together as black people, it’s now.”

Given that Trump thanked black people for not voting after his surprising Electoral College victory, I think Khalif is right. We must stand together, because the examination of police departments across the country were spurred by high-profile police killings of unarmed African Americans. The same black people featured prominently in Justice Department reports that meticulously documented patterns of systemic police abuse.

The Obama administration compiled one such report following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after suffering a spinal injury in a police van when officers failed to properly restrain him with seat belts. Based on interviews, documents and an extensive review of six years of data, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division concluded that the Baltimore Police Department engaged in an ongoing pattern of discrimination against African Americans.

The report minced no words in laying out the truth.

“BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents,” the report said. “Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests and uses of force. These racial disparities, along with evidence suggesting intentional discrimination, erode the community trust that is critical to effective policing.”

To read more click here. 

Homeland Security Secretary Kelly Considers Body Cams for Border Patrol Agents

Body cams, via Wikipedia

Body cams, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

As complaints continue about President Trump’s toughened immigration policies, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Tuesday that he will consider body cameras for Border Patrol and ICE agents, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

Kelly met with Congressional Hispanic Caucus members and said he would investigate credible charges of civil rights violations.

In a meeting three weeks ago with Democratic lawmakers, Kelly insisted the agency lacked enough money to buy body cameras.

“We believe that this would increase transparency and would make sure that ICE agents are doing their jobs properly, that Border Patrol agents are doing their job properly,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who has led the push for the body cameras. “He (Kelly) said he is committed to that, and hopefully that will become ‘part of our job.’”

Castro called out Kelly’s claims that the agency doesn’t have enough money for body cams, noting that Trump’s budget calls for an infusion of $2.8 billion for discretionary spending at Homeland Security.

“There are tremendous safety and accountability benefits to having video records of law enforcement activity – both for the officers and for the public,” Castro wrote.