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Sally Yates Sends the Right Message to the Trump White House

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates wasn’t going to be around very long at the Justice Department considering she was a holdover from the Obama administration.

Nonetheless, she should be commended for standing up to President Donald Trump, who implemented an executive order that was poorly thought out and executed.

Hopefully she has set a tone and a message to the White House: Federal law enforcement will not compromise its principles when asked to do something that violates the law.

It’s not likely to be the last time the administration directs federal law enforcement officials to do something questionable.

The president on Tuesday, when announcing his Supreme Court nominee, talked about the importance of the Constitution and the rule of law. We should take him at his word that he places great importance on upholding the law, not bending or breaking it.

In the coming months and years, some law enforcement officials may be forced to make a choice between doing the right thing for the country or keeping their jobs and following a White House order.

Hopefully they’ll do the right thing.

They can always get another job.

They can’t always get another reputation.

 

The Frightening Opiate Tales From The Emergency Room

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By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The mind numbing opiate epidemic is not news, but the number of overdose deaths keeps climbing, and DEA agents say that we are still on the uphill side of the worst drug crisis in U. S. history. Until the opiate epidemic invades you or your family or friends, it is easy to underestimate the intransigence of the scourge.

Emergency room physicians and nurses have to cope with the unending tide of hopeless and desperate patients who are wheeled into the ER every day.  These are stories from a typical urban hospital where all classes, ages and races end up unconscious on their front door step. The fact that the stories are so unexceptional illustrates the extent to which the drug has a death grip on the country.

One ER doc relates that at the beginning of his twelve-hour shift a young woman comes in close to death in an opiate overdose. The medical team uses their best efforts to revive her, and they are successful. The doctor and a nurse both advise her strongly that the next incident may not have a good outcome and that she needs to remain in the hospital for a full medical work-up by an internist as well as counseling and treatment. But she signs herself out of the hospital AMA (Against Medical Advice) before he or anyone else in the hospital can do anything to prevent her from leaving.

The ER doc’s shift proceeds with other patients. An hour before the shift ends, the same young woman is wheeled into the hospital with her second overdose. Again she is revived. Physicians are trained to make no moral judgments about their patients’ lifestyles, but frustration pervades the atmosphere of the facility. What’s the point?

At a different hospital an ER physician tells a story that is going around ERs about a practice of opiate addicts driving to the hospital parking lot, leaving the car in drive with their foot on the brake and taking their drug of choice. If they remain conscious during the “high,” they keep that foot on the brake until they can drive away to another destination. If they overdose and lapse into unconsciousness, their foot slips off the brake, and the car crashes into something stationary, another car, a wall or such. Hospital security then finds the overdosed driver and rushes him or her into the ER for emergency treatment.

How Much Is Too Much?

A third doctor relates a post-overdose conversation she had with a chronic user. The problem, the user explained, is that the most euphoric effect comes only when he is close to slipping into unconsciousness. So users, at least the ones who want to live, must gauge what amount will reach this point without unintentionally going too far. Could the doc give him a little advice on this problem?

Each drug, used legally or not, has a Therapeutic Toxic Ratio or Therapeutic Index, which is a comparison of the amount of drug that causes the effect sought to the amount that causes toxicity. There is a safety continuum between effectiveness and a lethal side effect. The user who was seeking advice was saying that the best high is one which occurs as close to the toxicity point as possible without going too close to a lethal overdose.

The problem with this over simplistic analysis is that there are so many factors and unknowns in the context of illegal drugs that predicting this point is impossible. Using recreational drugs doesn’t happen in the hospital laboratory. The unknown mixture of different drugs (e.g., heroin and fentanyl) prevents this assessment by a user. Also the strength and purity of the drug(s), user tolerance, and contaminants affect the reaction to the drug and change the safety continuum.

So, even if the doctor was inclined to have this discussion, it would have been impossible to do so.  Instead the answer was that any time the user took a drug he was spinning a deadly roulette wheel. The unknown factors were the ones which could kill him or her. Even the same dose of a single drug can be effective one time and kill the user another time. The practice is inherently and unpredictably dangerous.

These are stories of a public emergency sliding toward a cataclysm, one not being addressed by policymakers and politicians. Appreciating its grim tenacity is only the first step to finding an answer to the epidemic.

Supreme Court Strengthens Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement Officers’ Use of Deadly Force

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

It was a tough year for law enforcement officers. Line of duty deaths, especially intentional killings of police, were up dramatically. Several categories of violent crime, including homicides, rose significantly after two decades of steady decline in crime statistics. Recruitment of new officers is becoming difficult, and officers confronting deadly situations are justifiably wary about the public (and media) second-guessing life or death decisions that had to be made under pressure within seconds.

Heather MacDonald, in her recent book The War On Cops, blames these developments on an anti-law enforcement movement led by groups like Black Lives Matter, accentuated by media attention, and facilitated by the policies of the Obama Administration. Whether you buy all of her conclusions, she does make a persuasive case that the current atmosphere in some segments of the public about law enforcement has resulted in officers being less aggressive in discretionary policing and that is a factor in a new crime wave, especially in the nation’s cities.

Into this troubling and dangerous situation, a potential boost in law enforcement confidence came this month from an unlikely source, a per curiam opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Per curiam (Latin: by the Court) decisions are judgments by appellate courts as a whole in which no particular judge or Justice is identified as the author. In the Supreme Court per curiam opinions are almost always unanimous and usually represent brief rulings on non-controversial subjects. They tend to be short. They seldom set an important precedent or alter the rule of law.

But there are exceptions. In 1972 the per curiam opinion by the Court in Furman v. Georgia turned capital punishment upside down when it struck down every death penalty law and practice in the country as arbitrary and capricious under the 8th Amendment. It took four years for the states to re-institute death penalty statutes and, in many ways, the case began to diminish the role of the supreme penalty which continues to this day.

Bush v. Gore

In Bush v. Gore (2000) the Court issued a per curiam opinion in one of the most controversial cases in the Court’s history. The Court upheld the razor-thin Florida vote which gave the presidency to George Bush by a single electoral vote over Al Gore. The 5-4 vote followed party lines with the Republican appointed Justices in the majority, but the ruling was brief and unauthored.  Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz called it the “single most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history,” but others thought it was a profile in courage which preserved the republic.

new_mexico_state_police

Earlier this month the Court decided another per curiam opinion which has gotten much less attention but which could have profound implications, especially to law enforcement officers on the front line. White v. Pauly was an appeal from a civil ruling by a federal district court against New Mexico State Police Officer Ray White, who had shot and killed Samuel Pauley in a police confrontation outside of Santa Fe.

Witnesses had called 911 to report Pauley as a drunk driver. Two police officers went to his residence where he lived with his brother Daniel Pauly in a secluded area to talk with Pauly. They ordered him to open the door.  It was asserted in the complaint that the brothers had not heard the officers identify themselves. The Paulys got their firearms.

A few minutes after the initial confrontation, Officer White arrived at the scene outside of the Pauly residence. The Paulys yelled that they had guns and Daniel fired two shotgun blasts outside the back door. Samuel stuck his handgun outside a window in the front of the house and pointed it in the officers’ direction. All three of the officers took cover, White behind a stone wall. One of the initial two officers fired his gun at Pauly and missed. Officer White fired and killed Samuel Pauly.

In the civil suit the three officers asserted qualified immunity, But the plaintiffs responded that the defense was not available since court opinions in other circumstances had stated that a warning was required before the use of deadly force even under the threat of serious harm. Officer White could not reasonably assume that this warning had taken place before his arrival. The district court agreed and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling and ordered the case to go to trial. Officer White appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Court unanimously vacated this decision without oral argument in a brief per curiam opinion. Officer White had violated no clearly established law requiring a police officer facing an occupant pointing a firearm at him to identify himself and shout a warning before firing his weapon.

The Court pointed out that qualified immunity for law enforcement officers is important to society as a whole. Pre-existing law must give them fair and clear notice of impermissible conduct in order to invalidate the assertion of qualified immunity. Officer White’s conduct under the circumstances, especially his late arrival after the other officers had engaged the subjects, did not violate clearly established law. He could reasonably conclude in an ongoing police action that proper procedures had already been followed.

The case has been criticized as giving police a “license to kill.” But Supreme Court Justices are aware of the issues of the day. They watch TV. Maybe they are sending a signal that the courts should not second-guess law enforcement officers who have to make split second decisions on the use of deadly force by weakening qualified immunity.

Or perhaps they are just tired of the judiciary being asked to make social policy on confrontations between police and potentially dangerous subjects in the context of law suits against police.

Or maybe, like most garden variety per curiam opinions, the case represents a narrow ruling on a unique set of facts with little or no policy-making implications.

Hunting for The Joker

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

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In the Spring of 1989, a drama fraught with irony began playing out in Austria. A Jewish American family, a mother and her two grown sons, were fighting extradition to the US. About 50 years before, Jewish families were desperately trying to leave Austria for safe havens like the U.S.

The subjects of the extradition were Linda Leary and sons, Paul and Richard Heilbrunn. They fled to Austria from Indiana in anticipation of an indictment that was returned by a Federal Grand Jury in November, 1987. The indictment ran 136 pages and contained 53 counts variously charging 34 people. Paul and Richard were specifically charged with running a massive marijuana smuggling and distribution operation, legally termed a “Continuing Criminal Enterprise” (CCE). According to the indictment the ring operated from 1975 to 1985. It distributed more than 150,000 lbs. and took in more than $50 million in cash. The figures were subsequently revised upward to 250,000 lbs. and $50 to $100 million. It would prove to be the biggest marijuana ring ever prosecuted by the US.

Paul Heilbrunn was characterized as the ring leader of the enterprise. Testimony later depicted him as both respected and feared. He was referred to as “Melech,” Hebrew for king. Although Paul was a high school dropout, he was by all accounts a brilliant businessman. Prior to the indictment, he was believed to be a successful commodities trader in Indianapolis and wrote a column on trading for the local newspaper. He was a bon vivant who favored three-piece suits, frequented the finest restaurants and drove a top of the line BMW. He on several occasions rented jets and flew his friends to such events as the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball finals.

His older brother, Richard, on the other hand was described as a big Teddy bear. He lived on a farm and usually wore flannel shirts and jeans. Richard supervised operations while Paul was the CEO.

Their mother, Linda Leary, was twice married and divorced. She had kept the name of her second husband. Leary was prominent in the Indianapolis community. She was the head of the Indiana League of Women Voters and president of the local chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Leary was also involved in her sons’ business ventures. An early venture was dubbed Heilbrunn and Friends, ostensibly it was a health food distribution business -a good front for marijuana distribution. The “friends” were high school buddies who had setup marijuana sales networks at colleges they attended. But soon the network was supplying customers outside the campuses in eleven Midwestern states. Most of the marijuana came by ship from Columbia, Jamaica and Thailand – an exotic global operation. It was then trucked to Indiana where it was stored in barns that were owned or rented by the Heilbrunn organization.

Paul Heilbrunn had structured the organization so that information stovepiped, that is, information moved up and down, but only flowed between members as was necessary. This limited what any member could divulge should they choose to cooperate with law enforcement.

Paul also had attorneys set up offshore corporations in the Bahamas and Panama to launder the proceeds from the marijuana operation. Linda Leary was designated as the head of several of these corporations. Much of the laundered money was transferred back into the US and used to fund loans often for Indiana businesses.

In the present the paradigm has changed – now with so many states legalizing marijuana, it’s almost like looking back on prohibition. The Heilbrunns and their cohorts weren’t protesting the illegality of marijuana. Rather like the bootleggers, they were taking advantage of a restricted market. They could set the price, had little competition and the profits were tax free.

The Beginning of the End of The Empire

The beginning of the end for the Heilbrunn empire occurred when in 1983 a cocaine dealer was arrested. The dealer had previously worked for the Heilbrunns, but had been let go for drug use. He offered to tell what he knew about the Heilbrunn operation as part of plea bargain. There is no honor among thieves and little to none among drug dealers.

After the arrest of the cocaine dealer, law enforcement meticulously put together a case against the Heilbrunn organization which culminated in the 1987 federal indictment. Most of the 34 people charged were known to the federal grand jury that returned the indictment with the notable exception of one indictee who was referred to as “John Doe, also known as the Joker” like Batman’s nemesis. There were also two female subordinates to the Joker – named as Jane Does, aka, “Tipper and Topper.” (This probably was a disappointment to comic book purists who were anticipating a female code name like Catwoman.)

While the Heilbrunns were fighting extradition, most of the indictees were prosecuted and convicted. Some cooperated and agreed to testify against others including the Heilbrunns. In one of the co-conspirator’s trial, there was testimony about the Joker. He was depicted as “Paul Heilbrunn’s trusted and valued peer,” whose Michigan based operation did business with Heilbrunn and his associates. But no one in the Heilbrunn organization other than Paul himself seemed to know Joker’s true identity.

One person in the Joker’s organization had been identified and prosecuted for having stored a 40,000 lb. load purchased by the Joker from Heilbrunn. That person was James Shedd who owned a barn in Ypsilanti Twp. just southeast of Ann Arbor where the load was stored. (Shedd had also previously been the manager of the Sidetrack Bar, a locally famous and historical place in Ypsilanti.) Shedd had refused a plea deal and would not identify the Joker. That stand may have been based more on compensation from the Joker than honor.

It became a personal challenge for me to identify the Joker. It was a matter of pride. The Joker was a huge marijuana dealer who had been operating in my territory with impunity.

There was an individual who had become disenchanted with the Joker’s enterprise and reportedly had a falling out. I decided to see what if anything I could learn from him that might identify the Joker.

Over the next several months, we periodically met for coffee. We talked about a lot of things: sports, politics and although nothing specific was discussed, drugs. Slowly I gained his trust. I explained to him I would never disclose his identity, and any information he provided would be reported in such a way as to not divulge his identity. At no time did he ask me about any payment for information nor did I offer him any compensation. We both understood if he were to provide information, it would be because it was the right thing to do.

We began to discuss some specific things regarding marijuana distribution in Michigan. In early 1989, I asked him if he could help me identify the Joker. His reply was, yes, he could help – he could tell me who the Joker was – he was James Hill.

I immediately began to investigate James Hill. I found that James F. Hill owned a house in an affluent part of Ann Arbor. He also owned a business in Ann Arbor, an ice cream shop on Main Street, “The Lovin’ Spoonful.” And he owned and lived on an 80-acre farm just west of Ann Arbor. Hill had a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. Hill had no criminal record except he had been arrested for a traffic violation in 1973. It was nothing serious, but there was an arrest photo.

I sent a copy of the photo to Indianapolis, and after seeing the photo several of cooperating witnesses identified James Hill as the person they knew as the Joker.

The FBI Ann Arbor Office

Indianapolis obtained an arrest warrant for Hill, aka, the Joker. Early the next morning we set up an arrest team at Hill’s farm. When he was observed leaving the farm, we arrested him and took him to the Ann Arbor FBI office. I explained to Hill that he had been identified as the Joker in a federal indictment from Indiana charging him with multiple drug trafficking violations, and he would be taken to Detroit to be arraigned. He would likely remain in custody until he was transported to Indianapolis. He didn’t really question anything and seemed to have expected to be arrested. He indicated he would be cooperative, but he didn’t want to be interviewed until he got to Indianapolis.

When the media learned of Hill/the Joker’s arrest at the arraignment, they wanted to know how he had been identified. Rather than say nothing and encourage speculation, I made a statement that one of the cooperating witnesses in Indiana had identified him which was partially true.

Hill was removed to Indiana and did cooperate. Tipper and Topper were identified as sisters, Jennifer and Patricia Hanlon of Ann Arbor. They later pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to six years.

In late 1989, the Heilbrunns lost their two-year fight against extradition and were returned to the US.

In  October 1990, Hill pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the Heilbrunns. In his plea agreement, Hill admitted to having received several 1,200 to 2,000 lb. shipments of marijuana starting in 1976. Then between March and November 1985, Hill received marijuana shipments of 18,000 lbs., 20,000 lbs., 40,000 lbs. and a pair of 2,000 lb. loads from the Heilbrunn organization. Hill said he made his last payment to Heilbrunn in 1986. By then he had paid the Heilbrunn organization about $20 million for more than 100,000 lbs. marijuana.

James Hill was sentenced to 20 years. Because he had pleaded to having run a Continuing Criminal Enterprise all of his assets were subject to forfeiture. The US District Court Judge said that Hill would have received harsher punishment if not for his cooperation.

In January 1991, Linda Leary also pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against her sons. She was subsequently sentenced to nine years.

There was no trial of the Heilbrunns. Paul and Richard pleaded guilty in April, and in July 1991, they were sentenced. Richard got 13 years. Paul, the King, who had also pleaded to CCE, received 28 years. Thus, ended the Heilbrunn empire.

To my knowledge no one ever learned the identity of the source who identified the Joker.

 

 

Two New Drugs Targeted in Opioid Epidemic Battle

Kratom leaf

Kratom leaf

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The fight against the opioid epidemic has targeted two new recreational drugs being used on the streets as substitutes for heroin and fentanyl. Both U-4700 and Kratom have been on DEA’s radar screen, as well as US Poison Control Centers, in the last few months because of their increased use in 2016, their potential for abuse and health dangers.

U-4700, a synthetic opioid, is known on the streets as “44,” and “pink” and until recently has been easily available on the internet. It has been reported that it contributed to the death of rock star Prince last summer. It was originally developed for use in the 1970s as an analgesic, but it has many times the strength of morphine.

Last month DEA classified it under Schedule I as presenting an imminent hazard to the public safety.

Kratom, known on the streets as “Ketum,” thang” and other names, is actually an herb that has been used as a recreational drug for several years. Poison Center calls about overdoses have greatly increased this past year. The drug continues to be freely available on the internet and has no age restrictions on purchasing.

However, Kratom has increasingly been found in combinations with opioids in cases of overdoses, and it can independently produce symptoms such as tachycardia, nausea, and hypertension.

DEA’s journey toward its regulation in the last few months presents an interesting study in the agency’s frustrations over getting drugs that are contributing to the opioid epidemic off the streets. DEA originally announced its intention to classify it under Schedule I, but physicians and scientists complained to Congressmen that it has legitimate medical value. These members urged DEA to delay the ban for a period of public comment, which is presently under way. DEA placed it on the Drugs of Concern List and is continuing to consider its appropriate classification.

This report relied on articles from Medscape Internal Medicine (12/9/16), Forbes (8/22/16), and the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (12/16).

The Abduction of GM Executive’s Son Shows Kidnapping Doesn’t Pay

Greg Stejskal was an FBI agent for 31 years and retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office.

Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

I was one of more than a dozen FBI agents assigned to surveillance on Braeburn Circle on Ann Arbor’s south side. After a few hours, agent Stan Lapekas, suggested we look in a Dumpster at the townhouse complex for possible evidence. The Dumpster was inside a wood fence enclosure in the parking lot, and we couldn’t be seen from the outside.

After only a few minutes, a car drove in and parked next to the gate. I peeked out and realized the driver was the man we were looking for — a suspect in the kidnapping of the son of a prominent General Motors executive.

In 1975, my first year assigned to the FBI’s Detroit Division, Michigan had four kidnappings. The one everyone remembers is Jimmy Hoffa, a kidnapping/murder that remains unsolved. The other three were kidnappings for ransom.

Ransom kidnappings still happen frequently in areas where law enforcement is weak or corrupt, including parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. They were once common in the U.S., too. In Public Enemies, America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, Bryan Burrough writes that for some of the notorious gangs of the era, kidnapping was the crime of choice. John Dillinger’s gang specialized in bank robbery, but the Barker/Karpis gang preferred kidnapping. The two gangs were so successful at their respective specialties that Congress made bank robbery and kidnapping federal crimes, empowering the FBI to investigate them.


Bob Stempel

The 1932 statute that gives the FBI jurisdiction in kidnapping cases is called the “Lindbergh Law.” There was a proliferation of high-profile kidnappings in the U.S. during the 1930s, but none was more famous than the abduction of Charles Lindbergh Jr., the toddler son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, in May of that year.

Kidnapping for ransom, out of necessity, requires a victim who is of wealth or has some access to wealth. Not only were the Lindberghs rich, but  Charles may have been the most famous and beloved person in America at the time.

The Lindbergh baby was found dead after a ransom payment, and the crime took several years to solve. Tracking the cash finally led authorities to carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann. He was convicted in 1935 and executed a year later.

The Lindbergh Law relies on a presumption that any kidnapping involves interstate commerce. It is a rebuttable presumption, but allows the FBI to investigate a kidnapping without having to first establish some interstate aspect. And so it was that Stan Lapekas and I came to be hiding out by the Dumpster at University Townhouses in November 1975.

Four days earlier, 13-year-old Tim Stempel had been snatched in Bloomfield Township.

Tim was the son of Bob Stempel, a GM vice president on track to become CEO. Stempel received calls at home from the kidnappers, who wanted $150,000. They told him not to go to the police, but Stempel contacted GM security, who in turn contacted the police and the FBI.

Kidnapping a Rich Kid 

Tim had been kidnapped by Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams, who had decided that a moneymaking project would be to grab a rich family’s kid and hold him for ransom.

They had no specific victim in mind when they drove to the high-income neighborhoods of Bloomfield Township. They passed on a few potential victims for various reasons — playing too close to a house, too young.

Then they spotted Tim Stempel skateboarding. Williams asked the teenager for directions to someone’s house. Tim said he didn’t know the person and started to walk away. Williams pulled a handgun and told him to get in the car.

The boy hit Williams with the skateboard, but Williams tackled him and struck him several times in the head. Williams and Wilson then blindfolded their victim and placed him in the backseat.

They drove to the Ann Arbor townhouse on Braeburn where Williams was staying and transferred the boy to the car’s trunk, where he would remain for 50-some hours. Williams then called Bob Stempel to announce that they had his son. He said he would call back later with instructions.

The police and FBI committed hundreds of officers and agents to the investigation. It was designated a “special” by FBI headquarters; all hands on deck. But it had to be done in such a way as to not alert the kidnappers. The paramount goal in any kidnapping investigation, obviously, is the safe return of the victim.

Stempel got additional calls Nov. 11 and 12. Ultimately he was instructed to go to an empty lot behind a roller skating rink in Inkster. He was to leave the money there, and he would be contacted about his son’s release.

The evening of the “drop,” it was pouring rain. Efforts were made to watch the ransom package, but because of the location and the weather, it was impossible without taking the chance of alerting the kidnappers. The package was retrieved, but whoever made the pickup was not seen. Night vision equipment would have been helpful but was not yet available.

Within a few hours, Tim was released near the drop site.


Darryl Wilson and Clinton Williams in court

An Apparel Store 

Initially there were no suspects, but because much of the activity had occurred in Inkster and nearby, neighborhood investigations were conducted, including a canvass of businesses and homes to determine if anyone had noticed relevant activity.

At an apparel store within a block of the roller rink, an agent learned that two men had spent several hundred dollars in cash for clothes. The serial numbers on the cash matched the numbers recorded from some of the ransom money, and the men who bought the clothes were identified.

The men were interviewed. They said they had driven two other men to the roller rink to pick up the cash. They assumed it contained drug money and accepted several thousand dollars for their trouble.

They identified one of the men as Darryl Wilson and said he lived in Ann Arbor. They didn’t know his address, but an investigation determined that he lived on Braeburn with a relative. A surveillance was set up, and the car used in the kidnapping was found.

That was where things stood when Stan Lapekas and I decided to inspect the Dumpster and Wilson drove up. As soon as he exited the car, Lapekas and I grabbed him and placed him in our backseat, with us sitting very close on each side.

We acted as if we already knew everything but wanted to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story. After we read him his rights, he almost immediately confessed and gave up his accomplice, Clinton Williams.

We hadn’t had Williams’ name. Wilson also told us where Williams lived. I got several other agents and drove to Williams’ home and arrested him.

Williams also confessed. He told us he had threatened Tim Stempel with a handgun and hit him several times. He said they had kept the boy in the car trunk for over two days. He also said he had called the Stempel home from a pay phone in Inkster.

At Wilson’s apartment, we found $137,000 of the ransom.

L. Brooks Patterson Gets Involved 

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The case and subsequent trial became a bit of a media circus. There was no interstate aspect of the kidnapping that would trigger federal charges, so it was prosecuted in state court in Oakland County. County prosecutor L. Brooks Patterson handled the case. (He would later run for governor, and was just re-elected to his seventh term as the Oakland County executive.)

Because of the media attention, the trial was moved to Leelenau County, in the northwest Lower Peninsula. On the first day of trial, Patterson suspected that Wilson and Williams might be planning to enter a plea, so he put Tim Stempel on the stand.

While locked in the trunk of the car, Tim had carved his name on the inside of the trunk lid with a broken piece of a hacksaw blade he found in the trunk — an ingenious act. Patterson introduced the trunk lid as evidence. He then had me testify to get Williams’ confession on the record with all the damning admissions. The next day, Wilson and Williams entered guilty pleas.

We investigated other kidnappings for ransom in the Detroit Division during my 30-plus years there, but I’m not aware of any that succeeded. All the kidnappers were prosecuted.

In two instances, although a ransom was paid, the victims were murdered. In both those cases, the kidnappers never had any intention of releasing the victims.

In the latter years of my career, there were no kidnappings for ransom in Michigan. They also seem rare elsewhere in the country now. The business model is flawed: although the potential profits would seem to be high, the odds of actually getting  and keeping the money are extremely low.

The Effect of Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Picks on Criminal Law Cases

supreme_court_us_2010

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

One out of five voters said that the Supreme Court was the most important issue of the Presidential campaign. They voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. The President-elect has published two lists of about 20 possibilities for his Supreme Court appointees.

“Appointees” plural since there is one vacancy and three of the eight Justices are over or near 80 years old. Two are considered in the “liberal” wing (Ginsburg, Breyer) and one is a swing vote who sometimes votes with that group (Kennedy).

Since the pool of Trump picks are characterized as “conservative” or “libertarian,” the speculation by the pundits is that the effect of the appointments will be immediate and a strong re-direction to the right. Not that many of us put much faith in the predictions of the pundits and pollsters after the election. But in this case they are probably right. At least as to the hot-button issues like abortion, immigration, climate change, LGBTQ, gun rights, and affirmative action.

But what about cases involving criminal and law enforcement issues? This requires an assessment of how the current 8 Justices on these cases have voted.

In the 2015-2016 term, the Court handed down opinions in 28 cases involving these issues out of 81total cases. Categorizing each Justice’s vote as Pro-Government or Pro-Defendant results in the following order, from highest percentage of Pro-Government votes to the lowest:

Alito————79%

Thomas——–61%

Kennedy——-61%

Breyer———-57%

Roberts——–57%

Kagan———-54%

Ginsburg——50%

Sotomayor—-36%

Another interesting survey counted the percentage of time that each Justice voted with the majority in criminal cases, as opposed to voting with the dissent, or filing a concurrence with an entirely different rationale than the majority. That list from highest adherence to the majority to the lowest was as follows:

Kennedy——-96%

Roberts——–93%

Kagan———-89%

Ginsburg——86%

Breyer———86%

Alito———–71%

Sotomayor—71%

Thomas——-54%

Before the analyses, the caveats. These 28 cases were from a single term, not the entire history of a Justice’s votes. Some involved just following the Justice’s interpretation of precedent, as opposed to how he or she would have voted if not bound by precedent. Some of the cases were very complex, and there was some subjectivity in a few cases in deciding which box to put each of the votes in. But there is something to be learned from the exercise even with these limitations.

Looking at the Pro-Government listing, the two Justices at the top (Alito and Thomas) are considered to be the most “conservative” on the bench. The two on the bottom are considered to be in the “liberal” wing. But the four in the middle do not follow these labels. The list proceeds: swing vote (Kennedy), liberal (Breyer), conservative (Roberts), liberal (Kagan). Thus in criminal cases at least, the label does not determine the voting pattern for most Justices.

This conclusion is made even more apparent by a look at individual criminal cases even at the top and bottom of this ranking. For example Justice Thomas, rightly considered the dissenter on the bench, either dissented or concurred in the defendant’s favor in six cases, about a quarter of the criminal docket. This may well be because of his libertarian views on cases like those involving Second Amendment right to bear arms or the federal Hobbs Act, which he may perceive to invade states rights. On the other end of the list, Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg each dissented in favor of the Government in two cases.

On a great many cases, it was difficult to predict how a Justice would vote on criminal cases. Voting groups on each side sometimes involved surprising voting buddies. On the great majority of cases, reading the opinions left the conclusion that the Justices more often voted their views on the applicable law rather than a particular ideology.

Also the overall Government win percentage in criminal cases is 57% to 43% for the defendants. Not too shabby for the guys and gals wearing the white hats. Moreover, in 77% of the time the Justices agree with the opinion of the Court. So the present group has not been a hotbed of rancorous disagreement.

These numbers can be parsed and speculated about in other ways. But back to the original question—how will Trump appointees affect the Court’s criminal and law enforcement-related cases? For the first appointment, to replace Justice Scalia, the answer is probably not much. Justice Scalia regularly, but not always, voted for the government in these cases. And as shown above, most cases are not decided by the ideological label put on each Justice by the media.

The second appointee, and there will be another one for President Trump, will have a greater impact, particularly in categories like abortion, affirmative action, gun rights, business regulation, gay rights, campaign spending, and racial discrimination. However, a Justice’s views can change on the bench and can greatly disappoint the appointing President, like Chief Justice Warren, Justice White, and Justice Souter, to name a few.

In criminal cases, the effect of a second “conservative” like those mentioned by the President-elect will not be as great as these categories, but it will probably move the dial for some future columnist’s analysis toward the Government’s benefit. A more law and order bench, if you will. Justice Brennan, if he stays on the bench, would not be the swing vote. The Chief Justice may well get that label.

One category in criminal cases where such a development may be significant is death penalty cases, where the Court appears to have been sensing the population’s growing doubts about the efficacy and cost effectiveness of the ultimate penalty. Even the few states regularly employing the death penalty seem to be increasingly ambivalent. The recent trend seems to be to decide these cases in ways that lessen the prospect of execution. But that could change with two or more new Justices.

Finally there is, depending on your perspective, another good development in President-elect Trump’s plans. We will no longer be judged by the eastern elite from Harvard and Yale, raised on the coasts, especially New York. The Trump list comes from all over the country and from non-Ivy League law schools, which is good news for those of us who live in the wilderness of “fly over” states and for the lawyers who went to Midwest and southern law schools. Also good news for a more diverse and representative point of view on the highest court in the land.

Supreme Court’s November Cases and the Continued Search for the Evolving Standards of Decency in Criminal Punishment

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.

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By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

With only a pair of criminal cases on the Oral Argument docket in November, the Court will primarily focus on civil and administrative cases. One of the criminal cases, Beckler v. United States, involves a question of interest probably only to some prosecutors and judges: whether the career offender sentencing guidelines defining a “crime of violence” warranting a sentence enhancement is unconstitutionally vague. The Court last year invalidated a similar clause (violent felony) in the Armed Career Criminal Act on that ground.

The other case, Moore v. Texas, involves yet another 8th Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishment issue on the permissible medical standards for intellectual disability regarding a defendant’s fitness for execution.  The case involves another question which will probably not be resolved because of the absence of a Justice to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat. That question is whether long term solitary confinement on death row is itself unconstitutional as cruel and unusual.

In 1980 Bobby James Moore, age 20, shotgunned a grocery clerk to death in a robbery attempt. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Since that time he has spent more than 35 years in solitary confinement in a 60 square foot iron cell for 22 and ½ hours a day. He has no TV or association with other inmates. The medical and psychological effect of this kind of incarceration has been studied extensively, and some of the results show a deterioration ranging from mild mental disability to psychosis. In short some experts consider this to be a modern version of torture.

But can the time expended on repeated postponements caused by the defendant’s own pursuits in the Byzantine appeals process in capital cases be equated with government “torture?”

It is a gruesomely fascinating exercise to trace the evolution of torture as a means to punish. Four thousand years ago the Code of Hammurabi codified punishments for particular crimes. Various penalties were prescribed, including an “eye for an eye,” ripping tongues out for false testimony, and skinning perpetrators alive.

A few centuries later the ancient Hebrews employed crucifixion, being thrown off cliffs, stoning, being burned alive, and being sawn in half. The classical Greeks used the Rack, the Wheel, and an early version of the Iron Maiden as forms of punishment. In their time the Romans imposed punishments of whipping, strappado, and a very inventive one involving being placed in a bag with poisonous snakes and dropped into the water. Trials by ordeal were encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, as well as water boarding and mutilation by various specially designed tools.

During the 1700s almost all forms of torture were abolished in most European countries, but as late as a decade ago Human Rights Watch and the United Nations reported that dozens of countries still use torture as punishment. Today over three dozen nations have abolished the death penalty, but about 60 countries still include the ultimate punishment. Some of them, however, use it sparingly.

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