Prosecutors: Reform Is Up to You

This month’s failure of proposed federal legislation to overhaul sentencing suggests that Congress is not the place to look for ways to reduce our prison population. Why not focus on those who put individuals behind bars in the first place?

MO Communication Prof Charged With Assault For Hassling Journalists

University of Missouri communication professor Melissa Click was charged with assault for her actions during the university’s campus protests last fall, reports ABC 17 News in Columbia, Mo. Interim Chancellor Hank Foley said Click will keep her job for the time being. A university task force will study the Nov. 9 incident. Foley said, “Dr. Click is frankly aggrieved by this.

Senators Hear Debate On “Mens Rea” As Justice Reform Window Narrows

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony yesterday on a narrow but crucial issue that has emerged as the main political obstacle to a federal sentencing reform bill: to what degree prosecutors must prove a defendant's criminal intent to win convictions for certain federal crimes. The Washington Post says that for most crimes, federal prosecutors must establish the defendant's willful intent to break the law, or the mens rea (“guilty mind.”). Some crimes in federal statutes and regulations do not include willfulness as part of the elements of the offense. Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists call efforts to fill the gap an attempt to make it more difficult for the federal government to prosecute corporations and their executives for crimes against the public welfare. Leslie Caldwell, chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said that one of the leading proposals to overhaul mens rea requirements would go far beyond corporate regulatory matters to make prosecutions of terrorists and child pornographers more difficult. “It's quite challenging to prove that very senior corporate executives were aware of criminal conduct that was going on within their corporations,” she said.

High Court Eases Prosecutors’ Burden In Death Penalty Cases

The Supreme Court eased the burden for prosecutors seeking the death penalty yesterday, throwing out state court rulings intended to make sure jurors properly considered evidence defense lawyers introduce to argue against a defendant's execution, the Wall Street Journal reports. The issue came from Kansas, where a 2001 state supreme court ruling required trial judges to tell jurors that mitigating evidence need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury instructions were omitted at trials for brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, who were convicted of mass murder, rape and kidnapping in what was dubbed the Wichita Massacre. The trial judge told jurors at a sentencing hearing that it was the prosecution's burden to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that “aggravating circumstances” justify death and “are not outweighed by any mitigating circumstances.” That instruction led the Kansas Supreme Court in 2014 to reverse the Carrs' sentences, along with that of Sidney Gleason, convicted of unrelated murders.

Should 20-Year Old Drug Crimes Block PA Barber From Serving On Council?

In the early 1990s, police in Pennsylvania suspected that Corry Sanders dealt cocaine out of his house, caught him transporting the dope, and, on four occasions, bought a total of $11,400 worth of the drug using an undercover officer. After being busted, Sanders pleaded no contest to various drug charges and criminal conspiracy — including two felonies — and served prison time. He was paroled in 1998. That was the old Corry Sanders, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The new one has stayed out of trouble, owns a barbershop (having learned the trade in prison), is a church deacon and, was elected in November to the McKeesport council.

Experts Cite Orange County DA ‘Failure Of Leadership’ In Informant Scandal

A “failure of leadership” at the Orange County, Ca., district attorney’s office led to repeated problems with the handling of jailhouse informants and helped erode confidence in criminal cases that rely on their testimony, says a new report quoted by the Los Angeles Times. The findings presented yesterday by legal experts on a special committee established by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, described the office as functioning “as a ship without a rudder” and faulted some of its prosecutors for adopting a “win-at-all-costs mentality.” The committee called on the office to improve oversight of cases and promote prosecutors who place justice ahead of legal victories. Within the office, there is a “palpable hesitation” to bring negative information to Rackauckas, who was unaware of “many of the problematic issues that led to the jailhouse informant controversy,” the report said. The report highlighted problems in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, where the committee concluded that deputies in some jail units lacked training on state and federal laws about using inmate informants.