Alexa, Do You Record Kids’ Conversations? These Law Firms Think So.

A pair of class actions filed Tuesday allege that Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices, like Echo and Echo Dot, illegally record the conversations of children.

“Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent or the consent of their parents,” both complaints say.

Travis Lenkner, of Chicago’s Keller Lenkner, which filed the suits along with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, said the cases are the first of their kind. The suits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and Los Angeles Superior Court, seek damages under the privacy laws of nine states, including California, Florida and Pennsylvania.

“What all nine have in common is they are what’s known as two-party consent states,” Lenkner said. “An audio recording of a conversation or of another person requires the consent of both sides to that interaction in these states and when such consent is not obtained these state laws contain penalties, including set amounts of statutory damages per violation.”

A spokeswoman for Amazon, based in Seattle, referred requests for comment to a blog post about Amazon FreeTime, a “dedicated service that helps parents manage the ways their kids interact with technology, including limiting screen time,” and was expanded to include Alexa last year. Amazon said its FreeTime and Echo Dot Kids applications require parental consent and, in some cases, don’t collect personal information. Parents also can delete their child’s profile or recordings, the blog says.

The suits come as a coalition of 19 consumer and public health groups petitioned the Federal Trade Commission last month to investigate Amazon’s Echo Dot Kids, which they claim violates the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA—an allegation that Amazon has denied.

An 8-year-old in California and a 10-year-old in Massachusetts, identified as R.A. and C.O., filed the class actions through their guardians. Both cases said the children used Alexa devices to play music, tell jokes or answer questions, but never consented to having their discussions recorded.

Their parents also had no idea the devices were saving permanent recordings of the conversations to Amazon’s servers and sending them to a subsidiary in Sunnyvale, California, also named in the complaints, called A2Z Development Center Inc., which does business as Amazon Lab126.

“Amazon has thus built a massive database of billions of voice recordings containing the private details of millions of Americans,” the complaints say.

The complaints note that other devices, such as Apple’s Siri, record conversations temporarily and later delete them.

The lawsuits seek a court order mandating that Amazon destroy the recorded conversations of children and pay statutory damages, which range from $100 to $5,000 per violation, depending on the state.

The other states in the class are Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Washington.

via – Newswire

June 11, 2019 at 10:12PM

The Crime Report: ‘Judges Influenced by Fox News Give Harsher Sentences’

Elected judges impose harsher criminal sentences on defendants if they watch conservative news media, in particular Fox News, according to a Columbia Business School research paper, reported The Crime Report.

“Higher Fox News viewership increases incarceration length, and the effect is stronger for black defendants and for drug-related crimes,” wrote Elliot Ash, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Law, Economics, and Data Science at ETH Zurich, and Michael Poyker, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University.
Building on the assumption that “greater exposure to partisan television news has an impact on voting in presidential elections and congressional position-taking,” the study authors scrutinized whether partisan news has an effect on judges’ rulings, scrutinizing data on almost 7 million criminal sentencing decisions in the United States for the years 2005 to 2017.
Their conclusion: “Conservative television media exposure has a causal effect on judge decision-making.”
To research their paper, “Conservative News Media and Criminal Justice: Evidence from Exposure to Fox News Channel,” Ash and Poyker used word clouds, compared national sentencing data, and examined Fox viewership.
“We use combined microdata on criminal sentencing decisions from the National Corrections Reporting Program and a unique dataset with the universe of sentencing decisions linked to judge biographies from ten states … paired with data on cable news viewership at the county level,” they wrote.
Conservative-news watching had no measurable effect on appointed judges, according to the research paper.
“The appointed judges have tenure, and therefore face minimal political pressures once in office,” Ash and Poyker wrote. “We find that Fox News increases sentencing only for elected judges. Voters might become more conservative due to Fox News exposure, and in particular due to media attention on felony cases.
Meanwhile, lawyers/prosecutors put active pressure on judges threatening to find candidates to displace then; that would increase electoral pressures on judges to be harsher in sentencing decisions.”
The study authors trained word2vec, a popular word embedding model, on transcripts for Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, for the years 2001 through 2013. “This model works by reading through sentences and locating words close to each other in a vector space if they tend to occur in similar contexts (that is, windows of neighboring words). Similarity between words can then be measured using the cosine of the angle between the vector representations of each word.
In the transcripts data, the most similar words to ‘crime’ were ‘crimes,’ ‘murder,’ ‘homicide,’ ‘perpetrator,’ ‘felonies,’ and other synonyms or closely related terms.”
Ash and Poyker took sentencing data from the National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) that contains information for “all prison admissions in the United States from 2000 to 2014.” NCRP’s data was cross-referenced with sentencing data from a previous study done by Poyker and Dippel (2019)because of its case-level detail of accessible judge’s information.
From there, Ash and Poyker only used data from 10 states with judges’ information in the case files. Those states are Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington.
“We establish a racial bias in the effect of conservative discourse on criminal justice decisions, and this is linked to drug crimes,” they wrote. “As Blacks are disproportionately arrested for non-violent drug related offenses, the effect could be driven by racial bias in media messaging. Alternatively, it could be that ‘tough-on-drugs’ rather than ‘tough-on-crime’ rhetoric matters in this setting.”
Ash and Poyker looked at viewership based on Nielsen’s channel positions and ratings analytics that categorized viewership with zip codes. (Ctrl-F Media Data)
Interestingly, the effect of Fox News on elected judges becomes weaker in the run-up to the election date, according to this report.
“One interpretation of this result is that politicized information and politicized incentives are substitutes, rather than complements. As electoral pressures become stronger, media effects are reduced.
Another possibility is that Fox News content becomes more election-focused, and less devoted to crime, in the run-up to elections.”
To read more CLICK HERE

via Matt Mangino

June 7, 2019 at 02:37PM

Legalized Abortions Tied to Crime Drop of 1990s

What seems to be an unlikely and “surprising” connection between legalizing abortions and a decrease in crime from 1997 and 2014 is real, according to a paper by John J. Donohue of Stanford Law School, and Steven D. Levitt of the University of Chicago’s Department of Economics.

The Donohue-Levitt study, published as a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper, was released as a follow-up to research by the same authors published in 2001, titled The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime, which found that the “five states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines [in crime] earlier than the rest of the nation,” which legalized abortion in 1973 following the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v Wade decision.

Their paper comes at an awkward time politically.

Anti-abortion activists are increasingly throwing their political weight behind model legislation restricting abortion during the early stages of pregnancy. Versions of the so-called Fetal Heartbeat Bill, (also known as the LIFE Act), which declares that “abortions [are] illegal as soon as the fetus’ heartbeat can be detected,” regardless of rape or incest, have already been passed in Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio.

North Dakota passed a similar bill in 2013, but it was declared unconstitutional two years later. Iowa had its 2018 bill blocked by a state judge in January. In Mississippi and Kentucky, judges have temporarily blocked Fetal Heartbeat Bills passed earlier this year, according to Fortune.

The authors said their motivation behind the 2019 paper evolved from decades of psychological research that proved, before abortions, unwanted children were at a “higher risk for less favorable life outcomes on multiple dimensions” —another way of suggesting that such children are likely to become justice-involved during their lifetimes.

“Less favorable life outcomes” can be explained in part because of the poor socioeconomic standing in the household that unwanted children run the risk of being born into. Economic restrictions can result in living in dangerous neighborhoods, which would expose the child to criminal behavior, according to Ultius.

After the legalization of abortion, the U.S. saw a dramatic reduction in the number of unwanted births.  But even though the Roe v Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, it took a few years for the numbers to reach a quantifiable state because there was originally a lack of abortion providers.

So, Donohue and Levitt began looking at data from 1997 to 2014 for their study.

They admitted that the analysis is complicated by the fact that the impact of abortion on crime is can only be measured over a period of decades. Rather, it is only felt when the fetus exposed to abortion in utero would reach “an age at which crimes are committed.”

Examining crime patterns and statistics from the five states that legalized abortion before the Court ruling, (Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, and Washington),  in the period between 1982 and 1997—around when those aborted fetuses would have been of “criminal age”— Donohue and Levitt found a 30.4 percent decrease in crime compared to the increase in crime in the rest of the country.

They tested their theory again by looking at the relationship between crime and the number of abortions in each state, finding that “high-abortion states experience more favorable [decreased] crime trends than medium-abortion states, with low-abortion states faring the worst [in crime trends].”

Lastly, they found that the relationship between abortion rates and arrests from 1985-2014 shows that there’s a slight decrease in arrest rates as abortion rates increase.

“Twenty years from now, the impact of abortion will be roughly twice as great as the impact felt so far,” the authors predicted. “Our results suggest that, all else being equal, legalized abortion will account for persistent declines of 1 percent a year in crime over the next two decades.”

But, that prediction is now subject to doubt, as the anti-abortion movement gains more traction.

The link between crime and unwanted births adds another dimension to fears that toughening restrictions on abortion will have a direct impact on women’s health.

Women’s advocate groups  have warned that a return to the pre-Roe era will lead to a dramatic increase in unsafe “D.I.Y” abortion methods in years to come.

Abortion tends to be safer where it is broadly legal than in more legally restrictive settings, according to the Guttenmacher Institute.

“According to recent estimates, at least 8 percent of maternal deaths worldwide are from unsafe abortion,” the Institute said. “At least 22,800 women die each year from complications of unsafe abortion.”

In 2018, the Institute released a paper which found that, worldwide, there are about 35 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15 to 44).

The complete report, The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades, can be downloaded here.

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

via The Crime Report

June 12, 2019 at 08:20AM

This Week’s Corrupt Cops Stories

A Hawaii police officer breaks bad and an Arkansas jail guard gets nailed. Let’s get to it:

[image:1 align:left]In Honolulu, a Maui Police Department officer was arrested last Friday after a months-long investigation into drug sales on the island of Molokai. Officer Daniel Imakyure went down after investigators obtained search warrants for his cellphones, computers, and lockers. Evidence recovered showed he was complicit in drug distribution on Molokai. He was charged with promoting a dangerous drug in the first degree and criminal conspiracy. 

In Marion, Arkansas, a Crittenden county jail guard was arrested Monday after he got caught trying to sneak drugs into the jail. Corrections Officer Torell Harris, 23, went down after authorities were appraised of a smuggling plan and caught him picking up a stash hidden in a wastebasket in the sheriff’s office. He is charged with furnishing prohibited articles and possession of a controlled substance.

via Criminal Justice

June 12, 2019 at 04:44PM

California: No Face Recognition on Body-Worn Cameras

EFF has joined a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations to support a California bill that would prohibit law enforcement from applying face recognition and other biometric surveillance technologies to footage collected by body-worn cameras.

About five years ago, body cameras began to flood into police and sheriff departments across the country. In California alone, the Bureau of Justice Assistance provided more than $7.4 million in grants for these cameras to 31 agencies. The technology was pitched to the public as a means to ensure police accountability and document police misconduct. However, if enough cops have cameras, a police force can become a roving surveillance network, and the thousands of hours of footage they log can be algorithmically analyzed, converted into metadata, and stored in searchable databases.

Today, we stand at a crossroads as face recognition technology can now be interfaced with body-worn cameras in real time. Recognizing the impending threat to our fundamental rights, California Assemblymember Phil Ting introduced A.B. 1215 to prohibit the use of face recognition, or other forms of biometric technology, such as gait recognition or tattoo recognition, on a camera worn or carried by a police officer.

“The use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance is the functional equivalent of requiring every person to show a personal photo identification card at all times in violation of recognized constitutional rights,” the lawmaker writes in the introduction to the bill. “This technology also allows people to be tracked without consent. It would also generate massive databases about law-abiding Californians, and may chill the exercise of free speech in public places.”

Ting’s bill has the wind in its sails. The Assembly passed the bill with a 45-17 vote on May 9, and only a few days later the San Francisco Board of Supervisors made history by banning government use of face recognition. Meanwhile, law enforcement face recognition has come under heavy criticism at the federal level by the House Oversight Committee and the Government Accountability Office.

The bill is now before the California Senate, where it will be heard by the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, June 11.

EFF, along with a coalition of civil liberties organizations including the ACLU, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, CAIR California, Data for Black Lives, and a number of our Electronic Frontier Alliance allies have joined forces in supporting this critical legislation.

Face recognition technology has disproportionately high error rates for women and people of color. Making matters worse, law enforcement agencies conducting face surveillance often rely on images pulled from mugshot databases, which include a disproportionate number of people of color due to racial discrimination in our criminal justice system. So face surveillance will exacerbate historical biases born of, and contributing to, unfair policing practices in Black and Latinx neighborhoods.

Polling commissioned by the ACLU of Northern California in March of this year shows the people of California, across party lines, support these important limitations. The ACLU’s polling found that 62% of respondents agreed that body cameras should be used solely to record how police treat people, and as a tool for public oversight and accountability, rather than to give law enforcement a means to identify and track people. In the same poll, 82% of respondents said they disagree with the government being able to monitor and track a person using their biometric information.

Last month, Reuters reported that Microsoft rejected an unidentified California law enforcement agency’s request to apply face recognition to body cameras due to human rights concerns.

“Anytime they pulled anyone over, they wanted to run a face scan,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said. “We said this technology is not your answer.”

We agree that ubiquitous face surveillance is a mistake, but we shouldn’t have to rely on the ethical standards of tech giants to address this problem. Lawmakers in Sacramento must use this opportunity to prevent the threat of mass biometric surveillance from becoming the new normal. We urge the California Senate to pass A.B. 1215.

via Updates

June 10, 2019 at 07:17PM

Details of Justice Department Efforts To Break Encryption of Facebook Messenger Must Be Made Public, EFF Tells Court

San Francisco—The Electronic Frontier Foundation asked a federal appeals court today to make public a ruling that reportedly forbade the Justice Department from forcing Facebook to break the encryption of a communications service for users.

Media widely reported last fall that a federal court in Fresno, California denied the government’s effort to compromise the security and privacy promised to users of Facebook’s Messenger application. But the court’s order and details about the legal dispute have been kept secret, preventing people from learning about how DOJ sought to break encryption, and why a federal judge rejected those efforts.

EFF, the ACLU, and Stanford cybersecurity scholar Riana Pfefferkorn told the appeals court in a filing today that the public has First Amendment and common law rights to access judicial opinions and court records about the laws that govern us. Unsealing documents in the Facebook Messenger case is especially important because the public deserves to know when law enforcement tries to compel a company that hosts massive amounts of private communications to circumvent its own security features and hand over users’ private data, EFF said in a filing  to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. ACLU and Pfefferkorn, Associate Director of Surveillance and Cybersecurity at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, joined EFF’s request to unseal. A federal judge in Fresno denied a motion to unseal the documents, leading to this appeal.

Media reports last year revealed DOJ’s attempt to get Facebook to turn over customer data and unencrypted Messenger voice calls based on a wiretap order in an investigation of suspected M-13 gang activity. Facebook refused the government’s request, leading DOJ to try to hold the company in contempt. Because the judge’s ruling denying the government’s request is entirely under seal, the public has no way of knowing how the government tried to justify its request or why the judge turned it down—both of which could impact users’ ability to protect their communications from prying eyes.

“The ruling likely interprets the scope of the Wiretap Act, which impacts the privacy and security of Americans’ communications, and it involves an application used by hundreds of millions of people around the world,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Andrew Crocker. “Unsealing the court records could help us understand how this case fits into the government’s larger campaign to make sure it can access any encrypted communication.’’

In 2016 the FBI attempted to force Apple to disable security features of its mobile operating system to allow access to a locked iPhone belonging to one of the shooters alleged to have killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Apple fought the order, and EFF supported the company’s efforts. Eventually the FBI announced that it had received a third-party tip with a method to unlock the phone without Apple’s assistance. We believed that the FBI’s intention with the litigation was to obtain legal precedent that it could compel Apple to sabotage its own security mechanisms.

“The government should not be able to rely on a secret body of law for accessing encrypted communications and surveilling Americans,” said EFF Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey. “We are asking the court to rule that every American has a right to know about rules governing who can access their private conversations.

For the motion:


Senior Staff Attorney
Staff Attorney

via Updates

June 12, 2019 at 08:06PM

What In The World Were These Lawyers Thinking?

It’s been a while since I’ve asked the rhetorical question (or at least to me it’s rhetorical): What were these lawyers and judges thinking? Dinosaurs will remember (and maybe millennials if they’ve seen it on YouTube) Jay Leno’s interview with British actor Hugh Grant back in 1995 on the Tonight Show. Most millennials (dinosaurs will) won’t remember that Grant was busted for lewd conduct after being caught with a prostitute in a car in Hollywood (where else?). Jay Leno asked him the question that everyone wanted to ask.

In a situation of “be careful where you point that thing,” a judge in Pennsylvania is on leave while the state investigates the judge’s shooting of her estranged husband in her house.  The judge has a restraining order against the estranged husband and the issue is whether the shooting was justified.

A former (note the use of the term) United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia was convicted of two counts of aggravated stalking of his former girlfriend. He’s scheduled to be released from prison this summer, but he will have to find another line of work. The Supreme Court of Georgia has disbarred him. Do you think there’s an anger management problem here?

Let’s add law professors to this “what were they thinking?” question. In an unbelievable mash-up of poor taste and downright unpardonable laziness, a law professor’s exam question asked his students to discuss an incident that was not only in the news, but that killed one of their classmates. You don’t think that the professor could have changed some of the facts and rewritten the question in such a way that the obviousness was not so… obvious? No wonder there’s a perception that law professors are more interested in their own work than in preparing their students for the rigors of practice. Perception equals reality and this is a perfect example. Shame on him.

Two Harvard Law School grads are duking it out in contentious litigation.  Didn’t they learn dispute resolution skills while at Harvard? The lawyers have discussed mediation, but perhaps they need some persuasion to get them to talk.

Why can’t judges just keep quiet, rather than saying inappropriate things that only get them in trouble and cause them to lose a retention election? You can’t get in trouble for not talking. This is the perfect situation of where stifling oneself would have been the right thing to do. And thank you, Your Honor, for suggesting a prostitution defendant, a so-called “health risk,” move out of Illinois, possibly to California.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, more than 200 attorneys have signed a letter calling for an ethics investigation of the Coffee County District Attorney for comments he’s allegedly made, proclaiming that he won’t prosecute domestic violence cases involving same-sex marriages (he believes that there can’t be same-sex marriages and so there’s no domestic in domestic violence) and alleged anti-Muslim comments. Nice to know that someone who is sworn to uphold the law and represent all the people doesn’t think that all of the people deserve to be represented.

An assistant public defender in Southern Illinois was fired because she was not a lawyer. Although she graduated from law school, she failed the bar exam twice. The public defender who hired her never asked for proof of bar passage because that had never been an issue before. It is now. The office’s workload just increased, as it now has to contact all the defendants that she represented. How to explain that snafu?

The last story in this version of “what were they thinking?” hits home because it involves a lawyer I know. I met him soon after he was admitted to the California Bar in 2012.  He was a baby lawyer, who worked with me on a planning subcommittee of a local bar association. I am heartsick at what damage he has brought upon his clients and himself. Named a Southern  California lawyer “Rising Star” for several years, he is now facing up to 20 years (not a typo) in federal prison having pleaded to a $4 million wire fraud charge. The victim of the wire fraud was not his only victim. There were others.

Where and how did he run aground? I could say that I thought he was smart (but apparently too smart for his own good), resourceful (to his clients’ detriment), and a hard worker (he worked hard but apparently not for his clients, who have suffered losses in excess of $4M). He has lost his reputation, he has been disbarred, and he faces substantial prison time. Now it’s all gone to hell and for what? What was he thinking?

old lady lawyer elderly woman grandmother grandma laptop computerJill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at

via Above the Law

June 12, 2019 at 04:26PM

Spotlight: Prosecuting Lifesavers Exposes Deep Problems With Laws and Their Enforcement

Four women leave water and food in a place where desperately hungry and thirsty people are likely to find them. The hope is to save lives.

Others come along and, sneering, pour out the water. One, laughing, calls it “trash.” Another kicks the jugs, violently. A video capturing these acts on several occasions between 2010 and 2017 is difficult to watch, because the people seem to take so much joy in depriving dying people of water.

These episodes might easily represent the best and worst of humanity, but, according to the federal government, the first violates the law and the second upholds it.

“During the summer of 2017, when temperatures reached triple digits in Arizona, four women drove to a vast desert wilderness along the southwestern border with Mexico” bringing water jugs and canned food, according to Kristine Phillips of the Washington Post. Thousands of people have died while making that trek in Arizona in recent years. Natalie Hoffman, Oona Holcomb, Madeline Huse, and Zaachila Orozco-McCormick, volunteers with the humanitarian group No More Deaths, were later charged with federal misdemeanors. Prosecutors argued that they violated federal law by entering a protected refuge area without a permit and by leaving water and food there. The judge convicted them. “In his verdict, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco said the women’s actions violated ‘the national decision to maintain the Refuge in its pristine nature.’ Velasco also said the women committed the crimes under the false belief that they would not be prosecuted and instead would simply be banned or fined.” (They were sentenced to probation and were fined.)

“Aid workers say their humanitarian efforts, motivated by a deep sense of right and wrong, have been criminalized during the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal border crossings. Federal officials say they were simply enforcing the law,” Phillips adds. Catherine Gaffney, another No More Deaths volunteer, said the guilty verdict challenges all “people of conscience throughout the country.” She asked, “If giving water to someone dying of thirst is illegal, what humanity is left in the law of this country?” Federal prosecutors argued, successfully, that the women should have been aware that leaving disposable items at the refuge is a punishable crime, and they admitted to violating federal law.

In Marfa, Texas, a four-time elected prosecutor, Teresa Todd, is under investigation for human smuggling after stopping to help three migrants alongside the road at night in February. “I see a young man in a white shirt. He runs out toward the road where I am,” Todd told NPR. He was pleading for help. “I can’t just leave this guy on the side of the road. I have to go see if I can help.” The young man told Todd that his sister, 18-year-old Esmeralda, was in trouble. “I mean, she can hardly walk, she’s very dazed.” The migrants sheltered in Todd’s car while she sought legal advice from a friend who is the legal counsel for the local U.S. Border Patrol. Before the friend could reply, a sheriff’s deputy showed up. An agent was soon reading Todd her Miranda rights. When Esmeralda reached the hospital, doctors told hershe was on the brink of death. The sheriff of Presidio County defended the action against Todd, saying that anyone with undocumented migrants in their car risks arrest.

Now, another No More Deaths volunteer, college geography instructor Scott Warren, faces three felony charges and up to 20 years in prison, for conspiring to transport and for harboring two Central American men. The men had approached Warren, telling him that they had walked through the desert for two days with almost nothing to eat or drink. Warren shared his dinner with them, and called for medical help.

Many have noted, in response, that these laws are unjust, and that this is as good an occasion for jury nullification as ever existed. But in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Warren takes the discussion further. “Over the years, humanitarian groups and local residents navigated a coexistence with the Border Patrol. … At times, the Border Patrol sought to cultivate a closer relationship. ‘Glad you’re out here today,’ I remember an agent telling me once. ‘People really need water.’” Warren continues: “Those kinds of encounters are rare these days. Government authorities have cracked down on humanitarian aid [and are] aggressively prosecuting volunteers.”

Warren is pointing out that unjust laws are only half the problem. Unjust laws on the books are nothing new. For them to do the most harm, they must be enforced as such. Warren notes that smuggling and harboring laws “have always been applied selectively: with aggressive prosecutions of ‘criminal’ networks but leniency for big agriculture and other politically powerful industries that employ scores of undocumented laborers.”

In these cases, actors appear to have set out to enforce them in an unjust way. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not have to bring charges, but it seems to have jumped at the chance. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered border prosecutors to prioritize harboring cases, after which such prosecutions shot up. UN Human Rights experts have urged the government to drop the charges.

Border Patrol did not need to cooperate, but it did. The head of the Border Patrol’s powerful union has publicly denounced the practice of leaving water for migrants in the desert. And Judge Velasco, who convicted the four women for leaving supplies in the desert, also presided over Warren’s case before felony charges were filed. He was found to have had private discussions about the case with prosecutors, without defense present, a serious violation.

Velasco did not need to convict the women. His hands were not tied. In the mid-2000s, he presided over the case of two college-age No More Deaths volunteers, who faced felony harboring charges for driving three sick migrants to a church for medical care. “In the run-up to the trial, Velasco batted away one pretrial defense motion after another. But once Collins, the district judge, took over, the case was dismissed,” reports Ryan Devereaux for The Intercept. “Efforts to prosecute No More Deaths volunteers for leaving water on federal lands similarly ran aground in the 9th Circuit.”

When laws are unjust, and prosecutors bring unjust cases, and judges make unjust decisions, juries are often the last line of defense. In Warren’s case, it seems, at least some jurors might be taking that job seriously. The jury is deadlocked.

via The Appeal

June 11, 2019 at 02:06PM

Mar-a-Lago Intruder May Face National Security Case

Federal prosecutors disclosed this week they are developing a potential national security case against Yujing Zhang, the 33-year-old Chinese woman charged with unlawfully entering Mar-a-Lago with a stash of electronic equipment, the Miami Herald reports.

They asked a federal judge to allow them to file “classified information” under seal without the public — or the defendant — seeing it. If the motion is granted, prosecutors will present the evidence directly to the federal judge in Zhang’s trespassing case during a private, closed meeting in the judge’s chambers. The prosecution’s motion indicates that she is a focus of a widening U.S. probe of possible Chinese espionage and suggests that authorities have evidence she was likely not simply a “bumbling tourist” who accidentally found her way into President Donald Trump’s private estate in Palm Beach.

via The Crime Report

June 13, 2019 at 09:31AM

Despite Crackdowns, Illegal Drugs Still Sold on Dark Web

Authorities in the U.S. and Europe recently staged a wide-ranging crackdown on online drug markets, taking down Wall Street Market and Valhalla, two of the largest drug markets on the so-called dark web. Yet the desire to score drugs from the comfort of home and to make money from selling those drugs appears for many to be stronger than the fear of getting arrested, The New York Times reports.

Despite enforcement actions over the last six years that led to the shutdown of about half a dozen sites, there are still close to 30 illegal online markets, according to DarknetLive, a news and information site for the dark web. The fight against online drug sales is starting to resemble the war on drugs in the physical world: There are raids. Sites are taken down; a few people are arrested. And after a while the trade and markets pop up somewhere else.

via The Crime Report

June 12, 2019 at 10:31AM