In an editorial, the Orlando Sentinel apologized for its coverage 70 years ago of four black men accused of raping a white woman. The official version of the story was that in the pre-dawn hours of July 16, 1949, a white couple’s car broke down on a lonely road. Four black men drove up and offered to help but then beat the man, kidnapped his wife, and raped her. Two of the alleged assailants among the “Groveland Four” were killed, one by a sheriff. The Sentinel says, “The story had many more ugly twists and turns marked by lies, cover-ups and injustice.”
In its editorial, the newspaper said, “We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth. We’re sorry that our coverage of the event and its aftermath lent credibility to the cover-up and the official, racist narrative.” The paper published on the front page a cartoon that showed four empty electric chairs for the assailants. A U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the convictions of two of the defendants cited the Sentinel’s electric chairs cartoon as one of the factors that should have led to a change of venue in the men’s original trial. The newspaper says the “Groveland Four coverage then would not happen today. Reporters and editors at the Sentinel are expected to question official versions of events, not to blindly accept them.”
A Facebook executive was the target of a swatting hoax that resulted in armed police briefly detaining him and searching his home as they investigated a false report of an active shooting and hostage situation involving pipe bombs, officials with the Palo Alto, California, Police Department said.
The incident started a little after 9pm on Tuesday when someone using an untraceable number identified himself as a Facebook executive and reported he had shot his wife and taken his children hostage, department officials reported in a statement. The male caller went on to say he had deployed pipe bombs and planned to harm police if they came to the residence.
The call resulted in a “significant police response” that included trained crisis negotiators. They used a public address system to contact the people inside the home. Two residents came outside as police searched the residence. Police ultimately determined that there had been no shots had been fired, no pipe bombs had been deployed, and no children were in the house.
According to this report from The Palo Alto Daily Post, the Facebook executive was in charge of cybersecurity at the social media giant. The publication also said that the caller stayed on the phone with police as they responded and that the executive was briefly handcuffed as police searched his home.
As swatting crimes have grown more common, many police departments have become better trained in responding to them.
Facebook issued a statement that read: “We thank the city of Palo Alto for their swift and thoughtful response. They quickly identified this as a prank, and we are glad that our colleague and his family are safe.”
Facebook declined to identify the executive or to confirm he worked in cybersecurity.
A former judge in Galveston County, Texas, has been sentenced to six years in prison for posting fake ads for sex using photos and phone numbers of two former girlfriends.
Former judge Christopher Dupuy had used the name “Don Tequila” to buy the ads. He was sentenced on Wednesday for two counts of online impersonation after jurors found guilt earlier in the day, report the Houston Chronicle and the Galveston County Daily News.
Dupuy was sentenced to six years in prison on each count, to run concurrently.
The ads, posted in late 2014, had included language like “very fetish friendly,” according to the Houston Press.
It’s not Dupuy’s first run-in with the law.
Dupuy was elected to the bench in 2010 when he ran against the judge handling his divorce case, according to prior coverage by the Houston Chronicle. He resigned in 2013 after he was charged with lying under oath and abuse of office. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in that case and was sentenced to two years of deferred adjudication.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct reprimanded Dupuy in 2014, saying he bullied and retaliated against four attorneys who filed complaints against him, according to another Houston Chronicle story. The commission also said Dupuy lied under oath about owning a silencer during child custody hearings with his ex-wife, and harassed and bullied county officials, according to the Houston Press.
Dupuy had been jailed for 11 months after the online impersonation charges were filed in 2015. He was released after a Galveston County judge ruled in 2016 that the online impersonation statute was unconstitutionally overbroad.
The lawyer who sprung Dupuy from jail, Mark Bennett, had argued that using another person’s persona is a long-held tradition. He pointed to comedians such as Chevy Chase, who played President Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live. When someone uses another person’s identity to cause harm, the proper remedy is a defamation suit, he said.
A Texas appeals court reversed in August 2017, citing an appeals court decision reached a few months after the trial judge ruled. The prior appellate decision, Stubbs v. State, had held that the statute “was not facially overbroad.”
Dupuy had resigned his law license in January 2017. The online harassment case was reopened against Dupuy a year later.
Police found Dupuy hiding in an attic when they arrested him in August 2018 after receiving a complaint from another woman. She alleged that Dupuy had threatened to kill her and called her 200 times in one night. That case is pending.
Prosecutor Adam Poole told the Houston Chronicle that the conviction closes another chapter in the saga.
“It’s just been a really long time in coming, but hopefully he is done with Galveston County now,” Poole said.
Legislation in New York to close the double jeopardy “loophole,” which bars state prosecutors from bringing similar charges against individuals pardoned of federal charges by the president of the United States, was reintroduced in the Legislature this week.
The bill is aimed at giving state law enforcement officers, including those in the office of new Attorney General Letitia James, the option to prosecute individuals who receive a presidential pardon before they are tried for federal crimes.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Nassau, first introduced the bill during last year’s legislative session and will carry it again in 2019. It was blocked last year in the Senate by Republicans, who largely labeled it as a political attack on President Donald Trump rather than a necessary change to the state’s criminal procedure law.
The bill is more likely to pass in the Senate this year after Democrats won a firm majority in the chamber during last year’s general election. It’s the first time Democrats will control the state Senate in nearly a decade. The party has held the Assembly consistently for decades.
But one-party control of both houses of the Legislature does not mean Kaminsky’s bill will be a slam-dunk this session. Democrats in the Assembly did not unanimously support the bill last year, and Kaminsky said he still needs to speak to the new members of his conference about the legislation.
While the bill was a top priority for him last year, Kaminsky said the gravity of its consequences have grown since the previous legislative session.
“I think the president, the way he speaks about pardons and the way he speaks about the investigation that swirls around him should give us all cause for concern,” Kaminsky said. “Every day this bill is not law, we are potentially taking options off the table for holding him and other presidents accountable who want to flout the rule of law. I think it takes on even greater importance as we move into the new session.”
That’s because the legislation would not apply to individuals pardoned by the president after their trial on federal charges begins. Double jeopardy, which prevents state charges based on an identical set of facts used to bring federal charges, is attached at the start of the trial.
Take the case of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign. He was convicted on federal charges of fraud unrelated to the campaign, but could still receive a pardon from Trump. Even if the president decided to grant him clemency, state prosecutors in New York would be barred from bringing their own charges because double jeopardy had already been applied.
That was one of two cases that prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to voice his support for the legislation earlier this year. The other was the guilty plea of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney.
“New York must have the ability to stand up against the abuse of power,” Cuomo said at the time. “I call on the State Legislature to amend current State law to close the double jeopardy loophole and ensure that these wrongdoers cannot escape justice—I will sign it into law the same day.”
The legislation also has been strongly supported by James, a Democrat who said last year she would advocate for the bill while in office. James has been clear that she intends to place a microscope over Trump and his family in any way that the state’s chief law enforcement office can. Attorneys under James would need a criminal referral from an appropriate state agency to begin a criminal investigation into any of those individuals.
She repeated her support for the bill earlier this week during an inauguration ceremony on Ellis Island.
“I will work in a legal system where even the most powerful federal official in the country cannot use a loophole to evade justice,” James said.
But some Democrats in the Legislature interpret the bill as too vague in its current form. There are concerns that removing the so-called double jeopardy loophole could backfire at some point down the line, regardless of its intention to hold Trump and future presidents accountable for their choices in clemency.
Consider a scenario where an individual who faces charges related to an act of civil disobedience is pardoned by a president in the future after public pressure to prevent federal prosecutors from moving forward with the case. Under the current bill, a state prosecutor in New York could bring state charges against that individual based on the same set of facts.
That’s the kind of situation Democrats who are reluctant to support the bill want to avoid. Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a Democrat from Brooklyn who sponsored the bill last year, said in a previous interview that members of his conference may be more likely to support the legislation if it was more specific about which crimes would be addressed.
“I think we could do this and really make matters worse for people who are in a situation to get pardoned and have to get retried again,” Lentol said. “I think that these unintended consequences need to be vetted before we move forward.”
Kaminsky said conversations on how the bill could be changed to win the support of those members will begin at the start of this year’s session, which begins next week. With the Senate previously in Republican hands, there wasn’t much use in getting into the weeds on the legislation. This year, Kaminsky said, he plans to hear out the concerns of other Democrats and see if they can be addressed somehow in the legislation.
“I expect those to happen shortly. Obviously the in-depth conversations didn’t have to happen last year because it was clear a Republican Senate wasn’t going to act on it,” Kaminsky said. “I think we have to take those concerns seriously and work with all of our partners, including the executive, to work on this.”
Kaminsky already has a strong ally on the legislation in the Senate. Sen. Jamaal Bailey, a Democrat from the Bronx and the new chair of the Codes Committee, is a co-sponsor of the bill. That committee will have to review the legislation before it heads to the Senate floor for a vote. That’s not necessarily a bellwether, though. Lentol chairs his chamber’s Codes Committee, which did not move the bill last year.
Lawmakers will return to Albany to begin this year’s legislative session on Jan. 9.
In most of 30 cities studied, the length of a federal defendant’s sentence increasingly depends on which judge is assigned to decide the case, says a new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Increasing differences in sentencing first reported in 2012 “generally persist to this day, even within the same courthouse,” the commission said.
The commission looked at sentences over a 13-year period, from 2005 to 2017. The commission, which was established as a result of the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act, noted that the law “was the result of a widespread bipartisan concern that unwarranted sentencing disparities existed in the federal judicial
system.” The commission issued guidelines to judges on the appropriate ranges of sentences for various crimes, but the Supreme Court made those guidelines advisory.
The normally humdrum bureaucracy of registering to vote brought tears to the eyes of some Floridians on Tuesday when most felons regained their right to vote under a state constitutional amendment.
“I’ll be a human being again. I’ll be an American citizen again,” Robert Eckford said, choking up and weeping after filling out an application at the elections supervisor’s office in Orlando.
The ballot measure went into effect Tuesday, overturning a ban that netted Florida the highest number of disenfranchised felons in the nation. It potentially increases the pool of eligible voters by as many as 1.4 million people in a battleground state infamous for its narrow margins in key elections.
“I’m an ex-Marine,” said Eckford, who served seven years for a drug conviction. “I served this country. I’ve done my time. I’ve made some mistakes. But thank God the system works.”
Nearly 65 percent of Florida voters last November approved Amendment 4, which was crafted so that it would take effect on Tuesday. It applies to all felons who have done their time and completed the terms of their probation and parole, with the exception of people convicted of murder or sex offenses.
It is still not clear how those registrations will be treated in the state capitol. Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Monday that he believes the Legislature still needs to pass an implementing bill spelling out the restoration process.
“There’s going to need to be guidance for that. It’s not delaying it. The people spoke on it. It’s going to be implemented, but I think it needs to be implemented the way people intended, and I don’t think that they wanted to see any sex offenders fall through the cracks,” he told reporters.
Civil rights groups have maintained the measure is self-executing, but just to be sure, they warned that they are ready to go to court if there are any delays. Elections supervisors across the state posted notices at their offices and websites saying they would accept the registration forms starting Tuesday. They noted the new voters don’t need to present proof that they completed their sentence; they can simply fill out the existing application, signing under oath that their voting rights have been restored.
Members of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said they expected the registration to go smoothly. Despite any confusion, the organization’s president, Desmond Meade, encouraged members to celebrate.
Meade has been fighting to regain his right to vote since 2006 when he had served his sentence for a drug offense. Meade readied his family to head out south of downtown Orlando before the sun rose Tuesday. Wearing shirts with the slogan “Let my people vote,” Meade likened his journey to the 1960s movement to end widespread practices that kept black voters away from the polls.
“Moms and dads took their kids to vote with them during the civil rights era,” he said. “I can vote for the first time with my family and that means a lot to me. That means not only do I get to vote, but this is an opportunity now to stimulate a conversation about how important voting is.”
Until the amendment passed, Florida’s constitution automatically barred felons from being able to vote after leaving prison. The state’s clemency process allowed the governor and three elected Cabinet members to restore voting rights, but it was for many an arduous process and the governor could unilaterally veto any request.
Dan Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who studies elections, says it may take time for the effects of the change to become evident.
“There is very little evidence that individuals who have the opportunity to have their rights restored are going to immediately take advantage of that opportunity,” Smith said.
Although black people were disproportionately affected by felony disenfranchisement, they are not a majority of the population with felony convictions, Smith said. He says it is unclear whether the newly franchised voters will sway Florida red or blue. There is no public record of how people who were removed from the rolls have historically voted.
“These are questions that political scientists like myself are going to be looking at in great detail.”
Democratic Party leaders in the state and nation emailed statements welcoming the new voters and accusing Republican politicians of attempting to silence them in the past.
“Democrats will never stop fighting to expand access to the ballot and ensure that no one is silenced or sidelined on Election Day,” said Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Miami. AP writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.
Police departments are investing in body cameras as a response to calls for increased accountability after high-profile shootings, but a new study found that juries are less likely to blame officers for incidents based on footage from body cameras versus dashboard cameras, reports Courthouse News Service. Laws regulating, and in some cases requiring, the use of body cameras for police have been passed in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Many were prompted by a 2013 study that showed police use of force dropped by 50 percent in Rialto, Ca., when officers wore body cameras by community pressure after a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown, an incident for which no video recording was available.
It may seem obvious that video footage would help juries accurately assign blame in violent incident, but researchers say a viewer’s judgment may hinge on the viewpoint of the camera from which footage is shot. In a study published Monday by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found mock jurors were less likely to find that an officer acted intentionally when viewing footage from a body camera rather than watching the incident from the vantage point of a police car dashboard camera. The study also showed that potential grand jurors were less likely to indict officers when they watched footage from a body camera than when they viewed an incident from a dash camera. Researchers attributed the discrepancy, which was consistent across eight experiments, to the amount of time an officer was visible in the footage. Viewers were reluctant to assign blame to an officer they could not see, who was obscured behind a body camera.
The New York Times magazine has this lengthy new article about criminal justice debt under this full headline: “How Cities Make Money by Fining the Poor: In many parts of America, like Corinth, Miss., judges are locking up defendants who can’t pay — sometimes for months at a time.” I recommend the piece in full, and here is a snippet:
No government agency comprehensively tracks the extent of criminal-justice debt owed by poor defendants, but experts estimate that those fines and fees total tens of billions of dollars. That number is likely to grow in coming years, and significantly: National Public Radio, in a survey conducted with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, found that 48 states increased their civil and criminal court fees from 2010 to 2014. And because wealthy and middle-class Americans can typically afford either the initial fee or the services of an attorney, it will be the poor who shoulder the bulk of the burden….
In areas hit by recession or falling tax revenue, fines and fees help pay the bills. (The costs of housing and feeding inmates can be subsidized by the state.) As the Fines and Fees Justice Center, an advocacy organization based in New York, has documented, financial penalties on the poor are now a leading source of revenue for municipalities around the country. In Alabama, for example, the Southern Poverty Law Center took up the case of a woman who was jailed for missing a court date related to an unpaid utility bill. In Oregon, courts have issued hefty fines to the parents of truant schoolchildren. Many counties around the country engage in civil forfeiture, the seizure of vehicles and cash from people suspected (but not necessarily proven in court) of having broken the law. In Louisiana, pretrial diversion laws empower the police to offer traffic offenders a choice: Pay up quickly, and the ticket won’t go on your record; fight the ticket in court, and you’ll face additional fees.
“What we’ve seen in our research is that the mechanisms vary, depending on the region,” says Joanna Weiss, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “But they have one thing in common: They use the justice system to wring revenue out of the poorest Americans — the people who can afford it the least.” Aside from taxes, she says, “criminal-justice debt is now a de facto way of funding a lot of American cities.”
The jailing of poor defendants who cannot pay fines — a particularly insidious version of this revenue machine — has been ruled unconstitutional since a trio of Supreme Court cases spanning the 1970s and early 1980s…. Still, decades after those cases were decided, the practice of jailing people who cannot pay persists, not least because Supreme Court decisions do not always make their way to local courts. “Precedent is one thing,” says Alec Karakatsanis, executive director of Civil Rights Corps, a Washington-based nonprofit. “The way a law is written is one thing. The way a law is actually experienced by poor people and people of color is another.”…
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed evidence of what it calls “modern-day ‘debtors’ prisons’ ” — essentially, courts operating in the same way as Judge Ross’s in Corinth — in Georgia, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio and Washington State. “If you spent a few weeks driving from coast to coast, you might not find similar policies in place in every single county,” Sam Brooke, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s economic-justice program, told me. “But every other county? Probably. This is a massive problem, and it’s not confined to the South. It’s national.”…
In recent years, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations, including the A.C.L.U. and Karakatsanis’s Civil Rights Corps, have been filing class-action lawsuits against dozens of courts across the South and Midwest and West, arguing that local courts, in jailing indigent defendants, are violating the Supreme Court rulings laid down in Williams, Tate and Bearden. The lawsuits work: As a settlement is negotiated, a judge typically agrees to stop jailing new inmates for unpaid fines or fees. “No one wants to admit they’ve knowingly acted in this manner,” says Brooke, who partnered with Karakatsanis on lawsuits in Alabama and filed several elsewhere in the South. “So they tend to settle quickly.” The trouble is locating the offending courts.
via Sentencing Law and Policy https://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/
In June 2018, all four major US wireless carriers pledged to stop selling their mobile customers’ location information to third-party data brokers. The carriers were pressured into making the change after a security problem leaked the real-time location of US cell phone users.
But an investigation by Motherboard found that “T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T are [still] selling access to their customers’ location data and that data is ending up in the hands of bounty hunters and others not authorized to possess it, letting them track most phones in the country.”
The Motherboard report, published today, is extensive and worth reading in full. Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox gave a real T-Mobile phone number to a “bounty hunter,” who was able to locate the phone to within a few hundred meters.
This was accomplished with a “tracking tool [that] relies on real-time location data sold to bounty hunters that ultimately originated from the telcos themselves, including T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint,” Motherboard wrote.
A credit-reporting company called MicroBilt “is selling phone geolocation services with little oversight to a spread of different private industries, ranging from car salesmen and property managers to bail bondsmen and bounty hunters,” the article continued. “Compounding that already highly questionable business practice, this spying capability is also being resold to others on the black market who are not licensed by the company to use it, including me, seemingly without MicroBilt’s knowledge.”
Motherboard described how the data is passed along a chain of private companies. “In the case of the phone we tracked, six different entities had potential access to the phone’s data,” the report said. “T-Mobile shares location data with an aggregator called Zumigo, which shares information with MicroBilt. MicroBilt shared that data with a customer using its mobile phone tracking product. The bounty hunter then shared this information with a bail industry source, who shared it with Motherboard.”
The middleman charged $300 to find the phone—”a sizeable markup on the usual MicroBilt price,” Motherboard wrote.
It’s not clear whether Verizon location data can also be purchased in this way. “MicroBilt’s product documentation suggests the phone-location service works on all mobile networks, however the middleman was unable or unwilling to conduct a search for a Verizon device,” Motherboard also wrote.
MicroBilt told Motherboard that customers using its service for fraud prevention must obtain consent from phone users, the news site wrote.
But when Motherboard arranged for a phone to be located, “the target phone received no warning it was being tracked,” the news site wrote. (The phone’s owner had given consent to Motherboard for the experiment.)
MicroBilt investigated the case and found that a private bail-bond company made the request for the phone’s location, according to Motherboard.
Carriers made “empty promises to consumers”
Of course, mobile carriers themselves could prevent such privacy problems by not selling their customers’ location data in the first place.
Carriers were pressured into changing their policies last year after it was revealed that prison phone company Securus offers a service enabling law enforcement officers to locate most American cell phones within seconds. Securus’ service relies on data from LocationSmart. It was also reported that a LocationSmart bug could have allowed anyone to surreptitiously track the real-time whereabouts of cell phone users.
At the time, US Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) urged all four major carriers to stop selling their customers’ location data. They all said that they would, with limited exceptions: for example, AT&T said it would “be ending our work with aggregators” but continue to allow “important, potential lifesaving services like emergency roadside assistance.”
Today, Wyden said he’s disappointed that carriers are apparently still selling location data to data brokers.
“Major carriers pledged to end these practices, but it appears to have been more empty promises to consumers,” Wyden wrote on Twitter. “It’s time for Congress to take action by passing my bill to safeguard consumer data and hold companies accountable.” Wyden’s proposed privacy law could issue steep fines to companies and send their top executives to prison for up to 20 years if they violate Americans’ privacy.
AT&T told Ars that it has “shut down access for MicroBilt as we investigate these allegations.”
“We only permit sharing of location when a customer gives permission for cases like fraud prevention or emergency roadside assistance or when required by law,” AT&T also said. “Over the past few months, as we committed to do, we have been shutting down everything else.”
We also contacted T-Mobile and Sprint about the Motherboard article today and will update this story with any responses we get.
Sprint told Motherboard that it “does not have a direct relationship with MicroBilt” and “will take appropriate action” if it determines that any customers violated contractual requirements.
T-Mobile told Motherboard that it “will not tolerate any misuse of our customers’ data. While T-Mobile does not have a direct relationship with MicroBilt, our vendor Zumigo was working with them and has confirmed with us that they have already shut down all transmission of T-Mobile data. T-Mobile has also blocked access to device location data for any request submitted by Zumigo on behalf of MicroBilt as an additional precaution.”
A Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. in a Trump Tower meeting is back in the news with the unsealing of an indictment on Tuesday.
Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was charged with obstruction of justice in connection with her representation of clients in a money laundering investigation that is unrelated to the Trump Tower meeting, report the Washington Post, the New York Times and a press release.
Prosecutors claim Veselnitskaya filed an intentionally misleading declaration with a Manhattan federal court in the money laundering probe involving corrupt Russian officials.
Veselnitskaya represented clients in a civil forfeiture action against Prevezon Holdings, accused of laundering money obtained in a Russian tax refund scheme that defrauded Russian taxpayers out of more than $200 million. The U.S. Attorney’s office was seeking to recover millions of dollars in property—mostly New York real estate—said to be purchased in the money laundering scheme.
Veselnitskaya misleading declaration falsely asserted that the Russian government had independently determined the scheme was operated without the involvement of any Russian government officials, prosecutors say. Veselnitskaya actually worked with a senior Russian prosecutor to draft the supposed exculpatory findings, the press release says.
The indictment appeared to confirm Veselnitskaya’s ties to senior Russian government officials, according to the New York Times.
The fraud scheme was uncovered by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after being arrested in retaliation for his revelation, according to the press release. Veselnitskaya’s declaration said it was Magnitsky who committed the fraud.
Magnitsky’s death led Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act authorizing sanctions against Russia, which led Russia to retaliate by banning Russian adoptions.
Trump Jr. went to the meeting after learning he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton. But he has said the meeting with Veselnitskaya mostly involved the adoption of Russian children.