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Category Archives: Government Corruption

Michigan Goes Total Police State With Roadside Saliva Check Points

Michigan goes total police state.

Regardless of your stance on drugs, I think most would agree that the Michigan State Police has no right to ‘run roadside saliva check points’.

The pilot program will be launching in five Michigan counties this year according to this MLive report:

The Michigan State Police is working on plans to establish a pilot program for roadside drug testing, a spokeswoman said.

A new law instructs the state police to pick five counties where it will run a one-year pilot program for saliva-based testing to check drivers for drugs like marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

“We expect the counties to be finalized this summer with a pilot to begin sometime later in the year,” MSP spokeswoman Shanon Banner said.

The five counties will be determined based on criteria including: the number of impaired driving crashes;the number of impaired drivers arrested; and the number of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) trained in the county, she said.

Attorney Neil Rockind, founder of Southfield-based criminal defense law firm Rockind Law, opposed the legislation he said would set a “dangerous precedent” for Michigan.

“The criminal justice system wants to take science and turn it into a fast, easy utility,” Rockind said. “Science is neither fast nor easy.”

According to the Office of Highway Safety Planning, as of February, Michigan had 99 Certified Drug Recognition Experts in 37 counties.

DRE officers have received “highly specified training” to allow them to identify drivers with drug impairment, Banner said.

The saliva analysis will only be administered by a DRE, she said, and will be given along with the drug recognition 12-step evaluation currently used. DREs employed by state, county and municipal agencies could also be involved.

The law instructs the MSP to conduct a pilot program meant to establish policies in the area of roadside drug analysis, Banner said, and to make a determination of the accuracy and reliability of the tests.

Average Americans Commit 3 Felonies a Day

Violent crime is down America, across the board, spanning two decades. Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced that the incidence of reported rape had hit a 20-year low. Homicides are down, as are juvenile violence and crimes committed against children. Crime rates have been plummeting since the early 1990s to such an extent that explaining the drop has become something of an obsession among criminologists and sociologists.

Part of the drop can of course be explained by mass incarceration—America leads the world in the percentage of its population behind bars. Putting one in every 100 citizens in jail causes its own problems, and there’s plenty of debate over just how much that incarceration has contributed to the fall in violent crime. But there’s no question that we’ve put lots of people in prison over the last 20 years, the crime rate has fallen, and part of the public likely believes (with some justification) that there’s a link betweent the two.

But there’s something else going on too, picked up in the blogosphere last week by George Washington University political science Professor John Sides. According to Gallup, since 2002 the percentage of the American public who think violent crime is on the rise has been increasing, even as actual violent crime rates continue to fall. Sides notes that from 1989 to 2001, perception and reality somewhat went hand in hand. But 2002 to 2003 saw a 19 percent leap in public perceptions that violent crime was on the uptick, and the figure has been going up in the years since—to 74 percent today. What’s going on?

From the time Richard Nixon made crime a national political issue in the 1970s, we’ve been conditioned by politicians and public officials to live in perpetual fear. Our baseline is that there’s too much crime, and that we aren’t doing enough about it. Despite that, there was an actually drop in public worry about crime that began in 1992 and continued until 2002. As noted, that drop corresponded with an actual decline in the national crime rate, something that hadn’t happened in 30 years. That crime rates going down for the first time in a generation was something new, something worth noticing. The 1990s were also generally an optimistic decade. The economy was humming. We weren’t engaged in any major wars. We didn’t have many worries, period.

Post-2002, the national mood soured. Terrorism, obviously a form of violent crime, was all over the news. The economy slowed down. Illegal immigration once again became a national issue, along with the false assumption that undocumented immigrants bring violent crime. And so we returned to a state of fear, though the crime rate continued to fall.These fluctuations in the Gallup poll are interesting, but it’s worth noting that the percentage of respondents who believe violent crime is on the rise has dipped below 60 percent only three times since 1991. This, again, despite the fact that violent crime has been in decline over the entire period.

Fear makes for easy politics. It both wins votes and primes us to give government more power at the expense of personal liberty. And that’s certainly true when it comes to crime. With the possible exception of an incumbent mayor, politicians only benefit from exaggerating the threat of violent crime. Senators, Congressmen, and even governors are rarely held responsible when the crime rate goes up. But they do win votes by proposing new powers for police and prosecutors to bring it down.

The result has been a one-way ratchet effect on crime policy. We’re perpetually expanding police and prosecutorial power, a process only occasionally slowed by the courts. Congress and state legislatures rarely take old criminal statutes off the books, but they’re always adding new ones. A 2008 report from the Heritage Foundation estimates that at the federal level alone, Congress has been adding about 55 new crimes to the federal criminal code each year since the 1980s. There are now about 4,500 separate federal crimes. And that doesn’t include federal regulations, which are increasingly being enforced with criminal, not administrative, penalties. It also doesn’t include the increasing leeway with which prosecutors can enforce broadly written federal conspiracy, racketeering, and money laundering laws. And this is before we even get to the states’ criminal codes.

In his new book, the Boston-based civil liberties advocate and occasional Reason contributor Harvey Silverglate estimates that in 2009, the average American commits about three federal felonies per day. And yet, we aren’t a nation of degenerates. On the contrary, most social indicators have been moving in a positive direction for a generation. Silverglate argues we’re committing these crimes unwittingly. The federal criminal code has become so vast and open to interpretation, Silverglate argues, that a U.S. Attorney can find a way to charge just about anyone with violating federal law. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for some business owners to comply with one federal regulation without violating another one. We’re no longer governed by laws, we’re governed by the whims of lawyers.Whatever one may think of Ayn Rand’s political philosophy or ethics, her criminal justice prophecy has proven unsettlingly accurate: In our continuing eagerness to purge American society of crime, we’ve allowed the government to make us all into criminals.

“There’s no way to rule innocent men.
The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals.
Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them.
One declares so many things to be a crime
that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

Ayn Rand 

Americans are bargaining away their innocence

The presumption of innocence helps to combat prejudice and prejudging in the U.S. criminal justice system. But because plea bargains have supplanted trials in our criminal justice system, that presumption does not apply to most cases in the United States.

Prejudice against the accused is quite common. Consider your own experience: If you see that a police car has pulled a driver over to the side of a highway, what do you make of the situation? Most people probably think to themselves, “Hmm, that driver was probably caught speeding.” Similarly, if you heard that one of your neighbors had been arrested, you would likely say to yourself, “I wonder what crime he committed.” It is a common reaction to presume that the authorities had a good reason to detain or arrest someone.

To protect the innocent, however, the law demands that incriminating evidence be presented in court. The Constitution says every person accused of a crime has the right to an impartial jury trial. If the jury is persuaded that a person is guilty, then that person can lose his liberty and be punished. That is a sensible procedure for a just system, and it is why Americans have taken pride in our Bill of Rights.

Unfortunately, the system that is described by our school teachers and that Americans see on television and in the movies is now defunct. Jury trials are now rare events in the United States. In fact, about 95 percent of the cases moving through the system will not go to trial. The overwhelming majority of cases will be resolved by plea bargains.

In a plea bargain, the prosecutor typically offers the defendant a reduced prison sentence if he agrees to waive his right to a jury trial and admit guilt in a brief hearing before a judge. Prosecutors use their power to pressure people who have been accused of a crime, and are presumed innocent, to waive their right to a trial and admit guilt.

We know this is true because prosecutors admit that this is what they are doing. The Supreme Court has approved these prosecutorial tactics in the landmark 1978 case, Bordenkircher v. Hayes. By a close 5-4 vote, the court said there was no constitutional problem with pressuring the accused to waive his trial and admit guilt. According to the court, there is no illegal coercion “so long as the accused is free to accept or reject the prosecution’s offer.”

But from a defendant’s perspective, plea bargaining extorts guilty pleas. Casual observers of our legal system will sometimes say that they would never plead guilty to a crime if they were innocent. An easy claim to make — but it is another thing when your freedom is actually on the line.

Imagine learning that the government has a “witness” who is willing to tell lies about you in court. And then your own attorney tells you that his best advice is for you to go into court, say you’re guilty and accept one year in prison instead of risking a 10-year prison sentence should the jury believe the lying witness. It’s an awful predicament for innocent people who get swept up in criminal cases. As William Young, then chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Boston observed in a 2004 opinion: “The focus of our entire criminal justice system has shifted away from trials and juries and adjudication to a massive system of sentence bargaining that is heavily rigged against the accused.”

Prosecutors do not set out to deliberately lock up innocent people. They’re dealing with crushing caseloads and believe that they are doing the best they can to administer justice fairly.

What happens when an innocent person has pled guilty, but regrets that decision later? The law is not very sympathetic. Rules vary across jurisdictions, but it is generally very difficult to retract a guilty plea and obtain a new trial — even when the government’s witnesses change their tune about what really happened. The government fights these legal moves all the time with the argument that the public has an interest in the “finality of judgments.”

Ironically, the prisoners who keep insisting upon their innocence face greater punishment. At the sentencing phase of a case, the judge typically wants to know if the convicted person will “accept responsibility” for his conduct and the consequences of his actions. Maintaining one’s innocence at sentencing will mean more, not less, prison time.

The same cruel twist will come into play down the road — when the innocent person becomes eligible for parole. Parole boards are looking for candidates who are contrite. Candidates who express remorse for their past actions stand a better chance than those who claim they have been unjustly imprisoned because they never committed the crime.

Some say that the nightmare scenario of innocents behind bars is inevitable because the system has to be administered by people — and people make mistakes. That truth should not be invoked to deflect consideration of reform proposals that can minimize unjust convictions. A re-examination of plea-bargaining practices is long overdue.

Chicago Cops Say Keeping Evidence of Misconduct Puts Cops in Danger – So They’re Destroying It

With protesters thronging the streets of Chicago demanding police accountability and clamoring for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city’s police union is frantically trying to destroy decades of records documenting police misconduct. As is always the case, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) sees “officer safety” as the highest priority – including protection from legal accountability.

“I protect all mymembers, and I will continue to do that,” Dean Angelo, president of the Chicago FOP, explained to CNN.

An injunction filed by the FOP insists that preserving those records violates Section 8.4 of its bargaining agreement with the City of Chicago. That provision specifies that all files of misconduct investigations and officer disciplinary histories “will be destroyed five (5) years after the date of the incident or the date upon which the violation is discovered, whichever is longer, except that not sustained files alleging criminal conduct or excessive force shall be retained for a period of seven (7) years after the date of the incident or the date upon which the violation is discovered, whichever is longer….”

Once that deadline passes, the episode of excessive force or other misconduct “cannot be used against the Officer in any future proceedings in any other forum” unless it deals with a matter subject to litigation during the five year period or “unless a pattern of sustained infractions exists.” This element of the bargaining agreement creates an incentive for the police department to delay, obstruct, and obfuscate investigations of misconduct and abuse complaints until the deadline expires – and to keep the process opaque to the public.

“Basically, they bargained away transparency and accountability,” points out Chicago University Law Professor Craig Futterman, who is fighting in court to prevent the destruction of the officer misconduct records. “In a world where an incident like [the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald] happens and the public statements are `Deny, deny, deny,’ and then close off and circle the wagons, and then a code of silence and an exoneration at the end of the day – in that system, you cannot create public trust,” Futterman explained to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

Futterman, who founded Chicago University’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, has spent fifteen years trying to end the official impunity of police officers. Chicago, Futterman told the Sun-Times, “is the capital of the code of silence.”

Working with independent journalist Jamie Kalven, Futterman was able to exhume the video of the McDonald shooting and the autopsy report showing that he had been shot sixteen times – evidence that completely contradicted the official account that described the shooting as “self-defense.” Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald, has been charged with first-degree murder, an all but unprecedented development involving an on-duty police shooting in Chicago.

Through freedom of information requests, Futterman has also pried loose a small portion of the disciplinary files, which are available in an online database. The records Futterman seeks to preserve date back to 1967, and cover decades of corruption and abuse, including the now-notorious Jon Burge torture scandal and the unlawful detentions, interrogations, and abuse of citizens at the Homan Square “black site.” The FOP-negotiated contract requiring the destruction of records after five years went into effect on July 1, 2012 – and it is by no means clear that it applies retroactively to misconduct cases that occurred prior to that agreement. The FOP is essentially seeking to re-litigate the agreement for the purpose of obstructing an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the Chicago PD.

Although FOP President Angelo pouts that “I don’t understand why a 77-year-old retirees’ complaint in 1967 needs to be on a database,” the records his union seeks to destroy include disciplinary histories directly relevant to very recent incidents of excessive force.

According to CNN, “a search for Jason Van Dyke, the officer charged with the first-degree murder in the killing of Laquan McDonald, shows that he had 19 complaints before he fatally shot the teen, including 10 for use of force. The officer who shot and killed Cedrick Chatman has 30 complaints in the system, including 10 for use of force. None of the complaints, for either officer, resulted in disciplinary action. Van Dyke’s attorney says his client feared for his life in his encounter with McDonald. The Chatman shooting was ruled justified.”

Preserving the records, and making them publicly accessible, could help identify officers who pose potential threats to the public they supposedly serve. The FOP, in keeping with its long-established priorities, is more concerned about preserving blue privilege.

One measure of the depth and extent of the official privilege enjoyed by Chicago police officers is offered by the case of former CPD Command Jon Burge, who tortured and otherwise abused more than 100 Chicago residents over the course of three decades. Several innocent people were imprisoned on the basis of confessions extracted by Burge through torture – including the use of electric shocks, beatings, and suffocation with plastic bags. Last April, Mayor Emanuel approved a $5.5 million dollar reparations package for Burge’s victims. Even as city taxpayers absorbed the cost of Burge’s crimes, they continued to pay his pension: Despite being convicted in federal court for perjury and imprisoned in 2010, Burge continued to receive his $4,000-a-month pension.

Some of Burge’s erstwhile comrades in torture are still under investigation – and the documents necessary to continue that probe would be fed into a shredder if the FOP prevails in court. Those records most likely would also contain information about the Chicago PD’s off-the-records interrogation facility at Homan Square, a CIA-style “black site” where thousands of people were detained without cause and interrogated without constitutionally mandated access to an attorney, reports the Guardian of London.

An estimated 82 percent of the 7,000 people who were arrested and illegally held at Homan Square are black. Angel Perez, who was chained to a metal bar in a second-floor interrogation room at the facility in October 2012, alleges that he was sodomized with a metallic object by officers who taunted him with threats of prison rape if he didn’t cooperate. During a December 15 hearing before the Cook County Commission, several other detainees described being denied access to lawyers and being pressured to become police informants.

“There they interrogated me, asking me things that I had no idea about, for murder and things of that nature,” testified Kory Wright. “And I sat in that room, and they turned the temperature up and I was zip-tied to a bench.”

This Gitmo-style “rendition” site operated under Rahm Emanuel’s tenure, and it features very prominently in the accumulating demands for his resignation. With protests growing in intensity, the Mayor under political siege, and the police department desperately seeking to destroy evidence of long-festering corruption and misconduct, Chicago’s municipal government is beginning to look like an authoritarian dictatorship in the throes of a terminal crisis – Tehran circa 1978, perhaps, or Romania in December 1989.