TIME Crime

No Plea Deal Likely in Boston Bomber Case

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, George O'Toole Jr.
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is depicted beside U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. as O'Toole addresses a pool of potential jurors in a jury assembly room at the federal courthouse, in Boston Jane Flavell Collins—AP

There may be little incentive for prosecutors who believe they have incontrovertible evidence to negotiate away their ability to seek the maximum penalty possible

(WASHINGTON) — The focus of the Boston Marathon bombing trial figures to be as much on what punishment Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could face as on his responsibility for the attack.

With testimony expected to start later this month, the Justice Department has given no indication it is open to any proposal from the defense to spare Tsarnaev’s life, pushing instead toward a trial that could result in a death sentence for the 21-year-old defendant.

In a deadly terror case that killed three people, including a child, and jolted the city, there may be little incentive for prosecutors who believe they have incontrovertible evidence to negotiate away their ability to seek the maximum penalty possible.

“There would be now, in my judgment, no reason for the government to reverse course and not let 12 citizens decide if the death penalty is appropriate,” said Larry Mackey, a former Justice Department prosecutor involved in the case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in 2001.

The prospect of a death sentence, a rare punishment in the federal system, raises the stakes of a trial that will revisit in gory detail the 2013 attack that also injured more than 260. Should the jury find Tsarnaev guilty, it would then decide in a separate penalty phase whether he should be sentenced to death. Jury selection is underway and the judge has said he hopes to begin testimony on Jan. 26.

Only three federal inmates, including McVeigh, have been put to death since 2001. Recent botched executions at the state level have placed the practice under scrutiny, with President Barack Obama directing the Justice Department last year to investigate how the death penalty is applied across the nation.

Despite his own personal reservations about the death penalty, Attorney General Eric Holder says the government is committed to seeking that punishment for Tsarnaev. Prosecutors have cited factors including a “lack of remorse,” the evident premeditation involved in the attack and allegations that Tsarnaev also killed an MIT police officer after the bombing that left an 8-year-old boy dead.

“The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a statement last January.

There has been no indication the government has wavered in that decision, even though one of Tsarnaev’s lawyers, Judy Clarke, has gotten prosecutors to spare the lives of multiple high-profile killers, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph and Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

But there’s also no predicting how a trial will play out, including whether a conviction would result in a death sentence — particularly in liberal Massachusetts, which abolished its state death penalty in 1984. In a bid to save his life, defense lawyers may hope to cast Tsarnaev as an impressionable young man pressured into participating in the attack by his older brother, Tamerlan, who died after a firefight with police days after the bombing.

Gerald Zerkin, a Virginia defense lawyer who represented Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, who is now serving a life sentence, said there are obvious benefits for the government to accept a plea in death penalty cases, including to reduce the uncertainty of a trial and to spare victims and their loved ones from reliving the horrific facts of a case.

“You can get a resolution that is life without parole, and you could do it for a lot less money, a lot less time, a lot fewer resources” and without “re-traumatizing victims,” Zerkin said.

Rob Owen, a professor who runs a death penalty case clinic at Northwestern University, said a death sentence will result in years of legal appeals whereas a guilty plea would presumably help the case fade faster from public attention.

But with the trial’s opening arguments projected for later this month, any window for a deal to spare Tsarnaev’s life has likely closed and there’s little reason for the government to entertain the possibility, Mackey said.

“The calculus was done, I’m sure in this case, the day after the bombing, when people were faced full-front with the ugly scenario left on the streets of Boston,” he said.

TIME Law

Feds Limit Law that Lets Cops Seize Your Stuff

Enacts major limitations on federal civil forefeiture law that allow police to seize assets without evidence of wrongdoing

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday that state and local officials would no longer be allowed to use federal law to seize private property such as cash or cars without evidence that a crime had occurred.

It’s the first major reform of a program launched as part of the so-called War on Drugs that has allowed police to confiscate billions of dollars in cash, vehicles and other types of property without evidence of wrongdoing. Since 2008, state and local agencies have seized $3 billion worth of property through more than 55,000 stops and seizures, and 80% of the proceeds go to local police departments or drug task forces, according to the Washington Post.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Attorney General Holder said in a statement. “This is the first step in a comprehensive review that we have launched of the federal asset forfeiture program.”

Federal asset forfeiture laws allow police to pull over motorists and seize property when there is suspicion of wrongdoing. Citizens must then prove that the property was legally acquired in order to get it back. That is often a costly and lengthy process; only one out of six seizures are legally challenged, according to the Post.

The unclaimed seized assets are then re-distributed among law enforcement agencies and the federal government. Between 2001 and 2014, state and local authorities have kept more than $1.7 billion through these kinds of seizures, while some $800 million has gone to the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. Of those seizures, half were worth less than $8,800.

The new limitations announced Friday do not apply to property that could threaten public safety, like firearms, explosives, or child pornography.

For an in-depth explanation of the forfeiture program, check out the Washington Post’s investigation, which counted all the stops and seizures since 9/11 and traced how the money was used. For a more comic explanation, you can turn to John Oliver:

TIME politics

What Happened When I Spoke Out About the CIA’s Guantanamo Black Site

Detention at Guantanamo grinds on: 13 years and counting, 148 captives remain
A soldier walks by Camp Delta, which no longer holds detainees, on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this photo approved for release by the U.S. military. Miami Herald—TNS via Getty Images

Joseph Hickman is a senior research fellow at Seton Hall Law Schools Center for Policy and Research.

In 2006, I was a guard on duty at the time of the Guantanamo 'suicides.' What I saw directly contradicted the government’s explanations

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program released Tuesday revealed many disturbing facts. Importantly, it exposed the lengths to which the CIA went to keep their brutal torture program a secret and the lies that they told to other branches of the U.S. government, the media, and the public about what they were doing, how they were doing it, and the intelligence they were getting from it.

This is not the first time the curtain has been pulled back on the CIA’s actions. Americans have spoken out against the torture program before and been punished for it. In the coming months, as the CIA tries to justify the program and paint its actions in rosier colors, it’s important to remember that because of the agency’s lies, men and women who spoke about the torture program were defamed, discredited, and even, in one case, imprisoned.

In a Harper’s Magazine article written by Scott Horton in 2010, I spoke out about three suspicious Guantanamo detainee deaths that were reported as suicides in 2006 by the U.S. government. I was a guard on duty at the time of the deaths and saw things that directly contradicted the government’s explanations. I believe the detainees were tortured and died at a CIA black site located on the base. Government officials and critics said the site was not a CIA facility, that I was lying, and that my story was “nonsense.” Some even called me a traitor and said I was dishonoring the men and woman in uniform. An investigation into the detainees’ deaths was conducted, but no one was ever charged. The results of the investigation only brought up further questions in my mind.

Almost four years after the government tried to discredit me in 2010, an Associated Press article revealed that the very site where I said the detainees died was in fact a CIA black site. Though I felt betrayed by my government and even punished for trying to report a war crime, others that have come forward and reported wrongdoings have experienced far worse than I.

In 2007, retired CIA Agent John Kiriakou became the first to report publicly on ABC News that the CIA was waterboarding detainees. In later interviews he called for national debates on waterboarding and asked Congress to address the issue. Afterwards, the CIA went after Kiriakou. They reported him to the Justice Department for leaking classified information and confirming the identity of one of the interrogators in the CIA torture program to a reporter (though the reporter never published the agent’s name). The Justice Department bought into the CIA’s lies and charged Kiriakou with violating the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Out of money and fearful of serving decades behind bars, Kiriakou pled guilty to one count of passing classified information to a reporter and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The Justice Department stated Tuesday that they will not pursue criminal charges against anyone that was involved in the CIA’s torture program. Ironically, that decision makes Kiriakou the only person serving a prison sentence for the program.

As more is revealed about the torture program and the CIA tries to prove their patriotism, the American people have to ask themselves how much they can trust the CIA and who the real American patriots are. Is it the leaders in the CIA’s torture program and the government officials that lied to the public? Or are the real American patriots people like John Kiriakou, who spoke truth to power and reported injustices?

Joseph Hickman is author of the upcoming book Murder at Camp Delta and senior research fellow at Seton Hall Law Schools Center for Policy and Research.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

Justice Department Finds Cleveland Police Guilty of Excessive Use of Force

U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division, right, makes a statement during a news conference on Dec. 4, 2014, in Cleveland.
U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division, right, makes a statement during a news conference on Dec. 4, 2014, in Cleveland. Tony Dejak—AP

Investigation found that officers excessively used deadly force, unnecessarily used Tasers and chemical sprays, and used unwarranted force against mentally ill people

The U.S. Department of Justice has told the Cleveland police department to conduct an internal shake-up after a federal probe found its officers systematically and routinely used excessive and unreasonable force.

A 21-month-long investigation into the practices of the Cleveland Division of Police concluded Thursday that officers excessively use deadly force, unnecessarily utilize tools like Tasers and chemical sprays, and use unwarranted force against people who are mentally ill.

The report is a damning portrayal of a department that has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and others within Cleveland for years over its conduct.

(MORE: Attorney General Eric Holder Plans ‘Institute of Justice’ to Address Protest Concerns)

The federal government began investigating the department in March 2013 after the officer-related shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams following a high-speed car chase. On Nov. 29, 2012, more than 100 Cleveland police officers were involved in trying to apprehend Russell and Williams, both of whom were black and unarmed. Officers eventually fired 137 shots at the car. Almost all of the officers who fired were white.

The department has come under scrutiny again in recent days after a black 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, was shot dead on Nov. 22 by a white police officer in a Cleveland park, who apparently mistook a toy pellet gun for a real firearm.

Cleveland police have agreed to an independent monitor who will oversee a series of reforms within the department.

TIME Companies

Justice Department Investigating J.P. Morgan Over Foreign Exchange Trading

JPMorgan Holders Led by Chairmen-CEOs to Vote on Dimon's Titles
Pedestrians walk by the offices of JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, U.S., on Friday, May 17, 2013. Victor J. Blue—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The criminal investigation is looking at foreign-exchange trading activities and controls

The Department of Justice is leading a criminal investigation into the foreign-exchange trading of J.P. Morgan Chase, the bank announced Monday in a regulatory filing.

Alongside other civil-enforcement regulators, the Justice Department is looking into the bank’s foreign-exchange trading activities and controls related to them, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The bank said it “continues to cooperate with these investigations” but that there is “no assurance that such discussions will result in settlements.”

J.P. Morgan, which is the largest bank in the U.S., estimated that its loses from legal proceedings could top $5.9 billion, as of Sept. 30. Three months earlier, the estimate was $4.6 billion.

[WSJ]

TIME Companies

Twitter Is Suing the Government So it Can Tell You More About Surveillance

The Twitter logo is displayed on a banner outside the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7, 2013 in New York.
The Twitter logo is displayed on a banner outside the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7, 2013, in New York City Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Twitter is making a First Amendment argument over transparency

Twitter is suing the U.S. Justice Department to disclose more information about the types of data the government seeks about Twitter users. Twitter, which has acted as a staunch free speech advocate in the past, wants to publish more detailed information in its biannual transparency report information about how many Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders and National Security Letters (NSLs) it receives from the government.

FISA orders and NSLs allow the government to secretly gather communications data on what it says are national security threats. Recipients of such requests cannot legally disclose that they have received them. However, following revelations about government surveillance from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the U.S. government reached an agreement with several tech giants to allow them to publish information about how many sensitive data requests they received, but only in very broad ranges. In one variant of the stipulations, for example, companies can only disclose that they received between 0 and 999 FISA court requests for data about Twitter’s users.

Twitter — not one of the companies that reached the settlement with the government — wants to be more specific about how many data requests it receives, which it believes it has the constitutional right to do.

“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received,” the company wrote in a blog post. “We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”

Unlike other tech companies like Google, Twitter does not specifically break out the number of FISA court requests it receives in its transparency reports. Overal, Twitter receives less government requests for user data than larger Internet companies like Google and Facebook.

The case was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Northern California.

 

TIME technology

Holder Says Apple’s iPhone Encryption Will Thwart Child Abuse Investigations

"It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy"

Attorney General Eric Holder ripped technology companies Tuesday that he said are “thwarting” the federal government’s ability to stop child abuse, just days after Apple and Google announced new security measures that would prevent the companies from giving authorities data on users.

“We would hope that technology companies would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation, such as catching kidnappers and sexual predators,” Holder said at a Washington conference of the Global Alliance Conference Against Child Abuse Online. “It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy. When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children. It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.”

Apple has recently drawn the ire of some law enforcement figures, including FBI Director James Comey, for making it harder for the federal government to access users’ personal information—including emails, photos and contacts—on its new iOS 8 mobile operating system. Apple says it’s “not technically feasible” for the company to respond to government warrants, as it now can’t bypass users’ passcode to access data (though experts say the NSA can still get around this). Earlier this month, Google announced that its next generation Android operating system will have encryption on by default for the first time.

Read Holder’s remarks here.

TIME republicans

Louisiana Governor Cheers Holder’s Resignation

“My only request is that the next Attorney General actually read the Constitution before he takes the job"

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal rejoiced Friday in the impending resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder, asking a conservative audience, “Isn’t it great that he’s about to be out of a job?”

Jindal was closing out Friday’s session of the Values Voter Summit in Washington. The potential 2016 presidential candidate has been one of many GOP critics of Holder, who sued Louisiana last year over a school voucher program that the Justice Department alleged disrupted the “racial balance” in public schools, violating desegregation laws.

“My only request is that the next Attorney General actually read the Constitution before he takes the job,” Jindal said Friday.

Jindal tossed red meat at the audience throughout his speech, saying President Barack Obama “does not believe in American exceptionalism” when discussing Obama’s approach to combatting the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Our enemies don’t fear us,” Jindal said. “Our friends don’t trust us anymore.”

TIME justice

President Obama Announces Eric Holder Will Step Down

President Obama Announces Resignation Of Eric Holder
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. who announced his resignation today, Sept. 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

Pays tribute to "one of the longest-serving attorney generals in American history"

President Barack Obama paid tribute to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, as he announced the resignation of the country’s top law enforcement official.

Standing alongside Holder at a White House press conference, the president confirmed the “bittersweet” news that America’s first black attorney general’s would step down from his position as soon as a successor was confirmed by the Senate.

“Bobby Kennedy once said, ‘on this generation of Americans falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and equal before the law,'” said Obama. “As one of the longest-serving attorney generals in American history, Eric Holder has borne that burden.”

Obama credited Holder—who has a portrait of Kennedy on his office wall—as a civil rights defender who spent his career atop the Justice Department reforming the criminal justice code, defending voting rights and supporting the legal rights of same-sex marriage advocates.

The president also pushed back against criticism that the Justice Department had not done enough in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. “He’s helped safeguard our markets from manipulation and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis, recovering $85 billion, much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt.”

But Obama said that the AG’s “proudest achievement” might be his “reinvigorating and restoring the core mission” of the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division. “He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act because no citizen, including our servicemembers, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right,” said Obama. “He’s challenged discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants, but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job.”

Holder said he came to the end of six years leading the Justice Department “with very mixed emotions,” occasionally fighting back tears as he spoke. “I’m proud of what the men and women of the Justice Department have accomplished,” he added, but said he was “very sad” that he would serve alongside them no longer.

Addressing Obama, he said: “I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and the legacy of all those who have served before me.”

TIME Civil Rights

Report: Teenage Inmates at Rikers Island Face Institutionalized Brutality

Barbed wire fences surround a building on Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York on Dec. 24, 2013.
Barbed wire fences surround a building on Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York on Dec. 24, 2013. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Correctional officers at New York City's Department of Correction use excessive brute force on teenage inmates, many of whom have mental illnesses, according to report

A report released by the federal government on Monday accused the New York City Department of Correction of failing to protect adolescents, citing a two-and-a-half-year Justice Department investigation that revealed correctional officers at three Rikers Island juvenile jails inflicted brutal force on male inmates between 16-18 years old.

The 79-page-report by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, found that between 2011-2013 officers used excessive violence to punish inmates. In October 2012, 44% of the male teenage population had been subjected to brute force at least once. The report also found that correctional officers lacked accountability for their extreme use of force. When investigations were conducted, they were customarily untimely and incomplete. A “powerful code of silence” between staff allowed egregious offenses to go by unpunished, the Justice Department found.

One inmate said that he was heavily beaten by four officers in the hallway for cursing in the middle of a class, according to the report. A teacher told investigators that he could hear the inmate “crying and screaming for his mother” during the altercation, but failed to report the incident to avoid conflict with fellow staff members.

The findings also revealed that the most inexperienced officers were assigned to deal with inmates who had behavioral disorders and mental illnesses. Last year, over half of the 489 teenage inmates reportedly had mental illnesses. Many were sent to solitary confinement as a punitive measure, with inmates being kept by themselves from 23 hours to several months, the New York Times reports.

The report presented to Mayor Bill de Blasio and two other officials concluded, “a culture of excessive force persists, where correction officers physically abuse adolescent inmates with the expectation that they will face little or no consequences for their unlawful conduct.”

Federal attorneys offered a list of corrections to be made at Rikers, including compulsory reporting of use of force and more thorough training for all staff.

Joseph Ponte, New York City’s new correction commissioner, said in a statement that he would work to improve safety for the teenage inmates, adding that he was committed to redrafting the use of force policy to “bring it into the 21st century,” Huffington Post reported.

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