TIME Courts

Hunt for Impartial Jurors Delays Boston Bombing Trial

FBI Release Images Of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects
Handout—Getty Images In this image released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on April 19, 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19-years-old, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing is seen.

“Make sure he gets what he deserves," wrote a prospective juror

Finding impartial jurors in the case of alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is proving harder than expected, a federal court in Boston announced Thursday, and the trial that was set to begin next week will be delayed.

Judge George A. O’Toole, Jr. had scheduled opening statements to start on Monday but decided that date was now “unrealistic” given how many jurors had to be dismissed since the voir dire process began Jan. 15, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some said they were already convinced Tsarnaev was guilty, while others stated they could never agree with the death penalty.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers have argued that it will be impossible to find a fair jury in the Boston area, which was reeling after the deadly attack at the Boston Marathon finish line in April 2013. On Thursday, they requested for a third time that the judge move the trial, as 68% of the 1,373,-member jury pool admitted to already thinking of Tsarnaev as guilty.

“I am set in my ways and this kid is GUILTY,” the defense team said one person wrote on the secretive questionnaires. “Quit wasting everybody’s time with a jury and string him up,” said another. And a third wrote: “Make sure he gets what he deserves.”

Last week, the lawyers also asked for a trial delay until the publicity surrounding the recent terrorist attacks in Paris calmed down. O’Toole has repeatedly denied requests that the trial be delayed and moved out of Boston.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME justice

Seattle to Begin DNA Testing on Backlogged Rape Kits

TIME Here’s What Happens When You Get a Rape Kit Exam

Police will test 1,276 stored kits from the past 10 years

The Seattle Police Department announced Thursday it would begin to test 1,276 backlogged rape kits.

“We will test all sexual-assault kits moving forward and begin addressing untested kits,” Capt. Deanna Nollette, supervisor of the SPD’s Special Victims Unit, said in a statement. The cost of testing, which can cost from $500 to $1,500 per kit, has created a backlog of what experts estimate to be hundreds of thousands of rape kits at police departments across the country.

Sexual-assault victims usually undergo a forensic exam that includes taking blood, saliva and semen samples after reporting an assault. In Washington, kits are sent to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, which cross-references DNA samples with an FBI database of DNA profiles. Even though the Seattle Police Department has collected 1,641 rape kits over the last 10 years, only 365 have been tested by the state crime lab. Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, the city’s police spokesman, said last year that it was department policy to only test rape kits when charges were filed.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance pledged $35 million to eliminating the backlog or rape kits across the country in November, saying that victims deserved to see that the invasive exams were conducted for a purpose. The announcement has spurred police departments nationwide to become more vigilant about testing evidence in sex crimes cases.

Read more: In Hot Pursuit of Cold Cases

TIME justice

Obama’s Police Task Force Faces Uphill Battle

Barack Obama Policing Task Force Charles Ramsey Laurie Robinson
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks after a meeting on building trust in communities following Ferguson unrest, with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (L) and George Mason University professor of Criminology, Law and Society Laurie Robinson, who were appointed by Obama to chair a task force on policing, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Dec. 1, 2014.

Can a panel launched after Ferguson actually bring real change?

In the politician’s arsenal, a task force is a dull yet indispensable weapon: a way to address a problem that isn’t easy to solve.

Over the course of his presidency, Barack Obama has created panels to study issues ranging from climate change to gun control to childhood obesity. Task forces are the place where hard-working people go to produce important work that winds up moldering on a shelf.

Obama is determined to avoid this fate for his new White House panel on 21st century policing. “This is not going to be an endless report that ends up collecting dust,” the President pledged when he formed the task force in December after grand juries in New York and Ferguson, Mo., declined to charge two white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men. The 11-member group is tasked with identifying concrete ways to mend the ruptured relationship between police and the communities they serve. It must present a draft report to Obama on March 2, recommending methods to strengthen public trust while reducing crime.

Ron Davis, executive director of the task force and the director of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), says he is “extremely confident” the committee will live up to its promise. Davis told a panel held by the U.S. Conference of Mayors Thursday that the task force, which will hold a series of listening sessions, panel discussions and open forums over the next few weeks, had an opportunity to “redefine policing in a democratic society.”

The mandate to do so comes from the top. Attorney General Eric Holder has seized police reform as a legacy issue. At Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Obama said he believes there is broad consensus to repair the rift between police forces and minority communities.

“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed,” the President said. “Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.”

But channeling modest consensus into real change is a tall order—one made trickier by a grim drumbeat of bad feelings and worse news. The killing of two New York City police officers in late December sparked an ugly public dispute between the nation’s largest police force and its liberal mayor and may have led to a huge plummet in arrests. On Wednesday, new reports indicated federal authorities investigating the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown have concluded there is insufficient evidence to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting. A broader Department of Justice probe into the practices of the entire Ferguson police force is ongoing.

“I’m realistic about what a task force is actually capable of,” says a person with knowledge of the task force proceedings, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the committee’s challenges. “The task force can be very useful, but we are now in a place politically where actually creating legislation out of things will be an uphill battle.”

There are small signs of progress. In December, Congress passed a law requiring police departments to report the death of a person in police custody to the Justice Department. Obama has asked for $263 million in funding for new body cameras and training for police departments. He also ordered a review of a federal program that supplies millions of dollars of military equipment to municipal police departments.

Several prominent Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have called for the party to address criminal-justice policies that harm minority communities. Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, a top conservative donor, is redoubling his efforts to enact criminal-justice reforms. The growing number of elected Republicans calling for justice reform has brightened the prospect of legislative action.

On Thursday the Conference of Mayors released a report to help local law enforcement and politicians address the issue. “There’s a growing gulf of mistrust between police and communities they serve,” says Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, Calif., and the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The report outlined six areas of focus, from building trust between cops and communities to addressing racial and economic disparities. Karen Freeman-Wilson, the mayor of Gary, Ind., and the chair of the mayoral working group that produced the report, argued the groundswell of anger in the aftermath of Ferguson offered a chance to address long-simmering tensions. “With every tragedy comes opportunity,” she says.

The report is full of sensible ideas, but short on concrete detail. And some of its specific suggestions drew immediate opposition. David Berger, the mayor of Lima, Ohio, bristled at the recommendation that police departments hand over responsibility for investigating officer-involved deaths to an independent official as a way to “increase public confidence.” Berger noted that Lima did just that in 2008, when police in that city shot a young mother to death and wounded her infant child after arriving at her home to arrest a companion on suspicion of drug dealing. The decision, he says, left the city unable to provide basic information about a case roiling the community, compounding the “dramatic trauma” caused by the incident.

Davis said he couldn’t comment on the recommendations of the task force until its work wraps up in early March. Brittany Packnett, a St. Louis educator who was appointed to serve on the task force for her work organizing the Ferguson protests, said in an interview that she was optimistic about the panel and would focus on ensuring the street protests that followed Brown’s death led to concrete action. “I just don’t see us making progress if disruptive change and systemic change don’t go hand in hand,” she says. “I am trying to make sure the connection is fruitful.”

TIME Crime

Ohio Man Indicted for Plot to Attack U.S. Capitol

Christopher Lee Cornell has been charged with attempted to kill officers of the government and other violent crimes

A federal grand jury in Ohio has indicted a man accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol by detonating pipe bombs and shooting government officials.

Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, was charged with attempting to kill government employees, solicitation to commit a crime and possession of a firearm, the Justice Department said in a statement. The first two charges are punishable by 20 years in prison while the third charge can bring 5 years in prison.

He was arrested Jan. 14 outside a gun shop after having come onto federal agents radar over the summer for suspicious postings on social media, in which he sought help to carry out an attack inspired by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. In subsequent court documents, the Associated Press reports, the FBI said Cornell had planned to “wage jihad”; he had been interacting with an FBI informant for months while agents carried out their investigation.

Cornell’s father has said his son didn’t have the means to carry out a violent attack and believes he was coerced by the informant. His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

TIME justice

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Beards in Prison

Arkansas Department of Corrections Gregory Houston Holt, an Arkansas prisoner who says he should be allowed to keep a beard on religious grounds.

"An item of contraband would have to be very small indeed to be concealed by a 1⁄2-inch beard," Justice Alito wrote

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in favor of the religious freedom claims of an Arkansas prisoner, who was blocked from growing a beard in accordance with his Muslim faith by the Department of Corrections.

In a 9-0 opinion the Court ruled that part of the Arkansas prison policy violates a federal statute designed to protect the religious freedom of prisoners, NBC reports.

The Arkansas rule was challenged by inmate Gregory Holt, a Muslim who said that he was forced to choose between violating his religious beliefs and facing disciplinary action in prison.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion that the state has a good reason to try and prevent the concealment of contraband on prisoner’s bodies, but that the Arkansas rule banning beards infringes on Holt’s religious freedom.

“An item of contraband would have to be very small indeed to be concealed by a 1⁄2-inch beard, and a prisoner seeking to hide an item in such a short beard would have to find a way to prevent the item from falling out,” Alito said. “Since the Department does not demand that inmates have shaved heads or short crew cuts, it is hard to see why an inmate would seek to hide contraband in a 1⁄2-inch beard rather than in the longer hair on his head.”

[NBC]

TIME Crime

Jury Selection Begins in James Holmes Murder Trial

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colo. on June 4, 2013.
Andy Cross—Pool/Reuters James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colo. on June 4, 2013.

9,000 Colorado residents have been called for jury selection

An unprecedented pool of 9,000 jurors will travel to a Colorado courthouse on Tuesday where jury selection will begin in the long-awaited trial of James Holmes for a gun massacre in Aurora.

Holmes is charged in the 2012 mass shooting during a late-night screening of The Dark Knight Rises that left 12 dead and 70 injured.

Jurors will travel to the Arapahoe County courthouse in groups of 250 starting Tuesday, where each will fill out a 75-question survey, Denver’s ABC 7 affiliate reports. Jury selection is expected to drag on for months, reflecting the difficult of finding an impartial jury for such a high profile case.

Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the first-degree and attempted murder charges brought forth by prosecutors; if he is found guilty of the crimes, jurors would have to decide whether or not he gets the death penalty. If he’s found not guilty, Holmes would be committed to a mental institution.

Denver’s ABC affiliate has a full break-down of the jury selection schedule here.

TIME LGBT

Here’s What 5 Supreme Court Justices Have Said About Gay Marriage

From left: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts stands with fellow Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 28, 2014.
Larry Downing—Reuters From left: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts stands with fellow Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 28, 2014.

What Justices Kennedy, Alito, Scalia, Ginsburg and Chief Justice Roberts have said or written about the issue

The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide once and for all whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples marry, likely resolving one of the greatest civil rights debates of the 21st century.

The Court will consider four cases that have been consolidated and will be heard together, from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Same-sex marriage is banned in each of those four states, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld those bans in November. That decision will be appealed in front of the Supreme Court.

The high court has been coy in the past about taking up same-sex marriage cases, and the current justices have rarely written individually on the merits of the issue aside from the crucial United States v. Windsor (2013) decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in which Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. That said, here are some of the past indications Supreme Court justices have given on the issue.

Justice Anthony Kennedy:

The states that have given gay couples the right to marry “conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the landmark United States v. Windsor (2013) ending the federal law (DOMA) that allowed states to refuse to recognize gay marriages granted under the laws of other states.

Kennedy added that DOMA imposed “a disadvantage, a separate status” and “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.” Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor joined Kennedy’s decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia

“This case is about power in several respects,” Scalia wrote in his dissenting opinion on the Windsor case, arguing the courts should not decide laws on gay marriage. “It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this case.”

Justice Samuel Alito

“Respondent Edith Windsor, supported by the United States, asks this Court to intervene in that debate, and although she couches her argument in different terms, what she seeks is a holding that enshrines in the Constitution a particular understanding of marriage under which the sex of the partners makes no difference,” wrote Alito on the same case, also arguing elected officials should decide on gay marriage, not the courts. “The Constitution, however, does not dictate that choice. It leaves the choice to the people, acting through their elected representatives at both the federal and state levels.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Speaking before an audience in Minnesota last September, Ginsburg marveled at the “remarkable” shift in public opinion on same-sex relationships and marriage. “Having people close to us who say who they are — that made the attitude change in this country,” Ginsburg said, the Associated Press reported.

Chief Justice John Roberts

In the case Hollingsworth v. Perry, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that judicial precedents that courts only answer questions that are “viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process” are “an essential limit on our power: It ensures that we act as judges, and do not engage in policymaking properly left to elected representatives.” It’s a similar argument to the one Alito and Scalia make in Windsor.

The others

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas haven’t written separate opinions on gay marriage in cases decided by the Supreme Court, and have kept tight-lipped on the issue in recent years — though the left-leaning Breyer and Sotomayor sided against DOMA in 2013, and Thomas has joined his fellow conservatives in voting that the court shouldn’t rule on gay marriage.

As for Justice Elena Kagan, not only did she vote against DOMA in 2013 but she officiated a same-sex wedding in Maryland for her former law clerk and his husband last September, so it’s pretty clear what side of the issue she stands on.

TIME justice

New York to End Solitary Confinement for Inmates Under Age 21

The move comes after a federal lawsuit against the city over its treatment of young inmates

New York City officials Tuesday said they would eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates age 21 and under at the notorious Rikers Island prison in the wake of an outcry over the prison’s treatment of its inmates.

The city’s Board of Correction approved the policy change in a unanimous vote, 7 to 0, and the policy will go into effect January 2016 as long financing for additional officers and clinical staff members is secured, the New York Times reports.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan is suing the city over its treatment of adolescent inmates, after revelations of brutal treatment and neglect of inmates on New York’s Rikers Island. Corrections officers have used solitary confinement as a key tool in controlling inmate behavior, but critics say it can leave lasting psychological damage on young prisoners.

The new policy, which comes in the face of mounting criticism over the punitive technique, would put Rikers Island at the forefront of national jail reform efforts. Jails in the U.S. considered to be the nation’s most innovative still use solitary confinement as punishment for inmates over 18.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” Ms. Herrman said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

[NYT]

TIME Crime

Vietnam Vet Loses Bid to Stop Execution on PTSD Claim

Andrew Brennan was convicted of shooting and murdering a 22-year-old cop

A decorated Vietnam veteran who argued he was suffering from post-traumatic stress when he killed a sheriff’s deputy in 1998 lost a bid for clemency on the eve of his scheduled execution. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole declined to commute the death sentence of Andrew Brannan to life in prison after hearing from prosecutors and defense lawyers at a Monday hearing.

Brannan was convicted of murdering Laurens County deputy Kyle Dinkheller, who had stopped him for driving 98 mph. Dash-cam video showed Brannan dancing in the street and saying “shoot me” before he pulled a rifle from his car and…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Crime

Mistrial Declared in Case of South Carolina Cop Who Killed Unarmed Black Man

Former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs sits with lawyers on the second day of testimony in his trial for the murder of Bernard Bailey in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Jan. 8, 2015.
Reuters Former Eutawville Police Chief Richard Combs sits with lawyers on the second day of testimony in his trial for the murder of Bernard Bailey in Orangeburg, South Carolina, Jan. 8, 2015.

Richard Combs, the former police chief of Eutawville, S.C., charged with murder of Bernard Bailey in May 2011

A judge in South Carolina declared a mistrial in the case of a white ex-police chief charged with murder in the killing of an unarmed black man in 2011.

The jury deliberated for 12 hours before failing to reach a consensus over the verdict, according to the Associated Press. Richard Combs, the former police chief of Eutawville, S.C., shot Bernard Bailey three times outside of the town hall in May 2011.

Combs, the small town’s only officer on patrol, said he fired in self defense and that Bailey was attempting to run him over with a truck when he tried to arrest him. Throughout the trial, according to the New York Times, state prosecutors attempted to paint Combs as spiteful and was arresting Bailey on a trumped-up charge.

The Department of Justice declined to file charges after a yearlong investigation into Bailey’s death, according to Bloomberg. State prosecutors say they will attempt to try Combs again.

[AP]

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