Articles Tagged with “wrongful conviction”

Today marks the 98th anniversary of the controversial case of Abrams v. United States[1]. In Abrams[2], the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of five defendants under the Espionage Act of 1917. The Court expressly rejected the defendant’s argument that their first amendment rights had been violated by the Espionage Act. This case is particularly noteworthy because revered Justice Oliver Wendell Homes[3]; the author of the opinions which had originally upheld the Constitutionality of criminalizing free speech against the war effort in three prior Court cases, dissented against the majority.

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The Case

The case behind Abrams was a product of a different time in American culture and history. On August 12, 1918, just three months before the end of fighting in WWI, Hyman Rosansky was arrested for throwing flyers out of the 4th floor of a hat factory. The flyers, one in English and one in Yiddish called for a general strike by workers, a reduction in the production of munitions being sent to aid White Army soldiers fighting Soviet forces in the Russian Revolution. Police arrested Mr. Rosansky for violating the Sedition Act of 1917, which criminalized the “willfully utter, print, write, or publish, any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States, or willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production of things necessary to the war efforts.”. Police interrogated Mr. Rosansky for weeks. With Mr. Rosansky’s help, police also arrested Mollie Steimer[4], Jacob Abrams, Hyman Lachowsky, Jacob Schwartz, Gabriel Prober, and Samuel Lipman. The group was all Russian, Jewish immigrants to America and avowed anarchist.

Today marks the 85th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Powell v. Alabama[1]. Powell[2] is one of the cases in which the Supreme Court laid out the basic due process requirements of a fair trial in state courts including right to effective appointed counsel in capital offenses, fair time to prepare for trial, and fair hearing. This case proved to be a monumental move for the Supreme Court, which signaled a progressive shift to expanding constitutional rights for defendants in criminal trials.

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The Case[3]

The case behind the monumental decision of the Supreme Court required a monumental remedy. On March 25th, 1931, a fight broke out aboard a freight train between a group of poor black and white youth who both had not paid for the ride. All but one of the white youths was thrown from the train just over the Alabama state line, and these boys promptly reported the incident to local law enforcement. The nine-black youths Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Haywood Patterson[4], Andrew (Andy) Wright, Leroy (Roy) Wright and Eugene Williams were detained when they reached the town of Scottsboro Alabama[5].

In April of 2010, Mr. Cornell had his home raided by police where 1/16th of an ounce of marijuana had been found – not enough to roll a joint. None of the potential jurors called for the case where willing to consider convicting someone for possessing a very small amount of marijuana.[1]

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November 16th 2010, Touray Cornell from Montana, breathed a sigh of relief and smiled as Judge “Dusty” Deschamps convened his court to report that out of all the potential jurors who had been called, not one would be willing to convict Mr. Cornell. Dumbfounded by the jurors’ decision, the District Attorney quickly spoke to Mr. Cornell’s defense counsel and an immediate plea deal was made. Mr. Cornell walked out free without admitting guilt and without probation.

Mr. Cornell witnessed the power of Jury Nullification, a show of citizen’s power through the legal system have a long and storied history in America. it is the power of Jury nullification and Mr. Cornell saw a version of that power first hand.

In Europe, cacao has become a substance of choice for raves instead of using illicit drugs.[1] The chocolate is generally consumed in either an infused drink with agave and cinnamon, swallowed through a pill, or snorted through the nose.divine-chocolate-300x195

The most popular place for partying with cacao is at Lucid, a monthly gathering in Berlin, “where music, dance, community and natural high vibes roam wild and free.”[2]  The Chocolate Line, a Belgian company, popularized the inhaling of cacao powder when its founder, Dominique Persoone, introduced his chocolate shooter at a 2007 Rolling Stone party. [3] Persoone recommends that the powder be combined with mint or ginger to open and “tinkle” the nose, and that the powder must be cut to prevent caking and burning. Persoone has sold over 25,000 of his snorting devices.[4]

Demand isn’t for Hershey’s bars or cocoa baking powder, but for raw, virgin cacao which is pure and potent and not processed with milk and sugar. Even before the Europeans came to the New World, cacao was consumed and revered by the ancient civilizations. In the Aztec Empire, the seeds were used a form of currency.[5]

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The phrase “Mass Incarceration” has become synonymous with a failed criminal justice system, but millions of people were incarcerated years before we acknowledged mass criminalization.[1]  The data show that the prison population had bloated before policymakers and the public recognized it was out of control.

In the 1970s, the U.S. decided that prison was the answer to combating crime, however, studies show that the high incarceration rate didn’t reduce serious crimes. Between 1993 and 2001, the prison population increased by 66%, but serious crime only reduced by 2-5%. During the same period, the U.S. spent $53 billion to support imprisonment policies – a high price of using many tax dollars for a low reduction in crime.[2]

Although the U.S. was incarcerating at exorbitant rates, credit goes to author, Michelle Alexander, for publishing prison facts in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Shocking statistics included in The New Jim Crow increased its popularity as readers shared the discoveries on social media encouraging advocates to pressure policymakers for prison reform.

iStock_000010324123_ExtraSmall-206x300On August 25th, 2016, the DEA administer, Chuck Rosenberg, released a document announcing the agency would temporarily be placing Mitragyna speciose, commonly called Kratom, and its two primary chemicals, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, on the Schedule I list of the 1970 Controlled Substance Act as of September 30th, 2016.[1] The DEA announced its decision after citing health and safety concerns relating to the opioid-like drug. The decision of the DEA comes two months after a report was released by the CDC citing an upswing in poison control calls with 660 reports relating to the plant between 2010 and 2015.

What is Kratom?

Mitragyna speciose otherwise known as Kratom is a deciduous and evergreen tree in the coffee family native to southeast Asia, Thailand, and Malaysia[2]. Kratom contains opioid like compounds mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine which act upon opioid receptors much like morphine.

It is said that everything is bigger in Texas, unfortunately, that isn’t always a good thing. In just under a decade, Texas has taken $540.7 million dollars’ worth of assets from its citizens.[1] Texas is one of the more aggressive states when it comes to the practice of civil asset forfeiture, earning an average yearly income of $41.6 million from the practice. [2]

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Legal Taking of Property?

Civil Asset Forfeiture is the practice by which property can be confiscated from people without ever charging them with a criminal offense. Civil asset forfeiture is an actual civil suit brought against the confiscated item leading to bizarre sounding cases such as State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado, and State of Texas v. .39 acres.

iStock_000020746027_ExtraSmall.jpgIn December of 2013, a 54-year-old Texas woman was traveling back from spending the Christmas holiday with a family friend in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico when she was stopped by federal agents at the Cordova Bridge border crossing in El Paso, Texas. As the unnamed woman was passing through the checkpoint, a police drug dog allegedly alerted on her, prompting U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to select her for additional screening. The woman was quickly stripped searched and forced to undergo several body cavity searches at the crossing checkpoint, but the agents failed to turn up absolutely any evidence of drugs.

Regardless of this fact, the agents were determined to find some evidence of drugs and proceeded to transport the woman, handcuffed and against her will, to the University Medical Center of El Paso. At the hospital, doctors subjected the woman to an observed bowel movement, an expensive total body CT scan and numerous body cavity probes in a desperate attempt to find some trace of drugs. However, after enduring over six hours of demeaning and highly invasive searches, the agents were forced to admit the woman had committed no crime and released her with no charges. However, to add insult to injury, the woman soon received a $5,000 bill from the hospital for the exams she was wrongly forced to undergo.

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dreamstime_xs_22155154.jpgDespite a relatively low crime rate during the last decade, between 1970 and 2010, Texas’ prison population increased by 995%, even though the state’s population only increased by 124% during that same time period. However, Texas’ record-setting incarceration rates are not accidental–meaning this trend can still be reversed. Critics of excessive legislation and prosecutorial strategies such as mandatory minimum sentences stress that our excessive prison population is a direct result of the Texas Legislature constantly criminalizing new acts. Over the last decade, the Legislature has created an average of 40 new felonies during each legislative session while simultaneously increasing penalties for existing crimes. At present, Texas recognizes over 2,500 felony crimes.

Another prime contributor to Texas’ prison population explosion is unarguably the U.S.’s failed war on drugs. At this point, we can all agree that “prison therapy” is hugely ineffective in helping defendants cope with addiction. Considering the fact that over 70,000 people both enter and leave Texas state prisons every year, only 22% of which have been convicted of a violent crime. It should be imperative that we are taking steps to treat and reform inmates during their served time, rather than hoping that imprisonment itself is enough to deter addiction and future bad behavior. Treating a public health problem as a criminal problem is not going to end substance addiction, especially when past imprisonment keeps a person disenfranchised within their community, often without the ability to find a job or place to live. And all too often, the communities that are most impacted by this injustice are young minorities, with a new study finding that by age 23, 49% of black males and 44% of Hispanic males have been arrested, compared with only 38% of white males.

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iStock_000006746569XSmall.jpgUnlike federal law, which more broadly allows officers to make warrantless arrests based on probable cause, Texas laws specify the circumstances when officers can make arrests without a warrant. Understanding these circumstances may better help Texas residents understand the limitations of their rights in police encounters. Knowing the scope of police power can also help Texas residents make smarter choices in their day-to-day actions to avoid undue arrest and imprisonment. There are seven primary types of arrests not requiring an arrest warrant.

On View Arrests: An officer can arrest an individual if the officer views that individual committing any crime in the officer’s presence or within the officer’s view. For an officer to use this type of arrest, the officer must view some part of the crime and play some role in the arrest.

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