Tuesday, April 24, 2007

News and Blogs Together, Tuesday, April 24, 2007

  • Some thoughts on Doug Berman's thoughts about other blogs' thoughts about the impact (real, desired, and imagined) of victims on sentencing and punishments. I hope I don't oversimplify too much in shortening the views, but I think Doug's concerned about overgeneralizing the negative impact that actions to empower victims in the process will have on due process and basic Bill of Rights freedoms. The other blogs worry that the Bill of Rights made government abuse the primary fear to be avoided, and permitting too great a role to victims would twist framers' intent. I will bravely agree with each side. Our ancestors purposely created a justice system designed to take the judgment of proper punishment away from victims who frequently ran up too great costs, as we are seeing again in the actions of those who purport to speak in all victims' names now. And when you have courts like we have in OK where jurors have to walk by a victims' garden on their way to jury rooms, then fear of abuse is not unwarranted. But Doug is right, too, in that, for the law to have legitimacy and maintain even the precarious hold it has now, we need to work to restore and recompense victims for their misfortune. I think part of the problem is that each side has a different image or story of victims in their minds when they form their positions. Not all victims are the hateful demagogues we see leading political causes (and yes, they are loud and vocal, as "Three Strikes" in CA testifies more than adequately) unmindful of the impact and harm their vengeance wreaks long-term on the communities they claim to be protecting. If those are the ones we focus on, then, yes, the Bill of Rights is in danger and we support them at our own risk. But, as I've said here before, those folks are only a segment of all victims, and most victims I know and have worked with as both a crime victim myself or on victims organizations have a much more balanced and long-term view of what needs to happen to get victims and communities justice. So, yeah, there's a real danger that the one type of victim and those who manipulate and use their anger, fear, and ignorance of consequences will produce truly frightful policies for a nation supposedly protecting basic rights of all. But there's also the need Doug describes, and more effort in that regard, more proof that the system is interested in victim welfare, even if that doesn't get them all the participation in the process they want, is vitally important as well. Folks, we don't even have a good state or national victim data system to allow in-state and national studies that would be the foundation of any system serious about making good policy for victims. Let's recognize victims in their totality and take them seriously. I think we'll find the results of that even better than either Doug or the other side hopes for right now.
  • Some alcohol stories today. This one on findings that female alcoholics can develop cognitive problems faster than male ones. Surely that has implications for treatment and overcoming abuse, right? This one affirms that physical and psychological stress on recovering alcoholics early in their recovery is not a good thing for preventing relapse and its potential should be planned for in advance. Finally, this one shows that, well, alcoholics, like most people, tend to be attracted to people with similar interests, like booze. Then they partner and mate. And their genes lead to offspring who . . . okay, you get the idea. And those kids grow up in an environment of . . . right. Not sure what the treatment recommendation for this would be, but it makes sense.
  • Researchers have come up with a protein that inhibits growth of the hepatitis C virus. If you're involved with prison governance in any way, I can see the happy face from here.
  • Criminal Justice and Behavior has a new issue out, with most articles available in abstract. Lots of good stuff to check out.
  • Law enforcement and prosecutors in IA are frustrated with the intelligence and courage in the state legislature which has done nothing to redress the problems with the state's sex offender restriction laws that are whacking their ability to do their basic crim just jobs. Here's why they're aggravated: "I think people are concerned about political liability," said Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal of Council Bluffs. While legislators in both parties worked hard this year to come up with a measure that "focuses the administrative resources of the state on things that will actually enhance public safety," Gronstal said, "some people are primarily interested in pursuing a political advantage."Corwin Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association, said he was "astonished" that a repeal had been dubbed by some as out of the question."There were about five weeks of testimony presented by knowledgeable Iowa people who work with sex offender issues," he said of the subcommittee's work. "There was not one, not one shred of evidence presented that the residency law provides safety for children. In fact, there was a significant amount of evidence presented that the law might actually decrease child safety. Even the clear evidence that enforcement of the law is wasting valuable law enforcement resources has had no effect." And here's what they think the problem is: "They're just afraid to take action, and the people of Iowa should be ashamed," said Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald. "It's absolutely politics at its worst." Surely that can't be true.
  • What the world of state and maybe fed corr sent is coming to: MD's gov's "StateStat." Which isn't that bad an idea but, if you've worked in public service, I dare you not to feel the cold chills.
  • Well, this anti-meth remedy hasn't quite made it big time yet. Requiring a doc's prescription for your Actifed. The retailers weren't impressed. It may just be a matter of time, though, if meth doesn't fade back like crack in the near future.
  • The Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center has a new report on reentry in OH that apparently breaks no new ground, tells us what we've known and ignored for years now. "One year after release, the men in the study had little stability in their lives and desperately needed community services to help them succeed," said Christy A Visher, principal researcher and the study's co-author. "Most were living in temporary housing, were not working full-time and had health problems that required medical attention." However, "[t]he study showed overall that community services are stretched to the breaking point by the demands of 650,000 prisoners released annually in the U.S. Visher said that the findings "point to important policy opportunities for change -- both in prison and in the community -- that would reduce recidivism, reduce illegal drug use, and increase public safety in Cleveland's neighborhoods. Many of these policy changes are not expensive." Among the recommendations were providing housing assistance immediately after release, coupled with employment assistance and substance-abuse treatment. The study also suggested involving families more closely in prisoners' re-entry, allowing more liberal partner visitation during incarceration and offering marriage-support services after release." Like we said, nothing new here. Just move along.

1 comment:

Russell P. Butler said...

Barry Boss incorrectly portrays victims’ rights solely through his eyes as a criminal defense attorney. He incorrectly claims victims’ rights are closely related to our national obsession with being “tough on crime”. However, all victims do not want to throw away the keys or seek the defendant to receive the death penalty. One reason that the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center has never had a position of being in support of or opposed to capital punishment is that we would alienate the families of victims who would support the opposite position. Rather, the thrust of victims’ rights is to provide victims with civil rights to allow their participation in a justice system which came to ignore their interests even though they were the person most affect by the alleged crime.
Victims do not become a member of the “prosecution team.” Like it or not, the intent is to give victims an independent voice. Despite the enactment of victims’ rights, victims are often denied the rule of law by violating victims’ rights without recourse. Take the case of Lopez-Sanchez v. State, 388 Md. 214 (Md. 2005). Under Maryland law, victims can request restitution in criminal or juvenile delinquency cases. In this case despite the victim requesting restitution and his having independent counsel, the prosecutor and the juvenile delinquent’s attorney submitted a consent order compromising the victim’s claim to restitution. As the concurring opinion clearly sets forth, the victim’s rights were violated and the victim was harmed despite clear Maryland law to the contrary.
Each of us has our own concept of justice. Prosecutors represent the government. Defense attorneys represent the accused. Each party in a criminal case will have their obligations and agenda and this does not including representing the victim. I believe that enlightened prosecutors do consider the interests of victims, but this is far from a controlling role in prosecutions. Change is not easy and it will not be easy for those in power to have another participant in the justice system.
Perhaps Mr. Boss would not believe that I strongly support the rights of the accused. I understand the need for counsel and zealous advocacy for criminal defendants having been a criminal defense attorney myself. I do not seek mandatory sentences or the abolition of parole. I have drafted legislation which considers not only the interests of crime victims, but also the interests of the accused, the government, and the judiciary.
Where Mr. Boss and I strongly differ is that I believe that there can be a criminal justice system that can have a strong participatory role for crime victims balanced with the fundamental rights of defendant which are both so important to our society. Victims can and should be given rights pre-conviction. An accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that does not mean that victims cannot have rights prior to conviction any more than the government cannot keep an accused murder in jail pending trial.
Mr. Boss ended his editorial with let’s not forget about the criminal justice itself. Take a look at the case of Lamb v. Kontgias, 901 A.2d 860 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2006) and think about the criminal justice system and the public perception of the system after the treatment of the victim in this case. The defendant filed a motion to reconsider his sentence to strike his conviction plus his requirement to register as a child sex offender. Despite Maryland’s constitutional and statutory rights for a victim to be informed, present, and heard at the reconsideration hearing and a court rule preventing the court from hearing the reconsideration, the victim’s rights were denied no recourse was provided to the victim. The defendant had his day in court and had his sentence and offender registration vacated, but the victim’s constitutional and statutory rights were denied without recourse. My sense of justice is a balanced one and not a monolithic view that it is only about the accused.