The heinous act of terror at the Boston Marathon this year—and the subsequent capture of the culprits via footage from surveillance cameras and tourist photos at the event—have rekindled a national fascination with the watchful eye of law enforcement. A New York Times/CBS News poll found that seventy-eight percent of Americans were comfortable with public surveillance in the aftermath of the attacks, despite pushback from civil liberties groups. Critics of the so-called security state have a point about the extremes of government intelligence gathering; however, supporters cite numerous benefits to the expansion of surveillance technology.
The PATRIOT Act and Overreach Fears
The post-9/11 era is, in large part, defined by a greater fear of government intrusion in the private lives of Americans. While the PATRIOT Act is well into its second decade of life, it is the provisions renewed in 2011 that give the government the most strength to keep track of terrorism suspects. Congress renewed sections allowing government investigations to acquire “roving wiretap”–– court orders that focus on the person rather than the technology—meaning whatever telephone or computer that suspect is using is covered by the order, rather than just individual numbers. It also allows more liberty in the wiretapping of non-citizen suspects and seizing tangible evidence. Ideally, these provisions allow for an expansion of intelligence powers into the investigation of lone wolf operations. The ACLU reacted by decrying the “pernicious impact of the intrusive provisions at stake,” and calling for an end to the erosion of civil liberties.
Surveillance Did Not Prevent Boston Terror Attacks
The ACLU was not alone in this assessment. One argument in their favor is that the provisions of the PATRIOT Act seemed to leave the government doing little to nothing to prevent the Boston terror attacks. Despite the FBI interviewing the elder bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev at the request of the Russian government, there seemed to be no leads about the man or his younger brother coming into law enforcement shortly before the attacks. This does little to impugn the idea of expanded intelligence activities or the power of the PATRIOT Act to deprive individuals of their civil liberties. If the government was not using their expanded powers to further investigate an individual like Tsarnaev, for whom the act appears almost custom written, maybe the problem is not the overuse of intelligence powers to infringe on anyone’s rights. The “lone wolf provision” failed.
More Civil Liberties Violations, Less Crime?
Conversely, the idea of cameras patrolling all public places seems rightfully Orwellian and it did little to stop the attacks. Cases of civil liberties violations erupted almost immediately after the passing of the act, including unwarranted cell and location searches on private property. Cameras and bugs are only the tip of the iceberg in this discussion. Such widespread approval for more of the same could lead to more civil and criminal violations against individuals in the realm of privacy. Whether such violations would have result in any concrete improvement in national security operations is anyone’s guess. The inability to confirm concrete improvement in our law enforcement and intelligence operations, perhaps more than the proof of violations themselves, argue against such enthusiasm for new surveillance.
The eyewitness—once the most coveted of all forms of evidence in the courtroom—may not be as reliable as once thought. While decades of research has found a case for believing that many eyewitnesses can be easily swayed by leading questions or suggestions, new research shows that taking eyewitness statements with a grain of salt can greatly improve ability to identify accurate reports.
Eyewitnesses: A History of Misleading Accounts
Just because someone was at the scene of the crime does not mean that they fully and accurately internalized the events before them. A 2009 studyby the Cardozo School of Law, for example, found that up to seventy-five percent of overturned wrongful convictions relied on eyewitnesses. That study spanned seventeen states and involved cases mostly decided before the advent of DNA technology, as those were the easiest in which to find the misidentifications by eyewitnesses. DNA technology is not available for many cases, however—in fact, the study estimates only about five-to-ten percent of all criminal cases enjoy the luxury of such accurate evidence.
Leading Questions Influence Eyewitnesses
Eyewitnesses falter for many reasons. Crimes often occur under dramatic circumstances, rapidly, and in dark places or places with low visibility. Some eyewitnesses fear speaking out and let time pass before telling their story. In other cases, their court testimony occurs long after the alleged crime or violation in question. Additionally, the questioning that eyewitnesses endure can sully their recollection of events. Psychological studies have branded this the “misinformation effect,” where leading questions by lawyers and law enforcement professionals change the perceptions eyewitnesses have of the scene before they speak to others who have seen evidence.
Skepticism Relates To Eyewitness Performance Ability
So what can the lack of accuracy in eyewitnesses teach lawyers about properly using them in court? A recent study by scholars from the Universities of Oslo, Padua, North Dakota, and Catholic University in Washington, D.C. suggests that the key to proper use of an eyewitness is skepticism. An Italian university recently conducted a study with 100 defense lawyers in the nation, comparing their results to that of U.S. defense attorneys and prosecutors in both nations. The finding? Defense attorneys the world over were better at identifying accurate eyewitness accounts, because they came into the discussion with a stronger belief that what they were about to hear was wrong. This reduced the amount of leading questions and increased the sharpness of their inquiry.
Take Eyewitnesses with a Grain of Salt
Eyewitnesses can be an invaluable resource in criminal cases lacking material evidence, however, their possible fallibility can mean life or death or the defendant. The many cases of conflicting eyewitness accounts also add to the dangers of employing them in making arguments in cases with little evidence. Attorneys and law enforcement officials would do well to consider taking a more open-ended approach to interviewing eyewitnesses, letting them tell their story to completion before questioning them on evidence they may or may not have been aware of before their initial assessment of the situation.
Several weeks after the harrowing events that engulfed the Boston Marathon this year, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is set to face in federal court two counts that encompass the scope of his barbarous acts: one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, and one count of using an explosive device in the malicious destruction of property. He will and should be tried in federal court for this act of terror, but that reality should not allow Massachusetts, a state well equipped to try terrorism cases, to be excluded from the scene.
A Massachusetts Jury Should Have State Law at Its Disposal
While innocent until proven guilty, the younger Tsarnaev was found in large part thanks to the FBI’s diligent work in using surveillance cameras and photographic evidence. The odds of acquittal here appear slim. Although there certainly is a federal case to be made against anyone who uses a weapon of mass destruction to kill Americans, the people of Massachusetts should have their day in court, too—especially given the legal infrastructure in the state against terrorism.
Massachusetts State Law is Armed to Fight Terror
In the wake of the heartbreaking events of September 11, 2001, the Massachusetts legislature convened and passed an anti-terror bill a year later. The statute, An Act Providing Against Terrorism, amends a number of areas within the statutory code to allow for broader definitions various items. It puts tighter restrictions on fireworks manufacturers, adding provisions for “hoax substances” in addition to explosive devices. It also provides for incarceration of individuals for use or development of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. The relevant provision in this case, should prosecutors choose to go forward, would be section 148 of the General Laws §12, which, after this amendment, reads: “No building or structure shall be used for the manufacturing or storage of explosive materials without a permit issued by the marshal.” There is certainly no reason to believe that the Tsarnaev household had a permit to be manufacturing explosives. With that clear, this provision allows for, in the event of conviction, two years imprisonment or $5,000 in fines just for having one explosive. The provisions also allow for a charge to someone who causes another to believe that an explosive device is in a public area—a potential charge depending on what authorities discover about the recently arrested associates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Beyond Terrorism: Murder Charges
But these provisions are merely proof that Massachusetts’s legislators intended to provide for the judiciary to be able to handle such complex terrorism cases. That does not make their intent that this be the exclusive means of prosecution. Here, the major crime to be tried is the murder of several individuals, children, and the battery of nearly one hundred more. These charges are state charges, and as such will not get to go before a federal jury. There may not be a significant difference in outcome here, but symbolically, there appears to be no reason to deprive the people of Boston the chance to try Tsarnaev for mass murder.
An Allston fire that claimed the life of 22-year-old Boston University student Binland Lee has triggered a new conversation on the importance of abiding by city landlord/tenant laws and the effectiveness of current enforcement measures.
Fire Caused By Discarded Smoking Material
According to Masslive.com, the Boston Fire Department estimated that the fire began around 6:30 A.M. on Sunday, April 28. Officials determined the cause of the fire to be carelessly disposed of smoking material, which resulted in the fire starting in an interior staircase that constituted the only entry to the second floor and attic. The fire engulfed the three-story house and, in addition to taking Lee’s life, injured six firefighters and nine-residents. Firefighters found Lee in the attic apartment, which they were unable to reach due to flames blocking the only pathway leading upstairs.
19 People Estimated To Be Living In 7-to-9 Bedroom Home, Landlord Cited
Fire Captain Patrick Ellis told the Boston Herald that firefighters were unable to find interior access to the second floor from the front first door. Additionally, inspectional services were unable to find any record of the building having requested a rental reinspection––a required procedure every time a new tenant moves in––since 1992. An estimated nineteen tenants resided in the two-family home at the time of the fire. Boston’s Inspectional Services Department cited the landlord, Anna Belokurova, for overcrowding and renting an illegal basement apartment.
Bill Proposing Criminal Sanctions For Landlords Could Get More Attention
Belokurova could very well face criminal negligence charges, placing this story at the crux of criminal and property law. Currently, Massachusetts’s law sets the bar very high for turning a landlord sanction into a criminal action. However, this tragedy comes at the tail end of a push by certain legislatures to amend the law to more adequately protect tenants. A bill filed in the legislature in late March would subject landlords to up to two and a half years in jail for egregious instances of overcrowding, as per the fire code, and would allow inspectors to seek additional criminal complaints and fines of up to $15,000. In light of recent events, one could expect the bill to garner new attention from those who feel the current system’s sanctions lead to landlords integrating fines into their business models.
Landlords: Be Sure To Keep Up With Requirements
The Allston blaze serves as a reminder for both landlords and tenants to read up on their rights and responsibilities. Landlords should actively research the law to make sure they comply with state requirements. In Boston, particularly, inspections are mandatory with every new tenant (as noted above, the home in question was twenty years behind on inspections). Many resources are available, such as the City of Boston’s FAQ for landlord and tenant requirements and the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s list of requirements from landlords.
Massachusetts’ education system just got a complete overhaul of its criminal background check system, requiring national background checks for all potential employees that may come into contact with children. Already working in the education system? The law also affects you, as all current employees are required to undergo the national check within three years, also.
Loopholes in Education System Background Checks Closed
Prior to last January, Massachusetts law required that early education providers and those working in the school districts had to undergo criminal background checks, limited to the state’s criminal record system, which allowed for anyone with a criminal record obtained outside of Massachusetts to pass unnoticed into the education system. The types of jobs covered by this sort of background check, especially those that required fingerprinting, were also severely limited.
The objective of this new law, according to the drafters in the state legislature, is to keep Massachusetts up to date with laws having passed in other states that help link law enforcement on a national level. This means a new level of security that everyone in the public and private school systems must go through. What it does not mean, however, is a change in the substantive requirements to be hired for the jobs affected—that is to say, crimes that would have prohibited someone from having a job before the new law continue to bar them, even if they are found to be on the person’s record in another state.
New Law Requires Nationwide Database Check
The new law requires the criminal checks be done through a national database, so any criminal record in the United States should surface. In addition, the types of jobs affected include teachers, substitute teachers, other employees inside schools, child care providers, bus drivers, and some subcontractors. It also applies to people already employed in the system, who get three years to comply—no one is grandfathered out of being added to the fingerprint database or having their backgrounds checked through the national database.
Fingerprints Also Required, But Fees are Capped
The law also requires early education providers and school districts to conduct fingerprint-supported national criminal history background checks on all teachers, school employees and early education providers in Massachusetts. The fingerprints are checked and saved through the FBI. The law also addresses the amount of money required to undergo these checks—for those licensed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, fees are capped at $55. The Department of Education also released a set of frequently asked questions about what the bill means for those working in the school system or aspiring to, where they explain that there are hardship exceptions for the fees, as well, and how to properly have fingerprints done to give to the database.
Employees of the school system have some years to abide by the new regulations, and school systems expected to help them find their way towards complying adequately with these regulations, which officials have expressed praise for given that they give the school system an enhanced ability to screen those that will work alongside the state’s children.
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut has passed a new law making it more difficult for potential owners to acquire guns and banning a hundred weapons previously available for sale. The law, targeting the loopholes that made it possible for the shooter to use legal weapons last December, is rekindling conversation about more effective gun control all around the country, and especially in Massachusetts, where gun crime is the one type of crime to have increased in recent years.
New CT Bill Response to Sandy Hook Mass Shooting
Connecticut’s gun control laws have been under national scrutiny from both journalists and politicians since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, which took the lives of twenty children and six school faculty. The shooter in that instance, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, acquired his weapons through his mother, using registered firearms to commit his crime.
Officials at every level in the state have begun to design new measures to fill the loopholes that made it possible for Lanza to receive training in gun use from his mother and subsequently use her legally-purchased weapons to kill children. The store that sold the guns used in the massacre has since lost its license to sell firearms, and while the ATF did not specify the reasons why, they noted that “poor keeping of the records” probably played a role. Meanwhile, individual boards of education have begun taking measures to secure their schools, with the Board of Education of Enfield, CT being the firstto come to an agreement on the implementation of armed guards throughout the school system.
New Law Receives Mixed Response
On April 4, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed into law the aforementioned bill, which, among other things, bans a hundred arms not previously listed on the assault weapons ban list, limits the sale of high-capacity magazines, and beefs up background check requirements. The response to the new bill has been mixed; while polls show that, nationally, a large plurality of voters support more thorough background checks on gun owners, gun manufacturers have objected to the law’s limitations. One manufacturer even announced it would be moving its operations out of state to one with more hospitable laws for its business.
MA Gun Crime Up In Past Decade
The successful push for new legislation in Connecticut has sparked talk of more gun control in neighboring Massachusetts. Massachusetts enjoys a reputation nationally as having some of the toughest laws against gun crime on the books, but statistics show that recent years have been less kind to the efficacy of those laws than the reputation that precedes them. While Massachusetts has enjoyed a general drop in crime, especially in Boston, gun crime in particular is up. As WWLP explains, the number of gun murders in 2011 was almost double that in 1998. In Boston, nonfatal shootings are up 20% this year, and arrests related to guns is up 11% from 2012 to 2013. As a result, local groups in the Boston area have began to call for more gun control, with the celebration of the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord hosting a rally in favor of more legislation in response to a rally celebrating the Second Amendment.
While it is too soon to speculate whether the Connecticut law will trigger a domino effect of gun legislation across New England, it has certainly opened a door to further conversation as to what our state officials can do to prevent further crime of any magnitude, from the low-level gun crime Boston Police routinely prevent to the tragic use of rudimentary bombs to cause the heinous tragedy at this year’s marathon. Expect this to be the beginning of a long—and, hopefully, fruitful— conversation on the prevention of violent crime.
Rhode Island has become the latest in a string of states to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The nation’s smallest state officially put the policy into effect on April 1, with marijuana dispensaries set to open in the near future. According to the new law, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana for personal use will result in a $150 ticket, with no additional jail time.
Legalization More Popular Than Ever Before
The decriminalization implements a law passed last year and comes on the tail of a groundswell of support for the measure. According to a PPP pollreleased at the beginning of this year, 65% of Rhode Islanders supported decreasing penalties for possession, with support crossing party lines (the most hesitant group on this front were independents, 60^ of which supported the measure. Republicans supported decreased penalties by 65%. In addition to the state, national support for legalization is also hitting record highs. According to a study released by the Pew Research Center earlier this month, the move is in accord with a simple majority of the nation—52% of Americans now say they favor legalization of marijuana.
Potential Crime Reduction From Drug Legalization
Those who support the efforts are not stopping at decriminalization. Democratic Rhode Island State Senator Donna Nesselbush told her colleaguesearlier this month that legalization would “reduce crime, weaken gangs and cartels and allow our hard-working law enforcement officials to focus on serious and/or violent crime.” She is sponsoring legislation that would lead to a full legalization of the drug, on par with the current laws on the books in Colorado and Washington.
RI Following MA Example
The push for legalization has also swept Massachusetts, with 63% of voters approving of the measure in a November 2012 referendum. The Massachusetts courts have also weighed in on the issue, recently declaring sharing of a marijuana cigarette to not be a crime. According to the Boston Globe, the court has also further clarified that, as a civil infraction, individuals cannot be prosecuted for the consumption of marijuana.
Federal Law Still Overrides
While legalization and decriminalization at the state level has had an impact in the states that have passed such laws, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act. This means that possession continues to be a federal crime for which the Drug Enforcement Agency or other federal administration could file charges. With that in mind, the current Department of Justice has recommended that federal agencies restrict their use of resources to areas where the drug has not been decriminalized or legalized, but that does not mean that federal entities do not have the power to target or arrest individuals who break the Controlled Substances Act with a drug legal under state law.
The relationship between drug legalization and other crimes has also been called into question, with many arguing that arresting and imprisoning individuals for drug use has an adverse effect on populations already struggling due to poverty and violent crime. A recent study of the Massachusetts prison system has also found that drug crimes contribute significantly to overpopulation of prisons and recidivism among offenders – see my previous article on drug related crime rates.
The good news for Massachusetts residents—and law-abiding Americans nationally—is that crime has been on the decline since the late 1980s. The bad news, according to a new report by non-partisan think tank Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, is that the state’s expenditures on incarcerating criminals significantly hurt the state’s education and infrastructure, reduce taxes entering the state through income lost, and in terms of both social and economic capital injure more than help keep the state safe.
Report: Drug Offenders A Huge Expense
The report, released at the end of March, predicts that Massachusetts will spend an extra $900 million on incarcerating drug offenders over the next decade relative to 1985, with higher costs at the general prison level and no significant impact on the decrease in crime. The report’s argument against such superlative spending on the prison system ranges across the political spectrum, suggesting that such pursuit of crime has both ravaged the state’s inner cities (about 10 metropolitan areas monopolize the prison population of the state) and the state’s budget, causing taxes from lost income of inmates to evaporate and thus damaging both the economy and the state. The cumulative effect of the current policy is a significant decline in spending on education, health care, and infrastructure that could bring great benefit to the state.
What’s more, prison population has tripled since the 1980s and the length of time in jail for individual crimes is also on the rise, which has created new issues with recidivism in convicted criminals once released.
Violent Crime Drop Coincides With Prison Population Increase
These statistics conflict with those on crime generally in the country since 1990—in which violent crime has fallen 45% nationally and 37% in Massachusetts, according to the report. The improvements noted, the study makes it clear that imprisonment is a negligible part of the decrease in crime, particularly when compared to the multi-million-dollar enterprise it represents. Next to increases in public safety measures and community policing, imprisonment has been significantly more expensive while also contributing to recidivism, thus perpetuating more crime—particularly in drug-related cases. One surprisingly contributor to the national decline in criminal activity both in the state and nationally in the larger influx of immigrants, whose populations statistically participate in less crime than natural-born U.S. citizens.
70% of Drug Inmates There Through Mandatory Minimum Violation
The study’s most poignant observations are not general, however, but within the real of drug crime. While Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2009, drug possession and sale continues to make up a significant portion of the prison population. The report notes that 70% of inmates currently imprisoned on drug charges arrived there by way of mandatory minimum statutes, and extended sentencing for them have a direct correlation to repeat offenses, particularly in urban communities.
In contrast to the current regimen, MassINC recommends what it calls Justice Reinvestment, a model that focuses on rehabilitation of prisoners and the safety of neighborhoods, rather than indiscriminate harsh punishment of crime. Justice Reinvestment, the report notes, has made its appearance in other states in several manifestations with positive results.
You can read the full report here.
You are sitting in the house and arguing with your wife or girlfriend. Your girlfriend wants you out of the house and decides to call the police on you. Your girlfriend tells the police that you touched her and before you know it you are arrested and brought to the police station. The police are very cautious with domestic assault and battery cases. It doesn’t matter if there are no bruises, cuts, or even if the alleged victim requires medical attention. It doesn’t matter if the victim is the only person saying that you hit her and there are no other witnesses there. In fact, the police probably won’t even go talk to other people to see if anyone saw the incident. It doesn’t matter that the house you were supposedly fighting in looks pristine and nothing looks thrown around. And it doesn’t matter that you were not found inside the apartment and the police found you later on. Even with no injuries, witnesses, and the case being completely being her word against yours, it is highly likely you will be arrested for a domestic assault and battery charge.
The police are very cautious with domestic assault and batteries for many reasons. One of the reasons is that the police rather be cautious is to ensure the safety of the alleged victim. The police are very concerned that they will be accused of not doing their job. If the police don’t arrest a suspect and later the suspect kills the victim, then the police will have a lot of explaining to do. The last thing the police want is to explain to the press why they didn’t arrest an individual who ended up killing a victim. Unfortunately, the police can’t tell what suspects are more likely to kill a victim, therefore, they tend to arrest all suspects in domestic assaults and battery to prevent anyone from saying that they aren’t doing their jobs. It makes sense that police are cautious and it makes sense that the police want to prevent any major violence. Unfortunately, not all victims are telling the truth and many innocent people get arrested for domestic assault and batteries.
To complicate matters many if not all the district attorneys’ offices have domestic violence units. These domestic violence units tend to treat each case very seriously. The district attorneys in Massachusetts want to be strong advocates against domestic violence. This is a noble cause and it makes complete sense to be against domestic violence. If you are ever arrested for a domestic assault and battery you may find it very difficult to dismiss your case. Even in cases where the victim tells the prosecutor that they want the case dismissed. Once criminal charges are filed, the victim doesn’t have the right to dismiss the case. The power to deal with a criminal case lies with the prosecutor and ultimately a judge. Prosecutors understand that most domestic violence victims tend to harbor their pain and protect their attackers. Therefore, in many cases prosecutors will continue to prosecute domestic cases even where the victim wants the case dismissed.
The problem with domestic violence cases is where a victim is lies about the attack. Unfortunately, there are many alleged victims that abuse the criminal process to gain an advantage against the accused in some way. It is very difficult for prosecutors to decipher victims that change their story as a result of battered woman syndrome, or an alleged victim has lied from the beginning and is abusing the system. As a result, if you are charged with a domestic assault and battery in Massachusetts you are in a difficult situation.