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Boston Marathon Bomber Guilty of all 30 Counts

The jury for the Boston Marathon bombing case has found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty of the 30 counts, 17 of which carry the death penalty as a sentence. The charges included conspiring and using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, conspiracy to bomb a place of public use, and use or carry of a firearm during crime of violence among others, This will result in the same jury to decide whether or not to sentence Tsarnaev to either life in prison or the death penalty. The sentencing trial date has yet to be announced.

boston bombing trial guilty verdictThe state of Massachusetts has abolished capital punishment in the early 1980’s and has not performed an execution since 1947. However, because Tsarnaev has been convicted of federal crimes, he is eligible for the death penalty. His defense team has the arduous task of presenting to the jury mitigating circumstances to try and prevent Tsarnaev from receiving the death penalty.

His lawyers will argue that his young age, 19, no prior criminal record and that his elder brother Tamerlan was actually the mastermind behind the bombing, should result in him receiving life in prison over the death penalty.

The Boston bombing occurred nearly two years ago and resulted in three deaths, 240 wounded, and 17 people losing their limbs.

The jury deliberated for nearly 12 hours before finding Tsarnaev guilty on all counts. Federal prosecutors have called 92 witnesses while the defense lead by Judy Clarke called four witnesses.

During the sentencing portion of the trial Clarke will try to argue that bombing was “a path born of his brother, created by his brother and paved by his brother,” in an attempt to try and spare her client from execution. Meanwhile the prosecution will argue the same narrative that it has been painting since the beginning of the trial: that the Tsarnaev brothers acted as a team in roles of equal responsibility.

Walter Scott’s Death Should Bring Progress and a Reminder of the Importance of Filming Police Misconduct

walter scott death police misconduct

Walter Scott’s death was the result of a traffic stop that went terribly wrong. A white North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager, shot Walter Scott, an African American, eight times in the back, as Scott ran away, following a traffic stop for a broken tail light. A video shot by a bystander clearly shows that Slager was not in immediate danger. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that it is illegal to shoot a suspect in the back unless there is “reasonable fear of danger to the police officer or the public,” Slager shot Scott in the back anyway.

The officer involved in the shooting was obviously aware of the law, evident by the fact that he stated he “felt threatened” before shooting Scott and that Scott “took my Taser.” Even though the video clearly shows that no CPR was performed until paramedics arrived, the police report falsely states that the officers at the scene performed CPR on Scott. If these blatant lies by Slager are not shocking enough, the video also shows Slager initially walking over to Scott, running back to his firing spot, picking up his Taser, and finally walking 25-30 feet back and dropping it next to Scott’s lifeless body.

Although police misconduct has been a reality for many years, it wasn’t until the brutal beating of Rodney King in1992 that it was brought to national attention. The acquittal of the police officers involved in the beating resulted in riots throughout the City. The similarity between the two cases is that both were caught on film.

Scott’s case stands out among the recent cases of police misconduct, involving the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Although their deaths resulted in unprecedented national-protests, neither one of the officers involved were indicted for murder. However, the Walter Scott case stands out because Slager was arrested, indicted and charged with Scott’s murder.

Scott’s slaying is likely to provide a similar rallying point for civil rights activists who highlight that the acts of excessive police brutality are targeted largely towards men of color. It is important to note that while both Scott and King have video documentation of the incidents, Eric Garner’s death, caused by a chokehold which was banned by the New York City police department, was also videotaped but did not result in a grand jury indictment of the officer.

The videotaping of police misconduct has been a subject of controversy, as well as the implications of police retaliation against those who film the events. For example, a reporter was detained and assaulted by police officers while attempting to film a protest in the town where Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer. Similarly, in the Garner case, a grand jury did bring an indictment against the man who filmed the incident, allegedly on weapons charges. However, these charges were curiously brought soon after the filming of Garner’s death. Other instances of retaliation have occurred, despite the fact that these filming’s are currently legal.

Police officers are rarely charged for excessive force. Research from Bowling Green State University shows that only 41 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter, in comparison to FBI data that there were 2,781 justified homicides by police in the same time period. The data was collected over a seven year period ending in 2011. Along with these staggering numbers, many legal issues have arisen when it comes to citizens recording the actions of police.

Twelve states currently have a law known as a “two party consent”, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. In these states, both parties must know and consent to a recording. However, the laws were initially enacted to protect one’s privacy during a phone call and the Supreme Court has yet to rule that the police have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Nonetheless, due to the increases number of videos documenting police brutality, some states are seeking to place restrictions on private citizens recording the actions of the police. For example, in Texas, a bill has been introduced to make it illegal to tape the police within 25 feet. There are even Texas legislators that are attempting to amend the bill to make it a misdemeanor to film the police at all.

It is important for citizens to know their rights if they have the unfortunate experience of witnessing a shooting, or other forms of brutality, by a police officer.

  • There is right to photograph or videotape any actions that are in plain view if those actions take place in a public space.
  • Unless the police have a warrant, they may not confiscate, or even demand, that a person turn over a photograph or video. Likewise they may not delete anything from a digital video or photograph.
  • If the police feel that a person’s activities are interfering with their ability to perform their job, it is legal for the police to order a person to stop an activity. Therefore, it is important to take pictures and videos far enough away, as to not get caught in the middle of a physical altercation with the police and the alleged suspect.

Without the video of the murder of Walter Scott, at the hands of a white police officer, the story would turned out much differently. Slager likely would not have been indicted and Scott’s name would have been smeared in the media to justify the shooting, as was the case with Garner and Brown. Hopefully, the murder of Scott will result in police accountability and reduce the number of men of color assaulted and killed by the very officers whose job it is to protect and serve.

How the Nanny State and Technology Intersect to Stop Crime

Ronald Bjarnason, 59, was arrested in Northern California last week on suspicion of a hit-and-run and for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Nanny State Police TechnologyNobody reported Bjarnason, no one was involved in the accident, and there were no witnesses. So how did the police know to show up at the scene?

The BMW he crashed sent out an automated distress call, alerting the police.

Police found the car crashed into a guardrail at around 12:20 a.m., but Bjarnason was nowhere to be found. An officer heard rustling in a bush nearby, and a homeowner said his surveillance system captured a man running across his lawn right after the accident occurred.

Officers then came upon a duffel bag filled with 13 pounds of marijuana along the suspected path Bjarnason took to escape the scene.

Police eventually found Bjarnason and arrested him. The Corte Madera police, Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, and the Central Marin Special Response team then obtained a warrant to search Bjarnason’s home in Piercy. They discovered 2,000 marijuana plants, pounds of cultivated marijuana, Ecstasy pills, psilocybin mushroom cultivation, weapons, and cash.

Bjarnason is out of custody pending possible charges.

Nanny State and Smart Technology

Would Bjarnason have gotten away if his BMW did not send a distress call? To be honest, probably not. He still crashed, and he was still caught on camera. The only difference is that the police arrived on scene faster. Is this the result of a nanny state?

In my opinion, it’s not. New technology doesn’t hinder us, it allows us to be safer in a world where 1.3 million people die in car crashes every year. That automated distress call can save the valuable seconds a person needs in order to survive.

Parent Liability for Their Children’s Gun-Related Accidents and Crimes

Parent’s Liability When Children Find Their Guns

Two children have recently died and one has been injured in Harris County, Texas. All three incidences happened in a four day period last week. A three year old and four year old both accidentally shot themselves with a gun found at their home, and a five year old critically injured his six year old brother with a gun found as well.

parent gun liability for childrenOn average, between 2007 and 2011, 62 kids per year have died from gun related mishaps like the incidences above. After three tragedies in just four days, Houston authorities have urged parents to lock their firearms in a safe and inaccessible place to children.

Are Parents Responsible?

In Texas, residents do not need a permit to purchase a gun, a registration of firearms, or a licensing of ownership in order to own a gun. It’s common sense to keep a gun out of reach to children in the home, but clearly a lot of parents fail to recognize this basic safety precaution.

Texas has Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws that are specific to kids and guns. Depending on the circumstance, parents can be penalized with a prison sentence or a fine when their children get a hold of a gun in the home.

Texas imposes criminal liability on parents who allow their child access to a gun and do not store the gun safely. But, parents are not held responsible if the gun was in a locked container.

The three children’s parents will most likely not be prosecuted. But when a child (most likely a teenager) steals a gun from the home and shoots people in a public place (usually schools) the parents are much more likely to be held criminally liable.

California Uses Prisoners to Fight Its Wildfires

prisoners fight california wild fires

With California’s current drought problem, many residents and government officials are weary about the fire season to come. Last year’s water woes lead to the following results during the 2014 fire season:

  • There were 5,620 wildfires
  • Cost $184.02 million
  • Burned 631,434 acres of land
  • Injured 146 individuals
  • Caused 2 deaths

Californians may be used to stories about major wildfires, but they may not know a lot about the individuals battling the flames. Approximately half of those fighting the fires in California are prisoners. With budget cuts and dwindling resources, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have resorted to using inmates as laborers.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation supervises and oversees inmates in its “fire camps” program. These programs have existed since World War II and California has the largest program in the nation. Here are a few facts about the program:

  • Over 4,400 prisoners are used to fight California wildfires
  • Inmates are housed at 42 fire camps across California
  • California saves $1 billion a year by using inmates as laborers

The inmates used in the program are convicted of misdemeanors, such as minor battery, robbery, or drug crimes. Usually, these “fire camps” are reserved for well-behaved inmates that have not committed violent acts, like sex crimes, or arson.

Corrections guards drop off the inmates at these camps and the supervising firefighters take over and are in charge the rest of the time. The prisoners are given the same clothing fire fighters wear and are allowed to carry and use chainsaws, axes, and rakes.

Many have criticized the use of prisoners in these programs and have likened the practice to modern day slavery. Prisoners earn $2 a day to fight fires and can get two days off of their sentence for every day they are out fighting fires.

In November of 2014, Proposition 47 was passed by voters and most likely will affect the “fire camp” program. Proposition 47 reduced certain felony crimes to misdemeanors. The reclassification included petty drug and theft crimes. The goal of the proposition is to reduce the crime classification as well as the prison population.

Although the voters are in favor of Proposition 47, many state agencies and departments are not as enthusiastic because it means an end to a source of cheap labor. The program has been positive, and many inmates have thrived and been rehabilitated through these fire camps. With the passage of Proposition 47, many agencies will finally have to confront their money and workforce problems because the inmate population will eventually be reduced.

State agencies should not solely rely on prison populations when hiring laborers to fight these fires. There may not be a simple solution to their budget problems, but hopefully Proposition 47 will lead to an outcome that does not solely rely on prison labor.

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