Saturday, July 24, 2004

Bad (but not unexpected) news for the Hackings 

It appears that the husband of missing Utah woman Lori Hacking is now a person of extreme interest, upgraded from just "person of interest":

SALT LAKE CITY  — Bloodstains have been found all over the apartment of Mark and Lori Hacking (search), family and investigative sources told Fox News...

investigators detected a substantial amount of blood and blood drippings using the forensic chemical luminol (search), which can make traces of blood glow blue-green in the dark even if it has been cleaned up, sources say...

“We think he’s lying and we hope to prove it soon,” an investigative official told Fox News [referring to Mark Hacking].

Not surprising. My speculation is that somehow she found out about his deception over his education (or lack thereof), perhaps he even told her, and the ensuing fight escalated as he decompensated from the strain of lying for so long. To have lived a lie like that for many years would require a lot of work, not to mention the deep-seated insecurities and jealousy of his older, very successful brothers that must have given rise to his lies. I only wish that the cataclysm such revelations always cause had not washed away Lori's life.

Media affecting investigation? 

A pregnant 27-year-old woman, Lori Hacking, is missing in Utah, and her husband is behaving bizarrely. The case is eerily reminescent of the Laci Peterson case, although the origin of the husband's behavior is markedly different.

The last person who supposedly saw Hacking alive was a woman claiming she saw Hacking stretching at a nearby park, where Hacking normally jogged each morning. Her testimony is crucial because police will focus most intensely on events following the last confirmed sighting. If the woman is incorrect, then the last sighting, save for Hacking's husband, would be the previous afternoon. It opens up the situation considerably.

And it appears the woman is backing down:

Also Friday, the only reported witness to see Lori Hacking on the morning she disappeared backtracked, telling KSL NewsRadio she no longer thinks the woman she saw stretching at a city park was the missing jogger.

My interest here is on the intersection of the media and the witness. Is this the first time she's spoken to the media? Had police asked her not to talk to media? Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unstable, especially when you're dealing with people or contexts that you are not familiar with. This woman (as far as we know) did not personally know Hacking. It's quite possible she saw someone else entirely. But it's also possible she saw Lori. If the media has extensively interviewed her, if she's been bombarded with attention, it would be normal for her to begin to waver or question herself, even to develop false "memories" about it. In this situation, both a false positive and a false negative can have a major impact on the case.

It's a good example of why we should be aware of the impact of media coverage on police investigations.

Attorneys complain that celebrity trials are too closed 

Some attorneys are charging that the US court system is shutting out the media in too many aspects of celebrity trials.

"The idea that you have justice and then you have celebrity justice is really offensive," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "Does the public understand what preferential treatment these people are receiving from the system?"

"If they decide celebrities are entitled to a different kind of justice," Dalglish said, "we have lost press oversight of the system. Without that, we will never know if the rich and famous are getting the same justice as the rest of us."

What isn't acknowledged in the article is that many of the restrictions by judges have been placed as a direct result of media coverage in either that specific criminal situation or in others. That isn't to say they're the right direction to take, but it does show some lack of honesty and integrity on the part of the press.

Monday, June 07, 2004

A museum of mayhem 

A museum dedicated to the Los Angeles Police Department opened last year, and this article in the NY Times tells about several of its exhibits:

The sight of two life-sized mannequins toting machine guns and wearing bloodstained body armor has brought gasps from kids and tears from tough cops.

The figures at the Los Angeles Police Department Museum depict the two heavily armed bank robbers who fired thousands of shots before being killed by officers during a North Hollywood shootout in 1997...

In one corner is an ax used by Fred Stroble to kill 6-year-old Linda Joyce Glucoft in 1949 -- a case that made headlines in its day. Stroble was later convicted and executed.

In another spot is the original script of the show ``Dragnet'' and the badge of fictional LAPD Sgt. Joe Friday, played by actor-director Jack Webb. The show ran from 1951 to 1959 and then was reincarnated in 1967-1970...

The museum's most ambitious exhibit is the North Hollywood shooting. With red police lights spinning overhead, visitors can compare the large arsenal of weapons used by the gunmen to the small cache of service revolvers carried by police officers.

It sounds like a great museum, and one I'd like to visit. They also have a memorial to the 200 LAPD officers who have died in the line of duty, including information on the lives of each. I like that idea - it's important for people to realize the humanity of the men and women who wear police uniforms.

It's nice that they also have a sense of humor:

Future exhibits will include...a Krispy Kreme kiosk and gift store to play off the stereotype of doughnut-loving cops.

Pretty funny.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The case for Kobe Bryant: Unfair defense? 

This article in the National Review looks at the tactics of Kobe Bryant's defense attorney during the preliminary hearing, and finds them not just inappropriate behavior but also a sign of deteriorating protections for victims in the criminal justice system.

Monday, October 20, 2003

British public will be stunned by police 

Some figuratively, quite a few literally:

Stun guns which can paralyse potentially violent suspects with a 50,000-volt charge could be issued as standard equipment in every police car in Britain from next year.

Forces around the country are expected to deploy the weapons, known as tasers, after the completion of trials in April.

The figurative shock comes from the fact that something is used at all:

In Britain, taser use has been tightly regulated with each incident referred to the Police Complaints Authority. However, there are concerns that they could cause heart attacks and miscarriages. Amnesty International is calling for international suspension of all electric shock technology until more research has been done. Research shows that, in the US, around 40 per cent of people who have been struck with tasers and other "less lethal" weapons have been shot in the chest area which could result in serious injury or death.

All five forces involved in the British taser trials said no one had been injured and that they were pleased with the outcome of the tests.

I would be curious to know what Amnesty International suggests as an alternative.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Guns as robbery deterrent  

Vol Market owners carry handguns openly to deter crime.

[Link via Instapundit]

Categories: Guns. Deterrence. Citizen self-protection.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Why no looting during the Blackout of 2003? 

Comparisons between the blackout this past week and the ones in 1965 and 1977 are inevitable, especially in the New York City area which was an anarchic mess in 1977. This article in Slate by David Greenberg tackles the question of why there was relative calm this time around:

Even if news reports prove to have been overly rosy—this morning Mayor Michael Bloomberg reported just one blackout-related death in New York City overnight—neither Gotham nor Detroit nor Cleveland suffered anything remotely like the anarchy of 1977. "New Yorkers showed that the city that burned in the 1970s when facing similar circumstances," Bloomberg said, "is now a very different place."

...It seems probable, though, that even if this latest blackout had happened before the 2001 attacks, we still wouldn't have seen a replay of 1977. A post-9/11 civic responsibility may have augmented the exemplary behavior, but it didn't create it. The real difference between 1977 and 2003 is the change in the condition of New York and America's Northeastern cities, including in their poorer enclaves.

Greenberg speculates that the differences lie in both the context of the recent blackout and the city and population changes as a whole. The context differences include the timing of this week's outage - late afternoon, so more people had time to get home, and the city had more daylight hours to prepare for nightfall - and the availability of police, who in 1977 were involved in a dispute with the city and did not turn out in force as they did this time. On a larger scale, Greenberg says, the city and its people are generally more prosperous now, and the racial tensions and class differences are not as sharp edged now as then. It's an interesting speculation, and the topic is one that will get a lot of attention in the next while. For a look at the type of analysis that will be done, take a look at this excellent piece by scholar Kathleen Tierney, about the reaction of NYC city, both officially and unofficially, to the 9/11 attack. Also, for a comprehensive history of the blackouts in 1965 and 1977, check out this website - which is also collecting stories from this week's outage.

[Tierney link via Instapundit. Blackout history link via Josh Marshall's Talking Points.]

Categories: Rioting. Looting. Crime causation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Surveillance cameras linked real time to Detroit street officers 

Technology continues its inroads into policing:

There are new high-tech eyes helping police in communities along the route of the Woodward Dream Cruise this year -- and privacy advocates aren't happy about it.

Six remote-controlled surveillance cameras have been set up to transmit live video images of crowd and traffic conditions to handheld and laptop computers carried by cops.

It's the first time surveillance cameras have been set up on such a wide scale to send live pictures to devices that police officers can carry in their pockets or set up on the front seat of a squad car, according to GigaTrans, the Detroit-based wireless Internet company providing the network.

A police officer walking the route and wondering what the commotion is up ahead can radio headquarters and have a live video image streamed to his Pocket PC handheld. Officials monitoring the feeds at a command center can see suspicious people or vehicles and instantly transmit pictures as officers are dispatched to check it out. A split screen can show all six cameras at the same time to provide pinpoint directions on where traffic or crowd problems are occurring.

Privacy groups aren't impressed. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says it smacks of Big Brother.

"This is very problematic," said ACLU spokesperson Wendy Wagenheim. "When the police can read a paper over your shoulder and you don't even know it, I think some alarms should go off."

It's a handy tool for officers, but the privacy issues are legitimate too. We need to have more of a policy debate in this country about balancing safety and privacy, because the technology is only going to get more sophisticated and potentially intrusive. At what point is an increment gain in safety not worth the concommitant incremental loss in privacy?

Aside from that, though, the toys patrol officers have at their disposal these days are very cool.

Categories: Policing. Technology.

Monday, August 11, 2003

What if an accusation of rape is false? 

Attorney Jonna A. Spilbor thinks it's something we need to consider more:

The statistics on false rape reports in the U.S. are widely divergent, and often too outdated to be meaningful. Not surprisingly, the numbers also depend on whom you ask. Organizations that tout a feminist agenda claim the number of false rape reports to be nearly non-existent - about two percent. But other organizations, taking the side of men, claim that false reports are actually very common - citing numbers ranging from forty-one to sixty percent.

Amid the statistics, the truth is impossible to ascertain - but it's plain that false reports are indeed made, and that they can ruin the life of the accused, whether or not a conviction follows.

Falsely reporting any crime is shameful. Falsely reporting a rape is especially heinous. The liar who files the false claim dishonors - and makes life all the more difficult for - the many true victims who file genuine rape claims because they have been terribly violated, and seek justice for it. At the same time, and perhaps even more seriously, the false report begins to destroy the reputation, and sometimes the life, of the accused from the very moment it is made - a fact of which many accusers are keenly aware...

Spilbor also makes the following points:

States can increase the penalty for false reporting.

Juries should be allowed to rule an accuser "not credible" as well as find a defendent "not guilty", if they believe both conditions to be true. This will help remove the taint from a falsely accused defendant.

The entire analysis is worth reading, and strongly considering. Rapists should not be allowed to go free, but the falsely accused deserve justice as much as those truly raped.

[Link from TalkLeft via Instapundit]

Categories: Rape. Street crime.

Microsoft guilty of patent infringement in IE package 

The giant gets busted:

A federal jury awarded a software company and the University of California more than $520 million in damages Monday after finding that Microsoft Corp.'s popular Internet Explorer browser infringed on a patent...

Eolas [Technologies] was launched in 1994 to market technology that allows users to access interactive programs embedded in Web pages. Eolas chairman Michael Doyle along with two others developed the technology while at the University of California at San Francisco. Eolas owns the exclusive rights to market the technology, while the university owns the patent.

Eolas and the university say Microsoft made their technology part of Internet Explorer (search) and bundled it with Windows.

Microsoft attorneys argued that the patent was invalid and said that in any case their client had never infringed on it. Microsoft said the patent described features the technology didn't deliver.

Eolas says the patent Microsoft was found to have infringed upon is the first browser system that allowed for the embedding of small interactive programs such as "plug-ins" or "applets," into World Wide Web documents. Such programs are central today to online commerce as they power everything from banner ads to interactive customer service...

Microsoft faces more than 30 patent-infringement lawsuits, covering digital rights management, online video game software and other technologies.

The best part: Microsoft saying "The patent wasn't in force and besides even if it was we didn't do it anyway." Nothing like covering all your bases.

Categories: White collar crime. Corporate crime.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

US Supreme says mandatory minimums often unfair 

US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy thinks federal minimum sentences should be lowered:

"Our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe, our sentences too long," Kennedy told the annual meeting of the American Bar Association (search), his remark met by long applause.

"I can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences," Kennedy said. "In all too many cases, mandatory minimum sentences are unjust."

Kennedy is a moderate conservative placed on the court by former President Ronald Reagan. His criticism puts him at odds with Attorney General John Ashcroft (search), who wants prosecutors to closely monitor which judges impose more lenient sentences than federal guidelines recommend. Such oversight, critics say, could limit judicial independence.

Kennedy said he agrees with the need for federal sentencing guidelines. The 15-year-old system gives judges a range of possible punishments for most crimes and eliminates some of the disparities in terms imposed by different judges for the same crime.

Still, the guidelines lead to longer prison terms than were common before, Kennedy said.

"We should revisit this compromise," he said. "The federal sentencing guidelines should be revised downward."

Many states also have sentencing minimums, as well as mandatory sentences for certain crimes - for example, carrying a gun during the commission of a crime can increase a sentence automatically. It often skews the sentencing so that an objectively lesser crime can draw more time than a more serious crime, just because the lesser crime triggered the mandatory minimums.

Friday, August 08, 2003

BFWD* mom convicted of not restraining baby 

A Pittsburgh woman was charged last month with child endangerment after she was stopped by police for breastfeeding her daughter while driving. She was found innocent today of the child endangerment, but was found guilty of other charges:

A woman who breast-fed her baby while driving on the Ohio Turnpike was found innocent of child endangering and convicted of three other misdemeanors on Friday.

Catherine Nicole Donkers, 29, was found guilty of charges including violating child-restaint laws and driving without a valid driver's license by Portage County Municipal Court Judge Donald Martell...

On the other three misdemeanors, prosecutors are recommending she be sentenced to 30 days in jail and pay a $500 fine. The maximum penalty is one year in jail and $2,000 fine.

The woman and her husband are members of a small Christian group that, among other things, doesn't believe people should have to have drivers licenses. She consulted her husband at every stage of the traffic stop and subsequent proceedings.

It raises questions of competing interests - religious freedom and safety of the child - as well as questions of responsibliity.

Here is more information.

* Breast Feeding While Driving

Categories: Parents. Religion.

Four killed in Denver slaying 

Four people were shot and killed and two others were critically wounded late Wednesday in Denver's worst mass homicide in more than a decade.

Police have no suspects or motive as yet.

Categories: Homicide.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Sex offender registry - not for sex offenders only? 

A Minnesota man must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, even though he's never been convicted of a sex crime - and the courts have upheld the law saying so:

The case arose from an encounter in a bar in 1998. Brian Gunderson went home with a woman he met there and, according to her, assaulted and raped her. He was charged two days later with sexual assault.

But the physical evidence collected by the police did not support the woman's accusation of rape. Judge Beam wrote, "The police investigation clearly established a lack of sexual contact between Mr. Gunderson and the complaining woman."

The original criminal complaint was dropped, and Mr. Gunderson pleaded guilty to a new one charging him with assault. He received a 15-month suspended sentence and three years of probation.

State officials later told Mr. Gunderson that he must register as a sex offender under a state law that requires it whenever someone is convicted of a sexual offense "or another offense arising out of the same set of circumstances."

Categories: Sex offenses.

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