Deadly Force in Philly (and Milwaukee)

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Public
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Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a voluminous report on uses of deadly force by the Philadelphia Police Department. In recent years, there has been a drop in both violent crime and assaults on police officers in the City of Brotherly Love, but officer-involved shootings (OISs) have remained stubbornly high. Amidst media coverage of rising OIS numbers in 2013, the Police Department requested assistance from the DOJ in order to assess the problem.

The new report, authored by George Fachner and Steven Carter, finds there were 394 OISs in Philadelphia between 2007 and 2014, for an average of 49 per year. The suspects were unarmed in 15% of the cases. Fachner and Carter provide a wealth of data regarding the 394 OISs and dozens of recommendations for the Department.

One recommendation is that the “PPD should publish a detailed report on use of force, including deadly force, on an annual basis. The report should be released to the public.”

I’m pleased to say that we are already doing such annual reports here in Milwaukee. How do the numbers compare?

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Decline in Wisconsin Prison Population Results From Fewer Drug Offenders Behind Bars

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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As I discussed in this post, Wisconsin has achieved one of the nation’s higher rates of reduction in imprisonment over the past decade. To be sure, New York, California, and a few other states have far outpaced Wisconsin in this regard, and Wisconsin’s prison population remains nearly ten times larger than it was in the early 1970s. Still, we may appreciate some overall net progress in the Badger State’s numbers since the mid-2000s. As indicated in the chart after the jump, reduced imprisonment of drug offenders has played a central role in driving this trend.   Read more »

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MULS Conference to Consider Human Trafficking and Restorative Justice

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Human Rights, Immigration Law, International Law & Diplomacy, Labor & Employment Law, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Poverty & Law, Public
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MartinaVImage_0On Thursday and Friday, Marquette Law School will host an important conference, “Restorative Justice and Human Trafficking — From Wisconsin to the World.”  As the title suggests, human trafficking — for sex or labor — is a both a global human rights problem and a significant issue locally.  Hundreds of cases have been reported in Wisconsin, mostly in the Milwaukee area.  The conference is designed to raise awareness about trafficking and to help concerned citizens get involved in efforts to address the problem.

The Conference kicks off at 4:30 on Thursday with a keynote address by Martina Vandenberg (pictured above), who leads the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center in Washington, D.C.  Vandenberg has worked on cases involving trafficking and other humans rights violations around the world.

On Friday, the Conference will continue with a full schedule of speakers and panels.  A panel of victim-survivors will share their experiences.  Local leaders and activists will discuss the impact of trafficking and current efforts to help victims.  Other speakers will cover the existing legal framework, potential legal reforms, and the international context of trafficking.

The Conference is sold out, but there will be a live feed that can be viewed by clicking on the “Watch Now” tabs in the pages linked to above.

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New Article on Good Conduct Time

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal Scholarship, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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I have a new article in the Wisconsin Lawyer about good conduct time, a program that permits prisoners to earn accelerated release based on how well they do behind bars.  Most states offer GCT to their prison inmates, but Wisconsin does not.  (Inmates in local jail facilities here may earn GCT, but not the 20,000+ longer-term inmates in state prisons.)  In the new article, I argue that Wisconsin policymakers should consider adopting a GCT program for prisoners as part of their ongoing efforts to reduce the size of the state prison population, which remains near historic highs.  For readers interested in more on this topic, I’ve created a page on my personal blog that collects my writings on GCT.

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Mercenary Justice?

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Poverty & Law, Public, Race & Law
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Earlier this week, the United States Department of Justice released a scathing report on police and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri. Figuring prominently in the DOJ’s criticisms, Ferguson criminal-justice officials were said to be overly concerned with extracting money from defendants. For instance, the DOJ charges:

Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests. This has led to court practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements. The court’s practices also impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals, and run counter to public safety. (3)

I don’t know how fair these particular criticisms are, but they echo numerous other criticisms made in recent years about the increasing tendency of the American criminal-justice system to rely financially on a burgeoning array of surcharges, fees, forfeitures, and the like.

Professors Wayne Logan and Ron Wright have a fine recent article on this subject, appropriately entitled “Mercenary Criminal Justice” (2014 Ill. L. Rev. 1175).   Read more »

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Prisoner Enfranchisement in Ireland

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Election Law, Human Rights, Prisoner Rights, Public
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I was surprised to learn recently from an Irish law professor that Ireland gave its prisoners the right to vote in 2006. Felon disenfranchisement is such a pervasive fact of life in the United States that many Americans might assume, as I did, that this is the accepted practice everywhere. This turns out not to be the case. Ireland is hardly alone, even among the common-law countries, in giving prisoners the right to vote, although the case of Ireland may be unusual in that its legislature acted in the absence of a court directive. Canada and South Africa, by contrast, required court rulings before their prisoners were enfranchised. The Irish story is nicely recounted in an article by Cormac Behan and Ian O’Donnell: “Prisoners, Politics and the Polls: Enfranchisement and the Burden of Responsibility,” 48 Brit. J. Criminology 319 (2008).

Before proceeding with the Irish story, a little on the American situation:   Read more »

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Milwaukee Arrests Rarely Involve Force, But Numbers Vary by District

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Public, Race & Law
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Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission released its annual report on police uses of force for 2013. The report counts 895 incidents in 2013, employing a very broad definition of “use of force” that does not require either an injury or the use of a weapon. To put that number into perspective, the Milwaukee Police Department made more than 30,000 arrests in 2013. For each arrest in which force was used, there were about thirty-six arrests in which force was not used.

In nearly three-quarters of the use-of-force-incidents, no weapon was used by the police officer. In the remaining incidents, the most commonly used weapons were Tasers and pepper spray. Firearms were used on forty occasions, most commonly on dogs. Firearms were used against human subjects in fourteen incidents; eleven of the subjects were hit.   Read more »

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Milwaukee Residents Give Solid Marks to Police

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Public, Race & Law
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Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (of which I am a member) released the results of its first-ever survey of citizen attitudes toward the police.  Although the survey identified a few areas of concern, the overall tenor of citizen attitudes seems positive.

Conducted for the FPC by UWM’s Center for Urban Initiatives & Research last summer, the survey involved telephone interviews of 1,452 Milwaukee residents.  As detailed in the CUIR’s report, the survey respondents were reflective of the city’s diversity in racial composition and in other respects.

The report’s lead finding is that about three-quarters of Milwaukee residents report that they are at least somewhat satisfied with the Milwaukee Police Department, while only about nine percent said they were “not at all satisfied.”  These findings are notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that fully one-quarter of the respondents reported being stopped by the police in the past year.  One might suppose that this group would be predisposed to negative evaluations of the police.  However, the vast majority (71%) of those stopped felt that they were treated fairly.  The MPD has significantly increased its number of stops in recent years, but it does not appear that involuntary contact with the police normally leads to hard feelings by the person stopped.

Given recent racial tensions in Milwaukee and nationally regarding policing practices, it is especially important to note the racial patterns in survey responses.   Read more »

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Pet DNA Used to Help Solve Crimes

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal Practice, Public
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CatAs this public radio show discusses, DNA from pets is increasingly being used to help solve crimes.  Investigators can take DNA samples found at a crime scene, such as hair, and have it tested to match a victim’s pet.  A match can link a perpetrator to the crime if, for instance, the DNA of the victim’s pet shows up on the assailant’s clothes.  As noted on the show, the field of veterinary forensics is growing, and while the DNA testing is expensive, it can make a big difference in solving a case.  In addition to animal DNA, plant DNA and viral DNA has also been used in criminal cases.

 

 

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A Social Trust Theory of Criminal Law, Part III

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Public
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The first two posts in this series are here and here.  In this concluding post, I will share some thoughts regarding the various mechanisms by which criminal law potentially enhances social trust.

Deterrence: The criminal law’s deterrent threats help to make people feel more secure.  It seems to be a matter of widely shared intuition, and not without basis, that the possibility of punishment will cause many individuals to think twice before harming or endangering others.  The difficulty with deterrence is this: just because the threat of some punishment tends to reduce the frequency of undesirable conduct or outcomes does not mean that the threat of more punishment will achieve further gains.   Read more »

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A Social Trust Theory of Criminal Law, Part II

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As I discussed in my previous post, the job of criminal law is to reassure us that we will not be victimized when we leave the safety of our homes and families and engage with the wider world. Such reassurance is necessary for our economy to work and for us to be able to enjoy the individual freedoms so exalted by our culture. But the central dilemma of criminal law is this: criminal law and its enforcement not only function as sources of reassurance, but as threats in their own right—producers of fear that may undermine, rather than enhance, people’s sense of security and willingness to engage with the wider world. Every time the criminal-justice system acts against a citizen, it causes harm in some form or another. Viewing this harm, some will feel reassured—if the system, for instance, is seen as thereby deterring future harms—but others will feel frightened. Indeed, the very essence of deterrence is fright. There is no unalloyed good when the system acts. The bitter always accompanies the sweet.   Read more »

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A Social Trust Theory of Criminal Law, Part I

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Ours is a society of strangers.  Every day, we are likely to encounter dozens of unfamiliar faces, even if only fleetingly through the windshield of a car. We purchase our life’s necessities from people who are typically no more than bare acquaintances. Through the media, we are constantly exposed to exotic voices and personalities. We are even unlikely to know really well all of our neighbors and coworkers.  What is it they always say about the serial killers?  “He was such a nice, quiet neighbor.”

It sometimes seems a wonder our society does not disintegrate altogether.  After all, it is not an easy or natural thing for strangers to live together harmoniously.   Read more »

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