Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Probation 'harsher' than prison? Quick hits from a busy week

The site's seen its highest traffic ever this week after Instapundit and National Review Online linked to Grits' post on the DEA's nostalgia for alcohol prohibition. That's pretty fun -- who'da thought I was National Review's kind of guy? (BTW, here's what an Instapundit hit does to your Labor Day traffic.)

Otherwise, blogging will be on the light side the next few days, but here's a few quick hits that hopefully will tide you over, gentle readers, until I can shorten the stack on my desk:

Probation "harsher" than prison? Austin US District Judge Lee Yeakel sentenced the computer hacker who stole thousands of social security numbers from the University of Texas to five years probation, paying $170K restitution, and banned his use of the Internet without permisssion from his probation officer. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 15-21 months, but Yeakel declared the sentence "harsher" than prison. Was it? I'm curious as to whether Grits' readers think that's true?

Nuther Ron Mock client nears execution: Frances Newton is scheduled to die next week, and the thought that she might be innocent, convicted on possibly faulty evidence from a Houston crime lab, makes me sick to my stomach. She had one of the worst lawyers of all time. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty sent out an action alert to plead with the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare her life.

Public defenders in Paris? In Paris (that's northeast Texas, not France), Lamar County officials are considering setting up a public defender's office in response to rising indigent defense costs and a declining number of attorneys willing to take court-appointed cases. That's probably a smart move.

The sound of the other shoe dropping: It appears as though Texas' anti-abortion lobby's recent string of legislative successes has cleared the way to prosecuting doctors as murderers for performing abortions withut parental consent, see Injustice Anywhere and Doc Berman's accounts. It's like a pro-life zealot's view of doctors was accidentally codified. At least, I think it was an accident. One of our yahoo Texas DA's, you can be sure, will file that moronic case now that they've thought of it.

Okay, 45,000 people couldn't have gotten high, but we could have charged that many with possession. Legal Assistance looked at Grits' post on DEA testilying about meth weights and, in response, walks through Texas law on whether drugs must be possessed in "usable" quantities to be illegal. Short answer: Pot, yes, powder, no.

For you history buffs: See Lufkin Daily News publisher Gary Borders' story of a Reconstruction-era Texas lawman, Columbus Hazlett, who was nearly lynched as a boy for his family's pro-union sympathies. Later, as a state policeman, he was jailed after he and another officer threatened a judge and shot a deputy sent to arrest them. Hazlett was killed after breaking out of jail in Nacogdoches
. As an aside, I sure didn't know Angelina County (Lufkin) actually voted against seccession, the only East Texas county to do so.

Local marijuana initiatives: Liberty Index summarizes the various local marijuana reform initiatives around the country. Good blogging - I'd not seen that information compiled elsewhere.

Fourth Amendment lore: Here's a good, brief primer by Orin Kerr on the history of Fourth Amendment case law, via CrimProf blog. (The Fourth Amendment protects people and their property from unreasonable searches and seizures, at least in theory.) I often forget, though, that the Fourth amendment didn't apply to state and local law enforcement until after the 1961 decision in Mapp vs. Ohio. I can only imagine what cops got away with before that.

No Fourth Amendment for you! Ironically, given his historical homage to the Fourth Amendment, Orin Kerr thinks Janice Rogers Brown won't be nominated as a US Supreme Court Justice precisely because she respects and defends the Fourth Amendment when deciding search and seizure cases (obviously a disqualifying attribute for a Supreme Court Justice). Others chimed in; Doc rounds up the links.

No panties, no visit: Loretta Nall's recounting of the Great Alabama Prison Panty Rebellion cracked me up. And pissed me off. She's a good writer. I suspect that was her goal.

Hate to see you go: Finally, farewell to Watching Justice, a much-needed DoJ watchdog project that's ending too soon.

3 comments:

Keath Milligan said...

I suppose if the hacker is truly required to pay the entire $170k in the proscribed amount of time, it could be harsher for a 22-year-old than serving a few months. But I seriously doubt it will play out that way.

This reminds me of something that happened to my father many years ago.

A group of thieves broke into my dad's small business and made off with petty cash, checks, tools, equipment and customer property and caused quite a lot of damage in the process. I forget the exact amount, but I believe the damage added up to be somewhere in the low tens of thousands. As most small businesses are, my dad was somewhat underinsured and had to cover a substantial portion of the damage out of his own pocket (and off our dinner table).

Amazingly, the thieves were caught and convicted when one of them stupidly tried to pass off some of the stolen goods at a nearby pawnshop and then rolled on his accomplices. Since they were first offenders (first time they got caught anyway), they were given probation and ordered to pay restitution. But they seemed to have a myriad of ways to legally skirt actually having to pay - citing various “hardships”, lack of employment, etc. etc. Yet they always seemed to have plenty of money for beer, cigarettes and new cars and trucks (they were regulars at a nearby bar).

Only after complaining would my father receive any payment at all, and then it would be in the form of insulting checks for 50 cents or $1.00. All told, I don’t think my dad ever received more than about $100 from them and eventually stopped bothering.

markm said...

In Michigan, the court would probably take their driver's license until they paid the restitution. If the goal was to inconvenience the probationers and get them thrown back in jail for a few days whenever a cop notices them at the wheel of a car, it's pretty effective. (It might be more than a few days, except the county jail is chronically overfull, and a nonviolent probation violation for driving without a license is an obvious choice for release when they have to reduce the numbers.)

If the goal was to get the restitution actually paid, it's not so effective, at least not in this rural county. If the probationer actually becomes motivated to get it paid off, he can probably find a job at least half of the year, but then he can't get to work. Public transport doesn't run much before 8 or much after 4, so it can get old people to their doctor's appointments and the grocery store, but it doesn't cover anyone's 8 hour shift, let alone the hours an unskilled worker is probably going to get at McDonalds, etc. He could try to catch rides with friends, but the typical petty thief doesn't have friends who are reliable and have reliable cars. Or I suppose he could try stealing something else...

cacafuego said...

15 to 18 months working in the tire recapping plant at the Darrington Unit just might change his mind as to the harshness of his sentence.