Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXIX, Nos. 611, 612 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2003

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In this issue:
DNA sometimes makes for bad-fitting genes.

Alarming developments.

Wheel-y big news.

Drunk as a skunk.

Another fine meth.

Stirring the pot.

Violence is all in the family.

Sex meets violence.

When good cops go bad.

Looking for warm bodies.

Wolves in cops’ clothing.

Crime’s ups & downs.

A few good anti-crime ideas.

Research looks for answers.

Facing up to profiling.

Order in the court.

Banking on ill-gotten gains.

Taking advantage of high-tech advances.

Changes at the top.

That’s just too weird.

Justice by the numbers.

2003, the year in review:

     ¶ The Bush administration sets forth a new policy that imposes strict limitations for employees of 70 federal law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Secret Service, the DEA and units of the Department of Homeland Security, on when racial profiling may be used in police work. The policy also includes somewhat looser restrictions on the use of profiling as it applies to security inquiries. Racial and ethnic characteristics may be used in police investigations when it occurs as demographic information, as it applies to specific suspects, or a particular time frame or locality linking an individual of a certain race to an event. In terrorism cases, investigators who receive reliable information about a plot by members of a foreign insurgent group can focus on members of that group who may be living in the United States.

     ¶ The nationwide expansion of primary seat-belt laws, which allow police to stop motorists solely on the grounds of not buckling up, is being thwarted by fears of racial profiling. A radio talk-show host in Massachusetts won two repeals of such a law in that state on the grounds that it infringed on civil liberties, despite the fact that Massachusetts is only second to Rhode Island in the percentage of drivers who die without seat belts fastened. In Virginia, black lawmakers voted against a primary seat-belt law in 2003.

     ¶ A study finds that while blacks make up only 11.24 percent of the population of Tacoma, Wash., they accounted for more than 20 percent of traffic stops during 2002…. Racial profiling is formally banned by Alabama Public Safety Director Mike Coppage and new procedures for reviewing motorists’ complaints are initiated…. New legislation is requested by the Nevada state Senate minority leader after a committee rejects a proposal that would have made racial profiling a misdemeanor.

     ¶ Col. Robert Garrison, chief of the Iowa State Patrol, rejects a report issued by the state Department of Public Safety which found that non-white motorists are twice as likely to be searched as whites, although they are not pulled over with any more frequency. The report, he said, did not provide statistically significant or clear evidence of racial profiling.

     ¶ A study of 65 Minnesota police agencies finds that black, Hispanic and American Indian drivers were more likely than whites to be stopped and searched in 2002, but less likely to possess contraband…. Massachusetts Public Safety Secretary Edward Flynn appoints a task force to assess whether police agencies are engaged in racial profiling, while Gov. Mitt Romney proposes restoring more than $800,000 for a study that would track the race and gender of drivers issued warnings.

     ¶ Mount Prospect, Ill., police will provide complaint forms to motorists who object to an officer’s conduct during a traffic stop, as part of an agreement to end a three-year federal probe into alleged racial profiling.

     ¶ The California Highway Patrol breaks new ground when it agrees to extend its ban on consent searches until 2006, to discontinue using minor infractions as a pretext for conducting searches, and to begin collecting data on every traffic stop. The concessions bring an end to a three-year-old class action suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three Latino motorists who claimed they were stopped on the basis of their ethnicity.

     ¶ Reports by The Boston Globe and The Seattle Times find that minority drivers are searched at least twice as often as whites, although they are less likely to be carrying anything illegal. In Massachusetts, 45 communities are found to ticket black residents at four times their proportion of the census. And in Washington, an analysis of 1.7 million traffic stops made by state police over a 27-month period finds that while whites and minorities were pulled over in equal numbers, non-whites were searched at twice the rate. In some areas, such as Yakima, minorities were searched at five times the rate of whites.

2003, the year in review:
Order in the court

     ¶ A unanimous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court gives government the right to ban trespassers from public housing. While a policy by the quasi-governmental Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority in Virginia does prohibit a “substantial amount” of protected speech, it applies to a far greater number of others not engaged in constitutionally protected conduct, according to the opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia. The ruling overturns a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court.

     ¶ A deeply divided Court upholds the convictions of two men whose petty thievery earned them lengthy sentences under California’s “three-strikes” law. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Justices rule that in the cases of both Gary Albert Ewing and Leandro Andrade, neither sentence was so grossly disproportionate that it violated Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Ewing was sentenced to 25 years to life for stealing $1,200 worth of golf clubs; Andrade to 50 years for shoplifting.

     ¶ In a decision that produced six opinions but no majority, the Court rules 5-3 that police may not be sued for a Fifth Amendment violation if they question a suspect to the point of coercion in the absence of a Miranda warning. The police may, however, be held liable for violating due process. The ruling stems from an Oxnard, Calif., case in which an officer questioned a suspect in his hospital bed, interrogating him even as he cried out in pain.

     ¶ Cross burning does not enjoy First Amendment protection as free speech, the Supreme Court rules in April by a vote of 6-3. The decision stems from a 50-year-old Virginia law challenged by three men who were convicted in two cross-burning incidents. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority that the state law allowed the activity to be banned as a virulent form of intimidation. Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissent on the grounds of free speech.

     ¶ Anti-abortion activists who disrupt clinics and blockade their entrances do not violate the Hobbs Act, a statute that outlaws obstructing commerce by “robbery or extortion,” an 8-1 majority of the Supreme Court rules. The decision overturns a 2001 federal racketeering judgment against a coalition of anti-abortion groups. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist opines the protesters did not obtain the clinics’ property, but simply deprived the owners of its use. While coercion could be argued, it is excluded from the Hobbs Act. Justice John Paul Stevens files the lone dissent.

     ¶ Strict limits are placed on the government’s ability to force mentally ill defendants to take anti-psychotic drugs in order to make them fit for trial in cases involving non-violent offenses.

     ¶ In a unanimous decision, the Justices rule that federal judges do not have authority to restore the right to gun ownership to convicted felons.

     ¶ In a case involving Connecticut’s Megan’s Law, the Supreme Court rules that an individual hearing need not be provided before the state can post a sexual offender’s photograph and information on its registry…. In a separate case, the Court rules 6-to-3 that Alaska’s application of its Megan’s Law to those whose convictions predated the law’s passage does not constitute retroactive punishment…. The ex post facto prohibition is addressed in a California case, as well, in which the Court holds that the state may not retroactively apply a newly extended statute of limitations in sex-crime cases.