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Monday Must Reads: The LAPD Makes an Enlightened Move, SCOTUS Deals With Cocaine…& More


by Celeste Fremon and Taylor Walker


LAPD SAYS IT WILL HAVE SEPARATE AREA FOR TRANSGENDERED INMATES IN POLICE LOCK-UP

Last Thursday night, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced a newly crafted, and hearteningly enlightened policy toward transgender people—including a separate LAPD lock-up, the first in the nation. The new policy takes a hugely significant step in healing the problem-laced relationship between the transgender community and the criminal justice system in general.

(According to a study by UC Irvine commissioned by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, nearly 60 percent of transgender inmates in California lock-ups reported being sexually assaulted by other inmates, a rate 13 times higher than for a random sample of the general inmate
population.)

The LA Times’ Sam Quinones has the story. Here’s how it opens.

Responding to incidents of violence against transgender arrestees, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to open a segregated lockup for biologically male and female suspects who identify themselves as members of the opposite sex, officials said.

By early May, a 24-bed transgender module will open at the LAPD women’s jail downtown, the first such police lockup in the nation, according to Capt. Dave Lindsay, the jail division commander.

“This is a major change,” Lindsay said. It will allow for “an environment that’s safe and secure, as there’s been a history of violence against transgender people.”

City jails are for holding people only until they are arraigned in court on the charges on which they were arrested, typically a maximum of three days; then they are transferred to the Los Angeles County Jail, run by the Sheriff’s Department. The county jail will not be affected by the changes.

Go, Chief Charlie. This is a very good thing.

HOWEVER, AFTER YOU READ THE TRANSGENDER STORY, READ THIS BY THE LAT’S JOEL RUBIN ABOUT HOW THE POLICE COMMISSION IS CRUCIALLY AT ODDS WITH PART OF BECK’S DISCIPLINE POLICY



SCOTUS WILL HEAR ARGUMENTS THAT THE FAIR SENTENCING ACT—REGARDING THE CRACK AND POWDER DISCREPANCY—SHOULD BE RETROACTIVE, AT LEAST IN PART

ON Tuesday the US Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding whether or not the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 should be, in any way, retroactive If you’ll remember, the FSA is the law that (mostly) rectified the horrific 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between the prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sales convictions and sentences for convictions for crack sales. (The FSA changed the ratio to 1-20-ish.) The problem is that the new law implied —but did not implicitly say— that it would retroactively apply to crimes committed before the act was passed—but sentenced after the act was passed.

The twinned cases of Dorsey v. the United States, and Hill v. the United States are about that retroactivity issue.

Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSBLOG has a very complete rundown of the finer points of the cases and the law. While he may be a little on the wordy side for non-wonks, his post is quite fascinating and informative if you take the time.

Here are some clips:

Blacks more often got punished for buying or selling the “crack” or “rock” variety of cocaine, which can be easily processed into a smoked version; conviction carried a much heavier prison sentence. Whites more often got punished for dealing in the “powder” or “blow” version, which can be snorted; conviction carried a far more lenient sentence.

[Snip]

For cocaine, that [1986 Anti-Drug Abuse] Act required judges to punish an individual convicted of a crack crime 100 times more severely than one convicted of trafficking in the powder form. In other words, every gram of crack was treated as the same, for punishment purposes, as 100 grams of powder.

[The Fair Sentencing Act] adopted a ratio that works out to about 18 to 1, crack to powder. A crime involving 28 grams of crack would draw a five-year minimum sentence, as would a crime with 500 grams of powder. A crack crime with 280 grams would be sentenced to ten years, as would a powder crime with 5000 grams. The Justice Department has explained the choice of 28 grams as the bottom amount of crack for sentencing on the premise that wholesale distribution of crack usually involves one-ounce quantities — that is, close to 28 grams.

Although only one lawyer will appear Tuesday for the two Illinoisians, the lawyers for each have filed their own merits brief. The brief for Corey Hill (whose lawyer will be arguing) put its main emphasis upon congressional intent in 2010: “Once Congress completed its historic overhaul of crack sentencing policy,” the brief said, Congress “wanted those amendments to apply immediately….The clear implication….was that the new mandatory minimums should take effect rapidly so that the Guidelines would have a model against which to ‘conform’ and be consistent.”

[Snip]

The Dorsey-Hill cases almost certainly will revive within the Court the long-running dispute over how to read federal statutes — to stay focused only on their language, or to look at legislative history, too. If the Court were to use the former approach, it would seem that the Court-appointed amicus has the better of the argument. The 1871 law is quite specific in requiring Congress, if it wants a new criminal law to have retroactive effect, to say so explicitly; Congress did not do that in 2010. But if the Court were to take the latter approach, there is much that went on during the process of passing the 2010 law that suggests that Congress did want retroactivity to the extent being advanced by the government and counsel for the two Illinois men — not least, the removal of the anti-retroactivity provision from the bill.


BALTIMORE POLICE ABOUT TO JOIN OTHER DEPARTMENTS WHO VIDEOTAPE INTERROGATIONS

The Baltimore PD, which is the 8th largest department in the nation, plans to begin videotaping interrogations in serious cases like shootings and murders. Criminal justice advocates across the country have been pushing for the move due to the now recognized prevalence of false confessions in innocence cases. Baltimore PD’s dithering—and their determination to make the change—is emblematic of similar policy shifts taking place in agencies all over the U.S.

Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun has the story. Here’s a clip:

The department, the eighth-largest in the country, recently began using video as part of a series of reforms of its sex-offense unit. Now officials are exploring equipment options and the policy impact of videotaping homicide and shooting interrogations. Detectives are being trained on subtleties such as where to stand and how their demeanor will play to a jury.

I’m committed to doing this, and I have a bunch of really smart guys working on getting this done,” said police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who has studied videotaping since he was chief of detectives. “But it’s not as simple as going to Radio Shack and bolting a camera into the wall.”

[SNIP]

Hundreds of jurisdictions across the country now videotape interrogations, and it is required by law in several states and the District of Columbia. The shift has been spurred by increasing affordability, as well as by questions of coercion and false confessions as DNA testing has led to the release of scores of inmates.

In Harford County, the sheriff’s department says it has long recorded interviews in major cases and recently got funding to add interrogation rooms to neighborhood precincts.

“It’s pretty much a standard for progressive law-enforcement agencies,” Sheriff L. Jesse Bane said. “People are finding out that the things Hollywood portrays really don’t take place.”


STRANGE, IMPRACTICAL MARRIAGE FOR LAPD? OR CONVENIENT HOOK-UP?

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to propose a merger between the LAPD and the General Services’ Office of Public Safety cops in his budget, to be presented Friday. The rather curious melding of the officers who guard libraries and courthouses with the LAPD may be a cost-efficient way for Villaraigosa to uphold his promise to add 1,000 officers to the LAPD ranks by the end of his mayoral term—or not.

Here’s a clip from the Daily News’ Dakota Smith’s report:

As part of his budget being released Friday, Villaraigosa is proposing to shift the Department of General Services’ Office of Public Safety into the Los Angeles Police Department, according to City Council members familiar with the proposal.

Under the proposal, some or all of the city’s 250 security officers and sworn officers who guard the city’s parks, zoo, and City Hall would move under the command of the LAPD.

City budget chief Miguel Santana is expected to release a report on the costs, advantages, and risks of moving the department to the LAPD next week.

Additionally, the LAPD is doing its own feasibility study on absorbing the department.

“There’s a lot of homework to do before this can occur,” said City Councilman Dennis Zine, adding he has questions about the plan.

For instance, Zine said the OPS and LAPD officers have different salaries and pension plans.

In any case, at this point, it’s far from a done deal.

The L.A. Times also reported on the issue.


CAN AN UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT WOULD-BE LAWYER GET ADMITTED TO THE FLORIDA BAR?

Rafael A. Olmeda of the Sun-Sentinel has the intriguing story. Here’s a clip:

Can an immigrant without a green card get a Florida Bar card?

Aspiring lawyer Jose Godinez-Samperio, 25, a Tampa-area resident, is hoping the answer is yes.

A native of Mexico who entered the United States legally with his parents 16 years ago on a tourist visa, Godinez-Samperio is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, the valedictorian of the Armwood High School class of 2004, an Eagle Scout — and an undocumented immigrant.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners, which grants membership to the Bar, has asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether it can accept someone who is not in the country legally. The Supreme Court flagged the case as “high profile” last week.

Similar cases are pending in NY and California.


Original illustration by Scott McPherson

5 Comments

  • Jose Godinez-Samperio knew what he was doing in getting a law degree while being here illegally, but he figured that it would be easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. A law student should know better. I hope that his training helps him out in his native country.

  • It’s “Office of Public Safety”……..that was LA County………it’s “General Services” for City of LA.

  • Jose Godinez-Samperio has met all the Academic requirements for Florida Bar Licensure: He has a Baccalaureate, a J.D., and he passed the Florida BAR Exam. These are noteworthy achievements & should be validated by BAR Licensure.

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