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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Former Kansas Attorney General has Law License Suspended Indefinitely

Former Kansas Attorney General has Law License Suspended Indefinitely

by Christopher Zoukis

On October 18, 2013, the Kansas Supreme Court indefinitely suspended the law license of former State Attorney General Phillip D. “Phill” Kline, who became nationally known for his repeated prosecutions of Planned Parenthood and Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider later murdered by an anti-abortion activist.

In a 154-page decision that detailed Kline’s violations of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct, the unanimous state Supreme Court held there was “clear and convincing evidence” that he had demonstrated “overzealous advocacy” and failed to operate “within the bounds of the law.” The Court concluded he had “violated his duties to the public, the legal system, and the legal profession.”

Kline, who served as Attorney General from 2003 to 2007, is now an assistant law professor at Liberty University in Virginia – a Christian-oriented school founded by evangelist pastor Jerry Falwell. He will be able to apply for reinstatement of his law license every three years.

The Supreme Court found Kline had engaged in misconduct when he had staffers attach sealed records to a public brief in violation of a court order, then ordered them to provide “misleading” information ...

Prosecutorial Misconduct: Taking the Justice Out of Criminal Justice

Prosecutorial Misconduct: Taking the Justice Out of Criminal Justice

by Christopher Zoukis

The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. His discretion is tremendous.... While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.
—Former U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson

 

In a recent case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, veteran judge Henry F. Floyd offered a rare public rebuke of federal prosecutors in North Carolina, who, the court found, had engaged in a pattern of misconduct.

“Mistakes happen,” Floyd wrote. “Flawless trials are desirable but rarely attainable. Nevertheless, the frequency of the ‘flubs’ committed by [the prosecutors] raises questions regarding whether the errors are fairly characterized as unintentional.”

“Yet the United States Attorney’s office in this district seems unfazed by the fact that discovery abuses violate constitutional guarantees and misrepresentations erode faith that justice is achievable,” he added. “Something must be done.”

To demonstrate the seriousness of the violations, the appellate court ordered a new trial for federal prisoner ...

Death Sentences Reversed Due to Prosecutorial Misconduct

Death Sentences Reversed Due to Prosecutorial Misconduct

by Christopher Zoukis

Death sentences imposed on prisoners in Arizona, Virginia and Tennessee have been reversed by federal appellate courts as a result of misconduct by prosecutors – including withholding evidence and making improper closing arguments.

Abuses by Arizona Prosecutors

An Arizona prisoner who spent more than two decades on death row after allegedly confessing to a police detective that she participated in the 1989 murder of her 4-year-old son was released on $250,000 bond on September 6, 2013.

Debra Jean Milke, 50, was freed after the detective who claimed she confessed to him stated he would refuse to testify at Milke’s retrial, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Retired Phoenix police detective Armando Saldate, Jr. invoked his Fifth Amendment rights after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated Milke’s death sentence in March 2013 and directed the clerk to send copies of the opinion to federal authorities for “possible investigation into whether Detective Saldate’s conduct ... amounts to a pattern of violating the federally protected rights of Arizona residents.”

The appellate court’s ruling came after Milke learned that prosecutors had withheld information about at least eight ...

One Incarcerated, Transgender Buddhist's Experience With Medical Care in Federal Prison

One Incarcerated, Transgender Buddhist's Experience With Medical Care in Federal Prison

By Christopher Zoukis

While the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons has done a great job of promoting itself as the global leader in the humane treatment of prisoners, the reality is that the BOP is now operating at 143 percent of capacity, and its ability to deliver services to the 215,470 men, women, and children in its custody has been greatly compromised in recent years. A scathing report presented to Congress by the General Accounting Office in 2012 only served to underscore this fact.

In no area of federal incarceration is this systemic overburdening of resources more evident than in the state of its medical care. According to USA Today, some 10 percent of federal prisoners are on psychotropic medications, amounting to $32 million in expenditures in the last four years alone. As the federalization of American law has resulted in exponential increases in prosecution for crimes like the possession of child pornography and white collar offenses, the federal prison population is moving toward becoming older, and more infirmed.

To serve this aging population, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has resorted to massive cutbacks in services ...

Some GPS Monitoring Devices Capable of Audio Recording

Some GPS Monitoring Devices Capable of Audio Recording

by Christopher Zoukis

Civil libertarians and prisoner advocacy groups have expressed shock and outrage at the discovery that some Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices, used to monitor the movement and whereabouts of many pre-trial defendants, parolees, sex offenders and other persons, function like cell phones and are capable of recording conversations without the knowledge or consent of the people wearing them – including confidential conversations with their attorneys.

The audio recording technology first came to light in Puerto Rico, when defense attorney Fermín L. Arraiza-Navas asked a client during a meeting in San Juan about the GPS ankle bracelet he was wearing as a condition of his bail.

“They speak to me through that thing,” the man said.

During a court hearing on a motion subsequently filed by Arraiza-Navas to have his client’s GPS device removed, a technician for SecureAlert, the company that manufactures the monitors, revealed their true capabilities. The technician – who testified through the cell phone feature of a GPS ankle bracelet – told the court that although the device is supposed to vibrate and give an audible warning when activated, it can be turned on at ...

Two Corrections Chiefs Serve Time in Segregation

Two Corrections Chiefs Serve Time in Segregation

by Christopher Zoukis

Rick Raemisch, Colorado’s new corrections director, wanted to better understand the experience of solitary confinement – so he spent a night in segregation at a state prison.

Raemisch had been on the job for seven months when he decided to stay overnight in an ad seg cell at the Colorado State Penitentiary. “I thought he was crazy,” said Warden Travis Trani, who added, “I also admired him for wanting to have the experience.” Trani received only nine hours notice that his boss was arriving for an extended visit.

On January 23, 2014, just after 7:00 p.m., Raemisch, handcuffed and shackled and wearing a prison uniform, entered cell 22. He was classified as “RFP,” or “Removed From Population.” After being uncuffed through the food slot he was left alone in the 7-by-13-foot cell.

In an editorial published in The New York Times on February 20, Raemisch said the experience was challenging.

“First thing you notice is that it’s anything but quiet. You’re immersed in a drone of garbled noise: other inmates, blaring TVs, distant conversations, shouted arguments. I couldn’t make sense of any of it ...

D.A. Drops Charges Against Oklahoma Parole Board Members

D.A. Drops Charges Against Oklahoma Parole Board Members

 

by Christopher Zoukis

 

Five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board (Board) will not face trial for criminal violations of the state’s Open Meeting Act, after signing a statement acknowledging that they had conducted business without listing and publishing it on the agenda of the Board’s meetings over a 14-month period.

As previously reported in PLN, the five members of the Board had been charged in March 2013 with violating state law by voting on prisoners’ early release requests without proper public notice at meetings between May 2011 and July 2012. The Board members included Marc Dreyer, Currie Ballard, Richard L. Dugger, Lynnell Harkins and David Moore. [See: PLN, May 2013, p.30].

The Open Meeting Act requires notification of the time and place of meetings of public agencies and of the business that will be considered at the meetings; violations of the law can result in a $500 fine and up to a year in jail.

When the charges were first announced, Oklahoma City District Attorney David Prater issued a news release alleging that the Board had conducted business in a manner “designed to hide potentially unpopular ...

GPS Monitoring System in Los Angeles Plagued by False Alerts, Ignored Alarms

Los Angeles County’s GPS monitoring system, designed to keep track of high-risk probationers, has overwhelmed probation officers with thousands of false alerts each day – so many that some officers simply ignore them. As a result, dozens of probationers have been able to roam unmonitored. In some cases, even when probationers removed their monitoring devices, the removal was not discovered for lengthy periods of time.

GPS monitors are used to track the highest-risk probationers and parolees, including sex offenders. A massive shift of prisoners from state prisons to county jails under California’s “realignment” legislation has led some counties to release hundreds of low-level offenders on electronic monitoring as a way to cut costs and reduce jail overcrowding.

The GPS system in Los Angeles County picks up satellite signals and transmits the data over cellular networks to a central computer. The system is designed to send an alert to a probation officer under a variety of circumstances; for example, if a probationer tries to remove the monitor or enter a designated prohibited area, or if the GPS batteries run down. The GPS devices send alerts for a number of routine reasons, too, such as when the signal is blocked by a ...

Court Employee Fired for Helping Wrongfully Convicted Prisoner Prove His Innocence

In 1984, Robert E. Nelson was convicted and sentenced by Jackson County, Missouri Circuit Court Judge David M. Byrn to 50 years in prison for forcible rape, 5 years for forcible sodomy and 15 years for first-degree robbery, plus two unrelated robbery convictions. Nelson’s sentence for the latter two convictions ended in 2006, leaving him serving time for the remaining robbery and sexual offenses.

In August 2009, Nelson petitioned Judge Byrn for post-conviction DNA testing which was not available at his trial 25 years earlier. That request, and a second request in October 2011, were both denied because Nelson had cited a state statute that was not expansive enough to allow for his DNA to be tested. Following the second denial, Judge Byrn’s administrative assistant, 70-year-old great-grandmother Sharon Snyder, took pity on Nelson. Snyder located a DNA testing motion that had been granted in another case – a public document freely available to those who knew where to look – and provided it to Nelson’s sister to pass along.

Nelson used the successful motion as a guide and petitioned the court for DNA testing a third time on February 22, 2012. His motion was granted, he was found to ...

Islamic Organization Petitions to Let Muslim Women Prisoners Wear Hijabs

In May 2013, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a uniform policy for all local, state and federal correctional facilities to allow Muslim women to wear hijab head coverings while incarcerated and when photos are taken, such as during the booking process.

According to an interview with Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned news outlet, Nadhira Al-Khalili, CAIR’s legal counsel, said, “I’m working on several pending cases in different states and I’m in touch with an attorney for the [DOJ’s] Office of Civil Rights.”

The executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, Dawud Walid, said the city of Novi, Michigan had adopted a policy to allow Muslim women to keep their hijab while in jail. “If hijab is allowed in the military, and U.S. driving licenses permit women IDs with hijab, then the same logic can be applied,” he noted. “Hijab doesn’t impede the identity of women.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons allows Muslim women prisoners to retain and wear hijab headscarves pursuant to BOP Program Statement 5360.09. While some federal facilities require prisoners to remove their hijab for inspection upon arrival at the prison ...

 

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