Caylee Anthony, the deceased two-year old and inspiration for ‘Caylee’s Law’
Joining the ranks of AMBER Alert and Code Adam is another missing child system inspired by an infamous case: ‘Caylee’s Law’. Caylee Anthony, the deceased two-year-old whose trial captured the nation’s attention in 2011, inspired the law after her young mother, Casey Anthony, failed to report Caylee as missing for over a month. Although the jury acquitted Casey Anthony on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child-abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child, they declared her guilty on four misdemeanor counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. Judge Belvin Perry sentenced her to one year and $1000 for each false information count to be served consecutively. Incorporating her time already served and credit for good behavior, Anthony was released from prison on July 17th, 2011, just a couple days after sentencing. America was outraged.
In response, Michelle Crowder of Oklahoma proposed ‘Caylee’s Law’ on Change.org, a petition-hosting website, suggesting increasing the penalty to a fourth-degree felony for failing to report a missing child within twenty-four hours of their disappearance or one hour of their death. The petition quickly went viral and garnered over 1,300,000 signatures, pressuring lawmakers across the country to design such a law.
Edward Mehnert covers his mouth with duct tape as he protests the verdict against Casey Anthony during her sentencing. Anthony’s trial provoked such a media circus that Time magazine called it the “social media trial of the century.” (AP Photos/Alan Diaz)
The backlash to the proposed law was almost as strong. Critics cited ineffective previous laws inspired by dead children and cautioned against making lasting legislature out of anger and fresh wounds. A Huffington Post article criticized the impracticality of the one hour and twenty four hour cut-offs, demonstrating the difficulty of determining time of death so precisely and offering complicating hypothetical situations. What happens if your child is at a sleepover and doesn’t call home? Under this law, would you have to call your child at summer camp every day? What happens if your infant dies in his or her sleep? You might discover the death several hours later. Do we really want to punish a grieving parent in that situation with a felony? Although common sense should guide judicial rulings in these situations, there are many current examples of gross and insensible violations of justice.
Critics also fear that the law will make cautious parents falsely report absent children as missing, clogging up the police department’s missing persons cases. The excess of false cases would obscure the real missing children cases and prevent them from being investigated in those first few crucial hours. Critics claim that the law will be unenforceable and ineffective in its goal of protecting children, merely entrapping innocent parents.
State Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport speaks out on House Bill 600, Louisiana’s proposed ‘Caylee’s Law,’ on June 25th
Despite these criticisms, several states have moved ahead with legislation. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie passed a ‘Caylee’s Law’ in January, 2012, making the failure to report a missing child age thirteen or younger after twenty-four hours a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to eighteen months in prison and fines up to $10,000. Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed House Bill 37 into law in April, another variant of ‘Caylee’s Law.’ This law heightened to felony status the act of misleading a law enforcement official in a missing child case. Louisiana’s version of ‘Caylee’s Law’, House Bill 600, passed in early June, and declares that failure to report a missing child is punishable with up to 50 years in prison and $50,000. Overall, thirty-two states filed some form of legislature in the past year to criminalize the failure to report a missing child.
Sandy Williams, the defendant in a 2000 sexual assault case and the plaintiff in Williams v. Illinois No. 10-8505
On Monday, June 18th, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that lab technicians do not need to appear for cross-examination, as long as their reports are “out-of-court statements.” This decision stems from sexual assault case in Chicago, now known as Williams v. Illinois No. 10-8505. In 2000, an unidentified man abducted a young woman, forcing her into his car, raping her, and robbing her. The woman then went to a nearby hospital, where doctors performed a rape kit on her, taking vaginal swabs. They sent the swabs to Cellmark Diagnostic Laboratories in Germantown, Maryland. The DNA results matched Sandy Williams, whose DNA sample came from an unrelated arrest. The forensic analyst who took the DNA sample from Williams testified at the trial on her methods and procedures. The prosecutors did not enter the Cellmark DNA report as evidence, and, as a result, no one from the lab testified in the trial. Instead, Sandra Lambatos, the state analyst who conducted the computer search, testified that the two DNA samples matched. In this case, the DNA expert’s testimony was evidence, not Cellmark’s DNA report.
Detail of a lab table in the Orchid Cellmark Laboratory, the forensic laboratory involved in the case
This ruling engages with the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, which guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” The current legal interpretation traces back to the 2004 case Crawford v. Washington, where the Supreme Court ruled that defendants have the right to confront witnesses if the evidence provided is testimonial hearsay, not just if it has an indicia or sign of reliability. Williams v. Illinois casts several previous Supreme Court Confrontation Clause rulings into doubt, including Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts in 2007, which ruled the defendant has the right to cross-examine any analyst who prepares any DNA, blood, ballistic or other laboratory reports introduced at a trial. Later, in the 2011 Bullcoming v. New Mexico, Donald Bullcoming appealed his DUI charges, citing a Confrontation Clause violation because his attorneys were unable to cross-examine the exact analyst who performed the blood alcohol level test. The Supreme Court sided with Bullcoming and ruled that the defendant must be able to interrogate the exact lab technician who performed the test, not a colleague or supervisor familiar with the test. In the light of Williams v. Illinois, these rulings, previously clear, seem hazy.
The Williams v. Illinois ruling could have far-reaching consequences for prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and crime labs nationwide, and many prosecutors and state lawyers consider it a victory. If the Supreme Court had ruled that all analysts and technicians could be called upon to testify, trials would have become even more costly for the government. Testifying would also pull technicians away from crime labs, which could slow down the already backlogged labs, further postponing trials. At the very least, Williams v. Illinois is a ruling of legal efficiency.
Elena Kagen, lead dissenting Supreme Court justice on Williams v. Illinois No. 10-8505
But is legal efficiency what should matter? Four justices on the Court said no. Dissenters on the Supreme Court included Justices Elena Kagan, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kagan explained in her dissent: “Before today’s decision, a prosecutor wishing to admit the results of forensic testing had to produce the technician responsible for the analysis. But that clear rule is clear no longer.” Kagan cited a previous case, The People of the State of California v. John Ivan Kocak, where a Cellmark technician, after being cross-examined, admitted to mislabeling samples which wrongly implicated a defendant. With Williams v. Illinois as precedent, in future cases that mistake might not come to light. Kagan also asserted that the splintered majority decision is barely a decision at all, and has “left significant confusion” over whether lab technicians can be called in to testify. With such confusion, can Williams v. Illinois really be called a decision at all?
In March 2012, a videographer caught on tape several Chicago police officers arresting two journalists for taking photos in a public place. One police officer yelled at the journalists, “Your First Amendment rights can be terminated.” Are they right?
The incident in March is only one of many in a long string of clashes between police officers, journalists, and so-called “citizen journalists.” The National Press Photographers Association claims to have documented seventy unwarranted journalist arrests since September. Most recently, in early June, Jennifer Gondola used her smartphone to film a police officer arresting a man outside of a New Haven, CT nightclub. The police officer in charge consequently confiscated her phone and charged her with interfering with a police officer. Civil rights lawyers side with Gondola, claiming she was fully within both her First and Fourth Amendment rights, protecting her freedom of speech and her property from unreasonable search and seizure. In fact, the New Haven police have a policy that sides with Gondola, permitting “video recording of police activity as long as such recording does not interfere with ongoing police activity or jeopardize the safety of the general public or police.” Civil rights lawyers have criticized the use of “interfering with the police” and “breaching of the peace” as arrest charges to cover-up police violations.
The ubiquity of smartphones and other recording devices has only exacerbated the traditional tension between police and journalists. Today, over half of all adults own a smartphone, and the growing number of incidents between police and “journalists” has jumped accordingly. In one case in Connecticut, in response to a man recording an arrest, a police officer shouted at him “You don’t take pictures of us,” before snatching the phone from the man’s hands. In another case, Assistant Chief Ariel Melendez arrested a 26-year-old man named Luis Luna for videotaping the police breaking up a fight. Melendez then took his phone and erased the video. Luna is a member of Copwatch New Haven, an organization founded to prevent and publicize police brutality.
Luis Luna, 26, and the confiscated device
While many people argue that filming is the only way to keep police officers honest, John DeCarlo, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, disagrees. DeCarlo asserts “It doesn’t take a video to keep police officers honest, the vast majority of them already are…I think that 99.9 percent of officers in this country have absolutely no concern about being filmed.” Nonetheless, police officers need to be more aware of citizens’ rights in these situations. In August 2011, the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision that defended the “self-evident” right to record in public and explained that police officers must expect to be recorded while on duty in public. If any of these cases go to court, the First Amendment and the American judicial system stand clearly in their favor. That is the problem, though, if they go to court. A majority of these cases are too expensive and minor to go through the trouble of bringing them in front of judge. In the case of Luis Luna, he was forced to plead guilty because pleading innocent would have cost too much money. A Boston judge dismissed a 2007 case where Boston police arrested a man videotaping an arrest of a homeless man, but then the man, Simon Glik, brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Boston. Glik won his case—five years later. In 2011 Glik received $170,000 in settlement, a majority of which went towards legal fees.
The answer to the title question may be legally, no, your First Amendment rights are not jeopardized, but practically? That’s a gray area.
News covering Breivik’s terror trial began April 16, close to a year after the terrorist attacks, allows for a look into the Norwegian legal system.
There were two terrorist attacks in retaliation against the Norwegian government and a Workers’ Youth League summer camp. The first attack was a car bomb explosion in front of Oslo government headquarters killing 8 and injuring 209 people. The second attack occurred in a summer camp by a man posing as a policeman and opening fire killing 69 and injuring 110.
On the first day of the trial, families of the victims and prosecutors shake hands with Breivik. Soon after, Breivik addresses the court in an hour-long speech entailing motives behind the attacks – “self defense on behalf of my people, my city, my country” – and a plea of innocence of all charges.
Lawyers who represent the victims and families of victims interrupted his speech stating that he is using his time to express his extremist views on the current country. And also, the judge at the trial insisted on Breivik to get to the point. Regardless, he spoke of his reasons and motives behind the attacks as necessary.
Breivik termed the Norway prison as “pathetic” and would rather befall two outcomes – a full acquittal or the death penalty.
One key issue of this trial is Breivik’s mental competency and stability. If Breivik is found mentally insane, he will be committed to psychiatric care rather than being jailed if found guilty.
Breivik admits to setting the car bomb and killing those in the youth summer camp. He says that he targeted teenagers because they were representatives of “multiculturalist regime”.
The trial began Monday for three young men suspected in a 2009 suicide bombing attempt of multiple New York City subway stations. Two of the suspects, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, pled guilty and agreed to testify against Adis Medunjanin, 28, a U.S. citizen born in Bosnia. Medunjanin has denied the charges, and his defense lawyer says he backed out of the plot with his two friends.
Prosecutors say that in 2008 the three men, who were friends in high school, traveled to Pakistan where they were trained by Al-Qaida operatives and were approached about being suicide bombers. They were seeking retaliation for the treatment of Muslims in the United States, prosecutors say.
In September 2009, around the time of the eighth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Zazi was arrested after driving into Manhattan with a detonator and materials to build an explosive device. Medunjanin was arrested in early 2010 after he tried to crash his car – prosecutors called the crash a failed suicide attempt. At the trial prosecutors presented recordings of 911 emergency calls in which they say Medunjanin identified himself, made jihadist statements, and declared “We love death” immediately before the crash.
Zazi and Ahmedzay have not yet been sentenced. If convicted, Medunjanin faces up to life in prison.
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