A grand jury in the Bronx has indicted 17 police officers with bribery, perjury, official misconduct, and other crimes for allegedly having made traffic summonses “disappear” for fellow officers, their friends and relatives. These officers — many of whom are officials working for the city’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association – are expected to be suspended, have their weapons seized and then appear in court for arraignment early next week.
Hundreds of police officers are reportedly linked to the scandal.
Read more here.
Queens prosecutors have agreed to open a “full investigation” into the possible wrongful conviction of Tejpal Singh for a 1996 drive-by shooting.
The case dates back to Aug. 25, 1996, when two men, Kamaljit (Goldie) Singh and Ramjit (Rocky) Singh were shot in a drive-by in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. Goldie died, but Rocky survived. He and another eyewitness, Sukjinder (Kala) Singh, identified Tejpal Singh as the triggerman.
According to the Daily News, a private investigator recently recorded Rocky saying he really didn’t know who shot him and that he was pressured by prosecutors to finger Tejpal. The investigator also said that Kala Singh told him if he said what had really happened that night it would help overturn the conviction, but he only offered to tell the truth if paid.
Additionally, the investigator tracked down the driver of the black SUV from which the deadly shots were fired — he not only told the investigator that Tejpal was not even in the car, but he identified two others as the real triggermen.
To make matters worse, an ex-NYPD sergeant has sworn under oath that he wanted to arrest somebody else for the crime but that prosecutors wouldn’t let him, and that a detective’s DD-5 form that could have undermined the prosecution’s case against Tejpal was never produced to his attorney.
Singh is currently serving 25 years-to-life sentence.
For several years, the Marine Corps has required its JAG lawyers to serve simultaneously as both prosecutors and defense counsel for those servicemen and women under court martial. Under this practice, the Marine Corps transfers its attorneys from defense to prosecution; after Marine Corps defense attorneys become prosecutors, they reportedly are not permitted to prosecute the same defendants thay had previously defended, but nevertheless are obligated to wrap up whatever defense cases they had.
Most troubling, Marine Corps defense attorneys who are transferred to prosecutorial duties must then report to prosecutor bosses who are overseeing the very cases that those attorneys are still required to defend. And those prosecution bosses are are grading those attorneys for promotion.
The big question then is how zealously can an attorney defend a case when the prosecutor is evaluating him or her for promotion?
“What part of this isn’t a bomb waiting to explode?” asked Judge J.A. Maksym of the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals during a July 1 oral argument. More importantly, how many Marines may have been shortchanged by a potentially conflicted military defense attorney?
In some states, such as Illinois, using the video camera on your cell phone to record police misconduct may violate the state’s eavesdropping laws, and land you in jail. Of course, the inequity in this is apparent, since police departments routinely use video surveillance to record the public. While doing so may help protect the community on the one hand, on the other it is vitally important for the community to be able monitor the police in order to curb abuses of police power – so much so, in fact, that the First Circuit recently pronounced that there is an unambiguous and clearly established First Amendment right to videotape the police carrying out their duties in public.
In fact, in First National Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court held that “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”
In recognizing the clearly established constitutional right to videotape the police, the First Circuit concluded that “[g]athering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others served a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs.”
Indeed, over 30 years ago, in Bellotti, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “freedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government [activities] because … the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.”
In view of this authority, it is no surprise to learn that the ACLU of Illinois has raised a constitutional challenge to the Illinois statute prohibiting the public from recoding police misconduct.
Yesterday, a federal judge denied the majority of New York City’s motion for summary judgment on claims that the NYPD engages in the widespread pattern of unconstitutional stops and frisks of black and Latino men, and held that a jury must resolve whether the alleged pattern or practice was so common as to imply the acquiescence of senior policy-making officials in the NYPD.
In the 86-page decision in the putative class action of Floyd v. The City of New York, 08 Civ. 1034, Southern District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin stated that the plaintiffs in the case alleged “a disturbingly large racial disparity in who is victimized” by the NYPD practice of stopping and frisking individuals without reasonable suspicion.
“It is deeply troubling if thousands of New Yorkers are being stopped each year without reasonable suspicion, and even more troubling if African-American and Latino New Yorkers are being singled out for such treatment,” said Judge Scheindlin in her decision.
In 2010, the Ninth Circuit overturned the conviction of Xavier Alvarez under the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, finding that the Act, which made it a Federal crime to lie about having earned any U.S. Armed Forces medal, violated the First Amendment. Alvarez was prosecuted after giving an address before a local government board he had been appointed to, during which he claimed to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor (interestingly, the FBI’s interest in Alvarez began with a woman’s tip that he had lied to her about being a Medal of Honor winner; the decision notes also that Alvarez also claimed, inter alia, to have played for the Detroit Red Wings). The court rejected the government’s arguments that the Act fell within the historical exceptions to protected speech such as fraud, obscenity, and fighting words.
DOJ has now asked the Supreme Court to take up the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act. I think I agree with Garrett Epps at the Atlantic that “It’s hard to imagine this Court hesitating to shove this idiotic law out the door.” Or, at least, to strike down so much of the law as goes beyond what already constitutes fraud – it looks like many of those prosecuted under the Act (remember the pathetic Jesse Macbeth?) were stealing more than valor, bilking the VA for example. If false speech doesn’t already fall outside of First Amendment protection, such as lying on your tax return or committing perjury, why should the courts carve out a new exception with no basis in history or in the Constitution? And if some emanating penumbra is to be discerned by perceptive scholars, why should it apply only to lying about military service, and not extend, say, to lying about playing for the Red Wings? Isn’t playing hockey valorous?
City officials in Rock Hill, South Carolina plan to rewrite a city law that makes it illegal to “oppose, resist, or interfere with any police officer in the discharge of the police officer’s official duties.” As presently written, the law allows police to arrest someone for not obeying any police orders, irrespective of the legality of those commands.
For example, if a citizen of Rock Hill is having a political discussion with a neighbor on his front lawn, and a police officer walks by and tells him to shut up because he disagrees with the citizen’s political views, that citizen can be arrested for disobeying the officer if he continues to engage in political speech; by doing so, he would be “opposing” the officer’s directive, and in clear violation of the ordinance.
Sheesh. Have the lawmakers in Rock Hill heard of the First and Fourth Amendments? Evidently not. And they apparently didn’t realize either that the ordinance likely violates due process for being unconstitutionally vague. A sad state of affairs, indeed.
According to the Charlotte Observer, no timeline has been given for rewriting the ordinance.
Police in Chandler, Arizona thought they had the right guy in a fatal nightclub shooting, based on eyewitness accounts – problematic enough even when the suspect’s identical twin brother is not also at the scene. Now, after additional eyewitnesses came forward and claimed Brandon Nembhard was in fact the shooter, prosecutors have dropped the original charges against Orlando Nembhard without prejudice.
Interesting idea of justice from the victim’s family: when you have two suspects, one of whom is certainly guilty, why not just “put them in a room and let them battle it out,” and let them decide between them “O.K., who’s going to do the time?” It’s unclear whether this novel procedural device would apply only to identical twins, or if it would extend to people who look very similar, or are simply close friends. I guess the courts would have to flesh it out.
According to the NYT, there is a Yonkers connection.
I guess the cops don’t like to be recorded breaking the law…