‘Caylee’s Law’ Coming Soon?

A mere two days after a Florida jury decided that prosecutors failed to establish Casey Anthony’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when it came to the murder of her daughter Caylee Anthony, comes news that legislatures in at least four states are planning to draft some version of a criminal statute they’re calling “Caylee’s Law.”

Though specifics of any final version of “Caylee’s Law” will likely vary from state to state, the idea is to require parents to quickly report a missing child (or the death of a child) to the proper authorities within a short time (such as 24 hours), or face conviction for a felony. Currently a plan for drafting “Caylee’s Law” is set in Florida, Oklahoma, New York and West Virginia, but it would be no surprise to see more states quickly fall in line behind those four. And the WSJ Law Blog reports that almost 100,000 people have also virtually “signed” an online petition calling for the creation of a federal version of “Caylee’s Law.”

In the Anthony case, Caylee Anthony’s disappearance was not reported to authorities for over a month. And while Casey Anthony was convicted of four counts of lying to police, she faced no additional charges for failing to report her daughter as missing, because Florida has no such law on the books. That may change soon — and not just in Florida. Stay tuned.

Form Over Substance Abuse

In Bullcoming v. New Mexico (June 2011) the U.S. Supreme Court continued to use the Confrontation Clause as a hammer to make life miserable for prosecutors and forensic lab technicians.  The Court decided (by a 5-4 margin) that a lab report indicating a driver’s blood alcohol content was inadmissible in evidence because the technician who prepared the report did not testify at trial.  The prosecutor did call a lab technician to explain lab testing procedures, and the defense had a chance to cross examine the technician.  But that wasn’t good enough for Confrontation Clause purposes because the testifying techie knew nothing about Bullcoming’s specific test.

The justices who uphold defendants’ Confrontation Clause challenges to routine lab reports insist that they are not burdening the states.  But statistics suggest otherwise.  New Mexico has ten lab techs for the entire state, and apparently they are run ragged trying to respond to subpoenas while trying to run the tests they are hired to perform.  California sent in a brief summarizing the huge burdens and costs that the Confrontation Clause decisions prior to Bullcoming have created.  And all over reports that are machine-generated and virtually always correct.  (Bullcoming could have asked to have his sample retrested, but he didn’t.)

As the 4 dissenters in Bullcoming warned, the Court’s Confrontation Clause Cabal might do more damage yet.  Probably 2-4 people contribute to most lab reports if you include the clerks who check lab specimens in and out.  If they all have to testify, the Confontation Clause will become All-Powerful.

California’s Expensive Death Penalty

A new study confirms the incredible costs of California’s death penalty procedures.  The study’s authors, 9th Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell, hold conflicting attitudes about the merits of capital punishment.  But they agree that California’s death penalty procedures exact untenable costs on taxpayers, and that the death penalty needs to be abolished or re-formulated.

The study’s most important bottom line is that California spends an additional $184 million PER YEAR on the death penalty, compared to the costs of trying and housing LWOP prisoners (serving life in prison without possibility of parole).  The reasons for the extra costs include housing (laws require greater security measures for death row inmates), longer trials and higher legal fees.

Of the 92 California death row inmates who have died since 1978, only 13 were executed; most of them died of natural causes while on death row.

California has a capital punishment system it can’t afford, run by a government that hasn’t been willing to change it.  Polling suggests still strong but clearly diminished for capital punishment.  Perhaps if more people understood that LWOP means what it says, and that LWOP inmates are never set free (except very occasionally when they are about to die), a majority of Californians will vote to spend their precious tax money on schools, medical care and community development rather than on the “worst of the worst.”

Sex-Change Surgery for Transgender Inmates?

Lyralisa Sevens is a California transgender prison inmate.  Stevens was born a male but identifies as female. California provides Stevens with hormone replacement therapy, but Stevens is housed with male prisoners because Stevens’ male genitalia is intact.  Stevens has sued the state, asking a court to order the state to pay for a sex-change surgery that will result in Stevens’ transfer to a female prison.

Stevens claims that a male prison is a dangerous place for an inmate with feminine deportment and breasts. That’s probably true.  But judges cannot justify ordering a cash-strapped state to pay many thousands of dollars for a convicted murder’s non-emergency surgery.

The state should take reasonable steps to keep Stevens safe from other prisoners. But at a time when California has had to cut back severely on support for education and social services, an order that Stevens (and undoubtedly hundreds of other prison inmates) is entitled to a sex-change operation would be unconscionable.

Christian Longo’s Plea: “After you execute me, please harvest my organs.”

Christian Longo is on Oregon’s death row, convicted of brutally murdering his wife and three small children.  A healthy man aged 37, Longo has made an interesting humanitarian proposal.  He will drop his appeal of the death sentence.  This will save the state a lot of money. He will also agree to donation of his healthy organs after he is executed.  Since Oregon has waiting lists of people desperate for organ transplants, Longo’s proposal could save many lives.

“Yes” to Longo’s proposal sounds like a no-brainer.  It sure would to me if I were in need of a transplant.  But Oregon and most states are totally opposed.  Jeffrey Orlowski, executive director of the non-profit Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, is worried about taking advantage of people like Longo: “As a country, we have a high ethical and moral standard that we shouldn’t do things to people no matter how disadvantaged they are.” What?  Our country’s high moral standards allow for executions, but not for organ donations?  Give me a break!

Undoubtedly practical problems exist when carrying out death row inmates’ wishes to become organ donors after death.  But moral and ethical problems?  Much better to find a way to provide for “Oregon” transplants!

Rehabilitive Sentencing

The US Supreme Court will shortly decide whether a federal judge can lengthen a prison sentence for the purpose of giving a prisoner time to complete a prison drug rehabilitation program.  The case involves Alejandra Tapia, who was convicted of crimes involving drugs and alien smuggling.  The judge gave Tapia a longer-than-usual sentence (though still within statuory limits) in the hope that she would enroll in a prison drug rehabilitation program.  Tapia is challenging the sentence, claiming that the relevant statute, 18 USC Sec. 3582, forbids judges from considering rehabilitative programs when deciding on the length of prison sentences.

Tapia argues that Congress did not want to use prison sentences to coerce prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs.  And in fact Tapia refused to partiicpate in a rehabilitation program.  That’s sad but hardly surprising: the same thinking that led her into prison in the first place seemingly continues to control her actions.

If the Court upholds Tapia’s challenge, perhaps the only effect will be to make sentencing judges more circumspect.  Tapia’s sentencing judge indicated that he was lengthening her sentence to give her a chance to enroll in a rehabilitation program.  Had the judge said, “I’m giving you the maximum sentence in order to protect society,” that sentence would not violate Sec. 3582.

At the end of the day, rehabilitation programs probably work best when people are willing and committed to changing their lives.  Hopefully, inmates like Alejandra Tapia will come to view a prison term as an opportunity to enroll in a rehabilitation program or participate in a program like AA or CGA (Criminals and Gang Members Anonymous).  If not, prisons will continue to be revolving doors for many people.