Stop & Frisk in NYC: Update

I wrote a recent blog last month which detailed the stop & frisk policy in New York City which has come under heavy criticism. Critics of the policy allege that it disproportionately targets minorities through the use of a quota system. Supporters point to the reduced crime rate as evidence of its success. The New York City Council has heard the voice of the critics dissent and has proposed legislation to address the practice.

The first bill proposed by City Council would give citizens the right to sue the Police Department for relief. If a judge found the conduct to be illegal, the Police Department would then be required to resolve the issue. The second bill would appoint an inspector general who would provide oversight to law enforcement. Both bills make a great deal of sense and would help to cure the controversial issue and put the debate to rest at last.

Swift Justice Comes at a High Price

A new bill is on its way in Florida, which would require the governor to sign a convicted murderer’s death warrant within 30 days and would require an execution by lethal injection to take place within 180 days. It is part of the so-called “Timely Justice Act”.

However, Florida has a reputation for having one of the most unjust death penalty regimes in the nation. Indigent capital defendants are often given overworked and underpaid lawyers, jurors may recommend a death sentence based only upon a majority vote, appeals are limited and state officials need not explain publicly the reasons for their denials. As a result, Florida has lots of inmates filling up death row.

Although not surprising, Florida, at the same time, leads the nation in death row exonerations. Out of 100 convicted men, 24 were exonerated and 76 were executed since 1973.

It takes years for dubious cases to appear, for witnesses to withdraw, or for evidence hidden by prosecutors to surface. If the bill were to become law, approximately 100 convicted men would immediately be scheduled for execution. Given the previous statistics: For some of these inmates, there would be no “timely justice” at all.

Speeding up a broken system makes very little sense.


Bicycle Law in Indiana

Here are some of the relevant statutes relating to bicycles in Indiana:

IC 9-21-11-2: Roadways; rights and duties
Sec. 2. A person riding a bicycle upon a roadway has all the rights and duties under this article that are applicable to a person who drives a vehicle, except the following:
(1) Special regulations of this article.
(2) Those provisions of this article that by their nature have no application.

IC 9-21-11-8: Bell or other audible signaling devices; sirens; whistles
Sec. 8. A person may not ride a bicycle unless the bicycle is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred (100) feet. A bicycle may not be equipped with and a person may not use upon a bicycle a siren or whistle.

IC 9-21-11-9: Lamps and reflectors
Sec. 9. A bicycle operated on a highway from one-half (1/2) hour after sunset until one-half (1/2) hour before sunrise must be equipped with the following:
(1) A lamp on the front exhibiting a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred (500) feet to the front.
(2) A lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible from a distance of five hundred (500) feet to the rear or a red reflector visible from a distance of five hundred (500) feet to the rear.

IC 9-21-11-10: Brakes
Sec. 10. A bicycle must be equipped with a brake that will enable the person who operates the bicycle to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

IC 9-21-11-14: Violations; Class C infraction
Sec. 14. A person who violates this chapter commits a Class C infraction.

Search Warrants by Telephone

Search warrants are necessary to protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. To obtain a search warrant, police officers are required to appear before a neutral and detached judge or magistrate. If a judge finds that probable cause exists, he signs off on the warrant and approves the search. Such a procedure provides a safeguard from police exceeding the scope of their power.

The New Mexico Supreme Court recently ruled that police can obtain search warrants over the telephone. As a result, the Court has provided a shortcut to the search warrant requirement for police. Such a shortcut strips citizens of protection and enhances the power of the police. By allowing police to bypass providing written probable cause in front of a judge, police are very likely to abuse their power over the phone. Given this distinct possibility, the detriments to citizens are likely to outweigh the benefits to the police.

Voting Rights and Nonviolent Felons

Voting rights have commonly been restricted to those convicted of felony offenses in the United States. The state of Virginia recently passed legislation to restore voting rights to those convicted of nonviolent felonies. The move marks a progressive step in the right direction. After paying their debt to society, nonviolent felons deserve a second chance.

The right to vote is one of the most important civil liberties which American possess. Disenfranchising nonviolent felons strips them of this essential right.
Voting rights should be restored to nonviolent felons for two reasons. First, disenfranchisement should be reserved solely for those individuals convicted of violent felonies. That is not to say that nonviolent felonies are not serious in nature, but a deprivation of such an essential liberty interest should only be imposed on the very worst offenses. Second, restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons gives them a second chance at life without inflicting additional punishment. After nonviolent felons complete their punishment, they have paid their debt to society. Thus, any additional punishment is excessive. Hopefully other states take notice of Virginia’s decision and choose to effectuate change.

Moving in the Right Direction: Abolishing the Death Penalty

Last week, Maryland joined the increasing number of states who have chosen to abolish the death penalty. In the past six years alone, six states have elected to abandon the penalty. Maryland has taken a step in the right direction in its decision to abolish capital punishment. Setting moral arguments aside, practicality favors abandoning the punishment to better serve the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system will be better equipped without capital punishment. The death penalty exhausts many of the scarce resources in which states have to work with to fight crime. These resources are better diverted to other areas of law enforcement in order to more effectively combat crime. The focus should be on crime prevention and increasing the police force to better meet the needs of communities. If this aim is achieved, resources will be utilized in a manner that is most beneficial to society. Hopefully other states follow Maryland’s lead and we continue to see the abolition of a penalty that is absorbing far too many resources today.