Category Archives: Justice System

Federal Judge Strikes Down NDAA, Sides With “Freedom Seven”

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest just struck down NDAA, the highly protested law recently signed by Obama that contains a small paragraph allowing for the indefinite detention of persons regardless of citizenship simply based on the military’s suspicion of collusion with al Qaeda, and without requirement of any proof whatsoever. This carte blanche ends when “hostilities” end, or whenever the military would deem it so.

This shocking overriding of the first and fifth amendments was challenged almost immediately by a group of activists including Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky. The group calls themselves “Freedom Seven”.

Read the full story here on Courthouse News Service.

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Supreme Court Allows Strip Searches for Any Offense

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that strip searches may be conducted under any arrest circumstances, no matter how minor. The court asserted a concern over smuggled drugs or weapons, and stated that the Fourth Amendment provision against unreasonable searches and seizures did not apply to strip searches in the event of an arrest. The specific case involved the wrongful arrest of an Albert W. Florence over a purportedly unpaid fine (already paid), after which Florence was transferred between two jails and strip-searched at each one while he was held for over a week on false pretense.

The procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures.

Furthermore, Justice Stephen Breyer declared how this legal provision had already been abused:

According to opinions in the lower courts, people may be strip-searched after arrests for violating a leash law, driving without a license and failing to pay child support. Citing examples from briefs submitted to the Supreme Court, Justice Breyer wrote that people have been subjected to “the humiliation of a visual strip-search” after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.

A nun was strip-searched, he wrote, after an arrest for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration.

There is no doubt that strip search techniques has been and will be used by law enforcement as a method of coercion, and a way to intimidate and humiliate detainees. Read the New York Times article here.

As for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy‘s concern over drugs, we acknowledge that the drug war has long been a failure: More persons are incarcerated in the U.S. than were in Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago, and this rate of imprisonment has been caused by the “War on Drugs” that began in the early 1970′s. The U.S. currently has the largest, most expensive prison system in the world, which has created a massive lower caste in American society–one that is hindered from voting, getting a job, and achieving higher education.

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UN Report: Bradley Manning’s Rights Violated By US

Private Bradley Manning has not been convicted of anything. He is the soldier detained and charged with aiding the enemy, specifically by passing classified information to Wikileaks:

According to the information received, Mr. Manning was held in
solitary confinement for twenty-three hours a day following his arrest in May 2010 in Iraq, and continuing through his transfer to the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico. His solitary confinement – lasting about eleven months – was terminated upon his transfer from Quantico to the Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth on 20 April 2011.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur stressed that “solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions.” Moreover, “[d]epending on the specific reason for its application, conditions, length, effects and other circumstances, solitary confinement can amount to a breach of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to an act defined in article 1 or article 16 of the Convention against Torture.” (A/66/268 paras. 79 and 80)

The report can be read here, courtesy of The Guardian newspaper.

The details of Manning’s court case can be read here.

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Federal Court Allows For Unwarranted Cell Phone Search

Yesterday, a 7th circuit court of appeals ruled that cell phone searches did not necessarily require a warrant. The case in question involved Indiana officers’ searching of cell phones at the scene of a drug bust, which led them to implicate and charge one Abel Florez-Lopez with a 10 year sentence. When Florez-Lopez argued that his right to privacy had been violated, the court ruled that the violation was so slight that it did not infringe upon search and seizure legislation. Slight or not, a violation is still a violation of constitutional liberty.

“Lurking behind this issue is the question whether and when a laptop or desktop computer, tablet, or other type of computer (whether called a ‘computer’ or not) can be searched without a warrant,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the three-judge panel.

He raised the example of the iCam, which allows someone to use a phone to connect to a home-computer web camera, enabling someone to search a house interior remotely.

“At the touch of a button, a cell phone search becomes a house search,” he wrote.

Posner compared the cell phone to a diary. Just as police are entitled to open a pocket diary to copy an owner’s address, they should be able to turn on a cell phone to learn its number, he wrote. But just as they’re forbidden from examining love letters tucked between the pages of an address book, so are they forbidden from exploring letters in the files of a phone. [The Chicago Tribune]

The court did not detail the extent to which an unwarranted cell phone search was allowed, merely settling with phone numbers.

The ACLU pointed out in December 2011 that the government seems to be steering their cases away from any federally meaningful legislation:

Federal law enforcement has used people’s cell phones to track their movements for at least a decade, but even today there is no clear answer to whether the government needs a warrant to do so. Why? In part because the U.S. Justice Department appears to be pursuing a conscious strategy of trying to avoid a ruling on this question by a court of appeals.

Here’s how that happens: Federal agents track people without a warrant, and in some instances, are slapped down by some district courts for this (in our view and in the view of these district courts) unlawful behavior. But they refrain from taking those losses to the Courts of Appeals, perhaps because a ruling that they need a warrant would then become the law of the land in the territory of that appeals court, and they want to be able to continue to engage in warrantless cell phone tracking whenever they can.

This is not how the system is supposed to work. It deprives the appeals courts of the opportunity to fulfill their role of setting uniform standards, which in turn deprives the American public of their right to know whether the government needs a warrant to access such sensitive information.

Let’s break it down:

Should warrantless searches approach a higher court, public interest will explode. No matter the ruling, it’s clear that Americans just don’t feel comfortable with giving the Feds huge oversight: should a higher court ruling favor law enforcement, there will be a massive public outcry and subsequently a reversal of the law. Should the courts rule in favor of the fourth amendment, and the Feds will no longer be legally able to monitor and track its own citizens.

Hence, the government has buried the issue for over a decade now, content to operate in the gray area of pre-legislation.

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Nationwide Police Brutality Demanding Public Response

Pressure is mounting for state and federal administrations to curb the level of violence by peace officers, even as violent crimes in the U.S. show a steady decline from their peak in the early 1990′s (see FBI stats on this).

Most recently, the NYPD has fallen under intense scrutiny after an officer shot and killed 18-year old Ramarley Graham on the false suspicion that he was armed inside his mother’s apartment. The Bronx resident was flushing a bag of weed down the toilet when the 9mm bullet entered his chest and ripped through his aorta.

These instances of gross unprofessionalism are causing many New Yorkers to distrust and question the NYPD. Since september 11, 2001, the NYPD has partnered with the Secret Service, FBI, and most famously the CIA (supposedly unallowed to operate on U.S. soil).

This police brutality has steadily increased since 9/11, according to a 2007 article in USAToday:

David Burnham, the co-founder of the TRAC database, says prosecutions appear to be increasing, but “more important” are the numbers of cases prosecutors decline.

Last year [2006], 96% of cases referred for prosecution by investigative agencies were declined.

In 2005, 98% were declined, a rate that has remained “extremely high” under every administration dating to President Carter, according to a TRAC report.

The high refusal rates, say Burnham and law enforcement analysts, result in part from the extraordinary difficulty in prosecuting abuse cases. Juries are conditioned to believe cops, and victims’ credibility is often challenged.

CBS News reported in 2011 that:

…there were 52 criminal civil right cases brought against law enforcement officers by the Department of Justice last year. That’s the highest number of cases in a single year since they started keeping track back in 2000.

Citizens have been fighting back with ubiquitous digital video recorders. The advent of video recorders as a standard on phones has created a conundrum for justice officials, who often try to censor and conceal their unlawful conduct. Occupy protestors have demonstrated that police have little tolerance for being monitored in the same way they themselves monitor civilians, and will often resort to pithy and insubstantial reasoning for the arrest and detainment of citizen journalists and protestors alike.

Google has been inundated with requests from law enforcement groups around the U.S. to censor videos of police brutality:

The demands formed part of a 70% rise in takedown requests from the US government or police, and were revealed as part of an effort to highlight online censorship around the world.

Figures revealed for the first time show that the US demanded private information about more than 11,000 Google users between January and June this year, almost equal to the number of requests made by 25 other developed countries, including the UK and Russia. [The Guardian]

The video below shows examples of said unlawful conduct by peace officers. CAUTION: Contains strong graphic violence. We don’t particularly enjoy the choice of dramatic music, either.

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ACLU Sues Obama Admin To Disclose Assassination Protocol

The ACLU has made attempts to learn by what standards U.S. civilians may be assassinated abroad, following the announcement of the overseas assassination via predator drones of Anwar Awlaki, his son, and Samir Khan, all of them U.S. citizens.

After being declined FOIA requests by the Department of Justice and the CIA, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the administration.

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This selective, manipulative abuse of secrecy reveals its true purpose. It has nothing to do with protecting national security; that’s proven by the Obama administration’s eagerness to boast about the program publicly and to glorify it when it helps the President politically. The secrecy instead has everything to do with (1) preventing facts that would be politically harmful from being revealed to the American public, and (2) shielding the President’s conduct from judicial review.

This is exactly the same model used by both the Bush and Obama DOJs to shield warrantless eavesdropping, rendition, torture, drones, civilian killings and a whole host of other crimes from judicial review, i.e., from the rule of law. Everyone knows that the U.S. Government is doing these things. They are discussed openly all over the world. The damage they do and the victims they leave behind make it impossible to conceal them. Often, they are the subject of judicial proceedings in other countries. Typically, U.S. officials will speak about them and justify and even glorify them to American media outlets anonymously.

Read the full article by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com

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Monsanto Challenged In Court By OSGATA

Yesterday, a judge in a NYC federal court heard arguments from Monsanto and the Organic Seed Growers And Trade Association (OSGATA). Monsanto has moved to dismiss a complaint filed by OSGATA to secure protection from lawsuits for patent infringement on Monsanto’s genetically modified crops. OSGATA represents over 83 plaintiffs using organic seeds who do not desire to use or acquire Monsanto’s patented crops or RoundUp herbicide. In total, these farms and organizations account for over 300,000 individuals.

Monsanto has a history of filing suit against 144 different farmers for patent infringement, and settling out of court with over 700. The issue is that farmers who don’t want to have their crops contaminated by Monsanto genes cannot stop cross-pollination and are often incapable of successfully defending themselves in court.

This is a clip of Dan Ravincher speaking about the case. He is the lead attorney in this case on behalf of OSGTA. He is executive director of the Public Patent Foundation.

OSGATA’s press releases can be found here.

Thanks to LS for the heads up!
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The U.S. Prison State: Largest In The World

The exploding population of the U.S. prison system has been given pitifully little media coverage since the trend emerged in the early 1970′s, following the establishment of The War On Drugs. As OSU law professor Michelle Alexander writes in her excellent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness, there are more African-American men in prison, on probation or on parole in the US now than there were enslaved in 1850.

Gary Younge of The Guardian writes:

For decades the issue never entered mainstream debate unless an increasingly desperate right wing decided to ramp up its race-baiting rhetoric. (The man who delivered the racist Willie Horton ad for George Bush Snr’s campaign in 1988 now works for Team Romney). On a local level it is back on the agenda because the states simply cannot afford it: California spends $47,102 per inmate per year. It is a national disgrace. The mass incarceration of African-Americans is the civil rights issue of the day. The statistics are horrific.

Read the quoted article.

As RT reports, corruption can be found all the way up the heirarchy:

incarceration rate

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Supreme Court Gives Muddled Ruling On Warrantless GPS Tracking

While not explicitly requiring a warrant for all GPS tracking incidences (those justified by “probable cause” may be valid), the Supreme Court issued a scatterbrained ruling that tossed out the sentence of a particular drug dealer:

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the five-justice majority. The majority declined to say whether that search was unreasonable and required a warrant.

All nine justices, however, agreed to toss out the life sentence of a District of Columbia drug dealer who was the subject of a warrantless, 28-day surveillance via GPS.

Four justices in a minority opinion said that the prolonged GPS surveillance in this case amounted to a search needing a warrant. But the minority opinion was silent on whether GPS monitoring for shorter periods would require one.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted with the majority, but wrote in a separate, solo opinion that both the majority and minority opinions were valid. She also suggested that Americans have more rights to privacy in data held by phone and internet companies than the Supreme Court has held in the past.

It’s clear that several of these justices need a reality check. Probably they abstained from condemning GPS tracking outright for political reasons: unwarranted tracking can be reasonably challenged in court after this precedent, but this same ambiguous ruling allows for the unjustified tracking of most anyone, and can be argued in court as well. Read the story in Wired

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Rolling Stone Interviews Julian Assange

Rolling Stone featured a nice interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, now facing extradition over rape speculations (not even charged). The interview updates us on his condition and the status of Wikileaks at this moment in time.

In diplomatic cables, the investigation into WikiLeaks by the U.S. government has been called “unprecedented both in its scale and nature.” How much do you know about it? S

Since last September, a secret grand jury was empaneled in Alexandria, Virginia. There is no defense counsel. There are four prosecutors, according to witnesses who have been forced to testify before the grand jury. The jury itself is taken from the local area, and Alexandria has the highest density of government and military contractors anywhere in the United States. It is a place where the U.S. government chooses to conduct all national-security grand juries and trials because of that makeup of the jury pool…

Read the full article here

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