Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thomas Quick: the Swedish Serial Killer Who Never Was


Many people assume, or presume, that no one would ever confess to a serious
crime, let alone a string of them. That's not so. History is full of
people who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit even though
they confessed to committing them. A false confession not only takes up a
prison bed with an innocent person, it halts the investigation that may have
resulted in the actual offender being identified. Juries should always be
suspicious when asked to convict someone on a "confession" alone.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

N.J. assemblyman views video of his own disputed traffic stop


I am constantly amazed when a police officer trumps up charges and
then forgets to erase the video recording. But what if he had? This
is a good example of why citizens should use their cell phones to
record their encounters with police. I've co-authored a law review
article on the right to do so, and my iPhone app includes a function
making it quick and easy to do so.

- John

Define "Suspicious"

Police find body in burning wheelchair

How is a body in a burning wheelchair in a wooded area NOT suspicious?

- John Steakley
Steakley Law - Stalnaker App Studios

Friday, October 19, 2012

This Is Why We Shouldn't Over-Punish Non-Murders

Woodard gets life for killing two DeKalb officers

This Dekalb County criminal case about the murder of two police officers highlights a problem of some "get tough on crime" policies. Why?  Because Woodward was facing life without parole merely for the possession of a firearm. Rather than get caught with a gun, he opted to end the lives of two men just doing their jobs.  After all, he probably though, if he gets caught for murder he will still go to prison for life and he might not get caught at all!  In other words, the over-punishment of the gun crime to the same level as murder means that Woodward basically got to kill the cops for free. He's no worse off than he would have been had he not killed the cops. So what's his incentive to not kill?  Nothing. 

A similar paradox happens in child sex cases. We as a society have raised the punishments on child sex offender cases so high that now the child molester might as well kill his victim and any witnesses.  It greatly reduces his chances of getting caught and the punishment for murder is about the same as child molestation.  So why NOT kill them?

Punishments such as death and life without parole should be reserved for the ultimate crime of murder. All other crimes should be punished less.  Otherwise, we just create a perverse incentive to kill witnesses. 

- John Steakley
Steakley Law - Stalnaker App Studios

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The 100 Most Important Documents in American History


If you want to view high-quality scans of historic US documents, visit

Declaration of Independence

Bill of Rights

US Constitution

There are many more.

You Know Crime Is Bad When . . .

. . . political candidates get robbed while leaving an anti-crime rally.




OAKLAND -- An Oakland City Council candidate was robbed at gunpoint Wednesday night near his home after he attended a neighborhood anti-crime meeting, authorities said.

Dan Kalb, 53, an environmental policy director who is one of seven candidates vying for the District 1 seat that represents North Oakland, said he had parked his car near his home on the 5100 block of Manila Avenue when he was accosted about 8:35 p.m.

A man pointed a gun at him, demanded his iPhone and wallet and fled in a car, said Kalb, who was not hurt. The robbery happened after Kalb had attended part of a neighborhood crime prevention council meeting.


"Kind of ironic, isn't it?" said Kalb, whose platform includes a call to hire more police officers and invest in programs that reduce recidivism rates for convicts.

Kalb said he was using his hands-free phone as he was getting out of his Ford Fusion hybrid - and digging through the back of his car for his coat bag and campaign literature - when he "felt a little poke in the back of my ribs."

"I thought, 'Oh, it's somebody I know, a neighbor,'" Kalb said. But when he turned around, he saw a man he didn't know with a gun.

Kalb said he fumbled and dropped his iPhone, and the robber repeatedly demanded it. The assailant then told Kalb, "Run!" and he obliged, returning to his home to call police. Officers arrived quickly but didn't find the man.

"It can happen to anybody," Kalb said. "No one is immune to being subjected to crime, including gun-related crimes. We have to do a better job of getting guns off the street. We need to hire more police and crime investigators. That's pretty key. We're not investigating enough crimes."

Kalb and six others are running to fill the seat belonging to Councilwoman Jane Brunner, who is challenging City Attorney Barbara Parker for her position.



Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Gunman-robs-Oakland-council-candidate-3960332.php#ixzz29hAeZQMD

ABQJOURNAL NEWS/STATE: Judge in Trouble Over 'Fling'


Judge in Trouble Over 'Fling'

By Astrid Galvan
Copyright C 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
An "intense romantic fling" with an assistant public defender who
had pending cases before state District Judge Bob Schwartz may cost the
colorful judge - known for his wit and wisecracks - a 60-day unpaid
suspension, according to court documents unsealed this week.
The New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission is recommending
Schwartz be suspended without pay for 60 days, receive a formal public
reprimand, complete a course on sexual harassment and leave the bench during
future medication transitions.
The recommendation will go before the state Supreme Court, which
will make the final decision, on Oct. 12, said Paul Kennedy, Schwartz's
According to the commission's findings, Schwartz, a former district
attorney and governor's crime adviser, is accused of failing to uphold the
integrity and independence of the judiciary; failing to avoid impropriety;
failing to recuse himself from the pending cases involving the defender; and
of not conducting "extra-judicial activities as to minimize the risk of
conflict with judicial obligations."

The allegations stem from Schwartz's self-reporting to the commission
last August that his judicial conduct fell below his own standards as a
result of switching medications for a chronic illness in spring 2009.
Schwartz, 60, called it a "very difficult time in my life".
A months-long investigation followed, and the commission made the
disciplinary recommendations in a petition this month.
"We think the punishment is disproportionate to the allegations, and
we are confident of a full and fair review by the Supreme Court," Kennedy
Schwartz did not return a call seeking comment.
Among the alleged improprieties is a short-lived romantic
relationship with a 29-year-old assistant public defender, who has since
left that job.
According to the petition, the woman had represented defendants in
Schwartz's court from November 2008 to late July 2009.
In early July 2009, Schwartz invited the defender to lunch on a
workday. On what would be their first date, the judge gave the woman what he
called a "gag gift": a book titled "The One Hour Orgasm," with an official
picture of himself in his judicial robe pasted over the picture of the
book's author. He also gave her a pair of purple latex gloves.
The next day, Schwartz took the woman to a concert in Santa Fe,
according to the petition. After the concert, he told the woman he would
recuse himself from her cases because he couldn't be fair. The couple went
on to a bar called Anodyne in Downtown Albuquerque.
But Schwartz, who has never been accused of sexual harassment,
failed to recuse himself from the cases in a timely manner, according to the
He took action in two cases she was involved in on July 14, 2009,
the petition states. In one of those cases, he publicly questioned his own
prior decision to deny the woman's motion to dismiss. He withdrew his denial
to dismiss and recused himself from that case, offering an ambiguous
"This I'm sure happens to every judge at some point, but this is for
me, a definite moment of indecisiveness. I don't know what the right call is
in this case, I really don't, and so I shall not be allowed in this case and
let another judge take a look," Schwartz said at the time.
Schwartz eventually recused himself from all the cases the woman was
involved in. She ended the romantic relationship because of the way he
handled the recusals, according to the petition.
Schwartz and his attorney fought rigorously to keep the commission's
proceedings and findings sealed, but documents were unsealed this week.
According to the documents, Chief Judge Ted Baca speaks highly of
Schwartz. He described Schwartz as "well-suited to sit as a judge," and
calls him a "very valuable member of the court."

Read more: ABQJOURNAL NEWS/STATE: Judge in Trouble Over 'Fling'

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Public Defender Arrested for DUI; Urinated and Defecated on Self

How would you feel if your public defender showed up for your trial hungover?  What's worse is that as a government employee he may have "qualified immunity" making it much more difficult - or impossible - to sue him than a private attorney.  So if he isn't getting paid by you and can't be sued for screwing up your case, why would you trust him?

The lawyer in charge of the Worcester office of the Committee for Public Counsel Services allegedly asked police to leave “embarrassing elements” out of their report after his arrest for drunken driving in Leicester early Saturday morning.

Michael S. Hussey, 51, of 8 Wheeler Ave., Worcester, was arraigned yesterday in Western Worcester District Court on charges of drunken driving, negligent driving, a marked lanes violation and speeding.

Leicester police had been alerted about 12:45 a.m. to the possibility of a drunken driver heading into town after Spencer police received a call from a convenience store clerk who reported a man has stopped to ask directions. The clerk said the man seemed confused, appeared to have urinated on himself and was driving a red Saturn.

Nearly an hour later, Officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. noticed a red Saturn and watched it pull into Cumberland Farms. The driver went into the store, came out and headed east. Officer Tarentino followed and wrote that he observed the car going 47 mph in an area posted at 35. He wrote that the car was drifting between the center line and the fog line and swerving as it neared one or the other.

Officer Tarentino stopped the car and asked Mr. Hussey to step out. When he did, Officer Tarentino discovered that Mr. Hussey had defecated on himself, according to the officer’s report.

Police wrote that two of the three field sobriety tests administered were “abandoned” when Mr. Hussey said he was done or could not do the tests. On a portable breath test, Mr. Hussey allegedly registered a .215. The legal limit in Massachusetts is .08. He declined a second breath test at the police station, where he was allowed to clean up and change his clothes.

As police were completing paperwork for Mr. Hussey’s $40 bail, he told Officer Tarentino, he was “going to plead guilty to this and asked me to keep the more embarrassing elements out of my report,” according to court documents.

Mr. Hussey is due back in court at 2 p.m. Thursday for a pretrial hearing. He could not be reached for comment last night.

A prominent public defender, Mr. Hussey was the subject of a 1994 controversy in which he was detained by state police who suspected he was driving while drunk. He was never charged in that case but was taken to the Holden state police barracks and a bail commissioner was called.

A trooper who was involved at the time said he intended to arrest Mr. Hussey, but Sgt. Albert M. Toney Jr. asked whether there was probable cause for the arrest and suggested Mr. Hussey be held in protective custody.

The incident led to a court martial for Sgt. Toney, who remains on the job today.

That incident also brought about a call for changes in recruit training for the state police, including specific instructions that field sobriety testing is not necessary to arrest a person for drunken driving, though state police officials said such training was already in place.


- John Steakley
Steakley Law - Stalnaker App Studios

Judge Resigns Over Affair With Public Defender

How would you like to trust your fate to a public defender only to later
learn that he had been sleeping with the judge?


FEDERAL WAY -- A Federal Way Municipal Court judge has resigned after
hosting a holiday party at which she claimed to be having an affair with a
public defender who routinely appeared in her court.

Judge Colleen Hartl quit Dec. 19, less than a week after telling her guests
-- including five court employees -- that she had sex with public defender
Sean Cecil and displaying a text message in which he complimented how she
looked in "tight jeans," Michael Morgan, the court's presiding judge, said

A statement from the city cited "personal and health" reasons for the

Cecil, who was admitted to practice law in 2006, was one of three public
defenders who regularly handled misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases in
Federal Way.

On Wednesday, Morgan issued an order barring him from representing poor
defendants in the court.

Morgan also has filed a complaint against Cecil with the state bar

Even after admitting the affair at the Friday night party, Hartl showed up
for work the next Monday morning and presided over several cases handled by
Cecil, Morgan said.

At lunchtime that day, Morgan -- who attended the party but left before
Hartl's admission -- was advised of the relationship by a court staff member
who witnessed the statement.

Morgan suggested that Hartl not sit on any cases that afternoon, and she
resigned two days later.

Read more:

National lawyers group condemns Portage County judge for arresting public defender | cleveland.com


Cutbacks to Public Defender Availability in MA

As budgets get tighter, the courts are cracking down on who gets a Public Defender.  Why?  Because it's easier to do that than to hire more public defenders.  Still, any client with a public defender is likely to be just one of hundereds of clients that particular public defender has to juggle.  For the client, that translaters into very little attention to their case. 

Those rulings stipulate, among other things, that defendants' retirement accounts can be considered available income (save for penalty fees for early withdrawal), to negate a plea of indigence, and also that assets of co-habitants - a girlfriend, boyfriend and even their significant others' family if they live in the same home - are also considered resources that could render them ineligible for free public defense.

- John Steakley
Steakley Law - Stalnaker App Studios

US Violent Crime Rates Increase (Or Do They?)

Violent crime in America is up, says a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (they are an arm of the Department of Justice). 
Violent crime in America rose 17 percent last year, a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds.
In 2011, 5.8 million Americans age 12 older -- 22.5 of every 1,000 -- were victims of violent crime, up from 19.3 in 2010, the study found.

Violent crime includes homicide, rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated or simple assault.

About 17.1 million more Americans were victims of property damage crimes, an increase of 11 percent.

The study notes the percentage increases seem large because overall crime rates are at near-historic lows, so even a slight increase in the actual number of incidents produces a large percentage increase.

The increase from 2010 to 2011 is slightly below the average increase in the raw number of violent incidents reported annually, the study said.
In Georgia, the definition of "Aggravated Assault" has gotten to where hands and feet are considered "weapons" and basically every bar fight and schoolyard tussle can be charged as a FELONY.  I wonder how much of that is going on in other states.  Is violent crime really increasing, or are we just considering more things as "violent crimes" that wouldn't have been considered violent a few years ago?


- John Steakley
Steakley Law - Stalnaker App Studios

Silent Circle: Mike Janke’s iPhone app makes encryption easy, governments nervous. - Slate Magazine


- John

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Marietta Daily Journal - Marietta woman files suit over profanity arrest

Here a woman arrested for using profanity against a police officer.
She's likely correct that she was within her First Amendment rights.
But this is a perfect example of my rule that just because something
is Constitutional doesn't make it a good idea.


- John

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Woman accused of posting cop's pic on Facebook - Houston Chronicle


I'm not sure how it can be a crime to re-post a photo of an officer that the
officer posted online himself. It might be a different argument if the
officer was making a reasonable effort to keep his undercover work secret,
but as the article says, he was testifying in open court about his
undercover work:

"Mesquite police arrested Melissa Walthall, 30, for allegedly posting the
photo of the officer, who authorities say recently testified in a drug case
against her friend. Her Facebook post identified the person as an undercover
officer, according to a federal affidavit."

This doesn't sound like a crime to me. This sounds more like sour grapes.
I hope she has hired a good attorney.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Another Great Example of Using Your Cell Phone to Record Police

Here is an EXCELLENT example of how useful it can be to record your own
interactions with law enforcement. This young man recorded his secretly,
which I am convinced he has a Constitutional right to do. (See my law
review article on the same subject, selected by the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers as one of the "must read" articles for attorneys
this year.)