Mar 29, 2008

Connecticut Superior Judge Spada on Voire Dire and Parole issues

Change Parole Rules - And Monitor Those Released by Arthur L. Spada

Note; Arthur L. Spada is a former Connecticut Superior Court judge as well as the former Connecticut State commissioner of public safety during the Rowland administration.

The Petit family tragedy is a metaphor for the pivotal failure of the Connecticut criminal justice system. Interlocking failures culminated in a night of terror orchestrated by recently paroled Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky. The use of electronic ankle bracelets would have prevented this carnage.

The federal government and many of our sister states now embrace the use of attached ankle bracelets for all released felons. Connecticut needs to adopt a similar program. To do otherwise endangers innocents.

The state's prisons have become revolving doors for career criminals. The great wash of criminals cannot be tried because of the state's anachronistic, time-consuming, protracted voire dire requirement. Voire dire is a procedure by which prospective jurors are questioned. In Connecticut, they are questioned individually rather than in a group. Neither the federal government nor any of our sister states employ Connecticut's individual voir dire selection for juries.

This results in an abnormally high rate of plea bargaining and an abysmally low rate of trials. Every defendant in a plea-bargained disposition negotiates his own sentence. The result? Excessively short sentences for serious crimes.

Hayes, harnessed with a conviction record of 20 robberies and six larcenies, had plea-bargained for a five-year sentence to a charge of burglary. Hayes served two years and was paroled administratively, without benefit of a public hearing; nor were his victims notified. This miscue was legitimized by the recent enactment of Public Act 04-234.

This law must be repealed or seriously amended. Its unabashed purpose is "to reduce by 20 percent the number of inmates jailed due to technical violations of probation or parole." The message to parolees is no re-incarceration unless you repeatedly violate your conditions of parole or commit a serious crime.

But Public Act 04-234 causes additional harm to our citizenry. Except for a handful of heinous crimes, sentenced inmates are now eligible for administrative parole almost immediately. A staff clerk reviews a file without notifying the victims and then submits a recommendation - but there is no public record of the reason for the recommendation.

There is even more harm contained in the law: Inmates can be transferred to halfway houses 18 months before their release date. The Department of Correction can release inmates charged with a misdemeanor and Class D felons who cannot make bail. (This raises a serious separation of powers issue because bail-setting is a judicial function.) The Correction Department can release inmates for work or educational purposes to a community or private residence. The commissioner can issue renewable 30-day furloughs. Drug-dependent sellers can twice enter a treatment program in lieu of prosecution or jail.

The most contemptible provision of Public Act 04-234 is the shift of responsibility: It places the onus on the parole board to show why it should not grant parole rather than putting the burden on the prisoner to prove why he should be released: "The Board must give specific reasons why the person and public would not benefit from the person's parole while transitioning to the community."

This new standard is a stark affront to the law-abiding citizens of our state.
Connecticut's prisons must accommodate the influx of 5,000 prisoners annually. Because the prison population is at near-maximum, that means 5,000 inmates must be transferred or paroled to the community. The political resistance to building new prisons or placing inmates in out-of-state prisons mandates the use of electronic ankle bracelets.

These bracelets are electronically connected to global positioning satellites. The satellite can continuously transmit digital radio signals pinpointing the parolee's location. Currently, 268 sex offenders are electronically monitored by the state's parole division.

To protect citizens and to ensure against another Cheshire redux, we now need to use electronic ankle bracelets on all released felons during their entire parole period and on career criminals during fixed time periods beyond parole.

Ironically, the GPS solution would save taxpayers money, although saving lives and property, not saving dollars, would be the reason to use ankle bracelets. Inmates cost an average $30,000 per year; the GPS system costs an average $4,650 per year. The GPS can help parole officers enforce curfews and keep parolees within circumscribed boundaries.
The repeal of Public Act 04-234, the removal of voir dire in criminal cases and the use of electronic ankle bracelets for all paroled and career criminals will usher a new day of domestic tranquility. Such changes would burnish the images of the Cheshire innocents. ________

This is a reprint of the article as it was originally published last august, just after the Petit family assaults and murders In Cheshire Ct. It was published as an Op-ed piece in The Hartford Courant and then posted on a website called The Real Cost of Prisons weblog

The Piece was written by a learned Superior Court Justice by the name of Spada who was also former director of Public safety during the Rowland administration.

Many of the issues broached within the article have yet to be resolved and many members of the public continue to be unaware that such things are even happening in this state., let alone why they are happening. I urge you all to read it and to get involved!

More on the Voire dire practices in Conn later...

Mar 26, 2008

Debate over three strikes bill not over

This article is dated from over a week ago, just prior to the three strikes bill last being voted down in the General Assembly. However, I so liked what State Representitive Adinolfi had to say (in the final paragraph of the article), that I am re-linking to it today...

In response to a statement re the inherent problematic nature of the 3 strikes law made by Conn Chief States Attorney Kane of the following approximation
"What about the defendant who has two burglary convictions on his record and then gets in a bar fight and breaks someone ribs? That guy could conceivably recieve a third strike (resulting in a possible sentence of 25 yr( with parole after 85 percent of sentence), via any of the four 3 strikes proposals before the GA ) I would not want to prosecute that case under a three strikes contingent." ...

Our insightful Representative Adinolfi responded in kind with "why don't you ask the guy who got his ribs broken in the bar how he feels !" And he elaborated of course with his own take on the crime situation in his nighborhood where folks have put deadbolts on thier bedroom doors and such. He has consistantly expressed his support of a three strikes law.Bravo to legislator aldinolfi, for This is where the thinking really needs to change regarding violence- in general; it is against the law, it is not acceptable, period. Not between a man and his wife or partner not between a parent and child and not between one man and another in a bar or anywhere else for that matter. There is almost always a victim whenever violence occurs,

It should be mentioned that Rep Aldinolfi resides in Cheshire in the very neighborhood where The Petit mother and children were assaulted and murdered, just a block or so from where the embers of what was once the Petits home, stands as a constant reminder of this horrible -and unneccesary tragedy. . To me, Mr Aldinolfi's opoinion on criminal/judicial matters should be that much more valued within the context of these Judicial reform sessions. States attorney Kane who is in effect the states top prosecutor, was asked to attend this session as a consultant in effect in order to testify about the effectiveness of a strict sentencing law such as three strikes.

In addition, the preceding statement is contains a rather misleading example by Connecticut's head State's Attorney- ie Since we've already learned since the Cheshire crimes, that house burglary was not considered a violent or serious felony in this state until just two months ago; And then directly as a result of those assaults and murders, our GA, under public pressure passed a bill making only night time home invasions "serious' felonies. Again, This, because it has been shown that this type of crime is committed by criminals who are willing to resort to violence, and thus murder within the commission of those crimes. Therefore, these, the most serious form of home burglary are the only type of burglary that would constitute the first two felony convictions that could be considered as two of the three strikes triad. Not just any ole burglary- as Mr Kanes statement would have us believe.

Furthermore, I can tell you that if a man starts a bar fight that results in broken ribs ("only")
and doesn't have a history of violent crime on his record, there is little chance that he will get convicted of felony assault in this state-- That is, if he is even charged with assault in the second degree, which is dubious, and Ill tackle that in a moment...

According to a former head prosecutor at Ga2 in Bridgeport Connecticut, in order for a felony assault to "stick" ie a conviction to be made (once the police have arrested and charged a person with such) the ownice is upon the victim to prove that he or she is permanently damaged by the injury sustained within that attack--permanently damaged.

Now I personally could find no such legal precedent anywhere in writing, regarding our Connecticut statutes on criminal assault charges in the 2nd or first degree, the two felonious versions of assault (assault in the first being with a deadly weapon.) So, I can only suppose that this is an unwritten prosecutorial "guideline" and perhaps exclusive to the prosecutors at Ga2 for that matter. In addition, depending on the jurisdiction and thus the responding Police dept on this bar fight scene, most likely this crime would result in an assault in the third charge which is a misdemeanor-not a felony and therefore not a candidate charge for the three strikes situation in any event.

But lets say, for sake of argument that somehow the police decided that the intent was serious physical harm to the victim within that broken rib bar fight --And, that there was a corresponding record of medical treatment and diagnosis that backed up a "serious" injury to this victims ribs. And Thus, the police did charge the attacker with the more serious- felony assault two.
When that charge gets to the courts, it is almost certain to be dropped right down to either a misdemeanor assault three within a plea deal, or very conceivably nolled altogether- the latter if that defendant has no history of violent crime or any "substantial" criminal record.
Substantial excludes conviction for crimes such as check forgery or D.U.I . A "Nollie" involves a criminal record becoming eradicated after 13 months if the defendant commits no other crimes within that 13 month period. If they do commit another crime they can be re-sentenced for the first a.r'd one.

It should also be mentioned that there is the a chance that this theoretical charge of assault could be dropped completely or the defendant given accelerated rehabilitation' if it is charged or decided by the prosecutor to be a non- felony assault- A.R is a sentencing program in Connecticut which is used for 1st time offenders and results in a sealed record for the defendant, whereby those charges may not ever be used against he/she in future court proceedings- if and when he breaks the law again.

So if this is the best argument that states attorney Kane could come up with as to why he feels that a three strikes sentencing law is not a good idea for prosecutors then I'd say that his argument does not have much merit.

The fight for a three strikes is not over; This legislative session is not over until early May and as the story linked to the previous Post explains, the last vote was 16 to 25 against, with the GA'S Republicans promising to attach the bill onto another one if need be, in order to force a re-vote.

We, the public-and our like minded legislators should use this time to band together and to avail ourselves of every bit of information we can garner about this kind of sentencing law.
Our leaders may then fine- tailor a state version that addresses and remedies any legitimate pitfalls that are being cited as roadblocks to this bills passage. As well, be readied to give sound intelligent response to the various invalid reasons being presented for not passing this bill.

This state must pass a viable Repeat violent offender law-one that is actually going to be used, not sit on the shelf gathering dust, as the one that is currently on the books seems to be doing. The law needs to be applied consistantly-not on a whim, with perhaps the ownice on a judge, as to why an exception should be be made in a particlular criminal case, where it doesnt serve Justice.

Mar 16, 2008

Petit family basketball fund-raiser a success...

Looks like "The Dunk It" fund raiser for MS met its target objective and also served as a some collective healing for the Cheshire community...

Mar 14, 2008

The GE 5K Road Race

Reading about this latest benefit for The Petit family foundation made me weepy yesterday-
a good weepy however...

I'd heard Dr Petit speak in an interview a while back about the immense responsibility he
felt in trying to decide the best uses for the many donations that were coming in in his family's
name. I knew that a good deal of money was being channelled to The MS foundation-
this was a very important cause for the family while they were alive and Dr Petit wanted to continue this important work in their honor.

I'd watched, and indeed written about, the various philanthropic activities that honored and
kept alive the Petit's giving spirit. I knew that some of the donated monies were also going
to fund education for deserving young women, and that of course is always a good thing.

But I had quietly hoped in time to see what I am seeing now; the Petit family foundation has turned its collective attention to a need that is very close to my own heart, and that is
victims of violent crime. As violent crime, and indeed violence against women, was
at the very core
of what robbed this world of Jennifer, Haley and Michaela Petit, this is a beautiful way of

making good of something terrible and in this way, defeating the evil that brought this all to bear.

God bless this family and continue to heal them, and may we all continue the spirit of being
"the change that we wish to see in the world. "
(Mahatma Gandhi quoted by Michaela Petit in her Facebook page 2007)

The GE 5K Road Race

stamford times - Column — Chris Powell — Courts fail to make priority of violent crime

Another victim of Connecticuts courts...

stamford times - Column — Chris Powell — Courts fail to make priority of violent crime

Mar 9, 2008

The Allstate Foundation Click to Empower Survivors of Domestic Violence

Hi Everyone!
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Just follow the "spread the word" link at the top of the "Empower" webpage- You'll be helping a really good cause, as well as raising awareness about partner and domestic violence, the number one cause of homicide against women in this country.

Click To Empower. Brought to you by The Allstate Foundation.

Mar 5, 2008

Government Innovators Network: article re: judicial reforms

Although this is a dated article, Jan 21 to be exact- I'm linking to it because it is very well written and contains retrospectively, a good deal of information regarding Connecticut's Judicial Crisis, specifically as it relates to the legislative body and the Crime Reform Package.
As you'll recall, some of the proposed reforms were voted in during a January special session of the Gneral assembly, but others, such as the highly debated 3 strike law- were not passed.
And still other's yet were passed but in what many considered half-way measures; For example, the much anticipated new home Invasion law, created largely in response to the Petit family murders in Cheshire, this past July, was passed, but in a pared down version that designated only night time home break ins as a "serious" home invasion felony, which carries the correlating 10 years minimum sentence!
That version of the bill was voted in despite numerous sound arguments against the night time-only qualifier, which as some legislators pointed out, would leave-vulnerable any residents who are home during the day, such as stay at home moms, senior citizens and those who work third shift.
Obviously there is still a great deal of work to be done concerning our Connecticut's Judicial system. Please avail yourselves of knowledge and thus, the power to change. Read as much as you can about the issues before us, familiarize yourself with the players in our states general assembly. Find your own local area representitives-if you arent already familiar with them-_
( I wasn't for years) you can look them up online on the CONNECTICUT Government website. Then do a bit of research into what your rep's history has been regarding voting on issues within the general assembly; Do thier votes speak well of them, ie are they soft on crime-or tough... or worst of all- noncomittal. (I believe in taking a firm stand for what you believe in- whatever it is!)
Plainly speaking there is a lot of self eductating that the average citizen can do to find out how our states judiciary operates ---officially--- and then in actuality Once you understand what is actually happening on a day to day basis within our courts, then youre better able to judge what changes need to be made. things aren't likely to change very much.the fact that this is an election year also helps our case tremendously.Politicians are politicians and they want and need our votes;we can make it clear that we demand our reps to be tough on crime, or we will find another candiddate that is.

Government Innovators Network: Article re JUSTICE REFORM