Colorado Law Makes Consider Criminal Sentencing Reform

“Once upon a time, it was fashionable for politicians to kick felons when they were down,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “I think those days have come and gone.” This session, Colorado lawmakers are proposing a handful of bills aimed at recalibrating the tough-on crime measures ingrained in state law as part of a bipartisan national movement for sentencing reform. The bills would target mandatory minimum sentencing so that criminal cases will be viewed individually. Right now, if convicted of a crime that mandates minimum sentencing, the judge has no discretion when sentencing. In Adams County, a judge reluctantly sentenced a man to five years in prison after he confronted a group that heckled him for weeks and it turned into a melee. “I would have granted him probation,” the Judge wrote. The author of this blog has done extensive research into the rise of mandatory minimum sentencing and their effects. In Denver, Mandatory minimums came into fruition around the late 1970’s. There were many reasons for passing the laws but most notable were that the laws were thought to have a deterrent effect. The idea is that a criminal will stop and think about the mandatory years in prison before carrying out his crime of passion. The years directly following the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing saw close to 30% increases in inmate intakes across Colorado. It became clear that the primary effect of these laws is that more people go to prison. Now, more than 30 years after the passage of these laws, progress is still slow. Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, said there is no doubt that mandatory minimum sentences have reduced crime levels. This “tough on crime” mentality has been around for the past few decades and will not die easily. The idea that a criminal will stop and ponder the consequences of his actions before engaging in the crime is preposterous. Few criminals choose a life of crime. Most criminals do not fit the minimum sentencing involved. These laws may reduce crime by physically relocating those with a disposition to criminal activity but in doing so sacrifice those who have merely made a mistake. A man in Adams County who got into a fist fight with his long-time hecklers does not deserve the same treatment as a frequent offender. Sentencing should be case-by-case because justice can only be properly served on a case-by-case basis. It’s time to stop sending scores of Americans to jail. Abolish minimum sentencing. The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani specialize in the area of criminal defense. Call our office today for a Free consultation.

Cite: John Frank, The Denver Post, 2/15/2016


Texas Panel Calls for an End to Criminal I.D.’s via Bite Mark

An influential scientific commission in Texas called Friday for a halt to the use of bite-mark identifications in criminal trials. After a six-month investigation the Texas Forensic Science Commission recommended excluding bite-mark testimony, the first of its kind from any official state or federal body. The commission said, when appropriate, convicts and their defense lawyers would be notified whether to pursue new trials or exonerations. Specialists used to claim that they could reliably match tooth patterns to a defendant in criminal cases involving bites. The malleability of human tissue, and discrepancy in wound patterns from the same teeth can differ making the results of bit mark analysis very unscientific. Several people convicted based on this evidence were later exonerated by DNA testing. In one study presented to the Texas commission, a panel of leading forensic dentists studied photographs of purported bit wounds and in most cases could not even agree whether the marks were caused by human teeth. This new call to exclude bite mark evidence in criminal cases has huge implications. Those already convicted on bite mark evidence will need new trials. We can assume that several innocent people across the country were convicted on this faulty evidence. What other types of evidence will later be exonerated? The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani specialize in the area of Criminal Defense and assault defense. If you have been charged with a Misdemeanor, Felony, assault, or any other crime, call our office for a free consultation.

Cite: Erik Eckholm, The New York Times, February 12, 2016


Grand Jury Hears of Gap in Video of Laquan McDonald

I have often have I heard this phrase from prosecutors: “Sorry but the officer watched the video of a crime in commission but then accidentally deleted it.” This is exactly what happened in Chicago recently. The manager of a Burger King restaurant has spoken to a Grand Jury about his experience with police immediately after the shooting of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald. The Burger King where the manager was working had surveillance tape footage of Laquan minutes before the shooting that would have shed light on the incident. The Manager relayed his story that minutes after the fatal shooting, officers stormed the Burger King and demanded the access codes to the surveillance footage. There the officers stayed for 2 hours examining the monitor on which the footage was stored. When they left, 89 minutes, including the crucial minutes before the shooting, were mysteriously missing. Anita Alvarez of the Illinois state attorney’s office stated: “We have looked at those videos and… it doesn’t appear that it’s been tampered with.” Later, Michael Robbins, the attorney for McDonald’s family told reporters: “It is curious. If they got there and turned it on and found that there was no video, what were they looking at for two hours?” Robbins said that some bystanders who witnessed the incident were not interviewed by police, and on the contrary, were told to leave upon threat of arrest. On 12/1/2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has officially dismissed Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy citing lack of public trust in the police leadership. Laquan was shot 16 times in a Southwest Chicago side street last year. The story of Laquan McDonald raises questions about police misconduct. There is no evidence to prove that these officers deleted the Burger King video to cover their tracks. However, it is disturbing that once again video evidence was erased, accidentally or intentionally, by law enforcement officers whose duty it is to preserve such evidence.  If you have been wrongfully accused of a crime or feel that evidence is being withheld in your case, you need a skilled attorney to represent your interests. Call the Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani today for a free consultation.

Cite: Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune, 11/28/2015


Colorado Public Defenders Spent $6.3 Million on Failed Death Penalty Cases

Over the past 13 years, the Colorado Public Defender’s office has spend a combined $6.3 million on death penalty cases. From 2002-2015 Public Defenders handled 10 cases in which an intent to seek the death penalty was filed. The two most recent cases were for James Holmes, and Dexter Lewis. Both men were spared the Death Penalty and were instead sentenced to life in prison. Of the $6.3 million spent, $4.3 was spent in salaries related to handling the death penalty. While I applaud the hard work demonstrated by the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office, they were forced into these expenses by the Prosecutor’s offices refusing to accept life in prison sentences.

This cost is a burden to the tax payers and citizens of the State. Missing from that $6.3 million is the cost of incarceration during trial, and any money spent on the prosecution for those 10 trials. That money could have been used in many other, more productive ways. Instead, it was spent on the idea that the State should take more lives after such tragedies.  Time and time again, criminologists have proven that the Death Penalty is not a crime deterrent. In fact, most individuals contemplate their demise before the commission of such heinous acts; drug dealers may be killed by rivals or shooters will likely be killed by the police. This money was spent re-actively instead of pro-actively.  The money spent on these trials would have had a better return on investment for the taxpayers if it was used proactively to improve our mental health system, drug and alcohol recovery programs and other community projects designed to reduce future crime. The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani specialize in the area of Criminal Defense. Call our Denver office today for a Free Consultation.

Cite: Jordan Steffen, The Denver Post, 12/01/0215


Ending Mass Incarceration

It is no secret that the United States of America incarcerates more citizens than any other country on Earth. I see it everyday from over zealous prosecutors, alleged victims that lie to police, and law enforcement officers quick to jump to conclusions and over charge defendants.  The mass incarceration model does not work. Non violent offenses that result in jail time typically send impoverished members of the community into a cycle of jail, courts and recidivism. Their families ultimately suffer and they too can become subject to the criminal justice system and the cycle goes on and on.

Finally. more than 130 police chiefs, prosecutors, and sheriffs are adding their clout to the movement to reduce the nation’s incarceration rate. The group includes prominent law enforcement officials and is scheduled to meet with President Obama early Thursday. Both Democrats and Republicans say they are in support of what would be a reduction in arrests and incarceration sentencing, and in its place a focus on substance abuse treatment and mental health.  “We’re talking about using scarce resource- beds in jails and prison- in the most effective way,” said Benjamin David, a member of the group and the district attorney for the New Hanover and Pender Counties in North Carolina. “I would say to people, ‘Who would you rather have in there- a bank robber or an addict who is aggressively panhandling downtown’ This is not a political issue, it is a moral issue.” The group pointed to Florida’s Criminal Mental Health Project as an example of a program that had successfully provided mental health treatment to those who were arrested and in need of care instead of sending them to jail. Out of 10,000 contacted by Miami police in response to mental health calls, only 9 were arrested. The age of Mass-Incarceration is on its way out. New policies targeting substance treatment and mental health will replace the overly-punitive system. The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani specialize in the area of Criminal Defense. Call our Denver office today for a free consultation.

Cite: Timothy Williams, The New York Times, Oct 20, 2015


Denver Police Sergeants to Wear Body Cameras

Denver Police Chief Robert White said Tuesday he wants sergeants to wear body cameras. The city’s watchdog recommended that sergeants wear the cameras after pointing out that they are front line supervisors for many cases involving use of force. In addition off-duty officers will also be required to wear cameras during security assignments.  Many Officers work as independent security personnel for events such as Red Rocks shows, sport events and at bars and clubs downtown. While at the events, the officers are in uniform and are held to the same standards as if they were on-duty at the time, including with the use of force. Officers while in uniform may also cause the city to be liable for their actions, even if they are off duty. Adding more cameras will be expensive at first but it is worth the social cost. Taking a video recording of the incident will not only paint a clearer picture of any disputed events, but will also help exonerate those officers who acted appropriately. District 6, gang units, and traffic units of the Denver Police Department will soon be wearing the cameras with districts 1-5 soon to follow. The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani specialize in the field of Criminal Defense. Call out Denver office today for a free consultation.

Cite: Noelle Phillips, The Denver Post, 10/13/2015


Prosecutorial Misconduct

The New York Times recently reported on systematic misconduct has been discovered in the Orange County district attorney’s office that may go back as far as 30 years. The misconduct ranges from withholding exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers to eliciting illegal jailhouse confessions. The district employs 250 prosecutors and the misconduct is said to be agency wide. Orange County is a huge district, with more than 3 million residents. The district attorney’s office is claiming that the misconduct occurred as mistakes as a result over overwork. Given the scope of what has been uncovered, that explanation is implausible. Informants have been set up in jails and holding cells to elicit information form defendants. Many were offered reduced sentences and cash in exchange for eliciting unconstitutional confessions from defendants. Many murder convictions have been thrown out as a result of this discovery. Alex Kozinski, a federal appeal court judge in San Francisco has written that the withholding of exculpatory evidence has reached “epidemic” levels, and that the only way to stop it is for judges to hold prosecutors accountable. This scenario is not unique. There may be occurrences like this all over the country. Even here in Colorado my office has received late notices that Officers had been disciplined for untruthfulness, or prosecutors who have reason to believe the defendant is not guilty still press forward on charges or worse, bully defendants into taking pleas with the addition of new charges.

The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani and Denver Criminal Defense Attorney Steven J. Pisani will fight for your rights against the prosecutors in Denver and throughout Colorado. If you have been charged with a crime call our Denver Criminal Defense office today for a free consultation.

Cite: The Editorial Board, The New York times, 9/30/2015


Baltimore Police Officers Hoping Criminal Defense Attorney’s can help

The death of Freddy Gray has now led to the indictment of 6 police officers involved in his arrest. The officers had a motions hearing on Wednesday and their defense attorney’s lead the charge on some interesting procedures of criminal law. Police officers are usually on the opposing side of the bench when helping prosecutors dig up evidence in a case. Police are also used to the seemingly unlimited resources and media attention provided from the State to help them prosecute crimes and overwhelm typically indigent criminal defendants. This time, the indicted officers are forced to rely on the people they usually work against, the criminal defense attorney’s.

Each of the officers will have a separate trial and each will be tried in Baltimore. At the last hearing, the defense argued that the jury pool in Baltimore had been tainted by prosecutor Marylin Mosby’s comments to the media. When talking to the media, Mosby did mention some facts about the case including the knife in Freddy Gray’s pocket as well categorizing the actions taken that day by the officers. The defense used her comments as an attempt to dismiss the trials altogether. The judge denied those motions. In Baltimore these officers are now subject to the justice system they used to work for. This is not an enviable situation to be in, but I can assure you they appreciate the protections that a criminal defense attorney can provide to counterbalance the power of the State.  The Police and Defense Attorneys are unusual friends, but as the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani specialize in the area of Criminal Defense. Call our Denver office today for a free consultation.

Cite: Lynh Bui and Ovetta Wiggins, Washington Post, 9/2/2015


Obama Calls for a Fix for “Broken System” of Criminal justice

Once every few millennia, Democrats and Republicans agree. This time, both parties agree there need to be reforms to the criminal justice system. America currently holds more prisoners than China, who has roughly four times our population. Whether it is measured by prisoners per percentage of population, or total amount of people in prison, America has the world’s largest prison population. President spoke to the NAACP on 7/14/2015 where he called for a bipartisan effort to solve what he calls a “broken system”. Proposed reforms include first and foremost a reduction of mandatory minimum sentences and maybe even legislation to “get rid of them entirely”. Other reforms mentioned include giving felons the right to vote, a reduction of solitary confinement, and a more serious stance on rape inside prisons. Usually, the Republican Party would act upon this easy opportunity to ruin Obama’s credibility. Instead, Republican leaders all over the U.S. made it clear they shared the same concerns and have been working on bi-partisan legislation to address them. The Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani recognize the failures in the criminal justice system and we actively work to support reform legislation. Our firm specializes in Denver Criminal Defense. If you have been charged with a crime, don’t go it alone. Call our office today for a free consultation.


Cite: Peter Baker, July 14th, 2015, The New York Times


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