Thursday, August 30, 2007

Judge agrees to expunge record of doctor accused in hospital deaths

A judge agreed Thursday to erase the public criminal record of a doctor arrested but never charged in the alleged killing of patients at a sweltering, flooded New Orleans hospital following Hurricane Katrina.

State District Judge Calvin Johnson also said authorities must keep secret all materials put before the grand jury that last month declined to indict Dr. Anna Pou.

Pou called Johnson's decision to expunge her public record "a huge step in helping me get by life back together."

Pou was arrested last year. Attorney General Charles Foti accused her of giving lethal doses of drugs to patients at Memorial Medical Center in Katrina's aftermath, but a grand jury refused to indict her on July 24.

At least 34 people died at Memorial after the Aug. 29., 2005, hurricane, many from dehydration during the four-day wait for rescuers. Katrina had flooded the lower floors of the hospital, knocked out electricity and left patients and medical personnel stranded for days.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Texas: Hays County courts accidentally put expunged cases online!

When Hays County courts put their records online in April, San Marcos lawyers were pleasantly surprised that the county Web site let any Internet user look up court cases and jail information.

But as some defense lawyers began typing clients' names into the system, they got another surprise, this one much nastier. Their clients' expunged cases, which were supposed to have been erased from the system, popped up on their screens.

The county's $12.4 million software package from Dallas-based Tyler Technologies had a bug: a stray line of code that could leave the county bombarded with lawsuits from people who had lost a job or a license, or were otherwise hurt by the release of information that was supposed to have been erased.

"It caused a small uproar," Hays County information technology director Jeff McGill said. "Even though technically it was a minor issue, legally it was a major issue."

The Hays County information technology staff shut down public access to the site for searching records two days after finding out about the problem, and it remains down today. Tyler Technologies went to work fixing the bug and other problems with the software.
Anyone trying to search court records has to go to the district clerk's office, but McGill expects the Internet site to be back up later this summer.

About a dozen counties, including Williamson, Tarrant and Fort Bend, are planning to move their court records to the new Tyler Technologies system.

In Texas, almost anyone acquitted of a felony or misdemeanor, or whose charges have been dismissed, is eligable for expungement; afterwards, every law enforcement agency, jail, court and state criminal history database must destroy all records related to the case.
It's as if the whole case never happened.

Tyler Technologies programmers traced the problem of Hays County's not-so-expunged cases to a quirk in the way the county's old court record system deleted records.

In the old system, also supplied by Tyler Technologies, when the clerk's office expunged the computer record of a case, the case disappeared from screens and searches. But it lived on in the computerized database for about six months as a remedy for accidental deletions.

When the court's files were transferred to a new system last year, those expunged cases from the past six months came into the new system whole and turned up in searches, he said. About 25 cases, ranging from hot check charges to child molestation, were affected.

Tyler Technologies workers fixed the problem by manually removing the cases from the system. The county is now testing the corrected program.

Former deputy‘s criminal record expunged in Former Collier County, Florida.

A former Collier County sheriff’s investigator who quit his job two years ago after he was caught altering painkiller prescriptions has been granted an expungement after successfully completing a drug counseling program.

Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt on Wednesday granted the expungement requested by attorney Donald Day, who represented Kyle Beiner, 33, after Assistant State Attorney Lisa Mead said the state didn’t object. Day was out of town and Beiner, who was not in court, was represented by another attorney in Day’s firm, Kristen Rodger.

Day said later that he will now move toward getting Beiner’s record sealed. Day said Beiner, of Cape Coral, got hooked on painkillers after being prescribed the drugs for an injury on the job.

Beiner, who had worked for the Collier Sheriff’s Office since 1996 before quitting in August 2005, completed conditions of a pre-trial release program, which included urine and Breathalyzer tests, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and reporting monthly to a probation officer.

On Aug. 24, 2005, Beiner was arrested on two felony counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance for trying to get refills that weren’t prescribed. That was a week after he met with supervisors, who confronted him with information about the drug case. He quit at that meeting.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Romney denied pardons in Massachusetts, even from war veteran.

A lot of people have probably read this article by now because it was reported by the Associated Press and featured on Yahoo! News, USA Today, CNN, and several other major media outlets.

How does he expect people to find employment and/or housing?
BOSTON (AP) — A decorated Iraq war veteran, convicted as a boy for a pellet gun shooting, seemed like an ideal candidate for a pardon from then - Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  But Romney, now a U.S. Republican presidential candidate, said no — twice — despite the recommendation of the Commonwealth's Board of Pardons.

At age 13, Anthony Circosta was convicted of assault for shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun, a shot that did not break the skin. Circosta worked his way through college, joined the Army National Guard and led a platoon of 20 soldiers in Iraq's deadly Sunni triangle.

In 2005, as he was serving in Iraq, he sought a pardon to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer.  "I've done everything I can to give back to my state and my community and my country, and my commonwealth to get brushed aside is very frustrating," said Circosta, 29.

In his presidential bid, Romney often proudly points out that he was the first governor in modern Massachusetts history to deny every request for a pardon or commutation during his four years in office. He says he refused pardons because he did not want to overturn a jury.

But critics argue that the blanket policy is an abdication of a key power given governors and the president — the ability to recognize how someone convicted of a past crime has turned their life around.

During the four years Romney was in office, 100 requests for commutations and 172 requests for pardons were filed in the state. All were denied.

While he refused all requests for pardons as Governor, Romney has said that could change if he is elected president. Asked in last week's debate if he would consider pardoning Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of lying and obstructing the CIA leak investigation, Romney said: "It's worth looking at that. I will study it very closely if I'm lucky enough to be president. And I'd keep that option open."

During his first year in office, the Board of Pardons recommended 11 pardons and two commutations. After Romney decided against granting any, the number of hearings dropped dramatically. During the next three years, the board recommended just four pardons and a single commutation.

His Excellency, Governor Romney rejected every one.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Colorado legislators have approved a bill that would permit convicted criminals to seal certain criminal court records

Colorado legislators have approved a bill that would permit convicted criminals to seal certain criminal court records, a move open government advocates say would impede the public's right to know.

The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Bill Ritter, who has until June 4 to sign the legislation. The proposed law would allow people convicted of crimes to petition the courts 10 years after their cases have ended to have their criminal records sealed. The bill applies to people who have had no convictions in a decade and excludes certain criminal convictions, including traffic offenses, DUI, child abuse and sex offenses.

If their requests are granted, those people then would not have to indicate on a job application, except to a criminal justice agency, that they were convicted.

In a nod to the concerns raised by the Colorado Press Association, the bill was amended to require court administrators to post notices of requests to seal criminal records on court Web sites for 30 days. The public may also ask to have cases unsealed based on new information or circumstances that could tip the balance in favor of public disclosure.

Greg Romberg, a lobbyist for the press association, said the media is still opposed to the bill. "Public records should remain open to the public," he said.

Romberg said, however, that the changes at least mitigate some of the negative effects of the bill by allowing the public's concerns about sealing records to "come to light" in a court hearing, which the original version of the bill did not allow.

He also said the change about allowing previously sealed cases to be reopened could apply in cases where people have made themselves into public figures by, for instance, running for public office.

"That would be a situation where it would be hard for a judge not to take a look at that," he said.

Currently, Colorado law allows records to be sealed when a person was not charged or when charges were dismissed because of a plea agreement in another case. The bill now under consideration would also reduce the amount of time those people must wait to ask to have their records sealed, from 15 years to 10 years after all criminal proceedings end.

The state House approved the legislation by a 46-18 vote in April, while state senators passed the bill earlier this month in a 26-8 vote. The proposed law was introduced in January.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

What do states owe the exonerated?

This month, two men – both freed last year after DNA evidence exonerated them of the crimes for which they'd been in prison – received drastically different news about how they might be compensated for those lost years.

Connecticut legislators voted to award $5 million to James Tillman to help him get his life back on track after 18 years behind bars for a rape he didn't commit.

The Florida Legislature, on the other hand, denied Alan Crotzer's request for $1.25 million and let a bill die that would have standardized a compensation system for victims of wrongful conviction.

"I felt so disappointed," says Mr. Crotzer, who served more than 24 years in a Florida prison until DNA evidence cleared him of rape and kidnapping charges. He's been working odd jobs that pay less than $300 a week since he got out. "The bottom line is, I don't think I could ever put a price on freedom…. But they've got to put a system in place. [This issue] isn't going away."

Last month, the 200th person was exonerated due to DNA evidence, but the majority of those released have gotten nothing but an apology – and sometimes not even that.

"We are exonerating people who did not commit crimes, spent two decades in prison or time on death row, and when they get out, there are fewer reentry services for these people than for individuals who actually committed crimes," says Barry Scheck, codirector of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which is dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted. "It's a measure of decency."

As DNA exonerations become more plentiful – and more publicized – some states are moving on the compensation front. Of the 200 men who have been exonerated based on DNA evidence, about 45 percent have received some sort of compensation, according to the Innocence Project, with amounts that range from $25,000 to $12.2 million.

Twenty-one states, along with the federal government and the District of Columbia, now have standardized compensation laws on the books – offering exonerees amounts ranging from $15,000 total to $50,000 per year of imprisonment.
Thirteen states have introduced bills this year to either create or improve compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Some of those bills, like the one that gave Mr. Tillman $5 million, dealt only with individual prisoners, but other states are trying to standardize the compensation.

Crotzer – as much as he would have liked to see his own petition for compensation filled – favors the latter, as do most advocates of the wrongfully convicted. "It's like I've got my hand out begging," he says of the process he went through. "It makes me feel bad."

Texas, where 13 men have been exonerated in Dallas County alone, is considering a package of bills that would, among other things, raise the compensation amount from $25,000 to $50,000 per year of incarceration.

Vermont – which hasn't yet had a prisoner exonerated by DNA evidence – has passed a comprehensive bill that would provide between $30,000 and $60,000 per year of incarceration as well as access to healthcare and reintegration services. It's currently awaiting the governor's signature.

That's a trend that advocates at the Innocence Project hope they see more of. They note that in addition to monetary compensation, most of the wrongfully convicted leave prison with few skills and desperately need access to education, mental-health services, medical care, and job training. Currently, most exonerees don't even have access to the same sort of services that parolees get, since they're not being paroled.

"In Florida, if you're a parolee they give you $100 and a bus ticket," says Michael Olenick, the Tallahassee attorney who represented Crotzer pro bono. "Al Crotzer got no bus ticket, and no $100."

He also didn't get access to counseling, and he says he's struggled with some things since his release: He still wants to turn his light off at 11:47 every night, for instance, and he keeps everything in his room neat enough to pass a cell inspection.

Crotzer recently married a woman with two children and has worked a series of low-skill jobs ranging from street cleaning to janitorial duties. He's in the process of moving to Tallahassee, where he has an offer to work as a dishwasher. But he's hoping for a job at a nearby sheriff's office working with at-risk youth, and he's trying to stay sanguine about it all. "I kept my self-respect by not becoming the monster they wanted me to be," he says of his years in prison.

Neither Mr. Olenick nor Crotzer can be sure why the request for $1.25 million failed, especially after the Florida House unanimously approved it. Senate leaders said they didn't have the money – a common reason that states cite in not providing compensation. In Crotzer's case, some also suggested that lawmakers didn't want to grant any more individual compensation bills, but instead wanted to pass a "global" bill that would address all cases. However, the three such bills that were introduced in past years didn't go anywhere.

Some believe Crotzer may also have been hurt by the fact that he was convicted of a beer store robbery when he was 18 – a fact that would have excluded him from compensation under one of the laws proposed in Florida.

Olenick says he'll keep fighting and will refile the claim for next year's session. "When you handle a case like Al's, he becomes locked in your heart," Olenick says. "Until he gets compensated, I'm not going to stop."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Kentucky fails to pass felony expungement law.

The Kentucky House and Senate adjourned without hearing House Bill 16, the new legislation written by Representative Rob Wilkey. People convicted of felonies in the Commonwealth of Kentucky will still be unable to rejoin working class society.

Currently, only misdemeanors may be expunged according to Kentucky law. House Bill 16 would apply only to "Class D" felonies – which include theft over $300, welfare fraud and drug possession. Crimes against children, violent crimes and sex crimes could not be expunged. The bill would have required the Commonwealth's Attorney to consider all expungement requests and make a recommendation to the court.

Supporters of the bill pointed out it was necessary to give convicts a second chance at life. Employers often refuse to hire ex-cons, they noted.

The bill had a lot of support in the Democratic controlled House of Representatives, but was expected to be defeated in the Republican controlled Senate. The legislature adjourned however without ever voting on House Bill 16.

Text of House Bill 16:
  1. Create a new section of KRS Chapter 533 to allow persons convicted of one Class D felony or a series of Class D felonies arising out of a single event to petition to have their records expunged;
  2. amend KRS 431.078, relating to misdemeanor expungement, to change the application fee from $25 to $50 dollars and to begin the five-year waiting period from the date of adjudication of the offense;
  3. amend KRS 527.040 to exempt individuals who have had their records expunged from the statute on a felon in possession of a firearm;4) create a new section of KRS Chapter 533 require the Administrative Office of the Courts to keep a confidential index of expungement orders for utilization in the preparation of pre-sentence investigations.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How do you survive?

One cannot help but wonder how government can hope to reduce employment, food stamps, government housing, and associated assistance at the expense of tax payers when a rap sheet is a life sentence.

Earlier this week we had a "picture perfect" example.

A citizen in the State of Texas was receiving government aid VIA food stamps and government housing for a misdemeanor petty theft charge in 1999. She completed probation and paid all court imposed fines and fees.

Denied employment at most major corporations because of her rap sheet, she searched long and hard for a job most Americans would snub their noses at that wouldn't run a criminal background check. Finally, this lady found a job at a "mom and pop" convenience store as a full-time cashier with no benefits.

In 2006 she was caught working, yes, working at a job, charged with "Defrauding the Government," and jailed for 120 days. She decided government aid wouldn't be enough to get her and her children new clothes, better housing, and off food stamps.

What would the government have her do? Why should a mistake from 1999 destroy her future and possibly that of her children? When did a simple mistake become a life sentence? How will she survive now with a misdemeanor and a felony on her record?

Many of our critics do not like the fact or even the idea that citizens can have anything removed from their criminal record. Put yourself in this lady's shoes and re-think your philosophy.