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Violent crime still on rise, FBI data show
Legal Career News | 2006/12/18 19:19

Violent crime in the US increased during the first half of 2006 when compared with the same period in 2005, according to the FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report  released Monday. Violent crime, including murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, increased 3.7 percent since 2005 but property crimes, such as burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft, decreased 2.6 percent. The number of arsons increased 6.8 percent.

The overall 3.7 percent uptick in violent crime between January and June comes amid a still-incomplete Justice Department study of 18 cities for clues on why criminal activity is increasing.

Property crimes like auto theft and other larcenies were down by 2.6 percent over the same six-month period, the data show. But the number of arsons shot up by nearly 7 percent, the FBI reported.

If the numbers stay at the current pace, the rate of violent crime will increase in 2006 for the second year in a row. The FBI's 2005 annual report on violent crime showed that violent crimes increased in 2005 for the first time since 2001; the 2.3 percent increase was the largest jump since 1991. The US Justice Department has launched an investigation to examine why the violent crime rate has increased.

“This is a concern we’ve been focused on,” said Gene Voegtlin, legislative counsel for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents an estimated 20,000 law enforcement officials and has been pushing for more crime-fighting funding. “A lot of (police) agencies are really stretched thin when it comes to the budget and their ability to aggressively combat crime.”

The Justice Department did not have an immediate comment.



17 Guantanamo detainees sent home
Headline News | 2006/12/17 23:16

The U.S. military repatriated 18 detainees from Guantanamo Bay over the weekend to Afghanistan, Yemen, Kazakhstan, Libya and Bangladesh, a Pentagon spokesman said Sunday.

The men, flown out of the U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba on Friday, were all transferred to the custody of governments in their native countries except for one Yemeni detainee, who was released without conditions, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.

The detainees, held for years at the isolated detention center without being charged, were cleared for departure by a military review process that assesses whether detainees have intelligence value or pose a threat to the United States. The military does not provide details about individual cases.

Since the prison opened in January 2002, about 380 detainees have been released from Guantanamo. About 395 prisoners are still held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban, including roughly 85 others cleared to leave for other countries, Peppler said.



Former officer gets 19 years for robbing drug dealers
Court Feed News | 2006/12/16 18:47

A former reserve officer with the Memphis Police Department, Andrew Hunt, was sentenced today to 19 years in prison and 3 years of supervised release for his part in plotting and taking part in robbery and kidnapping while on duty, the Justice Department announced.

In addition, Hunt will pay $300 in special assessments for his involvement in a conspiracy to deprive citizens of their civil rights, for extortion affecting interstate commerce, and for using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime. Hunt pleaded guilty in Sept. 2006.

“It is profoundly sad when one individual abuses a position of power and public trust,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division is committed to prosecuting all cases of official misconduct and to bringing these individuals to justice.”

As part of his guilty plea, the defendant acknowledged that a co-conspirator arranged to purchase a kilogram of cocaine from an individual known as "J.J." Officer Hunt, while in uniform, on duty, and using a marked squad car, made a traffic stop of “J.J.” prior to the transaction and robbed him of $1,000 in cash, a $15,000 watch, and a cellular telephone. Hunt told “J.J.” he would return the kilogram of cocaine if J.J. produced $15,000 in cash. The next day, “J.J.” produced $9,500, but Hunt took the money and kept the cocaine.

The defendant further acknowledged that on Sept. 12, 2005, a co-conspirator arranged the purchase of four kilograms of cocaine from Pedro Moreno and Victor Saucedo. While in uniform, armed, and driving a marked squad car, Hunt and his co-conspirators robbed the men of the cocaine and kidnapped them. When the men could not produce the ransom demanded by Hunt, he arrested them for possession of 189.5 grams of cocaine and split the remainder of the four kilograms of cocaine with his co-conspirators.

In related matters, former Memphis police officers Arthur Sease, Antoine Owens, and Alexander Johnson were charged in September in a 50-count indictment charging conspiracy to violate civil rights, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, violation of civil rights, extortion, possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute, and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime.

The Civil Rights Division is committed to the vigorous enforcement of every federal criminal civil rights statute, such as those laws that prohibit the willful use of excessive force or other acts of misconduct by law enforcement officials.  In fiscal year 2006, nearly 50 percent of the cases brought by the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division involved such prosecutions. Since fiscal year 2001, the Division has convicted 50 percent more defendants for excessive force and official misconduct than in the preceding six years. 

Assistant United States Attorney Steve Parker of the Western District of Tennessee and Trial Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti from the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.



Florida governor suspends all executions
Legal Career News | 2006/12/16 18:43

Florida Governor Jeb Bush suspended all executions in the state Friday after a medical examiner said that the execution of Angel Diaz earlier this week was botched. Diaz endured a 34-minute-long execution and medical examiner Dr. William Hamilton said Friday that preliminary autopsy results showed that a second injection was required in the execution because needles were improperly inserted into the flesh of Diaz's arm during the first injection. Hamilton did not specify whether he believed Diaz suffered a painful death. Bush appointed a commission to study Florida's lethal injections procedures and the governor halted the signing of death warrants until the commission submits its report.

After the botched execution Wednesday, death penalty critics filed an emergency petition with the Florida Supreme Court seeking to once again halt the death penalty in the state. Petitioners, including numerous people currently on Florida's death row roster, asked the court to exercise its All Writs jurisdiction and declare that the state's lethal injections procedures violate the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution.



Federal judge rules California lethal injection protocol
Court Feed News | 2006/12/16 13:43

A federal judge issued a memorandum of intended decision Friday, concluding that California's lethal injection procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. The memorandum came in the case of condemned killer Michael Morales, who argued that it was not certain that the chemical cocktail to be used in his lethal injection would not prevent him from experiencing extreme pain during the process.

Morales' execution was postponed indefinitely in February after a court ruling that medical professionals must monitor executions by lethal injection to be sure that the inmate feels no pain. The ruling imposed a virtual moratorium on executions in California as anesthesiologists refused to take part in the execution.

In his memorandum Friday, US District Judge Jeremy Fogel wrote that:

At the present time, ... Defendants' implementation of California's lethal-injection protocol lacks both reliability and transparency. In light of the substantial questions raised by the records of previous executions, Defendants' actions and failures to act have resulted in an undue and unnecessary risk of an Eighth Amendment violation. This is intolerable under the Constitution.

Fogel set a 30-day deadline for the state to determine whether the lethal injection protocol would be modified.



Merck Wins Federal VIOXX Product Liability Case
Court Feed News | 2006/12/15 17:18

A federal jury in New Orleans returned a verdict in favor of pharmaceutical giant Merck Wednesday, concluding that the company did not fail to adequately warn a Tennessee man's doctors about risks associated with the painkiller Vioxx. Anthony Dedrick suffered a heart attack after taking Vioxx, and his lawyers argued that Merck failed to sufficiently warn his doctors about the risks of taking the drug and that the lack of a warning caused the heart attacks. Both claims were rejected by the jury.

"The jury determined that Merck acted appropriately in the development and marketing of VIOXX and that VIOXX did not substantially contribute to Mr. Dedrick's heart attack," said Phil Beck, of the law firm of Bartlit Beck, Merck's lead trial lawyer in the case, Dedrick v. Merck.

"He had multiple risk factors for a heart attack including a family history of cardiac problems, heavy smoking for many years and he had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes," Mr. Beck said. "In addition, he had significant atherosclerosis before he began taking VIOXX. Unfortunately, Mr. Dedrick would have suffered a heart attack whether he was taking VIOXX or not."

U.S. District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana, who is overseeing all of the federal court litigation, presided over the trial.

Merck faces thousands of lawsuits over the drug, which was pulled from the market in September 2004 after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for more than 18 months. This is the fifth federal trial to reach a verdict; Merck has won four of those cases, with the fifth decided in favor of the plaintiff. A federal judge, however, threw out the $50 million jury verdict in the Merck loss as "grossly excessive" and ordered a new trial to determine damages.

Merck won the first case, Plunkett v. Merck, in February. The damages portion of the verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the second federal case, Barnett v. Merck, was overturned by Judge Fallon. Merck won the third case, Smith v. Merck, in September and the fourth case, Mason v. Merck, in November. Last month, US District Judge Eldon Fallon, who is responsible for co-ordinating pre-trial procedures in the federal cases, rejected a bid to have all federal lawsuits against Merck brought in connection with Vioxx consolidated in a single national class action against the company.



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