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Intense opposition from the National Rifle Association may have doomed President Barack Obama's nomination of  Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy for surgeon general.

In a letter to Senate leadership in February, the NRA warned against the confirmation, saying, "Dr. Murthy's record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns."

Murthy is a physician and public health expert at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is the co-founder and president of Doctors for America a group of about 16,000 physicians and medical students that advocates for access to affordable, high quality health care and has been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act

Murthy became a target of the NRA after he wrote a letter to congressional leaders in his role as president of Doctors for America. “As health care professionals who are confronted with the human cost of gun violence every day, we are unwavering in our belief that strong measures to reduce gun violence must be taken immediately. We strongly urge Congress and the Obama administration to put legislation in place now and develop a comprehensive plan to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths,” Murthy wrote.

He pointed out in the letter that 100,000 people are killed or injured by guns in America every year. It is a statement of fact that gun violence is a public health concern. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, gun deaths will surpass car accident deaths among young people next year.

Murthy’s view is not controversial within the public health community. The American Medical Association officially opposes any laws that would block doctors from having open conversations about firearm safety in the home and the Academy of Pediatrics has recommended specific gun violence prevention measures to Congress.

Murthy’s position is not unprecedented. Past surgeons general, including C. Everett Koop, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, spoke out on the public health threats presented by guns. In 1992 Koop co-authored a paper, “Time to Bite the Bullet Back.”

Koop indicated that his views on gun violence were informed by his 1985 Workshop on Violence and Public Health.

“No society, including ours, need be permeated by firearm homicide. …The right to own or operate a motor vehicle carries with it certain responsibilities…we propose that the right to own or operate a firearm carries with it the same prior conditions,” wrote Koop.

(Top image: Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy prepares to testify before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Feb. 4, 2014 in support of his nomination for the post of U.S. Surgeon General. Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.

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supremecourt 2013wap150In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing a mentally disabled (formerly referred to as mentally retarded) person violated the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment. In a case known as Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that “death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal.” 

The Atkins opinion also contains a loophole that renders it virtually meaningless in many cases—in the Court’s words “we leave to the State[s] the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional restriction upon its execution of sentences.”

Given this leeway to design their own methods for screening inmates, several states executed inmates that almost certainly were mentally disabled. Texas executed Marvin Wilson, a man with a “Full Scale I.Q. of 61″ who “required repeated instruction for doing even simple things, such as cutting the grass” and who “seemed to have a difficult time dressing himself properly.” 

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20140307pgarchive jordananthonybrown490

Kenzie Houk and her unborn child were murdered as she slept in her Lawrence County home on February 21, 2009.

Five years later, the son of Kenzie’s boyfriend remains in juvenile detention. Jordan Brown has been accused and convicted of killing Kenzie and his conviction has been overturned.

Brown’s case has been appealed to the Superior Court twice and is scheduled to be argued before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Philadelphia next week.

Brown was 11 years old when he was charged with murder. He was charged as an adult pursuant to Pennsylvania law. Brown faced life in prison without the possibility of parole, possibly the youngest person in the United States ever to face such a sentence.

Brown's attorneys requested that his case be decertified from adult court to juvenile court. In 2010, Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Dominick Motto ruled that Brown's case should remain in adult court.

Motto based his findings, in part, on the fact that without accepting responsibility for Houk's death Brown would not be amenable to rehabilitation as set forth in the Juvenile Act.

Attorneys for Brown appealed Motto’s decision. The Superior Court overturned the decision and ordered a second hearing to determine whether Brown should be tried as a juvenile or an adult.

"By finding that Appellant (Brown) had to admit guilt or accept responsibility for his actions as a condition to proving that he was amendable for treatment, the trial court placed Appellant in a situation that needlessly encouraged Appellant to sacrifice his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination," the Superior Court said.

Judge Motto heard the decertification issue for a second time and remanded the case to juvenile court.

In April of 2012, following a closed-door proceeding, Lawrence County Judge John Hodge adjudicated Jordan delinquent of first-degree murder and criminal homicide of an unborn child.

The case then made its way back to the Superior Court.

On May 8, 2013, the Superior Court overturned the 2012 delinquency ruling by Hodge. In reviewing the record, the Superior Court took exception to Hodge’s determination of the evidence. The Court concluded that Hodge had “committed a palpable abuse of discretion in rendering a ruling that is plainly contrary to the evidence.”

Specifically, the court ruled the Hodge did not give enough weight to arguments someone else could have entered the house and committed the crime.

Deputy attorney general Anthony J. Krastek said after the hearing, "If it was anyone else that could have accomplished this, they would have had to ... know what time to get there, known where the guns were, which was in the boy's room, known where the ammunition was for that gun, which was in her bedroom ... and then commit the killing and accomplish all of that without leaving a single footprint or a tire track."

Now, the Attorney General’s office is asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to overturn the Superior Court’s ruling and reinstate Hodge’s finding of delinquency

(Image: Jordan Brown in 2009. Lawrence County Prison via AFP/Getty Images)

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.

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supremecourt 2013wap150The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that police may search a home without a warrant when two occupants disagree about allowing officers to enter, and the resident who refuses access is then arrested and removed from the house.

The justices declined to extend an earlier ruling denying entry to police when the occupants disagree and both are present.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court's 6-3 decision holding that an occupant may not object to a search when he is not at home. "We therefore hold that an occupant who is absent due to a lawful detention or arrest stands in the same shoes as an occupant who is absent for any other reason," Alito said.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court last November. Sanford law professor Jeffrey Fisher argued at the time, "In Los Angeles County, it takes 15 minutes on average to get a warrant." He told the court that his client had strongly objected to the police entering his apartment before he was handcuffed and taken away.

In the past, the court has frowned upon most searches of residences except in the case of an emergency or if the police had a warrant from a judge.

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 20140224 GourleyChamps 490
Duquesne University has announced that a team of four Duquesne University School of Law students took home the top honors at the 51st annual Academy of Trial Lawyers Mock Trial Competition on Feb. 21 in Pittsburgh. Hosted by the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County (ATLAC), this invitation-only advocacy competition, commonly referred to as the Gourley Cup, is limited to just 16 law schools.

Duquesne team members Joshua Ward, Laura Pitchford, Nicholas Yovich and Madi Bobb defeated the University of Pennsylvania and outscored all of the plaintiff teams (including Howard University, Catholic University, College of William & Mary, American University, University of Pittsburgh and Widener University Harrisburg) before earning a victory over the Widener University Delaware team by a one-point margin, the university said.

In addition to the team’s championship win, the university's announcement noted that Ward was named Best Advocate in the preliminary rounds of the competition.

The Gourley Cup competition is hosted by the Federal District Court of Judges of the Western District of Pennsylvania, who invite the event into their individual courtrooms. In addition, with the cooperation of the Allegheny County Medical Society, each team is paired with a physician who participates as its expert witness during the competition. Each team is given the unique opportunity to direct and cross-examine actual medical experts as part of the experience.

According to the ATLAC, the competition began in 1963 as "a friendly competition" between Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh law schools. The Gourley Cup now invites law schools from both the east coast and Midwest regions.

(Image: Duquesne University Law School's winning team members Madi Bobb (left) Laura Pitchford, Joshua Ward and Nicholas Yovich. Duquesne University photo)

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20101123 cash 150Is Jerry Sandusky writing a book? The disgraced former Penn State coach and convicted sex offender stands to make a profit from the titillating explanations of his despicable conduct. Not so fast, thanks to a Pennsylvania statute referred to as the Son of Sam law there is little chance that Sandusky or his family will benefit by the publication of a book.

The law, which exists federally and in 41 other states, is named for David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” serial killer who was convicted for a string of murders in New York City in the mid-1970s. Generally, Son of Sam laws prevent criminals and their relatives from profiting off their crimes in any way. If there is any profit, the law directs that money to the victim’s family

Pennsylvania’s Son of Sam law provides, “If a person has been convicted of a crime, every person who knowingly contracts for, pays or agrees to pay any profit from a crime to that person shall give written notice to the [Crime Victims Compensation] board of the payment or obligation to pay as soon as practicable after discovering that the payment or intended payment is a profit from a crime. The board, upon receipt of notice of a contract, an agreement to pay or payment of profits from a crime, shall notify all known eligible persons at their last known address of the existence of the profits.” 

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20140214 prisonidea thinkstock186136681 150“As Christians, we believe in forgiveness,” said Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). “I think the criminal justice system should have some element of forgiveness.” What a difference losing four of the last six national elections can have on the GOP.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee for president, introduced campaign operatives to the concept of crime as a divisive, hot-button issue and America has never been the same.

For half a century before 1964, prison population had remained stable at about 110 inmates per 100,000 people. In the nearly 50 years that followed, that number rose to 480 inmates per 100,000 people.

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The second season of “My Dirty Little Secrets” on Investigation Discovery will feature attorney Matthew T. Mangino, who authors The Cautionary Instruction here, in tonight's episode of the crime drama which airs at 9 p.m.

The hour long episode, titled “Murder in Mormon Country” tells the story of Mark and Lori Hacking a young Mormon couple with a bright future ahead of them. But when Lori disappears during a job, the search for her will reveal a secret double life that will scandalize the community.  Mangino was interviewed along with investigators, friends and acquaintances of the victim.

Mangino is an attorney with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and a former member of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.

My Dirty Little Secrets will be broadcast on Time Warner Cable channel 111/HD 899. This is the third episode in which Mangino has appeared and he is scheduled to appear in two more episodes this season.

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