Ipso Facto

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In 2013, 246 people were murdered in Philadelphia but the police only received 82 tips about those homicides. Officials say those numbers are indicative of the “no snitching” culture in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia officials are actively trying to recruit informants to help solve murders through innovative social media efforts and good old fashioned rewards. Ironically, at the same time a high profile Philadelphia informant is being eviscerated in the media. Tyrone B. Ali an informant who was helping the Attorney General’s office in a corruption probe has been hung out to dry.

Informants are a hot topic in Philadelphia. Anyone thinking of cooperating with police is certainly going to be influenced by the battle between the attorney general, a former lead prosecutor in the attorney general’s office and the district attorney of Philadelphia.

Last month, Attorney General Kathleen Kane decided to drop a political corruption probe in Philadelphia.

One of the primary prosecutors in the investigation was Frank G. Fina. He is now front and center in this embarrassing public dispute along with his new boss Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

The dispute is centered on the viability of corruption prosecutions which hinge on the credibility, or lack thereof, of Ali.

A confidential informant is a person usually accused of a crime that either comes forward, or is asked by police, to offer assistance in exchange for leniency. Jailhouse informants, inmates often already convicted, are commonly recruited to testify about statements made by other inmates accused of murder, organized crime, sexual assault and just about any other crime.

The confidential informant has a useful place in the investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct. The closely vetted and reliable confidential informant can provide a wealth of information about an ongoing criminal enterprise. A drug informant can make controlled hand-to-hand purchases of illegal drugs without which there would be few successful drug prosecutions.

At times, confidential informants go sour. In Sarasota, Florida prosecutors dropped or reduced felony drug charges against more than a dozen people after learning that the police informant who set up the drug deals had sex with some of the defendants.

The informant crossed ethical and legal boundaries in what is already a murky world where criminals work with undercover officers under unseemly and often dangers circumstance to document criminal activity.

Although almost invisible to the public, the use of criminal confidential informants permeates the criminal justice system across the country. According to Alexandra Natapoff in Secret Justice: Criminal Informants and America’s Underground Legal System, “These deals typically take place off-the-record, subject to few rules and little oversight. While criminal informants…can be important investigative tools, using them has some serious costs.”

(Top image: The skyline of downtown Philadelphia. Tom Mihalek/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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justicedepartmentlogo 150The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced a major new initiative aimed at enhancing public safety by strengthening relationships between law enforcement and communities. The DOJ has established the National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice.

For years, criminal justice practitioners have advocated for better relationships between the police and the public. Eight years ago, Police Chief Magazine suggested, “By building trust with the community, police officers can persuade citizens to come out of their houses and businesses to talk about problems.”

A better police community relationship serves four important objectives. First, it enables police officers and community prosecutors to develop a plan for solving problems and finding solutions. Second, it provides invaluable information that law enforcement can use to develop witnesses. Third, it builds the trust in the criminal justice system that is necessary to cultivate potential jury pools. Fourth, citizens who feel that their problems are taken seriously become part of the problem-solving process, providing the court with victim impact statements on how crime affects them.

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Jack Ready died on February 24, 2014 in Ft. Washington, Maryland. He was 86 years old. There was so much more to Ready’s life. Ready was a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service, assigned to the presidential motorcade as it made its way through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Ready was assigned to the car following the presidential limousine positioned on the car’s right-front running board. His position placed him opposite agent Clint Hill.

When the shots rang out, Hill rushed forward and—in a scene that would become iconic -- jumped onto the limousine in an effort to shield the president and the first lady. Ready held his position.

Hill would later say, “I know that it was devastating to Jack that he was unable to do anything.”

It wasn’t until 1902 that the Secret Service, created in 1865 to eradicate counterfeit currency, assumed official full-time responsibility for protecting the president. Before that, security for the president could be unbelievably lax.

The most astounding example was the scant protection afforded President Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated. Only one man, an unreliable Washington cop named John Frederick Parker, was assigned to guard the president at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The secret service has become more and more sophisticated and at times more heroic. On March 30, 1981, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy stepped in front of a bullet, fired by John Hinckley Jr., intended for President Ronald Reagan.

"You never dream that you are going to be in this situation. You train intensely, there's a reason for doing it, and frankly I never thought it would happen to me," McCarthy said in an interview with CNN last year. “I'm just thankful that on that particular day I was able to do what I was trained to do."

Lately the news about the Secret Service has been anything but heroic—starting with a South American prostitution scandal last year that made world-wide headlines.

Thirteen agents were accused of partying with female foreign citizens at a hotel in the seaside resort of Cartagena, Colombia, where they were staying before President Barack Obama's arrival for a Latin American summit. Some of the women were prostitutes and the incident came to light after an agent had a fight in the hotel with a prostitute over payment.

Last month, two agents in Florida were involved in a traffic accident that reportedly involved alcohol. Then there was an incident involving an agent recently found drunk in a hotel in the Netherlands.

Not the stuff of Jack Ready, Clint Hill or Tim McCarthy.

(Top image: United States Secret Service director Julia Pierson and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., leave a committee hearing on recent Secret Service agents behavior, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Cliff Owen/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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20140328wap AGkane 150The attorney general of Pennsylvania, a former lead prosecutor in the AG’s office and the district attorney of Philadelphia are embroiled in a bitter dispute. The acrimony boiled over after Attorney General Kathleen Kane decided to drop a political corruption probe in Philadelphia.

However, the seeds of discontent were sowed soon after Kane’s swearing-in when she launched an investigation into the Jerry Sandusky investigation. One of the primary prosecutors in the Sandusky investigation was Frank G. Fina, the same prosecutor who oversaw the Philadelphia corruption probe. Fina is now front and center in this ugly public dispute along with his new boss Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

On March 17, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Kane's office shut down a corruption investigation that reportedly involved at least four Philadelphia Democrats accepting payments ranging from $500 to $2,000.

The following day, Kane held a press conference saying that she dropped the investigation because it became "nonprosecutable" once charges were dismissed against the informant in the case. Kane also said that the investigation was mismanaged, and that her office found evidence that it was racially biased.

Several days later Kane issue a statement that read in part, "The majority of the work, including 91 percent of the recordings by a confidential informant, took place 18 months prior to my inauguration, through three former attorneys general.”

"Furthermore, I do not have any animosity towards the lead prosecutor of this case. I do not know the former prosecutor any more than I know the individuals targeted in this investigation,” said Kane.

Fina countered in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed. “My colleagues and I conducted our investigation honestly, ably, and with integrity. I am willing to sit down at the same table with Kane … where we can each respond to any questions that are posed about the investigation.”

Williams was also sharply critical of Kane. The AG “drops a case supported by hundreds of hours of devastating tapes because the main witness got a deal on a bunch of government fraud charges," he wrote. "As a DA, I think this might be the most disturbing aspect of the whole sordid spectacle. You don't have to be a prosecutor to know this is how it's done."

This public spectacle should raise grave concerns for elected prosecutors. The buck stops with the attorney general or district attorney. Prosecutors have wide discretion and have to make difficult and often unpopular decisions every day.

Those decisions are generally made with the input of line prosecutors, investigators and staff. There may be dissent within the office on how or whether to proceed. Should that dissent be aired in public?

Should an elected prosecutor, accountable to the citizens who vote her into office, also be accountable to subordinate attorneys within her office? That would be a difficult way to run a prosecutor’s office.

(Top image: Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Matt Rourke/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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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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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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