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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Second Circuit Denies NYPD Qualified Immunity for Use of Military-Grade Acoustic Weapon on Peaceful Protesters

by Christopher Zoukis

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dealt the New York Police Department a blow in its attempt to avoid liability for using an acoustic weapon developed by the military to disperse a peaceful gathering of protesters. The Court’s June 13, 2018, ruling upheld ...

U.S. Supreme Court: Defendant Sentenced Pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) Plea ‘Generally Eligible’ for Sentence Reduction when Guidelines Retroactivity Reduced

by Christopher Zoukis

The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-3 ruling, cleared up significant confusion in the circuit courts of appeals by ruling that a criminal defendant who was sentenced pursuant to a Rule 11(c)(1)(C) guilty plea is “generally eligible” for a sentence reduction ...

U.S. Supreme Court: Plainly Miscalculated Guidelines Range Requires Appellate Court to Vacate Sentence in the Ordinary Case

by Christopher Zoukis

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that when a district court plainly miscalculates a defendant’s Guidelines range and the mistake affects the defendant’s substantial rights, appellate courts should exercise discretion under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) to vacate the sentence.

The Court’s June ...

Rhode Island Supreme Court Takes on ‘Thorny Issues’ Presented by Sex Offender Registry Laws

by Christopher Zoukis

State legislatures across the nation seem unable to stop themselves from tinkering with and upgrading their sex offender registry laws. The Rhode Island Legislature is no exception, and continual changes forced the state’s Supreme Court to wade into the treacherous waters on April 23, 2018.

In November ...

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s New Fuzzy Math Clearly Results in Inflated Assault Figures

by Christopher Zoukis

On February 14, 2017, seven U.S. Border Patrol Agents were involved in an altercation with six subjects and three projectiles (rocks, bottles, and tree branches). How many assaults occurred?

According to traditional law enforcement accounting methods, seven, even assuming that none of the agents were hit ...

Fourth Circuit Affirms Ruling That Diagnosis of Intellectual Development Disorder Does Not Qualify as ‘Sexually Dangerous Person’ Under Federal Civil Commitment Statute

by Christopher Zoukis

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a man civilly committed under 18 U.S.C.S. § 4247 (a)(7), part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (“Act”), was no longer a ...

Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Pornography Prohibition as Unconstitutionally Vague

by Christopher Zoukis

The Supreme Court of Washington held a community custody condition preventing a probationer from possessing or accessing pornography unconstitutionally vague under the First Amendment because the prohibition also extended to works of art, books, advertisements, movies, and television shows. The May 10, 2018, opinion ruled that though the pornography prohibition was supported by a definition, the definition was vague as well.

“Jim Wilcox” exchanged sexually explicit Facebook messages with 9-year-old K.M. K.M.’s father contacted the police, and an investigation linked the Facebook account to Jameel Padilla. Padilla was charged with communication with a minor for immoral purposes. He was convicted and sentenced to 75 days of confinement and 12 months of community custody.

Padilla’s community custody sentence included several conditions. One condition prohibited him from “possess[ing] or access[ing] pornographic materials, as directed by his supervising Community Corrections Officer” (“CCO”). The condition defined pornographic materials as “images of sexual intercourse, simulated or real, masturbation, or the display of intimate body parts.”

Padilla challenged the condition on appeal, arguing that it was unconstitutionally vague. The intermediate court of appeals upheld the condition. Padilla sought review by the Washington Supreme Court. The Court granted ...

Federal Court Suppresses Evidence Where Consent to Search Vehicle Obtained Via Google Translate

by Christopher Zoukis

A federal judge in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas threw out evidence found during a warrantless search of a vehicle when “consent” was obtained from a non-English speaker via Google Translate. The June 4, 2018, opinion found that the defendant did not give unequivocal consent and that it was unreasonable for the officer to rely on Google Translate to obtain consent for the search.

On September 21, 2017, at about 3 a.m., Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Ryan Wolting stopped Omar Cruz-Zamora for a suspended registration.

Cruz-Zamora spoke little English, so Wolting brought him back to his patrol car for questioning. He then used his laptop and Google Translate in order to question Cruz-Zamora. When Cruz-Zamora’s information checked out, Wolting issued him a citation for a suspended registration and told him “Adios.”

But before Cruz-Zamora could get back to his car, Wolting asked him (in English) whether he could ask him a few additional questions. During this second round of questions, which again involved Google Translate, Cruz-Zamora revealed that he had $7,700 in cash on him, which he planned to use to buy a car to take back to Mexico ...

Private DNA Lab Under Fire for Faulty Analysis

by Christopher Zoukis

National Medical Services, Inc. (“NMS”), a Pennsylvania-based forensics and medical lab, was cited in a recent report by the Texas Forensic Science Commission (“TFSC”) for improperly overamplifying DNA during work for a defense attorney. The “overblown” DNA led NMS scientists to conclude that the sample contained more than one person’s DNA, which other experts concluded was not accurate.

Cardell Torney was arrested and charged with sexual assault in 2012. Torney was identified by law enforcement through DNA analysis. Public defenders hired NMS and scientists Phillip Danielson and Christian Westring to conduct an independent analysis of the DNA. When the lab came back with results that suggested the possibility of other perpetrators, the trial court convened a hearing.

Bruce Budowle, former FBI scientist and current head of the Institute of Applied Genetics at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, testified for the government. His findings were vastly different than the NMS results. Budowle said NMS had improperly amplified the DNA and then misinterpreted the results. An expert on the Promega technology used by NMS also testified, saying the company misused the system.

The court agreed, finding the NMS results “incomprehensible,” “uninformative,” and “misleading.” ...

Your Papers, May I See Your Papers?

by Christopher Zoukis

The United States is one of the only nations left in the world that does not have a national ID card. It also is one of the last remaining places where an individual does not have to show an ID to the police, except in certain circumstances. But, there is a de facto ID card in this country—the state-issued driver’s license. And, thanks to the 2005 Real ID Act, the formerly simple driver’s license is slowly becoming a privacy-flouting national ID card of its own kind.

Real ID requires states to implement minimum standards for driver’s licenses. Pursuant to the law, a state-issued driver’s license must have upgraded security features and provide the holder’s name, gender, date of birth, address, photograph, signature, and identification number. All of this information goes into a national identity system database.

Only 27 states are in compliance with Real ID requirements, however. This is because the federal mandate was not funded and because citizens and legislators alike in some states are not willing to contribute to a Big Brother-style national identity database. Indeed, legislatures in six states have passed laws prohibiting their states from complying with Real ID.

Civil liberties organizations such ...


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