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The Habeas Citebook: Prosecutorial Misconduct

Articles by Kevin Bliss

Utah Residents Can Wind Up in Jail When They Miss Loan Payments

Utah residents suffer from the highest payday and auto loan interest rates in the United States. It is one of only six states that does not have an interest-rate cap on such loans. Moreover, despite Congress’ ban on debtors’ prison, more and more residents are finding themselves in jail after defaulting on their loans.

President Obama began drafting federal regulations to govern payday and auto loans while he was in office. Prior to that, these loan companies had never been regulated. The Trump administration has delayed this proposal, resulting in current payday and auto loan rules varying by state.

Many states have banned these loans entirely, but six (including Utah) have left them completely unregulated. Utah’s average annual interest rate is 652 percent with some as high as 2,607 percent. This means that a $700 loan could cost as much as $18,249 at the end of one year.

Although Utah’s unemployment rate is one of the country’s lowest and its population is the nation’s highest percentage of white, middle-class citizens, nonetheless, 25 percent of that population’s household income is less than $39,690 a year.

A Federal Reserve Board study stated that one in four adults could not ...

Report: LAPD Engaged in Racial Profiling in Traffic Stops

The Los Angeles Times used traffic stop data released by the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) under a new California law to calculate racial breakdowns of stops. The newspaper found that blacks and Latinos had a much higher chance of being pulled over than whites, although more drugs and weapons have been found on white motorists. The racial disparity has led to Promoting Unity Safety and Health in Los Angeles (“PUSH LA”) to call for a moratorium on pretextual stops and financial compensation for those unlawfully stopped and searched.

The population of LA is roughly 47 percent Latino, 27 percent white, 11 percent Asian, and 9 percent black. The Times analyzed 385,000 traffic stops between July 2018 and April 2019 and found that blacks represented 27 percent of drivers pulled over, Asians 4 percent, Latinos 47 percent, and whites 18 percent.

Equipment violations accounted for 20 percent of stops for blacks and Latinos but only 11 percent for whites. Activists are concerned that these kind of stops are conducted as an excuse for police to search and harass people of color.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA, said, “These stops lead to the deaths of ...

DNA Contamination Threatened Conviction of Innocent Man

The NYC Medical Examiner’s office (“ME”) reviewed the DNA analysis procedure in a burglary case that was the only evidence used to charge Darrell Harris with the crime. They found that the DNA sample could have been contaminated, but only after Harris lost his job and $25,000 in legal fees.

Police responded on December 19, 2018, to a Queens, New York, break-in. DNA samples were collected off the window sill and sent to a lab for testing. The results indicated it was Harris’ DNA, and he was charged with the crime.

Harris had earlier pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor forcible touching charge of an 18-year-old woman. A Grenadian immigrant who had earned U.S. citizenship, Harris had obtained employment with Jet Blue at JFK Airport and pleading to five years’ probation on a misdemeanor allowed him to keep this job.

The Port Authority told Harris that with his pending felony charge, he could not maintain his job. He had to quit and pay $25,000 to an attorney for representation in a case that could earn him up to four years in prison. Harris continued to assert his innocence throughout the proceedings. “DNA is good in some ways,” he ...

Sealed Records Open for View

Washington state has over 5,500 sealed juvenile records that are once again accessible to law enforcement agencies across the nation after a last-minute amendment for “officer safety” was added to a 2015 bipartisan sentencing reformation bill.

Tony Calero conducted an analysis when he was a graduate student in 2013 of Washington’s record-sealing process and found that only 7.5 percent of those eligible went through the long, costly, and difficult process of having their juvenile record sealed, with young black people the least likely to do so.

So state legislators passed a law in 2014 that automatically sealed a juvenile’s record once they turned 18 unless it was contested — or the crime was one of the felony exceptions. Previous fines and court costs were to be paid before the process was initiated. The next year, legislators went one step further, passing the Youth Equality and Reintegration (“YEAR”) Act that waived all court costs and fines to help establish a fresh start.

Republican Senator Steve O’Ban added an “11th hour” amendment to the Act that would allow certain law enforcement agencies to view sealed juvenile records during traffic stops for safety.

Attorney Hillary Madsen, YEAR’s original crafter and ...

New York Police Department Plays Loose with Freedom of Information Act Laws

The New York Police Department (“NYPD”) has a history of denying freedom of public information requests, especially when it concerns surveillance equipment and information gathering technology.

Muckrock, an online records request monitoring database, showed that of the 500 requests monitored since 2017 only half were completed.

Vox reporter Rebecca Heilweil submitted a request for public records to obtain a better idea of the artificial intelligence-based technology the NYPD was employing, specifically gun-detection software used to indicate when a brandished firearm appears in a video. Her request was twice rejected because it would “reveal non-routine techniques and procedures” as well as company trade secrets and “affect their competitive position and imminent contract awards or collective bargaining negotiations.”

Heilweil stated that she was not the only person receiving “such an opaque and frustrating response.” Most are forced to sue to get a response, and the NYPD is more apt to make a legal issue of it than most. They routinely used “Glomar” replies to requests. A “Glomar” response is an FBI/CIA tactic that neither confirms nor denies the existence of the documents being requested, thereby stalling for more time.

Executive Director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Albert Fox ...

Could a Second Chance be the Answer?

Louisiana has one of the U.S.’s toughest second-degree murder sentencing structures. If convicted, it is an automatic life without parole. The state currently has about 5,000 of its approximately 33,000 prisoners serving life sentences, 51 percent of those for a second-degree murder charge.

Hayward Jones is one such prisoner. He was locked up in 1996 for a burglary, which ended with the death of 71-year-old Daryll Van Dan. Although the autopsy and the pathologist’s report stated that Van Dan died of cardiac arrest and that there were no strangulation marks, Jones was still convicted of second-degree murder on the basis of his codefendant’s testimony.

Now he mentors students in a reentry program at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, as well as delivers speeches in surrounding churches and courthouses. “Nobody wants to be known for the worst moment in their life,” he stated. “We’ve all made mistakes, but we can move forward.”

Louisiana began passing stringent sentencing laws in the 1970s, starting with mandatory minimums and abolishing parole for life sentences, all in response to popular get-tough-on-crime policies. Discretionary sentencing was taken away from judges. Critics agree that the problem is mandatory sentencing does not take into consideration circumstances ...

New York’s SARA Requirements Force Sex-Offenders into Homelessness Then Hold Them in Prison Due to Their Homelessness

by Kevin Bliss

Allison Frankel of the Center for Appellate Litigation wrote an article in the Yale Law Journal discussing New York’s archaic sex-offender housing requirement laws and their inherent problems. She touched on the flawed metrics used to substantiate fear-based reactions to sexual assault, the varied potential violations of ...

DNA Contamination Threatened Conviction of Innocent Man

by Kevin Bliss

The NYC Medical Examiner’s office (“ME”) reviewed the DNA analysis procedure in a burglary case that was the only evidence used to charge Darrell Harris with the crime. They found that the DNA sample could have been contaminated, but only after Harris lost his job and $25,000 ...

Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Kansas Considers It Acceptable to Listen to Attorney-Client Conversations

by Kevin Bliss

United States District Court Judge Julie Robinson released a 188-page opinion August 13, 2019, holding the Kansas branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office (“USAO”) in contempt for deliberate obfuscation and misrepresentation during a three-year investigation of prosecutorial misconduct by their office for the illicit use of client-attorney ...

Alaska Police Department Run by Former Convicts

by Kevin Bliss

Stebbins, Alaska, maintains a seven-man police force in 2019 led by Police Chief Sebastian Mike. Every member of the force has been convicted of a crime. Convictions range from trespassing to domestic assault, with the chief a registered sex offender for a conviction of sexual abuse on ...



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