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Articles by Matthew Clarke

Do Las Vegas Prosecutors Routinely Ignore Discovery Disclosure Requirements?

by Matt Clarke

Attorneys for the Office of the Clark County (Nevada) Public Defender say prosecutors routinely violate state and federal laws governing the sharing of information known as “discovery.” They claim the situation is so grave that they have started tracking instances of prosecutorial discovery abuse. Sometimes the ...

From the Big Box to the Big House: Walmart Helps Tennessee Prosecutors Felonize Shoplifting

by Matt Clarke

Across the country, retailers’ associations are lobbying legislatures to stiffen the punishment for retail theft, allegedly to prevent “organized retail crime,” a fuzzy term often used to describe repeated shoplifting. In Tennessee, Walmart and local prosecutors have taken advantage of a broadly worded burglary statute to felonize what would otherwise be misdemeanor retail theft.

The associations of retailers are pushing for similar language in California and several other states.

Curtis Lawson ran afoul of the Tennessee statute when he “returned” $39.57 worth of products he had not purchased, using a receipt for a purchase he made earlier at a Knoxville, Walmart.

In Tennessee, shoplifting under $1,000 is a misdemeanor, but Lawson’s charges were upgraded to felony burglary after it was discovered that a different Walmart location had sent him a “Notification of Restriction from Property’’ after he was caught shoplifting there four years earlier. The notification “evicted” Lawson, informing him he was “no longer allowed on property owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. or in any area subject to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s control,” including “all retail locations or subsidiaries” forever.

Tennessee law defines burglary as “unlawfully and knowingly entering a building without the ...

Many Sheriffs Tempted by Lack of Oversight or Fiscal Accountability

by Matt Clarke

It is a perfect storm of temptation. Many sheriffs in America have little oversight, independent sources of revenue with little fiscal accountability, low salaries, and a lot of power. This leads some of them to pocket funds intended for other purposes.

Some Alabama sheriffs have become examples of what not to do with the food fund for jail prisoners. The state pays the sheriffs a paltry $1.75 per prisoner per day for food. However, there was a tradition among those poorly paid public servants of skimping on food and pocketing the savings.

In 2001, a judge ruled that the jail food in Morgan County, Alabama, was “inadequate in amount and unsanitary in presentation” when ordering the sheriff to serve nutritionally adequate meals.

A few years later, a different sheriff in the same county served two meals a day of corn dogs bought by the truckload at a discount, pocketing $212,000 from the food fund over three years. That led the judge to order that all food fund money be spent on food. The very next sheriff, Ana Franklin, took $160,000 from the food fund. Franklin eventually had to reimburse the misappropriated funds and pay ...

Plainclothes Officers, 6 percent of NYC Police Force, Involved in 31 percent of Fatal Police Shootings

by Matt Clarke

Recently published information shows that plainclothes officers, who make up about 6 percent of the New York Police Department (“NYPD”), are involved in 31 percent of New York City’s fatal police shootings. This has led critics to question the behavior of NYPD’s plainclothes officers, who often act like gang thugs to “blend in” with the neighborhoods they stake out.

A recent analysis by The Intercept used data from the Fatal Encounters project to show that a relatively small group, plainclothes officers, were involved in nearly one-third of New York City’s fatal police shootings since 2000. The 174 fatal shootings included 54 involving only plainclothes officers, 41 involving only uniformed police officers, 11 involving both, and 68 in which it is unknown whether the involved officers were plainclothes or uniformed.

The analysis was complicated by the fact that the NYPD refers to both officers working undercover and those working out-of-uniform as “plainclothes officers.” Further, the NYPD does not release comprehensive information on police shooting incidents.

The NYPD also does not disclose the number of its approximately 20,000 officers who work in its plainclothes units. The Intercept used information provided by retired NYPD sergeant and John Jay ...

Texas Courts Rubber Stamp Post-Conviction Fact Findings in Death Penalty Cases, Study Says

by Matt Clarke

A study by researchers from the University of Texas School of Law Capital Punishment Center published in the Houston Law Review found that in 96 percent of post-conviction proceedings in cases where the defendant received the death penalty, Harris County judges adopted the prosecutors’ proposed findings of ...

Hawaii Supreme Court Vacates Conviction Due to Prosecutor’s Bogus Argument Attacking Defense Counsel

by Matt Clarke

On May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court of Hawaii held that a prosecutor’s improper closing argument stating that defense counsel tried to get the complaining witness to commit perjury required that a conviction be vacated.

A jury convicted Brian Underwood of second-degree unlawful imprisonment and abuse of ...

Drug Detection Using Fingerprints in the Works

by Matt Clarke

According to, scientists at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom have developed a new forensic technique that, in as little as 30 seconds, analyzes sweat found along the ridges of fingerprints to determine whether a person has used cocaine within the previous 24 ...

Kansas Supreme Court: Deadly Weapon-Use Finding Prerequisite to Imposing Violent Offender Registration Requirement

by Matt Clarke

On April 13, 2018, the Supreme Court of Kansas held that, absent a finding by a trial court that a defendant used a deadly weapon in a person felony, the trial court could not require the defendant to register as a violent offender pursuant to the Kansas ...

Immigration Authorities Seize Wrongfully Convicted Man After Release

by Matt Clarke

March 2018 should have been the happiest month of his life. After over two decades of wrongful imprisonment, the Cook County State’s Attorney agreed to drop murder charges against Illinois state prisoner Ricardo Rodriguez. He should have walked out of prison a free and exonerated man. Instead ...

New Jersey Supreme Court: Substantive Error to Amend Indictment to Change Degree of Felony on Eve of Trial

by Matt Clarke

On April 25, 2018, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that a trial court erred when, on the eve of trial, it permitted the State to amend the indictment to increase a charge from a third-degree to a second-degree felony.

Following surveillance on a suspected drug dealer, police pulled over Todd Dorn’s vehicle and told him they were in the process of obtaining a search warrant for the vehicle and his home. He consented to a search of both locations. Thirty-five glassine bags containing heroin and 2.65 ounces of marijuana were found in his home.

Dorn was indicted on multiple counts, including second-degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute within 500 feet of public housing, a public park, or public building in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C35-7.1 (count one) and third-degree possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute within 500 feet of public housing, a public park, or public building in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C35-7.1 (count two).

Dorn rejected a pre-trial plea bargain offer of five years imprisonment with two-and-a-half years parole ineligibility. The day before the trial, the prosecutor moved to amend the indictment to ...


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