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September 2021


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Tag: Congress

Senate Panel Explores Effectiveness of Homeland Security Department on Sept. 11 Anniversary

Steve Neavling

How prepared is Homeland Security to handle terrorism threats?

On the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a Senate panel will ask that question as it examines the department and interviews former lawmakers and past DHS officials, including the first Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge, the Washington Post reports.

The panel plans to review issues ranging from cybersecurity to disaster preparedness.

DHS was created by President Bush and Congress in 2003 in response to the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks.

FBI Admits Using Drones 10 Times for Surveillance on U.S. Soil

istock photo

Steve Neavling 

The FBI has acknowledged using surveillance drones on U.S. soil at least 10 times, Al Jazeera America reports.

The admission comes after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made inquiries after FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress in June that the bureau had used drones for “limited law enforcement purposes.”

According to the disclosure, the FBI used drones domestically eight times for criminal cases and twice for “national security cases,” Al Jazeera America wrote.

Paul had vowed to block the confirmation of a new FBI director until details of the drone use became available.

Congress’s Brutal Sequester of Federal Defenders Offices Harms Law Enforcement

By Ross Parker

Congress has modified the Miranda rights:

You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, an attorney will be appointed to represent you, that is, if he or she is not furloughed, laid off or too busy to pay any attention to you.

The initial reaction by some federal prosecutors and agents to the disproportionate and devastating sequestration cuts imposed on Federal Defenders Offices by Congress’s absurd sequester might have ranged from indifference to outright glee. But the reality is that the crisis for that program has harmful implications for the government’s side of the aisle in addition to undermining criminal defendants’ rights. The cuts result in hidden costs to the public and will damage both public safety and the rule of law.

In the 2013 fiscal year FDOs were forced to impose over 100.000 furlough hours on their staff, an average of about four weeks of unpaid leave per person. Many offices have permanently laid off attorneys and staff, including investigators. They have terminated future involvement in death penalty cases as well as curtailed representing complex fraud defendants and in other time consuming and expensive cases. Most have greatly curtailed or eliminated expenses for experts, investigations, and interpreters.

In contrast the Department of Justice has gotten off relatively lightly by being allowed to reallocate its budget in order to avoid most furloughs with some belt tightening. No such clemency for defense attorneys.

FDO caseloads have been creeping up for years because of Congress’s decisions not to allow defense budgets to keep up with DOJ’s. Decimating their budget further can only pile on more cases to this crushing load. A diehard FDO attorney told me recently that work he used to love had become so oppressive that he was casting about for any kind of employment to escape the impossible demands.

That’s the bad news for FDOs. The really bad news is that starting on October 1st in Fiscal Year 2014, the cuts will double. Many offices will be forced to lay off from one-third to one-half of their offices. They may be the lucky ones because those left will inherit a crippled system incapable of functioning effectively even with reduced caseloads. The Attorney General has stated that the cuts threaten the integrity of the criminal justice system to ensure due process.

For fifty years since Gideon v. Wainright the 6th Amendment has been held to require the effective representation of counsel in serious cases. Since this right is a mandate, the reduction and elimination of FDOs will mean that private attorneys must be appointed to represent indigent defendants, who now make up 90% of those charged with crimes.

Although there are many fine and qualified panel attorneys, my own experience is that, as a whole, they are less experienced and less skilled in criminal defense than FDO attorneys, especially in the federal system. Simply put, FDOs in most districts like Detroit are the best criminal law firms available. So why should the elimination of such opponents matter to the guys who wear the white hats?

First off, the cuts will cost more. Gutting FDOs will cost taxpayers more than any “savings” from the budget cuts. Panel attorneys cost, on average, about 30% more per case than FDO attorneys. Shifting representation will result in other less obvious costs as well. Continuances are always more prevalent from private defense attorneys. Some are masters at delaying the inevitable for clients on bond.

The resulting transition as well as involvement of less experienced attorneys will also mean increased pre-trial detentions and inevitable delays which will slow down the system and increase judicial and prosecution expenses. Even the increased caseloads for the FDOs left standing will cost more in terms of scheduling as well as their making more mistakes which create appeal issues.

Second, although some of my former colleagues will be reluctant to agree, reducing the role of FDOs will negatively affect the outcome of cases. Every prosecutor can point to cases in which an effective defense attorney has revealed facts and circumstances which are unavailable to federal investigators. A more complete understanding of the case leads to a better assignment of culpability.

Good defense attorneys usually mean more defendant cooperation in continuing investigations. They have the confidence and experience to know when this is in their clients’ best interests. Cooperation leads to more cases, better results and more arrests of those up the ladder who would otherwise escape justice.

FDO attorneys are sometimes accused of encouraging plea bargaining. But the fact of the matter is that 95% of the federal defendants end up being convicted. Advice by experienced attorneys not only increases the system’s efficiency but almost always mitigates the eventual disposition for most defendants.

Finally, the DNA reversals have punctured the myth that the criminal justice system is perfect. Once in a great while factually innocent defendants get convicted although in the federal system the number is surely far less than the 1-2% estimates for the state system. I have a visceral belief that FDO attorneys nearly eliminate even this small number.

Third, crippling the FDO system will erode public confidence in the entire criminal justice system. The public perception will be that the “government” has placed its meaty finger on one side of the scales of justice. The intangible effects of such a perception will show up in juror bias, witness cooperation and judicial attitudes. Judges, even more than some do presently, will conclude that the adversarial system has broken down and that they must step in to assist the defense in key decisions in order to balance things out.

An eroded public confidence will also impact law enforcement officers in their already difficult jobs. It will discourage public assistance for investigators, make witnesses less willing to testify, and encourage bad guys to intimidate and influence witnesses.

Public cynicism is that justice is for sale. Rich defendants get off because of the legal representation they pay for. I happen to think this is not a fair perception of the federal system as a whole. But, valid or not, this rich-poor gap perception will certainly be enhanced by the results of the sequester cuts.

Finally, on a more speculative note, what effect will these draconian cuts mean to some simmering, long term public policy issues? Anyone who doubts the ability of financial considerations to influence substantive policy questions need only examine the effect of the economy downturn on the administration of the death penalty. See my earlier columns on this subject. The pressure to reduce spiraling corrections costs have certainly affected who we think should go to jail and for how long. And no one should be so naïve as to conclude that economic considerations played no part in the Attorney General’s recent announcements of changes in mandatory minimum and drug enforcement policies.

So what else is vulnerable to the kind of meat-ax approach wielded by our elected and unelected politicians? Legalization of drugs? Law enforcement cuts? If you think there are limits, buy a copy of This Town by Mark Leibovich and prepare for an at times hilarious and at other times depressing appraisal of Washington at “work.”

For all of these reasons and probably others that my prosecutorial bias has obscured, eviscerating the Federal Defender system will be bad for criminal defendants. But it will be even worse in the long run for the public, law enforcement and the rule of law


Coalition of Civil Rights Groups Calls for Congressional Hearings on DEA Surveillance

Steve Neavling

Revelations that the DEA uses NSA data to investigate non-terrorism cases against Americans has prompted a coalition of two dozen civil rights groups to call for congressional hearings, Reuters reports.

The call for hearings comes after Reuters revealed that the DEA uses telephone surveillance from the NSA to build criminal cases against Americans.

“The implications of the Reuters revelations are serious and far-reaching,” the groups wrote Thursday to Congressional leaders on judiciary, homeland security and oversight committees, the wire service reported.

“For too long Congress has given the DEA a free pass,” said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Our hope is that Congress does its job and provides oversight of an agency that has a long track record of deeply troubling behavior.”

Congressman to FBI: ‘Why Won’t You Come in And Talk to Us’

Rep. Keating/gov photo

Steve Neavling

U.S. Rep. William Keating  touched on a new  FBI directive is urging the bureau to share information with local police about terrorist threats, the Boston Herald reports. He wants to talk to the FBI.

“That’s news to me,” Keating, a Homeland Security Committee member, said. “If there’s something through these directives and meetings whereby they’re helping communication, then they’re still not communicating that with Congress.”

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis testified in a congressional hearing, saying the FBI never shared information about the slain Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Keating added: “First and foremost, the first line of defense is local. This is something that was underscored time and time again. The one biggest question I have right now is, ‘Why won’t you come in and talk to us.”

Justice Department Files First Charges in Attack on U.S. Consulate in Benghazi


Rep. Issa/gov photo

Steve Neavling

Nearly a year after protesters barged into the U.S. consulate in Benghazi , Libya, and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, the Justice Department filed the first criminal charges in the case, the Washington Post reports

According to numerous reports, the Justice Department filed an unspecified number of counts in the September 2012 attack on the consulate.

“The department’s investigation is ongoing. It has been, and remains, a top priority,” said Justice Department spokesman Andrew C. Ames, who declined to comment further.

Details remain unclear, but members of Congress are pressing the administration for more than charges.

“Osama bin Laden had been criminally charged long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but was not apprehended,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement. “Delays in apprehending the suspected Benghazi killers,” Issa added, “will only put American lives at further and needless risk.”

Congress to Consider Restricting NSA’s Domestic Surveillance Programs

Steve Neavling

The growing controversy over NSA’s domestic surveillance programs is likely to spark legislative debates that could change the extent to which feds can snoop on Americans, McClatchy Newspapers reports.

Elected officials have been growing increasingly concerned about the NSA since Edward Swowden leaked information about the surveillance last month.

“People at the NSA in particular have heard a constant public drumbeat about a laundry list of nefarious things they are alleged to be doing to spy on Americans — all of them wrong,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said last month. “The misperceptions have been great, yet they keep their heads down and keep working every day to keep us safe.”

Members of Congress said they are getting inpatient, McClatchy Newspapers wrote.

“I think the administration and the NSA has had six weeks to answer questions and haven’t done a good job at it,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat.

Oft-Maligned ATF Plays Critical Role in Solving Major Crimes Like Boston Bombing

Steve Neavling 

The ATF gets its share of criticism from Congress and the National Rifle Association.

But the agency still plays a vital role in solving crimes like the Boston Marathon Bombing, the Washington Post reports.

In the past two weeks, ATF agents investigated the Boston Marathon bombings and the fertilized plant explosion in Texas.

“The ATF brings an institutional knowledge of previous bomb incidents around the country and around the world,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Post. “In Boston, they tried to reconstruct the device, looking at the component parts and feeding that information into their bomb data center to see what may be similar to other devices used around the world.”