Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Accidental Sex Offender

Abigail Pesta | Marie Claire | 28 July 2011

It was a classic teenage love story. He was a football star, and she was a cheerleader. They met, they fell in love, they started having sex. And then the cops got involved. Fifteen years later, they're still paying the price.

Frank Rodriguez cannot coach his children's soccer teams. He can't get a job at a major corporation. He can't leave the state without registering with local law enforcement. A married father of four girls, he is a convicted sex offender. Neighbors can find his name and address on a public registry online.

His crime? Sleeping with his high school sweetheart 15 years ago. At the time, Frank was 19 years old, a recent high school graduate in the town of Caldwell, Texas. That's when he first had sex with Nikki Prescott, his future wife. The two had been dating for nearly a year; the sex was consensual. However, the legal age of consent in Texas is 17, and Nikki was just shy of 16. Nikki's mother, worried that her daughter's relationship with Frank was getting too serious, reported Frank to the police. She expected the cops to issue a warning, but instead she set in motion a legal nightmare from which Frank would never recover. He became a registered sex offender — for life.

Today, Nikki, 30, and Frank, 34, both say they unequivocally support laws that put sexual predators behind bars and protect children from attacks. "The registry isn't a bad thing," says Nikki. "It's a good thing. It's just that Frank shouldn't be on it."

Nikki and Frank's predicament is not an isolated incident. Across the country, young lovers are increasingly finding themselves caught in the nation's complicated web of sex-offender laws. Teenagers wind up on the public sex-offender registry, alongside violent predators, pedophiles, and child pornographers, for having consensual sex with an underage partner (or, sometimes, for streaking or sexting — sending racy self-portraits, which can be considered child pornography). The stigma of the sex-offender label is difficult to shed: "Once you're on the registry, good luck trying to explain it," says Sarah Tofte, who has studied sex-offender laws for the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch. "It's like you're in prison proclaiming your innocence. People think, Right, that's a likely story. Especially potential employers."

There are now more than 650,000 registered sex offenders nationwide. There are no reliable statistics on the number of juveniles — but the problem is clearly on the rise. Each of the 50 states now has at least one grassroots group dedicated to getting young people — many high school age, but some under the age of 10 — off the registry. The effort includes judges and other legal experts who say they have seen the problem often enough to persuade them that the system needs adjustment.

Let there be order in court over Knight

James Campbell | Sunday Herald Sun | 31 July 2011

IF YOU are as old as I am, you probably remember where you were when you heard about what was at first called the Clifton Hill Massacre.

That Sunday night in August 1987, I was at home with the radio on when a report came in that a sniper was firing at cars on Hoddle St north of the Eastern Freeway. Within an hour the ABC was saying five people were dead and a man was in custody.

Next morning's Sun reported police as saying "the gunman, 19, of Ramsden St, Clifton Hill, had had military training".

In those pre-Port Arthur days, we thought this type of thing happened in the US, with its easy access to firearms. It seemed incredible that seven people could be randomly shot dead on a Sunday evening in the middle of Melbourne.

It seemed incredible, too, that the author of such an enormity should be a drunk teenager dismissed by an anonymous cop that week as "just a weed, a nothing".

Later, as we learned more about the Melbourne High School boy and failed Duntroon cadet, the more pathetic and less interesting he became.

His adopted parents had divorced when he was nine. He lived with his mother while idolising his absent father, a major in the army. Despite being clever, he performed poorly at school and lasted less than a year at Duntroon before being kicked out after a fracas in a Canberra nightclub. He later claimed to have been bullied.

What I recall people being intrigued about was not the character or motivation of this nothing, this weed, but how it was he was legally able own the M14 assault rifle, 12-gauge pump action and semi-automatic .22 he used in his crimes.

Maybe it is because Julian Knight and I are about the same age, but I remember so vividly contemplating the 27-year minimum sentence he was given in November 1988 and reflecting it didn't seem long for what he'd done.

But as we approach the date in 2014 when he will be eligible for parole, it needs to be remembered that, for its time, Justice George Hampel's sentence for Knight was a long one. Moreover, it was not - aside from reasonable objections of survivors and families of the dead - controversial.

At the pre-sentence hearings, the Crown didn't ask for Knight to be locked up for the term of his natural life and it didn't appeal against the 27-year minimum. Nor did politicians climb over each other promising to ensure he would never be released, as Ted Baillieu and Daniel Andrews are doing.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

NAACP calls for end to "war on drugs"

The NAACP on Tuesday passed what it called a "historic" resolution calling for an end to the war on drugs. The resolution comes as world leaders are taking a hard look at the 40-year "war," and also as new data shows widened racial disparities within the U.S.

"Today the NAACP has taken a major step towards equity, justice and effective law enforcement," NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said in a statement Monday. The resolution was approved by delegates at the annual NAACP convention in Los Angeles. "These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidenced-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America."

The NAACP noted that African Americans are 13 times more likely to go to jail for the same drug-related offense than their white counterparts. The resolution endorses the expansion of rehabilitation and treatment programs as an alternative to sending drug offenders to prison. It also endorses the expansion of methadone clinics and other proven treatment protocols.

Robert Rooks, director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Program, said in a statement that the war on drugs has created "a system of racial disparities that rivals Jim Crow policies of the 1960's."

Last year, noting the racial disparities in drug policy enforcement, the NAACP's California chapter backed Proposition 19, the failed ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana use in California.

Last month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy also urged governments to end the criminalization of marijuana. The 19-member commission -- which included former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz, and former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia -- called the global war on drugs a failure. CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson reported that the federal drug control budget has grown substantially in the past four decades to more than $15 billion a year.

Once the NAACP's board of directors ratifies the resolution in October, the organization will encourage its 1,200 chapters to organize campaigns to advocate for the end to the war on drugs.

The NAACP approved its resolution on the same day new Census data showed that the "wealth gaps" between whites, blacks and Hispanics are the widest they've been since the government started keeping track 25 years ago.

Mandatory sentencing poisonous: Cowdery

Alison Savage | ABC Online | 29 July 2011

One of Australia's most high-profile prosecutors has launched a scathing attack on the Victorian Government's approach to sentencing.

The former New South Wales chief prosecutor Nicholas Cowdery QC has told a Law Institute conference in Melbourne, that the Baillieu Government is pushing for mandatory sentences for juvenile offences to achieve short-term political gains.

"We've digested it. We have found it to be poisonous and we've regurgitated it," he said.

Mr Cowdery says he can see why it is an attractive idea for politicians.

"Talking about punishing people for the wrongs that they do us makes them feel good and makes their voters feel good," he said.

"They think that these are going to be reflected in votes at the next election, which is really all that they're interested in."

Mr Cowdery says the principle of sentencing law is that the penalties must reflect the offence and the circumstances of the offender.

He says it has been proven that mandatory sentencing does not work.

"The electors need to know that what they're proposing and what they are doing doesn't produce the results that they hope it will," he said.

He says it makes even less sense when it comes mandatory sentences for teenagers who commit acts of violence.

"We know from experience that the best way of addressing criminality in juveniles is to remove the causes."

He has also labelled the Government's public survey on sentencing reform "bizarre."

'Sexting' youths placed on sex offenders register

Nicole Brady | The Age | July 24 2011

VICTORIAN teenagers caught with raunchy images of girls sent to them via ''sexting'' have been charged with child pornography offences and placed on the sex offender register, ruining their career options and branding them for years.

The cases have alarmed lawyers and youth advocates who are calling for urgent amendments to the law, which was designed to prevent paedophiles from associating with children, not ''punish teenagers' sexual curiosity''.

They want courts to be given discretionary power over who should be placed on the register.

Sexting involves people sending naked or revealing pictures of themselves via mobile phones or the internet to others.

Under the law, sexts are classified as child pornography when the images are of people under 18, even if the person pictured took the photographs themselves and willingly sent it to others. It is mandatory in Victoria for those over 18 found guilty of possessing or sending child pornography to be registered as a sex offender.

The Law Institute's criminal law section co-chair, James Dowsley, said the surge in the number of low-risk people being listed on the register meant police were being forced to supervise people who posed little or no risk to children, therefore compromising the monitoring of serious sex offenders.

The Sunday Age is aware of two recent cases in which teenagers were charged with pornography offences as a result of sexting. Both were placed on the register for eight years.

Officers indifferent to prisoners' well-being, inquest hears

Malcolm Brown | SMH | July 28 2011

Two prison officers who were escorts to a group of prisoners when one of the prisoners died of a heart attack received withering criticism from counsel in the Coroner's Court in Glebe today.

Ragni Mathur, representing the family of the deceased prisoner, Mark Holcroft, said the officers, Peter Sheppard and Clive Bateman, had demonstrated an "indifference" to the welfare of the prisoners they were escorting.

The trip, on August 27, 2009, was from Bathurst jail to Mannus Correctional Centre near Tumbarumba in southern New South Wales. It lasted four and half hours and, according to evidence before Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon, the prisoners were not given water or allowed a toilet stop.

Mr Holcroft, 59, who was starting a seven-month sentence for a drink-driver offence, suffered a heart attack towards the end of the trip.

Despite screaming and thumping on the sides of the van by the seven other prisoners in Mr Holcroft's compartment - a commotion lasting about 40 minutes and still continuing when the truck arrived at Mannus - officers Sheppard and Bateman did not stop.

Officer Sheppard, who was monitoring a video camera surveying the compartment where Mr Holcroft was being transported, has told the inquest that he did not see anything unusual. Both officers have said that they heard the thumping and thought the prisoners were just acting up. They could not find the handset for the two-way intercom system and had no way of communicating with the prisoners.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Juvenile sentencing plan draws fire

Simon Lauder | ABC The World Today | 29 July 2011

Audio here

ASHLEY HALL: The Victorian Government has hit back at critics of its plan to introduce a form of mandatory sentencing for the perpetrators of violent crimes.

A retired Supreme Court judge has told The World Today the Government's plan is dangerous and could lead to unjust penalties especially for juveniles.

It comes as the former New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery also weighs in, calling the plan misconceived.

The Victorian Government says it's just delivering what the people want.

Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: The Coalition won government in Victoria with its promise to be tough on crime.

The Attorney-General Robert Clark says he plans to keep that promise. The Government is even inviting public input on its overhaul of sentencing laws through an online survey.

ROBERT CLARK: While the advice of experts and the opinions of interest groups are important the views of all Victorians are also important and we're giving Victorians the opportunity to have their say.

SIMON LAUDER: The plan to introduce minimum jail terms of two years for 16 and 17 year olds who are convicted of violent crimes has been slammed by social justice and law groups. Now it's attracting criticism from interstate.

The former New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC told a conference in Melbourne this morning the policy is an attempt to buy votes.

NICHOLAS COWDERY: Talking about punishing people for the wrongs that they do to us makes them feel good and it makes their voters feel good. And they think that these are going to be reflected in votes at the next election which is really all that they are interested in.

SIMON LAUDER: As a Supreme Court judge Frank Vincent QC heard evidence about some of Victoria's most heinous crimes over more than two decades until his retirement two years ago.

FRANK VINCENT: The fixing of arbitrary minimums in any situation is an extremely dangerous course to adopt.

SIMON LAUDER: Mr Vincent says courts try to balance the seriousness of an offence and the circumstances of the offender when sentencing. He says without discretion a judge is in a very difficult position.

FRANK VINCENT: In relation to young people in particular the emphasis has generally been placed upon their immaturity at that time and the prospects of rehabilitation and so forth. It's a very difficult balance to strike in any situation.

Fixing of arbitrary minimum terms has about it a very serious potential for inappropriate sentencing and unjust sentencing.

SIMON LAUDER: Would it change some, not just sentences, do you think it would change judgements?

FRANK VINCENT: It would be very difficult. It would be hard to accommodate doing something that you as a judge had felt or felt was inherently wrong and socially destructive rather than being advantageous to the community and the individual concerned.

SIMON LAUDER: The Government also plans to introduce minimum sentences of four years for adults who commit violent crimes.

The Attorney-General Robert Clark says the mandatory periods will apply to all unless there are exceptional circumstances and they're yet to be determined.

ROBERT CLARK: Clearly you don't want to put anyone behind bars. But there are circumstances where people engage in violence that is so gross both in terms of its culpability and the degree of injuries inflicted that you need to put people behind bars both for effective deterrence and for the effect of protecting the community. And that's what the Government has committed to do.

SIMON LAUDER: But wouldn't your plan remove that discretion from a judge who is best placed having heard all the evidence?

ROBERT CLARK: Well as I say the offence is going to be carefully targeted to those examples of gross violence for which effectively there is no excuse - the deliberately planned attack, the stomping on incapacitated victims, the marauding gangs.

And then there will on top of that will be the option for genuinely exception circumstances.

But we've seen in Victoria in the past when the previous government legislated to allow unspecified exceptional circumstances when they have purported to abolish suspended sentences for serious crimes, that what was intended to be the exception became the rule. And that's what we are determined to ensure does not occur with this offence.

SIMON LAUDER: And why don't you believe that children, those under 18, should have their youth, immaturity and of course their positive potential taken into account?

ROBERT CLARK: Well that is already being taken into account in the fact that juveniles will be subject to a maximum period of two years detention compared with adults who will be subject to a maximum of four years, a minimum of four years detention.

But as I've said Magistrates Court, the Children's Court is already imposing sentences of between one and two years detention in more than half of the cases of juveniles convicted of intentionally causing serious injury. And that's not even having regard to the fact that our offence will be confined to instances of gross violence.

SIMON LAUDER: Victoria's Sentencing Advisory Council is due to deliver a report to government in September.

ASHLEY HALL: Simon Lauder.

John Hatzistergos and the Bail Act

In the week the NSW Law Reform Commission received submissions on the review of the Bail Act, and begins its' work on the preparation of Hal Sperling QC's much anticipated report to Government, it is worth reflecting on the state our remand population is in, and how it got there.

Many of you will remember fondly the former Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, who had this to say to Parliament in 2007:
“The Government is pleased to introduce the Bail Amendment Bill 2007. The bill builds on the Government’s extensive reforms over the past years to strengthen our bail laws and ensure the community is properly protected while defendants are awaiting trial. New South Wales now has the toughest bail laws in Australia. Over the last few years we have cracked down on repeat offenders – people who habitually come before our courts time and again. Part of those changes includes removing the presumption in favour of bail for a large number of crimes. We have also introduced presumptions against bail for crimes including drug importation, firearm offences, repeat property offences and riots, and an even more demanding exceptional circumstances test for murder and serious personal violence, including sexual assault. 
Those type of offenders now have a much tougher time being granted bail under our rigorous system. These extensive changes have delivered results. There is no doubt that the inmate population, particularly those on remand, has risen considerably as a result of the changes. In fact, the number of remand prisoners has increased by 20 per cent in the last three years alone and new jails are being opened to accommodate the increase.”
Bless him. He was actually proud of himself. What he failed to mention was the huge increase in the juvenile remand population under his watch, and how very few of these young people actually went on to serve a control order (sentence of detention).

If you want to read someone break this and every other bail-related topic down, then head to the excellent submission by former Magistrate, Max Taylor, for the NSW Council of Civil Liberties here.

An excerpt from his work:
The shameful way this society treats unconvicted juveniles is set out at 0.7. When half the 12 to 17 year olds in gaol are on remand and the reality is that 80% of such young people will not receive a control order within 12 months, then something has gone radically wrong with the bail system. In should be added that juvenile admissions to remand have increased from 3203 in 2005-2006 to 4439 in 2009-2010. In 2005-2006 only 392 went from remand to control. Out of a total of 5073 admissions to Juvenile Justice Centres in 2009-2010 only 472 went from remand to control.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Richard Nixon's 'war on drugs' began 40 years ago, and the battle is still raging

Ed Vuillamy | The Observer | 24 July 2011

Despite decades of battling against narcotics, the levels of addiction, trafficking and violence continue to rise. The war on drugs has failed. Now, politicians in Latin America are calling to review all options – from full legalisation to a new war.

Four decades ago, on 17 July 1971, President Richard Nixon declared what has come to be called the "war on drugs". Nixon told Congress that drug addiction had "assumed the dimensions of a national emergency", and asked Capitol Hill for an initial $84m (£52m) for "emergency measures".

Drug abuse, said the president, was "public enemy number one".

But as reported the following morning in our sister newspaper, theGuardian, the president's initiative appears to have been primarily motivated not by considerations of the ghettoes or Woodstock festival, but by addiction among soldiers fighting in Vietnam: the first and immediate measure in the "war on drugs", implemented 40 years ago this weekend, was the institution of urine testing for all US troops in Indochina. The Guardian's "sidebar" story to the news bulletin was not from Chicago or Los Angeles but the Mekong Delta, with soldiers laughing: "You can go anywhere, ask anyone, they'll get it for you. It won't take but a few seconds."

Nixon signed his war on drugs into law on 28 January 1972, Adam Raphael quoting him in this newspaper as saying: "I am convinced that the only way to fight this menace is by attacking it on many fronts." The catchphrase "war on drugs" mimicked that of Nixon's predecessor Lyndon B Johnson, who had declared a "war on poverty" during his state of the union address in 1964.

Four decades on, in a world (and an America) accursed by poverty and drugs, there is almost universal agreement that the war on drugs has failed as thoroughly as that on poverty. In the US and Europe, the war has been fought on the streets, in the courts and through the jail system, to no apparent avail. In the world that has "developed" since 1971, it has been fought in the barrios; it has defoliated land and driven peasants into even worse poverty. The war in the so-called "producing" countries has ravaged Colombia, is currently tearing Mexico apart, and again threatens Afghanistan, Central America, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela. In places such as west Africa, the war is creating "narco states" that have become effective puppets of the mafia cartels the war has spawned.

The drugs themselves have wrought misery and havoc across the planet, and continue to do so. According to the United Nations, in an exhaustive report by a global commission on drugs published this summer, worldwide opiate consumption increased by 34.5% between in the two decades to 2009, and that of cocaine by 25%. The UN estimates the drug business to be the third biggest in the world after oil and arms, worth £198bn a year. The former head of its office on drugs and crime, Antonio Maria Costa, posits that the laundered profits of the narco-trafficking underworld by the "legitimate" financial sector is what kept the banks afloat for years before they finally crashed in 2008.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sentencing remarks of his Honour Magistrate Rosencwajg


Melbourne Magistrates' Court 21 July 2001


[16] Indeed, it was on the basis of your medical condition, that you asked I impose a form of a suspended sentence of imprisonment.

[17] In doing so, you also acknowledged, in court, the irony of that submission, coming from a man who had publicly advocated the abolition of suspended sentences, and no doubt, to whatever degree, influenced the public and political debate on that issue. Legislation has recently been passed restricting the ability of the County and Supreme Courts to impose suspended prison sentences with the intention to extend these legislative provisions to this jurisdiction in the future.

[18] Your present situation before this court in fact highlights the significance of judicial discretion in the sentencing process and that each case has its unique factors requiring a balancing process which results in tailoring sentences to the distinct facts of the offence and the individual circumstances of the accused. A 'one size fits all' approach, without judicial discretion, will result in courts being transformed into vehicles for injustice.

[19] Solely for reason of your medical condition, I have had you assessed for a Home Detention Order which will permit you to serve your sentence of imprisonment in your home, subject to certain conditions. You have indicated that you are more than willing to accept such an order and indeed you have been assessed as suitable.

[20] Ironically, as we speak, a Bill is before Parliament which will amend the Sentencing Act and deprive courts of such a sentencing option. You may very well be the last person in this state to be sentenced to a HDO in its current form.

[21] It would be well for you to reflect on these matters when next you enter the public debate, as indeed you have in the past, on such issues as the abolition of suspended sentencing or even more pressing, the current issue of mandatory minimum sentences as contemplated by the government.


Derryn Hinch sentenced to home detention: Guilty of contempt for naming two sex offenders

Norrie Ross | The Herald Sun | 21 July 2011

A magistrate today ordered that Derryn Hinch, 67, serve five months of home detention for naming two serial sex offenders in breach of serious sex offender laws.

Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg told Hinch today that he had several previous serious breaches of the law in his various "name and shame campaigns" over the years. Magistrate Rozencwajg made a number of conditions on the home detention order which will mean the "Human Headline" cannot communicate with his audience.

The magistrate said Hinch must not engage in gainful employment and must not use Facebook or Twitter or other social media to propagate his views. Hinch has also been ordered not to give media interviews and not to encourage others to pass on his views on his behalf.

Hinch was found guilty of five breaches of section 42 of the serious sexual offenders monitoring act by naming two rapists.

In his Melbourne Magistrates' Court sentence Mr Rozencwajg said the offences were committed in May, June and July 2008 when Hinch posted information on his website and publicly named the offender at a rally on the steps of state parliament.

"I would regard your actions as taking the law into your own hands and encouraging others to do the same," Mr Rozencwajg said.

The magistrate said that one of the ironies of the case was that HInch would probably be the last person in Victoria to be sentenced to home detention. He said that another irony was the fact that Hinch had campained for the abolishing of suspended sentences and encouraged the passing of a "one size fits all approach which removed judicial discretion" in sentencing.

Such an approach would lead to injustice, the magistrate said.

Mr Rozencwajg said that Hinch had a number of prior convictions for similiar offences but had not heeded the warnings given to him over the years about his conduct by various.

The magistrate said that if Hinch gave interviews to the massive media pack assembled at court today it would be in contravention of his order.

Hinch underwent a life-saving liver transplant earlier this month and was in hospital again yesterday to have a stent removed

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Scandal Sheets

Christopher Hitchens | Slate | July 11 2011

In Britain, the Guardian takes on Rupert Murdoch's cynical view of what newspaper readers want to read

On a beautiful Sunday morning at Brideshead Castle, Sebastian Flyte breaks off a desultory conversation about religion and morality because he wants to immerse himself in the scandal sheets: "He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, 'Another naughty scout-master … oh, don't be a bore, Charles, I want to read about a woman in Hull who's been using an instrument … thirty-eight other cases were taken into consideration in sentencing her to six months—golly!"

As my colleague Anne Applebaum pointed out elsewhere in Slate, in his essay "Decline of the English Murder," George Orwell knew exactly how to set the scene for a pleasurable reverie on human wickedness:
It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World.… In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?
Orwell's answer—"Naturally, about a murder"—differs significantly from Evelyn Waugh's preference for sexual deviance. And you'll perhaps notice that both authors, or their characters, are consciously "slumming" it by picking up a newspaper that was intended for the less-literate elements of the proletariat. But for decades, in fact since well back into the mid-Victorian epoch, the News of the World was the winning formula for the depiction of crime and squalor and vice. The brilliance of the formula lay in its venerable hypocrisy; actually in two distinct kinds of venerable hypocrisy. First, the sad news of human frailty was not bugled with lurid and sensational tactics. It was laid out more in sorrow than in anger, published on a Sabbath day that was still full of legal and moral force, and strove to show how easy was the fall from grace. Second, and in keeping, its reporters and editors took a very high moral tone. They would take the investigation of a brothel, say, only so far. Once a certain point of complicity had been reached, there would appear a phrase that became celebrated both in print and in court. "At this stage," the reporter would solemnly intone, "I made an excuse and left." This degree of detachment was thought essential to the proper conduct of business.

Hand it to Rupert Murdoch and his minions: They got hold of the solid old "News of the Screws" or "Nudes of the World" and made it into a paper where the question was not how low can poor human nature sink, but rather is there anything, however depraved, that a reporter cannot be induced to do? Admittedly, this question is not a new one in the folklore of Fleet Street. Describing the press pack on assignment in his masterpiece Scoop, it was Evelyn Waugh who noticed one of their tightest mutual bonds: "Together they had loitered on many a doorstep and forced an entry into many a stricken home." As a lowly cub, I remember being told always to take along a partner if it was planned to visit the recently violated and bereaved. "They'll always offer a cup of tea, so you go in the kitchen with them, and then your mate'll have nice time to grab the family photographs off the mantelpiece."

Crime report: good news is no news

Greg Barns | The Drum | 18 July 2011

On July 6 the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research issued a media release containing a remarkable statistic.

Household burglaries, a crime that affects in some way or another most of us throughout our lives, had dropped by 50 per cent between 2001 and 2010. The bureau went on to say that cash not cameras were in vogue among burglars these days.

A 50 per cent fall in burglaries is big news in anyone's language. It means that in New South Wales the rate of households being broken into has dropped from 1,200 per 100,000 people to just under 600 per 100,000 in a decade. And this announcement by the bureau is made more newsworthy by virtue of the fact that household burglaries is something communities in New South Wales can relate to because it's an offence that happens in every neighbourhood and in just about every street at some point in a person's life.

Given all of this one would have thought the tabloid media in New South Wales, the Daily Telegraph, the radio jocks like Alan Jones, the commercial news bulletins and their appendages A Current Affair and Today Tonight would have jumped all over the bureau's good news.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Murdoch media game-changer

Stephen Mayne | The Drum | 19 July 2011

The biggest media scandal in the modern age is exploding and the world's most powerful family is under siege, yet some key players in Australia still don't understand that the media power game has changed forever.

How can it not when News Corp shares have tanked more than 20 per cent since July 6, senior executives are being fired, the British PM is under enormous pressure, arrests are into double figures, the police chief Sir Paul Stephenson has quit and the UK is openly pursuing numerous inquiries into media conduct, ethics and ownership.

Only this morning, News Corp shares in Australia plunged another 5 per cent as investor confidence collapsed in response to all the weekend drama. A company capitalised at $44.76 billion two weeks ago is now only worth $35.8 billion. The Murdoch share of this $9 billion wipe-out is about $1.2 billion and now Bloomberg reports there are stirrings from independent News Corp directors such as Tom Perkins and Viet Dinh.

While it is the British Labour Party leading the charge against Rupert Murdoch, Conservative prime minister David Cameron also baldy called time on political kowtowing to media barons when he said the following last week:
Over the decades, on the watch of both Labour leaders and Conservative leaders, politicians and the press have spent time courting support, not confronting the problems. Well, it's on my watch that the music has stopped and I'm saying, loud and clear - things have got to change.
In future, politicians have got to stop trying to curry favour with the media, but instead regulate properly.
We were all in this world of wanting the support of newspaper groups and, yes, broadcasting organisations and when we are doing that do we spend enough time asking questions about how these organisations are regulated, the malpractices and the rest of it? No, we did not. We have to.
As part of this "new paradigm", David Cameron has already released full details of all his meetings with editors, executives and media proprietors since becoming prime minister and will continue to do so on a quarterly basis. Why don't Australia's current political leaders follow suit?

CPS in crisis as allegations of suppressed evidence wreck trials

Rob Evans and Paul Lewis| The Guardian | 18 July 2011
Claims Crown's lawyers failed to disclose evidence in several cases, including the Mark Kennedy environmental activism affair.
Sir Christopher Rose, who retired as a judge in 2006, has been appointed to lead an inquiry into claims the CPS suppressed evidence. Photograph: UPPA
The Crown Prosecution Service faces a crisis following the abandonment of a series of trials after allegations of serious wrongdoing were made against its staff.
Senior officials at the CPS stand accused of repeatedly failing to meet their legal obligation to disclose crucial evidence and ensure fair trials.
Sir Christopher Rose, a former appeal court judge, has been appointed to lead an inquiry into claims the CPS suppressed evidence relating to the undercover police officer Mark Kennedy.
His inquiry will test whether prosecutors in the Kennedy case met the fundamental obligation of disclosure, to give lawyers for the accused any evidence that could assist their defence.

Bail laws need reform

Janene Carey | The Armidale Express | 18 July 2011
VISITING Armidale on Friday, the NSW Attorney General Greg Smith said one of his key priorities in office was reforming the bail laws, especially as they apply to the juvenile justice system.
“It’s becoming harder and harder to get bail, particularly for young people who have broken the ties with home,” he said.
“There’s an inordinate number of young people on remand, and only about 20 per cent of them end up getting a custodial sentence. And a lot of them don’t even face a charge that carries a custodial sentence.
“It might be for refusing to move on, or being cheeky to the police. A minor discrepancy - and they end up in custody sometimes for up to six weeks.”
Mr Smith called this situation a breach of criminal justice traditions and said it led to higher crime rates.
“They’re exposed to the worst kinds in there. They meet the wrong people - they’d be better off outside, under supervision,” he said.
He noted this was a particularly significant issue for Aboriginal youth, who make up only three percent of the general population, but form around half of the juvenile detention population.
Mr Smith, who came to Armidale at the invitation of Guyra-based MLC Scot MacDonald, met with several groups of Aboriginal elders during his visit.
His itinerary included inspecting the site of the new Court House, discussions with Indigenous members of the circle sentencing and community justice group, a forum with local lawyers and law students at the University of New England, and an address to a Liberal party regional dinner and conference.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

War to end war on drugs gains allies on right flank

Chris Berg | The Age | July 17, 2011
Conservatives are starting to adopt a more liberal stance on the narcotics campaign.
IN 2011, the war to end the war on drugs is now being led by conservative voices, not radical ones. In March, three federal Liberal backbenchers - Mal Washer, Judi Moylan, and the Victorian Russell Broadbent - came out against the criminal status of drug use, going so far as to argue that heroin and cocaine should be legalised. Dr Washer described the war on drugs as a ''crime against humanity''.
Indeed, those Liberals have been more vocal than the apparently radical Greens, who abandoned their support for drug decriminalisation after they found it brought more controversy than was comfortable.
And the backbenchers join a global phenomenon - conservative voices coming out against the drug war.
Last month the Global Commission on Drug Policy concluded that drug prohibition has been an abject failure. The panel includes Sir Richard Branson and Nobel laureate in literature Mario Vargas Llosa. Both hold right-of-centre economic views.
Two commission members, one a former US Secretary of State, the other a Federal Reserve chairman, had their argument featured on the conservative Wall Street Journal opinion page.
Little has changed in a practical sense, only that the pointlessness of the approach to drugs has become even more obvious over time.
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have admitted using marijuana when they were young. So have Malcolm Turnbull, Wayne Swan and Peter Garrett.
This would all be harmless fun but for one thing. Last financial year, according to the Australian Crime Commission, 57,170 people were arrested in Australia on marijuana-related charges - a drug that Australia's most senior politicians happily admit to having used.

Key probation services to be put out to tender

Alan Travis | The Guardian | 12 July 2011
Core work, including supervising offenders and writing pre-sentence reports, to be taken out of the public sector.
Core probation services, including the supervision of criminals, are to be put out to competition, in the most arresting example yet of the impact of the "big society" drive on the criminal justice system.
The 35 chief officers of probation have been told they need to examine the "potential for core probation services" to be put up for competition.
Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, has written to chief probation officers telling them: "We intend to examine a range of possible options for service improvements and different models of delivering offender services within the community.
"The aim is to create a long-term direction for probation which is consistent with the government's key objective for reform."
He said it was hoped the competition process would also ensure that those probation functions remaining in the public sector were delivered with clear benefits in terms of costs, efficiency, quality and risk management.
It is not thought that entire probation areas would be turned over to the private or voluntary sector.
It is, however, highly likely that chunks of key probation work – such as supervising offenders in the community and prisoners on release, and writing pre-sentence reports for the courts, including recommendations of what should happen on conviction – will be taken out of the public sector.
So far, the electronic tagging of offenders and the management of bail hostels and other probation support services have been put out to tender, but core probation services have been left untouched.
The Community Justice Partnership – which includes the charities Working Links and Nacro, and the private security company Sodexo Justice Services – immediately said it would be bidding for some of the work.
"This is unprecedented in the justice sector and may be the shape of things to come, as private and charitable bodies come together to provide the scope and scale to successfully deliver end-to-end services in large geographical areas," said Debbie Ryan of Working Links, which works with the long-term unemployed.
Harry Fletcher of Napo, the probation union, said: "Probation services do not lend themselves to the normal laws of supply and demand, it is unclear who the customer is. The government has little if any understanding of how complex work with offenders is and how demanding supervision can be," he said.
"Privatisation so far has been a disaster. Cleaning and maintenance of probation premises was put out to tender several years ago and has hardly been a success story. The privatisation of bail beds was so poor that the contract had to be taken away."
He predicted that selling off the work to the lowest bidder for profit would not raise standards. "Indeed the reverse is the case. The quality of the work will fall and public protection will be compromised," he said.

Indigenous incarceration: jumping off the treadmill

Indigenous incarceration: the figures are shocking. But what can we do about it?
Meet some people working hard to break the cycle in the Top End. Darwin based workers with the North Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) help released offenders find education, work, and accommodation.
And if offenders come from remote, traditional communities they help smooth their return and deal with thorny issues like payback.
Hear the audio here and read the transcript below:
This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.
Damien Carrick: Hello, welcome to the Law report. We know Indigenous incarceration rates are unacceptably high in this country, but what can we do about it? Well, there's no silver bullet. But today I'm speaking to people who work very hard to try and turn around the abysmal figures. Recently I was in Darwin, and I called in to the office of NAAJA, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency. It provides legal aid services to Indigenous people across the Top End. But NAAJA staff do more than just represent clients in court. They also work with convicted offenders to re-integrate them back into their communities and to reduce their likelihood of re-offending.

Legal aid warning on sentences for young

Adrian Lowe | The Age | 13 July 2011
VICTORIA Legal Aid has called on the state government to scrap its plans for statutory minimum sentences for some young offenders.
It says there could never be a mandatory sentencing regime that effectively limited risks of inappropriate jail time for young people.
The organisation has warned that strict mandatory sentences means that disproportionate sentences would be imposed for less serious offences and make court delays worse.
The government in May asked the Sentencing Advisory Council to consider its proposal to impose statutory minimum jail terms for assault offences that were committed with ''gross violence''.
The government plans that for adults, the minimum term would be four years, and for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, two years. Legal Aid, in its submission to the council, says there is ''overwhelming evidence'' that mandatory sentencing does not create safer communities, that ''rigid rules'' create injustice in individual cases and justice is best served by tailoring responses to each case and offender.
Attorney-General Robert Clark has previously said that the changes will affect only the worst offenders and it was important to send a message to the community that ''gross violence will have serious consequences''. The council's advice to the government is due in September.
Legal Aid funds representation for 76 per cent of accused people in serious criminal cases and almost all cases in the Children's Court.
It has recommended that mandatory sentencing can never be imposed that would effectively limit inappropriate imprisonment for young people. It has made 15 recommendations to ''avoid or limit the potential problems'' of the current proposal. ''While a prison term is plainly sometimes appropriate for children who commit very serious violent offences, those cases are generally not ones in which a sentence would need to be compelled to impose a mandatory sentence to achieve that outcome,'' the submission states. Other recommendations include:
■ If mandatory sentencing for young people is imposed, the minimum be much less than two years' jail.
■ That judges be able to abandon the mandatory minimum if satisfied it would be ''plainly unjust''.
■ Mandatory sentencing should apply only to intentional conduct, not reckless conduct.
Legal Aid said that while the government had the right to alter sentencing, the best ways to do so were through changing the maximum penalties for offences, altering the parole system or through baseline sentences.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Just Doing Her Job

Simple Justice | 12 June 2011
"Sending a message" is a phrase heard with regularity in the legal system, whether from judges at sentence or prosecutors at arrest. Sometimes the message is about not harming others or you will be caught, prosecuted and punished. Other times, the message isn't nearly as clear, or as proper. Still, it's a message.
Walter Olson writes about such a case at Cato @ Liberty, one that may lack the panache of blood and guts that tends to get blood boiling, but one that's particularly pernicious.
The Stevens case arose after the Food and Drug Administration investigated GSK’s marketing of the drug Wellbutrin. Lawyers, responding on behalf of the drugmaker, failed to furnish all the information the FDA considered itself entitled to, and federal prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice proceeded to “forage through confidential files” (as the judge later put it) in search of some sort of criminality to pin on Stevens, the team’s leader.
In her defense, Stevens said she had at all times relied in good faith on information provided her by company employees and had consulted and followed other lawyers’ advice on doubtful issues. Not good enough: the feds proceeded to charge her with six counts, including making false statements, obstructing justice, and concealing documents.
What makes this particularly troubling is the dynamic that drives financial and corporate criminal law investigations, where decisions are made by committee, invariably risk averse and perceived by all to be only about business (read, "money") rather than right or wrong. A group of people whose butts are not on the line want to know how much it will cost to make the problem go away, happy to throw the beloved and soon to be martyred former corporate lawyer or executive under the bus.
Say you're an oddball in corporate America, a person with a few scruples and the guts to say "no" occasionally. Whispering in the ear of the board members are some specialists working at a thousand lawyer firm, still bearing the stink of their last job at the Department of Justice, that they must capitulate, cooperate, get on their knees and beg the government for mercy. There's no other way. No one ever wins.
Then there's someone who never sucked on the government teet saying,
but we did nothing wrong. Nothing. We must stand up to the demands of prosecutors who are clueless about our corporation, our industry, and who want to dictate corporate decisionmaking. This is the time to take a stand.
Outside counsel shudders in fear. Board members cower in the corner. Accountants crunch the numbers.
Lauren Stevens, former house counsel at SmithKlineGlaxo, showed resolve. She did her due diligence and arrived at the conclusion that displeased the government. She said no. She conducted an in-house investigation and concluded that there was no smoking gun proving her employer a raging criminal enterprise. 
Prosecutors faced turned dark red. No one says no to them. No one. Time to send a message.

Judicial imperialism argument is hollow

Spencer Zifcak | The Australian | 24 June 2011
JAMES Allan's recent article in these pages provides a welcome opportunity to examine the nature and quality of arguments advanced by opponents of Victoria's Charter of Rights.
The article, in response to one of mine that Allan described as pathetic and simplistic, contains many of the contrary arguments commonly asserted by antagonists but rarely justified.
The primary argument is that a charter is nothing more than a list of vague aspirations. Because of this, human rights legislation is a gift to judges. It provides them with a unique opportunity to engage in judicial imperialism.
They can make free speech mean what they want. They can whip up a new definition of arbitrary detention. They can stretch the boundaries of fair trial beyond recognition, and so on.
This argument completely ignores the fact that courts globally have 60 years of experience in interpreting the constitutional and legislative protection of human rights.
Ever since the introduction of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, courts in every Western nation except the US have been working through the meaning and ambit of rights guarantees born in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In every nation with which Australia usually compares itself -- Canada, New Zealand, Britain -- courts have minutely dissected the definition and effect of free speech, religious freedom and fair trial rights among many others. These rights, all of which are founded upon the Universal Declaration and its associated international covenants, have been fully explored and interpreted. The body of relevant precedent is precise, instructive and huge.

Murder Most Academic

Theodore Dalrymple | City Journal | Spring 2011
British Ph.D. candidate puts “homicide studies” into practice.
In some modern societies—and certainly Britain is one of them—satire is prophecy. This makes effective satire difficult because reality so soon catches up with it. Satire is also dangerous and perhaps even irresponsible, for no idea is too absurd, it seems, for our political masters and bureaucratic elite to take seriously and put into practice—at public expense, of course, never their own.
Sometimes reality is far in advance of satire when it comes to absurdity. The results, however, are not always funny. If a satirist had come up with the idea of a violent criminal who had spent time in an asylum being admitted by a university to its doctoral program in “homicide studies,” thereafter turning into a serial killer, that satirist would have been denounced for poor taste. But this is precisely what a British university did recently. A man with a long history of criminal violence became a serial killer while working on a Ph.D. thesis at the University of Bradford, the subject of his thesis being the methods of homicide used in the city during the nineteenth century. He himself used methods more reminiscent of the fourteenth.
Stephen Griffiths is 40. He has never worked and has always lived at taxpayers’ expense. At 17, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for cutting the throat (not fatally) of a supermarket security guard who tried to arrest him for shoplifting. In prison, doctors reported, Griffiths had a “preoccupation with murder—particularly multiple murder.” They diagnosed him as a violent psychopath; that is, he had an intractable personality development that made him likely to commit new violent offenses.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Hon Greg Smith SC MP: Key Issues in Juvenile Justice (Uniting Care Burnside) | 13 July 2011 
Today, the NSW Attorney-General, the Hon. Greg Smith SC MP writes for Burnside on key issues in juvenile justice and highlights the importance of addressing the factors that lead to children and young people becoming involved with juvenile justice and the need for reform of the Bail Act.
The area of juvenile justice is one where input from the whole community is needed to make a genuine difference in young people’s lives. Good juvenile justice policies can mean the difference between a lifetime of crime and a fulfilling, productive life. These policies are strengthened when NGOs, such as UnitingCare Burnside, are involved in their development and in the delivery of services in the community to support young people and their families. UnitingCare Burnside celebrates its Centenary this year. It should be congratulated for achieving such a significant milestone and for all the wonderful work it does for children and young people.
On 26 March 2011 the people of New South Wales elected a Liberals and Nationals Government. I was appointed the Attorney General and Minister for Justice on 3 April 2011. As a former Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and someone who has prosecuted hundreds of criminal trials, I understand the importance of early intervention to turn around the lives of young offenders. Hardened adult offenders often have had substantial interaction with the juvenile justice system. If these offenders had access to effective services when they first came into contact with the justice system, or even before, a number of subsequent offences may have been avoided. 
We need to address the issues that lead to young people becoming involved with the justice system.
The latest Young People in Custody Health Survey shows us that young offenders have high levels of mental illness, intellectual disability, drug and alcohol abuse and poor physical health. Multiple areas of social disadvantage were also found, including a large proportion of young people with parents who had been incarcerated or were currently incarcerated, and a high proportion of young people who had been placed in care as a child. Most had disengaged from school and faced the prospect of long term unemployment. It is clear that most young people involved in the criminal justice system come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
Early intervention policies are supported by research which indicates that intervening early with vulnerable young people provides long term social and financial benefits, including improved life outcomes for these individuals as well as their families and the broader community. Implementing a system of early intervention can prevent a moment of bad judgement turning into a lifetime of criminal activity. Juvenile Justice NSW is currently undertaking a critical assessment of current policies in relation to early offending and entrenched offending in children and young people and, where necessary, will make recommendations for reform. 
Another significant issue that must be addressed is the number of young people on remand. The statistics in relation to this issue are concerning: 50-60% of young people in detention centres are held on remand, 85% of admissions to detention centres are remand admissions, and approximately 84% of young people remanded in custody do not receive custodial sentences. I have ordered the NSW Law Reform Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the Bail Act, amid concerns about the impact it has on juveniles. The review will examine, amongst other things, whether the Bail Act should make a distinction between young offenders and adults and if so, what special provisions should apply to young offenders.
There is no doubt that there is plenty of work to be done in the area of juvenile justice; however, better outcomes can be achieved with the assistance of organisations such as UnitingCare Burnside.
Changes in juvenile justice will require political will and public support. Join our advocacy community to support Burnside and our colleagues in the community sector on juvenile justice reform.

Monday, July 11, 2011

African youth 'cop targets'

Stuart Rintoul | The Australian | 6 July 2011
YOUNG men of African descent experienced more difficulty with police than other youth, were less likely to have their rights respected and more likely to feel they had been racially targeted, according to a new report on Victorian police and race.
A 12-month study on racial profiling by the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre, titled Race or Reason?, found young men of African descent were almost twice as likely as Australian-born youth to have been stopped and questioned by police in the past month.
The experience of young African men with police was "fraught with difficulties" and characterised by the use or threat of physical force or insulting language. Young men of African descent were more likely to be charged with minor offences.
Young African men reported feeling scared, angry and targeted and made to feel "small and dumb". Many felt they had been "cruelly treated".
Almost half (47.6 per cent) strongly felt they had been stopped by the police because of their race.
As a result, young men of African descent were noticeably more likely than any other ethnic group to worry about being stopped by the police when walking alone. Almost 30 per cent answered they were "not at all" able to walk down the street without worrying about such contact, compared to just 1.8 per cent of Australian-born youth.
Young women of African descent were also significantly likely to feel that police would be tougher on them than Australian-born women.
In May, the Victorian government agreed to a settlement with two African refugees who claimed they had been chased, beaten and abused by police officers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

D.A.: Philly's new pot policy just makes sense ... and saves dollars

William Bender | Philadelphia Daily News | 8 July 2011
LYNNE ABRAHAM doesn't get it. She didn't get it when she was Philadelphia's district attorney from 1991 until last year.
And she'll probably never get it, no matter how many statistics and reports show that America's 40-year-old "war on drugs" has been a hugely expensive and crime-inducing failure.
"My view remains unchanged with regard to drug abuse," Abraham, 70, said from her office at the Archer & Greiner law firm, where the bulldoggish ex-prosecutor is now a partner.
Her view is that people who smoke marijuana - by far the most widely used illicit drug in the United States - are violent deviants, roaming Philly's streets with deadly weapons, killing witnesses and committing "untold numbers of crimes" to support their habit.
They are the enemy, Abraham and other old-school politicians still insist, even as forward-thinking cities and states are decriminalizing marijuana possession, and polls show that public support for legalizing pot has nearly quadrupled in the U.S. since President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse "public enemy No. 1" in 1971.
"Don't tell me about polls. I don't want to hear it," Abraham groused. "People want to drive 100 miles an hour. They want to smoke pot. They want to do everything!"
Or maybe, as a growing number of politicians and law-enforcement officials now realize, Americans just don't want to continue paying for the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders.
Fortunately for Philadelphia taxpayers, Seth Williams does get it.
Williams, who replaced Abraham as district attorney in January 2010, has saved an estimated $2 million in the past year by diverting thousands of marijuana-possession cases into a new program that processes pot smokers quickly and leaves them with a clean record.

Alabama Prisoners Turn to Meditation for Peace

Associated Press | 1 Feb 2011
Deep inside Alabama's toughest prison, an overcrowded lockup with a reputation for mayhem, convicted murderers, robbers and sex offenders gather in a small room. Eyes closed, they sit silently with their thoughts and consciences.

'Racist' stop-and-search powers to be challenged

Vikram Dodd | The Guardian | 8 July 2011 
Court gives woman go-ahead to take controversial section 60 to task over allegations it discriminates against black people
The high court has agreed that a full legal challenge can be brought against a police stop-and-search power alleged to be used in a racist way against African-Caribbean people.
The challenge follows officers stopping and searching a 37-year-old woman with no convictions, after they claimed she was holding onto her bag in a suspicious way.
The woman, Ann Roberts, ended up being held down by officers on the floor in front of other people, handcuffed and taken to a police station where she was wrongly accused of being a class A drug user and placed on a treatment programme under the threat of arrest if she failed to attend.
Roberts was stopped under section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, brought in to tackle illegal raves. The power allows police to stop and search people without having a reasonable suspicion they are involved in criminality.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Barely a sniff of trouble, so Greens say it's time to call off the dogs

Anna Patty | SMH | 9 July 2011
POLICE sniffer dogs are only identifying drugs or weapons in a small minority of searches in which they are used.
Government figures supplied to the Greens in response to questions on notice show that last year sniffer dogs were involved in 551 searches for firearms or explosives, which identified only five positive cases.
Of the 15,779 searches for illegal drugs, 5087 identified them.
A NSW Greens MP, David Shoebridge, who obtained the figures from the state government, said sniffer dogs had been a ''clear failure'' and ''should be stopped immediately''.
''These figures prove that sniffer dogs are a waste of police resources and the government must commit to an immediate review of their use,'' Mr Shoebridge said.
''When intrusive weapons searches using sniffer dogs have a failure rating of more than 99 per cent, they are more [of] a hindrance to policing than a help.
''In more than two thirds of drug searches involving sniffer dogs, the police are finding no drugs at all.''
Mr Shoebridge said the police drug detection dog unit, consisting of 14 dogs, cost $868,037.39 in the 2002-03 financial year.
''If we assume the same costs applied in the 2003-04 financial year, then each successful supply prosecution in this period cost over $90,000 in drug detection dog costs. Most of these were for small amounts of drugs,'' Mr Shoebridge said. He said he was concerned that police may be subject to civil claims for the intrusive searches ''when the basis on which they are undertaking them is so statistically poor''.
''This has meant that thousands of NSW citizens, mainly young people out enjoying themselves, have been subject to police searches with little legitimate basis,'' he said.
The secretary for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said the use of sniffer dogs infringed people's civil liberties and could only be justified if they resulted in a high rate of successful detections.
Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, said the high number of searches relative to detections was not an indication of failure in the context of deterrence.
''The question is how many people would carry drugs if not for sniffer dogs,'' Dr Weatherburn said.
''We don't have any statistics on that.''
The president of the NSW Police Association, Scott Weber, said the police dogs were an ''extremely valuable resource'' in preventing crime.
''They stop people taking drugs into large venues such as the Big Day Out,'' Mr Weber said. ''It is hard to get tangible results of that success.
''Even if they detected one firearm or detected one drug dealer, that is protecting the community and saving lives.
''The cost of losing one life is worth more than the cost of having a sniffer dog.''
Detective Inspector Chris Condon from the NSW Police dog unit said the number of drug dog searches included all search warrants, property, motor vehicle and personal searches.
The number of firearms and explosive searches also includes all search warrants as well as hotel and other building and property clearances. He said the detection dogs were ''extremely accurate - approaching 100 per cent accuracy''.
''In the case of firearms and explosive searches, there have been no false positives,'' Detective Inspector Condon said.
''In the case of drugs, the animals even have the ability to detect the residue of prohibited drugs on people who have previously been in possession of them.
''The dogs have a strong deterrence factor: they not only lead to the seizure of drugs from dealers and users, but people also dump their drugs when they see the dogs.''

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Greg Smith: Burqa identity case, drive-bys and the new debt scheme

Adam Spencer | ABC Breakfast | 1 July 2011
The New South Wales Attorney-General Greg Smith was on the show today, and there was a lot to talk about including the burqa identity case, recent drive by shootings, and the new scheme for people to pay off their fines by volunteering for charity. 
Greg Smith said an appeal is being considered in the Carnita Matthews burqa identity case and there should be an announcement soon.
Download the audio file

Through the Cracks: Suresh Nair

Tanveer Ahmed |The Monthly | June 2011
On a Saturday afternoon in November 2009, a sergeant at Kings Cross Police Station received a call from Helen Lonergan, the administrative head of Nepean Private Hospital. She was trying to discover the whereabouts of Suresh Nair, a neurosurgeon responsible for several in-patients who, three days after their operations, had still not been reviewed. Each had undergone a major procedure upon their spine; one required monitoring in intensive care.
Lonergan, who had appointed Nair three years earlier, had only a vague idea that he might suffer from a mental illness. Nair was also employed by the public hospital adjacent to the Nepean; the Medical Board had stipulated Nair must work under supervision and could operate just one day per week in the private sector. After his protracted absence, hospital staff had been trying to reach him by phone for days. Lonergan was worried about a possible decline in his condition, maybe even a suicide attempt.
When the local sergeant pulled up Nair’s name on the police database, he discovered the doctor was already under investigation and ordered an immediate search. Police arrived at Nair’s luxury pad in Elizabeth Bay to find it vacant. But they did discover the dead body of a beautiful young woman, Brazilian student Suellen Domingues Zaupa, on the floor.
The following Monday, not having heard anything further from police, Lonergan was preparing to shift Nair’s patients to other surgeons. But Nair had already been to work that morning and reviewed the patients who had been waiting to see him. Staff described him as calm and composed. He had apologised for his disappearance and lack of contact, citing a family crisis.
Later that day, police called the hospital and urged its administrators to suspend Nair from operating immediately, without revealing why. Lonergan waited anxiously after making special requests for confidential information to help determine whether the hospital would allow Nair to operate on a full list of patients the following day. The information arrived from police headquarters just in time.
Nair was found to have engaged the services of several high-end escorts over a long period of time. At his insistence he shared cocaine with them, sometimes inserting thumbnail-sized parcels of the drug into their vaginas and rectums, which increases the rate of absorption.
Nair’s activities may have resulted in Zaupa’s death. After she lost consciousness, Nair moved his Dionysian party of cocaine and prostitutes to a penthouse suite in a city hotel. Another woman, Victoria McIntyre, had been found dead in his apartment nine months earlier. He wasn’t yet charged for this earlier event, and neither the Medical Board nor Nair’s employers had been informed about it.
Nair was initially charged with murder over Zaupa’s death but the charge was downgraded and he ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He also pleaded guilty to the charge of supplying drugs to McIntyre. When released on bail in the middle of last year he was immediately discovered, thanks to police surveillance, to be hiring prostitutes and using cocaine. Further requests for bail were promptly refused. He was charged in January and will be handed a sentence at the end of this month.

The shame of 400 kids in prison in NSW

Kate Sikora | The Daily Telegraph | 6 July 2011
JUVENILE jails are being filled to record levels, with up to 400 children in custody in NSW on any given day.
And the number of young prisoners will only rise in the next three years, the state government said.
Figures released by the government this week reveal the number of juveniles imprisoned in detention centres will increase until 2013, with assault the leading crime leading to imprisonment.
Numerous strategies are being considered to bring down the number but a briefing supplied by Attorney-General Greg Smith's office acknowledges they will have little effect in the short term.
Projections supplied to the Greens show that for the next three years the number of children placed in detention or juvenile centres will increase on an average day from 395 to 411.
Mr Smith has promised to overhaul the juvenile justice system, saying he is unhappy with the number of children currently in custody.
Greens Upper House MP David Shoebridge said the record high levels of child detention would not change under the Coalition.
"The number of juveniles being locked up in NSW shows no sign of decreasing," he said.
"Figures obtained by the Greens shows the number of young people in custody reached a record high in 2010, with well over 400 juveniles imprisoned in NSW on any given day. This represents a 60 per cent increase in the number of children and young people in custody in NSW since 2004."
About 75 per cent of young women in detention are charged with a violent offence such as assault. Young men served the longest time in detention, with up to three months the average stay, followed by six months.
The government has appointed retired Supreme Court judge Hal Sperling, QC, to conduct a review of the Bail Act and report back in November. Mr Smith said the review should identify flaws in the system, including young people who are spending time in custody because they don't have a home.
"The best way to save juveniles from a life of crime is to keep them out of jail," Mr Smith said.
"There needs to be properly supervised alternative punishments and diversionary programs such as the drug court.
"This will help us tackle the underlying causes (of youth crime).
"The latest young people-in-custody health survey shows us that young offenders have high levels of mental illness, intellectual disability, drug and alcohol abuse and poor physical health."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bottlos can 'ignore' law

Nigel Adlam | The NT News | 6 July 2011
BOTTLE shop workers were yesterday told they could use their discretion over the Banned Drinkers Register.
Attorney-General Delia Lawrie said sales assistants could "use their common sense" when checking ID.
After being told tourists were being refused service because international driving licences don't scan, Ms Lawrie said: "If the person's clearly not a chronic alcoholic, then go ahead, proceed with sale."
But the CLP said this was "totally wrong"
Opposition alcohol policy spokesman Peter Styles said: "The law says that a driver's licence or other form of approved identification must be scanned against the register. If it can't be scanned for whatever reason, then the sale of alcohol can not proceed.
"That's the law - there's no room for discretion ... "
The Liquor Act says: "An authorised seller must not sell liquor to an individual without scanning an approved identification of the individual with the scanner."
Ms Lawrie said the operator could also manually check the customer's name and DOB against the banned drinker's register.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another 63 put on grog ban list

David Wood | The NT News | 5 July 2011
MORE than 43,000 people had their IDs scanned when buying alcohol from Friday to Sunday, with 63 added to the new banned drinker register.
From July 1 everyone buying takeaway alcohol in the Territory must have their ID - driver's licence, proof of age card or a passport - scanned. Those on the banned drinkers register cannot buy grog.
Liquor Stores Association of the Northern Territory president Faye Hartley said Friday night was "horrific" in her Stuart Park shop with IDs failing to scan because they were old and faded.
But Ms Hartley said they would give the technology a chance. She said about 40 per cent of customers on Friday were upset and they could not sell alcohol to about 30 people who did not have ID.
Nightcliff Supermarket owner Linford Feick said they had been visited by both police and government inspectors to make sure the system was working and said that it had not caused any major problems.
Territory Alcohol Policy Minister Delia Lawrie said between Friday and 10pm on Sunday night more than 43,000 people had been scanned, with five refused service because they were on the register.
She said 63 new names had already been added to the banned list.
"Extensive work has been undertaken to ensure that the scanning of IDs ran as smoothly as possible," Ms Lawrie said.
There were already 500 people on the register as it was being used in Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.
People can be added for various drinking related offences including being locked up for being drunk three times in three months.
Ms Hartley said people were getting irate on Friday, partly because it was cracker night and very busy.
"It was just horrific. There were a lot of people in the shop," she said.
"A lot of the IDs are faded and do not scan properly and we have to enter a person's details manually."
Ms Lawrie said the Government was offering free proof of age cards until September 20.