Tag Archives: rights

Conviction-Hungry Feds Refuse to Free Man Who Won His Freedom Twice

Antoine Jones won an appeal, as well as a major Supreme Court case, but the feds are making him sit in jail until they can try him once again.
March 6, 2012 |

So, a guy gets convicted in a cocaine conspiracy case and sent to prison for life without parole, but wins on appeal and then wins again in a landmark US Supreme Court ruling on search and seizure law that overturns his conviction and forces dramatic changes in the way federal law enforcers go about their work. You would think this guy would be a pretty happy camper, getting back to his life and enjoying his freedom after sticking a thumb in the federal government’s eye. But you would be dead wrong.

Meet Antoine Jones, the Jones in US v. Jones, last month’s Supreme Court case in which the high court held that tracking a vehicle’s movements by placing a GPS tracking device on it without first obtaining a search warrant is constitutionally impermissible. That ruling set off an earthquake under the Justice Department, evidenced this week with reports that the FBI has turned off some 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use.

FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissman told a University of San Francisco conference appropriately titled “Big Brother in the 21st Century” that the FBI had had problems locating some of the turned off devices and had sought court orders to get permission to briefly turn them on again, so agents can locate and retrieve them. The Supreme Court decision had caused “a sea change” at Justice, he said.

The Jones case may have been a victory for civil liberties and constitutional rights advocates, but Antoine Jones is still sitting in prison. Determined to nail the former Washington, DC, nightclub owner, federal prosecutors have announced they will seek to retry Jones without the evidence garnered by the GPS tracking device, and they want him securely behind bars until they get around to doing so.

The decision to not free Jones even though his conviction has been vacated and his case sent back to the trial court is of a piece with prosecutors’ earlier tactics. After Jones won his case on appeal, prosecutors argued successfully then against granting him bail as they awaited a Supreme Court decision.

They think they have a big time dope dealer. Back in 2005, when the case began, Jones was targeted by the FBI and other federal and state police agencies as a major player in a multi-million dollar cocaine ring with ties to a Mexico-based organized crime group. Investigators said Jones and his co-conspirators distributed cocaine throughout the DC metro area. They eventually won a conviction against him, although it took them two separate prosecutions to do so. It was that conviction that was reversed by the Supreme Court.


NYPD Under Fire for Surveillance of Occupy Protesters

Monday 12 March 2012
by: Colin Moynihan , The New York Times News Service | Report

On Nov. 17, Kira Moyer-Sims was near the Manhattan Bridge, buying coffee while three friends waited nearby in a car. More than a dozen blocks away, protesters gathered for an Occupy Wall Street “day of action,” which organizers had described as an attempt to block the streets around the New York Stock Exchange.

Then, Ms. Moyer-Sims said, about 30 police officers surrounded her and the people in the car.

All four were arrested, said Vik Pawar, a lawyer for Ms. Moyer-Sims and two of the others, and taken to a police facility in the East Village. He said officers strip-searched them and ignored their requests for a lawyer. The fourth person could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Moyer-Sims, 20, said members of the Police Department’s intelligence division asked about her personal history, her relationship with other protesters, the nature of Occupy Wall Street and plans for upcoming protests.

“I felt like I had been arrested for a thought crime,” she said.

Mr. Pawar said that the police had charged his three clients, Ms. Moyer-Sims, Angela Richino and Matthew Vrvilo, with obstructing governmental administration, but that the Manhattan district attorney’s office had declined to prosecute them.

Now they are preparing to sue the city, Mr. Pawar said, adding that the arrests had violated their constitutional rights.

“Not only are the police disrupting people’s rights to free expression,” Mr. Pawar said. “They are taking pre-emptive steps by arresting people who might be just thinking about exercising their rights.”

Though Occupy Wall Street has largely faded from the headlines, organizers are planning springtime demonstrations in an effort to revitalize their movement. And they are troubled by what they consider continued monitoring by the police.

In 2003, citing the dangers of terrorism, a federal judge granted expanded surveillance powers to the New York police, who had previously faced restrictions in monitoring political groups. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others have said the new latitude is essential to keeping the city safe.

But the Police Department’s surveillance efforts have recently gained attention and criticism with reports that officers compiled detailed data on Muslim communities. Now, some Occupy protesters worry that they are being subjected to similar scrutiny.

For the last few months, protest organizers say, police officers or detectives have been posted outside buildings where private meetings were taking place, have visited the homes of organizers and have questioned protesters arrested on minor charges.

“The N.Y.P.D. surveillance does not appear to be limited to unlawful activity,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We count on the police, of course, to be on the lookout for terrorists and terrorism, but to think you could be on that continuum just by going to a peaceful protest is nuts.”

A police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.


Congress considers repeal of indefinite detention and torture

Barely two months after President Obama authorized the indefinite detention of Americas, two members of US Congress are asking fellow lawmakers to approve a bill that will repeal a controversial provision of the NDAA.
US President Barack Obama inked the National Defense Authorization Act on New Year’s Eve, essentially allowing the American Armed Forces to indefinitely detain any suspected terrorist, including Americans, without ever bringing them to trial. Though President Obama has spoken out against the act — the very same one he signed — the legislation is currently in effect and allows the US government to grossly strip away rights otherwise guaranteed by the country’s Constitution.
The federal government has already gone to the NDAA to support the continued detention of alleged foreign terrorists, but two members of Congress, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, are asking other lawmakers in the House and Senate to sign their name on a bill that will make sure anyone — American or not — will be given a fair trial.
“The goal here is to have clarity, first of all, on how these people are handled in the US, and second of all, to reassert the primacy and the importance of our civil justice system,” Smith says of the proposed bill. “It is our contention that our civil justice system absolutely protects us from the threat in this case.”
In addition to holding a position within the US House of Representatives, Congressman Smith is also the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Both him and Senator Udall proposed their own solutions to the detainment provisions before Congress on Thursday this week.
Although he signed the NDAA into law, President Obama has opposed the own legislation that his administration helped create. Since being authorized last year though, some lawmakers have proposed solutions of their own even before Smith and Udall offered their alternative. Elected officials in the states of Virginia, Washington and Utah have already drafted legislation of their own that reverses the indefinite detention provision, Section 1021 of the NDAA, in their own state. Additionally, Texas congressman and presidential hopeful Ron Paul has offered a bill on his own that would negate the controversial conditions within the act. As none of these laws have yet to be approved, though, Smith and Udall hope that the federal government will give in to increased pressure and pull the plug on their own provision.


Obama signs anti-protest Bill

Only days after clearing Congress, US President Barack Obama signed his name to H.R. 347 on Thursday, officially making it a federal offense to cause a disturbance at certain political events — essentially criminalizing protest in the States.
RT broke the news last month that H.R. 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, had overwhelmingly passed the US House of Representatives after only three lawmakers voted against it. On Thursday this week, President Obama inked his name to the legislation and authorized the government to start enforcing a law that has many Americans concerned over how the bill could bury the rights to assemble and protest as guaranteed in the US Constitution.
Under H.R. 347, which has more commonly been labeled the Trespass Bill by Congress, knowingly entering a restricted area that is under the jurisdiction of Secret Service protection can garner an arrest. The law is actually only a slight change to earlier legislation that made it an offense to knowingly and willfully commit such a crime. Under the Trespass Bill’s latest language chance, however, someone could end up in law enforcement custody for entering an area that they don’t realize is Secret Service protected and “engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct” or “impede[s] or disrupt[s] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.”
The Secret Service serves as the police that protects not just current and former American presidents, but are also dispatched to monitor special events of national significance, a category with a broad cast of qualifiers. In the past, sporting events, state funerals, inaugural addresses and NATO and G-8 Summits have been designated as such by the US Department of Homeland Security, the division that decides when and where the Secret Service are needed outside of their normal coverage.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund tells the International Business Times that the Trespass Bill in its current form “means it’s easier to prosecute under ‘knowingly,’” instead of both knowingly and willfully, “which is an issue because someone could knowingly enter a restricted but not necessarily realize they are committing a crime.” Speaking with IB Times, Verheyden-Hilliard tries to lay to rest claims that the Constitution will be crippled by the Trespass Bill, but acknowledges that it does indeed allow law enforcement to have added incentive to arrest protesters who could be causing a disturbance.
“[HR 347] has been described as a death knell for the First Amendment, but that isn’t supported by the facts,” Verheyden-Hilliard adds. “This has always been a bad law.”


Mass arrests at Occupy Education protest at California State Capitol

A lengthy standoff between protesters and police in and outside of the California State Capitol Building ended with nearly 70 demonstrators arrested late Monday during an Occupy rally in Sacramento.
A mass protest was waged all day Monday at the headquarters of the California State government, branded under the campaign “Occupy Education.” Demonstrators aligned with the OWS movement, many in particular with the Occupy Sacramento offshoot, were meeting to protest the increasing cost of tuition at state schools.
“We want to show the state government that we care about our education, and we’re not going to leave until they make it a priority,” student Sam Resnick tells the Associated Press in explaining his participation.
For a student finishing the fifth year of schoolwork at a California State University, the cost of tuition today costs nearly double what it was for their first semester. Even for students enrolled in state schools, tuition at Ivy League institutes are often more affordable and classes available on the West Coast are quickly being cut. In the last decade, state tuition for California students has been raised by more than 300 percent.
Crowds of demonstrators including Resnick chanted pleas of “They say cut back, we say fight back” during the hours-long standoff.
The California Highway Patrol reports a total of 68 arrests from Monday, one of the largest tallies spawning from a single protest since winter weather and law enforcement action signaled a plateau in the movement months after demonstrations began in New York’s Zuccotti Park in September 2011; since then, the OWS movement has spread internationally. Students from other California schools, including UC Berkley and Riverside, traveled upwards of hundreds of miles to Sacramento for the protest on Monday.
California Governor Jerry Brown responded to the protests with a written statement, offering sympathy for demonstrators demanding changes in the education system. “The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year,” wrote Brown, a Democrat. “That’s why it’s imperative that we get more tax revenue this November.”


Congress Approved H.R. 347 Could Make Most Forms of Protest Illegal

Posted by Good German on March 6, 2012

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” —President John F. Kennedy

Tim McCown reports on the Examiner:

On Ron Paul’s website it was duly noted that H.R. 347 could make the First Amendment illegal. No one is really covering this bill and the major media call it non-controversial. The innocent sounding bill titled The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 was passed Tuesday with only three dissenting votes including Ron Paul, and passed unanimously in the Senate. This bill dubbed the Anti-Occupy law was passed without one single Democrat speaking up for the First Amendment.

Once this Bill is signed into law some including Ron Paul believe it will make it a felony to exercise your first Amendment rights of Free Speech. Several of those commenting opined that the nearly unanimous vote proves that despite all the posturing both parties stand shoulder to shoulder in their defense of the greed and entitlement of the 1% from the rest of us. When you couple this with the indefinite detention of Americans in the National Defense Authorization Act it is clear that Obama is part of a ruling corporate oligarchy and is surely no Progressive.

Read more here.


Goodbye, First Amendment: ‘Trespass Bill’ will make protest illegal

The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.

The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.

Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.

Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.

The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”

It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.

Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.

In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.


Supreme Court Debates Rights Case Aimed at Corporations

By  Published: February 28, 2012

WASHINGTON — The question before the Supreme Court on Tuesday was whether lawsuits against corporations for some kinds of human rights violations are categorically forbidden.

Some of the justices were themselves in a categorical mood, announcing not only their answer to that question but also to a larger one not squarely before them. They did so by quoting approvingly or skeptically from the briefs in the case.

“For me, the case turns in large part on this,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said and then quoted a sentence from a brief filed by the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, which is accused of complicity in human rights violations in Nigeria: “International law does not recognize corporate responsibility for the alleged offenses here.”

Justice Kennedy went on to quote from a brief supporting the companies filed by theChevron Corporation: “No other nation in the world permits its court to exercise universal civil jurisdiction over alleged extraterritorial human rights abuses to which the nation has no connection.”

Later, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. read back most of a sentence in the plaintiffs’ brief to their lawyer, calling it “really striking.”

“This case was filed by 12 Nigerian plaintiffs who alleged that respondents aided and abetted the human rights violations committed against them by the Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria,” Justice Alito said, quoting.

Then he asked: “What business does a case like that have in the courts of the United States? There’s no connection to the United States whatsoever.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tried to return the discussion to the narrower question: not whether United States courts can hear human rights cases over events that took place abroad, but whether corporations may be sued in such cases. “I thought what we were talking about today,” she said, “was is it only individual defendants or are corporate defendants also liable?”


California prisoner dies during hunger strike

California prisoner dies during hunger strike

A 27-year-old inmate passed away while participating in a hunger strike in California this month and the details surrounding his death and the jail’s handling of it are just now surfacing.

Christian Alexander Gomez barely lasted one week while engaged in a fasting protest at the Corcoran State Prison in California. He’s believed to be one of 32 inmates that participated in the hunger strike, which was the most recent form of protest waged by prisoners.

After thousands of inmates have participated in hunger strike dating back to last summer, Gomez is the first man believed to have died during his protest.

Gomez’s sister tells Democracy Now that her brother braved inhumane conditions at Corcoran, and even feels that he was wrongly imprisoned there. Up until his death, however, the inmate was confident that eventual changes in the system would soon make him free.

“He was a genuine person that had not lost hope in the system. He knew that he would eventually get out,” says his sister, Y.L.

Despite his persistence, however, things did not get better for Gomez. “He told me things were a lot different at this prison,” sister.. She adds that Gomez had been incarcerated at a different facility for four years, High Desert State Prison, and has yearned for a return after being transferred to Corcoran

“He didn’t receive the same medical attention he received over at High Desert,” she says.

Throughout the state, inmates have repeatedly demonstrated against unjust conditions and treatment in facilities across the West Coast, but little has been done to remediate the issues so far. Last July, more than 6,000 inmates across California participated in a hunger strike that spanned more than a dozen different facilities across the state. In September, inmates launched a second strike.

“Despite claims to the contrary, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has yet to fully address what the prisoners feel are the most substantive changes outlined in their demands,” the advocacy group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity addressed during last year’s series of strikes.

Protesters have said that the strikes were being waged to draw attention to torturous conditions at state-run prisons. Even with Gomez’s death, however, little changes have been accomplished nearly a year after protests first started.


Virginia’s Ultrasound Bill Makes No Exceptions For Rape Or Incest

Virginia’s Ultrasound Bill Makes No Exceptions For Rape Or Incest

PEMA LEVY 

The Virginia House is due to vote Wednesday on a bill which would require women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound. This is the final step before the bill arrives on the governor’s desk.

The bill requires that the ultrasound operation helps show the physical aspects of the fetus and also detects a heartbeat. Since most abortions are sought during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, when the fetus is little larger than a grain of rice, this means many women would not undergo a procedure like the one depicted in the picture above. Instead, they would be obliged to endure an invasive “transvaginal” procedure. This has led opponents of the bill – many of them Democrats – to decry it as “state-sponsored rape.”

This only adds to another controversial aspect of the bill: that unlike many laws which regulate abortion, Virginia’s does not contain exemptions for victims of rape or incest.

“For someone who’s already been victimized to do it again is just cruel and unusual punishment,” Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, told TPM.

Several proponents of the bill have admitted have admitted that the procedure is invasive but justify it as no different from intercourse. CNN contributor and conservative blogger Dana Loesch objected to the idea that the bill is tantamount to state-sponsored rape, saying, “Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.” One GOP lawmaker in Virginia made the same argument, that the woman already decided to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” The bill, like these proponents of it, doesn’t take into account that not all pregnancies come out of consensual sex.

The bill has been garnering negative attention and even protests over the past few weeks, and there are signs Republicans are feeling uneasy about passing the bill in its current form. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — a national figure and contender for the GOP’s vice presidential nomination — has backed off his unflinching support for the bill. Keene told TPM’s Jillian Rayfield that she is more hopeful now than before that some sort of compromise, possibly one that makes the ultrasound optional, could be reached.

Image from Alexander Raths/ Shutterstock