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Kentucky judge rules death penalty unconstitutional for defendants under 21

Robert F. Stephens Courthouse in Fayette County

Kentucky judge rules death penalty unconstitutional for defendants under 21

A Kentucky judge has ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional for defendants who committed a murder before they turned 21 years of old.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that the death penalty is unconstitutional for anyone who committed murder when they were under the age of 18.

Fayette Circuit Court Judge Ernesto Scorsone’s ruling was issued during pre-trial litigation in the case of Travis Bredhold, who is charged with the robbery and murder of Lexington gas station attendant Mukeshbhai Patel in 2013. The crime occurred when Bredhold was 18 years old.

Defense attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty against Bredhold for a crime that occurred when he was still a teenager. The prosecution countered that Roper did not exclude a defendant like Bredhold who was 18 years old at the time of the crime, and there was no “national consensus” with respect to excluding defendants under 21 years old from the risk of the death penalty.

In a detailed order, Scorsone wrote that a psychological assessment provided to the court established “that Mr. Bredhold was about four years behind his peer group in multiple capacities,” and that he “had weaknesses in executive functions, such as attention, impulse control, and mental flexibility.” Scorsone also credited testimony from an expert in adolescent development, who testified during a pre-trial hearing about “the maturational differences” between adolescents (ages 10 to 21) and adults (21 and over). The court noted that “adolescents are more impulsive, more likely to misperceive risk, less able to regulate behavior, more easily emotionally aroused, and, importantly, more capable of change.”

Scorsone emphasized that studies showing the adolescent brain’s “heightened plasticity” — “the ability to change in response to experience” — along with the natural course of development for adolescents make it “difficult to predict future criminality or delinquent behavior from antisocial behavior during the teen years, even among teenagers accused of committing violent crimes.”

Scorsone also reviewed changes in the administration of the death penalty since the Roper decision, concluding that “it appears there is a very clear national consensus trending toward restricting the death penalty, especially in the case where defendants are eighteen (18) to twenty-one (21) years of age.”

“Not only have six more states abolished the death penalty since Roper in 2005, four more have imposed moratoria on executions, and seven more of de factoprohibitions on the execution of defendants eighteen (18) to twenty-one (21),” Scorsone wrote.

“Travis Bredhold was eighteen (18) years and five (5) months old at the time of the alleged crime,” Scorsone wrote. “According to recent scientific studies, Mr. Bredbold fits right into the group experiencing the ‘maturational imbalance,’ during which his system for sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and susceptibility to peer pressure was fully developed, while his system for planning and impulse control lagged behind, unable to override those impulses.”

It will now be up to the office of Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn to decide whether to appeal Scorsone’s decision. But an appeal is likely.

Leon Cannizzaro doth protest too much

Leon Cannizzaro doth protest too much

Today, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a bar complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel against Leon Cannizzaro, the District Attorney for New Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

The gist of the allegations involve a series of fake subpoenas Cannizzaro’s office was using to coerce people not accused of a crime to come to the DA’s office and submit to interviews, as detailed by The Lens. The subpoenas threatened “fines or imprisonment,” but were not legal documents; they just looked kind of legal to the normal person. Of course, this was the point — to frighten people into compliance.

In the normal course of business, prosecutors can subpoena witnesses, but they must do so through court order. Prosecutors are powerful, but they cannot simply unilaterally decide that someone must testify. They at least need to talk to a judge first. Failure to do so violates local and state law as well as rules of professional conduct.

Of course, Cannizzaro and his staff are prosecutors, so they should know better.

Cannizzaro won’t back down, and, like a bulldog, he pursues his narrow-minded ideal of justice vigorously. But, people are catching onto his tactics. Now, with the revelations of the fake subpoenas, members of the New Orleans City Council are calling for an end to the practice as well as an investigation. “We need to be sure this did not result in any kind of miscarriage of justice,” one councilman told a reporter.

Cannizzaro’s office went through a number of contortions to explain itself. First, Cannizzaro argued that there was nothing wrong with the practice. Then, once it was clear the issue would not go away, his office announced it would stop using the fake subpoenas. But, Cannizzaro has continued to claim that his office cannot (or will not) figure out how often they were used. The ACLU sued and won, so the DA’s office is now compelled to look for this information, at least in some cases. Now this complaint.

But will it stop? New Orleans has a troubled history with wrongful convictions, extremely punitive prison terms, and plain dishonesty. But, thus far, New Orleans prosecutors have not been deterred by lawsuits, wrongful convictions, U.S. Supreme Court scolding, or bar complaints. What will it take?

Thanks to Josie Duffy Rice.

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Honolulu prosecutor criticized for prosecuting woman who accused major campaign donor of sex discrimination

Honolulu prosecutor criticized for prosecuting woman who accused major campaign donor of sex discrimination

A Hawaii judge has blasted Honolulu prosecutors for bringing charges against a woman who’d previously filed a sex discrimination suit against a major donor.

Judge Karen Nakasone dismissed all charges against Laurel Mau, an architect who worked for Mitsunaga & Associates, an influential architectural and engineering firm that had been one of the top donors to the campaigns of Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, with about $40,000 being donated by employees of the company from 2012–2016.

Mitsunaga & Associates claimed that Mau had stolen money from the company by doing independent projects when she was supposed to be working for the company, and was telling clients for those side projects that she was representing Mitsunaga & Associates.

Kaneshiro’s office charged Mau with four counts of second-degree theft, and Mau would have faced up to five years in prison on each count if she’de been convicted.

But Nakasone threw out the case and criticized prosecutors for relying on the word of the architectural firm, and not police.

“Ordinarily, law enforcement agencies, such as (the Honolulu Police Department) could have and should have conducted the investigation, but that was not done in this case,” Nakasone said, according to City Beat. “In fact, no law enforcement agencies, such as HPD or the Department of the Attorney General or any other state or federal law enforcement, was involved.”

Nakasone also pointed out that Mau was charged with no grand jury proceeding or preliminary hearing.

Mau had previously sued Mitsunaga & Associates for sexual discrimination and lost. The firm countersued her and won $1.

Kaneshiro has said he will appeal Nakasone’s ruling.

The chief prosecutor has become scandal plagued due to a federal investigation involving one of his chief prosecutors and the former Honolulu chief of police. Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha is under investigation due to both ticket fixing allegations and charges that she may have attempted to frame her uncle for a mailbox theft. She runs the career criminal unit that goes after repeat offenders and people on parole who are accused of violating the terms of their release.

Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, Katherine Kealoha’s husband, has already resigned due to the investigation.

Federal officials are now looking at how Kaneshiro reacted as the ticket fixing allegations surfaced, and whether he used his office to help cover for the wrongdoing of his subordinate.

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