Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Courtroom Security: The Hidden Side of The Criminal Trial

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You’ve all seen the deputies and other officers who guard courtrooms. Yes, they’re highly visible and they’re there to protect everyone from harm. However, courtroom security is far more than just watching prisoners inside the actual room where the trial is held.

Courtroom security officers diligently monitor spectators, witnesses, and defendants. They also watch the victim’s family members for any signs of potential violence against the defendant(s). And they’re always on high alert for escape attempts by prisoners.

But what we see in the courtroom—stern faces, sharply creased uniforms, and holstered weapons—is the tip of the iceberg. Behind the solid oak door at the rear of the courtroom is a well-oiled security machine with wheels that begin to turn long before the judge, jury, and witnesses sit down to have their breakfasts. In fact, many security measures have been in place for months, maybe years.

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Security starts with things like landscaping around the building and parking areas. Plantings and hardscapes must allow an unobstructed view and no potential hiding spots for snipers and others who may assist in an escape attempt during times of inmate and witness movement.

Outdoor lighting must be adequate, and prevent areas of darkness and shadow. Those yellow posts sticking up through the sidewalks and pavement? They’re in place to prevent a driver from rushing the building, or people. The barriers also prevent vehicles (those containing explosives, getaway vehicles, shooters, etc.) from getting too close to the facility.

Windows and doors are equipped with a shatter resistant film between the layers of glass. As a means of even greater protection some lower floor windows may be fitted with bullet-resistant glass. Doors are tamper proof and are connected to alarm systems.

Visitors to the courthouse, and their belongings, are carefully screened prior to entering secured areas of the facility.

Officer stationed at x-ray machine and walk-through metal detector.

Monitors for x-ray equipment.

Many judges have panic buttons hidden somewhere on their benches.

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A quick press of the button and the alarm sounds in manned stations within the courthouse and in nearby police departments.

Help is on the way in an instant.

Designated parking areas for judges and other court employees is a standard. The same is true for police and inmate transport vehicles. Any unauthorized vehicle in those areas is cause for concern and would require immediate investigation.

To further prevent breaches of security, the public is not permitted in any unauthorized areas of the court buildings.

Courthouses also feature secure areas for weapons and other sensitive material.

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Inmates are awakened, fed, and dressed long before the courtroom is open. All prisoners with hearings on a given day are transported from the county or city jail to the courthouse, where it’s quite possible they’ll each remain until the last trial of the day.

While at the courthouse prisoners must receive meals, bathroom facilities, etc. for the duration of their time there, which could be many, many hours.

Holding cells, where prisoners wait until the time of their trial, are located inside court buildings. After their time in the courtroom is complete, prisoners are returned to the holding cells where they remain until they’re transported back to the main jail, often at the end of the day when all inmates are transported at once.

*It is possible that transportation officers make trips to and from the jail and courthouse throughout the day. This depends on availability of staff members and vehicles. Remember, the fewer times inmates are out and about in the public, even in secured transport vehicles, reduces the opportunities for escape.

Inmate movement inside the courthouse is conducted through special hallways or passageways that are typically not available to the public.

FYI – Some courthouses are directly connected to jail facilities via underground/basement hallways.

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In most areas, the duty of courtroom security falls on the sheriff of that particular jurisdiction. The sheriff assigns deputies to each courtroom, and each of those deputies receive specialized training that’s specific to the courtroom and inmate transportation.

In the federal system the job of courtroom and inmate security falls on the shoulders of the U.S. Marshals.

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Transporting prisoners via the U.S. Marshals’ Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS). JPATS operates a network of aircraft, cars, vans and buses. (U.S. Marshals photo).

Protecting our courtrooms, and shuttling prisoners to and from those facilities, is a tough and dangerous job, a job with duties many people never see.

 

PostHeaderIcon California Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

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Federal Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional, dysfunctional, and beyond repair. In his ruling, the judge said California’s system is so broken that inmates are left wondering about their fates for decades, or more. In other words, death sentences in the Golden State have been transformed into life sentences with a slight chance that they’ll end in the inmate’s death. More than likely, though, that death would be due to natural causes, not by the hand of an executioner.

The death penalty in California basically serves no purpose. That’s no shock to anyone who’s ever followed one of their death penalty cases (Scott Peterson comes to mind). But how does it compare to the rest of the country? Does the sentencing phase of a death penalty case in California stand on equal ground with other areas of the country? Of course not. California jurors don’t face the same pressures as do their counterparts in…well, let’s say Texas. Texas jurors, when they sentence someone to die you’d better believe they know that within a reasonable amount of time (if you can believe that 10 years, or so, is reasonable) the state is going to kill that prisoner. California…not so much. In fact, the last inmate executed in California, Clarence Ray Allen, spent 26 long years on death row.

Terri Lynn Winchell, a 17-year old Lodi, Ca. girl, was murdered 34 years ago. Her killer, Michael Morales, was sentenced to death for the murder. As his execution date finally rolled around, in 2006, a federal judge ordered a hold on all death penalty cases due to a court challenge of the state’s lethal injection process. The hold is still in place because the state has yet to submit a suitable method of lethal injection for the courts to review.

It will most likely be many years before this mess is sorted out. Until then, nearly 800 men and women sit on California’s death row, mocking a system that spins its wheels while costing taxpayers staggering amounts of money. For starters, the cost of a death penalty trial and one appeal (attorneys, experts, etc.) can exceed a standard criminal trial by $1.5 million, or more.

To put the numbers in perspective, it costs California approximately $137 million annually to house death row inmates. In comparison, the cost to house non death penalty inmates, including those serving life without the possibility of parole (which is basically the same sentenced served by death row inmates in California) is over $11.5 million.

Let’s not stop there, though. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the costs associated with California death penalty cases.

- The Supreme Court automatically considers all capital cases if a sentence of death is handed down – the Court’s budget for hearing these cases is well over $15 million.

- The budget for the State Public Defender’s Office (for death penalty cases) exceeds $12 million.

Shall I go on? Okay, one more, out of many. The state funded Habeas Corpus Resource Center has a budget of over $13 million to assist indigent inmates with their appeals.

Is it truly worthwhile to spend the extra bazillion dollars just to see the words “condemned to death” on a piece of paper? After all, in most California death penalty cases, those two words mean about as much as the cost of the paper on which they’re printed…not much.

Why not convert all death penalty cases to life in prison without parole and call it a day. The state could then put those savings toward desalination plants or other means to ease the drought. By the way, I saw where California just passed water restriction regulations that include a fine of $500 per day to residents who waste water (hosing off your driveway, washing a car without a nozzle, etc.). Yet, a city-owned park near our new home ran mega-giant sprinklers 24 hours per day for a week to water a soccer field that hasn’t been used in months. Well, let me back up a bit. The field hasn’t been entirely vacant. A couple of homeless guys have been sleeping near the fence beneath the shade of two large eucalyptus trees.

After a couple of days of non-stop watering, there was so much standing H2O that birds and other wildlife played in it for days, splashing and bathing and sliding around. I’m sure the two homeless men enjoyed the entertainment.

I wonder if the same people in charge of water conservation also control collected tax money and corrections budgets? For some reason, when I close my eyes and picture them, this is what comes to mind…

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 *Also in Judge Carney’s Wednesday ruling was the stay of execution for Ernest Dewayne Jones, who’s been on death row for almost 20 years for the rape and murder of a Southern California accountant.

 

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