Report Highlights Disparities in Sentencing in Arizona

Racial disparities in sentencing have been found in several states.  A new report prepared by a nonprofit has found racial disparities in sentencing in Arizona.  The following is from “Report finds disproportionate sentencing along racial lines in Arizona”, by Pamela Ren Larson, Arizona Republic, November 15, 2018, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2018/11/15/prison-reform-fwd-us-report-finds-arizona-disproportionately-sentences-minorities/2006408002/

The “Cost to Communities” report released Thursday by FWD.us, a bipartisan nonprofit founded by California business and tech leaders.  At the state level, the report shows that communities of color are disproportionately sentenced to prison and spend longer times behind bars in some circumstances.  The report follows research released in September by the organization that encourages criminal-justice reform.

The report analyzes state prison admissions from Arizona counties using admission data from 1985 to 2017.

Looking at people imprisoned for marijuana possession, Hispanic people make up almost 60 percent of people admitted to prison for that crime according to the report.  Black people are one-eleventh the size of white people in Arizona yet the two groups represent near equal percentages of the people admitted to prison in Arizona for marijuana possession.  In five of Arizona’s 15 counties, black people are admitted at a rate three times their proportion of the county’s population.

According to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, the disproportionate racial outcomes are not a “consequence of any biased decision-making” in his office.

“A couple of times, I’ve done a data review to look at a demographic breakdown of our submittals based upon race,” Montgomery said.

A review of all cases submitted to the county by Montgomery’s office found that among cases submitted to his office, the percentage of cases that involved African-American, Caucasian and Hispanic individuals remained nearly consistent with those that were filed, pled, dismissed, and sentenced by race. 

“There’s no statistical difference between how cases are submitted and how cases are resolved and how they are charged,” Montgomery said.

Yet consistent proportions of different racial groups across the criminal justice process do not depict that some individuals may be charged for the same offenses that others had dismissed, according to Dr. Cassia Spohn, director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.  Dr. Spohn also remarked that an analysis would need to compare each racial group according to specific drug crimes, such as marijuana or cocaine possession, and any analysis of sentencing outcomes needs to control for previous criminal history.

If you have been charged with a felony, you need an experienced defense attorney to defend you.  Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over thirty years experience. Please call him today for a free consultation.  

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Prosecutors Requesting Data from Defendants’ Virtual Assistants

Many people like the convenience of virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri.  Unfortunately, police and prosecutors may attempt to seize recordings from suspects’ and defendants’ virtual assistants as evidence of crimes.  The following is from “Police think Alexa may have witnessed a New Hampshire double slaying—now they want Amazon to turn her over” by Meagan Flynn, The Washington Post, November 14, 2018 https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-alexa-new-hampshire-murder-witness-20181114-story.html

Prosecutors in Farmington, New Hampshire, want to use any recordings found on the defendant Timothy Verrill’s Alexa, the artificial woman who personifies the Amazon Echo virtual assistant, to see if it provides key evidence that Verrill killed Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pelligrini on January 27, 2017.  A judge has ordered Amazon to turn over any recordings the Echo device may have made from Jan. 27, the day the women were killed, until Jan. 29.

In a statement to The Post, an Amazon spokesperson indicated Amazon wouldn’t be turning over the data so easily, appearing to prioritize consumer privacy as it has done in the past.

“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” the spokesperson said. “Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

When police arrived at the crime scene on January 29, 2017, they found blood splattered on the kitchen walls and on the refrigerator, New Hampshire State Police Sergeant Strong said. It was soaked into the mattress in the upstairs bedroom, where police believe Pellegrini was stabbed 43 times.

On the night of the murder, Smoronk, the suspected drug trafficker, received a phone call from Verill in the early morning hours of Jan. 27: Verrill, Smoronk told police, was concerned Jenna Pellegrini was an informant, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported.

In a matter of hours, home surveillance captured Verrill arriving at the home where in a flannel shirt and a ball cap, Strong testified during the bail hearing. Within 20 minutes, he was captured attempting to obscure the lens of three of the surveillance cameras before ultimately shutting the system down.

And over the next several days prosecutors say he made a series of suspicious trips around town, according to footage by WMUR-TV. He bought cleanup products from a Walmart. He went to go see a priest, and he had “not one, but two breakdowns that take him to the hospital,” the prosecutor said.

The case recalls a 2015 Arkansas murder investigation in which a woman was found dead in a backyard hot tub the morning after the man who lived there, Nate Bates, invited friends over to watch a football game. Bates was soon charged in her death and pleaded not guilty.  Police found Alexa sitting on Bates’s kitchen counter.

Amazon initially resisted law enforcement’s efforts to obtain the potential relevant recordings but ultimately relented after Bates gave permission for his Amazon Echo to be searched – but it didn’t turn into the linchpin prosecutors hoped for: They dropped the charges against Bates in November 2017 after finding that the evidence, including the Echo recordings, supported more than one “reasonable explanation” for the victim’s death.  

If you have been charged with a crime where virtual assistant evidence may be used against you, you need an experienced defense attorney.  Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over thirty years experience. Please call him today for a free consultation.

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False Accusations of Sexual Assault

The MeToo Movement and the recent hearing testimonies of Dr. Christine Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh have people wondering what percentage of sexual assault accusations are false.  

The following is from “False reports of sexual assault not as rare as claimed, studies show” by Rowan Scarborough, The Washington Times, October 7, 2018 https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/oct/7/false-sex-assault-reports-not-rare-reported-studie/

Brent E. Turvey, a criminologist, wrote a 2017 book that dispels the idea that false accusations of sexual assault are relatively rare. His research, and that of two co-authors, cited statistical studies and police crime reports. One academic study showed that as many as 40 percent of sexual assault charges are false. Mr. Turvey wrote that the FBI in the 1990s pegged the falsity rate at 8 percent for rape or attempted rape complaints.

“There is no shortage of politicians, victims’ advocates and news articles claiming that the nationwide false report for rape and sexual assault is almost nonexistent, presenting a figure of around 2 percent,” writes Mr. Turvey, who directs the Forensic Criminology Institute. “This figure is not only inaccurate, but also it has no basis in reality. Reporting it publicly as a valid frequency rate with any empirical basis is either scientifically negligent or fraudulent.”

“You see where they are going with this,” said Elaine Donnelly, the director of the Center for Military Readiness.   “Any man who doubts Ford is hostile to women experiencing abuse, who make accusations truthfully 90 to 98 percent of the time. This is why hard data from the Pentagon, which shows rates of false accusations averaging 18 percent in annual reports since 2009, is important.”  Women’s advocates say that an unfounded case doesn’t necessarily mean the accuser was lying.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center puts the false report rate at 2 percent to 10 percent.  “Research shows that rates of false reporting are frequently inflated, in part because of inconsistent definitions and protocols, or a weak understanding of sexual assault,” the Center said.

Mr. Turvey’s 2017 book, “False Allegations: Investigative and Forensic Issues in Fraudulent Reports of Crime,” looked at a range of bogus reporting, including on rape and sexual assault. He examined existing studies and police statistics.

“False reports happen, they are recurrent and there are laws in place to deal with them when they do,” he wrote. “They are, for lack of a better word, common.”

Mr. Turvey quotes a study by researcher Edward Greer, past president of the Association American Law Schools. He traced the one and only source for the “2 percent” assertion to a 1975 book, “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape,” which quoted statistics from New York City, not from across the nation.

Mr. Turvey cites 10 studies that debunk the 2 percent assertion in the U.S. and abroad.

“The power of any lie is equal only to our desire to believe it,” Mr. Turvey wrote. “Specifically, our need and eagerness to believe it. This is the problem with belief — which is accepting something as true or correct without proof.”

If you have been falsely accused of committing a sex crime, you need an experienced defense attorney to represent you.  Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over three decades of experience representing people in these situations. Please call him today for a free consultation.

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Why do Children Make False Accusations of Child Sexual Abuse?

It’s a myth that children rarely make false accusations of child sexual abuse. There are usually four factors involved when a child makes false accusations of child sexual abuse: the child, the accused, parents or other authority figures, and the child’s home environment.

The child’s personality and his or her physical and mental health all have to be considered. A child may have a conduct or personality disorder where lying is a serious issue. False accusations can be a way to seek attention. A preteen or teenager may be out of control. A child’s drug or alcohol abuse can also lead to false accusations. Similarly, a child may have a physical or mental illness where his or her perception of reality is compromised. Adverse reactions to medications such as Celexa, Paxil, Zyprexa, Lithium, Ritalin, or other psychotropic medication can be a factor.

The person accused also has to be considered. A child may resent or hate a parent’s new significant other or step parent so much that he or she could falsely accuse that person. An accused’s mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse may also provoke false accusations. Other immoral behavior, such as an accused’s affair, may trigger false accusations.

Parents or other authority figures like teachers, doctors, therapists, and social workers can ask the child suggestive and leading questions that lead to false accusations. Therapists may intentionally cause the child to have false memories of sexual abuse. A parent who abuses drugs or alcohol or who is mentally ill may falsely believe that their child has been sexually abused by the accused and go straight to the police.

The child’s home environment must also be examined. A home environment that is chaotic, unstable, and/or overcrowded may contribute to false accusations. A contentious child custody dispute may result in false accusations as one parent, usually the mother, plays the winning card of falsely accusing the father in order to obtain sole custody. Long, bitter divorce proceedings as well as prior sexual abuse within the family can contribute to false accusations. Preteens and teens may lie in order to change their living situations.

If you have been charged with sex crimes against a child based on false accusations, you need an experienced defense attorney to represent you. Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over three decades of experience representing people in these situations. Please call him today for a free consultation.

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Setting Aside Criminal Convictions

Having criminal convictions on your record can keep you from getting a job, finding housing, using federal benefits, and getting loans.  A.R.S. § 13-907 is the Arizona statute that permits a judge to set aside criminal convictions. https://www.azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=https://www.azleg.gov/ars/13/00907.htm   

A.R.S. § 13-907(A) provides that a person who has been convicted of a criminal offense may apply to the judge to have the judgment of guilt set aside.  If the judge grants the application, the accusations or information are dismissed and the person is released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the conviction except those imposed by the Arizona Department of Transportation and Arizona Game and Fish Commission according to A.R.S. § 13-907(C).  The person’s right to possess a gun or firearm is restored unless he or she was convicted of a serious offense as defined by A.R.S. § 13-706.  See A.R.S. § 13-907(D).

A person cannot apply to set aside a criminal conviction if one or more of the following apply:

  • The criminal conviction involved a dangerous offense defined in A.R.S. § 13-105(13) as an offense involving the discharge, use or threatening exhibition of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or the intentional or knowing infliction of serious physical injury on another person.
  • The criminal conviction required the person or the court ordered the person to register as a sex offender pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-3821.
  • The criminal conviction was found to have a sexual motivation pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-118.
  • The criminal conviction involved a victim under fifteen years of age.
  • The criminal conviction concerned a local city ordinance relating to stopping, standing or operation of a vehicle in violation of A.R.S. § 28-3473 which makes it a misdemeanor to drive on a suspended license.
  • The criminal conviction concerned a violation of Title 28, chapter 3, except a violation of A.R.S. § 28-693 or any local ordinance relating to the same subject matter as A.R.S. § 28-693.  Title 28, chapter 3 deals with traffic and vehicle regulation which are usually civil offenses. A.R.S. § 28-693 prohibits reckless driving.

The judge who sentenced you or his/her replacement has discretion concerning whether or not to grant your application.  Ideally, your application shows that you have had no further trouble with the law and are a productive member of society.

An application to set aside your criminal convictions is an important step that should not be taken lightly.  You need an experienced attorney to prepare your application. Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over three decades of experience.  Please call him today for a free consultation.

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