Monthly Archives: July 2009

New National Report: 1 in 11 Prisoners Serving a Life Sentence

A new report released by The Sentencing Project finds 140,610 individuals are now serving life sentences in state and federal prisons, 6,807 of whom were juveniles at the commission of the crime.  In addition, 29% of persons serving life sentences (41,095) have no possibility of parole, and 1,755 were juveniles at the commission of the crime.

No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America represents the first nationwide collection of life sentences data documenting race, ethnicity and gender.  The report’s findings reveal overwhelming racial and ethnic disparities in the allocation of life sentences: 66% of all persons sentenced to life are non-white, and 77% of juveniles serving life sentences are non-white.

Interesting . . .

State v. Engel: WA Supreme Court Reversed Overly Broad Burglary Conviction

The WA Supremes ruled that a man suspected of stealing aluminum auto wheels from a rural business wasn’t guilty of committing Burglary in the Second Degree — an extremely serious felony — because the property wasn’t fenced on all sides.

In State v. Engel, Roger Engel was convicted of second-degree burglary after stealing some wheels from a large private yard that was partially enclosed by a fence and partially bordered by sloping terrain. Burglary in the second degree requires entering or remaining in a “building.” RCW 9A.52.030. A “building” is defined to include a “fenced area.” RCW 9A.04.110(5). Engel challenged his conviction, claiming the yard was not a “fenced area” under the statute. The business premises Engel entered covered seven or eight acres and included several buildings and a large yard. The entrance to the property was gated. One-third of the property, including the side fronting the road, was fenced by chain link fence with barbed wire on the top.

However, the rest of the property was not fenced, including the edge of the property near the stock piles. Beyond the gravel piles was is a “pretty sizeable drop-off, a hill that goes down.” Two-thirds of the property was encased by ‘banks, high banks, [and] sloping banks.” Directly adjacent to the property was a separate business, but no fence or gate separated the two properties.

The Supreme Court agreed with Engel’s argument, with Justice James Johnson writing the unanimous opinion. “Upholding an overly broad definition of ‘fenced area’ would extend criminal liability beyond what is warranted by the plain language of the statute, as understood in the context of the common law.

Therefore, the Court of Appeals decision affirming Engel’s conviction is reversed and the case is remanded with instructions to vacate the conviction and dismiss the charge.”

My opinion?  I wholeheartedly agree with the WA Supremes for two reasons.  First, under the state’s interpretation of “Burglary”, would-be petty criminals who trespass might be liable for burglary even if the property line at their point of entry were unfenced and unmarked, even if they remained on the property without approaching any buildings or structures, and even if the property were such that they could enter and remain without being aware that it was fenced.  These kinds of examples are well outside the category of offenses the legislature intended to punish as burglary.

Second, Burglary is a serious crime with serious consequences. An arrest and conviction for a residential burglary, or any other property crime, can be a life-changing event that may result in penalties such as mandatory state prison time. Residential burglaries have reached epidemic proportions in many communities and courts are routinely handing out stiff penalties, even to first time offenders.

Again, good opinion.

State v. Redding: U.S. Supreme Court Declares Strip Search of 13-Year-Old Student Unconstitutional


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school officials violated the constitutional rights of Savana Redding, a 13-year-old Arizona girl who was strip searched based on a classmate’s uncorroborated accusation that she previously possessed ibuprofen, a banned medication. This is the biggest victory for students’ rights in the last 20 years.

My opinion?  I’ll let Savannah speak for herself.  Below is a post she wrote for the ACLU’s blog:

“People of all ages expect to have the right to privacy in their homes, belongings, and most importantly, their persons. But for far too long, students have been losing these rights the moment they step foot onto public school property — a lesson I learned firsthand when I was strip-searched by school officials just because another student who was in trouble pointed the finger at me. I do not believe that school officials should be allowed to strip-search kids in school, ever. And though the U.S. Supreme Court did not go quite so far, it did rule that my constitutional rights were violated when I was strip-searched based on nothing more than a classmate’s uncorroborated accusation that I had given her ibuprofen. I’m happy for the decision and hope it helps make sure that no other kids will have to experience what I went through.

Strip searches are a traumatic intrusion of privacy. Forcing children to remove their clothes for bodily inspection is not a tool that school officials should have at their disposal. Yet, until today, the law was apparently unclear, potentially allowing for the most invasive of searches based on the least of suspicions. Every day, parents caution their children about the importance of not talking to strangers, looking both ways before crossing the street, and following directions at school. But I imagine they never think to warn them that a school official, acting on a hunch, may force them to take their clothes off in the name of safety. And now, thankfully, they won’t have to.

Our fundamental rights are only as strong as the next generation believes them to be, and I am humbled to have had a part in preserving and promoting the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights.”

 . . .  I couldn’t have said it better myself!  🙂


From the Glass to the Brain in Six Minutes

Don’t let it go to your head.

Scientists is Heidelberg discovered that alcohol affects brain cells six minutes after consumption.  The “subjects” consumed an amount of alcohol equivalent to three glasses of beer or two glasses of wine, leading to a blood alcohol level of 0.05 to 0.06 percent.

The harmful effect also sets in quickly. During the experiment, the concentration of substances such as creatine (energy metabolism), which are attributed with protecting cells, decreases as the concentration of alcohol increases. Choline, a component of cell membranes, was also reduced. “That probably indicates that alcohol triggers changes in the composition of cell membranes,” says Dr. Armin Biller.

Is all consumption of alcohol harmful for the brain? “Our follow-ups on the next day showed that the shifts in brain metabolites after moderate consumption of alcohol by healthy persons are completely reversible,” says Dr. Armin Biller. “However, we assume that the brain’s ability to recover from the effect of alcohol decreases or is eliminated as the consumption of alcohol increases.”

This study also found no differences between the results of male and female individuals – the brains of female and male subjects reacted to alcohol consumption the same way.

My opinion?  Well — without getting too personal — I support the study’s findings.  Alcohol hits a lightweight like me fairly quick.  LOL.