Monthly Archives: June 2010

New Study Shows Immigration Reduces Violent Crime

I like it, I like it . . .

Using data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and U.S. Census Bureau, Tim Wadsworth, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, conducted a study.  The results were fascinating.  Basically, cities that experienced higher influxes of foreign-born and new immigrant populations also experienced lower rates of homicides and robberies.

Some background: during the 1990s immigration rates reached record levels.  Consequently, this led to speculation that increased immigration brought increased crime.

Not so, argues, Wadsworth.

Specifically, Wadsworth concludes that after considering other factors, growth among immigrants was responsible for roughly 9.3 percent of the decline of Homicides and 22.2 percent of the decrease in Robbery rates. He attributes this to what is referred to as the “healthy immigrant thesis,” which points to protective cultural and neighborhood factors often found in immigrant communities and families. Immigrants tend to be healthy, well-adjusted, motivated individuals and immigrant communities often buffer against the strains of poverty, assimilation and crime. In addition, Wadsworth draws on social disorganization theory. From this view, to the extent that immigrant communities produce protective factors in ethnically diverse neighborhoods, the effects of their presence may spill over to the native population by enhancing overall stability.

My opinion?  This study is timely in light of Arizona’s recent immigration legislation.  For those who can’t remember, this anti-immigrant legislation gives local police the authority to question individuals they suspect are in the country illegally.  In short, this research debunks evidence of a connection between immigration and crime.

If interested, here’s the study:

Is Immigration Responsible for the Crime Drop? An Assessment of the Influence of Immigration on Changes in Violent Crime Between 1990 and 2000.”  Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 91:2.  Tim Wadsworth.  (2010).

Debate Continues Over Putting New Jail Outside of Bellingham

Good question.  Inside or outside city limits?

The county has been working since 2003 to choose the site of a new jail as the current facility has become dilapidated and overcrowded.  The downtown jail was built to handle 147 inmates.  Now, due to double bunking, between 250 and 300 inmates are crammed inside.

The new sites being considered are outside of city limits near Bellingham International Airport.

Voters in 2004 approved a sales tax increase to start saving up for a new facility.  Several years ago, costs were estimated to be between $55 million and $60 million.  Those estimates are now up to potentially $144.4 million if construction were to begin in 2015.

My opinion?  Do something.  We’ve waited too long.  Although I’d rather have a downtown jail for ease of access to incarcerated clients (I work downtown), ANY solution at this point is preferable.  The present jail is disgusting.  Dirty, smelly, old and dangerous in the face of an earthquake.

State v. Nason: “Automatic Jail” Held Unconstitutional

Great opinion, interesting story.  WA Supremes decided that imposing “auto jail” on defendants who can’t pay their legal financial obligations violates due process.

In July 1999, James Nason pleaded guilty to one count of second degree burglary.  He largely failed probation and neglected paying court fines.  At numerous times, he was sentenced to jail for these failures.   In July 2006, he was charged and sentenced with another crime.  The court ordered Nason to serve 60 days in jail.  Additionally, the order included an auto-jail provision; which said that if he failed to pay court fines by a certain date, he had to either request a stay or book himself into jail.

The WA Supremes held due process requires that a court inquire into a defendant’s ability to pay legal financial obligations (LFO’s) at the time it incarcerates the defendant for failure to pay.  In short, “auto jail” violates due process.

The court’s reasoning was simple:

Due process prevents the jailing of an offender for failure to pay a fine if the offender’s failure to pay was due to his or her indigence/poverty.  However, if an offender is capable of paying but willfully refuses to pay, or if an offender does not “make sufficient bona fide efforts to seek employment or borrow money in order to pay,” the State may imprison the offender for failing to pay his or her LFO.  The burden is on the offender to show that his nonpayment is not willful.

Although the offender carries the burden, due process still imposes a duty on the court to inquire into the offender’s ability to pay.  Inquiry into the offender’s ability to pay comes at “the point of collection and when sanctions are sought for nonpayment.”

Here, Because due process requires the court to inquire into  Nason’s reason for nonpayment,  and because the inquiry must come at the time of the collection action or sanction, ordering Nason to report to jail without a contemporaneous inquiry into his ability to pay violated due process.

My opinion?  The Supremes exercised sound reasoning.  It violates due process to impose immediate jail if defendants cannot pay future court fines.  The decision to impose jail is a question which should be decided at a future time.  Jail should not be imposed because of some future-retroactive court condition.  Period.  Good decision.

Racial Disparities In Jury Selection Still Exist

Racial exclusion in jury selection is still common, according to a study of practices in southern states.

Domestic Violence Brutality Increasing in Whatcom County

That’s what the experts are saying, anyway . . .

An unprecedented series of domestic-violence slayings in the last 15 months has set off alarms across the county and left community leaders scrambling to gauge the problem’s extent and root causes.
The Bellingham Police Department and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office handle the majority of domestic-violence assaults in the county.  Although both agencies had an overall decrease in the number of such assaults per capita reported to them since 2004,
Sheriff Bill Elfo says the severity of the crimes have, in fact, increased.
Some other interesting facts:
* Whatcom County law enforcement agencies have investigated eight deaths believed to be related to or caused by domestic violence since March 2009.
* Workers in victim-care agencies confirmed the trend of increasing violence.
* The number of women and children who stayed at least one night in the shelter’s 18 beds increased by 17 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to agency statistics.
* Calls to Womencare’s helpline increased 28 percent last year.
Why has the problem increased?  The article cites the poor economy adding to the problem and hampering criminal-justice and victim-care agencies’ ability to prevent more violence.  The economy also hampers efforts to confine abusers as the justice system, from police to jails to courts, struggles under budget cuts.  For victims trying to leave abusive relationships, which is when they’re at the highest risk, emergency shelter and long-term transitional housing are getting scarcer as demand for them increases.

Berghuis v. Thompkins: Miranda Applies, BUT Defendants MUST Clearly Invoke Constitutional Rights


The Supreme Court ruled today in Berghuis v. Thompkins that a criminal suspect must specifically invoke the right against self-incrimination in order for constitutional protections to apply.

The case centered around the interrogation of murder suspect Van Chester Thompkins, who remained virtually silent for hours, before giving a few brief responses to police questions. Most significantly, Thompkins answered “yes” when asked, “Do you pray to God to forgive you for shooting that boy down?” The statement was introduced at trial and Thompkins was convicted.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court held that criminal suspects who do not clearly state their intention to remain silent are presumed to have waived their 5th Amendment rights. Ironically, suspects must literally open their mouths and speak in order for their silence to be legally protected. The new rule will defer to police in cases where the suspect fails to unambiguously assert their right to remain silent.

My opinion?  Naturally, I’m concerned about any retreat from the basic principle that criminal suspects should not be compelled or coerced into incriminating themselves.  The opinion is wrong because it creates additional challenges for suspects who already understand too little about how their constitutional rights apply during police interrogations.

Fortunately, however, the Berghuis decision leaves intact the best strategy for handling any police interrogation: keeping your mouth shut. Requiring suspects with limited legal knowledge to clearly assert their rights may seem a bit strict, but it’s irrelevant if the suspect never says a word to begin with. The point of the 5th Amendment isn’t to protect you after you’ve foolishly incriminated yourself; it’s to remind you that you’re not obligated to answer police questions in the first place.

Ultimately, the burden is on each of us to understand our rights and use that information to make the best decisions. It’s unlikely that any Supreme Court decision will ever change the fact that remaining silent is your best and only strategy if police ask you incriminating questions.

I can’t stress this enough: your attorney can suppress unlawfully obtained evidence IF you clearly assert your rights.