California's death penalty on hold again
by Howard Mintz
Ensuring California's death penalty system remains in limbo for the foreseeable future, a state appeals court on Thursday scrapped the state's latest attempt to update its lethal injection procedures.
In a 28-page ruling, the 1st District Court of Appeal found that state prison officials failed to comply with administrative rules when crafting new regulations more than two years ago.
The unanimous decision of the three-justice panel sends California back to the drawing board, unless the Brown administration takes the case to the California Supreme Court and keeps more than 700 Death Row inmates on an indefinite reprieve.
The appeals court upheld a Marin County judge, who faulted the prison department for a variety of procedural missteps, including offering no public explanation for why San Quentin officials opted to continue with a three-drug lethal injection method instead of a single-drug execution option being embraced by a number of other states.
State officials have indicated in court papers they are exploring the single-drug option, which involves putting condemned inmates to death with one dose of a sedative. Ohio, Washington and Arizona are among the states that have moved to that option to short circuit legal challenges to the three-drug method.
A prison spokesman said state officials are reviewing the ruling but have not decided how to proceed.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said the ruling was not surprising, although he disputed the court's finding that violating the administrative rules justifies halting executions. Switching to the single-drug method should thwart further legal challenges to California's lethal injection procedures, he said.
However, even if the Brown administration moves to single-drug executions, prisons will again have to comply with the administrative procedures to institute the new method, a process that can take more than a year. And states across the country, including California, are struggling to assemble supplies of execution drugs because of resistance from drug manufacturers and other problems.
California has had a moratorium on executions since 2006 as a result of legal challenges to its execution procedures in both the state and federal courts. Death Row has more than 725 inmates awaiting execution, including more than a dozen who have exhausted their legal appeals and would be eligible for immediate execution. Several of those inmates have mounted the lethal-injection court challenges.
In response to a federal judge's concerns, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown have both tried to overhaul the state's lethal injections, revising training for execution team members and building a new execution facility at San Quentin. But the state's updates have been blocked twice for violating the administrative code, for the most part by failing to offer adequate public review of the proposed changes.
State Justice J. Anthony Kline, writing for the appeals court on Thursday, found California again violated the administrative rules in 2010, rejecting the state's argument that more than 20,000 comments were submitted and public hearings were held to consider its new lethal injection procedures. The appeals court concluded that the public did not receive all the necessary information, particularly surrounding the prison system's decision to stick to the three-drug method, which has been challenged because of concerns it can result in a cruel and painful death.
"The public that participated in the (prison system's) rule-making process was not so fully informed," the appeals court wrote.
Navy football players face rape inquiry
by James Risen
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As midshipmen were graduating from the Naval Academy here last week, Navy investigators were conducting an investigation into reports that several football players had serially raped a female midshipman at an off-campus party last year.
Three Navy football players are under investigation in the case, say Naval Academy officials. No charges have been brought, but the academy has delayed the graduation of one of the three midshipmen and his commissioning in the Navy, say academy officials and others briefed on the inquiry. The academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, is expected to receive a final report from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in the next week or two and then decide whether to proceed with charges, academy officials say.
The investigation, stemming from an April 2012 party, has sputtered off and on for more than a year, hampered in part by the woman's initial reluctance to cooperate, the officials said. She was ashamed and then later felt intimidated, said her Washington lawyer, Susan Burke. In a series of interviews, the female midshipman said that she was upset that she had faced disciplinary action for underage drinking at the party while the football players were permitted to play last season.
Academy officials acknowledged the inquiry but declined to comment further. “Naval Academy leadership is monitoring the progress of this investigation and evaluating the appropriate options for adjudication,” a spokesman said in a statement. “It is completely inappropriate to make any other public comment on this investigation or any ongoing investigation, as we risk compromising the military-justice process.”
Academy officials said that the players were allowed to play last fall because no charges had been filed in the case, and that they were accorded the presumption of innocence as a result. Officials described the case as delicate and complex, and one in which the investigation has been hampered by the limits of the available evidence.
The inquiry comes amid a growing national controversy over sexual assaults in the military — and over whether the Pentagon has reacted aggressively enough to curb them. The controversy has now reached into the cloistered world of the elite service academies.
In January, a Naval Academy instructor was charged with raping a female midshipman; the court-martial began this week. The Naval Academy has reported that it had 51 total reports of unwanted sexual contact during the academic years from 2011 through 2013.
Judge orders Google to give customer data to FBI
by PAUL ELIAS
SAN FRANCISCO—A federal judge has ruled that Google Inc. must comply with the FBI's warrantless demands for customer data, rejecting the company's argument that the government's practice of issuing so-called national security letters to telecommunication companies, Internet service providers, banks and others was unconstitutional and unnecessary.
FBI counter-terrorism agents began issuing the secret letters, which don't require a judge's approval, after Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The letters are used to collect unlimited kinds of sensitive, private information, such as financial and phone records and have prompted complaints of government privacy violations in the name of national security. Many of Google's services, including its dominant search engine and the popular Gmail application, have become daily habits for millions of people.
In a ruling written May 20 and obtained Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston ordered Google to comply with the FBI's demands.
But she put her ruling on hold until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could decide the matter. Until then, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company must comply with the letters unless it shows the FBI didn't follow proper procedures in making its demands for customer data in the 19 letters Google is challenging, she said.
After receiving sworn statements from two top-ranking FBI officials, Illston said she was satisfied that 17 of the 19 letters were issued properly. She wanted more information on two other letters.
It was unclear from the judge's ruling what type of information the government sought to obtain with the letters. It was also unclear who the government was targeting.
The decision from the San Francisco-based Illston comes several months after she ruled in a separate case brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the letters. She ruled in March that the FBI's demand that recipients refrain from telling anyone—including customers—that they had received the letters was a violation of free speech rights.
Kurt Opsah, an attorney with the foundation, said it could be many more months before the appeals court rules on the constitutionality of the letters in the Google case.
"We are disappointed that the same judge who declared these letters unconstitutional is now requiring compliance with them," Opsah said on Friday.
Illston's May 20 order omits any mention of Google or that the proceedings have been closed to the public. But the judge said "the petitioner" was involved in a similar case filed on April 22 in New York federal court.
Public records show that on that same day, the federal government filed a "petition to enforce National Security Letter" against Google after the company declined to cooperate with government demands.
Google can still appeal Illston's decision. The company declined comment Friday.
In 2007, the Justice Department's inspector general found widespread violations in the FBI's use of the letters, including demands without proper authorization and information obtained in non-emergency circumstances. The FBI has tightened oversight of the system.
The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available.
TSA Stops Invasive Scanning at Airports
by Greg Richter
The TSA has agreed to fit all future X-ray machines with filter technology, eliminating scans that essentially create nude photos of travelers, The Hill reports.
Following complaints from travelers, Democrats and Republicans in Congress leaned on the Transportation Security Administration to add filters to the X-ray machines.
In a letter written on May 24 and released on Thursday, TSA Administrator John S. Pistole wrote to the House Committee on Homeland Security that the agency is in compliance with the statute requiring generic images of the human body.
TSA had asked for an extension of its original deadline because it dropped the contract with the original makers of the scanners. That extension was granted and moved to May 31, 2013. All future scanners, Pistole wrote, will be have the filter built-in.
Privacy concerns were raised when the backscatter scanners were first put into use. The images were supposedly seen only by operators in a remote location who could not see the person being scanned. The negative images were shown by people on the Internet to produce clear nude images when reversed to "positives."
The possibility of TSA employees copying the photos, including a clear view of the face, raised privacy issues. Others worried about the amount of radiation emitted.
"I applaud TSA for becoming compliant with the law mandating that all AIT machines used by TSA are equipped with up-to-date privacy filters," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said after the Thursday announcement.
'Community policing' leads to arrest in Holiday
by Josh Gauntt
HOLIDAY -- As 25-year-old Nicholas Pasvantis was carted off to jail Saturday, his neighbors cheered with excitement.
“We have been living and putting up with this for years," Gretchen Schultz, a neighbor said. "We're just sick of it."
Schultz said they thought Pasvantis was involved in drugs and were taking pictures of the cars coming and going from a home on the 3400 block of Chickadee Drive in Holiday.
"It looked like a drive through over there," Schultz said.
Investigators said on Saturday Pasvantis got into an argument with his neighbors. According to a Pasco Sheriff's report, Pasvantis cussed at them and even mooned them.
Pasvantis' mother, Paula Audino, said it's all uncalled for. She said her son is a good kid.
"He's very quiet. He's very passive. He's a giver," Audino said. "It was a total accident. It was a 911 call. It got blown out of proportion. He does not have a record. These neighbors are trying to give my son a record that could ruin him."
But the sheriff's office and the community says this is an example of community policing. It's a new effort that the community showed off with a picture on the sheriff's office Facebook page.