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April 2014 Archives

Will a defense of insanity work?

Julie Schenecker, a woman from New Tampa, faces the trial that will determine the rest of her life today. Schenecker had been found lying on the patio of her New Tampa home in 2011, with blood on her hands and bathrobe. Her two children were also found that day: her 16-year-old daughter Calyx was upstairs with two gun shot wounds to the head, and her 13-year-old son Beau was found fatally shot in her family van, still belted into the passenger seat. Will the jury find her defense of insanity viable? Or will she end up in prison for the rest of her life?

When can a victim obtain restitution in a federal criminal case?

The Supreme Court recently delivered an opinion in Doyle Randall Paroline v. United States that found restitution proper under 18 U.S.C. § 2259 only to the extent that defendant's offense proximately caused a victim's losses. The Supreme Court's holding vacated and remanded a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that had previously found the opposite to be true.

Clemency program set to expand

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have announced a new plan to expand the availability of clemency for drug offenders. The change in policy is one of many that the Obama administration has taken to ease the harsh penalties faced by those charged with federal drug crimes in a system that encourages the acceptance of plea deals. Clemency is a step that prisoners can take to try to have their sentence reduced by executive order if they have not been successful in the appeals process.

Can you face the death penalty for a drug charge?

Federal officials have indicted 27 people in a drug conspiracy case. Unfortunately for these individuals, drug conspiracy is not the only charge they face. The conspiracy case also involves homicide, money laundering and sale of heroin, crack and more than 650 pounds of cocaine over several years in southeastern Wisconsin. Will some of them face the death penalty?

Teen charged with crime after reporting bullying to school

A teenager is facing a disorderly conduct conviction after he recorded his classmates bullying him and played the recording for school administrators. Rather than acting on the information in the recording in which his classmates threatened him and insulted him, school officials forced him to erase the recording, gave him detention, and reported to the police that he had violated wiretapping laws.

Inadequate defense leads to new trial

A lawyer is facing professional sanctions after his services to a client accused of murder who was facing the death sentence were so inadequate the defendant was entitled to a new trial. The lawyer had represented only three prior murder defendants and had never tried a capital punishment case in the past at the time he accepted this case.

What if you were convicted of a crime you did not commit?

Fred Weichel has spent the past 32 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit. Weichel was found guilty of murdering 25 year old Robert LaMonica in 1980 outside of the man's Braintree apartment. Recently, after developing a relationship with a fellow inmate, Weichel is looking to have his conviction overturned. The relationship Weichel developed is with convicted mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, who says he knew the real killer.

When will a stay of execution be granted?

Convicted serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells was executed last Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to issue a stay to consider his lawyers' bid for more information on the drugs that would be used to kill him. A stay of execution is a court order that temporarily suspends the execution for a specific reason. Sells' attorneys had sought more information about the manufacturer of the execution drug. However, that stay was denied and Sells was executed.

What is a posthumous pardon?

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has recently refused to issue a posthumous pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was executed in 2004 for the arson deaths of his three children. After working diligently on his case, the Innocence Project is disappointed with the board's decision.

Mentally ill suspects present new challenges for police

Law enforcement officers from around the country have reported an increased frequency of violent incidents involving individuals who are mentally ill. This puts police in a difficult situation, acting using only their training as police and without the proper resources to occupy a role as a social worker or negotiator.

Mark J. O'Brien's cases have been featured in:
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