Wednesday, July 25, 2007

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Institutional Violence Rates and Future Dangerousness revisited: An integrative review


The public has been very fearful of inmates that are sentenced to a term in jail, or even the death penalty, whose sentences are commuted to lesser ones or they are released from prison altogether. The stigma of their offenses assumes that these persons will continue to be threats while in confinement or while out on the street. In Texas the legislature has enacted laws that mandate a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is a future danger to society before he can be sentenced to death. This “future-dangerousness” question is one of many concerns in the research world. Research conducted by Sorensen and Cunningham shows that these inmates who are sentenced to death are no more likely to become a threat to other inmates and staff in prison than inmates sentenced to prison for other criminal offenses (2006). This poses the question that if inmate’s rate of institutional violence are low, then how can the State justify satisfying the provision that an inmate will be a future danger when incarcerated for life or placed on death row? Twenty-one states have enacted legislation that requires a jury to determine future dangerousness in order to sentence a defendant to death by execution.
Prison officials and clinicians have often feared that when you release an inmate back into general prison population due to court action or federal law changes then these inmates pose a risk and constitute a substantial risk to that prison population and security staff (Marquart & Sorensen, 1988). While violence tends to be a patterned behavioral trend for some of the individuals, reoccurrences of serious violence, such as murder, is a rarity, not the norm (Sorensen, Marquart & Bodapati, 1990).
In 1972 the United States Supreme Court held in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that capital punishment was in violation of the United States Constitution (Sorensen, Marquart & Bodapati, 1990). The Court held that the death penalty statutes passed by most state legislatures were unconstitutional, violating the cruel and unusual punishment amendment.
The goal of this paper is to examine the empirical literature dealing with prison violence in the Post-Furman era. The central element here is understanding the base rates of violence and how operational definitions impact the rate of violence. We are also attempting to find the most consistent predictors of violence and our current level of ability to predict such violent outcomes.


We retrieved 16 studies that examine prison misconduct rates of inmates on death row, LWOP (Life without Parole), and life with parole sentences. These study populations varied from state to state. We looked at research that was collected from inmate pools from Texas, Missouri, Florida, Arizona and numerous other states. We are attempting to see if the research is correlated with various measures from each of the present studies (see table 1). We also want to examine if this collection of empirical studies has similar variables that can be correlated with other studies of prison misconduct and if they do than what are they and how much of an effect do they have. In other words, we are examining the average rates of violence on deep end prisoners and the correlations that are within violent misconduct itself. We are also including comparison samples from death row inmates that were commuted, life without parole inmates and inmates that are eligible for parole.
The variables examined in Table 1 include a list of the relevant literature in inmate violent misconduct, the type of population that was examined and the number of inmates sampled, the rate of prison violence at an annual rate per 1000 inmates, and in Table 2 correlated variables that were significant in measuring and predicting violent behavior.

Two of the studies were populated with post-Furman inmates. Some of these inmates were part of the cohort of inmates sentenced to death and subsequently later commuted to life in prison due to the United States Supreme Court’s declaration that the death penalty violated the U.S. Constitution in 1972 (Sorensen, Marquart & Bodapati, 1990).


Custodial officers, psychiatrists, and prison administrators feared that the release of commuted death row inmates into general populations would be catastrophic. These administrators believed that the former death row inmates were different from other inmates because they represented an increased security threat than that of other types of custodial inmates. To examine the literature on these rates of violence we broke down the population of inmates into comparison groups. These groups were inmates that were sentenced to death or commuted from a death sentence, inmates serving life in prison without parole and inmates serving life in prison that are eligible for parole.

Prison misconduct base rates among deep end prison populations

These base rates serve as a reliable assessment when attempting to predict future behavior of inmates confined in a correctional setting. However the research might have a problem with external validity because researching inmates in a correctional setting does not necessarily generalize to the outside population. Inmates that are confined are restricted in their movement around the facility, thus making it harder to assault an inmate or guard. In the outside world the inmate has no restriction in movement allowing for a greater chance of violent behavior to exist. To illustrate this point, Cunningham, Reidy & Sorensen (2005) compared rates of violent prison misconduct among death, life-without-parole, and parole eligible inmates from a Missouri prison general population. The logical reasoning of this study is to see if death row inmates could be integrated into the prison population without an increase in violent misconduct. Are inmates that are sentenced to life in prison more violent because they have nothing to lose? Cunningham, Reidy & Sorensen concluded that death sentenced and life without parole inmates were less likely to be involved in violent misconduct than their general population counterparts (2005). The results of this research offers questionable applicability to other populations outside the state of Missouri; however, Cunningham et al. reiterates that external validity of this nature may not a problem.
The Furman case had a rippling effect in the United States because people were afraid that if death row inmates were to be released into the general population then they were eventually able to be released back into society. As Sorensen and Cunningham have shown, numerous post-Furman inmates have been released back into society but the public fear is ill-informed. Sorensen et al. have shown that inmates released back into society from Furman or other commuting mechanisms show empirically that they are no more violent than any other inmate that would have been released.
These inmates serve as a catalyst of fear bestowed on to society. Society feels that the rate of violent offenses will increase because if the court system fails us and releases the more violent offenders, then these monsters are destined to kill again. Sorensen, Marquart & Bodapati focused their research on inmates in California just after their state Supreme Court declared that the death penalty was unconstitutional (1990). Just a few months later the United States Supreme Court ruled the same in Furman v. Georgia. Sorensen et al. compared Anderson commuted inmates (N=107) with information such as current status, recidivism information, and prior felony convictions (1990). These inmates had been on death row from the early 1960’s to 1972. According to Sorensen et al. these inmates spent an average of 3 years on death row (1990). Sorensen et al. also concluded that only 29.3% of these Anderson commutees committed a new offense after being released (1990). The logic of that is 70.7% of the inmates did not commit any new law violation after being released. Based on a review of these individual base rates from the research, Sorensen et al. concluded that Anderson commuted inmates were no more violent than those of a regular prison population (1990). The authors have concluded from surveying post-Furman inmates in California and examining their disciplinary behavior that due to a small percentage of the inmates that committed future crimes the rate was no different than that of current inmates being released from prison back into society (Sorensen, Marquart & Bodapati, 1990).
In 1972, Furman v. Georgia (1972) invalidated over 600 death sentences all over the United States (Marquart & Sorensen, 1988). Marquart & Sorensen (1988) examined the post-release behavior of 47 of these Furman commutees. Prior to this mass commutation many of the prison administrators felt that integrating these post-death row inmates into the general population would cause a surge in violence within the prison system (Marquart & Sorensen, 1988). Marquart & Sorensen concluded after examining the disciplinary records of these post-Furman inmates that these inmates committed only a few serious violent prison misconduct incidents (1988). This is the antithesis of what the correctional administration originally anticipated would have happened.
Marquart & Sorensen (1989) studied the prison and release behavior of post-Furman inmates. The questions that are being examined were: what happened to these former death row prisoners, and did these inmates or former inmates commit future crimes that would reinforce prison administrator’s fears that these inmates were always violent? Is this consistent with what the literature is saying? Marquart & Sorensen utilized various variables such as current status, prior felony convictions, prison disciplinary history, victim information, and whether the crime was committed in the commission of a felony to analyze the rates of violence in prison(1989). See table 1 to compare the variables and operational definitions for each of these studies. This study consisted of examining records from numerous states. The other studies only examined one state at a time to extrapolate future behavior unlike Marquart & Sorensen (1989) which examined numerous states to increase the external validity. Marquart & Sorensen also concluded that 80% of those released to the free society have not, at least officially, committed additional crimes.
Compared to the previous studies outlined in table1, the result is that these studies reiterate a strong conclusion that increased prison violence among death penalty and life without parole inmates when integrated into general population is greatly exaggerated. As a method of comparison we have broken the rates and populations by court sentences. These comparisons are to determine whether there is actually an effect of an inmate’s behavior in comparison to the type of sentence that is imposed. For the purpose of this research we examined the literature on prison rate behavior to include former death row inmates, life without parole inmates and life with parole inmates.
Former and Current Death Row Inmates:
Utilizing death row sentenced inmates as the experimental group Reidy, Cunningham & Sorensen examined the disciplinary records of 39 death row inmates in Indiana (N=39) that were transferred in to general population because of a change in their case status (ie. commutation, court reversals etc.). Reidy et al. concluded that a total of 35.9% of the inmates were involved in violent acts and only 26% were involved in violent acts while still under a sentence of death. They also concluded that only 20% of the inmates were involved in violent acts while sentenced to life in prison (2001).
Only one study that was located offered research to the contrary (see Delisi et al.). Delisi et al. examines a population of inmates in Arizona and determines that violent inmates sentenced to death are violent within the institution. Delisi states that violent inmates are more dangerous than others (Delisi et al., 2003). However, when examining this study with detail, one sees that Delisi et al. expands the parameters of inmates and does not clarify what variables he is measuring. One can study 10 violent felons that have killed prison guards and conclude that these inmates are violent, but how can we transfer that to the entire population of death row inmates? We cannot as asserted by Sorensen and Cunningham.
To illustrate the point of the how low the prison violence rate is Marquart, Ekland-Olsen and Sorensen (1989) stated that, of 92 capital murder offenders in Texas who have been sentenced to death after the jury had stated to the special issue, there was a probability the individual would be a future danger. However according to Marquart et al. capital juries are not likely to be accurate when determining a predictiveness of future criminal behavior or dangerousness. Marquart, Ekland-Olsen and Sorensen (1989) concluded that an annual prison violence rate of former death row inmates was .016 annual and .026 annual with convicted murders per 1000 inmates. These risk numbers were calculated from an assessment scale that was devised to predict this future behavior. Cunningham, Sorensen & Reidy (2005) used an experimental scale to examine the assessment of prison violence among maximum security inmates. Cunningham et al. examined inmates that were sentenced to death and life-without-parole (2005). The authors concluded that utilizing a logistical regression analysis that predictor variables such as age, type, length of sentence, education, prior prison term, prior probated sentence and years served acted as good predictors of future violent behavior with an area under the curve (AUC) of .719 (Cunningham, Sorensen & Reidy (2005)).
Life without Parole (LWOP) Inmates:
Another group of inmates that were examined were those inmates sentenced to only life without parole. The research question is reiterated how violent are these inmates in comparison to other high security inmates? Cunningham and Sorensen (2006) conducted an examination of prison misconduct rates among life-without-parole and other long term high security inmates and found that from 1998 to 2003, the likelihood and pattern of disciplinary infractions and rule violations among LWOP inmates is similar to those of other inmates that were sentenced to long term sentences with the possibility of parole. Sorensen and Wrinkle (1996) also compared 323 life without parole inmates that were convicted of capital murder and 232 inmates that were sentenced to life with parole for murder. Sorensen and Wrinkle (1996) found there was no significant difference between the rates of disciplinary infractions between life without parole (LWOP) inmates and life with parole inmates. This offers the conclusion that the sentence has no effect on predicting future criminal behavior behind bars. Cunningham and Sorenson found in more recent research that the same thesis applies with inmates sentenced in Florida from 1998 to 2002 (2006). Cunningham actually states that this effect is a stabilizing effect that is produced by LWOP inmates rather than a disruptive force in the prison system (2006).

Life with Parole Inmates:
Sorensen & Pilgrim examine the above research questions but use murders with a variety range of sentences as the experimental group. Sorensen and Pilgrim examined the disciplinary records of 10,121 murderers in Texas (2000). These murderers were eligible for parole in Texas. At the time of this study Life without Parole in Texas was not an option for Texas juries. They found that measures such as gang membership, prison history, and prior felony involvement in murder were a significant factor that influenced an inmate’s chances committing violence in prison (2000). Sorensen et al. calculated an inmate violence rate of .024 per 1000 inmates and .084 per 1000 inmates for serious assaults only. The prison violence rate was drastically lower than that of inmates sentenced for non-death property offenses.

Measures of Prediction:
In the criminal justice system it regularly depends on three types of predictions of future behavior (Marquart, Ekland-Olson and Sorensen, 1989). The first is predicting behavior based on past behavior. The second is the behavior of a person with similar characteristics (i.e. drug use, profiles etc.). And according to Marquart et al, the third and most widely used is the clinical judgment of an expert in the psychological field (1989). To illustrate the expert point, Edens et al. examined Texas Court of Criminal Appeals opinions on death penalty cases that an expert testified regarding the defendant being a future danger (2005). Edens et al. identified 155 cases that fit this criterion (2005). Edens et al. concluded from examining the trials of the 155 cases that clinical assessments and clinical risk instruments appear to be highly inaccurate in predicting future violent behavior of prison inmates (2005).
Utilizing Marquart et al and Edens et al psychological tests are also utilized in prediction of future dangerousness however modifications to these measures are needed. These modifications include developing variables to be associated with other populations (other states etc.) to better generalize the entire population.
Risk assessments are the crux of predicting future violent behavior in high security inmates. Cunningham & Sorensen (2006) examined the RASP-Potsi (Risk Assessment Scale for Prison) risk assessment scale to assess prison violence. The authors examined the RASP scale with 14,088 inmate disciplinary records. Cunningham et al. utilized variables such as age, education, prison confinement, offender type and sentence type (2006). They concluded that the scale was successful in predicting prison violence with an AUC of .645 to .707 (2006).
Utilizing the research we conclude that the RASP predictor variables have a relative strong association factor in predicting future behavior. The RASP instrument must utilize various variables and correlates to make its predictions. We examine these variables and correlates in the research reviewed.

Examination of Variables and Correlates (Table 2)
Table 2 discusses the types of correlates that are used within the scope of our research. For this research we confined the correlates that were most prevalent to this body of research. These correlates include age, education, race, gender and prior criminal history. The research points to other variables to explain this behavior, however we have summarized in table 2 some of the main correlates used within the current literature. The table shows an inverse relationship is consistent with age and prison violence. The exception to Cunningham and Sorensen’s work is research conducted by Delisi and Munoz. Delisi’s concluded that death row inmates were more violent than other inmates in the prison system. Cunningham and Sorensen concluded that Delisi and Munoz’s work was infested with methodological flaws. Going back to table 2 we see that the standard statistical method used within our retrieved literature is regression analysis. However, some of the studies included non-parametric tests to show an association between the various correlates.
Cunningham & Sorensen (2006) analyzed disciplinary records of 136 incarcerated capital murder offenders in Texas in the early stages of their sentences (between 6-40 months). Examining the disciplinary records of these inmates at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division Cunningham et al. found, consistent with prior studies, that variables such as age, prior prison history and assaultive misconduct were consistent in predicting behavior to a AUC of .715-.766 (2006). This predictive model has been needed to develop a “common sense” tool to determine if future dangerousness is a viable test for executing an inmate.
To further show how different variables can explain an association in prison violence, Sorensen & Cunningham (2006) reviewed 1,659 disciplinary records of convicted murderers sentenced to the Texas prison system between February 2001 and November 2003. Sorensen & Cunningham found that characteristics of inmates in regards to their age, coupled with more serious murder convictions, were associated with a higher incident of prison assaults (2006) Utilizing a logistic regression analysis with a determining baseline the authors concluded that the choice of measures used in researching prison violence is crucial in making true and accurate predictions.
To further illustrate this point Sorensen & Cunningham looked at the characteristics of 2003 disciplinary data on 51,527 inmates from Florida that were convicted of murder and lesser-included offenses of murder (2006). The authors examined the rates and correlates of prison misconduct and violence. These correlates are distinguishable as a research baseline to compare the rates of violent misconduct of these Florida inmates. See table 2 to examine the correlates of the various studies examined in this paper. A negative binominal regression was used as a predictive method and revealed that convicted murderers in Florida were 20%-30% less likely to engage in potentially violent misconduct than other non-violent offenders such as property offenders (Sorensen & Cunningham, 2006). However, according to Sorensen & Cunningham, inmates serving sentences for assault or attempted murder were not associated with a lower rate of prison violent behavior. The inverse of this is true, according to Sorensen and Cunningham (2006) that inmates who serve sentences for violent convictions were associated with a lower rate of prison violence (2006).


The current study analyzed 16 studies that involved inmate disciplinary records and predictive models. We also included an analysis of various correlates that corresponded with each study. We included in table 1 a chart of each study and its corresponding population, state, measure, operational definition and variables. We observe many similarities of each study including the various correlates observed (table 2). According to research conducted by Sorensen and Cunningham former death row inmates are no more likely to commit violent acts than life with outparole and their life with parole counterparts (Cunningham, Reidy & Sorensen, 2005). As cited in table 1 this research brings together a list of somewhat consistent violent misconduct rates of inmates serving in all levels of custody. This shows that the courts have not looked closely at how much of a danger inmates really are when a defendant is sentenced to death. Many states have made it mandatory for juries to make a finding that an inmate is a future danger from prior history and assessments from psychological experts. Sorensen and Cunningham have concluded that this method is not consistent with how violent these inmates really are in prison. When you compare the violent misconduct rates from the overall literature you find that juries could be deciding the fates of inmates with less than accurate information.
One difference that we find with the literature is that for each study a different numerical population of inmates is examined. Some of the studies include a large sample of inmates and others only examine a few. The question of external validity must be in the forefront. Does examining 3000 inmates really constitute a sample of the entire population of inmates in the United States?
Future research needs to include an analysis of the female prison populations. Is a woman that is sentenced to death likely to commit violent acts in relation to her own gender? The above research mainly focuses on males due to the increased numbers however a test of gender would be applicable. This literature is very consistent with its conclusions stating that inmates from death row are no more violent than their prison counterparts.

Cunningham, M.D. & Sorensen, J.R (2006) Nothing to Lose? A comparative examination of prison misconduct rates among LWOP and other long term high security inmates. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 33, 683-705

Cunningham, M.D. & Sorensen, J.R. (2006) Actuarial models for assessing prison violence risk: Revisions and Extensions Risk assessment scale for prison (RASP). Assessment. To be published 2006

Cunningham, Sorensen & Reidy (2005) An actual model for assessment of prison violence risk among maximum security inmates. Assessment. 12, 40-49
Cunningham, M.D., Reidy T.J. & Sorensen, J.R. (2005) Is Death Row Obsolete? A decade of mainstreaming Death Sentenced Inmates in Missouri. Behavioral Sciences and the Law. 23, 307-320

Delisi & Munoz (2003) Future Dangerousness Revisited. Criminal Justice Policy Review. 14, 287-305

Edens, J.F., Buffington-Vollum, J.K. Keilen, A., Roskamp, P., & Anthony, C (2005) Predictions of future dangerousness in capital murder trials: Is it time to “Disinvent the wheel?”. Law and Human Behavior. 29, 55-86

Marquart, J.W. & Sorensen, J.R. (1988) Institutional and post release behavior of
Furman-commuted inmates in Texas. Criminology. 26, 677-694

Marquart, J.W. Ekland-Olson & Sorensen (1989) Gazing into the Crystal Ball: Can jurors accurately predict dangerousness in capital cases? Law & Sociery Review, 23, 449- 468
Marquart, J.W. & Sorensen, J.R. (1989) A national study of the Furman-commuted inmates: assessing the threat to society from capital offenders. Loyola Law Review, 23, 5-28

Reidy, Cunningham & Sorensen (2001) From death to life: Prison behavior and former death row inmates of Indiana. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 28, 67-82

Sorensen, J.R & Wrinkle, R.D. (1996) No Hope For Parole: Disciplinary Infractions among LWOP and Death-sentenced inmates. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23, 542-552
Sorensen, J.R. & Pilgrim, R.L. (2000) An Actual Risk Assessment of Violence Posed by Capital Murder Defendants. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 90, 1251- 1270
Sorensen & Cunningham (2006) Conviction Offense and Prison violence: A comparative study of murders and Other offenders (manuscript under review-a)
Sorensen & Cunningham (2006) Operationalizing risk: The influence of Measurement choice on the prevalence and correlates Of prison violence among incarcerated murders. (under review-b)

Sorensen & Cunningham (2006) Capital Offenders in Texas Prisons: Rates, correlates, and actual analysis of violent misconduct. (under review-c)

Sorensen, J.R., Marquart J.W. & Bodapati (1990) Research Note: Two Decades after People v. Anderson. Loyola law Review 24, 45-56

Does Color Matter in Houston Texas? An Empirical Analysis

In the late 1980’s to the 1990’s homicides in Houston, Texas were coming off an all time high. The current research reflects how race and crime are interrelated and concluded that gender and race have a strong relationship with homicides. The research does not examine the relationship that race has with not just the homicide in general, but the specific homicide characteristics such as weapon type, victim selection, etc. The objective of this research is to analyze the impact of race on homicides in Houston, Texas. This research will analyze in two regression models how the victim’s and defendant’s race can influence homicide characteristics such as weapon type, gang affiliation, time and date of homicide and victim selection. Utilizing logistic regression we concluded that race itself is the strongest homicide characteristic variable, not gang or drug characteristics.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Book Review-Race and Juvenile Justice


Race and Juvenile Justice, Edited by Everette Penn, Helen Taylor Greene, Shaun L. Gabbidon. North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 2006, 266 pp. $28.00, paperback. ISBN 0-89089-572-4

Scott H. Belshaw
Doctoral Student
Prairie View A&M University

(Reciently selected for Fall 2006 publication in Journal of Youth Violence and Juvenile Jusitce)

There exists a large diverse body of literature on race related issues in the juvenile justice system; however, Race and Juvenile Justice brings all the relevant literature into one volume of essays from noted criminologists and scholars. During the past few decades, more publications than ever before have devoted considerable attention to the widening of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. Numerous articles have been written in scholarly journals bridging the gap between racial disparities and racial discrimination in the juvenile justice system. Penn hypothesizes that during the 1980s and 1990s more book-length works have begun to appear. Some examples of these works as cited by Penn are: The Criminal Justice System and Blacks (1984) by Georges-Abeyie; Unequal Justice: A question of color (1993) by C. Mann; Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice (1981) by R.L. Mcneely & C. Pope and The Myth of a racist criminal justice system (1987) by W. Wilbanks. Finally, some of these works focus primarily on disparities amongst African-Americans in the United States however, Penn and colleagues have compiled a diverse volume of racial problems that are experienced by other races not regularly included in previous literature.

Everette Penn et al encourages the reader to examine the larger picture when it comes to race in the juvenile justice system. Penn brings together a plethora of experts that examine the racial disparity issues not only from an African-American perspective but from those of Latino, American Indian and Asian youths. A large portion of the literature on racial disparity digresses from the most often-studied minority- the African-American population. Part one of this compendium covers racial issues from the numerous ethnic populations. Part two includes six chapters that focus on contemporary issues in juvenile justice and the final chapter then brings the relevant research together and applies it to practical theory by discussing practical delinquency intervention strategies. The authors state that their purpose for writing this book is to fill the gap that currently exists in the coverage of minority youth both in textbooks on juvenile justice and on juvenile delinquency, and among interested readers (Penn, 4).

Penn takes the time to include current research concerning race in the juvenile justice system in one volume that links research, theory and practice for students and practitioners in the criminal justice field. Some of book’s major chapters include, but are not limited to:

A focus on “White Delinquency” including trends of delinquency including alcohol and drug usage;

Exploration of barriers related to Latinos by noted criminologist Myrna Cintron. Cintron includes theoretical differences including language challenges and immigration problems;

Race and Juvenile Justice explores the evolution of disproportionate minority confinement (DMC) as it related to black youths from a historical analysis from noted attorney and juvenile justice scholar Berry Feld. Feld discuses the role of the Supreme Court’s decisions, especially their impact in due process rulings that changes the future of the juvenile court system;

Unnithan examines juvenile delinquency phenomenons within the Asian population. Unnithan examines the lack of literature and underreporting issues within the juvenile justice system;

A theoretical evolution of domestic violence within the juvenile population is examined;

Real-world strategies for prevention are included in the book’s final chapter.

Utilizing these foundations, Penn offers the criminal justice community a valuable contribution to the juvenile justice literature. This book would be well suited for a race and juvenile justice class at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Chapter 1 covers the problem of white delinquency in the United States. Pamela Preston discusses current trends that affect delinquent white juveniles in the 1990s and includes a comparison of rural, suburban and urban arrest records. Preston includes the relevant literature and also discusses the perception of white delinquents after a decade of school shootings culminating with the Columbine shootings.

In Chapter 2, Myrna Cintron discusses the growing problem of Latino (to include collectively, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central and South Americans, Dominicans and others of Spanish and Latin American descent.) delinquency in the United States. Cintron includes the current quantitative and qualitative research from a social, historical and environmental perspective. In the beginning of this chapter, Cintron gives an overview of delinquency within the Latino population and subsequently moves into a discussion of group characteristics and influences in delinquency rates within the Latino community.

In Chapter 3, Everette Penn discusses black youth, the disproportionate confinement rate and how and why it has become such a concern of the federal government. Penn incorporates into this chapter how juvenile justice workers have a large amount of autonomy when it comes to discretion and how their interaction has developed a cumulative effect on defendants in the juvenile justice system. Penn includes a brief history of black youth and their involvement in the juvenile justice system.

In Chapter 4, Unnithan produces information and research about the interactions of Asian-Americans with the criminal justice system in the United States. A very small body of literature exists in regards to Asian-American delinquency; however, Unnithan provides a realistic analysis to the current research as well as discussing influences in immigration and gang issues.

Chapter 5 focuses on Native American youth and delinquency. Just as in comparison with Unnithan’s research on Asian-Americans, Laurence French discusses the lack of research on Native American juvenile delinquency. French also explores how federal Indian laws have affected policy in the prevention and intervention of juvenile delinquency in Indian country. The Department of Justice has compiled historical data in reference to juvenile crime and delinquency within the Native American population. With this in mind, French develops a quick survey of the Department of Justice’s findings which allows the reader to have a survey of the current data and explores the contrasts in group harmony as compared to other ethnic groups. This chapter is concluded with an explanation of the sudden rise in Native American gangs and strategies to assist in reducing this phenomenon.

The 6th chapter begins part II with a survey of contemporary literature in juvenile justice. This chapter analyzes juvenile victimization while living in the households where domestic violence is present. Lee Ross analyzes the victimization of African-American juveniles and the effect that violence has on this population. Ross includes a qualitative case study outlining Michael, an African-American child of 10 years of age, that is constantly exposed to violence in his household and how it affects his life and community. Ross includes a macro-sociological approach utilizing Michael as the catalyst in discussing how taking a quantitative approach to measure delinquency with some exposure to domestic violence sometime in their lifetime. Ross concludes this chapter by introducing the role of education in curbing the violence that children observe on a daily basis.

In Chapter 7 Marilyn McShane and Frank P. Williams III discuss the evolution of youth gangs and gang membership as it applies to low economic status in minority populations. McShane and Williams state that gang development is, without exception, a response to social and cultural adjustment by members of minority groups and the poor and powerless in society (Penn, 113). The authors examine various approaches to reduce gang involvement by analyzing community and legal programs to assist in eradicating the problems, not necessarily the symptoms.

Chapter 8 introduces the application of race and ethnicity in the juvenile justice system as it applies to the death penalty. Daniel Georges-Abeyie discusses the execution of juveniles as a worldwide human rights issue in contemporary criminal justice. Georges-Abeyie compares the execution of juveniles in the United States to petit apartheid, a term used to describe the unofficial mores and norms of a nation. He talks about the how the use of the death penalty in the United States places the nation at odds with the world community even though it is contradictory to human rights and international law.

In Chapter 9 Michael Lieber examines the phenomenon of disproportionate minority confinement (DMC) of youth and how the states and federal government have measured up after the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. Lieber states that the politics of race, crime, and racial bias, coupled with state resistance and practical considerations, led OJJDP to adopt a tentative approach to DMC (Penn, 159). The states have made little movement to address DMC issues that were addressed in the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974; however, Lieber hypothesizes that even though little movement has been made, a reduction has been measured in some states.

Chapter 10 addresses constitutional issues as it applies to juvenile justice. Attorney and scholar Berry Feld explores the “due process revolution” and the changes that the courts have made in the last half century. This article synthesizes and analyzes research on history, law, sociology, criminology, current events, race relations and media studies (Penn, 188). This analysis treats the changes in juvenile justice law and policy as the dependant variable in relation to the Warren Court changes in juvenile law.

In chapter 11 Everette Penn and Helen Taylor Greene bring to a logical conclusion a discussion of lessons learned in reducing juvenile delinquency. The authors state that the purpose of this chapter is to examine what we have learned about reducing juvenile delinquency by summarily focusing on prevention strategies that have emerged in the past two decades (Penn, 224).

In conclusion, Race and Juvenile Justice is an outstanding book that brings together the current race and ethnicity literature in juvenile justice. For those with little familiarity with the subject of race in the juvenile justice system, Race and Juvenile Justice provides a very broad pass and covers many significant details that will allow the reader to obtain a snapshot of the current research in the field. Race and Juvenile Justice offers something for everyone. It is a compendium of current research that can be read by scholars and laymen alike. This book should be a core requirement for all undergraduate and graduate courses in race and juvenile justice.

Georges-Abeyie, D. (ed.) (1984) The Criminal Justice System and Blacks. New York: Oxford University Press

Mann, C.R. (1993) Unequal Justice: A question of color. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press

Mcneely, R.L. & Pope, C (Eds.) (1981) Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications

Penn, Everette & Greene, Helen Taylor & Gabbidon, Shaun L. (Eds.) (2006) Race and Juvenile Justice. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press

Wilbanks, W. (1987). The Myth of a racist criminal justice system. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Identity Theft: How to protect yourself this holiday season

By: Scott H. Belshaw, M.A.

The holidays are around the corner and it is a time for festivities and cheer. It is also, unfortunately, a time for scams and swindles. Identity theft scams have been on the rise for the last few years. Identity theft was the number two most reported crime to the federal government in 2003.According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, identity theft is a crime in which the imposter obtains key pieces of personal information such as Social Security and driver's license numbers to obtain credit, merchandise and services in the name of the victim.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 27.3 million Americans have been victims of some form of identity theft within the past five years. According to the FTC’s survey, last year's identity theft losses to businesses and financial institutions totaled nearly $48 billion and consumer victims reported $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses.
Identity thieves get your information by going through your trash can, looking for straight-cut or unshredded papers. They steal your mail or your wallet and listen in on conversations you have in public. Sometimes they trick you into giving them the information over the telephone or by email. These latter two methods frequently occur with elderly victims. They can also steal your information from a loan or credit application form you filled out or from files at a hospital, bank, school or business that you deal with. These thieves may have obtained it from dumpsters outside of such companies. It is also common for a friend or relative or someone who works for you who has access to your information to steal your identity.

You can protect yourself by checking your credit reports once a year from all three of the credit reporting agencies. Guard your Social Security number. When possible, don’t carry your Social Security card with you. While doing that holiday shopping, do not put your Social Security number or driver’s license number on your checks. Make it a practice to never sign the backs of your credit cards; you may write “please check identification” in the signature space if you like. By utilizing these tips you can severely decrease your chances of having your identity tampered with.

For more information please go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website at

Scott Belshaw is senior partner of Scott H. Belshaw & Associates, a criminal justice investigations and consulting firm located in Houston, Texas. Mr. Belshaw is a graduate of the University of Houston- Clear Lake’s graduate program in criminology and frequently lectures on identity theft.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Randomness of victim selection in murder cases-RESEARCH IN PROGRESS

The other day I had a colleague ask me about problems in criminal investigations. I stated to him one such problem is that police have a tendency to focus on accessible suspects rather than random ones. An example of this is the Jon Benit Ramsey case. The police focused on the family as the primary suspect rather than a random criminal breaking into the home and murdering and raping that girl. I recently had a conversation with a convicted criminal on death row. He told me that he used to break into random houses and assault young women. He also killed women on the street and he did not even know their name. This killer stated to me that how he RANDOMLY picked houses and people to accost not necessarily ones that he knew. These random assaults are more likely to go unsolved rather than pointing at a suspect that is a family member. Dr. Steven Egger, Professor of Crimininology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, coined the term "Less-Dead". This term is used in serial homicide investigations to explain why serial killers target prostitutes or people that are less likely to have a caring family to report them dead or missing. The key to this is randomness. If you review most unsolved cases you will find that family members had strong alibis. The police could not link the evidenceto the family. The next logical conclusion that you can make is that a random person must have killed them. Another case that caught my attention regarding this theory is the Dr. Jeffery Mcdonald Case. Dr. McDonald was the Army Green Beret that was convicted of killing his wife and children. The military ruled that they could not link him to the case. Instead of looking for a random killer and focusing on the clues of the case, they re-analyzed the evidence to point at Dr. McDonald. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to prison for life, years after the murders.

I have noticed that the police find it impossible to believe that a random person can break into a persons house and murder a family or person. We have seen evidence of this in random killings and rapes everyday. Picture this senerio and decide who would the police suspect?

As I am driving home from work, after hearing that my wife is pregnant, I feel that I really need to increase mine and my wife's life insurance. Having a new baby on the way that would be a logical step. I contact my insurance agent and he states no problem and generates the applicable paperwork. I get home and spend the evening with my family. I am a professor of criminal justice at a local college and have the flexibility to work at home when I am not teaching classes. One evening me and my wife get into a heated argument, just as every other married couple does and voices get loud. Just in every other marriage the argument lasts a short time and peace is achieved. The following day, while I am at work my family is brutal murdered. A deranged man walking down the street looks in the window and sees my family and murders them. Couuld it happen? Refer to the convicted murderer conversation above. I come home from the college to find my family brutality murdered. I call the police thus the investigation commences.

The police do their preliminary investigation and rule out the fact that a random person could have killed my family. They base it on the following cirmcustantual facts:

1. After interviewing my neighboors the police are told that me and my wife were enganged in a heated argument the night before. The neighbor's report after the argument not seeing my wife or children.

2. Being a professor of criminal justice, the police could logcally conclude that I am an expert in forensics and have the ability to stage a crime scene (I don't remember a class in graduate school teaching that) How many serial killers liked to read detective magazines?

3. The big one....After a statement from my insurance agent they find that I increased my wife's life insurance policy creating motive.

4. I recently found out my wife was pregnant..As seen in many cases the police conclude that I did not want the baby and that's why I killed my wife and family.

5. After interviewing my in-laws they reveal to the police that me and my wife were having marital problems (what marriage doesn't?) and they tell the police that they never liked me anyway. They begin to tell them about times that we disagreed.

6. If infidelity was involved: When does infidelity become a motive for murder?

After reading the above seneroio and applying the six conclusions it is easy for the police to pin the murder on me?

What percentage of murder suspects know their victims?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Racial Profiling and the Fourth Amendment

Racial Profiling and the Fourth Amendment: An examination of how The United States Supreme Court is reinforcing racial profiling practices in decisions being handed down.
Scott H. Belshaw
University of Houston Clear Lake

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court held in Atwater v. Lago Vista that police officers may arrest a citizen for minor law violations such as violating a seat-belt law or for a traffic violation. Over the last several decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued opinions that have broadened police powers on the street, the Atwater case is another in this line of decisions. Indeed, 4th Amendment cases such as Belton v. New York, Carroll v. United States, Terry v. Ohio and Whren v. United States have all broadened the discretion of officers. Atwater and other Court opinions have effectively given the police more leeway to target minorities by establishing a vehicle stop and search without having to obtain a judicial warrant as prescribed by the 4th Amendment. This paper examines two questions in light of the Atwater decision: Is the U.S. Supreme Court rendering decisions that allow law enforcement to circumvent the Fourth Amendment, thus creating a tolerance for racial profiling? Did the Atwater decision create an unintended consequence allowing for law enforcement to circumvent the constitutional protections in search and seizure cases?

While racial profiling is considered illegal in the United States, The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently handed down rulings that allow law enforcement an enormous amount of flexibility in decision-making on the street. One unintended consequence of these Court rulings is the reinforcement of the illegal practice of racial profiling in law enforcement. In the United States, law enforcement officers frequently utilize motor vehicle stops to enforce criminal laws. Realistically, these violations, which are minor misdemeanor offenses and not of a felonious nature, are oftentimes based on a suspect’s physical appearance rather than on a valid and legal behavioral or criminal action. When these stops are due to race and not valid legal criteria, they can lead to improper vehicle searches not subjected to judicial review or 4th Amendment protection. In fact, in 2002, the United States Department of Justice completed a national survey which found that the police were more likely to carry out some type of search on African-Americans (10.2% of the time) and Hispanics (11.4% of the time) in comparison to Caucasians, who were searched 3.5% of the time. The police often justify these stops by reporting that the citizen fit the description of a criminal suspect. This vague “fitting the description” justification is still applicable if there is a significant description on a suspect. An example of this is if a police officer is targeting black males for possible drug activity in a neighborhood that has a history of drug activity, the police officer cannot legitimately detain all the black males in the neighborhood for questioning and possibly subject to search. The police must establish legal justification to detain and even arrest the subject pursuant to the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The ruling in Atwater allows for the police officer to justify a search without going through the conventional constitutional protections as prescribed by the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has rendered decisions that allow police officers to stop and search a motorist’s vehicle if they believe the motorist is trafficking illegal drugs or weapons. In Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968) the Court decided to allow the police to stop an individual walking down the street or simply standing on a street corner and frisk him for illegal contraband. Along the same grounds, in Atwater v. The City of Lago Vista (532 U.S. 318), the Court decided that the police have the authority to arrest a citizen for a class “C” criminal misdemeanor law violation. Examples of such offenses include traffic violations and violations that are not subject to punishment by incarceration. Implementation of Atwater, along with other court rulings, allows police more freedom to target minorities by establishing that a vehicle stop and search can be performed without having to obtain a warrant, thus diminishing the probable cause doctrine. In the Atwater decision the Court stated, “The Fourth Amendment does not forbid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation punishable only by a fine” (Atwater v. Lago Vista 2001). Since the Atwater decision, the Courts have ruled that if a citizen is stopped for a traffic citation, he or she can be subject to arrest and detention. The suspect’s vehicle is also subject to search and impoundment, all without a warrant from a judicial body. Police officers then can execute more traffic stops, targeting young minorities in high crime areas, which lead to more arrests, which further skews the racial profiling statistics against African-Americans and other minorities. The police can use this tactic to target low income areas with high crime and justify illegal detentions all without 4th Amendment protection for the citizen.
In light of the Atwater decision, the issues that are presented in this paper are: Is the U.S. Supreme Court rendering decisions that allow law enforcement to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. Second, does the Atwater decision produce an unintended consequence to Fourth Amendment case law.

Procedural history of 4th Amendment cases (fostering increased discretion for the law enforcement officer):

The Supreme Court has issued search and seizure opinions that are focused towards police officer behavior on the street. In Carroll v. United States 26 U.S 132,153 (1925) the Supreme Court allows for a vehicle to be stopped without a judicial warrant when the police officer establishes “probable cause” that the vehicle might contain illegal contraband. [U1] In Whren v. United States 517 U.S. 806 (1996), the Court specifically refines Carroll and specifies that a motor vehicle can only be stopped when a traffic violation has occurred in the presence of the police officer. The Court noted in Whren that the constitutional reasonableness of the stop does not depend on “ulterior motives”, “actual motivations”, or “subjective intentions” of the officer making the stop. Consequently, when the Whren decision is applied in conjunction with Atwater ruling, the United States
Supreme Court endorses the practice of police officers using a simple traffic violation to justify a traffic stop, even when the actual purpose was to conduct an investigation into suspected criminal activity not necessarily related to the traffic violation. Confronting the racial issue, the officer can justify the stop when they believe that a minority is merely possessing drugs or illegal contraband. Under Atwater, while declaring that such stops do not violate the Fourth Amendment, the Court did allow that allegations of unlawful selective enforcement (stops based on race or ethnicity) could be challenged civilly under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. With the decision of Atwater, the court is essentially giving the officers a broader discretion that allows them to stop an individual based on race and justify that stop using Whren and Carroll respectively.
In Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the court established the stop-and-frisk doctrine that clearly outlines police procedures when stopping a citizen on the street and frisking him. The court held that police may, under certain circumstances, approach and stop a person for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior. This includes briefly detaining an individual under a reasonable suspicion as well as frisking or patting the person down for possible illegal contraband. All of this can be done without a warrant. In Atwater, as stated above, the High Court also handed down a ruling that allowed police to arrest a citizen for a law violation that amounted to nothing more than a traffic ticket. Other significant Fourth Amendment cases involving search and seizure include:
In Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 98 S.Ct. 330 (1977) the Supreme Court ruled that an officer can order a driver out of his or her vehicle following a lawful traffic stop. The Court decided this case on the basis of officer safety, and cited a study that revealed 30% of police shootings occurred when officers approached suspects who were in vehicles.
In Maryland v. Wilson, 117 S.Ct. 882 (1997) a United State Supreme Court decision permits officers to order passengers out of a vehicle following a lawful traffic stop pending the completion of the stop. This is an extension of Pennsylvania v. Mimms.
In Ferris v. State, 355 Md. 356, 735 A.2d 491 (1999) the Fourth Amendment permits the warrantless search of an automobile when there is probable cause to believe that the automobile contains contraband or evidence of criminal activity. The officer’s purpose in an ordinary traffic stop is to enforce the laws of the roadway, and ordinarily to investigate the manner of driving with the intent to issue a citation or warning. Once the initial purpose of that stop has been fulfilled, the continued detention of the car and the occupants amounts to a second detention.
Once the underlying basis for the initial traffic stop has concluded, Pelic states that a police-driver encounter which implicates the Fourth Amendment is constitutionally permissible only if (1) the driver consents to the continuing intrusion; or (2) the officer has, at a minimum, a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is presented (2003). In meeting the reasonable suspicion standard, it is not enough for police officers to articulate reasons why they stopped someone if those reasons are not probative of behavior in which few innocent people would engage. The factors together must serve to eliminate a substantial portion of innocent travelers before the requirement of reasonable suspicion will be satisfied. Police officers’ assertions that a criminal activity is indicated by “garden variety nervousness” must be treated with caution. The court has established that the officer must take a second step, other than a hunch, to justify the stop. In Ferris the Court became aware that racial profiling can be used to justify a stop under just a reasonable suspicion alone. The Court ruled that the officer must justify the stop based on other factors, beyond reasonable suspicion. This case was one of the first that began to narrow officer discretion on police stops. The question that ensues is, is this narrowing enough to thwart officer stops based on race? Or can this still be justified?
In United States v. Arvizu 534 U.S. 266 (2002), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit investigatory stops as long as the facts and circumstances lead to a reasonable suspicion that the driver has engaged in criminal activity (Pelic 2003). As we see in Arvizu, the Court continues to broaden the powers of the law enforcement officer on the street by changing the language and allowing a broader discretionary power. This case sets a strong precedent and reinforces previous cases, aforementioned above, giving discretion to the law enforcement officer
The Court has essentially ruled that probable cause now is subject to degrees. The interpretation of these degrees is still left up to the discretion of the individual officer.
In New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981), the Court allowed that police may conduct a full search of a vehicle’s passenger compartment incidental to a custodial arrest of an occupant. Prior to Atwater, a full search would not be permitted in those situations where the officer merely issued a citation. Subsequently, a person could not be arrested for a crime that was punishable only by a fine. This was generally common practice among law enforcement officers. This would deny the officer a search of the vehicle if it was not incidental to arrest. If an officer observes a person of a minority racial group driving through a heavily crime and drug-infested area, he would have a hunch that the driver was engaged in criminal activity. According to the intent of current opinions of the courts, the officer could not justify a blatant stop and search under the Fourth Amendment and Belton. However, as we will see in Atwater, the police have the justification to arrest and search for a meager violation that is punishable by a fine only. The police can now justify the above arrest and search incidental to arrest only for running a stop sign or speeding through a neighborhood without any other probable cause.
In the above opinions, the Court permits the field officer a wide range of discretion when stopping and investigating citizens operating motor vehicles, standing on the corner of a street, or walking down the street. This discretion is allowing the officer to make judgmental decisions which are fundamental to racial profiling issues. The above court cases broaden the police officers’ discretionary powers with unintended consequences.

Facts and Procedural History of Atwater:

In Texas, violation of the seat belt law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine only. Texas law also authorizes, but does not require, police to arrest a person found violating the seat belt law, pursuant to Atwater. In March 1997, Petitioner Gail Atwater was driving her pickup truck in Lago Vista with her two children; neither Atwater nor her children were wearing seatbelts. Respondent Bart Turek, a police officer for respondent Lago Vista, Texas, observed the seat belt violations and pulled over Gail Atwater’s truck. Officer Turek approached the truck in a belligerent manner, shouting at Atwater. When Atwater asked him to lower his voice because he was frightening her children, Officer Turek yelled that Atwater was “going to jail”. Officer Turek then called for backup and asked to see Gail Atwater’s driver’s license and insurance papers, which Texas law required her to carry. Atwater did not have these papers, claiming that her purse had recently been stolen. Atwater was arrested and brought to the local police station. There, booking officers had her remove her shoes, jewelry, and eyeglasses, and empty her pockets. Police took a mug shot of Atwater and placed her in a jail cell for one hour, after which she was taken before a magistrate and released on a three hundred and ten dollar bail. Later, Atwater was charged with violations of the seat belt law, driving without a license, and failure to provide proof of insurance. Atwater pled no contest to the seatbelt offense and paid a fifty dollar fine. All other charges were dismissed.
Petitioner Gail Atwater later filed suit in Texas State court, claiming that Lago Vista and Officer Turek had violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, which later dismissed the case, holding that Atwater’s guilty plea, along with the absence of any allegation that she had been harmed or detained in any way inconsistent with the law, made her Fourth Amendment claims meritless. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that an arrest for a first-time seat beat offense constituted an unreasonable Fourth Amendment seizure. It also held that Officer Turek was not entitled to qualified immunity. The Supreme Court vacated the panel’s decision. Gail Atwater filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court agreed to hear her case challenging the fact that her 4th Amendment rights were violated.
In its Supreme Court decision stated that since neither party disputed[U2] Officer Turek’s probable cause to arrest Atwater nor was there no evidence that he acted in an extraordinary manner, the arrest was not unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The standard of probable cause applies to all arrests, without the need to balance the interests and circumstances involved in particular situations. As stated in Atwater, “If an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed even a very minor criminal offense in his presence, he may, without violating the Fourth Amendment, arrest the offender.” The Court found that the Fourth Amendment does not forbid a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation punishable only by a fine. The residual effects from these rulings have allowed the police greater ease to target potential offenders by race contradictory to state law.

Racial Profiling Background-Texas

In order to understand the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on racial profiling, it is appropriate to define what exactly is racial profiling. According to the Houston Police Department’s operational definition, racial profiling is defined as “any law enforcement-initiated action based on an individual’s race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than on the individual’s behavior or information identifying the individual as having engaged in criminal activity” (2005). According to the Houston Police Department, an example of law enforcement-initiated racial profiling includes performing a traffic stop on a particular vehicle because of the race, ethnicity, or national origin of the driver of the vehicle (2005). Stopping or detaining the driver of a vehicle based on the determination that a person of that race, ethnicity, or national origin is unlikely to own or possess that specific make or model of vehicle is racial profiling. The definition would also include stopping or detaining an individual based on the determination that a person of that race, ethnicity, or national origin does not belong in a specific part of town or a specific place. Lamberth (1998) states that the research shows that African-Americans are far more likely to be stopped and searched than their Caucasian counterparts. The report from the United States Department of Justice on contact between police and the public also states that minorities are searched at a higher rate than Caucasians (2002). According to Walker, Spohn and Delone (2004) race is often a “cue”. A young man, belonging to a racial minority, driving in a white neighborhood is likely to trigger an officers suspicion because he “looks out of place” (18). By the same token, the presence of two middleclass white men in a minority neighborhood known to have a high level of drug trafficking is likely to trigger the suspicion that they are tying to purchase drugs (Walker, 2004). An example to illustrate this was reported in the Austin American-Statesman. In Austin, Texas in the summer of 2001, an off-duty police officer named Timothy Enron chased down, harassed, and arrested a young black man apparently because he was driving a nice truck. Enron said, “When I see a 16-year–old African-American male get into a late model F-150 pickup, do I think there’s more going on than their back-up light out? You bet I do. The truck should have belonged and driven by someone who lived possibly in the county or was a construction worker…not a 16-year–old black male” (2001).
According to Steward (2005), founder of the Steward Research group, Texas law enforcement agencies continue to search Blacks and Latinos at higher rates than they do Anglos: approximately 2 out of 3 agencies reported searching African Americans and Latinos at higher rates than Anglos following traffic stops. Sixty-six percent (66%) of agencies searched African Americans at higher rates than Anglos, while 69% of agencies searched Latinos at higher rates than Anglos. Steward also states that of the agencies that consent-searched African-Americans at higher rates, 3 out of 4 (75%) consent-searched African Americans at least 50% more frequently than they consent-searched Anglos, representing a significant disparity in treatment between Anglos and African Americans (2005). Of the agencies that consent searched Latinos at higher rates, 3 out of 4 (74%) consent-searched Latinos at least 50% more frequently than they consent- searched Anglos, representing a significant disparity in treatment between Anglos and Latinos.

Figure 1
Source: Texas Department of Public Safety 2004 Annual Traffic Stop Data Report

In contrast, the racial disparity in Texas continues[U3] . According to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2001 Annual Traffic Stop Data Report, thirty-one percent (31%) of traffic stops conducted in 2001 by state troopers involved both African-American and Hispanic drivers (2001). However, the Texas Department of Public Safety states that African Americans and Hispanics combined make up almost forty two percent (42%) of the entire population of Texas (see Figure 1). These disproportionate numbers are large in comparison to the larger picture. The above statistic makes up only one law enforcement agency in Texas out of a possible two thousand one hundred forty-seven according to the Texas Department of public safety 2004 Annual Traffic Stop Data Report.

Figure 2
Source: Texas Department of Public Safety 2001 Annual Traffic Stop Data Report

When examining the Texas Department of Public Safety 2001 research on vehicle searches, it shows a clear racial disproportion with the total population of minorities that live in Texas (see Figure 2). According to DPS research, 60.22% of drivers from racial minority groups were stopped and their vehicles were searched for illegal contraband. In comparison, the total population of minorities in Texas is 47.53% of the entire population. These statistics show that there is a concern with law enforcement-initiated racial profiling. These examples show that the police on the street are entrusted with a broadened discretion that allows with ease the individual officer to make decisions based on racial variables rather than legal ones. The police have developed a practice of stopping and searching vehicles operated by primarily African-American drivers because of a belief that those individuals are “more likely than none” to possess drugs or be involved in criminal activity (Weeden 1999). Often these police officers target specific minority neighborhoods that are infested with criminal complaints and activity. In summary, law enforcement targets individuals for arrest based on racial group instead of targeting the behavior of an individual. The same behaviors that can be exhibited in high minority areas can also be exhibited in non-minority areas.
As stated earlier research conducted by The United States Department of Justice: Study of Contacts Between Police and the Public finds from their 2002 national survey the data concluded that during a traffic stop the police were more likely to target and search African-Americans and Hispanics at a higher rate than their caucasian counterparts (2002). To understand how law enforcement can use racial profiling, we must first examine the Court’s rulings that have fostered the approach that more easily allows police discretion to racially profile potential offenders.

Unintended Consequences of the Atwater case

After Atwater and subsequent rulings, the police now have broader discretion to stop a member of a minority group and search his vehicle. This is in contrast to rulings from earlier courts. The police were given this general guideline by the Court beginning in 1925 to establish a “probable cause” to search a citizen’s vehicle. That ruling was eventually watered down to establishing a “reasonable suspicion” to stop and frisk a citizen as stated in the Terry decision. Many critics of the reasonable suspicion test contend that the test permits racial profiling, because it uses stereotypes and physical profiles (Harris 2002). These decisions were intended to make an officer’s authority narrower but as we have seen, the unintended consequences of these rulings, collectively, have broadened their powers and make it easier to justify racially based stops. The purpose of understanding these consequences is to prevent law enforcement officers from abusing their powers by relying on inappropriate stereotypes to enforce the law (Pelic 2003). Out of these decisions rendered by the United States Supreme Court, they have resulted in increasing police officer discretionary powers, therefore setting a negative precedence in future Fourth Amendment cases. Some of the research issues that still remain are that these rulings have fostered an easier approach that allows the officer to profile potential offenders by race, contradictory to state law.
The Atwater decision had the potential to shield minorities from the Whren decision that allowed police to search after a traffic stop. Instead, in Atwater, the Whren decision was upheld, which further enhances the likelihood that more American minority motorists will be subject to police harassment, as virtually every driver will be guilty of a traffic violation at some point in time (Ruddy 2002). The decision that the police officer makes has a ramification that lasts beyond the initial arrest. The defendant is now part of the criminal justice system and is subject to its fallacies. The defendant has a record of arrest and potential for conviction of a criminal infraction. The defendant must hire an attorney and incur expenses. This does not even take into consideration that an illegal activity, such as profiling racially, is further reinforced until the next incident. According to Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy, the practice of using race “nourishes powerful feelings of racial grievance against law enforcement authorities (Kennedy 1998).

Conclusion: The future of Atwater and racial profiling.

In the United States, racial profiling has become a serious problem affecting all communities and citizens, not just people of color. We see how the United States Supreme Court’s rulings not only affect the specific case but also unintended community consequences have become a bi-product of these rulings. Police officers have substantial discretion out on the street when confronting citizens. Along with Atwater’s arrest for minor traffic offenses and these other Supreme Court rulings, the police officer is allowed to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. These unintended consequences have had a direct impact on racial profiling practices.
The Court noted in Atwater that the most effective way to eradicate the problem would be to have the state governments pass laws that specifically prohibit arrests for minor, fine-only, traffic offenses. The Court also stated that these arrests carry a cost on the state and citizens that clearly outweighs its purpose. When the officer conducts an investigatory stop that is challenged, the officer must identify the factors and inferences relied upon as well as the basis for the reliance (Pelic 2002). These factors must be articulated to a detail that can be scrutinized constitutionally. It is clear that racial issues need to be addressed in future Court decisions because of the unintended enforcement consequences that have derived from these cases.
In order to prevent law enforcement officers from abusing their power and discretion or relying on racial stereotypes, the courts provide a check on the reasonableness of the factors used by the officer. The police departments must also adopt policies that will allow them to collect racial profiling data that far exceeds what the law requires in Texas. Law enforcement must also network with local and national non-governmental agencies to encourage more research and data collection. This data collection should also include racial profiling complaints made by the public allowing researchers to find statistical trends that can be interwoven in future public policy. This will allow the police departments to see any problems that are observed from a citizen’s perspective rather than one of law enforcement. Another future recommendation would be to provide more public education from law enforcement officers regarding racial profiling practices and procedures that are in place to eradicate it. Having law enforcement take a pro-active public relations approach with regard to racial profiling would foster an increased citizen confidence in the police. The key is to eliminate the practice that the officer relies solely on stereotypes and hunches to make a legal stop. These facts must be able to withhold the scrutiny of the scholars and the courts; then the Supreme Court must consider this in future decisions rendered.


Gail Atwater et al. v. The City of Lago Vista 532 US 318 (2002)

Banks, R. (2001). Race-based suspect selection and colorblind equal protection doctrine and disclosure. University of California at Los Angeles Law Review, 48, 1075-1108
Chavez v. Illinois State Police, 251 F. 3rd 612 (2001).

Durose, Mathew et. al. United States Department of Justice-Bureau of Justice Statistics Study: Contacts between the police and the public: Findings of the 2002 national survey. Retrieved February 5, 2005 from

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2001). Uniform crime reports: Crime in the United States, 2001. Washington, DC: Department of Justice.

Gross, S. R., & Livingston, D. (2002). Racial profiling under attack. Columbia Law Review, 102, 1413-1438.
Harris, D. A. (2002). Profiles in injustice: Why racial profiling cannot work. New York: New Press

Houston Police Department: Definition of racial profiling. Retrieved February 1, 2005 from

Kennedy, Randall (1998) Race, Crime and the Law. New York: Vintage Books, p. 137 Knowles, John (2001) Racial bias in motor vehicles: Theory and evidence. Journal of Political Economy 203-229. Lamberth, J. (1998, August 16) Driving while black: A statistician proves thatprejudice still rules the road. The Washington Post.
Osbourne, Jonathan. (2001, August 10). Driving While Black. Austin American Statesman. Pelic, J. (2003) United States v. Arvizu: Investigatory Stops and the Fourth Amendment. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Vol 93, 1094 Ruddy, L (2002) From Seatbelts to Handcuffs: May Police arrest for minor traffic violations? Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 10, 479
Steward, Dwight. (2005). Steward Research Group, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and NAACP: “ Don’t Mind if I take a look, Do Ya” retrieved February 1, 2005, from
Taslitz, Andrew E (2003) Respect and the fourth Amendment. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. 87

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Texas Department of Public Safety: 2001 Annual Traffic Stop Data Report. Retrieved on February 2, 2005 from

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Walker, Samuel; Spohn, C.; Delone,M. (1998) The Color of Justice. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth

Weeden, L. D. (1999). It is not right under the Constitution to stop and frisk minority people because they don't look right. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, 21, 829.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Texas Capital Punishment

Witness to the Execution

By Scott H. Belshaw, M.A.

The day had started off like any other day. I remember thinking that as my children ran into my room and jumped on the bed, jolting me out of a deep sleep, the day was going to be good. My oldest son wanted to play catch with me before I went to the office. It only took a few minutes to remember that today was the day that I was to witness the death of a murderer. Later in the afternoon, while going over those last-minute documents, the phone rang. It was my client, saying that he was down the street from my office and was ready to head to Huntsville.
Some time ago I received a call from a local criminal attorney, James “Rick” Reed. Rick asked me to help look into claims made by one of his clients. He stated that his client wanted some defense issues investigated. Rick told me that it was a death penalty appellate case and time was of the essence. As an experienced criminal private investigator, I felt that this type of case was pretty standard compared to all the others I have investigated. The only difference was that this case was going to change my life.

The case was the State of Texas v. Rex Mays. Rex was convicted of the stabbing deaths of two young girls, ages seven and ten, on July 20, 1992. Rex entered his next door neighbors’ house and stabbed both young girls with a knife. He then returned home and discarded all of his clothing and continued going about his business as usual. After the bodies were discovered and the police arrived at the scene, Rex acted as a concerned neighbor and even offered his assistance in locating the killer. The families of the girls placed signs all over Harris County and offered rewards to find the killer of these young, innocent children. After the Sheriff’s Department began eliminating suspects one by one, they focused their attention on Rex because of his strange over-enthusiasm to assist with the police investigation. Ultimately, the police conducted round-the-clock surveillance and befriended Rex to see if he would offer some insight on the case. After a year of diligent work by the Sheriff’s Department, Rex finally confessed his involvement with the double homicide to the police. The former clown at children’s parties informed deputies that he would tell them anything they wanted to know about the killings for the price of a hamburger, fries, and soda from Burger King. He told detectives that he was angry at the loud music coming from the home next door. He also stated that he had recently lost yet another job and was becoming increasingly aggravated with life and his place in it. He confronted the young girls and slipped into a terrible rage. After many conversations I had with this killer, he never denied committing the offense. He would skate the question when I approached him with it. However, the strongest piece of evidence against Rex was that he signed a written confession and assisted the police in corroborating the damning evidence. He was tried, convicted and was sent to Texas’s death row.
Capital murder in the State of Texas is defined by the Texas Penal Code in section 19.03. It states that the following crimes are considered capital murder in Texas: murder of a public safety officer or firefighter; murder during the commission of kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, or obstruction or retaliation; murder for remuneration; murder during prison escape; murder of a correctional employee; murder by a state prison inmate who is serving a life sentence for any of five offenses- murder, capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery; multiple murders; and murder of an individual under six years of age. These crimes are punishable by life in prison or a sentence of death from a jury.[1]

Rex’s attorney and I were driving up Interstate 45 North towards Huntsville, the mecca of the Texas prison system. Rick had a look on his face that I will never forget. It was more than just a look of disgust; it was a look of seeing the bad that the criminal justice system had to offer. Rick is a very successful attorney and a strong advocate for clients accused of crimes. He has been practicing law for about twenty years and has seen his share of successes and failures of the criminal justice system. Rick relies on me to re-investigate the crime and re-evaluate the forensic evidence that is presented, no matter how horrible it might be. He argues the legal points of the case and I feed him the analysis of the forensic evidence. I have learned to develop a tolerance for evil over the years of being involved with the criminal justice system. This is the greatest skill criminal attorneys and their investigators must have: the ability to disassociate oneself from the criminal act. Some can do it more easily than others; I guess Rick and I aren’t too good at it. We are only human. The conflict that we have is that representing and working for our clients is a necessary function for our criminal justice system to work; however, feeling no remorse when they are executed is another. After looking at the autopsy photos of what pure evil can do, you can’t help feeling that an animal like this needs to be put to sleep. Seeing the photos of these two innocent girls lying on the medical examiners’ table with the most horrid looks on their faces is something I will never ever forget.

We arrived at the Huntsville unit, also known as “Walls” due to the high orange walls surrounding the compound, in Huntsville, Texas around 4:30 pm and needed to be at the prison around five in the evening. The attorney was allowed one last visit with the condemned before the execution. As we arrived at the unit I was asked to have a seat outside the warden’s office while Rick spoke with Rex. The only thing I could think of was to wonder what Rick was saying to Rex. Rick is a soft-spoken, private person who was severely uncomfortable being at the unit. What would one say to a client right before they die?
After a few minutes passed, Rick and I were summoned to a room that resembled an employee break room. We stood in this room with nothing much to say, just waiting until this process would end. At that moment the assistant warden walked into the room and took a roll of the visitors to this evil. The feeling around us was almost clinical. I felt that I was in a hospital rather than a prison facility. After the roll call was done the warden told everyone that he would escort them to the visitor observation room when it was time for the execution. At that moment a young gentleman walked over to us and asked if we were involved in the case. I stated that I was the appellate investigator on the case and that Rick was Rex’s attorney. This gentleman stated that he was a very distant relative of Rex’s who had just graduated from Sam Houston State University with a Ph.D. in criminal justice. He added he was a professor at a state university, and had gotten permission from Rex to experience the execution for academic reasons. I thought I was the only one who felt this way and was glad to meet someone who shared my academic curiosity.

The warden then led us out of the break room and down a long narrow hallway. This hallway then led outside the prison administrative offices to the death house. While we were walking across the street, we could see on our right the anti-death penalty protestors. On our left were the protestors demonstrating on behalf of the victims’ families. It seemed to be democracy at its finest.

As we walked into the death house we observed that the victims’ families and the family and friends of the condemned were separated for obvious reasons. It was not until January 12, 1996, that close relatives and friends of the deceased victims were allowed to witness executions.[2] At the moment we walked into the witness room for the inmate’s family and friends, the curtains that separated us from the condemned were opened, allowing us to see Rex belted down to a gurney. Intravenous tubes were already connected from his arm through a small hole in the wall on the north side of the room. At that moment, Rex looked up from the gurney at us and smiled. I really do not know why he did that. Maybe he was grateful someone cared enough to show up on his behalf. I guess in his own warped mind he thought we were cheering him on, like at a little league baseball game. But the truth of the matter was that we were curious to see what his end was going to be like- how the state was going to end his existence. The warden walked out of a small door on the east end of the room and read the death warrant. This is a legal document that the judge of the district court signs, after a unanimous verdict by a jury, which allows the government to carry out the execution. The warden then asked Rex if he had any last words to say.
Rex then rattled off a semi-coherent statement into a microphone that was situated above his head. “I would like to say a final prayer: Dear Heavenly Father,I come to you today, Lord, and thank You for this opportunity to be with You in paradise. I ask you for forgiveness for the ones that need to be forgiven. Dear Lord, deliver us from evil and give us the comfort and peace and joy that we need. Dear Lord, I ask You right now to be with each of the witnesses and lift them up and be on solid ground. Let them know what has gone on and may we all see each other again. Amen. I would like to thank each witness: Ms. Cox, Whiteside, Reed, Scott, and Chad. I am going to go and see Jesus tonight and reserve a special place for each one of you. You all have been there when no one else was. Thank you for all of your love and support. Just know that I am ready to go. You all know what I've gone through. I am going to a better place with the Lord. I'm mad for one reason, that I'm leaving you behind, when I am going to a better place. Y'all still have to go through this hell on earth. Just remember the good things and not the bad. You are all loved and respected. Warden, just give me parole and let me go home to be with the Lord.” [3]

The only thing that was going through my mind, listening to his soliloquy, was that wherever Rex was going, I was sure that it was going to be warm and he would not need a jacket. After Rex made his final statement he laid back and took a deep breath. You could see his stomach move up and down at momentary intervals. A few seconds after the lethal dose was administered, Rex let out a series of breaths and his body turned whiter than standard bed linens. That was the moment that I knew he was dead. A chill like no other ran up from my feet all the way to my neck and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up straight. At that moment I felt scared of something. I was not sure what it was, but a fear came over me with a vengeance. All I could think of was getting out of that room. I could hear faint cries from religious leaders that were standing behind me. I heard the clergy in the room praying. After a couple of minutes a man with a stethoscope walked into the room and listened to Rex’s body. After a few passes across the body, a man stated in a loud, clinical voice, “6:19 pm”. The doctor was calling Rex’s time of death. I just wanted to get out of the room. The warden then walked back into the execution room and closed the curtains on both witness viewing windows. The door to the witness room immediately opened and the prison officials whisked us out of the death house. The prison officials still wanted to keep both groups of witnesses separated. As I walked by the door that led to the victims’ families’ room, I saw an older man looking out the small tinted window watching us walk away. I guess he was wondering how we could be supporting Rex after the horrible crime that he had committed. Little did he know that as involved as we were in the case, we were disgusted by our client and felt no love for him whatsoever. We walked out of the prison unit and got into our car and drove away.

The drive back from Huntsville to Houston was a quiet one. As Rick and I parted ways we could only think that justice was a vicious animal. I was constantly wondering if it changed my beliefs about the death penalty. After experiencing my first execution, I found that I was still on the fence when it came to capital punishment. The only thing I question is the fairness and impartiality of the system. I do not question this because of Rex but because of the way the system was created; it showed no remorse for the guilty or the innocent.

[1] Texas Penal Code Sec. 19.03.

Research Topics

Below are some of my research topics:

  • Racial Profiling
  • Death Penality and Capital Punishment in Texas
  • 4th Amandment constitutional issues
  • Probation and comunity supervision issues
  • Criminal sentencing issues
  • Forensic Criminology issues
  • Crime Scene investigative theory

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Racial Profiling and the 4th Amendment

Racial Profiling and the Fourth Amendment: Are the courts reinforcing racial profiling practices in decisions being handed down?

While racial profiling is considered illegal in the United States, in 1996 the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that allows the police to stop and search a motorist’s vehicle if they believe the motorist is trafficking illegal drugs or weapons. In 2002, the High Court also handed down a ruling that allowed police to arrest citizens for a law violation that amounted to nothing more than a traffic ticket (Atwater v. The City of Lago Vista). This gives the police more leeway to target minorities by establishing a vehicle stop and search without having to obtain a judicial warrant as prescribed by the 4th amendment of the United States Constitution. Police officers must establish probable cause to arrest a citizen for violating the law. However, after the Atwater decision, the courts have ruled that if a citizen is stopped for a traffic citation they are subject to arrest and detention. Their vehicles are also subject to search and impoundment- all without a warrant from a judicial body. Police officers then execute more traffic stops, targeting young minorities, which lead to more arrests, which further skews the racial profiling statistics against African Americans. Recently the court has issued contrictidatory decisions that further facilitate racial profiling in the United States. The research shows that African Americans are far more likely to be stopped and searched than their Caucasian counterparts. The questions that are presented: Is the United States Supreme Court rendering decisions that allow law enforcement to circumvent the fourth amendment thus creating a tolerance for racial profiling? Are African Americans really committing more crimes than they are targeted for or are they just caught more often because the police initially target them?