Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Rachel Canning, a New Jersey honor student who sued her parents for child support after she moved out of their home, smiles during a hearing on March 4 at the Morris County Courthouse in Morristown, N.J. She is now reunited with her parents, her parents' lawyer said in a statement Wednesday. (John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger/Pool/AP/File)

Rachel Canning: N.J. teen who sued parents for child support is back home (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.12.14

A New Jersey teenager who left home and then tried to force her parents to pay her bills has returned home, her parents’ lawyer said on Wednesday.

A lawyer for Rachel Canning’s parents told reporters that his clients have welcomed their daughter back into their Lincoln Park home, in a quiet resolution to a family spat that had spun into a courtroom drama and into international headlines.

Rachel “has returned home and reunited with her parents and siblings,” said Angelo Sarno, her parents' attorney, in a statement, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Still, Rachel’s lawsuit against her parents has not yet been pulled, and Mr. Sarno declined to comment during a press conference on Wednesday as to why the lawsuit was still outstanding.

The case is "over on a different level, not legal," he told reporters, according to the New York Daily News.

He also told reporters that Rachel’s return home is “not contingent on any financial and/or other considerations” and that the battle between parents and daughter is “ancient history,” according to the Daily News.

Rachel, an honor student, had alleged in a lawsuit that her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, tossed her out of their home last October, two days before she turned 18, and had since refused to pay any of her bills, according to the Associated Press.

She had since then been living with her best friend, whose father, attorney John Inglesino, had fronted her legal fees and helped her pursue a court order to force her parents to pay child support, including what was left of her private school tuition at Morris Catholic High, her future college tuition, and legal fees.

Rachel’s lawsuit against her parents also claims they were abusive, contributing to an eating disorder and pushing her to win a basketball scholarship, according to the Daily News.

But the Cannings say that Rachel left their home of her own accord, after chafing at their requests that she follow basic house rules, including doing some chores, abiding by curfew, and being respectful. The family had also quarreled over Rachel’s boyfriend, whom the Cannings called a bad influence.

The Cannings, seen in courtroom pictures weeping through the proceedings, say they had supported their daughter through her eating disorder, according to the Daily News.

Last week, State Superior Court Judge Peter Bogaard denied Rachel’s emergency request, expressing concern about the precedent such an order would set – possibly prompting a slew of teenagers to ditch their parents and then sue them to pay up or, at the very least, giving teens the go-ahead to threaten their parents with a court summons each time things weren’t going their way.

“Are we going to open the gates for 12-year-olds to sue for an Xbox?,” said Judge Bogaard, according to the Associated Press. “For 13-year-olds to sue for an iPhone?"

"We should be mindful of a potentially slippery slope,” he said.

Still, the judge had ordered a hearing in April at which the court would address the broader issue of whether Rachel’s parents owe their adult daughter financial support.

In this frame grab from video provided by WAFB-TV 9, Glenn Ford (c.) walks out of a maximum security prison in Angola, La., on Tuesday. Mr. Ford spent nearly 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. (WAFB-TV 9/AP)

Death row inmate, wrongfully convicted, goes free almost 30 years later (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.12.14

Glenn Ford, sentenced to death nearly three decades ago for shooting a man whose lawn he used to mow, was not even at the scene of the crime, according to new evidence used to free him from prison this week.

Mr. Ford, Louisiana’s longest-serving inmate on death row, was released from prison Tuesday, after prosecutors told a local judge that new evidence from a confidential informant proved that Ford had not committed the crime for which he was sentenced to death, local news outlets reported.

Ford, held in Louisiana’s Angola prison since March 1985, had been convicted in large part because prosecutors had suppressed evidence at trial that would have proved Ford’s innocence – and pointed at another suspect. His capital murder case was also riddled with flawed expert testimonies and fumbled by inadequate counsel, his attorneys said in a news release.

“In late 2013, credible evidence came to the attention of the undersigned to supporting a finding that Glenn Ford was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman,” reads the March 11 court filing by prosecutors.

Ford is one of a slew of inmates who have been exonerated in recent months, amid growing recognition that the justice system is not foolproof and that innocent people can, and do, go to prison. Last year, some 87 people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit were exonerated, a record high since the National Registry of Exonerations began tracking wrongful conviction numbers in 1989.

So far, 19 people, not including Ford, have been exonerated in 2014, according to the registry, which is a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law.

Ford’s story dates back to Nov. 5, 1983, when Mr. Rozeman, a watchmaker, was found shot to death behind the counter of his jewelry, china, and silverware shop in Shreveport, a northern Louisiana city hard to the Red River, according to the court filing.

Ford, who did yardwork for Rozeman, was called to the police station for questioning after the murder. He told investigators that he had visited Rozeman on the day of the shooting to ask for work, but had been told there was none.

Ford also told police that he had talked that day to a man whom he knew just as “O.B.” and who he said had given him some jewelry to pawn. Receipts later showed that the jewelry Ford pawned on O.B.’s behalf matched items stolen from Rozeman’s shop.

Ford later identified O.B. as Henry Robinson, the brother of a local man named Jake Robinson. Jake’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, implicated both brothers in the murder, and the Robinsons became the police’s main suspects in the case, according to the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana (CPCPL), which handled Ford’s appeals.

But Ms. Brown, in a fateful statement for Ford, also told detectives that Ford had been with the brothers. Ford, too, became a suspect, and the Shreveport District Attorney’s Office issued indictments for all three men.

Brown, under questioning, later recanted what she had told police, telling the jury that she “lied about all of it,” according to CPCPL. It was too late for Ford, though. Based on the testimony of three forensic experts, Ford was singled out from the pool of three suspects as the murderer.

Ford, who is black, was found guilty and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. He has maintained his innocence ever since, according to CPCPL. The Robinsons were found not guilty.

In a series of appeals, defense attorneys showed that the original prosecution had suppressed evidence during the trial that corroborated Ford’s innocence claims, including a police report that had two informants saying that Jake Robinson had committed the murder, as well as evidence that the Robinsons were in possession of the murder weapon after the killing.

Post-conviction counsel also called experts who testified that the expert testimonies given at trial were grossly inaccurate. Ford’s two lawyers, neither of whom had ever defended a client before a jury and had either limited or no experience in criminal law, had not called any expert witnesses for the defense at the original trial.

Still, Ford stayed in prison even after the Louisiana Supreme Court wrote – in an opinion upholding his conviction – that the evidence against him was “not overwhelming” and the case against him was open to “serious questions,” according to CPCPL.

It was not until March 11, when district prosecutors wrote to a district judge that a confidential informant had told them in late 2013 that Jake Robinson was the murderer, that Ford was exonerated.

Over the past 25 years, almost 60 percent of the wrongful convictions for homicide in the United States have been associated with official misconduct, including the suppression of evidence, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

About 8 percent of exonerations since 1989, or about 105 inmates, have been of people on death row, even though just about 1/100 of 1 percent of felony convictions are death sentences, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

For the past decade, there has been an average of three death row exonerations per year, the registry says.

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass May 19, 2012. (Thomas Hodel/Reuters/File)

Bullied children more likely to consider or attempt suicide, report says

By Staff writer / 03.11.14

School-age children who are bullied are more than twice as likely as peers who aren’t bullied to have suicidal thoughts and to make suicide attempts, according to a paper released Monday.

The research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, also reports that cyberbullying is even more correlated to a heightened risk of suicidal thoughts and actions – a finding soberly on-point with recent news of young people killing themselves after bullies went after them in cyberspace.

“Bullying is indeed an important risk factor for one of the most prevalent causes for adolescent mortality,” said Mitch van Geel, one of the researchers, in an audio interview posted with the article on the Journal of the American Medical Association’s website.

RECOMMENDED: Top 5 bullying myths

In the research, a Netherlands-based team gathered 34 prior studies examining bullying and suicidal thoughts in a total of 284,375 participants between 9 and 21 years old. The team also looked at another nine studies addressing the relationship between bullying and suicide attempts in total of 70,102 participants between the same ages.

Based on that aggregated data, children who were bullied were about 2.23 times as likely to think about committing suicide and about 2.55 times more likely to attempt suicide, the researchers found. The results did not change when reanalyzed based on sex and age, the researchers reported.

But when those numbers were retallied to assess the relationship between in-person and cyber bullying, the possible consequences of teasing and taunting became all the more alarming.

Being bullied in person increases a child’s risk of thinking about suicide by about 2.16 times, according to the report. But being bullied online or over texts more than triples the likelihood that the child will think about killing him or herself, according to the papers.

“This might be because with cyberbulling, victims may feel they’ve been denigrated in front of a wider audience,” Dr. van Geel said. “Because the event is stored on the Internet, they may relive denigrating experiences more often.”

An estimated 15 to 20 percent of adolescents are involved in bullying, either as a bully, a victim, or both, according to the paper. And about 5 to 8 percent of US teenagers attempt to kill themselves each year, the paper said.

In general, researchers note that although they see correlations between bullying and suicide, one does not necessarily directly cause the other, and other factors come into play.

In September, Rebecca Sedwick, aged 12, climbed to the top of a cement plant tower in central Florida and jumped. Polk County prosecutors initially pressed felony charges against two girls, aged 14 and 12, who had sent Rebecca thousands of Facebook messages in the year before her suicide, calling her ugly and urging her to kill herself.

One of them posted a flip Facebook status after Rebecca’s jump saying that that, yes, she had bullied her schoolmate to death, but she didn’t care.

The office later dropped the charges when an analysis of the messages failed to turn up enough evidence to tie the bullying to Rebecca’s death, highlighting the difficulties inherent in going after cyberbullying perpetrators, since identifying the reasons for suicide is often an inexact science.

Following Rebecca’s suicide, as well as that of other students across the United States, advocates have called for schools to meet head-on the fact that new technologies are providing 24-hour opportunities, as well as almost boundless portals, for bullies to get to their victims. Advocates have pressed schools to extend their responsibilities to protect students into those unpoliced digital spaces.

Still, others have said that keeping tabs on students online is a somewhat herculean undertaking for schools, given the breadth of digital terrain over which students’ private lives tumble and unfold. It is also a task beset with questions about just how far a school can legally go in keeping watch on its students’ behavior off-campus.

Though most states, with the exception of Montana, have legislation on bullying, just 18 states have laws explicitly addressing cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. Also, cyberbullying legislation in each state differs in defining just what constitutes cyberbullying and on clarifying what obligations a school has to address its students’ online behavior off-campus.

A bill put before the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last month would take action on the issue at the federal level, requiring schools that get federal funds to institute policies explicitly designed to curb cyberbullying., which monitors progress on legislation, lists the bill as having a 1 percent chance of enactment.

Officials hold a news conference regarding security measures for the upcoming Boston Marathon in Framingham, Mass., Monday, March 10, 2014. Spectators are strongly discouraged from bringing backpacks, coolers and other large items, and instead are urged to carry belongings in clear plastic bags like those being given to runners to stow their gear. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Twice the police, more security cameras on tap for Boston Marathon 2014 (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.10.14

Almost one year after two homemade bombs made from pressure cookers exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line, state and marathon officials on Monday announced tightened security measures for this year's race that include a fortified police presence and a ban on baby strollers.

The new measures – the result of a seven-month review of how to keep runners and spectators safe at the April 21 race – will double the number of uniformed and plainclothes cops at the event and will add numerous items, such as backpacks and purses, to the list of articles subject to police search. Officials have also put a kibosh on unregistered runners jumping onto the 26.2-mile course to run parts of the race, citing security concerns.

Some 36,000 runners are expected to take part in the 2014 race, about 9,000 more than last year, and spectators are expected to reach about 1 million, double the number last year, according to The Associated Press.

Last year, on April 15, two bombs concealed in backpacks tore through a crowd of spectators near the finish line. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured in the blasts.

Suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces 30 federal charges for his alleged role in the bombings, as well as for the fatal shooting of a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Mass., three days after the attack. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and faces a possible death sentence if convicted. His trial is expected to begin in the fall.

Mr. Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whom authorities believe orchestrated the bombings, died after a police shoot-out while trying to evade capture.

State officials said Monday that 3,500 police officers will be at the marathon this year, double the number patrolling last year. Plus, 100 security cameras will be added along the race course and surrounding areas, according to The Associated Press. The Tsarnaev brothers were identified after the attack with the help of security camera footage from the finish line.

Officials have also banned several more items besides the usual suspects of firearms and explosives. They include baby strollers, costumes that obscure the face, and containers that can hold more than one liter of liquid. Officials discourage marathon spectators from bringing other items that will be subject to search, including large purses, coolers, and big blankets, and advise them to ease the security process by putting their belongings in clear plastic bags, according to the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the Boston Marathon.

"We are confident that the overall experience of runners and spectators will not be impacted, and that all will enjoy a fun, festive and family-oriented day," Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, told The Associated Press. 

Runners will have to check their gear with marathon organizers and transfer it into plastic bags before boarding buses to the start line, according to the Boston Athletic Association. Runners will not be allowed to bring backpacks onto those buses.

In an end to marathon tradition, officials are also prohibiting unregistered runners from hopping into the race to run alongside family or friends.

"We are aware that many people want to participate in some way in this year’s Boston Marathon as a display of support,” writes the Boston Athletic Association, on its website, “but we ask that those who are not official participants to refrain from entering the course for the safety of the runners and themselves.”

A Washington Metro bus rolls across the Roosevelt Bridge over the Potomac River in Washington on Dec. 31, 2013. Americans are riding on buses, trains, and subways in the greatest numbers since the mid-1950s, according to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association. (J. David Ake/AP)

Public transportation makes a comeback, but not in Boston (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.10.14

Americans took more trips on public transportation in 2013 than in any other year in more than five decades, according to the American Public Transportation Association’s annual report, released Monday.

That’s 10.7 billion trips on buses, trains, and subways – the highest number since 1956, back when Americans were heavy users of big-city transit because they were more likely to live in town than in outlying (and car-reliant) suburbs. Americans’ use of public transit also increased from 2012 to 2013 by about 1 percent, with most of the gains in use of heavy rail, including subways and elevated trains, according to the report.

But the higher numbers of people turning to public transportation aren't just the result of population increase or the cost of a tank of gasoline.

Public transit ridership has outpaced population growth since 1995, with public transportation use up by about 37.2 percent compared with population growth of 20.3 percent. Plus, the rise in ridership is despite a drop in gas prices in recent years. The number of public transport trips last year surpassed the 10.59 billion trips taken in 2008, even as gas prices have come down from about $5 a gallon to about $4, upending the assumption that high public transportation use is tied to gas price increases, according to The New York Times.

Even so, “four dollars is still high” for a gallon of gasoline, says Jose Gomez-Ibanez, professor of urban planning and public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, adding that high rates of public transportation use can be pinned to some degree on the continued expense of filling up the tank.

The boom in public transportation use likely owes a lot to better economic times, the report said. Almost 60 percent of all rides taken on public transportation are work-related, according to the report, and as urban downtowns burn brighter, more workers are commuting to and from them.

The increase might also be related to boosted federal and local investment in public transportation projects, as US cities tug their communities together with new lines and added stations, and overhaul their systems with expanded schedules.

“There’s a wider perception that there’s a major public benefit to public transportation,” says Professor Gomez-Ibanez. “You can’t imagine any of these big cities operating if everyone drove their car.”

In Miami, where subway use was up almost 11 percent, the city had recently increased train frequencies during peak hours, the report said. And in Salt Lake City, where commuter rail ridership jumped by 103.3 percent, the city had cut the ribbon on a new commuter rail line in December 2012, according to the report.

Still, increases were not across the board. Public transportation use was down in Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit, among others. In Boston, where public transportation use declined about 1 percent, just heavy rail – not including the subway system's Green Line, which is counted under light rail – saw small gains in ridership.

The decline in Beantown was a surprising blip in what has been an overall rise in Boston public transit use for the past decade, by about 1.2 percent a year, says Stephanie Pollack, associate director of the Kitty & Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University in Boston.

Some of that decline might be a consequence of a major fare hike that has since been scaled back, she says. But it also could be an early sign that Boston's public transportation system is losing riders as improvements fail to keep pace with needs and expectations, she says.

The decline from 2012 to 2013 is “not a crisis,” says Ms. Pollack, “but it is a warning sign.”

“One concern is that the age and disrepair of the T is catching up with ridership,” she says. “This really reinforces the need to invest in the system.”

Some improvements have been or will be made. The MBTA has begun replacing threadbare cars on the subway's Red and Orange lines and plans to expand Green Line service to Somerville, which abuts Boston, over the next several years. It also has plans for new stations along its commercial rail service lines, and on Monday it reopened the Yawkey commuter rail station, adding 20 trips a day between Boston and Worcester, Mass., about 40 miles away.

Still, with not enough funds to go around, the MBTA has postponed plans to overhaul its Green Line, which had a derailment Monday morning and has been troubled with overcrowding and delays, says Pollack. Bus service also runs too infrequently for many riders to depend on it, and the MBTA is not slated to get more buses for three more years, she says. 

[Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated the timeline for the Green Line expansion project.]

New York University (NYU) holds its 180th commencement ceremony in Yankee Stadium in New York, New York in 2012. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor)

Portrait of Millennials: Call them Generation Unaffiliated

By Staff writer / 03.07.14

Millennials tend to tilt politically left of center, but that doesn’t mean they’re Democrats.

Also called Generation Y, this group of much-worried-about, mostly 20-somethings is decidedly less tapped into political parties, organized religion, marriage, and other traditional institutions than are their older counterparts, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. They are also less engaged with such institutions than were earlier generations of young people.

The poll – which is consistent with prior research on what Millennials think, do, want, and feel – portrays an American generation that adopts issues, not institutions.

Its members, the poll found, are much more likely to cross partisan lines, voting for candidates who promise progressive action on causes they care about, like allowing gay marriage and legalizing marijuana. They also, by and large, believe in God, but are less likely than older people to feel that they must sit in the pews to do so.

“The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood,” as the Pew report puts it.

The findings are based on a February Pew survey of about 1,800 adults, including 617 adult Millennials (people between the ages of 18 and 33). Pew also divided the results into Gen Xers, ages 34 to 49; baby boomers, ages 50 to 68; and the so-colled Silent Generation, ages 69 to 86.

Fully half of Millennials describe themselves as political independents, the highest level of political disaffiliation Pew has seen in 25 years of polling on the issue. Among Gen-Xers, 39 percent say they’re not tethered to a political party, as do about 32 percent of Silents.

In another tell-off to political parties, just 31 percent of Millennials say there is a significant difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. Fifty-eight percent of the Silents, by contrast, report that the two parties are very distinct.

But if Millennials have no fealty to parties, they do have political opinions. About 68 percent of Millennials support same-sex marriage, compared with about 55 percent of Gen Xers and about 48 percent of boomers.

Plus, almost 70 percent of Millennials support pot legalization, and more than half support bigger government, both of which older generations are less likely to get behind, the poll found.

So far, Millennials’ support for these issues means they’re more likely to vote Democratic than Republican: About 27 percent of Millennials reported a Democratic affiliation, and 17 percent identified as Republican, the poll found.

“Their views are much more aligned with the Democratic Party,” Paul Taylor, Pew’s executive vice president and co-author of the report, told the Associated Press.

Millennials’ “don’t join ‘em” attitude extends somewhat to their views on organized religion, with almost 30 percent saying they are unaffiliated with any religion. That’s in contrast to 21 percent of Gen Xers, 16 percent of boomers, and 9 percent of Silents who report no religious affiliation.

But that doesn’t mean Millennials aren’t interested in religious matters. In fact, 86 percent of Millennials say they believe in God, and about 58 percent say they’re “absolutely certain” that God exists, according to a 2012 survey by Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

The poll’s findings also show that 20-somethings are much less likely to be married than were older generations when they were young adults. Still, though just one-quarter of Millennials are married – versus about two-thirds of Silents when they were that young – almost 70 percent of single Millennials say they would like to be married eventually.

The poll also found that Generation Y, often stereotyped as snubbing sincerity for satire and irony, and as bemoaning the cruelties of a world that doesn’t stroke their egos as much as they would like, is fairly upbeat about the US. Almost half of Millennials say they’re optimistic that America’s best days are ahead, but just 42 percent of Gen Xers think so, and just 39 percent of Silents are feeling cheery about the nation’s future.

Plus, that optimism isn’t necessarily because Millennials, often maligned as a naïve lot, have yet to experience life's disappointments. About 70 percent of Americans say today's young adults face greater economic challenges than did older people when they first started out, the poll found.

The poll cited several reasons for the relative optimism of Millennials, including that it might in part “simply reflect the timeless confidence of youth.”

The poll’s overall findings were tempered by an understanding that Millenials are a difficult group to assess and sum up, the report noted. US census data show they are America's most racially diverse generation ever.

A woman (name withheld) reads a book on the MBTA subway in Boston, Mass., November 17, 2009. (Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

Mass. upskirt photos now illegal as lawmakers keep their promise

By Staff Writer / 03.07.14

When Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Wednesday that taking so-called “upskirt” photos of women in public was legal under existing law, lawmakers made a promise: Not for long.

That proved true. In fact, it took just a day for a bill outlawing “upskirting” to sail though the Massachusetts Legislature – a show of bipartisanship on an issue that had commanded national headlines.

The bill, passed Thursday, was sent to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk for his signature that night and was signed into law Friday morning, becoming effective immediately.

“It shows they can do it when they want to,” the governor said of the swiftness of the legislative response, The Boston Globe reported.

The law makes it a misdemeanor to take covert photos and videos of “the sexual or other intimate parts of a person under or around the person’s clothing,” when a “reasonable person” would believe that those parts of their body were not visible to the public.

The misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum penalty of up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine. A perpetrator would face up to five years in prison or a $10,000 fine if the victim is under 18, and distributing upskirt images would carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, according to the legislation. The penalties are similar to those in other states that have criminalized the act.

In Florida, upskirting is a misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to a year in jail, as it is in Indiana, where it is punishable with up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. In New York, the crime is a low-level felony, with a maximum penalty of between 1-1/2 to four years in jail, and in Washington, where it is a mid-level felony, the penalties are stiffer, at up to five years in jail and a fine of $10,000.

Bay State lawmakers rushed to criminalize upskirting just 24 hours after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that such activity, though explicitly illegal in some states, including New York, Washington, Indiana, and Florida, was not illegal under Massachusetts law. The books appeared not to have kept pace with just how much technological advancement has empowered “Peeping Toms” and with the reality that with new technology come new opportunities for wrongdoing.

The justices ruled Wednesday that a state law criminalizing the secret photographing of nude or partly nude people did not apply to upskirting, since the women are clothed. The court agreed to toss out the charge against the defendant, Michael Robertson, who was arrested in 2010 for taking cell phone photos and videos up the skirts of female straphangers on the MBTA’s green line.

"A female passenger on a MBTA trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is 'partially nude,' no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing," wrote Justice Margot Botsford, in the decision.

She also wrote that a law criminalizing upskirting would be “eminently reasonable,” though the existing decade-old law did not do so.

State lawmakers received the ruling with immediate pledges to close the gap in the outdated, pre-smartphone era law. The House passed a bill Thursday without any objections and without holding a roll-call vote, and the Senate approved the bill 39-0, according to The Boston Globe. In the interest of saving time, the lawmakers also voted the bill through without holding a public hearing, according to The Associated Press.

“We're outraged by what has occurred,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters after the Thursday vote. “We want to make sure that these types of action are dealt with in our court system and dealt with swiftly.

People photograph the State House in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, on February 20, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

'Upskirt' photos legal in Mass., court rules. Not for long, critics say. (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.06.14

Massachusetts lawmakers, in an indignant moment, may take steps soon to outlaw the taking of so-called "upskirt" photos of people in public, after the state's highest court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that, under existing state laws, upskirting is legal.

Beacon Hill lawmakers and officials widely criticized the ruling after it was issued, and some talked of criminal penalties for offenders, in acknowledgment of how technology has empowered “peeping Toms.”

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, ruling on a Boston-based case in which a man took upskirt photos of female straphangers riding the subway, found that a Massachusetts law criminalizing the covert photographing of nude or partly nude people does not apply to “upskirting,” because the photographed women are wearing clothing.

Here are the facts of the case. Michael Robertson was arrested in August 2010 for taking cellphone videos and pictures up the skirts of two women riding on the MBTA’s Green Line, including a transit police decoy. He was charged with secretly photographing a partially nude person.

A Boston Municipal Court judge rejected Mr. Robertson’s request that the charge against him be dropped. But Robertson appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court, finding in his favor, dismissed the charge.

"A female passenger on a MBTA trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is 'partially nude,' no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing," wrote Justice Margot Botsford, in the decision.

A law that criminalizes upskirting “is eminently reasonable,” she added. The current law, passed in 2004, “does not address it," she wrote.

The court also noted two proposed measures, introduced in January 2013 and still pending in the legislature, that would make upskirting illegal. Both measures “appear to attempt to address the upskirting conduct at issue here,” Justice Botsford wrote.

This is not the first time that a court has found that existing laws do not apply to upskirting, a somewhat new problem made possible by technology that creates unprecedented opportunities for peeping Toms, whose tools were once little more sophisticated than keyholes and pulled-back blinds.

In some states, such rulings have prompted lawmakers to revise the laws, a kind of legal catch-up also seen in new legislation on "revenge porn," for example. In both Indiana and Washington, lawmakers reacted to court rulings that upskirters had to be let off, under current state laws, by approving new laws to make upskirting illegal. New York and Florida have also enacted laws explicitly criminalizing upskirt photos, as the court’s decision noted.

It appears that the Boston case could push Massachusetts lawmakers to update state laws.

“Every person, male or female, has a right to privacy beneath his or her own clothing,” Daniel Conley, district attorney for Suffolk County, said in a statement after the ruling. “If the statute as written doesn’t protect that privacy, then I’m urging the legislature to act rapidly and adjust it so it does.

“No respectable citizen wants this situation to be allowed to continue,” he said.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo also told reporters outside the State House that “the House will begin work on updating our statutes to conform with today’s technology immediately.” Senate President Therese Murray, meanwhile, said the “Senate will act swiftly” to address the apparent gap in the law.

“We have fought too hard and too long for women’s rights to take the step backward that they did today,” she said. 

Debo Adegbile, then an attorney with the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP, speaks outside the Supreme Court in Washington in this 2009 file photo. Mr. Adegbile, an Obama nominee to the Justice Department, failed a Senate test vote. (Alex Brandon/AP/File)

Obama calls Senate rejection of his civil rights nominee 'a travesty' (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.05.14

Senators from both parties on Wednesday rejected President Obama’s nominee for head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, following a discussion on the Senate floor that repeatedly returned to the nominee’s association with a notorious “cop-killer” case.

Debo Adegbile, a former director at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, was briefly involved in the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner some 32 years ago. Mr. Adegbile joined the case 25 years after Mr. Abu-Jamal’s conviction, when the NAACP handled an appeal to overturn Abu-Jamal’s death sentence.

It was the first time that the Senate has blocked one of Mr. Obama’s nominees since Democrats amended filibuster rules in November. The rule change allows a simple majority to confirm the president’s picks instead of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

But in this case, Democrats joined Republicans in nixing Obama’s nomination, with eight voting against Adegbile, putting the final vote at 47 to 52.

Sen. Bob Casey (D) of Pennsylvania said in a statement after the vote that he was respecting the sentiments of Pennsylvania law enforcement in voting against Adegbile.

"The vote I cast today was one of the most difficult I have taken since joining the Senate, but I believe it to be right for the people I represent,” he said.

Other Democratic "no" votes came from: Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Pryor of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, John Walsh of Montana, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Senator Manchin told Politico that he had made a “conscientious decision” to vote no, following a “long conversation” with the murdered police officer’s widow.

Majority leader Harry Reid (D) also voted no, but for procedural reasons. The "no" vote allows him to bring the nomination back to the floor if he chooses.

Before the vote, law enforcement agencies and Republican lawmakers had for months launched a tightly choreographed campaign to block Adegbile's nomination, drawing attention to his involvement in the Abu-Jamal trial, a controversial one that had unfolded against the backdrop of roiling racial tensions in 1981 Philadelphia and that had culled global attention for the conversations it fueled about racial bias in the courtroom.  

In a January letter to Obama, The National Fraternal Order of Police had called Adegbile a defender of the US's "most notorious-cop killer," alleging that Obama's nominee had "undone" Abu-Jamal's "just" death sentence and "turned the justice system on its head with unfounded and unproven allegations of racism." The group also called the nomination a "thumb in the eye of our nation's law enforcement."

Republican lawmakers’ comments on the floor echoed those complaints. 

“In this case, the nominee inserted his office in an effort to turn reality on its head, impugn honorable and selfless law enforcement officers, and glorify an unrepentant cop-killer,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, according to The New York Times.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania also said on the floor that Adegbile's nomination was not “consistent with justice for the family of officer Danny Faulkner or for anyone else that cares about the law enforcement community,” according to Politico.

Democrat lawmakers had pleaded that Adegbile’s association with Abu-Jamal not upset his nomination, arguing that impugning Adegbile for his role in the appeal was tantamount to arguing that US criminals are not entitled to legal representation.

“Whether it is John Adams or John Roberts, the principle that all sides deserve an effective counsel is at the bedrock of our constitutional system,” said Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, according to The New York Times.

“We cannot equate the lawyer with the conduct of those we represent if we want our justice system to endure,” he said.

Obama said in a statement Wednesday that the Senate’s vote was “a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

“The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice,” he said.

Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence in southwestern Pennsylvania.

This image made from video provided by by Al-Jazeera shows Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and spokesman. (Al-Jazeera/AP/File)

Bin Laden kin agreed to speak for Al Qaeda while N.Y. burned, prosecutor says (+video)

By Staff Writer / 03.05.14

Attorneys delivered opening statements Wednesday afternoon in the New York trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, the most senior alleged member of Al Qaeda ever to be tried in a civilian US court.

Assistant US Attorney Nicholas Lewin told jurors that Mr. bin Laden had summoned Sulaiman Abu Ghaith on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001 and asked him to be the public face of an emboldened Al Qaeda. Two planes had just slammed into the World Trade Center, the memorial to which is about a mile downtown from the federal courtroom where Mr. Abu Ghaith is being tried.

“While our buildings still burned, he agreed ... in what is the most important moment in Al Qaeda's savage history," Mr. Lewin said, according to The Associated Press. He also showed jurors a photo of Abu Ghaith sitting with bin Laden in Afghanistan on Sept. 12, 2001, the AP reported.

Prosecutors allege that Abu Ghaith, married to bin Laden's eldest daughter, Fatima, was an Al Qaeda spokesman, appearing in post-9/11 propaganda videos telling Americans to fear a continued “storm of airplanes.” He has pled not guilty to all the charges against him, including conspiracy to kill Americans and to provide material support and resources to terrorists.

Abu Ghaith’s lawyer argued Wednesday that there is “no evidence” that the suspect conspired to kill Americans. He reminded jurors that the trial is not about bin Laden, or about Sept. 11, though both have come up repeatedly in the prosecutor’s opening statements.

US law enforcement officials took Abu Ghaith into custody in Jordan on Feb. 28, 2013, after he had been deported from Turkey, and whisked him to New York, where he landed just over 24 hours later, the AP said.

Abu Ghaith’s trial in a US federal court – in the Southern District of New York – not a military commission in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, continues an Obama administration policy of pursuing civilian court trials for foreign terror suspects, despite vehement opposition from lawmakers who say alleged foreign terrorists are not entitled to the constitutionally protected rights of defendants in US civilian courts and should be tried instead by military commissions.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last year that US security agencies had all agreed that Abu Ghaith should be prosecuted in a federal court, both for fairness and maximum intelligence gathering reasons.

In his first campaign for president, Barack Obama promised to close the military detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, in which 155 detainees are still being held. Efforts to close the prison for good have since stalled amid opposition from Congress. But even as the White House has prioritized other issues, the administration has chosen federal courts, not Guantánamo, for international terror trials.

At issue in where to try foreign terror suspects is whether they are entitled to the protections and rights afforded to suspects in US civilian courts. Some Republican senators have come down hard against that idea.

Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, and Kelly Ayotte (R) of New Hampshire, said in a joint statement last year that “a foreign member of Al Qaeda should never be treated like a common criminal and should never hear the words 'you have a right to remain silent.' "

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, the minority leader, also said last year that the Abu Ghaith, whom he described as “an enemy combatant,” should have been placed in Guantánamo, where he could be “fulsomely and continuously interrogated without having to overcome the objections of his civilian lawyers,” according to The New York Times.

In late 2009, US Attorney General Eric Holder’s attempt to move the trial of the most senior Al Qaeda operative in US custody, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from Guantánamo to a Manhattan federal court was met with high-octane criticism.

Lawmakers from both parties, as well as New York City officials, had decried the idea of bringing Mr. Sheikh Mohammed to New York, a city to which the alleged terrorist had never been, but that knew him all too well. In 2011, Mr. Holder sent the case back to Guantánamo, where it has been ongoing since June 2008.

Abu Ghaith’s trial, meanwhile, appears likely to continue to pinch emotional nerves and bring up a litany of political issues as it unfolds over the next month.

During jury selection on Monday and Tuesday, the judge excused multiple jurors – who are being kept anonymous – who said they could not be impartial, citing personal loss in the 9/11 attacks, staunch opposition to US interrogation practices, and other highly emotional and political biases, Reuters reported.

And, in seeming recognition of the hot-button issues inflecting the trial, federal prosecutors moved in a recent court filing to keep “potentially inflammatory topics,” including Guantánamo and the NSA’s activities, out of the trial, The New York Times reported.

“Irrelevant concerns or controversies touching on national security would serve only to inflame the jury’s passion and prejudice it against the government,” read the filing.

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!