Accused of a sensational double murder in 1986 Miami, Trinidadian millionaire Kris Maharaj seemed destined for death row, and ended up there thanks to a conviction-hungry prosecutor and a hapless defense attorney (now a circuit court judge). This memoir, which reads like a true-crime thriller, describes how defense lawyer Clive Stafford Smith got his client off death row by uncovering brazen misconduct, both judicial (one judge actually solicited a bribe from the defendant) and prosecutorial (withholding evidence). It also turned out that the murder victims, presented in court as upright businessmen, had been laundering cash for a drug cartel, and skimming off the top. Smith's account leaves us utterly convinced of his client's innocence and delivers a powerful indictment of the system we rely on for justice.
The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in February turned a national spotlight on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Following widespread outcry about the killing—in which George Zimmerman shot the unarmed 17-year-old Martin allegedly in self defense—Florida Gov. Rick Scott convened a task force to evaluate the 2005 law. This week, the group came back with their report. Their conclusion? The controversial law is just fine as it is. But there's just one problem: That verdict flies in the face of much troubling evidence to the contrary.
Stand Your Ground essentially makes it legal to shoot one's way out of any situation that feels threatening: Unless law enforcement authorities can prove that's an invalid explanation from a shooter, a resulting homicide can be deemed justifiable under the law, and the shooter is immune from criminal and civil prosecution. As Mother Jones reported in June, Florida's Stand Your Ground law kicked off a wave of such legislation across the country, with 24 of them passed elsewhere since, thanks to much backing by the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The evidence to date indicates it is terrible public policy. Since the spreading of the law, multiple studies have found that Stand Your Ground laws:
are racially discriminatory—homicides involving white shooters and black victims are 11 times more likely to be deemed "justifiable" than those where the scenario is reversed.
But after six months of review, it looks like Gov. Scott's task force took little of this into account. The first recommendation in their final report is a firm endorsement of the Stand Your Ground law: "[A]ll persons have a fundamental right to stand their ground and defend themselves from attack with proportionate force in every place they have a lawful right to be and are conducting themselves in a lawful manner."
The few recommendations for change that the report offers are vague. They recommend more training for law enforcement on the meaning of self-defense laws, that the legislature better define a shooter's criminal immunity, and that it fund study of the correlation between Stand Your Ground laws and diversity variables, including race. (Nevermind that such studies on race already exist.)
Note: Two undecided House races in Arizona could send two more women to Congress. In addition, three women currently serve as non-voting delegates in the House.
Clarification: The original version of this article stated that Tammy Baldwin is the first openly gay woman elected to Congress. While this remains true, Baldwin was elected to Congress in 1999; her victory on Tuesday means she will be the first openly gay person of either gender in the Senate.
Foot-in-mouth rape commentary by Republican candidates was one of the most disturbing mini-trends of the 2012 election. And as the returns began rolling in last night, it quickly became clear that this bounty of apologies for sexual assault had paved the way for some big GOP losses. Here's a breakdown of the candidates who said absurd things about rape and paid for it at the polls.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette/ZUMAPressWho: Tom Smith, Pennsylvania Senate candidate
Outcome: Defeated by Democrat Bob Casey, who got nearly 54 percent of the vote.
Globe Photos/ ZUMAPressWho: Linda McMahon, Connecticut Senate candidate
Comments: During a debate, McMahon clarified that no Catholic hospital should be required to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, except in cases of "emergency rape."
Outcome: Defeated by Democrat Chris Murphy, who got 55 percent of the vote.
Harry E. Walker/MCT/ZUMAPressWho: Rick Berg, North Dakota Senate candidate
Comments: When asked in a TV interview whether he'd support abortion in cases of rape, Berg awkwardly evaded the question, then gave a flat-out no.
Outcome: Berg conceded to Heidi Heitkamp, who beat him by less than 3,000 votes.
Wisconsin State LegislatureWho: State Rep. Roger Rivard, running for reelection to the Wisconsin legislature
Comments: Last December, Rivard got into a discussion with a local newspaper about a case in which a 17-year old was accused of forcing sex on a 14-year-old girl. Expressing his thoughts on the case, Rivard cited a motto he'd learned from his dad: "Some girls rape easy." Or in other words, girls agree to sex and then call it rape, because that's convenient.
Outcome: Rivard lost to Democratic challenger Stephen Smith by 582 votes.
Christian Gooden/ZUMAPressWho: Todd Akin, Missouri Senate candidate
Comments: During a now-infamous TV interview in August, Akin responded to a question about his beliefs on abortion in cases of rape by saying that pregnancy from "legitimate rape" is unlikely because "the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down." In October, a 2008 video surfaced showing Akin explaining how women who aren't actually pregnant get abortions anyway.
Outcome: Lost to Democrat Claire McCaskill, who got nearly 55 percent of the vote.
Chris Bergin/MCT/ZUMAPressWho: Richard Mourdock, Indiana Senate candidate
Comments: When asked at an October debate whether abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, Mourdock said it shouldn't, because the rape and subsequent pregnancy are "something God intended."
Outcome: Defeated by Democrat Joe Donnelly by nearly 150,000 votes.
Andrew Shurtleff/ZUMAPressWho: Paul Ryan, vice presidential candidate and incumbent representative in Wisconsin
Comments: Where to begin? Ryan has called rape just another "method of conception," has said he's "very proud" of the forcible rape bill he cosponsored with Todd Akin, and has cast 59 votes on abortion in his career, all of them anti-choice.
Outcome: Ryan won't be heading to the White House as Mitt Romney's VP, but he did keep his House seat.
Update 08/29/2012 11:00 PM: Today a federal judge blocked same-sex classes at the Van Devender middle school in West Virginia for the 2012-13 school year. The ACLU's lawsuit (filed on behalf of one of the school's families), however, will continue to move forward, and the court's ruling doesn't put a permanent end to the program. The court found that the sex-based program at Van Devender violated federal law by not being completely voluntary. It also noted that "certain gender-based teaching techniques based on stereotypes and lacking any scientific basis may very well be harmful to students." Van Devender middle school must return to coeducation on Monday.
At the Van Devender middle school in Wood County, West Virginia, girls and boys learn in separate classrooms. The girls' rooms are lit with dimmer light than those of the boys. They are also kept at warmer temperatures. Girls must sit still, at shared desks. Boys get individual desks and are allowed to move around, sit on beanbag chairs, even lie on the floor. If girls fidget, they're sent to the boys' classroom—where they can't participate in the lessons, and must instead sit facing the wall. The school motto: "Van Devender Middle School: Where Gender Matters."
The school claims that its sex-segregated classrooms are a scientifically proven way to boost academic performance. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, not only are they not scientific, they're illegal. Last week, the organization filed a federalsuit (PDF) against the Van Devender school, alleging that its single-sex classrooms violate Title IX, as well as the 14thAmendment's equal protection clause. (Not to mention that they diminish the quality of students' education.)
The case is led by ACLU cooperating attorney Amy Katz, who's got her own spin on the school's motto. "[Kids] are getting the message that the single most important thing in this place is whether you're a boy or a girl," she says. "I like to say, 'Van Devender: Where Gender Matters, more than anything else.'" At a court hearing yesterday, the ACLU's request for a restraining order to prevent the school from splitting sexes when classes start this Thursday was denied—so Van Devender will enter the school year with its single-sex program intact. (The program can still get cut off down the line; the ACLU has another hearing on the case next week.)
The Van Devender suit is one of several that have cropped up against school districts mandating gender-differentiated education. Late last year, the ACLU shut down single-sex ed in the Vermilion Parish school district in Louisiana; it also unsuccessfully sued a sex-segregated school in Kentucky. More cases are likely. Since the Department of Education eased federal restrictions for single-sex programs in 2006, hundreds have materialized around the country. ACLU offices in Alabama, Florida, Maine, Mississippi, Virginia, and West Virginia have sent cease-and-desist letters to school districts, warning them that their single-sex programs may be illegal.