Liliana Segura

Life in Prison for Stealing Candy? Thousands of Prisoners Sentenced to Die Behind Bars for Nonviolent Crimes

This past August, the Lafayette-based IND Monthly published a story about a 54-year-old man named Bill Winters, incarcerated at a medium-security prison in Epps, Louisiana. Winters, who is black, was arrested in June 2009, after he drunkenly entered an unlocked oncologist’s office on a Sunday morning, setting off a security alarm. When police arrived, he had rummaged through a desk drawer, and was in possession of a box of Gobstoppers candy. Winters was convicted of simple burglary a week before Thanksgiving, and given a seven-year prison sentence—hardly a slap on the wrist. But a few days later, the prosecutor in his case, Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney, sought additional punishment for Winters, under the state’s habitual offender law. Based on his record of nonviolent offenses, which went back to 1991 and ranged from cocaine possession to burglary, the trial court resentenced Winters to twelve years without any chance of parole. But Haney was still not satisfied. He appealed the ruling, arguing that the court had imposed an “illegally lenient sentence” and that the rightful punishment was life without the possibility of parole.

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Can the Obama Admin Actually Fix Our Broken Criminal Justice System?

On Monday, August 12, the day Attorney General Eric Holder announced “a fundamentally new approach” to the criminal justice system in his speech before the American Bar Association in San Francisco, US District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett was in his office in Sioux City, Iowa, drafting a sentencing opinion in a drug case. An outspoken critic of mandatory minimums [see “Imposing Injustice,” November 12, 2012], Bennett is known for writing unusual opinions that criticize the sentences he must often hand down. “It’s about trying to make the system fairer,” he says, “not just for the defendant in front of you, but for others.”

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Will Pennsylvania Execute a Man Who Killed His Abusers?

The following article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their email newsletters here.

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Will the Supreme Court Toss Life Without Parole for Juveniles?

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here.  

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Would You Fight for the Life of a Man Who Shot You and Left You for Dead?

death penalty case in Texas received a lot of media attention in the past several weeks, as state prison authorities prepared to execute Mark Stroman, a man who shot and killed two people in a vengeful rampage after September 11th. His victims, who he targeted because he thought they were Arab, were a Pakistani man named Waqar Hasan and an Indian man named Vasudev Patel. A third man survived. His name is Rais Bhuiyan. He is Muslim, from Bangladesh. He has told his story to news outlets across the country; how he was approached at the gas station where he worked, how Stroman, a tattooed white man, demanded, “where are you from?” as he brandished a gun. How he had not yet answered when he felt "the sensation of a million bees stinging my face, and then heard an explosion" as Stroman shot him. Bhuiyan survived, somehow, and was left blinded in one eye.

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Tortured to Death in the US

The following article first appeared in The Nationmagazine.For more great content from the Nation, sign up for theiremail newsletters here.

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6 Things You Might Not Know About Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan

The nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court has produced many more questions than answers, but that has not stopped the avalanche of news stories, which could take days to sift through. Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear from what we know so far that this is not good news for anyone who hoped that the president might choose a nominee that would continue in the liberal tradition of the justice she's replacing, John Paul Stevens. The American Prospect's Scott Lemieux calls the decision "Ivy League nepotism of the worst sort," saying "the idea that the complete absence of evidence about her constitutional vision is no big deal is something that's easy for someone who will never be denied an abortion, be discriminated against by an employer, etc. to say, but for people who actually take such things seriously it's rather important."

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Videos of Small Animals Being Crushed by Women in High Heels Are Protected Free Speech?

This week the Supreme Court handed down an eight to one ruling that, depending on your priorities, either reflects its total, unwavering belief in the primacy of the First Amendment, or else proves once and for all that the justices have no soul -- except for maybe Samuel Alito.

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Health Care Bill Throws Women Under the Bus on Reproductive Rights

Less than 24 hours after the House passed its historic health care reform bill, the mixed reaction from feminists and women's groups provides a taste of the bitter pill it forces them to swallow, even as political allies celebrate a momentous legislative victory.

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How Members of Congress Are Advancing Anti-Muslim Hysteria to Push a Radical Legal Agenda

Roughly one month after the massacre at Fort Hood and a little over a week after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the "underwear bomber") tried to blow himself up over the city of Detroit, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Congress, South Carolina Representative Gresham Barrett, re-introduced a sweeping piece of legislation that he first rolled out in 2003 as a freshman on Capitol Hill.

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Muckraking AlterNet Coverage Exposes Wrongful Incarceration

On Thursday, January 14th, Michael Tillman walked out of the Cook County Courthouse and headed straight for Mac Arthur's Restaurant, a soul food institution on Chicago's West Side.

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Can They Do That? How You Get Screwed at Work

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Can They Do That? Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace. An AlterNet review of the book by Liliana Segura follows the excerpt. 

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Homeland Security Embarks on Big Brother Programs to Read Our Minds and Emotions

In the sci-fi thriller Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a D.C. police detective, circa 2054, in the department of "pre-crime," an experimental law enforcement unit whose mission -- to hunt down criminals before they strike -- relies on the psychic visions of mutant "pre-cogs" (short for precognition) who can see the future. It may be futuristic Hollywood fantasy, but the underlying premise -- that we can predict (if not see) a person's sinister plans before they follow through -- is already here.

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4 Prisoners Facing Executions or Serving Extreme Jail Sentences Who Very Well May Be Innocent

The tragic unraveling of the case against Cameron Todd Willingham -- the Texas man executed in 2004 for killing his own daughters by supposedly setting fire to his house -- seems to have crossed a major threshold in the debate over the death penalty in the past several weeks. For the first time in recent memory, there is devastating proof that an innocent man was put to death in this country.

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Playing God? Texas Jury Consulted Bible Before Sentencing Man to Death

This post first appeared in PEEK.

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4 Supreme Court Cases That Will Say a Lot About the Direction of Our Country

As the Supreme Court kicked off its new season last week with a brand new justice on the bench, the cases on the docket provided a fascinating glimpse into the judicial soul of the country.

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Anti-Choice Floridians Peddling Constitutional Amendment to Criminalize Birth Control Pill

This post originally appeared in PEEK.

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Texas Students Who Were Kept Away From Obama Speech Will Be Bused to See Bush Speak

So now we know that the same Texas school district that decided not to air President Barack Obama's 18-minute address to students yesterday -- in which he spouted such Marxist rhetoric as the importance of hand-washing and staying in school -- plans to bus its 5th graders to a speech delivered by former President George W. Bush at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas later this month.

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How Do We Pass Rational Sex-Offender Laws With Psychos Like Phillip Garrido on the Loose?

"Philip Garrido isn't a man, he isn't an animal; he is a monster from the deep recesses who preys on innocence and those he can overpower. He is a degenerate who should have stayed locked up in prison. He should have but he was allowed to go free."

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How Yawning Got One Court Spectator Six Months in the Slammer and Other Disturbing Acts of Judicial Tyranny

Last month, in Illinois, Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak was handing down a sentence in a felony drug case when a courtroom spectator did something unforgivably disruptive. He yawned.

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Do Hate Crime Laws Do Any Good?

"We have seen a man dragged to death in Texas simply because he was black. A young man murdered in Wyoming simply because he was gay. In the last year alone, we've seen the shootings of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Jewish children simply because of who they were. This is not the American way. We must draw the line." -- President Bill Clinton, final State of the Union Address, January 27, 2000.

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Racism Is the Prime Cause for Debunked Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy Theory

By now, everyone has heard of the "birthers," that rabid crop of self-appointed patriots who insist that Barack Hussein Obama is not a legitimate president because he is not really an American citizen.

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Why is the Obama DOJ Trying So Hard to Block Torture Lawsuits?

In case you missed it, this weekend brought good news and bad news on the accountability-for-torture front.

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Is Your Newest Facebook Friend a Sleazeball Debt Collector?

With millions of Americans struggling in the current economic crisis, it should come as no surprise that a growing number of people are falling behind paying their bills. This is no cause for celebration -- unless of course, you happen to make your living as a debt collector, a debt-settlement company or other notoriously sleazy outfits engineered to profit off people's financial misery.

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Controversy Over Torture Photos and Military Commissions Heats Up in Washington

As the mainstream media refocused their torture coverage on Sen. Nancy Pelosi this week, fashioning a What-Did-She-Know? news story out of information that's been known for years, a series of maneuvers by the Obama administration bulldozed hopes that the White House would take the mess it has inherited from Bush and clean it up for good, perhaps even allowing for accountability for those who created it.

Instead, on Wednesday President Obama reversed a decision to release some 2,000 photographs depicting the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. soldiers. The photographs, which have been described as more explicit than those that came out of Abu Ghraib -- as one anonymous member of Congress told the Washington Post, 'When they are released, there will be a major outcry for an investigation by a commission or some other vehicle -- were downplayed by Obama as "not particularly sensational" but nonetheless necessary to keep under wraps.

For unremarkable photos, the Obama administration certainly gave a lot of reasons for the turnaround -- but the most politically expedient explanation was the argument that making them public would inflame anti-American sentiment in countries occupied by U.S. troops. The president "believes that the release of these photos could pose a threat to the men and women we have in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Wednesday, while also adding, dubiously, that, "the President believes that the release of these photos will also provide a disincentive for detainee abuse investigation."

Republicans were quick to praise Obama's move -- "We are still in a war," Senator John McCain reminded everyone. "The publication of those photographs would have given help to the enemy in the psychological side of the war we are in" -- and predictably, the media cast it primarily as another embarrassing snub of the perpetually dissatisfied left, rather than a betrayal of Obama's promises of transparency. "The Left Rises Up Against Obama," read the headline of a Washington Post column by Chris Cilizza, who described it as a "perceived poke in the eye" of the "liberal left" that has prompted doubts over "Obama's commitment to progressive policies."

Elswhere, the move was seen as proof of Obama's political maturity. "Obama Keeps Growing in Office," wrote Michael Goldfarb, McCain's campaign spokesman in The Weekly Standard. "President Obama is now commander in chief, and he has an obligation to the troops under his command that exceeds any promises made to liberal interest groups during the campaign." Over at the Wall Street Journal, editors deemed the decision more than just a decision, calling it "Obama's Photo Epihany," and applauding the president's refusal to capitulate to the "braying from his campaign allies on the left." (It was, as the comfort-seeking Peggy Noonan might say, "a pleasant reversal.")

"The President is learning, albeit slowly, that secrecy has its uses in wartime, and that the real goal of his allies on the left is to make it harder for the U.S. to defend itself," the WSJ concluded, ludicrously.

Indeed, the portrayal by much of the media would suggest that asserting the right to keep things secret in the name of national security -- something the Obama administration is becoming more and more adept at -- is not just a sign of political maturity, it's downright presidential. "No longer a mere senator representing a single state, Obama is now the commander-in-chief, and his reversal highlights the unique burdens that he alone now shoulders," wrote Mark Thompson in TIME magazine. And for good measure, up north, the Canadian National Post called Obama's move "tough but presidential."

What's good for the country, therefore, is keeping things under wraps that might tarnish the image of its leader and its military. As Salon'sGlenn Greenwald quipped on Wednesday, nothing spurs more anti-American sentiment than civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Shouldn't we be covering those up, too?"

The Return of Military Commissions

At the same time, another story with more sweeping significance was making headlines alongside Obama's reversal on the torture photos: the Obama administration's reported plan to re-start the military commissions at Guantanamo, that shoddy amalgam of kangaroo courts suspended by Obama in his first days in office. The story had been creeping up for weeks; on May 1, the New York Timesran a story titled "U.S. May Revive Guantánamo Military Courts," reporting that Obama was planning to "amend the Bush administration's system" of terror trials. Then, last weekend, on May 9, the Washington Postreported: "Obama Set to Revive Military Commissions: Changes Would Boost Detainee Rights." According to the Post, "new rules" would "offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections' including the right not to be prosecuted using evidence obtained by hearsay or torture.

If this weren't alarming enough, these reports came at the same time as another little-noticed but major development: news that the Obama administration was appointing a new chief prosecutor for the military commissions: U.S. Navy Reserve Captain John Murphy, whose dubious career highlights include  the prosecution of Salim Hamdan as well as the attempted prosecution of Canadian Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr, who has been in U.S. custody since he was just 15. Journalist and Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington was one of the first to break the story, recalling the disastrous history of the military commissions, which includes the high-profile resignation of former Chief Prosecutor Morris Davis. 

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Supreme Court Justice David Souter to Retire

Multiple news outlets are reporting that Supreme Court Judge David Souter will retire from the bench at the end of his term.

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Former Soldier Accused of Brutal Rape and Murder of 14-Year Old Iraqi Girl Starts Trial

It was called one of the most horrific crimes by U.S. troops against Iraqi civilians: In March 2006, a group of whiskey-fueled soldiers, their faces concealed and wearing black long underwear, descended upon a farmhouse some 20 miles south of Baghdad, gang-raped a teenage girl and shot her in the head, killing her along with her younger sister and their parents. The soldiers then tried to burn the bodies, setting fire to the house.

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