News Roundup

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While the General Assembly has closed up shop, Congress is going strong, and a bipartisan group of Senators has introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would reform federal mandatory minimums in drug cases, expand the “safety valve,” and require a complete inventory of all federal criminal offenses. The last item especially intrigues me, because several efforts at listing all federal crimes have failed in the recent past. Doug Berman summarizes the legislation here, and a critical reaction to it is here.

In other news:

FCC to take action on cost of inmates’ phone calls. The New York Times reports here that the FCC is considering implementing rules that “would impose a rate of 11 cents a minute on state or federal prison calls and cap the cost of calls made from local jails at 14 to 22 cents a minute, based on the size of the jail.” The rules would also limit the charges for collect calls, and it sounds as though they may also limit various “connection” and “service” fees. The story notes that current rates can be much higher and that both the service providers and the correctional facilities are generating substantial revenue from telephone services.

Prosecutors considering case against Bill Cosby. The water keeps getting hotter for the former Cliff Huxtable, who has been accused of drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women. He is already facing at least one civil suit, and now WRAL reports that “Los Angeles prosecutors are reviewing an investigation into a model’s accusations that . . . Cosby sexually abused her [in 2008] at the Playboy Mansion.”

Depressing new BJS recidivism report. The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently issued this report, which among other findings notes that 43% of inmates released from prison are re-arrested within a year and 77% are re-arrested within five years.

Legal writing issue of the week. Regular readers know that I enjoy thinking about legal writing. This item at the Volokh Conspiracy touches on an issue that I have struggled with: When describing parties, witnesses, or other people involved in a case, it is appropriate to use last names only (“Smith approached Jones in a dark alley, threatened her with a gun, and stole her purse”), or should each name be prefaced with Mr., Ms., or another appropriate title (“Mr. Smith approached Dr. Jones in a dark alley, threatened her with a gun, and stole her purse”)? I’d be interested to hear from those of you that have wrestled with this issue.

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3 comments on “News Roundup

  1. In regards to the legal writing issue, I always find that just using the last name appears best on paper. Unless there is a distinct reason to use the identifier Mr, Mrs, Dr, etc., such as the crime was targeting the victim specifically because they are a certain category. For instance, if someone is attacking abortion doctors, then I would believe it appropriate to say “Dr Jones”

  2. I prefer to avoid courtesy titles. They take up space without conveying any useful information. Before being a lawyer I was in the newspaper business. Most papers (except The New York Times) had rules prohibiting Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr.

    I’ve had people tell me they think I should use them in briefs.

  3. I do not see the need in law enforcement officers WASTING time with such “niceties” just to satisfy someone’s hypersensitive nature and vanity. All that is necessary is the full name (first name, middle name, last name on the FIRST mention of the person and then ONLY the last name unless there are two entities with the same last name. In such a case all one does is use the first INITIAL and last name and adding the middle initial only when necessary. Their profession and title is captured in the Victim, Witness, Suspect blocks and simply doesn’t need repeating on each and every repetition of their name.

    In a court of law in the cold light of day such “niceties” (really a head nod to vanity) only serve to stroke emotions when fact and logic are the order of the day.

    As far as law enforcement officers are concerned the incident report and all continuations of same are to be rendered QUICKLY and concisely so that they may move on to the next action in a usually busy day.

    If you want all the Masters, Misters, Misses, Mistresses, Maids, Madams, Aunts, Uncles, Doctors, Attorneys, Sirs, Dames, Professors, Generals, Colonels, Lt Colonels, Majors, Captains, Lieutenants, Command Sergeant Majors, Sergeant Majors, Master Sergeants, First Sergeants, Sergeants First Class, and about a THOUSAND other titles ….are you starting to get the picture?…then you can dang well hire someone to do it for you when you get the report if it’s so important to you that a title be typed/written out EVERY time a name is mentioned. I assure you that this exercise in vanity and self importance is NOT important to law enforcement officers who have a lick of common sense and consistently limited time in a day to get reports written/typed and get to all their calls in a day.

    Law enforcement doesn’t get to ask for a continuance (extra time) if they get behind.

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