In this morning's 6-2 Supreme Court decision, the crime of reckless domestic violence and abuse is now considered a misdemeanor that justifies firearms possession restriction. What does that mean? It means closing one of the many gaping loopholes in gun control legislation and cracking down on violent domestic crime. Most importantly, it means safer homes for those most at risk: women (especially women of color), LGBTQ+ folks, and children.

The Voisine v. United States decision extended the previous ruling in United States v. Castleman that declared the “firearms possession by convicted felons” illegal. So why wasn’t this a thing before?

On the books, there’s a distinction between recklessly and knowingly committing a crime, known as mens rea—their state of mind during their actions. Stephen Voisine, the man in question in this case for repeatedly becoming violent against his girlfriend, argued in court that actions charged as reckless shouldn’t be considered under the umbrella of crimes that would prevent him from buying a gun.

Virginia Villa, Voisine’s defender, argued that recklessness doesn’t necessarily constitute a “use of force.” This puts in perspective why this pretty big issue hasn't been put in the books before. She explained that she once had a client who plead guilty to a misdemeanor because he was running away from someone attacking him, and when he ran through a door and slammed it, it caught and broke the attacker’s fingers. Um, comparing a drunken assault on someone to an escape measure? I don't think so.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wasn’t having this excuse either, and shot back remarks that almost closed the case right then. While in Villa’s example, the client didn’t mean to hurt the man running after him, he still did. In many domestic violence cases, Kagan explained, reckless conduct between the perpetrator and victim is what leads to violence—not the use of direct violent force. Tell 'em, girl! 

Basically, the Court decided it was time to validate all the domestic violence that happens while the perpetrator is under the influence and otherwise in a volatile state that causes their actions to be executed recklessly. This is a win for feminism, equality in the home, and in finally making movements on reigning in this country’s insane, libertarian approach to gun-owning.

Yeah, it's about time.

If you want to listen to more of the case, here's a video of the whole ordeal—with dogs instead of justices (no cameras are allowed to film Supreme Court case proceedings).

Original Article via Bust: http://bust.com/living/16586-another-feminist-win-from-the-supreme-court.html

Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams and staff participated in the National Night Out city-wide effort on July 31 and August 1 at 8 locations by handing out Free Gun Locks and additional information on what the Office does and How To Buy Property at Sheriff Sales.

Philadelphia, July 3 - Sheriff Jewell Williams will urge youngsters to have a peaceful summer as he visits children’s programs this summer.

The Sheriff will “deputize” children who take a gun safety pledge as part of his Summer of Peace initiative, according to a news release.

The effort was kicked off at the end of the 2016-17 school year, when Williams visited several schools to spread the summer of peace message.

The Sheriff and Canine Carter — a member of the Sheriff’s K-9 unit — visited the Greenfield School in Center City and the Powel School in West Philadelphia to educate students about how to “stay cool” when they encounter conflicts and what to do if they find a gun at home or in their neighborhood, according to a news release.

“Be respectful, don’t bully and most importantly, if you see a gun, don’t touch it,” said Williams. “Immediately tell a parent, a nearby adult and if you are alone in a home call 911.”

According to Children’s Defense Fund, a child or teen dies by gun in the U.S. every three hours and eight minutes.

Having a gun in the home makes the likelihood of accidental death four times higher and more than half of youths committing suicide by gun found it at home and it usually belonged to the parent, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The office pointed to a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatricians that indicated “Nearly 1,300 children die and 5,790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year. Boys, older children and minorities are more likely” to fall victim to gun violence than others. In 2015, 42 percent of gun deaths were among Black children and teens.

“Don’t be a statistic,” Williams told the children when introducing Canine Carter to students at the Samuel Powel School in Powelton Village. “Use your mouth, not your fists or weapons, to settle differences. Don’t let things escalate.”

The Sheriff will be pressing this message during the months when youngsters may find themselves on the streets in tense situations: “In the warm weather months things can easily heat up. Giving kids the message they can keep themselves safe or prevent a crime is powerful and maybe if they hear it often enough they will practice what we preach. Summer is a time for fun, visiting the beach, having picnics and barbecues. I want them to stay cool in every way and help us all to have a summer of peace.”

As part of the Summer of Peace activities, the Sheriff is reaching out to groups of children at church and summer camps to take the following gun safety pledge:

I will never play with guns; if I see a gun, I won’t touch it.

I will remember that any gun I see might be loaded.

I will never go snooping or allow my friends to go snooping for guns in the house.

If I find a gun, I will tell a grown-up I know right away.

I know how important it is to keep myself safe.

Throughout the summer, the Sheriff’s Office will carry its safety message to outdoor festivals, summer gatherings, children’s programs and block captains, the news release stated.

The Office of the Sheriff is also working with Philadelphia Integrated Town Watch and Temple University Medical School’s summer outreach program to distribute gunlocks this summer to city residents to help keep children safe.

The Sheriff and City Council President Darrell Clarke began the gunlock program in August 2016. To date, more than 3,000 free gunlocks have been given to Philadelphia families through the Sheriff’s Office and City Council offices. Philadelphia residents can pick up free gunlocks at the Sheriff’s Office any weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 100 S. Broad St. on the 5th floor. For more information call (215) 686-3572 or visit www.phillysheriff.com.


Tribune Staff Report / The Philadelphia Tribune

July 18, Philadelphia, PA -- In the last twelve months The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office collected and sent to the Philadelphia City Treasury $61.3 million in delinquent taxes and fees collected from Sheriff Sales. In fiscal year 2012, the year Sheriff Jewell Williams entered office, only $27 million had been collected.

This is the third year in a row the Sheriff remitted over $60 million to the City of Philadelphia. The money is collected through monthly mortgage foreclosure sales, tax delinquent and tax lien sales as well as fees imposed for various court related services. Properties are brought to Sheriff Sales through court orders initiated by the City Revenue and Law Departments or by banks and private lenders.
“For many years, delinquent tax collection had been a problem. Often the properties we sell are delinquent for five or more years. We expect to see the backlog of tax delinquent properties decline,” Williams stated.

Under Williams, the Office redesigned the delinquent collection process and installed a data management system. At the request of the City, two additional monthly sales were added to the schedule during the last fiscal year.

The primary mission of the Office of the Sheriff is to protect those working in our Courts and others such as witnesses, jurors and to transport and guard prisoners going to and from Court and to carry out court orders.

The Sheriff now provides the City Treasury almost three times what it costs to operate the office. For fiscal year 2018, which started in July, the Sheriff’s budget is $23 million.

34 hardened criminals arrested

Philadelphia, July 3 - The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office arrested 34 men and women wanted on serious offenses, including a man with three violations of probation – one for Murder, in a city-wide raid in the early hours of July 1.

“We took many violent offenders off the streets of Philadelphia during this surprise search for wanted criminals,” said Jewell Williams, Sheriff of the City and County of Philadelphia. “Many of those captured had several outstanding warrants against them on charges that ranged from murder, failure to pay child support – one who owed in excess of $85,000, assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, witness intimidations and unlawful contact with a minor.” Officers from the Philadelphia Police Department assisted in this team sweep.

It is the job of the men and women of this Office to protect all members of the community and visitors to the city and quell future violence. “As a parent I’m especially concerned with the families that suffer when one or more members of a household are cited for domestic abuse creating a violent and hostile environment,” said Williams. “I say to all; hold your tempers, lay down your arms, and protect your loved ones for a summer of peace.”

Return millions in excess funds to property owners

Philadelphia, April 19, 2017—Testifying at City Council budget hearings, Sheriff Jewell Williams described the millions of dollars in new revenues generated by the monthly Sheriff sales. The vigorous collection of delinquent real estate taxes through auction has resulted in an additional $60 million dollars per year in taxes and fees that is now forwarded to the City’s general fund.

“In my first year in office, Sheriff Sales collected $27 million in delinquent taxes and fees”, said Sheriff Williams. “From three sales a month in 2012, we now conduct six monthly sales, including a Land Bank Sale; and there is evidence that the backlog of delinquent cases is at last shrinking. While we still process more than 27,000 properties a year, the backlog of delinquencies and the amounts collected are getting smaller. “

Of the 27,000 properties processed each year, approximately 7,000 go to a final sale and processing properties is a vastly improved operation. When the Sheriff took office in 2012, it required up to 120 days after settlement for a property to be returned to productive use. Last year, the time between a property’s sale and the issuance of a new deed was reduced to 15 days.

The office has also dedicated resources to finding people who are owed excess funds from the sale of their property. After a property is sold, settled and all liabilities and debts have been paid and recorded, the owner of record at the time the court ordered the sale (“defendant”) may recover any excess balance remaining on the account through the Sheriff’s Defendant Asset Recovery Team also known as DART.

Historically, only a fraction of these excess funds were returned to the previous property owners. Sheriff Jewell Williams made it a priority when he took office in 2012 to search out those owed money by increasing the efforts of the DART unit. Under his leadership, the unit has been more aggressive in validating which defendants are eligible to receive payment and connecting with those individuals to put a check in their hands.

Last year, DART located 140 people and returned $2.2 million in excess funds to them. Since 2012, nearly $11 million has been returned to more than 400 people. If property has been sold at Sheriff Sale within the past 18 months, former owners can file a claim with the DART unit on the Sheriff’s website.

After 18 months, any funds that cannot be returned to the owner of record is forwarded (escheated) to the state as unclaimed funds. In six (6) years, $50 million has been escheated to the state. Owners can apply for this money through the Pennsylvania Treasury Department’s unclaimed funds process. Last year, the Sheriff’s office escheated $7,775,416 to the state in unclaimed funds.

The Sheriff’s office has also continued its robust efforts to educate the public on services it provides through workshops, seminars, and events all across the city.

Other Highlights of the Sheriff’s testimony to Council include:

• Training of new Deputies for the warrant service unit
• Security operations for the City’s Probation and Parole office
• Secure pouches to eliminate cell phone use in courtrooms
• Enhanced security for City Hall
• Gunlock giveaway-2800 free gunlocks have been made available to citizens on request

About the Sheriff’s Office
The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office is committed to serve and protect the lives, property and rights of all people within a framework of high ethical standards and professional conduct at all times. We are committed to excellence in public safety and professional services, and ensuring that those services are always satisfactory and of the highest quality possible.

By action taken by City Council, certain fees imposed by the Sheriff’s Office will increase on May 1, 2017. These fees have not been modified since 1997 and are designed to reflect the current cost of services provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

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You'll keep your phone, but in a locked bag

If you have business Monday at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center, expect delays.

It’s the first day of a new court policy requiring most civilians entering the building to turn off their cellphones and put them into a magnetically sealed “Yondr” pouch that keeps phones locked within a designated no-phone zone.

You’ll be able to keep your cellphone with you, but you won’t be able to use it. When you’re ready to leave the courthouse at 13th and Filbert Streets, you’ll return to court personnel, who will unlock the pouch and return the phone.

“It’s a 21st century solution to a 21st century problem,” Jacqueline F. Allen, administrative judge for the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, said at a recent news conference unveiling the new system.

Not that there won’t be a learning curve before the public gets used to the new policy.

Court administrator Joseph H. Evers said added personnel will be in the courthouse lobby Monday to help guide the public through the phone-bagging process and security. He said the courts have acquired 4,500 Yondr pouches at a cost of $50,000.

The new system is court officials’ latest effort to deal with the problems caused by cellphones in a criminal courthouse. Rarely does a day go by without somebody’s cellphone going off in one of the building’s 11 floors of courtrooms.

Usually, the offender’s phone is confiscated by court personnel and returned at the end of the day. But sometimes an offender is incarcerated or fined for contempt of court. And then there is the continuing problem of intimidation: friends of people on trial taking surreptitious photos of witnesses to post on social media.

Years ago, people entering the courthouse were required to surrender their cellphones at security. The phones were placed in individual locked boxes until the owners left the building.

The system was scrapped because of the delays it caused and complaints that phones were damaged or returned to the wrong person.

“The new system keeps the phones in their hands,” Evers said. “It makes them their responsibility, not ours.”

Allen said she first read of the Yondr mobile phone locked box in an October article in the New York Times about how entertainers including Dave Chappelle have begun using them to prevent interruptions and recordings of their concerts.

Yondr has said the Philadelphia criminal courthouse is the first to use the phone pouches for all courthouse visitors.

Evers said the courthouse collected about 3,500 cellphones daily when it used its own locked box system.

Complaints about the new system are likely to come from lawyers who cannot phone clients who are late for a hearing and clients who can’t find their lawyers.

Some people will be exempted from the new requirement: current and former judges, current court employees, lawyers and law enforcement personnel with proper identification, people with disabilities who need an electronic device to communicate, credentialed news reporters with ID.

Jurors will not have to use the pouches but will surrender their phones to courtroom personnel if picked for a trial.

For everyone else, Evers had a suggestion that these days seems almost quaint: Use the pay phones on each floor of the Criminal Justice Center.


Written by Joseph A. Slobodzian for the Inquirer.