With drug crime penalties now reduced, attention turns to sentences for white-collar crime

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal panel that sets sentencing policy eased penalties this year for potentially tens of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. Now, defense lawyers and prisoner advocates are pushing for similar treatment for a different category of defendants: swindlers, embezzlers, insider traders and other white-collar criminals.

Lawyers who have long sought the changes say a window to act opened once the U.S. Sentencing Commission cleared a major priority from its agenda by cutting sentencing guideline ranges for drug crimes. The commission, which meets Thursday to vote on priorities for the coming year, already has expressed interest in examining punishments for white-collar crime. And the Justice Department, though not advocating wholesale changes, has said it welcomes a review.

It’s unclear what action the commission will take, especially given the public outrage at fraudsters who stole their clients’ life savings and lingering anger over the damage inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis. But the discussion about tweaking sentences for economic crimes comes as some federal judges have chosen to ignore the existing guidelines as too stiff for some cases and as the Justice Department looks for ways to cut costs in an overpopulated federal prison system.

Sentencing guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory, but judges still rely heavily on them for consistency’s sake.


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Advocates arguing that white-collar sentencing guidelines are "mixed up and crazy" could weaken support for keeping them in place, said Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman, a sentencing law expert.

The commission’s action to soften drug-crime guidelines is a signal that the time is ripe, defense lawyers say.

Study questions the need for most people to cut salt; most risk is with high blood pressure

A large international study questions the conventional wisdom that most people should cut back on salt, suggesting that the amount most folks consume is OK for heart health -- and too little may be as bad as too much. The findings came under immediate attack by other scientists.

Limiting salt is still important for people with high blood pressure -- and in fact, a second study estimates that too much sodium contributes to up to 1.65 million deaths each year. The studies both have strengths and weaknesses, and come as the U.S.government is preparing to nudge industry to trim sodium in processed and restaurant foods.

The first study’s leader, Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, urged keeping an open mind.

"There are those who have made a career out of promoting extreme sodium reduction that will attack us," he said. It’s better to focus on healthy lifestyles and overall diets instead of a single element, "and that is something everyone can rally around."

No one should view this as permission to eat more salt, he said, adding that "most people should stay where they are."

Egypt says Israel, Hamas, agree to extend cease-fire another 5 days

CAIRO (AP) -- Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a temporary cease-fire for five days, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said Wednesday, potentially averting renewed violence and permitting the sides to continue to negotiate a substantive deal to end the war in Gaza.

Egyptian mediators had been racing to pin down a long-term cease-fire as a temporary truce was set to expire at midnight. The Israeli military said five rockets were launched at Israel in the hours leading up to the end of the cease-fire.

Egypt’s foreign ministry and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team announced the extension. A spokesman for Israel’s prime minister had no immediate comment.

The cease-fire extension is meant to grant both sides additional time to negotiate a longer-term truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory.

The lull in violence has also been a welcome reprieve for Israelis and Palestinians living in Gaza. During the temporary cease-fire, Israel halted military operations in the war-battered coastal territory and Gaza militants stopped firing rockets, aside from the ones late Wednesday.

Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, 6 others die in plane crash on campaign trail

SANTOS, Brazil (AP) -- Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos died Wednesday when the small plane that was carrying him and several campaign officials plunged into a residential neighborhood in the port city of Santos.

All seven people aboard the plane, including a campaign photographer and cameraman, a press adviser and two pilots, died in the crash, Santos City Hall press officer Patricia Fagueiro told The Associated Press.

In a solemn address, President Dilma Rousseff declared three days of official mourning in honor of Campos and said she would suspend her campaign during that time.

"Today Brazil is in mourning and reeling from a death that took the life of a promising young politician," she said, adding that Campos had been facing "an extremely promising future."

Campos, the scion of a political family from the northeastern state of Pernambuco, had been an ally of Rousseff but broke away ahead of the campaign for the Oct. 4 presidential election.

AP video journalist Simone Camilli, translator and 4 others killed in Gaza explosion

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Six people -- including an Associated Press video journalist -- were killed Wednesday when leftover ordnance believed to have been dropped in an Israeli airstrike blew up in the Gaza Strip.

Simone Camilli and his Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were covering the aftermath of the war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza when they were killed. The blast occurred as Gaza police engineers were trying to defuse unexploded ordnance fired by Israel.

Four police engineers also were killed, police said. Three people, including AP photographer Hatem Moussa, were badly injured.

Moussa told a colleague that they were filming the scene when an initial explosion went off. He said he was hit by shrapnel and began to run when there was a second blast, which knocked him out. He woke up in a hospital and later underwent surgery before he was transferred to a hospital in Israel for more advanced care.

Police officials in Gaza said the blast took place at a special site set up in the northern town of Beit Lahiya where authorities have collected unexploded ordnance to be defused. The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

Kurdish forces say they urgently need more weapons, say evenly matched with militants

MAKHMOUR, Iraq (AP) -- The Kurdish commander stared down a road shimmering in the heat, then gestured to where the Islamic militants were deployed, plotting their next advance on this dusty Iraqi frontier town.

There was very little his Kurdish fighters could do about it.

"They have better weapons," Lt. Col. Saadi Soruchi said of the insurgents. "American weapons."

The Kurdish forces trying to defend frontline towns like Makhmour in their autonomous region of northern Iraq have felt the brunt of the Islamic extremist fighters’ attacks and know how ferocious they are. The militants are bristling with American weapons and armored Humvees looted from Iraqi arsenals, giving them a powerful edge.

After Washington’s promises to arm them, the Kurds say they badly need heavier weapons from the United States to stem the expansion of the Islamic State group.

Ukraine death toll spikes as government onslaught on rebels intensifies and aid stuck in limbo

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- A rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine came under intensified shelling Wednesday as the U.N. revealed that the death toll from the fighting between government troops and separatists has nearly doubled in the last two weeks.

A spokeswoman for the U.N.’s human rights office, Cecile Pouilly, said the organization’s "very conservative estimates" show the overall death toll has risen to at least 2,086 people as of Aug. 10, up from 1,129 on July 26.

Pouilly said at least 4,953 others have been wounded in the fighting since mid-April.

While the humanitarian crisis reaches critical stage in at least one major Ukrainian city, trucks apparently carrying some 2,000 tons of aid have lain idle at a military depot in Russia. Moscow insists it coordinated the dispatch of the goods, which range from baby food and canned meat to portable generators and sleeping bags, with the international Red Cross, but Ukraine says it’s worried the mission may be a cover for an invasion.

A spokesman for local authorities in the main rebel-controlled city of Donetsk told The Associated Press on Wednesday that rocket attacks over the previous night had increased in intensity.

Withheld identity of suburban St. Louis officer who shot, killed unarmed teen festering issue

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) -- In the days since an unarmed black teenager was shot dead by a white police officer in a St. Louis suburb, a big question that’s smoldered amid the outrage of many is who the officer is.

Authorities have refused to release the name of the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has said he’s concerned about the officer’s safety amid numerous death threats. Computer hackers have also targeted the city’s website and released details online about individual city employees.

But civil rights activists and the attorney for Brown’s family, all pressing for calm amid nights of unrest since Saturday’s shooting, counter that knowing the officer’s name may help the area to heal, allowing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others to dig into the officer’s background for any prior brutality.

"We don’t want anyone’s life threatened. If someone like this officer is killed, then there is no justice," said John Gaskin III of St. Louis County’s NAACP chapter. "What the officer may have done is certainly unacceptable, and we are outraged. But we want to be realistic here: This is a man with a family."

Investigators have released few details, saying only that a scuffle unfolded after the officer asked Brown and another man to get out of the street, and that the officer’s weapon fired at some point inside a patrol car. Witnesses say Brown had his hands raised when the officer repeatedly shot him.

Federal court refuses to delay Virginia gay marriage ruling; couples could marry by next week

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Same-sex couples could begin marrying as early as next week in Virginia after a federal appeals court refused Wednesday to delay its ruling that struck down the state’s gay marriage ban.

The state would also need to start recognizing gay marriages from out of state next Wednesday, though the U.S. Supreme Court could effectively put same-sex marriages on hold again if opponents of same-sex marriage are able to win an emergency delay.

A county clerk in northern Virginia had asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to stay its decision striking down the ban, issued in late July, while it is appealed to the high court. The appeals court’s order did not explain why it denied that request.

The 4th Circuit decision "shows that there’s no longer a justification to keep same-sex couples from marrying," said Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver. "Given how many different judges in so many different parts of the country ... have reached the same result, it seems highly likely that the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail on the merits, and I think that, in turn, explains why the 4th Circuit was not willing to grant a stay."

While clerks in other states within the 4th Circuit -- West Virginia and the Carolinas -- wouldn’t technically have to begin issuing licenses as well, federal courts in the state would likely make them if they don’t, Leong said.