Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Resources on the Justice Beat

State and Local Resources

Montana law gives you access to:

Daily incident reports – They’re often skimpy and filled with code. But they’re a start.

Daily arrest reports – Name, DOB, charge.

Jail logs – Who’s in jail, arresting agency.

Other Local and State Web resources

Missoula Police Department

Missoula County Sheriff’s Department

Missoula County Detention Facility.

Montana’s court system. Find links to various branches and resources of Montana’s judicial system, from the state Supreme Court down to Municipal and Justice of the Peace courts.

Montana’s laws. It’s all here, but Title 45 is the state criminal code. You’ll find descriptions of different crimes and any sentencing guidelines.

Montana Supreme Court decisions. You can read them yourself.

Montana State Law Library. Look up old court decisions. Contacts here can help you research a case.

Montana Department of Justice. We elected a state attorney general, who acts as Montana’s top prosecutor. He also represents the state in lawsuits. His department covers everything from law enforcement and forensics (State Crime Lab) to gambling regulation. It also keeps state crime stats.

Montana Department of Corrections. Officials here track everyone convicted of felonies. They have databases of violent and sexual offenders and everyone currently in the state prison system.

Federal Resources

The U.S. Attorney for Montana. The federal Department of Justice picks a top prosecutor to handle federal crimes in every state.

Federal Criminal Code. Here are the crimes that could land you in U.S. District Court and the federal prison system

U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney General runs this huge department. It’s responsible for enforcing federal law.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. The federal government’s chief law enforcement agency. There are others: the Drug Enforcement Agency; the Border Patrol; Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Bureau of Indian Affairs, etc.

Federal courts in Montana. The U.S. District Court is the main trial court from crimes and civil suits in the federal system. But there are other federal courts: Federal Bankruptcy Court, U.S. Tax Court, etc.

Federal Prisons. If you’re convict of federal crimes, you go here.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Appeals from U.S. District Court are heard here, in San Francisco.

U.S. Supreme Court. The high court, the court of last resort in the federal system.

Resources for Journalists

Covering Crime and Justice: A Guide for Journalists. Great primer on how to cover various aspects of the justice system. It’s written by top criminal justice reporters. A wonderful guide to resources on crime and justice issues.

Harmful Error: Investigating America’s Local Prosecutors. Here’s an example of reporting on the system itself. How well does it work?

The Innocence Project. Sometimes the system fails, as these folks know only too well.

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