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ACLU Sues LAUSD, Justice Breyer and the Death Penalty, Parole Bill for Juvie Offenders, and Leland Yee

July 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAUSD TAKING STATE FUNDS AWAY FROM KIDS WHO NEED IT MOST, SEZ LAWSUIT

In Mid June, a UC Berkeley and United Way report found that the Los Angeles Unified School District had misappropriated state funding set aside for kids who desperately need it.

In response, the ACLU of SoCal and others have filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging misuse of $126 million earmarked for foster students, English-learners, kids with disabilities, and kids from low-income households in the 2014-2015 school year, and if left unchecked, will deprive those kids of $2 billion in funding over the next decade.

According to the lawsuit, between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the school district is counting close to $450 million in separate special education funding (required by law) as funds that “increase or improve” services for those targeted high-needs students. That number will hit $2 billion by 2021, and add an additional $450 million every year thereafter.

Despite the school board planning out how best to spend a total of $145 million most of the money did not make it to those students. Instead, the LAUSD spent money re-hiring nurses, librarians, and other staff members at elementary and middle schools, according to the UC Berkeley and United Way report.

The suit was filed by the ACLU of Southern California, Public Advocates, and Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of Community Coalition of South Los Angeles and an LAUSD parent, Reyna Frias.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU:

“LAUSD is breaking its promise to provide my children and millions of other students in the future, with the services they need and the law says they should receive,” said Ms. Frias, whose children qualify for the funds targeted by LCFF.

The plaintiffs are represented by Public Advocates Inc., the ACLU of California and Covington & Burling LLP.

“Community Coalition has spent decades working to transform the social and economic conditions in South Los Angeles,” said Alberto Retana, president and CEO of the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We want to ensure that our students aren’t short-changed by LAUSD’s budget process. We see too many students in our public schools struggling because they don’t receive the services they need to thrive academically.”

The law directs school districts to use state funds under LCFF to “increase or improve” services for the targeted students. Each district calculates what it will spend partly on what it has spent in the past on such services. The lawsuit alleges that by counting prior spending for “special education” — which the district is already required to provide — as spending on services for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth, LAUSD has in effect reduced its specific legal obligation to those very students by over $400 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16 combined. Over time, if allowed to continue the practice, LAUSD will short-change these students by over $2 billion by 2021, and $450 million additionally every year after that.

“If every district uses its new LCFF funds to pay for things it’s already legally required to do like LAUSD, the promise of California’s new funding law will evaporate overnight,” said John Affeldt, managing attorney with Public Advocates. “LCFF requires that LAUSD use these hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver new and better services to targeted students.”


SCOTUS JUSTICE BREYER AND HIS 40-PAGE DEATH PENALTY DISSENT

On Monday, in a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s three-drug cocktail execution method challenged by three OK death row inmates after three lethal injections were botched last year.

Justice Stephen Breyer didn’t just disagree with the ruling. He wrote a colossal 40-page dissent focused on the constitutionality of the death penalty, even though the issue was not directly before the court.

The New Yorker’s David Cole has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Justice Breyer raised a still more profound question: Is the death penalty unconstitutional, as a form of “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment? Capital punishment is expressly mentioned in the Fifth Amendment, which requires a grand-jury indictment for a capital crime, so the Court has never held the death penalty unconstitutional under all circumstances. But, in 1972, the Court did declare the death penalty—as it was then administered—unconstitutional, reasoning that the imposition of death, at the time left to the unfettered discretion of prosecutors and juries, rendered the sanction so arbitrary as to be cruel and unusual. As Justice Potter Stewart famously put it, “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” (Four years later, the Court restored the death penalty, concluding that new procedures and requirements were, in theory, sufficient to limit arbitrary decisions.)

[SNIP]

There are about fifteen thousand murders a year in the United States. Last year, we executed thirty-five people. Studies, Breyer notes, have consistently found that what determines who lives or dies is more likely to be race, geography, or the quality of one’s lawyer than the defendant’s culpability. In addition, DNA evidence has demonstrated that, no matter how many procedural safeguards we put in place, human error is inevitable. A hundred and fifteen people convicted and sentenced to die have subsequently been found innocent of the crime, and that number certainly will continue to rise. Last year alone, six death-row inmates were exonerated, but not before spending more than thirty years each on death row. Capital cases are notoriously beset by errors; from 1973 to 1995, state and federal courts found constitutional errors in nearly seventy per cent of all capital cases before them.

What’s more, Breyer noted, defendants today routinely spend decades on death row while their cases are reviewed. That lengthy period of intense uncertainty, nearly always spent in solitary confinement, adds to the cruel and unusual character of capital punishment. The thirty-five individuals executed in 2014 spent, on average, nearly eighteen years on death row. In 1960, the average delay between sentence and execution was two years. As Justice John Paul Stevens argued in 2009, such delays expose inmates to “decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement”—in particular, the solitary confinement that Kennedy finds so problematic. And the delays undermine whatever deterrent or retributive value death sentences are supposed to provide, as a penalty carried out several decades after the crime is unlikely to serve as a warning to others or to offer much solace to the victim’s family. “The upshot,” Breyer writes, “is that lengthy delays both aggravate the cruelty of the death penalty and undermine its jurisprudential rationale.”

The problem, Breyer suggests, may be irresolvable. We can have executions without long delays, or we can have the procedural review necessary to avoid unfair executions, but we can’t have both. If the Constitution requires both, the death penalty may well be unconstitutional.


EXPANDING AGE ELIGIBILITY FOR LAW THAT GIVES LIFER INMATES WHO COMMITTED CRIMES AS KIDS A SECOND CHANCE AT PAROLE

In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and sentenced to life-without-parole. Now, a bill that is making its way through legislature, SB 261, would expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23.

The bill passed through the Senate in early June, and through the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday. Now, it heads to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

San Jose Inside’s Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The California legislature passed SB 260, a youth offender bill that set up a new parole process for those who were minors at the time of their crimes. These youth offenders could now visit the board of parole hearings ahead of schedule—after 15, 20 or 25 years, depending on their original sentence—and have their age at the time of the crime considered “with great weight.”

“I didn’t know there were people out there fighting for individuals like me,” Mendoza says. “As a young inmate, you spend so many years believing that you’re being thrown away, and now they’re picking you up, saying, ‘We see the potential that you have.’ After so many years, it started to make me realize that I should prove people right for a change.”

Mendoza went before the parole board, eager to show that he was “no longer that 15-year-old boy.” After 17 years—more than half of his life—Mendoza got his release.

Today, the 34-year-old lives in Oakland, works full-time for a marketing firm and is studying to get his bachelor’s degree in business marketing at San Francisco State. Mendoza’s story isn’t unusual—so far, there hasn’t been a single incident of recidivism among several hundred SB 260 parolees. With the success found in changing the law, California’s legislature is now deliberating SB 261, which would expand the young offender parole hearings by upping the age of eligibility to 23.

“SB 260 and 261 give young people hope, give them an incentive to change,” says state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), who authored both bills. “And really, it’s only an opportunity. The board of parole hearings is very tough, and they only grant parole in less than 15 percent of cases—but it’s an opportunity that means a lot to the individual human beings.”


FORMER CA SENATOR LELAND YEE PLEADS GUILTY

On Wednesday, Former CA Sen. Leland Yee pled guilty to one felony count of racketeering and faces up to a 20-year maximum sentence.

Leland Yee was arrested last March in an FBI corruption sting for alleged gun trafficking in exchange for donations to his campaign for California Secretary of State. A long-time associate of Yee’s and head of an international crime ring, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, and 24 others were also picked up in the sting.

Before his indictment, Yee authored a number of important juvenile justice and foster care bills as senator (some of which we have pointed to here and here).

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has the update on the Yee corruption saga. Here’s a clip:

“Guilty,” Yee said, when asked by Judge Charles Breyer how he was pleading.

“Are you pleading guilty of your own free will, because you are guilty?” Breyer asked.

“I am,” Yee said.

As part of the agreement, Yee admitted to exchanging political favors for campaign contributions, including:

▪ $10,000 to help a business secure a contract with the California Department of Public Health. According to the revised indictment, Yee met with undercover agents representing a software consulting company client, Well Tech. One of the agents said he wanted to position Well Tech to compete for state grants and contracts.

▪ $6,800 to issue a proclamation honoring a community organization in Chinatown that prosecutors allege is connected to criminal activities. According to the indictment, Yee gave the proclamation to Chee Kung Tong at a celebration of the group’s anniversary.

▪ $11,000 to introduce an undercover FBI agent to another state senator with influence over medical marijuana legislation. Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff has said he thinks he was “State Senator 2” in the affidavit. He said he met with Yee and “some long-haired guy in plain clothes” to discuss Republicans’ views on the legislation.

Yee also admitted to conspiring to extort several individuals who, at the time, had an interest in pending legislation extending the state athletic commission and changing the workers’ compensation program for professional athletes.

And he acknowledged offering to facilitate a multimillion-dollar arms deal for shoulder-fired missiles and automatic weapons with a source tied to Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines – a particularly bizarre and damaging allegation for the staunch gun-control advocate.

[SNIP]

Donald Heller, a Sacramento defense attorney, estimated that Yee ultimately would be sentenced to 30 to 37 months in prison, much less than if he went to trial.

He said Yee could work with the prosecution to corroborate evidence against other defendants or target new ones, but there was no confirmation in the plea agreement either way.

“If he’s agreed to cooperate, I would expect there’s going to be a lot of soiled underwear at the Capitol,” said Heller, who represented lobbyist Clayton Jackson during a massive corruption scandal in the early 1990s that ensnared several members of the Legislature. “Political corruption cases are not usually isolated to one member.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, Foster Care, LAUSD, LWOP Kids, parole policy | No Comments »

Conviction Review Unit for LA, Stun-Cuffs, SCOTUS’ Lethal Injection Ruling and CA’s Death Penalty, and More

June 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S NEW CONVICTION REVIEW TEAM

On Monday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced a new Conviction Review Unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved $1 million to fund the unit, which will consist of three deputy district attorneys, a senior investigator, and a paralegal.

When the DA’s office is presented with potentially exculpatory information, Lacey says, “The responsibility is on us, as prosecutors, to re-examine the facts and…to seek to vacate a wrongful conviction.”

The DA’s office prosecuted a whopping 71,000 felony cases last year. This unit is meant to cover prosecutors’ “margin of error” according to DA Lacey, who told Warren Olney, on his KCRW show Which Way, LA?, that she expects the unit to review around a dozen cases per year.

In 2012, California led the nation in innocence cases, with 119 exonerations since 1989. LA County will join other CA counties with similar units including San Diego, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara.

Here’s how it will work, according to DA Lacey’s website:

The unit will review claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. These claims may originate from inmates, attorneys or innocence projects. The requests will be made in writing to the District Attorney’s Office. This process will not require the filing of any formal court documents.

If an initial review determines that the claim appears to have merit, a formal investigation will be opened. A prosecutor and investigator will be assigned to review trial transcripts and interview witnesses. If warranted, the case will be presented to the Conviction Review Committee composed of managers similar to the group that reviews death penalty cases.

If the committee decides the office has lost faith in the conviction, prosecutors will seek to have the conviction vacated.


STUN-CUFFS: 80,000 VOLTS OF INSTANTANEOUS DISCIPLINARY CONTROL OVER INMATES

A pair of “stun-cuffs” wrapped around wrists or legs allow officers to send 80,000 volts of electricity through an inmate’s body, remotely. In the video above, an officer at a National Sheriff’s Association meeting eagerly straps his ankles into the cuffs for a demonstration. When the button is pushed, the officer immediately drops to the ground screaming and writhing while his friends laugh and joke about his reaction.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more on the painful cuffs, and why the officers’ reaction to the demonstration is troubling. Here’s a clip:

The way that the man taking the video laughs as the other man writhes on the ground in uncontrollable spasms and painful screams adeptly captures the part of human nature that leads me to believe that these devices will spread with terrible results.

They’re already used on prisoners in some jurisdictions. The company itself lists some testimonials on its web site. A detention center in San Juan County, New Mexico, demonstrated the device on a prison guard back in 2012. A Missouri sheriff’s department tested a similar device from a different manufacturer in 2013. They too found it extremely amusing to debilitate colleagues with painful shocks. Lots of young men would react similarly, hence my reluctance to let them put devices they approach with jocularity rather than seriousness on people that they disdain.

I am hardly alone in finding stun-cuffs creepy and suggestive of evil––for goodness sakes, Darth Vader seems to have pioneered their use on the Death Star.

Back in the real world, there are a depressing number of news articles about parents arrested for putting shock collars intended for dogs on their children. Of course, no one would equate kids with prisoners acting up in custody. But the stories are narrowly relevant for two reasons: they’re written as though the shocks are self-evidently cruel, though they’re far weaker and less painful than what stun-cuffs deliver; and in at least one instance, a man was arrested for putting a shock collar on his kid that he never used, suggesting that on some level, even law enforcement understands that it isn’t just being shocked that matters in these situations––the burden of knowing that someone has a finger on a button that could deliver a shock at any moment matters too. When these stun-cuffs are preemptively placed on prisoners, those who don’t misbehave will still suffer that psychological trauma; and recall that many prisoners have not yet been convicted of any crime.

Those problems would give pause even if America’s police officers and prison guards were not prone to excessive force and prisoner abuse.


WILL SCOTUS RULING IN FAVOR OF OKLAHOMA’S LETHAL INJECTIONS TRIGGER LONG-DORMANT CALIFORNIA EXECUTIONS?

On Monday, in a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s three-drug execution method challenged by three OK death row inmates after three lethal injections were botched last year.

This ruling has particular significance in California, where executions on hold for almost ten years may soon resume. California recently agreed to develop a single drug execution method to replace the three-drug cocktail, pending the SCOTUS ruling.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has more on the ruling and why it brings CA closer to carrying out executions. (And for more on the issue, read WLA’s pre-SCOTUS-ruling backstory on the original OK case that went before the high court.) Here’s a clip:

Under a recent settlement with families of murder victims, California prison officials agreed to propose a new single-drug execution method within 120 days of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Oklahoma legal challenge. It would mark the first progress in years toward devising a new execution procedure at San Quentin, where California has not executed a condemned killer in nearly a decade.

By upholding Oklahoma’s controversial three-drug lethal injection method in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court appears to have removed a key legal hurdle for California to rely on some form of lethal drug.

“(It is) a pretty strong green light for California to go forward with whatever lethal injection protocol fits their own regulations and interests,” said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

Death penalty opponents expressed alarm that California might resume executions, with one leading group, Death Penalty Focus, sending out an email seeking donations to back efforts to continue legal challenges to lethal injection.

“Today’s decision … starts off a very long, costly and wasteful process in California,” said Ana Zamora, criminal justice policy director for the Northern California ACLU.

The Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, rejected the arguments of death penalty foes that drugs such as those used in Oklahoma risk violating an inmate’s right to a humane execution. “Holding that the 8th Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether,” the court’s conservative majority wrote.


NPR SERIES FACILITATES MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION AMONG LA COPS, COMMUNITY, AND CREATIVES

NPR’s Michel Martin hosted an event called “Street and Beats: Personal stories of cops and community from across L.A.” at the Los Angeles Theatre Center to open up communication between former gang members, local law enforcement, artists, and other community figures.

Panelists included actor Richard Cabral, LAPD Captain Ruby Flores Malachi, Yasmeen Muqtasid, the resident of Black Women Matter Inc., LASD senior deputy, Rafer Owens, Grammy-winning East LA rock group, Quetzal, author and journalist, Sam Quinones, and LA Poet Laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez.

Street and Beats is part of an ongoing NPR live event series.

Here are a couple of the discussion topics clipped from KPCC’s write-up of the event:

1. Most cops sign up to serve

L.A. Police Captain Ruby Malachi said she wanted to join the force after a bad personal experience with the police as a teenager. “I wanted to become an officer and make a difference, treat people right. Your first encounter with an officer is a lasting, lifelong impression,” she said.

“Many police officers come on for the right reasons,” Malachi continued. “As tough as it is to police in this day and age, we are extremely proud to wear the badge. And that’s one of the things we’re campaigning at LAPD: let’s show what’s behind the badge.”

“We’re real people,” she said. “We care about the job and came onto the job to serve and protect. That’s what we’re sworn to do.”

“[Serving on LASD] is coming out of yourself and serving the community, people who need you,” said Rafer Owens, Senior Deputy, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “We are obligated and obliged to serve our community.”

Malachi said that police and the community they serve have to work to solve problems together and that there need to be more positive contacts with police officers. “We should be teaching kids to run towards us for help, not from us.”

2. Communities often don’t see the concern

Yasmeen Muqtasid, President of Black Women Matter Inc., said the good intentions Malachi and Owens described oftentimes aren’t seen by the community.

“For myself as a black woman, for our organization Black Women Matter, and for black people, the ‘Officer Friendly’ doesn’t exist. It never has,” she said.

“When I think about my first interactions with police, it’s seeing family members being beaten to a pulp,” said Muqtasid. “There’s a huge disconnect between what officers say and what the community feels and experiences.”

[BIG SNIP]

5. Cops are human and they’re needed by the community

Growing up, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles Luis J. Rodriguez said he felt he and his San Gabriel community were at war with the police. Now, he wants police to be part of the community.

“When I was a crime reporter I learned that cops are under the gun of society that says crime is their problem, and I don’t think that’s true. I think crime is a social, political, and justice issue. I do think police are given the short end of the stick when it comes to that and that they should not be in charge of everything we can’t resolve,” he said.

Posted in Death Penalty, District Attorney, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

How SCOTUS and a Horribly Botched Execution in OK Has Bearing on CA’s Possible Resumption Its Own Executions

June 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

CALIFORNIA & THE ONE-DRUG COCKTAIL

Death penalty advocates who sued the state in 2014, hoping to find a way to restart California’s executions, received positive news for their cause earlier this month when state officials agreed to develop a new method for lethal injection executions that would use just one drug instead of three, which had been the method in the past California and most other states. Now, due to drug shortages and problematic executions, eight states have moved to the one-drug method.

The state agreed that the development of the single drug would move forward, with a four-month time clock, just as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a lawsuit brought by three Oklahoma death row inmates after three American executions last year were horribly botched.


THE SUPREMES & THE MIDAZOLAM PROBLEM

Lawyers for the three have argued that all three inmates experienced severe enough pain as they died that the states’ actions crossed into the arena of unconstitutionality.

The primary culprit in the execution botching was reportedly one of the drugs that officials used as part of each state’s approved three drug cocktail, namely midazolam, a drug that has been used by four states as part of their capital punishment regimin, and that four more states propose using.

It seems that states have switched to midazolam because the companies that make the more trustable types of barbiturates, now refuse to allow their drugs to be used as part of anybody’s state cocktail to kill humans.

But, although it has been approved for use by various lower courts, the case before SCOTUS contends that it is simply not safe unless we’re willing to risk torturing our death row inmates.

In particular, according to the three Oklahoma plaintiffs, it was the execution of another Oklahoma death row inmate, Clayton Lockett, in 2014, that was truly cruel and unusual punishment as defined by the Eighth Amendment, in that Lockett woke back up in the middle of everything, began trying to talk, and appeared to be suffering horribly.

As to how the outcome of the case could affect California, it is not the decision about the specific drug, midazolam, that matters, but rather the new standards a ruling could set by which courts should evaluate challenges to a particular method of execution. California officials are loath to set a new protocol only to have their chosen one-drug method tied up in years of court appeals.

The ruling is expected to come near the end of this month.


CRUEL AND UNUSUAL

So, okay, how bad was Lockett’s botched execution really?

Jeffrey E. Stern, writing for the June issue of the Atlantic, has a deeply researched longread that explains in elaborate detail what the state had to go through to get the drugs it intended to use to kill Lockett, the secrecy around the drugs the state was using, and the ghastly execution itself. It is a tale that is both fascinating and horrifying to read. And it is likely a necessary read for anyone who intends to engage knowledgeably on one side or the other of the capital punishment debate.

Here are a couple clips from Stern’s story:

First, this section below provides a look into the byzantine gyrations Oklahoma and other states had to go through simply to acquire the needed deadly potions.

….What many people don’t realize, however, is that choosing the specific drugs and doses involves as much guesswork as expertise. In many cases, the person responsible for selecting the drugs has no medical training. Sometimes that person is a lawyer—a state attorney general or an attorney for the prison. These officials base their confidence that a certain drug will work largely on the fact that it has seemed to work in the past. So naturally, they prefer not to experiment with new drugs. In recent years, however, they have been forced to do so.

The problems began at a pharmaceutical plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The Food and Drug Administration discovered that some of the drugs made there were contaminated and in April 2010 sent the manufacturer, Hospira, a warning letter. Hospira stopped producing, among other drugs, a barbiturate called sodium thiopental. No other company was approved by the FDA to make sodium thiopental, which was the anesthetic of choice for almost all of the states that carried out executions. (The death penalty is legal in 32 states; 17 of them have performed an execution in the past five years.)

With sodium thiopental suddenly unavailable, states scrambled to find alternatives. In June of that year, officials in Georgia discovered a work-around: a small-time businessman in London named Mehdi Alavi, who sold wholesale drugs through a company called Dream Pharma, would ship sodium thiopental to them. Georgia bought some from him, and then Arkansas did too. With Hospira offline, Alavi had the U.S. execution market cornered. Arizona bought sodium thiopental from him in late September and used it the next month to execute a convicted murderer named Jeffrey Landrigan. California placed an order as well.

Maya Foa, an anti-death-penalty advocate based in London, saw Dream Pharma mentioned in court documents related to Landrigan’s execution and decided to pay a visit. At the company’s address, she found a small building with peeling white paint and a placard that read Elgone Driving Academy. Inside she found two desks and, in the back of the room, a single cabinet. That was it: Dream Pharma. Alavi imported execution drugs from elsewhere in Europe and shipped them to the United States, using that cupboard in a driving school as his base of operations.

Reprieve, the human-rights organization where Foa worked, wrote to the British government, arguing that supplying drugs for executions violated British law, since the death penalty is illegal in Europe. The government balked. Stopping the shipment of a drug would hamper free trade and could be harmful to patients. Foa responded that the “patient” argument was erroneous—there was no trade of sodium thiopental between the U.S. and the U.K. for medicinal purposes. It was all for executions. This time, the government agreed. England announced tighter export restrictions, which effectively banned the sale of the drug for executions. Foa then persuaded the European Commission to follow suit by amending its torture regulation. U.S. states trying to carry out the death penalty were now blocked from buying drugs not just from England, but from all of Europe.

So they looked even farther afield. In late 2010, a company in Mumbai, Kayem Pharmaceuticals, received an e-mail from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. Officials there wanted an anesthetic that Kayem made mostly for clients in Angola: sodium thiopental. Kayem sold Nebraska 500 vials, enough for more than 80 executions. Soon after, Foa’s boss wrote the company to explain how Nebraska planned to use its product. When South Dakota officials tried to place an order, Kayem jacked up the price 900 percent, to $20 a vial, hoping the cost would dissuade them. It didn’t. South Dakota bought 500 vials. Kayem stopped selling the drug to the U.S. immediately after that….

Then once Oklahoma officials had the required drugs and tried to go about executing their prisoner, things did not go well at all:

As Zellmer tried to get the needle into the jugular, the paramedic stuck Lockett three more times on his right arm, failing each time.

Zellmer got the needle into Lockett’s neck and saw flashback, but then saw blood spread under the skin—he thought the needle might have gone all the way through the vein. Zellmer decided to try a subclavian line, in a vein running beneath Lockett’s collarbone. The paramedic brought him a central-venous catheterization kit, and Zellmer numbed Lockett’s chest with lidocaine. The paramedic tried two different veins on Lockett’s right foot; both attempts failed.

Zellmer kept trying to get the needle into Lockett’s subclavian vein. He finally saw a little flashback, then lost the vein and couldn’t get the needle back in. After repeatedly sticking Lockett’s chest, he decided to try the femoral vein, in Lockett’s groin. The paramedic went to get a longer needle.

As the warden, Anita Trammell, watched the doctor and the paramedic work on Lockett, she felt a sliver of pride for the inmate. He’d now been stuck with needles more than a dozen times. She knew he was in pain, but she thought he was taking it like a man. Trammell tried to make conversation to help calm him. She knew he had been a drug user. “What was your drug of choice?” she asked him.

“Ice.”

“I thought that was a white man’s drug,” she said, and he laughed.

The paramedic came back and said she had no needles longer than an inch and a quarter. That presented a problem. The femoral vein lies deeper in the body than other veins, so they would ideally use a needle at least twice that length. There were longer needles inside a second central-venous catheterization kit, like the one they’d just used on Lockett’s chest, but neither Zellmer nor the paramedic thought of it. Zellmer asked for an IO-infusion needle. IO stands for “intraosseous”—into the bone. It is, in effect, a power drill, used to bore a hole through bone and into the marrow, and therefore doesn’t require finding a vein.

The prison had no IO needle. Zellmer had only the absurdly short one-and-a-quarter-inch needle. “Well,” he told the paramedic, “we’ll just have to make it work…..”


AND BACK TO YOU, CALIFORNIA

So can California really do reliably better by using just one drug? What drug will officials propose using? Is that drug reliable? And will CA be able to get the drug that officials select, now that more and more manufacturers are declining to allow their medications to be use for state executions? All those questions have yet to be answered.

Posted in Death Penalty, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Realignment Revisited, CA Bill to Conceal Child Abuse Death Cases, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Crowdfunding Lawsuits Against Law Enforcement

May 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA PRISONER REALIGNMENT AND ITS SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION, WILL BE PART OF GOV. BROWN’S LEGACY

California’s prisoner realignment, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) to the states’ 58 counties.

In 2013, the Public Policy Institute of California looked at what effect, if any, realignment had on crime in its first year of existence. It found a slight uptick in violent crime, but noted that it was comparable to similar increases in violent crime elsewhere in the country in states that had no new realignment strategy. (There was however, an anomalous uptick in auto theft, for which the researchers had no explanation.) At the same time, in that first year, the state’s prison population dropped by around 27,000 to 133,400 inmates.

On Tuesday, the Public Policy Institute of California released a second report, finding that in 2013, crime rates dropped several percentage points (or more) in all categories of violent crime and property crime calculated.

And, thanks to realignment, and more recently, Prop 47, the state’s prisons are now 2,200 inmates below the 137.5% capacity deadline set by a panel of federal judges. (Prop 47 reclassified certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors.) County jail population growth has also slowed down.

A Sacramento Bee editorial lauds California Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice reform efforts, calling realignment an important accomplishment and a model for the nation.


UNDER-THE-RADAR CALIFORNIA “TRAILER BILL” WOULD CONCEAL RECORDS OF KIDS KILLED BY THEIR PARENTS’ SIGNIFICANT OTHERS…AND MORE – UPDATED

A “trailer bill” tucked away in the CA budget proposal would hide records of child deaths at the hands of a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend. It would also limit access to other case notes, and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Interestingly, the bill would also implement a federal order to release case files when kids are brought close to death.

Because the bill is attached to the budget, it will bypass the usual committee review process.

According to the Times, the bill could be voted on as early as today (Thursday).

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here are some clips:

…state and county officials implemented a battery of child protection reforms that child welfare advocates credit with reducing the number of children who die because of abuse and neglect.

But the bill currently under consideration would relax deadlines for the release of records, and keep the names of social workers secret. It would deny the public access to original case notes, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children.

It would also exclude the public from reviewing case files concerning children who were killed by their parents’ boyfriends or girlfriends.


[EDITOR'S UPDATE: We have just deleted a sentence in our clip from this LA Times story. It had to do with DCFS's purported sponsoring of this worrisome bill, which---according to information we have subsequently received---turns out to be incorrect. (A DCFS spokesman said that those at his office first learned of the bill's existence this morning from the LAT's and WLA's reporting. He assured me that DCFS is not at all in favor of the information-restricting proposed legislation.)

The Times too has removed the problematic sentence, although without notifying readers that they have done so. Instead the faulty information just unaccountably vanished. (Bad LAT, no cookie!)]


[SNIP]

Pete Cervinka, the deputy director of the social services department who reportedly led efforts to draft the rollback, declined to answer questions about the proposal.

A spokesman noted that the department had not yet publicly introduced the language of the bill, which he said will implement a federal mandate to release records for the first time in cases where children are injured to the point that they are “near death.”


DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV AND THE DEATH PENALTY, AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF SOMEONE PAID TO HUMANIZE DEFENDANTS IN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT CASES

In a story for the Nation, Debbie Nathan, a journalist and freelance “mitigation specialist” for death penalty cases, gives an interesting take on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case from the eyes of someone whose job is to “de-monster the monsters.”

In death penalty cases, when guilt is already established, mitigation specialists dig through the defendant’s past to present a humanizing narrative that will sway jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Often, according to Nathan, the investigations turn up prior abuse, mental illness, and other traumas. But, Nathan says, the concepts and practices of mitigation investigations, vilification, and even innocence claims are indicative of a broken criminal justice system. Nathan argues that humans should be allowed to make bad decisions, even catastrophic ones, and remain among the living.

Here are some clips from Nathan’s insider take on the issue:

We search out hardship in early life. In death-penalty cases, this is usually like shooting into barrels of fish. Capital murder is an extreme behavioral outlier and almost always is associated with a gross inability to control one’s frustration, anger, and other antisocial impulses. The problem is most often associated with conditions like intellectual disability, mental illness, exposure to environmental and workplace toxins, and substance abuse. Learning this background can liberate a jury from simplistic and legalistic notions of “guilt,” toward the more complicated understanding that when terrible things happen to someone, even grotesquely violent responses are imbued with a quantum of moral innocence.

[SNIP]

Exposition. Rising action. A plot gone awry and a horrible climax. The denouement remains to be written. We mitigation specialists hope the poetics of our client’s life will move the jury to consider their own poetics. To think, as they lie in bed at night after court: “There but for the grace of God go I. Or my child!” They might vote to kill a monster, but not a human. Mitigation narratives don’t work all the time—witness what’s just happened with Tsarnaev. But they work often enough, and they save lives.

As a result of this work, I see capital cases from the inside. I see privy things. Very occasionally, I see strong evidence that someone is actually innocent: they seem truly to have done no wrong. These cases underscore the State’s outsized and often corrupt power, exercised though egomaniacal and dishonest district attorneys, lying cops, inept “experts.” These cases have become a powerful argument against the death penalty.

But I’ve also seen cases in which the defendant and his lawyers have publicly claimed innocence—yet during my work I’ve found evidence suggesting my client is guilty. I’ve seen attorneys hide the “bad facts” of the case—facts, kept quiet by the defense, which suggest that my client did commit murder. These are the moments in which I question the corrosive role that “innocence” plays in criminal justice, and in our effort to reform that broken system.

Claims of innocence can be tremendously useful tools. In court they can rout a death sentence, particularly when raised on appeal to contest an execution that is imminent. Politically, innocence claims are a potent argument against capital punishment, because who, even among the most die-hard of capital punishment advocates, wants to mistakenly execute the blameless?

But innocence claims, even in far lesser crimes than murder, can be as corrosive to our struggling comprehension of humanity as is the prosecutor’s rant about “monsters.” Handed down in courtrooms and in the court of public opinion, a judgment of innocence gives indigent people, people of color, and immigrants the right in America to live. But the other side of the shiny coin of innocence is the crumpled currency of guilt. You’re not innocent? You fucked up? Then you deserve your exile—prison for an eternity, ejection from the United States, your life injected away on a gurney. After all, you’re not innocent.


CROWDFUNDING FOR PEOPLE ALLEGEDLY ABUSED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT, WHO CANNOT AFFORD LEGAL FEES

Anoush Hakimi turned to crowdfunding to “level the legal playing field” by helping indigent victims of alleged police abuse pay their attorney’s fees.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has the unusual story. Here’s a clip:

The effort is designed to address a perennial problem in police abuse litigation: most victims are poor and their attorneys only get paid when there’s a settlement or a jury finds in their favor.

In the meantime, attorneys spend their own money to hire expert witnesses, conduct discovery and prepare the case.

“So naturally, plaintiff attorneys are reluctant to take on cases unless they are a slam dunk,” said Hakimi, 37, a Century City finance lawyer. “This leaves a lot of people out in the cold.”

Too often, he argued, victims are forced to settle a case on the cheap because their lawyers can’t afford to fight. The Iranian immigrant, who graduated from UCLA Law School, said he co-founded TrialFunder.com to raise investor money to bolster good cases.

Hakimi said investor money will “level the legal playing field” against deep-pocketed cities, counties and corporations.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Innocence, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, prison, Realignment | No Comments »

Support for Aging-out Foster Kids with Their Own Children…Former WA Justice Resigns Over Death Penalty….CA Mental Health Courts….from Drug Dealing to QuickBooks

May 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE FORWARD ON CREATING SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR YOUNG PARENTS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors formally approved a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. Now the Department of Children and Family Services can move forward on a contract with Imagine LA, the non-profit that will be providing the services to foster kids who have young children and are aging out of the foster care system.

Specifically, Imagine LA will pair the young parents with a group of volunteer mentors to help with every day parenting activities, creating a support system that new parents outside the child welfare system often receive from their own parents and extended families.

The program, which may be renewed for one additional year at the end of the first two years, will be evaluated by the USC School of Social Work.

In LA County where 38% of California’s foster kids reside, 50% of foster kids who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. Fifty percent of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

According to Imagine LA, since launching it’s first family mentorship team in 2008, the non-profit has worked with 68 families with whom they have had positive outcomes:

* 100% of families maintained their housing

* 100% of children achieved ASQ (under 5 year developmental standards) or grade level school proficiency with the majority excelling

* 100% of high school-aged youth graduated and pursued higher education

* 100% of participants (adults and children) received annual medical and dental exams

* 75% of families increased their household earned income, on average an increase of 67%

According to Imagine LA’s CEO and President, Jill Bauman, a participating family gets paired with a custom mentor team and a Team Manager who work together to “make sure all the resources, skills and habits the family needs stick. They are in it for the long haul,” Bauman says. “The young people in this program will get help with everything from finding and keeping employment, to learning how to budget, cook, parent, and utilize healthcare, to getting a ‘mom’ break when they need it most. And the children will have other caring resourceful adults also nurturing their development.”

For more information on the specific roles and responsibilities of mentor team members, visit Imagine LA’s website.

Note: the above video shares the stories of Imagine LA’s participating parents who have struggled with homelessness. The new program approved by the LA Supes will be specifically tailored to aging-out foster kids.


THE WASHINGTON STATE JUSTICE WHO LEFT THE BENCH BECAUSE HE COULD NO LONGER UPHOLD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

On Wednesday, while the US Supreme Court debated lethal injection protocol, specifically, the use of the sedative midazolam. That same day, on the other side of the country, the Washington State Supreme Court held a memorial service for former justice Robert Utter, who died in October.

the fact that the two things happened on the same day had a significance

Utter resigned from the state’s high court in 1995—after 23 years on the bench—in protest of the death penalty. In his resignation letter, Utter wrote, “We continue to demonstrate no human is wise enough to decide who should die.”

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong has Robert Utter’s story, including what convinced him to leave the high court. Here are some clips:

Utter’s resignation was part of a string of judicial condemnations of the death penalty in the mid- and late 1990s. The most famous of these came from the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a 1994 dissent: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” But justices on state courts also joined in, with Utter’s resignation followed by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II warning of the inevitability of an innocent person being executed. “When that day comes, as it must, my colleagues will see what they have allowed to happen, and they will feel ashamed,” Harrison wrote in a 1998 dissent.

[SNIP]

On the state Supreme Court, Utter dissented two dozen times in cases where his colleagues upheld a death sentence. (Often, those sentences were thereafter reversed in the federal courts.) His chief criticism was the unequal application of the law. He would write time and again of how one defendant had received a death sentence while others, whose crimes were worse and whose circumstances were less forgivable, had not. In the 1990s, two events helped convince him to walk away. One was the 1993 execution of Westley Allan Dodd, the state’s first execution since 1963 and the country’s first hanging since 1965. The second was reading “Hitler’s Justice,” a book by Ingo Müller, a German lawyer. In a law review article published in 1997, Utter wrote that Müller “chronicles how the entire legal system, including judges, lawyers, and lawmakers, were co-opted to serve a lawless regime with the corresponding death of the rule of law and its legal institutions. … In fact, he told of only two non-Jewish judges who actively protested the actions of the Nazi government by resigning.”

In a long interview conducted as part of the Washington Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, Utter explained how the book made his choice clear.

“Nobody stood up,” he said. “I had to.”

There’s more, so read the rest.


CALIFORNIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE SEZ ALL CA COUNTIES SHOULD HAVE MENTAL HEALTH COURTS

While sitting in on Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, pointed out that only 27 of the state’s 58 counties have mental health diversion courts despite their proven ability to reduce recidivism.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said that although the state appropriated $15 million in one-time funds for diversion courts, many counties may not be able to afford them when the start-up money runs out.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt has the story. Here’s how it opens:

In Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, there are plenty of congratulations and plenty of cupcakes for people who used to be known as defendants but who are now known as participants. They stand before Judge Larry Brown. An attorney updates the judge on the status of a participant.

“I am happy to report his drug test was negative.” Brown responds, “Great! That’s terrific. Good job.”

Judge Larry Brown gently reminds one of the participants in the County’s mental health program that progress involves a little work, “None of this punishment. It’s all about having part of a structured program, right?”

On this day, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye sits in the jury box as an observer. She says only 27 of the 58 counties have a mental health court.

“When you give people treatment and they get on some kind of service-provider program, they tend to re-offend less -hence the reduction in recidivism, hence less of a cost to the community -law enforcement, jails and institutions.”

For 18 months, the MacArthur researchers followed 447 participants from mental health courts in San Francisco County and Santa Clara County as well as Hennepin County, MN, and Marion County, IN, as well as 600 people receiving “treatment as usual.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation Mental Health Court Study, the mental health court graduates had lower recidivism rates than mentally ill offenders who were not enrolled in (or who did not finish) the diversion court program.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-FETCHED JUMP FROM DRUG DEALER TO ACCOUNTANT

RadioDiaries’ Joe Richmond talked with Kamari Ridgle, a young, former drug dealer from Richmond, CA who discovered his passion for accounting, after 22 bullets pierced his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down at 15-years-old. According to Kamari, “Every drug dealer is a businessman.”

“Last fall, in my accounting class,” Kamari continues, “the teacher was like, ‘This is what you really need to know: you’ve got expenses, you’ve got revenues.’ That’s when I was just like, ‘Oh, I did this before. I get this…”

(Joe Richmond is also in the middle of a series for This American Life about the city of Richmond where the Office of Neighborhood Safety pays former offenders to stay out of trouble.)

Posted in California Supreme Court, Courts, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, mental health | No Comments »

The Presumption of Innocence & the Presumption of Dangerousness

January 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


This past weekend, UC Irvine’s Literary Journalism Program together
with UCI’s School of law sponsored a unique interdisciplinary conference titled Justice and Injustice: The Consequences of Storytelling in the Courtroom.

The conference (in which I was fortunate enough to take part) was unusually dynamic, and many of the topics discussed by the event’s panelists and keynote speakers will find their way into WLA stories and posts in the future.

But a cluster of this week’s news stories pointed directly to two issues that came up repeatedly, including in the Friday evening presentation of superstar lawyer, author, and justice advocate Bryan Stevenson.

The issues are the presumption of innocence and what Stevenson called, “the presumption of dangerousness.”

Here are the stories that brought those two concepts—at least tangentially—to mind:


IS THE DEFENDANT WHITE OR NOT?

As the jury selection takes place in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers, there is a lot of concern about whether or not the ethnicity of the jurors will affect their views.

But, it appears there is another likely significant factor that could affect jurors’ potential for impartiality, which social scientists Nour Kteily and Sara Cotterill bring up in an Op Ed for the New York Times.

While Kteily and Cotterill are writing about Tsarnaev, the results of research they conducted regarding his case, point well beyond the matter of the alleged Boston Marathon Bomber to some discomforting conclusions about the part race may play—in general—in certain people’s perceptions of how lightly or harshly a defendant should be treated by the justice system.

Here’s a clip from their essay:

No sooner did the F.B.I. release photographs of Mr. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, three days after the bombings, than questions arose about the racial identity of the suspects. (“Are the Tsarnaev Brothers White?” ran a headline in Salon.) Although neither brother matched the visual prototype of a white American, both hailed from the Caucasus, the region that gave rise to the term “Caucasian,” and both had lived in America for many years.

In the aftermath of the bombings, we sought to answer two questions: If white people perceived Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as less white, did that influence their support for treating him harshly? (Tamerlan was dead by this point.) And if people varied in how white they considered Mr. Tsarnaev to be, what psychological propensities, if any, determined whether they perceived him as more like “us” or more like “them”? We, along with three of our colleagues, published our findings last year in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Within hours of the F.B.I.’s release of the suspects’ photographs, we collected responses from 426 white Americans to a broad questionnaire assessing a range of their demographic information as well as aspects of their ideological orientations. Eight days later, we offered these same participants the opportunity to respond to a second questionnaire. Here, we presented them with the original F.B.I. photos, and asked them to tell us how white they thought the suspects looked.

We then asked the participants whether they endorsed statements such as “I hope the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon attacks rots in hell” and “It is O.K. for Tsarnaev not to have been read his Miranda rights before interrogation” and “We shouldn’t rush to judgment in bringing the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon attacks to justice.” They were also asked to indicate the sentence that they felt Mr. Tsarnaev ought to receive should he be found guilty, with options ranging from “a maximum of 20 years in prison with the possibility of parole” to “the death penalty.”

We found that there was substantial ambiguity about whether the Tsarnaev brothers were white. On a scale from zero (nonwhite) to 100 (white), the participants varied in their perceptions, with ratings running the full gamut from zero to 100. The average rating was around 64.

When the researchers asked the same research participants about what kind of punishment Tsarnaev ought to receive, it turned out that those who rated Mr. Tsarnaev lowest on the “looking white” scale, were in favor of punishing him the most severely.

“In a case like Mr. Tsarnaev’s,” Kteily and Cotterill concluded, “where guilt is widely presumed and where the outcome will most likely fall on one side of the line between life imprisonment and death, this finding seems especially relevant [when it comes to jury selection].


IS THE LITERAL APPEARANCE OF INNOCENCE NECESSARY FOR THE ASSUMPTION OF INNOCENCE?

The week also features jury selection for another alleged purveyor of mass violence, namely James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater. As with Tsarnaev, the issue is less one of guilt or innocence than it is a matter of what kind of punishment should be meted out. With this in mind, Holmes’ attorneys naturally want their client to look the most ordinary and the least threatening possible.

Beth Schwartzapfel of the Marshall Project writes about the issue in general of shackling or not shackling prisoners when they come to court, how such decisions can affect a trial’s outcome, and whether the garb of innocence is important to the presumption of innocence that is supposed to be a pillar of the American legal system.

Here are a couple of short clips:

When jury selection began this week in the trial of James Holmes — the man accused of killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater — he looked different than he had in prior court hearings. He traded his jail garb for khakis and a sport coat. Instead of wearing shackles and chains, he was discreetly anchored to the floor by a tan cable meant to disappear into the tangle of computer cords at the defense table.

That cable, which was attached to a harness under Holmes’s clothes, was the result of much legal volleying before any potential jurors arrived. His lawyers had argued that seeing Holmes in restraints would ruin his opportunity to be presumed innocent. Shackles and other extreme security measures (like the snipers posted on the roofs of nearby buildings) would give jurors the impression that “extraordinary security is necessary to contain Mr. Holmes,” they wrote, “and few things could be more prejudicial to a man on trial for his life.”

[SNIP]

James Holmes’s legal team seeks to persuade the jury that their client’s crimes were committed as a result of his longstanding mental illness. Under the law, he will have the best chance of a fair trial if he appears before jurors looking like an ordinary person. “The presumption of innocence requires the garb of innocence,” wrote a judge in another Colorado courtroom almost 70 years ago, “and regardless of the ultimate outcome, or of the evidence awaiting presentation, every defendant is entitled to be brought before the court with the appearance, dignity, and self-respect of a free and innocent man


THE PERILS OF THE PRESUMPTION OF DANGEROUSNESS

One of the topics that threaded through many of the panel discussions at the Justice and Injustice conference I mentioned above, was the legal precept of the presumption of innocence, which both the defense attorneys and prosecutors on the various conference panels said that—with rare exceptions—seemed increasingly hard to come by in criminal court.

A twin topic that keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson talked about was something he called the presumption of dangerousness. He brought it up regarding the disproportionately harsh treatment of young men of color by the criminal justice system.

It is that presumption of dangerousness that clearly frightened NY Times columnist Charles Blow when he heard about his Yale student son’s experience as the young man made his way back to his dorm room from the school library.

Here’s a clip from Blow’s column:

Saturday evening, I got a call that no parent wants to get. It was my son calling from college — he’s a third-year student at Yale. He had been accosted by a campus police officer, at gunpoint!

This is how my son remembers it:

He left for the library around 5:45 p.m. to check the status of a book he had requested. The book hadn’t arrived yet, but since he was there he put in a request for some multimedia equipment for a project he was working on.

Then he left to walk back to his dorm room. He says he saw an officer “jogging” toward the entrance of another building across the grounds from the building he’d just left.

Then this:

“I did not pay him any mind, and continued to walk back towards my room. I looked behind me, and noticed that the police officer was following me. He spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio and said, ‘I got him.’

“I faced forward again, presuming that the officer was not talking to me. I then heard him say, ‘Hey, turn around!’ — which I did.

“The officer raised his gun at me, and told me to get on the ground.

“At this point, I stopped looking directly at the officer, and looked down towards the pavement. I dropped to my knees first, with my hands raised, then laid down on my stomach.

“The officer asked me what my name was. I gave him my name.

“The officer asked me what school I went to. I told him Yale University.

“At this point, the officer told me to get up.”

The officer gave his name, then asked my son to “give him a call the next day.”

My son continued:

“I got up slowly, and continued to walk back to my room. I was scared. My legs were shaking slightly. After a few more paces, the officer said, ‘Hey, my man. Can you step off to the side?’ I did.”

The officer asked him to turn around so he could see the back of his jacket. He asked his name again, then, finally, asked to see my son’s ID. My son produced his school ID from his wallet.

The officer asked more questions, and my son answered. All the while the officer was relaying this information to someone over his radio.

My son heard someone on the radio say back to the officer “something to the effect of: ‘Keep him there until we get this sorted out.’ ” The officer told my son that an incident report would be filed, and then he walked away.

[SNIP]

What if my son had panicked under the stress, having never had a gun pointed at him before, and made what the officer considered a “suspicious” movement? Had I come close to losing him? Triggers cannot be unpulled. Bullets cannot be called back.

My son was unarmed, possessed no plunder, obeyed all instructions, answered all questions, did not attempt to flee or resist in any way.

This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete. I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious “club.”


AND IN OTHER NEWS……OBJECTIONS TO WAZE TRACKING COPS CONTINUES TO HEAT UP

Still more law enforcement voices are calling for the WAZE communal traffic tracking Ap to remove any police tracking features. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has been a strong voice in the matter.

NPR’s Sam Sanders has the story for NPR’s Morning Edition.

Here’s a clip:

Waze, the popular navigation app boasting more than 50 million users worldwide, has a new critic: police officers. Over the last few weeks, law enforcement officials have been urging the app and its owner, Google, to disable a feature that allows users to report when they’ve spotted a police officer, in real time, for all other Waze users to see.

Sergio Kopelev, a reserve sheriff in Orange County, Calif., is one of the law enforcement officials behind the push to remove Waze’s police-tracker. He says he first discovered the feature through his family.

“In early December, or mid-December, I saw my wife using the app when she picked me up from the airport,” Kopelev tells NPR. “I saw her tag a location of a police officer. And then as the officer was moving, I saw her update the location… She told me about Waze, and I said, ‘Look, this isn’t good.’”

After that day, Kopelev reached out to Waze directly. He made posts about the feature on Facebook. And he eventually gave a talk about the app and its police tracker to the National Sheriffs Association’s annual convention. His talk there led to even more outcry from officials and a good amount of media coverage, but even before that conference, police around the country had been speaking out about it.

In late December, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck sent an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page, saying that the app endangers officers’ lives. “I am concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers and the community, and the potential for your Waze product to be misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community,” Beck wrote.


MINI THERAPY HORSE JOINS THE LASD

One more thing in case you’ve missed it: a ridiculously cute miniature therapy horse has just joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, race, race and class, racial justice, Sentencing | 5 Comments »

Obama Proposes Free Community College…. Should a 19-Year-Old Get the Death Penalty?…Horses Help Traumatized Kids….Pens v. Guns

January 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

FREE COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOR “ANYONE WILLING TO WORK FOR IT,” SAYS PRESIDENT OBAMA

In a surprise announcement recorded in a Vine video by President Obama aboard Air Force One and then released on Facebook on Thursday, the president stated his intention to propose that the two years of community college be offered free to students of any age.

“I’d like to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who’s willing to work for it,”

As to why he was doing this video release of a proposed policy, Obama explained:

“We’re doing a little preview of the state of the union. I figure why wait for two weeks.”

What he did not say but implied, is that the idea is a counter to the skyrocketing costs of college tuition, and the rise in student debt that is seen as increasingly problematic to young adults starting life after college.

“Education is the key to success for our kids in the 21st century,” Obama said. “But it’s not just for kids.” With the latter, he referred to adults who want to go back to school for additional training or retraining, “for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

He wants, he said, to make sure that “Congress gets behind these kinds of efforts…”

In other words, the pre-SOTU video release is a PR gambit.

According to a related White House information page, if all 50 states choose to implement the President’s new community college proposal, it could:

*Save a full-time community college student $3,800 in tuition per year on average

*Benefit roughly 9 million students each year

As to what the program would cost the taxpayer and how it would be funded…that information is still to come.

White House officials did say that the feds would pay 75% of the costs of the proposed program, with the states picking up the rest.


WHAT IF A TEENAGER CONVICTED OF MURDER IS ALSO AN ADULT? SHOULD WE PUT HIM OR HER TO DEATH?

When the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the still-living member of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing duo, begins later this month, the largest question the jury will have to consider will not be so much about guilt, but rather about punishment.

Tsarnaev is accused of multiple counts of murder for the April 15, 2013, bombings at the Marathon finish line that killed three people and injured more than 260 others, some of them gravely. Tsarnaev and his brother also reportedly killed an MIT campus police officer in Cambridge, a few days after the bombing. In addition, Tsarnaev is accused of mass terrorism—a federal crime that is eligible for the death penalty.

So will Tsarnaev be sentenced to death? Should he be? WLA is not a great fan of capital punishment, but certainly if there is a crime that would arguably be eligible it would be the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon.

And yet….

Yesterday we wrote about the new MacArthur Foundation report “Because Kids Are Different,” that outlines five different areas for juvenile justice reform based on what we know about the differences in cognitive development between adolescents and adults.

In their report, the MacArthur authors point to the 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that eliminated the use of the death penalty for young people under the age of 18.

“The court noted three key distinctions between adolescents and adults that require the law to hold youth to a different standard:
(1) adolescents lack maturity and a sense of responsibility,
which can lead to “impetuous and ill-considered” actions and
decisions;1
(2) adolescents are more vulnerable and susceptible
to negative influences and peer pressure; and (3) the personality
traits of adolescents are not fixed, and are more transitory than
those of adults. According to the court, a youth’s ability to grow,
mature, and change must be recognized by the law for reasons
of basic logic, science, and morality

So if all of the above is true at age 17-and-ahalf, what about at age 19?

In a story called “The Teenaged Brain of the Boston Bomber,” the Marshall Project’s Dana Goldstein asks if Tsarnaev’s age—19 when the terrible bombings occurred—will be viewed as a valid defense when it comes to the sentencing phase of the trial.

Goldstein writes about the brain imaging that has been part of the new neuroscience of adolescence, which suggests young adults remain especially susceptible to peer influence, among other judgement altering factors, well into their twenties.

As it stands now, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has declined to take the death penalty off the table, saying that Tsarnaev acted in “an especially heinous, cruel and depraved manner.” He also pointed to Tsarnaev’s seeming lack of remorse.

Wherever you personally stand on capital punishment, Goldstein’s is an interesting story in that it outlines factors that may come into play when in determining Tsarnaev’s fate.

Here are some clips:

When it comes to young adults, much of that brain research has been conducted by Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University. He and colleagues have observed that into the twenties, the brain is still undergoing myelination, a process in which a white, fatty substance coats nerve fibers, gradually improving the brain’s ability to make the neural connections necessary to plan ahead, weigh risks and rewards, and make complex decisions. Using functional Magnetic Reasoning Imaging (fMRI), Steinberg and colleagues have also been able to observe which parts of the brain are activated as teenagers and young adults complete various tasks.

In one laboratory experiment, two groups of subjects, one group in their teens and another in their mid-to-late-twenties, manipulated a vehicle along a track, first alone and then as two of their real-world friends observed. The teenagers and adults drove similarly when alone. But when performing in front of their peers, the teenagers took more risks and were more likely to crash their vehicles. The reward centers of the teenagers’ brains, which anticipate approval and pleasure, were highly active when observed by their peers, while the adults’ brains did not display such a pattern.

Those findings echo other studies — and common sense — suggesting that even intelligent teenagers act, essentially, stupid around their friends. This is true even in highly unusual, violent contexts, such as terrorist extremism. Research on radicalization shows young adults are often attracted to terrorist movements through loving relationships, particularly with siblings or romantic partners who hold extreme beliefs. This could be relevant to the Boston Marathon case, given the likelihood that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was influenced by his 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan…

Judy Clarke, who represents Tsarnaev, is a high profile attorney and death penalty expert who has negotiated death-avoiding plea deals in such notorious cases as that of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and mass shooter Jared Loughner, who killed six people and shattered the life of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Clarke has not commented on the strategy she and her team intend to use in the case of Tsarnaev.

Interestingly, if this were a state trial, rather than a federal trial, the matter would not be an issue since Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, more than decade before Tsarnaev was born.


FOR TRAUMATIZED KIDS HORSES CAN BE “A BEACON OF LIGHT IN AN OTHERWISE DARK WORLD”

This coming February, 25 experts from as far away as Finland will arrive at Saguaro Lake Ranch, a 1940s dude ranch near Scottsdale, AZ, for a four-day conference on how to treat kids with severe childhood trauma. Prominent among the treatment methods to be discussed for helping children with a high number of so-called “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—is a method called equine assisted therapy.

(We’ve written in the past about the research on ACEs and their effect on the health well being of children and adults here and here.)

JoAnn Richi has the story on equine therapy for Aces Too High.
Here’s a clip:

Baylie is eight years old. Born to a mother addicted to cocaine and an alcoholic father, removed from her parents at six months and covered with bruises and cigarette burns, Baylie (not her real name) has spent her childhood shuffled from one foster home to another. She rarely speaks, makes little eye contact with adults, shows no interest in playing with kids her age, and recoils from any attempt at physical affection.

Baylie’s ability to connect with anyone, or anything, seemed impossible until the day she met a horse named Steady.

Baylie is very lucky. Her court-appointed therapist has found a way to combine her own love of horses with the rapidly evolving field of equine-assisted psychotherapy.

Once a week Baylie goes to the stables, holds out an apple for Steady to nibble from her hand, pats, brushes and talks quietly to him about the things she does not want anyone else to hear.

For children like Baylie who have never been able to trust people, a horse can become a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world. Suddenly something big and powerful leans in, nuzzles you and looks you right in the eye. There is nothing to fear; this animal will not leave you, he will not betray you. With a trained equine-assisted therapist, a child like Baylie can be gradually introduced to forming a relationship with the horse. This ability to bond, perhaps for the first time in her young life, will then hopefully expand, allowing her to trust and connect with the wider world and to the people who exist within it.

[SNIP]

Equine-assisted psychotherapy has been widely used in Europe for decades. Nina Ekholm Fry, born and raised around horses in rural Finland, is a warm, friendly woman who merged her interest in psychology with her love of horses. Fry was recruited by Prescott College in Arizona to develop and lead one of the few equine-assisted psychotherapy graduate and post-graduate level counseling programs in the United States.

Fry is leading a day-long workshop at the conference. “In working with individuals who have experienced trauma, who have a high ACE score, trust and control are significant issues,” she says. “Equine-assisted therapy expands the therapeutic environment. Suddenly the client is taken out of the usual confines of an office. When we bring a horse into the picture, we have more treatment options; we are outdoors, we interact with the physical world, we utilize the body in an active rather than passive manner, it opens up an array of treatment possibilities.”


“Solidarité” – A PREVIEW OF NEXT WEEK’S NEW YORKER COVER

More than perhaps any American publication, right now the New Yorker is loaded with commentary, essays and mini-stories about the massacre at the office of the longtime french satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Here, for example, is a clip from an essay by Philip Gourevitch called The Pen vs. the Gun, in which he writes about “a hellish day without consolation….”

We like to say—we who work with pens (or pixels)—that the pen (or pixel) is mightier than the sword. Then someone brings a sword (or Kalashnikov) to test the claim, and we’re not so sure.

The French cartoonist Stéphane (Charb) Charbonnier liked to say, when jihadis repeatedly threatened to silence him, that he’d rather be dead than live on his knees or live like a rat, so he kept right on drawing and publishing his loud, lewd, provocative, blasphemous caricatures of theocratic bullies. And now he’s dead—he and nine of his colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine he edited in Paris—massacred by masked gunmen, who came for them in broad daylight, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” and also killed two policemen before fleeing with a cry, “The prophet Muhammad is avenged.”

It’s hard to imagine how the Charlie Hebdo crew would have wrung a joke out of their own executions. But you can bet that they wouldn’t have shrunk from the challenge, and you can be sure that the result would have been at odds with any standard of good taste, unless you consider it in good taste never to give any ground to the dictates of holy warriors who seek power by murdering clowns.

Ideally, it would never require great courage and commitment to make puerile doodles mocking those whom one perceives to be making a mockery of the things that they purport to hold sacred. But those dead French cartoonists were braver by far than most of us in going up against the deadly foes of our civilization, armed only with a great talent for bilious ridicule. On any given day, we might have scoffed at the seeming crudeness of their jokes, rather than laughing at their jokes on crudity. But the killers proved the cartoonists’ point with ghastly finality: theirs was a necessary, freedom-sustaining, and therefore life-giving, form of defiance. Without it, they knew, we—humankind—are less.

Last night, tens of thousands in France took to the streets of their cities in solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Many carried signs, declaring “Je Suis Charlie,” a memorial slogan that had already overtaken Twitter, where the hashtag #JesuisCharlie could easily be misread as a compression of the equally apt exclamation: “Jesus, Charlie!” The spectacle of these great throngs of outraged, unbowed mourners reclaiming their public spaces was heartening. But the truth is—–for better and for worse—–that, no, most of us, even in the most free of Western societies, are not Charlie.

For better, because so many of us have the luxury of often feeling secure enough in our freedom to take it for granted. For worse, because in taking our freedom for granted, we are too often ready to trade it for a greater sense of security. We are not Charlie, in other words, because we risk so little for what we claim to value so much. We are not Charlie, too, because most of us are relatively inoffensive, whereas Charlie, like so many liberating pioneers of free expression—think not only of Lenny Bruce and Mad magazine but also of Gandhi and Martin Luther King—were always glad to give offense to what offended them. And we are not Charlie, today, because we are alive.

Georges Wolinski, one of the martyred Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, once said, “Humor is the shortest path between one man and another.” But a bullet is swifter. After his death, his daughter said, “Papa is gone, not Wolinski.” Meaning, rightly, that his work—his voice, and his drawings, what he wrought with his pen—is immortal. Yet the reason that some people with guns prefer to kill some people who use pens is always the same: because it is effective. Terror works. (Just ask anybody who stood to make a buck on the theatrical release of “The Interview….”)

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, juvenile justice, Sentencing, Trauma | 1 Comment »

LAPD Discipline Survey, the Marshall Project Launch: Missed Habeas Corpus Deadlines, and CA Ordered to Start Paroling Second-Strikers,

November 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD SURVEY SHOWS OFFICERS FEEL THEY ARE UNFAIRLY, INCONSISTENTLY DISCIPLINED

An LA Police Department discipline survey of 500 officers and civilian workers in response to former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner’s rampage over his alleged biased termination from the department. While the department found the firing of Dorner justified upon review, it opened up a discussion among other officers who felt they had experienced discriminatory or otherwise unfair discipline.

The survey indicated that officers and other employees commonly feel the LAPD discriminates based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. But the results were mixed, in some cases. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Similar contradictory opinions were given regarding female officers.

A considerable number of officers felt the department takes too many complaints made against officers, particularly ones that are “obviously false.” According to the survey, a yearly average of 28% of LAPD employees have at least one complaint filed against them.

The survey recommends updating and distributing complaint, discipline, and penalty guides, as well as regularly gathering and analyzing department data on these issues.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The survey was done shortly after former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner was killed in February. The disgruntled ex-officer murdered four people and prompted a massive manhunt before fatally shooting himself during a standoff in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Though officers expressed disgust with Dorner’s actions, some said his grievances about disciplinary bias within the police department sounded legitimate. After a review of Dorner’s disciplinary hearing, the department declared his firing was justified.

The LAPD asked focus groups of employees to give anonymous feedback using a computer system. A group of academics and human relations consultants analyzed the feedback to look for trends.

Below is a sampling of some of the comments published in the survey report.

“Females are held to a lesser standard due to fear of lawsuits or claims of bias.”

“Race is a factor in the discipline system.”

“The media and public pressure have a direct impact on how discipline investigations are handled.”

“Discipline is not imposed when it involves managers and supervisors.”

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck has been criticized for inconsistent discipline for several years now. It surged in the last year or so when a few LAPD captains filed lawsuits alleging unfair discipline and retaliation, saying Beck did not follow top brass recommendations for disciplining other officers. It has been one of the complaints of the L.A. police union that represents the rank-and-file.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Jack Leonard also reported on the survey. Here’s a small clip:

The report…contained data that raised doubts about some of those perceptions of bias. Statistics compiled by the LAPD show that the ethnic, gender and rank breakdown of officers sent to disciplinary panels for suspensions or termination roughly matches the demographics of the LAPD as a whole. White officers, for example, make up 36% of the department and 35% of officers sent to a Board of Rights disciplinary hearing for a lengthy suspension or termination. Black officers account for 12% of officers and 14% of those sent to such hearings.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ordered the report more than 20 months ago after Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer, went on a shooting rampage across Southern California, killing police officers as well as the daughter of an LAPD captain and her boyfriend. In a rambling online document, Dorner claimed that he was seeking retribution after being unfairly fired and was the victim of racial discrimination within the department.

The civilian Police Commission is expected to review the report at a meeting next week.


NON-PROFIT PUBLICATION, THE MARSHALL PROJECT, LAUNCHES WITH TWO-PART SERIES ABOUT DEATH ROW ATTORNEYS MISSING LAST-CHANCE APPEAL DEADLINES

Ken Armstrong, of the new non-profit news organization launched over the weekend, the Marshall Project, has an excellent two-part series in the Sunday Washington Post about what happens when lawyers miss the final deadline for their death row clients’ last-chance appeal.

The first story tells of the 80 death penalty cases in which lawyers miss the final appeal deadline, by an average of nearly two and a half years (but in several cases by a single day). Of these 80 death row inmates thus denied habeas corpus, 16 have been executed. The reasons attorneys miss the cut off run the gamut from failing to overnight documents, to misunderstanding the complicated habeas law, to neglect. Here are some clips:

An investigation by The Marshall Project shows that since President Bill Clinton signed the one-year statute of limitations into law — enacting a tough-on-crime provision that emerged in the Republicans’ Contract with America — the deadline has been missed at least 80 times in capital cases. Sixteen of those inmates have since been executed — the most recent was on Thursday, when Chadwick Banks was put to death in Florida.​

By missing the filing deadline, those inmates have usually lost access to habeas corpus, arguably the most critical safeguard in the United States’ system of capital punishment. “The Great Writ,” as it is often called (in Latin it means “you have the body”), habeas corpus allows prisoners to argue in federal court that the conviction or sentence they received in a state court violates federal law.

For example, of the 12 condemned prisoners who have left death row in Texas after being exonerated since 1987, five of them were spared in federal habeas corpus proceedings. In California, 49 of the 81 inmates who had completed their federal habeas appeals by earlier this year have had their death sentences vacated.

The prisoners who missed their habeas deadlines have sometimes forfeited powerful claims. Some of them challenged the evidence of their guilt, and others the fairness of their sentences. One Mississippi inmate was found guilty partly on the basis of a forensic hair analysis that the FBI now admits was flawed. A prisoner in Florida was convicted with a type of ballistics evidence that has long since been discredited.

[SNIP]

Some of the lawyers’ mistakes can be traced to their misunderstandings of federal habeas law and the notoriously complex procedures that have grown up around it. Just as often, though, the errors have exposed the lack of care and resources that have long plagued the patchwork system by which indigent death-row prisoners are provided with legal help.

The right of condemned inmates to habeas review “should not depend upon whether their court-appointed counsel is competent enough to comply with [the] statute of limitations,” one federal appeals judge, Beverly B. Martin, wrote in an opinion earlier this year. She added that allowing some inmates into the court system while turning others away because of how their lawyers missed filing deadlines was making the federal appeals process “simply arbitrary,” she added.

In the second story, Armstrong explains how only the death penalty inmates suffer the consequences of these lawyers’ missed deadlines. Here’s a clip:

Among the dozens of attorneys who have borne some responsibility for those mistakes, only one has been sanctioned for missing the deadline by a professional disciplinary body, the investigation found. And that attorney was given a simple censure, one of the profession’s lowest forms of punishment.

The lack of oversight or accountability has left many of the lawyers who missed the habeas deadlines free to seek appointment by the federal courts to new death-penalty appeals….

In 17 of the country’s 94 federal judicial districts, special teams of government-funded lawyers and investigators monitor the capital cases coming out of their state courts to make sure deadlines are recognized and met. In some other districts, the federal defender’s office helps to evaluate the private attorneys who might be appointed to handle those appeals.

But for lawyers outside the government, the work is difficult and often unpopular, with limited funds available for investigators and experts. And in most districts, where judges screen candidates themselves or with the help of review committees, the quality of legal counsel varies widely.

Federal judges sometimes appoint lawyers “who are not good enough to handle these cases,” says habeas expert Randy A. Hertz, a professor at the New York University School of Law.

However well-meaning, such lawyers may be inexperienced or overmatched. Some may know the judges who make the appointments, but not the voluminous and complex law surrounding habeas corpus. Others have been found to have mental-health problems, substance-abuse issues or other complications that were missed in their screening.

In about one-third of the 80 cases where habeas deadlines were missed, the federal courts eventually allowed prisoners to go forward with their appeals, often because their attorneys’ failures went beyond what the courts would categorize as mere negligence.

Yet even when attorneys have been chastised in federal court rulings for work described as “inexcusable” or “deeply unprofessional,” they have managed to evade any discipline from bar associations or other agencies. One lawyer castigated by the U.S. Supreme Court for “serious instances of attorney misconduct” still has an unblemished disciplinary record.

A prominent death-penalty defense lawyer, Gretchen Engel of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina, offered a simple reason for the discrepancy between the magnitude of some lawyers’ mistakes and the paltry consequences they face: “The people who were hurt by it are prisoners.”

The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone speaks with Marshall Project founder Neil Barksy and editor Bill Keller (formerly NY Times editor-in-chief) about the Marshall Project, its mission, and what we can expect from the new publication. Here are some clips:

Neil Barsky has taken on varied roles over the years, from Wall Street Journal reporter to Wall Street analyst, hedge fund manager to documentary filmmaker. Now he has returned to the newsroom as founder and chairman of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice and edited by New York Times veteran Bill Keller.

Barsky’s interest in criminal justice and the inequities of the U.S. system was ignited in recent years by two books: The New Jim Crow, which tackles mass incarceration and the over-representation of African-Americans in prison, and Devil in the Grove, which focuses on a 1949 rape case fought by Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and later the first black Supreme Court justice. The project gets its name from Marshall — and for Barsky, its inspiration.

In an interview at The Marshall Project’s midtown New York offices before Sunday’s launch, Barsky said he wants to push criminal justice issues into the national spotlight. There’s a lack of urgency in dealing with the system’s flaws, he said, despite “how abysmal the status quo is.”

[SNIP]

Keller said he likes coming out of the gate with Armstrong’s piece because it shows readers that The Marshall Project won’t expose flaws in the system only when they concern the wrongly convicted.

“The easiest way to get reader sympathy is to write about people who are innocent,” Keller said. “Everybody feels a sense of unfairness if the law sends somebody away to jail for something they didn’t commit.”

Keller recalled how early on, he and Barsky visited different advocacy organizations, including the Innocence Project, which fights to exonerate those wrongly convicted through DNA evidence. After their meeting, Keller recalled that Barsky said, “You know, we’re sort of the Guilt Project.”

“Most of what we’re going to write about is people who are not innocent,” Keller said. “But people who are not innocent are entitled to a fair trial. They’re entitled to not being raped when they get to prison. They’re entitled to competent defense. They’re entitled to prosecutors who don’t withhold exonerating information. They’re entitled to cops who follow Miranda. All these things that are built into our criminal justice system are there for the guilty as well as the innocent. That’s one of the reasons I particularly liked this piece as a debut.”


FEDS ORDER CALIFORNIA TO START PAROLE HEARINGS OF INMATES WITH NON-VIOLENT SECOND-STRIKE FELONIES

On Friday, federal judges ordered California to begin early parole hearings for non-violent second-strike felons by January, overriding the state’s projected hearing launch time-frame of July 2015. The state has been meeting mini-goals set toward a two-year population reduction goal by expanding parole and sentence reduction programs and policies. But because the prison population is still expected to grow, the federal judges are pushing for more lasting solutions. (For backstory on California’s prison population problems, go here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the topic. Here’s a clip:

In February, California officials were ordered to take a number of steps to reduce inmate numbers. At the same time, federal judges agreed to the state’s request for a two-year extension to meet population caps the courts had been trying to enforce for years.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s corrections department did move thousands of inmates out of state-owned prisons while expanding parole programs for frail and elderly inmates. Corrections officials also increased the sentence reductions some nonviolent felons could earn.

Those moves cut California’s prison population by 1,000 inmates, meeting short-term goals even though state projections show inmate numbers will continue to rise. Judges had sought additional actions to produce a “durable” long-term solution.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has failed to adopt those steps, including the granting of early parole to second-strikers, the judges noted. In October, prison officials told judges that creating such a parole program was “a time-consuming process” and moving faster would “endanger the public.” They did not expect to finish until July 2015.

In an order several weeks ago, the judges said they were “skeptical” of such a delay. On Friday, they gave the state until Dec. 1 to finish plans for the parole program and ordered it in place by January.

Posted in Charlie Beck, criminal justice, Death Penalty, journalism, LAPD, The Feds | No Comments »

$3M Proposal to Give Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Immigrant Kids, the Problem of Prosecutorial Abuse, Social Workers to Get Criminal History of Foster Providers, and CA Attorney General Appealing Death Penalty Ruling

August 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN AND LAWMAKERS’ $3 MILLION LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a proposal to allocate $3 million to non-profits providing legal aid to unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings who are otherwise left to navigate the court system alone.

The LA Times’ Melanie Mason has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.

The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.

“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.

“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support — that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.


$10 MIL SETTLEMENT TO WRONGFULLY CONVICTED MAN DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNCHECKED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

New York City will pay a $10 million settlement to Jabbar Collins who was wrongfully convicted of murder for which he spent 15 years in prison.

Collins’ battle with the city also helped to bring down Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose top aide Michael Vecchione prosecuted Collins, allegedly withholding evidence and coercing witnesses to win a conviction. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the DA’s office.

In an editorial co-published with the NY Daily News, ProPublica’s Joe Sexton says Collins’ win does not mean that the system worked: Vecchione paid no consequences for misconduct, and it’s likely that he never will. Instead, tax payers will foot the bill for Vecchione’s misdeeds in the Collins case. Prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unchecked, thanks, in part, to laws protecting prosecutors from liability. Here’s a clip:

So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.

Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.

And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.

The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.

The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.

Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.

The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.

The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.


SOCIAL WORKERS GAIN MORE ACCESS TO CRIMINAL HISTORY OF FOSTER PARENTS AND PROVIDERS TO KEEP KIDS SAFE

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill, SB 1136, to allow social workers to access foster care parents and providers criminal history data before placing kids in their care. Foster care providers have to receive a criminal record clearance or exemption from the state, according to existing law.

To help them better protect vulnerable foster kids, social workers will now be able to see if (and why) parents or providers have received a suspension, probation, or a revoked license.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.

In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1.


CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TO APPEAL RULING AGAINST CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against California’s death penalty.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled last month that delays keeping inmates on death row for decades amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s what AG Harris had to say about her decision: “I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

KPCC’s Nathan McIntire has the story.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, immigration, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Gov. Signs Bill to Curb Deportations for Misdemeanors….Federal Judge Argues in Favor of Firing Squads….Representation for 46K Affected by Retroactive Sentencing Guidelines

July 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL TO KEEP LEGAL IMMIGRANTS CONVICTED OF LOW-LEVEL CRIMES FROM BEING DEPORTED

On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a piece of legislation that aims to reduce the number of deportations of legal immigrants for non-felony crimes.

Federal law allows for deportation of permanent legal residents who commit crimes carrying a one year sentence (or more). The measure, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) lowers the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor from one year to 364 days. The bill garnered bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly.

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

As of Jan. 1, SB1310 will reduce the maximum penalty for misdemeanors to 364 days to conform to the federal law.

“Amazingly, the fact that it’s 364 means it’s not an aggravated felony under federal law,” said Steven Rease, a criminal defense attorney in Monterey County. “It’s a very small change in terms of 365, 364, but it’s going to make all the difference in the world to a legal immigrant…whose chances of deportation are greatly reduced.”

Rease is co-chairman of the legislative committee of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which represents defense attorneys and sought the change in state law.

He estimated the change could affect thousands of people in California, based on the scores of cases he has seen mainly among farm workers in his county who have been convicted of misdemeanors for things like writing bad checks.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles also projected the change could affect thousands of immigrants in California. It estimated that more than 100,000 children legally residing in the United States had a parent deported for a misdemeanor crime between 1997 and 2007. It said similar legal changes have been adopted by Nevada and Washington state.

“While the federal government continues to turn a blind eye to our broken immigration system, California continues to advance state legislation to ensure aspiring citizens are integrated into our fabric instead of being in the shadows,” the group’s policy and advocacy director, Joseph Villela, said in a statement.


9TH CIRCUIT CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI TELLS STATES TO BRING BACK FIRING SQUADS

In a dissent criticizing execution by lethal injection, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge, Alex Kozinski, called for states to go back to using firing squads.

The judge’s dissent came in the case of an Arizona man seeking a stay of execution after the state refused to release information on the drugs to be used in his lethal injection. (The death row inmate, Joseph Rudolph Wood, won the stay, but the Supreme Court promptly reversed the lower court’s ruling and lifted the stay.) The ruling followed five days after U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney declared California’s death penalty unconstitutional.

Kozinski, a supporter of the death penalty, called lethal injections a “misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions.”

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Legal scholars say the judge’s splashy approach is aimed less at shocking the public than asking it to confront its own relationship with the death penalty.

The dissenting opinion came in the case of an Arizona inmate scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday. Joseph Rudolph Wood, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and her father, sought a delay on the grounds that Arizona has refused to disclose details of their execution protocol. Wood won the stay, and the 9th Circuit decided not to review his case–a decision Judge Kozinski disagreed with on the cases’ legal merits.

Kozinski used his dissenting opinion, however, to launch into a bit of a tangent on lethal injection—the preferred execution method of all state’s that have the death penalty. Firing squads may be disturbing, he said, but unlike lethal injection, they’re relatively fool-proof.

The judge wrote:

“Whatever the hopes and reasons for the switch to drugs, they proved to be misguided. Subverting medicines meant to heal the human body to the opposite purpose was an enterprise doomed to failure. Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful—like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.

But executions are, in fact, nothing like that…They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf…

Sure, firing squads can be messy, but if we are willing to carry out executions, we should not shield ourselves from the reality that we are shedding human blood. If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”

Kozinski, it should be noted, is not a death penalty opponent.

Read the rest.


NO RIGHT TO LEGAL AID FOR 46,000 FEDERAL DRUG OFFENDERS ELIGIBLE FOR SENTENCE REDUCTIONS

On Friday, the US Sentencing Commission voted to make retroactive drug sentencing guidelines that reduced sentences for most drug trafficking offenses by an average of two years.

The decision is expected to affect more than 46,000 federal prisoners who will be able to seek sentence reductions.

Law professor and sentencing expert, Doug Berman, in his blog Sentencing Law and Policy points out that federal prisoners do not have a right to legal counsel in sentence modification court proceedings. Berman explains that normally, public defender offices try to provide legal help to those seeking sentence reductions, but will not be able to handle the influx of nearly 50,000 inmates seeking aid.

Experts like Berman point out the necessity to find some solution to the problem because, as Berman says, ” …the proper application of new reduced drug offense guidelines can involve various legal issues that may really need to be addressed by sophisticated legal professionals.”

Here’s a clip:

As hard-core federal sentencing fans likely already know, most lower federal courts have ruled that federal prisoners do not have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel applicable at the sentence modification proceedings judges must conduct to implement reduced retroactive sentencing guidelines. Consequently, none of the nearly 50,000 federal drug offense prisoners who may soon become eligible for a reduced sentence have any right to legal assistance in seeking this reduced sentence.

Fortunately for many federal prisoners seeking to benefit from previous guideline reductions, many federal public defender offices have traditionally made considerable efforts to provide representation to those seeking reduced sentences. But even the broadest guideline reductions applied retroactively in the past (which were crack guideline reductions) applied only to less than 1/3 of the number of federal prisoners now potentially eligible for reductions under the new reduced drug guidelines. I suspect that pubic defenders are unlikely to be able to provide significant legal help to a significant number of drug offenders who will be seeking modified sentences under the new reduced drug guidelines.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC…

An NY Times editorial praises the US Sentencing Commission’s vote in favor of retroactivity, and calls on Congress to let the decision stand. Here’s a clip:

The commission’s bold step, which will ease overcrowding in federal prisons, stands in stark relief to the mind-numbing failure of Congress to make meaningful progress on criminal justice reform. At the same time, it is consistent with a healthy trend among state governments that are finding innovative ways of shrinking prison populations while also reducing crime.


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