Criminal Justice Bill Roundup, Curfew Laws, Discrimination Lawsuit on Behalf of Kern County Kids of Color, and MoreJune 1st, 2016 by Taylor Walker
A CALIFORNIA CRIMINAL JUSTICE LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: PROP 47 EXTENSION, VOTING WITH A FELONY, RESTORATIVE JUSTICE, AND MORE
Three noteworthy criminal justice-related bills from California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber have passed through the state Assembly and will move on to the Senate.
The first of Assm. Weber’s bills, the Restorative Justice Act, aims to increase rehabilitation and education programs and make them available for all inmates, not just non-violent offenders. The bill would removes references to punishment as the purpose of incarceration from a section of the Penal Code, and changes the language to say that the purpose of incarceration is public safety, which is carried out through rehabilitation, restorative justice practices, and accountability.
“While AB 2590 leaves the triad of the determinate sentencing law in place, it opens the door for judges to find rehabilitative and restorative sentencing solutions when appropriate,” the bill summary reads.
The second bill, AB 2466, which was co-authored by Senator Holly Mitchell, would ensure that eligible inmates with felony convictions keep their right to vote while in jail (but not prison), as well as while under county supervision (but not parole).
The third bill from Assm. Weber, along with Sen. Mitchell and Assm. Rob Bonta, AB 2765, would extend the current November 2017 deadline for Proposition 47-eligible people to get their low-level felony convictions reclassified as misdemeanors. If passed, the bill would give Prop. 47ers an extra five years to apply to have their felonies reduced.
SB 955, a bill from Senator Jim Beall, which also passed through the Senate on Monday, would allow state hospitals holding people who are charged with a crime, but found unfit to stand trial, the power to grant compassionate releases for terminally ill or incapacitated patients.
NATIONWIDE, COPS ARREST MILLIONS OF KIDS FOR CURFEW VIOLATIONS, BUT SERIOUS QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LAWS’ USEFULNESS STILL GO UNANSWERED
Across the nation, including in California, tough-on-crime era curfew laws allow officers to arrest teens found outside after a certain hour of night.
FBI data shows that between 1994 and 2012, kids were arrested for curfew violations 2.6 million times nationwide.
Critics say these curfew laws, and other problematic “status offenses” put kids—predominantly kids of color—in contact with the justice system for actions that would not be illegal if they were adults. And, unfortunately, there isn’t enough data to decipher whether or not the curfews are doing the kids and their communities any good.
The Guardian’s Tik Root has more on the issue, with a focus on San Diego, which rounds kids up during “curfew sweeps” after 10:00p.m.
Here’s a clip:
In San Diego, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to be out past 10pm. And, that night, Officer Owens was part of a “curfew sweep”, where teams of officers fan out and enforce the law en masse. The city runs these details roughly once a month in each of its nine districts, sometimes arresting dozens of kids a night. David and his friends said they were just walking home. But that isn’t one of the exceptions – like a school sports game or a job – so Owens read him his Miranda rights.
Conceived as a crime-reduction tactic, curfews were promoted during the “tough on crime” era of the 1990s. In 1996, President Bill Clinton flew out to Monrovia, California – among the first cities to claim curfew success – to publicly endorse the idea at the local high school. From there, they spread like wildfire and remain in place decades later.
From Baltimore, which has one of the strictest curfews in the country, to Denver, where curfew enforcement ramps up every summer, the laws are on the books in hundreds of cities across the US. According to available FBI data, there were 2.6m curfew arrests from 1994 and 2012; that’s an average of roughly 139,000 annually. Philadelphia alone reported 16,079 violations in 2014 – among the highest in the country.
As the curfew laws and arrests proliferated, however, the debate about their impact simmered largely out of view. Congress left curfews unaddressed in pending juvenile justice legislation and, today, the question remains: are they the best approach?
“It’s insane. No other country does this,” said Mike Males, a senior researcher for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and curfew critic who would like to see the practice come to an end. In his research, he says he hasn’t seen “any evidence” that they’re effective; instead chalking up their use to political expediency. “Curfews became this way of responding that both blamed young people and didn’t affect adults.”
An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) case study of Minneapolis found the city’s curfew to be racially biased – with 56% of curfew charges coming against black youth compared with 17% for their white counterparts, despite the city being majority white. Males says that he’s found a similar pattern nationally. “They’re always racially discriminatory,” he said. “We have not found a single exception to that.”
Proponents, however, argue that curfews help prevent young people from becoming either perpetrators or victims of nighttime crime. “This is an important way of helping kids stay safe and stay out of trouble,” said San Diego city councilmember Marti Emerald. “If we can help one child in their struggle then I think that we have to say the program is at least a partial success.”
COURT ALLOWS LAWSUIT ALLEGING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST LATINO AND BLACK STUDENTS AT KERN HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT TO MOVE FORWARD
A ruling from the Kern County Superior Court last week allowed a lawsuit to move forward on behalf of Latino kids (many English-learners) and black kids in Kern County allegedly receiving disproportionate punishment and transfers to remote and sub-par alternative schools and independent study programs.
The court shot down an attempt to dismiss the discrimination suit against the Kern High School District, Kern County Office of Education, and the CA Department of Education.
The court allowed most of the claims to go forward. One exception was the plaintiffs’ claim that the school district violated transferred students’ rights to a quality education.
The plaintiffs include kids and parents in the Kern High School District. The group is being represented by a cadre of civil rights legal groups, which includes the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA).
Here’s a clip from CRLA:
The Kern County Superior Court denied the KHSD’s attempt to dismiss the case in its entirety and allowed the majority of claims in the lawsuit to go forward against the district, including its Board of Trustees and Superintendent Bryon Schaefer (“District Defendants”).
In particular, the Court ruled that the allegations of past and present discriminatory conduct on the part of the District Defendants could remain in the lawsuit. However, the Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ Second Cause of Action, which claims that the District violated the “Free Schools Guarantee” of the California Constitution by denying students in alternative schools the basic quality of education to which they are entitled. The court also limited the claims that could be pursued by some of the parent Plaintiffs.
Although the ruling allows for the litigation to proceed, and directs the Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint in 20 days, the Court ordered a stay of the case proceedings pending a ruling on the Plaintiffs’ appeal of the dismissal of the State of California from the case, which is currently pending before the Fifth District Court of Appeals.
Plaintiffs intend to seek clarification from the Superior Court and a lift of the stay for purposes of continuing to prepare the case for trial through formal discovery. Depositions had commenced in Bakersfield this week in the discovery phase of the case, however, Defendant KHSD has refused to allow the depositions to be completed or allow further new discovery based on the Court’s stay.
Plaintiffs allege there is a long history of discriminatory practices that has resulted in the disproportionate expulsion and involuntary transfer of African American and Latino students. When the disproportionality was brought to the District’s attention, the District changed its reporting practices and method of addressing discipline so that students are involuntarily transferred or forced to waive their hearing rights in order to stay in some kind of school setting, which often fails to meet the students’ educational needs. As a result, they end up in the same alternative schools that expelled students are sent to and on the same path to nowhere.
The KHSD, located in California’s Central Valley, has a student population that is 62 percent Latino and 6.3 percent African American. Over the last five years, discriminatory school assignment policies have made it far more likely for Latino and African American students to be suspended, expelled, or transferred to alternative schools than the general school population. An equal or greater number of African American students and Latino students are being forced to spend time in alternative schools even while KHSD claims progress due to the decrease in expulsions. The numbers look different, but the result is that substantially similar numbers of African-American and Latino students are pushed out of regular school settings and assigned to alternative schools that fail to meet their needs or deliver a quality education.
Cynthia L. Rice, Director of Litigation, Advocacy and Training at CRLA, Inc., commented on the school district’s change in practice from excessive expulsions to excessive transfers: “Parents and students should know that it’s a smoke and mirrors tactic implemented by the District to hide the truth. These are not ‘waivers’ or ‘voluntary transfers.’ These are placements that result from the same flawed discipline practices. Parents are coerced to ‘agree’ to a transfer because the only alternative the District gives them is to have their child denied the right to attend any school for 45 days or more while they await a hearing. Our clients want this practice stopped and replaced by a system that responsibly addresses student behavior and needs.”
CALIFORNIA SUPREMES OVERTURN MURDER CONVICTION WON WITH PROBLEMATIC BITE MARK EVIDENCE
A San Bernardino man named Bill Richards was sentenced to life in prison for his wife’s murder based on bite-mark evidence analyzed by a forensic dental expert. (There was also new testimony about DNA evidence indicating an unidentified man.) But bite-mark science suggests, wrongly, that humans’ teeth are as unique as DNA, and that skin can accurately record the unique tooth-marks.
On Thursday, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled to overturn Richards’ 1997 murder conviction. The important ruling could cause a ripple effect in other states.
The Intercept’s Jordan Smith has the story. Here’s a clip:
Richards’s controversial conviction for Pamela’s grisly 1993 murder has long been considered a clear case of wrongful conviction that was based on the discredited science of bite-mark analysis. Indeed, it took the state four attempts to convict Richards — two full trials ended in a hung jury and a third ended in a mistrial during jury selection — and prosecutors were successful only after putting on the stand a legendary forensic dentist who testified that Richards’s highly unique lower dentition was a match for a bite mark found on Pamela’s hand. The dentist, Norman “Skip” Sperber, told the jury that based on his 40-plus years in the field, he could say that out of 100 people, only “one or two or less” would have the same “unique feature” in their lower teeth.
In fact, however, Sperber was wrong. In 2008 he recanted his testimony, saying that he had cited statistics that lacked scientific support and never should have done so, “because it’s inappropriate to cite percentages or things resembling percentages unless there has been some prior scientific study” to back up the assertion. Based on Sperber’s recantation (and that of another dentist, Greg Golden, who testified for the defense, along with additional testimony about new DNA evidence that matched an unknown male), a district judge in 2009 said that the evidence now before the court pointed “unerringly” to Richards’s innocence.
The state appealed that decision and in 2012 the California Supreme Court agreed, knocking down the trial court’s ruling. The decision, which split the justices 4-3 in favor of upholding Richards’s conviction, was tortured: In a decision that was derided as the worst of the year by California Lawyer magazine, the court ruled that expert testimony was merely opinion and therefore could never be considered true or false.
In response, California lawmakers amended the state’s penal code with a measure known as the Bill Richards Bill. That law, which allowed Richards to again appeal his case, made clear that a conviction could be overturned based on an expert recantation or when the science underlying the original testimony had changed.
This time around, the entire court agreed that Sperber’s testimony was false, the bite-mark evidence was material to the case, and there was a reasonable probability that the evidence had impacted the outcome of Richards’s trial. The court noted that aside from the alleged bite mark, there was only circumstantial evidence to suggest Richards had killed his wife — and in its analysis the court seems to have concluded that none of it was particularly persuasive.