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LOVE WINS: U.S. Supremes Rule Same Sex Marriage Legal Throughout Nation

June 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod- ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be- come something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be con- demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civiliza- tion’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

So wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the closing paragraph of his 28-page majority opinion for Friday’s landmark 5-4 ruling, with Kennedy casting the deciding vote.

Here at WLA we received a flood of press releases following news of the court’s historic decision. Out of everything, we particularly liked this simple statement from U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-San Fernando Valley, Calif):

“I have officiated the marriages of several same-sex couples, and I have seen the love in the eyes of those whose hands, and whose lives, I have joined,” said Cárdenas. “For the Federal government to have told those Americans that their love is lesser or, worse yet, illegal, has been an embarrassment to our nation and a violation of our founding principles. All people are created equal. All love is equally valuable. Today the Supreme Court confirmed what loving families have known in their hearts, Love Wins.”

Indeed. Love wins. At last.

Posted in LGBT, Life in general, Supreme Court | 16 Comments »

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


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.


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.


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.


“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…..”


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 »

LA Deputy’s Suit Alleges Retaliation for Protesting Inmate Abuse…Fewer Inmates in CA and LA Facilities, Mock School Shootings…and Protecting Access to Justice Behind Bars

February 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Ronald Brock alleges department peers and superiors bullied, discriminated against, threatened, and then fired him for protesting inmate abuse in several LA County jails, including Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers.

A great number of department members are mentioned in Brock’s complaint (a riveting 78 pages), including Sgt. Mark Renfrow, Lt. Mark Guerrero, as well as former Sheriff Lee Baca, ex- Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and Sgt. Kimberly Milroy.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here are some clips:

He alleges a “veiled threat” came from Lt. Mark Guerrero, who he says told him about how North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un executed his uncle and the latter’s family members for being disloyal.

“Lt. Guerrero told plaintiff that if something happened to a person for reporting misconduct, LASD would not be responsible,” according to the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed Wednesday.


The next month, Sgt. Mark Renfrow ordered Brock to fire a stun gun at an inmate who was not aggressive toward any deputy, the suit states.

“The bloodied and battered inmate was then handcuffed and taken away for medical attention,” according to the lawsuit.

Brock alleges he was told by Renfrow to falsify a statement in a report of the incident to state that the inmate was trying to punch a deputy, or else he would be determined to be insubordinate.

Brock “eventually relented to the incredible pressure and wrote in the report that the inmate was punching at (the deputy),” according to his court papers.

Brock says he later received a note from inmates stating they heard deputies saying they wanted to bring false allegations against him in retaliation for his complaints.


Late last month, California’s prison population dropped below the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of federal judges. The milestone was reached more than a year before the judges’ deadline. This important victory is made possible in large part by the passage of Propositions 36 and 47, but there is still potential for the population to swing back up if the state officials stop making significant strides toward easing overcrowding. (Refresher: 36 reformed the Three Strikes Law, and 47 downgraded certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.) Since Prop 47′s passage in November, 2,035 California inmates have been freed.

California jails have also seen a substantial drop in inmate numbers, mostly thanks to Prop 47. Since November, Los Angeles County Jails have reduced the overall population by 3,200 inmates. San Diego achieved a 900 inmate reduction.

Jessica Eaglin, Counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, has more on the numbers’ significance and why neither state nor LA County are out of the woods, yet. Here’s a clip:

This is the first time that the state’s prison population reached this level since 1994. The decline is a direct result of Proposition 36 and Proposition 47. Since Proposition 47 took effect, 2,035 inmates have been released from prison. 1,975 inmates have been released since Proposition 36 took effect.

California jails, too, have experienced reductions in their jail populations in recent months. Initially, Realignment facilitated shifting inmates from prison to county jails. The recent sentencing reforms – particularly Proposition 47 – changed this landscape. Los Angeles County, with the largest jail system in the country, saw its jail population decline by 17%, or 3,200 inmates, since November 2014. The San Diego County jail population, too, declined by 900 inmates. This is a critical development towards reducing overall incarceration in the state beyond simple compliance with the federal mandate.

California still has a long way to go to successfully get its incarcerated population under control. The state continues to send almost 9,000 prisoners out of state in order to comply with the court’s mandate. California increasingly relies on private and public facilities – including by sending 2,000 prisoners to a private facility in the state. The state will spend $12 billion on incarceration this year while trying to accommodate the court’s federal order. Moreover, CDCR’s numbers represent weekly snapshots. It may be that next week the number spikes above the threshold again. On the jails side, the population may creep back up as inmates previously being released early due to overcrowding are now serving as much as 100 percent of their sentences.


A growing number of law enforcement agencies and schools across the nation are performing “active shooter” drills during school hours to prepare kids for real school shootings. Schools have even carried out these exercises, entirely unannounced to students. In a Florida middle school last November, students believed the cops barreling down their halls with fake guns were real shooters, and sent frantic text messages to their parents.

While most agree that lockdown drills are vital to ensure kids know what to do when there is a human threat on campus, experts say the gunman drills, particularly the unannounced kinds, can traumatize kids. But surprise drill advocates say kids do not take scheduled disaster exercises seriously, and that they do not learn from them.

Kids at a junior high in Bakersfield responded similarly to a surprise active shooter drill in November. And here’s what happened in Harlem.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department has performed similar drills at Topanga Elementary, but only to prepare teachers and staff. Students were not involuntarily involved.

Angela Almeida, who has personally participated in a mock school shooting, explores both sides of this issue in an excellent story for the Atlantic. Here are some clips:

Forget what you’ve learned about fake blood and Airsoft props on-site—in these schools, the word “drill” is a frightening misnomer; neither students nor faculty are given any advanced notice of them.

Last November, a middle school in Florida made headlines after students believed an unannounced drill, in which two gunmen barreled down the school’s hallway with a pistol and AR-15, was real. Turns out the shooters were local police officers yelling, “This is a drill!”—but that didn’t stop many students from texting their parents hysterically, telling them they feared for their lives.


I asked Joseph LeDoux, a highly-regarded neuroscientist at New York University, what might be the most useful strategy for teaching students to act. While it is possible to change how humans instinctually freeze, LeDoux explained, the most effective route for learning may also be the most traumatic. “The introduction of surprise is probably a very useful tactic, because it means the brain has to learn each time students go through the drill,” he said. “When your expectations are violated, then there’s novel information and that’s where you learn. If there’s no violation of expectation, no learning takes place.”

Put simply, if humans know a drill is coming, it’s unlikely they’ll learn much from it. However, while scaring students senseless might make them more equipped to handle an emergency, LeDoux added, the degree to which people are affected by the trauma, in real life or in a simulation, depends upon their preexisting conditions. Everyone reacts differently to trauma.

For individuals struggling to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, for example, reliving memories of high stress and fear can trigger unwelcome flashbacks. As a result, students who fit into this category run the risk of re-experiencing symptoms when confronted with simulation drills firsthand. School psychologists argue that the cost of unearthing terrible memories outweighs the potential benefit of these practices—not to mention the rare chance that someone in the school is carrying a concealed weapon and decides to act defensively. A drill to prepare for tragedy could turn into a tragedy itself.

Bonus: watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about Florida’s surprise drill.


Alliance for Justice has released a new report spotlighting an important case the US Supreme Court will hear next week. Inmates must overcome huge barriers to sue over conditions behind bars. The biggest roadblock is the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PRLA was intended to weed out petty lawsuits, but has succeeded in barring inmates from justice who have serious grievances about inhumane treatment behind bars, according to the Alliance for Justice report.

The case challenges the PRLA’s three-strikes provision restricting the number of civil lawsuits an inmate can file before the $400 filing fee—a colossal sum for inmates working for pennies per hour—will no longer be waived. Interpretations of the provision vary, and can mean that inmates can run out of waivers for a number of reasons, when their cases are dismissed, due to technicalities, timing issues, and more.

Here are some clips from the report:

Recent court decisions have expanded congressional restrictions on the right of inmates to access the courts. Today, inmates are losing more cases, winning fewer settlements, and going to trial less often than any time in the past two decades. Yet, civil lawsuits are often the only way to hold prisons accountable for violence, overcrowding, and medical neglect.

And as with all burdens in the criminal justice system, these developments disproportionately burden people of color, particularly African Americans and Hispanics. Fifty-eight percent of all inmates in 2008 were African American or Hispanic, despite these groups only making up 25 percent of the general public. Recent events have shown how difficult it can be for members of these groups to find justice in all walks of life, but nowhere is it as difficult as in a prison.

This report details the ways courts have expanded nearly every element of the so-called “three-strikes” rule of the Prison Litigation Reform Act to keep inmates out of courts, in ways Congress never intended. Later this year, the Supreme Court will decide Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson, and with it, the future of inmate justice. AFJ calls on the Supreme Court to restore the right of all Americans to petition their courts. Access to justice is far too important an American value to take away from one of our country’s most vulnerable populations.


On February 23, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson. Andre Lee Coleman-Bey is an inmate in Michigan who brought a lawsuit against prison officials for interfering with his access to the courts. Coleman-Bey had brought two previous civil cases that were dismissed. He then brought a third case, which was dismissed by the trial court, and he appealed. That appeal is still pending. When Coleman-Bey brought his fourth and most recent suit, the district judge ruled that the three previous cases were strikes, and that he could not have his filing fees waived. The Supreme Court is reviewing the case to decide whether a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit can count as a strike—and effectively prevent an inmate from filing any more lawsuits—when it is still being appealed.

This case highlights a much greater trend of lower courts expanding the PLRA to hand out strikes based on technical errors, poor timing, and reasonable arguments that end up losing. Even inmates with law degrees, not just the “frequent filers” the PLRA was supposed to target, could now find themselves locked out of our civil justice system.

Congress enacted the PLRA to “reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits,” yet the claims of unbounded frivolous prison litigation that sparked its passage do not match reality. Inmates file roughly half as many lawsuits per capita as the general public, but are successful at a similar rate.

Even as pro se litigants bringing cases without lawyers, inmates have been successful in bringing and winning cases in the United States Supreme Court. And litigation has brought reform to prisons that desperately need it. Recent lawsuits have successfully improved inmate medical care, reduced violence and overcrowding, and reformed prison use of solitary confinement.

Posted in Civil Rights, LA County Jail, LASD, Supreme Court, Trauma | 44 Comments »

Erroneous Convictions for Less Serious Crimes….SCOTUS, Alabama, and Gay Marriage….Loretta Lynch….and Efforts to Reduce Racial Tension Between Cops and Communities

February 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The Crime Report’s David Krajicek has an outstanding longread about the lower-priority wrongful convictions that fly under the radar while innocence groups zero in on people serving life sentences, or those on death row.

While no one truly knows the scope of wrongful convictions in America, experts feel certain that each year, thousands of people receive undeserved convictions for lower-level crimes, like robbery and assault, without ever being exonerated. The wrongfully convicted in this category will likely take plea deals, serve their time, and forgo hiring an expensive lawyer to fight for their exculpation.

And, when innocence groups win exonerations for murder (and rape) convictions, it is, more often than not, through new DNA testing. Unfortunately, DNA evidence is rarely collected or tested for more minor crimes. It makes more sense for lifers and those on death row to be given priority, not just because of the severity of the punishment, but because it usually takes more than five years to prove innocence. People convicted of lower-level offenses generally will not serve that much time behind bars.

Here’s the opening of Krajicek’s multilayered project (we recommend reading all of the side stories, if you can):

When Rachel Jernigan was falsely accused of robbing a Gilbert, Ariz., bank 15 years ago, she expected the American criminal justice system to do the right thing.

“They tried to get me to plead guilty,” Jernigan says. “They told me they were going to give me 27 years (in prison). But I said I’m not going to plead guilty for something I didn’t do. I really believed I was going to come home from my trial. I was shocked when the jury found me guilty.”

Sentenced to 14 years, she spent more than seven years in prison before the real robber was identified by Jernigan’s determination and a fluke twist.

“If it can happen to me,” Jernigan says, “it can happen to anyone.”

And it does.

In a sense, Jernigan was a lucky exception.

Experts believe that thousands of people are wrongfully convicted each year in America for the types of crimes that Jernigan was charged with—second-tier felonies like robbery, burglary and assault. And when misdemeanors and driving infractions are included, the number of flawed convictions increases exponentially.

Yet only a tiny fraction of these cases are ever exposed. The cadre of criminologists and law professors who study wrongful convictions regard these missing exonerations as one of the great mysteries of American criminal justice.

Many believe the victims are likely the low-hanging fruit of the justice machine, poor men and women who don’t have the wherewithal to pursue justice.

They likely do what Jernigan was not willing to do: suck it up and accept a plea deal.

“My own somewhat unstudied, seat-of-the-pants estimation is that a lot of working-class folks are probably pretty cynical about the world,” says Marvin Zalman of Wayne State University, a leading wrongful convictions scholar. “And I think that when they get convicted of relatively minor stuff where they didn’t do anything wrong, they just chalk it up to a bad experience, do their time, and simply move on.”

Most who are convicted of minor crimes are unlikely to pony up a retainer—typically $25,000 or much more—to hire a lawyer to seek justice. Nor can they expect help from the community of innocence advocates, who focus on cases where DNA can provide irrefutable evidence of innocence—usually homicides and rapes.

“Unfortunately, the Innocence Project would never take cases like these,” says Mitchell Beers, a South Florida criminal defense attorney who won an assault exoneration in 2006.

About 6,000 people a year ask for help from the Innocence Project, a network of about 65 largely autonomous organizations. It has about 250 active cases at any given time, and nearly all of them focus on DNA evidence, says spokesman Paul Cates.

“We are still very committed to taking cases where DNA evidence is available to prove innocence,” says Cates. “That might change at some point down the road, but the thinking is that DNA is still kind of the gold standard in proving innocence.”

The Innocence Project has had a role in 325 exonerations since it was founded in 1992; just eight of them did not involve DNA cases: four home invasions, three car carjackings and one robbery…

Biological evidence is collected in just one of five crimes, nearly all of them murders or rapes. A 2010 study for the National Institute of Justice said fewer than 10 percent cent of assaults, burglaries and robberies had physical evidence examined in crime labs, compared with 81 percent for murders.

So how vast is the trove of undiscovered wrongful convictions? No one knows for sure, because there is little empirical evidence. Zalman calls wrongful convictions “one of the most remarkably loose areas of analysis in the criminal justice field.”

As Sam Gross, a University of Michigan law professor and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, has written, “The fundamental problem with false convictions is also one of their defining features: they are hidden from view…”


In a meaningful 7-2 ruling that shut down Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s eleventh-hour attempt to suspend gay marriage for Alabamians, the US Supreme Court may have indicated which way the justices will rule when they hear four gay marriage cases this spring.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidsonhas the story. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court has stopped the efforts of Justice Roy Moore, the chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, to stand in the wedding aisle and block the marriages of same-sex couples in his state. There was no case on marriage before Moore; he had intervened, loudly, when U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade, whose courtroom is in Mobile, ruled that the state’s anti-marriage laws were unconstitutional. Her ruling was stayed, but only until Monday morning. That, apparently, made Moore angry. First, he said that probate judges didn’t have to abide by the federal decision if they didn’t want to—a remarkable stance in itself. Then, when it seemed that judges might not turn away loving couples, he issued an order declaring that they were forbidden to respect the decision. The Alabama Attorney General asked for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court, saying that the state would be irreparably harmed if couples went ahead and married. The Court turned them down. By noon on Monday, news reports were full of pictures of people holding bouquets, bearing rings, and kissing their new spouses. [Update, 6:30 P.M., Monday: By the end of the business day, probate judges in more than a dozen of Alabama’s sixty-seven counties had issued same-sex marriage licenses; many others, though, denied them, only took applications, or closed their doors entirely.]

The Supreme Court’s decision was important on a number of counts. First, for the families of Alabama that have been denied the protection and respect that comes with marriage. Second, it is a strong sign that the Court, which is set to hear arguments this spring on whether there is a fifty-state constitutional right to same-sex marriage, knows where it is headed, and it is in the direction of equality. (The order was accompanied by a dissent signed only by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose main argument was that the Court should allow states to wait for its final ruling on “this important constitutional question.”) Third, it made it clear that there is a definite federal interest in the marriage issue.


In the aftermath of a spate of controversial killings by police officers of unarmed black men (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice), bills have cropped up in at least thirteen states to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community relations. Efforts include bipartisan bills to put body cameras on cops and proposed changes to the way deaths at the hands of cops are recorded.

The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“There is a concrete coherent legislative agenda that we are pushing for,” said Cornell Brooks, president and chief executive of the NAACP. “We’ve been doing this from state capital to state capital, as well as here in Washington, D.C.”

Some of the proposed responses have bipartisan support. In other cases, familiar partisan divides between Republicans and Democrats, and civil rights groups and police organizations, are emerging and slowing down legislative action.

Those partisan fissures are exacerbated by events beyond Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland. In Albuquerque, N.M., two officers were charged last month with first-degree murder in the 2014 shooting of a homeless, mentally ill man who had been camping illegally. In Springfield, Mo., a police officer was shot in the head while on patrol; he suffered career-ending injuries.

“Our citizens deserve to be and feel safe, and our law enforcement deserve our respect and support,” said Missouri Rep. Lincoln Hough (R). “I say all that to illustrate the complexity of these issues. There is not a one size fits all approach to this issue.”

Brooks and other civil rights leaders have vowed 2015 will be a year of legislative strategy, pressuring statehouses to pass state-level laws concerning special prosecutors and grand juries while pushing for broader legislative steps in Washington D.C.

Body camera legislation is at the forefront of that push. Civil rights groups like the NAACP, The Advancement Project and the American Civil Liberties Union are behind many of the body camera proposals, and the Obama administration has allocated $263 million for a three-year program to expand training for local police departments, including $75 million that would purchase 50,000 cameras through a matching program.


US Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, will be the first black female AG if confirmed, and says she will focus on mending relations and calming racial tensions between law enforcement agencies and their communities.

The Hill’s Tim Devaney has more on the issue and why advocates and lawmakers believe Loretta is suited to the task. Here’s a clip:

As a black woman with strong law-and-order credentials, Lynch, observers say, would be uniquely positioned to ease strained relations between police and minority communities they serve.

Lynch’s reputation for being a hard-nosed, impartial prosecutor has won her wide support from civil rights advocates, law enforcement, Democrats and even some Republicans.

This will serve her well as she seeks to “resolve the tensions” between law enforcement and the African American community, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

“She has prosecuted those who have committed crimes against police officers, as well as police officers who have committed crimes,” Leahy (D-Vt.) said during her confirmation hearing.

Lynch has earned the trust of civil rights groups by pursing cases of police brutality.

During her time as a federal prosecutor in New York, Lynch went after a police officer accused of sodomizing a Haitian immigrant with a stick in a precinct bathroom.

More recently, she was assigned to investigate the Eric Garner case.

As the “face of law enforcement,” Lynch will have the opportunity to improve public perceptions of police, said Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People…

Lynch promised to “draw all voices” into the conversation about reforming law enforcement and cracking down on cases of police misconduct.

“She has to be a person who brings both sides together, police and the community,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill.

Posted in Department of Justice, DNA, Innocence, law enforcement, LGBT, racial justice, Supreme Court | No Comments »

LA State of the Union Honorees, DOJ Unlikely to Charge Darren Wilson, Raising the Age, and SCOTUS’ Religious Freedom Ruling

January 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


First lady Michelle Obama invited LAPD Captain Phil Tingirides, of the Southeast Division, and his wife, Sergeant Emada Tingirides, to sit with her during the President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The Tingirides are responsible for the Community Safety Project, an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts.

LA Times’ Veronica Rocha and Kate Mather have more on the Tingirides duo. Here’s a clip:

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Tuesday that he was “very, very proud” of the Tinigirides’ invite, calling the captain and sergeant “a great representative of the city of Los Angeles and what’s going on here.”

“This is a national stage right now. Police legitimacy, public trust, police-community relations are all at the forefront of everybody’s thoughts right now,” he said.

“Even though we have much to do in L.A., we have done a lot,” Beck said. “And to recognize that, the president’s recognition of that, is very gratifying.”

The city’s housing authority gave the LAPD $5 million in 2011 to create the program. Focusing on some of South L.A.’s toughest housing developments, officers worked alongside residents and community members to repair frayed relationships.

Capt. Tingirides first attended a Watts neighborhood meeting more than eight years ago, and learned how deep frustrations and feelings of hopelessness ran.

“I was getting my butt handed to me,” he said.

So, he said he decided just to listen as residents expressed their frustration. Gradually, he said, he realized the anger wasn’t necessarily directed at him, but directed toward the uniform he wore.

“There is a lot of good people in Watts and South L.A.,” the captain said, “and good cops that want to make a difference.”

The inspiring prison reformer and former juvenile offender, Prophet Walker, was also honored at the State of the Union address. (We’ve written about Prophet before, here.)

The Daily Breeze has more on Prophet’s story and why he was chosen to sit with Michelle Obama during the SOTU speech. Here’s a clip:

“When I was 16 and sentenced to (jail), I couldn’t see the next six years, let alone the next 12 and that I’d be here today,” he said, soon after landing in Washington, D.C. “This is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Walker, who grew up in a housing project in Watts, the son of a heroin addict who abandoned him at 6 years old, received a six-year jail sentence for robbery and causing bodily injury.

But while incarcerated, Walker took a hard look at his life and decided to make a change, getting a college education and coming up with an innovative program to help prisoners get college degrees. He attended Loyola Marymount University’s school of engineering. More than 100 people in the program he founded have gone on to attend various universities.

Walker said he knows Tuesday’s recognition is not just for him, but for all of the people involved in the camp and prison education program.

Hoping to strengthen the bond between law enforcement, the community, parents and children of housing projects, he later co-founded the Watts United Weekend for underprivileged kids to attend weekend camp retreats.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze shares five different takes on how the LAPD is doing with its community policing efforts. Here is the clip from Capt. Tingirides thoughts on the issue:

The LAPD’s top commander in Watts is Captain Phillip Tingirides, a 35-year veteran of the department. For the past seven years, he’s worked to improve relationships, he says.

“For the first three years, it was a constant attack,” Tingirides says of how people treated him and the department. “There was a lot of listening that had to be done. There had to be a lot of owning up to the things that we as a police department had done.”

Tingirides says he also took action. He reconstituted his gang unit, bringing in officers who treat people with more respect. Officers assigned to the housing projects work there five years, and focus on solving problems not arrests. It’s considered a model of community policing.

“We have built a far more functional relationship,” Tingirides says. The veteran captain adds that the people who protest outside police headquarters are a “minute minority.”

“There are far more people who are sitting at home watching TV very supportive of us,” he says.


The FBI has concluded its investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, and has found no grounds for civil rights charges against Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. According to a law enforcement official and a US official, Department of Justice prosecutors will not recommend that any charges be brought. While US Attorney General Eric Holder and Civil Rights Chief Vanita Gupta have the final authority on the issue, it is not expected that they will veto the decision.

The NY Times’ Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt have the story. Here are some clips:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his civil rights chief, Vanita Gupta, will have the final say on whether the Justice Department will close the case against the officer, Darren Wilson. But it would be unusual for them to overrule the prosecutors on the case, who are still working on a legal memo explaining their recommendation.

A decision by the Justice Department would bring an end to the politically charged investigation of Mr. Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Missouri authorities concluded their investigation into Mr. Brown’s death in November and also recommended against charges.

But a broader Justice Department civil rights investigation into allegations of discriminatory traffic stops and excessive force by the Ferguson Police Department remains open. That investigation could lead to significant changes at the department, which is overwhelmingly white despite serving a city that is mostly black.


The federal investigation did not uncover any facts that differed significantly from the evidence made public by the authorities in Missouri late last year, the law enforcement officials said. To bring federal civil rights charges, the Justice Department would have needed to prove that Officer Wilson had intended to violate Mr. Brown’s rights when he opened fire, and that he had done so willfully — meaning he knew that it was wrong to fire but did so anyway.


California’s age of criminal responsibility is 18, but in 9 other states, including Missouri, 17-year-olds are automatically treated as adults. And in two of those nine states, New York and North Carolina, 16-year-olds are seen as adults in the eyes of the criminal justice system.

NBC’s Seth Freed Wessler and Lisa Riordan Seville takes a look at what happens when states make kids pay adult penalties for youthful, low-level crimes, and adult fines for traffic tickets. Here are some clips:

Advocates for criminal justice reform in New York City have in recent years battled to roll back the “broken windows” model of policing. While supporters say the aggressive enforcement of quality-of-life crimes has dramatically reduced overall crime, reformers say it has done more harm than good.

In Ferguson, Missouri, the August shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown put a spotlight on that area’s municipal court system, which many say ensnares low-income residents in a cycle of legal and financial trouble for traffic and ordinance violations.

For minors—especially those from low-income families and black and Latino neighborhoods, advocates say—getting convicted of low-level crimes can lead to lasting, and devastating, adult consequences.

Teens…who can’t afford to pay fines and fees often don’t show up in court, which can trigger warrants that can lead to arrest. Unpaid fines can mar credit records.

“We assume young people have the wherewithal to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, when these young people are too young to enter into a contract, sign a lease, or even buy cigarettes,” said Mae Quinn, a director of the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic at Washington University Law School.


New York City courts issued 1,400 warrants to 16- and 17-year-olds represented by Legal Aid each year between 2011 and 2014. During the same years, the court handed down 1,600 misdemeanor and violation convictions to Legal Aid clients under 18 annually. State courts attach surcharges of between $90 and $300 to each of those convictions. If defendants of any age fail to pay these surcharges, they can be pegged with civil judgments that blemish their credit.

New York City contracts with nonprofits to help divert juveniles out of criminal penalties but most of these programs target felony charges, the mayor’s office said. Youth advocates say lower level charges have damaging effects, too.

Nancy Ginsburg, who directs a project of New York’s Legal Aid Society focused on defending adolescents, said there’s a particular irony that youth interactions with the criminal system can lead to ruined credit since they are not legally allowed to engage in most financial activities.

Teenagers in New York “can’t even get a tattoo legally,” Ginsburg said. “There’s not one civil contract or benefit that they can get—we don’t even have legal emancipation in this state—except to be prosecuted as an adult.”


The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a muslim Arkansas prisoner wishing to grow a half-inch beard necessitated by his religion.

USA Today’s Richard Wolf has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Federal law bars public institutions such as prisons from imposing a substantial and unjustified burden on the free exercise of religion. In this case, a prisoner named Gregory Holt had converted to Islam and sought permission to grow a half-inch beard, citing the tenets of his faith. The state refused the request, citing security concerns — that the beard, for instance, could be used to hide contraband.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, called the state’s justifications “hard to swallow.” He noted that prison systems in the vast majority of states, and in the federal system, all allow prisoners to grow beards. And he pointed to the fact that prisoners in Arkansas are allowed to grow hair on their head and wear clothes — more plausible places to hide contraband.

Nevertheless, prisoners are not required to go about “bald, barefoot or naked,” he wrote.

Posted in FBI, juvenile justice, LAPD, Obama, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, LAPD to Reform Problematic Crime Reporting, Cops Misunderstanding the Law, and Protection from Prosecutorial Misconduct

December 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


In an interview with NPR’s Kirk Siegler, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck discusses what struggling police departments can learn from the LAPD, not too long past a twelve-year federal consent decree itself. Here are some clips:

On the 11th floor of the Los Angeles Police Department’s downtown high-rise, Chief Charlie Beck has been fielding a lot of calls since the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Beck’s counterparts around the country are calling to find out how his department addressed what he calls the “ghosts of LAPD’s past.”

“I don’t want people to have to have their city go up in flames like Los Angeles did in 1992 to learn these lessons,” he says.

The lessons Beck refers to — and actual court-ordered reforms — began after Rodney King and addressed everything from police brutality to institutionalized racism within the LAPD. And they didn’t end until last year, when a federal judge finally lifted a consent decree originally imposed by the Department of Justice in 2001 following another corruption scandal.

Out of all this came an independent civilian oversight commission and a robust “use of force” investigation and discipline process. It also marked a shift toward community-based policing.

“We are where we are not because we are smarter or better than anybody else [but] just because we’ve been through so much,” Beck says.


Cities looking to reform their troubled police forces might have a template to turn to in Los Angeles, according to police watchdog experts.

“The police department went from being, in essence, an occupying army to being a community partner,” says attorney Merrick Bobb, who worked as a court-appointed monitor for the separate LA Sheriff’s Department and once served on a citizen’s commission reforming the LAPD.


Back in August, an investigation by the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Ben Poston found that the LAPD mislabeled close to 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly altering the city’s crime statistics.

Now, the LAPD officials have announced the department will implement crime reporting reforms, in an effort to provide accurate crime statistics for citizens who trust the department to produce reliable data.

Department staff will be given new training on how to classify crimes in a manner that will comply with federal guidelines, and station supervisors will now be charged with making sure classifications are correct.

Rubin and Poston have the update on their investigation. Here’s a clip:

So far this year, overall violent crime has increased 11% compared with the same time period in 2013, according to LAPD figures. The city has experienced a double-digit rise in rapes and a slight uptick in homicides and robberies. But the largest increase has come in aggravated assaults, which are up more than 20%. The rise in such assaults, officials have said, is partly due to the department’s efforts to improve its crime reporting, which has led to a more accurate count of serious assaults.

To carry out the reforms, the department formed the Data Integrity Unit — a small team of detectives and data analysts. Over the last few weeks, the unit has put about 400 station supervisors, senior detectives and clerical staff through a four-hour training course on how to properly classify crimes to be in line with federal reporting guidelines, senior analyst John Neuman told the commission.

In coming months, the unit is expected to add staff and take on more responsibilities, including serving as a “strike team” that will inspect crime reports at the department’s 21 divisions, Neuman said.

The department also plans a simple but significant change in its procedures for classifying crimes. Watch commanders — the lieutenants and sergeants who must approve officers’ crime reports — will be required to document how each incident should be classified in the department’s crime database.

The move is intended to reduce confusion and misunderstandings, in particular among civilian records clerks who currently are left to decipher reports and make decisions about how to classify crimes.


Earlier this week, in an 8-1 ruling, the US Supreme Court said that a cop can pull over a car under reasonable suspicion of law-breaking, even if the cop misunderstands the law. In this particular case, Heien v. North Carolina, an officer pulled over Nicholas Heien’s vehicle because of a busted tail light. The officer found cocaine in the car, but North Carolina law only requires one working tail light. Heien appealed his cocaine-trafficking conviction on the grounds that the officer misunderstood the law and thus had no reason to pull the car over.

In a commentary for the Atlantic, author and University of Baltimore constitutional law professor, Garrett Epps, says this decision gives officers more freedom to pull people over for increasingly ambiguous reasons. Epps also points out that, if the situation were flipped, and NC law required two working brake lights, Heien would not get off the hook for misunderstanding the law. Here’s a clip:

The facts of Heien are that a North Carolina sheriff’s deputy decided that a passing car was suspicious. The driver, he decided, seemed “very stiff and nervous” because he was looking straight ahead and holding his hands at the recommended positions on the wheel. (I am sure there was no connection, but the driver was also a Latino in an overwhelmingly white county.) The deputy followed the car, seeking a reason to make a stop, until the driver put on the brakes for a red light. One of the two brake lights was out. The deputy pulled over the car for the broken brake light and questioned both the driver and the owner, who had been sleeping in the back seat. Eventually he got permission to search the car, found cocaine, and arrested both men. A fairly open-and-shut case—except that, a state appeals court decided, North Carolina law only requires one working brake light. The “offense” leading to the stop was no more illegal than hanging a pine tree air freshener from the rear-view mirror.

The lower courts refused to suppress the evidence. It is settled law that when an officer makes a reasonable mistake of fact—concludes from appearances that, say, an assault is going on when two friends are just tussling—a stop doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. But, Heien argued, a mistake of law is different. Consider the reverse scenario: If North Carolina law did require two brake lights, Heien could not have avoided a ticket by pleading that he thought it only required one. Most of the time, as we all know, ignorance of the law doesn’t get a citizen off the hook.

The Supreme Court had never decided this issue. On Monday, by 8-1, it concluded that the stop was “reasonable.” One can certainly sympathize with the deputy in this case: The North Carolina motor vehicle code on this point is virtually opaque, and the one-brake-light rule wasn’t clear to anybody until the appeals court decided it in Heien’s case. As for the “ignorance of the law” argument, the Chief Justice breezily responded, that’s fine. The deputy didn’t give Heien a ticket for having one brake light. “Heien is not appealing a brake-light ticket,” the Chief wrote. “[H]e is appealing a cocaine-trafficking conviction as to which there is no asserted mistake of fact or law.”

Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote separately to attempt to limit the effect of the decision. It’s not a question of whether he actually knew the law, but of whether the law was really clear to everybody, she wrote. “If the statute is genuinely ambiguous, such that overturning the officer’s judgment requires hard interpretive work, then the officer has made a reasonable mistake,” she wrote. “But if not, not.” All very well, but I can’t help concluding that Heien makes it easier for police to find a reason to stop anyone they think looks suspicious. And we as a society are learning some very hard lessons about what can go wrong with police stops. Roberts’s opinion takes not the slightest notice of the events of the past year. The world he describes is a kind of happy valley were police are polite, citizens know their rights, consent to search is always freely given, and only evildoers feel dread when they see a blue light in the rear-view mirror. “[R]easonable men make mistakes of law,” as well as of fact, he says.


Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a solo dissent, protested that the decision “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.” She pointed out that “[g]iving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands [their] authority.”


According to the Brady rule, prosecutors must turn over any evidence to the defense any exculpatory evidence that would likely have an effect on a conviction or sentence. Unfortunately, many prosecutors violate the Brady rule without consequence. There is, however, an American Bar Association rule that says prosecutors have to turn over any evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.” This interpretation of Brady is broader, and does not rely on prosecutors’ personal assessment of the significance of the evidence. The rule also says prosecutors have to hand over exculpatory evidence that turns up after a conviction.

California is the only state in the US to not have established some form of this rule. The California Bar spent years working on the code of conduct, only to have the state Supreme Court tell them to start all over again.

An LA Times editorial says properly protecting defendants cannot wait for the state to finish writing their rules, and calls on the state to use the American Bar Association’s version of the rule in the meantime. Here’s a clip:

There is an easy step California should take to curb this type of prosecutorial misconduct — the adoption of an ethical rule. One reason even well-intentioned prosecutors violate Brady is the cognitive difficulty of predicting before a trial has even occurred whether undisclosed information might be considered “material” — or sufficiently important to overturn a conviction — by an appellate court. Instead, prosecutors should follow a simple prophylactic rule that errs on the side of caution. Under the proposed ethical standard, prosecutors simply turn over any potentially helpful evidence without judging whether it could help lead to an acquittal.

The American Bar Assn., which publishes “Model Rules of Professional Conduct” to serve as ethical standards for attorneys nationwide, enacted Rule 3.8. The rule’s objective is to eliminate confusion. Part of the rule, which defines the evidence that must be disclosed, was designed to be broader and independent of Brady obligations, requiring prosecutors to disclose before trial all evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.” Again, this differs from Brady because it does not require prosecutors to evaluate how much the evidence tends to negate the defendant’s guilt. That is for the defense to argue and for the jury to decide.

The rule provides an exception so that prosecutors who have real concerns about witness safety, subornation of perjury or other significant considerations can seek and obtain protective orders from a court to delay disclosure. Equally important, other parts of the rule require prosecutors to turn over any evidence pointing to innocence that they become aware of after a conviction; they must take proactive steps to vacate a conviction if there is clear evidence of the defendant’s innocence.

California is the only state in the nation that has failed to adopt some version of this rule. Last week, we testified about the need for this rule at the State Bar of California’s hearing on attorney competency and disciplinary standards. The bar has spent nearly a decade redrafting a new set of rules of professional conduct. Complaints about the bar’s approach to redrafting the new rules recently led California’s Supreme Court to announce that it would restart the process with a new rules commission. The criminal-justice system cannot wait another decade to adopt a rule that will ensure fairer criminal trials. While the new commission considers how to revamp all the rules, the bar and court should adopt the American Bar Assn. model rule for disclosure of exculpatory evidence.

Posted in Charlie Beck, crime and punishment, LAPD, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Citizenship Largest Criminal Justice Disparity, Non-returnable Military Gear, Gay Marriage…and More

October 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Until now, an abundance of research has emerged illustrating colossal racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system (and many other systems). But according to a forthcoming study, citizenship is even more influential than race in determining if a person will go to prison and how long they will be locked up.

In the United States, undocumented immigrants are four times more likely to be incarcerated, and spend two to four months longer in jail for the same crimes as legal citizens, according to the groundbreaking study authored by Michael Light of Purdue University, which will published in the American Sociological Review.

The gap between citizens and non-citizens is larger than the gap between black and white offenders. The study looked at non-immigration-related offenses in the non-citizen federal prison population (which is a quarter of the entire federal prison pop.).

Yahoo News’ Liz Goodwin has more on the study. Here are some clips:

This sentencing gap between citizens and noncitizens is even larger than ones found between black defendants and white defendants, according to Michael T. Light, the study’s author and an assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University. Lacking citizenship appears to be worse news for a defendant than his or her race. A white noncitizen faces more jail time, on average, than a black U.S. citizen convicted of the same crime, the study found.

Citizenship “appears to trump race and ethnicity when determining punishments for those who violate U.S. law,” the study concludes. The effect was starkest for undocumented immigrants, but even legal immigrants faced significantly longer sentences than citizens convicted of the same crimes, regardless of their race. Most of the sentencing disparity between Hispanics and whites could be explained by the higher percentage of noncitizens in the Hispanic group, the study found.


Since Ferguson, law enforcement agencies have felt considerable pressure to get rid of military surplus armored vehicles, firearms, and gear. But agencies have found that not only is it very difficult to return military gear, when the military does take it back, it’s because a different agency wants it. So, for forces like the LAUSD police department agreeing to give back unnecessary grenade launchers, and the San Jose police department trying to get rid of a mine-resistant vehicle, the gear and vehicles they return will likely just be handed off to another town.

Mother Jones’ Molly Redden has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…some agencies have found the process of getting rid of unwanted military gear next to impossible. Agencies can’t return or trade large pieces of tactical equipment without Defense Department approval, and because the Pentagon technically still owns that equipment, they can’t sell it.

According to interviews with state officials running point between the Pentagon and police, the Defense Department prefers to leave equipment in circulation whenever possible. “It’s a low-cost storage method for them,” says Robb Davis, the mayor pro tem of Davis. His town is trying to shake its MRAP. “They’re dumping these vehicles on us and saying, ‘Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.’”


“The federal government is just not interested in getting this stuff back,” says Davis Trimmer, a lieutenant with the Hillsborough, North Carolina, police department. Local law enforcement officials and Pentagon liaisons interviewed by Mother Jones all agree that the Defense Department always prefers to keep working equipment in circulation over warehousing it. Trimmer has twice requested permission to return three M14 rifles that are too heavy for practical use. But the North Carolina point person for the Pentagon insists that Hillsborough can’t get rid of the firearms until another police department volunteers to take them. Police in Woodfin, North Carolina, are facing the same problem as they try to return the town’s grenade launcher.

In fact, the first move for state liaisons when a police department wants to dump its military equipment is to alert the rest of the state’s police force that the item is up for grabs. This poses a moral dilemma for communities that are getting rid of their weapons and armored vehicle out of protest: ditching your MRAP just makes it another town’s problem.

“I have a lot of discomfort about that,” Davis says. “A lot.” Jarred by the clashes in Ferguson, the Davis city council voted in late August to come up with plans for getting rid of the city’s newly acquired MRAP—which arrived with the machine gun turret still attached.

But officials in Davis are finding that the cheapest way to unload the armored vehicle may be to ship it to a police department in a neighboring town. At best, says Davis, the Defense Department will ask the city to ship the vehicle to a police department out of state. “The bottom line is, if we send it back, we know what will happen to it. It will go on to be used in another community,” Davis says. “In the broader scheme of things, we will not have done anything but make a symbolic gesture.” At least two law enforcement agencies, both located in Northern California, have already expressed interest in the MRAP.


On Tuesday morning, the US Supreme Court unexpectedly chose not to hear any of the seven cases before them challenging states’ rights to ban gay marriage. Everyone (experts included) expected the high court to take up at least one of the cases.

By refusing to hear any of the cases, SCOTUS let gay marriage stand in Utah, Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Six additional states under the those states’ circuit courts will also be affected by this decision. This would mean that a majority of states (30) would boast legal gay marriage. (Hooray!)

There’s a lot of coverage on this, but if you only read one piece of reporting on this issue, Lyle Denniston’s analysis over at SCOTUSblog makes some interesting points.

For instance, Denniston lays out six reasons why the high court’s decision was surprising. Here are the first four:

First, for all seven petitions, both sides had urged the Court to grant review — a rare thing, and one that almost never fails to assure review.

Second, last year the Court had agreed to decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, but wound up not deciding that issue because of a procedural defect in the appeal in that case (involving California’s “Proposition 8″). That was a sign that the Justices were prepared to confront the basic issue, at least at that time.

Third, during this year, the Court itself has three times blocked lower court rulings striking down state bans — an indication that the Justices did not want same-sex marriages to occur until they had weighed in on their constitutionality.

Fourth, the Court surely knew what the practical impact would be of turning aside all seven petitions — that is, the early implementation of same-sex marriages in a good many more states, without the Court ever having ruled on the core question and, in fact, with the Court having never said anything, one way or the other, on that basic issue.

USA Today’s Brad Heath also has good coverage (and a nifty interactive map).


Today (Tuesday) five exonerated men will speak at an Innocence Day celebration co-hosted by Loyola Law School, Los Angeles’ Project for the Innocent and Death Penalty Focus. The speakers, Mario Rocha, Kash Register, Obie Anthony, Arthur Carmona, and Nick Yarris, have spent more than 80 years (combined) behind bars for crimes committed by someone else. (WLA has shared Mario Rocha’s story—here—and Kash Register’s—here.) The Project for the Innocent helped secure the release of both Kash Register and Obie Anthony, who had spent 34 years and 17 years, respectively, in prison while innocent.

The celebration will take place from 12:00-1:00p.m. at Loyola’s Downtown LA campus. You can find out more about the event on Project for the Innocent’s Facebook page.

they had something to do with the exoneration of one or two of them

Posted in Innocence, law enforcement, LGBT, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Crime Decline Higher in States That Also Reduced Incarceration, California Foster System Behind on Investigating Mistreatment, Inmates Average Only Two Visits, and SCOTUS and Gay Marriage

September 16th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Since 1994, when Congress passed the “tough-on-crime” Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the national incarceration rate has risen 24% while the crime rate has dropped 40%. But the link is not that simple.

A new Pew Charitable Trusts infographic shows that some states have successfully lowered both crime and imprisonment. California is among the top three states with the biggest reductions of crime and incarceration, along with New York and New Jersey.

For further reading on the issue, Vox’s German Lopez has an interesting story explaining a bit more about mass incarceration, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which was enacted when violent crime levels were already falling), and what the Obama administration is doing to counteract the outdated law.


The state’s Department of Social Services has nearly 1,000 pending investigations of child mistreatment that have sat unaddressed past the three-month deadline. More than half of those complaints—for things like abuse, malnourishment, and poor living conditions—have been pending for more than six months.

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

Agency officials blame the problem on chronic staffing shortages and warn that the backlog is likely to persist for at least another year.

“We didn’t get into this overnight, and we are not going to solve it overnight,” said Pam Dickfoss, who was appointed deputy director of social services earlier this year by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The majority of the lagging investigations — which include allegations of serious abuse, inadequate food, homes in disrepair or other licensing violations — have remained open for more than six months, according to data obtained by The Times under the California Public Records Act.

The delays can make investigations more difficult, officials said. Witnesses become unavailable or memories fade. And children could remain in potentially substandard homes as inquiries back up.

In one case, investigators took four months to confirm that a child’s hands had been placed under scalding water by other children, resulting in second-degree burns, records show. It also took four months to determine that another child was not being fed regularly and that his surroundings were filthy and stank of mildew.

The backlog has grown steadily since Brown took office in 2011, when the department probed 3,491 complaints and finished 60% on time. This year, complaints against state-licensed foster homes requiring investigations are on pace to exceed 4,000, and only 40% of those inquiries are being completed on time, records show.

And this isn’t just a state level issue, it’s happening at the county level, as well:

More than 6,100 current county investigations have remained open for more than 30 days, a nearly eight-fold increase since 2011. Cases open more than 60 days have increased from from 2,700 to 3,559 in the same period. Department of Children and Family Services Director Philip Browning said he has deployed a strike team of top managers to develop a new plan to reduce the backlog.


Using Florida prison data, a study in Crime and Delinquency found that inmates received an average of only two visits throughout the entirety of their incarceration. Not surprisingly, the Florida research found that inmates who received more visits had better outcomes while behind bars and once released.

The study showed that inmates receiving the most visits were around 20-years-old, had fewer offenses, were white or latino, or had come from communities that had either high incarceration rates or were considered socially altruistic. Black inmates and those who were older or had multiple offenses received fewer visits.

University of Minnesota sociology professor and author, Chris Uggen, has more on the study for Sociological Images. Here’s a clip:

There are some pretty big barriers to improving visitation rates, including: (1) distance (most inmates are housed more than 100 miles from home); (2) lack of transportation; (3) costs associated with missed work; and, (4) child care. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, the authors conclude that corrections systems can take steps to reduce these barriers, such as housing inmates closer to their homes, making facilities and visiting hours more child-friendly, and reaching out to prisoners’ families regarding the importance of visitation, both before and during incarceration.

These are common problems nationwide, particularly in large states like California, Texas, and Montana.


Federal judges across the US have been overturning state bans on gay marriage. There have been more than twelve rulings, so far, this year. But none of these rulings (nor last year’s Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act) have set the national standard. For now, gay marriage rights are in the hands of the states.

That may change as SCOTUS has decided to review a package of seven gay marriage cases from lower courts, and experts say the high court will most likely choose to take up one of the cases, if not more.

Each of the seven cases challenges a state’s right to ban gay marriage. And all but one case would call on the court to decide whether gay marriages should be recognized in other states.

Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova has more on the issue (as well as a rundown on each case). Here’s a clip:

This cluster of cases centers on two key questions: All seven ask SCOTUS to consider whether a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment. Six of the seven cases also raise the question of whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Supreme Court ruled on two landmark gay marriage cases in 2013: Hollingsworth v. Perry, which overturned California’s Proposition 8, and US v. Windsor, which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act. But neither weighed in on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, leaving the choice to allow gay marriage up to each individual state. If the court takes one of these new cases, it’s likely that its decision will have a broad and more definitive impact. “Should they decide that the 14th Amendment actually protects the rights of same-sex marriage, that would have the effect of being binding on the federal government,” says Jane Schacter, a professor at Stanford Law School.

The cases before the court involve the 14th Amendment’s guarantees to equal protection under law and due process. If the high court rules that it is a violation of either promise for one state to deny a marriage license to a same sex couple, then it would become unconstitutional for any state to do so. Any state that failed to comply with the ruling, Carpenter elaborates, “would face immediate lawsuits—a complete waste of time and money.”

It’s anyone’s guess which case (or cases) SCOTUS may choose…

Above visual taken from a portion of this Pew infographic.

Posted in crime and punishment, Foster Care, LGBT, prison, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Detained Kids More Likely to Die Violently….Audit on Illegal Sterilizations of Female Prisoners….Criminalizing Truancy….and More

June 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Kids who are detained in juvenile facilities have a much higher likelihood of dying an early, violent death than kids who are not involved in the juvenile justice system, according to a new Northwestern University study.

The study looked at 1,829 kids, ages 10 to 18, who had been housed at a Juvenile Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998 and followed them until 2011. The detained girls tracked in the study were nearly five times more likely to die than their peers in the general population. Minorities also died at a rate much higher than the general population.

NPR’s Maanvi Singh has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

The researchers interviewed 1,829 people, ages 10 to 18, who were detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago between 1995 and 1998. The young people were arrested for a variety of reasons, but they weren’t necessarily convicted of a crime.

The researchers continued to follow up with them over the years. By 2011, 111 of them had died, and more than 90 percent of them were killed with guns. The findings were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

“I would have anticipated the death rate to be somewhat higher [than that of the general population], but not the figures that you see,” [lead author of the study, Linda Teplin,] tells Shots.

Young women in the study died at much higher rates than their peers in part because the rate of violent death among women in the general population is relatively low, the researchers say.

Delinquent youths from every demographic group died at significantly higher rates than their peers from the Chicago area. And their death rates were nearly twice those of combat troops in wartime Iraq and Afghanistan, the researchers say.

But minorities were at particular risk. African-American men in this study had the highest mortality rates, and they were 4 1/2 as likely as the white men to die of homicide. Latino men were five times as likely to die as the general population, and Latino women were nine times as likely to die early.

Lack of access to mental health care and other resources may be an important factor. The vast majority of these young delinquents come from poor communities, Teplin says. “Detention centers are where poor kids go. Wealthier kids have other options.”

The researchers never encountered a juvenile from the affluent suburbs of Chicago, she says. Even though young people from wealthy families may abuse and sell drugs, they generally have better support systems and access to treatments.

The kids who end up in juvenile detention often have mental health or substance abuse problems, Teplin notes, but they don’t get the care they need.


Last summer, Corey Johnson from the Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered evidence that, between 2006 and 2013, 144 women in California prisons were sterilized against state policy.

Now, a state audit has come back with some startling details on the sterilizations. For instance, 39 of the surgeries were performed without proper legal consent from the women, and that all 144 inmates had been incarcerated at least once before.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has more on the audit. Here are some of the other findings:

Inmates receiving tubal ligations typically were between 26 and 40 and had been pregnant five or more times before being sterilized. Fifty white women, 53 Latino women, 35 black women and six women classified as “other” received the procedure.

Most of the women tested at less than a high school level of reading proficiency, the report stated, with about one-third of the inmates who received the surgery reading below the sixth-grade level.

In 27 cases, the inmate’s physician – the person who would perform the procedure in a hospital or an alternate physician – did not sign the required consent form asserting that the patient appeared to be mentally competent and understood the lasting effects of the procedure and that the required waiting period had been satisfied.

Read on.


A Philadelphia mother serving a two-day sentence for her child’s truancy died in her jail cell on Saturday. Incarcerating impoverished parents for their inability to pay truancy fines is yet another example of America’s modern debtors’ prison. (Here is another example.)

In a story for the Chronicle of Social Change, Carla Benway (Vice-President, Employee and Program Development, Youth Advocate Programs) explains why criminalizing truancy is a harmful practice that does not actually reduce absenteeism, because it fails to address the underlying reasons why kids miss school. Here are some clips:

A stay-at-home mother of seven children died in a Berks County jail this week. The cause of Eileen DiNino’s death is unknown. The reason for her incarceration is.

Eileen DiNino was jailed because she was poor. She was serving a 48-hour sentence to erase about $2,000 in court costs and truancy fines for several of her children dating back to 1999 that she was unable to pay.

Incarcerating the poor for their inability to pay fines is a real and current issue in America highlighted in a series last month by NPR and in this short documentary by Brave New Films. Berks County, the economically depressed area of Pennsylvania where DiNino lived with her seven children, has jailed more than 1,600 parents since 2000. Two-thirds of them are women.

Maryland, California, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina and other states have also used truancy laws to send parents to jail. Millions of dollars in fines are collected annually for truancy. Parents who end up in jail for truancy are those who can’t afford to pay the court-imposed fines or the risk of harsher sentences that may be imposed through trial.

In a recent example in Arizona, a mother “chose” to accept one day in jail as opposed to going to trial. “If she had gone to trial, it’s a trial by judge, not by a jury, the judge could have chosen whatever. She could have given her the full 15 days.”

Is that a choice, really? How many mothers can risk being away from their children for 15 days?


I am not clear on how the “blunt instrument” of parental incarceration is effective at fighting future truancy. Frankly, the research and my own experience suggest the opposite.

In our work at Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., we see many issues affecting school attendance. For some, the challenges are concrete: lack of winter clothing or inability to pay for a bus pass.

For others, it is more complex. The reasons include:

Older siblings taking care of younger siblings while their parent(s) work because they can’t afford child care

Youth working to help financially support the family

Youth with legitimate safety concerns, severe anxiety, or other emotional or learning challenges that find school a hostile or unsafe environment

Parents with severe mental health needs or addictions that impact their ability to provide the structure and support their children need; and parents who are simply overwhelmed with their various economic and life stressors.

If we fail to understand and address the reason a youth is truant, we will fail to reduce truancy.

Be sure to read the rest.


On Thursday, the US Supreme Court voted to protect public employees from being fired or disciplined for testifying in court about misconduct in the workplace. This decision could be vital for whistleblowers in law enforcement, where the code of silence is particularly pervasive. (WLA has already gotten emails from relieved LASD employees.)

The LA Times’ David Savage has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 9-0 decision bolsters the rights of tens of millions of government employees, but its reach is narrow. The ruling covered only those who are ordered to give “truthful testimony under oath.”

“Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the 1st Amendment,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court. “This remains true when speech concerns information related to or learned through public employment.”

The unanimous ruling revived a free-speech lawsuit by a former Alabama community college official who said he lost his job for telling the truth.

Edward Lane had been appointed to direct the college’s program for underprivileged youth and soon learned that an influential state representative was drawing a paycheck but doing no work. Lane told Rep. Suzanne Schmitz she had to report for work or be fired. His superiors warned him to be cautious, because she could cut funds for the college system.

Undaunted, Lane fired Schmitz, and the FBI later launched a corruption probe. Lane was ordered to testify, and the state representative was convicted and sentenced to prison.

When funding for the college was cut, Lane was dismissed. He sued several college officials, alleging he was a victim of illegal retaliation…

Posted in juvenile justice, prison, Supreme Court, Violence Prevention, women's issues | No Comments »

Jail Visitor Beaten by Deputies Wins Settlement, SCOTUS Moves to Protect Intellectually Disabled on Death Row, Problematic Proposed Adelanto Jail, RIP Maya Angelou…& WLA Finalist for LA Press Club Prize

May 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


In February 2011, a man visiting his brother at Men’s Central Jail was reportedly violently beaten by deputies, who then covered their tracks by falsely charging the man, Gabriel Carrillo, with assault. Carrillo would have faced 14 years in prison had the District Attorney’s Office not dismissed all charges a week before his trial. The FBI and US Attorney’s Office filed charges against the deputies involved (which are currently pending).

And today, at 9:30a.m., Gabriel Carrillo, his family, and attorneys will announce a seven-figure settlement reached in Carrillo’s lawsuit against LA County.

(For the backstory on the Carrillo beating, go here.) Interestingly, the Carrillo incident occurred seven months before the Anthony Brown incident that has triggered the current trial. The FBI, at that time, was investigating brutality of inmates by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies.


The US Supreme Court struck down Florida’s rule that a person on death row must have an IQ below 70 to be considered intellectually disabled enough to be spared from execution. The 5-4 ruling means that states cannot determine death row inmates’ intellectual capacity using only a fixed number on an imperfect test—that the inmates’ IQ number should instead represent a range with room for error.

The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes and Matt Zapotosky have the story. Here’s a clip:

The court ruled 5 to 4 that state laws that draw a bright line on IQ-test results are unconstitutional. Under those laws, an inmate who scores above 70 on the test does not meet the first step of proving that he or she is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty.

Florida, Virginia and Kentucky have such laws, and a handful of others have similar rules.

It was the court’s first consideration of state laws defining mental retardation in capital cases since its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia that executing the mentally retarded violated the Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In that decision, the court left it up to states to define intellectual disability. But those state determinations must meet constitutional requirements respecting “the gravest sentence our society may impose,” wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority opinion released Tuesday. He was joined in the decision by the court’s four liberals.

“Florida seeks to execute a man because he scored a 71 instead of a 70 on an IQ test,” Kennedy wrote, adding that experts agree that any number on an IQ test is an imprecise measurement. “Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution. Florida’s law contravenes our nation’s commitment to dignity and its duty to teach human decency as the mark of a civilized world.”

It is relatively rare for a death row inmate to raise intellectual disability as a bar to execution. Defense lawyers in Virginia, for instance, estimate that the ruling might aid only a couple of the eight death row inmates there.

But the decision again showed the continuing tension among the justices about how to apply the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” as the court put it more than 50 years ago, to the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.


Amid LA County’s costly plans to rebuild the crumbling Men’s Central Jail and renovate another jail to make room for female inmates, the relatively small city of Adelanto (in San Bernardino County) has proposed building another detention facility. The city aims to capitalize on LA County’s overcrowding crisis by constructing a 3,280-bed jail to lease to LA for $104 million a year.

If the facility is built, LA County plans to be locked into the lease for a whopping 20 years. In addition to the double-decade, multi-million dollar commitment (on top of our $2 billion Men’s Central Jail project). Inmates moved to the Adelanto facility would also be far from their families.

And if the county enters into a new private prison contract, would the $104 million lease create yet another unholy conflict of interest that could put pressure on the county and the entrepreneurs to keep the facility filled so that everyone gets their monies worth? as we have seen in contracts across the nation with CCA and GEO Group? (Backstory here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

County supervisors recently voted to embark on a $2-billion plan to tear down and rebuild the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. The new facility is intended to improve conditions for inmates with physical and mental health needs, but would not add beds to the county system or address the overcrowding that has led to thousands of inmates being released early each year.

Adelanto, a city of 31,000 in San Bernardino County’s high desert region, is proposing to build a 3,280-bed jail on vacant industrial land next to a federal corrections complex. Then it would lease the beds to Los Angeles County. City Manager Jim Hart said Adelanto — via its public financing authority or another agency to be created for the project — would issue bonds to buy the property and build the jail, at an estimated cost of $332 million.

Under a proposal presented earlier this month by a pair of businessmen who are marketing the deal, Los Angeles County would not pay the upfront costs to build the jail but would agree to lease beds there for 20 years once it’s completed, at a rate of $88 per bed per day, or about $104 million a year.

Proponents say the facility could be completed in about two years and would allow the county to avoid shortening the time served by serious offenders, comply with federal requirements to reduce crowding, and save money they might otherwise spend constructing new jails.

County supervisors have not formally discussed the proposal, but three of the five — Don Knabe, Gloria Molina and Michael D. Antonovich — have said they’re willing to consider it.

Knabe said Friday that he sees the Adelanto facility as “a possible enhancement in the future” to expand the county’s jail capacity — not as an alternative to the Men’s Central Jail project.

“It would not be something I would want to pursue instead of the option we picked,” he said.

Two politically connected businessmen are making the Adelanto pitch: Doctor R. Crants, a Nashville-based businessman who cofounded Corrections Corp. of America, the largest private prison company in the United States, and William Buck Johns, a Newport Beach-based developer and prominent Republican fundraiser who has been involved in other ventures in the Inland Empire. Johns and his company, Inland Group, have contributed to Knabe’s and Antonovich’s campaigns in the past.


On Wednesday, Maya Angelou, author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” was found dead at her home in North Carolina.

NPR’s Morning Edition does an excellent job of remembering Angelou and her legacy as a poet, author, activist, and so much more. Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

“She really believed that life was a banquet,” says Patrik Henry Bass, an editor at Essence Magazine. When he read Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, he saw parallels in his own life in a small town in North Carolina. He says everyone in the African-American community looked up to her; she was a celebrity but she was one of them. He remembers seeing her on television and hearing her speak.

“When we think of her, we often think about her books, of course, and her poems,” he says. “But in the African-American community, certainly, we heard so much of her work recited, so I think about her voice. You would hear that voice, and that voice would capture a humanity, and that voice would calm you in so many ways through some of the most significant challenges.”


Joanne Braxton, a professor at the College of William and Mary, says Angelou’s willingness to reveal the sexual abuse she suffered as a child in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was unprecedented at the time. The critical acclaim and popularity of the book opened doors for both African-American and female writers.

“Maya Angelou brought about a paradigm shift in American literature and culture,” Braxton says, “so that the works, the gifts, the talents of women writers, including women writers of color, could be brought to the foreground and appreciated. She created an audience by her stunning example.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued this statement regarding Angelou’s passing:

“Maya Angelou was one of history’s great lyricists whose words and deeds opened windows that allowed the world to see and appreciate the enduring principles of freedom, equality and justice. She had an immeasurable impact on the way I view the world and my place in it. Maya Angelou’s legacy will live on not only through her extraordinary body of work, but in the efforts of all those who fight for freedom, dignity and humanity.”

Take a listen to this very empowering recording of Maya Angelou reading one of her well-known poems, “Still I Rise.”

We also recommend taking a look at Angelou’s Twitter account (trust us, it’s worth it).


The California Senate has passed a bill to equalize the punishment for possession (for sale) of powder and crack cocaine. Crack previously held a higher penalty of three to five years, while powder was punishable by two to four years. Both forms of cocaine will now carry a two to four year sentence.

(The cocaine sentencing discrepancy is also an issue dealt with at the federal level.)

The Associated Press has the story.


I am very happy to report that WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, is an LA Press Club Award finalist for the “Online Journalist of the Year” category.

The winners will be announced on Sunday, June 29, at the Biltmore Hotel, in downtown LA.

You can find the rest of the categories and finalists here.

Posted in Death Penalty, LASD, Sentencing, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 5 Comments »

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