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SCOTUS Tackles Racism in Jury Selection, Bill to Block Info on Child Welfare Deaths Scrapped, and a Jackie Lacey Interview

May 26th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

SCOTUS RULES AGAINST RACIAL BIAS IN DEATH PENALTY JURY SELECTION

On Monday, in a 7-1 decision (with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting), the US Supreme Court moved to limit prosecutors’ exclusion of potential jurors based on race.

The Supremes ruled that Georgia prosecutors improperly struck black jurors from the jury pool in the death penalty case of Timothy Tyrone Foster.

The justices’ decision clears a path for a new trial for Foster, an intellectually disabled black man, who, at the age of 18, was charged with the murder of a 79-year-old retired elementary schoolteacher named Queen Madge White, a white woman. Foster was tried by an all-white jury, who sentenced Foster to death. Prosecutors highlighted the names of each potential black juror, and wrote the letter B next to their names.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the prosecutors acted in violation of a 1986 SCOTUS ruling that found racial discrimination during jury selection to be unconstitutional. The ruling required lawyers to give race-neutral reasons for striking jury members when accused of such discrimination.

But because the opinion is such a narrow one, it’s not going to stop prosecutors from misusing peremptory challenges, which allow attorneys to get rid of jurors they believe are harboring prejudice. Peremptory challenges can, and sometimes are, abused by attorneys who dismiss jurors because of race, gender, or sexual orientation without explanation. (Here’s a interesting history lesson and some more information on the issue of peremptory challenges from the Public Law Research Institute at UC Hastings.)

Georgia attorneys are allowed 20 peremptory challenges—more than in most states. (California lawyers also get 20 peremptory strikes in life imprisonment and death penalty cases.)

The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

[Stephen] Bright says that “every prosecutor has a handy-dandy list of race-neutral reasons that they give” when it comes to exercising peremptory challenges. “They even distribute reasons in advance. Some state training programs even distribute a list called ‘Articulating Juror Negatives.’”

That is the real problem: that across the country, prosecutors are given enormous discretion—in Georgia, they have 20 peremptory challenges—and know how to weasel around the rules.

That certainly happened in Foster’s case. As the Court’s opinion relates, the prosecutor objected to one juror “because she: (1) worked with disadvantaged youth in her job as a teacher’s aide; (2) kept looking at the ground during voir dire; (3) gave short and curt answers during voir dire; (4) appeared nervous; (5) was too young; (6) misrepresented her familiarity with the location of the crime; (7) failed to disclose that her cousin had been arrested on a drug charge; (8) was divorced; (9) had two children and two jobs; (10) was asked few questions by the defense; and (11) did not ask to be excused from jury service.”

That’s typical of the “laundry list” approach that prosecutors use in order to avoid being accused of discrimination: just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It doesn’t matter if it’s incorrect—for example, this “too young” juror was actually 13 years older than a white juror who had been admitted. Just say everything and sort it out later if you have to.

Nothing in today’s case changes that.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston has a helpful breakdown of the ruling and its implications.

For further Foster v. Chatman-related reading, Atlanta Magazine’s Max Blau has an excellent profile on Stephen Bright, the head of Atlanta’s Southern Center for Human Rights, who found the prosecutor’s racially biased juror notes and successfully argued Foster’s case before the High Court. Bright and his SCHR team have won four of the last five SCOTUS capital punishment cases they’ve argued. Here’s a small clip:

“It’s a brutal, enormously difficult, emotionally draining practice,” Bright told the New York Times in 1993. “There are no resources to do the job well, there’s a tremendous amount of public hostility, and it’s financially devastating to most lawyers. You have to be out of your head to take one of these cases.”

Now boasting a staff of 26, the 40-year-old SCHR has won four of its last five U.S. Supreme Court death penalty cases, exonerated an Alabama man convicted of murder by showing he had an alibi, and helped overturn dozens of death sentences. It was a series of SCHR lawsuits that spurred lawmakers in the early 2000s to create the Georgia Public Defender Council, a statewide system considered to be a major upgrade over the existing patchwork of local public defender offices.

Two MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant winners have been Bright protégés. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1985, Bryan Stevenson joined the SCHR, sleeping on Bright’s lumpy couch for a year. In 1989 Stevenson started the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, which has since saved more than 100 men from execution. And when Rapping founded Gideon’s Promise in 2007 to train public defenders across the country, Bright gave the fledging program space in the SCHR’s offices.

“We wouldn’t have existed without Steve,” Rapping says. “We’re carrying out Steve’s vision.”


CA LEGISLATORS SHOOT DOWN A SNEAKY BILL TO LIMIT THE RELEASE OF INFORMATION ON CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM FATALITIES

State lawmakers have rejected a “trailer bill” attached to the California’s May budget revision, which would have closed off public access to records regarding the deaths of children involved in the child welfare system.

The bill, introduced by the California Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne, would ease deadlines for releasing the child death records and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Information on the family’s history within the child welfare system would be limited, and info provided by witnesses would be removed from the record. The legislation would have replaced those pieces of information with a short summary of the government’s attempt to protect the kids.

Lawmakers rejected the bill following a recommendation from the staff of Senate Subcommittee 3 on Budget and Fiscal Review to toss the bill

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

Since the state implemented the original law, reporters have had access to social worker case notes and other files. These sometimes revealed glaring inadequacies in the state’s child welfare system, including instances of social workers disregarding policies and allowing children to remain in conditions that proved fatal.

One provision of the proposed revision of the law would have denied the public access to original case notes with social workers’ names, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children. Critics also criticized what would have been relaxed deadlines for the release of certain records.

The Senate lawmakers recommended that the department return to the drawing board and vet the measure through the usual committee process “to ensure that lengthier time of discussion is provided and that the proposed language does not represent a retreat from, or complicates, existing practice.”

Pete Cervinka, the social services deputy director who led efforts to craft the bill, said much of the criticism was overblown and that he had hoped the bill, in practice, would increase the amount of information released in child fatalities.

Cervinka noted that the bill would have for the first time provided information about cases in which someone injures or neglects a child to the point that they are “near death.” The federal government has been prodding the state to do this—and holding back some federal money until it happens.

He said the starting point for future attempts to address that issue would be the existing law, not the recent drafts of the new bill, adding that the department would work harder to build consensus among various groups, including nonprofit child welfare groups, lawyers for parents of children in foster care and unions representing social workers.

Trailer bills that are tacked onto the budget, like the one mentioned above, are able to skip review in committees and take a short cut to voting. These bills are meant to implement the budget, but often carry major non-budgetary policy changes.

Another way lawmakers circumvent the usual legislative procedure is by placing bills—ones that would cost the state money if passed—into “suspense files.” This technically happens so that the measure’s potential fiscal impact can be assessed. But there are quite a few bills that would place very little fiscal burden on the state that have been placed on suspense.

In an op-ed, the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters explains that using the suspense file has become a way for lawmakers to meet and decide behind closed doors which bills will move forward, and which will be dumped.

Interestingly, a bill to shine light on police personnel files in misconduct cases has been placed in a suspense file.

Walters says that, like police records, there should be more transparency within the legislative process. Here’s a clip:

The suspense file process has morphed into a way for the Legislature’s leaders to decide in secret which bills will be allowed to proceed and which will not, for reasons known only to themselves.

At some point later in the session, the committees will meet and in mere minutes declare which bills will be allowed to reach the floors of both houses. Pro forma votes will be entered into the official record, but that’s just window dressing.

The arbitrary nature of the process is aimed not only at winnowing the volume of measures reaching the floors, and their costs, but at protecting legislators from having to cast votes that could be politically difficult.

One could say, in fact, that legislators are protecting themselves in the same way that police secrecy laws protect cops and their departments from having to answer to the public for their actions.

Nor is it the only way that the Legislature makes it more difficult for its activities to receive public scrutiny.

When they take up the budget in June – a budget whose important details will be drafted in secret by the governor and legislative leaders – lawmakers will also vote on a couple of dozen “trailer bills” that supposedly implement the budget but always contain major policy changes that are never aired publicly in advance.

Not only should the secrecy surrounding internal police investigations be breached, but also the secrecy that envelops the budget.


LA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY TALKS WITH KCRW’S WARREN OLNEY

In 2012, Jackie Lacey made history in Los Angeles, becoming the county’s first female and black district attorney.

In an interview with KCRW’s Warren Olney, Lacey—who is running unopposed for another four years as DA—talks about key issues that have cropped up during her first four years, including Prop 47′s effect on crime, jail-building, and prosecuting law enforcement officers. Here’s a clip from the interview, but do go over and listen to the whole thing:

Warren Olney: You have often said that your office is supposed to be race neutral, but history shows that our society and the rest of the criminal justice system is not race neutral. It’s a lot harder on blacks and other minorities than it is on white people. What are you doing about that?

Jackie Lacey: Our office does its very best to make sure that the policy makers reflect the diversity of the community. So if you look, our office is probably the most diverse population of prosecutors if not in California and maybe throughout the United States. I think that helps because you want the perspective of a lot of different people at the table. I think in diversity there’s strength and people take their jobs seriously, there’s the least likelihood of bias. I also think that it helps the community’s confidence to see that our office is as diverse as it is, in terms of making decisions about everything from what’s filed to what’s not filed, and certainly to what type of sentences are incurred. I, as an African American woman of course, grew up in Los Angeles, in South LA and am very much aware of biases and while we don’t have a perfect office, or a perfect system we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it is as bias free as it can humanely, possibly be.

Proposition 47 reduced some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors in order to help ease prison overcrowding, lead to alternative kinds of treatment and also to save money. Other district attorneys and some of your own prosecutors claim that it has led to an increase in crime. Do you agree with that?

I haven’t seen the data supporting that. There is an increase in crime, particularly property crime. I think the Public Policy Institute has noted that. I’m not sure if they attribute it to Prop 47 or AB-109 which is prison realignment. But we’re definitely seeing an increase in crime and we ought to pay attention to it. But I think we also owe it to the public to examine each case and look to see where the person was and what they were doing in terms of the criminal justice system before they committed the crime in order to draw that conclusion, that Prop 47 is responsible. It may be responsible and it may not. But I would love to see the data but I think more importantly, I think it’s my job to continue to look for ways to discourage people from committing crimes. Obviously there’s a deterrent effect asking for custody time, but also addressing any issues such as addiction that may be causing someone to get out there and commit property crimes.

Posted in Death Penalty | 2 Comments »

The Prop. 47 Funding Debate, $30 Million Gang Injunction Settlement, and Merrick Garland

March 18th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

THERE’S A DISPUTE OVER HOW MUCH PROP. 47 IS SAVING CALIFORNIA, LEAVING FUNDS MEANT FOR REHABILITATION AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES IN LIMBO

In November 2014, 60% of California voters passed Proposition 47, which reclassified six non-serious, non-violent drug and property felonies as misdemeanors. The measure was supposed to ease overcrowding in prisons and save the state more than $100 million each year. That $100 million (or more) was to then be spent on preventing recidivism through mental health and rehabilitation programs, truancy and dropout prevention efforts, and victims services (via the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund).

Gov. Brown’s January budget tallied net savings from Prop. 47, which reduced six non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, at $29.3 million—$62.7 million in savings from smaller caseloads, fewer hospital stays, and fewer prisoners, minus $33.4 million in extra parole and resentencing costs. The budget allocated the net savings of $29.3 million for the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.

A recent report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found a few problems with those figures: Brown’s budget underestimates savings by about $100 million, overestimates costs, and diverts money from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund—where all the Prop. 47 savings is supposed to end up—and sends it back into the prison system.

While the 2014 law has resulted in the release of more than 4,500 offenders, prison staff and operating costs have not dropped. In fact, prison costs are increasing. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s newly-appointed Secretary, Scott Kernan, says for any significant savings to occur, the state would have to close a prison.

State lawmakers will have to step in and decide what savings Prop. 47 is responsible for producing. The legislature has until this summer to settle the issue.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Though the administration found the measure eliminated the need for more than 4,500 prison beds, the governor’s office primarily based its savings calculation on a 400-unit decline in contract beds, spots in private prisons California pays for to keep prisons from becoming more crowded.

“The remaining population reductions resulted in fewer inmates being housed in CDCR’s institutions where there are limited possibilities for reduced expenditure,” said Jeffrey Callison, press secretary for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in an email.

Despite the decline in drug offenders in prison, Callison said, prisons are not incurring savings in staffing and other necessary operating costs. For that to happen, he said, the state would need to close a prison.

Secretary Scott Kernan, who heads the prison system, said cutting money from his budget isn’t feasible. The system’s been beleaguered by overcrowding, inadequate mental health and health care, and a host of court orders to improve conditions.

“So I think that in this challenging environment there is going to be a base line cost,” Kernan said.

And, those costs are going up.

Despite 2011′s prison realignment, which shifted supervision for lower-level offenders to counties in an effort to stem overcrowding, the prison population is expected to rise over the next year, along with the prison budget.

Early budget proposals up the corrections budget to $10.5 billion in 2016-2017 - higher than the year before realignment went into effect. Cutting into the budget now, Kernan said, could compromise court orders.

The state’s obligated to provide “a constitutional level” of care, he said.


A $30 MILLION SETTLEMENT WILL GO TO JOB TRAINING FOR PEOPLE AFFECTED BY LA’S GANG INJUNCTIONS

On Wednesday, the LA City Council unanimously approved a $30 million settlement in a lawsuit accusing the LAPD of enforcing old gang injunction curfews that had been struck down years earlier, in 2007.

The settlement amount will depend on how many of the 5,700 people affected by the gang injunctions—and thus the unconstitutional 10:00 p.m. curfews—come forward. According to the terms of the settlement, over the next four years, at least $4.5 million and as much as $30 million will go to job training, tattoo removal, and other programs to help people designated as gang members by LA injunctions.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Emily Alpert Reyes have more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

City Atty. Mike Feuer urged council members to approve the deal in a confidential memo obtained by The Times. The settlement, one of Feuer’s deputies emphasized in the memo, would establish clear rules for enforcing injunctions and avoid the possibility of a jury verdict that could have forced the city to pay off gang members.

“The city must resolve this litigation,” the memo said. “The settlement creates opportunities for gang members to obtain basic job skills … that can turn their lives around, and does so without giving any direct payments to gang members.”

In an interview, Feuer called the deal “an opportunity for the city to grapple with one of its most important problems in a constructive way.”

Nearly four dozen injunctions are in place throughout some of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. They are court orders that aim to severely curtail gang activity by, among other things, prohibiting gang members and their associates from socializing with one another, carrying weapons or wearing certain clothing inside an injunction’s designated area — typically the neighborhoods where the gangs are active.

Although gang crime has climbed recently, the city has made large gains over the last decade in tamping down gang violence, drug dealing and other crimes. While officials credit the injunctions with playing a large role in that progress, critics point to the rosters of people ordered to abide by the injunctions, saying they include those who have no gang ties.

In 2011, attorney Olu Orange filed a federal lawsuit challenging curfew provisions included in 26 of the city injunctions, which prohibited people from being outside after 10 p.m.

In enforcing the curfews, police and city officials were willfully ignoring a 2007 California appeals court ruling that a similar curfew in another city violated individuals’ due process rights, Orange contended. In that ruling, the court found that an injunction against an Oxnard gang did not adequately define what it meant for someone to be “outside” during the hours of the curfew.

The wording was “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning,” the court concluded.


OBAMA’S SCOTUS NOMINEE, MERRICK GARLAND, AND THE FUTURE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Out of President Obama’s top three choices (the other two were Judges Sri Srinivasan and Paul J. Watford), Judge Garland, a white, 63-year-old federal prosecutor, appears to be Obama’s best chance at getting a nominee past the Republican Senate, which has vowed to oppose any nomination from the current president.

But by nominating the “old school” Garland, Obama has missed out on an important opportunity to “walk the walk on criminal justice reform” by appointing someone who has a public defender background, says Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy:

In this prior post, I (apparently foolishly) suggested that Prez Obama might be leaning to appointing a former federal defense lawyer to the Supreme Court given his comments about looking for a nominee with “a keen understanding that justice is not about abstract legal theory, nor some footnote in a dusty casebook [but who has] life experience earned outside the classroom and the courtroom.” But Chief Judge Garland, like far too many of the current Justices in my view, is a career “inside-the-Beltway” lawyer having served in the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration and having spent the last two decades serving on the most insulated and isolated of all the US Circuit Courts. Notably, at a time when American voters on both sides of the aisle have shown an interest in changing “politics as usual” in Washington DC, the President has decided to nominate the most “old-school” SCOTUS candidate I could imagine.

Readers will not be surprised to hear that what really has me irked about this SCOTUS choice is that it provides yet more proof that President Barack Obama is never actually willing to “walk the walk” on criminal justice reform when he has a real opportunity to use his power and platform to engineer real change. Appointing someone with a public defender background would be a powerful statement that lawyers who defend those accused of crimes have a critically important perspective on the operation and application of the rule of law. Instead, Prez Obama has nominated a former Criminal Division DOJ lawyer who supervised the Oklahoma City bombing case and the case against the Unabomber. Tellingly, in his announcement this morning, Prez Obama stressed Chief Judge Garland’s “sterling record as a prosecutor” and expressed admiration for his prosecutorial efforts to avoid the possibility that the Oklahoma City bomber “might go free on a technicality.”

So where does Garland stand on criminal justice issues? In 2010, when Garland was short-listed as a possible replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens, SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein wrote a profile of Garland, which included a review of the judge’s past decisions in specific areas of law. Goldstein found that Garland leaned moderate-to-conservative on important criminal justice issues, rarely voting in favor of criminal defendants. Here are some clips:

The most significant area of the law in which Judge Garland’s views obviously differ materially from those of Justice Stevens is criminal law. Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants’ appeals of their convictions. I identified only eight such published rulings, which should capture all the significant cases. Judge Garland did not author any of the opinions…

…in ten criminal cases, Judge Garland has disagreed with his more-liberal colleagues; in each, he adopted the position that was more favorable to the government or declined to reach a question on which the majority of the court had adopted a position favorable to a defendant. Because disagreement among panel members on the D.C. Circuit is relatively rare, this substantial body of cases is noteworthy…

In another case, Judge Garland dissented from a panel ruling by two of the court’s more conservative judges in favor of a criminal defendant.

Vox’s German Lopez explains why Garland may prove even more conservative than Justice Scalia on certain criminal justice issues, if he makes it past the Senate. Here’s a clip:

…while Scalia was broadly very conservative on criminal justice issues, he occasionally sided with liberals and reformers to defend criminal defendants’ rights — in a way that Garland may not.

“Casual observer or non-lawyers have not recognized that, even though Justice Scalia was very conservative in most criminal procedure cases,” Evan Lee, a law professor at the UC Hastings College of Law, told me, “there were a few really important cases in which he — and Justice Thomas — created new and important rights for criminal defendants based on their reading of the original intent of the framers.”

Scalia’s biggest decision to this end was, according to Lee, Apprendi v. New Jersey in 2000, in which the Supreme Court effectively expanded criminal defendants’ rights — despite a case that involved an allegedly racist defendant.

[SNIP]

Now, Scalia was certainly not a liberal on criminal justice issues. In his nearly 30 years as a justice, he had far more cases in which he sided against criminal defendants, particularly on the death penalty. In one case, Scalia argued that the Supreme Court had never found that executing innocent defendants violated the Constitution if they got a “full and fair trial.” Although an extreme example (and technically correct), Scalia’s tone reflects the approach he took for the bulk of criminal procedure cases.

But as conservative as his views in most cases were, Scalia still had a few moments in which he stridently sided with defendants. And the few examples show Scalia was not as conservative on criminal justice issues as liberals may think. So if he’s replaced by someone who’s moderate to conservative — like Garland — then criminal justice reformers could end up gaining little to nothing from the replacement.

[SNIP]

Another big distinction: While Scalia was more likely to overturn previous law and tradition to fit his view of the Constitution, Garland will likely avoid changing current precedent. “He is a centrist, a call-them-as-I-see-them, I-have-no-interest-in-changing-the-law kind of guy,” Goldstein said.

That could sometimes extend in favor of defendants when current law is in their favor. For example, Scalia despised the “exclusionary rule” — which requires courts throw out evidence that police obtained illegally — out of worry that it can ruin otherwise good cases against criminals, and he seemingly wanted to undo it. But Garland would probably be unwilling to overturn a standing rule, so he would be more likely to throw out illegally obtained evidence through the existing exclusionary rule.

Given Scalia’s extremely pro–death penalty views, Garland will also very likely be much more liberal on capital punishment. Goldstein said that Garland, for instance, will probably be more willing to let defendants challenge their death sentences if they claim to have received an inadequate legal defense. But Goldstein would be very surprised, he said, if Garland ruled to strike down the death penalty, which some of the more liberal justices have shown interest in doing.

Still, Garland has generally favored prosecutors and sided against defendants as a DC judge, and it seems unlikely he would create big, new rights for defendants as Scalia did in a few cases.

But it seems unlikely that the Senate Republicans will confirm Garland. During the judge’s first trip to the capitol as Obama’s nominee, Republican leaders said they refused to hold hearings or vote on Garland’s confirmation this year, no matter what.

The New York Times’ David Herszenhorn has the story. Here are some clips:

It was a strange day even for an often-fractious Capitol. Democrats moved forward with the traditional opening pageantry for a Supreme Court nominee, including staged photo opportunities and two largely ceremonial meetings. At the same time, the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, sought to dismiss the fight over the court vacancy as an irreconcilable difference that should be set aside, like some routine piece of failed legislation, as the Senate moved on to other business.

Tensions boiled over early after Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and others suggested that Republicans might take up Judge Garland’s nomination in the lame duck session — should Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the White House — and outraged Judiciary Committee Democrats called Republicans duplicitous.

[SNIP]

By the end of the day, Republican leaders made clear they were sticking to their original position and flatly ruled out any action on the nomination during the lame duck session.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday that he expected Democrats to keep repeating their demands for a confirmation vote, but he urged them to desist.

“It’s frankly a waste of time,” Mr. Cornyn said at the Judiciary Committee’s business meeting. “The decision has been made that we are going to wait for the voters to choose the next president and allow that president to make the nomination at which time that nomination, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican will be processed. But not before then.”

Even Mr. Hatch had retreated. “If it’s Hillary, it’s Hillary,” he told reporters with resignation at the Capitol, acknowledging that party leaders had decided Mr. Obama’s nominee would not be confirmed under any circumstance.

Posted in Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

Solitary Statistics, Opposing Prop. 47 Views, and Miranda Rights

October 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SURPRISING DATA SHOWS 20% OF INMATES IN THE US WERE PUT IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Nearly one-fifth of state and federal prisoners and jail inmates spent time in solitary confinement between 2011-2012, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. For LGBTQ and mentally ill prisoners, the numbers were even worse.

Around 4.4% of prisoners and 2.7% of jail inmates across the country were held in “restrictive housing” on an average day, either in disciplinary or administrative segregation or solitary confinement.

Of those inmates who had been placed in restrictive housing, 10% of prisoners and 5% of jail inmates said they had spent more than 30 days in isolation.

Close to 30% of LGBTQ prisoners surveyed were placed in isolation, compared with 18% of heterosexual prisoners. Younger inmates and inmates without high school diplomas were similarly more likely to have spent time in restrictive housing than older inmates and inmates who had completed high school. Inmates convicted of non-sexual violent offenses and inmates with lengthy arrest histories were also held in isolation more often than their counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the data also linked mental illness to solitary confinement. Nearly one-fourth of mentally ill inmates spent time in isolation between 2011-12.

Inmates in those prisons and jails that relied more heavily on restrictive housing often also reported disorder in the detention facilities, too few staff members to “provide safety and security to inmates,” and lower levels of confidence and trust in staff.


PROP. 47: TWO OPPOSING VIEWS

In an op-ed for the LA Times, as part of the paper’s series on California’s Prop. 47, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón (who has also served as chief of the SFPD, assistant chief for the LAPD, and chief of the Mesa, AZ police force) says the new law, which reclassified six non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, is incorrectly criticized by many law enforcement officials.

Gascón says it’s “far-fetched” to point to Prop. 47 as the reason for an increase in property crime. Gascón also says that law enforcement officials are overly critical of Prop. 47, which is saving California $770,000 per day, so far, because most officers today spent their formative law enforcement years in the tough-on-crime era.

Here’s a clip:

Tough-on-crime critics, predictably, have come out swinging, arguing that Proposition 47 is the cause of a recent increase in property crime. But this assertion defies logic. From 2007 through Aug. 31 of this year, the state has reduced its prison population by 43,000, but only 4,402 prisoners were released under Proposition 47. It’s far-fetched at best that the release of these relative few, who were responsible for some of the lowest-level crimes, is causing this increase. Crime rates fluctuate over time, but overall property crime is at a 50-year low.

The extraordinary level of discontent with Proposition 47 from a majority of law enforcement officials is not surprising. Virtually everyone working in law enforcement today — myself included — cut our teeth during the war-on-drugs era. We’ve never experienced another approach, and after decades of jailing people for simple drug possession, it’s difficult to embrace alternatives.

Many in law enforcement believe misdemeanor arrests are ineffective because the consequences are comparatively mild. But in a post-Proposition 47 world — as has always been the case — good, hardworking cops should not try to predict the outcome of an arrest. Declining to make arrests for misdemeanor crimes is bad for the community, public safety and offenders who need help. In San Diego, for example, where police continue to make misdemeanor arrests for drug possession, the city continues to see flat or decreasing crime rates.

Meanwhile, the 4,402 people released from prison under Proposition 47 are saving California more than $770,000 a day. There are also more than 35,000 Californians who have asked the courts to change their old felonies to misdemeanors, and an additional 123,087 people who have petitioned the courts to alter their current sentences.

Before Proposition 47, people convicted of a felony for possessing drugs for personal use often found themselves housed with more hardened offenders. They were inevitably released without having the root cause of their addiction or mental illness addressed. What’s worse, their felony convictions would often preclude them from finding work, as employers are 50% less likely to respond to applicants with records.

California’s broken prison system churned out less-employable individuals with unaddressed conditions, who were perhaps inclined to resort to more serious criminal behavior. Is it any surprise that the state recidivism rate reached nearly 70% in 2005?

Marc Debbaudt, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, does not agree with Gascón. In a separate LAT op-ed, Debbaudt says that thanks to Prop 47, drug offenders no longer face jail time for offenses committed to fuel their addictions, like shoplifting, writing bad checks, and stealing guns worth less than $950. Debbaudt also argues that because judges can no longer mandate substance abuse rehabilitation programs for people who commit these newly reduced offenses, participation in drug court programs is down 60%.

Debbault also faults Prop. 47 for reducing possession of date rape drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. (Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.)

Here’s a clip:

In the city of Los Angeles, property crimes such as burglaries and motor vehicle thefts have risen 10.9% compared with the same period last year. Violent crime, such as aggravated assaults and robberies, has soared 20.6%. Mayor Eric Garcetti told The Times those increases may be linked to Proposition 47.

To make things even worse, the social engineers in the Legislature also passed a law in 2014 that reduced the maximum misdemeanor sentence from 365 days to 364 days. Under federal immigration law, a noncitizen who is convicted of an offense punishable by 365 days or more can be deported. With many felonies now reduced to 364-day misdemeanors, some criminals who otherwise would have been deported get to stay.

Here is additional fallout from Proposition 47 that Californians probably didn’t anticipate when they voted for the measure:

The justice system lost all leverage to mandate rehabilitative drug programs. There is no incentive for an offender to accept a court-ordered 18-month to two-year intensive treatment program when the maximum consequence for a drug conviction is a six-month term in county jail. In many cases the jail sentence means only a few days, or even just hours, in custody because the jails have to make room for the felons sent from state prison under that other great reform called realignment. The treatment program rolls are down 60% in L.A. County, and addicted offenders are not getting the treatment they desperately need.

Proposition 47 took away a tool to fight sex crimes when it reduced the penalty for possession of dangerous date-rape drugs to a misdemeanor.

Thousands fewer DNA samples are being taken from suspects every month because state law permits police to collect DNA only from felony suspects. It follows that it will be much harder, if not impossible, to solve old cases such as murder and rape.

(We also pointed to the first part of the series, an editorial by the LA Times’ Robert Greene: here.)


CA’S HIGH COURT SAYS 10-YEAR-OLD BOY WAS OLD ENOUGH TO LEGALLY WAIVE HIS MIRANDA RIGHTS, UPHOLDS MURDER CONVICTION

In letting a ten-year-old boy’s murder ruling stand, the California Supreme Court has effectively said that children that young are still competent enough to validly waive their Miranda rights. The boy, identified as Joseph H., was read his Miranda rights by a police officer during his arrest, and then later confessed to killing his abusive neo-Nazi father.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court, which required police to issue the warning in the 1966 case of Miranda vs. Arizona, has never decided whether minors below a certain age are competent to give up their Miranda rights and answer officers’ questions. But as state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu noted in his Oct. 16 dissent, the nation’s high court has ruled that any decision to waive the right to remain silent must be made “voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.”

The 10-year-old’s case, Liu said, raises an issue that “likely affects hundreds of children each year: whether, and if so, how the concept of a voluntary, knowing and intelligent Miranda waiver can be meaningfully applied to a child as young as 10.”

All three of Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointees — Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra Kruger — voted to review the case, leaving them one short of the needed majority. Cuéllar also signed Liu’s dissenting opinion, an unusual and perhaps unprecedented statement by a California justice arguing that his colleagues should have taken up a case from the lower courts.

The issue arises in the wake of rulings by the nation’s high court barring executions or mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. In the 2005 death penalty ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said research has shown that juveniles, more commonly than adults, have a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,” and are more susceptible to peer pressure than adults.

“The youthful brain is different than the adult brain,” said Rory Little, a law professor at UC Hastings in San Francisco. Noting that California law bars an accused rapist from arguing that his victim consented if she was younger than 14, Little said, “If a 14-year-old can’t consent to sex, how can a 10-year-old waive his rights to Miranda?”

The Riverside youth, identified as Joseph H., found his father’s gun and shot him in the head as he lay sleeping on a sofa in May 2011. The father was a leader of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement and was also a drug addict who frequently beat Joseph, according to a state appeals court ruling in the case. When police arrived, the court said, Joseph told them his father had beaten him and his mother the day before.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Updates & Early Legal Challenges in the Tanaka/Carey Indictment Drama….A Call for “Smart Justice” for LA County….a New Brand of Advice for Next Generation Cops…the Death of Officer Kerrie Orozco

May 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

FIRST STEPS TOWARD TRIAL FOR TANAKA AND CAREY

On Friday, May 29, the first “status hearing” is scheduled in the obstruction of justice trial of Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the LA County Sheriff’s department, and Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative bureau (ICIB).

Judge Percy Anderson will be presiding. Originally the trial was assigned to Judge S.James Otero but, as many involved had predicted, Anderson managed to snatch the high profile case from Otero and move it into his courtroom. Percy Anderson, for those who don’t remember, was the judge on both of James Sexton’s trials and that of the other six former LASD members convicted of obstruction of justice.

Tanaka’s legal team was not thrilled with the judicial switch, likely because some on the defense teams from the last trials thought Anderson had pro prosecution leanings. As a consequence, the Tanaka team filed a motion “to Return Case to Randomly Assigned District Judge Based Upon Improper Transfer.”

Anderson, however, denied the motion with vigor mere hours after it was filed.The issues raised in Tanaka’s Motion are so devoid of merit that no further briefing is required,” he wrote.

And that was that.

(Anderson is not a mincer of words.)

One of the other issues that was to have been heard on Friday was a request for a “judicial inquiry” regarding possible conflicts of interest due to the fact that Carey was being represented by Thomas O’Brian and other members of the Paul Hastings law firm.

it’s easy to see why Carey chose O’Brien. He held the post of U.S. Attorney just before Andre Birotte, which means he knows the workings of that office inside and out. (Andre Birotte is the U.S. Attorney who presided over most of the investigations and charges that are now playing out. Birotte has since gone on to a federal judgeship, and was replaced by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura, the woman who unveiled Tanaka and Carey’s charges.) The potential conflict that the government has flagged is the fact that O’Brien represented LASD deputy James Sexton, one of the seven who was previously convicted of charges similar to those recently slapped on Tanaka and Carey. Moreover the attorney is still representing Sexton for his appeal to the 9th Circuit. The prosecution also noted, in their lengthy request, that some of Carey’s perjury charges had to do with questions he was asked by O’Brien when Carey was the witness stand for the defense during one or both of Sexton’s two trials.

The prosecutors made a strong argument in their request for an inquiry, with plenty of case law cited. Not too long after the prosecution filed its request, O’Brien and company withdrew as counsel for Carey.

A trial date is expected to be set at the hearing on Friday.

In the meantime, in an email that went out to the members of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), the union’s leadership urged department members who wished to support Carey to give to his family via a special website that had been set up by PPOA. There LASD members can also give to the families of any of the other six as well, thus getting around the prohibition, according to department rules, against any kind of contact with the six now that they had been convicted of felonies.

The message on the donations site reads in part:

SUPPORT FAMILIES OF THOSE CONVICTED FOR FOLLOWING ORDERS

Earlier this year, the Feds convicted 7 employees of the LASD for following the orders of their bosses. Regardless of their guilt or innocence, they and their families are facing difficult times financially. Many are struggling to make their mortgage payments and to put food on the table to feed their children.

“One thing we do well in law enforcement is support each other in times of need.” said PPOA President Brian Moriguchi. “We realize just how difficult a job we do and the risks we face. Few can truly understand that. That is why we are like family and look out for one another. The families of these convicted employees are paying the price for what was really a pissing match between two law enforcement agencies.”

Paul Tanaka’s name, however, is notably absent from the donations site, presumably because he was allegedly one of the “bosses,” whose orders the others were following.


A CALL FOR “SMART JUSTICE”

While some of California’s other counties have embraced the challenge and opportunity of realignment to create programs and strategies that both help and monitor inmates when they finish their incarceration terms and begin to attempt integrate back into their individual communities, LA County has lagged behind.

On Sunday, the LA Times editorial board urged LA County to dispense with its lagging and to start practicing “smart justice.”

Here’s a clip from the story::

Counties are working to find the best ways to provide housing, healthcare and employment, to serve not only nonviolent offenders but their victims, their families and their neighborhoods. There have been many successes and many lessons to learn.

If only Los Angeles County would learn them. The state’s (by far) largest county ought to be a leader in smart and effective justice, but as other counties have spent their state realignment dollars on programs intended to reduce recidivism, L.A. County has only dabbled in such initiatives and instead spends most of its realignment money on old-school law enforcement, monitoring and punishment.


“BE GUARDIANS NOT WARRIORS” SAYS HEAD OF JOHN JAY’S POLICE STUDIES PROGRAM TO HIS WOULD-BE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

NPR’S Robert Siegel visited John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the west side of Manhattan, and observed veteran police officer Professor John DeCarlo, who coordinates the highly respected police studies program at John Jay, as DeCarlo encouraged his next-generation law enforcement students to become “guardians” more than “warriors.”

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

SIEGEL: John DeCarlo spent 34 years as a police officer and later a police chief in Connecticut. Then he got his PhD and made the switch to teaching at John Jay. In light of this year’s stories about policing, I asked him if he talks with his students about how they as future law enforcement officers should manage their encounters with civilians, including the fear that they might feel at such moments.

DECARLO: We have not only talked about the fear that one feels at that point and the reaction that an officer might have, but we also talked about how certain people will be predisposed to different reactions, and it is incumbent upon police leaders to really increase the efficacy of police selection processes so that we do not put people on the job who would be bullies.

SIEGEL: And do you feel those people can be identified before they become police officers or early on in their police careers? How do you do that?

DECARLO: I do. You know, right now, when police officers come on, you know, we send them to an academy that is very militaristic. We are looking, very often, for big people. Women are underrepresented wildly, and we know that women are much better at talking their way out of bad situations than big guys. Right now we give cops a test called the MMPI-2, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. So we pretty much determine that they’re not psychopaths. I think that’s a low bar.

SIEGEL: In his senior seminar, DeCarlo comes off as a born teacher.

DECARLO: Good morning. We are going to talk a little bit about – Tyric (ph), how are you? – where police have gone and where we want them to go.

SIEGEL: He is dynamic, commanding attention, knowing his students, working the seminar room rather than standing at the front. The seminar draws on ideas from, among other sources, Plato’s “Republic,” in which the police are the guardians and the principles of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of London’s police and namesake of London’s of bobbies, and President Obama’s 21st-Century Task Force on Policing. John DeCarlo is a strong supporter of community policing. He leads his students through a Socratic dialogue inspired by an article about the shift in our view of police from guardians to warriors….


THE HEARTBREAKING DEATH OF OMAHA POLICE OFFICER KERRIE OROZCO

It is always heartbreak-producing when a law enforcement officer is killed. But the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Omaha officer Kerrie Orozco in an exchange of gunfire with a fugitive is elliciting an unusual amount of grief in the city she was devoted to protecting and serving.

Here’s a clip from a very personal Fox News story about Orozco and the response to her death.

As the family of Kerrie Orozco grieved for the 29-year-old, seven-year veteran following her death Wednesday in a shootout with a fugitive, the city’s flags flew at half-staff, the police department rallied behing the simple phrase “Kerrie On,” and donations poured in for Olivia Ruth, the baby Orozco had just given birth to prematurely. Orozco was working her last shift before going on maternity leave to be with her baby when a criminal’s bullet struck her just above the bulletproof vest that might have saved her life.

“She was so excited to be a mother,” her aunt Laurie McNeil told FoxNews.com Friday.

Olivia was born premature Feb. 17. Orozco was set to bring her home from the hospital Thursday and go on maternity leave. Wednesday’s tragic events changed all that.

“She had the bassinet all set up by the side of the bed,” McNeil said. “She just wanted to be ready.”

Orozco was part of a fugitive task force searching for convicted felon Marcus Wheeler. He was being sought for an earlier Omaha shooting. As they closed in on the suspect Wednesday afternoon, Wheeler, 26, opened fire.

Police said one of his bullets struck Orozco in the chest and exited her back. An inch lower and it would have struck her in her bullet-proof vest.

McNeil told FoxNews.com she had a bad feeling when she looked at her phone Wednesday and saw a breaking news flash reporting an Omaha police officer had been shot.

“I immediately turned on the Internet and started watching,” the aunt said, choking back tears. “I was hoping to see her walk across the screen.”

As her deepest fears grew, McNeil sent Orozco a text asking, “Are you Ok?” She tried calling. She didn’t get an answer.

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, Reentry, U.S. Attorney | 55 Comments »

In Landmark Settlement, LA County Supervisors & Sheriff Agree to Outside Monitoring of Jails…and More

December 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a closed session on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
approved a far reaching legal settlement that means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

The agreement is the result of a federal class action lawsuit known as Rosas v. Baca that was filed in early January 1012 by the ACLU of Southern California, the nationwide ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

According to So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, the 15-page settlement that has resulted from the lawsuit provides a detailed roadmap to reform department policies and practices on use of force.

What is significant about this roadmap, is that it is not merely a series of suggestions. The settlement’s benchmarks are mandatory and the department’s efforts to reach them will be monitored the three outside experts. If the LASD is not hitting those benchmarks in a timely fashion, the department can be held in contempt. In other words, the settlement has an enforcement mechanism. It has teeth—which means it will operate in many ways like a consent decree.

“I think the department has made progress,” said Eliasberg. “But this settlement provides a significant next step.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell evidently thinks so too.

In keeping with the moves toward reform he has already made in his first half-month in office, McDonnell said in a statement that he welcomed the new “roadmap.”

“I fully support the settlement. This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the Department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes.

“We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas….”

Among the significant marks that the settlement requires the department to hit is the creation of a stand alone use of force policy for custody.

“There are gaps in the current use of force policy,” said Eliasberg, “which this fills in.”

In addition, the settlement requires improved tracking of the use of force incidents, and the use of that tracking to ID problematic officers. It also dictates more robust training in custody issues for those working the jails.

“Ideally, it’s a tool for the sheriff to use,” said Eliasberg.

Indeed, Bill Bratton made good use of the federal consent decree that had come into existence before he became chief. When needed, it became the bad cop to his good cop.

The settlement could also be very useful to the soon-to-be civilian commission, according to Eliasberg, since—as it stands now—the commission will have no legal power of its own.


You can find the actual settlement here: Final Implementation Plan (Rev 12122014 )

The three experts who will monitor the settlement’s implementation are: Richard Drooyan, the legal director for the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, Jeffrey A. Schwartz, a nationally known law enforcement and corrections consultant, and Robert P. Houston, a corrections expert who previously headed up the Nebraska state prison system.


WILL THE ACLU SETTLEMENT REALLY HELP END DEPUTY VIOLENCE AGAINST JAIL INMATES?

On the topic of the Rosas settlement, a Wednesday LA times editorial notes, the problems that the settlement aims to fix are not new ones. And they will require a very different attitude at the top levels of the sheriff’s department as a whole if they are to be realized. This enlightened attitude must belong to, not just new sheriff McDonnell, but the layers of leadership below him. Here’s a clip:

The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities. Ensuring that change in the jails is positive and permanent requires strengthening civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, demolishing and replacing Men’s Central Jail, diverting the mentally ill to treatment when their conditions require care rather than lockup, taking other steps to responsibly reduce the inmate population, and providing the department with adequate resources to operate properly.

In total, the agreements are reminiscent of the LAPD consent decree. But they lack the coherence of the LAPD consent decree, with its single set of mandates, single judge and single monitoring team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that, singly or collectively, the decrees, settlements and recommendations will enable the Sheriff’s Department to make the turnaround it needs.

The challenge for the county, and especially for McDonnell, is to respond with a remediation program that coherently weaves together the various mandates and monitoring schemes, and to do it in a way that allows the Sheriff’s Department to finally emerge from decades of substandard jailing. It will require continuing focus by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the public to ensure that the problems in the jails do not fester for another 40 years.

Yep.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

WHY SO MANY JUDGES HATE MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING LAWS

Many of the most ardent opponents of the mandatory minimum drug laws that came into being with a vengeance in the 1980s are the judges who administer them.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Marisa Peñaloza have the story. Here’s a clip:

It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.

Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody’s brother or son.

Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

“This was a different time in our history,” remembers U.S. District Judge John Gleeson. “Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”

From his chambers in Brooklyn, a short walk from the soaring bridge, Gleeson has become one of the fiercest critics of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix,” he says. “That’s a bad thing for our system.”

The rail-thin Gleeson made his name as a prosecutor. He’s a law-and-order man who had no problem sending mobster John Gotti to prison for life. But those long mandatory sentences in many drug cases weigh on Gleeson.

Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.

The judge sprinkles his opinions with personal details about the people the law still forces him to lock up for years. In one case, he points out, the only experience a small-time drug defendant had with violence was as a victim.


ONE “LIFER” SENTENCED UNDER THE 1980′S DRUG LAWS COMES HOME

NPR’s Johnson and Peñaloza further illustrate the issue of mandatory minimums with the story of Stephanie George who, at 26, never sold drugs but had bad taste in boyfriends and agreed to store drugs for her guy.

Here’s a clip:

When she went to prison on drug charges, Stephanie George was 26 years old, a mother to three young kids.

Over 17 years behind bars, her grandparents died. Her father died. But the worst came just months before her release.

“I lost my baby son,” George says, referring to 19-year-old Will, shot dead on a Pensacola, Fla., street.

“I feel bad because I’m not coming home to all of them, you know,” sobs George, now 44. “He was 4 when I left, but I miss him.”

She’s one of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under tough laws that called for decades — if not life — in prison.

Police found half a kilo of cocaine (about 1 pound) and more than $10,000 in her attic. With two small-time prior drug offenses, that meant life.

Congress designed those mandatory minimum sentences for kingpins. But over the past 20 years, they’ve punished thousands of low-level couriers and girlfriends like George.

Judge Roger Vinson sentenced her on May 5, 1997. During a recent visit to his sunny Florida chambers, the judge read from the court transcript.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing,” Vinson said. “So certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Vinson is no softie. He’s got a framed photo of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, and he thinks George was guilty. But the mandatory sentence didn’t feel fair to the judge.

“I remember sentencing Stephanie George. She was a co-defendant in that case but … I remember hers distinctly. I remember a lot of sentencings from 25 or 30 years ago. They stay in your mind. I mean, you’re dealing with lives,” the judge says, tearing up.

Vinson says his hands were tied in 1997. The president of the United States is the only person who can untie them. Last December, in this case, President Obama did just that. He commuted George’s sentence and paved the way for her release a few months later.

Dressed in all white, George walked straight into the arms of her sister, Wendy. She’s the person who refused to give up on her, then or now.

“Life sentence was not what I was going to accept,” Wendy says. “I would call lawyers and I’d ask, ‘Well, what does this sentence mean?’ and all of them would tell me the same thing, she would be there until she dies, and I said, ‘No, uh-uh.’ ”

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing | 6 Comments »

LA Supes Votes YES on Controversial ICE Partnership….Prop 47 Gathers Support & LA Times Endorses……& A New Tanaka Fan

October 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to keep a controversial immigration policy
known as 287(g), making LA only one of two counties in the state to continue to implement the 1996 statute that permits the federal government to delegate immigration enforcement powers to state and local law enforcement.

Both Riverside and San Bernardino recently chose to halt participation with 287(g), making Orange County and LA the sole California holdouts.

LA would use 287(g) only in the the LA County jails, where immigration agents are embedded, and custody personnel are trained to screen inmates for immigration status.

Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe voted for the measure, while Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.

According to KPCC's Leslie Berestein Rojas, one of the biggest reasons that the Supes and the LASD leadership favored the policy has to do with money.

Here's a clip from Berestein Rojas' story:

"It helps us maintain better records for the purpose of reimbursement from the federal government," said Anna Pembedjian, justice deputy for County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a supporter of 287(g).

What Pembedjian is referring to is a federal grant program known as SCAAP, for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Counties like Los Angeles are partially reimbursed by the Department of Justice for incarcerating certain foreign-born criminals, and the better they can document their inmate population, the better their reimbursement chances.

[SNIP]

But in recent years, funding has been cut. Los Angeles County’s annual SCAAP award has gone from roughly $15 million in the late 2000s to about $3.4 million in 2014.

The county now gets reimbursed roughly 10 cents on the dollar for every SCAAP-eligible foreign inmate, Pembedjian said. Less than before, but it’s money the county would otherwise still have to spend.

“When these individuals are arrested and serving time in our jails, we have no alternative but to provide them with the housing, the mental health care, the medical care, food and security, which costs the county taxpayers millions of dollars every year,” Pembedjian said. “It is imperative for the county to recover the money from the federal government, otherwise if forces cuts in other vital services.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who was one of the three on the board who voted to keep the program, cited public safety as the her primary motivation.

But Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said such a rationale was flawed.

"Sadly, the supervisor has chosen to ignore a mountain of evidence, including DHS’ own published statistics on the program that clearly indicate that vast majority of individuals deported under the 287(g) agreement had not been convicted of a serious crime, or had no criminal history. In 2010, 80% of the people identified for deportation under this program were not convicted of a serious felony."

Indeed, according to a 2011 report by the Migration Policy Institute, nationally, 50 percent of those snatched by the program have committed felonies or other crimes that ICE considers serious. The other half of those detained have committed misdemeanors and/or have been involved in traffic accidents.

Prior to the vote, Villagra and the So Cal ACLU had urged board members to wait until a new sheriff is chosen in November to make up their minds on 287(g). But, as with the two billion dollar jail building decision (about which they were similarly asked to hold off until November) the board declined to delay the vote.

"It is inconceivable that our County leadership has chosen to continue a failed program that has already been abandoned in over 250 jurisdictions throughout the nation- including the City of Los Angeles," said Maria Elena Durazo, of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Angelica Salas, Director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in a joint statement.

Yes, well, apparently it's not so inconceivable. But it is very disappointing.


PROP 47 AHEAD IN THE POLLS & THE LA TIMES ENDORSES IT

The New York Times' Erik Eckholm reports that, at the moment, Proposition 47 appears poised to pass, with the September poll by the Public Policy Institute showing 62 percent of voters in favor, 25 against. As you likely know, Prop 47 is the initiative that would reclassify a list of low-level felonies as misdemeanors making them punishable by at most one year in a county jail and, in many cases, by probation and counseling. The changes would apply retroactively, shortening the sentences of thousands already in prison or jails.

Although most district attorneys, and many law enforcement organizations (including the California Police Chief's Association) are against the initiative, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, the former SF police chief and former second in command for the LAPD, has become one of the measure's champions. And 47 has gathered strong support among some prominent conservatives, as well as liberals, and moderates, writes the Times' Eckholm.

Large donations in support have come from the Open Society Policy Center, a Washington-based group linked to George Soros; the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, based in New York; Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix; and Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook.

But the largest single donor is B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative Christian businessman and philanthropist based in Malibu. In one of the most tangible signs yet of growing concern among conservatives about the cost and impact of incarceration, Mr. Hughes has donated $1.255 million.

Mr. Hughes said he had been inspired by the late Chuck Colson to start prison ministry programs in California, and that his firsthand contact with prisoners and their families convinced him that the current heavy reliance on incarceration is often counterproductive.

“This is a model that doesn’t work,” he said in an interview. “For the $62,000 cost of a year in prison, you can send three kids to college,” he said. “But for me, it’s not just about the money, it’s about our fellow citizens who are hurting.”

Mr. Hughes was joined by Newt Gingrich as co-author of an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times urging citizens to vote yes....

The LA Times is the latest to endorse Proposition 47, saying that it will help California make more intelligent use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources, including the allocation of resources "to curb the likelihood of [lawbreakers] committing new crimes."

The San Francisco Chronicle endorsed 47 late last month.

Here's a clip from the Times' endorsement editorial:

Proposition 47 would do a great deal to stop the ongoing and unnecessary flow of Californians to prison for nonviolent and nonserious offenses and would, crucially, reduce the return flow of offenders from prison back to their neighborhoods in a condition — hardened by their experience, hampered by their felony records, unready for employment or education, likely mentally ill or addicted — that leaves them only too likely to offend again. It is a good and timely measure that can help the state make smarter use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources. The Times strongly recommends a "yes" vote on Proposition 47.

The measure has three parts. It would reduce sentences in California for a handful of petty crimes — drug possession and some types of theft, such as shoplifting — that currently are chargeable as either misdemeanors or felonies but should be just misdemeanors. It would open a three-year window during which inmates serving felony sentences for these crimes could apply to have their sentences reduced. And it would direct the savings from lowering the prison population to be spent on the kinds of things that, as data have shown time and again, keep significant numbers of former inmates from re-offending: substance abuse and mental health treatment, reentry support and similar services that also help crime-battered neighborhoods. Much of the savings would also be spent on truancy prevention and support for crime victims.

Opponents offer arguments that are familiar for their fear-mongering tactics but are new in some of their particulars: baseless yet ominous warnings that waves of dangerous criminals will be released; odd predictions about, of all things, date rape; acknowledgment that current sentencing is often excessive and counterproductive, but excuses for not previously having made sensible changes.

The LA Times board notes that it's too bad that such sentencing reform requires an initiative, that changes of this nature should ideally be accomplished by a non-political sentencing commission, or at the very least by state lawmakers but....dream on.

...experience shows that lawmakers, so comfortable with adding new crimes and increasing sentences, are generally incapable of lowering them in the face of pressure from law enforcement and victims' interest groups, even when overwhelming evidence points to better safety, greater savings and other positive outcomes from decreased penalties.

So a proposition is what we have---and one the Times contends will be a boon for even some of its critics:

One likely benefit of Proposition 47 is not advertised but could make a real difference: With fewer crimes charged as felonies, there would be far fewer preliminary hearings (they are not needed for misdemeanor charges), which means fewer police officers pulled off the streets to wait around in courthouses to testify, less preparation time needed by deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders, and less of a drain on local law enforcement and criminal justice budgets. It is one of many ways in which Proposition 47 would be a step forward for California.


FORMER CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF ENDORSES PAUL TANAKA. (YES, REALLY.)

In a slightly odd turn of events, former candidate for LA County Sheriff, retired LASD lieutenant Patrick Gomez, just endorsed former undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the job according to a release from Tanaka's campaign.

This wouldn't be quite so peculiar were it not for the fact that Gomez spent part of nearly every candidate debate during the primary slamming Tanaka in particular.

For instance, here is what the Daily News reported after one of the early debates:

“Gomez, meanwhile, attacked Tanaka, who had been Baca’s second in command…. “I’m going to request that the FBI request a forensic audit,” Gomez said. “Tanaka talked about being a CPA, yet the auditor released a report in January that said $138 million were mishandled from special accounts within this department. Who was responsible for that?

‘These people talk about there’s been a lack of leadership — (but) these are the leadership people — they’re the assistant sheriff and the undersheriff, current and past. We’ve got to hold them accountable when we vote on June 3rd.’ ”

We guess that everyone's entitled to change his mind if he so desires. We'd just be very curious to know what new points of view persuaded Lt. Gomez to change his in this matter.

Posted in immigration, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 33 Comments »

Contra Costa County’s Awful Juvenile Hall…..Holder to Announce Sentencing Reform…….7 Shells = 15 Years….and More

August 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

IS CONTRA COSTA COUNTY “LOCKING UP YOUTH AND THROWING AWAY THEIR FUTURES?”

An alarming class action suit filed last Thursday accuses Contra Costa’s Juvenile Hall of taking kids as young as 13 with disabilites and locking them up in solitary for 23 hours a day, while dening them education….and other such abuses.

Here’s a clip from the statement put out by Public Counsel, which brought the lawsuit along with Disability Rights Advocates, and Paul Hastings LLP,:

Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall, like all juvenile halls in the State, exists “solely for the purpose of rehabilitation and not punishment,” according to the California Supreme Court. Education is supposed to be at the center of young people’s rehabilitation.

But students at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are locked for weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and a narrow window the size of a hand. Young people are routinely held in conditions like those in a maximum security prison.

By its own estimate, roughly 32% of the students at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall have disabilities that require some form of special education. But youth with disabilities at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination: they do not receive critical special education and related services, and lacking such supports, they are locked in their cells for a variety of infractions.

Despite knowing that many students have a learning disability, mental illness, or other disabilities, Contra Costa County puts students in solitary confinement for behavior that is related to their disabilities, denies them general and special education services, and holds them in conditions that can make their disabilities worse.

Here are two examples of the kind of treatment of kids that the lawsuit alleges: :

**A 14-year-old girl identified as G.F. was put into solitary in a cell for approximately 100 days over the last year, with no education services and short breaks outside only two times a day. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit, the girl was removed from the juvenile hall county school and put into solitary, with officials failing to conduct a mandatory inquiry into whether her behavior was related to her disability.

**W.B. a 17-year-old boy — already found mentally incompetent by a juvenile court — was put into solitary for more than two months out of a four-month period. He began hearing voices, talking to himself, thought he was being poisoned and broke down into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for three weeks before being returned to the hall.

Susan Ferris, the excellent juvenile justice reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, has more on the lawsuit and on the awful conditions that helped bring it about.


HOLDER SET TO ANNOUNCE FEDERAL SENTENCING REFORMS ON MONDAY

Sari Horowitz from the Washington Post has details on some of the extremely welcome changes in federal sentencing policy that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce on Monday. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

Justice Department lawyers have worked for months on the proposals, which Holder wants to make the cornerstone of the rest of his tenure.

“A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder plans to say Monday, ­according to excerpts of his ­remarks that were provided to The Washington Post. “However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it.

As we mentioned last week, Some of Holder’s proposed reforms will require legislative changes.

And, as we also mentioned previously, , let us hope that California follows the lead of the feds with some our own desperately-needed state sentencing reforms.


STUPID SENTENCING TRICKS

As Holder prepared to announce his list of reforms, Saturday’s essay by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof provided a perfect illustration of other excesses in federal sentencing that could also use some work. Here’s a clip:

IF you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.

Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.

Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.

“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”

Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.

The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.

It should be noted that what Kristof does not explain is that Young was not altogether innocent, and that the police bust was righteous. (Sorry, but that was very sloppy, Mr. Kristof.)

It turns out that in 2011, Young had relapsed into old behavior, and had stolen tools, tires and weight lifting equipment from vehicles and a business warehouse—crimes to which he confessed when the police came knocking. Yet, for the burglaries he would have gotten a few years of Tennessee state time with the likelihood of early parole.

However, the federal charge for the seven shells means that Young will spend a full fifteen years in prison, away from his kids, not supporting his family, a punishment that is not remotely proportionate, all at a cost to the federal government of approximately $415,000.


AN EXCEPTIONALLY SANE LOOK AT REALIGNMENT, POSSIBLE EARLY RELEASES AND WHAT NEEDS TO COME NEXT

We wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the excellent LA Times editorial that talks sanely and factually about the possible early release of some prison inmates, what most desperately needs to be fixed in California’s incarceration policy…and more. Here’s a clip from the essay’s center:

…..It would be naive to consider the returning felons harmless; but it would be an act of wild self-deception to pretend that an early release order would make their homecoming any more dangerous than it would have been otherwise. The fact is, most of the prisoners in line for possible early release had been scheduled to return to the streets within the coming year anyway. The status quo in California has been, for years, the steady return of felons after two- to five-year terms who pose the same risk they did when they went in. Those returns are the chief product of our broken criminal justice system.

That’s the real point here — not that some prisoners will be moving to the post-incarceration portion of their sentences a few months early, but that California has done too little to fix a system under which we deem it normal that prisoners come out at least as dysfunctional as when they went in. Precisely because of crowding and foolish management of the inmate population, California prisons have not only fallen below a minimum constitutional level of medical and mental health care, but also have been notoriously ineffective at purging inmates of their addictions, illnesses, gang ties or antisocial attitudes. One word that appears throughout various reports and federal court orders describes the state’s prison system as “criminogenic” — referring to its high propensity to make inmates more likely, not less, to offend again after their release.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A MENTALLY ILL MAN GETS HELP INSTEAD OF BEING LOCKED UP….AGAIN?

We’ve heard over and over again that the LA County Jail system is the largest mental health hospital in the nation, with approximately 2000 mentally ill inmates housed in the county’s lock ups at any one time.

But other than getting inmates (hopefully) the right meds, the jail system does little else to provide any kind of help for those who cycle in an out of its locked doors.

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about one such frequent return customer to the jails who contacted Lopez and described how he’d managed to get out of the cycle. Here’s a clip:

There is little in Andy’s appearance or manner that offers a clue as to what he’s been through. The arrests, the jailhouse beatings, the commitments. He’s soft-spoken and unassuming, so much so that the story of his life doesn’t seem to go with the man who tells it.

I ask how many times he’s been locked up, and now a hint of distress creeps into his eyes.

“Maybe 20,” he shrugs, adding that he’s been in mental institutions nearly as many times.

Andy emailed me after I wrote about a visit to L.A. County Jail, which houses about 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s a barbaric system, with many of those inmates repeatedly filing through the turnstiles at great public cost, with little or no chance of getting help that might break the cycle.

“Before 2004, I had spent MANY a time in the L.A. County Jail.” wrote Andy, explaining that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disease. “If you’d ever like some background on surviving … the jails, I’m available. I’ve been stable and productive since 2004, and living in sunny Santa Monica.”…

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in crime and punishment, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

The NY Times on CA’s Trust Act, the Fiscal Incentives for ICE Enforcement….the MacDonald Murders… and More

September 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


THE NY TIMES SAYS JERRY BROWN SHOULD SIGN THE CALIFORNIA TRUST ACT

The Trust Act is one of the bills that are sitting on Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting a signature. This weekend the NY Times features an editorial explaining why he should sign it.
Here is how the NYT opinion piece opens:

There is a significant and immediate step Gov. Jerry Brown of California can take to protect community safety and civil liberties in his state.

He can sign the Trust Act, a recently passed state bill that prevents local police departments from turning their jails into immigration holding cells for noncriminals or minor offenders whose sentences are up or who should otherwise be out on bail. The act would require the police to let such people go, even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have issued voluntary requests, known as detainers, that they be held until they can be picked up for deportation. Only those who have been convicted of or charged with serious or violent felonies would continue to be detained at ICE’s request.

The purpose of the act is to bring state enforcement in line with federal deportation priorities — which is to focus on dangerous criminals, national-security threats and repeat offenders. It was prompted by a troubled ICE program called Secure Communities, which enlists local authorities in immigration enforcement by doing checks on everyone they fingerprint. The program has led to the deportation of tens of thousands of minor offenders or those with no criminal records. The Trust Act is one state’s way to prevent such overkill.

Most of the state’s sheriffs, LA’s Sheriff Lee Baca most prominently included, oppose the Trust Act saying that it would force them to decide whether to violate State law or federal law.

Baca has gone so far as to say he won’t enforce the thing, even if it is signed by the governor.

Only Santa Clara Sheriff, Laurie Smith, has broken from the pack to announce that she is fine with the Trust Act. In fact she took the same stance that the LAPD has long taken with Special Order 40, maintaining that forcing local police to engage in immigration enforcement to makes immigrants less likely to report the kind of serious crimes that are a genuine threat public safety, simply because they’re fearful of being deported.

And about the claim that the Trust Act, if it is allowed to go into effect, will force local law enforcement to break either federal or state law, according to more than 30 legal scholars, this either-or interpretation of the law’s potential affect is utter nonsense. Here’s the letter the profs from such schools as Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, NYU, Penn State, Davis, Georgetown, UC Irvine, Hastings, Brandeis, and more, sent to the governor on the issue.

The letter is 8-pages of legal language, which you may find interesting, but it’s bottom line may be found in the following two statements:

The Constitution does not allow the federal government to command that local sheriffs enforce a federal regulatory regime. The regulation of immigration is no exception to this rule.

The Immigration and Nationality Act makes clear that local participation in immigration can only take place with the consent of localities.


SO IS THERE A $$$ ANGLE TO ALL THIS LEGAL CONTROVERSY?

Interestingly, while most of the state’s sheriffs oppose the Trust Act and embrace Secure Communities or S-Comm, many police chiefs, like San Francisco’s and Oakland’s— are in favor of the Trust Act.

LA’s Charlie Beck has long expressed concern about the potential negative effects of enforcing S-Comm while, as mentioned above, Lee Baca is an ardent S-Comm supporter and says, if the Trust Act is passed, he won’t enforce it.

So what could cause such a difference in perspective between county and city law enforcement agencies?

Perhaps Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff has the key. Sniff, who wrote an letter urging Brown to veto the Trust Act, told David Olson of the Press-Enterprise that the bill would “… jeopardize federal funding to help pay the cost to house illegal immigrants.” Riverside, he said, has received up to $1.8 million annually for S-Comm enforcement. In other words, not locking up as many immigrants would make most or all of those nice dollars vanish.

So maybe the Trust Act isn’t a legal problem for the sheriffs as much as it is a fiscal one.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to jump one way or the other on the bill.


THE UNENDING FASCINATION WITH THE JEFFERY MACDONALD MURDER CASE CONTINUES

On Tuesday, Sept 4, the third major book on the Jeffery MacDonald murder case is being released. It is called A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, and in it, author Errol Morris, pretty much decides MacDonald is innocent of the murders of his wife and two young daughters, although Morris concedes he cannot prove MacDonald’s innocence to a certaintly.

When I say Morris’s is the third major book, I mean there have been several lessor volumes other than the two well-known examinations of the case, Fatal Vision, the monster best seller by The Selling of the President author, Joe McGinnis, and The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, a book that—love it or hate it—is now a staple in non-fiction literature courses.

The author of the newest book is, of course, the highly regarded writer/director of such stellar documentaries as The Thin Blue Line, which actually exonerated a man after it was released, and The Fog of War, which completely reframed the reputation of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara while winning Morris an Academy Award.

Sunday’s NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic and others have features on the new book.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Atlantic:

It was not quite the case of the century, but Americans of a certain age are likely to remember the savage, 1970 murders of Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and daughters and his subsequent convictions on first and second degree homicide. Or, they remember the story of the case popularized by Joe McGinniss in Fatal Vision and, perhaps, the story of McGinniss and MacDonald, told by Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer.

Now comes documentary filmmaker Errol Morris with his new book A Wilderness of Error, a devastating expose of the incompetence and corruption that enabled MacDonald’s conviction and continues to obstruct his appeals. MacDonald, now 68, has been imprisoned for 30 years, denied parole because he continues to deny his guilt, as his efforts at exoneration continue, decades after conviction. Last April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing in his case, scheduled in September 2012.

As Morris observes, it’s impossible to know “with absolute certainty” whether MacDonald is guilty or innocent. But evidence of innocence wrongly excluded from his trial, including multiple confessions from other suspects, seems considerably stronger than evidence of guilt, and Morris, a dogged, discerning investigator, makes clear that MacDonald was “railroaded.” Personally, I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that in a fair trial, a relatively unbiased jury would not have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (and I’ve contributed to his defense fund).

What went wrong in this case? The short answer, Morris suggests, is that military police and, eventually, civilian prosecutors assumed a conclusion and selected evidence to support it. “When police arrive at a scene, like any of us, they try to formulate an idea of what happened … they take the seeming chaos of a crime scene and interpret it. Often the explanation is based on convenience. It’s easier to pick one narrative about an explanation than another.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just to be clear, we aren’t taking a side in this. We’re just noting that the case continues to fascinate and frustrate a bunch of smart people, each of whom seems to read a different answer in the facts available.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE U.S. SUPREME COURT HAS TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO STOP AN EXECUTION

In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak takes a look behind the metaphorical curtain to find out what kind of process the Supremes and their respective staffs go through when they deal with requests to stay executions.

This isn’t a news story but rather a peek backstage to look at one small part of the way SCOTUS works and it’s quite intriguing. Here’s a clip:

John Balentine was an hour away from being put to death in Texas last month when the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution.

The unseemly and unsettling spectacle of a last-minute legal scramble in the shadow of the ultimate deadline, with the condemned inmate waiting for word of his fate just outside the death chamber, may suggest that the Supreme Court does not render considered justice when it is asked to halt an execution.

But it tries. Indeed, the court goes to extraordinary lengths to get ready, and its point person is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he said with a sigh, “that’s where I come in.”

Mr. Bickell’s formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers have an informal title for him, too. They call him the death clerk.

In remarks at a conference of lawyers specializing in federal death penalty work at a hotel here last month, Mr. Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court’s oversight of the machinery of death in the United States.

It starts with a weekly update…..

Posted in American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, LAPD, LASD, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Sunday/Monday Must Reads

September 20th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


UH, OH. SCALIA SAYS THE CONSTITUTION DOESN’T COVER SEX BIAS (OR BIAS AGAINST SEXUAL PREFERENCE)

Oh, Antonin, honey! Are you having one of those bad old we-don’t-need-not stinking-stare decisis moments again?

Supreme court justice Antonin Scalia said during a question-and-answer session with a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law on Friday, that the 14th amendment’s guarantee of equal protection doesn’t apply to sexual discrimination, or discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Never mind that about a zillion rulings since 1970 say otherwise about gender-based discrimination.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle.

PS: Can’t imagine what possible future SCOTUS case Scalia might be winding up for, can you?


COVERING TRIALS IN THE AGE OF TWITTER

The New Haven Register reports how the coverage of a high profile murder trial is affected by madly tweeting reporters.


9TH CIRCUIT TO DECIDE WHO OWNS THE EXPENSIVE SOFTWARE YOU JUST BOUGHT

First the bad news: A three-judge appeals panel recently decided that if you think you might want to resell that expensive piece of software you bought and don’t need anymore—tough luck, Jack! You don’t own it. The manufacturer does.

This could set a not very fun precedent for books, movies and music.

Now the maybe good news: the full, 11-judge 9th circuit court of appeals, has agreed to rehear the issue. (Whew!)

After the 9th Circuit, it could go to SCOTUS—because, my dears, precedent-wise, this ain’t no small issue we’re talking here.

UPI has lots more.


The NEW YORK TIMES TAKES UP THE STORY ON JUDGES CONSIDERING THE COST OF A SENTENCE BEFORE RULING

The NY Times writes about the pros and cons of Missouri’s new Cost of Crime policy. Here ‘s a clip:

For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.


LA WEEKLY ON CITY HALL’S SHAMEFUL SLASHING OF LIBRARY BUDGETS

Some of us have been quietly bemoaning the cuts in the Los Angeles Public Library system. But, in the current LA Weekly Patrick Range McDonald lays out the city’s slash-and-burn library policy for us in all its awfulness and detail.

Among other things, library hours have been cut back to five days a week, meaning libraries all over the city are closed on Monday.

The ranks of librarians and library staff have been cut by one third.

McDonald points out that New York and Chicago (and most other large cities, save Detroit, have protected their library systems from such ravages—particularly the two days of closures.

But not LA.

McDonald suggests that we should be cutting the GRYD gang programs instead, which I don’t agree with. (He has other suggested cuts as well.) But it’s one among a few small quibbles with an otherwise important story that should be read and contemplated—and then talked about—by all who care about the health and well being of our very precious, very desperately needed libraries.

PS: Did I mention that library usage is going up, not down, in the troubled economy? Consider it mentioned.


NYT DAVID CARR PRATTLES ON IN A CLUE-FREE MANNER ABOUT STEWART AND COLBERT’S OCT 30 MARCHES

There are some interesting points to be made regarding the dueling “I Have a March” announcements Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert made on their respective shows on Thursday night, but NY Times media critic David Carr didn’t make them in his annoyingly condescending and insight-free Sunday column on the matter.

If for some reason you don’t know about the Stewart/Colbert Oct 30 marches on the national mall, watch the videos here.

(Even if you do know about the marches, you should watch the videos.)


AND SPEAKING OF LIBRARIES, BEHOLD THE HIGHLAND PARK BOOK BOOTH!

This is brilliant. I think we should each start one in our own neighborhoods. (And if you do, please send a photo, okay?)

<strong(This photo was posted by the LA Review of Books—a new literary website launching in January 2011.)


Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Posted in Must Reads | 8 Comments »

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