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Mosley Comes Back to LA, WA State’s Public Defender Crisis & George Will on Juvie LWOP


PATT MORRISON TALKS TO NOVELIST WALTER MOSLEY ABOUT A SORTA RETURN TO LA AND ABOUT THE REAPPEARANCE OF EASY RAWLINS

Walter Mosley’s best novels have always woven strong threads of social justice commentary into the fabric of the pure literary entertainment. This has been especially true of Mosley’s books featuring the character of Easy Rawlins, a couple of which were set during and just after the Watt’s riots. Taken as a whole, the Easy Rawlins series explores race relations in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the end of the 1960’s, but does so through consummate storytelling.

It appeared that Mosley had left Rawlins behind when the author moved to New York and launched a whole new series set on the east coast.

But in this LA Times interview with Mosley, Patt Morrison suggests that we’re going to see more of Easy Rawlins, and more of Mosley’s social justice communiques embedded in his deliciously distinctive prose.

Here’s how the interview opens:

You can take Walter Mosley out of Los Angeles — in fact, Mosley did so himself, moving to New York decades ago — but you can’t take L.A. out of Walter Mosley. The master of several genres keeps the city present, from his Easy Rawlins detective novels set in black postwar Los Angeles to the Greek-myths-in-South-Central elements in one of the two novellas in his latest volume. Mosley appeared to wrap it up with Rawlins in “Blonde Faith” in 2007, but five years later, he’s found more for his most famous detective to do, just as Mosley has for himself. He has a fledgling production company, B.O.B. (for “Best of Brooklyn”) Filmhouse, and still writes with one foot in 212 and another here in 213.

Read on.


WASHINGTON STATE’S COUNTIES TO INDIGENT DEFENDANTS: SORRY YOUR DEFENSE SUCKS, BUT WE’RE CUTTING COSTS


In ruling handed down earlier this month, the Washington State Supreme Court took a look at the absurdly large caseloads
that many criminal public defenders were carrying, and quite logically concluded that the PD’s couldn’t possibly give their clients anything resembling an adequate defense.

Thus the WA Court set down strict limits on the public defenders’ caseloads.

Now Gene Johnson of the AP has a story about how the the counties simply don’t have the money to pay for extra PDs to lower those caseload numbers.

Here are some clips from the AP story:

By a 7-2 vote this month, the justices adopted new case limits for public defenders — lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants. The standards say that beginning in September 2013, public defenders should not handle more than 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases or 150 felony cases a year, limits designed to make sure the lawyers have enough time to devote to their clients and ensure those defendants are getting their constitutional right to an attorney.

The caseloads have been especially high in city courts that handle misdemeanors, with public defenders sometimes taking on 1,000 or more cases annually. Now, city officials busy preparing next year’s budgets basically have two options: Provide more money to law firms that represent poor defendants or charge fewer people with crimes.

[SNIP]

The high court acknowledged the financial burden the ruling would place on cities and counties but said the move is essential in guaranteeing that everyone has adequate legal representation.

The workloads of public defenders have long been an issue. The cities of Burlington and Mount Vernon are being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which says the two lawyers hired to handle misdemeanor cases took on more than 2,100 cases in 2010 alone, and rarely if ever met with their clients or investigated cases.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik said evidence suggests that the appointment of public defenders in those cities is “little more than a sham.”

The cities deny that the plaintiffs’ rights were violated and said that even if the public defenders were incompetent or overworked, the cities aren’t liable.

Wow. (And not in a good way.)


GEORGE WILL LOOKS AT JUVIE LIFERS, JUDICIAL CONSTRUCTIONALISM, AND THE CONCEPT OF CRUEL AND UNUSUAL

Conservative columnist George Will had a very thoughtful column in the Wa PO about this week’s juvenile LWOP ruling. Here’s how it opens:

In the 1790s, a Tennessee man convicted of horse theft got off easy. Instead of being hanged, as horse thieves often were, he was sentenced to “stand in the pillory one hour, receive thirty-nine lashes upon his bareback well laid on, have his ears nailed to the pillory and cut off, and that he should be branded upon one cheek with the letter H and on the other with the letter T, in a plain and visible manner.” Tennessee could not do that today because of what the Supreme Court has called “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The Eighth Amendment, ratified in 1791, forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Originalism holds that the Constitution’s language should be construed to mean what the words meant at the time to those who wrote and ratified the Constitution. On Monday, a Supreme Court ruling about punishment vexed the four justices (John G. Roberts Jr., Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.) most sympathetic to originalism, who dissented. The majority held that sentencing laws that mandate life imprisonment without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders violate the Eighth Amendment.

In 1999, Kuntrell Jackson, 14, and two others, 14 and 15, robbed a video store in Blytheville, Ark. The 15-year-old fatally shot the store clerk. Jackson, who had a juvenile arrest record, was tried as an adult for aggravated robbery and felony capital murder. He was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

By 2002, Evan Miller, 14, a victim of serious domestic abuse, had tried to kill himself five times. He and another youth, after drinking and smoking marijuana with a 52-year-old man whose trailer was next door to the Millers’ in Lawrence County, Ala., tried to rob him while he slept. He awoke, they beat him with a baseball bat, set fire to his trailer and he burned to death. Miller was sentenced to life without a possibility of parole.

Because of their offenses, both Jackson and Miller were automatically tried as adults. Both were sentenced under mandatory sentencing laws.

On Monday, Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits such sentences when they are mandatory. Previously, the court had held that, regarding children, such sentences are akin to the death penalty, which the court said requires individuation — consideration by sentencing authorities of each defendant’s characteristics and crime.

This ruling extends two others, one holding that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children under 18, the other that it bars life without parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense…


Photo of Walter Mosley in 2007 at the Brooklyn Book Festival by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

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