Every day we are bombarded with news and information on our feeds, social media accounts, on television, and in our email inboxes. It can be hard to decide between all of our obligations what is truly newsworthy and what is just noise. This weekly roundup pulls from across the internet to find the best and most interesting stories about treatment courts, juvenile justice, public defense, the right to counsel, and big news in the criminal justice world.
Criminal Justice News
Deal reached on massive criminal justice bill – A handful of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses would be repealed [in Massachusetts] and the state’s approach to juvenile offenders overhauled in a sweeping criminal justice bill released Friday by House and Senate lawmakers. The bill would eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences for what lawmakers described as “low-level drug offenses,” including first and second offenses for cocaine possession, and require district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for veterans and those suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders. (The Berkshire Eagle, MA, 3/23/18).
Louisiana could lengthen probation period after shortening it 5 months ago – An attempt to undo part of the Louisiana’s historic criminal justice overhaul approved just last year moved forward in the Legislature Wednesday (March 21). State Rep. Sherman Mack’s proposal would automatically lengthen probation periods to five years from three years, reversing a change that took effect just five months ago as part of a package of revisions meant to lower Louisiana’s highest-in-the-country incarceration rate. Under Mack’s bill, probation and parole officers would be required to write reports on the people they supervise on a regular basis. They currently handle hundreds of cases at a time, and Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, said the additional workload would be significant. (The Times-Picayune, LA, 3/21/18).
Drug Treatment Courts
Legislators want to study bringing opioid courts to Connecticut – As deaths and overdoses spike, a group of legislators thinks Connecticut should change the way court cases for opioid addicts are handled. The Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday to create a task force to study the feasibility of establishing opioid intervention courts in the state. The Senate will need to vote on the bill before it becomes law. Among other drug programs, the state already has two drug intervention courts in Danielson and New Haven. They treat people dependent on all kinds of drugs, often who have committed a string of nonviolent offenses. (News Times, CT, 3/28/18).
Pregnant, newly-parenting women in drug court get help from $30K grant – The Friends of the New Hampshire Drug Courts received a $30,000 grant to help drug court participants who are pregnant or have young children meet critical financial needs that could impact their recovery or their child’s safety. The Fund for Pregnant and Newly-Parenting Women is the first program of its type in the New Hampshire drug court system and is believed to be the first implemented nationally. The funds came from an anonymous donor through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. (Manchester Ink Link, NH, 3/28/18).
Washington County adult drug-court program planned in light of opioid crisis; juvenile program being phased out – Washington County Circuit Court [in Maryland] is phasing out a juvenile drug-court program due to lack of participation and is planning a similar program for adults in light of the opioid epidemic. The juvenile program is expected to wrap up by the end of the year after the four remaining participants finish, Bricker said. The goal is to launch the Washington County adult program no later than January, starting with 40 participants. Similar to the juvenile program, it will involve a team approach. (Herald-Mail Media, MD, 3/27/18).
New legislation prompts reduction in size of drug court – The Medford Adult Drug Court [in Oregon], a place where felons on parole or probation can go to integrate back into society rather than go to prison, will see some changes. Since the last legislative session, drug crimes for first time offenders have been scaled back from a felony to a misdemeanor. This will cause the program to scale down since it will be serving fewer people. Adult Drug Court will be integrated with Recovery Opportunities Court. The positive: people won’t have a felony on their background. The negative: this may not be an incentive to get sober. (KTVL News 10, OR, 3/23/18).
Editorial: Revival of juvenile drug court an important step – Almost two decades ago, Cabell County pioneered West Virginia’s first juvenile drug court. In 1999, the county served as the pilot for the strategy, which aims to rehabilitate non-violent youth who have drug dependencies or behavioral issues related to drug use. In late 2006, it was shut down for more than nine months because of personnel changes. Then, again in 2015, it stopped functioning after a probation officer involved in the program moved and was not replaced. For that same reason, it behooves the state of West Virginia to continue to push for juvenile drug courts serving more of its counties. Youth in those areas also deserve an opportunity for a second chance. (Williamson Daily News, WV, 3/23/18).
NAMI chapter president seeks to establish mental health diversion court – Deborah Weed has seen how people diagnosed with mental illnesses can have their lives thrown into disarray when they end up in the criminal justice system. As president of Bowling Green’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Weed has offered a space for support group meetings and other services for people with mental illness, but an arrest and a stint in jail can undo their progress. At a meeting last week at The Wellness Connection, a NAMI-operated facility, Weed and stakeholders from several medical, law enforcement and legal agencies discussed how to go about seeking support for a mental health court program similar to ones in Lexington, Louisville, Elizabethtown and northern Kentucky. (Bowling Green Daily News, KY, 3/24/18).
His Clients Weren’t Complaining. But the Judge Said This Lawyer Worked Too Hard. – A criminal defense lawyer in Galveston, Tex., says he was pulled off cases defending poor clients because he spent too much time on them and requested funds to have their charges investigated. Needless to say, his clients were not the ones complaining. Instead, it was the judge, Jack Ewing, who appoints lawyers for those in his courtroom who cannot afford them. This new case, though, exposes another potential problem: Indigent defense lawyers often get their assignments from the judges in whose courtroom they appear. This discourages a robust defense, experts say, and leads to an emphasis on resolving cases quickly. (The New York Times, NY, 3/29/18).
El Paso County’s poor getting better legal help after critical 2014 audit – El Paso County’s indigent defense system has come a long way in addressing a series of problems discovered in a 2014 audit by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, according to a 2018 report. Among the concerns from the TIDC in 2014 were that felony and misdemeanor cases were not fairly distributed among appointed attorneys and that poor inmates at the county jail were not given legal representation in a timely manner as required by law. The latest report found that El Paso County officials have addressed all the issues. (El Paso Times, TX, 3/26/18).
Does the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel Apply Prior to Indictment? – Yesterday, in Turner v. United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, considered whether this right applies prior to criminal indictment. By a vote of 12-4, the Sixth Circuit concluded the answer is “no” — at least under current precedent. Writing for ten of the court’s sixteen judges, Judge Alice Batchelder concluded binding Supreme Court precedent provides that the right does not attach prior to indictment. (Reason, D.C., 3/24/18).
Federal judge tosses lawsuit over your right to a lawyer – A federal judge has dismissed a potential class action lawsuit filed against Utah over your right to a lawyer. Six men, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, sued the state over its indigent defense system. They accused the state of failing to provide them with adequate legal representation. Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you have a right to an attorney if you cannot afford one. It was those changes by the legislature that prompted U.S. District Judge David Nuffer to dismiss the case. He also said the ACLU did not challenge how taxpayer money was allocated to counties for indigent defense. (Fox 13 Salt Lake City, UT, 3/24/18).
Public defender crisis leaves woman with no lawyer, jailed in police officer’s death – Tammy Widger, after more than two weeks in a Henry County jail and facing a felony murder charge in the shooting death of a police officer, still does not have a lawyer. Unable to afford an attorney, she has applied for a public defender. But the head of her local public defender’s office has said it might be too overburdened with cases to help her. Widger’s case is just one example of a statewide crisis in Missouri’s public defender system, which has long been troubled but has begun to experience more breakdowns in the past six months. How Tammy Widger will make her way through the system is unclear. (The Kansas City Star, MO, 3/22/18).
Veterans Treatment Courts
Veterans court nears launch – Howard County, [Indiana’s] latest specialty court will soon be launching, and it’s hoped locals will lend a hand in helping participants succeed. Parry expects a provisional deal to be struck with the state by the first week of April. That deal will allow veterans to partake in the court, which would provide specialized assistance to veterans facing criminal charges, with treatment offerings expected to range from substance abuse treatment to help for issues associated with military service, such as PTSD. But beyond that, Parry also intends to recruit mentors to help guide the veterans. Eventually, the program will start with just Howard County participants, said Parry. However, it eventually will expand to Miami, Cass, and Fulton counties as well. (Kokomo Perspective, IN, 3/23/18).
Disagreement on funding veterans programs in Muskegon – Leaders in Muskegon, [Michigan] say the county veterans center will continue to offer as many, or more services, but there is a disagreement on how to pay for it. For 24 years the county has collected a property tax just to pay for veterans programs. But now, instead of asking voters to renew, or slightly increase that millage, they may use a law that allows assessment of property taxes for veterans programs without voter approval. (WZZM13, MI, 3/22/18).
Benjamin Marchman is a student assistant in the Justice Programs Office.