Pennsylvania Governor signs bill to automatically seal criminal records for low-level offenders, reforms reducing cash bail in Maryland actually increasing number of those held without bail, and inconsistent veterans treatment court coverage exists in New York despite expansion. All of these stories and much more in the latest edition of the Friday News Roundup.
Criminal Justice News
Louisiana sees large drops in prison population a year after historic criminal justice reforms – Louisiana officials on Thursday reported significant decreases in the state’s prison population, prison admissions, and probation and parole caseloads following the first year of the state’s historic criminal justice reforms, which Gov. John Bel Edwards said have saved the state more money than initially expected. Previously the incarceration capital of the nation, Louisiana dropped this month from holding the first place spot to second place behind Oklahoma, for the highest rate of prisoners per capita per 100,000. Edwards credited the 10-bill bipartisan package aimed at reducing the prison population and addressing pressing criminal justice issues with that success. (The Advocate, LA, 6/28/18).
Gov. Wolf signs Clean Slate bill; announces investments in job training – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the bipartisan Clean Slate bill to provide low-level criminal offenders second chance to succeed in life. The legislation allows automatic sealing of criminal records of those who committed minor criminal offenses, served their sentence and had no subsequent criminal arrests for ten years. In a statement, Gov. Wolf said he is “proud to sign” the Clean Slate bill. He emphasized that the legislation will make it easier for those who have interacted with the justice system to get a job and house. It will “reduce the stigma” associated with their criminal records. (USA Herald, PA, 6/28/18).
Drug Treatment Courts
Portage’s HOPE Drug Court graduates its first class – One was “truly scared” to get out of jail. Another asked her judge to “just send me to prison” to serve time for felony crimes. A third saw her world crumble after eight years of sobriety and relapsed into the “comfort” of illegal drugs. But over the last 16 months, the three women came to find hope in recovery, support in their community and the backing of counselors, Portage County judges and even the police officers who arrested them in the past. Thursday was the first-ever graduation celebration for Portage County’s HOPE Drug Court for people convicted on felony charges. Thanks to their work on sober living, their charges have been or will be dismissed from their records. (Record-Courier, OH, 6/28/18).
How a Blind Spot in N.H.’s Juvenile Justice System Keeps Some Kids From Getting Help – The juvenile justice system in New Hampshire is built around the idea of rehabilitation. Instead of going to jail, young people who commit crimes gain access to services like counseling and substance abuse treatment to address the underlying causes of their behavior. But a blind spot in the state’s juvenile justice system can keep some kids from getting the help they need. So, why didn’t the juvenile system offer Trent the same services it did before? Because even though Trent was breaking the law on a regular basis, he wasn’t getting charged with the right crimes. To understand this, I spoke with Tim Harrington, a defense attorney and a former prosecutor. He explained to me that the juvenile justice system only has jurisdiction over misdemeanors and felonies. It doesn’t handle what are called violation-level offenses. (New Hampshire Public Radio, NH, 7/2/18).
Reforms intended to end excessive cash bail in Md. are keeping more in jail longer, report says – A rule intended to reduce the jail population and eliminate excessive cash bails for the poor in Maryland has actually resulted in more defendants being detained without the option of pretrial release, according to a recent report by groups advocating the end of mass incarceration. The increase in “no-bail” holds violates the spirit of rules that the Maryland Court of Appeals adopted to address concerns over racial and financial inequities in the cash-bail system, public defenders and advocates say. The trends found in the June report track similar findings from studies conducted by Princeton University and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender as well as anecdotal observations from local public defenders. (Washington Post, MD, 7/2/18).
Supreme Court Urges Legislature to Act on SPD Rate, Raises Pay for Court-Appointments – The Wisconsin Supreme Court has issued a final order regarding a petition to raise the hourly rate that lawyers are paid to take court-appointed cases, and the rate that private bar attorneys are paid to take State Public Defender appointments. Last month, the Supreme Court announced its decision to raise the rate paid to court-appointed lawyers, such as guardians ad litem, from $70 per hour to $100. The rate paid to court-appointed lawyers is governed by Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 81.02. In the final order, the Supreme Court (5-2) explained why it declined to declare the $40 rate “unreasonable” but highlighted major concerns for indigent defendants who have a right to effective counsel and suggested lawmakers should act before a “confrontation in the form of a constitutional challenge” reaches the Supreme Court’s docket. (State Bar of Wisconsin, WI, 6/29/18).
Poor and need a lawyer in Missouri? The public defender system is failing its clients – The long battle to provide adequate legal help for Missouri’s indigent criminal defendants continues. The Missouri Court of Appeals recently ordered Jackson County Presiding Judge John Torrence to take evidence concerning the workloads of two public defenders in the county. The defenders contend they and their colleagues are too busy to provide effective counsel for criminal suspects, which the Constitution guarantees. This latest spat is just one part of an ongoing effort to provide adequate legal help for indigents accused of a crime. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a separate federal lawsuit in Missouri, claiming spending for indigent defense in the state is simply too low. (The Kansas City Star, MO, 6/29/18).
Officials told Nevada lacks indigent defendant services – The executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center said Thursday Nevada needs to provide more support and services to improve legal representation to indigent defendants in the state’s rural counties. David Carroll told the Right to Counsel Commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry the U.S. Supreme Court says under the 14th Amendment, “the state must guarantee local government is capable of providing adequate representation and must ensure they are doing so.” He said Nevada has no mechanism to oversee the indigent defense process operated independently by most of the state’s counties. (The Nevada Appeal, NV, 6/28/18).
ABA Resolution 114: An Important Right to Counsel Measure – At its mid-year meeting in February, the American Bar Association adopted Resolution 114, an important right-to-counsel measure intended to ensure that counsel will be provided as a matter of right to low-income persons in all proceedings that may result in a loss of physical liberty. The ABA addressed a perceived gap in its existing policy on the right to counsel in civil cases. (The Legal Intelligencer, 6/28/18).
Contract public defenders sue Montana over hourly rate decrease due to budget cuts – Attorneys who do contract work for the state Office of Public Defender are suing the office for reducing their hourly reimbursement rates from $62 to $56 due to state budget cuts. Filed on May 10, the lawsuit seeks damages and to reinstate the previous rates. While the contract signed by the attorneys says it is subject to change by the Montana Public Defender Commission, the attorneys argue that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling says the government can’t change the terms of a public contract just to save money. The legal argument hinges on whether the state breached the memorandum of understanding with its decision to cut rates, causing contract attorneys “financial harm.” (The Independent Record, MT, 6/27/18).
Veterans Treatment Court
Despite expansion, inconsistent access to veteran treatment courts – By last year, nearly half of New York’s counties had a veterans court and, according to the governor’s office, more than 4,500 veterans have been helped across the state between 2008 and early 2017. However, one-third of veterans in New York still do not have access to such courts, and some advocates say that could be mitigated by allowing cases to be more easily transferred into jurisdictions with veterans courts. Carlucci sponsored legislation last session to allow district attorneys to refer cases to problem-solving courts across jurisdictions. While the bill did pass the state Senate, it did not get through the Assembly. (City and State, NY, 7/3/18).
Makeshift Court at Annual Stand Down Event Saves Taxpayers Money – The 31st annual Stand Down event opened its doors Friday to hundreds of homeless and needy military veterans. The three-day event is a one-stop self-help station on a field next San Diego High School hosted by the Veterans Village of San Diego. One of the most popular features is a makeshift courtroom set up with the San Diego County Superior Court. Public defenders and judges volunteer their time to help veterans settle legal issues and court cases. A spokeswoman with VVSD said the public defenders at Stand Down last year saved veterans $103,000 by successfully representing them in the makeshift courtroom, which is situated on racquetball courts near the school. Bollinger said it saves taxpayers money and makes communities safer in the long run. (NBC San Diego, CA, 6/30/18).
Veterans Treatment Court to help vets with transportation – Some veterans in Lorain County will be getting help with transportation through a grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. According to a Thursday news release from Lorain County Veteran Treatment Court Judge James Walther, the seven new bikes, helmets and locks were purchased for veterans who don’t have driver’s licenses. The court also purchased bus tickets and gas cards to assistant veterans. The Veterans Treatment Court Team will determine which veterans will receive help from the grant. (The Chronicle, OH, 6/29/18).
First-ever graduating class of NKY Veterans Treatment Court celebrates fresh start – A dozen veterans in Northern Kentucky are celebrating a path to a clean and sober life. Friends and loved ones gathered at the Campbell County Courthouse to celebrate the inaugural graduating class from Northern Kentucky Veterans Treatment Court. The graduates beginning new paths Wednesday said their journeys are far from over. “I’m not done yet, and we’re not done yet. This is something we have to deal with the rest of our lives,” Jasper said. (WLWT5, KY, 6/27/18)