New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signs bill into law making jail phone calls free, Kendall County graduates first class of drug court participants, and a Louisiana judge rules Orleans Parish bail structure is unconstitutional. All these stories and much more below in the latest Friday News Roundup.
Criminal Justice News
Phone Calls From New York City Jails Will Soon Be Free – People who end up in jail in New York City will now be able to use the phones there for free, after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law on Monday that will eliminate the charge. Prison-rights groups say making the calls free is fundamentally about fairness. About three quarters of people in the city’s jails have not been convicted of a crime and are there awaiting trial. Regardless of their status, people at the jail are required to pay fees to call family or lawyers on the outside. (The New York Times, NY, 8/6/18)
Criminal Record Question Nixed From Common Application for College -Starting next year, the country’s most widely used college application form will stop asking prospective students about whether they have a criminal record. The surprise decision comes more than a decade after the question first appeared on The Common Application — and years after activists began railing against it as discouraging and discriminatory to those with a criminal past.
New Orleans judge has ‘substantial’ conflict of interest in setting bonds, federal court finds – Days after a federal judge ruled that the fines and fees system at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court is unconstitutional, a second judge has issued a similar ruling against Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell. Cantrell has an unavoidable conflict of interest when he sets bail amounts that help pay for his court’s operations, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon declared Monday. The result is a “substantial” violation of the constitutional rights of poor defendants who remain behind bars solely because they can’t make bail, the judge said. Advocates have long argued that Louisiana’s “user pays” court system disproportionately punishes the poor. They have called on the state Legislature to find some other way to fund the courts. The federal judge’s preliminary ruling strikes a major blow to the system used for setting bonds in Orleans Parish, but Fallon did not lay out an alternative process in his 30-page order. (The New Orleans Advocate, LA, 8/6/18)
Choctaw, Chickasaw nations file opioid lawsuits – Two more governmental entities have filed lawsuits against major opioid manufacturers and distributors in Oklahoma courts, arguing that the companies employed purposeful deception that devastated communities. Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton and Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby held a joint press conference with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on Friday to announce the filings. As in similar lawsuits, the chief and governor said opioid makers deliberately hid from doctors and the public how dangerous their drugs were. They said those companies created a public health crisis that has damaged families, hurt residents and took a heavy toll on law enforcement, public health and service providers. Anoatubby said the opioid epidemic has been ravaging his community for too long, and the time for action has come. (The Journal Record, OK, 8/3/18)
Drug Treatment Courts
Kendall County drug court graduates its first class: ‘I have a lot of lost time to make up with my kids’ – Jennifer Molitor used heroin for more than 10 years and had been in and out of prison. She knew she needed to make a change and signed up to be one of Kendall County’s first drug court participants. After completing 511 morning check-in calls, 149 random drug tests, 28 days of residential treatment and 206.5 hours of treatment through the Kendall County Health Department, Molitor was one of two to graduate last week in Kendall County’s first drug court class. Kendall County is one of the last of its surrounding counties to start a drug court program, Public Defender Victoria Chuffo said, and “it’s been a long time coming.” (The Chicago Tribune, IL, 8/2/18)
Grand jury, citing Herald series, laments lack of progress in juvenile justice reform – Members of a Miami-Dade grand jury pronounced themselves “saddened” to learn that Florida’s juvenile justice system remains plagued by “horrific problems” more than a decade after a previous grand jury decried conditions at the Miami lockup — but also pleased that reform is underway as the result of a Miami Herald series. Included in the reforms: a 10 percent, across-the-board pay raise for detention and probation officers, and a new law that allows lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, and public defenders to inspect juvenile justice lockups and treatment programs “at their pleasure,” the report said. The Legislature also approved $1 million in new dollars to upgrade surveillance cameras where juveniles are in custody. (The Miami-Herald, FL, 8/1/18)
Bugging conversations between criminal defendants and their lawyers is bad news – Explanations in defense of the recording basically boil down to this: The law allows law enforcement agencies to bug jail cells, the criminal courthouse is essentially an extension of the jail, the conference room sometimes holds defendants without their lawyers, recording the attorney-client conversation was inadvertent, they didn’t listen to the recording and don’t plan to, and it’s no big deal. But criminal defendants also have a 6th Amendment right to counsel, and that means being able to speak freely with their lawyers without fear that their private conversations will be overheard, recorded and used against them by prosecutors, regardless of the room in which they are conferring. Law enforcement ought to bend over backwards to protect those rights. (The Los Angeles Times, CA, 8/6/18)
Judges in public defender case skeptical of federal role – Judges hearing an appeal Monday on whether putting poor defendants on wait lists for an attorney violates their constitutional rights appeared skeptical as to whether it was the federal court’s job to step in or whether there was still a need to do so. The ACLU sued the New Orleans and state public defenders in 2016 on behalf of three defendants after the New Orleans body began putting some poor defendants on wait lists to get an attorney. The Orleans Public Defenders argued they didn’t have the resources and staffing to fairly defend those clients. The ACLU would like the federal courts to declare the wait lists a violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights. A lower court judge acknowledged a “serious systemic problem” in Louisiana’s indigent-defense system, but said the issues should be addressed in the appeals process. (Star Tribune, LA, 8/6/18)
Veterans Treatment Courts
Waco: Judges take steps to create veterans court – After the current docket of state jail felonies in Waco’s 74th State District Court is exhausted, the court’s judge will no longer accept felony cases and will focus instead on creating a veterans court, 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother said Thursday evening. Strother said he and 74th State District Court Judge Gary Coley met recently to discuss the court’s responsibilities and after the discussion decided to suspend Coley’s responsibility for state jail felonies and have him concentrate instead on developing and operating a veterans court. (KWTX 10, TX, 8/2/18)