Friday News Roundup: May 3, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read about the presidential candidates’ debates over voting rights for individuals who are incarcerated, the unexpected surge of a possible meth crisis, problem-solving courts in Indiana, and more.

Criminal Justice News

Bail Reforms Promise Relief for Colorado’s Poorest

This week Colorado took a step toward reforming a cash bail system that burdens the state’s low-income defendants. House Bill 1225, which eliminates cash bail for low-level offenses, sailed through the Capitol with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law on Thursday by Gov. Jared Polis. Many of the advocates who pushed HB-1225 have also argued that cash bail should be eliminated altogether, but there is no strong evidence that that will happen any time soon in Colorado. Two other bills are also currently pending in the state to give relief to those in jail pre-trial. (Colorado Independent, News Partner, Patch, April 28, 2019)

Cory Booker Sidesteps Debate Over Letting Prisoners Vote, Calls It ‘Frustrating’

Sen. Cory Booker expresses frustration by the conversation around whether people convicted of felonies should be able to vote in prison, calling it a distraction from deeper inequities in the justice system. Booker’s comments come amid a debate among Democrats running for president in 2020 on voting rights for incarcerated individuals. Booker said that his focus, instead, is on “tearing down the system of mass incarceration so that we don’t even have to have the debate about people’s voting rights ― because they’re not going to prison in the first place. People that don’t belong there are there.” (Levine, Huff Post, April 30, 2019)

They’re Haunted by ‘Ghost Warrants’ Years After Their Arrests

This human interest article tells the story of Causey Davis, who found himself haunted by arrest warrants which court records had shown were dismissed 25 years ago. Ghost warrants, or “sticky warrants,” can stay alive even after time is served or charges are dismissed. A clerk might fail to type the judge’s order into the court record, or to transfer that updated record over to the sheriff’s office to be entered into its database of warrants. So when a deputy pulls the person over years later, it looks like they are still wanted for the same crime. According to a Marshall Project survey, this can be especially prevalent in the South, where many courts keep paper records. (Hager, The Marshall Project, April 29, 2019)

Ralph Northam: I Won’t Sign Another Mandatory Minimum Sentence Bill into Law. Here’s Why.

This opinion piece by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam discusses why he won’t sign another mandatory minimum sentence bill into law. These kinds of sentences are determined by elected officials, and then judges are not given the opportunity to arrive at sentences by weighing the facts on a case-by-case basis. Northam says he signed one such bill into law, regarding police officer murders, and will not be signing a mandatory minimum sentence bill again for the remainder of his term, as there are already 200 in the state of Virginia. (Northam, The Washington Post, May 1, 2019)

Criminal Justice Reforms Will Require Changes in Culture, Experts Say

Crime is down in Arizona, so why is the incarceration rate only increasing? In a group discussion held at the ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy on Tuesday, panelists discussed this complex issue as well as gave recommendations to help understand the discrepancy between crime and incarceration rates. Their recommendations included focusing on evidence-based decision-making, providing early interventions to keep people out of prison, and creating and funding an adequate number of inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, among many more recommendations. (Faller, ASU Now, April 30, 2019)

Washington: Lawmakers Pass Legislation Facilitating Expungement of Past Marijuana Convictions

Senate Bill 5605 was passed on Wednesday by the Washington State House and Senate, which aids in the expungement of low-level marijuana convictions. The legislation now requires action taken by Gov. Jay Inslee, who has a history of supporting pardons for those with records based on marijuana violations. Once signed, the law will go into effect on July 27, 2019 and it will provide the courts with the option to vacate any misdemeanor marijuana charge. (Armentano, NORML Blog, May 1, 2019)

Drug Court News

Indiana Reaches Milestone with 100 Problem-Solving Courts

Indiana’s court system has reached a new milestone with the implementation of the state’s 100th problem-solving court; a veterans treatment court. This court will be among the 100 others that specialize in handling topics that include drug-treatment, veterans, mental health, and domestic violence. The Pulaski County Judge says this “highlights the need and possibilities for rural communities around the state to provide comprehensive services.” (San Francisco Chronicle, Indianapolis, IN, April 28, 2019)

Opioid News

As Meth Use Surges, First Responders Struggle to Help Those in Crisis

While public health officials have focused on the opioid epidemic in recent years, another epidemic has been quietly brewing behind the scenes. According to recent reports, Methamphetamine use is surging in parts of the US, particularly the West, leaving first responders and addiction treatment providers struggling to handle a rising need. Across the country, overdose deaths involving methamphetamine more than quadrupled from 2011 to 2017. Throughout the West and Midwest, 70% of local law enforcement agencies say meth is their biggest drug threat. (Dembosky, National Public Radio, May 1, 2019)

Public Defense News

Court: No Public Defender Unless Jail Time Is at Stake

The Montana Supreme Court ruled 5-0 on Wednesday that a judge can’t order a public defender to represent a defendant if no jail time is at stake. The maximum penalty for first-offense theft of property not exceeding $1,500 is a $500 fine without the potential for jail time. Though Steven Fagenstrom, Cascade County Justice of the Peace arguing this case, said that a state law barring the agency from representing individuals when incarceration isn’t a possible punishment is unconstitutional, the high court ruled that the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee the right to counsel at public expense for such misdemeanor offenses. (San Francisco Chronicle, Helena, MT, May 1, 2019)