Friday News Roundup: August 30, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: Read what one woman is doing to help the drug and family wellness court community, how Seattle is addressing the ‘war on drugs’, how two overworked public defenders and six judges ending up giving a life sentence and more top headlines in criminal justice.

Drug Treatment News

Alabama’s Energetic ‘Artlady’ Brings Light and Hope to Drug Court

Read the profile of artist Sonya Clemons, who began a program she named Pictures of Hope three years ago. She offers art classes to participants of Drug Court and Family Wellness Court and their children, donating her own money and time. “I’m not a law expert, I’m not a therapist,” she says. “I’m just an Artlady. And I have never seen grown, tattooed, burly men so excited over art class.” (Matthews,, August 28, 2019)

Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572 Million in Landmark Opioid Trial

An Oklahoma judge ruled that Johnson & Johnson had intentionally played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids, ordering the company to pay the state $572 million in the first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers. The amount fell short of the $17 billion judgment that Oklahoma had sought, hoping to pay for addiction treatment, drug courts, and other services it needs over the next 20 years to repair the damage done by the opioid epidemic. The ruling may point to what lies ahead in 2,000 more lawsuits. (Hoffman, The New York Times, August 26, 2019)

Seattle Has Figured Out How to End the War on Drugs

Read this opinion piece advocating for diversion and drug treatment as Seattle is decriminalizing the use of hard drugs, relying less on the criminal justice toolbox to deal with hard drugs and more on the public health toolbox. Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg has supported the policy, arguably because of his little sister’s substance use disorder. (Kristof, The New York Times, August 23, 2019)

Public Defense

How Two Overworked Public Defenders and Six Judges Left a New Orleans Man With a Life Sentence

In the two years Landon Quinn’s trial attorneys represented him, one was handling 711 other felony cases. The other took on 543, including another death penalty case. The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals recommends that a public defender take no more than 150 cases per year. Quinn was convicted and sentenced with one of the least reliable forms of evidence: cross-racial eyewitness tying him to the crime. Both attorneys had the evidence to impeach the eyewitness who was the entirety of the state’s case, and evidence supporting Quinn’s alibi. (Balko, The Washington Post, August 28, 2019)

Juvenile Justice

ABA Urges Supreme Court to Follow Miller Standard for Juvenile Punishments

The American Bar Association urged the US Supreme Court to rule that youth should not face life in prison, in an amicus brief filed Tuesday. The ABA argues that young people’s “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform” separate them from adults and that youths’ crimes reflect “transient immaturity, rather than irreparable corruption.” The Supreme Court is currently considering Mathena v. Malvo, but has previously held that the Eighth Amendment limits youth punishments, even in homicide cases. (Robert, ABA Journal, August 28, 2019)

Minnesota County Sending At-Risk Kids to Other States Despite Concerns About Care

A juvenile correctional facility in northern Minnesota closed three years ago after reports exposed mistreatment of minors, and over the past two years staff has sent youth to other states for treatment 85 times, a 42 percent increase. Experts say young people should be near family and get treatment in familiar surroundings. However, some were  sent to states as far away as Utah, and some are in facilities that have had troubled histories, including allegations of sexual abuse, assault, and improper behavior by staff. (Scheck & Gilbert, APM reports, August 23, 2019)

Criminal Justice News

California Has a Chance to Repeal a Building Block of Lengthy Prison Sentences

California might repeal a sentencing enhancement that, while discretionary, affected a third of people in 2017. Senate Bill 136 is making its way through the state legislature and would do away with the enhancement which allows for a year to be added to any felony sentence for a previous felony conviction that resulted in a sentence of prison or jail time, regardless of the length or nature of the prior or current convictions. California has over 100 sentencing enhancements, but repealing this one could have significant impact. (Gullapalli, The Appeal, August 28, 2019)

Orleans Parish Criminal Court Financing in Question After Appeals Court Upholds ‘Debtor’s Prison’ Ruling

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that criminal court judges in Orleans Parish have an “institutional conflict of interest” in ruling on whether convicts are too poor to pay the fines and fees that go to the court’s own budget. This is following a lawsuit, filed by several plaintiffs, that the court routinely broke the law by issuing arrest warrants for convicted defendants’ failure to pay court fines without giving them a chance to plead poverty. It likely means, barring a successful appeal to the US Supreme Court, that the local court must set up a neutral forum to make those determinations before anyone can be forced to pay under threat of jail. (Simerman, The Times-Picayune, August 26, 2019)