Friday News Roundup: September 27, 2019

Friday News Roundup

This week in the news: The shockingly high number of warrants in New Orleans, how drug-related violence can complicate justice reform, an indigenous drug treatment court in Montana presents its first graduates, tenant representation approved by voters but where will the money come from, and more. 

Criminal Justice

One in 7 Adults in New Orleans Have a Warrant out for Their Arrest, New Data Shows

Read about the Municipal and Traffic Court of New Orleans, where on Monday morning fifty-two arrestees awaited their first appearance before a judge. Most are African American. All require a public defender. There are more than 56,000 outstanding warrants in New Orleans’ Municipal Court, dating to 2002. Typically, the crime is failing to appear for scheduled court dates for minor, nonviolent offenses that do not carry a jail sentence. Lauren Anderson, a public defender and attorney supervisor for Municipal Court says: “We’re not making the city any safer. We’re only hurting these people, and we just keep doing it over and over.” (Webster, The Washington Post, September 20, 2019)

Drug Treatment 

How Drug-Related Violence Complicates Criminal Justice Reform

Read about Rayful Edmond III who is being considered for release from prison after 29 years behind bars for selling and distributing drugs. Federal prosecutors argue that Edmond deserves early release in exchange for decades of cooperation with authorities, which led to a multitude of narcotics convictions. Washington residents, however, surveyed recently at the request of US District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who will decide Edmond’s fate, are less sanguine about his release. They were evenly split when asked about freeing Edmond. Edmond’s fate speaks to our current debate over America’s carceral state and how the war on drugs is still playing out today. (Farber, The Washington Post, September 25, 2019)

This Louisiana Gulf War Veteran Is Serving Life for Selling $30 Worth of Marijuana

Read about Derek Harris, who spent three years in jail awaiting his day in court to later be given a 15-year prison sentence for selling $30 worth of marijuana to a minor. Then, prosecutors in the district attorney’s office filed a habitual offender bill of information based on Harris’s prior convictions. In 2012, Harris was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Derek Harris now awaits arguments in the state Supreme Court about the sentencing from 2012, which one judge has now called “unconscionable.” (Morrison, The Appeal, September 24, 2019)

Native American Treatment Court Produces First Graduates

“It’s the first time I’ve been at peace. I feel like I’m in a safe place,” says Shay LaVallie, one of the first graduates in this Native American drug treatment court. A $300,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance recently made possible this Montana program, providing Native participants receive programming specific to their culture. The program has seen a 64% increase in Indigenous enrollees and nearly a 52% increase in their successful completion, and more than half of the first six graduates did well enough in the program to have their records expunged. Read more on the program here. (Rosenbaum, The Associated Press, Great Falls, MT, September 19, 2019) 

Juvenile Justice

Their Juvenile Records Were Sealed. Decades Later, They’ve Reappeared. 

The Washington State Patrol has added thousands of old sealed youth records to a database it shares with law enforcement agencies across the country. Follow 34 year-old Nick, who successfully petitioned to have his youth record sealed but now faces job rejections despite paying his debt and staying out of trouble. He is one of many who face new barriers because of criminal records that were supposed to be sealed but continue to be accessed and used against them. (Marlan, The Appeal, September 24, 2019)

Justices’ DC Sniper Case Examines Teen Murderers’ Sentences

The US Supreme Court will decide in October whether Lee Boyd Malvo, one-half of the DC sniper team, should be resentenced in Virginia in light of Supreme Court rulings restricting life-without-parole sentences for crimes committed by people in their youth. The case could see the Supreme Court, which has recently become more conservative, and put the brakes on what has been a gradual move toward more leniency for youth offenses. (Gresko, The Associated Press, Washington, September 21, 2019)

Public Defense 

Voters Approved a Measure Guaranteeing Tenants Representation — but There’s Not Enough Money to Fulfill its Promises

A 2018 measure guaranteeing every San Francisco tenant facing an eviction the right to legal representation is not yet living up to its promise due to funding gaps and a shortage of attorneys able to do the work. Last June, 55 percent of San Francisco voters supported Proposition F, or the Right to Counsel program, making San Francisco the second city nationwide to establish a “universal right to counsel” for tenants. Not enough attorneys want the job, but even if they did the funding isn’t enough to meet the demand. (Waxmann, San Francisco Examiner, September 22, 2019)

Are a Disproportionate Number of Federal Judges Former Government Advocates?

The CATO Institute reveals that former government lawyers, specifically lawyers who have served as courtroom advocates for the government, are vastly overrepresented on the federal bench. Looking only at former prosecutors versus former criminal defense attorneys (including public defenders), the ratio is four to one. Expanding the parameters to include judges who previously served as courtroom advocates for the government in civil cases as well as criminal cases, and comparing that to judges who served as advocates for individuals against the government in civil or criminal cases, the ratio is seven to one. CATO is calling for more professional diversity. (Neily, CATO Institute, September 18, 2019)