This week in the news: Rodney Reed’s execution date looms, Floridians face obstacles in sentencing and voting restoration, how overbearing caseloads are impacting Missouri public defenders, bail reform, and more.
How Do You Prove You’re Innocent If You’re On Death Row?
With Rodney Reed scheduled to be executed in Texas on Wednesday, The Marshall Project looks closer at the evidence in his case and others. Reed’s case is viral because of the sheer volume of evidence implicating someone else for the crime. Celebrities are promoting his claims of innocence, from Oprah to Beyonce to Dr. Phil. Numerous lawmakers, with the support of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), are calling for the execution to be halted. So are some law enforcement officers, who told the Supreme Court that the “the forensic case against Mr. Reed has been completely obliterated.” It raises questions about the fairness of the procedural rules Reed is up against. (Chammah, The Marshall Project, November 14, 2019)
Hundreds Languish in Florida Prisons Under Outdated Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences
An obscure law in Florida’s Constitution is affecting up to 1,000 individuals incarcerated in the Florida system despite being repealed by voters last year. Read about Jomari DeLeon, who calls her 8-year-old daughter daily, and is three years into a fifteen-year sentence. If she had committed her drug crime in 2016, rather than eight years ago, she would be free by now. The judge was required to impose the sentence based on the mandatory minimum at the time the crime was committed, even though DeLeon had no previous criminal record beyond a traffic violation. (Mahoney, The Miami Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, November 13, 2019)
You Can Be Sentenced, Even If You Were Acquitted
A person’s sentence can be increased at their sentencing hearing by a judge based on conduct other than what they were convicted of, even if a jury already found the person not guilty of that conduct. “In federal court, and many state courts, once a defendant is convicted, under the concept of relevant conduct, the defendant’s sentence can be increased by the consideration of uncharged, dismissed, or even acquitted conduct of the defendant…Relevant conduct allows a sentencing court to reach as far back in time as can be said to be part of the scheme, plan, or enterprise related to the defendant’s convicted offense,” according to Oklahoma City University law professor Barry Johnson. Moreover, at sentencing, the prosecution only needs to prove these allegations by a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt. (Lustbader, The Appeal, November 12, 2019)
Hate-Crime Violence Hits 16-Year High, FBI Reports
Personal attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a 16-year high in 2018, with a significant rise in violence against Latinos, outpacing a drop in assaults targeting Muslims and Arab-Americans. Over all, the number of hate crimes of all kinds reported in the US remained fairly flat last year after a three-year increase, according to an annual FBI report. But while crimes against property were down, physical assaults against people were up. However, stats of all hate crimes are limited as state and local police forces are not required to report hate crimes to the FBI, and experts state that more than half of all victims of hate crimes never file a complaint. (Hassan, The New York Times, November 12, 2019)
These Prosecutors Won Office Vowing to Fight the System. Now, the System Is Fighting Back.
More than two dozen recently elected prosecutors are pushing progressive policies across the country, including in Philadelphia, Dallas and Orlando. These prosecutors have been elected on platforms that include abandoning cash bail, declining low-level charges, not pursuing marijuana cases, and closely scrutinizing police conduct, in efforts to reform a system that they say over-incarcerates and disproportionately punishes poor people and racial minorities. Powerful figures including lawmakers, governors, police union leaders, fellow district attorneys, and more have been critical. Some say the prosecutors are improperly using their roles and argue that their policies will drive up crime rates. (Berman, The Washington Post, November 9, 2019)
Why Prisoners Get the Doctors No One Else Wants
Doctors with histories of serious medical errors or past records of misconduct are hired to work in prisons across the country, and they often continue treating patients even after prison officials are made aware of the problems, according to a joint investigation by Type Investigations and The Appeal. It includes interviews with those incarcerated, lawyers, advocates, and reviews of hundreds of medical disciplinary records, prisoner medical records, and court filings. Read more for personal accounts and how correctional healthcare is fraught with conditions that allow problematic doctors to flourish. (Eldridge, Type Investigations, November 8, 2019)
The NYPD Kept an Illegal Database of Juvenile Fingerprints for Years
The New York Police Department illegally maintained a database containing the fingerprints of thousands of children charged as juvenile delinquents for years, in direct violation of state law mandating that police destroy these records after turning them over to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. Lawyers discovered the violation, and according to Legal Aid, the police department confirmed to the organization last week that the database had been destroyed after they began probing. (Speri, The Intercept, November 13, 2019)
Alamance Courts Sued Over Bail Policy
Local courts in North Carolina have been sued for having a cash bail system that keeps suspects in jail awaiting trial if they cannot afford to post bond, in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Civil Rights Corps. The suit claims the courts violated rights to equal protection under the law, due process, and the right to counsel protected in the 14th and 6th Amendments by giving people with access to bond money the opportunity to be free until their case is resolved, while people unable to afford bail remained in jail with limited access to lawyers and limited ability to assist in their own defenses. (Groves, Times-News, November 12, 2019)
Bail Reform Hinges on Rule Change Pending Before the Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court is considering changing the state’s rules for bail, bond, and pretrial release in criminal cases. The change to Rule 46 could affect the fates of roughly 11,000 people on any given day in Ohio who are awaiting their day in court. According to an Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis, the cost bail adds up to $266 million a year. The bail-bond industry is squaring off against civil-liberties groups over the issue. (Bischoff, Dayton Daily News, Columbus, November 10, 2019)
Public Defender Chesa Boudin Wins San Francisco DA Race in Major Victory for Progressive Prosecutor Movement
Deputy public defender Chesa Boudin has declared victory over Interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus in the San Francisco race for District Attorney. During the campaign, Boudin said he planned to continue the work he did as a deputy public defender to eliminate money bail and expand diversion programs, including for first-time DUI offenses. Boudin also pledged to implement restorative justice practices, which, he said, helped him cope with the trauma of growing up with incarcerated parents. (Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal, November 9, 2019)
Messenger: Overburdened Public Defenders in St. Louis County Seek Relief. This Time They May Get It
This OpEd addresses Missouri’s public defender crisis. The state has the second-lowest funded public defender’s office in the country, and the result is public defenders have such overbearing caseloads that they can’t get to all the people who deserve and qualify for their services. Additionally, public defenders are forced to put their law licenses in jeopardy nearly every day. They know they are not fulfilling their ethical obligations to each individual client by providing them the proper representation, but if they refuse cases, the courts will discipline them. (Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 9 ,2019)
‘A Proud Day’: Ex-Felons Clear Final Hurdle to Vote
Judge Nushin G. Sayfie in Miami signed court orders for 18 individuals confirming that, for the purposes of voter registration, they did not owe any court fines, fees, or costs from their past felony convictions. Some of them had been previously disenfranchised for decades and cleared the final hurdle imposed by the state of Florida to restore their voting eligibility. Read about this and other efforts and updates for restoring voting in Florida. (Mazzei, The New York Times, Miami, November 9, 2019)
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