Friday News Roundup: The ‘Defender General’

Friday News Roundup latest news

This week in the news: the federal government is suing over a state law banning private prisons, a look at policies for juveniles, a proposal for a ‘defender general’, a proposed expansion of mandatory minimums for drug crimes, and more.

Juvenile Justice

What’s the Meaning of “Life” When Sentencing Kids?

The Marshall Project asks what should a second-chance at life look like for someone who never really got a first. Despite rulings that automatic life sentences for juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment, many prosecutors and judges around the US began re-sentencing prisoners who had received automatic life terms to individual terms of 100 years or more, which is essentially a life sentence by another name. Required legislative reviews often couldn’t take place for 40 years or more into a juvenile’s sentence. They argue it is unnecessary to lock children up for decades, given how amenable they are to rehabilitation and how likely they are to “age out” of committing crime. (Hager, The Marshall Project, January 30, 2020)

DC Police Will No Longer Handcuff Children 12 and Younger

DC officers begin online training today on new guidelines aimed to improve how police engage with juvenile suspects, Police Chief Peter Newsham said. Officers will be prohibited from handcuffing juveniles 12 and younger, and will have discretion to handcuff teenagers depending on the offense and whether they are a danger to themselves or others. They will also avoid public arrest displays for juveniles accused of non-felony offenses. This revamp follows two incidents; one involving an officer captured on video chasing down and detaining a 9-year-old boy, whom police handcuffed but later determined committed no crime, and another where police handcuffed a 10-year-old boy the Attorney General Karl A. Racine later said was “totally innocent.” (Williams and Nirappil, The Washington Post, January 28, 2020)

Human Trafficking 

In a Florida County, Sex Workers are Ensnared in ‘Trafficking’ Raids

A highly publicized human-trafficking sting operation in Hillsborough County, Florida, ends with 104 arrests but only two remaining cases of alleged trafficking. The resulting charges are mostly prostitution and solicitation. Sex workers say the sting operations are putting them at risk. “No one is being charged with human trafficking,” said Greg Kridos, an assistant state attorney. That prosecutors, however, claimed in a December filing that the investigations are revealing evidence “of more serious crimes, including the modern-day slavery that underlies the felony offense of sex trafficking.” (Minta, The Appeal, January 28, 2020)

Shared Hope International Releases Sex Trafficking Victim-Offender Intersectionality Report, Promoting JuST Responses to Victims in the Criminal Justice System

Shared Hope International, a non-profit fighting to eradicate domestic minor sex trafficking, released a report to serve as a field guide for criminal justice stakeholders that supports an overall shift toward a victim-centered approach, recognizing a survivor’s underlying victimization when facing sex trafficking charges. (Shared Hope International, AP Globe Newswire, January 23, 2020)

Criminal Justice

Feds Challenge Calif. Law Banning Private Prisons

The Trump administration has sued California over its new law banning private prisons in the state, arguing that the federal government has the power to house prisoners and detainees where it sees fit without states meddling. Assembly Bill 32, signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom in October, prohibits anyone from running a private detention facility in California under a contract inked or renewed earlier this year. The government argued that the law obstructs its ability to house people in its custody, noting that about 96 percent of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s total detention space in California is in private detention facilities. (Burton, Law360, January 27, 2020)

What’s in a Name?

New lawsuits by transgender people challenge bans on name changes for those convicted of crimes. At least 17 states automatically ban people with certain criminal convictions from changing their name, whether permanently or temporarily, according to The Marshall Project analysis of state laws. Transgender people whose legal names don’t match their identity say every job interview, traffic stop, and visit to a bank or a doctor puts them in a position “where I had to tell somebody about something that is none of their business: what genitalia I was born with,” said Alexandra Carson, a plaintiff in a Texas suit. There is little chance it would allow someone to hide from law enforcement or employers running background checks, as social security numbers, dates of birth, prison ID numbers, DNA, and fingerprints stay the same. (Schwartzapfel, The Marshall Project, January 27, 2020)

New NJ Law Will Sustain College Offerings for Incarcerated Residents

Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation earlier this month so that state tuition aid will now permanently be available to New Jersey residents who are incarcerated, just one part of a series of legislation opening educational opportunities in prisons. This law solidifies an experimental federal education effort that began under the Obama administration to reopen access to higher education in prisons, as people who have access to higher education in prison are 48 percent less likely to return to prison, according to the article. (Lowe, The Press of Atlantic City, January 27, 2020)


A Proposal to Offset Prosecutors’ Power: The ‘Defender General’

A new article, published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review by Professors Daniel Epps of Washington University in St. Louis and William Ortman of Wayne State University, said the flawed structure of criminal litigation in the Supreme Court creates an uneven playing field that favors prosecutors. Prosecutors can choose which cases to appeal, with an eye toward shaping broader law. Criminal lawyers, however skilled, must focus on and defend their individual clients. It proposes a ‘defender general’ to counterbalance the solicitor general at the Supreme Court. The theory is that this role could represent the interests of criminal defendants generally, in the same way the solicitor general can strategically litigate for the state interests. (Liptak, The New York Times, January 27, 2020)

Drug Policy

William Barr’s New War on Drugs

An opinion piece from The Washington Post pushes against Attorney General William P. Barr’s support for an expansion of mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes involving fentanyl analogues. The current Federal Analogue Act is limited to substances proved to be actually harmful or intended to be harmful. Barr’s proposal omits this requirement, enabling federal prosecutions in cases involving substances with no scientific research confirming the drug’s physiological effect. The act exposes defendants to sentences of up to 20 years, and, if death or serious injury results, 20-year mandatory minimums. The article said this goes against the spirit of the First Step Act, and is repeating past mistakes that disproportionately impact people of color. (Gertner, The Washington Post, January 26, 2020)

One Reply to “Friday News Roundup: The ‘Defender General’”

  1. Thanks a lot for the news roundup. I think it’s a great decision of the DC Police to stop handcuffing juveniles and children. Kids go astray so easily, but there is no need for additional punishment or deterrent effects. Handling them with care for a fully social rehabilitation should be the top priority.

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