Friday News Roundup: A first, Florida, & Future of Bail Reform
This week in the news: A first-of-its-kind lawsuit brought against a motel by a human trafficking survivor was settled, a victory for voting rights in Florida and for fighting the opioid crisis in Chicago, courts as an avenue for bail reform, and more.
Human Trafficking Survivor Settles Lawsuit Against Motel Where She Was Held Captive
Under a federal law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) Lisa Ricchio sued the motel where she was assaulted and held against her will for several days, alleging that the owners financially benefited from the crime. Legal experts and anti-trafficking groups say her 2015 case was the first filed against a hotel or motel for its role in a trafficking crime. According to the Human Trafficking Institute, there were at least 25 new cases filed nationwide against hotels and motels last year under the TVPA, on the grounds that they knew or should have known what was occurring on the premises. (Bookman, NPR, February 20, 2020)
Court: Florida Can’t Bar Felons From Vote over Fines, Fees
Florida cannot, for now, bar individuals convicted of a felony who served their time from registering to vote simply because they have failed to pay all fines and fees stemming from their cases, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. The ruling upheld a Tallahassee federal judge’s preliminary injunction that a state law implementing Amendment 4 amounted to an unfair poll tax that would disenfranchise these returning citizens. (Calvan and Anderson, AP, Tallahassee, February 19, 2020)
Could a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision fix ‘broken’ bail systems across the state?
Following a lawsuit filed last year by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia’s court leadership has agreed to changes that could lead to many more individuals being released pretrial. The state Supreme Court will decide how far those changes go, in a ruling that advocates hope could have bail improvement consequences far beyond Philadelphia. Advancing through litigation rather than legislation, this bail reform differs from sweeping changes in New Jersey and in New York, which in January became the latest state to eliminate money bail for most nonviolent offenses — and has faced intense backlash. (Melamed, The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 19, 2020)
Give the New Bail Reform Law Time to Work
Read this opinion piece about the bail reform debate in New York. Lawmakers appear poised to bow to the state’s law enforcement lobby and weaken landmark reforms that took effect less than seven weeks ago. The author says the arguments against reforms are based largely on anecdotal evidence and the cases and data are being cherry-picked to make a case for rolling back some of the reforms. (Gay, The New York Times, February 15, 2020)
After Cash Bail: A Framework for Reimagining Pretrial Justice
A new report from The Bail Project speaks to what bail procedures should look like in the future. The group uses a National Revolving Bail Fund to provide free bail assistance to low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent and whom a judge has deemed eligible for release before trial contingent on paying bail. Many people recognize that our current pretrial system must change. This document outlines a roadmap to a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system. (The Bail Project, 2020)
Overdose Deaths are Dramatically Down in One Chicago-Area County. Here’s How it is Tackling the Opioid Crisis.
McHenry County is the only Chicago-area county that has seen overdose deaths drop over the last two years, with the number less than half of what it was in 2017, and the lowest total since 2014. Officials point to numerous efforts they believe are responsible for the decline, from widespread distribution of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone to police departments utilizing diversion programs and treatment instead of jail. “It’s certainly something you can’t attribute to one single service program or effort,” said Scott Block of the McHenry County Mental Health Board. “We as a community have a comprehensive and coordinated set of strategies.” (Kielman, Chicago Tribune, February 18, 2020)
He Attempted Suicide and Ended Up in Jail
Arthur, 55, had a criminal record and was struggling to find work. He felt like “everything was really piling up” when he called his sister and told her he was going to commit suicide, taking pills and grabbing his fiance’s gun. He then faced firearms charges and jail time, which deepened his depression and anxiety and made it harder for him to get help, according to his lawyer and a social services advocate who worked on his case. His experience speaks to a tendency in the criminal legal system to treat mental health issues as criminal rather than as matters of public health. (Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal, February 14, 2020)
Wealthy and Connected Defendants Like Roger Stone Get Off Easy All the Time
Las Vegas public defenders discuss disparity in sentencing based on wealth. The article contrasts billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III’s sentence, which involves monetary fines, diversion, and no jail time even with failure to comply, with the sentences their clients face. A non-billionaire defendant facing similar charges would likely be offered a plea deal involving jail time ranging from three to 21 years. “The primary difference between the two men is that Billionaire Defendant Nicholas is wealthy, while Defendant XXX is not.” (Lustbader, The Washington Post, February 14, 2020)