Criminal Justice

  • August 15, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) argues in The Guardian that the United States needs to get weapons of war out of middle America.

    Amanda Taub of Vox explains why America’s police force resembles “invading armies” and why the trend is dangerous.

    The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak reports on how the events of Ferguson, Mo. resonate with black residents of Washington, D.C.

    Blair L.M. Kelley of The Root discusses the similarities between Dred Scott and the shooting of Michael Brown.

    In Salon, Chauncey Devega explains how white supremacy in the United States led to the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. 

  • August 13, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times explores the racial history that underlies the Ferguson, Mo. protests and the death of Michael Brown.  Peniel E. Joseph of The Root provides additional perspective in looking at the echoes of the Watts Rebellion in the protests.

    Brian Beutler of the New Republic writes that the claims of Halbig “Truthers” do not stand up to close scrutiny.

    The Washington Post’s Bonnie Berkowitz, Lazaro Gamio, Dan Keating, and Richard Johnson provide a breakdown of those put to death since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

    The Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times argues against religious exemptions to the executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  

    The Equal Justice Initiative reports on a new study that finds “people were more supportive of harsh criminal justice policies the more African Americans they believed were in prison.”

  • August 6, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Nicholas Bagley argues at The Incidental Economist that the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit should rehear Halbig v. Burwell. If sustained, Halbig puts millions at risk of becoming uninsured, meeting the standard for en banc review as a case of “exceptional importance.”

    Niraj Chokshi reports for The Washington Post that Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. The cert petition asks for a review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit decision, last month, that affirmed a lower court’s determination that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

    In The Wall Street Journal, Michelle Hackman interviews Adam Cox, Faculty Advisor for the New York University School of Law ACS Student Chapter, on the steps President Obama could take to help undocumented immigrants.

    The Diane Rehm Show hosts a debate on President Obama’s use of executive orders. Jonathan Turley, Stanley Brand and Jeffrey Rosen weigh in.

    Jamelle Bouie of Slate explains the dangers of “broken window” policing and the civil rights implications of being tough on minor offenses. 

  • August 4, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, District 59, Minnesota Senate

    As I look back over the 2014 Minnesota legislative session, there was a lot to be proud of. However, one of my most rewarding moments was watching my Expungement Bill (HF2576) pass both bodies and become law. The bill passed 58-4 with strong bipartisan support  – proving that when you have a good idea and can work in a bipartisan manner, our state legislature can get things done.

    Nearly one in five Minnesotans has an arrest or criminal record. Because of the internet, the use of criminal record checks by employers and landlords has skyrocketed. Often a person could have been arrested but not charged, or their charges were dropped, or charged but not convicted, but arrest records would still show up on the internet and in reports. Unfortunately, the online records are often inaccurate, incomplete or misinterpreted.

    It is very difficult for a former offender to integrate into our communities when an overwhelming majority of employers refuse to hire anyone with an arrest or criminal record, regardless of how long ago it was or the crime’s relevance to the position for which an applicant is being considered. A key provision in my expungement bill will change that. It requires business screening services to delete expunged records if they know a criminal record has been sealed, expunged or is the subject of a pardon.

    In addition, the expungement bill passed in 2014 will allow people convicted of misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and some low-level felonies to get their records sealed. My expungement bill maintains public safety while providing redemptive justice for all Minnesotans. Sealing or limiting access to criminal records is an important component in successful reintegration into society.

    Although current state law allows judges to expunge the criminal records of certain offenders, they are still showing up in many background checks because a state Supreme Court decision ruled that judges could expunge only court records, not those collected by state agencies such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or Department of Human Services. My expungement bill also addresses this problem and allows judges to expunge executive branch records as a means to a real remedy.

    I am proud the 2014 Expungement bill that passed in Minnesota will help remove many of the barriers associated with criminal background checks. Without this change, many Minnesotans who have taken honest steps to improve their lives are being denied employment, housing and educational opportunities. 

  • July 25, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Justin Marceau and Alan K. Chen. Marceau is an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former public defender in Arizona. Chen is the William M. Beaney Memorial Research Chair and Professor of law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a former staff attorney at the ACLU’s Chicago office.

    The State of Arizona’s recently botched execution of Joseph Wood is just the latest in a series of horrific events that have introduced the American public to a criminal justice problem that practitioners and legal scholars long have known about – lethal injections are an extremely troubling method for carrying out capital punishment.  Similar to the cases of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Wood reportedly endured extensive suffering during the hour and 52 minutes it took for the drugs administered by the state’s executioners to end his life.

    The Wood Litigation Seeking Access to Information about the Drugs and Executioners

    In the days preceding Wood’s execution, his attorneys mounted an impressive campaign to overturn a lower court order denying him access to basic information about the qualifications (but not the identity) of the executioners and the source of the drugs to be used. Wood argued that he had a qualified First Amendment right of access to such information. 

    On Monday of this week, things looked promising for Wood and his legal team. An erudite panel of the Ninth Circuit concluded that it was not too much to ask of Arizona to require it to turn over the information Wood sought, or to delay the execution. Behind such litigation is the reality that without such information, of course, it would be impossible to assess whether the execution might violate the Eighth Amendment and create too great a risk of cruel and unusual punishment.  In other words, in order to know whether their client had a colorable substantive claim that the execution would be cruel and unusual, the lawyers first had to gain access to the details of the execution procedures. The procedural claim at issue in the Ninth Circuit, then, was a necessary precursor to being able to litigate the substantive legality of Arizona’s execution system.

    The Ninth Circuit panel voted 2-1 that Wood had raised a serious First Amendment claim and would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction against his execution were not granted. To be clear, all the Ninth Circuit ordered was that Arizona either turn over the information and proceed to execution as planned on Wednesday, or delay the execution until full and fair litigation regarding the right to access this information was conducted. Instead, Arizona successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, which quickly overturned the stay of execution.

    Was this Just a Gimmick to Delay Litigation?

    Some might ask why, with a thirty year track record and tacit Supreme Court approval in 2008, lawyers were inquiring about lethal injection methods.  We hear about delays in executions – we even see California’s death penalty held unconstitutional, in part, because of delay. But the reason for the litigation is clear: lethal injection is not working. 

    With drug shortages for the previous three-drug execution cocktail of choice, states have begun to experiment with the doses and types of drugs, and the qualifications of executioners are not getting any better.  In a very perverse turn on Justice Louis Brandeis’ famous quote that states may “serve as a laboratory, and try novel . . . experiments” that the rest of the country might not, states are innovating in their execution methods.  In the rush to continue with executions, Arizona and other states are using their execution chambers as laboratories for human experimentation.  What combination will create the most aesthetically pleasing execution for public consumption is the question the Departments of Correction seek to answer.