Criminal Justice

  • February 18, 2014
     
    In an article for the The Orange County Register, Erwin Chemerinsky, Faculty Advisor for the University of California Irvine School of Law ACS Student Chapter, explains why the upcoming decision of Harris v. Quinn could pose a threat to public employee unions.
     
    Volkswagen workers at a Chattanooga, Tennessee plant announced their decision last Friday not to join the United Automobile Workers. Steve Greenhouse of The New York
    Times reports on the possibility of a German-style works council in 
    Chattanooga and what it could mean for Volkswagen and the UAW.
     
    At the CPRBlog, Thomas McGarity and Matt Shudtz examine the legal concessions made by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in a policy proposal that protects workers from silica dust exposure.
     
    Writing for The Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie discusses the Michael Dunn murder trial and the racial consequences of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
     
    Mark Sherman of The Associated Press notes how President Obama’s judicial appointees are shaping the discussion on same-sex marriage in Virginia.
     
    Writing for The Root, Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains why the race of a mythical princess continues to play a role in the study of black history.
  • February 14, 2014

    by Jesse Grauman

    Attorney General Eric Holder this week offered welcome support for ending the practice of felony disenfranchisement. Arguing that “permanent exclusion from the civic community does not advance any objective of our criminal justice system,” Attorney General Holder called for “clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines.”

    While the degree of felony disenfranchisement varies by state, eleven states permanently disenfranchise at least some formerly incarcerated persons unless the state’s government approves the restoration of voting rights on an individual basis. Three of those states – Iowa, Florida and Kentucky – permanently disenfranchise all formerly incarcerated persons with felony convictions absent individual rights restoration.  An additional 24 deny the right to vote to those who have been released from prison but remain on parole, and 20 of these states disenfranchise those on probation as well.

    As a result, approximately 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting as a result of felony disenfranchisement laws. These laws have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, with nearly one in 13 African-American adults barred from voting, including one in eight African-American men nationwide and one in five African-Americans in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia. 

    These disparate impacts are not only due to the massive racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system. Rather, many such laws were passed in the aftermath of Reconstruction as a means of denying the franchise to African-Americans. Eleven states passed felony disenfranchisement laws for the first time, or significantly expanded existing laws, in the decade after the Civil War, and states with larger proportions of nonwhites in their prison populations have been more likely to pass such laws. Indeed, in 1985, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a felony disenfranchisement provision in Alabama’s state constitution in Hunter v. Underwood, finding that the provision, although neutral on its face, was enacted with discriminatory intent. As the Court noted, “the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901 [when the measure was passed] was part of a movement that swept the post-Reconstruction South to disenfranchise blacks” and the president of that convention stated that its goal was “to establish white supremacy in this State.” 

  • February 11, 2014
     
    According due process of the law to death row inmates in Missouri is apparently a difficult constitutional mandate to embrace, at least for some state attorneys charged with carrying out death penalty sentences.
     
    In a piece for The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen detailed the execution of Herbert Smulls earlier this year, where state officials ignored repeated requests by defense attorneys to wait for the appeals process to expire before executing Smulls. The defense attorneys’ efforts were futile. As Cohen reports the state initiated the “lethal injection protocols” before the U.S. Supreme Court took action on Smulls’ final appeal for a stay of execution. “Smulls was pronounced dead four minutes before the Supreme Court finally authorized Missouri to kill him,” Cohen reported.
     
    Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told ACSblog, “I am deeply concerned that the State of Missouri executed Herbert Smulls before the Supreme Court could rule on his claims. It gives the impression that justice plays second fiddle to getting it over.”
     
    Rust-Tierney’s concern is well grounded. As Cohen notes, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Judge Kermit Bye, as well as other federal court judges, have previously raised concerns about Missouri’s history of carrying out the death penalty.
     
    In late December, Judge Bye lodged a stinging dissent to an amended order in a case involving Missouri’s execution of Allen L. Nicklasson. A petition for the entire Eight Circuit to consider a stay of Nicklasson’s execution was declared moot, since the litigant, Nicklasson, had already been executed.
     
  • February 11, 2014
     
    The American Bar Association Standards Review Committee is considering a recommendation that the ABA no longer prohibit law students from receiving money for internships and externships. Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal has the story.
     
    In their debut article for The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald examine the National Security Agency’s controversial role in targeting terror suspects for lethal drone strikes and the effectiveness of geolocating technology.
     
    Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins created the nation's first Conviction Integrity Unit. In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, Watkins discusses the 87 overturned convictions in the U.S. in 2013 and what is being done in Dallas County to prevent miscarriages of justice.
     
    With the U.S. Supreme Court returning to session on February 24, the justices could soon rule on whether legislative prayer violates the Establishment Clause. Michael Kirkland at UPI breaks down Town of Greece v. Galloway.
  • February 3, 2014
     
    * Editor’s Note: "LegalEyes," a new daily ACSblog feature highlighting important news in law and public policy, begins with this inaugural post. Visit each weekday at noon for fresh updates.
     
    Writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, Andrew Cohen explains how lawmakers in Alabama and Tennessee have introduced legislation to expedite capital cases in their states. With an already damaged prison system, Cohen explains how these new measures could mean the difference between life and death for today’s inmates.
     
    While section 215 of the Patriot Act is widely known for its controversial surveillance tactics, section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) brings to the forefront a whole host of issues regarding the legality of mass surveillance. Section 702 allows for the spying of non-U.S. citizens in an effort to prevent terrorism while collecting security intelligence without a warrant. In the first part of her ongoing discussion at Just Security on reforming Section 702, Jennifer Granick explains why and how the section should be reformed.
     
    It was one issue that had Democrats and Republicans on their feet during the State of the Union address last week: immigration reform. Although House Republicans have answered calls to tackle immigration reform with a newly written plan, their recent efforts have culminated in a controversially opaque blueprint. Alex Altman at TIME Magazine breaks down reactions to the GOP’s ambiguous plan to reconstruct immigration law.
     
    Writing for Balkinization, Jason Mazzone comments on the second murder conviction of Amanda Knox. The infamous case involving Knox and her former boyfriend in the 2007 murder of a British roommate was reestablished after the Italian criminal justice system reinstated its guilty verdict last week. In a revealing comparison between legal systems, Mazzone argues that Knox may be in a far better position today than if the case were originally held in the United States.