Criminal Justice

  • June 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Stephen Rushin, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Alabama School of Law

    While many have welcomed the increased national interest in police accountability, critics, including President Donald Trump and police unions, have warned of a so-called “war on cops.”  To their credit, there is evidence that ambush killings of police officers increased in 2016, as did the number of total police officers killed in fatal shootings. But it is difficult to know whether these numbers are part of a larger pattern, or merely a statistical aberration.

    Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) do not want to take any chances. In the “Back the Blue Act,” the two legislators (along with several co-sponsors) propose several alterations to federal law meant to protect police officers. Ultimately, though, there is serious reason to doubt whether this measure would make local law enforcement substantially safer. And it is a virtual certainty that, if passed, this law would severely hamper efforts to hold police officers accountable for wrongdoing.

    The measure would create new federal crimes for the assaulting or killing of federally funded law enforcement officers. It would limit habeas relief for some cases involving the killing of a police officer. And it would expand the federal death penalty to cases involving the killing of police officers. There is a lot to say about this bill—much of which has already been covered in depth by other media outlets or advocacy organizations.

  • June 1, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. Learn more about the Convention here

    **This post is based on written testimony for a 5/15/17 California State Senate hearing on SB 185.

    by Karin D. Martin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Public Management, John Jay College of Criminal Justice & The Graduate Center, City University of New York

    Monetary penalties—fines, fees, surcharges, restitution and any other financial liability from contact with the criminal justice system—are a ubiquitous and growing feature of punishment in the U.S. On the one hand, these sanctions have the potential to achieve the aims of punishment with far fewer economic and social costs than incarceration. On the other hand, monetary sanctions produce disproportionate harm—particularly among those least able to pay—at the same time that they create a perverse incentive for courts, municipalities and other entities that can both create and collect monetary sanctions.

    How these sanctions are enforced can be quite particularly problematic. Jurisdictions do everything from entering civil judgments to revoking or extending probation/parole or incarcerating people for non-payment. Unpaid debt also subjects people to regular court summons, the issuance of warrants and pursuit by private collection agencies. Many jurisdictions also do something that too often directly undermines people’s ability to pay their court-ordered debt: suspend driver’s licenses.

  • April 26, 2017

    *This piece is part of the ACSblog symposium: The Department of Injustice.

    by Christopher Wright Durocher

    On Monday morning, the Supreme Court declined to review a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the dismissal of Ricardo Salazar-Limon’s lawsuit against the City of Houston for a police officer’s alleged excessive use of force. Salazar-Limon was partially paralyzed as the result of injuries he sustained when Officer Chris Thompson shot him in the back during a traffic stop, though he was unarmed.

    The Fifth Circuit reasoned that there was no material dispute of fact in the case—the standard that must be met to avoid summary judgment—because Thompson testified during his deposition that he saw Salazar-Limon reach for his waistband, and, as Justice Samuel Alito notes in his concurrence, “Remarkably, Salazar-Limon did not state in his deposition or in an affidavit that he did not reach for his waist.”

    The problem, Justice Sonya Sotomayor explains in her dissent, is that this conclusion “is plainly wrong.”  As she describes it, there is a clear dispute of material fact:

  • January 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department

    I.        Immigration Enforcement 

    Count on the nascent Trump administration to involve law enforcement in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. And too often the law enforcement agencies that can inflict the most damage on the relationships between immigrant communities and their police will be the first to embrace a role in the enforcement of immigration laws, a role that is particularly unsuitable for the police in the twenty-first century United States. 

    In Massachusetts, the bluest of the blue states, a county sheriff recently offered to send inmates at the county jail to the Mexican border to help build the Trumpian “wall.” Thankfully sheriffs in Massachusetts are jailers and civil process servers and not police, but the suggestion, though clearly illegal and unconstitutional, that some law enforcement officials welcome a potential role in the enforcement of federal immigration laws is worrisome. There are over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States: local, county, state, and special jurisdiction, and these departments may present an attractive “force multiplier” in the enforcement of federal immigration laws should the Trump administration seek to broaden the imprint of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). The resurrection of the moribund “287 (g)” program or some similar collaborative model for the joint federal-local-state-county enforcement of immigration laws would be catastrophic for immigrant communities.

    The police are typically unaware that entry into the United States without the appropriate documentation authorizing such entry, while against the law, is a civil infraction and not a criminal violation (unless the individual has been previously deported). Too many of the police are also unaware that they do not have the authority to ask community residents with whom they come into contact for immigration documents (and this is a common practice in immigrant communities). In the eyes of many of the police, undocumented immigrants are criminals who have no rights under the Constitution and who should be arrested and immediately deported.

  • January 19, 2017

    by Christopher Wright Durocher

    Last week saw the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division release what amounts to a valedictory report on policing for the Obama era, detailing findings that Chicago Police Department “officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable [and] unnecessarily endanger[s] themselves and others and result[s] in unnecessary and avoidable shootings and other uses of force.” Coupled with the announcement of agreements with Chicago and Baltimore to address the constitutional infirmities in their police departments, the release of this investigation highlights the valuable role the federal government has played in uncovering and addressing abusive policing practices, particularly in marginalized communities.

    Since 2009, the Civil Rights Division has investigated twenty-five law enforcement agencies. The most high-profile of these investigations was in Ferguson, Missouri. That investigation revealed a police department and municipal court system so focused on generating revenue that they routinely and flagrantly violated the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and exacerbated racial disparities to the point that almost no member of the city’s African-American community was untouched by the criminal justice system. In fact, ninety-two percent of warrants issued by the Ferguson municipal court were issued for African-Americans, though they make up on sixty-seven percent of the population. They also accounted for eighty-five percent of vehicle stops and ninety-three percent of arrests in Ferguson. Ninety percent of all police use of force was against African-Americans and, in a chilling callback to Civil Rights era imagery, every person bitten by a police dog in Ferguson has been black.