by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
#ChangeLawyers We are prosecutors. We will not enforce new antiabortion laws.
The following letter was written by Satana Deberry, DA of Durham County, N.C., Stephanie Morales, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Portsmouth, Va., and Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution.
We are women, mothers of daughters and criminal-justice leaders who collectively have spent nearly 25 years as prosecutors. From each of these perspectives, we have seen friends, loved ones and victims struggle with the impact of trauma, and we are well aware of the vitally important role that elected prosecutors play in protecting the health and safety of all members of our communities. Today, this shared experience brings us together with deep concerns stemming from recent laws which seek to criminalize personal decisions around abortion, and thereby create untenable health-care choices for women, crime victims and medical professionals.
At least nine states have recently enacted abortion laws that will adversely impact the health of anyone facing an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. And several more states are considering these laws, despite the clear legal pronouncement 46 years ago that women have a fundamental right to privacy that protects their right to make health-care decisions — including whether to end a pregnancy.
In the face of laws that are not only unconstitutional but also endanger members of their community and may re-traumatize victims of crime, elected prosecutors have two options: They can courageously lead and make clear that they refuse to use their discretion to criminalize women and health-care providers, or they can sit back in silence and acquiesce in the erosion of fundamental rights of members of their community. We choose the former.
Whatever their personal views on abortion may be, prosecutors can readily understand that these recent laws are irresponsibly crafted. Many lack provisions to indicate who will be held criminally responsible, creating an atmosphere of unnecessary fear and confusion for those seeking vital medical care. For example, Georgia’s law, HB 481, opens the door to criminalizing anyone involved in performing or assisting with an abortion, those seeking an abortion and anyone involved in helping — from medical professionals to a person driving someone to the health center — and fails to explicitly prohibit criminalizing the women who make these medical choices.
These laws also fail to account for the needs and trauma of victims of rape, incest, human trafficking, domestic violence or child molestation. For example, Alabama, Missouri and Ohio explicitly do not have exceptions for victims of rape and incest, meaning those who become pregnant by these means will be forced to carry the fetus of their abuser. And Georgia’s law would allow for access to an abortion only if the victim of rape or incest first reports the crime to authorities — ignoring the reticence of victims and the re-traumatization that is often inherent in reporting.
Concerns such as these have led more than 40 elected prosecutors from across the country to add their names to a statement urging prosecutors to use their discretion and decline to criminalize health-care decisions that have been protected under settled Supreme Court law for nearly 50 years. As the statement notes, “prosecutors must be perceived by their communities as trustworthy, legitimate and fair — values that would be undermined by the enforcement of laws which harm and impose untenable choices on many in the community.”
Read the story on Washington Post
#ChangeLawyers Part 2 A paralegal and lawmaker is challenging the racist roots of prison voting restrictions
Kareem McCraney has never voted. The 39-year-old Washington, D.C., resident was arrested when he was 17 and spent 21 years in various federal prisons across the country before he was released last year.
When he was convicted, D.C. law allowed prosecutors to charge him as an adult. The irony isn’t lost on him.
“You charged me as an adult, but I never got to participate in any of these processes as an adult,” he told The Appeal, explaining that he has never had the chance to influence policy or politics.
Most U.S. states and D.C. prohibit people from voting if they are serving time in prison for felonies. But the city disenfranchises an outsize number of people because it has a higher incarceration rate than any state in the country. More than 4,500 of its residents are incarcerated in federal prisons, and over 90 percent of them are Black.
Last week, D.C. Councilmember Robert C. White Jr. introduced the Restore the Vote Amendment Act of 2019, a bill that would make the city the first jurisdiction in the country to restore voting rights to people who are incarcerated. Currently, only Maine and Vermont—the country’s two whitest states—allow people to vote from prison.
With just under half of its population African American, if D.C. were a state, it would be the country’s Blackest one. So the new push for voting rights there has special significance. White told The Appeal that “it’s no coincidence” that states with large African American populations often have strict disenfranchisement policies.
“The majority of states and most Southern states,” he said, prohibited incarcerated residents from voting “right around the time that African Americans were getting the right to vote.
That’s why the bill is so important, he said. Not only does it recognize the racist origin of these laws, but it would also change the electorate in one of the most diverse major cities in the country.
White and other advocates for the abolishment of felony disenfranchisement policies say the laws stem from the Jim Crow era. After the Civil War, states with newly freed slaves enacted laws intended to keep incarcerated people from political power. According to the Sentencing Project, by 1869, 29 states had enacted such laws, which continued to be passed and strengthened for decades after. A 2013 study found that the more Black residents in a state, the more likely the state was to pass a strict disenfranchisement law that permanently denied people convicted of crimes the right to vote.
In 1955, before D.C. had home rule and the ability to pass its own laws, the federal government enacted a law to disenfranchise incarcerated residents. White called that bill “an active effort to disenfranchise African Americans.”
Before he was arrested, McCraney said he wasn’t aware of the systemic racism that guides so many of the country’s criminal justice and civil rights policies. His Northeast D.C. community was mostly Black, he told The Appeal, so he was surrounded by people like him.
“I never had the opportunity to really experience direct, one-on-one, overt racism,” he said.
But in the federal prisons where he spent his 20s and 30s, he quickly realized how racism had shaped his life. Roughly two decades into his sentence for first-degree murder, he filed a pro se petition for resentencing under a D.C. law that allows people convicted as children to get a second chance.
After that was successful, McCraney moved back to Northeast D.C. and worked as a program analyst for the Corrections Information Council. He also became the district’s delegate for the Democratic Caucus for Returning Citizens, and as part of that job, talked with community leaders about the potential to restore voting rights to people who are incarcerated.
It’s a crucial demand and a reasonable one, he said, because there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution prohibiting people convicted of felonies from voting. “All of us who feel like we don’t have a voice—that would give us a voice to push an agenda.”
Read the story on The Appeal
Speaking of… Incarcerated women helped draft a new law to free domestic violence survivors
A law called the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) does not, at first blush, sound like reform. In this context, one could be forgiven for guessing that “justice” is interpreted in a decidedly regressive way: harsher penalties that don’t make anyone safer. This describes many laws named for sympathetic or vulnerable groups.
But that is not the case for the DVSJA, a bill that became law in New York last month. The content of the law, and its decade-long path to existence, represent a new kind of lawmaking—a process that originates with the people who have the most at stake and is shepherded by a diverse coalition. It resulted in a law that chips away at the misleading offender-victim distinction, and ultimately seeks not to inflict harm, but to mitigate it.
The law allows—but does not require—a sentencing judge to consider whether abuse was directly related to a person’s crime and, if so, gives judges the flexibility to sentence the “survivor-defendant” to shorter sentences or to alternative-to-incarceration programs. This extends not only to acts of self-defense but also to scenarios where an abuser coerced a person into committing a crime. The law also gives those sentenced prior to its enactment the chance to apply for resentencing.
The Daily Appeal spoke to Andrea Williams, Strategic Learning Director at STEPS To End Family Violence (a division of Rising Ground), which works directly with survivors and their families to overcome histories of abuse, while also advocating for them in schools, courts, legislatures, and the community at large. Williams was part of the coalition that brought the law into being, along with defense attorneys, judges, women’s rights advocates, prisoners’ rights advocates, legislators, and many survivor-defendants.
Williams and her cohort have been developing and advocating for the law for over a decade. For years, Williams and her colleagues, including celebrated advocate and therapist Sister Mary Nerney, would visit women in New York prisons to offer treatment and programs, and also to listen to them. Again and again, they heard the same thing: “When we met women who were serving long prison sentences and learned more about their stories, we found that a number of women were survivors of violence,” said Williams. But “that violence was not considered by the courts.”
Read the story on the Appeal
More of This The next generation of progressive judges
When President Trump took office, more than 100 vacancies for him to fill existed on the federal bench, an inaugural gift from Senate Republicans who persistently thwarted the Obama administration’s best efforts to install judges after Democrats lost control of the Senate in the 2014 elections.
Mr. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, are now furiously installing conservatives in those openings, aiming to deny the next president the same opportunity to remake the courts should a Democrat defeat Mr. Trump next year.
But liberal activists, hoping for a chance to offset the growing conservative presence in the courts, have identified a pool of potential judicial vacancies that could remain out of Mr. Trump’s reach — scores of seats held by veteran judges appointed by Democrats who may be biding their time, awaiting the outcome of the 2020 presidential race.
Nearly 100 federal judges nominated by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — and even Jimmy Carter — would be eligible to take semiretirement by the time the next president is inaugurated, a status that allows them to continue to preside over cases but creates an official vacancy that could be filled by a presumably younger full-time replacement.
Anticipating that at least some of those long-serving judges named by Democrats would step aside once a president more to their ideological liking took office, liberal judicial activists have begun a new effort to recommend possible successors who could immediately be funneled into the judicial pipeline. Those successors would not shift the ideological balance of the courts, but like Mr. Trump’s young conservatives, they would have staying power.
“It is essential to be ready on Day 1 of a new administration with names to fill every vacancy,” said Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, the 40-year-old liberal judicial advocacy group. “This is to start identifying people so the new president won’t waste a minute in addressing this need.”
The initiative is called Building the Bench, and the Alliance for Justice is being joined in underwriting and supporting it by a number of other liberal advocacy groups and labor unions. A group of more than 30 law professors and lawyers will serve as an advisory board.
The progressive organizations and individuals have traditionally weighed in on judicial nominations and the confirmation process when Democrats were in the White House, but this represents a much more concerted effort than in the past.
It reflects both what the left sees as an escalating crisis because of the success of the Trump judicial assembly line as well as an acknowledgment of the benefits his administration reaped by having a list of potential Supreme Court justices in hand before Mr. Trump was even sworn in. The list of candidates was critical to Mr. Trump’s securing conservative backing, but it also enabled the administration to rapidly fill not only a Supreme Court seat but a number of important appeals court posts with judges who had been approved and vetted by conservative activists.
“The impetus for this is to start repairing the harm this administration has done to the federal bench,” Ms. Aron said of the new project.
Read the story on NY Times
More of This Too Columbia Law students want to hold lecturer accountable for her role in the Central Park Five case
When the Ken Burns documentary about the Central Park Five came out in 2012, there was a petition put up by Columbia Law students to get Elizabeth Lederer — the chief prosecutor in the case — removed from her position as a lecturer at the law school.
The school did nothing. Lederer, who is also still a senior counselor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, continues to teach at Columbia Law.
Now, with release of Ava Duvernay’s Netflix miniseries When They See Us, Columbia students are once again asking that the law school cut ties with this disgraced woman who helped put five children in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.
Here’s part of a letter from the Columbia Black Law Students Association:
“Since Lederer’s integral role in the case has received a national spotlight, there have been multiple efforts urging Columbia Law School to take action. In 2013 a petition was circulated, which gained thousands of signatures and demanded the removal of Lederer. Instead of taking decisive action to address the issue, Columbia Law School simply removed the Central Park jogger case from Lederer’s online bio. Now, with the release of Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us on Netflix, Columbia’s inaction on this subject shows a disconnect between the values Columbia purports and the actions the Law School takes. Another petition, circulated by our brothers, sisters, and non-binary friends at Columbia University Black Students’ Organization, has gained thousands of signatures and again demands for the removal of Elizabeth Lederer.”
Before some of you conservatives pull out your “scholarly debate” violin, let me stop you. There is no “scholarly” debate here. There is no academically defensible position that says “sometimes, you just gotta round up all the n***ers and see which one of them breaks.” There’s no scholarly position that says “once you’ve been proven wrong, by direct scientific evidence, you should never apologize or speak about your errors, and instead keep going like nothing ever happened.”
Read the story on Above the Law
Perspective Call immigration detention centers what they really are: concentration camps
If you were paying close attention last week, you might have spotted a pattern in the news. Peeking out from behind the breathless coverage of the Trump family’s tuxedoed trip to London was a spate of deaths of immigrants in U.S. custody: Johana Medina Léon, a 25-year-old transgender asylum seeker; an unnamed 33-year-old Salvadoran man; and a 40-year-old woman from Honduras.
Photos from a Border Patrol processing center in El Paso showed people herded so tightly into cells that they had to stand on toilets to breathe. Memos surfaced by journalist Ken Klippenstein revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s failure to provide medical care was responsible for suicides and other deaths of detainees. These followed another report that showed that thousands of detainees are being brutally held in isolation cells just for being transgender or mentally ill.
Also last week, the Trump administration cut funding for classes, recreation and legal aid at detention centers holding minors — which were likened to “summer camps” by a senior ICE official last year. And there was the revelation that months after being torn from their parents’ arms, 37 children were locked in vans for up to 39 hours in the parking lot of a detention center outside Port Isabel, Texas. In the last year, at least seven migrant children have died in federal custody.
Preventing mass outrage at a system like this takes work. Certainly it helps that the news media covers these horrors intermittently rather than as snowballing proof of a racist, lawless administration. But most of all, authorities prevail when the places where people are being tortured and left to die stay hidden, misleadingly named and far from prying eyes.
There’s a name for that kind of system. They’re called concentration camps. You might balk at my use of the term. That’s good — it’s something to be balked at.
Read the story on LA Times
Watch This The bondage of bail
"Anger got the better of me," said Bill Peyser, who took what was meant to be a noise complaint to another level, when he brought the handgun with him.
Back in April of 2017, he got so frustrated with his loud neighbors, that instead of just knocking on their door, surveillance cameras captured him pointing a handgun at it, and kicking it. Bad enough, but then the gun went off … accidentally, he said.
"I never should have done anything like that," Payser said. "That's a crazy, dangerous, irresponsible, uncalled-for thing to do. But that's what I did, and I got myself arrested."
No one was hurt, but the retired San Francisco cab driver knew he was in pretty deep trouble. Negligently discharging a firearm was his first thought, but much to his surprise, he found himself charged with attempted murder instead.
His bail was set at $625,000.
Watch the story on CBS News
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