Daily Inspo The law professor determined to right a racist court case
Law professor Steven Drizin had seen it again and again, and it pained him: Prosecutors wielding a decades-old legal case to justify a juvenile’s confession to a serious crime. Illinois vs. Hester, as a colleague put it, also “smelled bad.”
It seemed probable that Lee Arthur Hester, the case’s Black 14-year-old defendant, had falsely confessed to fatally stabbing a white teacher. As they dug into the 1961 conviction, Drizin and colleagues at Northwestern University became convinced Hester had been railroaded by racist authorities, an injustice that controlled the fate of many boys and girls in the years to come.
Clearing Hester’s name would not be easy. Evidence had vanished. Key witnesses had died.
Also, this case wasn’t about freeing Hester from prison. He was paroled in 1972, meaning there would be no public pressure to save a man from death row. But in the face of such an obvious wrong, they thought they had to try.
“There is no expiration date on justice. It’s not like a carton of milk,” Drizin said. “So many false confessions were taken from young African American boys and men in this city. It’s not just a problem that started in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. There is a long, long history here. And Lee Arthur’s case was an important part of that history.”
Read the story on LA Times
More of This 32 Black prosecutors have a plan to make the criminal justice system more fair
As protests against police brutality and systemic racism filled streets across the country this summer, a group of Black prosecutors in the nation’s capital began thinking about how they, too, could take a stand.
They shared the outrage over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police. But the demands for change also sparked soul-searching about their own roles in a massive criminal justice system that some had been a part of for decades.
What began with a few emotional phone calls and emails quickly became a more organized effort of heart-wrenching, reflective Web meetings and detailed policy discussions.
In the end, 32 Black federal prosecutors in Washington signed a 10-page memo to acting U.S. attorney Michael Sherwin outlining changes they say will help ensure that prosecutors make the fairest decisions, void of nonlegal influences and biases.
They called for implicit bias training for prosecutors and the end of a strategy for gun-crime prosecutions they said disproportionately targets Black communities. They also called for a new focus on alternatives to incarceration.
They said the job of a prosecutor should not be confined to an office or courtroom. Prosecutors, they said, should develop relationships in the communities they serve, attending meetings and events. And prosecutors should be required to visit the city’s jail to better understand the impact on those who are locked up.
Read the story on Washington Post
More of This Court strikes down voting restrictions meant to protect white supremacy
On Friday, a North Carolina court dramatically expanded the number of voters eligible to participate in the 2020 election. The state may not disenfranchise citizens who owe fines, fees, and other debts from a felony conviction, the Wake County Superior Court ruled on Friday. And while the court limited its order to those affected by wealth-based voter suppression, its reasoning portends a broader ruling in the near future that could restore voting rights to 70,000 more North Carolinians on probation or parole.
Many felon disenfranchisement rules, including North Carolina’s, are rooted in overt white supremacy. After Reconstruction, racist Democrats in the state sought to revoke Black citizens’ suffrage. They accomplished this task, in part, through vague criminal laws that stripped convicted felons of their civil rights—then enforced these laws disproportionately against Black people. North Carolina’s current statute is rooted in an 1877 law spearheaded by a representative who later presided over the lynching of three Black men. At the time, Democrats argued that felon disenfranchisement was necessary to stop “the honest vote of a white man” from being “off-set by the vote of some negro.” Its purpose, alongside other Jim Crow measures like the literacy test, was to “secure white supremacy.”
Read the story on Slate
Say it Louder I’m a prosecutor and I want access to police misconduct records
Chesa Boudin is the district attorney of San Francisco.
When I first took office as San Francisco’s district attorney — elected on a progressive platform of ending mass incarceration, combating the criminalization of poverty, and holding police accountable — I knew I would often be at odds with more traditional prosecutors. So when I walked in to my first meeting of the California District Attorneys Association I was surprised that I agreed with every single other elected district attorney in the state on the need for prosecutors to have greater access to information about officers with known misconduct. Nine months later, that legislation is sitting on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. He should sign it.
SB1220 creates procedures to ensure that prosecutors are able to disclose to the defense evidence of officers’ prior misconduct. My support for SB1220 is based on both my perspective as a top prosecutor and my background as a public defender.
When I was public defender, I constantly encountered the problem SB1220 seeks to remedy. Under the foundational Supreme Court decision of Brady vs. Maryland, prosecutors are required to disclose to the defense exculpatory, material evidence. This generally includes evidence of an officer’s prior misconduct. In order to inform the defense about Brady evidence, however, the prosecutor must know it exists. What I frequently encountered as a public defender, though, was that prosecutors had no knowledge (and no way of learning) of any prior misconduct by an officer involved in my cases. That was unacceptable to me as a defense attorney trying to provide a rigorous defense for my clients, and it is equally unacceptable as the elected district attorney trying to ensure the proceedings are fair for the defendant. I want my staff to fulfill our Brady disclosure obligations but, often, we cannot. SB1220 will enable us to comply.
Read the story on SF Chronicle
Less of This White police officer is trying to usurp the authority of a progressive Black woman prosecutor
The elected prosecutor of Portsmouth, Virginia, is fighting what her attorney described as a “bad faith” and “improper” attempt by a disgruntled police officer to disqualify her from the questionable felony cases he brought against a state senator, local civil rights leaders and city public defenders stemming from the destruction of a Confederate monument.
On June 10, a few weeks after police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, a group of protesters gathered at Portsmouth’s monument to soldiers who rebelled against the U.S. and died defending slavery. The four statues, located at the spot of an old slave whipping post, had been covered up ahead of a city council debate over the statutes’ fate, but the coverings were removed.
In the afternoon, protesters spray-painted the statues. During the night, people brought out sledgehammers and removed the statues’ heads. Portsmouth police didn’t intervene until one statue fell on a protester, seriously injuring him.
Two months later, taking advantage of Virginia’s magistrate system, Portsmouth police Sgt. Kevin McGee brought felony charges against 14 defendants ― including state Sen. Louise Lucas (D) ― under a state law banning “injury to” war monuments. Five more defendants were later charged under the 70-year-old law, which originally referred to the Civil War as the “War Between the States. Lucas and several other defendants charged in the case left the scene hours before the worst destruction took place.
The first batch of defendants have arraignments scheduled for Friday morning. This is normally where the local prosecutor, Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales, would take over the cases ― in this matter, potentially move to dismiss them. But McGee, in a clear attempt to get Morales removed from the cases, named Morales as a witness even though she wasn’t on the scene.
Read the story on HuffPo
Less of This The contradiction of our reliance on incarcerated firefighters
The lightning storm started in the early hours of August 15, electricity snaking the sky, looking for a place to land. California’s fire season is traditionally a six-month affair lasting from May to October and peaking in early fall. But as climate change progresses, the fires have grown more frequent and fire season has expanded. By this time last year, fires burned through 59,000 acres, compared with the 7,000 fires so far this year that have claimed nearly 1.5 million acres.
Even as the escalating severity of each year’s fires has come to feel expected, an obscene kind of normal in the Anthropocene, the pandemic has brought new dangers: Home evacuations and shelter relocations are now riskier; relief funds and service organizations are stretched as mass unemployment has dropped the floor out from families across the state. There is also the matter of the labor force California has long relied on to tend to a landscape set ablaze: incarcerated firefighters.
Read the story on The New Republic
From our Library How to Confront Microaggressions