Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Named Plaintiff in landmark SCOTUS decision denied parole

IN 1963, WHEN Henry Montgomery was 17 years old, he killed a sheriff’s deputy in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, reported The Marshall Project. Montgomery was sentenced to life without parole for his crime. Now 71 years old, he has been incarcerated for 54 years. Montgomery is also the named plaintiff in a 2016 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that applied retroactively the Court’s 2012 precedent banning mandatory life without parole sentences for youth who committed their offense under the age of 18. The decision was the third in a series that required states to give Montgomery and 2,000 other people serving life without parole a “meaningful opportunity for release.”
Despite being newly eligible for parole because of his resentencing, last week the Louisiana Board of Parole turned down Montgomery’s application for release. As justification, members of the board cited Montgomery’s short list of official classes completed during his time in prison. It didn’t acknowledge, however, that he was excluded from such programming for the first 30 years of his sentence because of his life sentence.
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Monday, April 22, 2019

Slate: DOJ 'an institution compromised by rank partisanship'

Peter M. Shane writes at Slate:
In no small part because of the performance of Attorney General William Barr, history will treat his Justice Department as it treats the Justice Department under Richard Nixon’s one-time attorney general, John Mitchell—an institution compromised by rank partisanship and more committed to ideology than the rule of law. Barr’s spin on special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s report all but ignored the report’s damning findings, misrepresented significant parts of Mueller’s reasoning, and described President Donald Trump’s motivations and supposed cooperation in terms straight out of White House talking points. Barr engaged in word-splitting pettifoggery that would make even Bill Clinton blush. Barr is clearly compromised by the partisan goals of this White House to the point where he cannot be trusted in the job. He should resign immediately.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Lawmakers consider banning death penalty for seriously mentally ill

Lawmakers around the country are considering bans on death sentences for people with certain serious mental illnesses, reported The Marshall Project. Earlier this year, the South Dakota state legislature rejected a proposal to ban death sentences for people with serious mental illnesses, though it had passed such a proposal through one chamber last year
The Virginia state senate approved a similar bill three months ago. Other bills are gaining traction in TexasOhioTennessee and Missouri. Some include post-traumatic stress disorder, while others are limited to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder. Many require active psychosis at the time of the crime. Some would let a judge decide who should be exempted, before the trial begins. The Texas bill would let a jury decide during the trial. The Tennessee bill requires a documented medical history before the crime, which might exclude someone like Otto.
Supporters of these bills, with the backing of the American Bar Association, argue that the “insanity defense” tends to be very narrowly defined, and juries are skeptical of it. The Supreme Court has already banned the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities and those who committed their crimes before the age of 18. Both bans were based on the idea that society views these murderers as “categorically less culpable than the average criminal.” The high court has ruled that death row prisoners must be “competent” to be executed, though lower courts are still debating exactly what that means.
“Defendants who have a mental illness are particularly vulnerable in our criminal justice system,” Amanda Marzullo, director of the Texas Defender Service, told a panel of legislators in her state last month. “They are very likely to fire their defense lawyers, or not cooperate with them, or even try to represent themselves.”
Prosecutors have been wary. “The version of this legislation that is pending in Ohio would effectively end the death penalty,” said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. He predicted that everyone facing the punishment would be able to obtain a diagnosis. A defendant can already mount an insanity defense, he pointed out, and then tell the jury about mental illness as a way of persuading them to vote for life without parole instead of death. Ohio’s bill, as of now, would apply retroactively, potentially setting up lengthy legal fights over old cases.
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Friday, April 19, 2019

NRA seeks injunction to stop Pittsburgh gun laws

The National Rifle Association has joined two other groups in seeking a preliminary court injunction in an attempt to stop Pittsburgh from enforcing a gun ban until the conclusion of lawsuits filed against the city by all three organizations.
Four city residents with assistance from the NRA, along with Firearm Owners Against Crime and The Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League, filed suit last week in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court following Pittsburgh’s passage of three bills regulating the use of guns within city limits.
They contend the legislation violates Pennsylvania law prohibiting municipalities from regulating firearms and the constitutional rights of gun owners.
The NRA lawsuit sought a permanent injunction, which would prevent Pittsburgh from enforcing the ban after the court cases are settled. On Wednesday, the NRA filed a court motion for a preliminary injunction.
All three lawsuits ask the court to declare the ban illegal. Firearm Owners Against Crime and the sportsmen’s league also sought preliminary injunctions.
The nonprofit gun control organization Everytown for Gun Safety, founded and funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is representing the city in civil court at no charge, according to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

NY Times Magazine: 'Where life is precious, life is precious'

“Where life is precious, life is precious.” Which is to say,  according Ruth Wilson Gilmore, in Spain people have decided that life has enough value that they are not going to behave in a punitive and violent and life-annihilating way toward people who hurt people. “And what this demonstrates is that for people trying to solve their everyday problems, behaving in a violent and life-annihilating way is not a solution.”
Between 1982 and 2000, according to The New York Times Magazine, California built 23 new prisons and, Gilmore found, increased the state’s prison population by 500 percent. If prison scholars tend to focus on one angle or another of incarceration trends, Gilmore provides the most structurally comprehensive explanations, using California as a case study. In her 2007 book, “Golden Gulag,” she draws upon her vast knowledge of political economy and geography to put together a portrait of significant historical change and the drive to embark upon what, as two California state analysts called it, “the largest prison building project in the history of the world.” Were prisons a response to rising crime? As Gilmore writes, “Crime went up; crime went down; we cracked down.” This sequence, and how crime rates are measured, have been heavily debated, but if this noncausal order is really the case, what was going on? Gilmore outlines four categories of “surplus” to explain the prison-building boom. There was “surplus land,” because farmers didn’t have enough water to irrigate crops, and economic stagnation meant the land was no longer as valuable. As the California government faced lean years, it was left with what she calls “surplus state capacity” — government agencies that had lost their political mandate to use funding and expertise for social welfare benefits (like schools, housing and hospitals). In the wake of this austerity, investors specializing in public finance found themselves with no market for projects like schools and housing and instead used this “surplus capital” to make a market in prison bonds. And finally, there was “surplus labor,” resulting from a population of people who, whether from deindustrialized urban centers or languishing rural areas, had been excluded from the economy — in other words, the people from which prison populations nationwide are drawn.
Prisons are not a result of a desire by “bad” people, Gilmore says, to lock up poor people and people of color. “The state did not wake up one morning and say, ‘Let’s be mean to black people.’ All these other things had to happen that made it turn out like this. It didn’t have to turn out like this.” Her narrative involves a broad array of players and facts, some direct, some indirect, some coordinated, many not: for instance, farmers who leased or sold land to the state for the building of prisons; the very powerful correctional officers’ union, state policymakers, city governments, cycles of drought, economic crisis and huge deindustrialized urban centers; and the lives and fates of the descendants of those who migrated to Southern California for factory work during World War II and after. Her fundamental point is that prison was not inevitable — not for individuals and not for California. But the more prisons the state built, the better the state became at filling them, even despite falling crime rates.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Pennsylvania House Democrats propose package of police reform bills

Democrats in the state House unveiled a quintet of police reform proposals they say will provide for increased oversight and training for law enforcement, even as they seek to rebuild the bonds of trust with communities of Pennsylvanians who have come to view police officers with suspicion and even disdain, the Pennsylvania Capital Journal.
The end goal, the lawmakers said, is to avert the kind of fatal interaction between police officers and such young, unarmed black youth and men as Antwon Rose II, of East Pittsburgh, and David Jones, of Philadelphia, who were both shot and killed in separate incidents, sparking protests and public outcries in their hometowns.
“We had little hope for justice for an unarmed black man who was shot in the back,” said Rep. Summer Lee, an Allegheny County Democrat, whose district neighbors the community where Rose, 17, was shot and killed as he fled former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld. In March, a jury in Harrisburg found Rosfeld not guilty of charges of criminal homicide in connection with Rose’s death.
“The community has been demanding answers,” Lee continued. “The cry that ‘black lives matter’ will no longer go unanswered.”
The bills, some of which have been introduced in previous legislative sessions, or have yet to garner the standard memos seeking co-sponsors, would:
  • Clarify when police officers are empowered to use deadly force and under what circumstances the use of deadly force could be employed.
  • Require the state Attorney General’s Office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any incident of deadly force by a law enforcement.
  • Reform the arbitration process in disciplinary matters involving the police.
  • Strengthen the certification and decertification process for police officers and establish a statewide standard for training law enforcement officers.
  • Reform hiring practices for police officers to provide greater transparency by including any civil, criminal, or ethical complaints filed against an officer in his or her personnel record and to fully explain why an officer might have left a previous job.
A 2018 analysis of FBI data by the online news publication Vox found that U.S. police kill black people at greater rates than white people. In 2012, black people made up 31 percent of police killing victims, even though they comprised just 13 percent of the country’s total population, Vox reported. The online news site acknowledged that its data was incomplete “because [it was] based on voluntary reports from police agencies around the country.” Even so, the data “[highlighted] the vast disparities in how police use force,” Vox reported.
Cutting down — or even eliminating the disparate use of force — is the main goal of a use-of-force 
The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, which represents state police troopers, said it was “not prepared” to comment on the proposals.
Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadephia, who sponsored the special prosecutor bill in last year’s legislative session and is sponsoring it again this year, said his plan was critical to making sure that officers accused in shootings did not benefit from any favoritism from home turf prosecutors.
“We don’t do justice to justice by pretending she is blind. She’s not,” Sims said, adding that “the data” points to racial and ethnic disparities in the dispensation of justice. “We don’t say it enough.”
Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday that they’re hoping their proposals, as they emerge more fully, will garner broad bipartisan support and land on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk before the end of the current two-year session.
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