Poll finds strong support for pretrial reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Support for limiting pretrial use of jail extended across party lines and was consistently high among households with crime victims or members of law enforcement.”

Polling from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows broad support for reforms that prioritize release over detention and use a wide range of options to manage risk during the pretrial period. The poll, conducted by the conservative GS Strategy Group and progressive Benenson Strategy Group, found 9 in 10 respondents favored releasing people pretrial if they are facing nonviolent charges. The poll also found strong support for speedy trials, with 81% saying detained individuals should not have to wait longer than a week for a trial to start.

“It’s high time the country got smarter on crime and punishment, lowering mandatory sentences for first-time drug offenders and giving judges more latitude in their decisions.”

Momentum continued to build for the FIRST STEP Act, now awaiting a vote in the Senate. Editorial boards across the country, including the Washington PostChristian Science MonitorDeseret News and the Louisville Courier-Journal all pushed for the Senate to pass the legislation. In their endorsement, the Christian Science Monitor board noted that the FIRST STEP Act would “[take] a little sting out of an era of hyperpartisan politics by proving that working across party lines is still possible.” The bill was also endorsed this week by the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

“So what is to happen if a state needing revenue says anyone who speeds has to forfeit the Bugatti, Mercedes, or a special Ferrari or even jalopy?”

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the case of Tyson Timbs and a 2012 Land Rover LR2 v. State of Indiana. A majority of the justices, led by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor, appeared deeply skeptical of Indiana’s claim that the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines did not apply to the states. During questioning by Justice Breyer, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher asserted that a vehicle driven even five miles over the speed limit could be forfeited. Amicus briefs in support of Timbs were filed by a broad range of groups, including the NAACP, the Cato Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Simply removing the stigma of a felony conviction from people with addiction is a positive step, and for this alone, SQ 780 has been a resounding success.”

Analysis from the Oklahoma Policy Institute showed that State Question 780 reversed a long trend of increasing felony filings, reducing filings by more than 28% in the first year since it took effect. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and many minor property crimes as misdemeanors. Effects varied by county, with felony filings dropping by more than 50% in Cotton and Harper counties, while Haskell, Logan, Payne, Johnston and Atoka counties all appeared to show a shift toward harsher charges to avoid SQ 780’s reforms.

“Sentencing is something that is an exclusive parameter of the judges…That is, in my opinion, the most important thing that judges do.”

Prosecutors in Orleans Parish invoked the state’s habitual offender statute in 6% of cases this year in which defendants were eligible, down from 13% in 2017. Those sentenced under the habitual offender statute are subject to mandatory minimum sentences without the possibility of parole or early release. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro attributed part of the decrease to the Justice Reinvestment Package passed in 2017, which shortened the time limit for past crimes to be considered for habitual offender status.  According to the Department of Corrections, nearly 75% of those sentenced under the habitual offender law in 2015 were convicted of drug or property crimes, not violent crimes.