Pretrial

How to Classify Violent Crimes, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Rethinking whether these kinds of crimes should be considered violent would change the conversation about what must be done to cut the incarcerated population…”

The Marshall Project conducted a nationwide survey of statutes and found that many people being classified as “violent” criminals have committed offenses most would not consider violent. In Kentucky, possession of anhydrous ammonia with intent to manufacture methamphetamines is classified as a violent crime, and carries a potential sentence of 20-50 years. In Minnesota, possession of marijuana can be considered a violent offense. And in North Carolina, trafficking a stolen identify is classified as a violent crime.

“HB 1352 is an important bill that will help remove barriers to success for thousands of Mississippians.”

Mississippi’s Criminal Justice Reform Act, signed by Governor Phil Bryant this week, includes wide-ranging reforms to the state’s justice system. The bill would expand Mississippi’s drug courts to a system of intervention courts that include mental health courts, veterans’ courts, and other specializations; allow people charged with misdemeanors to avoid pretrial incarceration; end driver’s license suspensions for non-driving related offenses; expand expungement opportunities; and allow individuals with drug-related convictions to receive workforce training and nutrition assistance, among other changes.

“…We will responsibly take steps to assist our friends and neighbors who deserve a second chance to contribute to our society.”

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 370 into law this week, allowing New Mexicans to ask the courts to seal records of arrest or conviction. Expungements will not be allowed for crimes against children, sex offenses, drunk driving, embezzlement and some other serious crimes. Regrettably, occupational licensing reforms and data-driven probation reforms were not signed into law.

“The [New] Jersey results are exciting, because they hopefully will add fuel to that forward motion in states that are resistant to making change, out of fear that it will increase violent crime.”

The New Jersey Judiciary released a report this week on the aftermath of the state’s near-elimination of cash bail, and found that the state’s jail population dropped by 44%,while rates of recidivism and failure to appear saw only slight increases. The report concluded that the reforms have “reduced unnecessary detention of low-risk defendants, assured community safety, upheld constitutional principles and preserved the integrity of the criminal justice process.” The Administrative Office of the Courts is continuing to study the policy and its results, with a focus on reducing racial disparities and addressing concerns related to domestic violence.

“Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result.”

The Department of Justice found that Alabama’s prisons were overcrowded and understaffed, and that officials had shown a “flagrant disregard” to the rights of prisoners. Major prisons were operating at 182% of capacity, and some facilities had only 20% of their staff positions filled. The report also described “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.” The Department of Justice gave Alabama officials 49 days to address the concerns in the report.

Broad Support for Justice Reform in Tennessee, and the news in criminal justice this week

“There is incredible support with very little opposition.”

According to new polling from the Justice Action Network, the ACLU of Tennessee and Right on Crime, 69% of Tennesseans believe the state’s criminal justice system “needs significant improvements,” 90% favored reducing prison time for nonviolent offenders and 89% favored getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences. Support for the reforms was strong across demographic and partisan categories. The promising poll numbers came just as Governor Bill Lee unveiled his criminal justice agenda, including eliminating the state’s $180 expungement fee, broadening  educational programming for incarcerated people, and expanding recovery courts.

“This investment offers a path to self-sufficiency for impacted people and a rightful level of dignity in society.”

The Coalition for Public Safety announced a partnership with Covington, Kentucky’s Life Learning Center (LLC) and Kenton County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders at an event on Thursday. As part of a new diversion program, prosecutors will identify at-risk defendants, and the LLC will provide recidivism-reduction programming and access to social services, and help participants find employment or enroll in continuing education. Upon completion of the LLC’s 12-week curriculum, individuals will be eligible for reduced or even dismissed charges. Senator Rand Paul and Kelley Paul were on-hand for the event, along with FAMM justice reform fellow Matthew Charles.

“I believe that early and open discovery is just and fair, and I look forward to publicly endorsing a discovery reform bill and seeing it signed into law.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called for reforms to New York’s discovery rules, calling the current system “trial by ambush.” Gonzalez noted that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office has employed an “open file discovery” practice for years, while protecting the safety of victims and witnesses. In a departure from their previous stance, the District Attorney’s Association of the State of New York also endorsed changes to the system. “For the first time in the history of our organization,” said DAASNY President and Albany County DA David Soares, “we are openly calling on our lawmakers to take action and enact criminal justice reform.”

“There are people in every community who don’t need to be back out during the pendency of their cases. But the great majority of people do.”  

Judges in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County have replaced monetary bail schedules with individualized assessments based on a defendant’s likelihood of fleeing, reoffending, or tampering with witnesses. In their announcement of the new policy, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Robert Bell and Chief District Court Judge Regan Miller also said that they plan to review their bail policies on a biennial basis. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told the Charlotte Observer she was studying the data and may change their bail policy, noting that “we certainly don’t want to be in the business of criminalizing poverty.”

“It’s an economic development tool for folks to get better jobs as well as public safety. Folks know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and won’t go back to criminal behavior.”

New Mexico House Bill 370, which allow people to petition a court to have their criminal records sealed from public view, is heading to the full Senate for consideration. Expungement would be available not just to those with criminal convictions, but also people who were wrongfully arrested, whose charges were dismissed, or who were acquitted at trial. Under the new law, judges, prosecutors and police would still have access to sealed records. HB 370 garnered broad, bipartisan support and passed in the house by a vote of 52-17.

The Supreme Court Rules on Asset Forfeiture, and the news in criminal justice this week

“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.”

 In a unanimous ruling announced Wednesday, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of excessive fines applies to state governments. The ruling came in the case of Tyson Timbs, whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized by the state Indiana in connection to a crime that carried a maximum fine of $10,000. While the court ruled that the excessive fines clause was incorporated to local and state governments, the ruling was narrow and did not take a position on the seizure of Timbs’ vehicle, or address concerns about the use of forfeited funds by law enforcement agencies.

“…With bipartisan support and increased momentum to adopt criminal justice reforms, the 2019 Legislature should act to bring more fairness and effectiveness to Minnesota’s probation system.”

New polling from the Justice Action Network showed that 82% of Minnesotans supported standardizing probation guidelines, and 61% favored a five-year cap on felony probation. The Star Tribune editorial board cited the polling in an editorial in favor of recently-introduced probation reforms, as well as measures to encourage alternatives to incarceration. In addition to support for changes to the probation system, the poll showed that 74% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a county prosecutor who backed the reforms.  

“Oklahoma’s occupational licensing laws have grown beyond that is necessary to ensure the safety of our communities.”

In an op-ed in The Oklahoman, Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Tim Head, the American Conservative Union Foundation’s David Safavian and FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye urged lawmakers to reduce barriers to employment for people with criminal records. More than 40 lower-income occupations require a license in Oklahoma and, on average, the license costs $234 in fees and requires 399 days of education. Legislators are currently considering House Bills 1373 and 2134, which would reform the state’s occupation licensing laws. 

“…Open and transparent discovery promotes the interests of the criminal justice community, from the prosecutors and police to the accused.”

 New Yorkers United for Justice released a new ad aimed at educating people on the need for discovery reform. The ad features Michael Morton, whose wrongful conviction helped spur Texas to change its discovery process to prevent prosecutors from withholding evidence. New York’s current law allows prosecutors to restrict access to information, including police reports, witness statements and grand jury testimony until just before a trial begins. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal included language backing the expansion of pretrial file-sharing.

“We can take a cue from policymakers in states around the country, as well as those in the federal government, who have shown that rethinking mandatory minimum policies can result in reductions in both crime and prison populations.”

A study from the James Madison Institute examines how Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which were designed to target traffickers, have ensnared low-level dealers. Trafficking thresholds include the weight of non-controlled substances included in prescription pills, and create wide disparities in the length of mandatory sentences: a fifteen-year minimum sentence is mandated for possession of the equivalent of 9,066,667 marijuana joints, 1,607,143 lines of cocaine, or 22 hydrocodone pills. According to the report, Florida spends more than $100 million annually to incarcerate drug offenders who are serving mandatory minimum sentences.

Probation Reform in Pennsylvania, and the news in criminal justice this week

“It’ll save us money and it will provide a higher quality of justice to each and every Pennsylvanian.”

Democratic Senator Anthony Williams and Republican Senator Camera Bartolotta introduced legislation that would set a maximum term of probation of three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies, as well as provide a system of graduated sanctions for technical violations. Pennsylvania spends nearly $200 million per year incarcerating people for probation violations. Bartolotta noted that 30 other states limit the length of probation sentences, and said the reform was needed “to ensure that minor probation violations do not result in new sentences not matching the crime.”

“We need as much transparency as possible when the government seizes someone’s property. It has to be done properly and for just cause.”

Following a multi-part investigation by the Greenville News, a bipartisan group of South Carolina legislators announced plans to introduce significant reforms to the state’s civil asset forfeiture law. Reporters analyzed more than 3,200 cases, involving more than 4,000 people, and showed police had seized more than $17 million in cash. Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Horry), said the proposed changes would give South Carolina some of the strongest forfeiture laws in the country. The TAKEN series is available here.

“Thank you, Matthew. Welcome home.”

Matthew Charles, one of the first people released from prison as a result of the First Step Act, was a guest of President Trump at the State of the Union this week. President Trump cited the First Step Act as an example of bipartisan cooperation, saying “when we are united, we can make astonishing strides for our country.” Edward Douglas, who was also released as a result of the First Step Act, attended as a guest of Senator Cory Booker.

“These numbers confirm there is strong consensus behind…transitioning the system to focus on the offense and offender, rather than on their financial means.”

New polling from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce shows widespread support for reforming the Commonwealth’s bail system. Overall, 76% of those surveyed supported the elimination of cash bail for people charged with non-violent, non-sexual crimes. Support for the change is consistently high across the state, ranging from 70% in Western Kentucky to 79% in the Louisville metro area. According to previous analysis from the Pegasus Institute, in 2016. there were more than 64,000 Kentuckians accused on non-violent, non-sexual offenses detained because they could not afford their bail.

“I’m certainly not going to send someone to jail at that point because I realize that just putting someone in jail is not going to help someone with an addiction problem.”

For six hours on Wednesdays, Ohio’s Franklin County Courthouse is the site of a medically assisted treatment clinic. Judge Eileen Paley said the majority of cases she sees are tied to addiction, and that having a clinic inside the building helps connect people to treatment. In addition to providing relapse prevention drugs, Franklin County officials help people access social services, visit behavioral health counselors and check in with probation officers.

Bipartisan Sentencing Reform in Oklahoma, and the news in criminal justice this week

“I look forward to working with members of both parties to find not Democratic or Republic solutions, but Oklahoma solutions to the issues facing this state. This bill will be a great step in that direction.”
 
Oklahoma House Bill 1269, which would allow recently-passed sentencing reforms to be applied retroactively, was introduced this week by Representatives Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City). State Question 780 reclassified several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, but only applied to those charged after July 1, 2017. According to an estimate from Open Justice Oklahoma, 2,500-3,000 people could be immediately eligible for reduced sentences if HB 1269 is adopted.
 
“There are still grave concerns. This just emphasizes to us that the state of Wisconsin has to move these kids out (of the facilities).”
 
The first report from court-appointed monitor Teresa Abreu shows Wisconsin’s juvenile facilities continue to face “serious, chronic, and dangerous” staffing shortages. Abreu reported that guards at Lincoln Hills School (LHS) and Copper Lake School (CLS) continue to use pepper spray to subdue people when lesser means could have been used, and individuals are sometimes placed in solitary confinement for more than seven days. The report does point to some areas of improvement, including the decreased use of physical restraints and strip searches. Abreu also noted that the Wisconsin Division of Juvenile Corrections Director and LHS/CLS Superintendent were both receptive to her recommendations. 
 
“The historic decline demonstrates that common-sense criminal justice reforms work and bolsters the case for expanding reforms while ensuring the safety of all citizens.”
 
From 2017 to 2018, Pennsylvania’s state corrections population saw its biggest-ever decrease, dropping from 48,438 to 47,370. 617 fewer people were newly admitted to state prisons, while 575 fewer were returned for parole violations. Since the state passed a Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2012, the prison population has declined by more than 7.4%. “We are locking up fewer people while crime rates continue to decline,” noted the Commonwealth Foundation’s Nathan Benefield. “It’s time for lawmakers to build on this momentum and advance reforms that improve sentencing and parole.” 
 
“It will make Harris County safer and more equal and provide more efficient processing of people accused of misdemeanors.”

Newly-elected judges in Harris County have approved a plan that would allow 85% of those arrested for misdemeanors to be automatically released on no-cash bonds. The new court protocols are a proposed foundation for the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the county’s bail practices, and must be reviewed by a federal judge. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, a defendant in the lawsuit, welcomed the proposed settlement, saying “too many jail beds are occupied by nonviolent people who can be safely released to return home to support their families while they await trial.”  
 
“I want to add to my portfolio of programs that are sustainable…do justice and serve the community. That’s the essence of criminal justice reform.”
 
Pima County’s Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program was highlighted at this week’s winter meeting of the Major County Prosecutor’s Council. The program, in place since 2011, allows people to opt into an intensive supervision, treatment and support program rather than being sentenced to prison. The University of Arizona estimated that the program had saved $6 million over the course of four years, and that the program cost less than half as much as sending a person to prison. Attendees, including district and county attorneys from Baltimore, New York, Seattle, and Denver, met to discuss strategies to assist in criminal justice reform at the local level.  

Kentucky led the way on the First Step Act, and the news in criminal justice this week

 “While Democratic and Republican senators pressured him to bring up the legislation in Washington, he listened to friends in Kentucky who adopted a strategy of flooding him with information, but not pressuring too obviously or too hard.” 
 
A behind-the-scenes look at The First Step Act’s path to passage highlighted the effectiveness of a serious, sustained, and local effort to persuade Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to give the bill a vote in the Senate. Proponents, including Senator Rand Paul, Representative John Yarmuth, State Senator Julie Raque Adams, and Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds helped make the case for data-driven reforms with a record of success at the state level. As the Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris noted, “ultimately the voices that are going to matter to him most are the ones back at home.”   
 
“All you have to do is consult the numbers…New Jersey’s crime rates have plummeted across the board.”
 
New Jersey eliminated most cash bail in January 2017, despite predictions from opponents that crime would increase and communities would be less safe. Since then, violent crime rates have dropped more than 30%, with 32% fewer homicides, 37% fewer robberies, and 30% fewer burglaries. The state’s pretrial jail population has decreased nearly 40% over the past two years. After reviewing the data, the New Jersey Star Ledger editorial board said the reforms had “transformed our state into a model of justice reform for the entire nation.”
 
“There are other options, such as industry accreditation or simpler registries, that could offer an appropriate level of oversight without creating obstacles for workers attempting to enter the field.”
 
According to data from the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma licenses 41 lower-income professions, requiring an average of $234 in fees, two exams, and 399 days of education and experience. This week, a bipartisan coalition of state leaders recommended several changes to Oklahoma’s occupational licensing requirements, including expanding the list of boards that are banned from prohibiting the licensing of people with felony convictions unless their crimes were substantially related to the industry, and narrowing the scope of government licensure to work. The alarm and locksmith board, for example, currently requires that all salespeople, managers and security system technicians be licensed. The board recommended that managers and salespeople, who do not have access to peoples’ homes and valuables, should not be required to be licensed. 
 
“So what are we proudest of? Working together to develop outcomes that are far better for the broader society and far better for the individual as well.”

At the final meeting of his criminal justice reform commission, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Mike Lawlor pointed to their successes—including overall reductions in violent crime, arrests and prison populations—but noted that there was much more work to be done. Governor-Elect Ned Lamont has pledged to continue the state’s justice reforms, and announced this week that he would appoint Rollin Cook, the former executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, to serve as corrections commissioner.  
 
“Instead of just taking (juvenile offenders) to the jail, you take them to the center, they get an assessment and find out what that child needs…”
 
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch suggested several steps to reduce youth violence and involvement in the justice system, including better information sharing, easier connections with social services, and the establishment of an assessment center for youth who have come in contact with law enforcement. The recommendations come from a community-wide study that included input from law enforcement leaders, juvenile justice experts and social service providers. “A cycle of punitive accountability without any intervention is just a cycle of incarceration, release, re-offense,” said juvenile court officer Scott Hobart. “We’ve got to intervene.”

 

The First Step Act is signed into law, and the news in criminal justice this week

“We’re giving a first step to many who have not had that in the past. The first step will get us to many others.”

The First Step Act was signed into law this week. Years in the making, this bill is the most comprehensive criminal justice reform ever passed by both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The First Step Act received overwhelming support in both houses of congress, passing the Senate by a vote of 87-12 and the House by a vote of 358-36. This landmark legislation was championed by the bipartisan partnerships of Congressmen Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and received support from groups across the political spectrum.

“The path to sobriety and stability is often crooked, and case managers have to be willing to follow its many turns.”

In New Orleans, officials with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)program work to divert people who are frequently arrested to social workers instead of jail. The program currently has 20 enrollees who receive assistance in finding housing, health care and food stamps. Only misdemeanor offenses are eligible, individuals who are physically combative with officers cannot enroll in the program, and a victim can insist on charges even if officials recommend diversion. The model program in Seattle costs an average of $10,787 per year, but researchers found costs were partially offset by fewer jail stays and court appearances. The Vera Institute, which began working with the city to design the program in 2015, will collect statistics to evaluate the program’s results in New Orleans.

“It’s time we take the next step to seek a safer and more just system. It’s time to eliminate our wealth-based pretrial detention policy in favor of non-monetary release conditions.”

Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, co-authored an op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader pushing for significant bail reform in the commonwealth. Adkisson and Bailey pointed to a study showing that 64,123 non-violent, non-sexual defendants were detained in 2016, with an average stay of 109 days. They also cited a state panel report that showed defendants at similar risk levels were just as likely to appear in court and refrain from new criminal activity whether they were released on unsecured or secured bail.

“This approach will help us identify tailored solutions that address New Mexico’s distinct challenges and maximize the impact of every dollar we spend.”

New Mexico’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group met this week, working on a data-driven approach to identify and address issues in the state’s justice system. Amid more recent declines, as of 2017, New Mexico had the highest rates of property crime and violent crime in the country, and its violent crime rate was at a 10-year high for the state. Officials are working with the Council of State Governments to enact a Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a program that has led to policies in 30 other states that collectively have saved or avoided costs of more than $1.1 billion.

“All of the people coming in have injuries. The job of the court is to screen, assess and refer. Because we’re never going to get a behavior change if we don’t address what’s bringing them in.”

In 2011, officials in San Joaquin County were in the midst of a financial crisis, dealing with a spike in the homicide rate, and concerned that state prison-population reduction measures would result in increased crime. They established programs to provide mental health and addiction treatment, set up collaborative courts, adopted pretrial risk assessments, and implemented programs to build community trust in law enforcement and mentor and incentivize young people who are considered likely to be involved in gun-related crimes.  Since then, crime in San Joaquin Country dropped 20 percent, to a decades-old low, and there are empty beds in the jail that had been considered dangerously overcrowded. Representatives from around the state have come to San Joaquin County to study their programs in an attempt to emulate them statewide.

The First Step Act goes to the Senate, and the news in criminal justice this week

“At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the revised Criminal Justice Bill this month.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed for cloture on The First Step ActThursday, with a vote expected early next week. The legislation is supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition, including law enforcement and civil rights groups, and is expected to receive at least 70 votes in the Senate. President Trump also endorsed the bill, urging Leader McConnell to allow a vote in the Senate. Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris told the Louisville Courier-Journal obstacles remained, including amendments from opponents in the Senate, “but I’d put your money on our side.”  

“We hope that new governors will learn what most of those who have held the office know: that good ideas don’t come wrapped up in Democratic or Republican labels.”

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard and former Delaware Governor Jack Markell urged incoming governors to embrace bipartisan criminal justice reform. They emphasized the need to meaningfully reform sentencing and corrections, expand alternatives to jail and prison, and ensure that people leaving prison have access to support services and employment. “We are convinced that the reforms our states have instituted will make our communities safer, provide a second chance to many who made mistakes early in life and save our taxpayers money,” they wrote in Governing. “That’s a win-win-win.”

“There is no limit in Mississippi on how long a person can be held prior to indictment, so detainees can wait up to a year or more before even being formally charged with a crime.”

A new survey from the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi showed almost half of those jailed had a stay of 90 or more consecutive days. The state’s long pretrial detentions are the result of myriad factors, including delays in appointing public defenders, slow evidence processing, infrequent court meetings in rural areas, and high levels of poverty. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mississippi had the sixth-longest average pretrial stay in the country, with defendants detained for an average of 40 days.

“That actually has potential to open up additional funding for people who are incarcerated or leaving jails or getting continued treatment once they leave prisons.”

Reforms intended to keep nonviolent offenders out of Utah’s prisons have led to a 12% drop in prison population, but shifted many people with addiction into county jails that currently lack drug-treatment programs. A new report from the Utah Foundation examined the state’s treatment and rehabilitation programs, and found significant savings to taxpayers in the long term, but underscored the need to expand access to pre-booking diversion and treatment programs in county jails.

“When it comes to how we treat these people when they get out, we turn our back on them and let them down a second time.”

Monday, December 17th is the deadline to apply for relief under the Wrongful Conviction Tax Relief Act for claims prior to 2014. Passed in 2015, the law exempts civil damages, restitution or other financial awards exonerees have received from taxes in 33 states and the federal government. Jon Eldan works to identify those who may qualify and has helped 13 people recover $1.6 million and eliminate $500,000 in tax liability, collectively. His nonprofit group, After Innocence, also works with exonerees to apply for government and social services.

 

 

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.

Bipartisan Leadership on Reform, and the news in criminal justice this week

“Kentucky has been a model for bipartisan state-level reforms. Now we have the chance to take the lead at the federal level, too.”

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Fox News contributor and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds urged action on bipartisan criminal justice reform at a symposium at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. Mukasey said law enforcement was open to changing the current system, telling the crowd “if the criminal justice system is supposed to have any kind of transformative effect, it ain’t working.” In advance of Wednesday’s event, American Constitution Society chapter president David Woolums and Federalist Society chapter president Shannon Marie Keene co-authored an op-ed calling for bipartisan leadership on criminal justice reform.

“What we’ll do after the election is take a whip count and if there are more than 60 senators who want to go forward on that bill, we’ll find time to address it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed this week to taking a whip count on the FIRST STEP Act during the lame duck session, saying he would schedule a vote if there is sufficient support. President Trump reaffirmed his support for criminal justice reform, and said Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not represent the administration on criminal justice reform. “I make the decision,” Trump told Fox and Friends, “he doesn’t.”

“We understand that officer safety must be considered in any actions the state takes. But, we believe that can be accomplished without the debilitating use of solitary confinement.”

Isaiah Trinity Cabrales committed suicide after being held in solitary confinement for seven months at the Penitentiary of New Mexico. He was told he wouldn’t be allowed phone calls, visitors or trips to the commissary until May 2019, two years after he started serving his sentence. Reforms to the state’s solitary confinement system failed in the legislature in 2015, and were vetoed by Governor Susana Martinez in 2017. In response to the investigation of Cabrales’ death, the editorial board of the Las Cruces Sun News called for reform to the state’s “widespread use” of solitary confinement.

“The important thing is that all came together to pass good policy reform. At least in the area of criminal justice reform, Washington, D.C. could learn a big lesson from Michigan.”

In the Detroit News, the Mackinac Center’s Jarret Skorup pointed to Michigan’s bipartisan consensus on criminal justice as a model for national reform. Groups from across the political spectrum have worked together to improve the state’s bail system, raise the age at which juveniles are tried as adults, address overcriminalization, reform civil asset forfeiture, and increase access to expungements. Earlier this month, a package of bills to reform the state’s occupational licensing was passed with nearly unanimous support in the House and awaits action in the Senate. If passed, the legislation would target the “good moral character” provision of licensing laws, and allow people with criminal records to pursue the nearly 200 professions that are licensed by the state.

“If an individual has stayed out of the criminal justice system, then why should they continue to have that stain forever?”

Twenty states have created or expanded record-sealing programs, some with the full-throated support of prosecutors, since the beginning of 2017, and many are looking at Indiana’s Second Chance law as a model. The law, signed by then-Governor Mike Pence in 2013, created an expungement review process in which the seriousness of the offense and the outcome of the case determine the waiting period and form of record-sealing. Victims of crime are also given an opportunity to be heard before any relief is granted. Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry is an enthusiastic supporter, telling The New York Times “it’s just a matter of trying to remove obstacles that would make it more difficult for someone to become a productive member of the community.”