California Bar Foundation's curated briefing on what's driving the social justice conversation
in California and across the country.
California Bar Foundation's curated briefing on what's driving the social justice conversation
in California and across the country.
TOP NEWS The top criminal justice wins of 2017
The following list was compiled by John Legend & Carimah Townes, a criminal-justice reporter for the Fair Punishment Project. Earlier this year, John Legend lent his support to the Meet Your DA event series, which California Bar Foundation co-hosted with the ACLU of Northern California, ACS and Smart Justice California.
The criminal-justice system took a hard beating this year —especially at the federal level. The Department of Justice’s head honcho, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, directed all federal prosecutors (pdf) to seek the harshest charges possible in every criminal case, scaled back police department investigations, bolstered civil asset forfeiture, put military-grade weapons back in the hands of local police and expanded the federal government’s role in immigration enforcement.
But what if I told you that there’s reason to hope -- that there is still some good to latch on to?
1. New York and North Carolina “raised the age.”
This year, New York and North Carolina passed legislation to “raise the age” and will no longer automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Instead, these teenagers can legally be processed in the juvenile-justice system, which is better equipped to assess and tackle young people’s unique needs, and aims to be rehabilitative, not punitive.
2. The Senate passed critical juvenile-justice legislation.
Way back in 1974, the federal government passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, agreeing that there should be a basic set of guidelines for approaching incarcerated youths.
In August, the Senate finally voted in favor of a bill to reauthorize the legislation, after passage of a sister bill in the House last year. Now that both houses of Congress have advanced legislation, they will hold a conference committee to consolidate the bills and send a final version to the president. But the fact that Congress is addressing JJDPA at all, after 15 years, counts as a victory.
3. Some juvenile lifers were released from prisons.
In case you missed it, the Supreme Court has ruled, twice, that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional.
But, as Jessica Pishko wrote in The Nation, it is remarkably difficult for convicted lifers to get out of prison.
Despite these challenges, some have made it out. There’s Bobby Hines, who, at age 15, was sentenced to life without parole in Michigan for his connection to a murder. He didn’t pull the trigger but has spent the last 28 years behind bars because prosecutors said he was responsible for the killing. There’s Earl Rice Jr., who was 17 at the time he was locked up in a Pennsylvania prison for a robbery gone wrong. Rice has spent the past 43 years in prison because a woman he stole a purse from fell to the ground and fatally hit her head. There’s also Giovanni Reid in Pennsylvania, who was found guilty of conspiracy in relation to a murder when he was 16. While the numbers are still small, these three count among dozens given another chance by the Supreme Court and states acknowledging that kids are kids.
4. Thousands of convictions were dropped because of lab scandals in Massachusetts.
For years, Annie Dookhan served as a drug-lab chemist, helping prosecutors build thousands of cases in Massachusetts. But by her own admission, she tampered with evidence, wrote false reports, failed to complete vital drug tests and lied about her credentials. In April, prosecutors decided to drop over 21,000 cases tied to Dookhan -- many of which were prosecuted in Boston -- rather than spend countless dollars and resources to retry all of them.
5. Louisiana passed a comprehensive reform package.
Louisiana has long been known as the incarceration capital of the world. In 2014 it had the highest incarceration rate, with nearly 40,000 people behind bars.
In June, the legislature finally did something about the problem, passing a massive reform package to reduce the prison population by 10 percent in 10 years at the urging of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The package includes a number of sentencing and parole reforms. Mandatory minimums were gutted for various offenses: theft, arson, drug possession and others. Judges now have more discretion to sentence violent offenders and repeat offenders. Prosecutors have more discretion to send people to diversion programs as an alternative to prison. There are no more automatic parole terms for low-level offenses, and judges can now shorten probation terms for some violent offenders and repeat offenders.
6. A progressive district attorney candidate in Philadelphia won the election by a landslide.
Last month, Democratic candidate Larry Krasner not only won the race to become Philadelphia’s next district attorney, but he won close to 75 percent of the vote. Krasner, who once called himself “completely unelectable,” has long been a thorn in the side of law enforcement. He notoriously sued Philadelphia officers for breaching civil rights 75 times. He has also spent much of his decadeslong career fighting for activists who have been criminalized by the government.
He promised to end death penalty sentences, the prosecution of cases that involve stop-and-frisk, civil asset forfeiture and cash bail for nonviolent offenses. He vowed to treat addiction as a public health problem, to prosecute police engaged in misconduct and to protect immigrants.
The victory also continued a slow but growing national trend of prosecutorial candidates running on platforms to rethink and scale back tough-on-crime policies that have contributed to the bloated carceral population.
7. New York City announced a plan to close Rikers Island.
New York City is famous for jailing thousands of criminal defendants pretrial--the vast majority of whom can’t afford bail -- at Rikers Island. There, they face extreme violence and the rampant use of solitary confinement. Medical neglect is the norm. Many prisoners have been driven to suicide. The air is toxic.
In March, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the facility will be shuttered over the next 10 years and replaced with a smaller jail in each of the city’s five boroughs.
8. There are more eyes on prosecutors.
Police officers are easy to scrutinize for many reasons.
But there’s another group of law enforcement officials who deserve the same amount of scrutiny: local prosecutors.
The ACLU of California launched a campaign to educate voters about their local district attorneys and the policies they promote -- including those that contradict what voters actually want. Journalists have also produced deep dives on prosecutors’ abuses of power and misconduct, including Brady violations, the presentation of false evidence, questionable remarks made to jurors and a total lack of accountability. More eyes on these officials ultimately means that there can be a bigger push for accountability.
9. Use of the death penalty is still on the decline.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks national execution and death penalty sentencing, there were 23 executions this year. This marks the second-lowest number of executions in the past 25 years, and the continuation of a downward trend that’s lasted nearly two decades. The total number of new death sentences, 39, was historically low as well, marking the second-lowest number of new death sentences in any year since 1972.
10. Poor drivers in California got some relief.
There was a time when motorists in the Golden State could have their driver’s licenses suspended because they were too poor to pay traffic fines. This put them in a classic “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.
In June, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that put a stop to these license suspensions. The legislation will also be applied retroactively. This month, Alameda County became one of the first to reverse the suspensions in accordance with the new law -- a move expected to affect 54,000 drivers.
11. Multiple programs are helping formerly incarcerated people rebuild.
Release from prison can be incredibly complicated. On one hand, people get their freedom back. On the other hand, former prisoners often have no money, home or support system in place to truly get back on their feet.
But more and more programs are starting to offer vital assistance upon re-entry, and this year was full of success stories.
In Los Angeles, formerly incarcerated individuals have been hired for construction jobs and given an opportunity to build up their own communities. In fact, re-entry grants for health care, treatment programs and educational programming have been awarded throughout California. In Louisiana, criminal-justice advocates established a comprehensive re-entry plan to address the needs of people impacted by the criminal-justice overhaul.
Article by The Root. Read More Here>>>
More of This UC Irvine becomes the only top 30 law school lead by a woman of color
L. Song Richardson on Jan. 1 will become dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, which became the first public law school in California in nearly 50 years when it opened in 2009. Richardson has already been leading the school as interim dean since July, when founding dean Erwin Chemerinsky left to become dean at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
Chemerinsky said in an email Thursday that Song will take the school “to another level of excellence.” He added, “She is a terrific leader and a visionary in legal education.”
“I’d like to work with the entire law school community and the university as a whole to continue to redefine, reinvent, and reimagine the future of legal education. We want to be where legal education is going, not where it’s been,” she said, explaining that she’ll tackle challenges such as how the legal profession should face technological advances, and the problem of access to justice.
With Richardson’s appointment, she becomes the only woman of color currently leading a Top 30 law school.
“Through my life I have been inspired by other women and the incredible work they’ve done, and I hope with me in this position it will potentially inspire other women to dream big and work hard to achieve their dreams,” she said.
Article by The Recorder. Read More Here>>>
Second Chances This man spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Liberty has been bittersweet.
Roberto Almodovar held his head high when he walked free after 23 years in prison. He kept it that way when he was embraced by five other men who say they, too, were framed for murder, all by the same cop. It was the dress that finally made him break down.
Days after his release, after he had returned to his room in his aunt Mary’s house, after the TV news trucks and the waves of visitors had all receded and he was beginning the work of putting a post-prison life together, he found a photo of Jasmyn — the daughter who had been just an infant when he was arrested, who he had spent those long decades yearning for, who was now a young woman sitting beside him on the couch, scrolling through her phone. She was 2 years old in the photo, wearing a shiny party dress.
“I still have that dress,” his aunt said, fishing around in the closet until she found it.
He ran his fingers along its gold neckline and its tiny gold bow. Suddenly he could feel it: all that he had lost, all her firsts, all the people who had picked her up from school because he wasn’t there.
He hung his head and wept.
On the night of Aug. 31, 1994, Almodovar had just finished the GED class he was taking and come home to his aunt’s house when he and his girlfriend started to fight. It even drowned out the sound of nearby gunfire.
Two witnesses to the shooting picked Almodovar out of a lineup. One of them later testified that the lead detective pressured him. There was no other evidence against Almodovar.
His aunt Mary Rodriguez, along with her sisters Gladys Ramirez and Iris Mojica, fought for the next 23 years to exonerate their nephew, spending long nights at the dining room table mapping the cracks in the case, and mortgaging a family home to pay for legal fees. Eventually, with other families in the neighborhood, the aunts helped uncover dozens of cases in which Reynaldo Guevara, the lead detective in Almodovar’s case, was accused of misconduct. More than 50 other people say he framed them, too.
Last April, 10 days after BuzzFeed News published an investigation detailing the allegations against Guevara, prosecutors dropped the charges against Almodovar on the eve of his final appeal. He walked through the gates of the Cook County Jail a free man. His daughter, Jasmyn, sprinted past the jail guards to embrace her father.
People who serve out their sentences receive support services like job placement, housing assistance, and counseling. People who are exonerated rarely do. They get a check from the state, based on how many years they spent behind bars. Beyond that, they mostly have to figure it out for themselves.
“The only program I’ve got is my family,” said Almodovar. “If it weren’t for them, I’d be fucked. I’d be a bum in the streets.” He has yet to receive the nearly $200,000 payout he’s due under Illinois state law. His lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, plans to bring a federal civil suit against the city for all that he suffered.
Getting a job has been even harder. Exoneration doesn’t change the fact that he’s a 42-year-old with less than two years’ work history. And even prospective employers who acknowledge his innocence are likely to worry about the scars he still bears.
There have been happy times, too.
At a welcome-home party for Almodovar a month later, Jasmyn surprised her father by re-creating key moments in her life. She walked out in her high school prom dress so that they could have their first dance. Then she slipped into her graduation gown and swayed with him to the song “Daddy’s Home.”
Article by Buzzfeed. Read More Here>>>
Watch This Roberto Almodovar freed after 23 years
His daughter Jasmyn was only 6 months old when he was taken away. She’s now 23 years old.
#ChangeLawyers The incredible life of civil rights lawyer Charles Ogletree
Blocks away from Harvard Law School, renowned civil rights attorney and law professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. was at home with family, readying himself for a celebration in his honor.
In his decades-long career, Ogletree’s mind has been his weapon in legal cases that took him from D.C. Superior Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. He represented Anita Hill when she made her 1991 sexual harassment claims against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. And he was a longtime moderator of a 1990s PBS series on ethics, where he challenged some of the nation’s top business and political leaders in debate.
Now Ogletree’s mind is battling him. Four years ago, when he was 60, family and colleagues noticed he had begun stumbling over names and repeating stories. The following year, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a disease that usually ensnares victims 65 and older.
“We initially felt hopeless,” said Ogletree’s wife, Pam. “But we have faith and we believe in prayer.”
Ogletree, sitting next to her, is optimistic.
“This disease hasn’t done nothing. It doesn’t bother me,” he said with a large smile.
During his career as a litigator, educator and author, Ogletree became known for his uncanny ability to remember facts, dates and case law.
He grew up in the segregated farming town of Merced, Calif., where his father worked as a farmer and his mother was an aide at a junior college. He was the first in his family to attend college when he was accepted into Stanford University, where he met his future wife.
As a student, Ogletree became interested in criminal law while attending the 1972 trial of Black Panther party member Angela Davis. He went on to Harvard Law School, then took a job as a public defender in the District. There, he quickly developed a reputation as someone who worked long hours preparing cases. Colleagues, impressed by his steadiness, gave him a nickname that stuck: “Tree.”
Ogletree left the public defender’s office in 1985 after he was passed over as director and returned to Cambridge as a law professor at his alma mater. He focused on using the courts to fight against racial injustice.
In a 1990 case before the Supreme Court, Ogletree won a new trial for a black man accused of murder in Georgia, showing that prosecutors had excluded African Americans from the jury.
In 2003, he took on one of his more challenging cases, representing about 100 survivors of the 1921 race riots in Tulsa, where white residents attacked hundreds of black residents and set fire to their homes and businesses.
Anita Hill remembered Ogletree from the 1980s when the two of them worked in the District, she as a staff attorney with the EEOC and he as a public defender blocks away.
“Among the young lawyers in D.C., he was already a legend. He was a gifted defense attorney and passionate criminal justice advocate,” she said.
It was Ogletree’s idea, Hill said, to hold an impromptu news conference announcing she had passed a lie-detector test.
“He was the smartest and baddest man in the room,” she said as the audience laughed.
Back home after the program, Ogletree chuckled at Hill’s assessment. “That’s true,” he said. “And I still am.”
Article by Washington Post. Read More Here>>>
Scholarship Opportunity $5000 cash award for 3Ls taking the bar exam
California Bar Foundation is now accepting applications from 3Ls planning on taking the bar exam in February & July of 2018. The scholarship includes a $5000 living stipend.