Memo to the Nation’s Newest Prosecutors: Restore Your Community’s Trust

Only a major overhaul of prosecutors’ traditional practices can break down the deep-seated barriers of distrust and racism that have alienated many American from the justice system and created a “public safety disaster,’ says a paper addressed to the new crop of district attorneys elected in last month’s midterms.

Prosecutors who are willing to rethink their traditional adversarial roles can head off the “public safety disaster” in many American cities caused by long-festering distrust and racism, according to a new paper from the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution (IIP) at John Jay College.

The paper, written by Dan Satterberg, prosecuting attorney in King County, Wa., and Ronald Wright, a law professor at Wake Forest University, calls for a major transformation of the prosecutor’s role as courtroom adversary to one that involves partnership with defense attorneys, community service providers and community leaders.

Dan Satterberg

Dan Satterberg, Prosecuting Attorney, King County, Washington State

The transformation extends to collaborating with public defenders’ offices, engaging more “respectfully” with eyewitnesses, crime victims, and their families, and re-thinking some of the harsher investigative and trial tactics that have alienated many people in at-risk communities, the authors wrote.

“Public safety is something that prosecutors must co-produce with their communities,” the paper said. “It is not something they can simply deliver to the public.”

The authors, addressing themselves to the 2,500 chief prosecutors around the country—including those newly elected in the 2018 midterms—argued that crucial first steps included training their staffs to recognize “implicit and explicit bias,” hiring more people of color, and eliminating the “dehumanizing” language often used  to describe eyewitnesses as well as victims.

“An important part of engaging respectfully with the community is acknowledging our nation’s shameful history of slavery and racism which continues to cloud the criminal justice system,” the authors wrote. “As a person, as a prosecutor, you have inherited this history.”

Ronald Wright

Ronald Wright, Wake Forest University

The paper is the latest in a series of essays aimed at generating what the IIP describes as “high-level culture change” in prosecutors’ offices. The essays are an outgrowth of conversations among leading prosecutors around the U.S. who have participated in Executive Sessions of the Institute, which is funded in part by a grant from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

According to Satterburg and Wright, the U.S. criminal justice system has been undermined by a “silent protest by the most vulnerable members of our society who do not believe that involving police, prosecutors or courts will improve their situation.”

As a result, eyewitnesses and crime victims, including women subjected to domestic abuse and immigrants, simply refuse to help police solve crimes of violence even when they have valuable evidence, in what amounts to a “boycott” of American justice, the paper said.

“These boycotts amount to a public safety disaster,” the authors wrote. “And they point to the greatest challenge for every District Attorney in America: to earn and keep the trust of the communities where crime has the greatest impact.”

The paper argues that prosecutors can only earn that trust by adapting fundamental changes in the way their offices work and think.

A key element in the transformation is moving from the prosecutor’s traditional adversarial role to one of greater partnership with defense attorneys and service providers in the community, involving mutual efforts to find alternatives to harsh sentences and jail time, particularly for non-violent offenders.

“As the elected prosecutor, you should support a strong local public defense system, and insist that the line prosecutors in your office engage in amicable and professional conduct with their counterparts in the defense community,” the authors wrote.

“An adversarial defense system does not require prosecutors to be personal adversaries with defense attorneys.”

Prosecutors were advised to “not take advantage of unprepared defense counsel” and avoid seeking additional charges or sentences beyond the maximum as a tactic for “bargaining leverage.”

The authors outlined five new strategies for a “prosecution that earns community trust.”

  • Avoid traditional prosecutorial tactics that withhold exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys until the last minute or exploit the plea-bargaining process—used to resolve the majority of cases in the U.S. justice system—by threatening additional charges beyond the maximum as a tactic for “leverage;”
  • Add “non-prison punishments” such as counseling or alternative courts as a matter of course to the prosecution toolkit, instead of holding them out as a form of leniency that the prosecutor dispenses only in exceptional cases;
  • Treat victims and eyewitnesses with greater respect, avoiding “dehumanizing language” and making sure that line prosecutors take the time to listen to victims, witnesses, defendants and their families.
  • Develop partnerships with community-based alternatives that can divert deserving defendants away from the courts before charges are filed in nonviolent cases, and “take the lead in finding sources of money” to develop such programs;
  • Make accountability and transparency a regular component of prosecutorial offices, through methods such as regular public reports and providing more information to the media.

The authors said conviction rates shouldn’t be the only metric for prosecutors’ effectiveness.

“A community-oriented prosecutor’s office must look beyond conviction rates at trial when measuring success,” the authors said. “Transparent prosecution enables the public to see not just single cases, but trends and patterns in the full range of programs that the office undertakes.”

Citing one practice adopted by the King County prosecutor, an annual report includes reasons why some cases involving juveniles are tried in adult court and others in juvenile court.

The public can “agree or disagree with (the prosecutor’s) decisions, but [they can] do so informed by our transparency,” the study said.

Transforming the prosecutor’s role won’t happen overnight, the authors conceded, but they said every prosecutor should be thinking of long-term goals.

“We hope that prosecutors over the next 15 to 20 years can achieve greater balance among crime prevention efforts, courtroom-based justice responses, and other community responses to safety threats,” the paper said.

“In the end we want to empower communities to enhance their own safety, while trusting the criminal justice system to continue to combat serious violence,” the authors added. “But communities will allow prosecutors to help only if we earn their trust.”

The full paper is available here.

Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Has Plea Bargaining Distorted American Justice?

Every day, in the corridors of most U.S. courts, defense attorneys and prosecutors quietly negotiate plea deals in a system of “underground justice” that often shortchanges defendants. In a conversation with TCR about his new book, Texas scholar William Kelly offers an alternative.

About 95 percent of criminal convictions are a result of plea negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys. The process by which these deals are reached constitute a system of “underground justice,” that too often shortchanges defendants—and is overdue for reform.

book coverThat’s the central argument of a new book by William R. Kelly, Ph.D., director of the Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice Research at the University of Texas at Austin, and one of the country’s leading criminologists. The book, “Confronting Underground Justice: Reinventing Plea Bargaining for Effective Criminal Justice Reform,” was written with U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman.

In a conversation with The Crime Report, Kelly explains how plea bargaining has effectively distorted the notion of equitable justice, why it often leads to recidivism, and offers an innovative alternative to a practice that is more concerned with moving cases quickly than addressing individual issues of defendants. The conversation has been slightly edited for space.

The Crime Report: What is underground justice?

William R. Kelly: That particular reference pertains to plea negotiations, which are not conducted in the light of day. It’s basically conducted through the underground—in prosecutors’ offices, in hallways, and on cellphones.

TCR: You suggest there’s a close connection between the prevalence of plea negotiations and getting tough on crime.

Kelly: The U.S. has had it for many, many, many decades—it’s not something new to the tough- on-crime era. But it played a fundamental role in how we got to where we are today in terms of our focus on criminal conviction and punishment. Plea negotiation is a fast track to criminal conviction and punishment. Punishment is really the currency of plea negotiation. It is what’s being negotiated, whether it’s time in prison, time on probation, etc. It facilitates the growth of tough on crime policies.

TCR: A plea deal is supposed to be a negotiation that satisfies both parties—the prosecution and the defendant—but most times these plea deals aren’t favorable to the defendant. You discussed in the book how even innocent people take plea deals. How does this happen?

Kelly: It happens because there are a variety of strategies commonly used for motivating plea deals: threats of greater punishment, restrictions on evidence, use of tactics during negotiation that might persuade someone to confess to something. The Fifth Amendment basically says confessions are fine as long as they are voluntary, but the courts haven’t been clear about what voluntary means. When someone is threatened with greater punishment, it’s hard to imagine that they feel completely free and open in making a decision.

There are situations—we don’t know how many—where individuals find themselves in a particular situation where the government claims they have certain evidence, and pleading to a crime they didn’t commit may be people’s best option. And again, we don’t know how often this happens because the whole negotiation happens underground. It’s not in the bright light of the courtroom.

TCR: And many defendants aren’t aware of the collateral consequences.

Kelly: This raises a number of issues. One is longer term: what are the consequences of criminal conviction? What are the consequences of being incarcerated? On the other end of that, we know there are phenomenal problems with housing and employment, social services and a whole lot of other things—where someone can live and work.

It also raises issues during the pleas process itself. The majority of individuals in the criminal justice system have at least one mental health problem, and we know that a vast majority of incarcerated people have substance abuse problems. The government is required to prove two things to convict somebody of a crime: One is the criminal act itself, and the other is something referred to as criminal intent.

However, that issue—the criminal intent—is rarely raised during the plea negotiation process. The goal here is to get somebody to confess to a crime. Once that’s done, the process is done. The only thing left to do is decide how much punishment they get. So, it raises issues there about how well can criminal defendants negotiate in a process that requires at least some sense of judgement exercised by the defendant, presumably assisted by adequate counsel. And that raises other issues regarding how much time and resources public defenders have.

TCR: How would our criminal justice system and our prisons look if more defendants rejected plea deals to go to trial instead?

Kelly: We wouldn’t recognize our criminal justice system because it would fall in on itself. We don’t have the resources really. We don’t have the judges, the courtrooms, the staff and the time to really conduct anymore criminal trials. We can play the if game, but the reality is that it can never happen. The vast majority of criminal convictions—misdemeanors and felonies—are plea negotiated. And one of the key reasons for that is that it’s a quick and efficient way to expedite cases. We don’t have the resources to do much else.

But if it did happen, I think we would be looking at harsher punishment for people convicted of crimes.

TCR: Is there a place for plea negotiations in our society?

Kelly: Absolutely. The original intention was that the plea deal should be used when there was no disagreement about the evidence. The whole point was that this was for cases where the evidence is clear and there was no room to argue for innocence. If both parties agree, then why should they waste resources on a trial? That’s what it was designed to do. I think we far exceeded that. Ninety-five percent of all criminal convictions happen in that manner, and I suspect there are concerns with evidence in many of those cases.

TCR: Is there a connection between the prevalence of plea deals and recidivism?

bill kelly

William R. Kelly

Kelly: Yes. The whole point of the book is that we need to take a much closer look at the individuals who are going through the criminal justice system to get a sense of what brings them there in the first place and employ strategies for addressing those issues. Plea negotiations runs in just the opposite direction. It is the fundamental tool for moving many cases as quickly as possible. What that gets us is a primarily punishable-focus set of outcomes that do nothing to reduce recidivism. Plea negotiations certainly promote high recidivism because it’s not designed in the way we currently use it to do anything about it.

TCR: For this project, you interviewed prosecutors. Were you surprised to find that many prosecutors didn’t believe reducing recidivism was their job?

Kelly: Yes and no. I was dumbfounded when I heard it. I certainly expected it because that’s what the system looks like, but the fact that they actually said that—I was shocked. But what they’re concerned with is keeping their heads above their caseload. So, moving as many cases as possible is really the name of the game, and anything that interrupts that is seen as counterproductive.

TCR: You and Robert Pitman proposed having a neutral mediator in the courtroom to help ensure that plea negotiations are fair to both parties. Please explain.

There are two primary policy recommendations. One is procedural- or due process-focused—that’s what the plea mediator focuses on. The other one focuses on recidivism reduction.

We identified a long list of issues, concerns and problems with plea negotiations, many of which draw into question fairness or equity. The state has the upper hand in plea negotiations. The prosecutor lays out the terms of the plea deal, and there’s all kinds of evidentiary issues. There are all kinds of voluntary confession issues. There are representation and access to counsel issues.

So, what we propose is to add another element to the court system, and that’s someone to operate as an independent, neutral third party to oversee the plea negotiation process and whose primary concern is to enhance the due process protection that the constitution and supreme court case law provide to criminal defendants. It might be helpful to have another set of eyes and a voice engaged in the process of plea negotiations, so it’s not just the prosecutor, the defendant and the defense council.

An obvious question is “isn’t that what judges supposed to be doing?” In theory, yes. Judges typically will make sure that plea negotiation was arrived properly, that someone was not promised something in exchange. But judges don’t really have the time to do it all. Their dockets are just as bad as the prosecutors’ casebook. Therefore, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect judges to engage in this plea negotiation process. That’s why we think it’s important to have this third-party set of eyes to oversee the process.

TCR: And who do you recommend for these mediator roles? Could it be an ordinary community member?

Kelly: This would not be a community-member kind of role. It would have to be someone who has expertise in criminal law and criminal procedure because they have to be aware of the issues with plea negotiations. They need to know what a voluntary confession looks like and what is adequate representation and counsel.

TCR: Who’s your audience for this book. Who should read it?

Kelly: The book is for anyone, but particularly for judges, prosecutors, and defense counsels. We talked to them, and they are the ones who are most in a position to change how things are done. The goal of this book is to identify fundamental changes to the criminal justice system, particular to this up-front phase of criminal pretrial proceedings. The whole point here is to examine the roles played by judges, prosecutors, defense counsels and pretrial folks and understand what needs to change among all those parties to reduce victimization, reduce recidivism and save lots of money.

The point I made in all the books I’ve written on this topic is that criminal justice reform is local. We’re talking about roughly 3,100 counties in the U.S, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of local prosecutors who can change how they go about doing business to more effectively reduce recidivism

TCR: As you just mentioned, a lot, if not all, of your books deal with changing the status quo.

Kelly: Not too many people out there believe the criminal justice system is doing a good job. If you look at recidivism rates of 85 percent and the direct loss of billions of dollars each year—no matter what metric you want to use, you really can’t spin this into a positive situation. So, based on that premise, the obvious question is “Where the hell do we go from there?”

There have been efforts focusing on addressing slices of issues within the criminal justice system, like reducing incarceration, etc. I agree with all that, but what we really need to do is take a more holistic approach. And also, the more I wrote about criminal justice reform, the more it became obvious to me that the most important place to invest criminal justice reform resources is at this pretrial stage and particularly in the prosecutor’s office.

Again, plea negotiations are not designed to identify people who have a mental health problem. They are not designed to identify someone who had a traumatic brain injury, neuro-cognitive impairment; and they aren’t designed to address someone who has a substance abuse disorder.

*Simply convicting and sending someone to prison who has a mental health problem will not change that; it will only make it worse. That’s one of the key reasons why we have high recidivism. We don’t really engage in the reasons why people engage in crime. A part of that is because prosecutors are lawyers. They’re not behaviorists. They’re not psychiatrist. They’re not psychologist. They’re lawyers: they know the law and they know caseload demand.

So, in addition to the plea mediator, we propose the concept of the expert panel—psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers who can screen and assess and diagnose individuals when they come through the criminal justice system. This in turn provide prosecutors with much better information so they can decide what to do with a particular individual on a case-by-case basis.

Gabriel Ware

J. Gabriel Ware

TCR: What’s next for you? Do you have any more projects coming out?

Kelly: I have already started a new project. In the last three of four years, we’ve seen the election of reform-oriented or progressive prosecutors—Larry Krasner in Philadelphia and Kim Foxx in Chicago, for example. In this next project, I’m interviewing these folks to explore two main questions: what factors play into their election and what happens once they get into office? How do they define reform? How are they implementing change and what kind of barriers do they run into?

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR News Intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Rising Court Costs Turn Poor Into Victims of ‘Mercenary Justice’: Study

Some 10 million Americans now hold criminal debt totaling over $50 billion, as a result of court fines and fees they are unable to pay. But the federal government has barely tried to end an often-hidden practice that damages community-police relations as much as unjustified shootings, according to an FSU law professor.

Police and court authorities are the principal players in a system of “mercenary justice” that has distorted relations between communities and law enforcement, with hidden consequences that parallel more well-publicized forms of misconduct such as the unjustified shooting of unarmed civilians, according to a forthcoming article in the Illinois Law Review.

But even the few tools the federal government has to stop the practice of treating justice-involved populations as “targets for revenue generation” are not being used, wrote Wayne A. Logan, the Gary & Sallyn Pajcic Professor of Law at Florida State University College of Law.

In his essay, based on a recent symposium on the issue, Logan wrote that charging escalating fines and fees on individuals who come before the court in many U.S. jurisdictions, even for minor violations, has created a “two-tier” system of justice.

He called it a “different kind of justice system violence—of an economic kind, with victims whose names have not become the subject of common public knowledge.”

According to available statistics, some 10 million Americans now hold criminal debt of some kind, totaling over $50 billion.

While some have called this “cash register justice,” Logan said a more accurate term was “mercenary justice,” reflecting the fact that many jurisdictions have been using fines to shore up financial shortfalls experienced by many cities and towns around the U.S. since the 2008 Great Recession.

“Local mercenary criminal justice, while certainly not as dire as unjustified killings by police, has very negative effects on individuals and the communities in which they live,” he wrote.

“It also fosters the appearance and actuality of systemic conflicts of interest and corruption, skews law enforcement priorities at the expense of the public good, [and] creates a two-tier system of justice that especially disadvantages the poor, who lack the resources to buy their way out of the system.”

Logan said public anger and frustration with the system occasionally captures headlines. The riots in Ferguson, Mo., following the Aug. 2014 police killing of an unarmed teen, were fanned by simmering resentment about the onerous fines imposed by local officials as a way to raise revenue for the city.

Many people saw police as a “collection agency,” and felt regarded “less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.” Just as ominously, they “feared venturing outside for risk of being targeted and arrested due to a single missed payment,” wrote Logan, citing subsequent interviews with Ferguson residents.

But most of the time, the practice goes on well beneath the radar screen of public attention.

Logan cited the example of Cindy Rodriguez of Rutherford County, Tennessee, who after pleading guilty to shoplifting, was assessed almost $600 in fines and fees, including a monthly “supervision fee” while she was on probation for a year. She was also required to pay for a drug test, despite not being charged with a drug-related offense.

Rodriguez, who had never been in legal trouble before, was subsisting on disability payments of $735 per month, when she was arrested. Lacking money to pay her escalating debts, she was jailed.

After she was released, “she sold her van to make payments, was eventually rendered homeless, and lacked money to purchase food for herself and her daughter,” Logan wrote.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, such experiences have “become common as local governments, left to fend for themselves, looked to the criminal justice system as a revenue source,” he added.

Meanwhile, the federal government has done little to counter the trend, which has been exacerbated by the increasing use of Legal Financial Obligations, to pay off local debt, Logan wrote.

In 2016, the Department of Justice sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to state supreme court chief justices and state court administrators, urging them to curtail practices such as jailing individuals who were unable to pay. But it had little impact, Logan said, and the letter was since revoked when the Trump administration came to power.

Logan noted that few local governments have incentive to change, and some even argue that forcing individuals to be financially accountable for their misdeeds by helping to pay the cost incurred by their involvement in the justice system was defensible.

But statistics show that these practices “disproportionately burden the poor and racial minorities [and amount] to a regressive tax they are often ill-equipped to pay,” he wrote.

More direct methods such as initiating a “pattern or practice” investigation of police misconduct under the Civil Rights Act, or withholding federal funds from jurisdictions that abuse the system, have similarly been avoided—in many cases because of federal reluctance to incur political pushback by interfering with states that are otherwise in dire financial straits, wrote Logan.

In the process, the LFOs have encouraged burgeoning involvement by private sector interests who can take over bill collecting and enforcement for profit, Logan wrote.

“Private businesses frequently provide services, often prioritizing profits over the best interests of individuals and exercising influence over local policymakers,” he noted, adding “the involvement of for-profit, private companies creates obvious moral hazard risk.”

Logan warned that without proactive policies on the part of the federal government, the system will only get worse—and it may take more public flare-ups before policymakers decide to do something about it.

“Those wishing comprehensive reform of local mercenary criminal justice practices,” he concluded, “will likely have to await, in James Baldwin’s words, ‘the fire next time.’”

See also: Expected High Court Ruling on ‘Excessive’ Fines Boosts Nationwide Movement.

The complete essay can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Rising Number of Life Sentences is ‘Wasteful and Inhumane,’ says Study

Life sentences in the US continue to rise, despite declining crime rates, according to The Sentencing Project.  The study also found that the number of juveniles and women serving life terms has also grown.

Despite declining crime rates, life sentences in the U.S. continue to rise, according to a new study by The Sentencing Project. 

The study authors found the number of people serving life sentences – including life without the possibility of parole ( 53,290), life with the possibility of parole (108,667), and “virtual” life sentences of 50 years or more (44,311) are at an all-time high.

“This is both wasteful and inhumane,” authors said.

“The overwhelming majority of individuals who commit crime—even serious crime—will “age out” of criminal behavior, and their continued incarceration diminishes returns on public safety,” they added.

Moreover, although most life sentences are reserved for those who have committed serious and often violent crimes, over 17,000 individuals serving life have been convicted of a nonviolent offense, including 5,000 convicted of a drug offense, the study found.

And, 59 percent of lifers are serving sentences for homicide, 17 percent for rape or sexual assault, and 15 percent for aggravated assault, robbery, or kidnapping.

Significantly, while people of color are over-represented in prisons and jails, this disparity is even more evident among those sentenced to life imprisonment, where one of every five African American prisoners is serving a life sentence.

The number of women and juveniles  serving life sentences is also alarming, the study said.

Over 6,000 women are serving life or virtual life sentences. The number of women serving life sentences has risen at a faster rate than for men in recent years, according to the study.

More than 7,000 juveniles are serving sentences of life with parole, and another 2,000 are serving “virtual life” prison terms of 50 years or more.

A full copy of the report can be found here.

Megan Hadley is senior staff writer for The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Jersey AG Assails ‘Harebrained’ Federal Immigration Policies

In a blunt talk to students and faculty at John Jay College, Gurbir Grewal said state attorneys-general have been critical to the struggle against “harebrained” federal efforts to criminalize immigrants over the past two years. But conservative federal court appointments will make things tougher, he warned.

State attorneys-general across the U.S. have served as a critical check so far on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant initiatives—but their struggle may soon get tougher as federal court vacancies are filled by more conservative judges, an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was told Monday.

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s Attorney General, said he hoped the new Democratic majority elected to Congress in last month’s midterms would take up the task as the White House “packs the courts” with new judges closer to its ideological views.

Gurbir Grewal

New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. (Office of Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

In blunt remarks to faculty and students, Grewal said that state attorneys-general have frequently joined forces in the past two years to battle “harebrained” federal schemes, such as attempting to block visitors from some Muslim countries.

“When the Department of Justice stands down on its obligations, we stand up,” said Grewal, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed in January by New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phillip D. Murphy as the country’s first state attorney general of Sikh heritage.

New Jersey recently sent prosecutors to Texas to successfully battle an attempt in federal court there to repeal the status of “Dreamers”—young people who have been granted leave to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act.

But, Grewal added, efforts by attorneys-general to fight Trump initiatives in federal court are likely to become more difficult as the administration attempts to fill judicial vacancies at the district or appeal court levels with judges more favorable to its “ideological” point of view.

The hope is that the newly elected Democratic members of the House, who will be a majority when they take office in January, can act as a more effective brake on government initiatives and, in particular, counter the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington, Grewal said.

“We have seen a president who has pitted communities against each other, put children in cages, demeaned the humanity (of immigrants)” by referring to them as thugs, and helped foster an atmosphere in which “bias and hate” could flourish, he said.

But Grewal also pointed out that he, like other state attorneys-general, was already moving from battling against the government to developing positive initiatives.

“We can start building models of what good government looks like,” he said, pointing to recent initiatives such as the Immigrant Trust Directive, announced last week, which ordered New Jersey law enforcement agencies to limit cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Grewal has also promised major reforms in police training, including violence de-escalation tactics, following a New Jersey newspaper investigation that uncovered a pattern of questionable use-of-force incidents by state law enforcement over the past five years.

See also: NJ Attorney General Grewal Promises ‘Wholesale Reform’ on Police Use of Force. 

The son of South Asian immigrants, Grewal says he takes the anti-immigrant rhetoric personally, having been the target of racist rhetoric during his legal career.

He recalled going into his law offices in Washington after the September 11th, 2001 attacks while a homeless man shouted “I found Bin Laden,” whenever Grewal walked by.

“I grew up in this country…and I checked every box. I was a soccer (dad), I drove a minivan,” he said to laughter.

“But I woke up one day to feel completely un-American.”

Lingering stereotypes of immigrants motivated his own career choices, Grewal said.

Grewal told the students that he had entered public service, after first considering a diplomatic career, to change people’s perceptions of him and others who looked like him.

Grewal, who served as prosecutor of Bergen County, the state’s most populous county, under then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie, developed programs designed to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis, such as “Operation Helping Hand,”which offers low-level drug offenders treatment options upon arrest.

Earlier, as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York and later, in New Jersey, Grewal led the successful prosecution of 12 men charged with providing material support to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group, and the prosecution of major white collar and fraud cases.

The new rules under the Immigrant Trust Directive go into affect March 2019. They include:

For New Jersey Police Officers

  • Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Cannot ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation.
  • Cannot participate in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement operations.
  • Cannot provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property.

For New Jersey Correctional Officers 

  • Cannot allow ICE to interview individuals detained on criminal charges, unless the detainee is advised of his or her right to a lawyer and signs a written consent form.
  • Cannot continue to hold a detained individual arrested for a minor criminal offense, without certain prior convictions,

For New Jersey Prosecutors 

  • Cannot attack a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.
  • Cannot seek pretrial detention of an individual based solely on his or her immigration status.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Jersey AG Assails ‘Harebrained’ Federal Immigration Policies

In a blunt talk to students and faculty at John Jay College, Gurbir Grewal said state attorneys-general have been critical to the struggle against “harebrained” federal efforts to criminalize immigrants over the past two years. But conservative federal court appointments will make things tougher, he warned.

State attorneys-general across the U.S. have served as a critical check so far on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant initiatives—but their struggle may soon get tougher as federal court vacancies are filled by more conservative judges, an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was told Monday.

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s Attorney General, said he hoped the new Democratic majority elected to Congress in last month’s midterms would take up the task as the White House “packs the courts” with new judges closer to its ideological views.

Gurbir Grewal

New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. (Office of Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

In blunt remarks to faculty and students, Grewal said that state attorneys-general have frequently joined forces in the past two years to battle “harebrained” federal schemes, such as attempting to block visitors from some Muslim countries.

“When the Department of Justice stands down on its obligations, we stand up,” said Grewal, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed in January by New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phillip D. Murphy as the country’s first state attorney general of Sikh heritage.

New Jersey recently sent prosecutors to Texas to successfully battle an attempt in federal court there to repeal the status of “Dreamers”—young people who have been granted leave to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act.

But, Grewal added, efforts by attorneys-general to fight Trump initiatives in federal court are likely to become more difficult as the administration attempts to fill judicial vacancies at the district or appeal court levels with judges more favorable to its “ideological” point of view.

The hope is that the newly elected Democratic members of the House, who will be a majority when they take office in January, can act as a more effective brake on government initiatives and, in particular, counter the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington, Grewal said.

“We have seen a president who has pitted communities against each other, put children in cages, demeaned the humanity (of immigrants)” by referring to them as thugs, and helped foster an atmosphere in which “bias and hate” could flourish, he said.

But Grewal also pointed out that he, like other state attorneys-general, was already moving from battling against the government to developing positive initiatives.

“We can start building models of what good government looks like,” he said, pointing to recent initiatives such as the Immigrant Trust Directive, announced last week, which ordered New Jersey law enforcement agencies to limit cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Grewal has also promised major reforms in police training, including violence de-escalation tactics, following a New Jersey newspaper investigation that uncovered a pattern of questionable use-of-force incidents by state law enforcement over the past five years.

See also: NJ Attorney General Grewal Promises ‘Wholesale Reform’ on Police Use of Force. 

The son of South Asian immigrants, Grewal says he takes the anti-immigrant rhetoric personally, having been the target of racist rhetoric during his legal career.

He recalled going into his law offices in Washington after the September 11th, 2001 attacks while a homeless man shouted “I found Bin Laden,” whenever Grewal walked by.

“I grew up in this country…and I checked every box. I was a soccer (dad), I drove a minivan,” he said to laughter.

“But I woke up one day to feel completely un-American.”

Lingering stereotypes of immigrants motivated his own career choices, Grewal said.

Grewal told the students that he had entered public service, after first considering a diplomatic career, to change people’s perceptions of him and others who looked like him.

Grewal, who served as prosecutor of Bergen County, the state’s most populous county, under then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie, developed programs designed to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis, such as “Operation Helping Hand,”which offers low-level drug offenders treatment options upon arrest.

Earlier, as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York and later, in New Jersey, Grewal led the successful prosecution of 12 men charged with providing material support to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group, and the prosecution of major white collar and fraud cases.

The new rules under the Immigrant Trust Directive go into affect March 2019. They include:

For New Jersey Police Officers

  • Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Cannot ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation.
  • Cannot participate in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement operations.
  • Cannot provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property.

For New Jersey Correctional Officers 

  • Cannot allow ICE to interview individuals detained on criminal charges, unless the detainee is advised of his or her right to a lawyer and signs a written consent form.
  • Cannot continue to hold a detained individual arrested for a minor criminal offense, without certain prior convictions,

For New Jersey Prosecutors 

  • Cannot attack a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.
  • Cannot seek pretrial detention of an individual based solely on his or her immigration status.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

Conservative Judges Imperil Fight Against Trump Immigrant Policies: New Jersey AG

In a blunt talk to students and faculty at John Jay College, Gurbir Grewal said state attorneys-general have been critical to the struggle against “harebrained” federal efforts to criminalize immigrants over the past two years. But conservative federal court appointments will make things tougher, he warned.

State attorneys-general across the U.S. have served as a critical check so far on the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant initiatives—but their struggle may soon get tougher as federal court vacancies are filled by more conservative judges, an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was told Monday.

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s Attorney General, said he hoped the new Democratic majority elected to Congress in last month’s midterms would take up the task as the White House “packs the courts” with new judges closer to its ideological views.

Gurbir Grewal

New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. (Office of Attorney General / Tim Larsen)

In blunt remarks to faculty and students, Grewal said that state attorneys-general have frequently joined forces in the past two years to battle “harebrained” federal schemes, such as attempting to block visitors from some Muslim countries.

“When the Department of Justice stands down on its obligations, we stand up,” said Grewal, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed in January by New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phillip D. Murphy as the country’s first state attorney general of Sikh heritage.

New Jersey recently sent prosecutors to Texas to successfully battle an attempt in federal court there to repeal the status of “Dreamers”—young people who have been granted leave to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act.

But, Grewal added, efforts by attorneys-general to fight Trump initiatives in federal court are likely to become more difficult as the administration attempts to fill judicial vacancies at the district or appeal court levels with judges more favorable to its “ideological” point of view.

The hope is that the newly elected Democratic members of the House, who will be a majority when they take office in January, can act as a more effective brake on government initiatives and, in particular, counter the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington, Grewal said.

“We have seen a president who has pitted communities against each other, put children in cages, demeaned the humanity (of immigrants)” by referring to them as thugs, and helped foster an atmosphere in which “bias and hate” could flourish, he said.

But Grewal also pointed out that he, like other state attorneys-general, was already moving from battling against the government to developing positive initiatives.

“We can start building models of what good government looks like,” he said, pointing to recent initiatives such as the Immigrant Trust Directive, announced last week, which ordered New Jersey law enforcement agencies to limit cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Grewal has also promised major reforms in police training, including violence de-escalation tactics, following a New Jersey newspaper investigation that uncovered a pattern of questionable use-of-force incidents by state law enforcement over the past five years.

See also: NJ Attorney General Grewal Promises ‘Wholesale Reform’ on Police Use of Force. 

The son of South Asian immigrants, Grewal says he takes the anti-immigrant rhetoric personally, having been the target of racist rhetoric during his legal career.

He recalled going into his law offices in Washington after the September 11th, 2001 attacks while a homeless man shouted “I found Bin Laden,” whenever Grewal walked by.

“I grew up in this country…and I checked every box. I was a soccer (dad), I drove a minivan,” he said to laughter.

“But I woke up one day to feel completely un-American.”

Lingering stereotypes of immigrants motivated his own career choices, Grewal said.

Grewal told the students that he had entered public service, after first considering a diplomatic career, to change people’s perceptions of him and others who looked like him.

Grewal, who served as prosecutor of Bergen County, the state’s most populous county, under then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie, developed programs designed to tackle the heroin and opioid crisis, such as “Operation Helping Hand,”which offers low-level drug offenders treatment options upon arrest.

Earlier, as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York and later, in New Jersey, Grewal led the successful prosecution of 12 men charged with providing material support to the Tamil Tigers terrorist group, and the prosecution of major white collar and fraud cases.

The new rules under the Immigrant Trust Directive go into affect March 2019. They include:

For New Jersey Police Officers

  • Cannot stop, question, arrest, search, or detain any individual based solely on actual or suspected immigration status.
  • Cannot ask the immigration status of any individual, unless doing so is necessary to the ongoing investigation of a serious offense and relevant to the offense under investigation.
  • Cannot participate in ICE’s civil immigration enforcement operations.
  • Cannot provide ICE with access to state or local law enforcement resources, including equipment, office space, databases, or property.

For New Jersey Correctional Officers 

  • Cannot allow ICE to interview individuals detained on criminal charges, unless the detainee is advised of his or her right to a lawyer and signs a written consent form.
  • Cannot continue to hold a detained individual arrested for a minor criminal offense, without certain prior convictions,

For New Jersey Prosecutors 

  • Cannot attack a witness’s credibility at trial based on his or her immigration status.
  • Cannot seek pretrial detention of an individual based solely on his or her immigration status.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Most Violent Prisoners Serve Less Than Three Years in Prison

Highlights More than half (57 percent) of violent offenders served less than three years in prison per a new DOJ report. The average time an offender served in state prison was 2.6 years. Violent offenders served 54 percent of their maximum sentence, property offenders served 42 percent. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior […]

The post Most Violent Prisoners Serve Less Than Three Years in Prison appeared first on Crime in America.Net.

Highlights More than half (57 percent) of violent offenders served less than three years in prison per a new DOJ report. The average time an offender served in state prison was 2.6 years. Violent offenders served 54 percent of their maximum sentence, property offenders served 42 percent. Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior […]

The post Most Violent Prisoners Serve Less Than Three Years in Prison appeared first on Crime in America.Net.

from https://www.crimeinamerica.net

Mystery Writers’ Furor Revives Debate Over Central Park Five

Linda Fairstein, former head of Manhattan’s Sex Crimes Unit when five youths were wrongly prosecuted in a notorious murder case 29 years ago, is now a crime novelist. But lingering anger over the case, fanned by a social media campaign, has now cost her a major literary award.

As a literary award was rescinded from prosecutor-turned-mystery author Linda Fairstein, the nearly three-decade-old case of the Central Park Five has returned as a focus of painful debate.

While Fairstein, the head of the Manhattan DA’s sex crimes unit at the time, tried to point out to her accusers on social media that she did not even prosecute the famous rape trial, it became clear that the wounds of the case—in which five young men of color were convicted but later released when DNA evidence revealed the attacker’s true identity—are far from healed.

The firestorm began on November 27, when the Mystery Writers of America announced the recipients of its celebrated Grand Master award and other honorary awards, to be bestowed at the 2019 Edgars Awards banquet.

Both Fairstein and Martin Cruz Smith were to receive awards recognizing their achievements. Fairstein is the author of 20 novels about a fictional Manhattan prosecutor, Alexandra Cooper, based on her own past work as the chief of the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Her fiction has received acclaim and best-seller status.

Yet only two days later, the Mystery Writers of America yanked the award away, with a statement:

On Tuesday, November 27, Mystery Writers of America announced the recipients of Grand Master, Raven & Ellery Queen Awards, special awards given out annually. Shortly afterwards, the MWA membership began to express concern over the inclusion of Linda Fairstein as a Grand Master, citing controversy in which she has been involved.

When the MWA Board made its selection, it was unaware of Ms. Fairstein’s role in the controversy.

After profound reflection, the Board has decided that MWA cannot move forward with an award that lacks the support of such a large percentage of our members. Therefore, the Board of Directors has decided to withdraw the Linda Fairstein Grand Master award. We realize that this action will be unsatisfactory to many. We apologize for any pain and disappointment this situation has caused.

What happened within the span of those two days?

A social media campaign was launched by another crime-fiction writer, Attica Locke, who is working on the upcoming Netflix series “Central Park Five,”  directed by Ava DuVernay.

Among her own literary accomplishments,  Locke’s novel Pleasantville was the 2016 winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, while her first novel, Black Water Rising, was nominated for an Edgar Award (and won), an NAACP Image Award and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize

At noon on the day of the announcement of Fairstein’s being honored, Locke tweeted:

As a member and 2018 Edgar winner, I am begging you to reconsider having Linda Fairstein serve as a Grand Master in next year’s awards ceremony. She is almost singlehandedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five./ For which she has never apologized or recanted her insistence on their guilt for the most heinous of crimes, ‘guilt’ based solely on evidence procured through violence and ill treatment of children in lock up./ Even after all five (now) men have been exonerated by the state of NY, and other members of the NYC District Attorney’s Office have admitted prosecutorial misconduct on the part of those handling the case in their office.

As the tweets built in momentum and became the focus of conversation on Twitter before jumping to Facebook, the Los Angeles Times’s Steph Cha picked up the story, writing, “I’d heard of [Martin Cruz} Smith, but not Fairstein. And really, I should have known her name.

“Not for her internationally bestselling Alexandra Cooper series, but because in her former life working for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, she oversaw the prosecution of the Central Park Five.

“She shouldn’t be the toast of a black-tie literary gala — she should be notorious. As the head of the Sex Crimes Unit, Fairstein was instrumental in the wrongful conviction of five black teenagers accused of raping a white woman jogger in Central Park in 1989.”

Fairstein took to Twitter herself, saying, “@atticalocke Ms. Locke – I was neither the prosecutor nor investigator in the case you mention. I was certainly NOT the person who ‘singlehandedly spearheaded’ the investigation. Why don’t you and I have a civilized conversation, so I can refresh you with the facts? Thank you.”

The ire toward Fairstein stems in part from a story she wrote on July 31st of this year for the New York Law Journal headlined: “In Defense of the Central Park 5 Prosecution.”

In it, she said that the narrative of the five men being pressured into false confession is not true. Fairstein wrote: “The confessions were not coerced.  There were weeks of a Huntley hearing in which the voluntariness of the statements was explored, and in a 160-page opinion by Judge Galligan, all were ruled admissible (that decision, which lays out facts and a timetable, will be available this month).

“Now, for the first time, every reader of this paper can watch the videos online, on the city’s website.”

Fairstein’s story was in response to an earlier New York Law Journal article stating “Lawyers for Central Park Five Say First Release of Discovery Materials Conveys Bias.”

Linda Fairstein

Former Manhattan sex crimes investigator Linda Fairstein, now a mystery writer. photo courtesy University of Scranton via Flickr

The videos and records of investigation in the 1989 case are coming to light because the city released thousands of pages of internal law enforcement documents from that investigation. Some of them have never been made public before.

The Manhattan district attorney agreed to vacate the Central Park Five convictions in 2002 after DNA evidence pointed to another man, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist. He knocked the woman on the head with a branch and viciously assaulted her in the park.

The five young men — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana Jr. and Kharey Wise — later received a settlement from the city totaling nearly $45 million.

The five men are currently pursing more millions in damages from New York State in the Court of Claims.

There was never any DNA evidence linking any of the five men, then teenagers, with the rape of a young white female banker jogging in Central Park at night.  The entire case was built on the confessions of the five while in custody. Fairstein was present during some of these police interrogations.

However, the five teenagers were part of a larger group accused of attacking joggers and other people in Central Park that same night. Some of the injuries were severe.

Fairstein tweeted to Locke: ”Talk to me about the other six men viciously attacked in the Park that night, which these and others admit doing. You don’t care about them? Good night.”

On Twitter, Fairstein was accused of being rude and racist, with several people saying she should be imprisoned herself. One person wrote: “Linda should spend as much time in prison as the five men whose lives she helped ruin combined.”

Locke and others focus on what they say is Fairstein’s lack of apology for the men’s wrongful convictions.

In response to the MWA rescinding the Grand Master Award, Fairstein posted on Facebook Thursday night:

When I received the call about being selected as Mystery Writers of America 2019 Grand Master, it was one of the happiest moments of my literary life. I have been a member of MWA throughout my entire writing career. I am extremely disappointed, of course, to have this great award-designation revoked so hastily. I remain enormously proud of our pioneering work at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, advancing the ability of victims of violence to triumph in the criminal justice system. I thank MWA for the initial honor and for the joy it inspired, which can never be revoked, and I am happy to enthusiastically support the new Grand Master.

She received a largely sympathetic response, with one reader posting, “How unfortunate that that case overshadows every good thing done as a prosecutor over 30 plus years and as an author for at least 20. Tthere were more people involved in that case than Ms Fairstein but of course her name is the only one out of the NYC police/district attorney’s office being chosen as a Grand Master for the Mystery Writers group

“And the two really have nothing to do with each other. But Ms Fairstein has provided a graceful exit and I support that.”

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor-digital of The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Millions Wanted on Warrants, Including Violent Suspects

There are more than 5.7 million cases in 27 states with open arrest warrants, enough to lock up every adult in West Virginia and Colorado combined. “Most jurisdictions around the nation are doing nothing with warrants …Nothing,” said criminologist David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

Millions of Americans are wanted on open arrest warrants, including hundreds of thousands of fugitives accused of murder, rape, robbery or assault, while victims wait for justice, report the Columbus Dispatch and GateHouse Media. Many of the cases stay open for years, even decades, and often are forgotten as law enforcers and judges struggle to keep up with thousands of new warrants filed in courthouses across the nation daily. There are more than 5.7 million cases in 27 states with open arrest warrants, enough to lock up every adult in West Virginia and Colorado combined. Add the rest of the nation, and that number could double. Reporters sought records from all 50 states, but 23 did not provide usable data.

Among those warrants, reporters identified 240,000 cases that involved violence, a weapon or sexual misconduct. When warrants remain unserved, the violent suspects linger on the street, increasing the risk that someone else will be harmed. Law enforcement officials said it’s their biggest fear when they don’t have the resources to track everyone down. “Most jurisdictions around the nation are doing nothing with warrants like this. Nothing,” said criminologist David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “We are over-enforcing and under-protecting. With the limited resources (law enforcers) have, the attention should be focused on violent crimes, and that’s not being done.” Most people, especially those wanted for minor offenses, will remain free as long as they don’t cross paths with law enforcement in a jurisdiction that has access to their warrant. “I could pull 17 officers out of schools right now to go out and try and serve all these warrants, but is that making our schools safer, our city safer?” said Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs. “If it’s a dangerous felon, OK, but the rest of them we have to consider our other priorities.”

from https://thecrimereport.org