Closing Arguments in Murder Trial of Atlanta Attorney ‘Tex’ McIver Set Today

Closing arguments are scheduled Tuesday in the trial of attorney Claud “Tex” McIver, one of Georgia’s most prominent Republican fundraisers, who is facing charges that he intentionally killed his wife, Diane McIver, in 2016.

Closing arguments in the murder trial of Georgia attorney Claud “Tex” McIver are set to take place Tuesday in Atlanta. McIver is facing allegations that he intentionally killed his wife, Diane McIver, on Sept. 25, 2016.

McIver, who has admitted that he shot his wife but insisted it was an accident, is charged with murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and one count of influencing witnesses surrounding the death of Diane McIver.

The McIver case has attracted nationwide attention and has been compared to “something that Tom Wolfe might dream up” in a southern version of Bonfire of the Vanities.

Prosecutors have also accused McIver, who is among the state’s most prominent Republican fundraisers, of bribery.

You can watch a livestream of the argument live Tuesday. The Law & Crime Trial Network,  a Dan Abrams production, is a source of live feeds, legal analysis, and breaking stories in criminal justice, and a content partner with The Crime Report.


Judges Called ‘Last Line of Defense’ for Mentally Ill in Justice System

The lack of adequate alternatives to jail or prison to help mentally troubled individuals who run afoul of the law is a “horrible American tragedy,” judges and prosecutors from around the country were told at a New York University School of Law conference.

When police and prosecutors are unable to act, judges must be the “last line of defense” for mentally troubled individuals who run afoul of the law.

That was one of the conclusions at a conference of leading prosecutors and jurists at New York University’s School of Law examining the plight of the seriously mentally ill who are trapped in the justice system.

The use of jails and prisons as frontline treatment facilities for individuals with serious mental illness—for lack of adequate alternatives—is a “horrible American tragedy,”  Judge Steven Leifman of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida said.

Christina Klineman, a Superior Court Judge in Indianapolis, added that if local authorities fail to provide diversion programs that police or prosecutors can use, judges should still try to find ways of ensuring the mentally ill are kept out of jail.

They are “the last line of defense” for protecting the mentally ill, she said.

The two judges spoke during a panel Friday at NYU’s Tenth Annual Conference on the administration of criminal law. They joined other speakers, including advocates, in calling for greater attention to diversion programs for the mentally ill.

“The criminal justice system should be the last resort for the mentally ill, not the first,”  Leifman said, arguing that the lack of alternatives too often places the burden of care on prosecutors, judges and police officers, who lack the proper resources, training and funding to help mentally ill patients. 

Participants in the conference cited studies showing that 40 percent of individuals with a mental illness will come in contact with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives—usually because family members call 911, not knowing what else to do. 

Police receive 250 million calls each year, but only 25 percent of those calls are connected with an actual crime, said Rebecca Neuster of the Vera Institute of Justice. Ten percent of those calls are made because someone with a mental illness is experiencing a manic episode.

See also: Why Jail is No Place for the Mentally Troubled.

But when the police become involved, the individual is handed over to the justice system.

According to Ronal Serpas, a professor of Criminology at Loyola University of New Orleans, if police officers had an alternative to arrest, they would take it.

But all they have to offer mentally ill patients “is the back of their car,” Serpas said.

That, he added, was a solution for no one.

The police role as first responders puts them in a difficult position, but at the same time makes it critical for officers to know where to take people suffering from mental illness other than jail, said Travis Parker, senior project associate at Policy Research Associates.

“Officers need an answer to the question: ‘divert the mentally ill to what?'”

He noted that in some cities, police have been given iPads to contact mental health professionals, instead of taking troubled individuals to jail.

See also: How iPads Changed a Police Force’s Response to Mental Illness.

Once an individual with mental illness is arraigned, however, prosecutors can step in to ensure mentally ill defendants are diverted to counseling and social services, the panel was told.

“Public safety is not defined by convictions and arrests — people need to feel safe and secure, they need housing and a job—and the criminal justice system removes that for so many people,” said Vermont Attorney General T.J Donovan,  who argued prosecutors should use “restraint” in deciding whether to seek convictions.

Klineman brought up the case of a homeless man urinating in the street and raised the question, “what do I sentence him to?”

“If I put him on probation, I set him up for failure and we have more problems. If I release him, he doesn’t get any help,” Klineman said.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, home to the largest percentage of people with serious mental illnesses, decarcerating jails and providing an alternative for the mentally ill is a top priority for court officials.

Authorities there created the Criminal Mental Health Project to provide community-based treatment and support services to defendants suffering from serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

The program provides two types of services: pre-booking diversion training for law enforcement officers, and post-booking diversion to help individuals in jail and awaiting adjudication. 

Justin Volpe, a young man who suffered from paranoia and substance abuse, said he was able to avoid prison though the program. His sentence was tossed out, and instead he was offered a job by the courts.

“That’s what people need,” Volpe told the conference. “I went from having no insight of my mental illness to working with other people in same situation. I assist people in community and get them help. I also have opportunity to train law enforcement and share my recovery story.”

In fact, Volpe was able to train the police officer who first arrested him. The officer told Volpe, “I’m surprised you’re still alive.”

Volpe takes participants in the program to out to lunch, or coffee, or even to play basketball.

“People don’t need another person telling them about their court dates and doctors appointments- giving them a list of things to do,” he said. “I give them a person-to-person feel,” he said.

Laura Usher, senior manager at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, commented that Volpe’s point was critical.

“The only way to treat someone with a mental illness… is like a person,” she said. 

Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


District Judge Rejects Pleas in Favor of Juries

In what a sentencing expert calls a “remarkable” opinion, a federal judge in West Virginia explains why he is rejecting some plea bargains between prosecutors and defendants.

In an opinion published Thursday, a federal judge explains why he is rejecting plea deals that transfer criminal adjudications from the public arena to the prosecutor’s office just “for the purpose of expediency.” Sentencing Law and Policy blogger Douglas Berman flagged the decision as “remarkable” and a must-read, wondering whether this means a return to more jury trials in the future.

Explaining his ruling, Joseph Goodwin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia wrote that, “Plea bargains like this one perpetuate the ongoing metamorphosis of the criminal justice system into nothing more than an administrative system controlled entirely by bureaucrats, where judge and jury are merely stage props to convince the general public that the criminal justice system they see nightly on television is being busily played out in the big courtroom downtown.”

He added: “The United States criminal justice system is about far more than just punishment, and it was never intended to place all the power of accuser, judge, and jury into the hands of the government.” 

Reflecting on the “near-total substitution of plea bargaining for the system of justice created by our nation’s Founders,” Goodwin said that, “the scales of justice tip in favor of rejecting plea bargains unless I am presented with a counterbalance of case-specific factors sufficiently compelling to overcome the people’s interest in participating in the criminal justice system.”

“The Founders clearly intended and articulated a preeminent role for the people’s direct participation in that criminal justice system,” he writes.

The number of federal criminal jury trials in the nation fell 8 percent to 1,742 (down 147 trials) in the year ending last Sept. 30, the federal court system says.


How Drug Courts Can Respond to the Opioid Crisis

Evidence-based reforms could make them more effective, writes an addiction expert. He offers one example: stop limiting approved medication-assisted treatment to Vivitrol.

When both sides of an issue agree on something, it can suggest a sensible consensus has emerged. But it could also mean that everybody’s trying to do the minimum without expending more energy on thinking clearly about the subject.

I believe that when it comes to drug abuse, the latter holds true.

Here’s one glaring example: As the nation’s opioid crisis continues to accelerate, liberals and conservatives both seem to have fixated on using drug courts as an alternative to punishment.

President Donald J. Trump has endorsed the recommendations of his President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, in particular the establishment of drug courts in every federal district court.

The fact is, drug courts are not a panacea—at least as currently implemented.

In general, drug courts or drug treatment courts (DTC) divert individuals arrested for drug offenses to court-monitored drug treatment programs instead of prison. Eligibility varies. Usually, drug dealers or drug traffickers are not allowed in; nor are “violent” offenders.

Sometimes the crime for which an individual is arrested is not directly connected to drug use, although stealing to support a drug habit is. Failure to complete drug treatment or drug use within treatment under the court order can result in imprisonment.

Drug courts, we’re told, can fix a lot more of our justice system problems than the rising rate of substance abuse. They supposedly will reduce our bulging prison populations by removing many of the nonviolent drug offenders who have been subject to the tough mandatory-minimum sentencing that was a component of the “war on drugs.”

“Drug courts are known to be significantly more effective than incarceration,” declared the commission, adding, “For many people, being arrested and sent to a drug court is what saved their lives, allowed them to get treatment, and gave them a second chance.”

But one crucial, and largely unexplored, issue is what kind of “treatment” the individual substance abuser is mandated to receive as part of the diversion process. Some argue that the current paradigm of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is badly conceived.

For example, In response to the president’s endorsement, addiction journalist Maia Szalavitz tweeted: “right, drug courts, ~2/3 of which ban meds proven to reduce mortality, that’s what we need.”

Although Trump’s initiative also calls for increased support for MAT, he only endorses one such medication-assisted treatment, which most experts consider the least effective.

There are three medications commonly used in MAT: are methadone, buprenorphine (usually in its Suboxone formulation with naloxone), and naltrexone in its once-monthly injectable Vivitrol formulation.

Most drug courts only allow the use of Vivitrol in MAT because it is the only one of the three commonly used anti-abuse medications that is not itself an opioid. Instead, it is what’s called an “opioid antagonist.”

That means it will prevent offenders from getting high on opioids even if they relapse. Because of this, it can’t be initiated before the patient has been weaned off opioids completely, or they will go through instant, painful, and possibly fatal withdrawal.

Alex Azar

HHS Secretary Alex Azar via Wikipedia

A directive from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration mandates Vivitrol for those entering MAT after detox, even though the new US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has acknowledged to STATnews “that doesn’t mean it’s the best form for all populations.”

However, methadone and buprenorphine (which are, respectively, an opioid agonist or partial agonist) are now largely regarded as more effective. Although when taken in large-enough doses, they can produce a high, when taken as prescribed, they just prevent withdrawal. They may be started sooner than Vivitrol, and allow a patient to resume normal life and responsibilities, such as holding down a job.

Methadone is normally dispensed only one dose at a time at a doctor’s office or clinic to prevent abuse. Buprenorphine can be prescribed as a multi-month implant, and may soon be available as a monthly injection, too.

Of course, the patient offender could still take an additional opioid to get high. That’s why it’s called medication-assisted treatment, not medication-only treatment. Additional treatment, inpatient at a luxury executive rehab or outpatient at a community clinic is necessary.

So why do drug courts limit the use of methadone and buprenorphine? The problem here is one of perception, prejudice and morality.

Many still feel people with a substance abuse disorder are morally deficient or weak, not sick. The idea of giving these people drugs to combat their addiction is seen as wrong, as substituting one drug for another. (Similarly, safe injection sites are opposed because they might make drug use seem “acceptable,” although the evidence is that they save lives and prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis.)

Methadone use, in particular, can last years.

Even some addicts share this prejudice and refuse MAT that uses methadone or buprenorphine.

But a 14-year-long study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, entitled “Opioid agonist treatments and heroin overdose deaths in Baltimore, Maryland, 1995-2009” concluded that “Increased access to opioid agonist treatment”—particularly buprenorphine—”was associated with a reduction in heroin overdose deaths.”

In a 2016 article for The Huffington Post, Maia Szalavitz wrote the following:

Research shows that people who stay on methadone or buprenorphine long term have half the death rate of those who detox from these medications or participate in abstinence-only treatment. (There is no similar data for antagonist medications, including Vivitrol).

Another problem is that the maker of Vivitrol, Alkermes, has lobbied intensively for its product over all others, including to politicians and drug court judges. According to ProPublica, Alkermes adopted this strategy when the usual approach to doctors and patients encountered resistance.

Having judges without medical training in effect prescribing medical treatment is unsettling to some addiction specialists and civil rights advocates.

But the lack of medical expertise associated with drug courts is only one of the issues that merit skepticism about their use.

Their overall effectiveness can be questioned. The available data don’t always account for people who drop out of the program before completion. (The same is true of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, which many of these courts also mandate.)

Worse, some studies show that some populations do worse after drug court than before.

According to a 2013 study of New York adult drug courts, the success rate for drug courts— i.e. fewer re-arrests— varied based on whether the cases were felony drug (better) or felony property (worse), or whether the patient offender had three or more prior arrests (one to 5 percent better) or no priors (10 percent worse).

Drug treatment vs. incarceration shouldn’t be an either-or choice.

An addict in prison may still have access to drugs, and hence to the risk of overdose. If substance abusers stay drug-free, but still remains addicted, upon release they are likely to be more vulnerable to a fatal overdose, because they no longer have the tolerance for the drug that they had prior to incarceration.

Beond the problem of how to treat substance abusers in drug courts is the question of who should be tried in them.

Some judges have sentenced offenders guilty of an offense that would normally result in a suspended sentence or parole to drug court, and then locked them up when they almost inevitably failed the program. Recovery is far less likely if participation is coerced rather than voluntary if the offender doesn’t want to quit using.

Some judges also sentence non-addicts to drug court based on a false positive test (confirmed by multiple negative tests), forcing the defendant to plead guilty to a false drug charge or face harsher sentencing. Not even the National Association of Drug Court Professionals thinks non-addicts arrested for drug crimes should qualify.

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

And while most drug courts only accept non-violent offender addicts, they may not be the ones who need the help the most. According to a CASAColumbia study, the majority of prisoners who committed property crimes (77 percent) and violent crimes (65 percent) either had a history of or were under the influence of alcohol and drugs when they committed their crimes. Reducing violent crimes and drug abuse seems a worthwhile goal.

Drug courts may be more cost-effective—financially and socially—than prison time, but as currently constituted they have some serious flaws. Evidence-based reform is needed, not the purely punitive solutions of the past.

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.


Can ‘Court Watchers’ Help Reform America’s Flawed Justice Systems?

A program that trains ordinary citizens in New York to act as watchdogs over the city’s courts has attracted flak from some who argue their criticisms are not well-informed. But the “Court Watchers” respond they are already having a positive impact.

In the upper room of an old bar in Brooklyn, a 66-year-old African-American man who has been in and out of the criminal justice system his entire life sits across from a young public defender in New York City, just starting out in her career. 

While their normal lives might never bring them together, here they are deeply involved–along with a handful of their fellow New Yorkers—in a passionate discussion about what they believe are the disparities and flaws of their city’s court system—and how to fix them.

It’s a weekly debriefing of New York City’s Court Watcher program. Although the program is less than two months old, participants already believe they are making a difference.

“For a long time people have focused on the back end of things–sentencing, jails, and policing, before you even get into the courts” said the public defender who, like some of the other Court Watchers interviewed for this article, asked that her name not be used. 

“The court system doesn’t have much activism, so we are trying to build an informed body of people who can advocate around what happens in court.”  

Since Court Watch NYC was launched in early February, the program has trained over 300 individuals from all walks of life to make informed observations about court cases they witness and, in effect, act as citizen “watchdogs” over court procedure.  

The New York program is modeled after a 2017 effort in Chicago organized by a group of local nonprofits calling themselves the Coalition to End Money Bond. While Chicago’s “watchers” are interested primarily in judges, New York’s focus on prosecutors.

A collaborative project with VOCAL-NY, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and 5 Boro Defenders, Court Watch aims to hold the top prosecutors in the two boroughs where it is currently operating—Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez—accountable for their pledges to create a more fair and equitable legal system, specifically in areas of immigration and bail reform.

Gonzalez issued a directive last April reversing the longstanding practice of automatically requesting bail in the majority of cases, even those where prosecutors intended to seek a sentence of less a month in jail.

Similarly, Vance directed prosecutors early this year to stop requesting bail for defendants accused of nonviolent misdemeanors, like shoplifting, marijuana possession and trespassing.

But Rachel Foran, a Court Watcher and Managing Director at the Brooklyn Bail Fund, found holes in Vance’s promise for bail reform.

He used “carve-outs,” she told The Crime Report, to make it difficult for most misdemeanor cases to avoid bail.

“You have to be in this very small group of people that don’t have a parole hold, or don’t have a lengthy misdemeanor record, or don’t have another open case to avoid paying bail,” she said. 

“It wasn’t until we put Court Watchers in the room to point out what those carve- outs were that it became clear… no one is going to qualify for this.”

The reform wasn’t much of a reform at all, she noted.

To Foran and the Court Watchers, being able to reveal the “cut outs,” something most people might not be aware of, felt like a win.

“We pointed out the exception was actually the rule.”

Court officials, however, disagree. 

According to one source in Gonzalez’ office, who requested anonymity, their most recent numbers show that 90 percent of people charged with misdemeanors are released after their initial criminal court arraignment without requested bail.

“There has been an upwards trend of release rate since our bail policy started last April,” the court official said.

Notably, there is no criminal justice background required to join the program.

For Anne Elbert, a U.S. resident and currently Product Manager at WorldQuant University, her first time in an American court room was during her first Court Watchers shift. 

She was an outsider— from Germany— looking in at the American bail system.

Some court officials, who prefer to remain anonymous, see this lack of legal expertise as a problem.

If they don’t have the proper expertise or a law degree, how are Court Watchers fit to comment and critique individual court cases? said one. 

“They don’t say anything positive about the work prosecutors and DA’s are doing either.”

Court Watchers requires participants to go through a four-hour training session, which entails listening to lawyers speak about arraignments, and learning how to get to court, what to wear, and what forms to fill out.

They recruit new volunteers mainly through social media, as well as some advertising in law schools.

They also are briefed about what Vance and Gonzalez promised during their election campaigns to reform the system, and Court Watchers focus on whether the DA’s are holding up their end of the bargain.

Another attorney who participates in Court Watch NYC and wishes to remain anonymous, said the main goal is to educate the public on just how much power the DA’s office has.

“That plays out in two ways during arraignments,” she said. “The fact that the DA can make a plea offer right there says it all. If they give someone a plea deal, there’s no judge involved and they have full discretion about what the plea is too.”

In hopes of attracting more citizens, Court Watch NYC offers various ways to participate. And there are plans to expand into the city’s other boroughs.

One option is to join the data team, which takes the information gathered in court and puts it into a data base on the blog, as demonstrated during the week of March 20-27:

Photo by Court Watch NYC

Another possibility is analysis work, which looks at what watchers have recorded that week and pulling out trends that folks have seen, in real time.

Photo by Court Watch NYC

Or, simply documenting what was observed that day in court.

Photo via Court Watch NYC

According to the Brooklyn DA’s office, their presence in the court room is embraced.

In a statement for The Crime Report, a spokesperson for Gonzalez said “We welcome accountability and transparency in the criminal justice system and work to promote that through a partnership with other stakeholders, including reform experts, public defenders and service provider.

“It is our hope that these efforts will lead to additional reforms that will make the system fairer and strengthen community trust in the system while ensuring public safety.” 

Court Watch NYC uses their platform of social media, such as their twitter and online blog, to inform the community about what’s happening in the court rooms.

And they have caught the eye of the DA’s office more than once.

On March 13th, the Court Watchers tweeted about a domestic violence ruling, which sparked a long debate between the DA’s office, represented by Oren Yaniv, public defenders, such as Jerome Greco, and different advocacy groups, like Jails Action Coalition.

Julie Mente, a Court Watcher who wrote the initial tweet, believed the DA’s office was trying to intimidate and dismiss a simple observation that she had made in court.

“When I saw the DA’s response, I got scared” she said.

“I wrote what I heard, and what I observed, and it sparked an online back and forth between a bunch of people.”

“At first, I felt like I misrepresented Court Watch or I did something bad,” she recalled. “I felt lawyered.”

“But then a bunch of public defenders chimed in and challenged that perspective.”

When it comes to crimes of domestic abuse, sexual violence and crimes against children, the DA’s office is still seeking bail to protect vulnerable victims.

But is a wealthy domestic abuser any less menacing than a poor one, who can’t afford to make bail?

According to Mente, if prosecutors request bail for domestic abusers, they are still perpetuating an unjust system where wealthy perpetrators go free.

“The fact that somebody has means to pay their bail doesn’t make them any less dangerous than the person who could afford that bail,” she said.

In some cases, however, the victim does not want to prosecute their abuser.

Anne Elbert noted one instance where a man broke his girlfriends phone, and ended up in court, despite his girlfriend’s wishes. Simultaneously, in another case, a girlfriend was beaten; both cases were treated the same way.

Elbert also saw many petty crimes go by, where the root was obviously “poverty and homelessness.”

“To me what stood out was a case where a homeless man went to dollar general store, stole underwear and socks, and the DA requested a thousand dollars for bail. Luckily the judge didn’t set bail, and he ended up with 3 days community service” she recalled. 

“That was a depressing case.” 

But Elbert believes the presence of her team will have an inevitable impact on everyone in the court room, from judges, prosecutors, police officers and public defenders.

“There’s a lot of power in the feeling of being watched,” she concluded.

Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Defense Lawyers Call Courtroom Comfort Dogs a Distraction

As dogs and other animals increasingly are used in courts to comfort and calm prosecution witnesses, a few voices are objecting, saying they could bias juries. The use of dogs in courts has spread quickly across the U.S. with a growing number of laws and rulings in its favor. There are now more than 155 “courthouse facility dogs” working in 35 states.

As dogs and other animals increasingly are used in courts to comfort and calm prosecution witnesses, a few voices are calling for keeping the practice on a short leash, saying they could bias juries, the Associated Press reports. The use of dogs in courts has spread quickly across the U.S. with a growing number of laws and rulings in its favor. There are now more than 155 “courthouse facility dogs” working in 35 states, compared with 41 dogs in 19 states five years ago, says the Courthouse Dogs Foundation in Bellevue, Wa, That’s not counting an untold number of “emotional support dogs” that have been allowed case by case in many states. Many witnesses have been child sexual assault victims.

There has been a divide among judges. Some don’t allow dogs because of potential bias against defendants. Many defense lawyers don’t like the practice. Having dogs and other emotional support animals in the witness box can illegitimately boost witness credibility and prejudice juries against defendants, Denver defense lawyer Christopher Decker argues. “I think it distracts the jurors from what their job is, which is to determine the truthfulness of the testimony,” Decker said. “It tends to imply or infer that there has been some victimization. It tends to engender sympathy. It’s highly prejudicial.” Facility dogs are trained to provide companionship without disruption in courthouses, prosecutors’ offices and other legal settings. Emotional support and “therapy” dogs are pets that can be registered with organizations and may or may not have been specially trained. Proponents say dogs help reduce the anxiety of traumatized victims, especially children, so they can overcome the stress of telling their stories in a deposition room or courtroom. At least eight states have laws allowing the use of dogs to comfort children and other vulnerable witnesses.


Liberal Decisively Wins Wisconsin High Court Seat

Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet, who was endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, won a seat on the closely divided Wisconsin Supreme Court. Republican Gov. Scott Walker warned of a “blue wave” in the state.

A strong turnout by liberal voters carried Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet to a convincing Wisconsin Supreme Court win over conservative Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock,  the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.  After a January state Senate win for Democrats and other recent national wins, the Supreme Court victory for liberals immediately raised talk of a blue wave this fall. “Tonight’s results show we are at risk of a Blue Wave in Wisconsin,” tweeted Gov. Scott Walker, calling on Republicans to “share our positive story.”

It was the first time in 23 years that a liberal candidate who wasn’t an incumbent won a seat on the high court. “I attribute it to Wisconsin voters standing up to special interests,” said Dallet. With 88 percent of wards reporting, Dallet led Screnock 56 percent to 44 percent. Screnock did well in GOP strongholds but did not get enough votes elsewhere to offset Dallet’s massive success in metropolitan areas. The election will swing conservative control of the court from a comfortable 5-2 to a narrow 4-3. Dallet will be seated in August for a 10-year term. She was endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden.


Once ‘Sleepy’ Wisconsin Court Race Draws National Endorsements

In a contest for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Democrats like Joe Biden and Eric Holder support one candidate; the National Rifle Association backs her opponent.

For months, Wisconsin judges Rebecca Dallet and Michael Screnock were engaged in another sleepy race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Now, the race has gone national, with big-time endorsements from the likes of former Vice President Joe Biden backing Dallet to the National Rifle Association’s political action committee supporting Screnock, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.  The national help has mostly been for Dallet, who has endorsements from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Former Attorney General Eric Holder campaigned for Dallet and a group he heads spent $165,000 on digital ads to help her.

The race may officially be nonpartisan but the results will reverberate as pundits try to assess the political landscape heading into November’s midterm elections. Can Dallet, a judge who is trying to appeal to liberals and Democrats, win in a state Donald Trump won in 2016? Or, will Screnock, appealing for support among conservatives and Republicans, keep Wisconsin trending red? The winner of Tuesday’s election will replace Justice Michael Gableman, who is part of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority. A win by Screnock would preserve the court’s makeup; a victory by Dallet would narrow conservative control to 4-3. Each campaign blames the other for nationalizing the race. The Dallet campaign points to the NRA endorsement that Screnock received, while the Screnock campaign charges Dallet took the race national when she featured criticism of Trump in a campaign ad and went on a fundraising trip to San Francisco in March.


Supreme Court Rules for AZ Officer in Shooting Case

A divided Supreme Court says that a University of Arizona police officer deserves legal immunity for shooting a woman four times after she refused to comply with officers and approached her roommate with a knife. Dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the ruling “tells officers that they can shoot first and think later.”

The Supreme Court on Monday, over a strong dissent, gave qualified legal immunity to a University of Arizona Police Department officer who shot a woman four times after she refused to comply with officers and approached her roommate with a knife. The unsigned ruling, which apparently will prevent the officer from being successfully sued, overturned a 2016 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which said that a a rational jury could find that Amy Hughes “had a constitutional right to walk down her driveway holding a knife without being shot,” according to the University of Arizona Daily Wildcat.

The appeals court said the issue of whether the actions of Corporal Andrew Kisela were reasonable should be submitted a jury. However, the Supreme Court majority, citing previous high court opinions on police shootings, said that Kisela is “at least entitled to qualified immunity” from being sued. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, speaking for herself and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said that Hughes “had committed no illegal act, was suspected of no crime, and did not raise the knife in the direction of [her roommate] or anyone else.” Sotomayor said the ruling “sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public. It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”


Sessions May Overrule Immigration Judges

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has the power to overturn rulings of immigration judges, who work for the Justice Department. He may end a practice called “administrative closure,” which would speed deportations.

The post Sessions May Overrule Immigration Judges appeared first on The Crime Report.

The Trump administration has been trying to ramp up deportations of immigrants in the U.S. illegally, but immigration judges often put these cases on hold. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering overruling the judges, reports NPR. One practice that infuriates Sessions and other immigration hardliners is called administrative closure. It allows judges to put deportation proceedings on hold indefinitely. “Basically they have legalized the person who was coming to court, because they were illegally in the country,” Sessions says. Sessions is using his authority over the immigration court system to review a number of judicial decisions. If he overturns those decisions, thousands of other cases could be affected. He is expected to end administrative closure, or scale it back.

The attorney general may limit when judges can grant continuances and who qualifies for asylum in the U.S. This could reshape immigration courts, which are overseen by the Justice Department, and make them move faster. Sessions says he is trying to clear a massive backlog of cases that is clogging the docket. Critics say he is weighing changes that would threaten the due process rights of immigrants, and the integrity of immigration courts. “What he wants is an immigration court system which is rapid, and leads to lots of deportations,” said Nancy Morawetz, who teaches the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law. “It’s really just an unprecedented move by the attorney general to change the way the whole system works.”It’s rare for an attorney general to exercise this power, but Sessions has done it four times in the past three months. For the first time, the Justice Department is setting quotas for immigration judges, pushing them to resolve cases quickly in order to meet performance standards.

The post Sessions May Overrule Immigration Judges appeared first on The Crime Report.