Federalist Society Caucus Fires Shot Across Trump’s Bow

In advance of Thursday’s opening of the annual convention of the Federalist Society, more than a dozen prominent conservative lawyers have joined together to urge their fellow conservatives to speak up about what they say are the Trump administration’s actions and rhetoric undermining the rule of law.

In advance of Thursday’s opening of the annual convention of the Federalist Society, more than a dozen prominent conservative lawyers have joined together to urge their fellow conservatives to speak up about what they say are the Trump administration’s betrayals of bedrock legal norms, The New York Times reports. The group, called Checks and Balances, was organized by George T. Conway III, a conservative lawyer and the husband of President Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway. The new group also includes John B. Bellinger III, a top State Department and White House lawyer under President George W. Bush; Tom Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania and secretary of homeland security in the Bush administration; Peter D. Keisler, a former acting attorney general in the Bush administration; two prominent conservative law professors, Jonathan H. Adler and Orin S. Kerr; and Lori S. Meyer, a lawyer who is married to Eugene B. Meyer, the president of the Federalist Society.

In interviews, the group’s members said they did not speak with a single voice and had varying concerns about the administration’s policies. But they said they took action to encourage others to speak out. “There’s a perception out there that conservative lawyers have essentially sold their souls for judges and regulatory reform,” Conway told the Times. Keisler said it was urgent to have an open debate about the administration’s actions. “The president has attacked the Justice Department for indictments of Republican congressmen on the stated ground that prosecutions would hurt Republican chances in the midterm elections, and he’s urged that the Justice Department investigate his political opponents,” Keisler told the Times. “That’s a fundamentally wrong and very dangerous view of the criminal justice system, and people from both parties and across the political spectrum should condemn it.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Post-Midterms Forecast for Justice Reform: Cloudy, But Encouraging

Voters besieged with scary events and frightening rhetoric mostly swung in the opposite direction at the ballot box last week. That’s expanded an encouraging bipartisan reform climate for newly elected, or re-elected, governors, DAs and legislators—if they’re willing to take heed, says a leading justice commentator.

From the 1970s through the turn of the century, criminal justice was one of the most divisive issues in American politics, with the “soft on crime” tag dooming legions of candidates on the campaign trail.

But over the past few election cycles, a wide range of criminal justice reforms has earned public approval, suggesting that the chest-thumping rhetoric of yesterday continues to lose its once-potent appeal.

This month’s midterm elections deepened the trend.

In Florida, where reform has been particularly hard won, voters returned the right to vote to more than a million people convicted of felonies, while Louisiana voters declared that jury verdicts in felony cases now must be unanimous.

These measures erased two of the most egregious vestiges of the pre-civil rights era, and they carry enormous symbolic and practical effects.

Reform-minded prosecutors took over in multiple cities, from Boston to St. Louis. Police accountability was strengthened in Nashville and in Washington State. Though criminal justice wasn’t central to their campaigns, the governors-elect in Wisconsin and Nevada seem much more likely to advance sensible policies than their predecessors.

These gains for safety and justice, and many others, are particularly impressive in light of the political environment. From the time that polls opened for early voting through Election Day, there was a massacre of worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a dozen bombs mailed to prominent political figures, and White House warnings about a caravan “invading” the country across its southern border.

Violence (and the fear of it) had to be high on voters’ minds. And it was: 83 percent of voters told exit pollsters that “extremist violence” was a factor in their votes.

When people are afraid, they yearn for protection, which traditionally has meant support for “lock ‘em up” measures.

Yet across the nation, voters besieged with scary events and frightening rhetoric mostly swung in the opposite direction this month. That suggests a real realignment of public opinion toward crime and punishment—one that distinguishes terrorism from street crime, that views people convicted of crimes as humans rather than “others,” and that recognizes the path to safer communities isn’t paved only with bricks and mortar.

While polls over the past several years have validated these attitudes, it’s what happens at the ballot box that really matters.

But there were caveats and mixed signals as well. Some of the progressive prosecutor candidates were defeated, while others didn’t make it through the primaries. The measure with the most direct potential impact on incarcerated populations—a ballot initiative in Ohio to downgrade some drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and reinvest the prison savings into treatment and victim services—went down by nearly 30 points.

DeWine

Mike DeWine, Gov.-Elect of Ohio. Photo via Wikipedia

The Republican candidate for governor in Ohio, state Attorney General Mike DeWine, had been a strong supporter of expanding incarceration alternatives for lower-lever drug violators—and he may still be. But when his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, Richard Cordray, embraced the ballot measure designed to do exactly that, DeWine came out against it, arguing that as written the policy would make Ohio a magnet for dealers.

(Now that he has won, the legislature may take up and pass a similar package of policies in the lame duck session.)

In California, Gavin Newsom’s victory is likely to reinforce California’s efforts at prison reform. On the other hand, although the ballots are still being counted in Florida, once again, the nominal winner of Florida’s gubernatorial contest, Ron DeSantis, ran on a hardline justice platform while his opponent Andrew Gillum championed changes to the bail system and other reform measures.

Clouding the picture: Gillum, the Democrat, cited the conservative groups Right on Crime and the James Madison Institute as the sources of his criminal justice policy advice.

The Georgia governor’s race was another subtle illustration of how tricky this terrain remains. Republican candidate Brian Kemp took aim at illegal immigration and violent gangs but steered clear of criticizing the extensive efforts of outgoing Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who led six consecutive years of nearly unanimous legislative action on criminal and juvenile justice.

Meanwhile, Democrat Stacey Abrams ran on an aggressive reformist agenda, but the messaging in her television ads and in the sole televised debate was far more forceful, lamenting low pay for local law enforcement officers and promising to crack down on drug peddlers.

One possible – and encouraging – takeaway from the electoral tea leaves is that criminal justice has been largely defanged as a campaign weapon. Healthcare, the economy and immigration ranked as the top tier issues; in the big races, bread-and-butter criminal justice policy flew under the radar, with few candidates for major offices featuring it as a core component of their platforms.

When they do raise the subject, it’s typically to call for more safety and justice rather than pitting the two against each other.

Crime’s dimming presence in campaigns follows a long-term drop in both violent and property offenses, which have been cut in half since their peak in the early 1990s. It also comes after a decade in which more than 30 states adopted sentencing and corrections policies that deemphasize prison in favor of programs that cost less and more effectively reduce recidivism, often with broad bipartisan support.

At the national level, an otherwise paralyzed Congress just managed to pass comprehensive legislation to combat the opioid epidemic, an effort that focused on expanding treatment and avoided the reflexive sentencing enhancements of the past. It also appears poised to approve both sentencing and prison reforms as part of the “First Step Act,” which would be the first major federal criminal justice policy package in years.

That criminal justice reform has become such fertile ground for bipartisanship may help explain why the reform agenda was neither a grand asset nor a grave liability in last week’s elections. American voters seem savvier about the issue and demand more than baseless rhetoric and simplistic slogans.

Adam Gelb

Adam Gelb

They’ve seen that movie, and now they want real results.

The new crop of elected officials across the country, at all levels of government and up and down the political spectrum, would do well to take notice.

Adam Gelb has worked in criminal justice for more than 30 years as a journalist, congressional aide, senior state government official, and nonprofit executive. He is currently developing a national nonpartisan criminal justice membership organization and think tank.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Big Winners in DA Races: Women and Blacks

For decades, the prosecutorial profession has sorely lacked diversity. This year’s midterm elections demonstrated how decisively that has changed.

For decades, the prosecutorial profession has sorely lacked diversity. After analyzing data from 2014, The Reflective Democracy Campaign found that 95 percent of the nation’s elected prosecutors were white.

According to their research, just one percent of prosecutors at the time were women of color.

But in recent elections—including the Nov. 6 midterms—voters have opted for a slew of diverse prosecutors who better reflect the communities they serve, and who promised to do their part to move away from policies that perpetuate mass incarceration.

Rachael Rollins

Rachael Rollins via Twitter

In Boston this month, voters elected Rachael Rollins as the first black woman to serve as District Attorney in Suffolk County, Mass. Rollins has boldly advanced a proposal to not prosecute 15 offenses, including: trespassing and drug possession with intent to distribute –charging choices that align with reforms made by other recently elected DAs in Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Rollins’ win continued a trend towards electing more women, African Americans and Latinos to prosecutorial posts that really became evident four years ago, when Baltimore voters cast their ballot for Marilyn Mosby, the youngest district attorney that city has ever elected.

In 2015, Portsmouth, Va., voters elected Stephanie Morales, the first woman to be the elected Commonwealth Attorney for the City.

Then, in 2016, Chicago voters elected Kim Foxx as Cook County District Attorney, Aramis Ayala as the first black State Attorney in Florida, Mark Dupree as the first black district attorney in Kansas, Kim Gardner as St. Louis Circuit Attorney, and Kim Ogg as the first Democratic district attorney in almost four decades in Houston, Tx.

And this year, in Rensselear County, New York, incumbent County District Attorney Joel Abelove lost to challenger Mary Pat Donnelly, a former town justice in East Greenbush, N.Y., and a mother of five who ran on the Independence Party ticket.

But what may be equally significant is the impact this month’s elections are likely to have on criminal justice reform in America.

While prosecutors on the ballot are often less well-known then individuals running for Congress, or for governor, they wield immense influence in the areas they serve. Prosecutors set the tone for the administration of justice, deciding whether to implement policies that increase incarceration or promote new practices that embody transparency, accountability, and aim to undo centuries of systemic racism.

This month, voters made clear that they’re largely ready for reform.

For example, Boston voters appear to have decisively rejected the perspectives of Rollins’ opponent, Michael Maloney, who positioned himself as tough on crime.  He had told  The Boston Globe that he would prosecute violence and gun crimes to the fullest extent of the law.

In Rensselear County, Donnelly came out in favor of implementing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (“LEAD”), which encourages officers to bring low-level arrestees to treatment or social services, rather than to booking. Meanwhile, her opponent, Abelove, may have suffered from criticism of his handling of a 2016 fatal police shooting in Troy, N.Y., of an unarmed DWI suspect.

Then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed criminal charges against Abelove related to that case.  The charges were later dismissed, but could be re-filed by the state’s newly elected Attorney General, Letitia James, the first African-American women ever to hold that position in New York.

Another revealing result came in Dallas County, where voters elected John Creuzot, a former judge who helped pioneer the county’s first diversion court two decades ago, and who pledged to continue the strategies he pursued on the bench of ensuring those charged with low-level drug offenses received treatment in lieu of incarceration. During his campaign, Creuzot made clear that his priorities as District Attorney would align with his thinking as a judge.

“In the first 90 days, I’m going to give you a plan to end mass incarceration,” he promised.

In Texas’ Bexar County, Joe Gonzales registered a decisive win over his opponent Tylden. On the campaign trail, Gonzales stated he would immediately work on better implementing a policy allowing police to issue tickets to those found in possession of less than four ounces of marijuana instead of arresting them.

And also in Texas, in Fort Bend County, Brian Middleton beat GOP opponent Cliff Vacek, a veteran judge, becoming the first black district attorney for the county of more than 765,000 residents. Middleton campaigned on moving bail reform forward and examining racial biases in the prosecution of his office’s cases.

Criminal justice reform was not a winning issue in every prosecutor election.

Oklahoma boasts the nation’s highest incarceration rate, and in its Payne and Logan counties, District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas was reelected Tuesday. She defeated challenger Cory Williams by more than 4,400 votes. Back in June, Thomas described reform efforts as a “fun and nice and popular” sound byte, but largely full of “empty, empty words.”

Those prosecutors who are embracing reform, however, join a growing movement.

Working with others who are part of the Fair and Just Prosecution network, they are challenging the status quo and taking on innovative practices to create solutions that promote safer and healthier communities.

Many of these prosecutors are promoting changes to fortify the trust of their constituents.

Recently, State Attorney Kim Foxx published a groundbreaking report revealing demographics of defendants prosecuted and data on sentencing and dispositions. Others are promoting accountability by creating conviction integrity processes, including in Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida (where none existed previously in that state), and in Kansas City (where over 50 justice system leaders wrote to support the vital role of DAs to correct past injustices).

And it’s not just DA races.

Lauren-Brooke Eisen

Lauren-Brooke Esen

Voters chose to transform the criminal justice system in a number of ways. In Colorado, a constitutional provision that allows prison slavery was overturned. And Floridians decided to amend the state constitution to restore the voting rights of those convicted of a felony crime, which is expected to impact at least 1.4 million disenfranchised people in that state.

The movement away from the punitive criminal justice policies of the last four decades is gaining momentum, and on Nov. 6, a significant number of Americans said that was exactly what they wanted.

Lauren-Brooke Eisen is Senior Fellow in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and the author of Inside Private Prisons: an American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are Americans Finally Turning Away From ‘Tough-on-Crime’ Era?

The victories of reform-minded prosecutors like John Creuzot in Dallas County last week could signal a “sea change” in public support for reductions in mass incarceration and the easing of sentencing guidelines, advocates and experts tell TCR.

Democrat John Creuzot, who defeated Republican incumbent Faith Johnson in the Dallas County District Attorney’s race last week,  had a campaign website that declared in big, bold letters, “It’s time to END Mass Incarceration.”

Republican Locke Thompson ran a successful campaign in Cole County, Missouri, with a campaign platform that included eliminating cash bail for low-level misdemeanors.

The victories chalked up by Creuzot and Thompson underlined a fact that has largely been overlooked in postmortems of this month’s midterms: the growing support of voters for genuine change in the criminal justice system regardless of their party affiliations—-and there is perhaps no clearer bellwether for how far voters think the needle should move on criminal justice reform than how they vote for local prosecutors.

While legislators run on a variety of issues, we are left with clear choices on a single subject in district attorney races: How will they handle the prosecution of crime?

In addition to the passage of pro-reform ballot initiatives and the election of pro-reform candidates to national offices, the outcome of some local district attorneys’ races last week represented encouraging signs for justice reform advocates.

“Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system,” says Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Campaign for Smart Justice, which worked to inform voters about where candidates stood on criminal justice reform.

He said that while gubernatorial candidates with platforms to end or reduce mass incarceration won 78 percent of the races and 71 percent of federal races, the district attorney results on Nov. 6 also continued to show a steady drumbeat toward reform in even the reddest parts of the country.

Ofer added that “95 percent of elected prosecutors are white men in the United States, but the prosecutors elected on Election Day in Dallas, Birmingham, Boston and St. Louis, were all black.”

In Dallas, Creuzot’s victory over Johnson, the county’s first female African-American DA, lent itself to a more nuanced interpretation.

During the campaign, Johnson touted her “tough on crime” stance, but, according to The New York Times, she also oversaw a program in which people with an arrest but no conviction could have their records wiped. She promised not to seek cash bail for those arrested with small amounts of marijuana.

Creuzot, however, appeared willing to go a step further, defining drugs more as a “public health problem” and pledging to cut incarceration by 15 percent to 20 percent by the end of his first term.

While there was a  “Blue Wave” in the Texas courts on Election Day, giving Democrats majorities on seven of the state’s 14 appeals courts compared with only three before, Ofer said the outcome of the Creuzot-Johnson faceoff was the most exciting in the nation.

“In the Dallas DA race, there was both a very contested primary and a very contested general election, and the candidate who ran on a platform of reducing incarceration by 15-20 percent won,” he said. “That’s a big deal,”

Added Ofer: “Even the Republican candidate who had not taken a criminal justice reform platform embraced it. It became a referendum on which candidate is better on criminal justice reform.”

In Jefferson County, Ala., pro-reform challenger Danny Carr become the district attorney after committing his office to stop jailing people for low-level marijuana offenses. Ofer said his stance was linked to a report showing that black people in Alabama were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Locke Thompson

Locke Thompson, elected DA in Cole County, Mo..

Lucy Lang, executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that with far-right libertarian groups and reformers getting on the same page, politics is playing a smaller role in determining voters’ criminal justice stances.

Measures such as eliminating cash bail or changing marijuana policy, are not “going to drastically affect the problems of mass incarceration,” she told The Crime Report, but these kinds of changes are “starting to reflect the fact that people think differently about a prosecutor’s role.”

Ofer said the polling ahead of the Nov. 6 election indicated that voters were hungry for reform.

An ACLU poll, for example, found 78 percent of likely voters, including 71 percent of Republicans, were more likely to support a candidate who believes in criminal justice reform; 59 percent of likely voters said they wanted candidates who would reduce jail and prison populations; and 75 percent of voters said they were more likely to support candidates who pledged to reduce the criminal justice system’s racial disparities.

The results, he said, build on the gradual sea change that had already begun.

“This is a continuation, so it’s not a blip, it’s yet another milestone in the movement to holding prosecutors accountable for fueling mass incarceration in America,” he said.

Kate Pastor is a freelance journalist based in New York City. Readers’  comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New Jersey’s Chris Christie for Attorney General?

President Trump reportedly believes that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has patiently waited his turn after being passed over for Attorney General in 2016.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie has emerged as a strong contender for attorney-general, as President Trump’s search for a replacement for former A-G Jeff Sessions has been complicated by the shadow of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is unlikely to accept the job if it is offered before Mueller issues his report, Politico reports. Two other candidates approached by the White House about the position signaled they were not interested.

Trump has said he believes Christie, the first prominent Republican to back his presidential bid, has patiently waited his turn after being passed over for the job during the post-2016 election transition.

That said, candidates for top administration jobs have learned that Trump’s whims are subject to sudden changes, thanks to anything from a bad-chemistry meeting to a snippet of critical cable TV commentary the president happens to catch.

Bill Palatucci, a longtime Christie adviser and confidant, said Christie did not float any trial balloon to stoke speculation about his nomination and had not received a call from the White House about his potential interest in the post as of Thursday morning, reports NorthJersey.com,

But Palatucci said Trump is “very aware” of Christie’s interest in the job.

“They had a great relationship,” he said. “The president has great confidence in the governor, and if the president wanted to speak to the governor, he’ll pick up a phone and call him himself.”

Palatucci, however, said Christie is not likely to automatically leap at the job if asked, as he is enjoying private life, working in the private sector and being at home with two of his high-school-age children.

“The longer you are out of office, the harder it is to go back,’’ he said. “But Chris has always said, if [Trump] would call, I would listen.”

Other candidates in the mix include Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. A cabinet post for Christie would be a dramatic plot twist in his complicated, years-long relationship with the Trump family.

Christie ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries before advising and representing his campaign. As a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Christie led a 2004 criminal prosecution that landed Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, behind bars for tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions — and earned him the enmity of Trump’s son-in-law.

Christie was at the White House on Thursday for a long-scheduled meeting on criminal justice reform, an issue both he and Kushner support.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sessions May Seek His Old Senate Seat

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering running for his old Alabama Senate seat in 2020. Sessions was fired as attorney general Wednesday. After he left the Senate in 2017, his seat was won by Democrat Doug Jones. Jones is up for a full term in 2020, and may be the most vulnerable incumbent senator facing reelection.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is considering running for his old Alabama Senate seat in 2020, Politico reports. Sessions was fired as attorney general Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. President Trump had publicly savaged Sessions throughout his tenure, and his dismissal had long been expected. After Sessions left the Senate in 2017, his seat was won by Democrat Doug Jones in a special election upset. Jones is up for a full term in 2020, and is viewed as the most vulnerable incumbent senator facing reelection, given Alabama’s conservative tilt. Republicans are certain to contest the seat aggressively as they look to protect their majority.

Former Republican Sen. Luther Strange, who was temporarily appointed to Sessions’ former seat, tweeted, “Jeff Sessions for Senate in 2020!” Sessions, who spent two decades in the Senate, is practically a household name in his home state, and speculation has been simmering for weeks within Alabama political circles that he might seek a return. Yet, party officials say the 71-year-old Sessions wouldn’t necessarily face a clear path should he wage a comeback. Trump’s relentless attacks on the former attorney general have taken a toll on his popularity in the state.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Florida Restores Voting Rights to Formerly Incarcerated in a ‘Ballot Cast With Love”

The measure was among numerous  criminal justice-related initiatives on gun control, police training and marijuana approved by voters Tuesday. One big standout: Ohioans rejected an amendment to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison.

Floridians voted overwhelmingly Tuesday in favor of an amendment that will restore the right to vote for most convicted felons upon completion of their sentences, including prison terms, parole and probation.

“We showed that every ballot cast was a ballot cast with love,” Desmond Meade told the Orlando Sentinel, president of Floridians for a Fair Democracy and champion of the Amendment 4 initiative.

“We showed what can happen when we come together along the lines of humanity and reach each other where we’re at. That’s what happens when we transcend partisan lines and bickering, when we transcend racial anxieties and when we come together as God’s children.

While most formerly incarcerated people are rejoicing that Florida voters overturned the state’s 150-year-old constitutional voting ban, many others are feeling left behind, as the Amendment excludes restoration for those convicted of murder and sex crimes.

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, was convicted of murder in 1987 and spent nearly 20 years in prison.

“No one involved in the campaign for Amendment Four has said anything along the lines of ‘this is just the first step.’ They’ve all been pretty clear that this is it and that they’re done if the amendment passes,” Wright told The Crime Report.

Wright claimed money played a big role in excluding those convicted of murder and sex crimes from the initiative.

“No one is going to spend $16 million to re-enfranchise 80,000 murders and sex offenders,” Wright said.

Before Tuesday, the only way a person with a prior felony conviction could vote was through the state’s clemency system, spearheaded by the governor. Now, at least 1.4 million residents in the state have the opportunity to participate in the election process again – or for the first time

Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia joined Florida in felony disenfranchisement, which dates back to the Reconstruction Era when many politicians sought ways to prevent African Americans from voting after the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870.

More Crime and Criminal Justice Ballot Results

Initiative-1639 in Washington State, the only state gun-regulations measure anywhere in the country, passed— effectively banning people under 21 from buying semi-automatic assault rifles and increasing background checks for those types of weapons.

Background checks will include a local law enforcement check of the most up-to-date local court, criminal and mental health records, and the completion of a firearm safety training course. New standards will be created for holding gun owners accountable if children or other prohibited people injure themselves or others with an insecurely stored firearm.

Also, in Washington voters approved initiative-940, requiring law enforcement officers to obtain violence de-escalation and mental health training to help officers resolve conflicts without using physical or deadly force.

In Oregon voters opted against Measure 105, which would have repealed the state ‘sanctuary law that would have forbade state and local law enforcement agencies from using public resources to arrest those whose only criminal violation is that they are illegally in the United States.

Louisianans voted yes to bar convicted felons, from seeking or holding public office until five years after completing their sentences. Voters in the state also voted to require an unanimous verdict of a 12-member jury for a felony conviction. The previous Jim Crow-era law allowed convictions when at least 10 of the 12 jurors agree.

In Colorado slavery can no longer be used as a punishment for any crime as voters opted to remove such language from the state Constitution. Article II, Section 26 of Colorado’s constitution has historically read there “shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,”

Now it will read “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Colorado District Attorney Dan Rubinstein opposed it as it could eliminate court-ordered community service.

“With most low-level offenses carrying jail, fines and community service as the only sentencing options, I fear that this action will result in more low-risk offenders filling our jails and would disproportionately incarcerate indigent offenders who lack the ability to pay fines,” Rubinstein recently said in a statement to KKCO 11 News.

The amendment was on the ballot two years ago but failed to pass due to confusing language.

Ohio Rejects Issue 1

In Ohio, though a recent poll showed that a near majority of voters supported Ohio State Issue 1—the proposed constitutional amendment that would change Ohio law to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison and promote more treatment of drug addiction—about 65 percent of voters rejected the amendment.

Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths.

Ohio chief Justice Maureen O’Connor called the proposed amendment a disaster, arguing that “Ohio may end up with some of the most lenient drug crime laws in the nation if this proposed constitutional amendment passes,”

Voters in Michigan approved legalizing recreational marijuana while those in North Dakota voted against it. Medical marijuana is now legal in Utah and Missouri.

Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Nevada expanded the rights of crime victims to their state constitutions in separate amendments. Some proposals would enshrine the right of crime victims to receive to receive timely notification of changes to the offender’s custodial status; others call for the right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any process that may result in the offender’s release; and the right to restitution.

The ACLU has called Marsy’s Laws unconstitutional.

J Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern

from https://thecrimereport.org

James Elected NY AG, Will Pursue Trump

Letitia James was overwhelmingly elected as the attorney general of New York state on Tuesday, placing herself in position to be at the forefront of the legal bulwark against the policies of President Trump. She succeeds Barbara Underwood, who already has dozens of cases pending against the president.

Letitia James was overwhelmingly elected as the attorney general of New York state on Tuesday, shattering a trio of racial and gender barriers and placing herself in position to be at the forefront of the legal bulwark against the policies of President Trump, the New York Times reports. With her victory over Republican Keith Wofford, James, 60, the public advocate for New York City, becomes the first woman in New York to be elected attorney general, the first African-American woman to be elected to statewide office and the first black person to serve as attorney general. The victory follows the surprise resignation of former attorney general Eric Schneiderman after charges that he physically abused multiple women. James will succeed Barbara Underwood, who was appointed by the  legislature to complete Schneiderman’s term.

Underwood already has filed dozens of cases against Trump, including an investigation into his charity and lawsuits to stop immigrant families from being separated at the border and to block the rollback of net neutrality and environmental regulations. In her victory speech, James vowed to continue the office’s scrutiny of the president. “He should know that we here in New York — and I, in particular — we are not scared of you,” she said. “And as the next attorney general of his home state, I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn.” James will continue cases such as the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, which the state charges has misled the public about the dangers of OxyContin. She also said she intends to name a public ethics counsel, pursue criminal justice reform and push for the power to bring corruption cases independent of the governor’s office.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Why Your Vote Today Can Be the Start of Real Justice Reform

Many prosecutors have made the end of mass incarceration and other justice reforms a focus of their election or re-election campaigns, That’s welcome news, says the director of John Jay’s Institute for Innovations in Prosecution–and long overdue. But it should galvanize support for a broader approach to change.

The scourge of mass incarceration is at last getting the attention it deserves from reform-minded district attorneys around the country. Many of  them are running for election or re-election today.

The data bears out the extent to which elected prosecutors have contributed to the unconscionable number of people in American prisons, the tragically disparate racial impact, and underscores the fact that the exercise of prosecutorial discretion could significantly reduce those numbers.

The Vera Institute’s recent report Unlocking the Black Box of Prosecution provides vital information for both communities and prosecutors to help increase transparency in furtherance of this goal.

The United States has the highest per capita prison rate in the world, with more than two million people in American prisons, of whom nearly 60 percent are people of color (while comprising only 30 percent of the population).

As Michelle Alexander and others have persuasively argued, it cannot be overlooked that all of this exists in the haunting shadow of slavery, and the nation’s moral conscience depends on ending mass incarceration.

But in the midst of the public outcry and the heightened scrutiny of local prosecutors, voters and advocates would be well served to consider the public actors outside the criminal justice system who could do the same.

The agencies responsible for mental health, homelessness, substance use disorders, and other social ills have increasingly experienced political and budgetary constraints since the 1970s, which have been highly variable across agencies and jurisdictions. As communities have found themselves facing increased numbers of people without access to services, the clarion call to elected prosecutors has been to find ways to get those people out of sight, out of mind.

And so, over the past 50 years, coincident with the erosion of public welfare services, Americans have increasingly relied on the criminal justice system to solve problems that are not, at their heart, criminal. Problems like mental health, substance use, and poverty sometimes lead to criminal conduct.

But even more regularly, these conditions lead to conduct of which communities disapprove, but which do not, ultimately, constitute matters warranting criminal justice intervention.

Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill since the 1960s has led to 2.2 million Americans with severe mental health conditions receiving no psychiatric treatment at all.

In the 1970s, 4.5 million units were removed from the nation’s housing stock, over 1 million SRO units were lost, and the nation’s public housing program was essentially abandoned, while increased numbers of single-person households significantly expanded the demand for housing nation-wide.  Some 25 percent of  incarcerated Americans suffer from mental health problems, and 10 percent are homeless at the time they enter jail or prison.

The effect of increased prosecutions has been well-documented. The devastation of the war on drugs, along with the broken windows policies of the 1990s in New York City and elsewhere, increased the probability of indictment and lengthened sentences for violent crimes, and the attendant parole and probation violations.

Bad federal legislation like the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act incentivized states to increase their prison population.  And so, we have quickly and devastatingly become the most incarcerating country in the history of the world.

Acknowledging this reality, progressive modern prosecutors over the past decade  have responded to requests from communities to become purveyors of alternatives for the homeless, the mentally unwell, or the poor.

And so, as elected officials come under increased scrutiny, Americans have increasingly seen their local DAs developing social service programming for people who come into contact with law enforcement.  Prosecutors across the country have created supervised release, cognitive behavioral therapy, and substance treatment options, to name just a few.

Thoughtful and well-meaning prosecutors, often with little social work, public health, or psychological expertise — responding to their communities as they are charged to do — find themselves making decisions in cases that at other times in American history would have been addressed through mental health facilities, homeless shelters, or other civil service providers.

Why is a prosecutor better situated than any number of other, lighter-touch agencies, to identify programming for a person who repeatedly drives with a suspended drivers’ license to get to work, or who breaks into an abandoned building to seek shelter?

In addition to asking DAs to process and divert these cases out of the courts, communities might also ask for increased early interventions by public housing, public health, and the civil courts.

It is an oft-repeated trope that to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  Americans should turn out to vote for their local reform DAs, and the winners of those elections should continue the trajectory that some have started towards reducing the nation’s prison population.

Lucy Lang

Lucy Lang. Director of the John Jay Institute for Innovation in Prosecution

But perhaps instead of asking the criminal justice system to look like a different tool entirely, communities would be well served to ask the other “tools” — many of which are agencies that are not electorally accountable — to rise to the occasion and help end mass incarceration as well.

Lucy Lang is the Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ad Cited by Trump Was Based on Falsehood

“Democrats let him into our country,” said a Republican campaign ad about an undocumented immigrant convicted of killing two sheriff’s deputies. Actually, the man last entered the U.S. while Republican George W. Bush was president.

The expletive-filled advertisement President Trump released this week, seemingly to raise fears about immigration in advance of the midterm elections, was denounced, with Democrats and even some Republicans criticizing it as racist. Beyond the outrage, the ad was also reportedly based on a falsehood, the Washington Post reports. The 53-second video, shared by the president on Twitter, focuses on the courtroom behavior of Luis Bracamontes, an undocumented immigrant who was convicted of killing two sheriff’s deputies in California in 2014 and repeatedly bragged about the slayings during his trial. “Democrats let him into our country,” the ad’s script reads. “Democrats let him stay.”

It doesn’t appear to be true. Bracamontes, who had been deported several times before his crime rampage, appears to have last entered the U.S. while George W. Bush was president, sometime between May 2001 and February 2002, when there is a record for his marriage in Arizona, according to the Sacramento Bee. He lived near Salt Lake City until 2014, when a methamphetamine-fueled road trip ended with him murdering two Sacramento-area deputies.  The ad failed to mention that in 1998, Bracamontes was arrested on drug charges in Phoenix, then released by the office of then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio “for reasons unknown.” In 2014, after Bracamontes surrendered in Northern California, Arpaio acknowledged that the killer had been arrested in his county. “He was booked into the jails I run for drug-related convictions,” Arpaio said at the time, said the Arizona Republic. “He was evidently turned over to ICE and had been deported on two occasions.” Bracamontes was deported under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

from https://thecrimereport.org