Law to protect crime victims used to shield police

courtroom witnessYou may have heard of Marsy’s Law, which was designed to protect the identities of crime victims. But in South Dakota, a highway patrol officer is using the law to keep his name from being released after shooting a suspect, according to ReasonThe law, first enacted in California, is supposed to prevent the release of public records that could be used to “locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family.” Marsy’s Law has since spread to Illinois, Ohio, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. However, the American Civil Liberties Union has been critical of the law because of how it can be used. Read more about the controversy surrounding Marsy’s Law at Reason. 

Judge Rules Cullman County, Alabama’s Bail System Illegally Discriminates Against the Poor

CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. – Today, people who were jailed simply because they could not afford bail in Cullman County, Alabama, won a significant victory when a federal court judge ruled that the practice of jailing those who cannot pay is unconstitutional.  The judge entered a preliminary injunction order that prohibits Cullman County from continuing to discriminate against the poor through its bail system.  This follows a memorandum opinion entered last week explaining why the county’s practices were illegal.  As the Court explained, “Cullman County’s discriminatory bail practices deprive indigent criminal defendants in Cullman County of equal protection of the law” and its justifications for using a bail schedule are “illusory and conspicuously arbitrary.”

This preliminary injunction will remain in effect while the lawsuit challenging the practice is fully resolved and permanent relief is ordered.

The lawsuit was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Civil Rights Corps, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama on behalf of Bradley Hester, who was held on a $1,000 bond he could not afford. The organizations jointly issued the following statements:

Statement from Sam Brooke, deputy legal director, the Southern Poverty Law Center:

“Today was a big win for all Cullman County residents because no longer will the county be allowed to treat residents with means differently than those without in our criminal justice system.  Jails are not meant to warehouse people who have not been convicted of a crime, particularly where, as here, the rich are able to buy their freedom and impoverished people are left to languish in jail. This form of wealth-based discrimination that keeps people in jail just because they cannot afford their freedom is unconstitutional.  We will continue to fight to eliminate wealth-based justice.” 

Statement from Katherine Hubbard, attorney, Civil Rights Corps:

“Reforms are underway.  Most municipal courts in Alabama have already moved away from money bail.  Today’s decision affirms that progress, and encourages more, recognizing that our district and circuit courts still have a long way to go.

“We look forward to working with the county officials to ensure their new practices comply with the preliminary injunction order, and we will continue our litigation against Cullman County until permanent relief is implemented. We hope other courts will take notice and end these abuses in their own jurisdictions without waiting for a lawsuit to force the issue.”

Statement from Brock Boone, staff attorney, ACLU of Alabama:  

“The federal court’s decision today acknowledges what policy makers, advocates, and state courts across the country are recognizing:  that locking people up simply based on poverty is unacceptable, and that a just bail system must provide robust protections to ensure that those presumed innocent are released pretrial, while only the most severe cases will require detention. 

“Cullman County is in many ways typical of courts across Alabama.  Far too often, its bail system results in people being locked away pretrial simply because they could not pay.  Courts throughout Alabama, and the country, are setting bail above what people can pay, without any protections to ensure that this draconian penalty is used only when absolutely necessary.”

Learn more about the fight to end wealth-based pretrial detention here

ACLU Sues Orange County District Attorney and Sheriff over Secret, Illegal Jail Informant Program

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP today filed a lawsuit against Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, whose departments conducted a secret jailhouse informant operation in violation of the U.S. Constitution, California Constitution, and California state laws.

For more than thirty years, the departments have recruited and placed informants in jail cells with defendants, paying and rewarding informants with sentence reductions for extracting incriminating information from the defendants without their lawyers present. Some informants use threats of violence, including threats of murder, to coerce confessions and other information.

“By running this massive, underground jailhouse informant scheme, the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department are cheating Orange County out of justice,” said Brendan Hamme, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “They have won countless convictions based on unreliable information — the results of jailhouse informants’ coercion of defendants — that they passed off in court as solid, sound, and legal. Hiding the facts of the coercion from the defense is just one of the many ways they broke the law and endangered justice.”

The scheme has existed at least since the 1980s, and it was first exposed in a criminal case four years ago. Since then, the defendants in at least 18 cases in Orange County have shown that the departments’ jailhouse informants were illegally involved in their cases and won sentence reductions or dismissals. The district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department have consistently denied the existence of the jailhouse operation, sometimes under oath.

“District attorney’s offices and sheriff’s departments have the responsibility to pursue justice and uphold the law. Orange County’s jailhouse informant scam does the opposite, and we’re suing to end it,” said Somil Trivedi, Staff Attorney with the ACLU. “We must hold the departments accountable for more than three decades of secrets and lies that continue to undermine the justice system in Orange County.”

The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, details several cases in which illegal jailhouse informants were involved, including that of Luis Vega. Vega was 14 when he was arrested in 2009 for attempted murder. Two jail informants paid by the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department produced information without coercion that showed Vega was innocent. By law, the departments were required to relay this information to Vega and his attorney, but they did not, due to the risk of exposing the entire illegal program. Vega remained in prison for nearly two years.

A named plaintiff in the lawsuit filed today, People for the Ethical Operation of Prosecutors and Law Enforcement (P.E.O.P.L.E.), is a nonprofit association based in Orange County.

“Both agencies’ misconduct has devastated the Orange County community and led to a complete loss of faith in their ability to deliver justice,” Tina Jackson, a member of P.E.O.P.L.E. who also is a named plaintiff, said. “They claim to represent the people of Orange County, but we are here to say that, as long as they’re breaking the law, they don’t represent us.”

“The scope and duration of Orange County’s illegal informant program is breathtaking,” said Jacob Kreilkamp, a partner with Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. “The defendants’ efforts to deny its existence — and, when forced to confront reality, to minimize and excuse it — make it clear that this lawsuit is necessary to restore integrity to Orange County’s criminal justice system.”

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — has launched a new multi-year initiative to make sure that prosecutors who break the law are held accountable for fueling mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system, through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. Today’s lawsuit joins Singleton v. Cannizzaro, filed in January by the ACLU and co-counsel over misconduct by the Orleans Parish district attorney, such as issuing fake subpoenas to coerce witnesses into submitting to interrogations.

For the complaint filed today and information about P.E.O.P.L.E. v. Rackauckas, go to:https://www.aclu.org/cases/people-v-rackauckas

For a video about the lawsuit: https://youtu.be/mPXEz0WJbRM

For more information: ACLU of Southern California https://www.aclusocal.org/

ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarceration/smart-justice

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP https://www.mto.com

This press release is available here: https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-sues-orange-county-district-attorney-and-sheriff-over-secret-illegal-jail-informant

 

Days in the Dallas Co. Jail raising money for bail

Dallas County, Texas is being sued over the constitutionality of its bail system by the ACLU, Civil Rights Corps, the Texas Fair Defense Project, the Texas Organizing Project, Faith in Texas, and six plaintiffs. The county’s cash bail system is unconstitutional, they claim in Daves vs. Dallas County, because it forces less affluent people to remain in custody while they raise money for bail. D magazine reports that about 70 percent of the 5,000 people in the Dallas County Jail are there because they can’t afford to post bail. This article has more on what’s it like for the people who have to stay in jail because they don’t have bail money.