The president’s pardons

In comments to media today, President Trump invited NFL players who would protest during the national anthem to suggest individuals to be considered for a presidential pardon.

Jeff Robinson, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, had the following response:

“President Trump has spent much of his first 18 months in office degrading NFL players who protest police brutality and racial injustice. Today, he has tried once again to change the narrative about the work of those and other activists, betraying a fundamental misunderstanding of the cause behind these protests — and using racist dog whistles to do it.

“While we support a fair and concerted effort to address unfair sentences in the federal system, pardons alone won’t fix our deeply broken criminal justice system. We need real reforms that will address systemic racism and implicit bias in policing that too often results in violence and death. We need a bail system that doesn’t criminalize poverty. We need sentencing reform so that thousands of Black and brown people aren’t ensnared in jails and prisons. Should the president meet with athletes, we hope he will propose serious policy changes that get us closer to those goals.”

This statement is online here:
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-comment-president-trumps-suggestion-considering-pardons-request-nfl-players

Advocates File Lawsuit Over Threat to Eject and Arrest People Left Homeless by Miami-Dade Residence Restrictions

HomelessAttorneys from Legal Services of Greater Miami, Florida Justice Institute, and the ACLU of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter have filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of homeless individuals encamped at NW 71st Street and NW 36th Avenue, challenging Miami-Dade County efforts to forcibly evict their encampment under threat of arrest.

The lawsuit argues that a threat by Miami-Dade County to jail people beginning this week who have been forced to live in the encampment for years due to the county’s onerous residence restrictions for people with past sexual offenses is unlawful, contending that the individuals have nowhere else to go.

The county has prohibited these individuals from living within 2,500 feet of a school, which in practice prohibits them from living in almost every residential unit in the county. The county’s restrictions go far beyond the state’s residence restrictions. In order to work and live, these individuals have resorted to living in tents or in their vehicles at this encampment in an industrial area of unincorporated Miami-Dade County that lies in one of the few areas of the county not excluded by the residence restriction. Recently, the Miami-Dade Police Department and other officials had begun to instruct people living in the current encampment to vacate and move to the intersection of Krome and SW 88th Street, which is more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, running water, electricity, or a restroom.

“This encampment is obviously not an acceptable housing situation for anyone, but to further violate our client’s constitutional rights to solve a problem that the county created in the first place is cruel,” said Jeffrey Hearne, Director of Litigation at Legal Services of Greater Miami.

“Since the housing ban lasts for life, many of these people are elderly, infirm, or incapacitated,” said Valerie Jonas, cooperating counsel with the ACLU of Florida. “If the hundreds of individuals are banished to the border of the Everglades, they will be forced to live out their lives on the literal margins of society without any cover from the elements. The county created this problem by restricting areas in which our clients can and cannot live, and the county can solve this problem now by repealing the residence restriction.”

“The county’s decision to evict and arrest those living at the encampment shows that the county has no intention of eradicating homelessness or ensuring public safety,” stated ACLU of Florida legal director Nancy Abudu. “Instead, it is simply shifting the problem to another location and ignoring the reality of the unsafe, unsanitary conditions in which so many people are living. This lawsuit is an effort to halt the county’s unlawful actions.”

Advocates for the plaintiffs in the case are seeking an emergency injunction from the court preventing the county from taking any action to close the encampment.

A copy of the lawsuit filed today is available here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/complaint_dec_action.pdf

A copy of the emergency motion for temporary injunction is available here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/emergency_motion_for_temporary_injunction.pdf

A map showing the impact of the residence restriction in Miami-Dade County is available here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/file/2643

In separate litigation — Doe v. Miami-Dade County — the ACLU, ACLU of Florida, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and attorney Val Jonas contend that the county’s residence restriction for certain former offenders cannot be constitutionally applied to those whose offense occurred before the county enacted the residence restrictions. Trial in that case is set for October 2018. More information on that case is available here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/90-second_amended_complaint.pdf

 

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

JailThe 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

 

ACLU Sues Georgia County Over Discriminatory, Wealth-Based Bail System

JailThe American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia filed a federal class-action lawsuit today against Glynn County, Georgia, for violating the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors. The lawsuit was brought against the county itself, as well as the county’s sheriff, chief magistrate judge, and court-appointed public defender, and seeks an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against the people who are financially strapped.

Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained indefinitely, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial. Low-income people are also denied effective, meaningful representation at bail hearings where an attorney could argue for their release.

“People who cannot afford to pay bail or hire a private attorney face an impossible choice — plead guilty or face loss of their families, jobs, and homes as they wait for their cases to move through the system,” said Andrea Woods, Equal Justice Works Fellowship attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Georgia and across the country. In Glynn County, the contract public defender and prosecutors alike refuse to grant people the presumption of innocence and ignore the government’s due process obligation to ensure that release upon arrest is the norm.”

The lawsuit argues that Glynn County’s system of money bail violates the Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail while allowing those who can pay to go home to their families, jobs, homes, and communities. With each day in jail, the person’s chances for a fair trial diminish as evidence and witnesses disappear, and many plead guilty even when innocent just to go home.

“The Glynn County court system holds hostage the freedom of individuals arrested for misdemeanors, leaving those who are financially strapped unable to afford the predetermined ransom,” said Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia.

The suit, filed on behalf of two plaintiffs representing a class in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, accuses officials in the county of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the Right-to-Counsel and Due Process clauses of the 6th and 14th Amendment and Equal Protection Clause to the 14th Amendment.

The lawsuit filed today includes a complaint, a motion for class certification, and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

The bail amounts for the suit’s plaintiffs are each $1,256. Neither of the plaintiffs can afford to hire a criminal defense attorney and are thus eligible for representation from the public defender.

Plaintiff Margery Mock is incarcerated on a $1,256 bond on an alleged criminal trespass charge from trying to visit a relative at a motel. Her possessions are currently in a storage unit, which she was living in at the time of her arrest because she does not have stable housing, and risks losing all of her property due to her wealth-based incarceration.

Glynn County’s system of wealth-based detention is arbitrary, the lawsuit argues. Each offense has an assigned dollar amount. If a person can arrange to pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash or property, or can arrange for payment through a bail bond company or another third party, the sheriff releases that person automatically without evaluating whether the person will flee before trial or endanger the community. Those who cannot pay the pre-determined bail amount must remain in jail, waiting days or weeks for their first hearing.

The lawsuit also targets the deficient misdemeanor public defender system in the county. Glynn County only pays one lawyer to represent everyone accused of a misdemeanor who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. This contract defender does not visit clients who are stuck in jail, file motions on their behalf, or appear at hearings to request lower bail. The contract attorney instead only meets clients when they plead guilty to sign off on sentencing paperwork.

The lawsuit against Glynn County is a continuation of efforts from the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice to end wealth-based bail detention in Georgia and across the nation.

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — has launched a new initiative focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. The lawsuit in Glynn County is the third related filing by the ACLU in 2018 alone, with many to come across the country in the effort to end our overreliance on the money bail system.

Today’s complaint can be found here:
https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/mock-et-al-v-glynn-county-et-al-complaint