Today is #WrongfulConvictionDay. This year, it aptly highlights the fight for police and prosecutor accountability and the role official misconduct plays in wrongful convictions.
This morning, the Supreme Court declined to hear a host of challenges to the qualified immunity doctrine. Even though some of the Justices have hinted over the years that they would be interested in revisiting this judge-invented doctrine—Justice Sotomayor has said it has become “an absolute shield” for police, and, this morning, Justice Thomas reiterated that he “continue[s] to have strong doubts” about the doctrine—it is disappointing that the Court has, again, shied away from reviewing qualified immunity, especially as nationwide protests demand police accountability.
The defense of qualified immunity is absurd. It means bad actors avoid culpability, and victims lose the ability to hold them accountable. As of yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to consider at least eleven challenges to the qualified immunity doctrine.
Something very bad is happening in the Cook County Jail. And it’s getting worse as I write these words. It has been one week since Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli stood before Cook County Chief Criminal Court Judge Leroy Martin, Jr. to argue that the “desperate times” for our nation and world demand bold action to protect the 5000 people confined in the Cook County Jail from the spread of the coronavirus—and to protect the correctional officers, healthcare workers, and legal workers who must enter the Jail on a daily basis, as well as all of us who share our communities with those brave workers.
On August 7, 2019, 600 ICE agents descended on Mississippi and executed the largest workplace raids in American history. More than 680 Mississippi residents were rounded up from six different chicken processing plants in five rural communities. Many of those detained have lived in Mississippi for more than a decade. All are hard-working members of our communities who want nothing more than to support their families and provide financial assistance to loved ones in their countries of origin.
On Friday, the Supreme Court, by a predictable 5-4 vote, permitted the Department of Homeland Security to refuse entry to noncitizens who are “likely at any time to become a public charge” by utilizing SNAP, Medicaid, or other public assistance.
Last week, Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign released his criminal justice proposal, detailing the reforms Bloomberg would undertake as president. It’s pretty rich to see the guy who ran on a tough on crime platform and who was responsible for the expansion and widespread implementation of stop and frisk try to rebrand himself as anything other than the center right politician he has been for decades.
In America, we shouldn’t have to guess about whether criminal prosecutions result from political whim.
Parole may not be not prison, but make no mistake: it is another manifestation of the carceral state. It chains people to the criminal justice system with a confusing web of requirements and restrictions, and harshly punishes anyone who slips up.
A wrongful conviction is no longer a shock – it’s a well-known fact of our criminal justice system. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, there have been 2,499 exonerations in the U.S. since 1989. While it is certainly depressing that so many people have been wrongfully convicted in our country – a former 9th Circuit judge estimated the actual wrongful conviction rate is at least two times higher than the current statistics – the increasing rate of exoneration is historic and encouraging. Media has played a critical role in exposing these injustices.
The question in the title may seem straightforward, but the criminal justice system treats it as complicated. The Constitution affords a panoply of procedural rights to criminal defendants, ranging from the right to trial by jury to the right to confront one’s accusers and the right against self-incrimination. A unifying principle behind these entitlements is an aversion to convicting and punishing innocent people. But suppose all of those procedural rights are followed, and an innocent defendant is still convicted. Shouldn’t that innocent person be released?
Jeffrey Epstein’s death by suicide just this past Saturday was greeted with shock by the general public and members of congress. The Attorney General of the United States was “appalled” to learn of the death. Epstein’s death by suicide is appalling. It is no more appalling than every single one of the hundreds of other in custody deaths by suicide every year in the sprawling and growing network of local jails across the United States.
In a horrific two and a half years, the past few weeks have seen the President hit a particularly low note. I would not have imagined that the holder of the most powerful office on earth would choose to unleash racist taunts at Members of the Congress of the United States. “Go back where you came from.” “No human being” would wish to live in your Congressional district, the place you call home.
Sexual assault in prisons and jails is a serious and ongoing problem. Well over a decade ago, Justice Stevens noted that at least “one million people have been sexually assaulted in the Nation’s prisons over the last 20 years.” In 2015 alone, correctional administrators reported 24,661 allegations of sexual victimization in prisons, jails and other adult correctional facilities–and this only represents allegations that were actually reported. The actual number of incidents is certainly significantly higher.
We are in the midst of a public health crisis. And, perhaps surprisingly to some, our prisons are key to solving the problem.Over 2.3 million individuals in the United States are living with chronic hepatitis C – an infection of the liver which, left untreated, can lead to (among other things) liver cancer, kidney disease, and death. According to the CDC, hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease.
From the age of eight, Tyquine Lee was deemed so mentally disabled that he received state assistance to help his mom, Takeisha Brown, afford his care. Before he was 10 years old, he was hospitalized on four separate occasions for reasons related to his mental illness.’At 18 years old, Tyquine was imprisoned. Takeisha resolved to stay in contact with her son throughout his incarceration and to fight for him as best she could.
Earlier this week, Strawberry Hampton finally won her release from prison, after years of targeted harassment, abuse, and discrimination because of her gender identity. Strawberry is a transgender woman who for the majority of her incarceration was housed in men’s prisons. While in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), she was subjected to extreme, unrelenting sexual violence and abuse by other prisoners, by guards, and by the administration charged with keeping her safe.
In a recent opinion piece, I challenged people of faith in Mississippi, evangelical Christians in particular, to reflect upon the disconnect between Biblical teachings regarding how prisoners should be treated and the failure of the vast majority of local faith communities to utter a single word to those in power regarding the inhumane conditions in Mississippi prisons. Why, one might ask, would a civil rights lawyer in Mississippi engage a group of people many see as conservative defenders of the status quo rather than as potential allies in the fight for criminal justice reform? Why bother?
Bobby Joe Pinkney, an African-American man, went on trial for his life in the rural town of Raymond, Mississippi in July 1985. He was charged with the murder of a white woman. The all-white jury convicted Mr. Pinkney and sentenced him to death.
If you care about the protection of civil rights and holding law enforcement accountable, you need to know about “Qualified Immunity”—a legal doctrine invented by the U.S. Supreme Court that prevents victims of police misconduct from holding officers accountable.
When a vulnerable person has been crushed by the machinery of the criminal justice system, where power has been exercised with callous indifference, where there is a wrong that needs to be made right and when, as sometimes happens, there is no other lawyer or firm willing and able to take the case—we hear a call to action.