Charges Dismissed After Prosecutors Hide Evidence

While prosecutors have a large amount of discretion in their work, they are not permitted to hide evidence that could be exculpatory for a defendant.

In a recent Colorado case, prosecutors possessed two reports that that pointed to other suspects since the beginning of the case, yet disclosed them 15 months after defendant David Bueno was convicted.

Bueno and codefendent Alex Perez were charged in 2004 with the stabbing death of inmate Jeffrey Heird at Limon Correctional Facility. The state sought the death penalty against them.

Defense attorneys had specifically asked for evidence relating to the other suspects mentioned in the report. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of charges against Bueno and Perez.

Such prosecutorial misconduct is an example of the importance of holding prosecutors accountable both in the courtroom and at the ballot box.

Judge Makes Racist Remark at Law School

Serving as yet another example of the importance of making informed decisions when choosing judges at the ballot box, a judge made an appalling racist statement during a speaking engagement at a law school. While delivering a lecture on mediation and negotiation at the University of Calgary, Justice Kristine Eidsvik told the class that she felt uncomfortable walking into a room “full of big dark people” during dispute resolutions and that she was used to being in an “ivory tower” where she was “removed from the riff raff.” Judge Eidsvik was serving as the school’s judge in residence for the academic year. She later apologized for her comments.

Judges have the power to profoundly shape the criminal justice system. Given that racial bias is an issue at various levels in the criminal justice system, it is imperative that voters choose candidates who value racial equity. Eidvik’s shockingly overt racism poses a serious threat to justice, and judges with ideas like this cannot be tolerated.

The Fight for Judicial Primaries

The NCGA is trying to take away our right to elect judges. If you are like most people the previous sentence is alarming, but you aren’t quiet sure what it means. CJPC is here to help you make sense of this important issue.

What is the law right now related to judicial elections?

  • There will be no judicial primaries. This means you will not have an opportunity to narrow down the potentially long list of people who want to be elected as a judge on the November ballot in your jurisdiction.
  • Each candidate for judge will also list the party affiliation. This is a recent change in the law. Many fear making our judicial elections partisan can politicize what should be a non political branch of state government.

Is anyone challenging these changes?

  • YES! The North Carolina Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit asserting the NCGA violated its free speech and equal protection rights by eliminating judicial primaries. Oral arguments were heard last week and a decision on whether to block the law is pending.

Why should you care about ending judicial primary elections?

  • Because the elimination of primaries could result in having lots of names on the ballot. So, a candidate with just 30 percent of the vote could become a judge!
  • Another reason to be concerned is because no legislature in the history of this country has ever eliminated primaries in partisan elections.

Another NC Jury Rejects the Death Penalty

On Wednesday, a Wake County jury sentenced Donovan Richardson to life in prison for his role in a 2014 double murder. He is one of three men accused in the crime of murdering two elderly men at their home in Fuquay Varina. One of the other men pleaded guilty and will serve life in prison, and the other has yet to be sentenced but pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the murder.

Richardson’s trial marks the 9th capital trial in Wake County in a row to end in a life sentence. It has been 10 years since a Wake County Jury has sent someone to death row.

Learn more at http://www.cdpl.org/wake-jury-opts-life-without-parole-rejects-death-penalty-9th-trial-row/

ACLU Report Exposes the Rise of Debtor’s Prisons

by Molly Riesenberger

The ACLU report, “In for a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons,” presents the findings of a yearlong investigation into “debtors’ prisons,” exposing how poor defendants are increasingly being jailed for failure to pay legal debts that they cannot afford. Flashback to 1983 – The Court ruled in Bearden vs. Georgia that imprisoning a defendant who was unable to pay his debts, despite bona fide efforts to do so, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It further held that a judge must determine whether the defendant has the ability to pay the debt, but “willfully” refuses. Today, courts nationwide habitually ignore the precedent established by Bearden vs. Georgia. In fact, states now collect legal debts more aggressively from men and women who are financially unable to pay than from those with the means to do so. The report unearths the damage that debtor’s prisons do to citizens, the economy and the criminal justice system.

The ACLU investigation focuses on legal financial obligations (LFOs), which is a general term describing “all fines, fees and costs associated with a criminal sentence” (ACLU). While LFOs are seen as essential revenue to the courts, there is not data showing that their efforts to collect debts actually generate income – in fact, incarcerating those unable to pay ends up costing states even more than unpaid legal debts.

LFOs disproportionally hurt racial and ethnic minorities, as they are disproportionally represented among the prisoner population. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit acknowledged that there is racial bias in the criminal justice system – African-Americans and Latinos in Washington State were excessively arrested for drug possession, more likely to be searched, and less likely to be released without bail than those who are white. According to the ACLU report, “These same disparities extend to the assessment of LFOs: In Washington, Hispanic defendants generally receive higher LFOs than white defendants convicted of similar offenses, and persons convicted of drug offenses receive significantly higher LFOs than those convicted of violent crimes” (ACLU).

The result of LFO collection is a two-tiered system of justice: the poorest defendants are punished more severely than those with financial means. Ironically, the poorest defendants are the ones who ends up paying much more in fines and fees that those who can afford their LFOs. For example, in Washington state, all unpaid legal debts are subject to 12% interest (ACLU). This eventually turns into a lifelong debt – a typical criminal defendant with an average LFO that makes a monthly payment on that LFO would still have a legal debt 30 years post-conviction.

The ACLU came up with a list of recommendations for state and local officials to remedy some of the most serious debtors’ prison abuses:

  • Defendants should not be incarcerated for failure to pay LFOs that they cannot afford – the court must consider if the defendant is able to pay and then decide if the failure to pay is willful.
  • States should repeal any law that results in poor defendants being punished more severely than defendants with means, and there should be consistent guidelines for assessing LFOs.
  • Judges should receive training in the determination of defendants who cannot afford to pay prior to incarceration. Furthermore, judges should appoint counsel to defendants at proceedings to determine LFO sanctions.
  • Defendants should be given the opportunity to repay their debts through alternative methods, such as community service.
  • Data should be collected about LFO collection in each jurisdiction – the costs of collection, how collected funds are distributed – broken down by race, crime and location.
  • Court should be funded enough so that they do not need to collect LFOs.
  • The government should hold oversight hearings on the rise of debtors’ prisons.

 

Cyclical injustice results when our system incarcerates the impoverished, while allowing those with greater means to serve their sentence by simply signing a check.

The New Law and Order: Working Towards Equitable and Community-Centered Policing in North Carolina

The North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities (NCCRED), the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy, and the Wake Forest School of Law Criminal Justice Program, present “The New Law and Order: Working Towards Equitable and Community-Centered Policing in North Carolina” on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in the Worrell Professional Center, Room 1312. The event is free and open to the public. Four hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit from the North Carolina Bar Association has been approved.
Click for more information on the event and registration.