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Former Indianapolis prosecutor will not be disciplined despite findings of misconduct

Former Indianapolis prosecutor will not be disciplined despite findings of misconduct

A prosecutor who worked for Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry will not face discipline despite findings of prosecutorial misconduct in two separate criminal cases.

Former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Gillian DePrez Keiffner was the lead prosecutor in two criminal cases where the Indiana Court of Appeals found that Keiffner committed misconduct.

In Brandon Brummet’s case, the appellate court said that Keiffner repeatedly made derogatory comments about Brummett’s lawyers in front of the jury. As the court explained, “Here, the prosecutor not only impugned the integrity of defense counsel but also suggested that the role of defense lawyers was to help guilty men go free.” The court also found that Keiffner improperly vouched for the credibility of a prosecution witness and inappropriately commented “on the justness” of the prosecution. Finally, the court found that Keiffner committed misconduct by unfairly badgering Brummett when he testified in his own defense — at one point asking him to say which girl he “enjoyed touching” more. The court vacated Brummett’s convictions, a decision that was later affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court.

In Bruce Ryan’s case, the Court of Appeals said that Keiffner committed misconduct by suggesting to jurors that Ryan wanted a jury trial “to try to get away with his crime,” telling jurors that the defense argument was a “trick” designed to let “guilty people go free,” and urging jurors to convict Ryan in order “to send the message that we’re not going to allow people to do this.” Although the Court of Appeals vacated Ryan’s convictions, the Indiana Supreme Court later reversed course, finding that the misconduct didn’t rise to the level of “fundamental error.”

A bar complaint was filed against Keiffner due to her behavior in both cases and the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission sought disciplinary action against her. Although the Court of Appeals had found prosecutorial misconduct in the underlying criminal cases, that fact alone was not enough to result in disciplinary action against Keiffner.

Despite finding that the Disciplinary Commission had not met its burden of proof against Keiffner, the Indiana Supreme Court emphasized that Keiffner’s conduct was inappropriate:

We caution that by no means should our opinion today be read as an endorsement of Respondent’s actions. For the reasons outlined in Ryan and Brummett, we continue to disapprove of arguments that invite a conviction for reasons other than a defendant’s guilt, impugn the integrity of defense counsel, or otherwise create a “good guy / bad guy dichotomy” between the respective roles of the State and defense counsel.

According to the Indianapolis Star, “Of the approximately 550 criminal cases that were appealed in Marion County from January 2012 to July 2014, the Court of Appeals reversed only two because of prosecutorial misconduct, according to the prosecutor’s office. And both involved Keiffner. “

Keiffner previously received a reprimand from the Indiana Supreme Court after she was arrested for drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident in July 2009, and ended up pleading guilty to the lesser charge of reckless driving. She resigned as a prosecutor following that incident but later rejoined the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office in 2010 after Curry was elected. She is now in private practice.

California’s district attorneys at odds with voters over criminal justice reform

District attorneys want to keep an outdated system alive.

California’s district attorneys at odds with voters over criminal justice reform

District attorneys want to keep an outdated system alive.

new report by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Fair Punishment Project shines a light on elected district attorneys in California who are frequently at odds with their constituents. According to the report, which goes hand in hand with the ACLU’s new ‘Hey, Meet Your DA!’ campaign, these elected officials continue to ignore voters’ desire to rethink law enforcement and the criminal justice system in the Golden State.

According to the report, Californians passed four ballot measures between 2012 and 2016 to make the criminal justice system less harsh. They voted to reform the state’s notorious Three Strikes Law, which imposed mandatory 25-year sentences for three-time felons, no matter what their crimes were. Voters also legalized recreational marijuanareclassified multiple property and drug offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies, supported more parole opportunities for prisoners, and empowered judges to decide whether or not kids should be funneled into juvenile or adult courts. But the vast majority of the state’s 58 elected district attorneys opposed the measures; none of the issues on the table received support from more than three of the prosecutors.

The report highlights why this discrepancy between voters’ and district attorneys’ policy positions matters. In California and every other U.S. state, district attorneys are fueling mass incarceration. They decide whether or not a person should be charged for an offense and what those charges should be, which can have a huge impact on possible sentences. In the past year few years, Californians have ultimately voted to reduce the number of people behind bars and reconsider who should be sent there in the first place. And yet district attorneys are overwhelmingly against such an overhaul of the system, favoring tough-on-crime law enforcement over diversion, rehabilitation, and second chances.

“For decades district attorneys and prosecutors have been the primary drivers of America’s devastating mass incarceration problem, operating with little transparency,” Bill Cobb, the deputy director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, said in a press release.

But despite their immense influence on law enforcement and public safety in local communities, district attorneys aren’t typically on the minds of people headed to the voting booth. Unlike police officers patrolling the streets and making arrests every day, district attorneys have minimal contact with the communities they serve. They typically operate behind closed doors and aren’t forthcoming about their decision-making, meaning the hundreds, thousands, and sometimes millions of people under their jurisdiction know very little about who they are and what they do. Voters subsequently don’t realize that these government officials are adamantly opposed to change.

The ACLU hopes its new campaign will help constituents better understand the role that district attorneys play in their respective communities. ‘Hey, Meet Your DA!’ features a profile of every district attorney in California, breaking down when they entered office and their positions on each of the four ballot measures.

“This campaign is important, because it’s imperative that voters in California are equipped with the information and tools they need to effectively engage their district attorneys and know how to hold them accountable for problematic practices and unjust systems,” said Cobb.

Between 2010 and 2015, California’s prison population declined drastically, in large part due to voters supporting the four criminal justice policy proposals. But there are still 131,363 in-state prisoners who are disproportionately Black and Latino and cost the state $75,560 a year — each. For the number of prisoners to continue to fall, California residents can vote for additional policy changes that make the system more fair. But they must also know who their district attorneys are, what these prosecutors stand for, and vote for the candidate who best represents their interests.

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Safe injection sites save lives, but most U.S. politicians are still running scared

Safe injection sites save lives, but most U.S. politicians are still running scared

Tens of thousands of people are dying every year. The President recently declared it a national emergency. Yet most politicians in the U.S. are still shying away from an empirically proven way to save lives claimed by the ever-growing opioid epidemic: supervised injection facilities.

Sixty-six cities across the world have opened these facilities, which permit intravenous drug users to inject themselves under medical supervision, while providing access to sterile injection equipment, medical and social work staff, health care, and information about managing or ending addiction. Opponents argue that de-stigmatizing opioid injection at these facilities will increase drug abuse and addiction, and send a message that the government condones drug use.

To settle those fears, one need only look to Vancouver, where a government-funded safe injection facility called Insite has successfully operated since 2003. Research shows that Insite has slowed the spread of HIV, reduced overdose deaths, and contributed to the decreased use of drugs in Vancouver. Attuned to Insite’s success, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine approved recommendations to open two safe injection sites in January. The facilities would be the first to legally open in the U.S.

“The crisis is growing beyond anything we have seen before,” Murray told The Seattle Times. “We can do something about that.”

Opposition to initiatives like that in Seattle often come from a wide array of politicians, academics, and law enforcement officials. But in Seattle, King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg has consistently supported the project. In May, Satterberg testified before supporters and opponents at a meeting of the King County Council’s Health, Housing and Human Services committee.

“I was part of the crack-cocaine response back in the 1980s,” said Satterberg. “The response was the War on Drugs. I think everyone can admit that that was the wrong response.”

In Philadelphia, leading candidate for district attorney Larry Krasner offered his support for these sites as the city began cleaning up ‘El Campamento,’ a half-mile stretch of land along the railroad where users have bought and used heroin for years. “#ElCampamento cleanup is long overdue,” tweeted Krasner. “But we can’t just sweep opioid crisis from one spot to another. Supervised injection facilities work.”

In spite of the Seattle project’s approval in January, actually opening the sites has proved to be an uphill battle. On Thursday, county officials announced that an initiative to ban the creation of safe injection sites received enough signatures to make it on the ballot.

Vancouver’s Insite has also faced strong opposition over the years, in spite of its success. When the program began, the Canadian government granted Insite an exemption from the law that would otherwise criminalize drug use at the site. But in 2006, when conservative Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister, the new administration tried to repeal the exemption and shut the site down. In a landmark 2011 decision, the Canadian Supreme Court denied the Harper administration’s attempts to interfere with Insite — thanks in large part to the large body of peer-reviewed studies examining its impact and measuring its undeniable success.

“During its eight years of operation, Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada,” the Court said. “The effect of denying the services of Insite to the population it serves and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users is grossly disproportionate to any benefit that Canada might derive from presenting a uniform stance on the possession of narcotics.”

As the U.S. grapples with the growing crisis of opioid overdose deaths, the body of research from Vancouver should be a welcome roadmap for lawmakers and advocates seeking answers. The data is there — politicians just need to pay attention to it.

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