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Harris County Judges May Face a Reckoning Over Bail On Election Day

Republican misdemeanor judges in Houston have clung to an unconstitutional bail system. But their intransigence could cost them their seats.

Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by dlewis33/Getty

Harris County Judges May Face a Reckoning Over Bail On Election Day

Republican misdemeanor judges in Houston have clung to an unconstitutional bail system. But their intransigence could cost them their seats.


This piece was produced in collaboration with the Texas Observer.

Typically, down-ballot judicial races in Texas’s largest county are sleepy affairs that attract little attention. But this year, the outcome of a dozen or so races for criminal court judge could keep thousands of Texans out of jail, and possibly even upend cash bail practices in Texas and beyond.

Harris County, which includes Houston, has been locked in a legal battle for two years over its practice of keeping people accused of minor crimes in jail if they can’t afford to pay bail. A landmark ruling by a federal judge in April 2017 found that the county’s bail system violated residents’ constitutional rights, detailing how judges ignored individuals’ ability to pay the bonds they were setting and worsened racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Chief Judge Lee Rosenthal of the Southern District Court of Texas ordered the county to release nearly all people accused of misdemeanors within 24 hours of arrest, regardless of their ability to pay bail.

Reform advocates heralded Rosenthal’s ruling as a fundamental blow to the legality of cash bail nationwide. But since then, 14 of the 16 sitting county misdemeanor judges have fought the ruling, spending more than 6 million taxpayer dollars in the appeals process.

Now, that fight has become a central issue for Democratic challengers to the judges. All 15 seats up for election are held by Republicans. Democrat Alex Salgado, a former prosecutor running against Judge Paula Goodhart, called the county’s treatment of people arrested for low-level crimes “mind-blowing.”

“People are stuck in jail and pleading [guilty] just because they can’t afford it,” he said. “That’s not how it should work.”

Salgado, a second-generation Mexican-American, is among a cohort of Democrats vying for the bench. Their party line is clear: “We in Harris County just believe in comprehensive bail reform,” said Odus Evbagharu, spokesperson for the Harris County Democratic Party. “Being poor is not a crime. Last time I checked, debtor’s prisons were illegal.”

“The judicial elections are critical to bail reform in Harris County,” said Rodney Ellis, a Democratic county commissioner. “It cannot be stressed enough that bail reform in Harris County could easily begin with the judges—they could do away with cash bail tomorrow if they chose to do so.”

Criminal court judges have tremendous power. They have the discretion to lower the pre-set bail schedule that hearing officers follow, to write policy that mandates the use of non-cash bail, and to show leniency when a person misses a hearing or is late.

The incumbent Republican judges have shown no interest in settling the suit or changing their ways. If Democrats win the judicial seats, it wouldn’t technically affect the constitutional argument around bail. The new judges could agree to a settlement, which activists and local leaders, including the district attorney and sheriff, have pushed the current judges to do.

The judges’ enthusiasm for preserving the bail system does not appear to match public opinion. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez both ran on bail reform in 2016. The Houston Chronicle has endorsed all of the judicial challengers and recommended the removal of every incumbent judge still fighting the lawsuit. “The public needs to send a message that we will not tolerate the status quo, one that the judges have been content to live with for too long,” the editorial board wrote. “The only way to chart a path forward is to remove the current judges—root, branch and all.”

‘We do serve many masters’

The lawsuit that the 14 sitting judges have fought so hard was filed in 2016 on behalf of Maranda Lynn ODonnell, a young mother who could not afford the $2,500 bail levied against her for driving without a valid license. After a 60-second bond hearing, she spent two days in jail.

The cursory and draconian nature of bond hearings was revealed in recordings released by the Texas Organizing Project in 2016. The videos showed Harris County hearing officers setting cash bonds for homeless and mentally disabled people without considering their ability to pay, shouting down those who tried to defend themselves, and raising bond amounts to punish defendants who irritated them.  

A central question in the litigation is whether the judges instruct hearing officers on how to set bail. Records have shown that the misdemeanor judges regularly told the hearing officers to reject cashless bonds. Three of the hearing officers named in the ODonnell lawsuit testified before the state judicial ethics commission that they were simply following the judges’ instructions. “We do serve many masters,” one said. The judges have insisted that the hearing officers are entirely independent.

Now, the plaintiffs are trying to learn why the county destroyed over a year’s worth of emails between judges and hearing officers that could have been evidence in the case. On Oct. 26, their lawyers submitted a letter to Judge Rosenthal asking permission to depose court and county officials about the emails, arguing that the communications could settle the question of whether judges are giving hearing officers their marching orders.

The county admitted that it had continued to automatically delete emails, despite the legal requirement to preserve evidence, but said it was simply an oversight.

“No emails have been deliberately deleted, there was a technological glitch on the judges’ side,” said Robert Soard, the assistant attorney at the county attorney’s office, which is representing the judges along with more than a dozen private attorneys. He argued they had provided sufficient evidence, as they had already turned over the emails that some of the hearing officers had printed out.

That still leaves significant gaps, according to Elizabeth Rossi, an attorney with Civil Rights Corps, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that is part of the plaintiffs’ legal team.

“They have [turned over] what they printed. But who knows what they didn’t print?” she said. “We want to know more about how this happened and what was destroyed as a result.”

A hearing on the issue was set for last week, but was delayed until after Election Day once the judges’ lawyers said they had scheduling issues.

Accusations of sabotage

In addition to refusing to settle the lawsuit, the judges have tried to sabotage the new bail policies, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Court officials have used misleading data to argue that the new rules are releasing more people who then fail to return for their hearings.

The two judges who support the lawsuit—the only Black judges among the 16—said their colleagues implemented a policy requiring that defendants released from jail appear in court the next day, a measure that can chiefly be understood as a “deliberate manipulation of the bond-forfeiture numbers,” Judge Darrell Jordan wrote in a declaration signed May 14. Some judges will also simply consider a bond forfeited if the person is even five minutes late to a hearing, he wrote.

The judges have sustained this prolonged and pricey legal saga because the lawsuit feels like a personal attack, said Scott Henson, policy director at Just Liberty, a Texas-based nonprofit that advocates criminal justice reform. “These guys are clinging onto the idea that they didn’t do anything wrong, they can’t understand the idea of a systemic critique,” Henson said. With progressive leaders in the sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office, the judges are a vestige of an old system. “It’s a past versus future kind of thing,” Henson said.

Voting the party line

The lawsuit’s outcome will establish the baseline constitutional requirements for bail practices, “but the judges are free to go beyond that,” said Neal Manne, an attorney on the plaintiffs’ legal team. “I think if Democrats are elected, they will say, ‘A new day is here.’”   

Political observers say that the judicial elections depend on U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke inspiring Harris County Democrats to vote. The enthusiasm for O’Rourke is driving voter turnout efforts in communities that tend to stay home during midterm elections. If they do turn out, they will most likely vote for their party down the ballot.

A single party has swept Harris County judicial elections in three of the last five elections, a Rice University analysis found, mainly thanks to voters choosing a “straight ticket” option that selects every candidate from one political party.

“The O’Rourke phenomenon has been so remarkable,” said Jay Kumar Aiyer, an assistant professor of public policy at Texas Southern University. We’re seeing so much interest from young voters and minorities. If that translates to the ballot box it could spell a significant difference for the state and Harris County.”

Advocates say this is the first time bail reform is on the radar for judicial hopefuls in Harris County.

“Things need to change,” Salgado said, “and they need to change quickly.”

Special Edition: Attorney General Elections Guide

Special Edition: Attorney General Elections Guide


Special Edition: Attorney General Elections Guide

As American voters are bombarded with messages about what they can do to control the House and Senate, few voters, or news outlets, are as fired up about another crucial group that is up for election on Nov. 6: state attorneys general. Even John Oliver recently chided voters for not educating themselves on the AG races. “The primary task of reforming criminal justice in the United States falls to state and local officials,” writes StateAG.org, a legal research and education website that examines the role of state attorneys general in law and national policy. “State attorneys general in many states are using an array of approaches to address systemic criminal justice issues, such as mass incarceration, policing practices, and changes in criminal sentencing.” [StateAG.org]

The Appeal: Political Report website has provided analysis of various competitive state attorney general races, including Florida, Kansas, Delaware, and Colorado. Below, we bring you some highlights from that coverage, as well as analysis of a competitive attorney general race in Maryland.

MARYLAND

Republican Craig Wolf decided to challenge incumbent Attorney General Brian Frosh, espousing various criminal justice tactics that seem like relics of the tough-on-crime era that oversaw the mass incarceration crisis. “I was just appalled with what was going on with the crime, Baltimore being the murder capital of the country, 2,000 opioid deaths a year, we’re fourth in the country in trafficking women and children, gang and gun violence everywhere, and the current attorney general seems focused on the politics,” Wolf said. A former prosecutor, Wolf joined the U.S. Army after the Sept. 11 attacks and deployed to Afghanistan at the age of 49. Wolf worked for the Justice Department and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, and then became a lobbyist for wine and liquor wholesalers. “He’s been running ads on Baltimore television stations featuring news coverage of violence in the city,” reports the Baltimore Sun. “He wants stiffer prison sentences, easier jailing of suspects awaiting trial, and the return of the death penalty in Maryland.” [Ian Duncan / Baltimore Sun]

“Frosh says Wolf’s focus on criminal prosecutions misunderstands the role of the attorney general—which has to ask permission from local prosecutors before using a grand jury to investigate or file charges—and overlooks Frosh’s efforts to do more to help tackle violent crime,” according to the Sun. “Frosh hired senior prosecutors from the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office as leaders on his team and started a violent crime unit, which he says has brought charges against more than 100 people.” Wolf wants to impose new mandatory minimum sentences, but has not stated which offenses they would apply to. On pretrial detention, Wolf would seek to undo the new law that requires judges to consider defendants’ ability to pay when setting bail. Frosh had championed that change. “It’s an easy fix,” he said. “It saves money. It allows people to lead productive lives. It delivers better justice.” But Wolf says, “They’re there for a reason. They’re in jail because of something they did,” although he acknowledges, “They still have the presumption of innocence.” [Ian Duncan / Baltimore Sun]

Polling from less than a month ago shows the race tightening, with 23 percent of voters undecided. [Rachel Chason and Scott Clement / Washington Post]

COLORADO

In the Democratic primary for attorney general of Colorado, Phil Weiser, a law professor at the University of Colorado, beat state Representative Joe Salazar. Both articulated reformist positions: support for the state’s marijuana legalization and bail reform, opposition to the death penalty, and a commitment to offering legal support to sanctuary cities. Weiser was more moderate than Salazar, saying that although he opposed the death penalty, he would defend it as it currently stands in Colorado. He also did not espouse the more aggressive reforms embraced by Salazar. Weiser now faces Republican George Brauchler, the district attorney of Colorado’s Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln counties. In a statement in March, the ACLU of Colorado highlighted Brauchler’s “devotion” to capital punishment. “Brauchler and his office reside at the extreme fringe of the issue in Colorado,” it said, noting that “Colorado’s death row is occupied exclusively by black men from Brauchler’s district.” Brauchler has also mounted a legal battle with the Colorado Independent, a publication that sought to unseal records about prosecutorial misconduct. And he is blocking efforts to revisit juvenile sentences in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for children. In April, he filed a petition that challenged the constitutionality of a new state law that provided for reconsideration of such sentences. [Daniel Nichanian / Appeal: Political Report]

FLORIDA

Sean Shaw says he is running for attorney general of Florida to “hold the legislature accountable” for failing to implement ballot initiatives approved by the voters. This comes amid a nationwide pattern of referendums being disregarded by elected officials. Shaw, a state lawmaker himself who is now the Democratic nominee, says he could even sue the legislature to ensure compliance. One of the referendums that Shaw has in mind is on medical marijuana, which passed overwhelmingly as an amendment to the state Constitution in 2016. Governor Rick Scott and the legislature then adopted a ban on smoking marijuana. A court has since struck down that ban as violating the referendum, and officials are appealing that decision. The Republican nominee for attorney general, former circuit court judge Ashley Moody, supports the appeal and the ban on smokable marijuana; Shaw does not. “The day I take office those appeals will end,” he said. Shaw has also indicated support for wider marijuana legalization and for policies that move away from incarcerating people for drug possession. “We ought to be building substance abuse centers, not just more prisons all the time,” he said. Shaw says that he would like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law repealed because it enables murder. Shaw also supports the initiative to restore the voting rights of most people who complete a sentence following a felony conviction, which Moody opposes. [Daniel Nichanian / Appeal: Political Report]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.

Have a tip for The Appeal? Write to us at tips@theappeal.org. A good tip is a clear description of newsworthy information that is supported by documented evidence.

More in Explainers

Charging ‘Dealers’ with Homicide: Explained

Illustration by Hisashi Ohkawa

Charging ‘Dealers’ with Homicide: Explained


In our Explainer series, Justice Collaborative lawyers and other legal experts help unpack some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines—like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine—so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers quarterly to keep them current.

In May 2016, 26-year-old Caleb Smith was prepping for medical school entry exams, and ordered what he thought was Adderall off the internet to help him study. After the package arrived at his home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, his girlfriend, 26-year-old Amanda Leach, asked to try some. Smith obliged, and days later, Leach was found dead from an overdose in her apartment. The stimulant Smith thought he ordered online turned out to be illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid responsible for tens of thousands of deaths across the country.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania charged Smith with “drug-induced homicide” for giving Leach the deadly dose, triggering a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. With the federal government bearing down on him, a guilt-stricken Smith killed himself. He was an aspiring doctor who had no criminal record and no intention of killing his girlfriend. But none of that mattered to federal prosecutors who, amid one of the worst drug crises in America’s history, have been directed to get tough on dealers as part of an aggressive nationwide response.

Smith’s story is part of a trend among prosecutors ostensibly fighting the opioid epidemic. Known as “drug-induced homicide,” prosecutions like Smith’s are on the rise. According to a report by the Drug Policy Alliance, news articles about individuals charged with or prosecuted for drug-induced homicide increased by over 300 percent in just six years, to 1,178 in 2016 from 363 in 2011. Cases like these are difficult to track, and the numbers are most likely much higher. A New York Times investigation documented over 1,000 such prosecutions since 2015 in only 15 states.

Without any evidence that drug-induced homicide cases prevent dealers from dealing or users from using, this punitive tactic has become a favorite tool among prosecutors. Feeling pressure from communities in crisis to “just do something” about overdose deaths, prosecutors landed on this legal mechanism. Despite these harsh sentences, overdose deaths have continued to steadily rise.

Initially crafted during the “tough on crime” era of the ’80s and ’90s, drug-induced homicide provisions were intended for kingpins and major traffickers. Today, friends, family members, and as in Smith’s case, romantic partners of the overdose victim are all potential targets, effectively stretching the definition of a dealer beyond recognition. Even if a state does not have a drug-induced homicide statute on the books, prosecutors can often deploy criminal law in some form that turns an accidental overdose into homicide or manslaughter.   

In the face of a massive drug crisis, substance use disorder experts, politicians, and law enforcement officials have rallied for a public health approach to the crisis rather than a law-and-order crackdown. But this more sympathetic method runs counter to old, punitive habits preferred by President Trump, who at a rally in March said, “If we don’t get tough on drug dealers, we are wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty.”

This explainer will explore why the rising popularity of drug-induced homicide prosecutions is a disturbing reaction to the opioid crisis, and how these cases compound the tragedies that overdoses have already caused communities across the country.

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions deter dealers by “sending a strong message.”

Reality: Threats of harsh punishment do not deter drug dealers.

In Rhode Island, Superior Court Judge Kristin Rodgers handed down a 40-year sentence to a young, low-level dealer who sold $40 worth of heroin (which turned out to be laced with fentanyl) that led to the death of 29-year-old Kristen Coutu. At sentencing, Judge Rodgers said that this harsh punishment “should send a message to dealers,” according to local news reports.

Judges and prosecutors across America believe that if they publicize lengthy prison terms, dealers will think twice about their choice of employment. But there is little evidence that this “tough” message is sinking in.

Research by the Pew Charitable Trusts helps explain why that’s the case. “The theory of deterrence would suggest, for instance, that states with higher rates of drug imprisonment would experience lower rates of drug use among their residents,” authors of a  2018 Pew report write. But that theory is not supported by the evidence, which “found no statistically significant relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.”

In other words, locking up low-level dealers had no effect on the number of people who died from overdoses. The chasm between evidence and policy is growing even wider in some states. The Rhode Island case, for example, led to the June 2018 enactment of Kristen’s Law, a drug-induced homicide statute named after Coutu that makes it easier to prosecute dealers, opening them up to life sentences if their customers fatally overdose. Mental health advocates and members of the medical community vocally opposed the legislation before it was signed into law.

A 2018 study by Rhode Island’s health department projected that, without health interventions like naloxone distribution or access to medication treatment, the state’s overdose rate will continue to rise into the year 2020. The study made no mention of imprisonment as a way to reduce overdose deaths.

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions help to slow the flow of drugs into our communities.

Reality: Increased enforcement and interdiction make the drug supply more dangerous.

America’s opioid crisis began with prescription painkillers. After crackdowns on doctors’ so-called pill mills, heroin became the primary driver of overdoses. Today, illicit fentanyl and its analogues cause more overdoses than heroin or any other drug. After one source of opioids is shut down, a new, more dangerous source is ready to fill demand, creating volatility in a drug’s supply.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that incapacitating drug sellers by “taking them off the street” results in sustained reductions in illicit drug supplies, increases in drug prices, reductions in overdose rates, or other trends these policies are intended to produce, according to research by drug policy experts. Authors of one study write, “The lack of evidence that tougher enforcement raises prices call into question the value, at the margin, of stringent supply-side enforcement policies in high-enforcement nations.”   

There is, however, evidence that such interventions inadvertently produce higher levels of drug-related violence, unpredictable fluctuations in street drug supplies, and more adulteration. After one of Virginia’s biggest heroin dealers was busted in 2014, federal agents said the supply of heroin was interrupted. In the two years after the bust, overdoses of illicit fentanyl in Virginia spiked 366 percent from 2014 to 2016.

On the East Coast, dealers who once sold heroin are slowly being replaced by dealers who sell a much more deadly product. Enforcement efforts that only focus on disrupting the supply of drugs amounts to what one report called “the never-ending game of Whac-a-Mole.” Drug-induced homicide is a continuation of this unwinnable strategy that fails to address the underlying psychological motivations that cause people to continue to seek out deadlier drugs.

Myth: Victims and their families want justice.

Reality: Surviving loved ones often oppose harsh punishments.

Chad Baker, of Newark, Ohio, died on the morning of May 29, 2015, three days before his 35th birthday. Baker had an on-again, off-again relationship with heroin. On what would turn out to be his final run, he bought heroin from Tommy Kosto. Chad and Tommy had become friends while serving time together for drug-related offenses.

Both were working toward recovery but had slipped up along the way. Instead of seeing Kosto as a friend of the victim, Licking County Prosecutor Bill Hayes saw him as a culprit in Baker’s death, and charged him with involuntary manslaughter and “corrupting another with drugs,” among other charges. Kosto was eventually convicted for supplying drugs that killed his friend.  

In an interview in the New Republic, journalist Jack Shuler asked Chad’s father, Jeff Baker, his feelings about the case. Baker told Shuler that at first he wanted a harsh sentence for Tommy Kosto. After the sentencing, his feelings changed, as he thought about what his son would want. “Leave these people alone. I made the choice on my own,” Baker said, channeling his son. “Tommy is sitting in prison because he broke the law. That’s the way I look at it,” Baker told Shuler. “Did he kill my son? No. He broke the law.”

To protect their friends from potential prosecution in the event of an overdose, drug users across the country have organized a project called the Reframe the Blame campaign. While it’s not a legally binding document, the users are helping people who use drugs draft their last wills and testaments to fight against unnecessarily harsh punishments for co-users, many of whom sell small amounts of drugs to support their own substance use disorders.

Other families surviving their loved one’s deaths have come to similar conclusions. Chelsea Laliberte’s brother, Alex, died from an overdose in 2008 when he was just 20 years old, after using heroin he bought from a friend in Chicago. A decade later, she’s an activist and vocal critic of drug-induced homicide prosecutions.

“They were all doing [heroin] together. So as a moral person, I felt that that was very hypocritical to go after somebody, when my brother was doing the same thing,” Laliberte told a local TV news reporter. “They both had the same opportunity to die.”

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions prevent overdose deaths.

Reality: The threat of jail prevents overdose witnesses from dialing 911.

Many states with drug-induced homicide statutes on the books also have “911 Good Samaritan Laws,” which grant special immunity (from charges like possession) for those who call for emergency help during an overdose. Good Samaritan laws were intended to send a supportive message: It is safe for witnesses to call for help, even if there are drugs at the scene.

But prosecuting overdose witnesses for murder sends the opposite message, creating a chilling effect among those who would otherwise seek life-saving help. Researchers have found evidence of this reluctance, noting that many witnesses are indeed afraid to call for help because they fear legal consequences.

Users are getting mixed messages at best. The threat of a homicide charge undermines the utility of 911 Good Samaritan laws by scaring people out of calling for help, therefore exacerbating the very problem they purport to solve.

Myth: These provisions are needed to catch the “big fish.”

Reality: Low-level dealers, family, friends, and romantic partners are targeted.

In upstate New York, 29-year-old Richard Gaworecki, of Broome County, was charged with criminally negligent homicide for selling heroin that led to the death of 26-year-old Nicholas McKiernan. Both men went to the same high school and were part of a group of friends who frequently used heroin together. When Gaworecki was arrested, police found a syringe that he had been using, evidence of his own substance use disorder.  

“Whenever we can, we separate out dealers and users,” Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell said during a press conference. “That’s the goal. But when someone is selling drugs that kill somebody, then they can expect to be charged. We’re going to find those people and target that investigation to get to the root of the crime.”  There were 95 overdose deaths in Broome County in 2016, and 84 of them led to homicide investigations, according to local news reports.

Far from a kingpin, let alone an actual dealer, Gaworecki bought heroin in small quantities for himself and his friends to use, according to multiple sources interviewed by The Appeal. This is typical of small drug user networks: To support their habit, addicted users often buy a few extra bags for their friends, and vice versa. On a different day, it could have easily been Gaworecki who overdosed on a bag he bought from a friend.

Yet, it’s much easier for prosecutors to target small-time dealers than major dealers, since the latter strategically insulate themselves from activities that could get them caught. The further removed dealers are from their product, the more difficult it becomes for prosecutors to make their case.

Researchers at Northeastern University’s Health in Justice initiative, a team that includes these reporters, analyzed a random sample of drug-induced homicide cases reported in the media, and found that fewer than half the cases involved a traditional dealer-user relationship. Scores of these prosecutions involved a desperate user like Gaworecki, who would benefit tremendously from substance use disorder treatment, instead of lengthy prison sentences.   

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions are part of a broader “public health approach.”

Reality: Threatening stiff penalties is making the crisis worse, and people of color are more likely to be targeted by punitive drug laws.

Today’s opioid crisis might be the deadliest on record, but it is not the first time drugs have embroiled the country. America’s perception of substance use disorder throughout history has always been closely tied to who is using.

Perhaps the biggest myth believed by the many people is that the opioid crisis has ushered in a sympathetic, “public health approach” to dealing with drug using. Some have posited that the approach shifted when drug was portrayed as penetrating rural and white communities, despite research showing that the overdose death rate among African Americans is higher than whites in several cities and states.

Politicians and police say they have learned their lesson from the crack-cocaine era, where people of color were arrested en masse for simple possession. But the Health in Justice research shows that people of color are more frequently targeted in drug-induced homicide cases than white users and dealers, part of a broader pattern of the justice system’s selective application of the law. The disparate impact of drug-induced homicide laws on people of color is a reminder that despite the newfound compassion, American drug policy still punishes people with substance use disorder.

Resource: Since defendants in drug-induced homicide cases are often drug users themselves, they rarely have the legal resources to adequately fight the case. Researchers at Northeastern University’s Health In Justice Action Lab have put together a defense toolkit for attorneys trying to help their clients.

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