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Justice is now further out of reach for Alameda County residents

Justice is now further out of reach for Alameda County residents

When Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods learned the county’s Superior Court would move all in-custody criminal arraignments from Oakland to a new courthouse in Dublin, California, he knew it would be a disaster. Now, eight weeks into the move, his prediction has proven correct — and it’s even more chaotic than he imagined.

“It’s a nightmare in so many ways,” Woods told In Justice Today. “It’s the biggest issue our office is facing right now.”

The relocation of arraignments is hitting low-income defendants of color from Oakland, Berkeley, and Fremont and their families hardest, according to Woods. Family members who want to be present at the arraignment of a loved one are largely unable to travel to the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin, which is nearly an hour away from downtown Oakland by public transportation.

While the Bay Area’s BART trains do go to Dublin, the train stop is more than a mile from the courthouse. Once in Dublin, visitors to the courthouse have to either walk, or take a bus — an added cost that can make the trip prohibitively expensive. The cost and length of the trip, along with the long wait for arraignments once at the courthouse, requires travelers to the court to take an entire day off from work. Woods and his colleagues have noticed a dramatic drop in the number of family members who appear at arraignments.

Because the arraignments are all for in-custody defendants, the move has also had a disproportionate impact on people who can’t afford bail. Arraignments at the new courthouse, which is struggling to adjust to a higher volume of cases on its calendar, are often held over to the next day, according to Woods. This means his office’s clients spend an additional night in jail.

“If you have the means to bail out, you can have your first appearance in Oakland,” said Woods. “If you can’t afford to bail out, you’re stuck in Dublin. This comes down to economic lines.”

The physical layout and construction of the court itself are also causing problems for public defenders and their clients. Attorneys from Woods’ office often find themselves waiting to use the only interview room attached courtroom that has the largest volume of arraignments on its calendar. There are other, smaller interview rooms on a separate floor of the building, but those are only accessible to maximum security clients. The rooms themselves are not soundproof, and lawyers often have to yell through tiny holes in the glass wall between themselves and their clients for them to be able to hear.

Chad Finke, the Alameda County Superior Court’s Executive Officer, told In Justice Today that the court has “seen steady improvement since we opened the building. To the extent we still face some challenges, they are largely due to construction issues that the County is working to fix.”

But Woods hasn’t heard of any construction plans or seen any work being done to address the inability of public defenders to gain discreet access to their clients to discuss their cases. (When I asked Finke what changes were being made and what the changes would improve, he didn’t respond.)

For now, Woods and his colleagues are struggling to work in the chaotic new courthouse environment, and are documenting every challenge they face in hopes of convincing the County to reverse course. Until that happens, justice for defendants and families far from Dublin — many whom need access to it most — remains out of reach.

Louisiana mother faces jail time for her children’s alleged crimes

A district attorney wants to solve crime by breaking up families.

Louisiana mother faces jail time for her children’s alleged crimes

A district attorney wants to solve crime by breaking up families.

A prosecutor in the incarceration capital of the world is gearing up to send a mother to jail based on crimes she didn’t commit. According to Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. in Louisiana, the mother deserves to be locked up for a spate of criminal offenses that were allegedly committed by her two children.

Latonya L. Dillard, a mother of two, was arrested on August 29 in Shreveport and then charged with improper supervision of a minor. The charge stems from a number of offenses that were allegedly committed by her 10-year-old and 12-year-old sons. Authorities say the two boys have committed 12 criminal offenses this year, at least two of which involved breaking curfew and burglarizing a store two nights in a row. Stewart’s office says the sons’ offenses are indicative of neglect by their mother.

If convicted, Dillard could spend 30 days in jail. She may also be forced to pay thousands of dollars for her sons’ alleged behavior.

“As I promised to the citizens of Caddo Parish, it is time for parents who neglect their duty to supervise their children to be held responsible for the criminal activity of their children,” Stewart said in response to the arrest. The district attorney is reportedly collaborating with the Caddo Parish School System and local police to clamp down on truancy and curfew infractions, while holding parents accountable for the actions of their kids. Stewart’s press statement follows a vow made in March, in which he promised to prosecute parents whose kids are caught in public after hours.

Meanwhile, little information has been provided about Dillard, including where she was when her sons broke into the store in question or what disciplinary actions she may have taken following the crimes they allegedly committed. It is hard to know how involved Dillard is in her children’s lives in general. But research on childhood development and juvenile justice paints a picture of what could happen to her sons if she’s convicted.

Taking parents away from their kids is traumatic for children, and often manifests in acting out and rule-breaking —the kind of behavior that Stewart, with the assistance of law enforcement and school administrators, wants to eliminate. Children with an incarcerated parent or guardian experience shame and stress that impedes their physical and mental development. They are also more likely to fall behind in school. By and large, criminal justice experts agree that juvenile justice is supposed to be rehabilitative and reflective of the fact that kids are constantly developing. To prevent young people from committing crimes, it is important to understand the social and economic factors underlying their behavior.

Stewart may want to straighten kids out, but he’s embracing a misguided policy that could do far more harm than good. Prosecuting parents for their children’s actions is just another way of punishing young people in the long run.

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Texas district attorney says system failed in case of man convicted of sexual assault

Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick

Texas district attorney says system failed in case of man convicted of sexual assault

Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick says the criminal justice system failed in the prosecution of Greg Kelley.

Kelley was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the sexual assault of a 4-year-old child in 2014. But the conviction was thrown into doubt when Kelley’s defense team found that another man, who used to be Kelley’s best friend, might have committed the crime.

The case was reopened earlier this year after evidence emerged that a man named Johnathan McCarty confessed to a friend that he molested the child in question. Pictures of naked children were also discovered on McCarty’s computer.

Kelley, a former high school football star, is now out on bail, and it appears increasingly likely that he will be exonerated. He was 19 at the time of his conviction and is now 22.

Earlier this month, Dick said he would not have tried Kelley if he’d been the elected prosecutor in Williamson County at the time of the trial. He also expressed anger and frustration over what occurred, suggesting that responsibility “lies at the foot of law enforcement, of the prosecutors, of his defense team and of the jury.”

“My commitment is to restore the public’s faith and trust in our criminal justice system,” said Dick, who took office in January. “I can’t do that by defending a prosecution like Mr. Kelley’s.”

“We have to make sure that innocent people, that an innocent person isn’t convicted, and sometimes that is very unsatisfying because it means potentially a guilty person is set free,” Dick said. “But, the goal of our office is to make sure the public can believe in our system and that when jurors go to court, they know that when the state stands up, they’re telling the truth.”

Dick also said the Cedar Park Police Department’s investigation was “wholly deficient.” According to local news reports, the department never investigated or questioned McCarty, despite the fact that his name came up during the initial investigation, he was living in the home where his mother ran an in-home day care center at the time of the alleged assault, and he and McCarty “looked strikingly similar at the time.

Jana Duty was the Williamson County District Attorney at the time Kelley was prosecuted. Dick defeated her in a March 2016 primary and later won the general election, running unopposed.

One of the jurors from Kelley’s trial said he believed Kelly was innocent but voted to convict under pressure from other jurors. That juror now says Kelley should be exonerated and he regrets caving to the pressure to convict.

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