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Marin County teenager tried as adult gets new hearing under Prop. 57

California Supreme Court and 1st District Court of Appeal

Marin County teenager tried as adult gets new hearing under Prop. 57

The office of Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian is fighting to keep a man locked up in prison even though an appellate court has ordered a new hearing in his case to determine whether he should have been tried as a juvenile.

Max Wade, now 22, was sentenced in 2014 to 21 years to life imprisonment for two separate crimes he committed when he was a teenager: the theft of a Lamborghini owned by celebrity chef Guy Fieri (during which Wade rappelled down from the ceiling of a California dealership and drove it out the front door), and the attempted murder of a romantic rival. Although Wade was 16 and 17 when the crimes occurred, prosecutors elected to try him as an adult, saying that the crimes showed a level of planning and sophistication unusual for a juvenile.

But nearly three years after Wade was sentenced, California passed Proposition 57, which was designed to reduce the state’s prison population by putting a greater focus on rehabilitation. One of the key aspects of the ballot initiative is that it took the power to try juveniles as adults away from prosecutors and gave the final authority to judges.

Proposition 57’s passage was a major victory for criminal justice reformers who long argued that California prosecutors abused their unchecked power by trying too many juveniles as adults.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled last month that Proposition 57 should be applied retroactively to Wade’s case. Notably, other appellate courts have come out differently on Proposition 57’s retroactivity, and that issue is now pending before the California Supreme Court.

If Wade ends up being prosecuted in juvenile court, he would have to be released by the time he turns 25, attorney Charles Dresow, who represents Wade, told the Marin Independent Journal.

Under his current sentence, the earliest Wade can apply for parole is 2040.

But Berberian’s office has vowed to keep Wade in adult court and the top elected prosecutor has criticized Proposition 57 as “poorly written and deceptive.”

“Max Wade was appropriately handled and sentenced in the manner that reflected his violent conduct,” Berberian said. “We will pursue all appropriate and available legal procedures to see his imposed sentence is reinstated.”

Treatment-first approach to the opioid epidemic? Not for local prosecutors

Treatment-first approach to the opioid epidemic? Not for local prosecutors

On Thursday, President Trump announced that his administration will soon declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, following the interim recommendation of his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

“We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” said Trump. “We are going to draw it up, and we are going to make it a national emergency.”

It was an about-face from just two days earlier, when Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters that the administration already had the necessary resources to address the crisis without declaring it an emergency. It’s unclear why the president changed his mind and decided to heed the proposal from his own committee.

Regardless, the committee’s report has drawn praise for its treatment-first recommendations to stem the opioid overdose crisis, which the report says is killing an average of 142 Americans every day. A far cry from the familiar war on drugs rhetoric of the 1980s and ’90s that contributed to the sentencing policies that continue to fill U.S. prisons, members of Trump’s commission advocate for a public health, rather than law enforcement approach to opioid addiction.

Meanwhile, many local politicians — prosecutors — apparently haven’t gotten the memo. Elected district attorneys across the country are cracking down on opioid use by resurrecting long dormant “drug-induced homicide” laws, triggering lengthy sentences for those who sell or share opioids to individuals who overdose.

“The rhetoric right now is one of compassion, and is one that is focused on health and harm reduction, but the reality is that we’re seeing the criminalization of overdoses,” says Lindsay LaSalle, a staff attorney with Drug Policy Alliance.

While targeting people who sell drugs might seem like a logical way to address the vast number of overdoses or discourage drug use, it’s just not that simple.

“People who are engaged in the behavior of selling or sharing [opioids] often also have an addiction,” says Dr. Yngvild Olsen, board member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

“It’s a tempting and perhaps easier response to say well, these are bad people we need to prosecute to the maximum extent of the law,” Yngvild continued, “but in my experience, eight or nine times out of ten, [selling] is how people are managing their disease.”

Beyond the complex reality of who is and isn’t grappling with opioid addiction in tragic overdose scenarios, research illustrates that long prison sentences in the absence of drug treatment don’t deter crime or drive down drug sales or use. District attorneys seeking to impose these sentences may intend to target drug kingpins or high-level dealers, but that’s generally not who is bearing the brunt of the punishment.

In Wisconsin, where 10,000 people have died from drug overdoses since 2000, Fox6 news reporters investigated more than 500 drug-related homicide cases to find out who was getting sent to prison. Their study, released in February, found that of the 100 most recent drug-related homicide cases in southeastern Wisconsin, only 11 defendants were “at least one step removed from the direct sale or delivery of drugs” to the overdose victim. The others charged with homicide were friends or relatives of the victims, or low-level dealers.

“Prosecutors talk about getting the bigger fish or kingpins, but those cases never come to fruition because as a legal matter it’s incredibly difficult to prove murder for someone ten steps removed,” says LaSalle. “But it’s very easy for the person who literally handed the person the drugs.”

To Yngvild, the homicide-charge approach to overdose deaths is misguided, but she understands why prosecutors are taking it. “Communities are being devastated, and people in law enforcement are seeing people lose their lives day in and day out,” she says. “This is something they actually feel like they can do.”

But for those struggling with addiction who are now in prison, many of whom don’t have access to treatment programs, little help is given and few lessons are learned. While the opioid crisis is a relatively new phenomenon, tackling drug use and abuse with the criminal justice system is not. Now it’s up to local prosecutors to take a look at their well-trod history.

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Top Five Articles On Bail Reform Last Week

Top Five Articles On Bail Reform Last Week

There is widespread agreement that the bail system is broken. Millions of people annually sit in local jails without conviction because they cannot afford bail, and 75% of pretrial detainees have been charged only with drug or property crimes. The effect is that bail needlessly causes people to lose their jobs, not be able to care for their children, and to lose contact with their loved ones.

Here are the best five articles on the national move toward bail reform last week.

  1. Tracy Garth was taken to jail for traffic violations. She couldn’t get a friend to bail her out because she was denied access to a phone for two weeks and was not allowed to take her purse. Garth is suing law enforcement for civil rights violations. [The Tennessean / Elaina Sauber]. See Also:Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor, and Winnebago County, WI, District Attorney Christian Gossett write in USA Today that money bail unfairly criminalizes poverty.
  2. After pressure from local groups, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez returned campaign donations from the bail bonds industry. [NY Daily News / Erin Durkin]. See Also: The leader of Empire Bail Bonds, who posts racially insensitive material on social media, had contributed $7,500 to D.A. Gonzalez’s campaign. [In Justice Today / Carimah Townes]
  3. An editorial advised New Jersey residents to ignore reality TV star Duane “Dog” Chapman in policy debates after New Jersey eschewed cash bail reform. It read: “By and large, the bail initiative is working.” [South Jersey Times / Editorial Board]. See Also: Peter Krouse wrote for the Plain Dealer in June about how Connecticut and Illinois embraced bail reform while a California bill stalled by one vote in the State Assembly, after intense lobbying from Chapman.
  4. The National Conference of State Legislatures met in Boston to discuss bail reform, with lawmakers stating it “ultimately pay off by reducing incarceration and recidivism rates.” In Massachusetts, two legislators recently introduced a bill to cut down on cash bail and develop a risk-assessment tool. [Boston Globe / Katie Lannan]. See also: Shira Schoenberg explains the Massachusetts bail reform bill at the Springfield Republican.
  5. Bay Area residents read praise for Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul after they introduced a national bail reform bill. This is because the two senators are “jump-starting the national conversation.” [The Mercury News / Editorial Board]. See Also: Larry Hannan explains the federal bill at In Justice Today.

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