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Prosecutor Pursues Murder Charge For Woman Who Defended Herself From Abuser

Jacqueline Dixon shot her husband to death in Alabama, "Stand Your Ground" state, after she said he charged at her. He had a history of domestic violence.

Jacqueline Dixon in a June 21, 2018 Facebook photo.

Prosecutor Pursues Murder Charge For Woman Who Defended Herself From Abuser

Jacqueline Dixon shot her husband to death in Alabama, "Stand Your Ground" state, after she said he charged at her. He had a history of domestic violence.

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on July 31, police officers in Selma, Alabama, were dispatched to a residence at 2113 Church St. where they found Carl Omar Dixon, 44, lying unresponsive in the front yard. His wife Jacqueline Dixon, 38, was taken into the custody at the scene; the police said she shot her husband with a small-caliber handgun. They also said Dixon told them that she was defending herself after her husband had charged at her aggressively. Dixon was then taken into custody and charged with murder, her bond set at $100,000. The case is pending grand jury review by Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson. (Selma is the county seat.)

Dixon’s murder charge came despite the fact that she had requested an order of protection against her husband in 2016 for punching her in the face and verbally abusing her multiple times, and Dixon’s insistence that she acted in self-defense. In addition, Alabama’s “Stand Your Ground” statute says that an individual is “justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself … from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person.”

But police and prosecutors rarely grant a Stand Your Ground and other justifiable homicide defenses to women, particularly Black women like Dixon, when they are defending themselves from abusers. In New Orleans, Catina Curley shot and killed her husband in 2005 after enduring physical abuse for over a decade. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro nonetheless charged Curley with second-degree murder; she was convicted at trial and sentenced to life in prison. (The Louisiana Supreme Court recently granted her a new trial.) More famously, in 2012, Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Florida, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison for merely firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Alexander was freed in 2017 after advocates campaigned for her release. An energetic grassroots campaign led to the defeat of the prosecutor on her case, Angela Corey, who unsuccessfully prosecuted George Zimmerman, who invoked Stand Your Ground after killing Trayvon Martin in 2012. Now, groups like Survived and Punished are rallying around criminalized survivors with this demand: “Free Them All.”

The urgency of the growing national movement to support criminalized survivors stems in large part from the fact that nearly half of female homicide victims were related to intimate partner violence, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study released last year. Selma Police Chief Spencer Collier has said, “Domestic violence is a crime that knows no racial, geographic or socioeconomic boundary.” But Black women are disproportionately represented among homicide victims in this category. Groups like Survived and Punished also point out that while there are seemingly limitless resources to prosecute and jail survivors, there are few when it comes to social services that might help them. Indeed, when Baton Rouge experienced a spike in domestic violence-related homicides in 2017, one advocate who runs a 24-hour women’s shelter lamented, “If we had more beds or we had a larger unit where we could find that service to people, I know that it could save lives.”

Dixon’s attorney, Richard Rice, insisted to The Appeal that “at the time of the shooting, she did feel like her life was in danger. In that type of situation, she should have a right to defend herself and defend her family.” Rice says that Alabama’s Stand Your Ground statute could be invoked in Dixon’s case, but he cautioned that state law requires an evidentiary hearing that he describes as a trial in miniature. And communities of color, Rice notes, are not often afforded self-defense protections. Rice says that as he and his client await a grand jury’s decision, their primary concerns are finding stable housing for her children as well as counseling for the family to treat the severe trauma they experienced last month.

“It’s a tragic situation,” Jackson, the district attorney, acknowledged in an interview with The Appeal. “You hate that it ended this way; unfortunately sometimes domestic violence rises to this where somebody ends up getting killed.” But Jackson said he is nonetheless presenting a murder charge to the grand jury because “somebody got killed.” Angela J. Davis, a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law and an expert in criminal law and procedure, told The Appeal that even if Jackson “has the evidence to get that indictment, the question is whether it’s the fair and right thing to do under the circumstances.” Prosecutors have near total and unreviewable discretion and Davis says that in this case, in which the defendant is a domestic violence survivor, Jackson has the “discretion to pursue something less [than a murder charge] or even to forego charges altogether.”

As she awaits the grand jury’s decision on her case, Dixon told The Appeal that “my primary concern is my children. I hope that the justice system will work as it is supposed to here. I need to be with my children because I am all that they have.”

California could soon end money bail, but at what cost?

The passage of Senate Bill 10 would decimate the bail industry, but many advocates say it falls short of true reform.

California Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) discusses the bill at a recent press conference.

California could soon end money bail, but at what cost?

The passage of Senate Bill 10 would decimate the bail industry, but many advocates say it falls short of true reform.

This week, California took a major step toward eliminating cash bail and dealing a significant blow to the predatory bail bond industry when Senate Bill 10, which would replace cash bail with a risk-based system, passed the state Assembly and Senate. It appears almost certain that Governor Jerry Brown will sign it into law.

While some bail reform advocates hailed the victory as a milestone, others say the bill could actually increase the number of people detained pretrial.

“The new version essentially replaces the evils of money bail with a worse evil known as preventative detention,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi wrote in an editorial in the Sacramento Bee that blasted the legislation. “This is not the bail reform California needs.”

In earlier drafts of the bill, all defendants would have appeared before a judge with a presumption of release. To detain someone, prosecutors would have had to make a case with convincing evidence that there was no way to release the person while ensuring his or her next court appearance and protecting public safety.

This month, however, a new draft of the legislation began making the rounds that vastly altered its vision and scope. While abolishing cash bail and mandating the release of most people arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors within 12 hours of being booked, the new draft gives county judges wide-ranging discretion over which defendants deemed “medium risk” could be detained pretrial.

The bill also creates broad categories of defendants who could legally be detained without prosecutors having to make an argument about why. Under the current system, even those charged with serious crimes have the presumption of release, albeit often with bail attached. Under the new system, these categories of defendants would automatically be presumed for “preventive detention” instead, flipping the burden of proof onto defense attorneys, who could still argue for their release. The categories include individuals charged with violent felonies, anyone convicted of a violent felony within the past five years, anyone deemed by a risk assessment tool as a “high risk” to public safety, or anyone on supervised probation.

Supporters of the current bill believe the changes were necessary to gain support from both the state’s Judicial Council, the rule-making arm of the California court system, as well as Governor Brown, who had pegged his support of a bill to whether the state’s judges were behind it. The Judicial Council, in a report released last October, called for an increased discretionary role for judges in determining who could safely be released. The Judicial Council and county courts across the state now will have until Oct. 1, 2019, to implement the new system.

“Ultimately the Judicial Council and the chief justice got the pretrial structure that they wanted,” said Anne Irwin, director of Smart Justice California, an advocacy organization that once supported the bill but has now taken a neutral position. “We know their support mattered immensely for Governor Brown.”

Yet the current bill is a grave disappointment to many advocates who initially fought for the legislation. Within days of the new draft’s circulation, groups like Human Rights Watch, the California Public Defenders Association, and the NAACP dropped their support. On Monday, the ACLU, after taking a neutral stance toward the altered legislation, shifted its position to one of opposition.

Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender in San Francisco who has worked on litigation challenging cash bail in the state and who was on the advisory committee to the drafters of the original bill, says the new bill penalizes people regardless of guilt, not unlike the bail system it was intended to replace. “It creates a system where, by law, California would punish people just for being arrested, rather than waiting until they’re convicted of a crime.”

Advocates are also concerned about the role of risk-assessment tools, which help judges weigh a person’s likelihood of absconding or posing a threat to public safety. A previous draft of the bill used risk assessments to determine a defendant’s conditions of release (such as where the person could travel or whether he or she had to wear an ankle monitor). In the bill that passed the legislature, these tools could be used by judges to determine whether a person should be released. While that’s not uncommon around the country, it is often contested. Many reform advocates argue that risk assessments rely on data, such as employment and criminal history, that’s tainted by discrimination. In communities of color that are overpoliced, for example, there are likely to be more people with prior arrests.

The Superior Court in each county will be allowed to choose their own risk-assessment tools from a list approved by the Judicial Council and decide independently which charges should automatically result in detention hearings, which could lead to huge variations across the state. Statewide, most defendants who have been given a “low risk” designation by the risk-assessment tool will be automatically released.

“The fate of pretrial incarceration in California is now in the hands of judges,” Irwin said.

While that leaves many unknowns, Irwin says, there are reasons to worry. Earlier this year, Judge Aaron Persky was recalled after he handed out what was regarded as a “lenient” sentence to a man found guilty of sexual assault. It was the first judicial recall in California in more than 80 years, and Irwin says it may cause judges to think twice before choosing less punitive options for defendants.

“Right now, judges, for the first time are looking over their shoulders, and when they exercise their discretion to give what is perceived to be leniency to defendants, they now risk losing their jobs,” Irwin told The Appeal. “You have to question the theory that judges are going to exercise the discretion given to them by SB 10 in a way that actually releases more defendants pretrial.”

She said judges could also be motivated to keep defendants detained in order to better manage caseloads—the longer people are detained, the more likely they are to take a plea deal. In addition, if a judge wants to schedule a hearing on short notice, the defendant can readily be produced in court.

The question of whether risk assessments are a reasonable trade-off for bail reform is complicated. In New Jersey, whose jail population dropped 20 percent after it abolished cash bail in 2017, judges use analytic tools to inform their decisions about pretrial release, though state law ensures that a relatively broad group of defendants are given the presumption of release.

Informed by an algorithm or not, judges still bear the most responsibility for deciding who should be released, argues KiDeuk Kim, a senior fellow in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute who has studied the use of risk assessment programs across the country.

“The tool is meant to help with resource allocation,” Kim said. “[Judges] can decide who to put in jail or release to the community depending on their ability to supervise them in the community. It depends on the jurisdiction’s capacity … [the judges] can decide the threshold.”  

In some other cities that have restricted the use of cash bail, judges have been reluctant to take chances. In Baltimore, the jail population rose between March 2017 and March 2018 after judges were instructed not to set bail for people who couldn’t afford it beginning in January 2017. Instead of releasing arrestees without monetary conditions, however, judges opted instead to detain more people.

Reformers fear the same rise in detention could happen in California.

The bill still faces stiff opposition not only from former supporters, but from the state’s law enforcement and bail bond lobbies, for different reasons. California’s bail industry stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The median bail amount in the state is $50,000 dollars, over five times that of the rest of the country.

“We’ve slayed one big dragon,” Irwin said. “The predatory bail industry will … in effect be eradicated, as well as wealth-based detention. The most laudable victory here is one of economic justice, and that is a giant step forward.”

Both the bill’s supporters and opponents are committed to improving it. Some advocates and lawmakers are already working on legislation to improve its data collection mechanisms, and root out the racial bias often inherent in risk assessments.

“There is a lot of additional work to be done as it related to how this bill will be implemented,” said Lenore Anderson, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, an organization that supported the bill through its passage. “The implementation process will be key in developing how the new pretrial system unfolds. … We are going to be actively engaged and involved, and rolling up our sleeves to make sure that the goal that we all want is achieved, which is a fair pretrial system and reducing unnecessary incarceration. ”

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States use anti-protest laws to protect oil pipelines and criminalize environmental activism

States use anti-protest laws to protect oil pipelines and criminalize environmental activism

What you’ll read today 

  • Spotlight: States use anti-protest laws to protect oil pipelines and criminalize environmental activism

  • A troubled federal prison unit gets a new life in a different state

  • Three more deaths in Mississippi prisons

  • California sheriff’s office illegally recorded attorney-client conversation

  • Candidate with felony record cleared to run for City Council in Austin, Texas

  • A death-penalty reporter sues to witness executions in Missouri

In the Spotlight

Spotlight: States use anti-protest laws to protect oil pipelines and criminalize environmental activism

Three water protectors arrested in Louisiana this month became the first to be charged under the state’s new law targeting oil pipeline protesters. The Bayou Bridge Project is a 163-mile-long pipeline that cuts through the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest wetlands region. It has faced sustained opposition from environmental and indigenous activists. The project is the southern leg of a pipeline system stretching from the Gulf Coast to North Dakota and is a project of Energy Transfer Partners, the same company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline which fueled the months-long protests at Standing Rock.  According to the group L’eau Est La Vie, the water protectors, who have been trying to halt the pipeline’s progress, were charged with trespassing on critical infrastructure, a felony. [Mike Ludwig / Truthout]

Louisiana’s new law went into effect on Aug. 1. It added pipelines and pipeline constructions sites to a list of “critical infrastructure.” Unauthorized entry of critical infrastructure is punishable by up to five years in prison. Disrupting operations is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. [Mike Ludwig / Truthout]

A number of states began introducing “critical infrastructure” bills after the protests at Standing Rock. Oklahoma passed a law last spring. “Drawing inspiration” from the Oklahoma legislation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group of state legislators backed by corporate sponsors, finalized a model Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in January. Similar bills were later introduced in Iowa, Ohio, Wyoming, and Minnesota. [Alleen Brown and Will Parrish / The Intercept]

In April, Iowa’s governor signed into law a bill that the Huffington Post described as a “ramped-up version” of ALEC’s model bill. The Iowa law criminalizes protest on anything that could be conceivably understood as part of the fossil fuel industry’s “critical infrastructure.” It makes an action that intends a substantial and widespread “interruption or impairment of a fundamental service” of gas, oil, petroleum or refined petroleum products a felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. [Jeff Biggers / Huffington Post] The bill was developed by a group that included Energy Transfer Partners, the Dakota Access Pipeline parent company. [Alleen Brown / The Intercept]

The chairperson of the Iowa Sierra Club told Public News Service that historically, critical infrastructure has been a term applied to public lines that transport electricity, gas, and water. “The bill is particularly dangerous because it slips in the idea that a crude oil pipeline owned by a massive corporation not even located in Iowa is critical infrastructure,” she said. [Roz Brown / Public News Service]

Louisiana’s law, as originally drafted, also criminalized acts beyond what was included in the ALEC model bill. It would have created the crime of “conspiring” to trespass on critical infrastructure sites, punishable by up to five years in prison. A lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Bayou Bridge Protestors, dubbed it “ALEC-plus.” [Alleen Brown and Will Parrish / The Intercept] The US Protest Law Tracker website, which follows state and federal initiatives that limit the right to protest, explains that, as originally introduced, the law was written “such that individuals who only planned to hold a peaceful protest on infrastructure property could be prosecuted.” Ultimately, the law hewed closely to ALEC’s model bill. [International Center for Not-for-Profit Law]

ALEC’s influence on the criminal legal system is not new. In 1995, 25 states adopted “Truth in Sentencing” laws developed by the group. ALEC pushed “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country. It was also influential in lobbying for laws that benefited its private prison company sponsors, including Arizona’s infamous immigration law, Senate Bill 1070.  [Mike Elk and Bob Sloan / The Nation] Most recently, a 2017 report by Color of Change and the ACLU looked at the insurance corporations participating in and profiting from the bail bond industry. It found that the big insurance companies behind bail “have been very effective at crafting and institutionalizing laws, regulations, and practices that protect their profits.” The key to this was the more than 20-year relationship the industry has cultivated with ALEC, to write and promote the passage of laws in state legislatures, while “very effectively derailing alternatives and reforms.” [Color of Change and ACLU]

The anti-protest bills that have been introduced since 2016 have had another set of influential supporters: law enforcement groups. In These Times reported this year that law enforcement in at least eight states lobbied in support of anti-protest bills in 2017 and 2018. These bills included provisions to increase the penalties for blocking highways as well as measures similar to those in Louisiana’s bill to criminalize protest against oil pipelines. Because police support for legislation rarely takes place in public it is impossible to know the full extent across the country. Traci Yoder of the National Lawyers Guild, who analyzed the role of ALEC and corporations like Energy Transfer Partners in pushing anti-protest bills, told In These Times that law enforcement support for this legislation is “a direct response to the success and visibility of recent movements of color such as Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL.” She added: ”The collusion we are seeing between law enforcement, lawmakers, and corporate interests is undemocratic and designed to deter social movements for racial and environmental justice.” [Simon Davis-Cohen and Sarah Lazare / In These Times]

Stories From The Appeal

Drawing of a cell by Patrick Bearup, a man held in solitary confinement. [Patrick Bearup, by permission from Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR)]               

A Troubled Federal Prison Unit Gets a New Life in a Different State. Instead of changing conditions and practices, the Bureau of Prisons is simply moving a problem-plagued federal prison unit in Pennsylvania to Illinois. [Victoria Law]

Stories From Around the Country

Three more deaths in Mississippi prisons: As of Monday, Mississippi’s Department of Corrections had reported that seven men incarcerated in the state’s prisons had died this month. Yesterday, the department reported the deaths of James Myrick, Nija Syvallus Bonhomme, and John Luttrell, bringing the total to 10. A statement from the commissioner says the department believes “most of the 10 deaths” are from natural causes but does not have final information on the causes of any of the deaths until autopsies are complete. The chairperson of the state Senate corrections committee said he would be meeting with the commissioner to discuss the large number of deaths in quick succession. [Sarah Fowler / Clarion Ledger]

California sheriff’s office illegally recorded attorney-client conversation: In court on Monday, Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods asked a judge to order the county sheriff’s office to bar “eavesdropping and illegal recording of privileged communications” between attorneys and their clients. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday. The public defender’s office had obtained an illegal recording of a conversation between a client and his attorney and a body-camera recording of a sheriff’s sergeant’s conversation that suggested that illegal recordings were common. The revelations are especially troubling given that “numerous conversations between in-custody clients and their attorneys happen under the control of the sheriff’s office,” including in jail meeting rooms, jail phones and courthouse holding cells. Secretly recording conversations between people in custody and their attorneys is a felony under California law, and the Alameda County district attorney’s office, which turned over the recordings in discovery, has said it is will investigate whether to file charges. [Megan Cassidy / San Francisco Chronicle]

Candidate with felony record cleared to run for City Council in Austin, Texas: On Friday, the Austin city clerk asked Lewis Conway Jr. to prove his eligibility to run for City Council, pointing to provisions in the Texas election code that she argued barred his candidacy. Yesterday, a city spokesperson said city attorneys have determined that Conway can run. Conway, who was convicted of manslaughter in 1993, had been anticipating a challenge to his candidacy. He and his lawyers maintained, however, that his completion of parole and the restoration of his voting rights amounted to the release from his conviction’s “resulting disabilities,” a requirement under Texas election law for a person to be eligible to run for office. [Sydney Greene / Texas Tribune]

A death penalty reporter sues to witness executions in Missouri: In 2016, Chris McDaniels and the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Missouri was barring McDaniels from being an execution witness because of his extensive and critical reporting on the state’s lethal-injection protocol. The suit demands that the state be required to adopt a policy for choosing witnesses, something that every other death-penalty state has. In Missouri, the power to select witnesses rests entirely with the head of the corrections departments. McDaniels, who applied to be a witness in 2014, told the Columbia Journalism Review, “I think it’s a very important press-access issue. … [T]he biggest power a government can have is taking the life of someone, and it’s also the thing that’s carried out with the most secrecy at the state level.”  [Lauren Gill / Columbia Journalism Review]

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