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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.

Even in the deep red South, death sentences are on the decline

Even in the deep red South, death sentences are on the decline

Twenty years ago, a brutal murder in a red state like Mississippi would likely guarantee a death sentence for a defendant. But as last week’s sentencing of Scotty Lakeith Street illustrates, juries in the South and across the country continue to shift away from capital punishment. In 1997, four people inMississippi were sentenced to death; last year, 2016, not one person was. Street was sentenced to life without parole for stabbing retired teacher Frankie Fairley to death in 2014. The jury in Street’s trial, faced with a choice between the death penalty or life in prison, couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict, and split 10–2.

Fairley’s murder was undeniably tragic — that much was not up for debate. But Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence’s recounting of the gruesome details wasn’t enough to convince all 12 members of the jury that Street deserved to die at the hands of the state.

Those that opted for life without parole may have been swayed by Street’s extensive history of mental illness. As reported by WLOXjurors heard testimony from his sister that Street had “been institutionalized so much, it’s beyond my count.” Street’s lawyers also presented testimony from a mental health provider who explained that Street suffered from schizophrenia and “needed to be in a group home with a caregiver.” Street was also reported to have displayed “bizarre behavior,” including “putting plastic bags on his head to keep his brain from leaking out and running naked in public with objects tied to his scrotum.”

This is far from the first time testimony about a defendant’s mental illness has informed a jury’s decision to oppose a capital sentence. In 2015, a Washington state jury chose a life sentence for James McEnroe, who was convicted after killing six members of his girlfriend’s family. Jurors who chose the life sentence pointed to his documented “mental health issues” as one of the reasons they chose to spare him from the death penalty. That same year, Colorado jurors sentenced James Holmes to life without parole, after her shot twelve people in an Aurora movie theater. A juror told the Denver Post that “the issue of mental illness was everything for the one [juror] who did not want to impose the death penalty.” Across the country, the mental illness of defendants has increasingly become reason not to impose the death penalty.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court bars the death penalty for those with intellectual disabilities, that legal definition is fairly narrow and does not bar the execution of many mentally ill people. A 2017 study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that 43 percent of prisoners executed between 2000 and 2015 were diagnosed with mental illness at some point in their lives.

Mental illness aside, death sentences are on the decline across the country. Last year, 30 people were sentenced to death in the U.S., while in the mid-1990s, more than 300 people received capital sentences. That decline in popularity is reflected in Street’s case, as well as in other Mississippi capital cases. Though the death penalty’s legality remains alive and well, juries across the country are rejecting it.

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Bronx prosecutor, detectives allegedly bullied witnesses to make case against Pedro Hernandez

Jessica Perez, mother of Pedro Hernandez; Sierra Ewert and Wade McMullen of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Pedro Hernandez
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Bronx prosecutor, detectives allegedly bullied witnesses to make case against Pedro Hernandez

Damning new details have surfaced about a Bronx prosecutor and two investigators tied to the case of Pedro Hernandez, a 17-year-old accused of two non-fatal shootings that occurred in 2015. According to PIX11 News, Assistant District Attorney David Slott and detectives Daniel Brady and David Terrell pressured several witnesses to identify Hernandez as the gunman in both shootings, despite the witnesses’ insistence that the teenager was innocent.

On Tuesday, the New York City news station released a video in which Tyrese Revel, one of the shooting victims, states he was put in a holding cell after he refused to identify Hernandez as his shooter. Revel alleges Brady and Terrell issued threats of physical violence if he didn’t blame Hernandez — and Slott watched them do it. PIX11 News also released footage of a second witness, William Stevens, stating that Terrell and Brady bullied him as well. Stevens says he was forced to say Hernandez was responsible for the shooting of Shaun Nardoni.

“Terrell then got in my face and said if you don’t sign this we are going to take you somewhere and beat me up until I sign the photo array picking Pedro,” Stevens wrote in a statement posted by the news organization. “I kept saying the hole (sic) time I don’t know this kid. Terrel (sic) and Brady said if I don’t sign it you are not going home.”

According to Stevens’ lawyer, John Scola, the detectives’ behavior wasn’t isolated. Not only was Stevens coerced into identifying Hernandez, but he was assaulted and forced to falsely identify defendants in at least 30 other cases as well. “One to three times a week, they would take William Stevens from his bed… in handcuffs, drive him around in a patrol car and beat him until he would say that someone did the crime,” Scola said.

In spite of pressure from Slott, Terrell, and Brady, Revel adamantly denied Hernandez’ involvement. Charges related to his shooting have since been thrown out. But Hernandez is still facing charges for allegedly shooting Nardoni, even though Nardoni argues Hernandez was not involved. Stevens has also retracted his claim that Hernandez was responsible for Nardoni’s shooting, yet Bronx prosecutors are still using the false testimony to build their case.

At least nine witnesses deny the teenager’s role in the two shootings.

Hernandez insists that he is innocent. He declined a plea deal, and was subsequently detained at Rikers Island Correctional Facility for a year due to his inability to pay $250,000 bail. The teenager was ultimately released on July 27, after news of his case made national headlines and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights donated $105,000 toward bail. Had he not been bailed out by September, Hernandez would have lost a full academic scholarship for college. He completed high school behind bars — with honors.

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