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What do Florida’s proposed ‘poll tax’ and Louisiana’s nonunanimous convictions have in common? They silence Black voices.


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: What do Florida’s proposed ‘poll tax’ and Louisiana’s nonunanimous convictions have in common? They silence Black voices.

  • In El Paso jails, immigrants are incarcerated long past their release dates

  • Justice in America Episode 20: Mariame Kaba and prison abolition

  • New York governor and NYPD team up to try to ban people with sex-related convictions from the subway

  • Why confess to a crime you did not commit?

  • Philadelphia DA takes on ‘mass supervision’

In the Spotlight

What do Florida’s proposed ‘poll tax’ and Louisiana’s nonunanimous convictions have in common? They silence Black voices.

This week, a Florida House committee approved a measure that could significantly curtail the gains of a state constitutional amendment that voters approved last November, restoring voting rights to about 1.5 million people with felony convictions. The measure passed along a party-line vote in the Republican-led committee. It would require everyone to pay all court fees and costs before becoming eligible to vote, even if the fines were not handed down by a judge as part of the sentence. A previous standard in Florida mandated only payment of restitution to restore civil rights. Voting rights advocates are outraged at what appears to be an effort to silence recently enfranchised people, especially people of color and those with low incomes. “It’s blatantly unconstitutional as a poll tax,” said Representative Adam Hattersley, a Democrat. But committee Chairman James Grant, a Republican, shot back, “To suggest that this is a poll tax inherently diminishes the atrocity of what a poll tax actually was.” [Justin Wise / The Hill]

People who completed “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation” had their voting rights automatically restored by the ballot initiative in January. The amendment does not apply to Florida residents convicted of murder or certain sex offenses, who are to be considered individually by the state’s Clemency Review Board. While arguing for the amendment, advocates said that completing a sentence could include paying fees and court costs. Neil Volz, political director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said that “mistakes were made” when those advocates spoke before the court. [Justin Wise / The Hill]

Florida Republicans are also trying to carve out broad exceptions to who can regain the right to vote, fighting to expand the category of people exluded for “murder” to include those convicted of manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and attempted murder from ever voting again, Kira Lerner reported for The Appeal this week. The bill that advanced this week would not broaden the definition of murder beyond first-  and second-degree offenses, but it would add dozens of sex-related offenses to the list of crimes that constitute “felony sexual offense,” such as trafficking and locating an adult entertainment store within 2,500 feet of a school. It’s possible that the state Senate could expand the definition of murder. [Kira Lerner / The Appeal]

Many advocates and lawmakers are concerned that if the amendment’s meaning is muddled, people might accidentally commit perjury by claiming to be eligible to vote when in fact they are not. One Florida prosecutor, Jack Campbell, said that as of now, he would not prosecute anyone for voter fraud: “I can’t exactly expect somebody to follow a law explicitly if I don’t understand what it says because I’m obviously more sophisticated than most people when it comes to criminal laws.” Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said that clarifying legislation might have a chilling effect on voter registration. “The bigger concern that I would have is that people who are in fact eligible might believe themselves not to be and decline to register as a result.” [Kira Lerner / The Appeal]

Another victory for criminal justice advocates last November was Amendment 2 in Louisiana, which eliminated the practice of nonunanimous jury convictions in criminal cases. But that amendment does not do anything for prior nonunanimous convictions, and this week, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would consider overturning one such conviction, which resulted from a 10-2 vote. The court will consider the case of Evangelisto Ramos, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after he was convicted in 2016 of second-degree murder. The court has held that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous verdicts in federal criminal cases, but in 1972 held that states were free to allow convictions by nonunanimous juries. [Associated Press]

Why bring the case to the Supreme Court if the rule has been changed? G. Ben Cohen, one of the attorneys who brought the case, told The Daily Appeal that the nonunanimous jury rule “was constitutional treason,” and “this is about restoring constitutional fidelity to Louisiana and making sure that every voice matters.” The rule has been undermining the legitimacy of Louisiana’s constitution for 120 years, he added.

German Lopez explained some of the history for Vox: After the Civil War, Louisiana was forced to include Black people on juries. “Since Louisiana required juries to reach unanimous decisions, as is standard, this meant a single Black person on the jury would have a lot of power—which would weaken white Louisianans’ hold over the state, its government, and its laws.” The state, he writes, “found a workaround. As part of a constitutional convention in 1898 meant to ‘perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana,’ it enacted a slew of Jim Crow measures,” one of which allowed for convictions after split juries. “This was part of the 1898 constitutional convention, which is famous for disenfranchising black voters,” said Lawrence Powell, a historian at Tulane University. [German Lopez / Vox]

“They didn’t use raw, racist language in the debates to justify the nonunanimous jury rule,” Powell said, even though “the whole constitutional convention was marinating in this kind of racist fluid.” This is how systemic racism works in contemporary America, Lopez writes. “Because policies seem racially neutral at face value, they slide under the radar even if in reality they result in racially disparate outcomes. There are all sorts of policies that we know have racially uneven outcomes—drug laws, traffic rules, voter ID requirements—but because they don’t explicitly invoke race, their supporters can argue that racism isn’t their intent.” [German Lopez / Vox]

Stories From The Appeal

Credit: Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images Staff.

In El Paso Jails, Immigrants Are Incarcerated Long Past Their Release Dates. In the deep blue border city home to Beto O’Rourke, attorneys and advocates are questioning its detainment of immigrants as well as its multimillion dollar contract to hold federal detainees in its jails. [Debbie Nathan]

Justice in America Episode 20: Mariame Kaba and Prison Abolition. Josie and Clint talabout prison abolition with Mariame Kaba, director of Project NIA, the co-founder of Survived + Punished and a researcher in residence at Barnard Center for Research on Women. [Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith]

Stories From Around the Country

New York governor and NYPD team up to try to ban people with sex-related convictions from the subway: At at time when New York’s subway system is in crisis, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NYPD have announced support for banning people from the subway system if they have more than one conviction for a subway-related sexual assault conviction. “I understand civil rights and civil liberties and access to transportation, but … if you are convicted of two sexual offenses on the subway system where groping, touching, grinding is a major problem and recidivism is a major problem, I fully support saying after the second conviction you’re banned from going back to the subway,” Cuomo said. He used as justification the controversial and burdensome residency requirements already placed on people with similar convictions. “The precedent is set: We have sexual predators who get locked up and get released, and then you say, common sense, we don’t want them locating near a school.” Cuomo said he was open to discussing the duration of the bans. [Alison Fox and Vincent Barone / Governing]

Why confess to a crime you did not commit? More than 12 percent of all overturned wrongful convictions in the past 30 years have involved false confessions. Many psychologists blame common interrogation tactics used by police. “It is legal in the U.S. for police to lie about evidence and coercive interrogation techniques are often used, sometimes subjecting suspects to hours of verbal abuse, intimidation, or conditions that are mentally and physically exhausting, resulting in the suspect seeing a confession as their only way out of the situation,” according to Al Jazeera. This week, Al-Jazeera examined six cases where police took advantage of vulnerabilities to coerce confessions, regardless of guilt. [Al-Jazeera]

Philadelphia DA takes on ‘mass supervision’: “One of our big priorities this year is to try to address mass supervision,” announced Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, meaning probation and parole. At the end of 2017, one in 22 adults in the city was under county supervision, the second-highest rate in the nation, behind Georgia. It is a major driver of incarceration: Nationally, about 40 percent of people on probation are reincarcerated, and over half of Philadelphia’s jail population is there for violating terms of probation or parole. Krasner would drastically cut supervision for felonies––which currently lasts for decades––to periods of 18 months to three years. For misdemeanors, his office will seek terms around six months, not to exceed one year. Vincent Schiraldi, a former commissioner of New York City’s Department of Probation, said he would go even further. “There’s good evidence that most of the impact of probation supervision comes in the first year,” he said. “That’s when most crimes occur. …. Every day after a year, you’re getting diminishing returns.” [Samantha Melamed / Philadelphia Inquirer]

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