Los Angeles Times: Agency That Runs California Courts ‘Dysfunctional,’ Report Says

A recent report shames the California court system as “dysfunctional” and should be reorganized. Who suffers at the cost of this lavish bureaucracy are families and individuals who go to these courthouses fighting cases where they feel they have been wronged.  We are hopeful that this report can spark change. Submission Post by Charisse Domingo

Agency that runs California courts ‘dysfunctional,’ report says

By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
May 30, 2012
The agency that runs the California court system has become “dysfunctional” and bloated with high-salaried bureaucrats and requires a major overhaul, according to a report ordered by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
The 300-page report, which will be presented to judicial branch leaders next month, comes as the courts are trying to stave off large budget cuts from Sacramento. Although ordered by Cantil-Sakauye and written by a committee she named, the highly critical evaluation may undermine the chief jurist’s efforts to roll back projected budget cuts of about $544 million.

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Ella Baker Center: Drugs can be Hell. Being Labelled a ‘Felon’ is a Killer.

Here is a piece posted on “Ella’s Voice” from our friends at the Ella Baker Center. They are co-sponsoring a bill SB 1506 (Leno) that would treat drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor rather then a felony. The bill would save the state tremendous amounts of needed resources, and take a step towards a more rationale response to drug use. As we know from the hundreds of families we have seen torn apart from overly punitive sentencing from drug charges, this bill could literally change the fate of families across the state. Check out the testimonial below.

By “Emily J” — It took me years to understand, but my history of drug addiction was a way to avoid dealing with issues I had. While I was in prison for a drug-related crime, my mother died. Then, my son was killed. I was devastated. No mother should ever have to go through what I went through. At that point, I decided I would do whatever it takes to overcome my addiction. I made a clean start. I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone and focused on staying sober and finding work. Continue reading

Chicago Based People’s Tribune Newspaper Profiles ACJP!

Special thanks to advocate, attorney and journalist Robin Yeaman’s who wrote a piece profiling ACJP’s work in San Jose, and Reverend Pinkney in Detriot. The piece ran in the People’s Tribune, a nationally distributed monthly newspaper. In the piece, author Robin Yeaman’s also points out how people’s ability to effectively monitor and participate with the court process can be a matter of which state they live in.  But in any state, families have a right to be heard, and a have a place in the courtroom!

Fighting for Justice by Court Watching Continue reading

National Registry of Exonerations: 885 Wrongful Convictions Since 1989

Ronald Reno, right, and his girlfriend Debbie Brown hug Kathleen “Cookie” Ridolfi, executive director of the Northern California Innocence Project, after a press conference about the exoneration of Reno, wrongly convicted of a crime which resulted in his “third strike.” (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS / Nhat V. Meyer)

Check out the article by Tracey Kaplan for the Mercury News. The piece highlights the findings of the new “National Registry of Exonerations”, which is tracking the number of exonerations across the country. The report, which is attached in the article link, allows viewers to examine exonerations by state and county numbers. A striking finding is the differences among a common geographic regions, such as the Bay Area. In Santa Clara County, there has been 10 exonerations, yet zero in neighboring Alameda County. Continue reading

Colorlines: The Criminal Cost of Talking to a Loved One Behind Bars

For many of our loved ones who are jailed or incarcerated, being able to make a phone call is a precious way to be able to keep connected, to fight loneliness, and to be reassured that you are not alone as you fight your charges.  Private companies that oversee the prison phone calls, however, capitalize on this and charge ridiculously high amounts for this connection, with rates for a 15 minute phone call as expensive as $10.95.  42 states in the nation actually receive a commission out of these calls as well.  This week, the Center for Media Justice, along with Prison Legal News and Working Narratives, launched an effort to get prison phone rates onto the FCC’s legislative to-do list.  Submission Post by Charisse Domingo

The Criminal Cost of Talking to a Loved One Behind Bars

Story By Leticia Miranda
Art by Hatty Lee
May 14, 2012

When Martha Wright’s grandson was moved to a prison outside of her hometown of Washington, DC., she didn’t expect that a short 5-minute conversation with him could cost up to $18.

“You just have to get everything out in one line,” she laughs.

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Bump California death penalty measure from November ballot, group says: Mercury News

Controversy on whether we should keep or be done with the death penalty within California. Where Do you side? -Post submission by Cesar Flores

A law-and-order group on Monday asked a state appeals court to bump a measure off the November ballot that would repeal California’s death penalty, arguing that it violates a state rule against proposing multiple reforms.

The ballot language is “deceptive” and conflicts with the state’s limit of voter initiatives to a single subject, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation argues in a petition filed with the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal.

The foundation brought the lawsuit on behalf of Phyllis Loya, the mother of a Pittsburg police officer fatally shot in 2005 whose killer was sent to death row by a Contra Costa County jury.

The SAFE California Act would abolish the death penalty, clear the state’s death row and replace capital punishment with life in prison without the possibility of parole. But the measure also provides for shifting as much as $100 million used for death penalty costs to a fund that would pay for solving murder and rape cases. Continue reading

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Vote to Build New Jail

Last Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted to spend approximately $155 million to build a new jail in the county.  Proposed by Sheriff Greg Munks, the construction of a new jail is supposed to relieve overcrowding in the current jail, create space for a women’s facility, and address the potential overflow as a result of AB109, the California realignment plan that makes counties deal with low-level offenders.

Instead of addressing why there are high incarceration rates to begin with, the County chose to just figure out how to house the growing population.  Community advocates such as All of Us Or None led by Dorsey Nunn, Critical Resistance, and Youth United for Community Action in East Palo Alto showed up at the Board of Supervisors meeting last Tuesday to state their opposition to the jail, saying the money put towards the jail only takes away from community services. “This is a jail for future generations,” Dorsey said. “Not only will they take our sons and daughters, but our grandkids.”

YUCA, a youth organization in East Palo Alto committed to environmental and social justice, first got involved about 2 years ago when the jail was being proposed to be built in East Palo Alto.  They collected over 400 petitions and got the City to declare their opposition to the jail construction in the community.  However, regardless of where the jail was in the county, YUCA youth were also opposed to the idea.  Anna Turner, a longtime resident in the community and is a Program Director at YUCA, attended the Board meeting as well.  “We should be spending the money on preventative measures, targeting the root cause of crime, not just locking people up.  Plus, we don’t want this jail to target undocumented people as well.”  YUCA and community advocates are looking to challenge the county’s decision.

At De-Bug’s ACJP, we’ve seen incarceration be too easy of an answer for San Mateo County.  We have seen some of the harshest sentences imposed on San Mateo County defendants, and on the front end, some of the most extreme charges placed on people that will almost always guarantee a plea bargain.  Compounded by this is ICE’s Secure Communities Program that has entangled immigration and criminal justice laws, and turned every police officer into an ICE agent.  We have seen immigrants with ICE holds beat their charges, have their charges dismissed or dropped, or could have been eligible for drug programs like Prop 36 but because of their ICE holds have been sent away to federal detention facilities.  

We feel that this decision to build a jail is counter to what seems like a regional trend of dealing with criminal justice issues in a more holistic and progressive way.  We hope the county rethinks this decision, and takes a more courageous, creative, and cost-effective stance to deal with the criminal justice system. — Submission Post by Charisse Domingo

Take Back Our Criminal Justice System, Use Jury Nullification

By Aram James — On April 19, 2012 New York federal Judge Kimba Wood dismissed an indictment against 80-year old Julian P. Heicklen for alleged jury tampering in the case against him for handing out materials to members of the public regarding the right of jurors to apply the historic doctrine of jury nullification. Nullification is the right of jurors to come back with a verdict of not-guilty even if the jurors believe that the defendant in fact technically violated the law, but the jurors conclude that the law in question is an immoral or bad law or a reasonable law applied in a discriminatory fashion.

In dismissing the case Judge Wood commented that a person violates the jury tampering law only when they try to influence a juror in a specific case pending before those same jurors– but not for merely handing out informational materials (protected First Amendment activity) to members of the public who come to the courthouse for a variety of reasons–not necessarily related to jury duty.

The right of jurors to veto or nullify an unjust law—or a law that may be fair on its face but is being applied in a discriminatory fashion–is critical to our democracy and to our ability to serve as citizen jurors while being fully informed of our rights and options as decision makers. These rights are essential when our government calls us to sit in judgment regarding the guilt or innocence of our fellow citizens and community members

In an era where our government is increasingly cracking down on dissent (consider the response of the government to the occupy movement or to high profile whistle blowers such as  Bradley Manning or Julian Assange) the decision by a federal judge to toss out an indictment against an 80-year-old citizen advocate for handing out materials to members of the public in front of a courthouse is a powerful rebuff to the U.S.  government’s ongoing efforts to intimidate and steal from its citizens the right to think and speak freely and to exercise their independent judgment in the context of their jury service.

The judge’s decision to toss the indictment goes a long way to prevent—or at least to mitigate– jury tampering activity by judges and or prosecutors who – on occasion — purposely attempt to leave jurors with the wrong and intimidating impression: that to do anything other than to convict the person on trial is itself a criminal act.

Historically brave and courageous jurors refused to convict those charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act and other immoral laws despite the best efforts of prosecutors and judges to steer jurors towards a conviction.

In the contemporary setting, if more jurors were fully informed of their right to disregard immoral or discriminatorily enforced laws—such as California’s “Jim Crow Drug Laws” and the racially motivated three-strike law—they would undoubtedly refuse to convict many defendants charged under these morally repugnant and frequently discriminatory laws.

The bottom line is that any grassroots organization attempting to reform or rebuild the criminal justice system from the ground up must understand and be willing to educate members of the public regarding their basic rights as jurors—including the right to veto or nullify bad laws.

Failure to educate the public in this regard is to assist and aid the state in wrongfully convicting members of our own communities. Knowledge is power and it’s time we go out into our communities and spread the word—we can just say no to bad laws.

Judge Kimba Wood’s action in dismissing the indictment in the Julian Heicklen case is cause for wide celebration-since we now know we are on solid legal ground when we decide to organize our communities around fundamental concepts of justice and our desire to take back our criminal justice system. We can take back our criminal justice system from the forces that would prefer that justice be administered and understood for the benefit of the few to the detriment of the majority of people.   The majority of people who must interact daily with the intentionally maintained mysterious and often baffling criminal justice system.

In California –pursuant to the holding in People v. Williams 25 Cal. 4th 441 (2001), jurors are explicitly precluded from exercising the doctrine of jury nullification—in fact if a judge discovers that a juror is refusing to apply the law to a case–he or she may be discharged from the jury. On the other hand, if the judge is unaware that the jury has engaged in nullifying what they perceive to be an unfair or bad law—the double jeopardy clause would prohibit retrial of an acquitted defendant. In Sparf v. U.S. 156 U.S. 51 (1894) the U.S. Supreme Court—in a 5 to 4 decision—held that federal judges are not required to instruct jurors on their right to nullify bad laws.

Understanding the power of jury nullification is one way to even the odds of obtaining justice of all. To learn more about the power of jury nullification check out the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA).

Aram James is a retired Santa Clara County deputy public defender—and a cofounder of the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP) –a grassroots legal advocacy organization—located in San Jose, CA.

*In a future article the author intends to discuss the provocative and controversial use of race-based jury nullification. The doctrine of race-based jury nullification has been popularized by Law Professor Paul Butler.

Former ICE official pleads guilty to fraud // CNN

ACJP has been working hard in getting the beating back the controversial Secure Communities Program and trying to diminish ICE and local law enforcement collaboration. The Department Of Homeland Security constantly states that they are looking out for the best interests of the country let alone our county. This news though certainly underlines our concerns about how trustworthy ICE officials are. — Post by Cesar Flores

(CNN) — James M. Woosley, 48, pleaded guilty Tuesday to defrauding the government of more than $180,000 in a ruse that involved phony travel vouchers and kickbacks

The former intelligence chief for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement faces a likely sentence of 18 to 27 months behind bars and must forfeit the funds he wrongfully acquired, the Department of Justice reported. Continue reading

Reuters: Wrongfully convicted Colorado man set free after 16 years

Powerful story of a man who is finally free due to exonerating DNA. The ACJP family finds great inspiration in this story as we are currently working on a case that has a similar fact pattern — including DNA that proves innocence. Check it out…

GRAND JUNCTION, Co. (Reuters) – A Colorado man wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the rape and murder of a woman found strangled with a dog leash was exonerated on the basis of new DNA evidence and set free on Monday after spending more than 16 years behind bars. Read more>>>