Participatory Defense Launches in Durham, NC!

For De-Bug, visiting Spirit House in Durham, NC is like going to a family reunion and meeting cousins you heard of through stories — family who moved, believed, and breathed like you, just in a different part of the country.  Last week, De-Bug organizers Gail Noble, Cecilia Chavez, and Charisse Domingo shared space with amazing organizers from Durham, NC who are holding it down in the community: Spirit House, a cultural-arts and community organizing group fighting mass criminalization; All of Us Or None, a membership-based organization made of formerly incarcerated individuals organizing to transform the system; Southern Coalition for Social Justice, an organization made of lawyers, researchers, and organizers supporting communities of color addressing racial inequities; and Inside Outside, an organization made of families addressing disparate jail conditions in Durham County.  We were brought together by the Hayward Burns Institute’s Community Justice Network for Youth, who promoted the peer exchange among our organizations. We spent two days sharing Participatory Defense strategies and collectively brainstorming how to support each other in our larger movement to end mass incarceration.  We can’t wait to keep building with these dedicated community warriors!  Check out our photos below!


ACJP organizers Cecilia and Gail sharing points of intervention in the criminal justice system that families can use to impact their loved ones’ cases.


De-Bug, All of Us or None, CJNY, and Spirit House organizers head to the Durham County Court to observe first appearance hearings


Etched into the pew in one of the courtrooms. In just the hour we visited and sat in court, there were around 60 people, and 90% were African American.


At the first appearance in Jail Court, familiy members sit behind a glass as they await their loved ones who are brought in from the side. If they want to plead for their family member’s release, they have to speak through a button on the side to the Judge, who then determines bond or other conditions of release. During the time we went, it was all Black women being held, and their family members awaited their fate.


De-Bug ACJP organizer Gail outside the Durham County Detention Facility where we just finished sitting through Jail Court. She is there to work with Durham organizers to transform the experiences of families whose loved ones are facing charges in the system. For Gail, this visit is especially heartfelt, because her father and mother were both born in North Carolina, and this is her first trip back to her roots.

We were so excited to meet Poet, a proud member of All of Us or None who has had negative experiences with the criminal justice system. He will be one of the organizers leading participatory defense meetings in Durham, NC!

We were so excited to meet Poet, a proud member of All of Us or None who had negative experiences with the criminal justice system. He will be one of the organizers leading participatory defense meetings in Durham!


Mama Nia Wilson, Executive Director at Spirit House, leads a deep, honest conversation on generational trauma with participants of their Harm Free Zone. She is a longtime OG at Durham who’s been holding it down for years, and we’re so blessed to build with her.

Taye, an artist and organizer with Spirit House, photographs the first participatory defense meeting in Durham!

Taye, an artist and organizer with Spirit House, photographs the first participatory defense meeting in Durham!


Andrea with All of Us Or None leads our second participatory defense meeting as we strategize on how to get a loved one released after he was just arrested that morning.

NYT: Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct

The New York Times put out an editorial regarding what they call “rampant prosecutorial misconduct” which is occurring in both state and federal courts. They observe that prosecutor offices are often set up to disincentivize prosecutors from handing over exculpatory evidence. The piece cites an appellate judge stating, “only judges can stop” Brady violations. But prosecutors office’s, elected positions, can be also held to account by the community to which they serve. The more impacted communities understand the power they wield, the more courts and their institutions can be held to higher standards of fairness and justice.

Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct — By In the justice system, prosecutors have the power to decide what criminal charges to bring, and since 97 percent of cases are resolved without a trial, those decisions are almost always the most important factor in the outcome. That is why it is so important for prosecutors to play fair, not just to win. This obligation is embodied in the Supreme Court’s 1963 holding in Brady v. Maryland, which required prosecutors to provide the defense with any exculpatory evidence that could materially affect a verdict or sentence. read more >>>


The “Storify” of Santa Clara County Preserving the Best Immigrant Detainer Policy in the Country

Media coverage, and our own media, chronicling the culmination of a year long campaign to beat back a challenge to our county’s immigrant detainer policy. This win for public safety & immigrants rights is a result of efforts by the FIRE Coalition, the Public Defender’s Office, and wisdom of the BOS. (Click here or image to go to Storify page that has videos, articles, infographics, tweets, and more from the win!)


Returning To Life From Life: A Daughter’s Journey To Freeing Her Mother From Prison

Check out this moving video made by De-Bug’s Jean Melesaine on Lisa Carter, the first woman in Santa Clara County who won her release from a life sentence due to Proposition 36.  Judge Deborah Ryan granted Lisa release after serving 18 years in prison for a $150 shoplifting charge (her 3rd strike), with the tremendous support from her family, friends, community, and public defender. This video will be part of the Time Saved series, chronicling stories of families bringing loved ones home from incarceration.

“Orange is the New Black” Shares the Real Stories of Our Secret Society

Having spent 17 years behind the walls, Steeda McGruder, founder of Sisters That Been There, was hesitant to watch a show about women in prison. Once she did see Orange is the New Black, she says the show amazingly “nails it” — the hardships, the relationships, and the internal struggle.


By Steeda McGruder

I hesitated when friends told me to watch Orange is the New Black. Being that that I’ve spent the last 17 years of my life behind the walls, I figured unless it was different than all the other prison shows that never got it right, I could wait. It wasn’t until a good friend told me, “Yo like foreal, you need to watch this, it hella reminds me of you,” that I actually sat down and watched it.

I automatically understood the show from the women I saw in the introduction. I saw the faces of all the different types of women that go in and out — some have piercings, some have scars from the street life or drug abuse, some are clear eyed and clear faced, some are dirty, some skinny, some bigger. I could immediately relate to the main character, Piper (who is based on Piper Kerman who wrote a book about her incarceration), while thinking of all my trips to the big house — having to turn yourself in and the thoughts about the choices, the wanting to change the past and turn the clock back. Continue reading

Why Public Defender Offices Should Have Public Information Officers

ACJPCourtThe month marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions this country’s criminal justice system has ever known – Gideon V. Wainwright. The case, along with later decisions, cemented the 6th amendment right to counsel for anyone, regardless if they have the ability to pay for an attorney or not. To protect this right, we now have indigent defense systems (such as Public Defender’s Offices and Private Defender Panels) in counties and states, which serve the eighty percent of people who face criminal charges.

Chances are the only people who are going to recognize this date – both to honor the historic victory and acknowledge how far our indigent defense systems have to go to fulfill the promise of Gideon – will be lawyers. But the condition of indigent defense systems in 2013 is not a discussion only for attorneys. That’s like saying the need to solve a medical issue that affects 80 percent of everyone who enters a hospital should only be had amongst the doctors. Continue reading

Mercury News: Dave Cortese, Molly O’Neal and Cynthia Hunter: Santa Clara County should keep current immigration policy

cubanologyOPEDBelow is an op-ed authored by a powerful collective of civic leaders in Santa Clara County that just appeared in the Mercury News.  We thank Supervisor Dave Cortese, Public Defender Molly O’Neal and Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Advocacy Consortium Cynthia Hunter for courageously standing up to protect our policy.

We are asking folks to please share and add your support through online comments. Please know that when it comes to immigration issues, those who want to change the policy will be likely very active on the comment box. One approach is to accept that, and pay it no mind, but if you would like to engage on behalf of the beliefs espouse by the op-ed, please do. We have to let our leaders know they are supported by the public when they champion our positions. Thank you!

You can also email the Board of Supervisors to let them know to keep Santa Clara County’s Immigrant Detainer policy as is!

Mike Wasserman
George Shirakawa
Dave Cortese
Ken Yeager
Joe Simitian

Dave Cortese, Molly O’Neal and Cynthia Hunter: Santa Clara County should keep current immigration policy
There is nothing more valuable to public safety than community trust in local law enforcement because it establishes residents’ willingness to report crimes and to cooperate with police. But that trust will break down immeasurably in immigrant communities if residents face the debilitating fear of potential deportation. Continue reading

Is the Prevailing Legal Standard for ‘New Evidence’ Right?

Very informative piece about the ever increasing hurdle for those who are challenging their wrongful convictions. Also, it comes from a very good blog called Wrongful Convictions Blog. Thanks to our friends at the Innocence Project for sending this along!

Many post-conviction innocence cases rely upon the discovery of new evidence to support a claim of actual innocence.  But to be admissible in the case, the new evidence must meet the prevailing legal standard for admissibility.

In Ohio, this standard is called the Petro standard, because it resulted from the case of Ohio vs. Petro in 1947.  OH vs. Petro  Most states use some version of this standard.  There are six prongs to the standard: Continue reading

Obama Adds More Dysfunction to Broken Immigration System – New America Media

Seems like Obama’s past actions speak louder than present ones. -Post Submission by Cesar Flores

New America Media, News Report, Behrouz Saba, Posted: Jun 19, 2012

A timid President Barack Obama faced a group of palpably hostile White House correspondents as he announced “deferred action” for young, undocumented immigrants who have waited for years to be offered a path to citizenship through the DREAM Act. In compliance with his executive order, the Department of Homeland Security will merely halt deportations for the next two years of non-criminal, undocumented immigrants between the ages of 16 and 30 who were brought to the country as children. Beneficiaries will also receive H-1 visas to live and work legally on a temporary basis.

This election-year ploy to win Latino votes is a patently miserable substitute for the generous, comprehensive measures required to address the plight of the nearly 12 million undocumented. Putting 800,000 young, promising women and men in legal limbo adds just another layer of dysfunction to a fundamentally inoperative immigration system. 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