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
Colorlines

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.

Continue reading

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>>>

National Immigration Project Releases “All In One Guide To Defeating ICE Hold Requests”

Authored by Lena Graber of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the “All In One Guide To Defeating ICE Hold Requests” is designed to help communities disentangle local police policy and practices from immigration enforcement.  ACJP at De-Bug has been one of the key organizations in the Santa Clara County FIRE (Forum for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment) Coalition that helped secure the most progressive detainer policy in the nation, spearheaded on the Board level by Supervisor George Shirakawa.  Our Coalition’s yearlong efforts are featured on this guide.  As we’ve always asserted, it’s not public safety vs. immigrant rights, but public safety THROUGH immigrant rights. Post submission by Charisse Domingo

For Trayvon Martin And America, Justice Hinges on Two Words: “Prosecutorial Discretion”

As the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death calls the country to examine the racial inequities of the criminal justice system, the conversation must go beyond the impulse to only focus on the man who took his life, George Zimmerman, and the police who let him walk out of their station. If we are to have any meaningful impact on how the system really works, we have to go where the real power lies – with the prosecutors, the ones who control the levers of the system in counties and states across the country.

In Martin’s case, it was prosecutor Norm Wolfinger who decided that Zimmerman should be not charged or detained that fateful evening. That moment of choice by Wolfinger is the most revealing part of the Trayvon Martin tragedy in terms of the vulnerabilities of the criminal justice system. Wolfinger was not acting as a rogue decision-maker circumventing the rules of law enforcement – he was exercising “prosecutorial discretion” – the awesome legal authority given to prosecutors to decide if an act is a matter, or not, for the criminal justice system to consider. Continue reading

Stopdeportingyouth.com — New Site Highlights Local Efforts to Stop Juvenile ICE Holds in San Mateo County

With the Stanford Immigrants Rights Clinic, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Youth United for Community Action, ACLU North Peninsula Chapter, Comite de Padres Unidos, and Nuestra Casa, we at Silicon Valley De-Bug have helped lead efforts to stop San Mateo County Probation’s practice of juvenile ICE holds in San Mateo County.  Families have come to De-Bug seeking support for their son’s or daughter’s cases where they have been caught up in juvenile hall and then sent to immigrant detention centers across the country — youth as young as 13. For the last four years, we’ve seen an increase in this number of families like no other, beginning with one mother from East Palo Alto who was so distraught at the thought of her 16 year old daughter being deported back to a country that she left when she was 3.  We learned that it was her PO who reported her to ICE, and initially, we thought it was a mistake.  But it turned out to be the complete opposite — this was actually routine practice.  In fact, San Mateo County is the second highest referrer of juveniles to ICE in California — second only to Orange County, according to statistics obtained by Immigrant Legal Resource Center from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

As part of the coalition’s efforts in the last nine months, we at De-Bug created this page, www.stopdeportingyouth.com, to highlight not just the practice of referring youth to ICE, but the strong stance that a broad-based coalition has taken to urge our county to do otherwise. We believe San Mateo County can do better.  Submission Post by Charisse Domingo

Click here or on the picture below to take you to the site.

Supreme Court Rules Any Offense, However Minor, Allows for a Strip Search

Post submission by Aram James: The US Supreme Court today –in a 5-4 decision (Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington) ripped at the heart of our of 4th Amendment – our right to be free of illegal and unreasonable searches and seizures; and our right to insist that before the government invades our privacy, our homes, our cars, our bodies—that they must have probable cause to do so.  Today’s decision does away with the probable cause requirement for strip-searches– for even the most minor offense i.e., violation of a leash law.

Today’s decision states only that jail officials may strip-search anyone arrested who will subsequently be placed in the general population of a jail or prison –even for the most innocuous offense—not that they have to or must be strip-searched.  The decision leaves wide-open discretion to jail officials to determine who and under what circumstances someone shall be subject to an invasive strip-search. Continue reading

San Jose Stands Up for Trayvon Martin

This past Friday, March 30, 2012, San Jose residents of all ages and backgrounds gathered at San Jose City Hall to honor the life of Trayvon Martin, and to voice outrage at the injustice of his death. At the rally, organizations such as the NAACP, the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet, and Silicon Valley De-Bug/ACJP called on both city and county officials to sign a proclamation calling for justice for Trayvon Martin. Here are some photos:

Miguel Gonzalez made his own shirt to honor Trayvon.

Gail Noble and Nanji Jayadev.

Becky Cardenas stands with Oscar Grant's Uncle Cephus Johnson who recently returned from a trip visiting with the Martin family.

Former City Councilmember Forrest Williams addresses the crowd.

Malcolm Lee does a spoken word piece in honor of Trayvon.

Los Angeles Times: Supreme Court Expands Defendant’s Rights In Plea Deals

In both the federal and state court systems, 9 out of 10 cases end up in a plea bargain, wiping out the notion of your “day in court”.  Both Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties are no different. We know families with loved ones serving long prison sentences, had their children taken away, or ended up in deportation proceedings because of a plea bargain gone wrong.  But the Supreme Court ruled this week that defendants have a right to competent counsel during the plea bargaining phase of the criminal justice system.  This ruling honestly is a little surprising, because you’d think effective assistance of counsel should extend to all phases of the justice system already.  But this seals the clarity once and for all.  Submission post by Charisse Domingo

Supreme Court expands defendant’s rights in plea deals

In two 5-4 decisions, the Supreme Court rules that defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to a competent lawyer’s advice when deciding whether to accept a plea deal.

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
Los Angeles Times
March 21, 2012

Reporting from Washington—

Defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to a competent lawyer’s advice when deciding whether to accept a plea bargain, the Supreme Court ruled, providing a significant expansion of rights that could have a broad impact on the justice system. Continue reading