Justice System

The issue in Timbs v. Indiana is whether the Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief rejects the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates all rights included in the first eight Amendments. It also argues that the forfeiture in this case isn’t unconstitutionally excessive.

States are facing problems with their correctional programs, including but not limited to issues of overpopulation and inadequate budgets. Some states, including North Dakota, have high ambitions to resemble the European prison system.  Other states, including Alabama, Massachusetts and Utah are taking small steps toward progressive prison reform to save taxpayer dollars and possibly save lives.

The Missouri River Correctional Center in North Dakota, a minimum-security prison known locally as The Farm, has started to focus...

The Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause, which prohibits a person from being prosecuted more than once for the same conduct, is a familiar concept. Less familiar is the “separate sovereigns” exception which allows states and the federal government to convict and sentence a person for the same conduct. In Gamble v. United States, Terance Gamble asks the Supreme Court to overrule this exception.

Gamble was prosecuted for and convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon under both Alabama and United States law. His challenge to the “separate sovereigns” exception is unsurprising given that Justice Thomas joined Justice Ginsburg’s concurring opinion in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez-Valle (2016), which suggested the Court do a “fresh examination” of the “separate sovereigns” exception. These Justices are on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum and typically don’t vote together in close cases. 

The Supreme Court decides numerous difficult cases each term. It may be surprising that no issue has vexed the Court like whether probable cause to arrest someone means they can’t bring a First Amendment retaliation case. In Nieves v. Bartlett the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues in an amicus brief (for the third time) that probable cause defeats First Amendment retaliation claims.   

Russell Bartlett was attending Arctic Man, an Alaskan snowmobile race, when he declined to talk to Police officer Luis Nieves who was patrolling the large outdoor party. Officer Nieves later observed Bartlett yelling at a separate officer, Bryce Weight, and Weight pushing Bartlett away. Believing Bartlett posed a danger to Officer Weight, Officer Nieves arrested Bartlett. Bartlett alleges that Nieves said “bet you wish you had talked to me now” in the process of the arrest.

Bartlett sued Officer Nieves claiming Nieves arrested him in retaliation for his refusal to initially speak to Nieves in violation of the First Amendment. The district concluded there was probable cause to arrest Bartlett. All federal circuit courts to decide this issue except the Ninth Circuit have held that to bring a First Amendment retaliatory arrest case plaintiffs must be able to prove the absence of probable cause to arrest them, which Bartlett could do not in this case.

Numerous academics have complained about the Supreme Court frequently reversing lower court decisions that have denied police officers qualified immunity. In Sause v. Bauer the Court reversed (and remanded) a grant of qualified immunity.

In a unanimous per curiam (unauthored) opinion, the Supreme Court remanded this case back to the lower court to reconsider its decision granting qualified immunity to police officers who ordered a person to stop praying.

States continue to take significant actions in attempts to lessen barriers to workforce entry caused by occupational licensing. CSG currently facilitates a consortium of 11 states looking at occupational licensing reform as a part of the Occupational Licensing Assessing State Policy and Practice project in partnership with NCSL and NGA, funded by the US Department of Labor. However, the examples below come from states not currently participating in this project’s consortium, signifying that occupational licensing reform is a priority for states nationwide, and not just the 11 states participating in this CSG project.

CSG Midwest
A new law in Nebraska will help victims of sex trafficking clear their records of prostitution or other offenses that were a direct result of their being trafficked. The new statute applies to both convictions (crimes committed by adults) and adjudications (offenses committed by minors).

Russell Bucklew was sentence to death for murder, kidnapping, and rape. He suffers from cavernous hemangioma, which causes clumps of weak, malformed blood vessels and tumors to grow in his face, head, neck, and throat.

Missouri intended to execute him by lethal injection. But he claims that killing him by gas, still on the books in Missouri but not used since 1965, would substantially reduce his risk of pain and suffering given his cavernous hemangioma. The Eighth Circuit rejected his request.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide four issues in Bucklew v. Precythe. Until merits briefs are filed and oral argument is held in the fall it difficult to know what the Supreme Court will focus on. For now, the Eighth Circuit opinion provides the best clues.

The Supreme Court issues a few summary reversals a term where it overturns a lower court decision without briefing or oral argument. Few summary reversals receive much attention because they are “usually reserved . . . for situations in which the law is settled and stable, the facts are not in dispute, and the decision below is clearly in error.” While the majority of the Supreme Court sees Kisela v. Hughes this way, Justice Sotomayor disagreed in a headline-grabbing dissenting opinion describing this case as allowing police officers to “shoot first and think later.”   

Officers arrived at Amy Hughes’s house after being told a woman was hacking a tree with a kitchen knife. Officers saw Hughes emerge from her house carrying a large kitchen knife at her side. Hughes stopped no more than six feet away from her roommate, Sharon Chadwick. After officers told Hughes twice to drop the knife and she did not comply, Officer Kisela shot her four times.

CSG Midwest
Two new laws in Illinois will seek to improve conditions and long-term outcomes for women in prison by providing them with more gender-responsive programming. Under HB 1479, signed into law in January, a permanent women’s division will be created within the Illinois Department of Corrections. It complements last fall’s passage of HB 3904, which requires the women’s prison and parole system to have trauma-informed, family-centered policies and programs in place. These programs also must reflect women-centered research on the most effective types of treatment interventions.

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