Mesa v. Hernandez provides a qualified immunity quandary. If Agent Mesa wins his qualified immunity claim, other government officials in the future may lose their qualified immunity claims. 

United States Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa, Jr., shot and killed Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a fifteen-year-old Mexican national, who was standing on the Mexico side of the U.S./Mexico border. At the time of the shooting Agent Mesa didn’t know that Hernandez was a Mexican citizen. 

The question of most interest to state and local governments in Mesa v. Hernandez is whether qualified immunity may be granted or denied based on facts – such as the victim’s legal status – unknown to the officer at the time of the incident.

By Katy Albis
It is impossible to talk about the justice system without talking about race. In fact, with several high-profile incidents involving violent contact between law enforcement officers and minority residents, so much of today’s conversation about justice policy and practice seems to focus specifically on race. But talking about race and justice in a comprehensive, solution-oriented way requires looking closely at very specific components of the system to determine how racial disparity manifests. One such component is risk and needs assessment. Risk and needs assessment uses an actuarial evaluation to guide decision-making at various points across the criminal justice continuum by approximating a person’s likelihood of reoffending and determining what individual needs must be met in order to reduce that likelihood.

Enforcing the law, safeguarding public safety, preventing crime, ensuring accountability for people who break the law, and administering all of the processes associated with this work fairly—together these efforts are known broadly as criminal justice. The data commonly used to describe the outcomes related to these efforts tell a complicated story. Take statistics on crime, for example. Do falling crime rates indicate that law enforcement agencies are doing an exceptional job at preventing crime? Or is it that crime is on the decline as a result of more people being locked up in prisons and jails in most states? And what’s happening in the few states where crime and prison populations are declining?

Elijah Manuel was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance even though a field test indicated his pills weren’t illegal drugs. About six weeks after his arrest he was released when a state crime laboratory test cleared him.  

If Manuel would have brought a timely false arrest claim it is almost certain he would have won. But such a claim would not have been timely because Manuel didn’t sue within two years of being arrested or charged.

CSG Midwest

Iowa has joined the growing number of U.S. states that ban life-without-parole sentences for individuals 17 and under. The state Supreme Court issued its ruling in May, arguing that such sentences violate the Iowa Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The decision does not entitle juvenile offenders to parole, but does eliminate “up-front determinations” (namely life-without-parole sentences by a judge). 

On July 1, 2016, a new Virginia law will take effect that will protect the identities of nearly all parties involved in state-performed lethal injections. HB 815 provides exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act to make confidential all identifying information of producers, suppliers, compounding pharmacies, executioners, and all other individuals involved in the procurement and use of lethal injection drugs. Virginia will become at least the 13th state with such a law.

A police officer stopped Edward Streiff after he left a suspected drug house. The officer discovered Streiff had an outstanding warrant, searched him (legally), and discovered he was carrying illegal drugs. The Supreme Court held 5-3 that even though the initial stop was illegal, the drug evidence could be admissible against Streiff in a trial.

Justice Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in Utah v. Strieff  notes how common outstanding warrants are not just in the county where the arrest in this case occurred but also in Ferguson, Missouri (16,000 warrants out of 21,000 people).

The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that when a judge had significant prior personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision in the defendant’s case the judge must recuse himself or herself. 

District attorney Castille approved a subordinate prosecutor’s request to seek the death penalty against Terrance Williams. Williams was accused of a robbery and murder which he denied, on the stand, participating in.

Almost 30 years later Williams’s co-conspirator revealed that he had informed the prosecutor on the case that Williams and the victim had a sexual relationship that was the motive for the murder. A lower state court threw out Williams’s execution after discovering extensive prosecutor misconduct. 

Meanwhile, Castille had become Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which was tasked with reviewing the lower court’s decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court. Castille refused to recuse himself.

In Moore v. Texas the Supreme Court will review a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision to apply a previous definition of “intellectually disabled” adopted in a 1992 death penalty case rather than the current definition. Texas Legislature’s failure to act compels its decision, the lower court reasoned.

In Atkins v. Virginia (1992) the Supreme Court held that executing the intellectually disabled violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Court tasked states with implementing Atkins.

Annual observation created to raise awareness of mental illness and mental health offers a catalyst for making changes in the criminal justice system.