Justice System

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.
CSG Midwest
Under a North Dakota law that took effect in January, parents who are sentenced to jail or prison for more than 180 days will have their monthly child support payments suspended throughout their period of incarceration. 
Lawmakers passed the enacting legislation (SB 2277) last year in order to prevent the accrual of large amounts of past-due payments for incarcerated parents with child support orders. 
According to the U.S. Department of Human Services Office of Child Support Enforcement, studies have found that incarcerated parents leave prison with an average of $20,000 or more in unpaid child support. In 2007 (the most recent year available), the population in U.S. state prisons included 686,000 parents who had a total of more than 1.4 million children. 

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that when a prisoner wins a civil rights case “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy” his or her attorney’s fees award.

In Murphy v. Smith the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that this statute means “the court must pay the attorney’s entire fee award from the [prisoner’s] judgment until it reaches the 25% cap and only then turn to the [prison guards].” In other words, the court may not exercise its discretion and take any amount it wishes from the prisoner’s judgment to pay the attorney “from 25% down to a penny.”

CSG Midwest
Minnesota Rep. Marion O’Neill first became aware of the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in the state’s prisons while serving on the Legislature’s Prison Population Task Force in 2015.
CSG Midwest
Minnesota Rep. Marion O’Neill first became aware of the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in the state’s prisons while serving on the Legislature’s Prison Population Task Force in 2015.
State corrections officials told the task force that 85 percent to 90 percent of inmates had a chemical dependency, 60 percent had mental health issues, and 11 percent were severely mentally ill.
“It was clear we needed to address these individuals’ underlying issues, not just the criminal behavior,” O’Neill says.
She also learned that the majority of prison admissions — 64 percent in 2016 — were people whose parole or probation was revoked due to technical violations such as missing a meeting or failing a drug test, as opposed to individuals who had committed new crimes.
This year, O’Neill sponsored legislation that requires parole and probation agents to consider community-based alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders who violate the conditions of their probation or parole.
Under the new law, before revoking an offender’s probation or parole for a technical violation, agents must identify “options to address and correct the violation,” such as inpatient substance abuse treatment.

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