Tag Archives: ACLU

Obama shortens terms for 214 prisoners; 67 had life sentence

I’ll agree that some drug sentences are way too harsh. Yet apparently it’s OK for Obama to ignore violations of gun laws (50+ offenders had firearm violations) – those laws which he incessantly reminds us are too lax.

O laughs

From the Seattle Times: President Obama on Wednesday cut short the sentences of 214 federal inmates, including 67 life sentences, in what the White House called the largest batch of commutations on a single day in more than a century.

Almost all the prisoners were serving time for nonviolent crimes related to cocaine, methamphetamine or other drugs, although a few were charged with firearms violations related to their drug activities. Almost all are men, though they represent a diverse cross-section of America geographically.

Obama’s push to lessen the burden on nonviolent drug offenders reflects his long-stated view that the U.S. needs to remedy the consequences of decades of onerous sentencing requirements that put tens of thousands behind bars for far too long. Obama has used the aggressive pace of his commutations to increase pressure on Congress to pass a broader fix and to call more attention to the issue.

One of the inmates, Dicky Joe Jackson of Texas, was given a life sentence in 1996 for methamphetamine violations and for being a felon with an unlicensed gun. He told the ACLU in a 2013 report that a death sentence would have been preferable, adding, “I wish it were over, even if it meant I were dead.”

Another recipient, Debra Brown of Tennessee, was convicted of selling cocaine in 2002 and sentenced to 20 years. Both Brown’s and Jackson’s sentences will now end Dec. 1, along with most of the rest of those receiving commutations Wednesday.

All told, Obama has commuted 562 sentences during his presidency — more than the past nine presidents combined, the White House said. Almost 200 of those who have benefited were serving life sentences.

“All of the individuals receiving commutation today — incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws — embody the president’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances,’” White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote in a blog post.

Eggleston said Obama examines each clemency application on its specific merits to identify the appropriate relief, including whether the prisoner would be helped by additional drug treatment, educational programming or counseling. He called on Congress to finally pass a criminal justice overhaul to bring about “lasting change to the federal system.”

Presidents tend to use their powers to commute sentences or issue pardons more frequently at the end of their presidencies, and Obama administration officials said the rapid pace would continue during Obama’s final months.

“We are not done yet,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. “We expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the clemency initiative.”

Read the whole story here.


Advocates demand that California DMV suspend fines for poor people

Gee, I wonder which “poor” people they are trying to assist…


From Sacramento Bee: Advocates for the poor are demanding that the California Department of Motor Vehicles stop suspending the driver licenses of people who fail to pay traffic fines or appear in court.

Monday’s letter from Bay Area Legal Aid, the ACLU of Northern California, Western Center on Law and Poverty and others alleges that the DMV lacks the authority to suspend licenses at the request of court officials. That’s because many courts, the letter said, improperly conclude that someone falls under the suspension law that applies to people “willfully failing” to pay fines or appear in court.

The letter to Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly and DMV Director Jean Shiomoto comes as state lawmakers consider legislation that would prohibit the practice.

“We ask that the DMV immediately cease suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay and failure to appear…until there is a system in place to ensure that all courts provide legally-required procedural protections,” the letter reads.

Mike Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty said many poor people cannot afford the high fines and surcharges from traffic tickets. Losing their license makes it that much harder to earn a living and pay off the tickets, he said. “It’s become so damaging to people. They’re pretty much stuck in a hole forever,” Herald said. Monday’s letter follows lawsuits against some counties over the suspensions. A lawsuit against the state over the suspensions is possible, he said.

Lawmakers last year unanimously approved legislation that allowed people to go to court to contest traffic fines without first paying the money.

Another measure, Senate Bill 881 by state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, would prohibit a county or court from seeking to suspend a driver’s license to collect on unpaid fines. The bill also would repeal the rule requiring the DMV to suspend a driver’s license at a county’s request. It is pending in the Assembly.

The DMV was not immediately available for comment.


Appeals court says Virginia high school’s anti-transgender bathroom rule was discrimination, sets precedent that could affect North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law

Last September I told you about Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male.  He/she had sued school officials over a policy requiring him to use either the girls’ restrooms or a single-stall, unisex bathroom open to all students. The special snowflake got his/her way yesterday via a court ruling.

Gavin Grimm

Gavin Grimm

Via Daily Mail: A transgender Virginia teen won the right to use the boy’s toilets at his high school Tuesday in an appeals court decision that will affect four other states – including North Carolina.

Tuesday’s decision came from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Gloucester County School Board was discriminating against Gavin Grimm, 16, by making him use female toilets in line with his biological sex.

That decision establishes legal precedent in all five states of the 4th Circuit, including North Carolina, which on April 1 passed a bill forcing people to use bathrooms based on the sex on their birth certificate.

Grimm, who was born female but identifies as male, was allowed to use the boys’ bathroom at the school for several weeks in 2014, until parents complained. (Grimm, 16, told his parents he was transgender in April 2014. They helped him legally change his name, and a psychologist diagnosed him with gender dysphoria, characterized by stress stemming from conflict between one’s gender identity and assigned sex at birth. Grimm had his breasts removed and began hormone treatment to deepen his voice and give him a more masculine appearance.)

He was then told he could use either the girls’ bathroom or a single private stall – a policy he called stigmatizing. School officials said it respected the privacy of all students.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a ‘statement of interest’ in Grimm’s case in July, saying that not allowing students to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity amounts to sex discrimination.

Gavin Grimm

Gavin Grimm

And now Grimm has won in the state of Virginia – creating a precedent that may concern politicians in neighboring North Carolina. On March 25, North Carolina’s House of Representatives voted 82-26 for House Bill 2, which ordered public schools, government agencies and public college to designate bathrooms by biological sex stated on a person’s birth certificate. It also removed protections that stopped businesses discriminating against people based on their sexuality or gender.

Now, however, precedent has been set in all 4th Circuit states: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland. North Carolina Governor Pat McRory is to meet with house attorneys to see how Tuesday’s decision will affect the bill that he signed, North Carolina News reported.

And back on March 26, Joshua Block, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Citizen-Times: ‘What the court rules in Gavin’s case will likely be precedent for district courts in North Carolina that they will have to follow. It does seem odd that even though the governor and legislature presumably know a decision is going to come down from the Fourth Circuit, that they rushed in to enact this sweeping policy without seeing how the court rules.  It seems like they are exposing the state to a lot of legal liability for no reason.’

Read the whole story here.


Planned Parenthood, ACLU sue Indiana over new abortion law


Via Yahoo: The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky are suing the state of Indiana, saying an abortion restriction recently signed into law by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is unconstitutional.

The restriction bans abortions sought because of genetic abnormalities and mandates an aborted fetus be buried or cremated. It is set to go into effect July 1. The lawsuit was filed Thursday. The restriction makes Indiana’s abortion law among the most stringent in the nation. North Dakota is the only other state with a similar law.

The president of Indiana Right to Life says Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s new abortion law because it wants to protect its business. Mike Fichter said in a statement that Planned Parenthood has $2 million a year in abortion revenue in Indiana and opposes “any common sense law that protects women and children” because it wants to protect its “lucrative abortion business.”

Fichter says the new law protects fetuses targeted for abortion because of gender, race or a potential disability and calls for respectful disposal of aborted remains.

Betty Cockrum

Betty Cockrum

Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky says Indiana’s new abortion law shows that the state does not respect women nor trust they can make their own medical decisions. Betty Cockrum is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. She spoke at a news conference Thursday just hours after the organization filed a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union against the state.

Cockrum also responded to criticism from anti-abortion group Indiana Right to Life, saying she has not seen the organization step up and help families who need care after a pregnancy.

Mike Pence

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office says it has confidence that the state’s new abortion law is constitutional despite a court challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.

Pence’s deputy press secretary, Stephanie Hodgin, said Thursday in an emailed statement that Pence will work with the Office of the Attorney General to defend the law. The state Attorney General’s office issued a statement saying that any law passed by the Legislature and the governor is presumed constitutional until a court decides otherwise.


Florida clinics that provide abortions will no longer get funding

I don’t know why this is the end of the world. There are plenty of other ways to access healthcare: low-income community health clinics (Heck, I go to one in my small town. I have insurance yet it was the only place where a doctor could see me within a month. Every other private doctor in town had a four month+ waiting list.), county health centers, Indian health clinics, private (charitable) low income health care centers, and of course, the savior to the whole “healthcare access” problem: Obamacare.

Gov. Rick Scott (Photo credit: AP)

Gov. Rick Scott (Photo credit: AP)

Via NY Post: Florida Governor Rick Scott on Friday signed a law that cuts off state funding for preventive health services to clinics providing abortion and imposes abortion restrictions already being tested before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Florida is among many states adopting new abortion laws as conservatives seek to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Scott signed 68 new laws and issued statements on some non-controversial bills on Friday but did not comment on the abortion statute.

The bill, which easily passed the Republican-controlled legislature earlier this month, has been the target of television advertisements by Planned Parenthood and protests at the Capitol by women urging a veto.

John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, called the law “a historic victory,” in a statement.

State funding of abortion was already prohibited, but the new law also blocks money for services for low-income women at the clinics. It also requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital – a type of formal affiliation that can be difficult to obtain – within a “reasonable” distance of clinics.

In addition, the law requires annual inspection of clinics by health authorities and tightened rules on disposal of aborted fetal tissue.

“For Rick Scott to prioritize political pandering over his own constituents’ access to healthcare is more than cynical. It’s shameful,” Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement.


She predicted HIV rates will “skyrocket” and teenage pregnancies will rise because women will lose access to regular treatment at state-funded clinics.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a challenge to a similar law in Texas, where several clinics have closed because of new restrictions.

Legislative sponsors in Florida argued that the law was not meant to shutter clinics but protect women with new safety rules.

The law takes effect July 1 but will probably be challenged in court quickly. Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said he was not surprised the governor signed the bill. “He claims to be for small government, pro-freedom and opposed to putting government in between people and their doctors – except when it comes to Florida’s women,” said Simon.

Another Florida law passed last year, requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, recently took effect and faces a continued legal challenge.


DOJ immigration judge claims 3-year-old children can represent themselves in court



Via The Seattle Times:A senior Justice Department official is arguing that 3- and 4-year-olds can learn immigration law well enough to represent themselves in court, staking out an unconventional position in a growing debate over whether immigrant children facing deportation are entitled to taxpayer-funded attorneys.

Jack Weil, a longtime immigration judge who is responsible for training other judges, made the assertion in sworn testimony in a deposition in federal court in Seattle. His comments highlighted the plight of thousands of juveniles who are forced to defend themselves each year in immigration court amid the surge of children crossing the southwest border from Central America.

“I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds,’’ Weil said. “It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.’’ He repeated his claim twice in the deposition, also saying, “I’ve told you I have trained 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in immigration law,’’ according to a transcript. “You can do a fair hearing. It’s going to take you a lot of time.’’

What a 3 year old typically "gets"...

What a 3 year old typically “gets”…

Legal and child psychology experts ridiculed Weil’s assertions, noting that key milestones for 3- and 4-year-olds include cooperating with other children, saying simple sentences and building towers of blocks.

“I nearly fell off my chair when I read that deposition,’’ said Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, who is a witness for the plaintiffs in the Seattle case. “Three- and 4-year-olds do not yet have logical reasoning abilities. It’s preposterous, frankly, to think they could be taught enough about immigration law to be able to represent themselves in court.”

Weil’s deposition came in a case in which the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant rights groups are seeking to require the government to provide appointed counsel for every indigent child who cannot afford a lawyer in immigration court proceedings. The Justice Department is contesting the lawsuit.

Weil, in a brief email, said his statements don’t “present an accurate assessment of my views on this topic’’ and were being “taken out of context.’’ He said he would need Justice Department permission to speak further and did not respond to subsequent emails.

Lauren Alder Reid, a spokeswoman for the department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) said in a statement: “At no time has the Department indicated that 3 and 4 year olds are capable of representing themselves. Jack Weil was speaking in a personal capacity and his statements, therefore, do not necessarily represent the views of EOIR or the Department of Justice.’’

She added that Weil’s comments “must also be taken in context as part of a 4-hour deposition in which Mr. Weil spoke about various techniques, procedures, and safeguards that can be employed by immigration judges, as warranted, to provide fundamentally fair hearings to all respondents in immigration proceedings.’’

Weil is not just any immigration official. As an assistant chief immigration judge in EOIR’s Office of the Chief Immigration Judge – which sets and oversees policies for the nation’s 58 immigration courts – he is responsible for coordinating the Justice Department’s training of immigration judges.

Read the whole story here.


Toddler’s brutal beating prompts call to withhold bail from illegal immigrants

Remember, San Francisco believes their “long-standing (sanctuary city) policy improves public safety and embraces immigrants.”

Criminal illegal aliens Chavez (l) and Vasquez (r)

Criminal illegal aliens Chavez (l) and Vasquez (r)

Fox News: When Francisco Javier Chavez posted bail on charges of beating a California toddler within an inch of her life in late July, there was little reason to expect the illegal immigrant, who has spent much of his adult life hopping back and forth across the Mexican border, would return to face justice.

Two weeks later, at his scheduled arraignment on Aug. 13, Chavez was a no-show. The 27-year-old career criminal had put up $10,000, or 10 percent of the amount set for his alleged crimes by California’s bail schedule. His disappearance is hardly a surprise to critics who believe violent illegal immigrants are, by definition, flight risks who should be denied bail in such serious cases. They say judges, especially in border states plagued by illegal immigrant crime, are naive or worse if they expect suspects who regularly cross in and out of Mexico to take the U.S. justice system seriously.

“Frankly, judges grant bail in cases like these because they are being foolish,” said Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department lawyer now at The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. “The judge can consider bail for you when you are charged with a crime, but does not have to let you out on bail. If the state can show you are a flight risk, you should not get bail. If the state can show you are a danger to the public because of a history of violence, you should not get bail.

While Chavez is in the wind, his alleged victim, the 2-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend, is now in foster care, paralyzed from the beating that also left her with both arms and a femur broken. Well before he was arrested in San Luis Obispo County for attacking the child, Chavez had compiled a lengthy criminal record that includes assault and drug convictions and arrests for violent acts such as kidnapping, car-jacking and cruelty to a child. He was deported in February 2014, but as in previous instances, found it easy to sneak back across the border and into the U.S.

Jonathan Montez: Killed by an illegal alien.

Jonathan Montez: Killed by an illegal alien.

Weeks after Chavez slipped out of custody, on Sept. 1, another 2-year-old toddler named Jonathan Montez was run down and killed in San Bernardino County. Illegal immigrant Jose Enrique Vasquez, 53, an unlicensed driver who witnesses said was speeding down the child’s residential street, fled the scene, according to authorities. He was arrested two weeks later, and, like Chavez, was granted bail.

Vasquez also has compiled a lengthy criminal record under various aliases, including charges of spousal abuse, battery of a peace officer, driving without a license, driving under the influence and armed robbery. But other charges in his criminal record might have given a judge pause in considering bail according to critics, including failure to appear in court, possession of false citizenship documents and eight deportations for illegally entering the country.

The systems for granting bail in state courts varies from state to state. California’s bail system lays out prescribed amounts for various crimes as a guideline for law enforcement and judges, but judges retain discretion to raise the amount in cases where the suspect is a flight risk or a danger to the public and the district attorney can add, drop or change the charges. Two states, Alabama and Missouri, have passed laws that preclude bail for illegal immigrants suspected of serious crimes, while judges in other states — notably Texas — weigh illegal status in making their decisions. But last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Arizona’s 2006 law banning bail for illegal immigrant suspects violated their right to due process and amounted to punishment before trial. The 11-member panel’s decision called the law a “scattered attempt” to deal with the problem of chronic bail-skipping by illegal immigrants. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the lower court’s decision.

Judges everywhere maintain discretion to deny bail to anyone they believe is likely to flee justice, yet they often fail to consider illegal status as a factor, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies. And critics say it should be obvious that someone here illegally and suspected of a violent crime will bolt rather than face justice, especially in border states such as California, where they can be out of the country an hour after posting bail.

“Aliens who commit acts of violence should not be released on bail, because they are clearly a danger to the public, and when we have someone with this kind of deportation history, clearly they are an obvious flight risk,” said von Spakovsky. “These judges are making mistakes granting bail to illegal aliens – reckless mistakes that endangered the public.”

The willingness of judges to grant bail to illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes compounds the ongoing controversy involving so-called sanctuary cities. Such jurisdictions, either by local statute or practice, refuse to inform federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when an illegal immigrant is detained.

But even jurisdictions that do not implement sanctuary policies believe that two federal court rulings, the 2013 California “Trust Act,” which limits “cruel and costly immigration hold requests in local jails,” and an ambiguous White House policy all bar them from holding illegal immigrants who have posted bail until federal authorities can collect and deport them – even if ICE asks them to via what is known as a “detainer request.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued jurisdictions that attempted to honor the ICE detainers, and the Department of Justice has not intervened in the cases to underscore its support of them. As a result, local law enforcement agencies say they have no choice but to let even violent illegal immigrant suspects walk once they are granted bail.

“Yes, the judges who ignore this risk are at fault, but Congress provided ICE with a tool to address the problem — detainers — which the Obama administration is not allowing its officers to use,” Vaughan said.


In the cases of both Chavez and Vasquez, ICE issued detainer requests. In Chavez’s case, ICE agents did not arrive prior to bail being posted. In the case of Vasquez, ICE isn’t immediately taking custody or deporting Vasquez, so that he remains in the U.S. at least resolving the legal proceedings surrounding the hit-and-run charge.

Don's son Drew

Don’s son Drew

Don Rosenberg, who, after his 25-year-old son Drew was killed by an unlicensed immigrant driver in San Francisco five years ago, began closely tracking illegal immigrant crime, said the biggest problem he sees is “people in power don’t care.” He blames judges for granting bail, but also holds law enforcement accountable for caving in to the threat of lawsuits.

“How can anyone who in law enforcement let people like this out of custody who we know will likely hurt someone badly, if not kill them, even if they are threatened with a lawsuit?” Rosenberg said. “It’s pure callous indifference. I don’t know how they live with themselves.”