Tag Archive: criminal justice

TONIGHT: CD12 Civil Rights & Liberties Debate – All 5 Candidates, Both Parties

New Jersey’s 12th congressional district is am

ong the best educated in the country (census). And it has been repped for 15 years by one of the most progressive members of Congress in the country (Holt: Highest Progressive Punch score in NJ’s House delegation). Part of Holt’s top designation is a near perfect ‘score’ in Human Rights & Civil Liberties, and other issues of social justice.

Hoping for a finer state of internal affairs for Newark’s police

promoted by Rosi

In the year since the ACLU of New Jersey sent a battery of grievances to the Department of Justice asking it to investigate the Newark Police Department, a few things have happened: the DOJ arrived, Police Director Garry McCarthy promptly left and, most recently, Director Samuel DeMaio and Chief Sheilah Coley have taken the helm of the department. Together, these facts hold promise that the city may at last enter a new phase of police accountability and reform.

Since May, the DOJ has gathered information on the ground from citizens and police officers. It has met with community groups and heard tragic testimony about the lives and families destroyed by the acts of abusive officers.  

Culture Shock in the Newark Police Department

promoted by Rosi

In police departments, as in biology, a culture can decide the difference between something that saves your life and something that poisons you.

The culture of a police department determines the extent of misconduct, and this certainly applies to Newark, NJ. After decades of efforts to bring accountability to the long-troubled Newark Police Department, the ACLU of New Jersey last year documented widespread reports of police misconduct, including hundreds of allegations of false arrests, sexual assaults, excessive force and deaths in custody. That thick record of abuse helped bring in the U.S. Department of Justice, which announced in May that it would investigate the Newark Police.

Yet just tallying up the number of incidents fails to illustrate how significantly the attitudes of police brass can reinforce unethical behavior behind the precinct doors. The only way to see the corrosive effects of a dysfunctional culture is firsthand, in the day-to-day operations – such as the ones carried out in this confidential tape recording the ACLU-NJ received.

In this 30-minute recording, a former police officer calls the police department to report that his wife, a current police officer, was sexually assaulted by another member of the force. As we hear the officer who took the complaint report the incident to supervisors, the tone of the conversations range from callous to cruel, but never concerned.

more…

Musings on the Aitken case: Mandatory minimums and miscarriages of justice

On Monday, Governor Christie popped his pardon cherry by commuting the sentence of Brian Aitken, who was serving 3-7 years in prison for gun possession. I won’t rehash the facts of the case at length because you can find them in the Star Ledger article linked above and elsewhere. Aitken was sentenced under a law passed in 2008 which mandated 3-year minimum sentence for persons convicted of possessing an unlicensed handgun. The prosecutor offered a plea bargain where Aitken would serve 1 year in prison, but Aitken declined. The case went to trial, where Aitken’s lawyers tried to argue that an exception to the state law, which allows people who are moving from one state to another to carry weapons licensed in another state (Aitken had purchased the handguns while living in Colorado), but the judge refused to allow the jury to consider this argument, presumably because Aitken had been living in the state for several months. He was convicted and sentenced to serve a minimum three years in prison as required by law.

Setting aside any errors the trial judge may have made and other procedural issues, this case brings two substantive policy questions to the fore: First, should New Jersey require people to obtain a license to possess a handgun? Second, presuming New Jersey should require a license for handgun possession, should it punish those who do not obtain such a license with a mandatory three-year minimum sentence?

I think almost all readers (and probably all but one or two legislators) would agree. I find the second question far more interesting and pertinent, because it is an instance of .

Musings on the Aitken case: Mandatory minimums and miscarriages of justice

On Monday, Governor Christie popped his pardon cherry by commuting the sentence of Brian Aitken, who was serving 3-7 years in prison for gun possession. I won’t rehash the facts of the case at length because you can find them in the Star Ledger article linked above and elsewhere. Aitken was sentenced under a law passed in 2008 which mandated 3-year minimum sentence for persons convicted of possessing an unlicensed handgun. The prosecutor offered a plea bargain where Aitken would serve 1 year in prison, but Aitken declined. The case went to trial, where Aitken’s lawyers tried to argue that an exception to the state law, which allows people who are moving from one state to another to carry weapons licensed in another state (Aitken had purchased the handguns while living in Colorado), but the judge refused to allow the jury to consider this argument, presumably because Aitken had been living in the state for several months. He was convicted and sentenced to serve a minimum three years in prison as required by law.

Setting aside any errors the trial judge may have made and other procedural issues, this case brings two substantive policy questions to the fore: First, should New Jersey require people to obtain a license to possess a handgun? Second, presuming New Jersey should require a license for handgun possession, should it punish those who do not obtain such a license with a mandatory three-year minimum sentence?

I think almost all readers (and probably all but one or two legislators) would agree. I find the second question far more interesting and pertinent, because it is an instance of .

I need your help with New Year’s resolutions

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi

Let freedom ring in the New Year.

Like many of you, the ACLU-NJ has a list of resolutions for 2010. However, unlike most New Jerseyans – but keeping in good company with Blue Jersey’s politicos – we only have about a week to see results. Here’s our list, and we need help to keep it.

1. To save money (while making government records more accessible). We’re working to pass a bill that would bring the government’s fees to copy public records in line with what it actually costs to copy them. Cities have charged as much as $10 for the first three pages – far higher than what you’ll find at your local copy shop. It protects our democracy, and it makes cents. Read ACLU-NJ Open Government Attorney Bobby Conner’s op-ed in The Star-Ledgeron lowering the cost of copies.

2. To treat people fairly. The ACLU-NJ is fighting to make sure all families in New Jersey are equal by giving same-sex couples their right to marry. Read ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas’ piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer about marriage.

3. To help people when they need it most. Our criminal justice system doesn’t do much to stop crime or mete out justice. A package of bills offers reforms proven to help people avoid resorting to crime once they re-enter the real world. The bills offer food stamps to former prisoners, remove barriers to finding work, help prisoners get their GED and, perhaps most important, end huge fees families must pay to collect calls from their loved ones. Read my op-ed in The Record about redemption through intelligent criminal justice reforms.

If you help us keep our resolutions by calling your legislators TODAY, we’ll help you keep yours. (As far as we’re concerned, exercising your right to free speech absolutely counts as exercise.) So get active (on the issues) and call your legislators to suggest some resolutions, before the clock on opportunity strikes midnight.

Happy New Year,

Deborah

p.s. If you need to look up your legislators, enter your address here, and then find your officials’ information.

NJ Death Penalty Hearings News Roundup

Yesterday the Death Penalty Study Commission met for the first time.  There was a very good showing by opponents of the death penalty including Barry Scheck and Larry Peterson (pictured*), the first person in NJ to be exonerated using DNA evidence, as well as Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person in the US to be exonerated using DNA evidence, Lorry Post founder of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty,  Bishop John Smith from the Diocese of Trenton and William Bolan executive director of the NJ Catholic Conference.

Bishop Smith explained as he testified before the panel,

The death penalty in our view is not consistent with evolving standards of decency.  The death penalty diminishes all of us.  We cannot teach respect for life by taking life.

Cross posted on Pax Christi Summit

Death Penalty Hearings to Begin in Trenton

I received a call from Abe at New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.  They are trying to make a good showing at the first hearing of the Death Penalty Study Commission which is scheduled for next Wednesday in Trenton.

The target is to have 200 NJADP members and supporters at the hearing.  Anyone who is available next week is encouraged to go.  If you are planning on attending please contact Abe at the NJADP Trenton Office 800-973-6548.  Here are the rest of the details.

NJ Death Penalty Abolition Lobby Building Steam

New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty has been working since 1999 to end the use of the death penalty in New Jersey. At the beginning of this year they accomplished a huge goal when then Governor Codey signed the current moratorium bill which created a panel to study the death penalty and make a recomendation to the State Legislature on its continued use.  Without wasting any time on the celebration they went to work lobbying for an abolition bill which if signed into law would replace the the sentence of “death” with the sentence of “life without the possibility of parole”.

In the last two weeks both the Star Ledger and Philadelphia Inquirer have run some op-eds and articles that are very favorable to NJADP’s cause.  According to Celeste Fitzgerald the Executive Director of NJADP

Two of them address how the death penalty revictimizes surviving family members.  In another, Larry Peterson discusses his experience as an innocent man who New Jersey sought to execute.  And, in a Saturday, June 17, 2006 editorial, the Star Ledger writes that ‘opponents and proponents of capital punishment realize a far more sensible approach would be to give the most heinous killers life in prison without possibility of parole…It’s time to end the charade.'”

Below is a listing of the articles with links to each…