In 2015, the Minnesota Supreme Court authorized a pilot program to allow limited audio and video coverage of criminal proceedings in the state trial courts. The pilot ended in December, and the state’s advisory committee on criminal rules has recommended that the pilot procedures be adopted permanently. The Supreme Court is now seeking public comment on this proposal.
Comments are due by March 25, and a hearing will be held in April.
A Louisiana state judge has publicly stated that she and her colleagues “do not feel secure” in the New Orleans criminal courthouse, citing a dwindling police presence and lax security measures at courthouse entrances.
Previously, at least three unarmed deputies usually were in place to supervise significant numbers of inmates, keep order over audiences and issue subpoenas upon judges’ orders. Recently there have been only two per courtroom, or on rare occasions one.
Officers of the court — such as attorneys and clerk staff — also generally are waved through metal detectors at the court’s two public entrances without being subjected to a search of their person or belongings. [Judge] Flemings-Davillier said that, too, needs to change.
“We are asking the sheriff’s office to reinforce the rules that we already have,” she said, “because they have been lax and we have had some security issues.”
The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has stated that it is unaware of any specific threats or incidents that should make courthouse personnel uneasy.
Back in May, I flagged an interesting story about state courts radically revising the cash bail system for criminal defendants. The changes were notable in part because bail is a quintessentially American practice, and a classic example of the court system’s interdependence. In an op-ed today, Walter Olson argues that revisions to the bail system may also have had the unintended effect of causing judges to hold more criminal defendants in jail pending trial:
An early report in March by Kelsi Loos in the Frederick News-Post found that since October the share of Maryland defendants held without bail had increased from 10% to 14%. The Washington Post later reported that from September 2016 to May the figure had jumped from 7% to 15%.
Meanwhile, fewer released defendants are showing up for trial. The Post, confirming anecdotal reports, writes that the “failure to appear” rate in January was 14.5%, up five points from October. Failing to show up for court sets up a defendant for more-severe consequences down the road, which can include being held without bail.
At their core, principles of organizational independence teach that decisions have a wide range of ripple effects on all aspects of the organization. As Olson notes, it is too early to say whether Maryland’s numbers reflect causation, statistical noise, or something in between. But there should be little surprise that the decision to limit bail options, without providing other formal mechanisms to deal with moderate-level offenders, would lead to some noticeable changes in the way the system operates.
(Link may require subscription.)
The ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of Louisiana, alleging that a Baton Rouge pretrial services company required hundreds of state inmates to pay “fees” far in excess of their court-ordered bail before they could be released from jail. The lawsuit further alleges that the pretrial services company, Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI), was actively assisted by state judge Trudy White. RHI apparently supported Judge White’s 2014 re-election bid.
Although RHI has no formal contract with the state court system, Judge White allegedly ordered more than 300 criminal defendants to complete RHI’s services in 2015 and 2016–without ever inquiring into each defendant’s financial status. RHI subsequently charged the defendants hundreds of dollars in fees for its services–including a $525 “signup fee.” As a result, the suit alleges, hundreds of defendants were forced to languish in jail while friends and family scrambled to raise the needed money.
At this point, these are only allegations. But we will follow this lawsuit closely. The caption is Ayo et al. v. Dunn. et al., Case No. 3:17-cv-526.
Five men have been arrested in two Tunisian cities in recent weeks for breaking the Ramadan fast. Some are calling the arrests a violation of human rights and the imposition of religious tyranny. But John Spacapan of the American Enterprise Institute thinks it might be a positive indicator of judicial independence:
The legal dispute over these arrests arises from a paradox in the Tunisian constitution: while the constitution ensures protection from religious persecution, Article 6 makes the government “the guardian of religion.” Local courts used this clause to justify jail sentences for violating Ramadan. The limit on this kind of action lies, in part, in the Tunisian judiciary and the ability of secularists to appeal the interpretation of Article 6, a path to a precedent-setting ruling by Tunisia’s Supreme Court. In other words, an independent judiciary could be the key to establish the precedent of religious freedom essential to deepen the roots of Tunisia’s democracy.
The full article is an interesting read, and recommended.
One by one, eight state trial judges have recused themselves from presiding over a criminal case against a former New Mexico state senator. Phil Griego was indicted in June on 22 counts, including perjury and embezzlement. Among other things, Griego is alleged to have spent funds from his re-election account after resigning from the state senate in March 2015.
None of the eight judges identified a specific reason for recusing themselves from the case, with each indicating only “good cause” for the recusal. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:
Former state Supreme Court Justice Patricio Serna said one factor in the decision by so many Santa Fe judges to recuse themselves from Griego’s case might have been their role lobbying legislators for court funding.
If the need to obtain court funds from the legislature compromises judges to this extent, interdependence can become a danger to the administration of justice.
Under New York law, trial judges may withhold jurors’ addresses from the public and the parties if there is a concern for juror safety. The judge, however, may not withhold the names of jurors. A purely anonymous jury is thought to compromise due process for criminal defendants.
The New York Times reports that a state appellate court recently upheld these restrictions. In a criminal trial involving four members of an alleged street gang, the trial court declined to provide juror names to counsel, identifying jurors only by number. Defense lawyers objected, but the trial judge cited to jurors in previous cases who had expressed concerns about their safety. The defendants appealed.
This week, the appeals court sided with the defendants and granted them a new trial, holding that the trial court had violated the statute’s prohibition on purely anonymous juries.