Articles Posted in Civil Rights

Illinois has officially become the first state in the country to eliminate cash bail. Proponents of the measure say that it punishes the poor unfairly. The Pretrial Fairness Act prevents judges from setting bail but gives them broader discretion to deny release to those accused of violent crimes. Those opposed to the measure included prosecutors and police officers who see it as being “soft on crime.”

The measure is seen as leveling the playing field for Black, Brown, and poor communities that can’t afford to pay their way out of jail even when they are not a risk to the community. A 2022 civil rights report on cash bail showed that, on average, Black arrestees are required to pay 35% more than their white counterparts. Latinos on average pay 19% more. Hence, the system was intrinsically racist and remains so in states that have not eliminated cash bail. An estimated 60% of defendants ended up in jail because they could not afford to post bail. 

Critics of the measure believe that this will allow dangerous people back on the streets. Law enforcement and other critics of the measure believe that now that cash bail has ended, defendants have no incentive to return to court. This will end up creating a situation where they are searching for defendants who are let out of jail.

Over the past decade, Chicago has placed restrictions on employers when they consider the criminal history of job applicants. These measures have been called “ban-the-box” ordinances. Chicago’s ordinance mirrored statewide requirements under the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act (JOQAA). On April 24, 2023, the City of Chicago passed substantial amendments to the ban-the-box ordinance, which is set to take effect immediately.

The purpose of the legislation is to prevent recidivism by giving those with criminal histories a better opportunity to find gainful employment and keep themselves out of trouble. 

Prior Ban-the-Box Restrictions

Just seeing a drug-sniffing dog can be nerve-wracking, and having one sniff your body, compound, car, or belongings can feel like an infringement on your privacy. These dogs are a common sight in airports and functions such as festivals where large crowds of people gather to have fun.

Apart from airports and music festivals, you might have seen these dogs at a traffic stop and wondered if it was legal for the police to have them there. 

The Case of Illinois V. Caballes

Illinois officials have emphasized re-entry services for inmates who have been convicted of serious crimes. But finding steady employment, even for those who earned master’s degrees while inside, remains difficult. Part of the issue is related to their incarceration, but another part of the issue has to do with the fact that employers are not likely to hire someone with a master’s degree for low-level warehouse work. The employer will figure they will get bored with the job and be gone in a few weeks. 

Now one former inmate who was convicted of murder says he’s having difficulty finding work despite the fact that he has a master’s degree. It further becomes a problem when the former inmate has no legitimate means of earning money. The chances of that inmate going back to prison escalate exponentially. 

What Prevents Former Inmates From Getting Jobs?

It is no secret that criminal justice reform feels like a slap in the face to police officers. It stands to reason, then, that some police departments would refuse to implement provisions passed in 2021. 

In 2021, Illinois passed the Pretrial Fairness Act, which extended privileges to those awaiting trial and under electronic monitoring. Among other things, it allowed individuals to leave their houses for essential business. During certain periods of certain days, they were allowed to leave the house to run errands. 

However, Cook County has been denying essential days to those who also work. The measure was implemented unilaterally by the Cook County sheriff, and many believe that it is a violation of the law, if not the letter of the law, then at least the spirit of the law. But perhaps that is the point. 

States across the U.S. are seeing labor shortages, perhaps due to COVID-19 or unprecedented job growth in recent years. Nonetheless, there are not enough Americans to fill the vacancies. Where can we find more laborers? Well, legislators are now looking at Illinois’ prisons to see if they can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. 

However, there remain several pitfalls for those released from prison, not the least of which is very few schools will take prison transfer credits. Why would they? Illinois requires that all potential barbers get 1,500 hours of credits before their licensing. This, of course, costs a lot of money. Those coming out of prison would have to pay for the entire 1,500 hours as opposed to transferring their credits from prison to the new school. Right now, very few schools are willing to take transfer credits from prison. 

Now, it is becoming clear that reducing requirements, including high school diplomas or GEDs, is necessary to train the next generation of truck drivers, barbers, and other professional trades. Eliminating these barriers would make it easier for everyone to apply for these jobs. It would also cost less to apply for certification. These costs often present a barrier to entry for many of the urban poor who end up relying on banditry to acquire money. When there’s no hope that functioning within the system will result in a positive outcome, then the only option is to operate outside of it. 

An off-duty police officer accused a teen of stealing his son’s bike. The teen believes he was profiled only because he was Black. The ensuing altercation was caught on video and the family is calling for the DA to press charges. In the video, the officer can be seen pressing his knee into the teen’s back in a scene eerily reminiscent of the George Floyd incident. 

The teen’s friends intervened on his behalf as the officer accused the teen of stealing his son’s bike. The teen appears to be the only person with brown skin in the area at the time, according to the family. The officer works for Chicago P.D. but the incident happened in another jurisdiction, Park Ridge. The incident is being investigated by both Chicago and Park Ridge P.D. There has yet to be an announcement whether criminal charges against the officer will be pursued. 

It is completely unclear why the officer thought the boy had stolen his son’s bike, if the bike looked like a previously stolen bike, or what was going on in the officer’s mind at the time he chose to detain the boy while off-duty. What is clear is that the officer conducted no investigation, did not ask the boy any questions, and did not have the authority to pursue the matter without more information. 

A white Chicago officer has been officially charged after an altercation with a Black woman who was walking her dog. The defendant has since resigned from the police force and has been charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct. The 52-year-old officer resigned prior to an official disciplinary hearing. 

The altercation ensued when the officer found a woman walking her dog along the beach. The officer detained the woman and told her the beach was closed. The woman said she felt threatened and asked the officer to step back. At that point, the officer grabbed the woman. The incident was not only caught on bodycam but a bystander recorded much of the altercation. 

The victim told the press that she believed the incident was racially motivated. She also said that she did not believe that all cops were bad people, but this particular cop was a bad apple. As a criminal defense attorney, you wish that people remembered the entirety of the cliche. A few bad apples can spoil the bunch. 

Pursuit issues have long been a public safety problem, but the majority of these issues are related to vehicles. Police are afraid that pursuing vehicles can result in pedestrian deaths, personal injury lawsuits, auto injuries, and property damage. They are likewise afraid of making a bad situation worse. It is more complicated by the fact that fleeing a police officer is itself a criminal act and in some states, the stakes are very high. While you will not see prosecutions like this in Illinois, certain Southern states can charge you with murder if a police officer murders your friend who is also fleeing police. In other words, there is a lot of controversy over pursuit of suspects, how to do it safely, and how to avoid lawsuits.

What we have not seen is a foot pursuit policy. This is largely because if a police officer accidentally steamrolls a bystander, they are not critically injured in the process. Nonetheless, foot pursuits do result in avoidable shootings and one of the most recent examples of this involved a 13-year-old boy. 

It is believed that the new foot pursuit policy will help prevent shootings related to minor offenses. Police will now have an identifiable policy on when they are allowed to place themselves, bystanders, or the suspect in danger. This should help reduce the overall number of police interactions.

A recent Supreme Court decision will make it more difficult for those convicted of crimes to appeal the outcome of a trial on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. The measure was decided in favor of the states in a 6-3 decision. However, the dissenting justices did not mince words when describing the decision. Judge Sotomayor called the decision “perverse.” Judge Clarence Thomas who wrote the prevailing opinion said the federal government should have minimal right to “relitigate” cases years after juries rendered a decision.

Understanding the Legal Issues

The Sixth Amendment guarantees every citizen who is charged with a crime an attorney to represent them. It is assumed that this attorney is competent, can follow the case, and is providing their client with the best possible representation under the circumstances. If they fail to do this, then the defendant can appeal a conviction on the basis that their lawyer did not represent them to the best of their ability. In these cases, the court must render a decision on whether or not a similar attorney in the same position would have taken a better approach and whether or not that approach would have made a significant difference over the outcome.

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