Results tagged “U.S. Supreme Court” from The Court Reporter

Fixing California's Prisons Could Be Very Long and Costly Battle For Taxpayers

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar
 

The Star reported Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown is asking a federal three judge panel to drop its order for further reduction of the prison inmate population.

Brown is quoted as saying that the prison overcrowding problem has been fixed.

"The prison emergency is over in California is over," Brown is quoted in the front-page article. "The trouble situation in California prisons has been remedied.  It is now time to return control of the prison system to California."

Inmate-advocate groups decried Brown's actions, saying overcrowding remains a severe problem and that remedies exist to fix that situation without endangering public safety, the article stated.

Good luck, governor.

There are two inmate lawsuits that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that should concern  California taxpayers:  the 1972 case of Ruiz vs. Estelle and the  2007 case of Jones vs. Bock.

Ruiz vs. Estelle underscores the staying power of the federal courts, and Jones vs. Bock clears the way for inmates to file civil rights complaints and rejecting the existing law that stated that inmates had to exhaust prison grievance procedures before suing the prison about their treatment.

I recall while working in El Paso and covering the courts and the criminal justice system after the federal courts had taken control over the state's prison system, which resulted in a 10 year takeover.

The litigation started when a prison inmate,  David Ruiz, sued the director of the Texas Department of Corrections, William J. Estelle in 1972.

The Ruiz vs. Estelle case was the longest running prison lawsuit in U.S. history, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Citing violation violations of the 8th Amendment, inmate David Ruiz said Texas' prison constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" including overcrowding, inadequate security, inadequate health care (sound familiar), unsafe working conditions and severe and arbitrary disciplinary procedures.

"If you cage an animal and kick him every day, one day that animal is going to attack," Ruiz told an AP reporter in a 1992 interview. "I never asked for a Holiday Inn. I asked to be treated as a human being."

After eight years of legal haggling, the case went to trial. The trial lasted 129 days, resulting in a U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, citing mistreatment, institutionalized neglect and inadequate resources.

In his ruling and after listening to 80 witnesses,  federal Judge William Wayne Justice ruled:  "The evidence before the court revealed a prison in which rapes, beatings and servitude are the currency of power. To preserve their physical safety, some vulnerable inmates simply subject to being bought and sold among groups of prison predators...To expect such a world to rehabilitate wrong-doers is absurd. To allow such a world to exist is unconstitutional."

 Judge Justice ordered sweeping and dramatic changes in the state's prison system.

Texas officials filed appeals that lead to reversing parts of Justice's 1980 ruling.

An agreement was reached that there would be a 95 percent prison capacity, the separation of hardcore offenders from other inmates, the hiring of more prison guards and improving of the medical treatment of prisoners.

Judge Justice had an iron hand on the oversight of the prison system until 1994, and maintained limited control until 2003.

To comply with the 95 percent cap, prisoners were given early releases for good behavior and others, usually nonviolent criminals, served only a fraction of their prison sentences.

I recall an interview with then El Paso Sheriff Leo Samaniego, a no-nonsense and tough lawman, about the inmates convicted in El Paso serving a few years of lengthy prison sentences.

"They just go up there to take a shower and they put them back on the bus and send them back," Samaniego  quipped in frustration with his Mex-Tex drawl. "Why even bother?"

One white-collar criminal given a 10-year prison returned to the county after service less than three years.

There were hundreds of other examples of early prisoner releases to the community. Some were violent criminals.

The state residents were outraged and demanded changes.  State prison officials processed newly arrived prisoners through the front doors and released others through the back door to keep from violating Judge Justice's 95 prison capacity ruling.

The recidivism rate rose dramatically.

The newspaper,  El Paso Herald-Post, sent myself, reporter Jim Bole and a female photographer named Nan (can't recall her last name) to report on the broken Lone Star State's prisons.

I wrote about Judge Justice's ruling dismantled the prison's "building tenders" system.  Building tenders were handpicked goons who were given carte blanche by the prison guards to beat, rape, murder and torture other inmates believed to be troublemakers or who were complaining.

I remember this is what the prison guards called this building-tender brutality on inmates: "A little thump therapy to set his heart right."


After the building tender system was dissolved, there was a power vacuum in the prison system.

Inmates began forming groups, mostly along racial lines.  First the groups were organized for protection and cultural pride. Soon, it was to control the drugs, prostitution, extortion and power inside the prison walls.

Prison gangs -- Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia,  Aryan Brotherhood to name a few -- were formed and it resulted in an explosion of violence in 1980s.

By the end of the 1980s, Texas residents, many who had disdain for Judge Justice, decided to pay for a billion dollar prison construction to relieve the overcrowding   that expanded the prison units from 18 at the time of the Ruiz trial to more than 90 units by the 1990s.

The Jones vs. Bock case means that jailhouse lawyers can now circumvent the prison's grievance system

Inmates can now go directly to the federal courts with their civil rights complaints, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007.

David Ruiz, who filed the historic lawsuit, was the son of migrant farm workers and the youngest of 13 children.

He was a self-educated jailhouse lawyer who took on human rights abuses in prison.

Ruiz wrote his 1972 complain that was handwritten at least partially on toilet paper, according to published reports.

Ruiz died of natural causes in prison on Nov. 11, 2005. He was serving a life-sentence for aggravated robbery and had spent all but four years of his adult life in prison.

At his funeral was Judge Justice who was 86 years old, sat quietly among family, friends and ex-prisoners. The funeral service was held at a church in East Austin, according to published reports.

 

For more information on Ruiz vs. Estelle: http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/just/features/0505_01/ruiz.html

 

Thank you, Judge Ryan Wright

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar
 

I received an email from Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ryan Wright about the U.S. Supreme Court case -- Presley vs. Georgia.

This is the case where the nation's highest court said that courtrooms should be opened to the public even during the jury selection process.

I stated in my blog that was posted on Monday that twice in the last three months I have been told by  courtroom bailiffs that I couldn't stay for jury selection because all the courtroom seats would be taken up by  jury panels.

In a nutshell, Judge Wright stated in his email that he was glad I wrote the blog post, saying that as a student of American History he understands that there are very sound reasons why courtrooms must be open.

"I personally brought your blog post to the attention of the Presiding Judge and the Sheriff's Department. They are taking care of it. I doubt you will have that problem again," Judge Wright stated.
 

Thank you for your help, Judge Wright.





Psst...U.S.Supreme Court Wants Courts Open During Jury Selection

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar
 

Psst.

The U.S. Supreme Court is very serious about keeping courtrooms open to the public even during jury selection.

It's been two years since the Presley vs. Georgia case and the word hasn't apparently filtered down to the Ventura County Hall of Justice.

Twice, I have been told by  courtroom bailiffs that I couldn't stay for jury selection because all the courtroom seats would be taken up by  jury panels.    

Today, was the second time it happened within the last three months.

(The judges and lawyers, not the bailiffs, should be the ones who make sure the Supreme Court ruling is followed.)

What I am surprised at is that neither defense attorneys nor defendants are aware of the high court ruling because denying the public the right to attend the jury selection process will probably get a criminal conviction tossed out.

 Here is some information from an earlier column I wrote on my blog about Presley vs. Georgia.

This is what happened in Georgia in 2007: A judge threw out the uncle of a defendant during selection, saying her courtroom was too small to accommodate both potential jurors and the public.

The judge said:

" 'Well, the uncle can certainly come back in once the trial starts. There's no, really no need for the uncle to be present during jury selection... . [W]e have 42 jurors coming up. Each of those rows will be occupied by jurors. And his uncle cannot sit and intermingle with members of the jury panel. But, when the trial starts, the opening statements and other matters, he can certainly come back into the courtroom.' " 

 

The defendant, Eric Presley who was convicted of trafficking in cocaine, appealed, citing his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.

In 2010, the United States Supreme in the case of Presley vs. Georgia agreed with the defendant and overturned Presley's conviction, noting that the public trial right is founded in both the Sixth and First Amendment.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling:

"Trial courts are obligated to take every reasonable measure to accommodate public attendance at criminal trials. Nothing in the record shows that the trial court could not have accommodated the public at Presley's trial. Without knowing the precise circumstances, some possibilities include reserving one or more rows for the public; dividing the jury venire panel to reduce courtroom congestion; or instructing prospective jurors not to engage or interact with audience members."

To review the entire Presley vs. Georgia case courtesy of Cornell University School of Law go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-5270.ZPC.html

             In addition,  the U.S. Supreme Court's 1980 case Richmond Newspaper vs. Virginia, the justices stated that trials must be open to public access unless there is a compelling reason in closing them, and only after a hearing concludes that no other means exist to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial.

In that court case, then Chief Justice Burger noted that "where a trial has been concealed from public view, the unexpected outcome can cause a reaction that the system at best has failed and at worst has been corrupted."

The Supreme Court found four benefits to open trials: public confidence is enhanced in the judicial system; the public serves as a watchdog against abuses; public trials promote the truth finding process and helps achieve a community catharsis following a serious crime.

 

Thought You'd Like to Know

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar
 

The Miranda Rights, which begin with "you have the right to remain silent" and further state "anything said can and will be used against you in a court of law" were spawned from the 1966 landmark case of Miranda vs. Arizona.

In 1963, Ernesto Miranda, of Phoenix, was arrested and charged with rape, kidnapping and robbery. Miranda was not informed of his rights before being interviewed. During an interrogation, Miranda allegedly confessed to the crimes.

Miranda had not finished ninth grade and had a mental problems. At trial, the prosecution's case against Miranda consisted only of his confession. Miranda was convicted and sentenced to prison.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Miranda's confession could not be used as evidence in a criminal trial because police failed to tell Miranda of his constitutional rights to an attorney and against self-incrimination.

Without his confession but using other evidence and witnesses, Miranda was retried and convicted in 1967. He was sent to prison and paroled in 1972. After his release, Miranda returned to his old neighborhood where he made a modest living autographing Miranda Rights cards for police officers and others. The cards have the text of the written warning and are read to suspects by officers.

In 1976, Miranda was stabbed to death at a bar during an argument.

For information buy the 55-page booklet "Historic Supreme Court Decisions: Miranda vs. Arizona" for .99 cents http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZUS9T0/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

Or visit: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_miranda.html

 

Put Down the Remote and Head to the Hall of Justice

Share: Share on Facebook submit to reddit StumbleUpon Toolbar
 

Occasionally, I'll bump into a person in the Hall of Justice corridors, usually a college student on a school assignment, who will ask if he or she is allowed to go inside a courtroom.

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court makes this very clear: courtrooms are open to the public and can only be closed if there is a compelling reason to do so.

Here what is what the Supreme Court has said about courtroom trials.

In the U.S. Supreme Court's 1980 case Richmond Newspaper vs. Virginia, the justices stated that trials must be open to public access unless there is a compelling reason in closing them, and only after a hearing concludes that no other means exist to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial.

In that court case, then Chief Justice Burger noted that "where a trial has been concealed from public view, the unexpected outcome can cause a reaction that the system at best has failed and at worst has been corrupted."

The Supreme Court found four benefits to open trials: public confidence is enhanced in the judicial system; the public serves as a watchdog against abuses; public trials promote the truth finding process and helps achieve a community catharsis following a serious crime.

Also people can attend preliminary hearings and jury selection.

This is what happened in Georgia in 2007: A judge threw out the uncle of a defendant during selection, saying her courtroom was too small to accommodate both potential jurors and the public.

The judge said:

" 'Well, the uncle can certainly come back in once the trial starts. There's no, really no need for the uncle to be present during jury selection... . [W]e have 42 jurors coming up. Each of those rows will be occupied by jurors. And his uncle cannot sit and intermingle with members of the jury panel. But, when the trial starts, the opening statements and other matters, he can certainly come back into the courtroom.' " 

 

The defendant, Eric Presley who was convicted of trafficking in cocaine, appealed, citing his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.

In 2010, the United States Supreme in the case of Presley vs. Georgia agreed with the defendant and overturned Presley's conviction, noting that the public trial right is founded in both the Sixth and First Amendment.

The Supreme Court said in its ruling:

"Trial courts are obligated to take every reasonable measure to accommodate public attendance at criminal trials. Nothing in the record shows that the trial court could not have accommodated the public at Presley's trial. Without knowing the precise circumstances, some possibilities include reserving one or more rows for the public; dividing the jury venire panel to reduce courtroom congestion; or instructing prospective jurors not to engage or interact with audience members."

So put down the TV remote and go watch our judicial system. It is a tremendous learning opportunity.

To review the entire Presley vs. Georgia case courtesy of Cornell University School of Law go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-5270.ZPC.html

 

The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at rhernandez@vcstar.com.