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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case on Jail Booking Fees

by Christopher Zoukis

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to rule on the issue of jail “booking fees” – fees charged when arrestees are jailed, which are not always returned upon their release.

The case involved a $25 fee charged to everyone arrested in Ramsey County, Minnesota. One person who was arrested, charged $25 and then released found out how hard it is to get a refund. Corey Statham had been arrested for disorderly conduct, but his case was dismissed and he was freed from jail. When he tried to get his $25 back, Statham learned that he would first have to prove his innocence before the booking fee would be returned.

Attorney Jason M. Hiveley, representing Ramsey County, acknowledged there are hoops to jump through in order to get the $25 fee back. “There is some legwork involved,” he said. “They can do it as soon as they have the evidence that they haven’t been found guilty.”

Forcing defendants to prove they aren’t guilty in order to have their own money returned runs afoul of the presumption of innocence and the right to due process, Statham argued. Additionally, jail booking fees such as those in Ramsey ...

Seventh Circuit Allows Prisoner’s Eighth Amendment Claim to Proceed

by Christopher Zoukis

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a district court’s ruling that a former prisoner’s Eighth Amendment claim of cruel and unusual punishment could not go forward. The appellate court did, however, uphold the dismissal of a First Amendment claim.

Seyon R. Haywood accused a prison teacher of attacking him while he was incarcerated at the Shawnee Correctional Center in Illinois. He was charged with making a false statement and ended up in segregation for two months; he also lost one month of good-time credits.

While in segregation, Haywood claimed that he suffered freezing conditions due to a broken window in his cell and the failure of the prison’s power system during a winter storm. He complained, but no one fixed the window and he was refused extra clothes or blankets.

Haywood sued the warden, Jody Hathaway, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and claimed the disciplinary charge had violated his right to free speech. Applying precedent, the Seventh Circuit held his damages claim could not proceed because the disciplinary conviction had not been overturned. “Heck [v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)] and Edwards [v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997 ...

Obama Publishes Commentary on Criminal Justice Reform in Harvard Law Review

by Christopher Zoukis

Barack Obama made history by becoming the first president to contribute to legal scholarship by having an article published in a law journal while in office. The article, titled “The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform,” appeared in the January 2017 issue of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, a publication that Obama once headed as a student in 1990. He was the first black president of the journal.

The 56-page commentary focused on why criminal justice reform is necessary, what reforms were made during Obama’s tenure as president and the future of reform efforts. White House staff told reporters that the article was intended to keep the issue of criminal justice reform alive and moving forward in future administrations.

“It is my hope,” said then-White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, “that by publishing a piece of this scope in the Harvard Law Review, the president can educate the next generation of lawyers about these issues.”

The article begins with Obama’s understanding of why a fair and effective justice system is crucial to the success of a modern democracy, given the massive expenditures of the criminal justice system as well as current opinions on crime ...

Community Funds, Federal Legislation Challenging Bail System from Different Angles

by Christopher Zoukis

Kalief Browder was a 16-year-old arrested in New York City in 2012 on charges of stealing a backpack. The charges were later dismissed, but not before he sat in jail on Rikers Island for three years – part of which was spent in solitary confinement – because he couldn’t afford to post $3,000 bail. He committed suicide after his release, in 2015.

Browder’s story was cited by U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul when announcing legislation they had jointly sponsored in July 2017.

The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 (S.1593) would incentivize states with $10 million in grant funding over a three-year period to change or eliminate money bail by implementing “individualized, pretrial assessments with risk-based decision making.” The bill is supported by more than 30 criminal justice organizations.

Meanwhile, another reform effort is taking aim at the money bail system from a grassroots level. Volunteers organizing themselves into community bail funds are raising money and pooling resources to post bond for those who cannot afford it. Community bail funds have been established in New York, Chicago, Massachusetts, Connecticut and California, among other areas. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.30 ...

$5,485,394 Award in New York Wrongful Conviction Case

Daniel Gristwood was a 29-year-old printer when he was arrested for the attempted murder of his wife on January 12, 1996. He initially confessed to the crime, and was convicted in New York state court based on that confession. Gristwood was sentenced to 12.5 years to 25 years in prison.

During his prison term, Gristwood recanted his confession, claiming that it had been coerced. And in 2003, another person confessed to the crime. Gristwood's conviction was subsequently vacated in 2005, and he was freed from prison.

Gristwood hired Syracuse attorneys William F. Lynn, Thomas F. Shannon, and Patricia A. Lynn-Ford of the Lynn Law Firm and sued the State of New York for wrongful prosecution. He claimed that his confession, which was the result of a 16 hour interrogation during a 36 hour period of no sleep, was coerced. His experts testified that the length of the interrogation, lack of food and water, and lack of sleep all rendered the confession bogus. The prosecutor who tried the criminal case also testified that without the confession, there would have been no case.

Gristwood's expert psychologist testified that during his nine years of incarceration, Gristwood suffered from anxiety, depression ...

Ohio Supreme Court Declares Poor Relative Not Suitable to Adopt Her Nephew

By Christopher Zoukis

The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling that an imprisoned mother's sister was not a suitable placement for the mother's sheltered child because she was poor.

Brittany J. gave birth to A.J. in July 2014 while imprisoned on a five year sentence for robbery. A.J. was declared neglected and in need of shelter due to Brittany's incarceration. The Crawford County, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services ("the agency") gained custody of A.J. and proceeded to evaluate possible placement of the child.

A.J.'s reputed father, Brian, and his mother Brittany attempted to engage in a reunification plan, but Brian failed to comply with the plan in almost every respect. As a result, the agency abandoned reunification efforts, instituted proceedings to terminate parental rights, and moved for permanent custody of the child.

In an effort to find suitable placement for A.J., the agency investigated Jody J., a maternal aunt. However, because she had been charged with child endangerment in 2002, the agency deemed her unsuitable. The agency also cited Jody's lack of income at the time of her home study in its determination.

The trial ...

Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s Failure to Protect Claim

by Christopher Zoukis

In March 2016, the Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim in a case that subsequently settled.

The prisoner, James Herman Raynor, was held at the Sussex II State Prison in Virginia. In November 2012, Raynor, who suffers from seizures, blackouts, heart issues and breathing problems, asked to be moved to a different cell with a “caretaker” who had volunteered to help him with his various medical needs. As is typical, his request was ignored.

Raynor renewed his request on January 10, 2013 with G. Pugh, his Housing Manager. That same day Pugh told Raynor that he was going to move his cellmate, K. Mullins, instead.

Mullins did not take kindly to that plan, and in front of Pugh allegedly told Raynor “it’s on,” and that they were both “going to seg.” According to Raynor, Pugh said he didn’t care what Mullins did and ordered the two men into a cell.

Housing Manager Pugh then watched as Mullins pummeled Raynor to the floor and smashed his television. According to Raynor’s complaint, Pugh didn’t call for assistance or do anything until after the attack was over.

Raynor ...

Eighth Circuit Greenlights Jail Detainee’s Excessive Force Claim, but Loss at Trial Affirmed on Appeal

by Christopher Zoukis

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court’s ruling that held a jail detainee’s excessive force and assault and battery claims could not go forward.

Henry M. Davis was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri for driving while intoxicated between 3 and 4 a.m. on September 20, 2009. During the booking process, he was instructed to enter an occupied, one-person cell without a mat. Davis refused unless provided a mat from a nearby stack. Officers John Beaird and Christopher Pillarick called for backup and Officers Michael White, Kim Tihen and William Ballard responded. A “short, bloody fight” ensued, and Davis and White were hospitalized.

Later testimony indicated that White, Beaird and Tihen beat and kicked Davis after he was handcuffed and subdued on the floor. After the incident, Beaird drafted four complaints, each charging Davis with the offense of “property damage” for getting blood on the officers’ uniforms.

Following his release from the hospital, Davis sued the officers and the City of Ferguson. He asserted 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against the officers for use of excessive force; he sued the city for municipal liability and Beaird individually for filing false complaints ...

Virginia Governor Grants Full Pardons to the “Norfolk Four”

by Christopher Zoukis

Four former U.S. Navy veterans wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman have been granted full pardons by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Eric Wilson, Danial Williams, Derek Tice and Joseph Dick, Jr., known as the “Norfolk Four,” were arrested for raping and killing Michelle Moore-Bosko in 1997. Based almost entirely on false confessions, Williams, Tice and Dick were convicted of both crimes and sentenced to life in prison. Wilson, convicted of rape, received eight-and-a-half years.

After an investigation revealed that the confessions were coerced by detective Glenn Ford – who is serving 12 years in prison for lying to the FBI in unrelated cases – and that another man had confessed to the crime, Virginia authorities took another look at the Norfolk Four.

Concluding that crime scene and forensic evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the guilt of Omar Ballard, the suspect who had confessed, then-Governor Tim Kaine conditionally pardoned Williams, Tice and Dick after they had served 11 years. Wilson, who had already been released, was not pardoned at that time.

The failure to pardon Wilson meant that he remained a registered sex offender despite having been wrongfully convicted. As a result ...

Prisons, Jails Combat Smuggling by Shredding Mail, Requiring Fresh Underwear

by Christopher Zoukis

The regional jail system in West Virginia receives and screens about 300,000 pieces of mail per year. Some letters contain illegal substances being smuggled into facilities for prisoners, particularly subuxone; in response, the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has implemented a new rule meant to foil such attempts.

The rule, which was reported by USA Today on March 27, 2017, is simple and straightforward: All incoming mail is shredded.

Of course, prisoners have a constitutional right to receive mail. So West Virginia regional jail officials are photocopying all incoming mail, shredding the original and distributing the copies to prisoners.

The Virginia Department of Corrections instituted a similar rule on April 17, 2017. According to VDOC official Lisa Kinney, nine prisoners have died since 2015 due to heroin overdoses; she also noted that drugs were intercepted in the mail a dozen times last year.

“These policy updates are a result of what we’ve seen,” Kinney said.

In an attempt to curtail smuggling during contact visitation, the VDOC also implemented a new policy that requires prisoners to strip out prior to a visit and put on state-issued clothing, including fresh underwear and socks ...


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