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Articles by Lonnie Burton

Federal Court Rules Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors Entitled to Bond Hearings, Enforcing Nineteen-Year-Old Consent Decree

by Lonnie Burton

On January 20, 2017, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted a motion seeking to enforce a nearly-two decades old consent decree and force the United States government to grant bond redetermination hearings to accompanied and unaccompanied immigrant children who have been held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for as much as three years without bond.

The consent decree at issue stemmed from a case filed in 1985 involving a class led by Jenny L. Flores, and which resulted, in part, in a settlement agreement which mandated that "a minor in deportation hearings shall be afforded a bond redetermination hearing before an immigration judge in every case." The government contended that this clause no longer applies because when Congress enacted the Homeland Security Act in 2002, it created rules which superseded the Flores Agreement, including a clause which prevents "release of unaccompanied alien children upon their own recognizance."

The federal district court granted the motion to enforce the Flores Agreement, finding that the Homeland Security Act was silent on the issue of bond hearings, or whether other provisions of the Act replaced ...

Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Legal Financial Obligations Imposed on Indigent or Disabled Defendants Unable to Pay

by Lonnie Burton

On September 22, 2016, a unanimous Washington Supreme Court held that the imposition of legal financial obligations (LFOs) on indigent or disabled defendants violates state and federal law when the trial court makes no particularized finding that the defendant has a current or future ability to pay. The ruling applies to discretionary LFOs, such as court costs and attorney’s fees, but not mandatory LFOs like restitution.

The case stemmed from a Benton County district court order that required Briana Wakefield to pay $15 per month in discretionary LFOs. Wakefield was described in court records as homeless, disabled and indigent. She received only $710 a month in Social Security payments and about $170 in state food stamp assistance.

Following her convictions for several misdemeanors, Wakefield challenged the discretionary costs imposed by the judge. The superior court granted her appeal and directed the district court to enter findings of fact setting forth “the reasons which led the court to enter these orders.” The district court then entered findings which stated Wakefield had a steady SSI income as well as “other state funded benefits,” and that she had no disability that prevented her from working. It also found that ...

Kentucky: Disciplinary Proceeding Reversed for Failure to Review Video Footage

by Lonnie Burton

On May 20, 2016, a Kentucky Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, held that a prisoner has the right, upon request, to have video surveillance footage reviewed and considered by the hearing officer during a prison disciplinary proceeding. The ruling reversed a lower court’s order.

Kristy Lawless was attacked by another prisoner at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in February 2014. During the ensuing fight, several guards came to separate the combatants. One of the guards, Jessica Evans, said she was kicked by Lawless while trying to break up the fight. Lawless was taken to segregation and charged with a disciplinary offense for “committing physical action resulting in injury to an employee.”

Lawless claimed she was only defending herself, was compliant when the guards intervened and did not kick anyone. She requested that the hearing officer review video footage of the incident to prove her side of the story. In addition, a sergeant submitted a statement that backed Lawless’ account of the altercation, saying Lawless defended herself when attacked, and when he and Evans were separating them she “complied with all directives.”

Nevertheless, Lawless was found guilty and sanctioned with 365 days in segregation ...

Marion County, Indiana Jail Plagued by Prisoner Deaths, Ensuing Lawsuits

by Lonnie Burton

As of January 2016, Marion County, Indiana Sheriff John Layton had a banner hanging above the entrance to the county jail that read “Top 1% of Sheriff’s Offices in America!” But the families of more than a dozen prisoners who died at the facility since 2009 would likely disagree with that designation.

“We all know there are serious problems at the Marion County Jail,” said attorney Eric Pavlack, who is representing several families in wrongful death suits. He described one egregious case in which “multiple guards walked by a young man’s cell while he was dying and did nothing about it for hours.”

That young man was Marshal Carman. The 29-year-old was booked into the Marion County Jail in September 2014 after trying to steal a computer from Wal-Mart as a birthday present for his son. Carman died of a heart attack in his cell in the early morning. According to a lawsuit filed by Carman’s mother, he lay on the floor naked for hours without moving as uninterested guards repeatedly walked by.

Jail employees finally found Carman’s comatose body, but instead of seeking medical care they merely picked him up and put ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Grant of Summary Judgment to Illinois Prison Doctors

by Lonnie Burton

In a pair of cases, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated lawsuits filed by Illinois prisoners alleging inadequate medical care.

First, on August 25, 2016, the appellate court, sitting en banc, issued an amended decision that reversed a district court’s order granting summary judgment to two private prison doctors in a deliberate indifference case filed by an Illinois state prisoner. The 6-3 ruling also rejected the doctors’ claim of qualified immunity, as such a defense is not available to private medical providers employed by state prisons.

Tyrone Petties, incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Facility in Illinois, sued two prison doctors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment, alleging that he received inadequate medical care after rupturing his Achilles tendon.

In January 2012, Petties was walking up a flight of stairs in his cell block when he heard a loud pop and felt excruciating pain in his left Achilles tendon. His injury was initially treated by Stateville medical director Dr. Imhotep Carter with crutches, ice and pain killers, along with authorization for a lower bunk and meals served in his cell. Petties was also referred to a specialist ...

Three-day Denial of Pain Medication Sufficient to Overcome Claim of Qualified Immunity, Eighth Circuit Rules

by Lonnie Burton

On June 30, 2016, the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s order granting qualified immunity to jail officials in a case where a prisoner was repeatedly denied pain medication during his three-day stay at a county lock-up.

Patrick Dadd was arrested in Anoka County, Minnesota on the evening of March 29, 2014 and taken to the local jail. The day before, he had undergone dental surgery where his jaw was cut open and teeth extracted. Following the surgery, Dadd was given a prescription for Vicodin, which he filled and began taking immediately.

When he was arrested and jailed, Dadd informed both the arresting officers and jail staff that he was recovering from dental surgery and was on Vicodin. The arresting officers delivered the Vicodin to jail staff, and during the booking process Dadd told Deputy Kempenich that he was in severe pain and needed his medication. But Kempenich indicated on a medical form that Dadd did not have any dental problems; he wrote “N/A” in response to whether Dadd needed to be referred to a nurse.

Over the next three days, Dadd repeatedly begged everyone he encountered to give him his medication, as he was ...

New Reporting System for Prisoner Deaths May Allow for Increased Intervention Opportunities

by Lonnie Burton

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been collecting data from state prisons and locals jails regarding prisoners’ deaths since the Death in Custody Reporting Act was passed in 2000. Under its new Death in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP), the DOJ has reported 100% cooperation from state Departments of Corrections and 99% cooperation from nearly 2,800 jails.

Prior to the Act there were no standardized requirements for prison and jail officials to report the cause of death (COD) for prisoners in their custody. But under the statute, state prisons and jails are required to report all deaths, as well as causes and the decedent’s characteristics, to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). This includes information such as the prisoner’s name, date of birth, length of time in custody, legal status and crime of conviction, plus the medical treatment they received before death, pre-existing conditions, and when and where the death occurred.

According to a December 2016 report, the DCRP collected data on 3,928 prisoner deaths in state and federal prisons in 2014, which reflected a slight increase over the year before. The rate of prisoner mortality was about 14 percent ...

FBI to Overhaul Crime Tracking Program and Encourage Local Agency Cooperation

by Lonnie Burton

For more than eighty years the FBI has operated the Uniform Crime Report (UCR), which allows law enforcement agencies to report and compile numbers and types of crimes that were reported to them. The FBI issues reports based on these data, and more consequentially, criminal law and sentences often rely on these statistics.

The only problem, however, is that the UCRs are insufficient and superficial, and according to a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committee of criminal justice officials headed by Janet L. Lauritsen of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the system is flawed and in need of modernization.

Federal authorities are in the process of attempting to convert hundreds of law enforcement agencies to a new reporting system that would account for the "scores" of offenses that have to date gone unrecorded.

For example, an unknown number of crimes are left out of the UCR annually because they were one of a series of crimes. When a murder is committed, other less serious crimes committed at the same time -­like burglary, rape and robbery -- go unrecorded.

The old UCR crime summary tracks only 10 specific offenses, and does ...

Federal Court Awards Virginia Prisoner $500 for Excessive Force Claim

by Lonnie Burton

Following a bench trial on November 15, 2015, a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia recommended awarding a state prisoner $500 after determining that two prison guards had used excessive force against him. The magistrate’s Report and Recommendation ...

PLN Settles Censorship Suit Against Illinois County for $75,000, Policy Changes

by Lonnie Burton

On June 17, 2016, Kane County, Illinois ratified a settlement agreement with Prison Legal News to resolve a federal lawsuit after dozens of copies of PLN sent to prisoners at the county’s jail were rejected. The county agreed to pay $75,000 in fees to PLN ...


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