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Nice Time! Three Good Things Happened In Law This Week!
Really, really good things!
Even with President Joe Biden and not that evil orange lump in the White House, a lot of things still suck — particularly when we're talking about the legal world.
But guess what!
Some actual, good things happened in the law this week!
So, as a special Friday afternoon treat for you, I am going to take off my misanthropy hat and try my hand at giving you some happy news. At least this once.
Illinois banned cops from lying to children to throw them in jail!
Yesterday, Illinois became the first state to ban cops from lying to kids while they're interrogating them. (Yes. The first state ever.)
It's a sad truth that, not only can police lie, they lie to people they're questioning all the damn time. Most people either don't know how common it is for police to lie or don't really think about it. But it is a huge problem and isn't part of the disclosures required when people are read their Miranda rights.
Of course, lying to and otherwise deceiving people is a major cause of false confessions, especially when we're talking about children and people with intellectual disabilities. Don't believe me? Just watch the police take Brendan Dassey's "confession" inMaking a Murderer for one example. No matter how young and confused a child is, no matter whether they really even understand what is going on, police will lie and push and do whatever they can to get a confession. You can also watch a video of a sobbing child, who just found his murdered sister's body, nodding along as police told him that if he just said he did it, he could go home to his mom.
This is a great first step. We need to see more bills like this across the country — for children, people with disabilities, and, frankly everyone. If we didn't know better from watching the American criminal law system operate, it would be hard to believe that so many cops and prosecutors are strongly in favor of tactics that have been proven to put innocent people in prison.
Amazingly, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx supported this bill, saying, "We continue to work to correct the wrongs of the past — wrongs inflicted by law enforcement, including prosecutors." (I know that I, for one, am shocked that the Chicago Police Department doesn't like her.)
Police deception and false confessions are a problem everywhere, but specifically in Illinois, where the Innocence Project has already documented at least 100 wrongful convictions based on false confessions, 31 of which were of kids under 18. One of the people who helped inspire this bill, Terrill Swift, was there for the bill signing.
Swift was one of the Englewood Four, a group of four children who were convicted of a rape and murder they didn't commit. Police told Swift, a teenager, that if he just confessed to being there when the crime happened, they would let him go home. Of course, he didn't get to go home. He spent 15.5 years of a 30-year sentence behind bars before being exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011. He told the press at the signing that this bill "could have saved his life." (Full disclosure: I was a student attorney for the MacArthur Justice Center, which represented Swift in his civil rights lawsuit.)
More of this, please. Like Terrill Swift said at the signing, "One day in prison wrongfully is too long."
Someone actually got a good jury verdict for police violence!
A jury awarded Jose Gomez $1.75 million in his civil rights suit against two Houston cops who beat the shit out of him in 2017. This is a huge deal, not because police brutally injured a Hispanic man, but because the case actually went to trial — and a man who was wronged by police got some justice for it.
There is body camera video of Jacob Simmerman and Christopher Heaven throwing Gomez face-first onto the pavement while he screams in pain, tearing ligaments in his shoulder and injuring his back. He was hurt so badly that the cops had to bring him to the hospital after they arrested him, where his injuries were documented. And still, the city of Houston tried to argue in court that Gomez had hurt himself playing with his daughters.
Oh, and the very dangerous offense that led to the arrest in the first place? A cop honked at him when he didn't start driving as soon as a stoplight turned green, so he pulled into the lane on the right to let him by. The same cop then pulled him over for "making an illegal turn." They also charged him with "resisting arrest," but — presumably after someone watched the body cam video — that charge was dropped.
Luckily, the jury saw through the Houston PD's bullshit and found Simmerman and Heaven liable for more than $1 million in damages.
The city of Houston argued that the officers should get qualified immunity , which protects cops from any liability for most of their actions in most cases. But US District Judge George Hanks, an Obama appointee, ruled that Heaven and Simmerman were not entitled to civil immunity because, "Given the relatively minor traffic violation of which Gomez was suspected and the amount of force that Heaven and Simmerman used to effect the arrest, a reasonable jury could find that no reasonably prudent officer under the same or similar circumstances could have believed that the conduct in question was justified."
Houston City Attorney Arturo Michel whined to the press about the verdict, saying,
"The Houston Police Department Internal Affairs Division fully investigated this incident and found both officers to have acted within policy at the time and acted as reasonable prudent officers. The testimony and evidence established that. Unfortunately, the jury disagreed. We respect the process, but the City disagrees with the verdict."
The California legislature passed a guaranteed income plan for kids aging out of foster care!
On Thursday, the California Senate and state Assembly unanimously passed a bill that would create the first guaranteed income plan in the US. It would give monthly payments of up to $1,000 for kids who are aging out of the foster care system.
Young adults aging out of the foster care system are among the most vulnerable people in our society. When young people in foster care in California turn 21, they lose access to most of the benefits they had been relying on. Homelessness is common.
A pilot program in Stockton launched in 2017 has proven to be a huge success. Not only did the money help people pay for things like rent, food, and childcare, but it also improved recipients' mental health and helped them find jobs.
Unlike the vast majority of American government assistance programs, there are no rules requiring the recipients to use the money only on specific things. And since people, and not the government, are the best arbiters of what they need, that's exactly the way it should be.
Some good things happened in the legal world this week!
Let's keep 'em comin'!
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