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Criminal Justice News This Week (week of 12-02-19)

These Judges Can Have Less Training Than Barbers but Still Decide Thousands of Cases Each Year"South Carolina’s system for magistrate judges is unlike any state in the country, creating fertile ground for incompetence and corruption. Most aren’t lawyers, but their decisions can have lasting effects on the vulnerable people who come before them....'What I witnessed firsthand was beyond disturbing,' [former NACDL Director of Public Defense Training and Reform Colette Tvedt said]. 'Sitting in these magistrate courtrooms, I watched lives being ruined with alarming regularity[]'....Between 2014 and 2015, a team of observers from the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers arrived unannounced to watch proceedings in South Carolina’s local courts. They set out, in part, to ensure that magistrates were upholding constitutional protections, such as guaranteeing that people accused of misdemeanor crimes had access to an attorney. Observers reported that these magistrates blocked people’s right to counsel and shuttled unwitting defendants through an assembly line of guilty pleas."

Stay the course on criminal justice reform: Discovery reform will level the playing field for defendants. “Criminal defendants are presumed innocent. This, in theory, is the bedrock of our criminal justice system. But for the last half-century, New York prosecutors have turned that principle on its head by using an archaic discovery process that seemed premised on the notion that someone accused of a crime is guilty before the prosecutor has proven anything.”

Broken Justice Episode 1: Triage – the full transcript"The story of how we built the public defender system and how we broke it."

After Long Gap, Supreme Court Poised to Break Silence on Gun Rights. "Following a change in personnel, the court could expand the scope of Second Amendment rights and chastise lower courts that have upheld gun control laws."

The faulty technology behind ankle monitors. "Some consider electronic monitoring an alternative to mass incarceration. But ankle monitors have a long way to go."

DC Circuit Refuses to Lift Block on Federal Executions. "The D.C. Circuit on Monday kept in place a federal judge’s order blocking the Trump administration from carrying out the first federal executions in nearly two decades."

DOJ Memorandum Clarifies Us Sentencing Guidelines’ Fine Reduction Determination Process. “The US Sentencing Guidelines permit reductions of criminal penalties based on a business organization’s inability to pay criminal fines, but were unclear about how it would make such determinations. An October 8 memorandum issued by the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the DOJ helps to clarify the determination process.”

The Psychology Behind When Emotions Turn Us Into Different People. "In a fit of anger or in the grip of fear, many of us make decisions that we never would have anticipated. Researchers say it is very hard to understand how we'll act in certain situations."

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