50 Years On, Has the Gideon Decision Kept Its Promise of Legal Access For All?

From the Chicago Bureau: Early Monday in Washington, the United States Supreme Court agreed to take up several cases ranging from liability in cases of generic drug makers and the freezing of defendant assets ahead of a case going to trial. At the same time, they shut down an appeal by financial giant Goldman Sachs Group, which according to the high court will have to answer investors in court about spiraling mortgage securities during the near-crippling financial crisis. Rewind 50 years, and a far different court in a far different time — economically, socially and legally — handed down one of the sentinel decisions in American criminal law: Gideon v. Wainwright. At the end of that day, March 18, 1963, a poor man named Clarence Earl Gideon — who was accused of attempt to commit petty larceny after a break-in and theft at aFlorida poolroom bar nearly two years earlier — had won the right to be represented by an attorney in court. It was a ruling based on the Constitution’s Sixth and Fourteenth amendments. A poor man had won in a rich country torn by race, income equity and on nearly every social and economic front, opening previously shut legal doors to the country’s most down-and-out citizens by guaranteeing the right to counsel in criminal cases.

Hadiya Pendleton Gun Control Bill Gets Nod from Senate Judiciary Committee

Reporters are shown a funeral program for Hadiya Pendleton’s services/Photo by Safiya Merchant
This story is from the Chicago Bureau

IN BRIEF: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has sent to the full body a gun control bill aimed at so-called straw buyers and that, in part, is named for slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton. Hadiya, who was part of a presidential inaugural show this year, was slain on Chicago’s South Side shortly after returning home, and just a short distance from President Barack Obama’s home here. Her death helped marshal the anti-gun push that gained much traction after the December Connecticut school massacre. The committee, headed by chief sponsor Patrick Leahy of Vermont, voted 11-7 to OK the bill. It was co-sponsored by senior Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and junior Senator Mark Kirk and got the nod from a single Republican on the panel, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley.

A Sad Truth: In Chicago, The Murder of Hadiya Pendleton, While Tragic and High-Profile, Is Commonplace

Originally appeared in The Chicago Bureau

CHICAGO –  Violence stalks Chicago’s streets, but when faced with staunchly rising homicide rates that show no sign of ebbing, residents’ capacity to tolerate the state of crime drains by the day. After Hadiya Pendleton performed with her high school marching band during the presidential inauguration two weeks ago, the King College Prep teen became Chicago’s 42nd homicide victim of 2013 when she was gunned down on Chicago’s South Side – the unintended victim of a gang dispute. Her death added to a January homicide toll that was the bloodiest since 2002, according to Chicago Police reports, suggesting that despite wide attention to Chicago’s murder woes, shifts in policing strategy and big promises by powerful politicians, there will be no immediate respite to the escalating violence that claimed more than 500 in 2012. The ups and downs of Chicago’s homicide toll over the past six years/Graphic by Lynne Carty/The Chicago Bureau

Perhaps it’s because Pendleton performed for Obama, or maybe because she starred in an anti-gang public service announcement four years ago (Pendleton PSA) pleading for an end to the chaos, but the nation has embraced this 15-year-old as a symbol and not just another statistic. As for those who study crime, who write about it and opine about it in Chicago, the nation’s murder capital, the question remains whether it will really matter:

“There is action because of the attention but it is not clear that it will work,” said University of Illinois at Chicago’s Dick Simpson, a known political expert and former alderman who recently studied the nexus of drugs, gangs and police corruption.

ACLU, Human Rights Watch Press for End to Juvenile Solitary Confinement

CHICAGO — The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch published a stinging indictment Wednesday against the use of solitary confinement on minors – adding momentum to a lawsuit filed here last month claiming youth were locked in tiny, haunting cells for brushes as minor as speaking out of turn to a guard or disrupting a meal. Wednesday’s 141-page report, which captured harrowing accounts from youngsters locked in solitary for up to months at a time, if not longer, called for an end to the practice, the exploration of remedial alternatives and changes to state and federal laws that currently allow for the practice. Solitary — according to the report’s interviews with prison officials and 125 minors from 19 states, including visits to facilities in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania — can cause irreparable harm to a minor’s psychological makeup at the very time their minds are maturing. Just as troubling, according to the report and experts in the field, solitary can re-traumatize juveniles who have grown up with abusive and violent pasts. “The hardest thing about isolation is that you are trapped in such a small room by yourself,” according to a March interview in the report with a Michigan inmate identified as Paul K. “There is nothing to do so you start talking to yourself and getting lost in your own little world.

Screaming Headlines, Hype and PR Stunts Cloud Picture of Youth Violence in Chicago

By Eric Ferkenhoff and Maryam Jameel 

Tallying Chicago’s violence during the first half of 2012, including a 39 percent jump in murders, it can be difficult to get what criminologist Tracy Siska is talking about. True, the streets are bloodied by gang warfare, said Siska, head of the Chicago Justice Project, an independent, non-profit research group that analyzes criminal justice data. The numbers don’t lie; there had been 260-plus murders through the end of June, up 72 over the same period last year. And overnight Tuesday, two girls 12, and 13, became the latest child victims of the gunfire here. Neither were thought to be intended targets, but rather were victims of errant gunfire just days after the release of a University of California Davis study showing the prevalence of stray-bullet victims.

But Siska has argued much of the media is playing the hype game, skewing reality for Chicagoans or observers by screaming with headlines about more city children getting murdered this public school year than any year since 2008 – the first full year of the recession – and countless stories of overnight mayhem suffered in many Chicago neighborhoods. There has been a parade of stories – ones Siska would agree should and must be told.

Quinn, Hoping to Fill Huge Budget Hole, Sends Mixed Message to State’s Neediest

By Eric Ferkenhoff and Maryam Jameel

Only hours before a Sunday deadline, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn inked a $33.7 billion budget Saturday, balancing the books but angering some education and child welfare experts and confounding political observers who said the Democrat may well have done more harm than good to the state’s neediest residents. Quinn, facing a $43.8 billion budget deficit – reportedly the nation’s worst — before the new fiscal year 2013 kicked in,  took a budget that the General Assembly handed him on Friday, and cut it by $57 million. In doing so, Quinn said  ”our priority should always be the safety and well-being of our children,” and promised to return some of the Illinois’ legislature’s planned $50 million in cuts to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, or DCFS, the agency that handles most abuse and neglect cases and shelters the most at-risk. But critics said just the opposite could happen as Quinn, while saying he was protecting children and their education, cut $200 million in education funding and $85 million in child-welfare funding. Kent Redfield, an Illinois political expert and a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said that while the cuts bring immediate savings, they could deepen problems, leading to bigger spending down the road.

Justices’ Ruling on Young Killers Eases Anxieties for Some Experts, Advocates

By Eric Ferkenhoff and Maggie Lee

The violence that stains Chicago is a long way from Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday it was not just to lock up juvenile killers for life without parole in most cases. The court, reasoning children should not face what amounts to death behind bars, voted 5-4. Monday’s decision had been anticipated since arguments were heard in March on two cases out of Alabama and Arkansas dealing with 14-year-old convicts, and won the applause of children’s and rights advocates and scorn from those who believe punishment should be equal to the crime. “I’m feeling very good, hopeful,” said Julie Anderson, 55, whose son was convicted of murder at 15 in 1995. “We’ll see how it plays out, but my son defintely qualifiies under this ruling to have his sentence looked at again.”

She added: “And there’s so many of them, these people who were only children.

New Report Finds Effectiveness of Drug Courts

New federal research is giving momentum to the call for reduced penalties and more rehabilitation for drug offenders – including juveniles – across the nation. A study funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that alternatives to handling drug cases, such as specialized courts that usher more people into rehab, can sharply drop recidivism rates, scale back on overall crime and produce deep cost cuts in an overwhelmed criminal justice system. The report comes as the nation is in somewhat of a split over how best to handle many criminal cases, including drug offenses. As Massachusetts considers a crackdown on repeat violent offenders, the position by many lawmakers has been to ease drug penalties. In Missouri, legislators passed a bill to create more parity in sentencing for powdered and crack cocaine offenses.

Well-being of Children Central to Courts’ Mission, Expert Panel Says


The nation’s juvenile and family courts need to lower walls that have blocked the sharing of data that is key for to marshaling a child through state agencies and the justice system, according to a gathering of court experts Thursday. If the courts fail, a child’s mental, physical and emotional well-being could be damaged, according to a series of measures and recommendations put forth by the panel to guide judges and courts in handling youth in the system. “The days of sitting in your office creating your own [data] system without input from others – those days are gone,” said Sandra Moore, head of Pennsylvania’s Office of Children and Families in the Court. “We just can’t function that way anymore…The court system needs to be able to talk to the child welfare system.”

Courts Have Had Some Success

Over the years, judges and the courts have had success pushing forward the conversation on the safety of state wards and foster children, as well as dealing with matters like visitation and permanent placement, the panelists said. “The problem is, with well-being, frankly we weren’t sure how effective the courts would be,” said Gene Flango, executive director at the National Center for State Courts.

Webcast Explores How Courts Can Better Serve Overall ‘Well-Being’ of Children

After years of focusing on the safety of children, the nation’s juvenile courts are shifting to a more holistic approach that takes into account the emotional, social and academic well-being of at-risk youth. That effort, which has been underway for at least a year, will be showcased Thursday during a webcast moderated by David Kelly, head of the federal Department of Health and Human Services child protection programs.

The crux of the webcast, which starts at 2 p.m. EDT, is to explore how the courts, which are so used to patrolling a child’s safety, can attend to the mental, social and physical “well-being” of a child. More precisely, the effort will vet 14 specific measurements that were developed by a committee last summer to ensure the courts are meeting every need of a child – not simply plucking them from dangerous homes or removing risky parents from their lives. About 400 people, many of them judges, attorneys and court administrators, are expected to tune into the webcast. Also participating will be Gene Flango and Nora Sydow of the National Resource Center and National Center for State Courts; Evan Klain, who is director of child welfare for the ABA’s Center on Children and the Law; Associate Judge Robert Hofmann of Mason County, Texas; and Sandra Moore, head of Pennsylvania’s state office of Children and Families in the Court.