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Due Process & Equal Protection


Statement in Response to Nebraska Supreme Court Decision on DNA Evidence

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Amy Miller, Legal Director for the ACLU of Nebraska, released the following statement in response to a Nebraska Supreme Court decision granting Juneal Pratt the opportunity to have a DNA test. Pratt was convicted of rape and robbery in 1975 but has maintained his innocence. The case was filled by the Innocence Project of Nebraska. ACLU of Nebraska filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in the case.

Today’s decision not only means Juneal Pratt has the opportunity for a fair judgment, but it means that the integrity of our criminal justice system will be increased. The problems with eyewitness identification and other police lineups are well established. It is important that we use as reliable of evidence as possible to not only ensure that those wrongly accused do not end up behind bars, but that victims and our communities can have the confidence that the true perpetrator is behind bars.

 

For a copy of the decision: http://supremecourt.ne.gov/sites/supremecourt.ne.gov/files/sc/opinions/s11-760.pdf

For a copy of the ACLU Amicus Brief: http://www.aclunebraska.org/images/attachments/186_Juneal_Pratt_amicus_brief.pdf

Attachments:
Download this file (Juneal_Pratt_amicus_brief.pdf)Juneal_Pratt_amicus_brief.pdf[ ]1555 Kb
 

Prioritize Rehabilitation and Treatment Programs

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 6, 2014
CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – On Thursday, the Legislature's Judiciary Committee is discussing a proposal to reform Nebraska's prison system. The proposal, introduced by Omaha Senator Brad Ashford, intends to increase rehabilitation efforts such as education, mental health treatment, and other programs. In testimony submitted by the ACLU of Nebraska, the organization indicated that if the state failed to provide such programs, the prison system could face constitutional challenges.


"Right now, Nebraska's criminal justice system is like a bike with only one gear: the prison system," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "We're trying to deal with a variety of crimes, individuals, and circumstances with a bike that is stuck in single gear. Ensuring that we have the right gears on the bike and are able to use them all appropriately improves the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and increases public safety."


Testimony from the ACLU shares the following concerns about the current state of the criminal justice system:

  • Many inmates are being denied access to religious practices due to space limitations;
  • The existing ventilation system does not meet recommended standards for the number of inmates;
  • Insufficient medical care, both mental and physical care;
  • Minimal out-of-cell time which limits exercise, access to AA and other treatment programs, GED classes, and other rehabilitation programs;

The ACLU has said that each of these items have been a part of successful lawsuits where a court has determined a prison system has violated 8th Amendment prohibitions of cruel and unusual punishment.


"Our jails and prisons are overcrowded because we have taken individuals with non-violent offenses, including drug possession, and provided no treatment, no education, and no opportunity to succeed," continued Miller. "We've seen that when we add gears to the bike that is our criminal justice system, we can switch to the rehabilitation path that is fair and appropriate for each individual. This not only costs less than throwing everyone behind bars but it leaves our communities safer."


Nebraska's prison system is currently at over 150% of capacity. The estimated cost of building a new prison is $150 million plus annual operating expenses. The reforms in Sen. Ashford's proposal are estimated to be closer to $25 million. At a legislative hearing in October of 2013, Captain Dan Williamson of the Sarpy County Sheriff's office indicated that one in three inmates have mental health issues and his office lacked the resources to adequately provide services. Recent reports from the Nebraska Ombudsman's office have indicated that the lack of services impacts the entire correctional system in negative ways.


"It doesn't matter if you are looking at cost, the percent of the population behind bars, or the impact of the individuals who end up incarcerated, you can see that our system is broken. Lawmakers should heed the warnings in the ACLU's testimony and move Sen. Ashford's proposal forward," concluded Miller.


The bill, LB 907, is being heard by the Judiciary Committee on Thursday at 1:30pm. The committee will also hear testimony for LB 999. This bill would improve the parole eligibility standards and help reduce overcrowding.

 

ACLU Applauds Village of Alexandria Decision on Sex Offender Ordinance

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 9, 2013

CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

ACLU Applauds Village of Alexandria Decision on Sex Offender Ordinance

Village Board Voted Down Proposed Ordinance after ACLU Indicated Potential Constitutional Concerns

LINCOLN - On Wednesday, October 9th, the Village of Alexandria rejected an ordinance that would have restricted sex offender residency beyond what Nebraska state law allows. The ACLU of Nebraska had previously informed the Village Board of the potential unconstitutionality of the proposed ordinance. Across the country, experts involved in the treatment of sex offenders, as well as victims’ rights groups have opposed sex offender residency laws as being ineffective and potentially harmful to public safety.

“By deciding not to move forward with an unconstitutional ordinance, the Village of Alexandria can now spend their resources on practices that will actually make the community safer,” said Becki Brenner, Executive Director for the ACLU of Nebraska. “This decision should encourage other communities to focus on programs that will actually reduce the likelihood of sex offenses, such as public education programs.”

“The state of Nebraska has set the parameters a municipality can use to restrict a sex offender. Many domestic violence and sexual assault organizations believe the safety of a community is best served by encouraging people to report sexual violence – not creating further restrictions on housing for an offender,” said Legal Director of the Nebraska ACLU, Amy Miller. In her initial letter to the Village Board in September, Miller indicated that the Village was free to pass an ordinance that complied with state law, but the proposal being considered by Alexandria went farther and raised legal questions.

Shortly after Iowa became the first state in the country to implement a sex offender residency statute, the Iowa County Attorneys Association issued a statement opposing that statute, pointing out that “there is no correlation between residency restrictions and reducing sex offenses against children or improving the safety of children.” Other groups have noted that laws like these perpetuate the myth that most child sex offenses are committed by strangers, when in fact the overwhelming majority are committed by relatives and people the child knows.

 

ACLU Wants Nebraska To Come Clean About Lethal Injection

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ACLU of Nebraska Seeks Further Information About Lethal Injection Drugs Obtained without FDA Approval

A recent Federal Court decision ruled that drugs such as those used in Nebraska cannot be used without FDA approval.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 24, 2013

CONTACT:  Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – On Tuesday, a Federal Circuit court in D.C. ruled that a drug commonly used in lethal injection must obtain U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The drug, sodium thiopental, has been a topic of controversy in Nebraska due to the manner in which the state has purchased the current supply. On Wednesday, the ACLU of Nebraska filed an open records request to determine if Nebraska’s existing supply would be impacted by the ruling.

The court upheld a lower court ruling which found that drugs imported by states for use as anesthesia prior to execution are subject to the same FDA requirements applicable to all imported drugs: most important, the drugs must be reviewed for safety and effectiveness and must come from FDA-registered foreign drug providers.

“The court’s decision should be a warning to the state of Nebraska: don’t purchase drugs without going through the FDA,” said Amy Miller, Legal Director for the ACLU of Nebraska. “If Nebraska tries to use unapproved drugs from fly-by-night dealers, it once again shows that the death penalty is broken beyond repair and cannot guarantee it achieves real justice.”

Five states were included in the complaint reviewed by the D.C. Circuit Court. The ruling did not immediately require Nebraska to turn over its supply of sodium thiopental. It did make it clear, however, that any drugs entering the U.S., including sodium thiopental, need FDA approval and that foreign-made sodium thiopental cannot be approved by the FDA.

“The records we’ve reviewed so far indicate that should the supply of sodium thiopental be challenged in court, it will not pass the legal standard set forth by the D.C. Circuit,” added Miller. “We’ve filed an open records request to determine if Nebraska has found an additional supply or if it is continuing to waste taxpayer dollars purchasing an illegal drug. Our hope is the state will hand over its stock voluntarily without needing to resort to a costly lawsuit.”

The ACLU’s existing documents, from earlier in 2013, show the state had two batches of sodium thiopental which is used to cause paralysis. One batch expired in May and the other batch is set to expire in December. Due to the recent ruling, the ACLU says it is unlikely that the existing would not stand up to a legal challenge.

“Resorting to illegal practices and black-market drug distributors isn’t what the people of Nebraska should expect from their government,” said Miller. “We’re asking Nebraska to come clean about its supply of sodium thiopental. If the state did not seek FDA approval then officials should dispose of the supply immediately.”

Attachments:
Download this file (scan0002.pdf)ACLU Lethal Injection Records Request[ ]363 Kb
 

ACLU Urges Dawson County to Adequately Fund Public Defender's Office

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Group alleges current caseload is beyond professional standards and does not adequately preserve guarantees of Constitutional and Nebraska law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 21, 2013

CONTACT:  Amy Miller, (402) 476-8091, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – On Thursday, the ACLU of Nebraska informed Dawson County that their current level of staffing in their public defender’s office has not been sufficient to meet standards of the American Bar Association. In the letter to the Dawson County Commissioners, the ACLU alleges that the current level of staffing opens the county up to Constitutional violations. Additionally, the group asserts that taxpayer dollars can be used wisely by providing adequate funding for public defenders.

“It was 50 years ago that the case of Gideon v. Wainwright was decided. This case isn’t just about a speech you hear on television police dramas. Keeping Gideon’s promise by adequately funding public defenders preserves justice today and saves taxpayer dollars tomorrow,” said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Becki Brenner. The Gideon case led to the now famous speech that informs all criminal defendants they have a right to an attorney, even if they cannot pay.

Dawson County has only been funding a part-time public defender, assisted by a part-time deputy. Their caseload in 2012 included over 250 felonies. Standards from the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice say that a full-time public defender should have no more than 150 felonies on their caseload. Additionally, Nebraska law states that “caseloads shall allow each lawyer to give every client the time and effort necessary to provide effective representation.”

“Public defenders are some of our justice system’s hardest working and most necessary figures. Yet counties like Dawson are expecting the impossible,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “Even a dedicated public defender, when given a client list of over 250, will struggle to give each client more than a few minutes of her time.”

A 2004 report by the Nebraska Bar Association gave Nebraska only one “good” rating out of 10 for our county public defense systems. Subsequent reports haven’t provided the ACLU with any confidence that there has been significant change in the past decade.

Nationally, many county and state officials have been successfully sued for problems that arise with underfunded public defender’s offices. When ruling on these cases in other states, judges have written that it is a right that must be provided, regardless of cost. The ACLU asserts that there are real costs associated with not funding a public defender office.

“When an overburdened public defender has not had a chance to meet with her client or to work on a case, hearings are postponed – often at the last minute – wasting the time of prosecutors, judges, law enforcement and witnesses, costing us all,” said Miller. “Delays cause these same defendants to spend more time in jail, overcrowding facilities and costing counties more money. These same problems delay justice for victims. No one wins when cases are slow to be resolved.”

Around the county, organizations like the ACLU are doing an analysis of public defender programs.

“We must make sure that, 50 years after Gideon was decided, all Nebraska counties are providing proper public defender services,” said Brenner. The ACLU of Nebraska plans to investigate all Nebraska counties to see if concerns similar to the ones that exist in Dawson County exist elsewhere.

The ACLU is not taking legal action at this time but warned that it will consider a civil rights lawsuit if “[Dawson] county does not meet its obligations under state law and the Constitution.”

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Attachments:
Download this file (Dawson County PD letter.pdf)Dawson County PD letter.pdf[ ]341 Kb
 
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