Congrats to Daniel Melo, Former Clinic Student!

May 12, 2015

Daniel Melo, recent December 2014 CSL graduate and past Justice Leaguer (that’s what the Civil Rights Clinic calls itself in hushed tones to one another), recently joined the Gorman Law Firm in Charlotte after successfully passing the February 2015 bar. Daniel is joining two other attorneys, lending his bilingual skills to working on immigration matters, particularly business visas, as well as criminal defense, traffic, and civil suits. Daniel hopes to continue working alongside the League in pursuing justice for the underserved populations of Charlotte. Check out the Gorman Law Firm here.

Congrats on your success, Dan!

The Legal Dose Episode 4: Dosing with the Dean

October 30, 2013

The Legal Dose Episode 4: Dosing with the Dean

Dean Conison has recently joined the Charlotte School of Law, and shares his thoughts on bar passage, the Charlotte Edge program, and some of his favorite things at CSL with Civil Rights Clinic members Celia Olson and Daniel Melo.


Click the link above to listen in, or download the podcast episode for free on iTunes!

Civil Rights Clinic Releases Report on Charlotte’s Citizen’s Review Board

July 2, 2013

Recently, Charlotte’s Citizen’s Review Board (CRB) has been the subject of scrutiny over its 78-0 record, having never sided with a citizen complaining of police misconduct. The bleak statistics surrounding the CRB lead the Civil Rights Clinic to take an in-depth look at the structural issues within the ordinance creating the CRB.

As part of an on-going three year project, the Civil Rights Clinic recently compiled information about the civilian oversight of police in cities across the country—what authority the boards’ had to conduct investigations, the board structure, the accessibility of the information, and the standard of review for alleged police conduct. Additionally, the Clinic looked at CRB meeting minutes, as well as contacted former board members and complainants about the process. After reviewing the data, the Clinic released a report with recommendations for changes to Charlotte’s CRB as well as a model ordinance. The report, authored by Clinic member Isabel Carson, with contributing research from Clinic members Lindsey Engels, Katie Webb, and Daniel Melo, proposed changes to the standard of review, the availability of information on an independently maintained website, independent investigatory power, and the necessity of building trust between the police and the community they serve through transparency. The Clinic proposed four primary changes, outlined below in an excerpt from the report:

Drawing on the current structure of Charlotte’s municipal accountability scheme, Part III identifies the inconsistencies and weaknesses within the Citizens Review Board, and suggests four primary changes: 1)lowering the pre-hearing standard from preponderance of the evidence to probable cause; 2)shifting the focus of the standard of review from abuse of discretion to whether actual misconduct occurred;3)providing independent investigatory, subpoena, and audit powers to the Citizens Review Board; and 4)establishing stronger lines of communication and accessibility between the city and its residents.”

The Clinic recently met with the task force charged with gathering community input for recommendations to bring back to Charlotte’s City Council as part of the stakeholder process, and has also spoken to Charlotte’s ACLU chapter on the issue.

If you would like to read the full report click CRB Report.

You can also visit CRB Reform Now for more information and ways to get involved in reforming Charlotte’s CRB.

CRB Reform Webpage

The Legal Dose- Citizens Review Board

April 18, 2013

Clinic Members Emily Ray, Isabel Carson, and Daniel Melo sit down to discuss the recent proposed changes to Charlotte’s Citizen’s Review Board and what lies ahead.

Civil Rights Clinic members speak to City Council about reforming Citizens Review Board

April 2, 2013

On Monday evening, April 1, 2013, the Charlotte City Council heard Civil Rights Clinic members Isabel Carson and Daniel Melo advocate for the reform of the city’s Citizens Review Board. Isabel and Daniel were two of a series of eight speakers to the City Council about the Citizen’s Review Board and the need for change. Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board is the forum for appeals for citizens who have complained about police misconduct. After an informational presentation by the city’s stakeholders and then public input during the Citizens’ Forum, the City Council decided to (1) have the City Manager develop a stakeholder process within the next 90 days and (2) send the ordinance, City Ordinance 849, to the Council Manager Relations Committee for review. Changing the standard of review and the need for transparency were recognized as primary areas in need of reform. The Council asked for further data collection, analysis, and possible reform of those issues.



Pictures by Katie Webb

Please stay tuned to the Civil Rights Blog for more updates and information in the following weeks!

For further information, please read:

Observer article April 1st Council Meeting: After scrutiny, council votes to examine review board

February Observer Article: The real story on the Citizens Review Board

By Lindsey Engels

In the Shadow of The Box

February 18, 2013

Approximately one in every 163 adults is incarcerated in Mecklenburg County. That amounts to about 3,800 people in jail and prison at any given time. As of last July, 6,874 were on probation. The unfortunate reality facing many of these individuals with a criminal past is that they walk out of a prison cell, straight into a box.

This “Box” is often a simple question on employment applications that requires the applicants to check “yes” or “no” as to whether they have previously been convicted of a crime. According to Devah Pager, author of The Mark of a Criminal Record, once the applicant checks the box, employers are twice as likely to deny employment to an applicant with a criminal record than an applicant without one. People who complete their time and are released find themselves chained to their past, with a dark shadow standing over them every time they fill out a job application or sit down for an interview. They all stand in the shadow of The Box.

According to the Center for Community Transitions and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, 97 percent of those incarcerated in Mecklenburg County will return to the community, many with little or no resources, and nearly a 50 percent chance of being rearrested within a year. In a study done by the Indiana Department of Corrections, if employed, ex-offenders’ recidivism dropped from a high of 44.7 percent, down to 28.5 percent for someone without a GED or high school diploma; the numbers go as low as 17.3 percent if that individual has a college degree and employment.

The challenges individuals with criminal backgrounds face disproportionately impact people of color, the working poor, and minorities; populations which are convicted and incarcerated in numbers disproportionate to their population. According to the Department of Justice, African-American and Hispanic males were imprisoned at a rate between 2 to 7 times that of white males nationwide during 2011. This imbalance has created a disparate impact on job seekers from minority communities. The Box greatly exacerbates the re-entry adversity which thousands of potential employees, their families and communities already face.

In an effort to promote and assist with the communal reintegration of those with a criminal history, the Ban The Box movement seeks to remove the requirement that applicants disclose all past convictions on a preliminary application for public employment with the City of Charlotte. Past efforts in the community have shown that employment dramatically lowers the recidivism rate for participating ex-offenders by as much as 35 percent below the national average. Research from the Center for Community Transitions shows that finding and retaining employment are major factors in preventing return to prison. Over 20 cities have passed similar legislation including Durham City, Durham County, San Francisco, Seattle, and more. Some states, like Massachusetts, have successfully adopted legislation at the state level.

The cost? An opportunity to explain. City employers would not be prohibited from making background checks, but would instead have to extend a conditional offer of employment prior to a check taking place. Qualified applicants would be able to discuss their criminal history in an interview and explain why it should not disqualify them, as well as provide evidence of their rehabilitation. Adopting the ordinance would not only lower recidivism, preventing the overcrowding of prisons and jails, but would also significantly decrease the cost to taxpayers of housing inmates.

Ex-offenders may have few or no resources to begin to unshackle themselves from their past convictions and gain lawful employment. Through this proposal they will have a chance at becoming functional, contributing members of society once again, while simultaneously decreasing their chances of recidivism. The Ban The Box Coalition plans to present its resolution and proposed ordinance to the City Council Monday, February 25th, at 6:15pm. Everyone is invited to attend and show their support. With our help, ex-offenders have a chance to get out from under the shadow of The Box.

By Daniel Melo

The Renewed Fight Over Guns

January 19, 2013

In the wake of the numerous and tragic shootings of 2012-2013, the public has witnessed an upheaval surrounding our current gun laws, gun violence, mental health and what, if anything, should be done to curb gun killings.  All sides have engaged in pitched rhetoric on this issue, and with President Obama putting forth his proposed solution, the debate is likely to continue with a great deal of ferocity.

If we desire to seek solutions in order to prevent another tragedy like the one that recently took place, we must sift through the misunderstandings and misconstrued facts to ascertain what the issues really are, and how to begin discussing them without coming to blows or shots for that matter. Here are the basics about what an assault weapon is, as well as the details of the President’s proposal.

What is an “assault weapon”?

The Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), which Congress passed into law in 1994 and expired in 2004, defines a semi-automatic assault weapon as the following:

  •  A semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of— a folding or telescopic stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and a grenade launcher
  • A semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of— an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip; a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward hand grip, or silencer; a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned;a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm; and
  • A semiautomatic shotgun that has at least 2 of— a folding or telescopic stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds; and  an ability to accept a detachable magazine.

To sum it up, if you have a firearm with a combination of at least 2 of any of the listed items and a detachable magazine, you have an assault weapon. One particular, seemingly often misunderstood concept is the difference of automatic vs. semiautomatic guns. A semi-automatic weapon fires one round per trigger pull while a fully automatic weapon fires a stream of rounds as long as the trigger is held. Automatic weapons are highly regulated and for most intents and purposes are legally inaccessible to the general public.

The President’s Proposal

This portion of the order would require Congressional approval in order to made into law. (The percentages following each are the likelihood of the item receiving actual approval as stated by the Washington Post):

• Ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Odds of passage: Less than 50 percent;

• Requiring universal background checks in gun sales, including those at gun shows. Odds of passage: 75 percent or better;

• Confirming B. Todd Jones as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Odds of confirmation: Very good, considering that there are no obvious reasons to hold it up;

• Enhancing school safety, including putting as many as 1,000 trained police officers and school counselors on the job. Odds of passage: Very good;

• Ban possession, transfer, manufacture and import of armor-piercing bullets. Odds of passage: N/A.

The following is a list of actions that need only the President’s signature to take effect:

• Address legal barriers in health care laws that bar some states from making available information about people who are prohibited from having guns;

• Ensure federal agencies share relevant information with background check system;

• Direct attorney general to work with other agencies to review existing laws to make sure they can identify those who shouldn’t have guns;

• Direct Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other agencies to conduct research into causes, preventing gun violence;

• Clarify that no federal laws prevent health care providers from contacting authorities when patients threaten to use violence;

• Give communities the opportunity to hire up to 1,000 school resource officers and counselors

• Require federal law enforcement to trace all recovered guns;

• Propose regulations to enable law enforcement to run complete background checks before returning seized firearms;

• Direct Justice Department to analyze information on lost, stolen guns; make that information available to law enforcement;

• Training for state and local law enforcement, first responders, school officials on how to handle active-shooter situations;

• Make sure every school has a comprehensive emergency management plan

• Help ensure young people get needed mental health treatment; that health insurance plans cover mental health benefits;

• Encourage development of new technology to make it easier for gun owners to safely use and store their guns;

• Have Consumer Product Safety Commission assess the need for new safety standards for gun locks and gun safes;

• Launch national campaign on responsible gun ownership.

A Final Thought

Armed with equivocal evidence, both sides could argue back and forth all day as to whether gun control measures have or will reduce gun violence; whether the Second Amendment protects large capacity magazines, pistol grips, bayonet mounts; and whether the President’s proposal will prevent the terrible tragedies that have befallen us this last year. But there are some things that, as a civil society on which we can reach a consensus: 1. One needless killing is one too many; 2. No simple gun violence solutions exist; 3.  All constitutional rights, including those which the Second Amendment protects, are subject to reasonable regulation; and 4. Perhaps most importantly, that we stop shouting across the aisle long enough to hear ourselves think.

by Daniel Melo

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