FREE Resource from Clearinghouse Community

April 21, 2015

Law students interested in the real world of public interest law practice are invited to join the Clearinghouse Community, the new free resource from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

The Clearinghouse Community follows on the rich tradition of Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy and covers—in a practice-oriented way—developments in a wide range of poverty law topics of interest to students in the Civil Rights Clinic. For example, this month the Clearinghouse Community is featuring content on criminal records: an article on expungement as a gateway to workan advocacy story on preventing commercial background screeners from reporting expunged cases, and a Google+ Hangout on Air scheduled for April 29 with a professor and student in the Record Clearance Project at San José State University. Students may also want to check out curated collections of articles on criminal records, racial justice, and fair housing.

In fact, the Clearinghouse Community archives include an advocacy story by Charlotte School of Law’s own Prof. Jason Huber on the Civil Rights Clinic’s successful Ban the Box campaign.

The Shriver Center no longer requires a subscription to access these materials. Readers can simply register on the site (see the link in the upper right hand corner). Be sure to sign up to receive a monthly email linking to all of that month’s new content.


Charlotte Fails to Protect People by Rejecting Non-Discrimination Policies

April 7, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

On March 2, 2015, Charlotte City Council (“the Council”) voted on an ordinance that would allow all people to be treated equally and fairly under the law. Unfortunately, the Council failed to adopt these much needed policies that would prohibit private businesses and certain public positions, such as for-hire transportation and city contractors, from freely discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

The final vote came down to 1 single vote, as it ended up 6-5. This single vote came after hours of debate from both sides of the aisle, and at that point the controversial bathroom portion of the ordinance was already stricken. The bathroom portion of the ordinance would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender in which they identify themselves. This was the most controversial piece of the policy, and even though it was removed it seems that certain members of the Council still used it to vote against what was being presented. “All over the world, there are restrooms for men and restrooms for women,” said Ed Driggs, a Republican Council member. “It does not place an unreasonable burden on them and it does not stigmatize them.”   Another Republican Council member, Kenny Smith, asserted that the bill was not a measure to stop discrimination, but to “impose the progressive left’s new morality on our citizens.”

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

Opponents to the policy at the Council hearing. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

When discrimination is discussed in the government, it should not become an issue of alleged morality. Discrimination in and of itself is immoral. Discrimination is prohibited by the United States Constitution by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applied to the states through the Incorporation Doctrine of the Fifth Amendment. It is simple–and yet disturbingly difficult–for people who oppose equality under the veil of a religious responsibility to do so.

Jason Arter, a current Clinic student, attended the meeting and shares his first-hand account of the spectacle at the Government Center that day. Mr. Arter informs us that, “[The scene] was about religion, and the damnation that is going to occur. . . not just for those in favor of the ordinance, but also for those that have selected to be comfortable with who they are, in whatever gender they feel most comfortable expressing themselves.” Mr. Arter also reveals that the Council members opposing the ordinance insisted on continuing to make links between bathroom usage, homosexuality, and pedophilia even after the bathroom portion was stricken from the vote. When asked about how he felt after the vote, Mr. Arter has a very strong opinion to share, “Community members should be outraged, not just that the ordinance failed, not that those who are elected failed to fairly represent all members of a community, but that religion has yet again dictated the course of the future for all members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community instead of the government.”

The question remains: “Why would Charlotte not want to join to rest of the country in passing these protections?”

Out of the country’s twenty largest cities by population, Charlotte is one of three that does not have in place non-discrimination policies. The other cities that join Charlotte are Memphis, TN and Jacksonville, FL. Throughout the country seventeen states and over 200 municipalities have non-discrimination policies in place to protect people who identify as LGBTQ. While visiting Charlotte, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention on March 7, 2015. During his speech he urged that the entire country needs to pass non-discrimination policies that protect the LGBQT community and stressed that those policies need to be passed now.  Biden also affirmed his support for a “federal non-discrimination . . . bill that is expected to include protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, education, jury service and federal funding.” The bill is expected to be introduced to Congress this spring.

If you feel that Charlotte should join the rest of the country in protecting all people from discrimination, continue to reach out my emailing and calling your city leaders:

Mayor Dan Clodfelter
704-336-2241
mayor@charlottenc.gov

Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes
704-509-6141
barnesforcharlotte@gmail.com

Claire Green Fallon
704-336-6105
cfallon@charlottenc.gov

David Howard
704-336-4099
info@davidhowardclt.com

Vi Lyles
704-336-3431
vlyles@charlottenc.gov

Patsy B. Kinsey
704-336-3432
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov

Al Austin
704-336-3185
aaustin@charlottenc.gov

LaWana Mayfield
704-336-3435
lmayfield@charlottenc.gov

Gregory A. Phipps
704-336-3436
gaphipps@charlottenc.gov

John N. Autry
704-336-2777
jautry@charlottenc.gov

Kenny Smith
704-574-7241
krsmith@charlottenc.gov

Edmund H. Driggs
704-432-7077
ed@eddriggs.com

When fair-minded people join together anything is possible!


UNCC Adopts New Policy for Transgender Students

March 26, 2015
Photo courtesy of UNCC.

Photo courtesy of UNCC.

Last week, the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) adopted a new policy allowing students who identify as transgender to use the restroom of choice. In the midst of Charlotte City Council’s rejection of a similar policy, the school quietly posted the change to its website: “The current policy states that any student, faculty or staff member may use the restroom that corresponds to the individual’s gender identity.”

 


Last in Line for Change: North Carolina’s Prosecution of Misdemeanor Offenses committed by Sixteen- and Seventeen-year-old Youth

March 24, 2015

By: Kai Toshumba

Two states, North Carolina being one, are stuck on sixteen while the other forty-eight states throughout the country treat sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds as youth in the juvenile justice system.[i] In North Carolina your ability to be prosecuted in the juvenile justice system for a misdemeanor offense stops at the age of fifteen. This means, any sixteen or seventeen-year-old juvenile that commits a misdemeanor offense is prosecuted in the adult criminal court system.[ii] The biggest difference between juvenile and adult records is that, juvenile records are sealed and do not follow a child once they become an adult. As the law stands, once a child turns sixteen the charge is on their record for life. Do you remember when you were sixteen? Would you want a record of your actions from that age looming over you for the rest of your adult life?

The adult court system focuses on crime and punishment while the juvenile justice system focuses on “punishment and treatment.” Most notably, the juvenile justice system holds youth and their parents accountable, unlike the adult system. The juvenile justice system has positive benefits for youth who commit misdemeanor offenses; youth who go through the juvenile system are less likely to return to the system than those dealt with in the adult system. Moreover, forty-eight percent of youths who have been arrested have a greater chance of receiving rehabilitating services tailored to keep young people on the right path compared to twenty-three percent in the adult system. These services include: frequent contact with a court attorney, assessments, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and counseling. This is a good thing folks, and contrary to popular belief, this is not a get out of jail free card; the juvenile justice system holds young people and their families accountable.

We should talk about race/ethnicity.

If you polled a minority community on the sentiments regarding the number of individuals of color who enter the juvenile or adult court system, most of the community would say the statistics are disproportionate and affect their community. How do disproportional arrest and conviction rates affect minority youth throughout the nation? The statistics are startling, but not surprising. Accordingly, “[in] states with the highest rates of disproportionate confinement of African-American children, those children are incarcerated at a rate that is between ‘twelve and twenty-five times’ that of white children.”[iii] Throughout the nation, “Latino youth are admitted to state facilities at higher rates than whites, even when charged with the same crimes.”[iv] And “Native American children are detained at two-and-a-half times the rate of white children.”[v]

Photo courtesy of ABC Television Network.

Photo courtesy of ABC Television Network.

The short and long term effect of these convictions on a juvenile’s record is profound and extends to all areas of their lives. Arrests, court hearings, and sentenced time impede a young person’s ability to have a chance at completing their education and being a productive member of society. According to the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission Juvenile Age Study, an individual’s arrest records, especially convictions and incarceration, reduce future earnings of offenders and decrease their overall likelihood of gainful employment. When national averages reveal that minority youth are being arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at higher rates than their white counterparts, North Carolinians must look critically at our juvenile system. North Carolina is last in line to change a system that allows misdemeanor offenses of sixteen and seventeen year-olds to be prosecuted as adults, and we should encourage expedient reform of a current legislative bill because frankly, time enough.

 Reform is on the Horizon.

The age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina was established in 1909, and has since remained unchanged. It took more than 100 years for the age of juvenile jurisdiction to even be considered, and on April 11, 2013, the “Raise the Age” Bill was introduced to the North Carolina General Assembly and in 2014, the NC House passed bipartisan legislation. Officially called the “Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act,” the bill is “an act to establish the juvenile jurisdiction advisory committee, to create a pilot civil citation process for juveniles, and to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who have committed misdemeanor offenses.” Since coming into the Senate’s possession in May 2014, the bill’s progress has been labeled as, “Held in Senate Clerk’s Office.” This is not a good thing, and means the bill has come to a standstill until the Senate decides to further discuss the provisions of the bill and vote to make it law.

Critics of expanding the juvenile jurisdiction say that this expansion will cost North Carolina too much money, but reports indicate otherwise. The Governor’s Crime Commission Juvenile Age Study found that an enhanced juvenile justice system can save North Carolina money. Analysis shows that, changing the age of juvenile jurisdiction can create a net benefit of $7.1 million. Accordingly, an enhanced juvenile system can have a positive impact in North Carolina by reducing the rate of recidivism, which is considered re-offending, and reducing the cost per arrest for juveniles. Other states have had success in reducing the amount of juveniles who are sent to secure placement by introducing incentives for local jurisdictions by developing detention alternatives, or eliminating secure placement for certain low-level offenders. Nationwide trends show results in favor of enhanced juvenile justice systems that prosecute sixteen and seventeen year-olds as juveniles which have positive affects the future of a youth. The negative social and economic effect that a tainted record has on a young individual can affect their ability to be positive and productive citizens for the rest of their lives.

It is vital that North Carolinians encourage action from the legislature to evaluate what they have discovered through their own research, findings, and analysis that supports the expansion of the juvenile jurisdiction. Raising the age from fifteen to seventeen will allow more children the ability to refocus their lives through the programs the juvenile jurisdiction can offer and prevent an arrest record from impeding on their success as adults. A pivotal moment for North Carolina has been presented with the creation of the Raise the Age bill. It is essential that the legislature puts this bill back in motion to become law and ensure positive reform in the lives of children who encounter the justice system.

For more legislative information and to find your legislator visit www.ncleg.net and click on “Who Represents Me?” or call 919-733-7928.

[i] North Carolina, as well as New York, treat all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds as adults when they are charge with criminal offenses.

[ii] N.C.G.S. 7B-1604. (a).

[iii] Megan Annitto, Juvenile Justice on Appeal, 66 Univ. Miami L. Rev. 671 (2012).

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.


Death Penalty Panel at CSL on Monday 3/23/15

March 19, 2015

Death Penalty Panel Flyer

 

Mark your calendars for Monday, March 23, 2015, at 6:00pm, as CSL’s Criminal Law Society hosts a Death Penalty Panel! The panel will take place in Room 901 and is catered by the Carolina Ale House. For more information, please contact Bradley Owens at owensb@students.charlottelaw.edu.


The Laws Are A-Changin’: A Look into the North Carolina’s Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program

March 10, 2015

By: M. Claire Donnelly

As of January 1, 2015, new North Carolina law is in effect that requires all misdemeanor and Chapter 20 sentences[1] to be served at the local county jail.[2] This newest change to the sentencing laws is a component of the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program (“SMCP”), which was established by the North Carolina Justice Reinvestment Act (“JRA”). Originally established to “improve public safety, reduce corrections spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease crime and reduce recidivism,” the JRA policies began reforming the North Carolina criminal sentencing statutes in 2011. While these goals of the JRA seem to show that the legislation was passed to benefit the system, further consideration needs to be made: is housing misdemeanants at the county jail truly benefitting the criminal justice system?

Development of the Law

To start, the difference between jails, also known as “local confinement facilities,” and prisons, should be noticed. Jails are run by the local government and are “used to confine persons who are awaiting trial on criminal charges, are serving short sentences imposed for conviction of a crime, or are being held for a variety of other reasons.” Prisons are operated by the state government and are generally for individuals sentenced for longer periods of time.

Inmates at a cell block of the New Hanover County Jail.  Photo courtesy of StarNews.

Inmates at a cell block of the New Hanover County Jail.  Photo courtesy of StarNews.

Prior to the enactment of the JRA, North Carolina was only one of two states that sent misdemeanants to prison.[3] Thus, North Carolina prisons had very high populations as compared to other states, and they continued to do nothing climb. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, the North Carolina Department of Corrections reported a 27 percent growth in prison population, increasing the number of prisoners by more than 40,000. The State projected that the number would continue to climb, estimating that by 2020, there would be a 10 percent increase in prison population.

Because of the growth, the State reached out to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which conducted research and data on the criminal justice system.[4] Strategies to improve the system were made and the JRA was introduced to curb the rising numbers. Initially, the JRA sought to correct several issues in North Carolina, not just misdemeanants in prison; major changes have also been made to active time for probation violations, exiting prison without community supervision, and the allocation of community supervision resources. Now reports are coming out that nationwide state prisons are going to experience a three percent growth by 2018, while North Carolina is reporting an eight percent decrease.

In 2011, the original change to the, JRA in regards to misdemeanor charges, was that sentences 180 days or less would be within the SMCP. Under that law, all sentences over 180 days and certain Chapter 20 driving violations would be served in prison. Now the law requires that “[a]ll misdemeanor sentences in excess of 90 days and all DWI sentences, regardless of length, are served through the State Misdemeanant Confinement Program … at a local confinement or treatment facility, not in prison.” Because the new law now includes all DWI sentences, an individual could get up to 36 months in a local county jail, which is the maximum sentence under the DWI laws. This 36-month sentence is an alarmingly higher sentence than the 180 days of the SMCP’s original sentencing guidelines. 

Justice v. Money

The legislature is touting the SMCP because it is a moneymaker. In this most recent change to the JRA, the SMCP proposal received bipartisan support in the General Assembly. Money is the likeliest motivator: 10 state prisons have closed since 2011, which is projected to save the state $48 million; a reported $560 million dollars will be “saved or avert[ed]” by 2017; and these savings come with a $9 million annual budget for treatment and community-based programs that remains the same as it was prior to the change. The legislature needs to look past the dollar signs. The original monetary goal of the program was two-fold: to truly “avert” the savings and to compensate the local jails for housing misdemeanor offenders. Neither of these goals is getting accomplished.

First, the goal of the JRA and the prison closures was that money would be re-directed to hire new probation officers. Hiring an estimated 300 new probation officers under Governor Pat McCrory’s proposed budget would not only beef up the currently-existing probation officer staff of 1,500, but would also allow more offenders to receive supervised probation rather than active time. No change to the budget to allow for this has been made.

Second, the compensation for local jails causes financial strain for local government. The state is providing $40 a day for each individual incarcerated at the local jail under the SMCP. This is attractive to jails that may have extra beds and can opt-into the program, however, the costs to house an offender in a jail is much higher than just $40 in North Carolina. In 2011, the Department of Corrections estimated the actual cost was $64.59 per day. New Hanover County estimates the cost is currently somewhere closer to $80 to $90 per day. In a recent project with Mecklenburg County, Clinic members learned that costs to house an individual were higher than $150 a day. Thus, while it may be helpful to get money for empty beds now, as more people stay at the county jail, local governments will face a serious financial strain under this model.

 Effects on Offenders

Statistics make the JRA look good on paper—and the long-term benefits may ultimately be good—however, one cannot help but to question the conditions and lack of programs of county jails as compared to state prisons. In the Justice Reinvestment Act Implementation Evaluation Report, an alarming statement confirms this consideration that needs to be made: “Programming (e.g. substance abuse treatment, CBI programming) for offenders housed pursuant to the SMCP is not available; generally, programming is not required in local jails.” With the minimal monetary allotment that counties are getting to house these misdemeanants, there are no additional funds available to provide the aforementioned resources they would have generally gotten in prison.

Along with lack of programming, it is unclear what will become of the good credit policies that exist for inmates. North Carolina’s Department of Corrections offered a variety of credit gaining programs for inmates, through the Inmate Nonprofit Program and other sentence reduction policies. The policies state: “When inmates are assigned to local confinement facilities or jails… the Sheriff or Administrator of the local confinement facility shall establish procedures for granting, approving, and documenting sentence reduction credit awards.” This potentially may cause another strain on local jails, in addition to monetary strains.

A noted benefit of the program is that it puts offenders closer to their families, being that they are not transferred to one of the state prisons, but rather remain in the county in which they committed the crime, or in a nearby county. So far 50 of the 100 counties have committed to participate in the SMCP, each with a varying number of available beds. While it may be positive for some offenders to be closer to friends and family, several realities may outweigh this benefit. Some incarcerated individuals do not have friends and family support. Others have been charged with a crime far away from home, making the goal of incarcerating them near home impossible. And this benefit is easy to evaporate, as once beds fill up in a jail that participates in the SMCP, the jail can “withdraw from the program completely,” causing those that would be near home to not reap this benefit of the program.

While the state makes money, potential harm could be occurring to the criminal justice system. Length of stay in local jails is now an issue. This issue needs to be addressed because several problems are going to occur to the local governments, and the resources available to inmates are evaporating. With the JRA, the state has saved money and the inmate population has been reduced, but has this occurred to the detriment of our system?

For more detailed information on the JRA and the other major changes it enacted, see the Justice Reinvestment Act Implementation Evaluation Report or the Justice Reinvestment in North Carolina: Three Years Later Report.

[1] Most states keep misdemeanants—individuals convicted of a misdemeanor—at the local jail because misdemeanor offenses are nominal crimes compared with felony offenses.

[2] The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a nonprofit devoted to “provid[ing] practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities.” More information about the Justice Center can be found at http://csgjusticecenter.org.

[3] Chapter 20 violations covered by this statute include Driving While Impaired (DWI), Driving with a License Revoked (DWLR), and other motor vehicle violations.

[4] N.C.G.S. 15A-1352(a).


Mumia Abu Jamal: A Lesson in Murder, Race, Police Brutality, Political Dissent and a Commencement Speech in Vermont

March 5, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

Mumia Abu Jamal, described by the New York Times as “perhaps the world’s most famous death row inmate” was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He was sentenced to death for the crime, and spent the next thirty years living in isolation on Death Row. The latter ten of those thirty years, he spent isolated on Death Row even though a Federal Court judge overturned his death sentence in 2001. Currently, Mumia is still in prison under a life without parole sentence, and living in general population. So, why is this convicted cop killer giving a graduation speech via a pre-recorded phone call to a class from a Vermont college?

Philadelphia, 1981

Philadelphia during the early 1980’s was a city plagued with racial tensions. Just two years before the death of Officer Faulkner, the United States Department of Justice had filed a federal lawsuit against the city’s mayor, Frank Rizzo, and other city officials for condoning police brutality. The suit claimed that in the years 1975-1979, 290 persons had been shot by the Philadelphia police force. During Rizzo’s tenure as mayor, fatal shootings by the police department had increased annually by 20 percent. When Rizzo left office in 1980, fatal shootings decreased by 67 percent. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Crime and Corrections found that the police force lacked internal leadership and that cops frequently engaged in acts of “lawlessness.”[1] [2]

During this time in the city, there was a growing political movement called MOVE. MOVE is described by CNN as a “a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a ‘back-to-nature’ lifestyle and preached against technology.” In 1978, the police began a siege of a house that was occupied by MOVE members. Although it remains disputed who fired the first shot, a Philadelphia police officer was fatally wounded during the hostilities. As television cameras filmed the members of MOVE surrendering to police, the cameras also caught an officer striking the leader of the MOVE political group, Delbert Africa, in the head with the butt of his shotgun as he dragged his body through the street while other officers repeatedly kicked him. The very next day officers had the house bulldozed; completely destroying the crime scene. MOVE members that surrendered to the police that day were charged with third-degree murder, conspiracy, and aggravated assault; all were found guilty and sentenced from thirty to 100 years in prison.[3]

The Shooting

Mumia, born Wesley Cook, was active within the MOVE organization. In his youth, he was involved with the Black Panther party until 1970. It was at this time, when he was a fifteen year old high school student, that he was put under surveillance as part of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, COINTELPRO. This program was operated in conjunction and with the cooperation of the Philadelphia police department.   Later in his life, Mumia was a popular radio journalist. He was also the President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Often his stories were critical of the police department and other city leaders. At the time of his arrest for the murder of Officer Faulkner, he also drove a cab to earn extra money.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild.

Photo courtesy of National Lawyers Guild.

At almost 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner stopped a car driven by Mumia’s brother, William Cook, and a passenger nicknamed, “Poppi”.[4] A struggle was occurring between Cook and Faulkner as Mumia, on his shift as a cab driver, happened to drive by. Moments later, as other officers are arriving, Faulkner was dead with two gunshot wounds to his head and back. Mumia sat on the curb with a gunshot from the officer’s gun to his chest, and his legally owned and registered hand-gun a few feet from him on the ground. Mumia and his brother were arrested. Cook was released a couple of days later. Mumia was charged with first degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime.

The Trial and the After Effects

Mumia’s trial began in June 1982, in the midst of heavy media coverage. The interest remains today—a general Google search of “Mumia Abu Jamal trial” brings back 182,000 hits. Proponents of Mumia claim that the adjudication process was fraught with grave injustices to Mumia’s protected civil rights of having a fair and unbiased trial and these concerns were confirmed by the report from Amnesty International. Opponents of Mumia assert that the trial was conducted in an honorable fashion and the initial sentence of death was the correct result.

Mumia has had his death warrant signed two times in the course of post-conviction appeals. In December 2001, the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld the conviction, but vacated the death sentence because egregious errors during the sentencing portion of the original trial. In particular finding, “the jury instructions and verdict sheet in this case involved an unreasonable application of federal law. The charge and verdict form created a reasonable likelihood that the jury believed it was precluded from considering any mitigating circumstance that had not been found unanimously to exist.” Mumia continued to live in solitary confinement, confined for twenty-three hours a day on Death Row for ten years, despite having his death sentence confirmed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. He was finally moved into the general prison population in December of 2011.

Goddard College and the Restriction of Speech

Goddard College is not the run-of the mill institute of higher learning. Students do not have a set schedule, textbooks or a syllabus. Faculty and students meet on campus only twice a year for two weeks at a time and students are “encouraged to question received knowledge and the status quo and to create new understandings of the world and of human experience.” Goddard College is also where Mumia began his college education in the late 1970’s, and where he later finished his degree while serving time on Death Row.

Photo courtesy of Goddard College.

Photo courtesy of Goddard College.

The latest graduating class of Goddard, which consisted of 20 students, unanimously voted to have Mumia as their commencement speaker. The class cited that they wanted Mumia to speak for his “ability to think critically and radically.”

Police and supporters took to the streets of Philadelphia to protest the speech by standing in silence at the spot Officer Faulkner was shot for thirty minutes to “drown out the voice of Mumia Abu Jamal.”

And that is not all the supporters did to try to silence Mumia once more: Pennsylvania state legislators introduced HS 2533, which amends the Crime Victims Act of 1998, by allowing a district attorney in the county were a “personal injury” crime had occurred or by allowing the Attorney General, after conferring with said district attorney, to institute a cause of action against an offender whose actions “perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim.” The bill defines actions that perpetuates the continuing effects of the crime on the victim as “conduct that creates a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish on the victim.”

Impact on the First Amendment

HS 2533 severely restricts any person ever convicted of a personal injury crime from exercising the freedom of speech found in the First Amendment. This bill does not account for the severity of the crime, the nature of the circumstances surrounding the crime, the length of time from when the crime was committed until the person does any type conduct which creates mental anguish in the victim. That is because not one of those factors matter when addressing rather or not an offender can communicate. The bill restricts all forms of speech the offender can engage in rather it is related to the crime or not.

When Mumia delivered the commencement speech to Goddard via a pre-recorded message accompanied by a slideshow, he never spoke of the crime of which he has been convicted. He never spoke about Daniel Faulkner, Faulkner’s widow, the police, his trial or any other related topic to the controversial episode that occurred back in December 9, 1981. He simply spoke.

Mumia spoke of finding one’s passion in life and following that passion. He spoke about education and how education is the key to expanding the mind, to cultivate awareness and to make change in oneself. He spoke about the perils around the world and how the world desperately needs new ideas to eradicate old problems. Mumia cited classic literary works like the Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and works of John Dewy. Social change and social transformation is what Mumia impressed upon the graduates of Goddard by telling those listening, “That your job is not to get a job. Your job is to make a difference.”

The issue that remains is not whether or not Mumia killed Faulkner, or whether Mumia got a fair trial; those opinions are for the reader to decide once he or she reviews all of the facts. The court in Pennsylvania holds that he did; thus he remains in incarcerated. The very act of Mumia still being alive is causing the victim, Faulkner’s widow, mental anguish. By HS 2533’s vague and broad standard that alone is enough to ask for a permanent injunction against Mumia. But an injunction against Mumia from doing what? Being alive? How can you place an injunction on someone’s life?

The question is when can the government silence an offender, incarcerated or not, because people do not like what that person is saying or doing. The answer is never. But it is happening. It is happening to Mumia because he spoke about making the world a better place. It is happening to federal prisoners who want to challenge their convictions by prison officials censoring the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook. A conviction of a crime does not simply obliterate a person’s constitutional rights.

And that is the beautiful thing about the country in which we live. All people get to have a voice. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not; it doesn’t matter if you like it or not; and it doesn’t matter what color a person may be; or what religion a person may practice; or where a person may fall on the social hierarchy; or what crime the person may have committed. It shouldn’t matter, but oh, how it does.

[1] For an in-depth analysis on the case of Mumia Abu Jamal see Amnesty International’s full report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR51/001/2000/en/0987a185-dfd3-11dd-8e17-69926d493233/amr510012000en.pdf.

[2] For the response to the Amnesty International’s report from Faulkner’s representatives: http://danielfaulkner.com/docs/response.pdf.

[3] “A similar incident occurred in 1985, when a stand-off developed between police and members of MOVE. The siege was ended when a police helicopter dropped an incendiary device on the house, killing 11 of its occupants, including six children (only two occupants survived). The device also started a fire that destroyed over 60 houses in the predominately black area. In 1995, a federal jury awarded MOVE members $1.5 million after determining that the city of Philadelphia had violated their constitutional right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure when the police dropped the bomb.” (Amnesty International Report, 4).

[4] It is disputed by the prosecution that this person even exists.


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