Criminal Justice

Breakthrough Decision in Federal "State Secrets" Lawsuit

March 31, 2010

In a breakthrough decision, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in San Francisco on March 31 that unwarranted government surveillance of an Oregon-based Muslim organization by the National Security Agency is illegal. The judge ruled that the practice, begun by the Bush Administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, amounted to "unfettered executive-branch discretion" that had "obvious potential for government abuse."

The ruling came in a case where the government wiretapped phone calls of a now-defunct Islamic charity organization, Al Haramain, and two lawyers representing the group, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires warrants for domestic surveillance. The Obama Justice Department, like its predecessor, also invoked the state secrets privilege to try to block the lawsuit.

The case is one of several that were filed after an AT&T whistleblower initially revealed that the NSA installed "vacuum cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the Internet," providing the NSA with the personal calling patterns of millions of California customers, including phone numbers called, and the time and date of the calls, without their customers' knowledge or consent in violation of both federal and state laws. Another anonymous source told USA Today that such surveillance could create a"database of every call ever made" within the country.

Federal courts have dismissed dozens of legal challenges to the surveillance program after the government argued "state secrets." Attorney Jon Eisenberg stated that the judge's ruling affirms "the president, just like any other citizens of the United States, is bound by the law."

A federal judge ruled March 31 that unwarranted government surveillance of an organization by the National Security Agency is illegal. The judge ruled that the practice amounted to "unfettered executive-branch discretion" that had "obvious potential for government abuse." The ruling came in a case where the government wiretapped phone calls of a now-defunct Islamic charity organization, Al Haramain, and two lawyers representing the group, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires warrants for domestic surveillance.  The U.S. government has invoked the state secrets privilege to try to block the lawsuit.

San Diego Sued for Destroying Property of Homeless People

December 2, 2009

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties sued the city of San Diego for intentionally destroying homeless people's property--including family photos and medication--while individuals sought services at a local church and homeless shelter. The suit alleges that during three incidents in September and October police and city environmental service workers threw the homeless people's possessions into a garbage truck, even after the owners, who saw what was occuring, tried to stop the destruction of their property.

In a similar case in Fresno, a federal judge in July 2008 approved a $2.35 million class action settlement for homeless residents of Fresno.  The judge had earlier ruled that the city of Fresno and the state Department of Transportation had violated the homeless residents' constitutional rights by seizing and destroying their property.

California has a long history of criminalizing poverty. In 1855, for example, the legislature passed the so-called "Greaser Law," which allowed for up to 90 days of hard labor for "the issue of Spanish and Indian blood . . .  who can give no good account of themselves." In 1936, Los Angeles police chief James Davis sent 135 LAPD officers to California's borders to turn back migrants who had no money or jobs.

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And in other news from San Diego, human rights activists protested the lack of adequate safety features in a portion of the All-American Canal where immigrants frequently cross into the U.S.  According to one of the activists, about 600 people have drowned in the canal since it was built more than 40 years ago. In late 1994, the federal government instituted "Operation Gatekeeper," a program to beef up the border control infrastructure near San Diego and to push the flow of immigrants further east to more isolated and dangerous areas.  A report issued in late September 2009 by Mexico's Human Rights Commission and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties revealed that despite a 50% drop in the number of immigrants caught illegally entering the U.S. near the border with Mexico, the number of people who died while attempting to cross the border increased in 2009 to the highest level since 2006.  According to the report, since 1994, the rate of deaths along the 2,000 mile U.S-Mexico border has been one a day.

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The ACLU sued the city of San Diego for intentionally destroying the property of homeless people.

Governor Acts on Civil Liberties Bills

October 2, 2012

Facing a September 30 deadline to decide on proposed legislation, Governor Brown took action on several civil liberties-related bills impacting workers, immigrants, LGBT youth, clergy, and the criminal justice system.

Workers:  He vetoed a bill that would have provided labor protections like overtime pay and meal breaks for domestic workers.  He also vetoed proposals allowing farmworkers to sue employers who deprive them of water and shade.

Immigrants:  The governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited local law enforcement agencies from detaining individuals for suspected immigration violations unless accused of a violent or serious crime. He approved legislation allowing undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children to obtain driver's licenses.

LGBT Youth: Governor Brown signed legislation prohibiting psychotherapists from discredited efforts designed to change a young person's sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Religion: He signed a bill clarifying that no clergy members would be forced to perform marriages that run contrary to their religous beliefs.

Criminal Justice:  The governor approved a bill allowing approximately 300 prisoners, issued life sentences as juveniles, the opportunity to appeal for shorter prison terms.

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In the final two days before a legislative deadline, Governor Brown signed and vetoed numerous bills impacting civil liberties

New Study Documents Death Penalty is Costlier Than Life Sentences

June 20, 2011

A three-year study conducted by a federal judge and a law professor reveals that California is spending $184 million more per year on the state's 714 death-row inmates than it would if the prisoners had been sentenced to life without parole.

Ninth Circut Court of Appeals Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell authored "Executing the Will of the Voters: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature's Multi-Billion-Dollar Death Penalty Debacle."

They had access to California State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records unavailable to prior researchers. Their findings echo earlier reports that executing prisoners costs far more than incarcerating them for life without parole.

Professor Mitchell opposes the death penalty, while Judge Alarcon does not. They intended their study to be objective and to leave aside moral questions about capital punishment.

In reaction to the report, state Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) announced she will introduce legislation to generate an initiative to end state executions and replace existing death sentences to life without the possibility of parole.

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In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment violated the state constitution because it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As a result of the ruling, 107 inmates were taken off death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. In November of that same year, voters passed an initiative promoted by law enforcement interests that reinstated the death penalty. But a U.S Supreme Court decision that same year placed a moratorium on executions in California until several years later.

According to "Executing the Will of the Voters," California taxpayers have spent an everage of $308 million for each of the 13 people  executed in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.

 

Maintaining capital punishment costs the state at least $184 million more a year than life sentences.

U.S. Court of Appeals Dismisses Torture Lawsuit

September 9, 2010

A divided Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 6-5 to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of five men who said that they were tortured after the CIA transported them to foreign prisons. Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, was accused of providing flight planning and logistical support for the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.

The Obama administration had argued that the case should be thrown out because trying the suit would reveal state secrets. The majority of the appellate court panel agreed, but with hesitation.

In April 2009, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit had ruled unanimously that the case should move foward and that the government could only invoke the state secrets argument in relation to specific evidence, not the entire case.

It was this decision that the government successfully appealed to the full circuit court.

The ACLU said it would appeal this latest ruling to the United State Supreme Court.

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San Jose-based Jeppesen Dataplan was the target of the lawsuit challenging the government's extraordinary rendition program. 

Patriot Act Provisions Extended

February 28, 2010

On February 27, President Obama signed legislation extending for one year key provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire on February 28. The reauthorized provisions:

  • Allow the FBI to conduct "roving wiretaps," or wiretapping a phone without having to provide the target's name or even the phone number.
  • Maintain a lower standard of proof needed to obtain a court order to access private information. Before passage of the Patriot Act, the FBI needed evidence that a person targeted for surveillance was the agent of a foreign power. The reauthorized Patriot Act provision allows the FBI to claim that the items or information it seeks is relevant to an investigation. A subject of surveillance doesn't necessarily have to be the focus of the investigation or even be suspected of involvement in terrorism.
  • Authorize surveillance of a non-U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activities but  not associated with a terrorist group or foreign nation. 

In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration rushed through Congress the 342-page Patriot Act. The final version of the law was written behind closed doors and was presented to Congress for a one-hour debate and an up-or-down vote. The law's sweeping provissions included secret surveillance and searches, widespread government access to personal records (including library, insurance, medical, and financial information), and the suspension of the rights of the accused, esepcially noncitizens who could be arrested and subject to deportation for belonging to or providing material support to any organization tha the government deemed "terrorist."

Congress had rejected many of these same proposals in the months and years prior to 9/11, recognizing that they violated the Constitution. But in the chilling atmosphere, lawmakers were eager to go along with the Bush administration.

 

President signs bill reauthorizing for one year three provisions set to expire. Congress rejects reforms that would have restored privacy rights.

Wherever There's a Fight on New America Now Radio Program

November 12, 2009

Wherever There's a Fight co-author, Stan Yogi, spoke with Sandip Roy, host of New America Now: Dispatches from the New Majority.  The interview was broadcast on San Francisco's KALW radio on Friday, November 6, and again on Sunday, November 8.  Listen to the interview by clicking on the button below.

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Listen to Wherever There's a Fight co-author Stan Yogi being interviewed by Sandip Roy of KALW's New America Now.

Los Angeles Police Attack Peaceful Anti-War Marchers

On June 23, 1967, thousands of white, middle-class citizens peacefully marched through posh Century City to protest the Vietnam War, while President Lyndon Johnson attended a fundraising dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel. Los Angeles police officers attacked hundreds of the demonstrators.

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Federal Appeals Court Upholds California's DNA Collection Law

February 24, 2012

Calling the collection of a DNA sample a "minor inconvenience" that is no more invasive than fingerprinting, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 ruling upheld California's voter-approved law requiring DNA samples from people arrested, but not necessarily convicted, for alleged felonies.

The dissenting judge, however, raised privacy concerns and pointed out that DNA, unlike fingerprints, contains genetic information that "reveals information about familial relationships."

The Ninth Circut ruling conflicts with an August 2011 state appeals court ruling which struck down the law. The state supreme court is reviewing that decision.

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Federal decision conflicts with an existing state appellate court decision. The issue will likely go to the United States Supreme Court.

Moratorium on Executions in California Continues Into 2012

May 5, 2011

Attorneys for the state of California told U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel that they will not be prepared to defend the state's lethal injection process until early 2012. 

This development in ongoing litigation challenging the lethal injection process is due to the decision of Michael Martel, the new warden of San Quention prison, to select a new team of guards to conduct executions.

And it comes on the heels of Governor Jerry Brown announcing his decision to cancel plans for a new $356 million death row complex at San Quentin.

In 2006, Judge Fogel temporarily halted executions in California until the state revised the process of killing condemned prisoners to insure that they do not suffer from cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, there has been a de facto moratorium on executions.

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In 1972, the California Spreme Court ruled that capital punishment violated the state constitution because it constituted cruel and unusual punishment. As a result of the ruling, 107 inmates were taken off death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. In November of that same year, voters passed an initiative promoted by law enforcement interests that reinstated the death penalty.

San Quentin Prison warden's decision to change execution team delays state's defense of lethal injection in ongoing litigation
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