Aloha Green Apoth says it wishes to help address the statewide shortage of anti-viral products for its medical cannabis patients.
HONOLULU - A local medical cannabis dispensary is now helping keep its clients healthy - in a new way. Aloha Green Holdings Inc., which does business as Aloha Green Apoth, says it "will use its cannabis concentrates production lines to produce large quantities of hydroalcoholic gels immediately."
These hand sanitizing gels will be available free of charge to 329 card holding patients at both Aloha Green Apoth dispensaries immediately. There will be a limit of one 1.7 oz. (50 ml) bottle of sanitizing gel per patient per day until it ramps up production. Aloha Green Apoth says its intention is to dedicate enough manufacturing lines to produce free hand sanitizer for Oahu’s first responders during the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to regulations, patients must have a valid 329 card to enter a retail dispensary. No purchase is necessary. Aloha Green Apoth reminds people that health authorities say soap and water is still the most effective method to cleaning your hands and avoiding infection, but that using a 60%-plus alcohol-based solution when soap and water is unavailable is also effective.
Aloha Green Apoth operates the largest state-of-the-art cannabis manufacturing lab in Hawaii. Aloha Green Apoth already has inventory of food grade ethanol, natural botanicals, and local aloe vera, which is normally used for the production of cannabis oils, hard concentrates, pills/lozenges and infused topical products. There is no cannabis or cannabis compounds in the free hand sanitizer, it assures.
According to the State of Hawaii Department of Health Medical Cannabis (329) Registry Program, in February 2020 the average age of a registered medical cannabis patient in Hawaii is approximately 52-years-old and all have an underlying medical condition which may include cancer, HIV/ AIDS, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain and ALS. This older patient population is vulnerable to COVID-19, especially since many must travel to one of five retail dispensary locations on Oahu as there is no delivery or curbside pickup option available.
“All our locations have a supply of hand sanitizer solution for employee and patient use. We have increased our sanitation procedures and implemented new social distancing procedures. Due to the recent reports of hoarding, outages and low supplies in Honolulu, we have decided to manufacture and provide bottles of hand sanitizer free of charge to vulnerable patients who are at increased risk,” states Aloha Green Apoth spokesperson TY Cheng.
CEO James Lee adds “Supporting our local community is a foundational goal for our company. Our cannabis medicines provide essential relief for so many patients and we hope patients will continue to feel safe at our dispensaries.”
Aloha Green Apoth operates in Honolulu in the Interstate Building, and in Waikiki. More information on the State of Hawaii Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program statistics is available at: https://health.hawaii.gov/medicalcannabisregistry/submenu/program-statistics/.
The number of people on probation or parole in the United States is roughly double the number of people behind bars. Yet a quick search on Amazon reveals that the number of books about incarceration exceeds the number of books about probation by more than tenfold. That imbalance matters. If we don’t provide adequate services for probationers and parolees, we will fail to build on the recent trend of modest decarceration. Jason Hardy helps rectify this imbalance with The Second Chance Club, a thoughtful account of his work at the New Orleans Department of Probation and Parole (“P&P” in the local argot).
In his agreeably unpretentious style, Hardy introduces himself as a failed former public school teacher, failed former novelist, and currently failing JCPenney watch salesman, who aspires to a more meaningful and remunerative career. Disgusted by mass incarceration, he responds to an advertisement for a position at P&P, which he gets simply because the desperate agency assumes that he can leave his current job without giving two weeks’ notice. During training he learns that virtually everyone else, like himself, has already washed out from other occupations. Their instructors make it clear that the department is so short of officers they will bend over backward to make sure everyone passes the training course.
Hardy’s training requires him to memorize “obscure Louisiana statutes like Theft of an alligator” and provides hours of instruction on how to put on handcuffs and fire a gun. As his book later makes clear, his training did not provide him with the essentials of effective community supervision, such as skills in counseling and in navigating the social welfare bureaucracy, nor did it offer thorough knowledge of addiction and behavior change principles.
Despite their insufficient training, Hardy is surprised to discover that his fellow officers are generally dedicated and even, at times, idealistic. With admirable candor, he immediately surrenders any delusions of being a savior, recognizing that P&P’s challenges are not produced by the characteristics of its officers so much as the rules under which they work. These structural challenges become clear on Hardy’s first day at work, when he is handed 220 thick files on the people he is supposed to supervise. Absorbing so much information is daunting, supervising so many people even more so. His fellow officers tell him to triage, focusing his effort on the cases that pose the highest risk and have the greatest needs. This strategy relies on the assumption that the criminal justice system is consistently accurate in measuring risk. Hardy doesn’t question this assumption, but many social scientists would.
More barriers to success soon become evident. Hardy arrives at a time of transition in the department, when Louisiana—rhetorically, at least—is moving away from incarceration. What this means practically is letting slide many probation and parole infractions that once triggered harsh punishment. But it doesn’t mean that there is much more investment in services. Hardy puts his finger on the larger political challenge: “Nobody who mattered gave a shit about probation and parole.” The result is a system that in at least one sense has no bias: “P&P treated everyone equally—that is to say, poorly—because we didn’t have the resources to treat anybody well.”
Hardy also makes an astute point about political economy. Much of the public simultaneously resents the high cost of prisons yet also opposes spending on services for people under community supervision, considering them “goodies for baddies.” This is spectacularly shortsighted, because providing such services is critical for diverting some people from prison to probation and keeping paroled ex-prisoners from being reincarcerated.
Hardy also grapples with the system’s inability to impose consequences other than imprisonment for infractions. Fines are sometimes levied, but no one pays them, and no one is punished for not paying them. This leaves incarceration as the only way to deter violation of supervision conditions. And officers, he notes, are punished for responding to violations—it creates piles of paperwork, the need for court appearances, and then more paperwork. It’s easy for the supervisors and the supervised to fall into an implicit bargain: If you pretend you are a good supervisee, I will pretend that I’m a good officer.
Hardy and his fellow officers soldier on despite it all. The heart of the book is narratives about seven of the individuals he supervises. Their problems are manifold, the most consistent being poverty and addiction. Some of them are also exploitative of others and prone to violence, and many run with a rough crowd. As a white parole officer in a notoriously corrupt city where many black people are understandably suspicious of cops, Hardy realizes that he has to overcome his charges’ skepticism. He largely succeeds, through evident compassion toward the frequently difficult and sometimes dangerous people he is assigned to supervise.
Hardy struggles alongside his supervisees through the maddening process of finding psychiatric, vocational, educational, and addiction-related services. On multiple occasions, he finds that he can’t place someone in a treatment program until a physician diagnoses them with a mental health or addictive disorder, but the only way to do that is to admit the person to a treatment program in the first place. He rages and grieves, and the reader does so along with him; yet he also persists, facilitating a few victories that are an antidote to despair.
Failed novelist or not, Hardy has some literary gifts that enliven the book. His regional manager wears “a constant, nervous smile, as if he’d gotten good news but was holding off on believing until he saw the proof.” Hardy also takes breaks from the pain of his subjects’ lives by adding some amusing details, such as the deep affection some offenders have for cop shows. His supervisees root for TV cops, who tend to be more professional and honorable than the real-world cops they know. And they hate TV criminals, who are portrayed as sociopathic and thus, in their view, completely different than themselves, who are just trying to get by in an unfair world.
Hardy deserves credit for providing counterexamples to common liberal pieties about his work, including ones he previously espoused himself. He finds that, rather than being the exclusive purview of racist whites, tough-on-crime attitudes are prevalent among poor, black residents of neighborhoods with high crime rates. He also highlights examples where actual or threatened punishment has a positive impact. One woman struggling with addiction thanks him for sending her to jail after a relapse, because it helped her turn her life around. Another woman plans to get high but chooses not to because she realizes that she has a drug test coming up.
He is also candid about the fact that the social welfare programs he advocates, such as food stamps and Social Security, are often abused by scammers. Indeed, he observes sadly that bureaucratic rules around these programs are often easier for determined con artists to overcome than they are for the sick and the needy. A healthy, intelligent drug dealer can supplement his income by faking chronic pain, making all his doctor’s appointments, and filling out all of the required disability forms. Someone who is actually living in excruciating pain finds these same steps much more challenging.
These insights help compensate for the things that Hardy gets wrong. He relentlessly touts what the law professor John Pfaff calls the “standard story” of mass incarceration: that our large prison populations are a consequence of drug prohibition, which was designed to fill prisons with black people. This is not a criticism of Hardy in particular, as the standard story has been repeated in countless media stories, movies, and academic journal articles. In fact, drug offenders are only about one-sixth of U.S. prisoners, and if they were all released tomorrow the proportion of prisoners who are African American would go up rather than down. Further, the drug that drives by far the most crime, arrests, and incarceration is legal: alcohol. On that latter point, it is discouraging that everyone in Hardy’s department, including him, ignores heavy drinking by their supervisees, yet virtually all of them lecture their charges to avoid “drugs.”
Hardy’s analysis of the appeal of drug dealing to his supervisees and to low-income people more generally is partly false and partly true. He repeatedly describes drug dealing as lucrative, when careful research by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter shows that it’s a boom-or-bust business; over a typical year, it pays less than a steady minimum-wage job. He’s on stronger ground when he points to the appeal of the lifestyle to some young men, particularly being feared and being attractive to young women.
But the strengths of the book shine through. The Second Chance Club illuminates the lives of people who provide and receive community supervision, and it lays out necessary structural changes. Hardy makes a powerful case that minimal funding for community supervision increases risks to those in the system and the people around them. This is bad enough in itself, but it is also penny-wise and pound-foolish. Many offenders end up back in prison, costing taxpayers even more than it would have to adequately fund parole and probation. That’s to say nothing of the human cost.
Hardy’s other critical point is that a system that relies exclusively on ignoring violations or handing out long prison terms will fail to change behavior, protect public safety, and provide justice. Finding an intermediate route for responding to violations is one of the central goals of the “swift, certain, and fair” approaches to community supervision that were described in this magazine in 2013 by the late Mark Kleiman. Such systems combine frequent testing for drug use with transparent, pre-specified, and modest consequences (for example, a single night in jail instead of a return to prison to serve out one’s term). This approach also minimizes staff paperwork and delays when supervisors report an infraction to the judge. Evidence shows that swift, certain, and fair systems reduce substance use, crime, and reincarceration among people on community supervision. Reformers should look to these strategies as one solution to many of the problems that Hardy documents in his candid, engaging book.
In 2018, there were more than 1.6 million drug arrests in the United States. More than 86% of these arrests are for possession only, and many more are for minor selling and distribution violations.
Twenty-six states plus the District of Columbia have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Other jurisdictions are experimenting with de facto decriminalization through Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs. LEAD directs people to drug treatment or other supportive services instead of arresting and booking them for certain drug law violations, including possession and low-level sales.
These are important victories, but they are not enough. The Drug Policy Alliance supports decriminalizing all drugs, not just marijuana.
What is Decriminalization?
Drug decriminalization would eliminate criminal penalties for:
What are the Benefits of Decriminalization?
Removing criminal penalties for drug possession and low-level sales would:
Defelonization can be a stepping-stone to decriminalization and provides a snapshot into the potential benefits of full decriminalization. Defelonization means that drug law violations are reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. The 2014 defelonization victory in CA substantially reduced the number of people in prison and especially local jails. Those savings are now being reallocated to provide needed services.
However, defelonization does not go far enough. Misdemeanors still have criminalizing consequences, and full removal of criminal penalties – decriminalization – is needed for people experiencing problematic drug use to seek help without any fear of arrest.
Will Decriminalizing Drugs Increase Drug Dependency or Crime?
A common fear is that decriminalizing drugs would lead to more drug dependency and crime. There is no indication this is true. Data from the U.S. and around the world suggest that treating problematic drug use as a health issue, instead of a criminal one, is a more successful model for keeping communities healthy and safe.
Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2001. More than a decade later, drug use has remained about the same – but arrests, incarceration, disease, overdose and other harms are all down:
Montgomery County Chief Public Defender Dean Beer and Deputy Chief Keisha Hudson were fired last month after filing an amicus brief critical of the county’s bail setting practices.
Despite hours of testimony from roughly 50 residents and stakeholders, the Montgomery County Commissioners did not vote Thursday to reinstate its two top public defenders, whose firing in February drew national backlash.
The three-member board of commissioners met for the first time since removing Chief Public Defender Dean Beer and Deputy Chief Keisha Hudson from their positions on Feb. 26, after their office filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging bail setting practices in Philadelphia.
Board chair Valerie Arkoosh did not support reinstatement but said Thursday that she agrees the criminal justice system needs reforming.
“It’s been a very, very difficult decision for me as I’ve weighed issues that are personnel issues versus policy that I’ve never ever opposed,” Arkoosh said.
Others in attendance on Thursday expressed support for the public defenders. John McMahon, a defense attorney and resident of Montgomery County, called Beer and Hudson courageous for filing the brief and highlighting the “unconstitutional bail practices” in the county.
“Your action in firing these two dedicated public servants at a time and under circumstances that were all but certain to create an undeniable appearance of impropriety is deeply troubling,” he said during public comment.
The amicus brief argues that how and when bail is set in Montgomery County is unequal and problematic. In particular, it noted that there is often no defense counsel present at bail hearings and that police, not the district attorney’s office, generally make a recommendation for bail—a common practice across the state.
The Appeal reviewed nearly 30,000 criminal dockets filed in Montgomery County between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2018, and found that whether a person is held in jail pretrial depends heavily on which police department files the charges.
Ten of the more than 50 police departments in the county filed at least 1,000 criminal cases between 2016 and 2018. Pretrial detention rates varied widely across those departments: 56 percent of people charged by Norristown Police Department were held pretrial, while 23 percent of people charged by Pennsylvania State Police Skippack were held pretrial.
Nearly 83 percent of cases with a felony lead charge, and more than 40 percent of cases with a misdemeanor lead charge, brought by Norristown Police Department resulted in pretrial incarceration for the person charged.
In the brief, which was ultimately withdrawn at the request of county commissioners, the public defender’s office also highlighted several cases of low-income people held on cash bail, including a teen mother held on $50,000, a man held on $250 bail for stealing Oil of Olay, and an elderly woman held on $5,000 bail for stealing a bottle of wine.
More than 40 percent of people with bail set at $500 or less in the county between 2009 and 2013 were unable to post bail, according to data published by Measures for Justice.
The Appeal also found that Black people in the county were significantly more likely to be held pretrial than white people, and more than 60 percent of people charged with a felony as their lead charge were held pretrial.
The issues and concerns raised in the brief are not unique to Montgomery County. Because magisterial district judges are given wide discretion in how they set bail, the amount someone has to pay and the frequency in which cash bail is imposed can fluctuate from county to county and even from judge to judge.
High bail amounts are also often used to coerce people charged to plead guilty as a way to get out of jail. Indeed, a 2018 study found that people held in jail pretrial were more likely to plead guilty than people who were not held pretrial. The researchers also found that, on average, people held pretrial had an annual income well below the federal poverty line and were less likely to find gainful employment after their release.
Public defenders in Pennsylvania are employees of the county who can be hired and fired by the county commissioners. The commissioners do not wield the same authority over district attorneys or judges, who are independently elected.
Beer said being employed at the will of the commissioners can create a chilling effect on public defender’s offices wishing to advocate for reforms to the system.
“It’s inherently troublesome because you are appointed and you are at the will of politics,” Beer said.
Beer’s concerns were echoed by nearly 30 members of the public defender’s office.
“To witness our chiefs fired, in serial fashion, escorted from the Office by security, given no opportunity to explain their dismissal or to check on the staff they had recruited and advocated for daily was deeply upsetting, and created a sense of confusion, fear, and had a chilling effect on those of us who remained,” an open letter from the public defender’s office read. “We were left to question the independence of the Office, the impact of our advocacy, and whether such advocacy would be limited.”
Beyond the outcry over Beer and Hudson’s firing, the decision to remove them was made behind closed doors in possible violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. Pennsylvania law allows for discussion of firing employees in a closed meeting, she said, but requires that a vote be taken during an open meeting to make that action official.
“Hiring and firing is ‘official action’ that must take place at a public meeting, and there has to be an opportunity for public comment prior to the vote,” Melewsky told The Appeal.
The commissioners met in private on Feb. 25 to discuss “personnel issues,” had security physically remove Beer and Hudson from their office a day later, but did not vote on the firing Thursday.
Montgomery County Commissioners spokesman John Corcoran told The Appeal that it was the commissioners’ position that they do not have vote publicly to make Beer and Hudson’s termination official.
The board will not meet again until 10 a.m. on March 19. Until then, the official status of Beer and Hudson’s positions potentially remains in legal limbo.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — In the latest twist on a key Trump administration immigration policy, a federal appeals court said it will prevent the government from making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings starting next week unless the Supreme Court steps in sooner.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Wednesday that it would only block the “Remain in Mexico” policy in Arizona and California, the two border states under its authority.
President Donald Trump’s administration says it is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and had asked that the policy remain in effect until next week to give the high court time to decide. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled in the administration’s favor on questions of immigration and border enforcement.
The latest turn in the case comes after the 9th Circuit halted the policy along the entire southern border on Friday but suspended its own order later that day after the government warned of dire consequences. “Remain in Mexico” is a crucial part of the Trump administration’s response to large numbers of asylum-seekers appearing at the border.
On Wednesday, the court ruled that the policy will no longer be in effect on Mexico’s border with California and Arizona starting March 12 unless the Supreme Court wades in sooner. It declined to extend its order to federal courts in the two other southern border states — New Mexico and Texas.
Judges William Fletcher and Richard Paez, both appointed by President Bill Clinton, said they acknowledged that nationwide orders applied to places outside a court’s jurisdiction are “a matter of intense and active controversy.”
They reaffirmed their view that the policy, known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” is illegal under U.S. law to prevent sending people to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a particular social group.
There is no question about “the extreme danger to asylum seekers who are returned to Mexico,” they wrote.
Judge Ferdinand Fernandez, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, disagreed with blocking the policy at all.
Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to end the policy, emphasized the majority’s opinion that it’s illegal.
“If the administration had any respect for the law or any sense of decency, it would end this program immediately,” she said. “We will continue working to permanently end this illegal and inhumane policy.”
The Justice Department declined to comment. In a court filing Tuesday, it warned of “massive disruption to the government’s immigration operations and sudden confusion for thousands of migrants about their ability to enter the United States. ”
About 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait for their cases to wind through clogged U.S. immigration courts since the policy was introduced in January 2019 in San Diego and later expanded across the border.
Human Rights First, an advocacy group that opposes the policy, said it found more than 1,000 public reports of kidnappings, torture, rape and assaults of asylum-seekers returned to Mexico.
The school-to-prison pipeline is a relatively new term for a problem that has been plaguing America for years. It describes failures in the education system where certain groups of students — students of color, with disabilities, or LGBTQ — are disproportionately disciplined more harshly, including referral to law enforcement for minimal misbehavior; achieve at lower levels; and eventually drop or are pushed out of school, often into juvenile justice facilities and prison.
The American Bar Association has been studying and addressing the problem and its Task Force on Reversing the School to Prison Pipeline has issued a preliminary report with recommendations. At the ABA’s 2020 Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas, the ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice held a program on Feb. 15 titled “School to Prison Pipeline: From Report to Action,” part of the Defending Liberty Pursuing Justice Summit to focus on how the legal profession can work on the state and local level to implement the report’s five primary recommendations to solve the problem.
Twanda Turner-Hawkins, a member of COREJ and director of Global Litigation for Dematic Corp. and KION Americas, moderated the panel discussion and summarized the ABA’s report recommendations into five areas that became ABA policy in 2016:
The panel consisted of people who have worked as advocates for youth who have been subject to the system. Andrew Hairston, a civil rights attorney and director of the Texas Appleseed School-to- Prison Pipeline Project, talked about how “modern, historic racism” and the “failure to acknowledge the humanity” of these students were the cause of the problem.
Sonya Crider, executive director of the Downtown Seattle YMCA, stressed the importance of teachers having classroom management skills. She warned against having a teacher make the first call at any sign of trouble to the school resource officer. She suggested that if you find out what a child was doing, many times it was not disruptive behavior and a conversation can prevent escalation.
Carla Laroche, a clinical professor at the Florida State University College of Law Public Interest Law Center, talked about the importance of getting the child’s point of view, to ask the question, “What happened to you?” She pointed out that policies such as dress codes or the involvement of school resource officers can create consequences that we do not even think about.
When a student is suspended, planning a transition plan to bring the student back into the classroom without falling behind is an often-overlooked part of the system, according to Steven Aleman, who serves as an in-house expert for Disability Rights Texas. He said that in Texas, a student transition plan is now required, but that is not the case in all states. He suggested using state statutes and regulations, but also unconventional means such as budget tools to institute policies to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
The panel encouraged everyone to read the preliminary report at ambar.org/stpp, study the data and take ideas back to their home jurisdictions to help solve the problem.
Paulette Brown, who served as ABA President in 2015-16 and was instrumental in pushing forward the report and the ABA policy, introduced the panel. She discussed the harm and consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline and the problems of implicit bias that help fuel the system.
Being punished with suspension or expulsion and subsequently entering the justice system can put many lives on the wrong road for no good reason. “A child who was not a criminal before can become one,” Brown said. And that hurts all of society
The right to vote has been an uphill battle for Native Americans. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped to secure and protect that right for many Native Americans and Alaska Natives. With the Voting Rights Act, voter participation among Native Americans increased. However, the Supreme Court invalidated the Section 5 preclearance formula in 2013 (Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013)), removing one of the most powerful tools to ensure equal access to the ballot, including Alaska and Arizona, and two jurisdictions in South Dakota with significant Native American and Alaska Native populations. Since the Shelby County decision, efforts to suppress the vote have increased. For Native Americans, these voter suppression efforts can and do have devastating impacts.
Despite the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, many Native Americans living on reservations continued to be excluded from the democratic process. In 1948, Native Americans in New Mexico and Arizona successfully litigated their right to vote. Utah and North Dakota became the last states to afford on-reservation Native Americans the right to vote in 1957 and 1958, respectively. When the right to vote was finally secured, voter suppression laws kept Native Americans from voting and seeking elected office. In Arizona, for example, Native Americans could not fully participate in voting until 1970 when the Supreme Court upheld the ban against using literacy tests (Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970)). Today, the right to vote continues to be challenged through the passage of new laws and practices that either fail to consider, disregard, or intentionally target Native American voters.
In order to understand the challenges faced by Native American voters, one must recognize the vast differences in experiences, opportunities, and realities facing on-reservation voters as compared to off-reservation voters.
I will never forget the Navajo grandmother who spoke only Navajo and could not vote after Arizona passed its voter ID law in 2004. She tried several times to obtain an Arizona ID on her own but was denied because she was born at home in a hogan, and the boarding schools changed her Navajo name to English. She lived in a modest home on the Navajo Reservation without electricity and running water, and lived a traditional lifestyle taking care of her sheep. She was embarrassed and devastated when she was turned away from the polls for not having an ID. Working with her, a team from the Indian Legal Clinic traveled five hours to meet her at multiple agency offices to obtain her delayed birth certificate; we then went to two separate Motor Vehicle Division Offices. The first one did not issue same-day photo IDs, and the other initially denied her request. The office rejected her delayed Navajo birth certificate, until I was able to intervene and demonstrate to them that it was an acceptable document. The system failed to consider her reality as a Navajo woman and failed to value her as a voter. Fortunately, she was persistent in exercising her right to vote, but not all voters are, nor should they have to be.
This example helps explain why voting can be difficulty for Native American voters. Turnout for Native Americans is the lowest in the country, as compared to other groups. While a number of issues contribute to the low voter turnout, a study conducted by the Native American Voting Rights Coalition found that low levels of trust in government, lack of information on how and where to register and to vote, long travel distances to register or to vote, low levels of access to the internet, hostility toward Native Americans, and intimidation are obstacles. Isolating conditions such as language barriers, socioeconomic disparities, lack of access to transportation, lack of residential addresses, lack of access to mail, and the digital divide limit Native American political participation. Changes to voting processes further frustrate the ability of Native Americans to vote.
As part of their socioeconomic reality, Native Americans face obstacles when making choices about feeding their families or expending resources that might affect their right to vote. This could include renewing their P.O. box, replacing an ID to update a residential address, or driving a considerable distance to register to vote or vote. Nationally, the poverty rate of Native Americans is 26.8 percent. Native Americans are more likely to work multiple jobs, lack reliable transportation, and lack adequate childcare resources, thus making voting pragmatically difficult.
An additional problem affecting many Native Americans is homelessness or near homelessness due to extreme poverty and lack of affordable housing on many reservations. A study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that between 42,000 and 85,000 people in tribal areas are couch surfers, staying with friends or relatives only because they have no place of their own. This lack of permanent housing impacts the ability of these tribal members to have a permanent physical address, yet this should not impede their ability to exercise their right to vote.
Nontraditional Addresses, Voter Registration, and Voter ID Laws
Something as simple as not having a residential address impacts all aspects of voting, including getting your mail, registering to vote, and complying with ever-increasing voter ID laws.
While 84 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, many Native Americans and Alaska Natives live in rural communities that lack residential addresses. Homes are usually described in terms of landmarks, crossroads, and directions. Numerous roads on reservations are unimproved dirt or gravel roads in poor quality and are often unnamed. After storms, many roads are impassable. Due to these poor conditions, the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver mail to the majority of the reservation residents at their homes.
Due to the lack of residential addresses, most residents rely on P.O. boxes in a nearby town or get their mail through a trading post or other location. Some reservation residents have to travel up to 70 miles in one direction to receive mail. In Arizona, for example, only 18 percent of reservation voters outside of Maricopa and Pima Counties have residential addresses and receive mail at home. The Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the United States—larger than West Virginia—does not have an addressing program, and most people live in remote communities. Similarly, many other reservations lack home mail delivery. On the Tohono O’odham Reservation, there are 1,900 P.O. boxes and some cluster mailboxes. Residents may check their mail every two weeks, and some only once per month.
Through no fault of the voter, the lack of a residential address can result in the political subdivision placing the voter in the wrong precinct, the voter’s ID address not matching the voter rolls, and/or the voter not receiving election mail timely, if at all.
While many Americans can register to vote through the click of a button from the comfort of their homes, that is simply not the case for reservation residents. For reservation voters, there are few opportunities to register or update their voter registration due to location of voter registration services, the lack of residential addresses, and lack of broadband capability. Less than half of the homes on tribal lands have reliable broadband access. Even if a voter has access to broadband on the reservation, most online voter registration systems require a state ID to register to vote and do not accept tribal IDs. In Arizona, for example, an individual must have a state ID and a residential address on file with the Department of Motor Vehicles to register online, eliminating this option for most reservation residents.
Registering to vote online or driving somewhere to register to vote, or voting itself, can be logistically challenging if not economically infeasible. For example, in Arizona, the lack of residential addresses resulted in registered voters having their IDs rejected at the polls or being included on a suspense list, meaning the voter is not placed in a voting precinct. While county offices may offer in-person voter registration during normal business hours, this can be challenging for Native American voters who may live 100 miles or more from the county seat. Further, for some Native American and Alaska Natives, oral translations must be provided for voter registration and voting.
Voter ID laws further complicate this issue. Native Americans are less likely to have a form of ID compliant with voter ID laws requiring residential addresses because in addition to states failing to consider tribal IDs when passing these laws, there are also socioeconomic and institutional factors that keep reservation residents from obtaining IDs. Although many tribes issue IDs, not all tribal IDs include addresses. Even if a tribal member has an ID with an address, because reservation voters lack residential addresses, the ID may have a P.O. box or descriptive address. Nontraditional addresses do not fit into county database systems, resulting in counties reassigning addresses to voters. This may result in the ID being rejected due to insufficient poll worker training or because it does not match the residential address in the voter file. This has resulted in voters being denied a regular ballot because the address on their IDs did not match the addresses assigned by the counties for the voter registration database.
A voter ID law requiring a residential address went into effect in North Dakota right before the 2018 midterm elections that expressly excluded the use of P.O. boxes as residential addresses. Over 5,000 Native Americans lacked the requisite form of ID to vote, as no reservation had residential addresses. The tribes searched for solutions prior to Election Day. The North Dakota Secretary of State informed tribal leaders that voters could call the county 911 coordinator to receive an address. This was a meager solution given that most of the tribal reservations span multiple jurisdictions, creating inconsistencies and confusion for tribes. For Sioux County, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is located, the 911 coordinator is the county sheriff, which posed a deterrent for community members wary of law enforcement. When a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member called to determine her residential address, the sheriff told her that he was transporting prisoners and could not assign addresses that day. Another voter was assigned a residential address corresponding to a nearby bar, exposing that tribal member to fraud if he voted based on that address.
As a result, North Dakota tribes had to create emergency plans to produce residential addresses and corresponding IDs for their members. They kept their offices open for extended hours and began providing free IDs to tribal members, to the point where the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa’s ID machine overheated. Although the Secretary of State never explicitly endorsed the tribes’ plan, the tribes were left with no other options and had to undertake the extraordinary effort in order to ensure that their tribal members could vote.
While tribes took actions to issue free tribal IDs meeting the new requirements, they expended resources they did not have in order to assist their tribal members. Tribal members in North Dakota have high unemployment and poverty rates. At Spirit Lake, almost 50 percent of the tribal members live below the poverty line; and at Turtle Mountain, the unemployment rate is almost 70 percent. Native American voters living on reservations have the same constitutional right to vote as any other citizen. In this instance, tribal governments had to expend their own resources to ensure that tribal members could vote in state and federal elections.
Access to In-Person Polling Locations and the Vote-By-Mail Movement
If a Native American or Alaska Native voter living in a rural community overcomes the inherent barriers of nonstandard addresses, voter registration barriers, and manages to have the correct ID, the voter may be further burdened by the vote-by-mail system or the lack of available polling places. Voting by mail is often unreliable and not as accessible for Native Americans living on reservations as it is for off-reservation voters. Native American voters are less likely to have mail delivered to their homes, especially when living on tribal lands. Many on-reservation voters live in rural areas where it is common for mail to arrive late or not at all. Non-Hispanic whites are 350 percent more likely to have mail delivered to their homes than Native Americans in Arizona. The difficulties accessing mail make voting by mail difficult because traveling to the P.O. box to pick up your ballot and then returning it can be an all-day task; without a car, it may be impossible. Similar concerns exist for Alaska Native voters in rural villages who rely on shared P.O. boxes, and at times, mail delivery may take up to three weeks due to weather. In addition, many Native American languages are oral; therefore, language assistance to Native American voters requires in-person translations, which cannot be done through mail.
Because of increased urbanization, many people and policymakers do not understand why it can be difficult for individuals to get to a polling location or to vote by mail. For some, voting by mail has given them more choices and made voting more convenient. However, we need to think about the effects on minority and language minority populations when we eliminate or move polling locations because a right as sacred as voting should not be lost for minority populations in search of convenience for other populations.
The following examples illustrate how decisions made by elected officials affect the ability of Native voters to participate in the democratic process. In 2008, the Alaskan government eliminated polling locations for Alaska Native villages as part of a “district realignment” that resulted in voters having to travel by plane in order to vote. In 2016, the Pyramid Lake and Walker River Paiute Tribes in Nevada filed a lawsuit prior to the 2016 general election in order to get polling locations on the reservation. In 2016, San Juan County, Utah, switched a mail-only voting system and offered in-person early voting only in the majority white part of the county; the Navajo Nation sued to ensure in-person locations and compliance with the language assistance requirements under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.
For the Kaibab Paiute Tribe in Arizona, voters had to travel 280 miles one way in 2016 and 2018 in order to vote early in person. When Pima County closed early voting on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation in 2018, Pascua Yaqui voters reported that it took over two hours to participate in early voting using public transportation. Recently, the closure of polling locations on the Mandan Hidatsa Reservation in North Dakota resulted in voters having to travel 80–100 miles in order to cast a ballot. These examples demonstrate the extreme distances voters must travel and obstacles they must overcome in order to vote. The prevalence of these barriers undermines our democracy and contributes to low voter participation among Native Americans.
Native American Voting Rights Act
Congress introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2019 (H.R. 1694; S. 739) to remove voting barriers and improve access to voting for Native American and Alaska Native voters. The legislation would provide resources and oversight to ensure that Native Americans have equal access to the voting process. In furtherance of the trust responsibility, the bill would require the Department of Justice to consult annually with tribes on voting issues. Key elements of the bill include improving access to voter registration sites and polling locations, approving the use of tribal IDs for election purposes, and requiring jurisdictions to consult with tribes prior to closing voter registration or polling locations on Indian lands. The bill explicitly states that a tribal ID need not include a residential address or expiration date for voting purposes. The bill would also create a Native American Voting Task Force grant program to provide much needed funding for voter outreach, education, registration, and turnout in Native American communities.
Legislation suppressing the right to vote purports to be neutral; however, in many instances it undermines the most basic right to participate in our democracy. The loss of the right to vote is the loss of a voice in the democratic process. We should do more to ensure that all Americans, including Native Americans, can exercise this right easily and with undue hardship.
Patty Ferguson-Bohnee is the faculty director of the Indian Legal Program and director of the Indian Legal Clinic at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. She is a voting rights attorney and leads the Arizona Native Vote—Election Protection Project.
A Department of Corrections official knew the extrajudicial practice was going on but little has been done to correct it.
The head of Louisiana’s prison system knew the state was keeping thousands of people behind bars long past their release date, according to a new court filing in a lawsuit by Rodney Grant, a man imprisoned 27 days past his court-ordered release date.
In a May 23, 2019, deposition, James LeBlanc, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DOC), testified that he knew the extrajudicial practice was happening for at least seven years.
LeBlanc supervised a 2012 internal study, which revealed that 2,252 people were held past their release dates each year at an average of 72 days of overdetention per person. The investigation also found that in January of that year, the DOC had a backlog of 1,446 people waiting for prison officials to compute their sentences. By the time their paperwork was processed, over 83 percent of people in the backlog had waited past their release dates.
Louisiana, which was the nation’s incarceration capital until 2018, routinely keeps people behind bars for weeks, months, or sometimes years beyond their release dates. In February 2019 alone, the DOC imprisoned 231 people for an average of 44 days past their court-ordered release dates—or a total of more than 27 years in a single month.
The DOC did not respond to a request for comment.
“Our criminal justice system is based on the idea that if you are convicted, you do your time and then you are released,” William Most, who is representing Rodney Grant and whose eponymous law firm has helped numerous people who have remained imprisoned past their release dates, said in a press release. “In Louisiana, the state has completely failed to release people on time.”
In 2012, DOC officials set a goal: reduce the number of people held past their release dates to 450 people per year at an average of 31 days per person. They didn’t succeed. According to a 2017 DOC internal investigation, an average of 200 people per month were still held an average of 49 days past their release dates.
As of September 2018, the DOC acknowledged on its website that “it can take up to 12 weeks to calculate” a release date. It has since changed its wording to remove the estimate.
Delays can be attributed in part to technology shortcomings. Local sheriffs and the state prison system do not have a shared computer system, which means prison officials must wait for the sheriff’s departments to submit physical paperwork regarding sentencing. In many parishes, this paperwork is driven from each parish to the DOC in Baton Rouge once a week. This means that a person sentenced after that particular day may have to wait another week in jail. That person may have to wait even longer for prison officials to calculate the amount of time served and the time remaining on their sentence, a process that can take over a week.
Prison officials have rebuffed offers by other state actors to solve the delayed releases. Debbie Hudnall, the executive director of the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association, stated that she met with DOC officials numerous times and offered to begin emailing documents. But she testified to the state House of Representatives in December 2019 that officials told her that they “did not have the capability of receiving that.”
Rodney Grant spent nearly one month behind bars beyond his court-ordered sentence. On June 27, 2016, Grant was arrested on a 15-year-old warrant for a burglary charge. Three days later, he pleaded guilty and the judge sentenced him to time served. He should have been released that same day. Instead, he was released 27 days later and only after his sentencing judge repeatedly contacted the DOC about his continued imprisonment.
In 2017, Grant sued the DOC and LeBlanc, alleging that both violated his due process rights and committed false imprisonment by incarcerating him beyond his sentence.
Grant is not the only one who spent additional time behind bars. Overdetention cost Ellis Ray Hicks months of his life. On Jan. 4, 2018, four days before his scheduled release date, Hicks learned that the date had changed—for the fourth time—to July. The computation officer had extended his release date again after Hicks had filed motions in court and Hicks’s family members had contacted him.
Hicks’s extra prison time forced his aunt to postpone heart surgery until he was released and could care for her during recovery. It was not until Hicks contacted Most, the attorney, who in turn contacted the DOC, that Hicks was released on April 25, 2018. One week later, he took his aunt to the hospital for surgery, then nursed her through recovery.
LeBlanc said in his May 2019 testimony that he wasn’t aware of any DOC employee being fired, demoted, or even reprimanded because of overdetention. Terry Lawson, the computation officer who extended Hicks’s release date, was not reprimanded, but Hicks is suing him, along with the DOC, for false imprisonment, negligence, and violation of his 14th and First Amendment rights. His suit is now in the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. Hicks is not only seeking damages but also a permanent injunction that would require the DOC to end its practice of overdetention.
“If Louisiana wants to give up its position as the highest-incarcerating state in the world, it should release the people who shouldn’t be in prison at all,” said David Lanser, an attorney who works with Most and is representing Hicks.
Hicks agrees. He has been out of prison for nearly two years. “I suffered months of extra incarceration,” he told The Appeal. “It’s a large issue. It’s not just me—it’s a class of people. … I don’t want [DOC] to get away with it because they’ll just continue that activity.”
Marvin Zindler was a Houston news broadcaster in the 1980s and ’90s who viewers loved to hate, or maybe more accurately, “hated to love.”
He was a consumer champion of Houston’s poor. He was famous for concluding his commentary with a grating, ear-splitting moniker: “It’s hell to be poor!” (You can find him on YouTube videos.)
Back then, my young Baptist self was affronted with his on-air “profanity,” but I’ve come to learn that the poor of this nation live an existence too profane to express in words. This is especially true when the poor run afoul of the criminal justice system.
For instance, years ago I was a chaplain on the pediatric ward where a patient’s mother asked me if I could drive her to a vehicle impound yard.
She was in school, working and had two kids. She let her boyfriend drive her car to the hospital without a license, so police impounded the car. Her impound fees were $300 a day. Bad to worse, it was closing time on Friday. The couple lost their car because it wasn’t worth the cost of removing it from the impound.
Impound can be a license to steal from the poor. In fact, according to a Sacramento Bee story in 2014, that’s literally what police did in King City, Calif., when they “... impounded cars of migrant workers in a kickback scheme to sell the cars.”
The incident helped me see how easily problems snowball for the poor.
Imagine if you were a single working mom, or a minimum-wage worker or on disability, like my brother. You were arrested on a misdemeanor. You couldn’t afford bail, so you remained in jail. This meant you lost your job at the coffee shop and couldn’t make rent. Quickly, you were out on the street with no way to feed your young child. All before guilt was ascertained.
When a poor person is arrested or becomes ill, their problems grow exponentially.
TENNESSEE MAN COULD BE THE FIRST PERSON IN NEARLY A CENTURY TO BE EXECUTED AFTER BEING FORCED TO REPRESENT HIMSELF AT TRIAL
Across the country, the death penalty is in steep decline. But in September, the state’s attorney general sought execution dates for nine men, and its Supreme Court set dates for two of them.
In April 1996, Tony Carruthers, charged with kidnapping and murder, stood in a Tennessee courtroom. Despite the severity of the case against him—he was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and faced the death penalty—he did not have an attorney by his side. Carruthers represented himself.
Two years earlier, Carruthers and James Montgomery were arrested in Memphis, accused of killing Marcellos Anderson, his mother Delois, and Anderson’s friend Frederick Tucker. The three disappeared on the night of Feb. 24, 1994, and their bodies were found seven days later, buried beneath a casket in a local cemetery.
By the time his trial began in 1996, Carruthers had gone through six attorneys. He asked to have another attorney appointed to him, but the judge refused. He was convinced that Carruthers was trying to delay his trial and forced him to proceed pro se, or arguing on his own behalf.
Carruthers’s self-representation in a triple murder case was made all the more perilous by the fact that the state’s case against him relied heavily on the grand jury testimony from a career informant, Alfredo Shaw. The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s law school issued a report finding that over 45 percent of all wrongful convictions in death penalty cases stem from lying by criminal informants, making “snitching the leading cause of wrongful convictions in U.S. capital cases.”
Shaw’s story was deeply flawed; he said Carruthers confessed to him in a jail law library but later admitted he had not seen Carruthers since 1988. In a statement to local media before the trial, Shaw recanted his story.
Prosecutors branded Shaw a liar and decided not to use him as a trial witness. But serving as his own attorney, Carruthers went forward with Shaw as a witness and, in a bumbling cross examination, mistakenly led Shaw to repeat his previously recanted testimony implicating him in the murders.
On April 26, 1996, Carruthers was convicted and sentenced to death even though there was no forensic evidence linking him to the triple homicide. “The end of Mr. Carruthers pro se cross-exam of Alfredo Shaw is one of the most singularly inept, ineffective and disastrous cross-examinations, possible, one that seemed designed to secure not only a guilty verdict, but a death sentence,” Carruthers’s attorneys wrote in a post-conviction filing.
Carruthers’s act of representing himself was so damaging that it eventually led to his co-defendant James Montgomery’s release. An appeals court granted him a new trial due to the prejudicial impact of being tried alongside a pro se defendant. In 2000, Montgomery agreed to a guilty plea to lesser charges of second-degree murder and was released in 2015.
Nearly 24 years after the two were convicted, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery requested that the state Supreme Court set execution dates for nine men, including Carruthers. In a Dec. 30 filing in opposition to the state’s motion to set an execution date for Carruthers, his attorneys with the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Tennessee wrote that by representing himself in court, he “did more to get himself convicted and sentenced to death than did the prosecution.” They also argued that Carruthers was incompetent to stand trial because he is seriously mentally ill “and that the manifestations of this serious mental illness include paranoid delusions, distorted thought processes, conspiratorial misapprehension of fact, a gross inability to make prudent decisions, and a complete inability to rationally perceive or understand the world around him. He also has significant brain damage which exacerbates the debilitating effects of his serious mental illness.”
Carruthers’s case would be historic: If executed, he would be the first person in nearly a century to be put to death after being forced to represent himself at trial.
Slatery’s request for a slew of executions in 2020 is so unusual because use of the death penalty is at near record lows. Death sentences declined from 298 in 1975 to 34 in 2019. Last year, 22 prisoners were executed nationwide, making it the second least active year for American death chambers since 1991. It was the fifth year in a row in which fewer than 30 prisoners were executed.
For nearly a decade, Tennessee was part of this trend. The state didn’t execute a single prisoner from 2010 through 2017, although it did try. The state set execution dates for 10 men in 2014, scheduling regular executions between April 2014 and November 2015. All were called off because of legal challenges over the state’s execution methods.
In early 2018, however, the death penalty returned to Tennessee. The state adopted a new lethal injection protocol, a three-drug cocktail that starts with the sedative midazolam. The protocol became notorious after it was used in botched executions in other states, including the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in 2014. After the midazolam was administered, Lockett struggled for several minutes, saying “something is wrong” and “this shit is fucking with my mind.” A nurse then closed blinds to observers and, according to The Intercept, “the blanket was lifted to reveal that the drugs were seeping into the tissue of his inner thigh instead of his veins, causing his skin to swell.” Officials called the governor’s office and then halted the proceedings—but by then Lockett was dead. Tennessee’s new protocol came with warnings from the state’s own consultants that midazolam might not be sufficient to prevent a person from feeling the effects of the next two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The new protocol also prompted a legal challenge filed in February 2018 by 33 death row prisoners who argued that it would effectively torture them to death.
That same month, Slatery asked the state Supreme Court to schedule executions for eight men and asked that all the dates be set before June 1 due to concerns about the acquisition of execution drugs. That request was denied, but the court did start scheduling men to die, albeit on a slightly slower timeline.
Beginning with the execution of Billy Ray Irick on Aug. 9, 2018, Tennessee executed six men in less than 16 months, second only to Texas during that timeframe. Each of the men—Irick, Ed Zagorski, David Miller, Don Johnson, Stephen West, and Lee Hall—had a history of mental illness, childhood abuse, or both. West was being treated with powerful antipsychotic drugs up until his execution, and Hall was functionally blind. Another condemned man, Charles Wright, was spared only because he died of cancer months before his execution date.
The next man scheduled to die in Tennessee is Nick Sutton, who is set to be executed in the electric chair on Thursday. In 1985, Sutton was sentenced to death for fatally stabbing a fellow prisoner. When the murder occurred, he was serving a life sentence for murdering his grandmother when he was 18 years old. In his request for clemency, submitted to Governor Bill Lee in mid-January, Sutton’s attorneys included affidavits from two former correction officers who describe incidents in which Sutton saved their lives. “I owe my life to Nick Sutton,” wrote former correction officer Tony Eden in one affidavit. Several members of his victims’ families support Sutton’s clemency effort, and Sutton’s case garnered the attention of legendary anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean who tweeted on Jan. 22 that “he has saved the lives of three different prison staff members. Nick Sutton should not be executed.” In a letter to the Tennessee governor accompanying the clemency request, Sutton’s attorney wrote that Sutton “has gone from a life-taker to a life-saver.”
Tennessee’s execution spree comes as death chambers in formerly prolific death penalty states are dormant, with some even considering abolition. On Jan. 7, Louisiana marked a full decade without an execution. Oklahoma—which has carried out 112 executions since 1976, trailing only Virginia and Texas—has not executed anyone in five years. In mid-January, an Oklahoma state representative introduced House Bill 2876 which would abolish the death penalty. If the bill passes in the House it will join 21 other states that have abolished the death penalty.
Although Tennessee is bucking the national trend regarding executions, the state’s prosecutors and juries have become reluctant to hand down death sentences. It has been more than 25 years since Tennessee juries sentenced more than 10 people to death. In the last five years, only one death sentence has been handed down.
“Death sentences are a better indicator of public sentiment about the death penalty than executions are,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Appeal. “When you have a state in which there’s been one new death sentence in the last five years, that’s an indication that juries are not returning death sentences. That’s an indication that the death penalty is withering on the back end while political actors are involved on the other end in executions.”
Perhaps the most critical actor behind the resurgence of Tennessee’s death penalty is Slatery, who was appointed attorney general in 2014 by the state Supreme Court after he served as former Governor Bill Haslam’s top legal adviser. Dunham called Slatery “an extremist among extremists,” and Slatery appeared intent on proving his pro-death penalty bona fides in 2019.
On Sept. 20, Slatery announced that his office would challenge an agreement proposed by Davidson County (Nashville) District Attorney Glenn Funk, in which death row prisoner Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman was re-sentenced to life because of prosecutorial misconduct during his 1987 trial. Attorneys for Abdur’Rahman alleged that John Zimmerman, then an assistant district attorney, excluded Black people from serving as jurors in Abdur’Rahman’s trial. In 2015, Zimmerman held a training in which he allegedly said that in a case with Latinx defendants, he “wanted an all African American jury, because ‘all Blacks hate Mexicans.’” When agreeing to the re-sentencing, Funk conceded that there was “overt racial bias” in Abdur’Rahman’s trial. Funk said, “The pursuit of justice is incompatible with deception. Prosecutors must never be dishonest to or mislead defense attorneys, courts or juries.” Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins agreed and said the deal would “remedy a legal injustice.”
The challenge to the re-sentencing was a remarkable step aimed at overturning an agreement between a prosecutor and a judge. Abdur’Rahman was scheduled to be executed on April 16, but last month the Tennessee Supreme Court granted him a stay while the legal fight over his case continues.
Slatery challenged the deal with Abdur’Rahman on the same day that he asked the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for nine men, including Carruthers. In mid-January, the court set 2020 execution dates for two of the nine—Harold Nichols on June 4 and Oscar Smith on Aug. 4—and there most likely will be more coming soon.
In October, Slatery spokesperson Samantha Fisher said the office held off on filing motions to schedule execution dates because of litigation over execution methods. With that legal challenge resolved, she said, Slatery decided to file the nine motions at once.
Fisher also contends that the requests for execution dates are not a matter of Slatery’s discretion. “The attorney general, by rule of the Tennessee Supreme Court, is ordered to file a motion in the Tennessee Supreme Court notifying the court of the status of a defendant’s litigation once the three-tiered appeals process has been exhausted,” Fisher told The Appeal.
In court filings at the end of last year, Kelley Henry, a supervising assistant federal public defender who represents seven of the nine prisoners for whom Slatery sought execution dates, argued that four of the men lack the capacity to rationally understand that they are going to be killed, or why. Carruthers is one of them.
When a forensic psychiatrist attempted to assess Carruthers, he declined to see her “and demanded her insurance paperwork so that he can be paid $3.3 million for her malpractice in attempting to see him,” according to the Dec. 30 filing from his attorneys. His attorneys also wrote that another psychiatrist observed that Carruthers believed his attorneys were involved in a “vast conspiracy within the legal system involving homosexual themes” and that he demanded “millions of dollars which he persists in believing the government owes him.”
Carruthers’s case is reflective of the systemic issues with the death penalty, including the pervasiveness of mental illness in the condemned and the cluster of outlier counties pursuing the punishment. His case was heard by a jury in Shelby County (Memphis), which accounts for nearly half of Tennessee’s death row despite being home to less than 14 percent of the state’s population.
“Since 2001, only eight of Tennessee’s 95 counties have imposed sustained death sentences,” Carruthers’s attorneys wrote in their December filing. “And, of the nine trials resulting in a death sentence since 2010, five were from Shelby County.”
“Each of these cases,” Henry told The Appeal, “is a window into the brokenness of the Tennessee death penalty.”