Tag Archives: criminal justice system

How HRC Is Botching Its Apology to Trans People (Part 2)

feat-hrc-clickIn Part 1 I outlined the HRC President’s apology to trans activists at the annual Southern Comfort conference, suggesting that looking at the entirety of trans lives would provide a better starting point for getting behind trans civil rights than staying the HRC course of a new, albeit now-trans-inclusive, ENDA bill. Beyond the general, “what do children, adults, and elders need in the way of trans rights” question, there are critical services and support systems that more vulnerable trans people also need and often don’t get, in part because they’re trans, and in part because they may have other overlapping statuses that limit their access to those services. Specifically, I am talking about trans prisoners, transgender people with moderate to severe mental illness, drug addiction, and trans sex workers. So today I’ll outline my ideas around what these vulnerable groups need that in large part, they are not getting from our society and its infrastructure. And if HRC would like to fund the programs that are in place across the nation, well, that money could make a real difference.

Trans Prisoners—Intersecting transphobia with societal hostility toward people convicted of a crime, transgender prisoners are especially vulnerable to abuse in the criminal justice system, from the earliest stages of a police investigation, through the pre-trial process, trial, sentencing, and throughout their term in the prison system. Data are incomplete but suggest that transgender prisoners are more often placed in solitary confinement, both as punishment and due to the dearth of alternatives for housing them while they serve their terms. Further, while no studies or analyses have been conducted regarding whether transgender people accused of a crime are treated fairly in the initial stages of an investigation, the CeCe McDonald case certainly highlights that extreme injustice can and does occur, and is very difficult to remediate through the criminal justice system itself. Trans people in prison are much more often than not denied hormone therapy or other trans-related health or mental health care. Organizations like the Transgender Law Center, Lambda Legal, and transgender prisoner advocacy groups are relatively underfunded and already working on these issues and could use a significant funding boost. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 4)

College Place traffic stopThe criminal justice system in the United States seems to be founded on constraints. Who can get selected to serve on a jury. When the defendant can speak. Who can ask questions, and how those questions must be worded to be allowed in the courtroom. There are also the presumptions—the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, the jurors are presumed to be impartial, the judge is also presumed to be a fair referee in the battle between the opposing sides. Above all it is expected that justice will prevail. But nobody in the average criminal trial defines “justice,” even as they go to pains to map out the boundaries of “reasonable doubt.”

One of the constraints we faced in this trial was that we were not privy to any of the pretrial motions—by definition if an attorney is seeking to exclude evidence on the grounds it would predispose the jury to one side or the other, we cannot know the motion occurred. I suppose in a more metropolitan or populated area ducking the coverage of a trial would be more of a challenge, but in Walla Walla, there has been scarcely a peep about Skyler Glasby or Stephanie Adele leading up to or during the two-day trial. With only the evidence from people’s testimony and four exhibits from the trial in front of us, we looked to the closing arguments for some new revelation that would help us decide who was driving the car during a hit and run earlier this year.

No such revelations came to us. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 3)

In a criminal trial on television, like in a fictional drama, or a less-than reenactment, writers manufacture the building conflict and shocking revelations that are appropriate for a 44-minute show. We may see some objections or motions, usually ones that are related to the “ripped from the headlines” twist, but most we get the banner testimony from the star witness, or a sudden confession from the killer. The worst damage taken in this case in Walla Walla was an unsuspecting mailbox, so we were orders of magnitude less dramatic than the average storyline on Law & Order. But there were still moments of tension between the attorneys, who battled back and forth over a few issues like old friends squabbling over the size of a rainbow trout caught a decade earlier.
Stephanie was something of a lightning rod for the case. She was, after all, the owner of the runaway vehicle, and the individual asserting that Skyler Glasby was all to blame for the litany of crimes that took place that cold January evening in College Place. April King—I mean, Lisa Simpson’s Human Counterpart—walked us through Stephanie’s experience in the car and afterward, but it looked like the tooth-pulling experience that many parents have with their teenage daughters who answer everything with, “I dunno.” Many of Stephanie’s responses on direct were vague, spoken through clenched teeth, or told with a shrug. LSHC asked for more details, but they didn’t come. On cross examination from Downtown Julie Brown, Ms. Adele remained circumspect. According to her Skyler knew where he was going, ending up at some purpose at the old landfill site.

After the cross-examination, LSHC called her back to the stand. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 2)

When last we left our intrepid Walla Walla courtroom, a jury had been at last selected for the trial of State of Washington vs. Skyler Glasby. Twelve jurors and one alternate were ready to dive into the case, all with stenographer’s pads and freshly sharpened number two pencils at the ready. The judge looked at us, seeming to assess each of us as individuals. Five of us had on purple clothes. Three were men. All of us were white. Every single one, white. Eight of us wore glasses. We had discussed, with the judge and attorneys for each side, our understanding of “reasonable doubt,” the unrealism of NCIS, CSI, and Criminal Minds, the weighing of disparate testimony, and the gravity of our responsibility to remain fair and impartial.

Walla Walla courthouse in the 1920s: postcardHe gave us a look, tilted his head to one side, and then told us we would be breaking for lunch.

“The trial will begin with opening arguments,” he said, and it was clear he’d said this hundreds of times before. “We will begin at 1:30, so be back in the jury room at 1:15. My standard is that if you are here fifteen minutes early, then you are on time.”

Okay, tight ship there, bucko, I thought. This made him my people, this little insistence on punctuality. This is my cloth, and I wear it well.

We stood in the jury room for a couple of minutes, waiting for the bailiff to let us out.

“So how many children do you have,” Juror Number 3 asked the woman in purple paisley. The defense attorney had asked her a question during voir dire as if she had 18 kids at home. I admit, I was curious.

“Five,” she said. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 1)

I call myself a humorist. I make a piss-poor trade in identifying the funny stuff in the midst of garbage, sadness, strife, etc. I find humor to be life-saving, especially when it bubbles up in the midst of a gender transition, say. So I went into the jury summons process with an eye toward spotting the bits of funny. And somewhat paradoxically, the criminal justice system, even in the tiny universe of Walla Walla, has its side-splitting moments and instances that are absolutely chilling.

jury duty ecardIt started with a perforated postcard in the mail, back in early April, saying I was on the docket for June 2013. Walla Walla’s Superior Court uses a system in which jurors need to be on call to make an appearance on any given date during the month. Opening up the sealed card, one will find a short questionnaire which is supposed to be mailed back to the court right away. It tells the court if there are dates one can’t serve (I said I’d be out of town after a certain date in June), if one is or is not a United States citizen (Susanne gets out of all her jury duty for being Canadian), a resident of the county, and older than 18. It asks if one can read, speak, and write in English (illiterates need not apply?), and asks things about whether one is currently employed, and if so, what kind of work it is. There were other things on there, but I’ve forgotten them. Read More…

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