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Criminal Justice

The Bill of Rights protects us against suspicionless searches and seizures. It guarantees due process to individuals who are accused of crimes and humane treatment to those who are incarcerated. The ACLU works to ensure that our criminal justice system indeed is just.
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The death penalty is arbitrary, unfair, and racially biased.  The ACLU of Washington argued before the Washington Supreme Court to end it.


Friday, April 1, 2011
Last December, the ACLU of Washington and 34 community organizations sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for an investigation of the Seattle Police Department after a string of troubling incidents involving unnecessary or excessive use of force by officers.  On March 31 we received an answer: DOJ is coming to Seattle.  The move came after a preliminary inquiry in Seattle determined that a full-scale investigation is warranted.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Several years ago, comedian Chris Rock created a “public service announcement” called “How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police.”  The message includes obvious directions like “obey the law” and as well as tongue-in-cheek suggestions like “if you have to give a friend a ride, get a white friend” and satire about police reactions. This piece is funny because it is based on a simple truth known throughout communities of color:  If you are a black or brown man, you don’t have to work very hard to attract the attention of the police.
Monday, March 7, 2011
  The criminal justice system in Washington is heavily biased against people of color. Statistics from a new report may surprise you. Suppose a black driver and white driver are pulled over by police:  Do you know which one is most likely to be searched?      Do you know which one is most likely to actually have contraband in the car?  Get involved and get the facts about racial bias.   
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Eva’s son died from gang violence.  Every day she lives with an aching desire to hold him again.  But despite her grief, she opens her home to young people in her community, some of whom are at risk to be involved in gangs. A Yakima Valley resident, she wants to keep them off the streets and safe from the violence.   Eva is angry that her son is no longer with her, yet she wants more opportunities to help young people rather than sending them behind bars.
Monday, February 28, 2011
My intense passion for righting wrongs came before any desire to work within legislation or politics. I became involved with social justice issues during my days as a Catholic schoolgirl, and although the dogma eventually disappeared, the need to help others remained.  In choosing an externship, the ACLU was my first choice, and a natural fit.  As I’ve learned more about its work, I’ve found that my gut reaction to the issues has been spot on. 
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
I can understand why many people in Seattle are angry that Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk will not be charged with murder. If you or I intentionally shot and killed someone who was not an immediate threat to us, we would be charged with murder or at the very least manslaughter. But the law treats police officers differently. In 1986, Washington’s legislature passed a law that allows police officers to escape criminal charges for killing a person so long as the officer had a good faith belief that his actions were justified and he acted “without malice.” This law protects the officer even if his “good faith belief” was wrong. So, it is not surprising that King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg believed that he would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Birk murdered John T. Williams.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
On January 10, an inquest regarding the August 30, 2010, fatal shooting of First Nations carver John T. Williams by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk will be held at the King County Courthouse. Reports indicate the police department’s Firearms Review Board preliminarily ruled the shooting was unjustified. Does this mean the inquest verdict will be the same?
Thursday, December 30, 2010
In the final days of the year, typically dominated by annual “best of” lists, a simple call by President Obama managed to spurt multiple headlines and ignite a flurry of conversations. In his call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, President Obama reportedly applauded the team for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance. In 2007 Vick pleaded guilty to charges related to practices of animal cruelty, and served a 19-month sentence in federal prison. The President reportedly told Lurie, “So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. It's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.” The President’s call emphasized an important reality that more and more political leaders and policymakers are acknowledging: America has a big problem with over-incarceration, and its pernicious effects are not limited to the grim confines inside of jailhouse walls.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Next month, the King County District Court will hold an inquest into the August 30, 2010, fatal shooting of First Nations carver John T. Williams by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk.  An inquest looks like a trial, so you might imagine that we will soon learn whether Officer Birk committed a crime or will be found civilly liable for killing Mr. Williams, right?  Well, probably not.  The one thing that inquest juries cannot do is to determine liability.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
With little public fanfare, other than a couple of newspaper articles and blog posts, two of Washington’s largest jails (Spokane County and King County) have seen significant decreases in inmate populations. This is a big deal, as Spokane County is hoping to build a new jail (they’ll vote on funding for the jail this spring). Similarly, several Puget Sound cities, including Seattle, were considering building their own jail because King County would no longer have bed space. What explains the decreases in inmate populations? Is it sustainable? Can other county jails replicate the trend? Let’s take a closer look. Read more