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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.
Stop the school to prison pipeline
Washington Needs Bail Reform:  Download No Money, No Freedom
Driven to Fail: Exposing the costs & ineffectiveness of Washington's most commonly charged crime
The death penalty is arbitrary, unfair, and racially biased.  The ACLU of Washington argued before the Washington Supreme Court to end it.


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
News Release, Published: 
Monday, November 29, 2010
After 15 years of court-supervised monitoring, the ACLU-WA and Pierce County have agreed to a final settlement in a lawsuit over inhumane conditions at the county jail. The settlement came after county officials adopted policies that, when fully implemented, will ensure that medical care for inmates meets minimum constitutional standards.
Friday, November 19, 2010
In September Governor Chris Gregoire, warning that Washington’s finances were “bouncing along the bottom,” by executive order decreed 6.3% across-the-board budget cuts for all state agencies. Just days before the Governor’s announcement the state spent almost $98,000 to execute Cal Brown, who had spent 17 years on death row for a crime committed in 1991. That sum was only the tip of the iceberg, however. As a recentreport by the Washington State Bar Association notes, the specter of a death sentence regularly adds a premium of half a million dollars or moreof legal and judicial costs per case.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Next Tuesday, Californians will vote on the historic Proposition 19, which would decriminalize adult possession and growing of marijuana for personal use. It would also allow cities and counties to adopt regulations permitting the commercial production and distribution of cannabis to consumers. More importantly, Proposition 19 would represent a huge step forward in ending the civil liberties and civil rights abuses fostered by the War on Drugs, like racist enforcement of drug prohibition. Read more
Monday, October 18, 2010
A recent story about a college party in tiny Roslyn, WA, in which nine people were taken to the hospital for possible overdoses, has received national media attention.  It’s alleged that drinks at the party were spiked with drugs (possibly Rohypnol, aka “roofies”), although authorities are still awaiting toxicology reports. If students were indeed drugged without consent, let’s hope law enforcement catches up with those responsible. However, a less talked about and equally disturbing aspect of the story is that “not one person chose to call 911." This is unfortunate on several levels, but most glaringly because Washington state recently enacted a law specifically designed to deal with this type of situation. The 911 Good Samaritan law works as follows: If you think you’re witnessing a drug overdose and seek medical help, you will receive immunity from criminal charges of drug possession.  The overdose victim you’re helping is protected, too. Calling 911 is always the right response.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Defense attorney Mark Larrañaga visits Bellingham to speak about his experience as an attorney for defendants facing the death penalty. How many people does an execution affect? Prior to hearing Mark Larrañaga’s insights into the vast reaches of the death penalty, I naturally assumed that the defendant, his or her family, the victim(s), and the victim’s family were the principle people affected by the death penalty. I never considered how deeply jurors, attorneys, and their families can be affected. Years after a trial had come to an end, some jurors’ family members are brought to tears just talking about it. These persons are often so affected by the lengthy, emotionally straining process of a death penalty trial that they too often turn to substance abuse to help them cope. “He’s never been the same. He started hitting the bottle pretty hard when the trial ended,” one woman said of her husband’s experience as a juror. Mr. Larrañaga has become so keenly aware of how traumatizing a death penalty trial can be that in many of his cases he has requested that counselors be available to all involved parties after the trial is concluded. Read more
Friday, October 8, 2010
The New York Times recently reported that sex offense rates on the campuses and surrounding areas of 12 colleges and universities are 83 percent higher than the overall national average. As the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU explained, “This statistic . . . highlights the importance of a school’s response to rape.” Fortunately, federal law has acknowledged the importance of a school’s response to sexual assault by requiring that schools respond to victims’ needs and take action to protect students. Read more
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
As we said in a previous blog post , you might have thought that “debtors' prisons” were extinct. But people are still being locked up all too often in Washington and around the country simply because they can’t pay their court-ordered financial obligations in a criminal case. Read more

“In for a Penny” – read the ACLU report

Document, Published: 
Monday, October 4, 2010
This ACLU report presents the results of a yearlong investigation into modern-day "debtors' prisons," and shows that poor defendants are being jailed at increasingly alarming rates for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford.