Monday was a marathon day at the state legislature, with several criminal justice bills being considered. Two of the most important, in my view, were the bills to eviscerate The Great Writ (see prior post here) and Connecticut’s first attempt at residency restrictions (see previous post here). For those who want to brave through the public hearing, the entire video is here and written testimony submitted can be read here.
[A warning: this post is long, repeats some arguments I've already made and is extremely rude and vitriolic. But if you don't read it, you support terrorists.]
The habeas corpus effective suspension and evisceration bill
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane testified at length (almost an hour, I think) on the habeas corpus “reform” bill. There were many, many problems with his testimony, but a few things really stuck in my craw. The entire basis for the State’s “suggestions” in the habeas reform bill seemed to be premised on two things: 1) that there is a glut of “frivolous” petitions and courts are overburdened; and 2) by moving the restrictions on the filing of habeas corpus petitions to the “front end”, rather than during the process itself, there will be a lot of weeding out and the load will be lightened.
Both are unfounded. CSA Kane went on for the better part of an hour, trumpeting the vast number of “successive petitions”, before someone on the committee had the good sense to ask him for some numbers. Just what constitutes a successive petition and what does he consider frivolous? Certainly not all petitions that are denied are not frivolous and eventually he had to admit that. Later on, during the testimony of the Deputy Chief Public Defender, we heard that a meager 4 1/2 % of all petitions were “successive”, in that petitioners had filed a prior habeas corpus petition.
But the State’s argument was premised on this straw man (if not outright lie) that the courts were dealing with a deluge of repetitive, frivolous and time consuming merit-less habeas petitions where petitioners were on their 9th or 10th bite at the apple. From what I’ve been told, there is maybe one inmate who is on his 7th or 8th petition, but that’s about it.
The second premise of the state’s position is all the more confusing and confounding.
But the onus in all of those exceptions falls squarely on the shoulders of indigent, incarcerated inmates. When asked, for example, how the inmate could make a showing that there were facts that would lead a court to believe there was a chance that the petition was meritorious, the CSA replied that the petitioner could submit an affidavit of facts, that a court would then consider.
And just how is an inmate to do that? Counsel would not be appointed at that stage, so the petitioner would have no access to resources to effectuate such an affidavit. How is he to send people out into the community to investigate the merit to his claims? How is he to present them in a legally effective manner to a judge? Courts routinely insist that defendants and petitioners should not represent themselves and yet here we place this onerous burden, even in cases alleging actual innocence on an incarcerated inmate.
Not one legislator pointed out, much to my dismay, that the Courts would have the same amount of work, just clothed in a different garb. Instead of ruling on the merits of the petitioner’s claims, the court would rule on the merits to decide if there was merit. And then presumably rule again? The fact that this will only lead to more litigation should be obvious to everyone.
Also to my dismay, not one legislator challenged the sound-bite claim that victims are routinely dragged out to habeas corpus hearings, many years later and forced to face a retrial of sorts. In fact, at around 1:03:00 on the video, Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Mike Lawlor parrots the State’s position that “we can trot thousands of victims in here” who are notified that there is a habeas pending and they may be called to testify. Does it sound terrible? Yes. Does it happen? Almost rarely.
In fact, I can’t think of any case that I know of where the victim was called to testify at the habeas trial. There is maybe one scenario in which a victim may be called to testify. Perhaps this is something for which statistics cannot be kept. Still, someone should challenge this fearmongering argument, because it will quickly fall apart, instead of blindly accepting it as true. It simply is not true.
And as an aside, even if a victim is called to testify at a habeas trial, we should not use that as an excuse to curtail the basic Constitutional right to challenge the legality of one’s conviction. The slight inconvenience experienced by any such victim should necessarily take a back seat to the monumental interest in determining whether a person has been unlawfully and illegally deprived of his liberty.
The residency “you hate children or you love terrorists” restrictions bill
The testimony on this bill starts at around 03:14:10 on the video. The main testimony in support of the bill comes from State Rep. Rebimbas. Now, she does not represent my district, I hadn’t heard of her existence prior to Monday and I’ve never, ever spoken to the woman. I’m sure she does a fine job representing her district.
Either she’s horribly assisted by aides who gave her incorrect information, or she misspoke or she intentionally fudged so many things to the committee that it made my head spin.
Two big points here as well: 1) The 2000 feet residency restriction zone is not overly restrictive; and 2) Sex offender recidivism is the highest.
Those who are regular readers of this blog know that residency restrictions are a pet peeve of mine (I even have a category dedicated to it). They are ineffective, useless and only tend to drive sex offenders underground.
At 3:41:00 (approx.) she says that 2000 feet is not overly restrictive “because it’s less than half a mile”. Putting aside the fact that 2000 feet is not less than half a mile, 2000 feet would put Connecticut into the group of most restrictive states. Per this 2007 OLR report, most states have residency restriction zones less than 2000 feet. The only states with a restriction of 2000 feet are Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa (whose County Attorneys issued this statement in 2006 against residency restrictions) and Oklahoma. So 2000 feet would be the most restrictive legislation in the country.
At approx 03:47:00, a legislator hits upon the biggest problem with the residency restrictions in urban cities. There’s a map of places covered by a 1500 feet restriction in the city of New Haven. The only place in the entire city of New Haven that is not within 1500 feet of a school or daycare is in the middle of the Yale golf course. Increase that radius to 2000 feet and there’s nowhere in any of CT’s large cities where sex offenders could reside. (See this post for another map and more on this.)
You should also listen to her evasive bullshit response to Rep. Holder-Winfield at approx 03:53:02 on the question of which, if any, states had restrictions greater than 2000 feet.
What’s the upshot of that? Sex offenders move into rural areas. Mike Lawlor joked at one point that he’s not sure how the rural legislators would feel about that. We all know how Southbury crapped the bed when one sex offender moved in. Imagine a whole busload of them.
In her long winded and vacuous answer to the question about where these sex offenders would go, the Rep. responded by repeating the easily refuted claim that sex offenders are very likely to reoffend and that “we’re protecting the children”. I’m not sure how many times I’m going to have to cite to the studies that show 1) that 95% of sex crimes are committed by people known to the victim and 2) that sex offenders have very low recidivism rates.
When pushed (at 03:55:03) about her numbers on recidivism, she didn’t have any handy, but “her numbers show that there are high recidivism rates”.
Look, I’m not sure if she knows all the answers or what. The point here is that this is dangerous legislation and should only be discussed, much less voted upon, with the full knowledge of the facts. Legislators needs to read all the studies in this area, arm themselves with accurate and reliable facts and then have a long and honest discussion about whether residency restrictions are needed in Connecticut.
The reality is that there already do exist residency restrictions and those are in the form of conditions of probation. When a defendant is on probation, they own him. They control what he wears, what he breathes and more importantly where he lives. Every client that I have, who is convicted of a sex offense, has some form of residency restriction built into his conditions.
Poorly thought out laws should have no place in our penal code, much less ones proposed based on knee-jerk fearmongering. Trotting out the children to pass terrible legislation is akin to the “if you’re against the war, you’re for the terrorists” mantra.
We must refuse to cower blindly to imaginary fears.