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Criminal Justice & the Courts
When citizen-initiated laws, legislatures collide: Who gets the final say?
Many states offer citizens a direct opportunity to create laws or constitutional amendments via the ballot box. Those that do also allow legislators to amend or even overturn those initiatives, a process generally known as “legislative intervention.” The most recent example of that occurred in early in 2017 in South Dakota, where lawmakers overturned “Initiated Measure 22.” More »
What are the civil forfeiture standards in the Midwestern states?
Unlike criminal forfeiture, in which a legal action is brought as part of the crime that a person is charged with, civil forfeiture laws by and large allow assets to be seized by police upon only upon a suspicion of wrongdoing. In recent years, stories of innocent citizens having cash and other property seized — and facing arduous, uphill battles to reclaim their property — have prompted efforts from entities as disparate as the Charles Koch Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union to modify or repeal civil forfeiture laws. More »
Do states in the Midwest provide crime victims with constitutional rights and protections?
In 1980, Wisconsin became the first U.S. state to establish a statutory bill of rights for crime victims. Since then, state constitutions across the country have been amended to provide an even greater level of protections to this group of citizens. Most recently, voters in North Dakota (62 percent to 38 percent) and South Dakota (60 percent to 40 percent) approved November ballot measures to amend their constitutions. These new provisions to protect crime victims are part of a national movement and are collectively known as “Marsy’s Law.” More »
Illinois looks to ensure released prisoners have access to state IDs
Easing ex-prisoners back into civilian life helps reduce recidivism, and one step states can take is to ensure that just-released inmates have a valid state identification card. In a letter earlier this year to all 50 governors, the U.S. Department of Justice asked states to provide IDs for federal prisoners being released, and according to The Atlantic, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio are among 17 states that have had preliminary talks with federal officials about taking that step.
Pending legislation in Illinois (SB 3368), meanwhile, would ensure individuals get an ID upon their release from state prison if they present a birth certificate, Social Security card, and two proofs of address. Released Illinois prisoners without these documents would be provided with a temporary state ID. The bill is one of many recommendations made by a commission of state legislators, other state leaders and criminal justice experts on how to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025.
According to The Council of State Governments Justice Center, state-issued ID is frequently required to access social services, secure housing and apply for employment— all factors that can play a crucial role in a person’s successful reintegration into the community.
Court upholds Ohio law that shields sources of lethal-injection drugs
A U.S. circuit court has dismissed claims by several Ohio death-row inmates that a state law on capital punishment unconstitutionally conceals information from them. The November decision affirmed a lower court ruling that the prisoners had no standing because they couldn’t prove harm from the denial of information, The (Toledo) Blade reports.
Ohio suspended executions (by lethal injection) in January 2015 due to a lack of drugs used for them. Many pharmaceutical companies refuse to make or sell such drugs to states using them for executions. HB 663, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in December 2014, shields drug suppliers (and the identity of people involved in the execution process) from public disclosure. The law took effect in March 2015. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio currently plans to execute two prisoners on Jan. 12 using a trio of drugs: the anti-anxiety medication midazolam, the paralytic agent rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride (to stop the heart).
Along with Ohio, Midwestern states with the death penalty are Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Illinois law targets gun traffickers in new effort to curb violence
In an effort to curb the number of deaths occurring in their state due to gun violence, Illinois legislators are cracking down on people who illegally sell firearms.
Signed into law this summer, HB 6303 makes it a felony for a person who has not been issued a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card to bring guns into Illinois with the intent of selling or delivering them.
Between 2009 and 2013, almost 60 percent of guns used to commit crimes in Chicago were first purchased outside of Illinois. Indiana is the largest out-of-state source. The bill’s sponsor, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, told the Chicago Tribune that gun trafficking will now be punishable by as much as 15 to 30 years in prison.
This isn’t the first time that Illinois lawmakers have targeted so-called “straw purchases,” which provide a means for criminals to evade a state’s gun control laws and get their hands on firearms. Three years ago, the state began requiring gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm. The goal of this law is to help law enforcement identify straw purchasers.
In 2014, the U.S. death rate from firearms (homicides, suicides and unintentional deaths) was 10.2 per 100,000 residents. In the Midwest, the rate ranged from a high of 12.3 in Indiana to a low of 6.6 in Minnesota.
Marijuana initiatives, legislation
slowly taking root in the Midwest: Ohio joins Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan in legalizing medical marijuana; North Dakota residents to vote on it in November
As the movement to legalize marijuana or, at least, medical marijuana gathers steam, the Midwest is living up to its reputation as neither the first nor last region of the country to adopt big changes. There are no signs that any Midwest state is ready to follow Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska by fully legalizing recreational use, although marijuana industry observers say that has more to do with the industry’s “Coasts First” focus. But Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and, as of June 8, Ohio, have established medical marijuana programs. In addition, four states in the region — Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and Nebraska — have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. More »
Crime victims get
address confidentiality in 7th Midwest state
by Tim Anderson ~ September 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Ohio has become the latest Midwestern state to adopt a “Safe at Home” law, which allows the survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and other violent crimes to shield their home addresses from public records.
Under HB 359, which took effect in September, these crime victims can get a P.O. Box assigned to them by the secretary of state.
As a result, when they register to vote, register a vehicle or complete governmental forms, their home addresses will not be disclosed via searches of public records. Participants in the program will have their mail redirected to their home addresses on a daily basis by the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
For voting purposes, each individual will be issued a unique identification number that can be used to request and cast an absentee ballot. The new law also establishes procedures for how state and local election officials should handle and process ballots in order to ensure the information from program participants is not compromised.
Close to 40 U.S. states now have some kind of address-confidentiality program in place, including Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Illinois sets new rules to govern police use of cell phone tracking devices
by Tim Anderson ~ August 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Law enforcement in Illinois has new guidelines to follow when it uses so-called “stingray devices,” which help track criminal suspects and enable the collection of information from their phone calls and text messages.
These devices trick phones in a particular area into thinking they are connecting to a cell phone tower operated by a service provider. As a result, they can be a powerful tool in helping police nab suspects. But at the same time, these cell phone simulators are collecting information from the phones of innocent people who happen to be in the same area.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, stingray devices are known to be in use in at least five Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Under Illinois’ SB 2343, within 24 hours after using the stingray device, police must remove all information from anyone who is not a target of the investigation. The law, too, prohibits law enforcement from using data not first authorized by a judge, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Two years ago, Illinois passed a law (SB 2808) requiring law enforcement to obtain warrants before using location tracking devices. According to the ACLU, Indiana and Minnesota also require police to obtain warrants.
Restorative justice holds promise of deeper healing, lower long-term costs
An alternative approach is available to states and communities seeking to reduce incarceration and recidivism rates, and their attendant price tags.
Restorative justice is a victim-centered recognition that crime is not just a violation of law, but is an action against people — that someone has been victimized. It creates a community-based process during which victims might confront perpetrators, and all parties negotiate restitution aimed at healing personal and community wounds. More »
Life-without-parole sentences for juveniles banned in Iowa
Iowa has joined the growing number of U.S. states that ban life-without-parole sentences for individuals 17 and under.
The state Supreme Court issued its ruling in May, arguing that such sentences violate the Iowa Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The decision does not entitle juvenile offenders to parole, but does eliminate “up-front determinations” (namely life-without-parole sentences by a judge).
According to The Des Moines Register, the recent ruling overturns legislation (SF 448) passed by Iowa lawmakers in 2015. That measure gave prosecutors the option of seeking life-without-parole sentences for some convicted juveniles.
Kansas and South Dakota are among the other U.S. states that ban life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth reports. It also notes that over the last four years, the number of states with such bans in place has tripled. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that age and other mitigating factors must be considered before a young offender is sentenced to life without parole. However, judges still have the authority to impose such sentences, absent a state law or court ruling such as Iowa’s.
Kansas to rely more on community-based options for juveniles
Kansas will cut by three-fifths the number of juvenile offenders sent to out-of-state facilities, under legislation (SB 367) signed into law in April by Gov. Sam Brownback.
The law resulted from recommendations issued in November 2015 by a bipartisan working group that included members from the legislative, executive and judicial branches. (The group also got assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice.)
The panel found that while Kansas’ crime rate among young people had dropped during the past decade, its juvenile justice system was keeping more lower-level offenders in out-of-state facilities and for longer terms. Moreover, that trend was partly due to a lack of community-based alternatives in many areas of the state.
Kansas’ planned reduction in the number of juvenile offenders being sent out of state is expected to save the state about $72 million through FY 2022. That money will be reinvested in community- and evidence-based alternatives, according to the governor’s office.
Kansas joins several other states that are investing more in community-based options as an alternative to incarceration — for example, South Dakota’s passage of SB 73 in 2015.
U.S. Supreme Court chooses not to hear recent Nebraska
challenge to drug law
In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear his state’s challenge to neighboring Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson is pledging to “determine the best next steps toward vindicating the rule of law.” Oklahoma joined Nebraska in the lawsuit. It was filed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court without going through a lower court — an action that is allowed when states have legal complaints with another, SCOTUSblog.com reports.
“The court’s decision [to not hear the case] does not bar additional challenges to Colorado’s scheme in federal district court,” Peterson says. In their lawsuit, Nebraska and Oklahoma said Colorado’s legalization of marijuana conflicts with federal drug laws. The two plaintiff states also said they were now having to deal with an “influx of Colorado-sourced marijuana.”
Four U.S. states (none in the Midwest) have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota are among the 23 U.S. states that have legalized medical marijuana. According to NORML (a pro-legalization organization), Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio are among the 19 U.S. states that have decriminalized certain types of marijuana possession.
CSG, North Dakota leaders working on new Justice Reinvestment Initiative
A bipartisan group of leaders from all three branches of North Dakota government has launched a review of the state’s criminal justice system with help from The Council of State Governments. The CSG Justice Center has previously worked on justice reinvestment strategies in six other Midwestern states: Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin. More »
What age criteria do states use to determine jurisdiction in cases that involve a young person charged with violating the law?
According to the National Center for Juvenile Justice, every state has a set of “age boundaries” that help determine jurisdiction in these cases — in particular, whether they should go through juvenile court or criminal court. More »
Kansas considers changes to how state's Supreme Court judges are nominated
More than a half-century ago, some unpopular political maneuvering in Kansas caused voters there to create one of the nation’s more unique structures for appointing judges to a state supreme court.
That change purposefully reined in the nomination powers of state elected officials, namely the governor. Over the past few years, the legislative and executive branches have been exploring ideas to get some of that authority back. More »
Police reforms, new rules on body cameras take hold in Illinois
by Tim Anderson ~ February 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
An Illinois law that sets guidelines for how police use body cameras and establishes new training and reporting requirements for law enforcement took effect in January.
These statutory changes do not require the use of body cameras, but they do establish new statewide protocols. For example, the devices must be turned on at all times when an officer responds to a call or is engaged in other law enforcement activities. (Crime victims or witnesses can ask that the cameras be turned off.) New rules on the disclosure and retention of the cameras’ recordings are also now in place.
Signed into law in August, SB 1304 establishes a fund to equip police officers with body cameras, the Chicago Tribune reports; money will come from an extra $5 fee on traffic tickets.
Other provisions include:
• a requirement that independent investigators be used in cases of officer-involved deaths;
• mandatory officer training on use of force and on cultural competency;
• a ban on police use of chokeholds;
• statewide data collection on officer-involved deaths and on officers who have been dismissed due to misconduct.
Minnesota reviews first year of law that provides 'safe harbor’ to sexually exploited youths
During the first year of a statewide system to help sexually exploited children, 163 youths in Minnesota received services and support.
The state’s Safe Harbor program is the result of laws passed in 2011 and 2014. With these measures in place, Minnesota is taking a different view of youths (those under the age of 18) who engage in prostitution — they are seen as victims, rather than as criminals.
Eight Safe Harbor navigators have been established to coordinate regional services for sexually exploited children. These navigators help ensure that these youths are identified, receive trauma-informed services and are housed safely.
The findings on how many children received services under Safe Harbor were part of a comprehensive evaluation of the program. In that study, researchers also recommend expanding the age limit (to help sexually exploited adults), developing more services and providing more housing to victims.
In its 2014 analysis of laws to prevent human trafficking (including victim-assistance programs), the Polaris Project rates seven states from the Midwest in the top tier: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.
In 2015, several states in Midwest revamped justice policies
States in 2015 continued to dissect their justice systems in search of policies that control spending and, at the same time, improve public safety.
The result: Major statutory changes this year in states such as Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota. More »
Ohioans say ‘no’ to legal marijuana; states continue to re-examine laws on medical marijuana and decriminalization
In less than a decade’s time, national public opinion on marijuana legalization has changed dramatically, with the rate of people in support of such a change jumping from 32 percent in 2006 to 53 percent today. Will this shift lead to changes in state laws in the Midwest? Thus far, the answer has been a clear-cut “no.” Legalization bills have not come close to passing in any of the region’s 11 state legislatures, and this November, Ohio voters rejected by a wide margin a plan to legalize marijuana via a constitutional amendment. But state legislatures in this region continue to re-examine their laws on marijuana, as evidenced by laws and legislative proposals in this region to decriminalize possession or allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes. More »
Michigan raises standard for seizing property under forfeiture law
Under a seven-bill legislative package recently signed into law, Michigan is changing its laws on civil asset forfeiture, a move that proponents say will better protect citizens’ civil liberties and private property rights.
According to the Detroit Free Press, lawmakers have raised the standard for when property can be seized through civil forfeiture. The standard had been a “preponderance of the evidence”; it is now “clear and convincing.”
Michigan’s law enforcement agencies will also be required to submit an annual report on their forfeiture activities.
Forfeiture laws allow money or property to be confiscated if police and prosecutors suspect that it is tied to criminal activity.
But in Michigan and other states, civil-liberties groups have raised concerns that state laws make it too easy for individuals’ property to be taken.
According to the Institute for Justice, most Midwestern states use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. However, for property to be seized in Nebraska, law enforcement must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the property is tied to a crime. In Indiana and Wisconsin, law enforcement must transfer its proceeds from a forfeiture to schools.
For states, another big term
begins in the U.S. Supreme Court: Future policies on redistricting, affirmative action and unions at stake
When it comes to the impact on states, it would be hard to top the last U.S. Supreme Court term, when same-sex marriage bans were ruled unconstitutional, the newly created health insurance exchanges were saved, and Michigan and other states prevailed in a lawsuit over federal regulation of air quality. But the term that began in October will be one to watch as well. Cases involving redistricting, affirmative action and collective bargaining have already been accepted by the court. Adding to the intrigue, many of the decisions this term are likely to become part of the 2016 race for president. More »
Some states ramping up efforts to enroll inmates in Medicaid
As Indiana Rep. Charlie Brown sees it, a new plan to enroll eligible inmates in Medicaid has the chance to be a win-win for his state and its taxpayers: Reduce recidivism by giving more people the health services they need, and cut long-term costs in the criminal justice system. Signed into law earlier this year, HB 1269 (of which Brown was a co-sponsor) received overwhelming legislative approval, and it is part of a broader trend that has states looking for new ways to improve outcomes for state and local inmates, who have disproportionately high rates of mental illness and substance abuse. More »
New laws in Illinois seek to ‘right-size’ juvenile justice system
Illinois lawmakers say a series of legislative reforms this year will help “right-size” the state’s juvenile justice system. The bills were signed into law in July.
Under SB 1560, minors will not be committed to Department of Juvenile Justice facilities for misdemeanor offenses, and minors cannot be detained in a county jail for “status offenses.”
HB 3718, meanwhile, gives judges more discretion on how to sentence minors. For example, they can take various mitigating factors into account: maturity level, presence of a developmental disability, home environment, history of childhood trauma, prior criminal record and potential for rehabilitation.
In addition, juveniles in Illinois charged with certain felony offenses will no longer be automatically prosecuted in adult criminal court.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice analyzed the different methods that states use to transfer juveniles to adult courts. One is “automatic transfer”: granting criminal courts exclusive jurisdiction over certain classes of cases involving minors. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota (murders only), South Dakota and Wisconsin all had automatic transfer laws, the federal study found. Some states, on the other hand, leave the transfer decisions to local prosecutors or juvenile courts.
A Supreme Court term to remember for state:
Rulings in eight cases have immediate, and long-term, effects
The biggest news for states (and everyone else) from the recent U.S. Supreme Court term is that same-sex couples now have a constitutional right to marry and the Affordable Care Act is intact.
But less well known cases will also have a big impact on the states. From striking down Clean Air Act rules to upholding Texas’s decision to keep the Confederate flag off of license plates, the court was busy this term with cases of major consequence for states and policymakers.
Court rules that redistricting powers do not need to rest with state legislatures. More »
Which states in the Midwest have veterans treatment courts and how do these courts function?
Veterans treatment courts operate in most states in the Midwest, and there are more than 200 nationally. Most of these are run by county or other local court systems, and the treatment court usually convenes once a week, depending on the need. Currently, about 11,000 veterans are being served by these courts. More »
No end to death-penalty debate:
In Nebraska, legislative repeal leads to push for statewide vote;
in Ohio, new laws and policies center on lethal-injection protocol
Thirty-seven times during his long legislative career, Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers had introduced legislation to repeal the state’s death penalty. Every time, it had ended in defeat.
And for those outside Nebraska, there was little reason to believe the 38th time would be the charm for death-penalty opponents — the newly elected governor supported capital punishment, and the Unicameral Legislature was still considered politically conservative. Inside the state Capitol, though, legislators were well aware that 2015 could finally be the year for a successful repeal. Near the end of this year’s legislative session, supporters mustered not only enough votes to pass LB 268, but to override the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts as well. It marked the first time that a U.S. state’s repeal of the death penalty occurred over the veto of a governor. More »
Goal of new state laws is to keep victims of
violence safer at home
Hoping to better protect victims of stalking, sexual assault, domestic violence and other crimes, legislators in Iowa and Minnesota adopted new “Safe at Home” laws this year.
Iowa’s HF 585 was signed into law in May after receiving unanimous legislative approval.
It creates an address confidentiality program for certain crime victims. Under the program, victims can have their mail sent to the Iowa secretary of state’s office, which then forwards it to their home addresses. The program will allow victims to keep their home addresses confidential when registering to vote and conducting other official business.
According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, 36 states have Safe at Home programs in place, including Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. (Wisconsin’s is for voter registration only.)
This year’s Minnesota legislation provides more clarity on when the addresses of Safe at Home participants should be disclosed as part of legal proceedings. Courts sometimes order the disclosure if an address is needed for an investigation, prosecution or litigation. SF 878 provides more protections for victims by establishing a framework for courts to use when making their address-disclosure decisions.
New approach to juvenile justice: In states such as South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, reforms reduce reliance on incarceration, invest in proven interventions
A year ago, officials from all three branches of South Dakota government began taking a close, critical look at the state’s juvenile justice system. The working group didn’t like what it saw. “While juvenile commitments were declining [nationally],”Sen. Alan Solano says, “South Dakota had the second-highest incarceration rate in the country in 2011, a rate of 385 youth per 100,000.” The state needed to do better, the working group concluded. With this year’s passage of SB 73, lawmakers believe they have taken a big step forward, one that will save taxpayer dollars, reduce recidivism and improve long-term outcomes for young people. These same goals are driving proposed reforms of juvenile justice systems in other states as well. More »
Police and the public trust:
In wake of high-profile incidents involving officers and civilians, legislation focuses on transparency, accountability
Recent concerns about officer-related deaths, and the investigations that follow, have resulted in much legislative activity in state capitols in 2015 — calls for an increased use of police body cameras, for example, and new rules for how violent incidents are handled, investigated and publicly reported. More »
Ohio halts executions, plans to use new mix of drugs in 2016
No death-row inmates will be executed in Ohio this year, as the state transitions to a new mix of lethal drugs to put people to death. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which made the announcement in January, had previously planned to execute six people in 2015. According to The Washington Post, a shortage of lethal-injection drugs has left Ohio and other states seeking new drug combinations to put people to death. In some cases, those new combinations have been linked to prolonged executions.
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case this year challenging the state of Oklahoma’s drug protocol on the grounds that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Ohio is eliminating the use of the two-drug regimen midazolam and hydromorphone. Thiopental sodium, a drug previously used in the state from 1999 to 2011, will be added to the protocol.
Meanwhile, to address the problem of drug shortages, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill in late 2014 (HB 663) that shields the identities of companies that provide lethal-injection drugs to the state.
Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota are among the 32 U.S. states with capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
More states adopting ‘second chance’ laws to help offenders
For criminal offenders released from prison or jail, a “second chance” for them often begins with the ability to find employment. But many obstacles can stand in the way of a successful job search. Removing some of those barriers is the goal of bills passed over the past few years in several of the Midwest’s legislatures.
One of the more common statutory changes has been to make it easier for individuals to expunge their criminal records. These measures, often dubbed “second chance” laws, have been passed in states such as Illinois (HB 3010 in 2013), Indiana (HB 1482 in 2013), Minnesota (HF 2576 in 2014) and Ohio (SB 337 in 2012).
Michigan joined this list of states in early 2015, when Gov. Rick Snyder signed HB 4186 into law. The bill allows people with up to one felony and two misdemeanor charges to petition the courts to clear their records five years after the completion of their sentence.
Another idea is “ban the box” legislation: removing questions about criminal history on job applications. For example, Nebraska’s LB 907 (passed in 2014) applies to public employers and their initial screening process of applicants. Illinois and Minnesota also have ban-the-box laws. Minnesota’s law extends to private employers as well.
Illinois boosts minimum pay for jurors, reduces jury sizes in civil trials
Illinois will soon go from having the Midwest’s lowest minimum rate of pay for jurors to one of the region’s highest. The change is the result of SB 3075, passed by the General Assembly and signed into law in December.
Starting in June, jury compensation in Illinois must be at least $25 on the first day and $50 for each subsequent day. Counties are responsible for paying the jurors, and under the old law, they could pay as little as $4 per day.
Illinois’ new $50-a-day rate will match the pay already given to jurors in North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the National Center for State Courts. (Fifty dollars is the highest daily pay rate in the Midwest.) The region’s lowest minimum rates are now in Iowa, Kansas and Ohio ($10 per day). It is common, too, for jurors to have at least a portion of their travel expenses reimbursed, and in Minnesota, they are eligible for up to $50 in child care expenses.
Illinois legislators also made another change with SB 3075. In civil trials, the number of jurors deciding the case will be six instead of 12. Proponents of this change said it will help offset the cost of higher juror compensation; they also noted that 38 other states already allow for six-member juries.
In Ohio and Wisconsin, a state response to officer-related deaths
High-profile incidents involving police officers and the deaths of civilians have led to the passage of a new law in Wisconsin and creation of a state task force in Ohio.
Under Wisconsin’s AB 409, police departments can no longer lead the investigation of incidents involving one of their officers. Instead, two outside investigators must be brought in (one to lead the investigation). Family members of the person killed, too, must be told of their legal rights. Lastly, if criminal charges are not filed in an officer-related death, information on the investigation must be released to the public.
Ohio’s new task force, meanwhile, will look at ways to improve relations between law enforcement and the people it serves, particularly those in minority communities. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, the idea for the task force stems from discussions between Ohio Gov. John Kasich and three of the state’s African-American legislators. Sen. Nina Turner says the move “represents a first step to understanding what is going on, why it’s going on, and how we can begin to tackle it.” This past year, in separate incidents, two African- Americans carrying BB guns were shot and killed by police in Ohio. Officers in the two cases were not indicted, the Enquirer reports.
Medical marijuana law expanded in Illinois, adopted in Minnesota
A year after it joined the growing list of states that allow for the medical use of marijuana, Illinois has modified its law to provide relief for children who suffer from seizures. SB 2636 will take effect at the start of next year. It permits children under 18, with a parent’s consent, to be treated with non-smokable forms of medical marijuana. The state’s original law did not include seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy, among the list of debilitating medical conditions that could legally be treated with medical marijuana.
Earlier in the year, Minnesota joined Illinois and Michigan as the third Midwestern state to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Under Minnesota’s new law (SF 2470), the cannabis will be made by two in-state manufacturers and distributed at eight different facilities. Unlike Illinois and Minnesota, which rely on state-regulated manufacturers and dispensaries, Michigan allows patients to grow their own marijuana or to purchase it from regulated caregivers.
In all, close to half the U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana, but those laws vary on who should cultivate and dispense it, what the limits on possession should be, and what medical conditions should qualify.
Rise of drones forcing states to reconsider laws governing privacy and law enforcement
by Tim Anderson ~ 2014 MLC Annual Meeting Edition ~ Stateline Midwest »
Aerial and camera surveillance of public areas is nothing new, but as lawmakers learned this July during a roundtable discussion, advances in technology are raising new policy questions about everything from privacy and private property to the practices of law enforcement. More »
Rise in phone thefts leads to Minnesota law requiring 'kill switches'
by Tim Anderson ~ 2014 MLC Annual Meeting Edition ~ Stateline Midwest »
Under a first-of-its-kind state law that takes effect next July, Minnesota will require all new smartphones sold within its borders to be equipped with an anti-theft “kill switch.” The passage of SF 1740 reflects growing concerns in Minnesota and other states about a rise in phone thefts.
At the University of Minnesota, for example, 62 percent of the robberies on campus now involve a smartphone. In half of those incidents, police told lawmakers during legislative testimony earlier this year, a firearm was used by the criminal. Nationwide, the Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 30 percent of all robberies today involve smartphones.
A “kill switch” allows owners of the phone to disable the device remotely.
According to The Washington Post, Minnesota is the first U.S. state to pass a “kill switch” bill; measures are also being considered in California and the U.S. Congress.
In April, many of the nation's leading wireless companies announced that they would voluntarily include kill-switch capabilities on smartphones manufactured after July 2015. Some lawmakers, though, would like these anti-theft features to be enabled on devices by default, rather than requiring consumers to opt in.
CSG Justice Center offers road map for improving how schools discipline children
In a comprehensive, consensus-based new study released by the CSG Justice Center, state and local leaders have been given more than 60 recommendations to improve how the nation’s schools discipline children. Implementing these changes, the study concludes, will help keep students from dropping out of school and entering state justice systems, while also enhancing school safety. More »
First in the Midwest: "Most copied legal innovation in nation's history" began in Illinois
The idea of separate courts and a distinct system of justice for juveniles has its roots in legislation passed by Illinois lawmakers on the last day of their 1899 session. “[It is] the most copied legal innovation in our nation’s history," says professor David Tanenhaus. More »
Full court pressure: Recent Supreme Court ruling in Kansas serves as a reminder of the judiciary's power to shape state school funding
In the decades-long legal battles over school funding, different states have taken turns in the national spotlight. All eyes were on Ohio in the late 1990s, for example, after its state Supreme Court ruled on multiple occasions that the K-12 funding system was unconstitutional. This year was Kansas’ turn to grab headlines. A state Supreme Court ruling in March not only forced Kansas lawmakers to scramble for a fix by the end of this year’s session, it also could have ramifications in other states. More »
Lawmakers homing in on new laws that regulate use of drones by law enforcement and individuals
Amazon wants to use a drone to deliver your new jacket, and a beer company thinks unmanned aircraft systems are perfect for deliveries to remote Minnesota lakes. But at the same time, hunters and anglers in downstate Illinois are concerned that animal-rights activists will use drones with cameras to interfere with their sport. Drones are still most known for their use by the U.S. military, but they are beginning to get more attention from state legislators and others who set domestic policy. The recent activity in Illinois is a case in point. More »
States pick up fight to stop rise in scrap-metal thefts
In response to a problem that the Detroit Free Press says has reached “epidemic proportions” in some communities, Michigan legislators voted in March to give law enforcement more tools to prevent scrap-metal thefts.
Three Midwestern states have among the most metal-theft claims in the country, according to a recent National Insurance Crime Bureau analysis. Those states are Ohio (first in the nation), Illinois (seventh) and Michigan (ninth).
Michigan’s HB 4593 bans all cash sales of scrap metal. For sales of $25 or more, a check must now be mailed to the seller; an encrypted debit card can be used for sales under $25. The bill also includes language allowing for creation of a database that would track people who sell items to scrap yards. Legislators, though, did not require that a database be established. A bill passed late last year (HB 4595) made it a felony in Michigan for scrap-metal dealers to knowingly purchase stolen items. The most commonly stolen items are air conditioner components, catalytic converters and copper wire.
Ohio and Illinois are among the other states where scrap-metal theft laws have been enacted in recent years. Ohio, for example, now requires dealers to register with the state and to report transactions to a state-run database. The dealers pay a fee to maintain this electronic registry.
New era in corrections: In states such as Michigan, Ohio and South Dakota, recent reforms aim to cut costs, improve public safety
In 1977, South Dakota’s state prisons held just 550 inmates. Over the next 35 years, however, that population would multiply six times — and, in the process, drive costs through the roof. By 2011, the state’s corrections budget was more than $100 million and had quadrupled in 20 years. And the prison population was projected to grow by another 25 percent in 10 years, with costs increasing to the tune of $224 million. More »
Question of the Month: What steps have states taken to prevent human trafficking?
Human trafficking involves the detention of people against their will, who are then forced to work — in factories or local businesses, for example, or as domestic workers in homes. One of the more common forms of trafficking involves coercing individuals to work in the commercial sex trade. According to the Polaris Project, a national organization working to prevent human trafficking, certain groups of people are most vulnerable to trafficking, including undocumented immigrants and homeless/runaway youths. More »
Legalized medical marijuana spreads to second Midwest state, with Illinois joining Michigan
The start of the new year marked the beginning of a four-year pilot project in Illinois that permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Illinois is the second state in the Midwest with such a law and the first in the region where it was initiated by the legislature. Medical marijuana was legalized in Michigan six years ago via a ballot proposal.
Under Illinois HB 1, 22 regulated “cultivation centers” and up to 60 licensed dispensaries can now open in the state. Unlike some states, including Michigan, Illinois will not allow patients or their caregivers to grow marijuana.
As of late last year, Michigan law did not specifically authorize medical marijuana dispensaries. And in early 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that local prosecutors could use the state’s public nuisance law to shut these operations down.
A bill approved late in 2013 by the Michigan House (HB 4271) would allow local governments to decide whether or not to permit the opening of “provisioning centers.” These centers are needed to dispense the drug, legislative supporters say, because the number of medical marijuana patients far exceeds the number of caregivers able to provide for them.
Alcohol-related driving deaths rose in 2012; states urged to lower BAC limits, expand ignition-interlock laws
When the clock strikes midnight, and people in states across the country ring in the new year, one of the most dangerous few hours on U.S. roadways begins. About half of all the fatal crashes on New Year’s Day are due to impaired driving, higher than the rate for any other day of the year. And new National Traffic Highway Safety Administration data provide another reason for concern: With the exception of Kansas, the number of alcohol-related driving fatalities rose between 2011 and 2012 in every Midwestern state (see table). More »
What is “ban the box” legislation, and what states have enacted it?
“Ban the box” is a nationwide effort to remove inquiries about criminal history from employer job applications. Supporters argue that the question should be deferred until later in the interview process and not used as an automatic bar to employment at the application stage.
Ten states have enacted “ban the box” measures, including Illinois and Minnesota in the Midwest, according to the National Employment Law Project. More »
Michigan legislators eye expanded use of mental health courts
by Tim Anderson ~ October 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
It didn’t take long for Michigan legislators to take notice of a state Supreme Court study examining the efficacy of mental health courts.
Less than a month after the study’s release, the House unanimously passed a four-bill package (HB 4694-4697) that statutorily creates mental health courts, thus paving the way for judicial circuits across the state to operate them, Mlive.com reports. The legislation would also establish guidelines for these courts; for example, violent offenders could not be served by them.
The three-year Supreme Court study, which evaluated 10 mental health courts, found that the recidivism rate of participants was 300 percent lower compared to similar offenders. Participants also had better work and employment outcomes. Mental health courts offer treatment programs to offenders with severe mental illnesses as an alternative to lengthy jail or prison terms.
According to the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center, 48 percent of Michigan’s population resides in a jurisdiction with a mental health court — same as the U.S. average. In the Midwest, two states are above the national average: Illinois (78 percent, fifth-highest rate in the nation) and Ohio (63 percent). In the region’s eight other states, the availability of mental health courts falls below the national average.
New Illinois law requires lost guns to be reported, expands background-check law
Illinois legislators have added new requirements on gun sellers and owners under a recently enacted bill that aims to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals.
Prior to enactment of HB 1189, which takes effect next year, Illinois exempted some private sales from an existing background-check requirement. But starting in January, all private sellers must confirm that the buyer has a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card. (This requirement already applied to licensed gun dealers and sales at gun shows) Illinois is the first state in the Midwest to have universal background checks, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Illinois is also now requiring gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm within a 72-hour time frame. This new law is intended to help law enforcement crack down on “straw purchases” of firearms: Someone buys a gun for an individual unable to purchase it due to a criminal background or other reasons. Chicago police (where last year 435 of the city’s 506 murders involved guns) have cited straw purchasing as a major public safety problem. Michigan and Ohio were already among the seven U.S. states that require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns.
Prison population trends have shifted, and so have state policies
In the 1990s, and for a good part of the last decade, no state was immune to the precipitous rise in the nation’s prison population. Even traditionally low-incarceration-rate states in the Midwest such as Minnesota and North Dakota saw their numbers of prisoners triple. But over the past few years, a change has occurred. More »
Expansion of DNA-at-arrest laws continues following Supreme Court ruling
Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of states to gather DNA samples from arrestees, lawmakers in two Midwestern states advanced measures to expand the scope of their collection programs.
A provision in Wisconsin’s new state budget (AB 40) requires the DNA of all felony arrestees to be collected. Previously, the state only kept DNA profiles on those convicted of a felony. A DNA-at-arrest measure is also being considered in Michigan (SB 105-107); currently, only individuals arrested for committing or trying to commit a violent felony must submit samples.
According to the National Institute of Justice, as of June 2012, seven Midwestern states required the collection of DNA from at least some felony arrestees: Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota.
In Illinois and Minnesota, the mandate only applies to a subset of felonies. Prior to DNA collection or analysis, too, these two states require an arraignment or judicial determination of probable cause. And if an individual is cleared of the felony charge, the state must initiate the expungement of the DNA profile.
This is not the case in Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio and South Dakota, where DNA samples are collected for all felony arrests.
What states permit the use of medical marijuana, and in those states, how is use of the drug regulated?
by Ilene Grossman ~ May 2013 ~ Question of the Month »
Medical marijuana is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Only one of those states — Michigan — is in the Midwest, though several bills were introduced in the region this year to legalize medical marijuana, which is used to relieve severe pain, control nausea and stimulate appetites. More »
Kansas joins states with no statute of limitations for cases involving rape
by Tim Anderson ~ April 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Kansas lawmakers have removed the statute of limitations for prosecuting cases of rape and aggravated criminal sodomy.
Rape cases previously had to be prosecuted within five years, The Kansas City Star reports. HB 2252 also changes the time frame for when a sexually violent crime involving a victim under 18 years old can be prosecuted: within one year of when the identity of the suspect is conclusively established with DNA, or within 10 years of the date the victim turns 18.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 31 states had no statute of limitations for certain types of sexually violent crimes as of 2011. That list of states includes five Midwestern states. In Michigan, South Dakota and Wisconsin, the statute of limitations is extended indefinitely in cases of sexual assault or rape of a child. Nebraska’s law applies to all cases of sexual assault; in Indiana, it applies to Class A felony rape. Under a bill introduced this year in Ohio (SB 83), the statute of limitations would be removed for prosecuting cases of rape and sexual battery, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
Another option is to keep the statute of limitations, but allow for exceptions when DNA evidence is found. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are among the states with some type of DNA exception.
Three states in Midwest show significant six-year decline in prison rates
Michigan, Wisconsin and North Dakota were among the nearly 30 U.S. states where imprisonment rates fell between 2006 and 2011, a March analysis of federal data done by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows. Nationally, the imprisonment rate fell 3 percent; the U.S. crime rate decreased 13 percent over that same time period. More »
South Dakota adopts series of reforms to criminal justice system
Faced with the prospect of having to build two new state prisons to house the state’s growing inmate population, South Dakota legislators gave overwhelming approval this year to a series of criminal justice reforms.
SB 70 was signed into law in early February. It was the result of recommendations made late last year by an 18-person work group.
Under the new law, more nonviolent offenders will be diverted from prison and additional state dollars will be invested in recidivism-reduction strategies. A state oversight council will be formed to measure performance and ensure that evidence-based practices are being employed. According to the Rapid City Journal, the state also plans to expand the use of specialty courts for drug and alcohol offenders.
Without changes in policy, South Dakota’s prison population was projected to grow 25 percent over the next 10 years, at a cost of $224 million.
South Dakota was one of four Midwestern states (along with Indiana, Kansas and Nebraska) where prison populations grew between 2010 and 2011, federal data released late last year show. The size of inmate populations did not change in Illinois and Minnesota. It dropped in five Midwestern states: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
The future of gun laws: Options include strengthened background checks, bans on certain guns and magazines, and elimination of "gun-free" zones in schools
Over the past decade, several states in the Midwest have passed laws allowing residents to carry concealed weapons as well as other measures backed by gunowner-rights groups. But what does the future hold with regard to state gun policy, particularly in light of the recent mass shootings inside and outside the Midwest? This article examines some of the policy options for lawmakers, as well asthe priorities laid out by two oft-cited researchers who have very different perspectivse on what states should do. More »
With new policies in place, three states report declines
In 2008, more than 28,000 people were released from Ohio’s prisons. Three years later, close to one-third of them had returned. Most came back because they committed new crimes, others because of violations of
their parole. More »
New Michigan law seeks to swat away false crime reporting
Partly in response to concerns about a new crime known as “swatting,” Michigan legislators have passed a three-bill package that toughens penalties against people who falsely report a crime or medical emergency.
The measures (HB 5431, HB 5432 and HB 5433) were signed into law in October.
Under the new law, judges can require individuals who falsely report a crime or medical emergency to reimburse the state or local government. This includes people convicted of “swatting”: using the Internet to make false emergency phone calls to 911 centers while hiding their actual location or identity. According to the online news site mlive.com, the FBI has estimated that each swatting incident costs law enforcement $10,000 in resources.
The new Michigan law also stiffens penalties for false reporting of crimes that result in serious injury or death (up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000).
Prior to enactment of the three-bill package, there had been no felony for making a false report of a medical or other emergency. With the change in law, these false reports could now result in a misdemeanor or felony conviction. The felony is for cases in which the false reporting results in injury or death.
Illinois has unique partisan system of electing, retaining judges
Although judicial elections have long been a mainstay of the electoral landscape in many states, they have seldom attracted the same level of attention routinely paid to partisan contests for legislative seats or constitutional
offices. In recent years, however, a number of high-profile supreme court races have increasingly called attention to the means by which judicial officers are chosen. More »
Indiana drops age when child support ends; law in line with other states
Under a reworking of Indiana’s child support law, parents can stop paying child support once their child turns 19. The state had been one of only three states in the nation that set the age at 21, the Evansville Courier & Press reports. According to the domestic litigation firm Cordell & Cordell, child support payments end at 18 in most Midwestern states: Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The age is extended by a year or more if the child is still in high school.
Indiana now joins Illinois, Nebraska and North Dakota in setting the age at 19. Under SB 18, parents could still be required to meet the educational needs of their children up to age 21. Children under an existing court order (one made prior to July 1) can petition the court to have child support extended to their postsecondary education expenses. A child who is receiving support under an order issued after July 1 may petition for educational needs until he or she reaches the age of 19.
Some states, either through their child support statutes or case law, require parents to provide postsecondary school support. According to the Divorce Research Center, most states have also adopted the rule that parents have a duty to support their adult disabled children.
What states have laws to provide compensation for individuals wrongfully convicted of crimes?
According to the Innocence Project, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and
Wisconsin are among the 26 U.S. states with laws to provide compensation for
individuals wrongfully convicted of crimes. Michigan would be added to this list
under bills (SB 61, HB 4171) introduced earlier this year. More »
Drop in violent crime continues in Midwest
Every year since 1992, U.S. rates of violent crime have been going down — so much so that the rate in 2010 was nearing half of what it was 20 years ago. More »
Supreme costs: Five Midwestern states have among most expensive
judicial elections in nation
The trend toward big spending on state supreme court races took at least two new turns during the 2009-10 election cycle, according to a report issued in October by three judicial watch groups.
And at the center of these changes are several states in the Midwest. More »
Illinois joins five other Midwestern states that ban death penalty
by Tim Anderson ~ April 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Last month, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty when Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill passed by the legislature in January. A moratorium on executions had been in place since 2000, when Gov. George Ryan cleared Death Row amid concerns about wrongful convictions in the justice system, reports the Chicago Tribune.
Illinois joins five other Midwestern states that do not use the death penalty: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Michigan was the first Midwestern state to abolish the punishment (in 1846), and North Dakota had been the most recent state in this region to do so (in 1973).
Nationwide, the number of executions is at a near-historic low, falling by half in the last decade. The number of inmates given a death sentence has also decreased by roughly 50 percent, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The total population of Death Row in the United States was about 3,200 last year.
In 2010, the Midwest accounted for eight of the 46 executions carried out that year, or 17 percent. All of them took place in Ohio. The vast majority of executions last year took place in the South (35), with three occurring in the West. States in the Northeast did not put any inmates to death last year.
Wisconsin sets new rules, caps on damages in civil liability cases
As the result of one of the first actions taken by Wisconsin’s newly elected Legislature and governor, new rules governing the state’s civil justice system are now in place.
SB 1 was passed in January during a special legislative session. The new law is being praised by proponents as a way to improve the state’s business climate and derided by critics for taking away important legal safeguards and remedies.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the law establishes higher standards for who qualifies as an expert witness and prevents lawsuits in which plaintiffs cannot prove who harmed them.
The latter provision was a response to a state Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that applied the theory of “risk contribution” in a lead-paint liability case. In that decision, the court ruled a plaintiff’s case against various manufacturers of lead pigment could move forward — even though the plaintiff could not prove which specific manufacturer produced the lead pigment that he ingested as a child.
SB 1 also limits punitive damages to $200,000 or double the amount of compensatory damages. In addition, noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases involving nursing homes are now capped at $750,000. This same limit already was in place for cases involving other health care providers.