Liz Goodwin

  • Barbara Scrivner’s long journey to clemency

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 1 day ago

    Barbara Scrivner, 48, was called into the warden’s office Wednesday morning in a federal prison in Northern California and given life-changing news.

    Twenty years into her three-decade sentence for selling small amounts of meth, President Barack Obama had decided to let her out of prison, her lawyer told her in a brief and emotional phone call. She started to cry.

    The warden said that she’d be transferred to a halfway house close to where her daughter lives in Fresno, Calif., as soon as possible, to await her June 12 release date.

    “I’m actually real excited,” Scrivner, who was 27 when she started serving her sentence, said Thursday.

    Scrivner did not apply for relief through Clemency Project 2014 — her clemency petition was already pending when it began — but advocates say thousands of federal inmates have similar stories to hers and should qualify for shortened sentences. On Wednesday, Obama also shortened the sentences of seven other drug offenders who met the criteria the clemency project is looking for, and an administration official said more would be on the way.

  • Obama to free 8 nonviolent drug offenders

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 3 days ago

    President Barack Obama will shorten the sentences of eight prisoners serving time for nonviolent drug crimes and pardon 12 ex-convicts, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

    The act of presidential clemency is traditional around Christmastime, but Obama’s action is part of his administration’s broader push to roll back harsh mandatory drug sentences that imprisoned people for decades for nonviolent drug crimes. The “tough on crime” drug laws contributed to America’s record of locking up a larger share of its population than any other nation in the world.

    Scrivner’s attorney, Sam Kauffman, said his client cried when he called her to tell her she had received the commutation from the president. She still had more than four years of her sentence left to serve.

    “It should have happened a long time ago, but what are you going to do?” Kauffman said.

     In April, Scrivner told Yahoo she wanted to get out of prison to be there for her daughter, Alannah, who was just a toddler when she was sentenced.

     "Ten years is a long time to be in prison. And now it’s been 20 years," Scrivner said at the time. "It just doesn't seem real to me.”

     

     

     

  • ‘Torture Report’ could help defense of accused 9/11 plotters

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 5 days ago

    The Senate Intelligence Committee’s bombshell report on the CIA’s interrogation program has armed defense attorneys representing accused terrorists held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay with a powerful argument against capital punishment and the integrity of the system in which they are being tried.

    The report reveals that the men accused of planning the September 11 attacks, as well as Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who’s on trial for plotting the USS Cole bombing, were subjected to what the CIA called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which included waterboarding, rectal feeding, prolonged sleep deprivation and being shackled in “stress” positions for days at a time.

    Lawyers for the men plan to request access to the full report — only 11 percent of which was declassified this week in summary form — and now have a road map of which CIA documents they will ask the military commissions judge to give them access to in order to prove that their clients were tortured to the point that they became psychologically unstable.

    There’s some precedent for this argument.

  • A big loophole in Holder’s new racial profiling guidelines—the border

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 11 days ago

    Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder expressed disappointment Monday that the U.S. border is exempt from his new racial profiling ban, after the Department of Homeland Security rejected his plan as too risky.

    The Justice Department’s new guidance, released Monday, forbids federal law enforcement officers from using race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity as a factor when deciding whom to stop or arrest and in FBI national security investigations — a significant expansion of the Bush-era ban on racial profiling and a keystone of Holder’s legacy.

    A Justice Department official told reporters that the new guidance would be “one of the signature accomplishments” of Holder’s tenure.

    But a big footnote in the policy, which was won by the Department of Homeland Security after weeks of negotiations, is marring the accomplishment, and frustrating Holder.

    Police officers cannot ever use race or ethnicity as the sole basis for making an arrest or stop, but it can be used as one factor in their calculus, according to the Supreme Court.

  • New York cops test out body cameras as protests begin over Garner decision

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 17 days ago

    Dozens of New York City police officers will wear body cameras to record their interactions with citizens beginning this week, city officials announced Wednesday. The small pilot program launches as the city is bracing itself for massive protests after a grand jury decided against charging a police officer in the death of an unarmed Staten Island man.

    Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced the body-camera pilot program Wednesday morning, just hours before a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a police officer who allegedly used a chokehold while arresting Eric Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes in July. Garner died after saying “I can’t breathe”; the confrontation was recorded by a bystander and sparked widespread outrage about the police’s use of force in response to a minor crime.

    The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, could still face federal charges or a civil suit. Bratton said Pantaleo is suspended from his duties until the NYPD’s internal investigation into his actions wraps up.

    DeBlasio said the cameras, which could one day be worn by all 35,000 officers, would increase transparency and accountability. 

  • President Obama to order more training, oversight for military gear to cops

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 19 days ago

    President Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order to encourage more oversight of federal programs that dole out military gear to local police departments, senior administration officials said Monday.

    The executive order will direct agencies that distribute military-style equipment to local police to require training for cops that receive the gear. The president will also require officials to create a central database to track the supplies, as a significant number of weapons and vehicles previously allocated have gone missing. But the review also stressed that the programs provided "valuable" assistance to police departments and stopped short of criticizing the gear as promoting "militarization" of police.

    Obama ordered a review of Pentagon, Justice Department and Homeland Security programs that arm local police after a military-style response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri prompted outrage in August. 

    “There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred,” Obama said at the time.

  • Legal experts: How Congress can fight Obama’s immigration order

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    Nearly 60 House Republicans signed a letter to the president threatening to defund his efforts to executively offer relief to the immigrants. But the agency that would be in charge of the effort is self-funded, the House Appropriations Committee announced Thursday, making cutting off funding nearly impossible. A full government shutdown, meanwhile, would most likely blow up in Republicans’ faces, sparking charges of partisan bickering and raising economic anxieties right before the holidays. 

    Others, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have threatened to contest Obama’s move in the courts. But legal experts say any lawsuits against Obama will face an uphill battle in a court system that’s repeatedly backed presidents’ broad latitude in setting law enforcement priorities.

    Congress does have one option that could work, though — exercising a muscle that’s withered with disuse by passing an actual law.

    But the legislative body never set a limit on the permits in the first place, which is what gave the president the freedom to do this, according to legal scholars.

  • A third of Fortune 500 companies now cover transgender health care

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    The number of Fortune 500 companies willing pay for sex reassignment surgeries and other transgender-related healthcare has gone from zero in 2002 to 169 this year, according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign.

    The report, which ranks corporations on their treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans employees, also found that more than half of corporations with more than 500 employees that participated in the survey now cover the procedures. That’s 418 firms.

    Some of the biggest names in corporate America are among those who have signed up to cover the procedures, at up to $75,000 per employee. Facebook Inc., Visa, Starbucks Corp., CVS Health Corp. and Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. are just some of the firms that decided this year to begin covering the procedures for their workers for the first time.

    “The jump in terms of employers adopting transgender benefits has been the most dramatic of any single aspect of the Corporate Equality Index in its entire history,” said Deena Fidas, the director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program, which has been producing the report for more than a decade.

     

     

  • Justice Department prods Ferguson police to improve

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    A small corner of the Justice Department led by a gregarious former police chief has spent months prodding local police in St. Louis and Ferguson, Mo., to change the way they view their citizens and to respond to protests with the intention of upholding people’s First Amendment rights, not shutting them down. 

    The effort is just one prong of an unusually involved response from the Justice Department to the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black teen named Michael Brown, which sparked weeks of occasionally violent protests in the area. A county grand jury is expected to decide any day now whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in Brown’s death, and initial leaks from the proceedings suggest Wilson may not be charged.

    Protesters have vowed to shut down the town of Clayton, where the grand jury meets, when the decision is announced, and local and federal officials are bracing for the possibility of violence.

    He's stressed that the job is to protect the civil liberties of protesters.

    “In some areas we’ve seen some changes,” Davis said. “In many areas we have not. And probably more importantly, in those areas those changes will be yet to come.”

  • How the Koch brothers became criminal justice reformers

    Liz Goodwin at Yahoo News 1 mth ago

    Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have used their fortune to back Republican candidates who support rolling back corporate regulations, slashing taxes and shrinking government.

    But the tea party benefactors have another cause close to their heart, one that’s shared with many tree-hugging liberals who vilify the brothers’ politics and business practices. They want to reform the U.S. criminal justice system, which locks away a higher percentage of citizens than any other country in the world at a staggering cost.

    Since 2004, the Kochs have quietly made substantial six-figure donations every year to a group representing criminal defense lawyers. The money has gone to training programs for court-appointed defenders, who predominantly represent poor and minority people who can’t afford their own lawyer, campaigns to reform the grand jury system and other causes. The Kochs haven’t attached strings to how the money must be used or sought recognition for the donations.

    “Everybody across the ideological spectrum recognizes that the ... system is a tragedy,” Reimer said. 

    Reimer says the partnership with Koch, which began in 2004, has been led by the NACDL from the beginning.