1. An NYPD officer killed a man on video, and he won’t face charges.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in the Tompkinsville neighborhood of Staten Island, New York, after a police officer used a chokehold around Garner’s neck for about 19 seconds. Some believe it was a “grappling hold” or a headlock.
2. Two judges ordered millions of Americans to lose their health insurance.
In July, two Republican members of a federal appeals court in Washington, DC voted to defund much of the Affordable Care Act by cutting off tax credits that enable millions of Americans to afford health insurance.
The Supreme Court is now preparing to hear a similar case that presents the same issue.
3. An Oklahoma death row inmate gasped for 43 minutes as state executioners stood by.
Clayton Lockett writhed in pain for 43 minutes as observers watched a botched execution in real-time.
Oklahoma used lethal injection drugs manufactured in secret, at small-batch “compounding pharmacies” that are not, like most pharmacies, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Several states are turning to these compounding pharmacies because of a shortage of lethal injection drugs from European drug-makers, thanks to international opposition to the death penalty.
4. An inmate was ‘baked to death’ in an American jail.
Marine veteran Jerome Murdough had been dead for four hours when jail guards at Rikers Island (NY) discovered him in his cell, dehydrated and overheated, in a solitary mental observation unit. An anonymous official said Murdough, who was being held after he couldn’t afford bail over a trespassing arrest, “baked to death.”
The individual suffered from mental illness, in a system of rampant incarceration that is increasingly serving as a de facto asylum for many. A federal bill awaiting President Obama’s signature would require states to report not just deaths at law enforcement hands, but also those in jails and prisons.
5. Two mentally disabled North Carolina men spent 30 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated them.
Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown had spent most of their adult lives in prison, McCullom on death row. But it wasn’t until DNA was tested that they were released in September of this year.
In s similar case, Michelle Byrom was sentenced to death in Mississippi in an error-riddled trial. She had been on death row since 2000 when a court overturned her conviction this year, and put her in jail while she awaits a new trial.
Also, In New York, David McCallum was exonerated after 30 years in prison based on a confession made under threats when he was 16 years old.
6. Over-sentencing and under-sentencing.
In a recent Texas case, a judge sentenced a defendant who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl to just 45 days in prison, followed by mandatory volunteer service at a rape crisis center.
Another man in Alabama received only probation for raping a teen. Austin Smith Clem, 25, was convicted of raping Courtney Andrews, who is now 20, twice when she was 14 and once when she was 18. As of yet, he still will not be serving jail time.
These sentences stand in stark contrast to drastically over-sentenced or punished sex offenses. Hayes County, Texas, prosecutors sentenced a man who slept with a 14-year-old he met on eHarmony, where she lied about her age, to life in prison without the option for parole.
7. Georgia executed a man whose lawyer had a serious drinking problem.
When Robert Wayne Holsey was on trial for his life, his attorney was an alcoholic who admitted to drinking a quart of vodka every night. The lawyer eventually lost his law license and spent three years in prison over allegations that he took over $116,000 from a client.
Perhaps due to his own problems, the lawyer did not present significant evidence during Holsey’s trial indicating that Holsey was intellectually disabled. Moreover, Georgia law makes it extraordinarily difficult for an intellectually disabled individual who is facing a death sentence to prove that in court, even though the Supreme Court has held that “death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal.”
Holsey was executed earlier this month because he could not overcome the very high standard of proof the state’s law imposes on death row inmates with intellectual disabilities.
8. A mother is still facing jail time for giving her son medical marijuana.
The nation made some progress on medical marijuana reform this year, culminating in a move by Congress to halt federal prosecution in states where medical marijuana is legal. That hasn’t helped Angela Brown or Robert Duncan. Brown’s son Trey suffers severe pain and spasms from a traumatic brain injury.
After Brown shared her story with the “wrong person,” officials seized the cannabis oil from her home and charged her with child endangerment and causing a child to need protection. Prosecutors are still pursuing her in a case that could send her to prison for two years, even as an already-passed medical marijuana law that goes into effect in 2015 would allow the use of cannabis oil in Minnesota.
9. Mississippi defendants have been jailed for a year without ever being charged.
There is an epidemic of individuals in the United States jailed for extended periods of time before they’ve been convicted of anything.
According to a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union this year in Scott County, Mississippi, Octavious Burks had been in jail for ten months on an arrest of attempted robbery with bail set at $30,000. He had never been charged with anything. He had never been appointed a lawyer. And, by the account of the ACLU, he had twice before been held in jail for periods of 18 months and 16 months, before being released without ever having been convicted of anything.
Joshua Bassett had been in a similar situation. He’d been in jail for 9 months with bail set at $100,000, after an arrest for grand larceny and possession of methamphetamine. He didn’t have a lawyer. Scott County Senior Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon said he will not appoint Bassett a lawyer until he is formally indicted.
“This is indefinite detention, pure and simple,” said Brandon Buskey, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “The county has tossed these people into a legal black hole.”