APRIL: Policy Updates

Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Alabama. Photo: Brynn Anderson, AP News

by PINAR GOKTAS                                                                                                             Policy Reporter

  1. Supreme Court Narrowly Interprets Eighth Amendment in Death Penalty Case Verdict
    • On April 1st, in Bucklew v. Precythe, the Supreme Court declared that a Missouri death row inmate could be executed by lethal injection despite the fact the inmate has a medical condition which he claims would cause excruciating pain. Evidence shows that the injection would cause the tumors in his throat to implode and cause him to suffocate to death. The decision was split 5-to-4, with the majority accusing the defendant of delaying his execution and the minority countering that the case raised constitutional concerns.. The majority claimed that the defendant waited too long to raise his objection. Additionally, they pointed out that the Eighth Amendment protects against unreasonable pain in punishment, not any pain at all, thus obliquely implying that death row inmates were outside the Eighth Amendment’s protection. The decision further revealed the Supreme Court’s fiercely divided stance on the death penalty. (Liptak 2019)
  2. Disclosure Reform Addressing “Trial by Ambush” Passed in New York State
    • This month, New York State passed Senate Bill S1716, which mandates prosecutors to share their entire evidence file with defendants within 15 days of arraignment. The law is meant to address the problem of “trial by ambush”, where prosecutors intentionally hold incriminating evidence against defendants until the end of a criminal trial. The Supreme Court has already established that prosecutors must disclose evidence to defendants in Brady v. Maryland, but this new law introduces a time constraint early in the proceedings in order to  make the decision between a plea and a trial easier for defendants. This law is part of a larger criminal justice reform package which also  includes reforms like reducing cash bail and removing obstacles to a speedy trial. The package may have difficulty being implemented in courts as it faces opposition from district attorneys, who claim it will slow down the justice system. (Sapien 2019)
  3. Alabama Prisons Worst in Country, According to DOJ Report
    • On April 2nd, the Department of Justice released a highly critical report on the state of Alabama prisons.  The report recorded levels of prisoner-on-prisoner and staff member-on-prisoner violence and sexual abuse which violate the Eighth Amendment right to freedom from “cruel and unusual punishments.” For example, Alabama prisons have the highest homicide rate in the country. The report cites lack of staff and resources, overcrowding and, to a weaker degree, decaying infrastructure, as responsible for the violence. The DOJ plans to sue within 49 days if the criticism in the report remains unaddressed. However, the Trump administration has not prioritized judiciary overseeing, and without federal pressure it is uncertain whether Alabama will take serious measures to address the report’s concerns. (Lopez 2019)
  4. Strict Police Use of Force Legislation Advances in California
    • On April 9th, California Public Safety Committee advanced legislation restricting the use of deadly police force. If the bill, AB 392, passes, California would have the strictest policy on the use of police force in the country. The bill would change the appropriate justification for use of deadly force from “objectively reasonable” to “no reasonable alternative”.  California law enforcement officials strongly oppose the bill. The state Senate introduced a law enforcement backed alternative plan, SB 230, which focuses on instituting police department guidelines for de-escalation tactics. (Bechtel 2019)


[1] Bechtel, Marilyn. “Bill Tightening Rules for Police Use of Deadly Force Advances in California.” People’s World, 16 Apr. 2019, www.peoplesworld.org/article/bill-tightening-rules-for-police-use-of-deadly-force-advances-in-california/.

[2] Liptak, Adam. “Rancor and Raw Emotion Surface in Supreme Court Death Penalty Ruling.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Apr. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/01/us/politics/supreme-court-death-penalty.html.

[3] Lopez, German. “Justice Department Releases Damning Report on Alabama’s Gruesome, Violent Prisons.” Vox, Vox, 4 Apr. 2019, www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/4/4/18295280/alabama-prison-violence-justice-department-investigation-report.

[4] Sapien, Joaquin. “Criminal Justice Legislation Will Force New York Prosecutors to Disclose More Evidence, Sooner.” ProPublica, 5 Apr. 2019, www.propublica.org/article/criminal-justice-legislation-will-force-new-york-prosecutors-to-disclose-more-evidence-sooner.

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