Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Stories We'd Rather Not Hear

Our friend Tom Barland in WI has alerted us to a story that might affect your sleep out of MN. Seems a young man from Elk River, MN, recently engaged and the detail manager at a Ford dealership, was picked up for the third time for driving without insurance after being stopped for a cracked windshield and loud muffler. Third time is apparently the charm there, a gross misdemeanor requiring standing before a judge within 36 hours before release. Because of the timing and the paperwork, the man had to be held over in the jail classification unit until the next morning. That night, after speaking briefly to Sherburne County corrections officer, another classification detainee pulled an aluminum pipe out of a handicapped toilet setup, went into the man’s cell, and beat him to death. Turned out the second-degree assault charge the assailant was in for was slashing a cellmate with a razor and turned out no one in the jail apparently knew it. The point Tom makes in sending us the story is to note how the system can break down with such tragic results and the irony of incarceration policies that deny us innocent, productive young people. As the police chief there stated, “We didn’t sentence this guy to death. Our assumption is when someone goes to jail they’ll be held safely until they go before a judge. . . If we can’t believe that, we’ve got some serious problems.” Uh, Chief . . . . And from UT (and Governing’s blog), we hear of a state senator proposing legislation to allow the state senate there to fire, or at least reappoint, judges whose rulings displease them. Beyond state constitutional problems, the bill will face criticisms for its threat to diminish qualified applicants in the pool of potential appointees. Not clear how serious the bill will be since the senator is best known apparently for previous efforts to require instruction on divine intervention and to ban gay clubs in schools. However, remember that one of the primary reasons the VA sentencing commission and its guidelines are so effective, besides Rick Kern, the director there, is, as I understand it, the legislature does select and retain state judges. This doesn’t sound all that different from that, if I have it right, and states considering “advisory” guidelines with teeth might like the idea, despite the clear threat to judicial integrity and discretion. So, let’s watch where this goes and follow the implications.

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