A few days after Daniel St. Hubert was released from prison, he allegedly went on a stabbing spree resulting in the death of a 6-year-old boy. Hubert’s past is checkered with violence. In fact just before his release, he had been incarcerated for five years for choking his mother with an electrical cord. Moreover, Hubert’s time in prison was filled with violence against inmates and correctional workers. The correctional system would seem to have been aware of Hubert’s propensity for violence. Indeed, it took three years before he was deemed psychologically fit to stand trial for the assault on his mother.
While in prison, Hubert underwent years of therapy that resulted in improvement in his behavior including six months without any citations for violence. On May 23, 2014, after a psychiatric evaluation, Hubert was released without a structure in place to ensure the safety of Hubert and the public.
Currently, the criminal justice system focuses on ensuring that the mentally ill are competent to stand trial, but little has been done to combat mental illness once mentally ill prisoners are released. New York’s “Kendra’s law” gives the state the authority to order outpatient treatment for individuals who have had a violent past and have refused treatment. However, this law does not ensure thatmentally ill people released from prison will receive needed treatment. Hubert’s case forces us to ask whether or not six months without a citation for violence is enough time to deem a prisoner stable enough to re-enter society. Further, is there a better way to keep tabs on released prisoners with mental illnesses? Whatever the solution, there are civil liberty issues that must be balanced with public safety.
Anti-fetal homicide laws were enacted originally to protect mothers of unborn children against violent acts. Yet, in reality, “they’ve led to disproportionate prosecution against African American women who suffer miscarriages.” An ongoing case in Mississippi could set a dangerous precedent with regard to the criminalization of pregnant women for their purportedly reckless acts. Rennie Gibbs was charged with the murder of her unborn child after it was stillborn when she was 16 years old. Gibbs is being prosecuted for “depraved heart murder” because the autopsy showed that Gibbs had used cocaine during her pregnancy—but the cause of death was originally attributed to the umbilical cord being wrapped around the infant’s neck. That cause of death was never ruled out.
In 1990, Congress approved the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. The CARE Act funds support and medical treatment for individuals with HIV. However, under the Act every state had to certify that it had criminal laws that would prosecute individuals with HIV who knowingly exposed others to the disease, even if those exposed did not contract HIV. Individuals who are successfully prosecuted under these laws are listed as sex offenders. In one case in Iowa, a woman was prosecuted successfully even though she claimed that she informed the man that she was HIV positive. He claimed she did not tell him; however, two weeks prior to filing his complaint against her, he was convicted of domestic abuse for hitting her. She is now listed as a sex offender.
Currently, the federal government and advocates consider these HIV-specific laws to be draconian in light of modern scientific knowledge regarding HIV, which is “no longer the death sentence it once was.” Many of these HIV-specific laws do not require exposure in the form of sexual contact, and some even include exposure in the form of something as innocuous as spitting. HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva. Some states, including Iowa, are reconsidering and changing their HIV-specific laws in response to this change in public opinion.
The Supreme Court of the United States barred the execution of intellectually disabled individuals in 2002. Soon the Court will address the standard that a State should use to determine whether an individual is intellectually disabled. There are ten states that use IQ scores to assess the intellectual competence of convicts, including Florida. Typically, in these states, a person with an IQ of 70 or higher is considered intellectually competent. Some psychologists maintain that using such a bright-line standard is scientifically outdated, and that IQ tests are not precise enough to make such a determination. The Court will hear arguments on the issue in Hall v. Florida, on March 3, 2014.
The Philadelphia Police Department implemented an “unprecedented” policy change last December. Directive 152 is intended to guide police officers’ interactions with transgender Philadelphians. Local activists state that Philadelphia police were often antagonistic and discriminatory when interacting with transgender individuals. Directive 152 seeks to address this problem by advising officers to use the proper pronouns when referring to transgender individuals. For example, the Directive indicates that in the event of a transgender individuals’ death, officers should “use pronouns and titles of respect appropriate to the individual’s gender identity as expressed by the individual.” In addition, the Directive addresses more difficult issues, such as housing and processing for transgender inmates; officers are to separate transgender inmates from the general population in separate holding cells in order to protect them from physical and sexual abuse.
David Eckert, from Hidalgo County, New Mexico, was subjected to numerous, highly invasive procedures, because police suspected him of hiding drugs in his rectum. Mr. Eckert had been convicted of methamphetamine possession in 2008, and the police suspected his continued involvement with drugs. However, the officers who searched both Mr. Eckert’s person and his vehicle, after pulling him over for a traffic violation, found neither drugs, nor weapons. One officer indicated that Mr. Eckert held himself in an “erect” position, and “kept his legs together,” which led the officers to assume that Mr. Eckert held drugs within him.
After a local hospital refused forcibly to search Mr. Eckert, he was transported to the Gila Regional Medical Center (GRMC), 50 miles away. At GRMC, Mr. Eckert was subjected to two rectal exams, three enemas, forced bowel movements in front of officers and nurses, x-rays, and a colonoscopy performed under anesthesia. However, each search was fruitless. Mr. Eckert received a bill from the hospital for $6,000. Mr. Eckert filed suit against the hospital, and the parties settled for $1.6 million.
Pentobarbital was used, primarily, for the purpose of lethal injection in America. However, the principal manufacturer of pentobarbital, Hospira, Inc., halted its production of pentobarbital in 2011. As a result, states that allow the death penalty are experiencing a shortage of lethal injection chemicals. The shortage has caused states, such as Ohio, to modify their lethal injection protocols, which has led to new quandaries that implicate the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Counsel for the convicted murderer, Dennis McGuire of Ohio, argued recently on Mr. McGuire’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. McGuire’s counsel claimed that the new, untried drug substituted for pentobarbital could leave Mr. McGuire conscious and suffering from “air hunger,” thereby posing “a substantial risk of severe pain” which would violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Court ruled that the defense did not offer sufficient evidence to support a finding that the new drug poses a substantial risk of severe pain, and did not delay the execution proceedings.
“Redressing Past Wrongs: Changing the Common Rule to Increase Minority Voices in Research” (forthcoming, American Journal of Public Health) states that the underrepresentation of minorities in human subject research is particularly alarming because many diseases are more prevalent in minority populations, irrespective of age, gender or income. The article suggests that minority underrepresentation reflects minorities’ mistrust of the government, due, in part, to cases of abuse of minorities in human subject research; and, minorities’ comparative lack of access to health care, leading to fewer opportunities for minorities to participate in research.
The article was co-written by Bill Rencher, the health access program director of the nonprofit, Georgia Watch, and Leslie Wolf, Professor of Law at Georgia State University, and it appears in a special issue on the Ethics of Human Subjects Research in Minority Populations. The authors suggest that federal regulations be changed to protect minority populations as they protect prisoners, children and pregnant women.
Doctor’s groups, such as the American Medical Association, have urged the U.S. military to end the practice of force-feeding detainees in Guantanamo who have engaged in a hunger strike. Force-feeding requires that doctors and nurses strap the detainee to a chair, gag the detainee’s mouth, and then insert a nasogastric tube. The insertion of a nasogastric tube is uncomfortable in the extreme, even for a willing patient. Detainees resisting tube insertion may gag, have trouble breathing, or vomit. A motion filed in federal court to end the practice was rejected by U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer. Judge Collyer stated that the Court did not have jurisdiction, and if it did she would still reject the complaint. She claims that the “real complaint” is that the U.S. Government refuses to allow the detainees to starve themselves to death.
Justice Kennedy writing for the majority, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel Alito, Jr., held that taking a DNA sample via cheek swabbing is similar to fingerprinting and photographing an arrestee. Therefore taking an individual’s DNA after an arrest for a “serious crime” that is supported by probable cause is “reasonable under the Fourth Amendment” because it is a “legitimate booking procedure.”
However at issue in the case was not whether the police could collect DNA from an individual convicted of a crime, but rather whether the police could collect DNA from a person merely arrested for a crime. When arrested an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the Fourth Amendment gives citizens protection from unreasonable and warrantless searches.