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New York Civil Rights Law Blog

Solitary confinement can be emotionally traumatic for prisoners

Although the practice of using solitary confinement has historically been commonplace in prisons in New York and around the country, the voices questioning the practice have increased both in number and in volume in the recent months.

Law enforcement officers who monitor jails claim that they have to use solitary confinement as a harsh punishment in order to ensure that they can maintain order in their jails. The practice involves isolating a prisoner from everyone else by placing him or her in a tiny room and only letting them out once for one hour in order to get some exercise in an outdoor cage. The prisoner has no social interaction, only being fed through a slot in his or her prison door.

City sued for civil rights violations in wake of riots

The United States Justice Department has filed a civil rights lawsuit following an investigation into police practices in Ferguson, Missouri. The city was the scene of massive protests and unrest after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in 2014.

Although the police officer was not charged in connection with the shooting, the Justice Department conducted an investigation of the local police department, ultimately finding there had been systemic incidents of police misconduct, as well as incidents of financial irregularities in the local court system.

Holding the line against unscrupulous authorities in New York

The last post on this blog discussed what remedies New York residents have against police and prosecutors who abuse their authority and arrest people without evidence or, perhaps worse, fabricate a case against a person by using misleading evidence.

While it is no secret that there are difficult hurdles that a victim of unscrupulous law enforcement officers must cross in order to get justice, it is not impossible for a victim to hold law enforcement accountable in court. However, it does take a lot of hard work, knowledge and experience in order to win.

Is there recourse against unethical prosecutors in New York?

An individual's civil rights deserve to be protected at all costs. Last week's post on this blog discussed how prosecutors can be held accountable for civil rights violations that they commit and that land an innocent person in jail on account of a lie or fabricated evidence.

It is true, as that post stated, that prosecutors do have a special obligation to make sure that those who get sent to prison for crimes are in fact guilty of those crimes. However, it may be worth clarifying that, for now, New Yorkers would have to be content with holding a prosecutor accountable by filing an ethics complaint against him or her, which could wind up costing the prosecutor his or her job or even license to practice law.

A New York prosecutor's role in false imprisonment cases

As many television shows and movies illustrate, it usually takes more than just the police to land a New Yorker in jail for something that he or she did not do or that was not illegal. City and state prosecutors also play a role in putting a person behind bars, and when they do not exercise this role responsibly, they too can be held accountable.

Like all other lawyers, New York prosecutors are expected to follow certain ethical guidelines, the violation of which can be evidence of an underlying civil rights violation or even a false arrest claim. For example, no prosecutor can tamper with evidence, lie to a court or knowingly put on a witness who is going to falsely accuse someone of a crime.

Major university settles civil rights case

New Yorkers may be familiar with the University of Cincinnati based on its successful basketball team and other sports programs. However, this school recently found itself the subject of an article in the New York Times for a far less flattering reason; it recently settled a major civil rights lawsuit against the school's law enforcement unit.

The school will pay $4.85 million to the family of man who died after a university police officer shot him during a traffic stop. The traffic stop was for not having a proper license plate and the man, who was black, had no weapon. For the use of excessive force that even the local prosecutor called "senseless," the police officer was fired. He is now looking at the possibility of a murder conviction.

Statistics on the causes of false arrest and wrongful convictions

Many New Yorkers do not have to be told that false arrests and false convictions are more common than they should be. What is more disturbing is that, according to a recent statistic, "official misconduct" on the part of the police and prosecutors was a contributing factor in many cases involving a false conviction that was later overturned.

A group that tracks false convictions recently studied 1,728 cases across the country that involved convictions that later got overturned based on additional evidence that exonerated the suspect. Of these false convictions, almost 50 percent of them could be partially attributed to misconduct on the part of the government that was, it would seem, all too eager to get a conviction. Moreover, over 60 percent of false homicide convictions could be attributed to official misconduct.

Helping those in prison have meaningful access to courts

A recent post on this blog discussed how prisoners in New York maintain certain rights even while they are in prison. One of these rights is the right to use the court system in the same way that other citizens use it. This means not only that prisoners should be able to file cases, but also that they should have some means of learning how to do so, such as through a prison law library.

While the news is often rife with stories of inmates abusing this right, what New Yorkers might not think about is how important the right itself is for prisoners who are honestly facing neglect, abuse or other obvious injustice at the hands of the state. A prisoner's basic human right to not to be abused is worth little if the prisoner cannot effectively enforce that right in court.

What is a prisoner's right of 'meaningful access' to courts?

As this blog has previously discussed, prisoners in New York maintain certain basic rights even while they are incarcerated. The idea is that, while those who have broken the law should be punished and should lose some of their civil rights, there are certain boundaries that we as a society are not willing to cross with respect to the treatment of prisoners.

One of these constitutional rights is the right of a New York prisoner to have what lawyers and judges call meaningful access to both New York's court system and, in certain cases, to the federal courts that serve New York.

Homeless allege police misconduct in the disposal of possessions

Homelessness is a problem for too many New York residents. Many individuals who are afflicted by homelessness are not in their states of need by choice. Whether due to illness, loss of jobs, or other detrimental events that threw their lives off course, the homeless are a population of individuals who deserve the respect of their community, including the respect of law enforcement officials.

A recent news story brought to light an alarming allegation of police misconduct from several members of the New York homeless community. According to the victims, members of the homeless community were forced to move out of public spaces where they were staying. During the process of moving, which was enforced by New York police officers and sanitation workers, many items of personal property of the homeless victims were destroyed. One man reported that during the move, his Social Security card, birth certificate, medications, and other important possessions were destroyed by NYPD and the sanitation crew.

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