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Opening Statement
December 9, 2016
Edited by Andrew Cohen
Opening Statement is our pick of the day’s criminal justice news. Not a subscriber? Sign up. For original reporting from The Marshall Project, visit our website.

Pick of the News

Heroin deaths, surging since 1999, have surpassed gun homicides for the first time. The Washington Post Related: One family’s ordeal with fentanyl. A young man gets hooked on a drug that is easily-made, widely-distributed, devastatingly-addictive, and deadly-dangerous. The toll his addiction has taken on his family — the bills, the court dates, the marital tension, the deceptions — is excruciating. The Wall Street Journal

“I’m a big boy. Whatever transpired, transpired. What happened, happened. Whatever was done, was done." The jury foreman in the Michael Slager murder case acknowledges that he had a felony charge dropped against him by Slager’s old police department during the just-completed trial. It is not known if the charge was discussed during jury selection. The trial ended in a hung jury, infuriating the family of the victim, Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by Slager. The Post and Courier Related: There was no consensus during deliberations for either murder or manslaughter conviction, foreman says. Today Show

“Prejudice wears a robe.” In any number of ways the criminal justice system in Florida has been biased against blacks since the state joined the union. But half a century after the civil rights movement, local judges still mete out far harsher punishment to black defendants than white ones. “Florida’s sentencing system is broken,” concludes the reporters who undertook a monumental data-driven look at the state’s judicial system. Sarasota Herald Tribune

The lure of the prison fight. Deyon Neal, serving a 30-to-60-year sentence in Michigan for assault with intent to murder, recounts a brief fight between two other prisoners in a yard “no bigger than a corner-store parking lot.” One of the combatants blows his chance with the parole board for early release. And for what? Some disagreement over something silly ginned up through the bars of a cell. In collaboration with Vice, here is the latest in our “Life Inside” series. The Marshall Project

Is America ready to release violent offenders from prison via shortened sentences? Sentencing reform for non-violent drug offenders will only reduce state and federal prison populations so far. The only way to significantly reduce those populations is to shorten sentences for certain violent offenders. A new report suggests that Congress and state legislators should consider a 25-percent reduction for the seven major crimes most responsible for prison populations, including murder and aggravated assault. The authors also claim that reducing the number of prisoners does not necessarily correlate to rising crime rates. The New York Times More: 39 percent of prisoners are behind bars with little public safety rationale. Time Related: Read the report. Brennan Center for Justice

N/S/E/W

Alabama executed Ronald Smith Jr. late last night after a series of last-minute appeals were denied. It was the 20th execution of the year, the lowest total since 1991. The Marshall Project Related: The execution came after a particularly frenzied round of appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times More: Questions now about whether the execution was botched; Smith heaved and coughed for 13 minutes, says media witness. Al.com

The concept of Los Angeles, California, as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants is undermined by joint law enforcement task forces out to capture transnational gangs. BuzzFeed

A pediatric surgeon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, makes an urgent plea to end his city’s epidemic of gun violence. WUWM

The Florida prosecutor who unseated Angela Corey wants to establish the state’s first “conviction integrity unit.” Reason

Police in New Mexico gagged, smothered, and killed a man whose family says he was mentally ill. Then the cops celebrated with a fist bump. Now there’s a wrongful death lawsuit. The Daily Beast

Commentary

Speaking of Dylann Roof. Why don’t we talk about radicalization when an attacker isn’t Muslim? The New York Times

A realist who knows the awful cost of being unrealistic. The case for John Kelly, the new DHS nominee. The Boston Globe

Race and the attorney general-nominee. Maybe Jeff Sessions is not the de-segregationist he and his supporters claim he is? The Atlantic Related: But he does have credentials as a reformer on crack sentencing disparities. The Wall Street Journal

The lesson of the Walter Scott case. “An indifferent public sees evidence of outrageous actions but chooses not to believe it in order to preserve its world view.” The New Yorker

Worse than we thought. Orange County jail officials finally disclosed their secret records about informants and the information reveals patterns of unconstitutional conduct. The Huffington Post Related: No, you aren’t supposed to secretly shred evidence. The Intercept

Etc.

Profile of the Day: David Brown’s much-publicized tenure as police chief in Dallas was marked by high praise and a great deal of quiet grumbling. Governing

Innovation of the Day: Here’s how a clinic in San Francisco is providing critical drug treatment to those suffering from opioid addiction. Mother Jones

Voter Suppression of the Day: Sex offenders at a treatment facility in Texas say officials there refused to count their (legal) votes last month. Houston Chronicle

Survey of the Day: No group is “anti-cop.” But stark racial disparities exist in public perceptions about policing, a new report concludes. Cato Institute

Theory of the Day: When ex-offenders change their vocabulary they tend to stay out of jail, new research suggests. Learn here about “pushups” and “pullups.” New York Magazine

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