Opening Statement
May 31, 2017
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

The addicts next door. No state in America has been hit harder by the opioid epidemic than West Virginia, where overdoses are so common that emergency responders can barely keep up with the pace. Here’s a look at how the epidemic is hitting Berkeley County, in the Eastern panhandle of the state, a place where everyone assumes an obituary that doesn’t declare cause of death means another deadly overdose. By Margaret Talbot. The New Yorker Related: The toll America’s heroin epidemic is taking on Mexico. The Washington Post

The Supreme Court refuses to extend liability for police officers who barge into homes and shoot residents. The justices (voting 8-0) rejected a 9th Circuit ruling that allowed lawsuits to proceed to trial when cops “intentionally or reckless provoke a violent confrontation” with civilians. The justices were unwilling to revisit their landmark holding in Graham v. Connor, which grants officers broad discretion and immunity in shooting cases. Los Angeles Times Related: Read the Ruling. U.S. Supreme Court More: The Court also unanimously sided with a defendant in a California immigration case involving consensual teenage sex. Scotusblog

A Republican shift on mandatory minimums. After years of bipartisan consensus for restrictions on mandatory minimum sentences, key GOP senators now are backing bills that would create new ones. One example is Sen. John Cornyn, the Texan who pressed last year for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, to ease sentencing for low-level drug offenders, but who now favors a three-strike sentencing rule for undocumented immigrants and mandatory minimums for those who attack or kill judges or law enforcement officials. The Hill Related: Obama officials ponder what might have been on marijuana decriminalization. Huffington Post

The officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice is fired. Timothy Loehmann, the rookie cop who killed the 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun in a park in 2014 lost his job Tuesday. The disciplinary letter in which he was informed of the decision focused not on the tragic shooting but rather on Loehmann’s failure to accurately disclose to his bosses how his previous job in law enforcement had ended. In 2015, a grand jury refused to indict him for his role in Rice’s death. In 2016, the Rice family agreed to a $6 million settlement. The Plain Dealer Related: Police union officials say they are ready to fight to reclaim Loehmann’s job. CNN

How to bust a tree ring. Yes, there still are timber poachers in America, in some cases fueled by their quest for money and drugs. And, yes, there still are law enforcement officials who are dedicated to catching them. Here’s the story of how two Forest Service officials, patrolling an area roughly the size of Los Angeles, figured out how to uncover a criminal enterprise designed to deforest public land. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Congressional Republicans are trying to defund federal law enforcement efforts in our national forests. High Country News


In Minnesota, the trial begins for the police officer who killed Philando Castile, whose death sparked national protests. Minneapolis Star Tribune Related: Two families, united in grief. Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Florida state attorney who refused to file charges in the gruesome prison death of Darren Rainey is facing political heat from her fellow Democrats. Miami Herald

Some new “Blue Lives Matter” laws extend protections to off-duty cops, police relatives, and some civilians working at law enforcement agencies. Those who protest police misconduct, in Missouri and beyond, are not impressed. St. Louis Post-Dispatch

One Republican lawmaker in Oklahoma is single-handedly blocking bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation there to the chagrin of the state’s Republican governor. The Oklahoman

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would create new protections for juveniles when questioned by the police. Chronicle of Social Change


The problem with the Justice Department... is that it’s full of prosecutors. So that even when a president wants to implement reforms designed to level the playing field on criminal justice, institutional forces push back. Just ask Barack Obama. Here is original TMP commentary from Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The Marshall Project

Life, death, murder, race, and college. The murder of Richard Collins III, near the campus of the University of Maryland, has rocked students. The New York Times

A constitutional reminder. Sorry, Portland mayor, but especially in these dark times hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. The Washington Post Related: Accused murderer rants in court during Tuesday appearance. Buzzfeed

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. Our neighbor to the north is taking a completely different approach to the war on drugs than the Trump administration. Something’s gotta give. Slate

Rural cops need help solving cold-case backlogs. How about forming roving, regional teams of detectives and others? The Crime Report


Judicial Rebuke of the Day: In a deportation case, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote: “[T]he government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz diminishes not only our country but our courts, which are supposedly dedicated to the pursuit of justice. Magana Ortiz and his family are in truth not the only victims. Among the others are judges who, forced to participate in such inhumane acts, suffer a loss of dignity and humanity as well.” 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Related: Background on the case. Associated Press

Twitter Feed of the Day: In which Florida police officials try to crack a cold case by tweeting as the “voice” of a little girl gone missing 33 years ago. The Washington Post

Redemption Story of the Day: Thanks to his “village,” Rod Starks got a second chance to avoid prison and turn his life around. So far, family and friends are helping a young man whose own sentencing judge concluded he had “innate goodness” in him. The Washington Post

Podcast of the Day: The story of California’s justice system over the past 40 years is chronicled in the life of one man, Marvin Mutch, who spent decades in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Now he’s been paroled and faces a new kind of trial. KQED

Interview of the Day: Meet the Detroit district attorney willing to prosecute parents whose negligence with guns led to the accidental shooting of children. The Trace

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