Jail Overcrowding in Illinois Eased via Controversial Measures

Easing Jail Overcrowding

Photo: Monique/Wikimedia Commons

At a time when Utah is facing prison overcrowding issues, matched with a facility at Point of the Mountain in Draper that is considered incapable of supporting the growing prison population, Cook County in Illinois is proposing and enhancing several measures which seek to reduce not only their own jail overcrowding issues but also perceived problems in the state’s criminal justice system in general.

Most of these measures put Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart firmly in the spotlight, either supporting such issues as a “rocket docket” for low-level cases, or expressing concerns over increases in defendants being released into electronic monitoring.

Easing Jail Overcrowding the Sheriff’s Way

According to articles in both the ABA Journal and Chicago Tribune, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is critical of the very criminal justice system he helps to administer. In his most recent actions, Dart has implemented some changes and proposed others in an effort to ease jail overcrowding in his county.

The first area Dart wants to address is the length of jail stays—perhaps more importantly, the cost of those stays—for detainees being held on minor offenses. In a press conference on Tuesday, March 10, Dart said the system is “not set up to care” about these detainees who may sometimes wait for months for their case to be resolved.

Using an example of a man who spent 114 days in jail for allegedly stealing a pack of candy bars, a stay which cost taxpayers more than $16,000, Dart criticized “the outrageous amounts of money we spend incarcerating the wrong people.” He said the system leads to not only jail overcrowding but also “unjust incarceration.”

Addressing the latter part of the statement, Dart—who has referred to the Cook County Jail as the largest mental health facility in the country—is proposing a diversion program for mentally ill defendants, but the outcome of that proposal remains to be seen.

In order to address the overly lengthy and costly stays, starting the week of March 16th and continuing every week thereafter, Dart said county officials will identify five-to-ten cases where they believe people should not still be held in jail, and then work with county prosecutors and public defenders in an attempt to fast track those particular cases.

Along the lines of fast tracking, Dart is also proposing legislation for a “rocket docket” which would give the county 30 days to work out cases of retail theft and criminal trespassing before the defendants would be released on recognizance bonds or electronic monitoring. Dart said he believes that if successful, this could potentially be applied to low-level drug offenses as well.

When Easing Jail Overcrowding Increases Stress

The issue of electronic monitoring is an issue that is more of a concern to Dart, seeing as those defendants are under his office’s responsibility. Even though Dart has pushed for releasing more nonviolent offenders on electronic monitoring and instituted a program in 2013 which would intensely monitor “high priority defendants”—to include three daily unannounced visits from sheriff’s deputies—the 70 percent increase of defendants put on electronic monitoring last year by Cook County judges has the Cook County Sheriff’s Office scrambling to keep up.

With electronic monitoring, a defendant wears an ankle or wrist bracelets which sends radio signals to a cellular tower to assure the defendant is staying within the confines of their release (which may include places of employment). While electronic monitoring has been shown an effective tool for easing jail overcrowding and allowing defendants to continue working and supporting their families, it also raises several concerns. One issue is judges worrying that they are releasing the wrong defendants back into the public simply to go on to commit another crime spree.

This issue came to a head in Cook County when Chief Judge Timothy Evans stated that a long-standing federal court order directed Dart as the sheriff to decide who would be released onto electronic monitoring. Dart maintained that judges would know better if a defendant might be dangerous or a flight risk.

Evans also said the sheriff’s office wasn’t releasing everyone who had been ordered onto electronic monitoring. However, Dart stated that just because a defendant is ordered onto electronic monitoring doesn’t mean they will be released. Certain circumstances—such as a defendant being homeless or not being able to raise the money necessary for their bond—may lead to those defendants remaining in jail.

Perhaps in response to this dispute and Dart’s other pushes for easing jail overcrowding, Cook County judges ordered 14,717 male and female defendants awaiting trail onto electronic monitoring, as opposed to 8,657 in 2013. The sheriff’s office reported that the jail population dropped from 10,388 in February of 2013 to 8,427 at the beginning of March of this year, reflecting a trend that is the opposite of many other places in the country, including Utah.

However, Dart is concerned that it seems judges are releasing considerably more defendants to electronic monitoring who are potentially dangerous. Many of these defendants would fall under the Cook County Sheriff’s Office “high priority” category, which would mean increased supervision and responsibilities to Dart and his deputies.

While one such high-profile defendant—a former suburban deputy fire chief charged with attempted murder among several other crimes—had originally complained about the intense supervision, claiming it bordered on harassment, he has since come around to accepting the situation as a condition of his release.

“It sure beats being in jail,” he said.

Utah Wrongful Death Statutes Allow Woman to Sue Self

woman sues self for wrongful deathIt may sound like the plot to the newest movie to be considered for an award for “Best Comedy,” but the Utah case of Bagley v. Bagley, wherein Barbara Bagley is suing herself is very real. The case was dismissed in January of 2014 in district court, but it was taken to the Utah Court of Appeals, which found on Feb. 12 that the survival action and wrongful death statutes do not bar Bagley from suing herself regarding the accident that killed her husband.

Bagley Accuses Self of Wrongful Death

According to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune, on Dec. 27, 2011, Bagley and her husband were driving their Range Rover in the desert 17 miles east of Battle Mountain, Nevada. Mrs. Bagley was behind the wheel of the vehicle when she hit a large sagebrush. It is unclear if Bagley attempted to avoid the sagebrush, but whatever the reason, the Range Rover flipped upside down and ejected her husband. The 55-year-old suffered severe injuries and died a little over a week later—Jan. 6, 2012—at the Battle Mountain General Hospital.

As the heir and personal representative of the estate of her late husband, Bagley is suing herself as the driver of the vehicle for the wrongful death of her husband. Bagley’s original suit claimed that she was negligent for failure to maintain a proper lookout for potential obstacles in the road as well as failure to keep her vehicle in proper control.

The interests of the driver Bagley are being representing by her insurance carrier. The estate Bagley is suing driver Bagley for an unspecified amount of money for damages, including medical expenses, funeral expenses, loss of past and future financial support, the physical pain her husband suffered before he died, and her mental anguish at the loss of his love and companionship.

Can She Really do That?

In January of 2014, Third District Judge Paul Maughan dismissed the case, stating that “the language of the wrongful death and survival action statutes prevents a tortfeasor from seeking recovery from herself and that the plaintiffs therefore could not bring suit against the defendant.”

However, in a 3-0 ruling, the Utah Court of Appeals stated that those statutes do not in fact bar Bagley from seeking damages against herself. The question came down to semantics, specifically the definition of the phrase “of another” in the two statutes.

The wrongful death statute reads as follows: “When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, his heirs, or his personal representatives for the benefit of his heirs, may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death.”

The survival statute reads: “A cause of action arising out of personal injury to a person, or death caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another, does not abate upon the death of the wrongdoer or the injured person.”

According to attorneys for the driver Bagley, the heirs or personal representatives cannot sue themselves if they were the cause of the death or personal injury. However, the appeals court found that “of another” simply meant someone other than the deceased or injured party.

Attorneys for the estate Bagley claim that as a responsible heir and personal representative for the estate, she really had no other choice than to initiate the lawsuit against herself, saying that she is legally obligated to pay off creditors before she could get any money from the estate.

On the other side of the issue, attorneys for driver Bagley say this would cause confusion to a potential jury. “The jury would be asked to determine how much money will fairly compensate Barbara Bagley for the harm she caused herself,” the attorneys stated in a motion to dismiss the suit. “The jury will be highly confused—it cannot order a person to compensate herself.”

However, it wasn’t the job of the Utah Court of Appeals to decide the final outcome of the litigation, just whether it should be allowed to proceed according to the wrongful death and survival action statutes. Their decision was to “reverse the dismissal of plaintiffs’ causes of action and remand for further proceedings.”

Even though that was their finding, they mentioned other legal issues which may ultimately affect the outcome of Bagley v. Bagley and other potentially similar future cases involving the wrongful death statutes. The first was in regards to heir Bagley also being appointed the personal representative for the estate. A Utah law regarding estates does not allow for spouses “alleged to have contributed to the death of the decedent” to be appointed personal representatives. However, that issue was not before the court. Nor was Utah’s comparative fault statute brought up in either the district of appeals court. This statute limits the ability of the plaintiff to recover when they bear some fault for the death or injury.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 17, attorneys for driver Bagley hadn’t made a decision as to whether they were going to appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.

Iron County Prosecutors Drop Ag-gag Charges, Law Examined

Utah ag-gag charges dropped

Photo: Matthias M/Wikimedia Commons

Four animal activists who were allegedly on private property at a hog farm in Iron County in September have been released from charges of Utah’s agricultural interference law, also known as an ag-gag law. The activists will still face criminal trespass charges, and many are wondering when it comes to ag-gag laws, why trespassing charges aren’t sufficient and exactly who these other laws are protecting. In the case of many animal rights activists, they believe it’s not necessarily who is being protected but a certain type of misbehavior that is being protected.

Ag-gag in Iron County

The four activists from California and Maryland were members of a group known as the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), and the hog farm was Circle Four Farms, a part of Murphy-Brown LLC, the livestock production subsidiary of the world’s largest pork producer. According to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune, the attorney for the activists, T. Matthew Phillips, stated that the four wanted to document the pigs’ journey from the farm to a California slaughterhouse.

According to the FARM website, they are a nonprofit group that is “working to end the use of animals as food through public education and grassroots activism.” While they claim that most of their programs are aimed at engaging “likely target audiences … and [nudging] them along the vegan path,” they also state that “[o]ccasionally, we seek to capture media attention through dramatic displays.”

Attorney Phillips says the Circle Four Farms incident was not one of these examples of “dramatic display.” In fact, he states that the four were actually on a public roadway and were only capturing images of farm buildings, not of the workers or animals.

However, the wording of Utah’s ag-gag law 76-6-112 states that a person is guilty of agricultural interference if they knowingly or intentionally record “an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation” without the consent of the owner. The law specifies several acts that are prohibited, including leaving a recording a device on the premises, obtaining a job under false pretenses to record activity, recording activity as a regular employee of the facility, or trespassing on private property to get such images or sounds.

Given the fact that Iron County prosecutors are still charging the four activists with criminal trespass, they must differ with Phillips, however, Circle Four Farms stated that they didn’t wish to pursue the agricultural interference charges.

Ag-gag Under the Microscope and Put on Trial

Utah Rep. John G. Mathis (R-Vernal) sponsored HB 187 in 2012. The bill went through two revisions before being ultimately approved. According to an article in Deseret News, Mathis claimed the reason for sponsoring this bill was that he wanted to put an end to “animal-rights terrorists” out to destroy the agricultural industry. He was quoted as saying that animal protection groups such as FARM and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) were using these investigations as propaganda to promote their own organizations, especially in fundraising efforts.

Opposition to the ag-gag laws—which are currently on the books in five other states—say these laws are violations of the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They state that the First Amendment protecting free speech and press has specifically led to reform in the food industry in the past, citing such books as Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” which was pivotal in leading the government to pass the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

If convicted of criminal trespass, a class B misdemeanor per Utah Criminal Code 76-6-206, the four activists could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Of the six states with ag-gag laws, only one other person has been charged with violation of the law. In February of 2013, Amy Meyer was charged for videotaping the operations at Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper. However, charges against her were also dropped, with the reasoning cited as either public outcry or the fact that Meyer’s video footage showed that she was on public property at the time of her filming.

On a larger scale, in July of 2013, two national nonprofit organizations, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and PETA, filed a lawsuit against the State of Utah challenging the ag-gag law for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Attorneys for the state attempted to argue that the case should be thrown out, however, according to an August 2014 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby has refused.

Even though he didn’t dismiss the case, Shelby has said that at this point, the plaintiffs have failed to show how the statute has resulted in past injury as no one is currently being prosecuted under the statute or how it will cause future injury, but the case will still have its proverbial day in court which means it will have to stand up to further public scrutiny.