News

Stand With Us Against Proposed Initiative 46

November 06, 2014

A group in Mississippi is proposing a ballot initiative that could discriminate against Mississippians with different religious beliefs as well as racial and ethnic minorities.

The proposed initiative calls for Christianity as the official religion of Mississippi, English as the official language, requires the Confederate Flag to fly over the State Capitol, and establishes a Confederate Heritage Month and Confederate Memorial Day.

In order for this initiative to make it on the ballot for the General Election in November 2016, the Magnolia Heritage State Heritage Campaign must collect over 100,000 signatures by October 2015 and we cannot let that happen.

We must draw a line in the sand and stand in defense of freedom for ALL Mississippians!

  • No one religion should be promoted by the government over another. The initiative’s promotion of Christianity undermines our rich traditions of peaceful pluralism and religious diversity.
  • Discrimination against language minorities and restrictions on communication in languages other than English implicate our most basic rights of equal protection, free speech, and due process. A declaration of English as the official language is inconsistent with the spirit of tolerance and diversity embodied in the federal Constitution, and in particular the Equal Protection Clause.
  • Ballot Initiative 46 wants to assert “heritage, culture and traditions” that are steeped in historical discrimination based on race. 

If we allow discrimination in one situation, it will be allowed in other situations where it may cause serious harm. We stand ready to defend freedom in Mississippi and will adamantly oppose Initiative 46!

We are ready to ensure that all individuals are protected from discrimination. Stand with us! 

Read more about Ballot Initiative 46 in the Clarion Ledger.

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ACLU of Mississippi Releases Tool to Hold Police Accountable

November 06, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Morgan Miller, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi launched a smart phone application (app) called Mobile Justice Mississippi—an empowerment tool for those who feel their civil rights are being violated by law enforcement officers.

The Android app, which can be downloaded for free through the ACLU of Mississippi website, has three main functions and Know Your Rights information.Recordallows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically sent to the ACLU of Mississippi.Witnesssends out an alert when someone is stopped by police so that community members can move toward the location and document the interaction.Reportgives the app user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Mississippi for review.Know Your Rightsprovides an overview of what rights protect you when you are stopped by law enforcement officers.

“Knowledge, accountability and transparency are key to the strength of a system that ensures everyone is treated fairly. On a daily basis across Mississippi, citizens, especially young men of color, have close encounters with law enforcement officers in which their rights are trampled on. This app will equip and enable Mississippians with knowledge and the power to demand justice.” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

ACLU affiliates in Missouri, Oregon and Nebraska are joining the ACLU of Mississippi in releasing the Mobile Justice app today. Funded by a grant from the National ACLU, the Mobile Justice app was developed by Quadrant 2 – the same developer that created the Stop and Frisk Watch app for the New York Civil Liberties Union to address racial profiling. An iPhone version of Mobile Justice will be released at a later time.

“This app will empower young people to protect their own rights and advocate for others when they are stopped by police,” said Rebecca Curry, ACLU of Mississippi Director of Advocacy and Policy. 

Learn more about Mobile Justice Mississippi and download the app here. For those who do not have smart phones or have limited capacity to utilize them because of limited cellular coverage in more rural areas, the ACLU of Mississippi is conducting Know Your Rights trainings.

ACLU-MS Responds to Diamondhead Ruling

October 27, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi issued a statement in response to the ruling of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Mississippi in Fletcher v. Diamondhead Property Owners Association (POA) that the POA was not a state actor therefore not subject to the federal civil rights provisions under section 1983.

The statement from Charles Irvin, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, is as follows: 

“Although we disagree with the Court’s decision, we were here to stand in defense of the ultimate right of citizens to voice free political speech in the form of yard signs or the ability of a property owners association to regulate free speech.

While we are disappointed in the ruling of the court today, we are pleased that the citizens of Diamondhead were able to demonstrate that free speech is paramount. The manner in which one citizen communicates to another is vital to the political process. Prior to this ruling a Temporary Restraining Order was in place which allowed the citizens to place yard signs. As a result, several of the original plaintiffs won positions on the POA board. The process worked.

We will always monitor for infringement upon individual constitutional rights; when we find those infringements we will act. The plaintiffs in Diamondhead stand for that principle of free speech.”

View the Fletcher v. Diamondhead POA ruling.

Learn more about Constitutional Rights.

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Questioning the "No Refusal" Checkpoint

October 06, 2014

By Andres Wallace, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Mississippi

Imagine for one second—driving down the street, when suddenly (or not so suddenly) you happen upon a police roadblock. You know that you have not had any alcohol. You approach the roadblock—confident that the roadblock will be brief. However, this is no ordinary roadblock. This is a No Refusal roadblock—one wherein motorists who are suspected of driving impaired and subsequently refuses sobriety tests could, upon issuance of a warrant by a judge, be ordered to submit to a blood test

According to the Clarion-Ledger, on September 5 and 6, eight Mississippi counties participated in the “No Refusal” weekend campaign. The Clarion Ledger also reported that there were 152 DUI arrests and 31 blood samples taken.

Now, if you are anything like me, you are asking yourself—can they do that? Are we sure this happened in the United States? The answer to both of those questions is, unfortunately, yes.  Naturally, you hear that the “No Refusal” weekend campaign is legal and you then ask yourself—how can that be legal?

Recently, the United States Supreme Court has ruled on a case that essentially establishes the proper procedures that an officer must follow in order to be able to draw a driver’s blood.

Before, I discuss the legality of the “No Refusal” weekend campaign, I would like to say that I understand that driving under the influence is a problem in the state of Mississippi. I also realize that DUI related accidents have been rising in the state over the past few years. However, although drivers driving under the influence continue to be a problem—we as a society must be careful of the liberties that we sacrifice in order to solve a problem, such a DUI.   

In order to fully understand the “No Refusal” campaign, let’s discuss the legality of sobriety check points. The United States Supreme Court has established that a police checkpoint set for the purpose of identifying intoxicated driver was consistent with the Fourth-Amendment. In essence, the Supreme Court established that a checkpoint established for identifying drunk drivers is constitutional if properly conducted. 

So, now that we have established that a sobriety checkpoint is legal, one question comes to mind— what gives an officer the right to draw an individual’s blood? Well, in 2013 the United States Supreme Court, in Missouri v. McNeely, established that a warrantless blood draw is a violation of one’s Fourth Amendment rights; however, the Court also noted that “other factors present in an ordinary traffic stop, such as procedures in place for obtaining a warrant or the availability of a magistrate judge, may affect whether the police can obtain a warrant in an expeditious way.” At a No Refusal checkpoint, judges are available to sign warrant at the request of the officer.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure applies when an intrusion into the body—such as a blood test—is undertaken without a warrant, absent an emergency situation. In ruling on McNeely, the Court has indirectly given justification for the drawing of blood at a traffic stop—if a warrant is properly obtained. 

At the No Refusal checkpoints, the police are supposed to rely on their suspicion of drunkenness as the probable cause for a search warrant. If a citizen is stopped at a No Refusal Checkpoint but shows no sign of intoxication, there would be no probable cause for the issuance of a warrant. Without probable cause, no warrant should be issued. In essence, the Judge will then have the final say as to whether there is probable cause to conduct a blood draw. If however, a warrant is issued where no probable cause exists, there would be a clear Fourth Amendment violation.

As much as it pains me to say this, if conducted pursuant to a valid warrant, the drawing of an individual’s blood at a “No Refusal” checkpoint would be constitutional.

Although No Refusal campaigns are constitutional, I am still very concerned about an individual’s inability to refuse. If I refuse to take a breathalyzer test, my license should be suspended—that should be the price that I pay for refusing to take the test. Why am I being forced to submit to a bloodtest?  There seems to be other means of achieving the goal of deterring drivers from driving intoxicated. Drawing blood seems like an extraordinary measure—where other less intrusive methods are available.

Additionally, I am critical of the use of a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer as the basis for probable cause. I also wonder what the cost would be to the taxpayer for these tests, and how many of them would come back positive. I believe that these issues will become more contentious as more states adopt their own versions of the No-Refusal campaign.

If you come upon a checkpoint, exhibit no signs which would trigger the officer's assertion of probable cause and are still forced to submit to the invasion of a blood draw please contact us at office@aclu-ms.org or 601-354-3408.  

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New Alabama Law Puts Teens Who Need Abortions on Trial. That's Dangerous and Cruel.

October 02, 2014

By Jennifer Dalven, Reproductive Freedom Project

Picture this: You are 17 years old, in your senior year of high school, and you've just learned you're pregnant. You'd like to be able to turn to your parents for support but you know you can't. After all, they kicked your older sister out of the house when she got pregnant. But you have discussed your options with your aunt and a trusted counselor and decided to have an abortion.

You call a women's health center to make an appointment and are told that unless you get your parent's consent, you will have to go to court and essentially be put on trial in order to get the care you need.

That's right. Instead of a doctor, you get a trial.

Thanks to a new Alabama law, a teen who can't get a parent's consent has to undergo a gauntlet of questioning to get the abortion she needs. Because of this law, a prosecutor and a representative for the fetus, both of whom are charged with protecting the "state's interest in fetal life," (a.k.a. making sure the teen doesn't get an abortion), will cross-examine her.

That isn't even the half of it. In their quest to ensure that the teen can't get an abortion, the new law allows the prosecutor and fetus's representative to tell other people in the young woman's life -- including her teachers, pastor, employer, relatives, and friends – that she is pregnant. And to haul them in to court to testify against her.

No, I am not kidding.

Now, we all want our daughters to come to us if they get pregnant, and thankfully most do. But we all know that, unfortunately, some just can't. Some teens don't come from good families, and some teens don't come from safe homes. Putting these teens on trial is not the answer. The cruel irony of this law is that it means teens from troubled families, those who need our help and support the most, will struggle the most to get it.

I have been working for almost two decades to ensure that teens like these are able to get the medical care they need. In all that time, I don't think I have ever seen a law aimed at young people as misguided and mean spirited as this one. That's why I am proud to say that this week the ACLU went to court to challenge it. We did it because not only is it wrongheaded and dangerous, the new law is also flat-out unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has made clear that if a state decides to require teens to get a parent's consent to get an abortion, it must also have a confidential and expeditious alternative for those teens who can't turn to a parent. In passing this law – which allows the prosecutor and a representative for the fetus to tell anyone they want about the minor's pregnancy – Alabama politicians snubbed their nose at this long-standing constitutional requirement and thoroughly eliminated any expectation of privacy.

And worse than that, they have put young women in harm's way, creating a situation that might force them to take matters into their own hands. Given what we have seen the last few years, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. In state after state, from Texas to Ohio to Wisconsin and so many others , we have seen extremist politicians who are willing put women's health in jeopardy all to score political points. This is one more example of that.

We all want teens to be safe, but this law is cruel, dangerous, and unnecessary. To protect the young women of Alabama, we can't let it stand.

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ACLU-MS to Law Enforcement: Protect Citizens' Right to Record Actions of Public Officials

September 29, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Jennifer Riley-Collins, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; jriley-collins@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Highlighting recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and following the model set by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in an unprecedented legal statement on citizens’ rights to record police actions, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi is contacting local law enforcement agencies throughout Mississippi, urging them to establish clear policies and training to ensure that officers conform to the Constitution they are sworn to protect. The ACLU of Mississippi hopes that by sharing information with Mississippi law enforcement officials about best practices the organization can assist police in heading off problems and protecting the rights of citizens as well as public safety.

“Taking photographs and videos of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is your constitutional right. That includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties,” said ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director, Charles Irvin. “Unfortunately, law enforcement officers often order people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and sometimes harass, detain or even arrest people who use their cameras or cell phone recording devices in public. We urge Mississippi’s law enforcement agencies to join with us and to conduct embrace policies in line with DOJ guidance which protect this right.”

Given the conflicts over recording that continue to arise despite the enormous attention this issue is receiving across the country, the ACLU of Mississippi urges that now is the time for Mississippi police departments to review and modify their internal policies and training programs to ensure protection of the rights of citizen journalists.

The Department of Justice specifically recommends that police policies do the following:

  • Affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right to record police activity;
  • Describe the range of prohibited police responses to individuals observing or recording the police;
  • Clearly describe when an individual’s actions amount to interference with police duties;
  • Provide clear guidance on the necessity of supervisory review of any proposed action to be taken by officers against an individual who is recording police;
  • Describe the narrow circumstances under which it is permissible for officers to seize recordings and recording devices; and
  • Indicate that no higher burden be placed on individuals exercising their right to record police activity than that placed on members of the press.


Read the letter
to law enforcement agencies.

Learn more about the right to record.

ACLU Files Brief in Same-Sex Divorce Case

September 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU-MS) filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Mississippi Supreme Court in Chatham v. State of Mississippi, a case that would allow a same-sex couple to be legally divorced. The organizations assert that denying a couple the right to a divorce infringes upon their constitutional right to due process and equal protection.

“Mississippi’s failure to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions is forcing people to stay in harmful relationships,” said Charles Irvin, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “That’s why we filed today and why the ACLU is fighting to see the day when all Americans’ marriages are recognized in all 50 states.”

Lauren Czekala-Chatham was legally and lawfully married to Dana Ann Melancon in 2008 in California and the women separated in 2010. In 2013, a DeSoto County Chancery judge ruled that Mississippi’s Constitution and other provisions prohibit granting a divorce. After the ruling, Ms. Chatham filed for an appeal challenging the constitutionality of the state’s failure to recognize legally valid marriages performed in other states and exclude same-sex couples from any legal status that provides rights, benefits, or duties that are similar to heterosexual couples’ marriages. The Mississippi Supreme Court has taken up her case.

“The unfair patchwork of state marriage laws presents unique legal challenges across the country as some states recognize marriages from other jurisdictions and some don’t,” said Joshua Block, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “This case again shows the real and concrete harm caused by treating same-sex couples differently state by state and why we are supporting the right of all Mississippians to make important decisions about their relationships.”

In addition to the nineteen states that have legalized same-sex marriage, a number of states with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage similar to Mississippi’s have granted divorce for same-sex couples. There is pending litigation by ACLU affiliates and other organizations in thirty four states. 


The brief is available here.

Learn more about the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project.

Three Years in a Cage. No Charges and No Lawyer.

September 24, 2014

By Brandon Buskey, ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project

Octavious Burks has been waiting for 10 months.

He's locked in a jail in Scott County, Mississippi. He hasn't been formally charged. He hasn't been assigned an attorney.

This is a recurring nightmare for Octavious: The same thing happened in 2009 and 2012. In each case, he was held for roughly a year. Each time, he was eventually released without a trial or a conviction. Octavious has spent over three years of his life locked in a cell without ever being formally charged – let alone found guilty – of a crime.

In November of 2013, Octavious was arrested in connection with a robbery. The judge set his bail at $30,000, which Octavious could not afford. Also unable to pay for a lawyer, Octavious applied for a public defender. The court approved his request, but 10 months later Octavious still hasn't received an attorney – an advocate who could fight to lower his bail, challenge his arrest, or prepare for a trial.

Why not? Because he has never been formally charged with a crime.

That's how it works in Scott County: No one gets a public defender until they've been indicted. In other places, this might not be a big deal. In Colorado, prosecutors have 72 hours after an arrest to formally indict someone. In Kansas, it's two weeks. But in Scott County and throughout Mississippi, the wait could last forever. That's because Mississippi doesn't limit how long a prosecutor has to indict someone, even if that someone is wasting away in jail.

In Scott County, felony indictments are only issued three times a year, after a grand jury convenes to formally charge defendants with their crimes. If you're lucky, you might wait two months to hear about your charges. If you're unlucky, you're put off until the next session. That's at least another four months in jail. And if you're like Octavious, you're left completely in the dark for months on end.

Octavious is not alone in the darkness – dozens of people are locked in the Scott County jail, without attorneys or formal charges. And this problem isn't confined to one jail in one county. People statewide are losing months and sometimes years of their lives to a glacial justice system. That means years without work. Years without being able to care for their families. Years without knowing when the ordeal will end. All without the state having to prove a thing.

The Constitution protects you from being arbitrarily imprisoned on a mere allegation. When you're accused of a crime, you have a right to an attorney, even if you can't afford one. You have a right to a speedy trial. Scott County cannot pretend as if the Constitution doesn't apply in its courts. That's why the ACLU yesterday filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Octavious and others trapped in the Scott County jail, demanding that local judges, sheriffs, and district attorneys change the way they do business.

It's time for Scott County to stop illegally robbing people of their lives.

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ACLU Sues Scott County on Behalf of Mississippians Jailed Indefinitely Without Lawyer or Indictment

September 24, 2014

For Immediate Release

CONTACT: Alexandra Ringe, media@aclu.org, 212-549-2666

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Mississippi, and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center filed a class action suit late yesterday against the Scott County (Mississippi) sheriff, district attorney, and judges after learning that the Scott County Detention Center has held people for as long as a year without appointing counsel and without indicting them. The county’s practices violate the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments’ rights to counsel, to a speedy trial, and to a fair bail hearing.

“This is indefinite detention, pure and simple. Scott County jail routinely holds people without giving them a lawyer and without formally charging them for months, with no end in sight. For those waiting for indictment, the county has created its own Constitution-free zone,” said Brandon Buskey, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “These prisoners’ cases are frozen, their lives outside the jail are disintegrating, and they haven’t even been charged with a crime. The county has tossed these people into a legal black hole.”

One plaintiff in the ACLU’s suit, Joshua Bassett, has been in the Scott County Detention Center since January 16 of this year; he has been denied an attorney and a grand jury hearing. Another, Octavious Burks, has been in the jail since November 18, 2013. Neither Mr. Bassett nor Mr. Burks could afford their bail. Mr. Burks has been through this ordeal twice before. Since 2009, he has been jailed in Scott County on three separate charges without indictment or counsel.

The ACLU has evidence that many others have been trapped in the Scott County Detention Center for months at a time because they couldn’t pay bail and, like Mr. Bassett and Mr. Burks, were denied counsel and a grand jury hearing.

“We’re seeking to make Scott County’s justice system function for all its residents,” said Buskey. “The county must set reasonable limits on the amount of time someone can remain in jail without a lawyer and without charges. But Scott County, while extreme, isn’t alone. In too many places across the United States, poor people languish in jail for weeks and months, crowding the system because they can’t make bail and are waiting for an indictment or a public defender. Reform can’t come soon enough.”
 

The complaint in Burks et al. v. Scott County et al. is available here:
https://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/burks-et-al-v-scott-county-mississippi

More information about the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project is available here:
https://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform

ACLU National blog about the case:
https://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform-prisoners-rights/three-years-cage-no-charges-and-no-lawyer 

Mothers and Children Fleeing Violence Need a Fair Chance

August 22, 2014

By Mitra Ebadolahi, Border Litigation Staff Attorney, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties at 1:05pm

Imagine this: Several months ago, a young mother realized that if she didn't leave home, she would be raped, murdered, or both. She had two young children – an infant and a toddler – and few resources. She knew she couldn't count on the police to protect her. With no other choice, she decided to risk a voyage of more than 2,000 miles north, much of the trip on foot through difficult and dangerous terrain, in the hope that she would find refuge from her persecutors.

Instead, when she reached El Paso, Texas, she and her children were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol, who promptly sent the family to a makeshift detention facility in remote Artesia, New Mexico. There, this mother and her children joined hundreds of other women and children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, many fleeing gang violence, brutal sexual abuse, and a life of perpetual fear and insecurity.

Artesia, it turns out, is the detention equivalent of a black hole. It is a three- or four-hour drive from the closest major metropolitan areas where immigration attorneys might be found.

Equally disturbing are reports that these families – some of the most vulnerable women and children in the world – have been denied information about their fundamental rights under U.S. law, in particular their right to consult a lawyer or to seek asylum or other relief from deportation on account of their real fears of persecution if they are returned to their home countries.

Immigration officers staffing Artesia routinely interfere with the ability of these families to contact a lawyer. Phone calls – even calls to lawyers – are permitted only once per day and are routinely cut off by immigration officers after just three or five minutes. Many lawyers have been denied access to clients or told by the authorities that they are not allowed to speak up in hearings to defend their clients' rights. When one detained mother attempted to find an attorney by asking an official at Artesia if she could get one, he told her that an attorney was not necessary. Another detained mother was told by an ICE officer that an attorney would only facilitate her deportation.

The procedures these mothers have received to evaluate their potential asylum claims have been fundamentally flawed. Because many mothers have been required to bring their children to their asylum interviews, they have been forced to choose between recounting gruesome acts of violence in front of their children, or staying silent and forgoing the chance to explain the basis for their fear of returning home.

As a result of these and other egregious rights violations, the percentage of families detained in Artesia who are given the chance to apply for asylum is far below the national average – even though these families' stories are some of the worst possibly imaginable.

The Obama administration – which has repeatedly stated it intends to send these families back – is violating federal immigration law, the constitutional right to due process, and our obligations under international law to protect vulnerable refugees.

Today, a broad coalition of immigrants' rights organizations and immigration practitioners filed suit to challenge what is happening at Artesia. We seek to ensure that each individual has a real chance to apply for asylum or other forms of immigration relief and to establish once and for all that the government cannot rush deportations at the expense of our Constitution, our obligations under international law, and our nation's finest values.

The case is M.S.P.C. v. Johnson Counsel include ACLU, ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU Border Litigation Project, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, ACLU of the Nation's Capital, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Law Center, Van Der Hout, Brigagliano, & Nightingale, LLP, and Jenner & Block LLP.

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