Monday, January 7, 2008

Hate crime legislation passes in NJ

Victory in New Jersey!
New Jersey Legislature Passes Gender Identity/Expression
Hate Crime and School Anti-Bulllying Law
[from NCTE's mailing list]

Today, the New Jersey General Assembly passed A4591/S2975 by a large majority of 65-10. This follows action last week in the state Senate where the bill passed unanimously 35-0. The law that passed will now go to Governor Corzine's desk for his expected signature.

NCTE congratulates our wonderful allies at Garden State Equality and Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey (GRAANJ) who have continued to represent transgender people in New Jersey with Incredible skill and determination.

Basically, the bill adds gender identity and expression to the state's hate crime law and gives teeth to New Jersey's safe school, anti-bullying laws.

According to Garden State Equality specifically, "the new law does the following:

1. Adds 'gender identity or expression' as a protected class to the state hate crimes law.

2. Updates other parts of the hate crimes law by adding 'national origin' as a protected category, which thus far has been included in the law by interpreting 'ethnicity' to include such; and substitutes the more sensitive term 'disability' for 'handicap.'

3. Specifies that a 'mistake of fact' by a defendant committing a hate crime is not a defense.

4. Requires two hours of hate-crimes sensitivity training for all new police officers.

5. Specifies suggested sentencing options to which judges can sentence defendants, such as anti-hate sensitivity training.

6. Creates a study Commission on Bullying in Schools, which has nine months to investigate the problem and make recommendations to the Governor and legislature for further legislation.

7. Requires schools post their anti-bullying policies on their websites, and to distribute their anti-bullying policies, within 120 days after enactment of the law."

The Jersey 4, Part 2: Law

The depictions in blogs and the "alternative" press make it sound like the 4's trial was a complete perversion of justice. I rather hope that is the case. Because their fate will change only if the transcript shows blatant and obvious bias or error on the part of Justice McLaughlin.

I don't practice criminal law, but here's a quick and dirty summary of how this works: In appealing the verdict and sentence they received, the 4 must point to specific flaws in the process to date. Commonly, appeals rest on erroneous evidentiary rulings (as seen on Law and Order -- you argue that important information was improperly excluded or included at trial) or flawed instructions to the jury when it came time for them to deliberate. If the appellate court agrees that there was a problem, it will then rule on whether the error was "harmless" (not likely to affect the outcome of the trial), and if not, order a new trial (or some other remedy). Should the 4 strike out in the New York State appellate courts, they could then seek a writ of habeas corpus in federal court (i.e. argue that their state trial was so unfair as to be unconstitutional).

Bloggers say (can't find the reference at this moment) that the 4's lawyers wanted to explain to the jury about their personal acquaintance with Sakia Gunn, and tell the jury Ms. Gunn's story, but that evidence was excluded. Again, this is not my field of law, I didn't observe the trial, and I don't know if that argument has as much legal force as it does emotional force, but it's among the possible avenues of appeal. It seems likely that Judge McLaughlin would have excluded a whole host of lines of questioning/types of evidence related to the 4's subjective experience of their situation, and that in turn would make an evidentiary appeal easier, or at least provide more pitches for the appellate defense attorney to swing at.

It would really help the appeal project if the judge had made statements reflecting bias or malice toward the defendants in open court. Some depictions of the 4's trial sound like that may have happened. (e.g. Imani Henry: "McLaughlin stated throughout the trial that he had no sympathy for these women.") On the other hand, if the judge managed to express his hatred for these defendants subtly, nonverbally, and/or on an even keel with the way he's treated *other* defendants, they will have no remedy...a certain amount of disrespect is standard in the criminal justice system.

As for jury instructions -- Justice McLaughlin happens to have been called out recently by a federal judge for having a history of "unorthodox and incorrect jury instructions" -- that was in a habeas corpus proceeding where the federal court overturned the conviction in a drug trial McLaughlin had presided over. That's rather a good sign for those of us hoping the 4's conviction will get overturned on legal grounds. (FWIW, Justice McLaughlin has also received public attention in this case and in at least one other for being a hard-ass toward folks he perceives to be trying to evade jury duty.)

Finally, several friends and colleagues of mine have read or heard a quick synopsis of the Jersey 4 story and responded that they must have lacked for good legal representation. I thought this too, when I first started reading about it; I think it's wrapped up in a sense of denial among people with plenty of race/class privilege about how dysfunctional our justice system is for poor people of color. Anyway, the New York Times article and some blog accounts note that Renata Hill, at least, was represented at the trial level by Susan Tipograph. Tipograph is a very highly regarded criminal defense attorney specializing in "political prosecutions" -- she's involved with the National Lawyers' Guild and has represented David Gilbert, Lynne Stewart, and a lot of other famous folks. I don't know if all four women had access to high-quality representation at the trial level, nor do I know if their legal needs are being well met now (as of July they were begging for help on this front), but at least one experienced and progressively-committed lawyer has definitely been on the case.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Immigration & HIV Event at LGBT Center

How Do Immigration Policies Affect
People With or At Risk for HIV?

The national debate over immigration impacts
the health of documented and undocumented people in our communities

Wednesday, January 9, 2008
6:30 - 8:30PM
LGBT Community Center
208 West 13th Street (Between 7th & 8th Avenues), NYC
Free ~ Open to the public ~ Refreshments provided

Since the beginning of the epidemic, HIV positive immigrants have faced daunting challenges accessing care and treatment. And HIV negative immigrants are at particular risk for HIV due to policies that force them to remain largely underground.

The recently revised entry ban on HIV positive travelers adds disturbing new criteria while upholding many of the cruel provisions of the original ban – an embarrassment to the country, prohibiting the International AIDS Conference from ever being held in the US. For 20 years, HIV positive immigrants already in the country have been barred from achieving any recognized legal status except in extremely limited circumstances. They've also been barred from coming to the US to immigrate.

Join us to discuss the challenges facing immigrants in our increasingly isolationist country – and learn how to take action!

Speakers Include:
Sangeeta Budhiraja – Queers for Economic JusticeAmanda Lugg – African Services CommitteeNancy Ordover – GMHC
Moderated by: James Learned – CHAMP

For more information or to be added as a co-sponsor, contact James at or call (212) 937-7955 x 60. //

Co-sponsored by: Lambda Legal, African Services Committee, Bronx AIDS Services, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), Queers for Economic Justice, Harm Reduction Coalition, Hombres Latinos de Ambiente (HOLA), Human Rights Watch-LGBT Rights Program, Immigration Equality, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, LGBT Center, NYC AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN)