Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Have a Lot to be Thankful For...

Here at the ACLU, we’ve won some great victories and are proud of what we have accomplished over this past year. We have a lot to be thankful for! Our deepest appreciation goes to those whose membership and support makes our work throughout the nation and in the great state of Wyoming possible. As the year draws to a close, we’d like to highlight a few examples of what the ACLU has accomplished both nationally and in Wyoming.

In 2011, the ACLU of Wyoming:

• Issued juvenile justice report Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming
• Advocated for juvenile justice reforms
• Monitored legislative redistricting process to ensure equitable statewide voting rights
• Continued year round legislative lobbying and education efforts; helping to defeat DOMA, anti-choice and anti-immigration legislation
• Launched the first ACLU Student Chapter at the University of Wyoming
• Mentored undergraduate and law school interns
• Hosted first ACLU volunteer reception
• Co-sponsored Director’s screening and community discussion of the award-winning LGBT film, Out in the Silence
• Conducted statewide survey to monitor use of web-filtering software in public schools
• Conducted statewide survey to ensure availability of emergency contraceptives
• Promoted safe and humane conditions in Wyoming’s prisons and jails; successfully resolving numerous prisoner complaints
• Authored articles in Wyoming State Bar magazine on elections legislation, ACLU history and juvenile justice
• Presented on prisoners’ rights litigation at annual criminal law conference and drug law reform at University of Wyoming Consumer Issues conference
• Provided legal assistance and information on civil liberties issues
• Increased social media presence through Twitter, Facebook and our ACLU of Wyoming blog

In 2011, the ACLU accomplished nationally:

• "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" finally came to an end
• The extreme Mississippi Personhood Amendment was defeated
• Congressional attempts to defund Planned Parenthood failed
• An outrageous provision that would have granted this and all future presidents a blank check to involve the U.S. in a worldwide war without end was halted
• Free speech rights of Occupy Wall Street protestors have been defended
• New York state passed a landmark marriage equality law
• Illinois banned the death penalty
• ACLU lawsuits stalled enactment of every "show me your papers" racial profiling law passed across the country
• We blocked enactment of South Dakota's draconian anti-abortion law
• The Obama administration decided to stop defending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act against an ACLU legal challenge

These are just a few of our many achievements in the last year and the ACLU is extremely honored by the fact that our work is supported by the generous giving of others. None of the things on this list could have been possible without ACLU supporters. Thanks to their support, the ACLU's robust defense of our fundamental freedoms prevailed on many fronts. Happy holidays from the ACLU of Wyoming!

American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bah Humbug: The War on Christmas

In recent years, conservative pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have creatively manufactured a “war on Christmas.” John Gibson, who “pals around” with domestic culture warrior O’Reilly, boldly declares in his book, The War on Christmas, that some are trying to ban “ normal and traditional Christmas representations such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, treetop stars, wreaths, the singing of and listening to Christmas carols or Christmas instrumental music, attending a performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol…”

There is a problem with the “war on Christmas.” It doesn’t exist and never has.

The constitutional right of people to worship, preach, sing carols, and celebrate Christmas in their churches with their families and friends –whether in public or private is well protected. These culture warriors seem unable to see what is staring them in the face: Christmas is pervasive in the public and private square, and, except when the government is being used to promote religious beliefs, it is entirely constitutional.

The First Amendment guarantees, individuals, families, businesses, and religious communities the right to celebrate and to display Christmas symbols. This right is uncontested, and is exercised annually by millions across our country. The ACLU itself has brought several cases on behalf of people who want to celebrate Christmas. The difficulty comes when the government decides that it wants to get involved in promoting some religious symbols or prohibiting others. Religion does best when government stays out of its business.

In addressing this dilemma, the U.S. Supreme Court has made very clear that, while the Government “may acknowledge Christmas as a cultural phenomenon,” the Constitution mandates that the government “may not observe (Christmas) as a Christian holiday by suggesting that people praise God for the birth of Jesus.” County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 601 (1989). While some limited governmental celebrations of Christmas are not unconstitutional, such as displays that recognize the holiday’s secular element, or that are part of an overall seasonal holiday celebration, the burden for the government to show that its activities do not have the purpose or effect of endorsing a religious message is high.

The ACLU vigorously defends the right of all Americans to practice their faith, and works to prevent the government from promoting and funding select religious activities.

Learn more about celebrating Christmas in America.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Let's (Not) Get Naked!

Yesterday, the Casper Star Tribune reported on the installation of TSA’s “new, less intrusive scanning machine” at the Casper Airport.

The new millimeter wave scanner displays generic “gingerbread” female and male images, rather than the nude images created by scanners that use backscatter X-ray technology.

Instead of a human security screener scrutinizing an image of your nude body, a computer will process that image and highlight areas of the body where any “anomalies” are found. Here is an image provided by the TSA:

This technology represents a significant improvement for privacy over the scanners that reveal naked images to human screeners. That is a very good thing. It shows that the outcry against these scanners by the public, and by the ACLU and our allies, has had an effect, and that the TSA has been forced to respond and implement a less invasive system – one that they should have deployed at the outset, rather than wasting an enormous amount of energy deploying and defending the full naked scanners. But it’s a good thing that they finally did respond.

That said, the system does not eliminate privacy concerns. For example:
• This system remains an intrusive search underneath individuals’ clothing. Privacy concerns especially remain for those who have “anomalies” that must be investigated, such as people with adult diapers, prosthetic breasts following mastectomies, colostomy appliances, catheter tubes – even just lumps on their body.
• This software would do nothing about the TSA’s intrusive and offensive pat-down policy. And if the software has the effect of increasing the scanner “alarm” rate compared to more discerning human screeners, it could actually lead to more pat-downs.
• A further question is whether the raw nude images remain in any way accessible to operators, which would mean one of the privacy threats posed by these machines – the “leakage” of images into the public domain – would remain. The machines are designed to store the images, even if they don’t show them. That is a problem that needs to be addressed, and effective oversight measures need to be in place to prevent abuse.
• It is also worth noting that the new software is being installed only in millimeter wave machines, and not in scanners that use backscatter x-ray technology, which constitute about half of the scanners in service. The TSA says it is working on similar software for the backscatter machines. Note that health questions have also been raised concerning the backscatter x-ray machines (which look like a wall that you stand against, as opposed to the millimeter wave machines which are a glass booth you step inside).

We applaud TSA for modifying their scanners to improve privacy protections and we urge them to listen sooner and more carefully to public concerns, address these remaining problems, and develop new programs and technologies that do not intrude on privacy.

Reposted by the ACLU of Wyoming Chapter with some changes. See Jay Stanley’s original ACLU Blog of Rights post here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Getting the Numbers Straight...

In 2011, the ACLU of Wyoming released a report, "Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming." Unfortunately, the response to our report by Wyoming lawmakers and prosecutors has been to try and “kill the messenger.” Some have attempted to undermine the conclusions drawn in "Inequality" by questioning the data provided within the report. In fact, during a public hearing one Wyoming lawmaker recently asked, "How much money do we have to spend to tell the ACLU that it is wrong?"

Let’s be abundantly clear: None of the data in our report was researched, collected or documented by the ACLU. All data included came from the most current data available from the Wyoming Attorney General’s office and the Department of Justice. Executive Director Linda Burt recently wrote a letter to the Casper Star Tribune and to the Joint Judiciary Committee to emphasize this point.

The dispute over the data does little more than provide evidence for the need of a statewide data collection system; one of the key proposals made by our report. Moreover, reports dating back 40 years have leveled the same type of criticism about Wyoming’s juvenile justice system as our report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a new report entitled, "No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration." Their report provides convincing evidence that incarceration of juveniles is not only ineffective, but often the source of additional dysfunction and criminality in youth. "No Place for Kids" includes the most recent data showing the Wyoming continues to have one of the highest rates of juvenile confinement in the nation.

Sadly, Governor Mead recently announced that it is doubtful that his office will propose any kind of legislation for the 2012 session on how the state should handle juvenile offenders. Read more from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle who recently wrote an article highlighting the importance of this issue.

The problem is not the numbers; it is the system itself. The juvenile justice system in Wyoming has been, and continues to be, a system that is inherently flawed and incapable of providing the most effective outcomes for both children and our community. It is tragic that legislators and public officials are using data as a smokescreen to cover up their lack of attention to this vitally important issue.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where to Draw the Line? Redistricting Revisted

On October 21st the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee held a public hearing on the redistricting plans that have been offered over a summer of public meetings across the state. It was clear during the meeting that the long and difficult process was beginning to take its toll on committee members as tempers and patience were sometimes short. This process is complicated and one that ensures that some people will be unhappy with the outcome. Each area that has presented a plan wants their area intact and basically unchanged. Most areas believe that they are unique and different from their neighbors.

Representation Stubson (HD56) presented a plan to the committee based on the idea that Campbell County should receive another representative due to its recent growth. “Nobody gets everything they want but everyone gets something.” (Referring to his plan) Rep. Stubson said he has not consulted with other representatives in the area so there may be some disagreement with his plan. Senator Scott was concerned that Goshen County is “carved up” in this plan and asks if that could be fixed in any way. There is not a lot of ability to change given the current population numbers.

Senator Driskill (SD1) presented a regional plan for Northeastern Wyoming. Senator Driskill said that they had worked very hard to keep towns and rural areas contiguous. He did admit that the plan had some problems that would need fixing. A Sublette County Commissioner asked the committee to keep in mind the plans that most benefit the whole state.

Senator Scott made a motion to direct the Legislative Service Office (LSO) to draft legislation to accept the following plans: Laramie County – Representative Byrd; Albany County – Representative Connolly; Natrona County – County Clerks; Big Horn Basin – County Clerks; Fremont County – County Clerks; Southwestern Wyoming – Martin-Cooper; Sheridan/Johnson - County Clerks.

The two regions that are seemingly a continuing problem are Southeastern and Northwestern Wyoming. There was a great deal of discussion on the Martin-Cooper plan from the committee and the audience. The Teton County Clerk stated that HD22 in Teton County has been in dispute since the last redistricting and the Martin-Cooper plan will make current disenfranchisement of Dubois worse.

Senator Scott advised that because of federal regulations that certain standards and criteria must been met and the committee only had the choice of the “least evil” options.

Senator Case encouraged officials, LSO and county clerks to get together and examine options and come back to committee with refinements in December. The staff was directed to prepare two working proposals from Senator Scott’s motions. The proposals and maps should be on the Legislative Redistricting website within the next two weeks. The next committee meeting is scheduled for December 5 and 6th in Cheyenne.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Transparency: Wyoming Open Records/Meetings Laws Up For Debate

During the 2011 Legislative session several bills were introduced to improve Wyoming’s public records and public meeting laws. After much testimony and debate none of these bills passed into law, but a working group convened during the interim to discuss and propose compromise legislation. On October 13th the Joint Judiciary Committee met in Laramie to hear testimony on the working group’s compromise bills.

There was written testimony presented along with both associations and individuals providing verbal testimony. The Wyoming Press Association (WPA) stated all matters of public welfare, safety and financial matters must be open to public scrutiny to allow complete, honest and open discussion of these matters. It is the WPA’s belief that the public is always best served when its governing agencies are transparent. Jim Angell of the WPA stated “We are vehemently opposed to the deliberative process exemption. It keeps too much information out of the hands of people….”

The concern of most speakers was the deliberative privilege and quorum exemption inserted into the public records draft bill that would allow officials to exclude many documents from public access. The Legislative Service Office (LSO) produced a memo explaining that deliberative privilege applies to the executive branch, and denies access to: (1) a specific agency decision; (2) prepared to assist an agency official to make the agency decision, which records (3) precede in temporal sequence, the decision to which it relates.

The key question in determining whether a document is covered is whether its disclosure would expose an agency’s decision making process in such a way to discourage candid discussion with the agency and thereby undermine the agency’s ability to perform its functions. The privilege is narrowly construed. The Wyoming Association of Municipalities (WAM) was in favor of the both the deliberative privilege and the quorum exemption which would include e-mails etc. sent to public officials, if they were not sent to the entire body.

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) spoke strongly against any time frame for production of documents other than “reasonable” and for including the deliberative process exemption into the statutes. (The current statute is silent on this issue which would leave interpretation to the Wyoming Supreme Court).

The Powder River Basin Resource Council discussed effects of the draft bills on environmental records and objected to any inclusion of the deliberative process or quorum exemption.

Co-Chairman Brown said that Colorado law exempts candid and personal information, and Mr. Angell (WPA) responded that public officials should not be spared embarrassment by the law.

The University of Wyoming representatives supported the LSO comments and the working group’s draft bill. Dan Neal, Director of the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC), opposed the deliberative process and quorum exemption and supported the seven day time limit for initial response to a records request.

Fred Moline from the Farm Bureau Federation suggested that volunteer board members might be discouraged from sitting on boards by this statute.

Mark Harris (WAM) asked the committee to clarify the deliberative process law in order to allow access but law must balance interests of all. WAM supports the compromise draft bill. Rep. Barbuto questioned if WAM’s support of bill was contingent on making changes and Mr. Harris replied “absolutely not.”

Mr. Bob Bonner, publisher of the Newcastle newspaper, said that serving on boards and as public officials is tough and individuals must have the courage to make decisions in public. He also stated that any correspondence meant to influence officials should be public.

While several small amendments were made to both bills the most difficult discussion was removing the deliberative process and quorum exemption provisions. The committee voted to remove both. The working group was split on the exemption but the press was strongly opposed to the exemptions inclusion.

Read more on this important topic from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Wyoming Public Radio.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Protester Alert: Know Your Rights

In response to planned demonstrations around the country including Wyoming, as part of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, the ACLU of Wyoming is making sure all protesters know their rights. Here is some basic information about the rights of protesters, although it should not substitute for specific legal advice. In addition, the ACLU of Wyoming has also produced a Bust Card with more information about what to do if you’re stopped by police.

First, it is important to differentiate between protesting with protected free speech and using civil disobedience. With civil disobedience you are choosing to break the law, and perhaps be arrested to make a point. You need to be prepared for what happens when you are arrested.

Even though protesters are clearly protected by the Constitution, the definition of “peaceful protest” may differ from person to person. Here are some valuable tips on what to do if you are confronted by a police officer or another public official during a protest.

Your Rights as a Protester:

• What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you, and it can give the police an excuse to arrest you – especially if you “bad mouth” an officer.
• You are required to provide your name, address, or date of birth to a law enforcement officer upon request.
• You can be arrested for refusing to identity yourself to an officer.
• You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your car.
• You may photograph or videotape police officers performing their job in public, but do not interfere with police action.

Limitations on Speech:

• The government can limit speech by imposing “time, place, and manner” restrictions. This is most commonly done by requiring permits for meetings, rallies, and demonstrations.
• The First Amendment does not protect speech that incites violence, is obscene, or is threatening.
• It is a federal crime to threaten to harm the President, the Vice President, or a major candidate for either office.

Limitations on Action:

• If you endanger others through the manner in which you choose to protest, you can be arrested. A protest that blocks traffic is illegal without a permit.
• You do have the right to distribute literature, chant, and engage passersby in debate, but you do not have the right to block a building entrance or physically harass people.
• Protesting on private property is not protected by the law.
• Do not interfere with, touch or verbally antagonize the police.
• Avoid carrying any drugs or weapons. If you happen to be arrested you could face additional charges for their possession.

If You Are Arrested:

• Do not run or resist. It may result in additional charges.
• The whole process, from arrest to release on bail, should take about 24-36 hours.
• The police will ask you for basic biographical information and will take your fingerprints and photograph, unless you have been charged with a very minor crime.
• You will then be interviewed by a court agency so that bail can be assessed. You do not have to answer their questions, but providing accurate information will greatly speed up the process.
• You can hire an attorney to represent you at the arraignment and present arguments regarding bail.
• The judicial officer will set bail according to several factors (local connections, seriousness of the crime, how many other protestors have been arrested, etc.).

If you feel your rights have been violated, write down everything you can remember, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information from any witnesses.

Wyoming residents who believe their rights have been violated are encouraged to report these concerns to the Wyoming ACLU.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Redistricting in Northeastern Wyoming

The corporations committee meeting held in the state fair cafeteria in Douglas on September 19th was well-attended with a majority of the audience county clerks, local officials and a few interested voters. The meeting began, as usual, with an explanation of the redistricting process and the use of the Wyoming legislative redistricting web site.

A local county clerk testified that it is difficult

keep Glen Rock and Converse whole as a result of a huge land mass and sparse population. Lucille Taylor of Platte and Goshen County is trying to keep from losing the lone representative in those counties.

A revised county clerks plan was presented for eastern Wyoming.

Representative Hunt explained his plan for the region. Representative Hunt added that he believes local people are the most qualified to put together specifics in the counties as they know the areas and communities of interest best.

Chairman Illoway voiced his concern that some of the plans emasculate Laramie County by dividing the county. Taking a “little bit” of land or population can make a huge difference in a county.

Representative Jaggi advised Representative Hunt that his plan is not viable without specific numbers to show the committee the plan will work.

Debbi Lathrop stated that seven of the eastern Wyoming County Clerks worked together to map a revised plan for eastern Wyoming. The Goshen County Clerk was not present at the meeting. This plan was not sponsored by any legislator or the clerks association.

Tracy Hunt, Representatiave Hunt’s father and former Crook County Commissioner talked at length about the Hunt plan. He suggested that the legislators are making the process difficult to protect peoples seats and that the process is simple and if Hunt’s plan is followed every County can have a district. The Constitution says the county boundaries should be respected and that the seats should be divided among counties by population. Mr. Hunt testified that all the committee has to do is follow Hunt’s plan and they can be done today. He suggested that Laramie County must realize that it has to contribute population to the plan to be fair. Representative Byrd says the Hunt plan does not provide for equal representation for all voters. He also took exception to the statement that this is a simple task.

Representative Patton pointed out that precincts are set by county clerks and not by legislature.

Senator Hines presented an alternative proposal for consideration.

Debbi Lathrop explains that 10 years ago the clerks worked with census bureau to establish census blocks. Precinct lines are the very last lines to be drawn and will come last after legislator has done redistricting.

There is an emphasis on respecting counties boundaries and all counties continue to want to remain whole. Given the population shifts in state, that is an extremely difficult problem.

Senator Driscoll says northeastern corner is a community of interest in terms of rural interests and they don’t want to be moved into bigger counties as they don’t have the same interests. He endorses county clerk’s plan that leaves counties intact. It is extremely important that poor rural counties are left intact so they have representation. He encourages the committee to leave the north area as is.

A County Commissioner from Weston County says Newcastle has little in common with Gillette as they are a very poor county and have little in common with such a rich county. Their needs would be ignored.

The tone of the meeting was somewhat more antagonistic than past meetings but the themes continue to be that all counties want to remain whole, they don’t want to lose representation and they don’t want change.

Friday, September 16, 2011

ACLU Film Screening a Huge Success

Last night, the ACLU of Wyoming along with Wyoming Equality presented a free screening of the stunning documentary, Out in the Silence. Our event was extremely well-attended and we’d like to thank everyone who showed up. After the film, a highly constructive discussion took place among participants of varying backgrounds detailing the challenges that LGBT people face in Wyoming. Some amazingly powerful thoughts and feelings were shared during our discussion. We appreciate all those who attended and want to especially thank Joe Wilson, Dean Hamer & Jeran Artery. Remember to stay tuned for future public events hosted by the Wyoming ACLU.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Free Public Film Screening Tomorrow (9/15)

The Wyoming ACLU is proud to partner with Wyoming Equality to host a free community screening of the award winning film, Out in the Silence, Thursday (9/15) at 7:00 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn in Laramie.

The screening will be followed by a community dialogue with the filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, and Jeran Artery from Wyoming Equality aimed at engaging the audience in a conversation about fairness, equality, and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, & transgender (LGBT) people in small towns and rural communities in Wyoming and across the county.

The film was produced in association with Penn State Public Broadcasting and the Sundance Institute, and is an Official Selection of the 2010 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.

Exploring topics ranging from religion, safe schools and economic development, to discrimination, tolerance and understanding, Out in the Silence offers a compelling model for civic engagement and dialogue and is an ideal tool for bringing people of all ages together to begin the process of building bridges rather than walls on issues that have divided communities for far too long. These issues were brought to the forefront of the debate in the most recent Wyoming legislative session.

After Wilson’s own same-sex marriage announcement ignites a firestorm of controversy in Oil City, the small western Pennsylvania hometown he left long ago, Out in the Silence follows the stories of a mother who takes a courageous stand for her gay teenage son, an evangelical pastor and his wife who befriend Wilson and begin to rethink their most deeply held beliefs, and local residents who must decide what their cherished small town values really mean.

“What better places to promote dialogue and mutual understanding,” said Wilson “than in public libraries, churches, schools, colleges and universities, community centers and local theaters, those great institutions where families, friends and neighbors in small towns and rural communities come together to talk about and develop solutions to the most challenging issues of the day.”

Wilson and Hamer hope that events attract people from across the spectrum ready and willing to engage in constructive dialogue, including students, parents and educators, clergy, health and social service providers, civil leaders, and all those concerned about the well-being of all their communities.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Juvenile Justice Delayed is Juvenile Justice Denied

On August 30, the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee met in Worland to consider, among other things, Wyoming’s juvenile justice system. The Honorable Gary Hartman from Governor Mead’s office gave a presentation designed to cite long term problems with the treatment of youth in the criminal justice system in Wyoming.

Reports and recommendations dating back to the 1960’s have cited, as a main deficiency, the lack of a unified court system in which all youth are processed. Each county in Wyoming has essentially created its own system. Most children in Wyoming are prosecuted in adult courts with none of the protections and due process provided to children in traditional juvenile courts. As a result, children are jailed at one of the highest rates in the nation and youth that need treatment or counseling are offered none.

At the conclusion of his presentation, Judge Hartman offered draft statutes that would bring about much needed reforms to the juvenile system. Judge Hartman, Donna Sheen, a local children’s attorney and advocate, and Dr. Beth Evans, Chair of the State Advisory Committee, then answered a number of questions from the committee.

Prior to the committee meeting, the Wyoming ACLU provided the joint judiciary committee with its report, Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming. The report is a comprehensive report that includes the following policy recommendations for the Wyoming legislature:
To enact a juvenile code that:

1. Establishes a unified juvenile or family court system with exclusive jurisdiction for all non-traffic juvenile matters and a judiciary professionally trained in juvenile law.
2. Creates a comprehensive juvenile justice system that applies equally and fairly to all Wyoming juveniles. This system should include the procedural framework for a central juvenile case processing and obtain a consistent juvenile detention policy. This policy must be devoid of loopholes and include community based programs.
3. Creates a comprehensive juvenile justice system based on restorative justice principles that promote accountability and increased competency development for youthful offenders, without sacrificing community protection.
4. Provides systematic data collecting and analysis to guide decision making, assess program effectiveness, and provide assurances of equal treatment.
5. Is funded through a dedicated funding source to ensure its statewide accessibility and utilization.

The draft legislation presented by Judge Hartman addresses all these issues.

Wyoming judges, including the Honorable Norman Young, John Fenn and Randal Arp, made a short presentation agreeing there probably should be some changes, and that judges would do whatever legislators direct them to do.

County Prosecutors Jeannie Stone, Brian Christensen and Bryon Skoric testified there is absolutely nothing wrong with the juvenile system, and that programs were all running very well with excellent results. Prosecutors also alleged that statistics cited by the ACLU in a juvenile justice report released this spring are wrong.

Rather than focusing on the real issues about reforming our juvenile justice system, the only questions posed by legislators to the Wyoming ACLU were limited to the veracity of statistics cited in the report. Of course, as we have stated, the data in the report represents crime statistics from the attorney general’s office and federal monitoring reports – which in turn are based on numbers provided by Wyoming counties.

The State of Wyoming has no agency that collects comprehensive data on issues and programs relating to juvenile justice. There is no collection of data on county programs or on the effectiveness of the programs. There is no evidence-based assessment of programs or systems. If there is a problem with the numbers, it is one of underreporting -- several counties refuse to provide information on their treatment of juveniles.

It is very disheartening to have Wyoming’s future – our children – reduced to little more than questions about incomplete statistics. The lack of a uniform juvenile justice system is a long term problem that affects the lives and futures of our children.

In 2010, in cooperation with the National Center for Youth Law, we released a report based on our own observations of the treatment of juveniles in several court rooms in Wyoming, A Call to Stop Child Prosecutions in Wyoming Adult Courts. That report concluded:

The state of Wyoming stands at the threshold of opportunity. It can revise its juvenile code to create a model system of youth justice, or it can continue down the time-worn path it has been on for decades, meting out adult convictions and costly sentences to children who really just need a stronger guiding hand. The authors, and many others in the state working with children in trouble, urge the public to demand a better system of justice for Wyoming’s children. We hope public officials will finally exercise the political will to truly reform the way it’s always been.

As our legislators delay in effecting much-needed reforms in juvenile justice, justice to juveniles is denied.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

University of Wyoming Student Chapter Launches Wednesday

Students from the University of Wyoming, University of Wyoming College of Law, and Laramie County Community College met last night to form the student chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at UW.

Meeting attendees represented a diversity of majors and colleges. Matt Pennell, a student at the UW School of Law and former ACLU intern, explained the chapter's mission, goals, and connection with the state and national ACLU organizations. Alex Brink, a former ACLU intern and key organizer of the inaugural chapter, described how the chapter will function, who is eligible to be an officer, and how the process of electing officers was to operate.

The chapter held elections of officers, with members voting on nominees for Co-Presidents and Treasurer. Elections for Historian and Secretary were suspended until the next meeting in order to allow all nominated members for the positions to attend. Elected were Matt Pennell, Co-President from the UW Law School; Meg Lanker-Simons, undergraduate Co-President; and Peter Steiner, Treasurer.

Wyoming ACLU Staff Attorney, Jennifer Horvath, was also present for the meeting and elections. Horvath detailed the ACLU's history briefly, discussed the importance of the ACLU's non-partisan status as an organization, and closed the meeting by drawing a ticket for the door prize. After elections, members conferred about potential upcoming events and planned for the next meeting.

The ACLU of Wyoming's Student Chapter is unique, being the first hybrid student chapter in the country, with full membership open to UW undergraduates, LCCC students, and UW Law School students. Interested community members are also welcome to attend, though only students can run for officer positions within the chapter.

The next meeting is currently scheduled for September 28th at 6:00 p.m. in the UW Senate Chambers on the second floor of the Wyoming Union. For more information, email the UW ACLU Student Chapter at

> By Meg Lanker-Simons

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Redistricting Revisited

The most recent redistricting public hearing was held in Torrington on August 15 in city council chambers. The room was packed and every seat filled. There were the usual suspects – elected officials and politicians, along with a number of interested citizens. A number of individuals spoke in support of Representative Hunt’s plan; its popularity driven by the fact that Representative Hunt used county lines as the basis for districts. Former Speaker Chamberlain gave an interesting account on the history of redistricting in Wyoming. The speaker said that 20 years ago unfairness reigned supreme and this side of the state has been treated unfairly since that time. He also stated that it was important to maintain the commonality of people’s interest.

There was a great deal of testimony in this hearing and it was the liveliest of all the hearings so far.

The next day, on August 16, the committee met at the Capitol to discuss the plans that have been submitted so far. Every plan that is sponsored by a legislator will be accepted by the committee and placed on the legislative website for review. County clerks submitted a plan which was reviewed by the committee. The clerks considered Representative Hunt’s plan and used his principles as much as possible. The group also sought to hold districts as complete and intact as possible, and to use major highways when drawing lines.

Plans from Natrona, Laramie, Albany and Campbell County were also reviewed and discussed.

Dan Neal, of the Equality State Policy Center, suggested that it would be helpful to define what a “community of interest” is, as people seem to have different opinions on what the elements might be.

The committee has added two additional public hearings in Sheridan and Douglas on September 19, and the next full committee meetings will be in Casper on October 20 and 21.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What would you put on your headstone? American Exceptionalism, Religion, the Constitution, & the ACLU

American exceptionalism has been pouring into the political conversations of Americans quite a bit as of late. Along with the notion of exceptionalism, is the differing and usually deeply held viewpoints Americans have concerning the deference our founding fathers gave to religion.

First Amendment author James Madison sums up what the founding fathers understood about the role religion was to play in America. James Madison said of religion, “Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. [Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785), in 8 Papers of James Madison 301 (W. Rachal, R. Rutland, B. Ripel, & F. Teute eds. 1973)]. Madison seemed to believe that religion would be corrupted if it was brought into the public sphere. If religion was to have an impression on the public it would not be shared through the organs of the government, rather by the hearts and efforts of those willing to spread what they believed to be the truth.

Because of this belief in a separation between any religious establishment and the government, James Madison included two specific clauses in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [.]”

These two clauses reflect what is often termed freedom of conscience. This includes the liberty of any individual in our democracy to hold a belief or point of view irrespective of its popularity or approval from either other private citizens or the government. This most certainly includes the freedom to privately engage in or abstain from religious belief and expression. This liberty should not, and constitutionally cannot, be afforded to some groups and not to others. As a consequence, the ACLU subscribes to the principle that if the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everybody’s rights are imperiled.

The freedom of conscience, according to the ACLU, must be protected not exclusively for the most numerously held or conventional religious beliefs, but also for any genuinely held beliefs. From a constitutional perspective this is not only a just principle but also a fairly straightforward application of a fundamental right of expression. This protection of all viewpoints, regardless of their cohesion with those of the majority, may be misconstrued as an effort to undermine the majority belief system. As a result, a number of false ideas have been propagated into the canon of myths surrounding the ACLU’s reverence for those beliefs.

Probably the most infamous and equally untrue accusation is that the ACLU has sued to remove crosses. The ACLU’s position is just the opposite. In fact, the ACLU aims to ensure that soldiers and their families can choose which gravestone and symbols best express their faith.

Currently, the federal government has a list of 41 authorized religious emblems for headstones in Arlington Cemetery. This list includes Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal and Greek crosses, along with a number of other symbols. This authorization list may impose a limitation on the deeply private choices of soldiers and their families regarding personal gravestones. If a family wants a specific symbol, associated with their family but not on the authorized list, placed on the gravestone, they are required to go through a cumbersome process. Ultimately, their request may be denied by the government.

The ACLU believes that the decision of what symbol, if any, should be placed on a gravestone in Arlington cemetery, should be more inclusive and less cumbersome. The Department of Veterans Affairs has an unnecessarily complicated process for approval of a religious symbol on an individual gravestone in Arlington cemetery. The ACLU has openly stated that inclusion of all religious symbols would promote religious expression, in its fact sheet, Myths & Realities: Gravestones and Markers Are Not in Danger.
If the Department of Veterans Affairs adopted this policy, all American service members and veterans would enjoy a greater ability to exercise their freedom of conscience.

What the ACLU opposes is endorsement of a particular religious faith by the federal government. When the government erects a permanent religious symbol on public display, it essentially sanctions that religion to the exclusion of others. The ACLU has taken action to have those government-sponsored sectarian symbols removed when in the public space of a cemetery. Religious displays by the government, unlike religious symbols on gravestones, fail to honor all of our veterans.

A simple checking of the facts discredits the notion that the ACLU wants to remove religious symbols from personal gravestones. The ACLU is advocating for more latitude to exercise religious beliefs freely, so long as the government doesn’t establish within itself any particular religious ideology.

For more information, see The ACLU and Cemetery Crosses.

Matthew Pennell,
Legal Extern

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We're Going to Need a Warrant, Officer...

Today, the ACLU of Wyoming, along with 33 other state-based ACLU affiliates, filed a public records act request to uncover information about warrantless cell phone tracking.

As of December 2010, over 96 percent of the overall population of the United States carried a cell phone—an estimated 302.9 million people. But while Americans have quickly embraced cell phones and the convenience they offer, the widespread use of cell phones has given the government the unprecedented ability to track people’s movements by tracking the geographical location of their cell phones.

What’s revealed by location tracking can be intensely personal. For example, as one court recently wrote, knowing someone’s location can reveal whether a person “is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”

Location information is so sensitive that the authorities should only be able to get it by demonstrating probable cause to a judge and getting a warrant – just as they must do to intrude on your privacy in other ways. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, and there is nothing reasonable about tracking our movements without the approval of a judge.

Unfortunately, not all police departments agree that probable cause and a warrant are necessary.

That is why the ACLU filed public records act requests to uncover information about warrantless cell phone tracking. We have a right to know about how the police are using cell phones to track people. We want to know:

•Do the police show probable cause and get a warrant to track cell phones?
•How often do the police obtain cell phone location information?
•Once the police get cell phone location information from a cell phone company, do they keep it forever or do they get rid of it after a limited time?
•How much money are the police spending to get cell phone location information?

We’ll keep you posted on what we learn. In the meantime, the ACLU will be continuing to work in the courts, in Congress, in state legislatures across the country, and with companies to better safeguard sensitive location information. We hope you will join us and contact your member of Congress to urge them to support new location privacy bills introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). This public records request and our efforts in Congress are part of our broader
Demand your dotRights Campaign to make sure that as technology advances, our privacy rights are not left behind.

For more information, go to:
ACLU Cell Phone Location Tracking Public Records Request

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wyoming High Court Disses Students

President Richard Nixon originally declared the $1 trillion “War on Drugs” in 1971. This June marked the 40th anniversary of the government’s preference for punishment over prevention. As a result, the United States holds 25% of the world’s incarcerated population and taxpayers spend nearly $70 billion each year to maintain U.S. prisons. Overwhelmingly the U.S. locks up drug offenders more than any other criminal population. The nation’s anti-drug sentiment sparked by the War on Drugs hit home in Wyoming this year.

On June 6, in Hageman et al. v. Goshen County School District No. 1, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld a drug testing policy for 7th to 12th grade students involved in extracurricular activities, including everything from Marching Band to Soccer. Students will now be subject to random drug tests, during which an observer will watch as students undress and pee into a cup. This can be as degrading as it is invasive. In addition, test administrators have tested for pregnancy and disease without the consent of the person being tested.

Arguing that suspicionless drug testing invades their childrens’ privacy, concerned parents challenged this new policy in the Wyoming Supreme Court. The Goshen County School Board claims that it wants to combat the purported risk of drug use in their schools. According to the Goshen County School District’s Superintendent,

“The policy recognizes that many of the students participating in extracurricular activities are viewed as role models to other students and that it is important that they avoid drug and alcohol use in their position as role models. It is also the position of the Board that to achieve the goal of reducing risks of alcohol and drug abuse and to maximize the skills and talents participating in extracurricular activities, it is important that participants refrain from drug and alcohol use. It is the belief of our school district that this policy will assist in that endeavor.”

But what the Superintendent fails to recognize is that random drug testing does not promote public safety or reduce drug use, it humiliates innocent students. The ACLU’s David Rocah notes, “Nationally, student athletes have been found to have higher academic achievement and fewer disciplinary problems than non-athletes, due in large part to the tremendous discipline required to balance a full academic program and the time demanded by practice and competition schedules. Singling out both ridiculous and unfair.”

Some say that if students are not using drugs they have nothing to fear. What students fear is not getting caught – it is the lack of trust from administrators and the loss of dignity they suffer when they are required to expose themselves even though they haven’t done anything wrong.

The more time students spend in extracurricular activities, the less time and interest they will have in using drugs. But if they are required to submit to a humiliating process as a prerequisite for participation in extra curricular activities, they may be less likely to participate. The affected students of Goshen County are guilty until proven innocent. It is unfair to treat them like criminals just because of a survey’s loose group statistic.

Like the War on Drugs, drug testing has been shown to be ineffective and very costly to taxpayers. No one is condoning the use of illegal drugs, but a war on drugs shouldn’t amount to a war on students’ privacy and constitutional rights.

For more information about what the experts say, go to:
What the Experts Say on Student Drug Testing

To read the Wyoming Supreme Court’s ruling, go to:
Hageman et al. v. Goshen County School District No. 1

Opinion written by Alex Brink, ACLU Intern
University of Wyoming, Political Science, Pre-Law

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let’s End the Failed 40-Year War on Drugs

Last month marked the 40th anniversary since President Richard Nixon declared the “War on Drugs.” Since then, the U.S. government has spent well over $1 trillion fighting this so-called war, and has made the U.S. the world’s largest incarcerator. These failed policies of the war on drugs have imprisoned millions, destroyed American families, and has done nothing to stem drug addiction. Moreover, the war on drugs disproportionally affects minorities and the poor.

With many states enacting sweeping changes to their budgets through austerity measures, it is surprising that many states are not aggressively trying to reduce spending by scaling back their prison populations. Currently, there are 2.3 million people in America’s prison system with a cost of around $70 billion a year to taxpayers to keep them there. America spends more money each year on incarceration related expenses than it does on higher education.

So is prosecution and imprisonment actually making people safer or reducing drug use? The answer is resoundingly, no. Drug possession is the only crime for which we lock people up because they might hurt themselves, even when they have harmed no one else. In fact, nearly half of America’s prison population is locked up for non-violent offenses; primarily for drug-related convictions. Summing it up perfectly, Neill Franklin, the executive director of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, told CNN:

“Despite arresting over 40 million people on drug charges since the start of the war on drugs – resulting in huge costs both in terms of dollars and in human lives – drugs today are more available, more potent and cheaper than ever.”

Drug prohibition is a failed policy that is a political choice, not a scientific one. We should treat drug addiction as a health problem, not as a crime. Prohibition and law enforcement interdiction generates an underground culture that breeds continuing and escalating violence. The drug exceptions to the Constitution have stripped citizens of fundamental liberties and protections. This war on drugs has become a war on the nation’s citizens, families and communities imprisoning millions and destroying families leaving addicts with few options for rehabilitation and treatment.

The war on drugs has effectively swollen America’s prison system to an unsustainable capacity. From 1970 to 2005, the U.S. prison population rose 700%, a rate far outpacing that of general population growth and crime rates. The United States now has over one-quarter of the world's prison population, despite only having 5% of the world's total population. Overcrowding in California’s prisons has become so egregious that the U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling ordering the state of California to substantially reduce its prison population. Learn more about the ACLU's effort to combat mass incarceration.

Drug reform policies must be developed that address the needless criminalization of non-violent drug users, provide effective, readily available treatment and education programs, and stop ineffective knee-jerk laws that are unproductive and waste taxpayer’s money to the tune of billions of dollars each year.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter wrote in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, that, “Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. The single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for non-violent offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980.”

It’s time to find new solutions to the war on drugs by: addressing drug addiction through providing better treatment programs, improving public safety, reforming mandatory minimum sentencing and dramatically reducing our prison population.

Ready to end the war on drugs? Join the ACLU and over a thousand others from around the world on November 2-5 at the 2011 International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles.

For a hilarious spin on this important topic, watch comedian Elon James White team up with the ACLU to "Just Say NO" to the war on drugs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Redistricting: Regional meetings continue...

There are two common themes in all of the redistricting meetings being held by the joint corporations committee: Every region is adamant that they don’t want any changes in their current districts and that they are unique compared to the rest of the state. Most of those testifying to the committee feel their area should have a waiver from the legal population requirements for one reason or another. The other commonality in these meetings is that the majority of those present are either current or past legislators or public officials. Unfortunately, voters seem to have little interest in this very important issue.

The Powell meeting was held at Northwest Community College and a small group (17) of legislators and public officials participated. All meetings begin with a short tutorial on redistricting presented by the attorney general’s office, which includes a guide to information available on the legislative redistricting web site.

Chairman Case opened the Powell meeting by stating that the committee has made no decisions but is now open to all suggestions and any plan that is sponsored by at least one legislator will go on the web site for review. The Big Horn Basin has lost population so the senate and house districts will have to add population in some way; in addition, the Basin has significant geographical constraints that will make redistricting in that area difficult.

Senator Scott believes locally grown plans are the best plans rather than the committee coming up with a plan. He suggested that the easiest way to add population is to take from Fremont County, as it has gained population and will have to lose some to meet numbers criteria.

Testimony from those present from Big Horn Basin:
1. Senator Coe: Big Horn Basin is a unique area and should be treated as a unit. He also asks if there is a possibility of a waiver of the numbers for Big Horn Basin. States the legislators in the area have been doing a lot of work on their plan.
2. Representative Quarberg: We have looked at different options and would like to remain whole as they are at minus population levels. The legislators have had conversations with surrounding counties and all the conversations have been cordial and after deliberation it seems that adding population from Fremont County would be the best option. (Possibly from Riverton)

There was also testimony that Meeteetsee wanted to stay in Park County as they had common interests with Park County and there would be a fight to stay within that county. Chairman Case encouraged local citizens to get together and iron out local issues of redistricting. Representative Patton concurred and said the committee was not looking for a lawsuit but for reasonable solutions.

Representative Bonner stated the entire Big Horn Basin was committed to staying whole and keeping its current representation. Representative Harvey echoed these sentiments asking the committee to please keep Big Horn community intact. The strengths of the area are that they all work together very well.

Representatives Quarberg and Grear made the presentation to the committee in Worland with a group of 14 citizens and public officials in attendance. Testimony in Worland:

1. Representative Campbell from Fremont County says they don’t have an actual plan yet but have been approached by several other counties to work on one.
2. HD33 makes Fremont County unique as it meets the criteria for a majority minority district and must be protected.
3. The attitude of Fremont County will be to be open to all suggestions as they understand that there will be many changes in order to work out districts.

Dan Neal from the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) commented on the fact that the ‘one person, one vote’ principle is an important principal, and statements from a committee member that “greedy” people use this to make money off the government were inappropriate. This same committee member made this comment at both meetings saying that if waivers are given to regions, greedy organizations will use it as an excuse to sue and make money. Read more on the ESPC standing up for the 'one person, one vote' principle.

Julie Freese, the Fremont County Clerk, presented Freemont County’s redistricting requests. The County Clerks are working on a redistricting plan to present to the state. Ms. Freese emphasized the importance or protecting HD 33 as minority voting district.

There was testimony that there is little community of interest between Dubois and Jackson. “Jackson Hole might as well be in Greenwich Village, New York.” Dubois wants to be with Fremont County, as they have more of a community of interest with them and feel that have not gotten much attention from current representatives.

“Redistricting is like whack-a-mole. If you change one line, something else has to move too.” (Chairman Case)

Senator Bebout urged the committee to push back against the law because community of interest is more important than deviation in the numbers. Representative Campbell expressed concerns about the confusion with ballots if the county is divided up.

There were 14 in attendance at the Rawlins redistricting meeting. Senator Hicks had asked the clerk to put together a proposal to consider. The proposal is similar to the Martin/Cooper proposal already presented to the committee. The spirit is to align with the principal of community of interest. Representative Steward supports the idea that all representatives and senators run in 2012, and says there is no support for splitting Rawlins’ districts.

The next hearing will be an evening meeting held in Torrington on August 15th. There is some discussion that the committee may add additional sites for hearings.

Click here to watch ACLU’s Laughlin McDonald talk about how politicians can use 'stacking, cracking, and packing' to gerrymander voting districts.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Census Blocks, County Lines, Communities of Interest…Oh My!

Rock River was at the center of a verbal tug of war as legislators from the Corporations Committee listened to redistricting suggestions in Laramie on Tuesday morning, June 28. Rock River is in Albany County, but do residents more closely identify as voters with neighbors in Laramie or in Carbon County?

Legislators must preserve a “one person, one vote” distribution as they consider how to draw lines around new voting districts across the state. They also apply traditional redistricting principles, including 1) compactness, 2) contiguity, 3) preservation of county and municipal lines, 4) maintaining communities of interest (specific groups with shared interests/identity), and 5) maintaining cores of existing districts, and incumbency protection or competitiveness. For more information on these principles and redistricting in general, read the ACLU’s report, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Redistricting But Were Afraid to Ask.

So why do voting districts in Wyoming resemble a geographic jigsaw puzzle? It really depends on what your priorities are, and legislators made some of theirs known on June 28.

Senator Nicholas pointed out that it may be unfair to voters to redraw lines in order to preserve the seats of incumbents, and that lines should be drawn in order to best reflect what the community wants. For example, he says, Albany County prides itself on sending two Democrats and two Republicans to the Wyoming House, and lines are carefully drawn to preserve that split, which seems to best represent the community.

Albany County Clerk, Jackie Gonzales, explained a proposed plan for the county that nearly preserves existing districts, stretching or constricting them a bit in one way or the other to reflect changes in population.

Representative Hunt offered a completely new plan, which places the greatest weight on drawing districts that, as closely as possible, follow county lines. Counties with small populations would be supplemented by residents near the line of a neighboring county. The beauty of his plan, he suggests, is that no district goes over a 3.4% deviation from the “one person, one vote” principle. The closer the deviation gets to 10%, the more likely it is that a court may want a darned good explanation.

Tracy Hunt, Representative Hunt’s driver for the day (and dad on all days), said his son’s plan “sets up a firewall against the chaos” he sees in plans that just modify existing districts.

Representative Byrd expressed concerns that a plan that only takes into account county lines, though, fails to recognize communities of interest. Say, for example, Rock River.

The Cheyenne meeting that evening covered many of the same themes as the Albany County meeting. The Laramie County Clerk’s office offered a proposed plan for redrawing Laramie County voting districts. The most tense moment came when Representative Dan Zwonitzer expressed his concerns over the proposed changes, saying that he greatly disagreed with the population numbers in his district. Senator Johnson reassured everyone in the room that, “Nothing is set in concrete. Please be patient and know that nothing will be decided immediately.” Rep. Illoway reemphasized this point by informing attendees that, “Public meetings are for fact-finding, and that no official votes will be taken until this fall.”

In addition to Representative Hunt’s statewide plan which embeds most districts within county lines, Senator Cooper and Senator Martin brought forth the Cooper/Martin alternative plan for western Wyoming districts.

So where do you draw the lines? Give redistricting a try on the Redistricting Plan Viewer on the legislature's redistricting webpage.

And tell your representatives what you think by attending the next community meeting coming up on July 12. For a complete schedule, check out our May 5th blog post.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

REPORT: Overview of 2010 Supreme Court Term

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Term defined itself as pro-business, conservative and sensitive to any claim that the government was using its power to censor unpopular speakers or speech. Please read the ACLU Summary of the 2010 Supreme Court Term, which focuses on major civil liberties decisions. This report was issued yesterday by Steven R. Shapiro, the National Legal Director of the ACLU.

Want to know more about the ACLU and the SCOTUS? Read more here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Know Your Laws: Wyoming's New DUI Law

Effective July 1st, 2011, Wyoming's new driving under the influence law will make some significant changes to current DUI laws. The new law requires that motorists pulled over for suspected drug or alcohol use submit to breath, blood or urine tests, when requested by the police. Prosecutors and law enforcement around the state have been working on how suspected drivers will actually be tested for alcohol or drugs. This blog post is dedicated to educating Wyoming drivers about the new DUI law, and why the new law could be a civil libertarians’ worst fear.

Although the purpose of the new law is to crack down on drunk driving – especially among repeat offenders – the Wyoming ACLU has some concerns over how the new law will be enforced, as well as the constitutionality of the remotely communicated search warrants. To be sure, drunk driving is reprehensible and is not condoned by the ACLU of Wyoming.

The new law replaces the word “request” with the word “require” when referring to the suspected drivers’ submission to a blood, breath or urine test. In other words, law enforcement officers are obligated to force blood or urine tests on unwilling motorists. Supporters of the new law are adamant that this is necessary in order to prosecute repeat DUI offenders; however, current law already makes a “refusal” admissible in evidence at trial and comes along with an automatic suspension of their driver’s license.

Coming after potentially drunk people with needles just seems like a bad idea! Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper questioned this measure during the legislative session, “What are you going to do? Are you going to strap people down [to test them]? To me that’s a scary visual.”

In order to compel a suspected driver to submit to a chemical test, a police office, under the new law, can obtain a search warrant through electronic transmission. The new law states:

"A remotely communicated search warrant may be issued upon sworn or affirmed testimony of the peace officer who is not in the physical presence of a judicial officer, provided the judicial officer is satisfied that probably cause exists for the issuance of the warrant. All communication between the judicial office and the peace officer or prosecuting attorney requesting the warrant may be remotely transmitted by voice, image, text or any combination thereof, or by other means and shall be recorded...Upon approval, the judicial officer may direct a peace officer or prosecuting attorney requesting a warrant from a remote location to sign the judicial officer’s name on a warrant at a remote location."

What a minute...did I just read that correctly?! A judge can “sign” a search warrant with a text message?! That’s right! According to the new law, an SMS from a judge is all that’s needed in order to issue a warrant to force a suspected drunk driver to submit to a blood draw. Fortunately, we’re not the only ones who have questions about the constitutionality of this provision. Several Wyoming Circuit Court judges said they believed allowing officers to request a warrant by phone violated Article 1, section 4 of the Wyoming Constitution, which states that “no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by affidavits.” Wyoming courts have previously interpreted that phrase to mean that warrants can only be issued based on written affidavits.

Summary and Major Elements of the new DUI law:

• Provides that a person under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance who refuses a chemical test shall still be required to submit to a chemical test upon issuance of a search warrant.
• Creates a "remotely communicated search warrant" which may be issued upon sworn or affirmed testimony of the peace officer who is not in the physical presence of the judicial officer. For issuance of a "remotely communicated search warrant":
• The judicial officer must be satisfied that probable cause exists for issuance of the remotely communicated search warrant;
• All communication between the judicial officer and the peace officer or prosecuting attorney must be recorded
• The judicial officer may direct the peace officer or prosecuting attorney requesting the remotely communicated search warrant to sign the judicial officer's name on a warrant from a remote location.
• A remotely communicated search warrant shall only be valid to administer a chemical test to determine whether a person was driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance after the person refuses the test.
• Results from chemical tests to determine blood-alcohol or controlled substance levels shall only be used to determine whether the person was driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.
• Repeals the administrative penalties for refusing to submit to a chemical test to determine whether a person was driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, except for suspension of a commercial driver's license.
• Makes conforming amendments relating to the repeal of the right to refuse a test

Monday, June 6, 2011

First Redistricting Public Meeting Held in Rock Springs

The first in a serious of redistricting meetings was held in Rock Springs on May 25 in City Council Chambers. The crowd of about 40 was a mixed one including legislative staff, county clerks, politicians, elected officials and a sprinkling of citizens. The legislative staff presented a short power- point on redistricting fundamentals and also on the use of the legislative website. Testimony was heard on the lack of community of interest representation in some Rock Springs districts. Chairman Cale Case did an excellent job of moderating the program and assuring that all who wanted to be heard by the committee were given time to do so.

It becomes clear in listening to testimony how difficult redistricting is, as speakers all have specific critiques of their districts and how they are drawn. One person testifies that the boundary is drawn down the middle of the street, with their neighbors across the road being in a different district. County Clerks are concerned that precinct and district changes that will affect voting procedures in their counties.

In addition, politics come into play quickly as voting districts are redrawn. A group from Teton County offered draft changes for areas in their part of the state, and resentment of the affects of those changes were already clear.

The reality remains that as a result of the significant changes in many counties, Wyoming must redistrict in order to meet the criteria of equity of populations in each district. The ideal House district will be 9,394 (+ or – 5%) and the Senate district will be 18,788 (+ or – 5%). The decision has been made by the committee that Wyoming will continue with 30 Senate seats and 60 House seats, with 2 house seats “nested” in each Senate district.

Here are the seven redistricting principles adopted by the committee:

1. Election districts should be contiguous, compact, and reflect a community of interest:
2. Population of election districts should be substantially equal, with the range of deviation not to exceed 10%;
3. To the greatest extent possible, in establishing election districts:
a. County boundaries should be followed;
b. The majority of the population of each county should be in one district;
c. Census blocks should be followed.
4. The plan should avoid diluting voting power of minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act;
5. The House shall have 60 seats and the Senate shall have 30 seats;
6. Consideration should be given to two (2) contiguous House districts in each Senate district; and
7. Significant geographical features should be considered in establishing districts.

To learn more about redistricting, please visit the ACLU's Redistricting Q&A page.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Corporations Committee Takes on Redistricting

Under the Wyoming State Constitution, the legislature is required redraw the state legislative districts every ten years. Redistricting coincides with the federal census so that the district lines reflect the current make-up of the population in legislative district. With Wyoming’s growing population, it is important that the new districts accurately reflect the demographic changes around the state.

In the 1963 case of Gray v. Sanders, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the “one person, one vote” principle. This principle is achieved when each legislative district has a substantially equal population. Redistricting is one of the key topics on the interim agenda of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. On April 12, 2011, the Corporations Committee adopted these seven principles in order to honor the one person, one vote principle:

1. Election districts should be contiguous, compact, and reflect a community of interest
2. Population of election districts should be substantially equal, with the range of deviation not to exceed 10%
3. To the greatest extent possible, in establishing election districts:
a. County boundaries should be followed
b. The majority of the population of each county should be in one district
c. Census blocks should be followed
4. Plan should avoid diluting voting power of minorities in violations of [federal] Voting Rights Act
5. The house shall have 60 seats and the senate shall have 30 seats
6. Consideration should be given to two (2) contiguous house districts in each senate districts
7. Significant geographical features should be considered in establishing districts

Please visit the Wyoming Legislature's 2011 redistricting resource page.

Redistricting is an extremely important topic because it makes a huge impact on our ability to influence government through the ballot box. The ACLU believes that voting is one of our most important civil liberties and fundamental rights, and we encourage all our readers to stay informed on redistricting efforts in your area.

How can you share your thoughts with the Joint Corporations Committee?

• Express your comments at one of the scheduled regional meetings (listed below)
• Contact your local representative or senator
• Express your comments through the “Redistricting Information” page on the Wyoming Legislature’s website

The location and times of the regional meetings are as follows:

Morning meetings are tentatively scheduled for 9:30 - Noon. Evening meetings are tentatively scheduled for 5:00-7:30.

1. Rock Springs May 25 morning
2. Pinedale May 25 evening
3. Casper June 14 morning
4. Wright June 14 evening
5. Laramie June 28 morning
6. Cheyenne June 28 evening
7. Powell July 12 morning
8. Worland July 12 evening
9. Lander July 13 morning
10. Rawlins July 13 evening
11. Torrington August 15 evening

To learn more about redistricting, please read the ACLU’s report, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Redistricting, But Were Afraid to Ask.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative comes to Wyoming

The Casper Star Tribune ran an article today on the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). This program is designed to assist jurisdictions in reducing their reliance on secure detention (jail) for juveniles. There are 24 states that use the JDAI program and 100 individual sites. This reform program is one of the most successful and effective programs in reducing incarceration rates for juveniles and for providing alternatives to detention that allow for long lasting positive outcomes for kids.

The program is based on the following concepts:

• reduce reliance on secure confinement
• improve public safety
• reduce racial disparities and bias
• save taxpayers’ dollars
• stimulate overall juvenile justice reform

This program is based on over 15 years of successful experience and is exactly the program that Wyoming needs on a state wide basis to reduce reliance on the over-use of secure confinement for children. Unfortunately, as a result of Wyoming’s lack of uniform state-side planning and a uniform juvenile justice system some children in Wyoming will have the advantage of this evidence based program and other children will continue to be locked up.

Laramie, Sweetwater and Campbell Counties have decided to join this program and provide the best opportunities for their children. The spokesmen for the Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS) stated that the goal of the program, which is jointly funded by The Casey foundation and DFS, is to create a statewide model for juvenile detention. The spokesmen went on the say that “it will help create a good… juvenile justice system with a lot of alternatives.”

This type of random program implementation has been going on with juvenile programs in the state for over 40 years and has resulted in the dreadful non-system that we currently have. Some counties will chose to join the initiative but most will not. Most counties will do what that have historically done and that is put kids in jail, even though its clear that putting kids in jail is the absolute worse thing you can do to them most counties will continue to use jail as their only “system”. They will do this because that is what they have always done, because they don’t want to spend the money on children that it will take to initiate reform, because they don’t have the money and there is no stable funding source or because they don’t believe in the evidence and believe that the best place for a troubled kid is in jail. They will do this because they can.

Laramie County, a county that already has a good program for kids, wants a better program. In planning for the new juvenile detention center the Chairman of the Joint Powers Board, Jeff Lamm stated: “We didn’t want to just build a center; we wanted to rebuild a system.” In the Casper Star Tribune's article, Mr. Lamm went on to state: “You want to set up a good, integrated system…. So you can treat every kid based on their needs”. Wouldn’t it be great if our legislators and public officials felt that way about every child in Wyoming? Isn’t that the way they should feel?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Update: Juvenile Justice Reform

On April 21 the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee met in Worland at the Community Center Complex. One of the interim issues for the committee is juvenile justice. The Honorable Gary Hartman from Governor Mead’s office gave a power point presentation designed to site the long-term problems with the treatment of youth in the criminal justice system in Wyoming. The presentation outlined the history of reports and recommendations starting in the 1960’s and the lack of response to those recommendations. One of the main deficiencies in the system has been the lack of a unified court system in which all youth would be processed. Due to the poorly written statutory foundation, each county in Wyoming has created its own system. Most children in Wyoming are processed in adult courts with none of the protections and due process allowed children in traditional juvenile courts. Some courts allow little or no due process, judges are not trained or knowledgeable in juvenile development or issues; children are jailed at one of the highest rates in the nation and youth that need treatment or counseling are offered none. These criticisms of the Wyoming system have been heard for over 40 years, and Wyoming legislators have done little beyond minor tinkering to fix the problems.

At the conclusion of the presentation Judge Hartman presented the committee with draft statutes that would bring about the much needed changes in the juvenile system. Judge Hartman, Donna Sheen, a local children’s attorney and advocate, as well as Dr. Beth Evans, Chair of the State Advisory Committee, then answered a number of questions from the committee.

Next a group of Wyoming judges including the Honorable Norman Young, John Fenn and Randal Arp made a short presentation, allowing that there probably should be some changes and that judges would do whatever the legislators directed them to do.

County Prosecutors Jeannie Stone, Brian Christensen and Bryon Skoric then testified there was absolutely nothing wrong with the system that programs were all running very well with excellent results. The prosecutors also said the numbers used in our report were wrong.

The Wyoming ACLU provided the joint judiciary committee with copies of the newly released ACLU report, "Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming," prior to the meeting. The report is a comprehensive report that includes the following policy recommendations for the Wyoming legislature:

To enact a juvenile code that:

1. Establishes a unified juvenile or family court system with exclusive jurisdiction for all non-traffic juvenile matters and a judiciary professionally trained in juvenile law.
2. Creates a comprehensive juvenile justice system that applies equally and fairly to all Wyoming juveniles. This system should include the procedural framework for a central juvenile case processing and obtain a consistent juvenile detention policy. This policy must be devoid of loopholes and include community based programs.
3. Creates a comprehensive juvenile justice system based on restorative justice principles that promote accountability and increased competency development for youthful offenders, without sacrificing community protection.
4. Provides systematic data collecting and analysis to guide decision making, assess program effectiveness, and provide assurances of equal treatment.
5. Is funded through a dedicated funding source to ensure its statewide accessibility and utilization.

The draft code presented by Judge Hartman would have addressed all these issues. Unfortunately, the only questions I was asked were about the numbers in our report and the veracity of those numbers. Kermit Brown, Co-Chair of the Committee has also questioned the numbers in our report in the press.

It’s very frustrating to have such an overwhelming long-term problem effecting the lives and futures of our children and have the committee focus on the supposed “problems” with the numbers. The numbers used in our report are the only professionally collected verifiable statistics available on juvenile issues in the state. The State of Wyoming has no single agency that collects data on juvenile justice. There is no collection of data on county programs and the effectiveness of the programs, no assessment on programs or systems. The data in our report represents federal monitoring reports and crime statistics reports from the attorney general’s office. Those numbers are collected from the counties themselves. The only issue with the numbers that is possible is the issue of underreporting as several counties refuse to provide information on their treatment of juveniles.

In June 2010, the Wyoming Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union along with the National Center for Youth Law released a report based on observations of the treatment of juveniles in several court rooms in Wyoming, "A Call to Stop Child Prosecutions in Wyoming Adult Court." That report concluded:

“The state of Wyoming stands at the threshold of opportunity. It can revise its juvenile code to create a model system of youth justice, or it can continue down the time-worn path it has been on for decades, meting out adult convictions and costly sentences to children who really just need a stronger guiding hand. The authors, and many others in the state working with children in trouble, urge the public to demand a better system of justice for Wyoming’s children. We hope public officials will finally exercise the political will to truly reform the way it’s always been.”

Once again, this seems like an impossible dream. We remain hopeful that the Joint Judiciary Committee will provide leadership in juvenile justice reform during the interim session.

Linda Burt,
Executive Director

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Redistricting: Public Meetings Schedule

Every ten years, the Wyoming Legislature is required to reconfigure the state’s legislative districts in order to reflect the changes in Wyoming’s population. Redistricting is one of the key topics on the interim agenda of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. If you are interesting in learning about redistricting in your area, a series of regional redistricting meetings have been scheduled. The location and times of the regional meetings are as follows:

Morning meetings are tentatively scheduled for 9:30 - Noon. Evening meetings are tentatively scheduled for 5:00-7:30.

1. Rock Springs May 25 morning
2. Pinedale May 25 evening
3. Casper June 14 morning
4. Wright June 14 evening
5. Laramie June 28 morning
6. Cheyenne June 28 evening
7. Powell July 12 morning
8. Worland July 12 evening
9. Lander July 13 morning
10. Rawlins July 13 evening
11. Torrington August 15 evening.


To learn more about redistricting, please read the ACLU’s report, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Redistricting, But Were Afraid to Ask.”

Read more from the Casper Star Tribune.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gov. Mead pushes for juvenile court system

Governor Matt Mead’s administration is lobbying Wyoming lawmakers to support creation of a unified juvenile court system in the state. The Casper Star Tribune ran a fantastic article today, and Wyoming Public Radio has also been providing coverage of this important topic. There are no significant differences between the proposals put forth in our report released earlier this month, "Inequality in the Equality State," and Governor Mead’s recommendations on juvenile justice. We applaud the Governor’s proposal! The Joint Judiciary Committee will be discussing juvenile justice at its meeting later this week.

This is certainly terrific news, but far more remains to be done. How can you make a difference? Urge the Joint Judiciary Committee to solve the juvenile justice crisis in Wyoming.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Inequality" Report Released Today

In a report on Wyoming’s Juvenile Justice System formally released today, the ACLU of Wyoming calls for establishing a unified juvenile court system to handle all court-involved youth throughout the state, enforcing standards for youth detention statewide, and creating a data-collection process to gauge the success of Wyoming’s youth rehabilitation services.

The report, "Inequality in the Equality State: The Damaged Juvenile Justice and Detention System in Wyoming," represents more than five years of research by the ACLU.

Wyoming’s youth are the future of our state and should be given every opportunity to succeed. In Wyoming 85% of all children are adjudicated in adult courts instead of being provided the protection and rehabilitation that would be required by a juvenile court system. Only a minority of Wyoming youth are processed through a juvenile court system. Most youth are seen by judges or other officials with little training in handling youth or knowledge of juvenile law. The majorities of children are not represented by lawyers and waive their right to legal representation without fully understanding the consequences of doing so. Because there are no statewide guidelines outlining which youth should be subjected to secure detention, Wyoming has one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the nation; state officials too often rely on detention as the default solution – a choice that carries a heavy financial and social cost.

Unlike most states, Wyoming has no overarching goals, planning or administration of juvenile justice, and youth are subject to vastly different treatment based on where they live. The disparity in treatment of youth in the system is at the heart of the state’s juvenile justice crisis; a unified juvenile court with exclusive jurisdiction is the key to reform.

Efforts by state legislators to improve the juvenile justice system in recent years are a positive sign, but far more remains to be done. The Joint Judiciary Committee’s announcement of an interim study that will look into juvenile justice issues with an emphasis in jurisdiction is a step that is long overdue.

The report calls on the legislature to transform the current county-by-county approach into a unified statewide system based on the principles of restorative justice, accountability and community safety. The system should build on research-proven programs and best practices across the county and should be available to all Wyoming children.

Please take the time to read,"Inequality in the Equality State." Click here to read our press release, or read the Casper Star Tribune’s article on the report. The Washington Examiner also ran an excellent AP article. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Want to get involved? Your voice can make the difference in how the Joint Judiciary Committee handles this issue. If you’re generally concerned about Wyoming’s children, or if you have personally experiences the inequities and harsh treatment of Wyoming’s broken system, please urge your legislators to solve the juvenile justice crisis in Wyoming.