Retroactive Reclassification Doesn't Reduce Recidivism

At the April 5, 2012, meeting of Nevada’s Advisory Committee to Study Laws Concerning Sex Offender Registration meeting, psychologist Stephan Brake, Ph.D., who has worked extensively with sex offenders, presented a study he conducted analyzing research that has been published on recidivism rates of adult sex offenders. His presentation did not come to any conclusions regarding the recidivism rates of adult sex offenders and seemed to suggest nothing more than that some sex offenders reoffend sometimes. When questioned about the effect of registration on recidivism, Dr. Brake admitted that there was no conclusive evidence that registration had any effect on recidivism. Data like these have been used to base profoundly stricter sex offender registration and reporting laws across the country.

AB 579, which retroactively re-classifies sex offenders into strict tiers based on convictions, was passed in the Nevada legislature in 2008. The ACLU of Nevada, which was represented at the April 5 meeting by Legal Fellow Katrina Rogers, has fought tirelessly to prevent these unconstitutional and punitive laws from being implemented. As of now, there is a permanent injunction in place that prevents these new tier classifications from being used.* However, there is a possibility that AB 579 could be put into effect in the future. At the April 5th meeting, there was discussion regarding proposed legislation that would carve out an exception for juvenile offenders. While this is still in its very beginning stages, the ACLU of Nevada would support such a bill in order to ensure constitutional protections for youth in Nevada.

There is a great need for the ACLU to continue to monitor and influence sex offender laws around the country. The ACLU of Nevada has always stood for the rights of the marginalized and unprotected members of America’s citizenry. The ACLU of Nevada will continue to work hard to protect the rights and liberties of all citizens of Nevada.

*The permanent injunction was lifted by the Court on April 11, 2012.

Several Times a Minute

That’s how many times your cellphone registers its location with cell networks – several times a minute. It’s just how cellphones work, and there’s no way to stop your phone from reporting its location while still getting a wireless signal.

I’m certainly no technophile, but I still have my phone on or near me all of the time. This means that my cell phone is essentially registering my location when registering its location.

Where you go tells so much about what you do, which tells so much about who you are.

Think about what you go in the course of a day, a week, a year. Do you work? Where? Do you drop kids off at daycare? Do you go to church? How often? Do you go to restaurants? Bars? Where do you shop? Do you have hobbies? Do you like sports? Do you visit relatives and friends? Where do you go on vacation and what do you do when you’re there? This is a staggering amount of information, and it is information that the government should not have carte blanch access to.

The ACLU recently conducted a nationwide public records request and found that police in Nevada and across the country are using cell phones to find someone’s location, and sometimes they are not getting a warrant before they do so. Without a warrant, police do not have to show that they have probable cause, allowing the police to search – or, in the case of cellphones, to track – whoever they want whenever they want.

A document released by the Reno Police Department admits that cellphone tracking has been “misused.” The document goes on to say, “Some cell carriers have been complying with such requests, but they cannot be expected to continue to do so as it is outside the scope of the law,” and cautions, “Continued misuse by law enforcement agencies will undoubtedly backfire.” An article in the Las Vegas Sun reports that the North Las Vegas Police Department and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department are using cell phone records to track people, but they only “sometimes” obtain a warrant, according to a Clark County Public Defender.

Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Jones that police need a warrant to put a GPS tracking device on a person's car. A GPS device has to be physically attached to a person’s car by the government, but it is limited to tracking where the car goes, as opposed to the incredibly mobile (no pun intended) cellphones.

So why can police use cellphones for locating people without a warrant? The ACLU believes they shouldn’t and supports requiring warrants for GPS and cell phone tracking. We support the GPS Act that is before Congress, which would require law enforcement to get a warrant based on probable cause before accessing location information. Please contact your members of Congress to support the GPS Act.

Since who you are is what you do is where you go, we really need to make sure that information about where you go stays protected.


Going Back in Time

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public ("public accommodations").

Hmmmm. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements…..This sounds familiar. Very familiar to the voter suppression laws that are being passed all over the country, state by state. In this country, voter suppression laws are potentially limiting the ability of low income, college students, elderly and persons of color, disenfranchised people, the right to vote. Fortunately, Nevada is not one of these states, but the effects of the other states that do have laws are far reaching, and the trend is growing rapidly.

People who do not drive typically do not have a drivers’ license and may not have a state I.D.….many elderly people who no longer drive fall into this category. In looking at the Nevada DMV website, there is a charge of $12 for a new id card if you are between the ages of 18 and 64, and $7 for over 65. In addition, there are several forms of ID acceptable in order to get the I.D., however the majority of them must be certified and issued in the United States. And, if you don’t have them, you have to contact the appropriate vital records office. This sounds fairly easy right? Well, if you don’t have a certified copy of your birth certificate, you can go on line and get one for around $18 or you can write to the department of Vital Statistics in your county. Still sounds pretty easy right? An elderly person, or a person who may be on a very tight budget, or a student has had to spend at least $25 for the right to vote.

Is that a poll tax, or just an incidental fee you have to pay to vote? These voter suppression laws will have negative impact on 5 million people in this country and that is just among the states that have already passed the laws.

In many of the states that have passed laws, there is also a requirement to limit the number of days for early voting. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, huh? When you consider that more and more people are working two and three jobs in order make ends meet, have to deal with daycare issues, are on public transportation and can simply not take time off on one given assigned day to go vote, without serious ramifications, their ability to get out and vote will be severely limited. This will have a major effect on rural areas of the country where people actually have to come into town to vote. Offering more than one day affords them the opportunity to have their vote counted.

What these lawmakers are doing, is in essence, repealing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and making it extremely difficult for certain populations to exercise their voting rights. While these tactics are not as horrific as chasing down people with dogs, jailing and beating them so they can’t vote, they simply take a different form— a current form, a political form, but an institutionalized form none the less, and with the same outcome: to stop people from voting.

Voting rights are just that…a right, and not a privilege. Join the ACLU as it continues to press forward and be the voice of the people whose civil rights are being threatened. Your rights.

Search and Seizure of Student's Medicine Bag

A student doesn’t lose the right to freedom of belief when he or she steps in school. Personal religious expression is protected from government interference through the Free Exercise Clause. Schools, as formative institutions, possess an affirmative obligation to not only adhere to these constitutional principles but also to cultivate respect for their practice. 

However, when a Native American student in the Churchill County High School wore a medicine bag, on two separate occasions, a security guard and a teacher desecrated the medicine bag by searching and seizing it. The student is a member of the Fallon Paiute tribe, and as part of his spiritual practices and beliefs, wears a medicine bag around his neck. The medicine bag is considered a sacred offering to Mother Earth, and acts as a very personal object of spirituality.

The student and his mother reached out to the ACLU of Nevada for help, and we sent a letter to the school on behalf of the student to address the student’s constitutional rights. We explained there is no evidence that wearing a medicine bag has caused or is likely to cause any substantial disruption at school. Therefore, either prohibiting a student from wearing a medicine bag at school or searching its contents “violates his constitutional rights to freedom of belief, expression, and privacy protected under the Nevada State and U.S. Constitutions.”

We also asked Churchill County High School Principal Kevin Lords to ensure that staff respects the privacy of medicine bags, through appropriate trainings and individualized discussions.

Churchill County School District’s response demonstrated a commitment to improve school practices and respect students’ privacy and religious liberty. “Principal Lords was fully aware of the two incidents you described,” the School District stated in a letter, and “Mr. Lords or his designee spoke with the staff member involved individually about the requirements under law and policy for a search of student property to be conducted.” The Principal “trained the whole staff on the requirements for a search of student property” and the District’s Indian Education Liaison will also “instruct the staff at that upcoming staff meeting regarding the treatment and use of medicine bags.”

The ACLU welcomes Churchill County’s willingness to train its staff on the appropriate treatment of sacred spiritual items.

In expressing her thanks to the ACLU, the mother of the young man observed, “Many of the original occupants of this land still practice what our ancestors have given us. I am with sincere gratitude that you and your fellow legal team have heard what I am trying to say and get people to understand. Thank you for your interest & understanding. Change has to start somewhere.”

The ACLU of Nevada is glad that we were able to be a part of this important change.

The Limits of the Law

Equality-minded Nevadans were appropriately thrilled last year when the legislators in Carson City expanded our state’s anti-discrimination laws to encompass gender identity and gender expression.  When the laws took effect last October, we all felt proud for helping ensure that transgender people in our state would not have their access to jobs, housing, and places of public accommodation unfairly denied.

But what happens after the confetti has fallen and the celebratory crowds have moved on to other causes?  As citizens, we trust that our government will enforce the will of the people and uphold its duty to protect the vulnerable.  Right?

Bad news.  It’s not always that simple.  

The ACLU, along with a coalition of like-minded groups and individuals, has continued the struggle for meaningful equality—not the kind merely proclaimed in political speeches—by tracking the enforcement of these anti-discrimination laws.  Naturally, our attention turned to the Nevada Equal Rights Commission (NERC), the state agency entrusted with reviewing, mediating, and determining the merit of various discrimination complaints.

Let me explain something important here.  For anyone who cares about combating discrimination in Nevada, NERC is a vital agency.  For those, in particular, who are targeted for their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression—NERC is the only agency they can go to.  Federal law does not cover these groups in any of its discrimination laws.It came to the ACLU’s attention that there was ambiguity about whether NERC would handle complaints from public school students who are suffering discrimination.  And we’re not just talking about LGBT students, but students of color, disabled students, students of faith, etc.  

You see, a lot of school districts in Nevada don’t have very strong or inclusive anti-discrimination policies.  The ACLU was even forced to litigate a case in Washoe County several years ago concerning the harassment of an Egyptian-American, Muslim high school student.  The State Department of Education doesn’t handle individual discrimination complaints, so unless they can go to NERC, our most vulnerable students have very few places to turn, other than, perhaps, hiring a private attorney. One place they sometimes turn to is the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Dept. of Education, but it enforces laws against discrimination only on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, and age.

So, the ACLU wrote to NERC and requested that it officially affirm—for school districts, for students, and for the general public—that existing laws do give the agency the authority to review discrimination complaints from public schools (which, by widely accepted legal definition, fall under the category of “public accommodations”).  NERC is allowed to issue such a statement—it is well within its purview to clarify the applicability of a law that it is entrusted with enforcing.  This was a perfect opportunity for the state to educate citizens about the rights they already possess.

The ACLU, with the support of a broad coalition of other groups, appeared before the commissioners of NERC this month and asked for a formal clarification of the law that would empower and encourage students who are being harassed and intimidated.  But guess what?  It refused.  Mind you, the commissioners didn’t reject the ACLU’s argument that public schools are covered under Nevada’s anti-discrimination laws.  Instead, they refused to make any decision on the merits of the request.  Our petition was, instead, dismissed.  Their response was, essentially, “nah, we’d rather not take a position on this.”

Shouldn’t we expect more than this from the government agency that is supposed to stand up for our rights?  When Nevadans, via their elected representatives, endorse the role of government in protecting people from discrimination, we expect that the government will fulfill its side of the bargain.  At this point, it is unclear whether that’s going to happen here.  Students experiencing discrimination can knock at NERC’s door, but it’s anyone’s guess whether it will answer. 


Subscribe to The Torch: ACLU of Nevada's Blog