This article was originally published by The Federalist Society. The following is an excerpt. Access the full article here.
State legislatures across the country made significant strides in reforming their criminal justice regimes throughout 2018. States revised their existing criminal codes, passed new legislation, and amended their constitutions in order to address a range of criminal justice concerns. Several states enacted similar legislative reforms, and a survey of the changing criminal justice landscape reveals that states were most willing to modify their criminal laws in the areas related to pre-trial detention or bail reform, civil asset forfeiture, marijuana legalization, drug-induced homicide, and opioid abuse. The most notable new criminal justice legislation reforms fall generally among those categories.
Criminal justice reform did not trend in a singular direction. Some reform measures, for example, appear designed to liberalize drug enforcement by legalizing medical and recreational use of marijuana, while others establish more severe penalties and stricter enforcement protocols for fighting criminal drug trafficking and opioid abuse. Two states made significant changes to their pretrial detention protocols, giving state judges more latitude to use risk-assessment tools and easing the financial burdens that the cash bail systems had placed upon low-income criminal defendants. Several states amended their civil asset forfeiture laws to make their asset forfeiture process more transparent and to make asset forfeiture more difficult for law enforcement. Still other states, like Massachusetts, adopted sweeping reform measures across virtually their entire criminal code.
Public opinion about criminal laws and punishments does not tend to break along traditional partisan lines. Although some legislative reforms proved politically contentious, including several of the statewide ballot initiatives, others were largely bipartisan efforts that saw legislatures and governors from both ends of the political spectrum reach tenable compromises. Some reform measures even passed their state legislatures unanimously.
Access the full article here.