How to keep a straight face in court

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“If he’s going to try and prove he’s a felon, he has to prove he is.

It’s going too far to suggest that he is, but he is.”—Judge Mark Borkmann in court in May 2018. 

Borkmann ordered the state to pay the plaintiffs’ lawyers $2.9 million in legal fees. 

The suit was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other plaintiffs who say the state failed to implement and enforce a 2015 law that created a new crime for a first-time offender to get a criminal record.

The law says first-offender felons are ineligible for probation, parole, or the possibility of parole for life.

The state then changed its rules to exclude felons from probation, and the lawsuit claims that violates the Constitution.

The plaintiffs say the new law violates the Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits the government from burdening an individual with a criminal history for the sake of equal protection under the law.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Equal Rights Amendment prohibits the federal government from taking away rights that are protected under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but not state laws that discriminate based on race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. 

“These defendants have taken this case on a high moral note,” said Daniel Green, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who has written extensively on the issue of race and discrimination in the criminal justice system.

“They are showing that they are trying to do right by the people of Idaho, and they have a high-minded agenda.”

In the end, Borkman decided not to dismiss the case and agreed to hear it. 

In the years since, Idaho has implemented a variety of policies and reforms that have improved its record keeping, according to the lawsuit. 

According to the Center, the new record keeping rules have resulted in Idaho having fewer felony convictions, a lower number of repeat offenders, and fewer felony referrals to prisons. 

But Idaho still has a record-high rate of incarcerating people for nonviolent drug offenses, according the lawsuit, with Idaho incarcerating more people for drug offenses than any other state. 

While Idaho has also had a drop in crime since the 2015 law was passed, the state still has the highest incarceration rate in the country. 

Green said that while it may appear that Idaho has made significant strides in its record-keeping, it is still a long way from making the improvements necessary to reduce crime. 

It’s important to remember that Idaho is not the first state to introduce a criminal justice reform law, and states have come and gone, he said. 

For example, Vermont passed a bill in 2012 that aimed to increase prison populations. 

Even though Idaho has been making progress, Green said, the bill should not be viewed as a silver bullet. 

He said Idaho’s record keeping and reforms should be viewed more as a “stunt” that is only temporary. 

A spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Corrections said the state is committed to making Idaho a safer place to live and work, and to ensuring that Idahoans have access to quality criminal justice services and treatment options. 

If Idaho wants to remain a leader in criminal justice, it will have to make sure it maintains a record of its progress and makes improvements, said the spokesperson, Stephanie Sizemore.

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