Annual Report: United States of America 2013

May 29, 2013

Annual Report: United States of America 2013

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  • On 20 June, 39-year-old Macadam Mason died outside his home in Thetford, Vermont, after being struck with a Taser deployed by a state trooper. In September the New Hampshire Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Macadam Mason had suffered “sudden cardiac arrest due to the conducted electrical weapon discharge”.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General reported that it was reviewing US Border Patrol policies on the use of lethal force. The review, which remained ongoing at the end of the year, followed a series of deadly shootings by Border Patrol agents along the US border with Mexico.

  • In October, 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez died of gunshot wounds. The US authorities said that a Border Patrol agent from Nogales, Arizona, had opened fire after two individuals suspected of drug smuggling had fled across the border and begun throwing rocks. The case was under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Mexican officials at the end of the year.
  • In April, the US Department of Justice announced that no federal criminal or civil rights charges would be pursued regarding the death of Sergio Hernández Guereca, a 15-year-old shot in the head by a Border Patrol agent in 2010.

Prison conditions

Incarceration rates remained at historically high levels.

Thousands of prisoners across the USA remained in isolation in “super-maximum security” prisons. They were confined to cells for 22-24 hours a day, without adequate access to natural light, exercise or rehabilitation programmes. Conditions in such facilities violated international standards and in some cases amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In October, five men were extradited from the UK to the USA to stand trial on terrorism-related charges after the European Court of Human Rights rejected their claim that they would face a real risk of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment if imprisoned in the federal ADX “supermax prison” in Florence, Colorado. The US authorities denied an Amnesty International request to visit ADX prison.

Children's rights

In June, in Miller v. Alabama, the US Supreme Court outlawed mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for offenders who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime. The ruling came two years after the Court prohibited life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide crimes by under-18s.

In July, Terry Branstad, Governor of Iowa, responded to the Miller v. Alabama decision by commuting 38 life without parole sentences being served in Iowa by inmates convicted of first degree murder committed when they were under 18, to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 60 years. Any mitigating evidence that was not considered at the time of the trial due to the automatic imposition of the life without parole sentence, was again neglected in the Governor's blanket commutation.

Migrants' rights

In June, the US Supreme Court struck down key parts of an Arizona immigration law, including a provision that made it a state crime for irregular migrants to seek or hold a job. However, the Court upheld a section requiring state law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of individuals they suspect of being in the country illegally, despite criticism from human rights groups that this would encourage “racial profiling”– that is, targeting individuals solely on account of their appearance or racial or ethnic origin. Following the ruling, federal courts upheld similar legislation in Alabama and Georgia.

The proliferation of state laws targeting migrants put them at increased risk of discrimination and impeded access to education and essential health care services.