Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Ruling 5-3, SCOTUS rejects Texas effort to limit definition of intellectual disability for death penalty application
The Supreme Court this morning handed down an opinion in Moore v. Texas, No. 15-797 (S. Ct. March 28, 2017) (available here), in favor of a capital defendant. Because I am on the road, I will not be able to provide context for this ruling until later today. Short story seems to be that the more liberal Justices were not impressed by the more conservative standard Texas courts have used to apply the Atkins and Hall precedents concerning Eighth Amendment limits on executing the intellectually disabled.
UPDATE: Now with a few minutes at a desktop, I can quote Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court:
Bobby James Moore fatally shot a store clerk during a botched robbery. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Moore challenged his death sentence on the ground that he was intellectually disabled and therefore exempt from execution. A state habeas court made detailed factfindings and determined that, under this Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), Moore qualified as intellectually disabled. For that reason, the court concluded, Moore’s death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment’s proscription of “cruel and unusual punishments.” The habeas court therefore recommended that Moore be granted relief.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) declined to adopt the judgment recommended by the state habeas court. In the CCA’s view, the habeas court erroneously employed intellectual-disability guides currently used in the medical community rather than the 1992 guides adopted by the CCA in Ex parte Briseno, 135 S.W.3d 1 (2004). See Ex parte Moore, 470 S.W.3d 481, 486–487 (2015). The appeals court further determined that the evidentiary factors announced in Briseno “weigh[ed] heavily” against upsetting Moore’s death sentence. 470 S.W.3d at 526.
We vacate the CCA’s judgment. As we instructed in Hall, adjudications of intellectual disability should be “informed by the views of medical experts.” 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 19); see id., at ___ (slip op., at 7). That instruction cannot sensibly be read to give courts leave to diminish the force of the medical community’s consensus. Moreover, the several factors Briseno set out as indicators of intellectual disability are an invention of the CCA untied to any acknowledged source. Not aligned with the medical community’s information, and drawing no strength from our precedent, the Briseno factors “creat[e] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed,” 572 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 1). Accordingly, they may not be used, as the CCA used them, to restrict qualification of an individual as intellectually disabled.
Federal prosecutors seeking 3-year prison terms for "Bridgegate" defendants
I have covered in a few prior posts the convictions and coming sentencing of Gov Chris Christie staffers who are now felons thanks to federal prosecutions in the wake of the so-called Briedgegate scandal. This local article, headlined "Bridgegate: Feds seek 'meaningful' jail term for former Christie allies," reports on final filings as sentencing approaches:
Calling their crimes a "stunningly brazen and vindictive abuse of power," federal prosecutors urged a federal judge to sentence both Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, convicted last year in the Bridgegate scandal, to a "meaningful term of imprisonment."
But in a pre-sentence report filed Monday, the U.S. Attorney's office did not ask for the maximum term. Instead, they recommended a sentence for the two Bridgegate defendants to be "at the bottom or modestly below" the federal sentencing guidelines of between 37 to 46 months in prison.
Such a term, though, would still stand in stark sentence to the year of home confinement handed down earlier this month to David Samson, the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, after he pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with the shakedown of United Airlines so he could get a more convenient flight to his country estate in South Carolina. Facing two years in jail, the former Port Authority chairman, David Samson, instead was sentenced to probation after attorneys, calling his actions a one-time lapse in judgment, asked the court to grant leniency for the ailing 77-year-old attorney, who was Christie's mentor.
Indirectly referencing the Samson ruling, the prosecutors said a sentence that could be perceived as a mere "slap on the wrist" would "send precisely the wrong message to the public, as well as to thousands and thousands of New Jersey public officials, elected and appointed."
Defense attorneys challenged the sentencing guidelines, which call for far longer prison terms than the typical corruption case, in large part because the Bridgegate convictions included charges of civil rights violations. "This sentencing is not about how much hyperbole the government can use in its sentencing brief," said Baroni's attorneys in a brief, also filed Monday. "Indeed, Bill accepts full responsibility for his actions and failure to act at a critically significant moment in his life. He will bear that cross forever, no matter (how) the court impose(s) sentence." But they asked the judge as well to "exercise the most leniency possible when tailoring a sentence based upon Bill's dedication to the altruistic service of others."
Both Baroni and Kelly are seeking a probationary sentences. "A non-custodial sentence including probation, home confinement and community service as punishment, is an appropriate sentence for Bridget Kelly," said her attorney, Michael Critchley.
Prosecutors said the defense challenges should be denied. "Defendants like Baroni and Kelly, who have had the opportunity to do good work and build relationships with influential people, are not entitled to a get-out-of-jail-free card, particularly for serious crimes," they wrote.
The two former members of Gov. Chris Christie's inner circle are scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday....
"Baroni and Kelly took all of these actions for the pettiest of reasons: to punish a local mayor and send him a nasty political message because he did not endorse Gov. Christie for re-election," wrote assistant U.S. attorneys Vikas Khanna, Lee Cortes Jr. and David Feder in a 55-page brief. "Nothing about Baroni's and Kelly's actions or motivations in committing these crimes mitigates their conduct." At the same time, they cited the "complete lack of remorse for their wrongful conduct."
The self-admitted architect of the scheme, David Wildstein, a former political blogger and friend of the governor who landed a patronage job at the Port Authority, testified against Baroni and Kelly. He pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Prior related posts:
- "Bridgegate" now a federal sentencing story after two former New Jersey officials convicted on all federal counts after lengthy jury deliberations
- Is the likely federal sentencing guideline range for "Bridgegate" defendants convicted last week at least 3 to 4 years in federal prison?
- You be the federal sentencing judge: how long a prison term for convicted "Bridgegate" defendants?
After Hurst brought down Delaware death penalty, state legislators seek to bring it back
As reported in this lengthy local article, "legislators from both parties say they will try to re-institute the death penalty in Delaware this year with a measure expected to be introduced next week." Here is more:
“Delaware has a long history of applying capital punishment cautiously, judiciously, and infrequently,” said State Sen. Dave Lawson. “These proposed changes would raise the imposition of such a sentence to a new level, removing what the court found objectionable and strengthening protections afforded defendants.”
The state Supreme Court last year ruled the capital punishment law unconstitutional because it allowed a judge, not a jury, to determine that "aggravating circumstances" made a crime heinous enough to deserve a death sentence. There are 22 of those aggravating factors, such as crime committed against a police officer, crimes in which hostages are taken or if the crimes that are "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture or depravity of mind." The Court's 4-1 decision also faulted the law for allowing juries to find those aggravating circumstances without a unanimous vote, using a standard of proof that was too low.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of legislators unveiled the "Extreme Crimes Prevention Act," which would change the law to address those concerns, effectively reinstating the punishment. It would require that juries unanimously decide that the aggravating circumstances merited a death sentence, and requires proof of those circumstances "beyond a reasonable doubt." It also would require the judge and jury to weigh "mitigating factors," which would suggest the death penalty was unjust, against the "aggravating factors."...
In a news release, six legislators said they would co-sponsor the bill, including three Democrats and three Republicans. The release says the bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives next week. “It is impossible to quantify a crime not committed, but I believe the threat of capital punishment has altered criminal behavior and saved lives,” said State Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, also a former police officer. “The reforms our bill will apply will restore an aspect of the Delaware Code that I believe deters crimes and protects the public.”
Brendan O'Neill, Delaware's chief public defender, immediately criticized the proposal. “History has proven us wrong every time we have passed a law authorizing state-sponsored execution of Delawareans," O'Neill said. "The current nationwide trend in criminal justice is to move away from the death penalty. Delaware should not once again put itself on the wrong side of history." O'Neill argued capital punishment is not proven to be a deterrent, has a history of racial disparities and has proven expensive to prosecute and defend....
Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover and one of the death penalty's most vocal opponents, said he thinks the bill could make headway, but hopes it will be defeated. "I think it passes the House based solely upon the vote count from the repeal effort last year," Lynn said. "The mystery is, the question is, what happens in the Senate."
Monday, March 27, 2017
Dynamic SCOTUS week for criminal law fans
I am on the road and thus going to be on-line and blogging only intermittently over the next few days. Perhaps for that reason, I am anticipating that the Supreme Court is going to be up to some interesting criminal work, given that this morning there will be an order list and Tuesday and Wednesday opinions may be released. In addition, a majority of cases up for oral argument this week involve criminal law issues. Via SCOTUSblog postings, here are links/previews for the criminal law cases the Justices will be hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday:
Lee v. United States, No. 16-327, to be argued March 28, 2017
Issue: Whether it is always irrational for a noncitizen defendant with longtime legal resident status and extended familial and business ties to the United States to reject a plea offer notwithstanding strong evidence of guilt when the plea would result in mandatory and permanent deportation.
Turner v. United States, No. 15-1503 to be argued March 29, 2017
Issue: Whether the petitioners' convictions must be set aside under Brady v. Maryland.
Honeycutt v. United States, No. 16-142 to be argued March 29, 2017
Issue: Whether 21 U.S.C. § 853(a)(1) mandates joint and several liability among co-conspirators for forfeiture of the reasonably foreseeable proceeds of a drug conspiracy.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
"Recognizing Redemption: Old Criminal Records and Employment Outcomes"
The title of this post is the title of this new essay authored by Peter Leasure and Tia Stevens Andersen available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Upon completion of their sentences and when attempting to ‘reenter’ society, offenders face large barriers, often referred to as the ‘collateral consequences’ of conviction. One of the largest barriers, given the stigma of a criminal record, is finding employment. The problem primarily arises because of increases in the use of background checks by employers and the use of a criminal record to eliminate candidates. Such a practice is partly understandable for employers, as a recent conviction is one of the best predictors of future criminal activity.
However, recent evidence suggests that an offender’s risk of reoffending decreases over time and can eventually come “close enough” to that of one who has never offended, even becoming lower than that risk for a random person within the general population. However, no study has examined whether such knowledge has reached potential employers. Our study sought to determine whether knowledge such as this has reached potential employers and asked whether there are employment outcome differences for hypothetical applicants with older criminal records. Results indicate that those possessing older criminal records still face barriers when seeking employment. Based on these findings, we present policy considerations.
Notable perspectives on state and direction of modern criminal justice reform efforts
James Forman has this lengthy new commentary in the New York Times under the headlined "Justice Springs Eternal." I recommend the full piece to anyone and everyone seeking to take stock and reflect upon the current moment in the modern criminal justice reform movement. Here are some extended excerpts:
After almost 50 years of relentless prison-building in the United States, of aggressive policing and a war on drugs that goes after our most vulnerable citizens, the movement for a more merciful criminal justice system had begun to seem, if not unstoppable, at least plenty powerful.
In 2015, the number of American prisoners declined more than 2 percent, the largest decrease since 1978. By 2014, the incarceration rate for black men, while still stratospheric, had declined 23 percent from its peak in 2001. Even growing numbers of Republicans were acknowledging the moral and fiscal imperative of shrinking the prison state.
And then came President Trump, who caricatures black neighborhoods as killing fields in desperate need of more stop-and-frisk policing, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who shrugs off evidence of systemic police abuses in cities like Chicago and Ferguson, Mo., and says that marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin. (In fact, nearly 13,000 Americans died from heroin overdoses in 2015, while zero died from marijuana overdoses.)
Such dangerous, ill-informed pronouncements naturally induce weariness and dread. Yet despite this bleak news from Washington, the movement to reduce the prison population and make our criminal justice system more humane is not in retreat. In fact, it is stronger than ever....
The most unexpected victories came in local races for prosecutor. For decades, district attorney candidates competed to prove they were tougher on crime than their opponents. That makes what happened last November so extraordinary: Prosecutors around the country campaigned on promises to charge fewer juveniles as adults, stop prosecuting low-level marijuana possession and seek the death penalty less often. And they did so in places with well-deserved reputations for rough justice, including Chicago, Houston and Tampa, Fla....
These state and local election results get less attention than Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions, but they may have a bigger impact on incarceration rates. While mass incarceration is a national crisis, it was built locally. Ninety percent of American prisoners are in state, county and local jails, and around 85 percent of law enforcement officers are state and local, not federal.
Of course, the federal government exerts influence on law enforcement at all levels, both through rhetoric (the tone set in Washington filters down) and funding (Congress can encourage states to build more prisons by offering to foot part of the bill). But most crime policy is set by state and local officials: police officers, pretrial services officers, local prosecutors, defense lawyers, juries (in the rare cases that don’t end in a plea agreement), judges, state legislatures, corrections departments and state parole boards. During the tough-on-crime era that began in the 1970s, each of those entities became more punitive, and the cumulative impact of their policies and actions caused the number of people in prison or under criminal justice supervision to skyrocket.
Now, the reverse could also prove to be true. If multiple individuals across multiple systems were to become less punitive, the prison population would fall. This is why each state and local electoral victory — even those that don’t make news — is so significant. Mass incarceration will have to be dismantled the same way it was constructed: piecemeal, incrementally and, above all, locally.
The question is, what can be done to sustain such progress — especially at a time when crime is rising in some cities and the “law-and-order” mantra pioneered by Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon in the 1960s has regained currency at the federal level? The answer lies with a new breed of activism that has emerged in response to mass incarceration. Reform groups and nonprofits are tackling issues and adopting strategies that an earlier generation of reformers did not....
[N]o aspect of our criminal justice system is as overworked and underfunded as public defender services. Of the more than $200 billion that states and local governments spend on criminal justice each year, less than 2 percent goes to public defense. Yet improving indigent defense gets scant attention in the conversation about how to fix our criminal justice system.
President Barack Obama “wrote a 55-page article about criminal justice reform and didn’t mention public defenders,” said Jonathan Rapping, the founder of Gideon’s Promise, an Atlanta-based group that is building a movement of public defenders to drive justice reform. “Eighty percent of the people charged with crimes in this country can’t afford a defense attorney,” Mr. Rapping added. “That means that 80 percent of the people in court depend on their public defender to be their voice, to tell their stories and to assert their humanity in a system that routinely denies it. Until we invest in public defenders, our system cannot and will not change.”
But what about the prosecutors whom public defenders and their clients face in court? This question points to one more critical item on the criminal justice reform agenda. We must continue to recruit progressive prosecutors to run in local elections, support those who do, and hold them accountable if they win. And let me go one step further: Law students and midcareer lawyers committed to criminal justice reform should consider signing up as assistant district attorneys in offices run by the new crop of progressive prosecutors.
This last suggestion, I confess, doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve taught law school for almost 15 years, and during that time I’ve repeatedly counseled progressive students against working as prosecutors. I had lots of reasons, but the main one was straightforward: You might go in as a reformer, but the office will change you, not the other way around.
I still believe this is true for most prosecutors’ offices. But the recent election of prosecutors who criticize racial disparities and challenge wrongful convictions has caused me to change my mind. Prosecutors committed to reform need talented staff members who share that commitment, and our best legal talent should flock to their offices.
Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump have the largest microphones and will get the most attention. But their agenda faces a rising countermovement across the country. If we stay local and continue to learn from past defeats and recent victories, the movement for a fairer criminal justice system can outlast them and prevail.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
"End the death penalty for mentally ill criminals"
The title of this post is the title of this new Washington Post commentary that strikes me as notable because it is penned by two former midwestern governors, Bob Taft (who was governor of Ohio from 1999 to 2007) and Joseph Kernan (who was governor of Indiana from 2003 to 2005). Here are excerpts:
Legislators in six states — Indiana, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — have proposed legislation to prohibit the death penalty for individuals with severe mental illness. As former governors of states that are grappling with this issue, we strongly support this effort to end an inhumane practice that fails to respect common standards of decency and comport with recommendations of mental-health experts.
The overwhelming majority of people with severe mental illness are not violent; in fact, they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime. For the very small number who do commit a capital crime while suffering from a severe mental disorder, current death-penalty law does not adequately take the effects of their illness into account.
As a result, defendants with severe mental illness — such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury — continue to be sentenced to death and executed. Last March, Texas executed Adam Ward, a man recognized as “diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on lithium as early as age four,” according to appellate court documents. And in 2015, Georgia executed Andrew Brannan, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who also had a pronounced mental illness. He qualified for 100 percent disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs because of his PTSD and bipolar disorder.
Although their grave illnesses do not excuse these defendants’ crimes, we believe that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole would have been a more appropriate punishment. Illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are characterized by impairments that — when untreated — significantly affect one’s ability to distinguish fact from reality, to make rational decisions or to react appropriately to events and other people. Under these conditions, the degree of culpability may not rise to the level of cold, unimpaired calculus that justifies the ultimate penalty....
Studies have also shown that death- penalty jurors often misunderstand mental illness, which is often viewed as an aggravating factor — that is, a reason to sentence someone to death — rather than as a mitigating factor, which is what it should be. The troubling consequence is that some defendants may end up on death row because of their mental illness.
The fact that the death penalty applies to those with mental illness also means that veterans with demonstrated PTSD may be executed. Even though most of the thousands of veterans struggling with PTSD do not commit the serious crimes that may be eligible for the death penalty, an estimated 10 percent of the United States’ death-row inmates are veterans — some of whom suffered from active and severe symptoms of PTSD at the time of their crime. These veterans have experienced trauma that few others have faced and have made a vital contribution to the safety of our country that deserves our recognition....
The death penalty was not intended for people in the throes of severe delusions, living with schizophrenia or suffering from combat-related PTSD. These are not the blameworthy individuals whose executions can be justified. We come from different political parties, but we join the majority of Americans — supporters and opponents of the death penalty alike — who believe it should not be imposed on defendants with such serious impairments. This is a fair, efficient and bipartisan reform that would put an end to a practice that is not consistent with current knowledge about mental illness and fundamental principles of human decency.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Thanks to voter approval of Prop 57, "California prisons to free 9,500 inmates in 4 years" based on new early-release credit rules
The middle title of this post quotes the title of this new AP article and provides a bit of context. For more explanation, here is more from the AP article:
Corrections officials adopted new criminal sentencing rules on Friday that aim to trim California’s prison population by 9,500 inmates after four years.
They include steps like reducing inmates’ sentences up to six months for earning a college degree and by up to a month each year for participating in self-help programs such as alcohol and substance abuse support groups and counseling, anger management, life skills, victim awareness, restorative justice, and parenting classes. Virtually any inmate except those on death row or those serving life-without-parole sentences is eligible to earn the credits and lower the sentence.
It’s the latest step in a years-long drive to dramatically lower the state’s prison population in response to federal court orders stemming from lawsuits by prison advocates and pressure to turn away from mass incarceration.
The changes follow voters’ approval of Proposition 57 in November. The initiative lets certain felons seek parole more quickly and gave corrections officials broad discretion to grant early release credits. “I think that it’s a monumental change for the organization and I think across the state, across the nation, I don’t think that anybody has altered how they are incarcerating offenders as much as what Prop 57 does,” Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan told The Associated Press. The goal, he said, is to encourage inmates to start “doing something with their incarceration and not just sitting on their bunks.”
The changes in parole eligibility will take effect April 12 if they win initial approval from state regulators, with final approval by October after a public comment period. The earlier release credits and earlier parole consideration will be phased in starting May 1 while the public review is underway.
Police and particularly prosecutors fought the ballot initiative, arguing that it will release dangerous offenders sometimes years earlier than called for in their sentences. It also will put convicts more quickly into county probation systems that already are stretched. Kernan said he took some of their objections into account, for instance by barring sex offenders and third-strike career criminals from seeking earlier parole.
The changes are projected to eventually lower California’s prison population by about 7 percent and keep the state below the federal court-ordered population of about 116,000 inmates in the 34 adult prisons. The changes also will let the state phase out a long-running program that currently keeps nearly 4,300 inmates in private prisons in other states.
[T]he bulk of the reductions would come from steps like doubling the credits inmates receive for completing education and training programs, to a maximum of three months in any 12-month period, and expanding them to include violent offenders. Inmates would also start getting expanded credits for not violating prison rules starting May 1. That would typically reduce a violent offender’s sentence by 19 days each year, Kernan said, calling the reduction “relatively modest.”
Former Penn State Prez convicted of single misdemeanor court of child endangerment for role in Sandusky sex offense scandal
As reported in this local article, "Graham B. Spanier, the former Pennsylvania State University president once considered one of the nation’s most prominent college leaders, was convicted Friday of endangering children by failing to act on signs that Jerry Sandusky was a serial sex predator." Here is more (with key sentencing factors highlighted):
After nearly 12 hours of deliberation, the jury of seven women and five men found Spanier guilty of a single misdemeanor count of endangerment. He was acquitted of a second endangerment count, as well as a felony count of conspiracy.
Still, the guilty verdict was a stunning blow to Spanier, 68, who had long proclaimed his innocence, and to his supporters, who had fiercely defended him and accused prosecutors of overreaching and unfairly staining the university. Many, including his wife, Sandra, a Penn State English professor, were in the Dauphin County Courtroom to hear the verdict. Spanier didn't appear to react when the verdict was read in a hushed courtroom.
Prosecutors said he agreed in 2001 with two Penn State administrators at the time, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz, not to report assistant coach Mike McQueary's claim that Sandusky was caught after hours with a young boy in a campus locker-room shower.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who this year took over the office that spent had nearly a decade investigating and prosecuting the Sandusky case, said the verdict showed no one is above the law. "There are zero excuses when it comes to failing to report the abuse of children to authorities," he said.
Spanier's lawyer, Sam Silver, said they were heartened by the jury's acquittal on two counts and would appeal the guilty verdict on the third. That count had originally been a felony count, but jurors downgraded it to a misdemeanor.
Emails show that the three men knew Sandusky, a longtime assistant to head football coach Joe Paterno, had been investigated by university police after a similar claim in 1998. They first decided to report the 2001 incident to child-welfare authorites, but then changed that plan. Instead, they agreed to talk to Sandusky, bar him from bringing boys on campus, and share the report with the president of Second Mile, the charity Sandusky started for vulnerable children.
Sandusky sexually assaulted at least four more children after the 2001 incident, including another boy in a campus shower the next year, jurors were told. That victim was among the witnesses who testified this week. Both Schultz and Curley pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution, although a deputy attorney general told jurors in her closing argument that they were not the government's star witnesses.
Spanier opted not to testify. His lawyers argued that the prosecution didn't present any evidence that Spanier knew Sandusky was a child sex abuser or that he knowingly conspired to cover up a crime. Spanier, who rose to national prominence as Penn State's leader for 16 years, has maintained that he acted appropriately in 2001 based on the information he had at the time. He contends he was told by his lieutenants that Sandusky's behavior with the boy in the shower amounted to "horseplay."
Followers of federal sentencing know that a jury's acquittal on some but not all counts may sometimes not be a huge sentencing benefit to defendants given that sentencing guideline recommendations can be based on acquitted and uncharged conduct established by merely a preponderance of the evidence. But the impact of the split verdict in this high-profile state case is seemingly quite significant because the defendant is now only facing sentencing on a single misdemeanor count (which I presume means he could not get more than a year in jail).
I find it quite interesting (and somewhat curious) that a jury apparently has authority under Pennsylvania law to take a count that "had originally been a felony count" and decide it should be "downgraded to a misdemeanor." This strikes me as fundamentally a sentencing decision being made by a jury, and as an interesting way for the jury in this particular case to send a (mixed) message about the defendant and his criminal activity.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Those who can't federally prosecute anymore (thanks to Prez Trump), teach...
Especially because I come from a family of teachers, I have always found bemusing the old idiom "Those Who Can’t Do, Teach." In this context, my latest bemusement (and the title of this post) is prompted by this new New Jersey Law Journal article headlined "Prosecutors Find Refuge in Law School Posts." Here is how the article starts:
What’s a federal prosecutor forced to resign by a new president to do? Rub elbows with the next generation of lawyers, apparently.
Three of the 46 recently ousted U.S. attorneys have in the past week unveiled plans to join law schools, eschewing — for now — the more well-traveled and lucrative path into Big Law. A fourth U.S. attorney jumped over to the legal academy after resigning several months before President Donald Trump took office.
It’s not unheard of for former U.S. attorneys to find refuge on law campuses, though the concentration of such announcements over the past week is unusual and due to the simultaneous housecleaning of all holdover prosecutors appointed by former President Barack Obama. Joining a law school can offer former prosecutors a way station as they mull their future endeavors, be it running for public office or diving into private practice. Or the academy can be their desired destination—several former federal prosecutors have gone on to serve as law deans or faculty fixtures.
“I think there will be more,” said David Hickton, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania who resigned in November and two months later accepted a position at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. “There are two reasons for that: First, I think these things catch a little bit like a fever, and now that three of us have done it, others will look at it more closely than they would have before. Secondly, the private practice of law is in a reshuffling and rebalancing. There seems to be an oversupply of lawyers.”
The University of Michigan Law School kicked off the mini-trend on March 14 with an announcement that Barbara McQuade, who spent seven years as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, is joining the faculty in May to teach national security, criminal law, and criminal procedure.
Two days later, Seton Hall University School of Law announced that former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman will be a visiting fellow at the school. Then on Tuesday, New York University School of Law announced that Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and perhaps the most high-profile of the fired prosecutors, would join the school as a scholar in residence on April 1.
Notable discussion of federal criminal justice issues at new Take Care blog
A new legal blog with a number of notable contributors, Take Care, has recently been created seeking to provide "insightful, accessible, and timely legal analysis of the Trump Administration." The blog has topical pages on Criminal Justice and Marijuana Legalization among many others, and here are a few recent posts from those pages readers might find of interest:
"Why Jeff Sessions’s Reversal on Private Prisons Is Dangerous" by Chiraag Bains
"Reliance Defenses in the Trump Era and Beyond" by Zachary Price
"Trump’s Approach to Crime & Punishment" by Chiraag Bains
"How long should Louisiana keep old, ill criminals in prison?"
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy NOLA.com article. Here are excerpts:
Emanuel Lee [is] doing life for strangling his girlfriend in New Orleans.... Lee arrived at Angola 26 years ago [and] unless something drastic changes, he will die at Angola, one of the hundreds of aging and ill inmates who are costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to treat and incarcerate.
What to do with Lee and prisoners like him is likely to be a major topic of discussion in the Louisiana Legislature's 2017 session starting April 10. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to make a push to lower Louisiana's highest-in-the-world incarceration rate, in part by opening options for parole for non-violent offenders who serve shorter prison sentences. But the governor also has said he is interested in reducing the number of Louisiana inmates with longer sentences as well.
Many of Louisiana's older, long-term prisoners might no longer pose a threat to society, judging from national studies of recidivism. And for prisoners with serious illnesses, the costs of treatment can be daunting. Taxpayers are responsible for prison medical care, but some of that money could be used elsewhere, such as for higher education and mental health care for children, if ill prisoners were released.
The governor's task force on reducing the prison population recommended last week that Louisiana expand parole opportunities to prisoners with long sentences, including lifers. It suggested that lifers be eligible for parole after serving 30 years in prison and reaching age 50, unless they were convicted of first-degree murder. People serving long but less-than-life sentences should be eligible for parole after 20 years in prison and reaching age 45, even if they committed violent or sex crimes, according to the task force.
These provisions are often referred to as "geriatric parole." If put into place, geriatric parole would immediately make about 570 prisoners eligible for parole, and also would affect convicts who are sentenced in the future to life terms. Lee might come up for parole in four years, after serving 30 years of his sentence.
The task force has also suggested that Edwards and lawmakers make it easier for people with serious medical conditions, no matter their age, to get out of prison. They are proposing a medical furlough program to let any inmate who is not on death row be released temporarily from prison to a hospital or nursing home for medical treatment.
These recommendations aren't without controversy. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association has said geriatric parole and other proposals to let violent offenders out of prison are non-starters. The group's representative on the governor's task force, District Attorney Bo Duhe of the 16th Judicial District, voted against geriatric parole.
Duhe supported the medical furlough concept, but the District Attorneys Association said its members have concerns about that recommendation, too, and many want to alter it if it has a chance of becoming law. "Those issues have been suspect because of their potential for abuse," said Pete Adams, executive director of the association.
In a state where the law-and-order crowd insists "life means life," it's easy to see why some are nervous at the prospect of offering the possibility of freedom to a criminal who was banished for life, even if the criminal is sick, old or dying. Many of Louisiana's 4,850 lifers have committed very serious crimes....
Louisiana is an outlier in how it punishes crimes such as Lee's. Only Louisiana and one other state, Mississippi, mandate life without parole for second-degree murder; there is no option in the law. In Texas that crime is punished by five to 99 years in prison, with parole eligibility after 30 years. In Arkansas, it is a 10- to 40-year sentence, according to a report issued by the Louisiana governor's sentencing task force....
One of the arguments for giving older inmates a shot at parole, even those convicted of violent crime, centers on their unlikelihood of committing crimes again. Research suggests that most people "age out" of criminal activity after their 20s....
Even if parole becomes possible for people with life sentences, it's not automatic. That's a decision for the Pardons and Parole Board, which in 2015 granted only 2 percent of discretionary parole requests, according to the governor's task force report....
While some advocates for geriatric and medical parole make a moral argument to release old or ill prisoners, there is also a practical reason: It's expensive for the public. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Department of Corrections spent about $52.3 million on hospital and medical wards in its prisons, plus $22.7 million for health care at off-site locations, for a total of $75 million.
Older inmates require treatment for dementia, blindness, hypertension, hearing loss and vision problems at a higher rate than their younger counterparts. Older people who have been locked up for decades are more likely to need medical care than a person who is the same age but not in prison: They go to the doctor about five times more often, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Department of Justice to host National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety at the end of June
Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson gave this speech today at the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program Symposium. The entire speech makes for an interesting and encouraging read, and here are a few passages that really caught my eye (including the reference to the coming National Summit mentioned in the post title):
As with any new Administration, I know there are lots of questions about priorities. The President just released his budget last week, and you can see that the White House is clearly focused on reducing crime in America’s communities. That’s good news for all us who care about public safety. I think it’s also important for everyone here to know — and this will come as no surprise — that for our Attorney General, the safety of our communities, and of those who protect them, is paramount.
Attorney General Sessions has made it clear that he’s willing to do what it takes to help cities reduce crime and violence. And having worked very closely with Jeff Sessions during his time in the Senate, I can tell you those are not empty words. For anyone who cares about making sure our neighborhoods are places of promise and opportunity — where citizens can live, work and thrive — you can be sure you have an ally in our Attorney General.
In his short time in office, he has already set up a task force on crime reduction and public safety. The goal of this task force is to work with federal, state and local law enforcement and community organizations to identify effective public safety strategies. As part of this effort, the Department plans to host a National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety at the end of June. We hope to learn at that summit about local strategies that work and determine how we at the federal level can support those efforts....
As you know, the BCJI program offers a unique approach to public safety and neighborhood revitalization. It’s place-based, community-oriented, driven by data and research and grounded in partnerships across agencies and across disciplines — all the elements you would expect in a successful public safety program.
The BCJI model builds on programs like Project Safe Neighborhoods that rely on coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutors and on collaboration with researchers. It focuses on crime hot spots, and on distressed areas where resources are most urgently needed. Perhaps most importantly, it brings community leaders and law enforcement to the table together, which guarantees that this work isn’t being done in a vacuum.
This approach is not one we see often enough — which is a shame, because we know it works. In Evansville, Indiana, for example, from 2013 to 2015, reported crime dropped 42 percent in the BCJI target neighborhood of Jacobsville. Five hot spots in Milwaukee’s target area saw a 23 percent drop in violent crime over the same period. That’s compared to a 1 percent increase in the city as a whole. And in Austin, Texas, during the 16 months of BCJI operation in the Rundberg neighborhood, violent crime dropped 15 percent.
These are impressive numbers, and they’re especially notable when many other cities are seeing a trend in the opposite direction....
This work — the work that you’re doing — is more important than ever. Crime rates remain near historically low levels, but there’s no question that some cities are seeing troubling recent surges in violence — in some cases, dramatic increases. This is a time for vigilance, not complacency, because, as the Attorney General said, “When crime rates move in the wrong direction, they can move quickly.”
Unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court rejects "categorical Internet blackout" for sex offender
As reported in this local article, headlined "N.J. Supreme Court tosses 'total' internet ban for sex offender," the top court in the Garden State issued a significant ruling yesterday concerning on-line restrictions on sex offenders. Here are the very basics from the press report:
New Jersey's highest court on Tuesday threw out a state-sanctioned ban on internet use for a convicted sex offender, finding it was an arbitrary infringement on the man's rights.
In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court found the state Parole Board had improperly issued a "near-total" internet ban for the man, identified only by the initials J.I., who was subject to lifetime supervision after pleading guilty to charges he sexually abused his three daughters.
Calling internet access a "basic need" of modern life, the justices ruled that state authorities could only revoke it after holding a formal hearing to determine if there was a legitimate public safety reason to do so.
The lengthy ruling in J.I. v. New Jersey State Parole Board, No. A-29-15 (N.J. March 21, 2017) (available here), gets started this way:
Today, the Internet plays an essential role in the daily lives of most people -- in how they communicate, access news, purchase goods, seek employment, perform their jobs, enjoy entertainment, and function in countless other ways.
Sex offenders on community supervision for life (CSL) may be subject to restrictive Internet conditions at the discretion of the New Jersey State Parole Board (the Parole Board), provided the conditions promote public safety and/or the rehabilitation of the offender. In this case, the first issue is whether a total Internet ban imposed on a CSL offender was unnecessarily overbroad and oppressive and whether it served any rational penological purpose. The second issue is whether the Parole Board improperly denied J.I. a hearing to challenge the Internet restrictions that he claims were arbitrarily imposed.
J.I. is a sex offender subject to community supervision for life. After his release from confinement, J.I. was allowed full access to the Internet, with one exception: he could not visit an Internet social networking site without the approval of his District Parole Supervisor.
After J.I. had served thirteen months on community supervision for life without incident, his District Parole Supervisor totally banned his access to the Internet except for employment purposes. The District Parole Supervisor justified the ban based not on J.I.’s conduct while on community supervision for life, but rather on his conduct years earlier -- the accessing of pornography sites and the possession of pornography -- that led to a violation of his parole. A Parole Board panel affirmed, apparently with no input from J.I.
Following imposition of that near-total Internet ban, J.I. accessed several benign websites, such as those of his church and therapist, after repeated warnings not to do so. As a result, the parole authorities completely banned J.I. from possessing any Internet-capable device. The Parole Board upheld that determination and denied J.I. a hearing. The Appellate Division affirmed.
We now reverse and remand to the Parole Board. Conditions imposed on CSL offenders -- like those imposed on regular parolees -- are intended to promote public safety, reduce recidivism, and foster the offender’s reintegration into society. Arbitrarily imposed Internet restrictions that are not tethered to those objectives are inconsistent with the administrative regime governing CSL offenders. We agree with the position taken by federal courts that Internet conditions attached to the supervised release of sex offenders should not be more restrictive than necessary.
The sheer breadth of the initial near-total Internet ban, after J.I.’s thirteen months of good behavior, cannot be easily justified, particularly given the availability of less restrictive options, including software monitoring devices and unannounced inspections of J.I.’s computer. After the imposition of the total ban for J.I.’s Internet violations, J.I. should have been granted a hearing before the Parole Board to allow him to challenge the categorical Internet blackout. The complete denial of access to the Internet implicates a liberty interest, which in turn triggers due process concerns.
Accordingly, we remand to the full Parole Board for a hearing consistent with this opinion. The Board must determine whether the current total computer and Internet ban imposed on J.I. serves any public-safety, rehabilitative, or other penological goal.
March 22, 2017 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tenth Circuit clarifies and emphasizes import and reach of Graham's limit on extreme juve sentences
Yesterday in Budder v. Addison, No. 16-6088 (10th Cir. March 21, 2017) (available here), a Tenth Circuit panel granted habeas relief to a juvenile non-homicide offender sentenced in Oklahoma to serve over 131 years in prison before being eligible for parole. The Budden opinion discusses the Supreme Court's Graham ruling at great length in the course of rejecting Oklahoma's effort to defend a sentence that was not technically "life without parole." Here are some excerpts from the opinion:
Despite Oklahoma’s arguments to the contrary, we cannot read the Court’s categorical rule as excluding juvenile offenders who will be imprisoned for life with no hope of release for nonhomicide crimes merely because the state does not label this punishment as “life without parole.” The Constitution’s protections do not depend upon a legislature’s semantic classifications. Limiting the Court’s holding by this linguistic distinction would allow states to subvert the requirements of the Constitution by merely sentencing their offenders to terms of 100 years instead of “life.” The Constitution’s protections are not so malleable.
More importantly, the Court did not just hold that it violated the Eighth Amendment to sentence a juvenile nonhomicide offender to life without parole; it held that, when a state imposes a sentence of life on a juvenile nonhomicide offender, it must provide that offender with a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release.” Id. at 75; see also id. (“[The Eighth Amendment] does prohibit States from making the judgment at the outset that those offenders never will be fit to reenter society.”). Further, the Court explained that its categorical holding was necessary because it would “give all juvenile nonhomicide offenders a chance to demonstrate maturity and reform.” Graham, 560 U.S. at 79 (emphasis added). If the rule announced in Graham is to provide all juvenile offenders such an opportunity, it must be read to apply to all sentences that are of such length that they would remove any possibility of eventual release. Thus, we conclude, the sentencing practice that was the Court’s focus in Graham was any sentence that denies a juvenile nonhomicide offender a realistic opportunity to obtain release in his or her lifetime, whether or not that sentence bears the specific label “life without parole.” ...
Again, we must emphasize that states may not circumvent the strictures of the Constitution merely by altering the way they structure their charges or sentences. Just as they may not sentence juvenile nonhomicide offenders to 100 years instead of “life,” they may not take a single offense and slice it into multiple sub offenses in order to avoid Graham’s rule that juvenile offenders who do not commit homicide may not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. When the Court compared the severity of the crime with the severity of the punishment, in light of the characteristics of the offender, it did not look to the state’s definitions or the exact charges brought. It looked to whether the offender was a juvenile, whether the offender killed or intended to kill the victim, and whether the sentence would deny the offender any realistic opportunity to obtain release. The Court specifically concluded that, not only was a categorical rule appropriate, it was “necessary,” id. at 75, because a case specific approach “would allow courts to account for factual differences between cases and to impose life without parole sentences for particularly heinous crimes,” id. at 77. The Court found this approach to pose too great a risk that some juveniles would receive life without parole sentences “despite insufficient culpability.” Id. at 78 (quoting Roper, 543 U.S. at 572–73). The Court was not convinced “that courts taking a case-by-case proportionality approach could with sufficient accuracy distinguish the few incorrigible juvenile offenders from the many that have the capacity for change.” Id. at 77. Not only did the Court draw the line at homicide, it structured a categorical rule specifically to prevent the possibility that a sentencing judge would ever impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile who did not commit homicide. The Eight Amendment prohibits such a sentence, regardless of the severity of nonhomicide crimes a juvenile has committed.
Interesting letters from and to US Senate about work of federal prosecutors in Trump era
Two new press pieces report on two notable new letters about the work of federal prosecutors in the new Administration. Here are the headlines, links, and leads:
From Politico, "Senators press Sessions on drug policy changes":
Three Democratic senators are urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to return to policies that urge prosecutors to pursue long mandatory-minimum prison sentences against low-level drug offenders. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Patrick Leahy of Vermont sent Sessions a letter Tuesday pleading with him not to abandon the Obama administration’s “Smart on Crime” initiative that generally led to earlier releases for those convicted of drug dealing in the federal system.
“Changes to current drug charging policies that lead to more mandatory minimum penalties in low-level, nonviolent drug cases will not increase public safety and will only increase taxpayer spending on our bloated federal prison system,” the senators wrote. “We are concerned about a possible shift in the Justice Department’s treatment of federal drug cases and the specter that mandatory minimum penalties may once again be used by the Justice Department on a routine basis as tools to prosecute low-level nonviolent drug offenses.”
From the Washington Examiner, "Groups urge greater oversight of US Attorney nominees":
Criminal justice reform advocates are urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to exercise greater oversight of United States Attorney nominees. Their letter, sent Tuesday and signed by the American Conservative Union Foundation, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Right on Crime Coalition and R Street Institute, comes less than a month after the Trump administration dismissed 46 U.S. attorneys.
U.S. attorneys make up the 93 positions nationwide. After they are nominated by President Trump, the Senate Judiciary Committee must consider them and make recommendations to the full Senate about confirmation. The letter includes questions the four groups think the Senate committee should ask all nominees, noting that prosecutors "are central to the integrity of the entire criminal proceeding."
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Senate confirms two (holdover) nominees to US Sentencing Commission!!
Federal sentencing fans should be excited to hear that the full US Senate has now confirmed Judges Charles Breyer and Danny Reeves to be members of the United States Sentencing Commission. (And, proving that somethings can still get done in a bipartisan manner inside the Beltway, this Senate reporting webpage indicates that the confirmation vote was unanimous.) As previously noted, the original nominations of Judges Breyer and Reeves back in 2016 got stalled last Congress, but then outgoing Prez Obama thereafter renominated them for the US Sentencing Commission in January after the new Congress got to work. I had been pessimistic about the prospects of these holdover nominees getting a hearing and a vote, but my pessimism was obviously misguided.
Of particular importance, with Judges Breyer and Reeves now having been confirmed as full voting members of the US Sentencing Commission, they join Acting Chair Judge Bill Pryor and Commissioner Rachel Barkow to form a quorum on the USSC. The Commission needs seven voting members to be fully staffed, but four members are sufficient to get stuff done if they all vote together on amendments and other action items. Though it is not ideal for the USSC to have only four Commissioners rather than the full seven, it is literally "good enough for government work" and thus presents the possibility that the USSC can and will be more than just an effective research agency this year.
As previously flagged here and now highlighted here at the USSC website, the Commission promulgated some notable proposed amendments in late 2016 when it still had a nearly full compliment of Commissioners. Those proposed amendments have generated a whole lots of public comment, and I think they could prove to be quite consequential if formally passed in the coming months. (A USSC hearing on the amendments is now scheduled for April 18.) So, if the two new Commissioners agree to move forward with some form of the amendments promulgated late last year (which seems likely, especially because Judge Breyer was on the USSC during their development), it is now quite possible that the first big tangible federal sentencing development of the "Trump era" could involve significant federal sentencing guideline amendments.
Ruling 6-2, SCOTUS holds in Manuel that Fourth Amendment claim can be brought contesting pretrial confinement
The one criminal ruling handed down by the Supreme Court this morning, Manuel v. City of Joliet, No. 14–9496 (S. Ct. March 21, 2017) (available here), has a majority opinion authored by Justice Kagan than gets started this way:
Petitioner Elijah Manuel was held in jail for some seven weeks after a judge relied on allegedly fabricated evidence to find probable cause that he had committed a crime. The primary question in this case is whether Manuel may bring a claim based on the Fourth Amendment to contest the legality of his pretrial confinement. Our answer follows from settled precedent. The Fourth Amendment, this Court has recognized, establishes “the standards and procedures” governing pretrial detention. See, e.g., Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103, 111 (1975). And those constitutional protections apply even after the start of “legal process” in a criminal case — here, that is, after the judge’s determination of probable cause. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U. S. 266, 274 (1994) (plurality opinion); id., at 290 (Souter, J., concurring in judgment). Accordingly, we hold today that Manuel may challenge his pretrial detention on the ground that it violated the Fourth Amendment (while we leave all other issues, including one about that claim’s timeliness, to the court below).
Justice Alito wrote the chief dissent (which is joined by Justice Thomas), and it gets started this way:
I agree with the Court’s holding up to a point: The protection provided by the Fourth Amendment continues to apply after “the start of legal process,” ante, at 1, if legal process is understood to mean the issuance of an arrest warrant or what is called a “first appearance” under Illinois law and an “initial appearance” under federal law. Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 725, §§5/109–1(a), (e) (West Supp. 2015); Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 5. But if the Court means more — specifically, that new Fourth Amendment claims continue to accrue as long as pretrial detention lasts — the Court stretches the concept of a seizure much too far.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the Court’s approach is that it entirely ignores the question that we agreed to decide, i.e., whether a claim of malicious prosecution may be brought under the Fourth Amendment. I would decide that question and hold that the Fourth Amendment cannot house any such claim. If a malicious prosecution claim may be brought under the Constitution, it must find some other home, presumably the Due Process Clause.
Prez Trump to nominate District Judge Amul Thapar to Sixth Circuit
As reported in this official press release, "President Donald J. Trump today announced his intent to nominate Judge Amul R. Thapar of Kentucky for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit." Here is more from the statement concerning what I believe is Prez Trump's first judicial nomination other than his selection of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court:
The son of Indian-American immigrants, Judge Thapar serves on the District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. With his 2008 nomination by President George W. Bush and subsequent confirmation and appointment, Judge Thapar became the Nation’s first Article III judge of South Asian descent. Before his service on the bench, he was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Before that, he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Ohio and the District of Columbia. He began his legal career in private practice, after clerkships with Judge S. Arthur Spiegel on the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and then with Judge Nathaniel R. Jones of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
I know Judge Thapar personally and think very highly of him (in part because he asked me to file an amicus brief in one of his highest-profile sentencing cases). I expect that Judge Thapar will be easily confirmed by the Senate to the Sixth Circuit (though I suppose some Democrats may want to contest even lower-court confirmations as a show of resistance to Prez Trump in particular and to the GOP more generally). In addition, shrewd SCOTUS watchers might also view this nomination as a sign that Prez Trump will again consider seriously Judge Thapar for the next Supreme Court opening.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Continued consternation concerning capital charging decision in central Florida
I noted here on Friday the capital kerfuffle that has emerged in central Florida after newly-elected State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced that she would not pursue the death penalty for a cop killer or any other case during. As previously reported, Florida Governor Rick Scott reassigned the cop killer's case to another State Attorney. But now, as this local article reports, today Ayala indicated she might try to contest having the case reassigned:
Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala on Monday said she is not willing to surrender the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd. Gov. Rick Scott removed her from the case Thursday, outraged when she said she would not seek the death penalty. He appointed a special prosecutor, Brad King.
At a court hearing in Orlando on Monday, Ayala sat one seat away from King, the state attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial Circuit. What the governor did was unprecedented, she told Orange-Osceola Chief Circuit Judge Frederick Lauten, and “overstepped his bounds.” She said she may file a legal challenge and asked the judge temporarily to halt the two murder cases involving Loyd while she figures out what to do.
Loyd is charged with killing Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton on Jan. 9 and, several weeks earlier, his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon. Ayala said she at least wants to be part of Loyd’s prosecution.
More than 100 lawyers, including two former Florida Supreme Court justices and Gil Garcetti, who prosecuted celebrity O.J. Simpson during his 1995 murder trial, are backing Ayala. They have signed a letter asking Scott to give the case back to her. She is an independently elected official, and Scott is guilty of overreach, they say.
In Tallahassee, Scott defended his decision. When asked whether he would consider removing Ayala from office, he said, “We’ll continue to look at our options. Right now I’m focused on Markeith Loyd.” Asked if he would get involved in other potential death-penalty cases in Orange and Osceola counties, he said, “I’ll deal with that at the time.”
On Monday, the assistant finance director at the Seminole County Clerk of Court Office was placed on paid administrative leave after posting Facebook comments saying Ayala “should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree” because she refuses to seek the death penalty. Stan McCullars, author of the post, later deleted it. He could not be reached for comment. His boss, Grant Maloy, said those comments “don’t reflect my beliefs.”
Ayala is the first African-American state attorney in Florida and took office Jan. 3, serving Orange and Osceola counties. During her five-month election campaign, she did not state her position on the death penalty.
There are many interesting elements of this battle over prosecutorial discretion, and the intersection of race and gender and southern politics just adds layers to the story. And speaking of race, former prosecutor Chuck Hobbs has this interesting new Hill commentary on these matters which includes these interesting closing observations:
The irony in this is that the Black Lives Matter movement began in earnest after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin by a Sanford, Florida jury in 2013. A year before his acquittal, Gov. Scott replaced then Sanford State Attorney Norm Wolfinger with Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey after Wolfinger dragged his feet for almost 50 days before finally recusing himself. Scott's move back then was applauded by many black lawyers, civil rights activists and concerned citizens who wanted to ensure that the highest charges and attendant punishments would be sought against Zimmerman.
Today, Scott is being blasted by some lawyers and activists for meddling in Ayala's use of discretion not to seek the death penalty. Now the key distinction is that Wolfinger recused himself while Ayala did not, one that could lead to a fascinating legal battle where the courts may have to determine whether Scott illegally overreached by replacing Ayala, or whether her refusal to follow his dictates allowed him leave to replace her.