Thursday, December 12, 2013
Killer bride in Montana takes a plea deal to second-degree murder just before jury gets case
As reported in this new AP article, headlined "Woman in newlywed killing case agrees to plead guilty to second-degree murder," a high-profile federal homicide trial has now ended in a high-profile plea deal. Here are the details:
A federal judge accepted a guilty plea Thursday from a Montana newlywed after she reached a surprise plea agreement and said she pushed her husband from a cliff in Glacier National Park. The development came before a jury was set to begin considering the case against 22-year-old Jordan Graham.
In exchange for the plea to second-degree murder, prosecutors agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge and a count of making a false statement to authorities. First-degree murder means a crime is premeditated.
Graham could face a maximum sentence of life in prison on March 27.
In accepting the plea, District Judge Donald Molloy told Graham to recount exactly what happened the night of July 7 when her husband Cody Johnson, 25, fell to his death in the park.
Graham said she told Johnson that she wasn't happy and wasn't feeling like she should after getting married. She said they argued and at one point he grabbed her by the arm. She said she brushed his hand away and pushed him, with one hand on his arm and one on his back. "I wasn't thinking about where we were ... I just pushed," she told the judge. She said she then drove back to Kalispell without calling for help because she was so afraid she did not know what to do.
Earlier in the day, defense attorneys wrapped up their case without testimony from Graham. Instead, they showed the jurors pictures and videos of Graham smiling as she had her hair done and tried on her borrowed wedding dress, then videos of the June 29 wedding and the couple's first dance.
Those images attempted to chip away at the prosecution's image of Graham as a cold, dispassionate woman who didn't want to marry Johnson, and their contention that eight days later she led him to a dangerous precipice in the Montana park and deliberately pushed him to his death....
Both the prosecution and defense rested their cases Thursday after three and a-half days of testimony. The plea agreement was reached before closing arguments took place.
As for the statutory sentencing basics, here is the sentencing provision of 18 USC 1111, the federal murder statute: "Whoever is guilty of murder in the second degree, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life." The federal sentencing guideline for second degree murder, 2A1.2, provides a base offense level of 38 and recommends an upward departure if "the defendant's conduct was exceptionally heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim." Also, I think there could be (and likely will be?) some sentencing debate over whether an adjustment up for a vulnerable victim or an adjustment down for acceptance of responsibility should be applied.
If we assume the guideline level of 38 sticks (and she has no serious criminal history), the USSG Sentencing Table recommends a prison sentence of 235-293 months (just under 20 to 25 years). I suspect the defense team will likely argue for a downward variance from his range, while perhaps the prosecutors will ask for something toward the top of the range. Thus, I would right now put the (way-too-early) over/under betting line for here federal sentence at 20 years' imprisonment.
Previous related posts:
- You be the federal sentencing judge: "Newlywed Admits to Pushing Husband off Cliff"
- Seeking pre-trial sentencing views in high-profile federal murder prosecution of homicidal bride
Texas tough means probation for teen who killed four and injured more while drunk driving?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this CNN report headlined "Texas teen Ethan Couch gets 10 years' probation for driving drunk, killing 4." Regular readers know that drunk driving is one notable crime that I fear is consistently under-punished throughout the United States, and the details of this story confirms my fear that elitism and a variety of other potentially pernicious factors may explain why. Here are the details:
To the families of the victims, Ethan Couch was a killer on the road, a drunken teenage driver who caused a crash that left four people dead.
To the defense, the youth is himself a victim -- of "affluenza," according to one psychologist -- the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy.
To a judge, who sentenced Couch to 10 years' probation but no jail time, he's a defendant in need of treatment.
The decision disappointed prosecutors and stunned victims' family members, who say they feel that Couch got off too easy. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 20 years behind bars. "Let's face it. ... There needs to be some justice here," Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" on Wednesday night.
"For 25 weeks, I've been going through a healing process. And so when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is -- I'm back to week 1. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window," he said.
Lawyers for Couch, 16, had argued that the teen's parents should share part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted. According to CNN affiliate WFAA, a psychologist called by the defense described Couch as a product of "affluenza." He reportedly testified that the teen's family felt wealth bought privilege, and that Couch's life could be turned around with one to two years of treatment and no contact with his parents.
Couch was sentenced by a juvenile court judge Tuesday. If he violates the terms of his probation, he could face up to 10 years of incarceration, according to a statement from the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney's Office. Judge Jean Boyd told the court she would not release Couch to his parents, but would work to find the teen a long-term treatment facility.
"There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day," said Boyles. "The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can't buy justice in this country." His wife, Hollie Boyles, and daughter, Shelby, left their home to help Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down. Brian Jennings, a youth pastor, was driving past and also stopped to help.
All four were killed when the teen's pickup plowed into the pedestrians. Couch's vehicle also struck a parked car, which then slid into another vehicle driving in the opposite direction. Two people riding in the bed of the teen's pickup were tossed in the crash and severely injured. One is no longer able to move or talk because of a brain injury, while the other suffered internal injuries and broken bones.
"There is nothing the judge could have done to lessen the suffering for any of those families," said defense attorney Scott Brown, CNN affiliate KTVT reported. "(The judge) fashioned a sentence that is going to keep Ethan under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years," he said. "And if Ethan doesn't do what he's supposed to do, if he has one misstep at all, then this judge, or an adult judge when he's transferred, can then incarcerate him."
Earlier on the night of the accident, June 15, Couch and some friends had stolen beer from a local Walmart. Three hours after the crash, tests showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit, according to the district attorney's office. "We are disappointed by the punishment assessed but have no power under the law to change or overturn it," said Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and we regret that this outcome has added to the pain and suffering they have endured."
It is very rare, but not impossible, for prosecutors to challenge the sentence on the ground that it was too lenient, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said. "To give him a pass this time given the egregious nature of his conduct -- four deaths -- is just incomprehensible," she said. It is unfair that other young defendants without the same wealth could end up in jail for a lot less, said Hostin, of CNN's "New Day" morning show.
December 12, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
"Remorse and Demeanor in the Courtroom: Cognitive Science and the Evaluation of Contrition"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Susan Bandes now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Although there is a rich legal literature on whether remorse should play a role in the criminal justice system, there is far less discussion of how remorse can be evaluated in the legal context — if indeed it can. There is ample evidence that perceptions of remorse play a powerful role in criminal cases. Whether a defendant is regarded as appropriately remorseful is often a determinative factor in criminal sentencing, including capital sentencing. And in capital cases, in which the defendant rarely testifies, the evaluation of remorse may be based entirely on the facial expression and body language of a defendant sitting silently in the courtroom. Yet the most basic questions about the evaluation of remorse have received little attention: what is it precisely that is being evaluated, and how adept are decision makers at evaluating it? What criteria are being applied and with what level of consistency and fairness?
There is evidence that the evaluation of remorse is particularly difficult across cultural, ethnic or racial lines, or where juvenile or mentally impaired defendants are being judged. But this troubling evidence leads to several larger questions. Is remorse (or the lack of remorse) something that can ever be accurately evaluated in a courtroom? If remorse is not susceptible to courtroom evaluation, is it feasible to bar decision-makers from considering it? And if evaluation of remorse is a permanent feature of the criminal justice system, what can be done to improve upon an evaluative process that is demonstrably riddled with error and bias?
The article considers these questions in light of findings in three flourishing areas of cognitive science: the field of interpretation of facial expressions and “micro” expressions (expressions difficult for the untrained eye to recognize), the study of the dynamics of empathy and empathic accuracy, and the study of implicit bias.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court suggests gender is important consideration for placement on state sex offender registry
This AP article, headlined "Mass. court overturns escort's sex offender label," reports on a very interesting ruling today by the top state court in Massachusetts. Here are the basics:
The state’s highest court on Wednesday overturned the classification of a former escort service manager as a low-level sex offender, finding that the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board should have considered research showing women are less likely than men to commit new sex offenses.
The woman, who wasn’t identified in the court’s ruling, pleaded guilty in 2006 to federal charges stemming from her management of an escort service from 2000 to 2002, including one count of transporting a minor to engage in prostitution and one count of sex trafficking of children. She served 17 months in prison while awaiting trial before pleading guilty.
In 2008, the woman requested funds to hire an expert witness, arguing that the board’s guidelines didn’t encompass scientific research on female sex offenders. Her request was rejected by the board. A hearing officer eventually found that she should be classified as a level one sex offender, the lowest level of offender, considered the least likely to reoffend and the least dangerous....
In its ruling Wednesday, the SJC agreed with the woman that the hearing examiner abused his discretion by denying her request for funds for an expert witness who could testify on the subject of how infrequently female sex offenders commit new crimes when compared with men. "We conclude that it was arbitrary and capricious for (the board) to classify Doe’s risk of re-offense and degree of dangerousness without considering the substantial evidence presented at the hearing concerning the effect of gender on recidivism," Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court....
The court also said the board is required to ensure that its guidelines are based on "the available literature."
"We do not purport to suggest a frequency with which the guidelines must be updated, but caution that guidelines that fail to heed growing scientific consensus in an area may undercut the individualized nature of the hearing to which a sex offender is entitled, an important due process right," Lenk wrote.
I was able to access the full text of the opinion in Doe v. Sex Offender Registry Board, No. SJC-11328 (Mass. Dec. 11, 2013), at this link.
December 11, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
So many notable marijuana stories and so little time to blog 'em all
As my my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar winds down with students working on final papers, local, state, national and international stories concerning modern marijuana reform efforts is really starting to heat up. Here are headlines and links from just today's latest news of note:
From CNN here, "Uruguay to legalize marijuana, Senate says"
From the Denver Post here, "Colorado officials, pot businesses clash over inventory tracking"
From ESPN magazine here, "Smoke screen: It's time for the NFL to embrace a new pain reliever: marijuana"
From the Huffington Post here, "Polls Suggest California Is Poised To Legalize Marijuana In 2014"
From Politicker here, "Pols Begin Push to Legalize Marijuana in New York State"
From the San Jose Mercury News here, "San Jose medical marijuana crackdown begins after council vote on regulations"
I would be interested in reader perspectives on which of these stories seems the most notable and/or consequential for sentencing law and policy in particular or for American criminal justice more generally.
Cross posted in part at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
"Take Action: National Call-In Day for Sentencing Reform TODAY"
The title of this post is the heading of an e-mail I received this morning from The Sentencing Project. Here is the body of the e-mail request for action:
After decades of "get tough" rhetoric, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are finally coming together to say “enough.”
This week, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to take up legislation to address our unjust and racially discriminatory sentencing laws. One of the bills expected to be considered at this week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410), takes two significant steps forward. First, it reduces overly harsh penalties for drug offenses and allows judges greater flexibility in sentencing. Second, it extends the more equitable crack cocaine provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively to individuals serving prison terms under the now discredited 100-to-1 quantity disparity -- a disparity that has had a devastating impact on African American communities.
We need your help. On Wednesday, Dec. 11, civil rights and criminal justice advocates, faith-based groups, and others are joining together to tell their Senators to support sentencing reform.
To join this effort, please call the Senate switchboard TODAY at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to each of the Senators from your state. When you are connected, urge your Senator to address unjust sentences and racial disparities in the criminal justice system by supporting the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410.
By modernizing drug sentencing polices and giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing, we can take smart and targeted steps to reduce skyrocketing prison populations and reduce racial disparities in sentencing.
I have tended to be cynical and pessimistic about the import and impact of these kinds of call-in days, but folks who know a lot better than me have reported that they can be quite valuable and consequential.
Unanimous win for Kansas on Fifth Amendment issue in Cheever
The Supreme Court this morning handed down its first criminal law opinion in a case that was fully briefed and argued this Term. This unanimous ruling in Kansas v. Cheever starts and ends this way:
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “[n]o person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself . . . .” The question here is whether the Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from introducing evidence from a court-ordered mental evaluation of a criminal defendant to rebut that defendant’s presentation of expert testimony in support of a defense of voluntary intoxication. We hold that it does not....
We hold that where a defense expert who has examined the defendant testifies that the defendant lacked the requisite mental state to commit a crime, the prosecution may offer evidence from a court-ordered psychological examination for the limited purpose of rebutting the defendant’s evidence.
The judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Poland asks Connecticut not to send murderer to death row
I just saw this intriguing domestic death penalty story from Connecticut with a notable international spin. The piece is headlined "Poland's president challenges state's death penalty," and here are excerpts:
In what could spark an international incident, the president of Poland is demanding the state not execute a former Trumbull man for the terrifying 2006 murders of a city woman, her 9-year-old daughter and a Milford landscaper.
"We strongly believe the death penalty should not be imposed," Agniestka Torres, vice consul and head of the legal section for the Polish consulate general in New York, told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers. "It doesn't matter what crimes he committed."
The government of the Republic of Poland this week notified Gov. Malloy and the Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane that it objects to Richard Roszkowski -- whose parents were Polish -- getting the death penalty. Torres said the appeal comes directly from their president, Bronislaw Komorowski, who recently signed a law banning the death penalty in all circumstances.
Roszkowski was born in the U.S., but both his parents, who are now dead, emigrated from Poland and Roszkowski visited Poland when he was a child. "As far as we are concerned Mr. Roszkowski is a Polish national and is covered by our laws," Torres said....
This latest development adds to an already controversial status for the state's death penalty. In the last 60 years only one person, convicted serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed in this state and that was in February 2005.
Last year Malloy, an opponent of the death penalty, signed a law abolishing it for any new crimes. However, the law left in place the 10 men currently on death row. That portion of the law is currently under appeal.
Last week jury selection was completed for the death penalty hearing against the 48-year-old Roszkowski. His hearing is set to begin Jan. 7.
In May 2009 a Bridgeport jury found Roszkowski guilty of two counts of capital felony, three counts of murder and one count of criminal possession of a firearm for the Sept. 7, 2006, shooting deaths of 39-year-old Holly Flannery, her daughter, Kylie, and 38-year-old Thomas Gaudet.
Although the same jury that convicted Roszkowski of the crime subsequently found he should get the death penalty, the verdict was overturned on a technicality and a new penalty hearing was ordered. At least one of the jurors selected for the new death penalty hearing appears to be of Polish heritage....
Roszkowski's lawyers did not deny he killed the victims but presented nationally recognized medical experts and death penalty opponents who testified Roszkowski has brain damage caused by earlier car crashes, hepatitis and long-term drug use. The families of the victims declined comment because they are expected to testify in the upcoming hearing.
Among other interesting questions raised by this story concerns whether and how the defense lawyers for this mass murderer ought to be able to bring up these international issues during the penalty trial. Could and should Roszkowski's lawyers be able to argue to the jurors that sentencing Roszkowski to death would cause an international incident and hurt US-Polish relations? Could and should Roszkowski's lawyers be able to have members of the Polish consulate general testify for the defense at the penalty trial?
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Are cool secret compartments another casualty of the drug war?
The somewhat silly question in the title of this post is my response to this somewhat silly Slate piece sent my way by a helpful former student. The piece by Justin Peters, Slate's crime correspondent, is headlined "We Are Now Criminalizing Awesome Secret Compartments. What Is Wrong With This Country?" and here are excerpts (with links included):
I have been obsessed with hidden compartments since I was a kid. As a child, I was delighted to learn that it was possible to conceal your valuables inside a hollowed-out book. (For more on this topic, consult the valuable Wikipedia article “Concealing objects in a book.”)...
If we can agree that there’s nothing lamer than an inept secret compartment, let’s also stipulate that there’s nothing more impressive than a good one. These days, the best secret compartments are usually found in vehicles, where they are often used by criminals to conceal drugs, weapons, or other contraband. The most sophisticated of these “traps” look like the sort of thing you’d see in spy movies. Earlier this year in Wired, sometime Slate contributor Brendan I. Koerner wrote about Alfred Anaya, a California man who was among the best trap-car builders in the land. Anaya built intricate, almost undetectable secret compartments that could only be opened by hitting various buttons and switches in succession. Koerner mentions one trap installed behind the back seat of a truck, “which Anaya had rigged with a set of hydraulic cylinders linked to the vehicle’s electrical system. The only way to make the seat slide forward and reveal its secret was by pressing and holding four switches simultaneously: two for the power door locks and two for the windows.” The man was some sort of genius.
He was also, allegedly, a criminal, at least in the eyes of the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the DEA, much of Anaya’s business came from drug traffickers who used his “trap cars” to smuggle illegal narcotics cross-country. Though Anaya was not involved in the drug business himself, and took pains to avoid asking his clients about why they needed his compartments, the feds claimed he was an active conspirator all the same. A jury agreed, and Anaya is now serving a more-than-20-year sentence in federal prison.
While, as Koerner notes, it’s not a federal crime to build a hidden vehicular compartment, some states are passing laws that effectively make it a crime to have one installed. In 2012 Ohio passed a law making it a felony to knowingly build or install a trap “with the intent to facilitate the unlawful concealment or transportation of a controlled substance.” Intent is a malleable concept, though, and it can be troublesome from a civil-liberties standpoint. A week before Thanksgiving, Ohio state troopers arrested a man named Norman Gurley for having a secret compartment in his car. Though the compartment was completely empty, troopers still claimed that Gurley had intended to use it to smuggle illegal drugs. “Without the hidden compartment law, we would not have had any charges on the suspect,” a Highway Patrol lieutenant said after Gurley’s arrest.
Other people have already weighed in on why exactly that’s so problematic, and I won’t belabor the points that they have so capably made. All I’m going to say is that it strikes me as a damn shame, and somewhat un-American, to criminalize the sort of ingenuity you need to build a good trap-car. I have no problem with cops arresting people who build pathetic hidden compartments; those artless people deserve their fates. And if you’re caught concealing substantial quantities of illegal drugs, well, the fact that you may have violated a hidden-compartment law is probably the least of your worries. But merely conceiving of and installing a good one ought to be celebrated, not criminalized. Who says America doesn’t build things anymore?
"Harsh Sentences Are Killing the Jury Trial"
The title of this post is the headline of this forceful commentary at The Atlantic authored by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson. Here are lengthy excerpts from a piece that merits a full read:
[T]he Human Rights Watch Report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse,” confirms that harsh sentencing laws have undermined the American jury system. On average, 97 percent of defendants plead guilty in federal court. For crimes that carry a minimum mandatory sentence, going to trial has simply become too risky. As Human Rights Watch reports: “Defendants convicted of drug offenses with mandatory minimum sentences who went to trial received sentences on average 11 years longer than those who pled guilty.”
This risk goes well beyond the traditional trade-offs. Plea offers have been around since the 1800s and are a well-established and necessary part of criminal practice. But the new mandatory minimums and sentencing enhancements have given federal prosecutors new power to coerce pleas and avoid trials. A prosecutor can now give a minor drug dealer this choice: “Plead guilty to a reduced charge, or go to trial and risk sentencing that will put you in jail for decades.” It’s not hard to understand why so many defendants — whether innocent, guilty, or not quite as guilty as charged — are taking the first option....But, there is a secondary cost that is less often discussed but equally damaging to the criminal justice system. Harsh sentencing laws are killing the jury trial. And without trials, citizens have no say in the criminal justice system.
It is no accident that the jury trial is the only constitutional right to make a repeated appearance in the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The founding fathers considered criminal juries to be the best mechanism for checking the power of judges and lawyers. By interposing citizens between a prosecutor and a conviction, the constitutional system protected individual liberty. This is not to say that colonial juries did not convict people quite regularly, and quite harshly. But when they did, citizens, not prosecutors, were the ones condemning the law breakers. It was this local, public participation that gave legitimacy to the larger system.
The modern domination of plea bargains has excised the role of the citizen-juror. Without trials, citizens do not learn about what is happening in the criminal justice system, and they have no way of taking part in it. Instead of seeing the consequences firsthand, ordinary Americans must rely on research reports and news stories. This practice disconnects the people from their own democratically enacted laws, precluding them from evaluating these elective choices.
Unlike trials, plea bargains take place in secret, away from public scrutiny. They involve negotiations between repeat players in the system — the lawyers. And for many types of crimes, the bargains are influenced by federal policies, not local ones. Thus, the jury system — with its emphasis on local authority and public participation — has been replaced with a system as insular as it is broken....The push for jury trials in the Bill of Rights came from citizens — not judges, politicians, or prosecutors. In fact, the perceived lack of citizen involvement in the legal system almost derailed the original Constitution, as Anti-Federalists saw it as a threat to their liberty. Concerned citizens wrote, organized, and protested on behalf of their own role in the justice system. They won, and that victory can still be read in the Sixth Amendment, which promises in rather emphatic terms that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
Today, Americans of all political persuasions should embrace a greater role for juries, at least when it comes to federal prosecutions. After all, Tea Party conservatives believe in local, accountable government, while progressive liberals believe in an equitable system of justice. More jury trials will mean more ordinary people engaged in the legal system — more citizens involved in their government. The result will not only be consistent with the original design of the Constitution but, like the jury system, itself, will encourage more local, democratic, participatory engagement with our government and its policies.
A few recent and older related posts on modern prosecutors and plea practices:
- Remarkable new HRW report details massive "trial penalty" due to mandatory minimums in federal system
- "The Prisoners’ (Plea Bargain) Dilemma"
- US District Judge Bennett documents prosecutor-created disparity from § 851 enhancements in yet another potent opinion
- A prosecutor's potent perspective on Lafler, Frye and the future of plea bargaining
- "The Plea Jury"
- Don't federal mandatory minimums preserve a lawless (and perhaps discriminatory) "luck-of-the-draw system" of sentencing?
- Scott Burns from National District Attorneys Association makes the prosecutors case for mandatory minimums
- "Who's Guarding the Henhouse? How the American Prosecutor Came to Devour Those He is Sworn to Protect"
- "The Unchecked Charging Power of the Prosecutor"
Some final squabbling over some of the final executions slated for 2013
This new Reuters piece, headlined "Oklahoma to execute inmate; Missouri execution stayed," provides a run down of some of the final aspects of some of the final executions scheduled for 2013. Here are the details:
Oklahoma on Tuesday was scheduled to execute a man convicted of raping and murdering two elderly women in the 1980s, while a federal appeals court panel has stayed a Missouri execution planned for hours later.
Missouri appealed the 2-1 ruling by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel to stay the execution of Allen Nicklasson, 41, who was found guilty of killing a stranger who offered him roadside assistance. Nicklasson has raised claims that his trial and appeals counsel were ineffective. The full Eighth Circuit was expected to hear arguments and rule Tuesday morning on the state's request to lift the stay of Nicklasson's execution, which is set for early Wednesday at a Missouri prison.
The Missouri Department of Corrections is proceeding with its plans for the execution unless instructed differently by the state attorney general, spokesman Mike O'Connell said. Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Ronald Clinton Lott, 53, by lethal injection at a state prison after 6 p.m. Central Time (0000 GMT) on Tuesday.
If carried out, the executions of Lott and Nicklasson would be the 37th and 38th in the United States this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Lott was convicted of raping and killing Anna Laura Fowler, 83, in 1986 and Zelma Cutler, 90, in 1987 in their Oklahoma City homes after DNA evidence linked him to the crimes.... Another man, Robert Lee Miller Jr., had originally confessed to the rape and murder of the two women and served 11 years, seven on death row, before DNA evidence led authorities to Lott. Miller was released in 1998.
Lott would be the fifth man executed in Oklahoma in 2013. The state is also scheduled to execute Johnny Dale Black, 48, on December 17 for his conviction in the 1998 stabbing death of Ringling, Oklahoma, horse trainer Bill Pogue.
In the Missouri case, Nicklasson was found guilty of murder for the August 1994 shooting of motorist Richard Drummond, who stopped on a highway to help Nicklasson and two other men whose car had broken down. The men had burglarized a home where they stole guns and ammunition before their vehicle broke down. When Drummond stopped to offer a ride, the men abducted him, took him to a wooded area and shot him in the head, according to court records. One of the men, Dennis Skillicorn, was executed in 2009. The other man, Tim DeGraffenreid, was 17 at the time. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a reduced sentence.
Nicklasson and Skillicorn were also convicted of killing an Arizona couple while they were on the run after killing Drummond. Nicklasson would be the second person executed in Missouri this year.
Nicklasson had been scheduled to die October 23, but Missouri Governor Jay Nixon halted the execution due to broad criticism over the state's planned use of the drug propofol, widely used as an anesthetic in medical procedures. The case is one of many caught up in a nationwide debate over what drugs can or should be used for executions as capital punishment opponents pressure pharmaceutical companies to cut off supplies of drugs for executions. Missouri in November used pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, mixed by a compounding pharmacy to execute serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin.
Because the executions discussed in this piece are the only ones likely to be carried out this month, it appears very likely that there will be less than 40 executions in the United States in 2013. This is only the second time in nearly two decades in which there were less than two score execution throughout the nation, and the last time (in 2008) no executions had been carried out for the first three months of the year as everyone awaited a result in Baze concerning the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols.
Monday, December 9, 2013
"The Third Amendment, Privacy and Mass Surveillance"
I try to avoid too much blogging in this space about police practices and related pre-conviction criminal justice issues. Nevertheless, I have long been saddened by the fact that, especially after Heller, the Third Amendment to the Constitution never gets the love and attention so often bestowed on its near-by neighbors. Consequently, I was excited to see, and thus could not resist posting, this notable new piece of Third Amendment scholarship (with the title that titles this post) authored by Steven Friedland. Here is the abstract:
We live in an era of mass surveillance. Advertisers, corporations and the government engage in widespread data collection and analysis, using such avenues as cell phone location information, the Internet, camera observations, and drones. As technology and analytics advance, mass surveillance opportunities continue to grow.
The growing surveillance society is not necessarily harmful or unconstitutional. The United States must track people and gather data to defend against enemies and malevolent actors. Defenses range from stopping attempts to breach government computers and software programs, to identifying and thwarting potential terroristic conduct and threats at an embryonic stage.
Yet, without lines drawn to limit mass data gathering, especially in secret, unchecked government snooping likely will continue to expand. A sitting Secretary of State even recently acknowledged that the government has “sometimes reached too far” with its surveillance. The stakes for drawing lines demarcating privacy rights and the government’s security efforts have never been higher or more uncertain.
This paper argues that the forgotten Third Amendment, long in desuetude, should be considered to harmonize and intersect with the Fourth Amendment to potentially limit at least some mass government surveillance. While the Fourth Amendment has been the sole source of search and seizure limitations, the Third Amendment should be added to the privacy calculus because it provides a clear allocation of power between military and civil authorities and creates a realm of privacy governed by civil law.
Consequently, in today’s digital world it would be improper to read the words of the Third Amendment literally, merely as surplusage. Instead, the Amendment’s check on government tyranny should be viewed as restricting cybersoldiers from focusing surveillance instrumentalities on and around private residences or businesses in an intrusive way – or using proxies to do so -- that would serve as the functional equivalent of military quartering in the civil community.
Ins't home confinement for only three months and a small fine insufficient punishment for a felony false imprisonment charge?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this new CNN report headlined "Ex-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner sentenced to home confinement, fines." Here are the details:
Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was sentenced Monday to 90 days in home confinement, three years probation, and a series of fines totaling about $1500 as part of a plea deal.
The 71-year-old pleaded guilty in October to kissing or grabbing three women at campaign events or at City Hall -- one a felony false imprisonment charge, the other two misdemeanor battery charges. The three women were among 19 who accused him of offensive behavior during his tenure as mayor and as a congressman....
GPS monitoring will track his whereabouts during his confinement. He'll be allowed to go out for medical and therapy appointments, religious services, and meetings tied to his probation. He'll also be allowed to leave his apartment but stay within the apartment complex....
[T]he prosecution said Filner's behavior harmed the women and the city. Referring to the three women as Jane Does 1, 2, and 3, the state said Filner humiliated, scared, embarrassed, sexualized and devalued them. Prosecutors also noted that after taking part in two weeks of treatment earlier this year, Filner still denied his crimes "and insisted that he was the victim of a lynch mob."
Filner's attorneys said they did not dispute any of the facts stated by the prosecution. None of the victims chose to be in court for the sentencing.
The felony charge said Filner used force to restrain a woman at a fund-raising event March 6. The misdemeanor charges say he kissed a woman on the lips without her consent at City Hall on April 6 and grabbed a woman's buttock after she asked to have her picture taken with him at a rally on May 25....
Under the plea deal, which was announced in October, Filner would be prohibited from ever seeking or holding public office again, the attorney general's office said. Filner also would not be able to vote, serve on a jury or own a firearm while on probation. Filner also will have to give up pension credit for his time in the mayor's office after March 6, the date of the first offense.
I am not intimately familiar with all the details of all the unlawful intimate and too-familiar behavior of the former mayor of San Diego. But the fact that this plea deal included a felony count proposed by state prosecutors and accepted by the state court judge suggests that many responsible folks think Filner should be foreover branded a felon. In light of that conclusion, I have a hard time seeing the "slap on the wrist" punishment here to be reasonably sufficient, especially if prosecutors had solid evidence that Filner abused more than a dozen women and that "Filner humiliated, scared, embarrassed, sexualized and devalued" his many victims.
I am not sure if this (seemingly too) lenient sentence for Filner was baked into the plea deal or the result of a sentencing judge not being too troubled by Filner's many crimes. Whatever the reality, if the victims truly suffered the way the prosecutor asserted, I am sorry for them that they were not there to speak at Filner's sentencing and that their harm may seem disvaluaed by this outcome. That said, perhaps many of Filner's victims are mostly interested in a huge tort payday, so maybe at least some of them are content with Filner having resources to pay them in a civil suit rather than a huge fine to the state as part of his punishment.
Seeking pre-trial sentencing views in high-profile federal murder prosecution of homicidal bride
In part because federal jury trials for traditional common-law crimes are rare, and especially because this case has already garnered considerable media attention, I am likely to follow closely the high-profile federal murder trial starting today in Montana. This AP article, headlined "Jury selection begins in newlywed murder trial," provides the basics and sets up the sentencing query of this post:
Jury selection gets underway Monday in the murder trial of a newlywed bride accused of pushing her husband to his death in Glacier National Park just days after their wedding. Jordan Graham has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and making a false statement to authorities in the death of Cody Johnson.
Graham, 22, and Johnson, 25, had been married for eight days when they argued over her doubts about the marriage, prosecutors said. She texted a friend that she planned to confront Johnson about those doubts the night of July 7.
Graham's trial in U.S. District Court in Missoula is expected to last one to two weeks with dozens of friends, acquaintances and expert witnesses — though no eyewitnesses — scheduled to testify.
Federal prosecutors will attempt to convince jurors that Graham deliberately pushed Johnson to his death, then made up a story about how he was last seen driving off with friends. Graham's federal public defenders will ask jurors to believe that while Graham thought she married too young, she loved Johnson and was only trying to remove his hand from her arm when he fell off the steep cliff.
Witnesses will describe Graham as a naive, immature and shy woman who deals better with the children she watched over as a day care worker than with most adults, federal public defender Michael Donahoe wrote in his trial brief. Johnson liked to race cars, drink beer, play softball and hang out with friends, and he changed for Graham when they began dating, Donahoe wrote. Johnson started going to church and stopped most of his drinking, Donahoe wrote.
Graham may have had misgivings about getting married too young, but that doesn't prove she intended to kill Johnson, Donahoe wrote. Federal prosecutors have mostly circumstantial evidence in their case to prove the killing was premeditated, he wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno Baucus wrote in his own brief that the killing was premeditated, which can be proven by circumstantial evidence. That circumstantial evidence — or the "surrounding circumstances" before, during and after Johnson's death — is needed because Graham and Johnson were the only direct witnesses to what happened on the cliff, he wrote. Graham had told Johnson before the wedding that she had a "surprise" planned for him later that day, Baucus wrote.
After she pushed him, she didn't call police or seek any assistance. Instead, she began sending text messages to friends, planting stories about Johnson's disappearance and talking about her dance moves, Baucus wrote. Graham initially told investigators that Johnson had driven away with friends the night of July 7. Three days later, she led park rangers to his body so the search would be called off "and the cops will be out of it," according to prosecutors' court filings....
In the recorded portion [of a police interview], Graham said she and Johnson argued about whether they should have waited longer to get married, and they took that argument from their Kalispell home to Glacier park, according to a transcript. Graham said Johnson grabbed her arm at one point. She said she knocked his arm off and pushed him in one motion, causing him to fall from a steep cliff near the Loop trail. "I think I didn't realize that one push would mean for sure you were over," Graham said, according to the transcript.
As I review these facts, it seems that there is essentially no dispute that Graham pushed her husband off a cliff to his death. At issue at trial is only what her mens rea was at the time of this push, which in turn will determine whether she is guilty of murder, manslaughter or perhaps not guilty of any homicide charge.
Given these realities, I am eager to hear now some reader perspective on what would be appropriate sentencing outcomes if we assume the best and/or assume the worst about this defendant's mens rea. If a jury were to conclude she was a premeditated, purposeful killer of her new husband and thus convicts this defendant of first-degree murder, do folks think an LWOP sentence would be justified? Alternatively, if a jury concludes that the cliff push was a terrible, but still blameworthy, mistake and thus convicts this defendant of involuntary manslaughter, do folks think a short or lengthy prison sentence would be appropriate?
Previous related post:
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Victims provide some recent historical perspectives on two worst crimes in recent American history
As regular readers may know, I am a huge believer in having criminal justice systems give special attention to victims' interests, rights and perspectives (in part because I believe actual victims, generally speaking, are often interested in a much more dynamic and sophisticated government response to wrong-doing than just the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key attitudes too often claimed to be in their interest by politicians and prosecutors). For that reason, I am always pleased when victim-oriented matters become big legal cases (as with the SCOTUS Paroline case concerning restitution for child porn victims), and also when the media gives special and extended attention to crime victims.
For these (and other) reasons, I am pleased and intrigued to see today's New York Times has these two extended articles discussing victims' perspectives on two of the worst crimes in recent American history:
I have long felt very fortunate that I personally have only been the victim of relatively minor property crimes (though I do have a number of family members and friends who have had their lives shattered by serious violent crimes). I also feel very fortunate to live in a society that, at least in some high-profile settings for some victims, seeks to be attentive to the unique needs and enduring challenges that all too many crime victims face.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
"How should states decide if someone convicted of a crime has an intellectual disability, when the answer means life or death?"
The title of this post is the first sentence of this lengthy USA Today article headlined "Supreme Court to revisit death penalty for mentally disabled." Here is more from an effective review of the challenging capital procedure issues now before SCOTUS:
In its 6-3 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, authored by Justice John Paul Stevens, the court prohibited states from executing anyone with "mental retardation." Mental health professionals define it as substantial limitations in intellectual functions such as reasoning or problem-solving, limitations in adaptive behavior or "street smarts," and evidence of the condition before age 18. (Mental retardation is the term used in law, but most clinicians and The Associated Press refer to the condition as intellectual disability.)
After the decision, most states stuck with the three-pronged clinical definition, but Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas set their own standards. Under Florida's law, if you have an IQ over 70, you're eligible for execution regardless of intellectual function or adaptive behavior.
Freddie Lee Hall, who has been on Florida's death row for more than 30 years and scored in the mid-70s on IQ tests, is arguing the state's standard amounts to unconstitutional punishment. Most likely, the case won't result in a dramatic shift in national criminal justice policy, but will further clarify who should and should not be eligible for execution, said Ronald Tabak, an attorney who has represented multiple clients with intellectual disabilities and chairs the American Bar Association's death penalty committee....
The court's makeup has shifted since the 2002 Atkins decision. But if the justices split along ideological lines, the vote could favor Hall, assuming that swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy sides with Hall, as he did with Atkins in 2002. Arguments are set for March 3.
Similar cases are percolating beyond Florida. In Georgia, death row inmate Warren Hill is fighting execution based on substantial evidence that he is intellectually disabled. In Texas, where the courts use an anecdotal seven-part test largely based on the characteristics of the fictional character Lennie from John Steinbeck's novel "Of Mice and Men" to determine intellectual disability, multiple prisoners have been executed in recent years even when they've scored well below 70 on IQ tests.
Last year, Texas executed Marvin Wilson, who was convicted of murder in 1994, even though he had an IQ of 61. In 2010, Virginia executed Teresa Lewis for her role in a murder-for-hire scheme, even though she had an IQ of 72 and her co-conspirators admitted Lewis did not plan the murder....
Still, the Atkins decision has had an impact on executions. At least 98 people have had their death sentence changed since 2002 by proving that they were intellectually disabled, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. By their count, in the 18 years before the Atkins decision, at least 44 people who likely suffered from intellectual disabilities were executed.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Federal judge in Washington finds Sixth Amendment violations from cuts to local public defender programs
As reported in this AP piece, a pair of "Washington cities have systematically violated the constitutional rights of poor defendants to effective legal representation, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, blaming city officials for being 'willfully blind' to the effects of their cost-cutting." Here is more about what seems to me to be a landmark ruling handed down earlier this week:
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Skagit County towns of Mount Vernon and Burlington two years ago, alleging that public defenders there were so overworked that they amounted to little more than "a warm body with a law degree."
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik agreed. He issued a ruling Wednesday, following a two-week trial in June, that could have broad ramifications for how cities provide legal help to the poor: "In the state of Washington, there are undoubtedly a number of municipalities whose public defense systems would, if put under a microscope, be found wanting," he wrote.
The judge ordered the cities to hire a part-time public defense supervisor to oversee whether poor defendants are receiving adequate legal counsel, saying "the court has grave doubts regarding the cities' ability and political will to make the necessary changes on their own."
Lawyers involved said they believed it was the first time in the nation's history a federal court had appointed such a supervisor to oversee a public defense agency. Sarah Dunne, the ACLU of Washington's legal director, said in an emailed statement she was thrilled to see the ruling this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainright that the right to counsel applies in state courts as well as federal ones....
Andrew Cooley, who represented the cities, said he was gratified the judge did not impose a case-load limit on their public defenders. The state Supreme Court has adopted such standards as it wrestles with how to improve the representation of indigent defendants, but they aren't scheduled to take effect until January 2015.
He also said the cities have doubled their public-defense budget since the lawsuit was filed, and it remained unclear whether officials could stomach spending any more. Instead, Burlington and Mount Vernon might simply disband their municipal courts, leaving Skagit County District Court to handle those cases.
Lasnik noted that two lawyers who formerly handled public defense cases for the cities each took on about 1,000 cases a year from 2009-2011 and often spent less than an hour per case. There was almost no evidence they investigated their clients' cases, met with their clients confidentially, or performed any legal analysis of the cases, the judge said.
Instead, they simply assumed police had done their jobs correctly. "The services they offered to their indigent clients amounted to little more than a 'meet and plead' system," he wrote....
Ironically, Lasnik said the failings of the public defenders in Mount Vernon and Burlington didn't necessarily result in their clients getting worse deals. With a note of chagrin, he said the penny-pinching of city administrators faced with tough budgetary times had also hit prosecutors, who in turn offered "overly lenient plea deals."
But that's not the point, Lasnik said: "Advising a client to take a fantastic plea deal in an obstruction of justice or domestic violence case may appear to be effective advocacy, but not if the client is innocent, the charge is defective, or the plea would have disastrous consequences for his or her immigration status."
The 23-page ruling in Wilbur v. City of Mount Vernon, No. C11-1100RSL (D. Wash. Dec. 4, 2013), is available at this link and it concludes with this poetic paragraph:
It has been fifty years since the United States Supreme Court first recognized that the accused has a right to the assistance of counsel for his defense in all criminal prosecutions and that the state courts must appoint counsel for indigent defendants who cannot afford to retain their own lawyer. The notes of freedom and liberty that emerged from Gideon’s trumpet a half a century ago cannot survive if that trumpet is muted and dented by harsh fiscal measures that reduce the promise to a hollow shell of a hallowed right.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Remarkable new HRW report details massive "trial penalty" due to mandatory minimums in federal system
As highlighted in this press release discussing a new important report, in federal courts "drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch." Here is more from the press release about the report and its findings:
The 126-page report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,” details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.
“Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice -- in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial,” said Jamie Fellnew, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple.”...In one of hundreds of cases Human Rights Watch reviewed, Sandra Avery, a small-time drug dealer, rejected a plea of 10 years for possessing 50 grams of crack cocaine with intent to deliver. The prosecutor triggered a sentencing enhancement based on her prior convictions for simple drug possession, and she was sentenced to life without parole.
In addition to case reviews, the report is also based on numerous interviews with federal prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. It also includes new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch that provide the most recent and detailed measure of what the report calls the “trial penalty” -- the difference in sentences for drug defendants who pled guilty compared with those for defendants convicted after trial. The trial penalty is, essentially, the price prosecutors make defendants pay for exercising their right to trial. “Going to trial is a right, not a crime,” Fellner said. “But defendants are punished with longer sentences for exercising that right.”
Prosecutors are able to impose the trial penalty because judges have been reduced to virtual bystanders in cases involving mandatory sentences. When prosecutors choose to pursue mandatory penalties and the defendant is convicted, judges must impose the sentences. They cannot exercise their traditional role of tailoring sentences to each defendant’s conduct and culpability and of making sentences no longer than necessary to serve the purposes of punishment....The new statistics Human Rights Watch developed for the report, based on raw federal sentencing data for 2012, include the following:
• The average sentence for federal drug offenders who pled guilty was five years, four months; for those convicted after trial the average sentence was sixteen years.
• For drug defendants convicted of offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences, those who pled guilty had an average sentence of 82.5 months compared with 215 months for those convicted after trial, a difference of 11 years.
• Among drug defendants with prior felony convictions, the odds of receiving a sentencing enhancement based on those convictions was 8.4 times greater for those who went to trial than for those who pled guilty.
• Among drug defendants with a gun involved in their offense, the odds of receiving the statutory gun sentencing enhancement were 2.5 times greater for those who went to trial than for those who pled guilty.
December 5, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack (0)
"Treating Juveniles Like Juveniles: Getting Rid of Transfer and Expanded Adult Court Jurisdiction"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Christopher Slobogin which I just noticed via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The number of juveniles transferred to adult court has skyrocketed in the past two decades and has only recently begun to level off. This symposium article argues that, because it wastes resources, damages juveniles, and decreases public safety, transfer should be abolished. It also argues that the diminished culpability rationale that has had much-deserved success at eliminating the juvenile death penalty and mandatory life without parole for juveniles is not likely to have a major impact on the much more prevalent practices of transferring mid- and older-adolescents to adult court and expanding adult court jurisdiction to adolescents; neither the law nor developmental science justifies the conclusion that juvenile offenders deserve significant mitigation in the non-capital context.
If instead juvenile justice is reconceptualized as a preventive mechanism rather than a punishment regime (as laid out in the book I co-authored, "Juveniles at Risk: A Plea for Preventive Justice"), transfer becomes much less alluring. If the primary goal of juvenile justice is public safety, with retribution conceived as an important goal only to the extent that recognizing it is necessary to ensure systemic legitimacy, then maintaining an adult court option for juveniles (and imposing long sentences on them) becomes unnecessary and counterproductive. Appended to this article is another article, written for the ABA’s Criminal Justice Magazine, that fleshes out how a risk management regime would work in a prevention-oriented juvenile justice system
Yet another effective review of the child porn restitution challenges facing SCOTUS
I have already blogged some previews of the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States even though oral argument is still six weeks away because the issues strike me as so interesting and dynamic. (The parties' main briefs and now lots of amicus briefs are now available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page.) And I suspect we are seeing other notable coverage of the case already because lots of others are also intrigued by the issues and arguments now before the Justices in Paroline. The latest example comes via Emily Bazelon here at Slate, and it is headlined "Paying Amy: Doyle Paroline owned two pornographic pictures of an 8-year-old girl. How much should he have to pay?" Here are a few excerpts (with cites to some of the filed briefs):
In January, the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of Doyle Randall Paroline, who was caught with two pictures of Amy among 280 illegal images and was found liable by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for the full amount of the restitution Amy, who is now 24, has claimed. The 5th Circuit said it was up to Paroline — not Amy — to find the other men who could also be on the hook for restitution and go after them for contributions. The legal theory is called joint and several liability. It’s the way courts deal with pollution cases in which a bunch of defendants all dump toxic waste into a single lake. A plaintiff sues one wealthy company for all the damages, and then that defendant has to sue other companies to share the costs.
Is this how Congress intended victims to recover from sex offenders when it passed [the Violence Against Women Act] in 1994?...
Of the eight appeals courts that have heard challenges by men like Paroline, only the 5th Circuit agreed entirely with Amy’s theory of recovery. The Department of Justice also disagrees with a key to it, saying that joint and several liability doesn’t apply in these cases. But a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have filed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing that Congress wanted to give Amy an easy path to restitution. VAWA could “hardly be clearer,” say the senators (roll call: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dianne Feinstein of California, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, John McCain of Arizona, Patty Murray of Washington, and Charles Schumer of New York)....
Five appeals courts have said they doubted that victims like Amy can win more than nominal restitution. Two others let her keep awards of only $10,000 or less. She has been able to collect larger amounts only from men who have agreed to settle or waived their right to appeal. The senators, though, say that all these courts got it wrong and the 5th Circuit got it right. They quote Vice President Joe Biden, chief architect of the VAWA, who called it “the most victim-friendly bill [the Senate] ever passed.” And they provide an important piece of history about how VAWA was drafted....
Here’s the clearest way to think about how and why Amy and other victims like her should win restitution. Their trauma can’t be neatly parceled out among the individual men convicted for possessing their pictures. But the harm is crystal clear in the aggregate. And so Paroline and other defendants shouldn’t be relieved of their obligation to pay “simply because Amy would continue to suffer harm if there were one less child-pornography consumer in the world,” as the Department of Justice puts it. This makes sense to me: You can’t let each viewer off the hook because he is merely one small part of the whole.
How much does each viewer who is convicted have to pay? The Department of Justice argues — vaguely and without any basis I can see in VAWA — that each defendant should pay restitution in an amount greater than zero but less than the whole. Courts should use their discretion to pick some place in the middle, the government says. It rejects the idea of joint and several liability as “practically unworkable” and “unduly harsh.”
If Paroline had to pay millions of dollars for his two pictures of Amy, then yes, that would be unfair. But that’s not how joint and several liability works. It works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants. Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible. This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts. If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.
Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse. For Amy and Nicole, it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times. Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution. The Supreme Court should too. And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.
A few prior posts on Paroline:
- SCOTUS grants cert on challenging child porn restitution issues that have deeply split lower courts
- Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"
- Another preview of Paroline via the New York Times
December 5, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)