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July 2, 2005

Honoring moms at sentencing

Celebrating this weekend in a patriotic fashion calls for honoring hot dogs, baseball, apple pie and mom.  I am doing my part with baseball and food, and to complete the quartet I can report on a pair of recent decisions that honor moms at sentencing.

From federal court, Wisconsin US District Judge Lynn Adelman continues his noteworthy post-Booker work through his opinion in US v. Greer, No.  03-CR-194 (D. Wisc. June 27, 2005), which can be downloaded below.  (Some of Judge Adelman's other major Booker opinions can be accessed in this post.) In Greer, Judge Adelman was sentencing a pregnant woman who "did not sell cocaine but was the girlfriend, sister and cousin of men who did [and on] several occasions, she helped them in relatively small ways."  Judge Adelman justifies a sentence below the guidelines on numerous grounds in Greer, explaining in one part of his opinion:

If defendant were imprisoned, her two young children would suffer dearly. Defendant's mother had serious medical problems, and defendant's sister was only 20 and a full time student with a part-time job.  The children's father was in prison.  Thus, sending defendant to prison would likely require the children to be placed in foster care. Further, requiring her to give birth in prison, then lose custody of her new born could cause severe damage to both her and the child.

Download adelman_greer_mom_variance.pdf

From state court, this AP story discusses a case in Maryland involving the release of a defendant serving a five-year fraud sentence "who asked to have her prison sentence reduced so she could bond with her infant."  The interesting facets of this story include (1) the state judge justifying a reduced sentence on the ground that the defendant already served the equivalent of the sentencing term she would have received under the federal guidelines, and (2) some of the defendant's supporters were anti-abortion activists who lobbied Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich for leniency.

July 2, 2005 in Booker in district courts, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Great Harris test case from the 7th Circuit

In prior posts here and here, I have highlighted that Justice O'Connor was a key vote in the 5-4 decision in 2002 Harris decision which declared that judges could still find facts to support the application of mandatory minimum sentences.  If Justice O'Connor's replacement is truly in the mold of Justice Thomas (who authored a potent dissent in Harris), the Harris "mandatory minimum" exception to the Apprendi-Blakely rule gets even shakier.  (Recall that Harris is already shaky because of Justice Breyer's peculiar concurrence.)

Yesterday, the Seventh Circuit just happened to render a decision in a case which might be an especially good test for the continued vitality of Harris.  In US v. Duncan, No. 04-1916 (7th Cir. July 1, 2005) (available here), the defendant was convicted at trial of numerous crimes related to an armed bank robbery, and his applicable guideline sentence was 97-121 months.  But, as a result of a 924(c) count, and the judge's preponderance determination (aided by a presentence report) that the gun used in the robbery qualified as a machine gun, the district court was obliged by statute to impose not less than 30 years of additional imprisonment.  In Duncan, the defendant complained that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated by this judicial factfinding which added 30 years to his sentence (functionally tripling his sentence), but the Seventh Circuit concluded that Harris foreclosed this claim and that only the Supreme Court could declare Harris overruled.

The facts in Duncan called to mind Justice Scalia's expressed concern in Blakely about a defendant seeing "his maximum potential sentence balloon ... based not on facts proved to his peers beyond a reasonable doubt, but on facts extracted after trial from a report compiled by a probation officer who the judge thinks more likely got it right than got it wrong."  Indeed, arguably the 7th Circuit might have concluded in Duncan that the defendant's sentence violated Blakely notwithstanding Harris (as a Minnesota court has held in a seemingly analogous situation).  And, even if Duncan is sound in light of Harris, the case involves a notable set of facts that could allow the Supreme Court (with its eventual new member) to review Harris in light of what Blakely and Booker have said.

July 2, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 1, 2005

A preview of O'Connor's replacement?

A quick tour of my side-bar links already has me overwhelmed by all the SCOTUS buzz, especially over at The Supreme Court Nomination Blog, TalkLeft and How Appealing.  Though I have lots of broader thoughts, I will try in this space to stay on-topic by providing a sentencing perspective on the new Justice talk (as in my posts here and here).

In that vein, I noticed that the SCONo Blog has this post discussing four persons named as possible replacements for Justice O'Connor, and two members of that group — Fifth Circuit Judges Edith Clement and Edith Jones — just happen to be together on a sentencing opinion released today in US v. Garcia-Rodriguez, No. 03-40906 (5th Cir. June 30, 2005) (available here).  The opinion in Garcia-Rodriguez, which was authored by Judge Jones, turns on the application of plain error and does not break any important ground.  But, while everyone is busy speculating, I cannot resist wondering what Judges Clement and Jones might really think about a range of sentencing issues.

July 1, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Huge Blakely day in North Carolina

Nc_flag Of course, news of Justice O'Connor's retirement makes this a big day in DC.  But, I have received word that, for Blakely fans, today is also a huge day in NC.  That is because, apparently within the span of just 24 hours, North Carolina (1) had its Governor sign a Blakely fix bill, H822, that provides for jury determination of aggravating factors, and (2) had its state Supreme Court issue a set of major Blakely rulings, which apply Blakely to the state's sentencing system and hold that Blakely error is structural and cannot be harmless.  Wow!

Though these events involve more details that I can summarize, I can provide the highlights and links.  The major Blakely ruling from the North Carolina Supreme Court comes in State v. Allen, No. 485PA04 (N.C. July 1, 2005) (available here). And if you have not had enough Blakely fun in Allen's 76 pages, that Court also has some Blakely-related discussion in State v. Speight, No. 491PA04 (N.C. July 1, 2005) (available here) and in State v. Beck, No. 191PA04 (N.C. July 1, 2005) (available here).

Meanwhile, as detailed here, on Thursday North Carolina's Governor signed the state's Blakely fix bill, which is entitled "An Act to Amend State Law Regarding the Determination of Aggravating Factors in a Criminal Case to Conform with The United States Supreme Court Decision in Blakely V. Washington." Here is how the new law, which is available here, was described to me in an e-mail:

The bill, H822, calls for a jury determination of all aggravating factors.  The determination takes place simultaneously with the jury verdict on guilt innocence of the basic offense, unless a judge bifurcates on the defendant's request "if the  interests of justice require."

The State must give 30 days written notice to the defense of intent to seek an aggravated range sentence.  "Statutory ags" need not be listed in the indictment, but ags that are not spelled out in the sentencing statute must be pled in the indictment.

July 1, 2005 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (37) | TrackBack

Justice O'Connor retiring; what will her replacement think of Harris and Almendarez-Torres?

I am sure sentencing issues will not be the main focus of discussion as the media and blogsphere discusses the news of Justice O'Connor's announced retirement and her potential replacement.  Nevertheless, as I detailed in this post, Justice O'Connor served as a key fifth vote in the 5-4 decisions that produced the Almendarez-Torres "prior conviction exception" and the Harris "mandatory minimum" exception to the Apprendi-Blakely rule.  If (when?) President Bush were to nominate replacement Justices in the "Scalia-Thomas" mold, the future of Almendarez-Torres and Harris would seem to be even shakier.

Of course, the Supreme Court Nomination Blog, SCOTUSblog and How Appealing are the places to go to get the scoop and surely lots of links on the big news concerning Justice O'Connor's announced retirement.  Already SCOTUSblog has this post noting that confirmation hearings are usually 6-8 weeks after an announced retirement.

July 1, 2005 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

House hearing on death penalty and habeas bills

Thanks to a link from CrimProf Blog, I just discovered that the US House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security yesterday held a legislative hearing entitled "Does an Accurate and Swift Death Penalty Deter Crime and Save Lives?".  This legislative hearing concerned two bills introduced last week: HR 3060, the "Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act of 2005" (available here); and HR 3035, the "Streamlined Procedures Act" (available here).  The first bill appears to make a number of modifications to the federal death penalty, and the second bill appears to make a number of modifications to the federal habeas corpus provisions of AEDPA.

A press advisory about the hearing from the office of Committee Chair Sensenbrenner is available here, and a webcast of the hearings along with links to the written testimony is available here.  The written testimony of Professor Bernard Harcourt, available here, begins with this ominous account of the habeas provisions of HR 3035:

I would like to focus my remarks today on H.R. 3035, the "Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005," for the very simple reason that this proposed bill is radical. It seeks a radical cutting and slashing of our existing process of federal habeas corpus review of state convictions under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act reform package that Congress carefully crafted in 1996 (the "AEDPA"). This new bill would effectively gut federal habeas corpus review where states have imposed a sentence of death — in other words, in the most important habeas cases — as well as in non-capital cases.

Since these bills are news to me, I have no clear sense of their origins or prospects.  Readers with more information about these bills are encouraged to use the comments to report any pertinent news.

July 1, 2005 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Resources for those in the Black

The folks at California's First District Appellate Project have previously provided terrific resources here on Blakely, Booker and Shepard. I now see that the FDAP folks are starting to assemble materials to deal with California Supreme Court's big Blakely decision last week in Black (basics here, commentary here and here). 

To begin, at this link you can access a memo authored by Jonathan Soglin entitled "Blakely, Booker, and Black. Now What?"  Here's an account of the memo from its introduction:

This memorandum will provide quick suggestions as to how appellants can procedurally respond to Black in order to preserve Blakely claims. This memorandum will also provide some guidance for triage of cases in order to determine which cases may be best suited for certiorari petitions raising Blakely claims.

July 1, 2005 in Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 30, 2005

Two of note on Booker from the 11th Circuit

The 11th Circuit brings us two interesting Booker rulings today:

June 30, 2005 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The impact of SCOTUS's heightened scrutiny in capital cases

I have been kvetching a lot, most recently in posts here and here, about the Supreme Court's expenditure of so much time and energy on death penalty cases when there is so much post-Blakely and post-Booker work to be done.  Nevertheless, spurred by this interesting and insightful commentary by Andrew Cohen about criminal cases in the Term just ended, I should note that the Supreme Court's work in the capital arena seems to be having an impact on the administration of capital punishment. 

Cohen's commentary effectively spotlights "that there's a majority on the court no longer willing to wait for lower courts or state legislators or Congress to ensure more fairness and accuracy in capital cases in particular."  And Cohen reasonably links the Court's recent capital work to modern concerns about innocent persons getting sentencing to death:

These decisions are some of the practical consequences of the concerns Justice Sandra Day O'Connor raised in a speech four years ago when she said: "If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed.... Serious questions are being raised about whether the death penalty is being fairly administered in this country."

Perhaps even more interesting than these observations are the stories to be found inside the numbers.  As detailed in this post and others linked therein, there are many numerical indicators of recent declines in the use of the death penalty in the United States.  Though the work of SCOTUS surely does not account for all these declines, the Court's heightened scrutiny in capital cases likely does account in part for why so many executions have recently been stayed and also surely in part explains why we are on pace for the fewest execution this year since 1996.

June 30, 2005 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Big Blakely rulings from the ends of the Union

State Blakely developments continue to unfold in fascinating ways nationwide, and yesterday brought state Supreme Court rulings of note from Maine and Hawaii.  And the opinions from both ends of the union spotlight yet again the confusion and uncertainty that the US Supreme Court has created through its Booker spin on the Blakely decision.

From Maine, the big news, as summarized in this AP article, is that the state's Supreme Judicial Court concluded in two opinions that a Maine sentencing statute allowing increased sentences for the "most heinous crimes committed against a person" requires a jury determination of heinousness after Blakely. rendered yesterday a set of opinions interpreting Blakely.  These opinions, State v. Schofield, 2005 ME 82 (Maine June 29, 2005) (available here), State v. Averill, 2005 ME 83 (Maine June 29, 2005) (available here), split the main Justices 4-3, with the dissenters maintaining that a determination of heinousness is not the type of fact traditionally submitted to a jury.   (In a third ruling, State v. Miller, 2005 ME 84 (Maine June 29, 2005) (available here), the court ruled unanimously that there was no constitutional problem with judicial fact-finding in discretionary sentencing under distinct statutory provisions.)

From Hawaii, the big news is that the state's Supreme Court in Hawaii v. Maugaotega, 2005 WL 1525107 (Hawaii June 29, 2005) (available here, dissent here), held that "our approach to Hawaii's extended term sentencing scheme, as explicated in [prior rulings] Kaua and Rivera, is not at odds with United States v. Booker, inasmuch as (1) Booker's holding is limited to the federal sentencing guidelines, and (2) Hawaii's extended term sentencing structure is not mandatory."   This is especially noteworthy because, as detailed in posts here and here, though the state Supreme Court has previously upheld constitutionality of Hawaii's extended term sentencing, a federal district court considering a habeas petition ruled last December that Hawaii's extended term sentencing scheme runs afoul of Apprendi and Blakely.

The decisions in Schofield and Maugaotega are both quite interesting and thoughtful, and they both reflect well on state high courts doing their best to make sense of the messy sentencing jurisprudence that the US Supreme Court has produced with Blakely and Booker.

UPDATE: With thanks to Howard Bashman for the pointer, here is a local story on the Maine ruling in SchofieldAND: Here is a local press story on Maugaotega.

June 30, 2005 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

8th Circuit to reconsider reasonableness en banc

The Eighth Circuit this week has continues its torrid pace of clearing the Booker pipeline with nearly a dozen more dispositions, and I am still unable to keep up with all of that Circuit's Booker wisdom.  But, thanks to a helpful reader, I have learned that the Eighth Circuit has decided to reconsider, en banc, the wisdom of US v. Christenson, No. 04-2084 (8th Cir. Apr. 13, 2005) (available here).

Obsessive readers may recall that Christenson was one of a set of big cases the Eighth Circuit decided in April in which the Court decided that reasonableness review under Booker was to be akin to review for abuse of discretion.  And in Christenson, the government filed a 5K1.1. departure motion and recommend a sentence of 216 months' imprisonment down from the otherwise applicable sentence of 240 months.  But the district court sentenced Christenson to 60 months (even though defense counsel had proposed a sentence of 144 months), and the Eighth Circuit concluded this sentence "was not unreasonable."

The en banc order in Christenson, which is available here, is dated June 20 and indicates the government moved for rehearing en banc.  It also states that an "argument date will be fixed by a later order of this court."  It will be interesting to see whether and how the Eighth Circuit will use Christenson to expand on the meaning of reasonableness review after Booker.

June 30, 2005 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

News of note from a grand Booker discussion

I had a grand opportunity on Tuesday to speak to the Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference as part of a panel discussing federal sentencing after Booker.  Because of the grand location for the event, I could not resist analogizing Booker to the time travel movie Somewhere in Time, but I think you really had to be there for the analogy to work.

Besides my hackneyed movie reference, the panel included, inter alia, interesting reports from US Sentencing Commission Chair Ricardo Hinojosa and DOJ's ex-officio USSC member Deborah Rhodes.  Judge Hinojosa whet my ever-ravenous appetite for post-Booker data by indicating that a new data run, now including over 20,000 post-Booker sentencings, should be released by the USSC within the next few weeks.  And Assistant AG Rhodes slightly eased my anxiety over AG Gonzales' recent speech urging a Booker fix (basics here, commentary here and here and here) by indicating that the speech was just advocating consideration of so-called "topless guidelines" and was not meant as an endorsement of any specific pending legislative proposal (lots of background here).

June 30, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

In transit...

I had the great fortune of being invited to speak this week about sentencing at the Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference.  As is always the case, I feel as though I gained more wisdom than I shared. I hope to detail some of that wisdom in future posts,  but today is a travel day home when I will be off-line until the wee hours.

June 29, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Big white collar developments

Thanks to the White Collar Crime Prof Blog, I see there are all sorts of interesting developments on the white collar front.  The biggest news, as detailed in this AP story, concerns a federal jury acquitting HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy of all charges "in a surprise setback for federal prosecutors who had scored victories over a string of big-name CEOs accused of fraud."  Peter Henning and Ellen Podgor both have extended posts here and here covering and analyzing this news. The first thought that jumped to my mind was that perhaps the Scrushy juror was influenced in some small way by the news of very long sentences in other federal white-collar cases such as the sentences the Rigases received last week.

And speaking of long sentences in white-collar cases, the White Collar Crime Prof Blog in this post discusses the government's sentencing brief for the July 13 sentencing of former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers.  That brief, which runs 83 total pages and can be accessed at this link, is a very interesting read and concludes with the government being a bit cagey about its ultimate sentence recommendation (perhaps because the claimed amount of loss takes Ebbers' guideline calculation literally off the offense level chart).  Peter Henning provides an nice summary of the government's brief in this post, and I will just set out the brief's nuanced conclusion:

The Government respectfully submits that, for the reasons explained above, Ebbers should be sentenced to a term of imprisonment consistent with the Sentencing Guidelines and the sentences imposed in the three similar cases involving John Rigas, Patrick Bennett, and Steven Hoffenberg [who are other senior executives convicted of significant corporate fraud].

Some media reports on the government's sentencing brief are here and here, and background on Ebbers' sentencing filing seeking leniency can be found in this post.

June 28, 2005 in Booker in district courts, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

More death and habeas from SCOTUS

Fittingly, only hours after I kvetched here about all the capital and habeas cases clogging up the Supreme Court's docket, we get word from Lyle Denniston in this post at SCOTUSblog that the Court today has granted cert on another capital case from the Sixth Circuit and another habeas case from the Ninth Circuit. 

Relatedly, Tom Goldstein in this post provides a copy of this informative document listing all of the SCOTUS cases granted for next Term.  Based on that list, which seems to comprise about half of the Court's likely docket for next Term, I see the Court has already taken four capital cases and a number of habeas cases, but not a single case that deals with any of the post-Blakely and post-Booker questions that seem, at least to me, to be much more pressing and of much greater national import.

Considering my prior rants here and here about the Supreme Court's expenditure of so much time and energy on death penalty cases, I suppose I should just stop tilting at Blakey/Booker windmills.  Nevertheless, last month I outlined in this post just some of the post-Blakely and post-Booker questions that I think merit the Supreme Court's attention, and none of these issues have gone away.  Moreover, now that the Supreme Courts of Tennessee and California have issued questionable rulings about Blakely's reach, I think the cert. worthy issues in this arena only continue to grow.

Given the Supreme Court's tendency of late, in the sentencing arena and elsewhere, to make modern doctrines even more opaque and confusing, perhaps I should be thankful that we will all have to wait at least until next spring before getting any more Blakey/Booker "wisdom" from the Court.  In the meantime, I will continue to speculate (and kvetch) about why only those defendants who are sentenced to death now capture the Supreme Court's attention.

June 28, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Initial end-of-Term reflections on criminal justice and sentencing

Though the blogsphere and the media are still focused principally on Monday's Ten Commandments and file sharing rulings from the Supreme Court, it will soon be time for end of Term reflections.  Indeed, Scripps Howard News Service already has this review of the Term just completed, and I trust we will see more of the same soon from many sources. 

To beat the rush, here are my first-cut anecdotal impressions (biased by my inevitable sentencing focus) of the Supreme Court's criminal justice work this Term: (1) there were a lot of capital and habeas cases, (2) there were relatively few police practices cases, and (3) criminal defendants and prisoners generally did better than I have come to expect.   Notably, if you count Cutter and Medellin and Raich as criminal justice decisions, half of Tom Goldstein's ten biggest rulings of the Term are criminal cases.  However, because I view those cases as examples of the common intersection of federalism and constitutional law in the midst of the criminal justice system, in my mind only Booker and Roper should be remembered as big criminal justice decisions from this past Term.

I believe the limited number of big criminal justice rulings flows directly from Supreme Court's apparent obsession with capital cases (which I have lamented in previous posts here and here and here and here), as well as its constant need to sort out procedurally intricate habeas/AEDPA issues.  Effectively capturing my own frustrations with the Supreme Court's sentencing docket, Mike at Crime & Federalism has these astute and potent comments:

What's up with the Court's granting cert. on so many death cases?  The death penalty is rarely meted out.  If the members of the Court really cared about sentencing, they'd grant cert. on the various Blakely/Booker issues.  If the "liberals" cared so much about justice in sentencing, they'd not have crafted their lame and unprincipled Booker remedial scheme. Sure, "death is different," but death is also rare.  The horrors of prison are real and frequent.  Why not ensure that only those found guilty by a jury of their peers spend time in prison?

UPDATEAlso getting a jump on end-of-Term coverage is Tony Mauro, who has this great piece at Legal Times (which can be accessed by all thanks to law.com).  Tony's piece has lots of perspectives on the Court's work this Term, and it closes with a set of great NBA analogies that now have me trying to decide if SCOTUS had a year more like the Spurs or the Pistons.  (Perhaps the High Court's home-town Washington Wizards might be the best comparison, since the Wizards had a pretty exciting and often surprising year.)

NBA/SCOTUS comparisons seem especially apt today.  Tonight is the NBA's draft, and all the buzz over who might soon play in the NBA seems pretty comparable to all the buzz over who might soon be a Justice if there is a retirement announcement.  Perhaps we might even see some NBA general manager, looking for a sleeper pick late in the NBA draft, drawn in by the Draft Prado campaign.

June 28, 2005 in Blakely Commentary and News, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

Capital ruling and Booker GVRs from SCOTUS

Though other rulings on the 10 Commandments and file sharing are capturing most of the headlines and the blogsphere commentary, the Supreme Court today did decide a capital case with an interesting procedural angle in Bell v. Thompson, 04-514 (S. Ct. June 27, 2005) (available here).  Anisha Dasgupta at SCOTUSblog explains in this post that, in a 5-4 decision, the "majority found that, even assuming that Rule 41 authorizes stay of a mandate following denial of certiorari, and further assuming that a court can stay the mandate without entering an order, the Sixth Circuit's decision to do so in this case constituted an abuse of discretion."  The AP's summary of the decision is available here.

Also not to be overlooked, we had a few more Booker-inspired GVRs today.  My rough estimate suggests the running count of these GVRs has to be approaching 800 with the additional five to be found today on this order list.

June 27, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

SCOTUS mania

Of course, SCOTUSblog and How Appealing are the go-to places for all the action today at the Supreme Court.   The remaining big opinions are being released this morning to close out the Term, though as detailed here the High Court cleared its criminal docket last week save for one habeas ruling.

Adding to the usual exciting is the anticipation of a possible retirement by one (or more) of the Justices.  Tom Goldstein is blogging like a Court opening is coming, and thus I suppose we should gear up for another hot summer.  In the arena of sentencing law and policy, I do not think we will ever match the excitement of last year's summer of Blakely.  Nevertheless, given the dynamic and ever-shifting sentencing jurisprudence that SCOTUS has created ever since its 5-4 Almendarez-Torres decision in 1998 (followed by Jones, Apprendi, Harris, Blakely and Booker, all of which were also 5-4), a new Justice certainly could, as I have previously discussed here, have a profound impact on the sentencing world.

June 27, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Another editorial criticizing the Gonzales speech

This morning, the Reading Eagle of Pennsylvania added itself to the group of papers editorializing against AG Alberto Gonzales speech last week advocating a Booker fix (basics here, commentary here and here and here).  I found this editorial especially interesting, not only because it is in blog format so readers can comments, but also because it connects the Gonzales speech the grousing by some members of Congress about "activist judges."  Here are some snippets from the editorial:

Talk about convoluted logic: The solution to judges legislating from the bench is for lawmakers to sentence convicts from the halls of Congress.  As we said in January after the Supreme Court ruled, judges must be allowed to use discretion in handing down sentences.  Without that discretion the judiciary, one of three equal branches of the federal government, becomes simply an administrative arm of the legislative branch.

Just as important, the legacy of mandatory minimums has been overcrowded prisons and the soaring costs of housing inmates, many of whom would benefit more from probation and placement in rehabilitation programs. It is more than a little ironic that many of the states that passed mandatory-minimum sentences in the law-and-order days of the 1980s have begun to back away from them because of the financial burdens they have created....

Congress must resist the urge to sentence from the Capitol. It's time to change tactics and start concentrating on alternatives to prison. In the long run, the country will be better off financially and socially.

June 27, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 26, 2005

More on the (medical) costs of long sentences

As detailed in this post, last month the Tuscon Citizen ran this thoughtful article about Arizona's aging prison population and the associated rising health-care costs.  This morning the Los Angeles Times examines this issue in this cover story entitled, "Dying on our dime: California's prisons are teeming with older inmates who run up staggering medical costs."

The LA Times article details that the "financial toll of incarcerating senior citizens nationwide is staggering," that "California spends two to three times more a year housing inmates over the age of 55," and that a "state Legislative Analysts Office study projects that the number of inmates over 60 could hit 30,200 by 2022, costing the state at least a billion dollars a year." The article then astutely spotlights that "sentencing reform is the primary culprit. The state's 1994 three-strikes law mandates life sentences without parole for certain repeat felons, and these recidivists — 42,240 second- and third-strikers as of June 2002 — will inevitably grow old and die in prison."

In addition to its effective coverage of this important issue, the LA Times article also has this compelling photo gallery of elderly inmates.

June 26, 2005 in Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack