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October 8, 2005

When will the USSC (or DOJ) release district-level and extent-of-variance data?

This interesting article discussing a federal re-sentencing resulting in a significantly reduced term for two defendants in Pennsylvania has whetted my appetite for district-level and extent-of-variance data from the US Sentencing Commission (or the Justice Department). 

The news story is focused on significant sentence reductions for two drug defendants.  The reductions were premised on crack/powder disparity concerns and led the AUSA to assert that the sentencing judge "was usurping the role of legislators by departing substantially from the congressionally approved sentencing guidelines."  And the article includes this fascinating report from a local federal prosecutor about sentencing in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:

Since [Booker], federal judges in eastern Pennsylvania who have conducted resentencings have issued shorter sentences for 60 percent of the defendants, according to Robert Zauzmer, an assistant U.S. attorney who heads the office's appellate unit.  But most of those reductions were modest.  In 10 percent of the cases, including the Ricks brothers' cases, the reductions were substantial, Zauzmer said. 

This revealing report confirms my belief that federal prosecutors are keeping data on district-by-district post-Booker sentencing outcomes, and I am sure the USSC is doing the same.  But none of this data has yet been made publicly available, even though we have 10 full months of post-Booker outcomes.  The USSC has done a very good job promulgating cumulative and circuit-by-circuit data, but district-by-district is essential for getting a full picture of post-Booker sentencing realities.

Relatedly, this report spotlights that the extent of departures and variances may ultimately be more important for assessing post-Booker sentencing than just the raw number of non-guideline sentences.   Indeed, as noted in this post, back in February US Attorney Robert McCampbell stressed in his USSC testimony that we all ought to be concerned more with the magnitude of variances than the raw number, since large variances pose a much greater risk of disparity than small ones.  (As McCampbell noted, I made this point about departures in my article Balanced and Purposeful Departures: Fixing a Jurisprudence that Undermines the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, 76 Notre Dame Law Review 21 (2000).)  The USSC has not released any data to date on the extent of departures and variances; here's hoping they might soon.

October 8, 2005 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 7, 2005

Is it time for a USSC hearing about the post-Booker world?

This page at US Sentencing Commission's website details that, after a quiet late spring and summer, the USSC has scheduled a series of public hearings in the coming months.  The page also reminds me that, after two terrific hearings in November 2004 and February 2005, it has now been a full eight months since the USSC convened a big public hearing to discuss the impact of Blakely and Booker on the federal sentencing system. 

Especially in light of the uncertainty and apparent misunderstanding of the state of post-Booker sentencing — as well as the growing Booker fix buzz — I am coming to think that the USSC ought to have another big public meeting about the federal sentencing world after Booker ASAP.  Perhaps such an event is on the agenda for the coming meetings; if not, it should be.

October 7, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Busy criminal day in the 1st Circuit

Today was a big day for criminal dispositions in the First Circuit on a range of topics, and all the action is well covered over at Appellate Law & Practice.  The biggest news, covered effectively at both AL&P and How Appealing, is the First Circuit's grant of the government's write of mandamus to prevent US District Judge Nancy Gertner's creative effort to try to get more African-Americans on the jury to decide a federal death penalty case.

October 7, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As if juries really matter in criminal cases...

I see this afternoon two interesting posts about jury decision-making in criminal cases: Doug Lichtman at the UC Faculty Blog is here talking up proportional jury voting schemes; Ethan Leib at PrawfsBlawg is here talking up super-majorities and a "decision rule hybrid" for criminal juries.  My reaction to both posts are: "Hmm, how interesting, this might matter in the 1 out of every 10 criminal cases that goes to trial; I wonder how it would impact the other 9 that are resolved through pleas."

I am, of course, all for deep thoughts and creative proposals concerning the structure of criminal juries (especially in the wake of Blakely).  Nevertheless, as Stephanos Bibas astutely stressed in this Yale Law Journal piece, in a world in which more than 90% of convictions result from guilty pleas, the real import and impact of criminal jury reforms depends upon the shadows that any proposed reform would cast over plea bargaining.

October 7, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sloppy article on post-Booker USSC statistics

The New Jersey Law Journal today has this article headlined "3rd Circuit Sentencing Departures Rise in Wake of Booker and Fanfan," which just reports on and gets reaction to the latest batch of post-Booker sentencing data from the USSC.  Unfortunately, the article is sloppy in its reporting and use of terminology.

For example, even the headline is technically wrong: departures have actually declined in the Third Circuit and elsewhere in the wake of Booker, although the overall number of sentences outside the guideline range has risen due to so-called Booker variances.  In addition, the article asserts that Third Circuit judges, when granting "departures," do so "a third of the time without citing a specific reason, according to a U.S. Sentencing Commission report."  Unless there is some secret USSC report, I do not believe any USSC data or evidence support the assertion that many departures or variances are granted without stated reasons.  (Based on the full article, it appears the reporter has improperly decided to describe all Booker variances as departures "without citing a specific reason," but that is not an accurate reflection of any of the Booker variances I have seen.)

Notably, the article also does not mention the interesting reality that average and median sentences nationwide have actually increased after Booker (although we do not yet have circuit-by-circuit data from the USSC on this issue).  So the story presents a one-sided, as well as an inaccurate, perspective on the post-Booker data.

Though the sloppy reporting in this article is unfortunate, it is perhaps understandable given the complicated realities and terminology of post-Booker sentencing.  It also suggests that the US Sentencing Commission needs to do a lot more than just produce data; it should issue a full report to explain the data for better public consumption and understanding.  The USSC's recent statement of priorities suggests we can expect such a report sometime next year, but articles like this piece in the New Jersey Law Journal make me worry that a USSC report next year might end up being a day late and a dollar short.

October 7, 2005 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

State Blakely cases on SCOTUS agenda

Jonathan Soglin is doing a fine job tracking some state Blakely cases working their way up to the Supreme Court.  Over at Criminal Appeal, this post notes that cert petitions are pending in Blakely cases from at least three states, and this page over at the FDAP website is tracking cases coming from California.

I believe Jonathan has been especially focused on Abeyta v. California, No. 05-5747, a case in which the defendant filed for cert in August (details here) and which is to be considered in conference by the Justices this Friday.  Recall that, back in June, the California Supreme Court concluded in Black that Blakely was essentially inapplicable to California's determinate sentencing scheme (basics here, commentary here and here).   

I am, of course, ever eager for the Supreme Court to take up new Blakely and Booker cases (as suggested in posts here and here).  But I have a nagging suspicion that SCOTUS will continue to dodge Blakely and Booker issues over the next few months.  And yet, given my poor track record for predicting SCOTUS timelines, I am not making any predictions.

October 7, 2005 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Advice for white-collar defense post-Booker

Alan Ellis and James Feldman Jr. have a new article entitled "Representing White Collar Clients in a Post-Booker World," which is the lead article in the latest issue of the NACDL's renowned journal The Champion.  I have kindly received permission to post the article below.

This article is a terrific resource for all federal sentencing practitioners.  The article provides a thorough and helpful overview of the post-Booker sentencing world, as well as particularized advice for white-collar sentencing arguments.  The article concludes with this sentiment: "The guidelines for white collar crime are harsh, but solid investigation, creative thinking, and persuasive advocacy can often be combined to protect our clients from overly severe and excessive punishment."

Download white_collar_from_ellisfeldman.pdf

October 7, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 6, 2005

Minnesota Supreme Court invalidates post-conviction plea waiver

The lawfulness and appropriateness of appeal waivers post-Booker is a lively and interesting topic that I have covered in posts here and here and is the subject of an important recent paper by Nancy King and Michael O'Neill discussed here.  Providing an interesting twist on the debate over appeal waivers, the Minnesota Supreme Court today held in Spann v. Minnesota, No. A04-278  (Minn. Oct. 6, 2005) (available here) that an "agreement made between the state and the defendant, who has been convicted after trial, requiring the defendant to waive all rights to appellate review in exchange for a reduced sentence is invalid as a matter of public policy and a violation of due process."

The majority opinion invalidating the defendant's post-conviction appeal waiver suggests a distinction between pre- and post-conviction appeal waivers.  But much of the Spann decision's reasoning would seem to cast doubt on pre-conviction waivers.  Indeed, one dissent suggests that post-conviction appeal waivers are less worrisome than such waivers secured pre-conviction through traditional plea bargains.

October 6, 2005 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Divided Washington Supreme Court finds Blakely inapplicable to consecutive sentencing

As I was driving up to Cleveland this morning, I was thinking that there has not been a major state Blakely ruling in some time.  And then, lo and behold, the news arrives that the Washington Supreme Court today in State v. Cubias, No. 75109-9 (Wash. Oct. 6, 2005), declares in this en banc opinion "that the principle set forth in Apprendi and Blakely does not apply to the imposition of consecutive sentences." 

The chief ruling itself is not surprising; the decision notes that its "holding is also in line with the position taken in most other jurisdictions that have faced this issue" and cites four federal circuit decisions and 12 state rulings for this proposition.  But this lively partial dissent, which garners four state Justices' votes, highlights that this issue remains quite debatable.

October 6, 2005 in Blakely in the States | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

More from 7th Circuit on reasonableness review

A break between talks at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and a borrowed computer allow me to report on the latest Seventh Circuit decision confirming the reality that few (if any?) properly-calculated guideline sentences are going to be found unreasonable after Booker.  In US v. Williams, No. 03-4091 (7th Cir. Oct. 6, 2005) (accessible here), the Seventh Circuit affirms a nearly 10-year sentence at the top of the applicable range for a felon-in-possession conviction and explains (with cites omitted):

Deciding whether or not the sentence imposed by the district court is reasonable entails deferential review.   The question is not how we ourselves would have resolved the factors identified as relevant by section 3553(a) — many of which are vague and, worse perhaps, hopelessly open-ended — nor what sentence we ourselves ultimately might have decided to impose on the defendant.  We are not sentencing judges.  Rather, what we must decide is whether the district judge imposed the sentence he or she did for reasons that are logical and consistent with the factors set forth in section 3553(a). As we have noted, a sentence imposed within a properly calculated Guidelines range is presumptively reasonable.  We have left room for the possibility that there will be some cases in which a sentence within the Guidelines range, measured against the factors identified in section 3553(a), stands out as unreasonable. But those cases ... will be rare.

October 6, 2005 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hello, Cleveland!

Later today, I have the honor of giving the The 2005 Friedman & Gilbert Criminal Law Forum lecture at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.  As detailed here, my talk is entitled "Conceptualizing Booker: A Two-headed Monster or a Masterful Piece of Judicial Craftsmanship?"  I am about to jump in the car to drive up to the home of the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and thus I will be off-line the rest of today.  Below I have linked some of this exciting week's posts:





October 6, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 5, 2005

Fifth Circuit opines on its approach to Booker plain error

Though I am not quite sure why, the Fifth Circuit today in US vs. Rodriguez-Gutierrez, No. 04-30451 (5th Cir. Oct. 5, 2005) (available here), decided to opine at some length concerning the circuit's basic approach to Booker plain error.  The Rodriguez-Gutierrez is an interesting opinion, primarily because it reads more like a bench memo summarizing the circuit's jurisprudence than a disposition on the merits.

October 5, 2005 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fascinating new paper on community supervision from Vera Institute

The Vera Institute of Justice has produced a fascinating new paper exploring the important question, "Can community supervision compete with incarceration as a means of crime control?".  The new paer is entitled "Probation Reform: Is Zero Tolerance a Viable Option?" and is available at this link.  Here is the brief description of the paper from the Vera Institute:

Can community supervision compete with incarceration as a means of crime control?  Mark Kleiman, professor of policy studies at the UCLA School of Public Affairs and the author of "When Brute Force Fails: Strategic Thinking for Crime Control," believes it can.  At a July 2005 roundtable discussion sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Kleiman told a group of researchers and prominent community supervision administrators, "If we get [community supervision] right, we could cut incarceration by 50 percent, have less crime rather than more crime, and spend the same amount of money."  This paper, produced by the Vera Institute of Justice with support from NIJ, summarizes the discussion between Kleiman, who has proposed a new model of community corrections based on his theoretical work, and his audience of researchers and community corrections administrators, who represent a wealth of practical experience.

October 5, 2005 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Another amazing Penry chapter

Thanks to this post at How Appealing, I see the amazing news, reported in this AP story, that "Johnny Paul Penry, whose case helped spark national debate over whether mentally impaired inmates could be executed, had his death sentence overturned today for the third time."  This latest decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (majority here, dissents here and here), concludes

that there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury believed that it was not permitted to consider mental impairment outside of determining whether the appellant is mentally retarded. As a result, the instructions in this case fell short of the constitutional requirement that the jury be provided a vehicle to give effect to its reasoned moral response to the appellant's mitigating circumstances.

Spurred by this latest development, I cannot help but speculate how much time and money the state of Texas has spent over the last quarter century trying to end the life of Johnny Paul Penry.  His case has gone all the way up to the Supreme Court twice, and now three different death sentences have been overturned.  I also wonder whether Texas will try again, especially since it should realize that further appeals of a fourth death sentence would be inevitable because of constitutional uncertainty that surrounds the application of Atkins and its bar on the execution of persons with mental retardation.

October 5, 2005 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Will a Justice Miers continue to be a vocal advocate for better funding of indigent defense?

My crackerjack research assistant has found another tiny but interesting criminal justice scrap on Harriet Miers' paper trail.  It appears that, in December 2000, Miers was to moderate a panel entitled "Strategies for Improving Indigent Representation Systems" as part of a two-day "Symposium on Criminal Indigent Defense in Texas" sponsored by the State Bar of Texas and a number of judiciary and defender groups.  Details about this symposium can be found here and here.

As detailed in this transcript, Miers was for some reason unable to attend the event.  Nevertheless, I think just her commitment to serve as a moderator in this program (many years after she had served as president of the State Bar of Texas) reveals a genuine commitment to the cause of criminal defense and the need for adequate funding of indigent defense.  And recall that, as detailed in this post, Miers' 1992 Texas Lawyer article stressed that "inadequacies exist in the resources available to provide constitutionally required indigent criminal defense" and that lawyers "must, in the interest of the administration of justice, be aggressive advocates for increasing the resources available for the representation of indigent defendants."

To add some fun speculation to this mix, recall also that, as noted in this post, President Bush in his February 2005 State of the Union Address made the surprising statement that he planned soon to "send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side."  Besides wondering if President Bush ever did in fact send to Congress such a proposal, I also wonder if it is just a coincidence that Bush made this statement right around the time Miers became White House Counsel.

These issues are, of course, interesting as a matter of criminal justice policy, but they are also potentially significant as a matter of constitutional doctrine.  More than a few academics have forcefully advocated that some indigent defense systems are per se constitutionally ineffective because of a lack of adequate funding.  Might a Justice Miers be more sympathetic to claims of this sort — or ineffective assistance of counsel claims more generally — than some of her future colleagues?

UPDATE: Thanks to Howard Bashman, I see that the The Daily Journal of California has this article today discussing more generally Miers' "long track record of supporting legal services for the poor."

October 5, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Third major NY Times piece on lifers

The third piece of an impressive New York Times series of articles on life sentences, which focuses on life without paroel and the relationship of this sentence to the death penalty, can be found here.  (Prior articles in the series are discussed here and here.)  A fascinating passage from this latest article spotlights a point I have often made in my sentence classes: if I was innocent but convicted of murder, I would rather be sentence to death than to life.  Here's why:

Some defendants view the prospect of life in prison as so bleak and the possibility of exoneration for lifers as so remote that they are willing to roll the dice with death.  In Alabama, six men convicted of capital crimes have asked their juries for death rather than life sentences, said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama.

The idea seems to have its roots in the experience of Walter McMillian, who was convicted of capital murder by an Alabama jury in 1988. The jury recommended that he be sentenced to life without parole, but Judge Robert E. Lee Key Jr. overrode that recommendation and sentenced Mr. McMillian to death by electrocution.

Because of that death sentence, lawyers opposed to capital punishment took up Mr. McMillian's case. Through their efforts, Mr. McMillian was exonerated five years later after prosecutors conceded that they had relied on perjured testimony. "Had there not been that decision to override," said Mr. Stevenson, one of Mr. McMillian's lawyers, "he would be in prison today."

Other Alabama defendants have learned a lesson from Mr. McMillian. "We have a lot of death penalty cases where, perversely, the client at the penalty phase asks to be sentenced to death," Mr. Stevenson said.

Judges and other legal experts say that risky decision could be a wise one for defendants who are innocent or who were convicted under flawed procedures. "Capital cases get an automatic royal treatment, whereas noncapital cases are fairly routine," said Alex Kozinski, a federal appeals court judge in California.

October 5, 2005 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A lot of reading to catch up on...

I am finding the blogosphere buzz on Harriet Miers absolutely fascinating, from Stephen Bainbridge's withering attack to the array of diverse insights set out at Volokh and TalkLeft and Confirm Them.  Helpfully, the Left Coaster collects and organizes a lot of information and links in a post entitled Who is Harriet Miers?

Thanks to this post at Crime & Federalism, I got a chuckle from Feddie's suggestion about how  Miers is likely trying to brush up on constitutional law.  But, on a serious related note, consider how much reading lies ahead for nominee (and then Justice?) Miers to enable her to engage effectively with the issues that confront the High Court.  As a commercial litigator and even in her more recent roles within the administration, I suspect Miers has had little time and limited reason to keep up with much of the Supreme Court's often laborious jurisprudence.

To pick my favorite example, consider the field of sentencing.  I suspect (but would not wager) that, as White House Counsel, Miers had ocassion to read Booker.  But how about Blakely, or Ring, or Harris, or Apprendi, or Almendarez-Torres or Watts or McMillan or Williams

Shifting from the Sixth Amendment to the Eighth Amendment, I genuinely wonder if Miers has ever read Furman or Gregg or Coker or Lockett or McClesky or Herrera or Atkins.  (Again, I suspect (but would not wager) that, as White House Counsel, Miers had ocassion to read Roper.)  Of course, while on the Eighth Amendment, we shouldn't forget Solem, Harmelin and Ewing.  And let's not even get started with habeas jurisprudence.

I raise these realities not to criticize Miers, but rather to speculate about the impact of her SCOTUS inexperience when (if?) she joins the Court.  There is a lot of SCOTUS jurisprudence I have not kept up with since my law school days (and I never have to worry about attracting and serving clients).  But, as a consequence, when discussing a dormant commerce clause or First Amendment issue, I will often seek guidance from colleagues who are more knowledgeable on these subjects.  Drawing out the parallel, we might reasonably expect that a Justice Miers, at least in the short term as she is catching up on her reading, will be a follower and not a leader on a lot of subjects.

Of course, those on the right may hope, and those on the left may fear, that a Justice Miers will just follow Justices Scalia and Thomas.  But, as I have noted in post here and here, many criminal defendants will be quite pleased if a Justice Miers were to follow the paths of Justice Scalia in Blakely and Justice Thomas in Harris. (And, of course, the current SCOTUS sentencing head-count entails that criminal defendants may not even need Miers on their side to prevail on a range of future Blakely issues.)

Related posts:

October 5, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Experiencing technical difficulties

As of about 9:30pm Tuesday night, this blog started to have varied and mysterious technical problems.  I am hopeful these problems will be corrected soon, but right now I feel as though I have somehow entered the blogosphere's equivalent of the island in Lost.

October 5, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 4, 2005

Nominee Miers' 1992 discussion of crime and punishment

As this post at Volokh highlights, today begins an examination of SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers' paper trail.  And, intrigued by the quotes provided in this Time Magazine sampling, I pulled up on Lexis a short commentary Miers wrote in the July 27, 1992 issue of the Texas Lawyer when she was president of the State Bar of Texas and a partner at Locke Purnell Rain Harrell.   This commentary was written in response to an angry man's courthouse shooting spree in Fort Wayne, which left two lawyers dead and two judges and a prosecutor wounded.

The commentary ran under the title "Don't Blame the Legal System for Fort Worth Rampage," and it covers considerable ground in just over 1000 words.  Because Meirs' paper trail is apparently so short, I suspect a lot of the words in this 1992 commentary will get a lot of attention.  Here is the passages from Miers' pen that especially caught my eye:

Punishment of wrongdoers should be swift and sure.  Only then can the criminal justice system serve as an effective deterrent.  Those who would choose a rule of man rather than the rule of law must not escape fitting penalty.  Again, the lack of adequate resources to support an overburdened criminal justice system looms as a reality.  Punishment may come swift and sure in the Fort Worth slayings case because of their notoriety. But we cannot forget the other cases crying for justice languishing in courts throughout Texas and the nation.

All lawyers, not just those involved in the criminal justice system, should have an interest in efforts to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system. The State Bar and the Texas Young Lawyers Association conducted 15 hearings across the state concerning pro bono issues. These hearings provided a clear picture that inadequacies exist in the resources available to provide constitutionally required indigent criminal defense.

The hearings also underscored that the lack of resources in some areas of the state not only has a dramatic impact on the courts' performance of all of their obligations, but also unduly burdens the ability of lawyers to maintain a private practice.  Lawyers must, in the interest of the administration of justice, be aggressive advocates for increasing the resources available for the representation of indigent defendants. 

Additionally, we are reminded that success in fighting crime in our nation is more than treating symptoms. We will be successful in solving our massive crime problems only when we attack the root causes. All of us, men and women, young and old, must pledge ourselves to address the ills that surround us in our communities. 

We all can be active in some way to address the social issues that foster criminal behavior, such as: lack of self-esteem or hope in some segments of our society, poverty, lack of health care (particularly mental health care), lack of education, and family dysfunction.

Related posts:

October 4, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Eighth Circuit continues its busy sentencing ways

The Eighth Circuit, which has produced more than 400 sentencing dispositions in less than nine months since Booker, continues its busy ways today with another half-dozen sentencing rulings.  Summaries of the various dispositions are available on this official opinion page.  Two cases especially caught my attention:

October 4, 2005 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Strong dissenting words against the death penalty

Thanks to this post at How Appealing, I see Sixth Circuit Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr. today in Moore v. Parker, No. 03-6105 (6th Cir. Oct. 4, 2005) (available here) had a number of choice and potent words about the death penalty in a dissent from a ruling rejecting a capital defendant's habeas corpus challenge.   Here is a taste:

I have been a judge on this Court for more than twenty-five years. In that time I have seen many death penalty cases and I have applied the law as instructed by the Supreme Court and I will continue to do so for as long as I remain on this Court. This my oath requires. After all these years, however, only one conclusion is possible: the death penalty in this country is arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair....

As noted above, while the system suffers from many flaws, much of the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty stems from the exceedingly distressing fact that during all my years on the bench, the quality of lawyering that capital defendants receive has not substantially improved. In many cases it has deteriorated. In fact, one of the most clear examples of the arbitrariness of the death penalty is the common knowledge that those defendants with decent lawyers rarely get sentenced to death. Death has more to do with extra-judicial factors like race and socio-economic status than with whether death is deserved. A system, whose basic justification is the interest in retribution and general deterrence, is not served when guided by such irrelevant factors. Nor should a system of life and death hinge on the proficiency of counsel.

October 4, 2005 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

High court death penalty news

I noted in this post the incredibly long list of cert denieds in yesterday's Supreme Court order list, and the morning papers now have details on some death penalty cases that SCOTUS decided not to hear.  Many thought that the Lovitt case from Virginia, previously discussed here, might get the Supreme Court's attention because of a stay granted this summer and former SG Ken Starr's involvement.  But, as detailed in the NY Times article, Lovitt's case was on the long cert denied list.  Also, high-profile capital cases from California and from Connecticut were on the cert denied list.

In related high court news, this Washington Post article reports that "Maryland's highest court denied a condemned man's bid yesterday for a hearing to show that his sentence was rendered illegal by racial and other inequalities that his attorneys, citing a state-sponsored study, argue are pervasive in the application of the state's death penalty law."

October 4, 2005 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What Iran and Israel have in common

Last month in this post I noted an article reporting that the Israeli Justice Ministry had proposed the development of sentencing guidelines, and that "High Court judges, including High Court president Aharon Barak, are said to strongly support the proposal."  Now I see, according to this news account, similar support for sentencing guidelines in Iran:

An Iranian newspaper commented here Sunday on the country's judicial system calling for major sentencing reforms in the field. Referring to the latest comments of the Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Shahroudi who has recently issued new sentencing guidelines to judicial officials, prosecutors and judges, the 'Iran News' welcomed the guidelines urging for adoption of more sensible sentencing guidelines.

October 4, 2005 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 3, 2005

The law and policy of banishment

In addition to its recent strong work on life sentences (discussed here and here), the New York Times today also gives us this strong article entitled "Exiling Sex Offenders From Town."  The article effectively covers some of the law and policy discussions prompted by the fact that "in towns and counties across the country ..., local officials have passed laws in recent months that effectively banish anyone convicted of a sex crime against a minor."  TalkLeft discusses the article and the broader issues here.

Notably, as detailed here, the blogosphere had a great debate over these residency restrictions back in August on the heels of major recent rulings by the Eighth Circuit and the Iowa Supreme Court.  Arguments over the constitutionality of these laws will surely make their way to the Supreme Court sooner or later, which is among the reasons I am so interested in exploring SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers' work in support of prisoner re-entry.

October 3, 2005 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More strong NY Times work on lifers

Though surely overshadowed by the Miers' nomination (discussed here and here), reporter Adam Liptak has another great front-page article in the New York Times on the subject of life sentences.  On the heels of yesterday's article discussing the number and nature of life sentences nationwide, today's article examines life sentences given to offenders for crimes comitted as juveniles.  And, once again, I first noticed the new and interesting data reported in the article:

About 9,700 American prisoners are serving life sentences for crimes they committed before they could vote, serve on a jury or gamble in a casino — in short, before they turned 18. More than a fifth have no chance for parole....

[A] report to be issued on Oct. 12 by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found juveniles serving [life without parole] in only three other [counties].  Israel has seven, South Africa has four and Tanzania has one.  By contrast, the report counted some 2,200 people in the United States serving life without parole for crimes they committed before turning 18.  More than 350 of them were 15 or younger, according to the report.

Juvenile lifers are overwhelmingly male and mostly black. Ninety-five percent of those admitted in 2001 were male and 55 percent were black....  While 40 percent of adults sent away for life between 1988 and 2001 committed crimes other than murder, like drug offenses, rape and armed robbery, the Times analysis found, only 16 percent of juvenile lifers were sentenced for anything other than murder.

The article also includes a number of compelling personal stories, and this companion piece discusses a hasty plea entered by a juvenile which lead to a life sentence.  The article also explores a question I raised in this post immediatley after Roper: if the Constitution now demands a categorical bar on the death penalty for crimes committed before 18 because of some offenders' "immaturity" and "vulnerability" and the general "mitigating force of youth," shouldn't these same realities and concerns come to bear in at least some non-capital sentencing cases?

October 3, 2005 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Major 5th Circuit ruling upholding sizeable sentences in tax case

Those in the mood to read sentencing opinions rather than Miers' buzz (posts here and here) will be pleased the Fifth Circuit is back in action with US v. Saldana, No. 04-50527 (5th Cir. Sept. 30, 2005) (available here).  The last 20 pages of Saldana cover a lot of ground on the way to upholding two sizeable sentences involving upward departures in a tax case.  Here are a few snippets which reveal the Fifth Circuit's highly deferential approach to reasonableness review:

Even though, in this case, we concur with the district court's decision to depart above the Guidelines, we conclude that the extent of that departure approaches the outer boundary of reasonableness.... 

Despite our misgivings about the length of this sentence, however, we are unwilling to hold that it is unreasonable.  The sentence does overstate the degree of harm, does not appear to advance the goal of uniformity, and does over-compensate for the number of counts, but each of these was a permissible reason for the district court to depart from the Guidelines' range and, taken together, would likely justify a sentence at least within striking distance of that imposed by the district court.  Given the deference we owe to the district court that has properly applied the Guidelines, we decline to hold the degree of the departure unreasonable.

October 3, 2005 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Major Seventh Circuit ruling on reasonableness

The Seventh Circuit today in US v. Castro-Juarez, No. 05-1195 (7th Cir. Oct. 3, 2005) (accessible here), issued a significant ruling in a case in which the defendant appealed the reasonableness of a "48-month term [which was] more than twice the high end of the guideline range, and more than three times the low end of the range that the prosecutor recommended as an appropriate sentence."  The Castro-Juarez ruling cover a lot of important ground, and here are a few highlights:

[W]e are not asked to decide here whether 48 months could be a reasonable sentence; our function is to assess whether the district court's choice of sentence is adequately explained given the record before us.  Here we must determine whether the court's articulated reasons for jumping from 21 to 48 months are sufficiently compelling on this record to satisfy us that the term imposed is reasonable....

Before Booker, we recognized that district courts were required to sentence within the guideline range except in unusual cases, and anything but a loose comparison to pre-Booker departure cases would vitiate the post-Booker discretion that sentencing courts enjoy.  All that is necessary now to sustain a sentence above the guideline range is "an adequate statement of the judge's reasons, consistent with section 3553(a), for thinking the sentence that he has selected is indeed appropriate for the particular defendant." Dean, 414 F.3d at 729.

In the end we are not persuaded that the district court met this standard. The court did recite the § 3553(a) factors at sentencing... [but] the judge did not single out any aspect except criminal history. The court was understandably troubled by Castro- Juarez's history of several times entering the United States illegally, committing crimes once in the country, being deported, and then beginning the cycle again. The judge also expressed dismay over Castro-Juarez's history of violence, especially that directed against his girlfriend.  These are significant concerns, but they overlap and, as far as we can tell on this record, are encompassed by the district court's explicit reference to the text of § 4A1.3. We understand that reference to mean that the district court was itself drawing an analogy to § 4A1.3, yet we have seen that the analogy does not fully explain the 48-month sentence.  And because that sentence is more than double the high end of the guideline range, we cannot conclude that the court's explanation is sufficiently compelling to uphold the court's exercise of discretion.

October 3, 2005 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More Booker GVRs and lots of cert denieds

Mired in Miers' buzz so far today (posts here and here), I have just now had a chance to look over this morning's order list from the Supreme Court.  Those who missed the tradition of Booker-inspired GVRs while the Court was on its summer break, will be excited to hear that there are nearly 30 new Booker-inspired GVRs on this latest order list.  In addition, the order list includes an incredibly long list of cert denieds (nearly 2000 by my rough estimate); I am sure there are some Blakely and Booker cases in that huge group.

UPDATE:  Thanks to How Appealing, I can link here and here to news stories about notable sentencing-related cases that are among the big group of cert denieds.

October 3, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Exploring Miers' work in support of prisoner re-entry

In my first reaction post to the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, I guessed that she had no track record on sentencing-related issues.  But apparently I spoke too soon: thanks to this post a Law Dork, I see that President Bush's statement this morning mentioned Miers' work "to support better legal representation for the poor and under-served" and her service "as a leader with more than a dozen community groups and charities, including ... Exodus Ministries ...."  And Exodus Ministries, it seems, is a spiritual organization devoted to assisting prisoner re-entry.

According to its website, "Exodus Ministry is a non-denominational Christian organization established to assist ex-offenders and their families become productive members of society by meeting both their spiritual and physical needs."  And this page and this page on the organization's website makes these interesting statements about crime, punishment and re-entry issues:

Most people in prison today are captives of generations of poverty and lawlessness.... At EXODUS, we recognize that recently released and paroled ex-offenders need help. In addition to their need for intimate knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, these individuals and their families also need a sense of belonging and acceptance.  Most need a place to live.  Some need counseling, including treatment for drug and alcohol dependence.

Ex-offenders returning to the community are in need of a loving and accepting Church, a place to live, a job, transportation and an environment that enhances physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

In the days ahead, I will be very interested to hear more about Miers' work with this organization, and more generally about her perspectives on a range of criminal justice issues.  It is already fascinating to consider how Miers' work with Exodus Ministries might influence her views on the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments or on other brewing constitutional issues like broad residency restrictions for released sex offenders or state establishment of faith-based prisons.

October 3, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What will a Justice Harriet Miers mean for sentencing jurisprudence?

Getting this week off to a fast legal start, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.  (Howard at How Appealing has lots of details and links.)  TalkLeft here and The Volokh Conspiracy here already have interesting comments.

Of course, as detailed in this post, I follow all the SCOTUS transitions with a keen eye on what new blood may mean for sentencing jurisprudence, especially because the absence of Justices Rehnquist and O'Connor has a profound impact on the SCOTUS sentencing head-count.  My sense is that Ms. Miers has no tangible track record on sentencing-related issues.  Similarly, in prior posts, I have suggested it would be valuable for the new nominee to have a criminal law background or experience as a trial judge, but I do not believe Ms. Miers' personal history includes either of these attributes.

Readers are highly encouraged to use the comments to provide information or reactions to this interesting (and already controversial) news.

UPDATE: SCOTUSblog is off and running with great commentary on the nomination, with Lyle Denniston astutely wondering "whether the American Bar Association will find Miers to be qualified for the Court," and Tom Goldstein boldly predicting "that she will be rejected by the Senate [and] Justice O'Connor will still be sitting on the Court on January 1, 2006." 

MORE: Larry Solum at Legal Theory Blog has this amazing quote from the Federalist Papers, while Eduardo Penalver speculates that this nomination is "a big fake-out to clear the path for a Gonzalez nomination."

SLIGHT(?) CORRECTION: Though the extent of her involvement is still to be determined, I have noted in this follow-up post that Harriet Miers may have had some experience with prisoner re-entry issues through her work with Exodus Ministries.

October 3, 2005 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 2, 2005

Some September sentencing highlights

With the start of classes and a lot of other stuff going on, I have not been able to do the weekly reviews that were common over the summer (recent examples here and here and here).  But I was able to find a bit of time this afternoon to review some September sentencing highlights.




October 2, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A bit of Booker fix buzz

A few weeks ago in this post, I detailed some political and legal reasons why I think the Booker advisory guidelines remedy might persist for some time.  Since then, however, I have been hearing buzz about efforts that may be afoot to respond legislatively to Booker

Specifically, I have heard that the Justice Department is actively working on a legislative proposal that would make a reality of AG Alberto Gonzales' suggested minimum guideline system (background here).  In addition, I have heard that the House of Representative may be gearing up for a January hearing on Booker around the one-year anniversary of the decision.

My sense is that most federal judges are quite pleased with the post-Booker status quo, and in recent posts have noted commentaries by Chief Judge James Carr and Judge Lynn Adelman suggesting a legislative Booker fix is not needed.  If the Booker fix buzz grows in the months ahead, it will be interesting to see if other federal judges will vocally oppose new sentencing legislation.  Also, if and when more Booker fix chatter comes from DOJ and the House, it will be interesting to see when and how the US Sentencing Commission will jump into this important policy debate.  (Recall that the latest issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter assembles materials concerning these issues as it asks "Is a Booker Fix Needed?").   

October 2, 2005 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fantastic NY Times piece on lifers

The Sunday New York Times has this terrific article by Adam Liptak, which explains why "in just the last 30 years, the United States has created something never before seen in its history and unheard of around the globe: a booming population of prisoners whose only way out of prison is likely to be inside a coffin."  This article on lifers is a must-read, which covers a lot of important ground about life sentences and the modern politics of parole and clemency.  I was especially intrigued by some data in the article:

A survey by The New York Times found that about 132,000 of the nation's prisoners, or almost 1 in 10, are serving life sentences. The number of lifers has almost doubled in the last decade, far outpacing the overall growth in the prison population....

Fewer than two-thirds of the 70,000 people sentenced to life from 1988 to 2001 are in for murder, the Times analysis found.  Other lifers — more than 25,000 of them — were convicted of crimes like rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, extortion, burglary and arson.  People convicted of drug trafficking account for 16 percent of all lifers.

Over at TalkLeft, TChris has this post on this important topic.  And additional data on lifers can be found in last year's potent report from The Sentencing Project discussed in this post.

October 2, 2005 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack