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June 2, 2007

Can the Claiborne case survive Mario Claiborne's demise?

As detailed in this post from Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, an effort is underway to help the Supreme Court resolve the issues raised by the Claiborne case even though Mario Claiborne died last week (details here).  Here are the basics from Lyle's post:

A public defender in St. Louis has urged the Supreme Court to find a way to decide in the current Term a significant issue about federal criminal sentencing law that was at stake in a case involving an individual who died last week.  The case is Claiborne v. U.S. (docket 06-5618)...

Michael Dwyer, assistant federal public defender in the Eastern District of Missouri, on Friday filed a motion asking the Court either to go ahead and decide the Claiborne case as presented, or to grant expedited review of another case from Dwyer's office involving the same Guidelines question. The alternative case suggested is Beal v. U.S. (docket 06-8498) -- like Claiborne, from the Eighth Circuit Court. The Supreme Court considered the Beal case at a Conference in February, but took no action on it, apparently intending to hold it until after it had decided Claiborne....

Dwyer contended in his motion that "the close similarity of the facts and decisions of the districts courts and appellate panels in Claiborne and Beal makes the latter case an efficient and effective vehicle to resolve the urgent issues presented in Claiborne.  Because of his representation of Claiborne, the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Missouri could expeditiously prepare Beal for briefing and argument."

June 2, 2007 in Claiborne and Rita reasonableness case | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The best sentencing defense money can buy...?

I have now had the opportunity to read closely the sentencing filings of Lewis "Scooter" Libby's defense team (which can be accessed here and here), and I was generally impressed.  Though more could and probably should have been made of certain 3353(a) sentencing factors (see below), the filings built a solid case for sentencing Libby below the guideline range of 15-21 months recommended by the probation office's presentence report.  (Recall that, as discussed here, Fitzgerald's prosecution team runs the guideline numbers differently, arriving at a guideline sentencing range of 30-37 months.)

Still, were I in Scooter's shoes, I would be wondering about a few matters as my June 5 sentencing swiftly approaches:

1.  Why didn't the defense seek to follow Judge Posner's recent sentencing advice by providing "credible empirical evidence" for a probation sentence in order to avoid being at "the mercy of the instincts and intuitions of the sentencing judge"?

2.  Why did AG Gonzales decide to again advocate a mandatory minimum guideline system just days before one of the  highest-profile post-Booker sentencings in many months?

3.  In light of the significant parallels (discussed here and here) between Libby's situation and the case against Victor Rita, whose sentence is still pending before the Supreme Court, wouldn't the defense team have been wise to seek a delay in the sentencing in the hope that SCOTUS might declare a within-guideline sentence for Rita unreasonable?

Some recent related Libby sentencing posts:

June 2, 2007 in Libby sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New series on women in CJ system

I received an e-mail this past week from The Sentencing Project announcing a new "series of briefing sheets on Women in the Criminal Justice System."  Here is the official announcement:

The Sentencing Project is pleased to announce the publication of a series of briefing sheets on Women in the Criminal Justice System.  The series documents the gender implications of changes that have occurred over the last 20 years within the criminal justice system, including expansive law enforcement, stiffer drug sentencing laws and re-entry barriers.  The briefing sheets delve into family, socioeconomic and physical and mental health issues that women — and their families — face as a result of being incarcerated. 

Women in the Criminal Justice System contains five sections: Overview; Involvement in Crime; Mothers in Prison; Inadequacies in Prison Services; and Barriers to Reentering the Community.

Women in the Criminal Justice System notes that since 1985 the number of women in prison has increased at almost double the rate of incarcerated men — 404 percent vs. 209 percent.  Reasons for the increasing rate for women are directly related to the 'war on drugs,' economic disadvantage, and the criminal justice system's failure to carefully consider women's involvement in crimes.  The analysis also reports that 30 percent of all females incarcerated are black and 16 percent are Hispanic.

The full series of briefing sheets, which runs only 10 total pages, can be accessed  at this link.

June 2, 2007 in Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 1, 2007

The latest on California's lethal injection litigation

This AP story provides the lastest news concerning California's efforts to convince a federal judge it should be allowed to get back into the business of conducting executions.  Here are snippets:

A federal judge said Friday that if California completes a new execution chamber, he would want to inspect it before deciding whether revised death penalty procedures proposed by the Schwarzenegger administration pass constitutional muster.... The judge's comments were his first on the amended capital punishment plan since the governor's office submitted it on May 15 in hopes of persuading him to lift a 16-month-old moratorium on the death penalty in California....

A lawyer for San Quentin told Fogel the new chamber was about 80 percent done and could be finished within 90 days after the Legislature approves funding for it, estimated at more than $700,000.  The judge tentatively scheduled Oct. 1-2 for the field trip and to hear from lawyers for the state and for Michael Morales, the condemned killer whose challenge to the state's execution methods led to the moratorium.... 

Under the revised protocols, prisoners still would be put to death with a combination of three drugs, the same lethal injection formula Fogel wanted reevaluated when he ruled that the state's execution procedures violated a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Some recent related posts:

June 1, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

AG Gonzales talking again about a mandatory minimum guideline system

Perhaps deciding that the best defense is a good offense, Attorney General Gonzales today announced a set of new initiatives for combating violent crime.  (I would think that not firing well-regarded US Attorneys would be part of any effective crime-fighting program, but....)

As detailed in this lengthy official press release, one part of the AG's proposed plan is another pitch for a "topless guideline" Booker fix that would make mandatory again "the bottom of the guideline range for each offense."  There are lots and lots of particulars to the AG's proposed "new legislation to help prevent and combat violent crime," and it is not clear that anything is new in the Booker fix discussion.  In addition, it strikes me as very unlikely that any "topless guideline" system would be well received in Congress.  Nevertheless, it is interesting and notable that, after nearly six months of ugly developments involving the AG, he and his Justice Department are starting what should be a hot summer with some old school "tough on crime" talk.

June 1, 2007 in Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Split Sixth Circuit denies en banc review of Ohio lethal injection litigation

Three months ago, as noted here, a split Sixth Circuit panel in Cooey v. Taft declared that an Ohio inmate's lethal injection lawsuit was time-barred. As detailed in this order, the full Sixth Circuit in a split vote denied rehearing en banc in Cooey.  The brief dissent from the order is authored by Judge Gilman, and it concludes with this sentence: "I believe that en banc review would have been appropriate in the present case to ensure that the law in this Circuit conforms with Supreme Court precedent and to prevent the judicial inefficiency of juggling repetitive, simultaneous, and contradictory litigation from death-sentenced prisoners."

I cannot quite be sure of the vote line-up in this en banc denial, but Ohio's lethal injection litigation appears to provide another example of the circuit voting patterns in capital cases documented recently by the Cincinnati Enquirer.  I assume a cert petition will follow next, though there might be some execution dates set in the meantime. 

As always, the Ohio Death Penalty Information blog is the place to check out first for anyone following any and all Ohio capital developments. 

June 1, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A thoughtful take on the Libby pardon politics

John Dean has this thoughtful commentary at FindLaw entitled "The Bush Administration's Dilemma Regarding a Possible Libby Pardon - And How Outsiders Such as Fred Thompson Appear to Be Working on a Solution."  Here is how it begins:

On June 5, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton will sentence Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who has been convicted of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury, as the result of the Special Counsel investigation arising from the revelation of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA agent.  I suspect that Judge Walton's actions will create a difficult and delicate problem for the White House.

Needless to say, I have no crystal ball.  But it is plain that the White House must be bracing itself for Libby's being sent to prison.  Moreover, it appears that high-powered friends of Libby and Cheney have figured out the White House's dilemma, so they are trying to help keep Scooter out of prison in a manner that will not have criminal consequences for anyone involved.

No one has been more active in this undertaking on Libby's behalf than former Tennessee Senator Fred D. Thompson, who has strong Presidential aspirations. Yet, to my surprise, Thompson is either being blatantly dishonest, or he is remarkably uninformed about his efforts.  Unfortunately for Thompson, neither state of mind ought to commend itself to Republicans clamoring for a conservative with stature for the GOP nomination in 2008.

Some related Libby pardon posts:

June 1, 2007 in Libby sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Exactly what sentence should/will Scooter Libby get?

Howard Bashman helpfully collects here major press coverage of the sentencing filings by the defense team for Lewis Libby's upcoming sentencing.  In addition, Jeralyn TalkLeft has this thoughtful post with a review and analysis of the defense filings (which can be accessed here and here).  Here's Jeralyn's take on what's likely to be the outcome of Libby's June 5 sentencing:

I'm wondering if Judge Walton will have the wherewithal to sentence Libby to probation given the high profile nature of the case.  But, in an ordinary case, given a pre-sentence report as favorably described as this one, I think that would be the outcome.  Because this case is being watched by so many, I suspect Walton will decide Libby needs some time.

My prediction at this juncture: The Government loses on its sentencing arguments for heavier guideline calculations, the Court finds at least one departure ground and Libby gets a split sentence of 10 months, with 5 spent in prison and 5 on home detention.

In answering the question post in the title of this post, I keep returning to the fact that Victor Rita, whose sentenced in now being reviewed by the Supreme Court, was sentenced to 33 months for similar (but less serious) crimes as Libby.  I think, for a variety of reasons, Libby should/will get some prison time, and my money would be on him getting something between 1-2 years.

Please use the comments, dear readers, to argue about what you believe Libby should or will get.  (For all we know, Judge Walton and/or his clerks read this blog, so the comments might provide a setting for filing a bloggy amicus brief.)

June 1, 2007 in Libby sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A double dose of Booker highlights

As mentioned quickly here, two remarkable sentencing decisions were a key part of a remarkable federal sentencing day.  Here are some highlights:

From Judge McConnell, writing for the Tenth Circuit in the remarkable Allen case:

This case presents precisely the scenario the Blakely Court labeled as too "absurd" to contemplate: that a judge could sentence a man for attempted sexual abuse or solicitation of murder, even though he was convicted only of distribution of methamphetamine.  We do not believe that the Court's remedial decision in Booker departs so dramatically from the Court's interpretation of the Sixth Amendment in Blakely that what was absurd in Blakely is now a reasonable practice after Booker.

From Judge Merritt, writing in dissent from a split Sixth Circuit reasonableness ruling:

The Guidelines violate § 3553 by forbidding consideration of addiction and most other significant mitigators.... Therefore, in a case like this, the Guidelines are not a reliable or even a rational guide to sentencing.  If the federal judiciary is to impose just sentences after Booker, it must extricate itself from the prevailing mind set under the Guidelines that includes almost all conceivable enhancements and aggravators while excluding from consideration almost all significant mitigating circumstances.

And, not to be overlooked, King James produced lots of highlights tonight in the Motor City: as the AP put it, "LeBron James used one of the most spectacular performances in playoff history to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers to the verge of their greatest season."

June 1, 2007 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Not quite "La Dolce Vita"

Even a short time in Italy makes it easy to understand why many talk of the sweet life in that country.  But, as this BBC article details, some Italian prisoners do not see life as very sweet:

Hundreds of prisoners serving life sentences in Italy have called on President Giorgio Napolitano to bring back the death penalty.  Their request was published as a letter in the daily newspaper La Repubblica. Italy has almost 1,300 prisoners serving life terms, of whom 200 have served more than 20 years.

Italy has been at the forefront of the fight against capital punishment and recently lobbied the UN Security Council to table a moratorium on it. But at home some of the country's longest serving prisoners want the death penalty re-introduced.

The letter they sent to President Napolitano came from a convicted mobster, Carmelo Musumeci, a 52-year-old who has been in prison for 17 years.  It was co-signed by 310 of his fellow lifers. Musumeci said he was tired of dying a little bit every day.  We want to die just once, he said, and "we are asking for our life sentence to be changed to a death sentence".

June 1, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 31, 2007

A big federal sentencing day for so many reasons

I am still reeling from the reality that Mario Claiborne's below-guideline sentence may have, in some sad ironic cosmic way, resulted in his demise and the demise of his case before the Supreme Court (basics here and here).  But federal sentencing fans cannot take too long to mourn before having to get back to thinking about what Booker means for various other defendant's fates.

Specifically, today I see noteworthy sentencing opinions from the 1st, 6th, 10th and 11th Circuits, and I hope to have time before too long to comment at length at the particularly notable and important work from Judge Merritt in dissent in the Sixth Circuit's Eversole case and from Judge McConnell for a Tenth Circuit panel in Allen.

In addition, as detailed in this AP report and this TalkLeft post, that Lewis Libby's lawyers has, unsurprisingly, arguing for their man to only be sentenced to probation.

So, dear readers, which of these stories are of the greatest interest?  Which should I focus on in the wee hours when I am not distracted by notable local events during the day?

May 31, 2007 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Could SCOTUS address below-guideline sentences in another case?

A thoughtful reader asks:

Wouldn't it be possible for the Surpeme Court simply to...

  1. take another case on cert for the same issue in Claiborne (there are a ton of appeals out there on the same issue; US v. Eura, which is on cert from the 4th Cir, to name just one),
  2. decide in its discretion that it doesn't need oral argument or briefing to decide the case (certainly, it has discretion to do so),
  3. and write effectively the same decision with a different facts section? 

Is there anything stopping it from doing this?

May 31, 2007 in Claiborne and Rita reasonableness case | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Mario Claiborne killed in strange robbery... now what?!?!?

I have been hearing rumors since yesterday that the defendant in Claiborne v. US, Mario Clairborne, had been killed in Saint Louis.  I have now confirmed through various sources that the "Morio Claiborne" mentioned in this article as having been killed in a car robbery incident is the same person whose case is right now pending before the Court. 

My sources tell me that something will be filed officially with the Supreme Court today.  But exactly what this means for the Claiborne case (and the companion Rita case) remains to be seen.  Needless to say, I am stunned by this remarkable development, and I wonder if there is any recent precedent about what exactly should be done in circumstances like this.

Wow... and I'm very interested in reader comments.

UPDATE: SCOTUSblog is now reporting the news and has this analysis of now what:

Under Supreme Court Rule 35, when a party to a case has died, a personal representative may be named if the legal interests would survive the death.  That would not be possible in a case involving a convicted and sentenced individual, who has the sole legal interest in the outcome. Thus, it would appear that the Claiborne case would simply be dismissed by the Court, leaving that aspect of the Guidelines reasonableness inquiry unsettled -- unless the coming decision in the Rita case goes beyond the single issue presented there.

May 31, 2007 in Claiborne and Rita reasonableness case | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Libby sentencing letters to be released after sentencing

As detailed in this AP article, a "federal judge said today he will release more than 150 letters he received regarding next week's sentencing of former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby."  Here are more details:

Libby, who was convicted in March of perjury and obstruction in the CIA leak case, had asked that the letters not be released.  Attorneys for several news organizations argued that the law required the letters be made public.  U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton agreed, citing a need for transparency.

"The court has received more than 150 sentencing letters in this case, some urging leniency for the defendant and some expressing opprobrium at the defendant's actions and calling for the imposition of a substantial prison sentence," Walton wrote.  The letters will be released after Libby is sentenced June 5, Walton said.  Addresses and other personal information will not be released.

May 31, 2007 in Libby sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Another federal sentence for failing to register

As detailed in this news account, this week in Oklahoma another federal sentence has been imposed under the new Adam Walsh act for failing to register as a sex offender. Here are the basics:

Darrell Templeton soon will be back to looking for work as an Elvis impersonator, but this time he'll be doing it as a registered sex offender.  Templeton, 47, was sentenced Wednesday to eight months in federal prison for failing to register with Oklahoma authorities after applying for a state driver's license in January 2006.

Templeton was one of the first people in the country to be charged in federal court with failing to register as a sex offender after the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act increased the federal government's role in such cases....

Templeton said he did not realize he had to register with Oklahoma authorities because he was not required to do so in Arizona, where he was convicted in 1989 of sexual abuse.

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange noted Templeton had been arrested 32 times since he was released from prison in 1991 as she decided to sentence him to eight months in prison.  That is two more than the maximum term recommended by federal sentencing guidelines. "That probably is not enough, quite honestly," she said.

For various reasons that can be issue-spotted in this story, I think  the failure to register provisions of the Adam Walsh act could eventually end up before the Supreme Court.

May 31, 2007 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Analysis of capital child rape laws

At FindLaw, Professor Marci Hamilton has this new commentary discussing new laws making child rape a capital offense. Here is how it begins:

Last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the death penalty as applied to a child abuser.  Louisiana has led the way in passing laws to execute pedophiles. However, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Georgia, and Montana also have passed such laws, with Texas soon to follow when Gov. Rick Perry signs such legislation.

A major impetus for the death penalty in child sex cases is the heinous crime by a previously-convicted sex offender against Florida nine-year old Jessica Lunsford, who suffered horrific abuse, including burial alive in a shallow grave, where she eventually suffocated.  If there is a way to measure the temperature of public opinion against child abuse, this is it, and it bodes well for children, even if it is not the most effective way of protecting children.

Some recent related posts:

May 31, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 30, 2007

Arguments over Cunningham's consequences

As detailed in articles from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, the California Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral argument in a set of cases dealing with the fallout of the Supreme Court's Cunningham decision.  Here are snippets from the Chronicle's report:

The prison terms of hundreds of inmates were at stake Tuesday as the California Supreme Court tried to determine how much power trial judges have to increase sentences in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring the state's sentencing system unconstitutional. 

The state justices heard two cases in San Francisco that will set standards for sentences cast in doubt by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January.  In that ruling, the court said a 1977 California law allowing judges to add years to the sentence prescribed by the jury verdict violates the constitutional right to a jury trial....

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, legislators hurriedly passed a prosecution-backed bill that lets judges choose any of the three terms without making factual findings.  The new law took effect March 30 and is scheduled to expire in two years, giving lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger time to consider alternatives that may include establishment of a sentencing commission with authority to propose wholesale changes. 

The law does not apply to prisoners sentenced before March 30, the subject of Tuesday's cases. The state Supreme Court's rulings, due within 90 days, will probably determine the outcome of more than 100 cases pending before it and hundreds of cases in lower courts.

May 30, 2007 in Cunningham coverage | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A history lesson (and an important precedent?) from the Ninth Circuit

As Howard Bashman details here, today was full of interesting rulings from the Ninth Circuit.  Sentencing fans will be most interested to learn that in US v. Trimble, No. 06-30298 (9th Cir. May 30, 2007) (available here), declares a $25 processing fee unconstitutional.  Here is how Judge Berzon's intriguing opinion for the majority begins:

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.  The United States produced its first automobile in 1877, and the first traffic ticket issued in 1904.

Fast forward to 2005: Sahneewa Trimble was issued several traffic tickets, fairly serious ones, on a military base. She believed that she was charged too much — more than other drivers who did the same thing on federal property on the same day.  When Trimble appeared in court to plead guilty to the violations, the magistrate judge dismissed two of the six original citations but imposed a twenty-five dollar processing fee for three of the remaining ones.  Standard stuff, except that some individuals, like Trimble, were charged the fee while the others were not.  Why?  Because Trimble received a new version of the citation notice and the fortunate others received an older version.  So what follows is a tale of two forms, old and new. We reverse — demonstrating, again, that our Constitutional principles protect against monetary injuries large and small.

The dispute here obciously involves a relative triffle; indeed, I can't help but wonder how many federal tax dollars have aleady been spent adjudicating this $75 claim.  However, the principles and language supporting the holding in Trimble may have broader significance.  Indeed, Judge O'Scannlain seems concerned about what is said in Trimble, as he concurs separately with this paragraph:

I agree that no rational basis supports the discriminatory imposition of processing fees in this case.  However, the majority opinion exceeds the grounds necessary to decide this appeal. Accordingly, I concur only in the judgment.

Based on a quick read, I am not entirely sure whether the Trimble holding might provide a basis for questioning other sorts of criminal justice "injuries large and small."  Any readers have any suggestions or creative litigation thoughts?

May 30, 2007 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Around the blogosphere

One can find a lot of interesting new sentencing-related items at:

May 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 29, 2007

Isn't chemical castration worth trying if it works?

Thanks to Corrections Sentencing, I see that folks in Oregon are talking about making greater use of chemical castration for certain high-risk sex offenders.  Here are highlights from this AP story:

The state is close to approving a Corrections Department budget that includes money to expand the state's chemical castration program.  If passed, the state would pay for high-risk sex offenders to receive twice-monthly shots of Depo-Provera, a testosterone-reducing drug.

Oregon has had a chemical castration law since 1999.  But use of the drug has been spotty because of a lack of a money and opposition from doctors and counselors. Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, the chief sponsor of the 1999 bill, is leading the effort to add $150,000 to the program, saying it's been effective when used.

Schrader said he wants the injections to be required as a condition of post-prison supervision for about 20 offenders per month - up from the current five per month - in a pilot program that would include Multnomah County and two other counties that have not been determined.  "Since it has been pretty darn successful, we want to see if there's a larger population we can use it on to keep people safe when these guys get out of jail," he said....

Depo-Provera, originally developed as a contraceptive for women, creates sexual apathy in men by reducing the level of testosterone.  European countries have used the drug since the 1960s to treat sex offenders.  It's less popular in the U.S., and Oregon is one of fewer than 10 states reported to have chemical castration laws.

The AP article is does not report on any research that chemical castration is as effective as Senator Schrader asserts.  But, if there is decent evidence that this form of technocorrections is effective on some high-risk offender populations, I like the idea a lot more than over-broad civil commitment and residency restriction regimes.

Can anyone report (ideally with cites/links) on any research about the efficacy of chemical castration?  If it works, is there any reason not to consider expanding its use for certain high-risk offender populations?

May 29, 2007 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack