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July 28, 2007

Around the blogosphere

I'm on the road again for much of the weekend, but new posts at the following blog provide lots of good weekend reading for sentencing fans:

Also, How Appealing has reports on interesting sentencing-related decisions here (on felon voting rights) and here (on the federal death penalty).

July 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sentencing justice for Nicole Richie?

Because I cannot resist bringing a little People magazine to this blog, here's the story of Nicole Richie's recent sentencing on DUI charges:

Nicole Richie pleaded guilty to DUI and was sentenced to four days in jail on Friday in a Glendale, Calif., courthouse — just one month after her pal Paris Hilton walked free from behind bars.  She also agreed to serve a three-year probation term, and must enroll in an alcohol education program.  She was also fined $2,048.

During the hearing, Los Angeles County Commissioner Steven Lubell admonished Richie, saying: "Someone could've gotten killed.  You need to understand that driving under the influence is extremely dangerous."  Richie was given the option of serving her time in a paid city jail, which is seen as a cushier facility than a county jail.  She was given no surrender date, but must complete her jail time before Sept. 28.

Is this sentencing justice?  As detailed in some of the posts linked below, I tend to think most sentencings for drunk driving tend to be too lenient.

July 28, 2007 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 27, 2007

Qwest CEO gets six years and mad money

As detailed in this CNN piece, the "former chief executive of Qwest Communications International, Joseph Nacchio, was sentenced on Friday to six years in prison and ordered to forfeit $52 million in stock gains from insider trading."  Also, "Nacchio was fined an additional $19 million in the case presided over by U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham."

Recent related post:

July 27, 2007 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A shaming sentence that's fowl play

Though I view shaming sanctions as a topic for serious debate, this story reporting on a novel shaming sentence imposed by an Ohio judge certainly seems more likely to prompt frivolity:

The Best Little Whorehouse is not in Painesville.  And Municipal Judge Michael Cicconetti, known for dispensing unusual sentences, doesn't want one sprouting in his small town.  So Cicconetti ordered three men charged with soliciting sex to take turns dressing in a bright yellow chicken costume while carrying a sign that reads "No Chicken Ranch in Painesville."

The sign and costume refer to the "World Famous Chicken Ranch," a brothel in Nevada where sex-for-money is legal. The costume was borrowed from a woman who wears it to cheer patients at a local hospice.  Daniel Chapdelaine, 40, of Perry Township; Martin Soto, 44, of Ashtabula; and Fabian Rodriguez-Ramirez, 29, of Painesville; all pleaded guilty Wednesday to misdemeanor charges of soliciting sex from an undercover Painesville police officer earlier this summer.  Cicconetti agreed to suspend a 30-day jail sentence if they wear the costume between 4 and 7 p.m. today outside Painesville City Court.

"We're trying to send a strong message that we won't tolerate this activity in the city," said Painesville probation supervisor David Washlock.

I wonder what the folks at PETA might say about this novel animalistic sentence.

July 27, 2007 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Isn't going blind punishment enough?

As detailed in this AP story, this week a "Florida jail inmate was convicted of indecent exposure after a guard complained that he had masturbated in his cell."  Here are more details:

A jury took 45 minutes to convict Terry Lee Alexander, 20, of the misdemeanor on Wednesday.  The judge sentenced him to 60 days in the county jail.  He had faced up to a year.

In November, Broward County Deputy Coryus Veal, who was monitoring Alexander's cell from a centrally located control room, saw him masturbating while he was sitting on his bunk, alone in his cell.  She testified that she brought the charge against him the third time he masturbated in view of her.

Veal has brought similar charges against seven other inmates in six months. The sheriff's office encourages deputies to file criminal charges to discourage masturbating in the county's jails, said Elliot Cohen, an agency spokesman. He said privacy is one of the rights inmate give up in jail.

Kathleen McHugh, Alexander's attorney, said her client did nothing wrong. She said he was alone in his cell, which was not open to the public.  "I think the government's gone awry," McHugh said. "Has it been a slow year in crime that they've got to go prosecute masturbation in the Broward County Jail?"

For those interested in serious Friday debate, please discuss in the comments whether Mr. Alexander could make any reasonable constitutional arguments against his prosecution and sentencing.

For those interested in comical Friday fun, please discuss in the comments possible alternative titles for this post (I considered and rejected as too crude "What a jerk!" and "What ever happened to compassionate release for prisoners?").   Commentors can perhaps gain inspiration from this slang list, but please try to keep this blog family friendly.

July 27, 2007 in Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Sentencing reqwests in Qwest sentencing

As detailed in this story from the Rocky Mountain News, today Joe Nacchio, the former Qwest CEO, will be sentenced by US District Judge Edward Nottingham following his April conviction on 19 counts of insider trading.  Here are highlights of what the parties are requesting Judge Nottingham to consider:

Prosecutors are asking Nottingham to order Nacchio to forfeit the $52 million [allegedly grossed on illegal stock sales]....  Prosecutors also want a $19 million fine — the maximum fine of $1 million for each count on which the jury returned a guilty verdict.  And they’re asking for the maximum prison sentence that federal guidelines will allow — seven years, three months. "Any lesser sentence would send a message of tolerance of the egregious behavior proven at trial," Assistant U.S. Attorney James Hearty wrote in the government’s sentencing brief.

Nacchio’s attorneys are asking for a lesser prison sentence, though they have not stated publicly what term they’re seeking. They’ve asked Nottingham to consider two issues when deciding his fate: the health of two immediate family members and Nacchio’s charitable works.  The defense has not said which family members would be affected if Nacchio goes to prison, but they are believed to be his oldest son, David, who has attempted suicide, and Nacchio’s elderly mother.  Nacchio’s lawyers also say his fine should be a maximum of $6 million, and he should be ordered to forfeit no more than $1.8 million — the amount a defense- hired expert has determined was the financial gain Nacchio enjoyed because of the nonpublic, or "insider," information.

A group of local attorneys polled by the Rocky Mountain News predicted Nottingham will sentence Nacchio to five to six years in prison.  They disagreed on the fine and forfeiture, though most said it’s unlikely Nottingham will agree with the defense’s $1.8 million argument.

Any predictions, informed readers?

July 27, 2007 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 26, 2007

Off to DC for ACS

I am about to hit the road for Washington DC to participate in the Fifth Annual ACS National Convention.  A complete schedule of events is available at this link, and I'll be moderating a great panel of great judges discussing "The Future of Federal Sentencing: The Courts Continue to Sort it Out."

Blogging may be light through the weekend, though I hope to have pockets on time on-line.

July 26, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A judicial pitch for making crack reductions retroactive

Sentencing Hall of Famer Judge Lynn Adelman has kindly allowed me to post the letter he recently sent to the US Sentencing Commission urging the USSC to make its new crack guidelines retroactive.  Here are excertps:

The Sentencing Commission recently took the estimable step of proposing guideline amendments to reduce the sentencing ranges for cases involving crack cocaine.  The Commission also produced another detailed report on cocaine and federal sentencing policy, reiterating its consistent position that the 100:1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine is unjustified and undermines the objectives of the Sentencing Reform Act.  The amendments will, as you know, go into effect on November 1, 2007, absent congressional disapproval.

The Commission has not yet decided whether to make those amendments retroactive pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 1B1.10.  As you know, under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), district courts are authorized to reduce previously imposed terms of imprisonment that were based on a sentencing range subsequently lowered by the Commission, but only if the Commission specifically designates the amendment for retroactive application. I urge the Commission to list the crack cocaine amendment as one of those retroactively applicable under § 1B1.10(c)....

It may be argued that allowing retroactive application of the crack amendment will open the district courts to a flood of § 3582(c) motions.  Such concerns are overstated.  Motions under § 3582(c) may be resolved without a hearing, and without the presence of the defendant.  See Fed. R. Crim. P. 43(b)(4).  Further, since the court will have already determined drug weight, no additional fact-finding will be required. Finally, even if the Commission does not make the crack amendment retroactive, it seems likely that many prisoners sentenced under the old guidelines will nevertheless seek relief via motions under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2255 or 2241, or papers bearing other, more creative labeling.  Even if retroactive application does create more work for the courts, it seems well worth it to achieve fairer, more proportionate sentences, which actually promote respect for the law.

Download hinojosa_letter.rtf

July 26, 2007 in New USSC crack guidelines and report | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Can Congress use the power of the purse to commute the border agents' sentences?

I hope to get some help from con law scholars to figure out whether the congressional efforts described in this article from the El Paso Times are constitutionally kosher:

A vote by the House of Representatives on Wednesday to free two former El Paso Border Patrol agents imprisoned for the shooting of a drug smuggler bolstered hope among relatives that they will be released soon. The House vote, in effect, would block the Bureau of Prisons from spending any money to incarcerate Ignacio Ramos and Alonso Compean, who are serving, respectively, 11- and 12-year federal prison sentences....  The Senate has yet to take up the measure....

The case of Ramos and Compean has become a national cause célebre for conservatives, who believed their conviction and imprisonment was unfair and who asked for a presidential pardon. [U.S. Representative Silvestre] Reyes, and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both R-Texas, have said President Bush should commute the ex-agents' sentences. Last week Reyes, in a letter to Bush, said the sentences should be commuted because "while I do not condone the actions of Mr. Ramos and Mr. Compean, I do believe they received excessive sentences due to mandatory sentencing guidelines."...

The voice vote by the House came during a debate on a bill funding the Justice Department for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. "What this does is release these two individuals while the appeal goes on," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.

I certainly see a strong argument that, because the Constitution only gives the President the power of clemency, this kind of "funding commutation"  perhaps is a violation of the separation of powers.  And yet, since the power of the purse is profound, I could also see strength in the argument that Congress should have broad authority to control how monies are spent in the federal criminal justice system.

Any deep constitutional thoughts this Thursday, dear readers?

July 26, 2007 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Sixth Circuit reverses extreme upward variance in sex offender case

Adding to its impressive corpus of post-Booker jurisprudence, a split panel of the Sixth Circuit today in US v. Poynter, No. 05-6508 (6th Cir. July 25, 2007) (available here), reverses a large upward variance in a sex offense case.  Here is how the opinion begins and one of  many strong passages from the majority's analysis (per Judge Jeff Sutton and cites omitted):

Avery Poynter, 36 years old, pleaded guilty to traveling in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with two minors.  After calculating a guidelines range of 188–235 months and considering the § 3553(a) factors, the district court imposed a 720-month sentence (the statutory maximum) because Poynter was a repeat child sex offender.  Unable to conclude that this variance resulted from a reasonable application of § 3553, we reverse....

By relying on a problem common to all repeat sex offenders (recidivism) in increasing Poynter's sentence and by failing to offer meaningful distinctions between the risk that Poynter posed to the public and the risk that other sex offenders posed to the public, the district court left us little room to distinguish between Poynter and other sex offenders.... As utterly depraved as this crime is and as forever scarring as it must be to be victimized by it, not all repeat sex offenders deserve what amounts to a life sentence; otherwise, Congress would not have set a statutory range of 0–60 years.   While there is no yardstick perfectly calibrated to measure one crime and one criminal from the next crime and the next criminal, there are certainly measurable differences between Poynter's situation and the situation of offenders who might warrant the statutory maximum or something approaching it.

Here is how Judge Siler's brief dissent begins:

I respectfully dissent, not because I think that my colleagues do not know the law, but because this is such a discretionary matter that I believe when the district court correctly calculates the Guidelines range and then considers the § 3553(a) factors, the sentence should be upheld, unless the court adds a factor which should not have been considered under § 3553(a) or unless the circumstances of the crime or the offender were such that no variance from the Guidelines could be justified.

July 26, 2007 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Costs causing Colorado to consider changes

This effective article in the Rocky Mountain News, entitled "As inmate numbers swell, state scrambles for relief: Commission seeks ways to overhaul buckling system," provides some amazing statistics on Colorado's recent prison growth and the costs of this growth.  Here are excerpts:

Colorado faces a nearly 25 percent increase in prison inmates during the next six years, a growth rate that has prompted a new look at how punishment is administered in the state. Unless lawmakers reverse the emphasis on incarceration, analysts now say, prisons can expect to house nearly 28,000 inmates in 2013, compared with 22,519 as of June 30, according to a report by the Division of Criminal Justice.

The financial ramifications are substantial.

  • Each inmate costs state taxpayers an estimated $27,500 a year.
  • The cost of corrections has shot up from 4 percent of the state's budget to 9 percent since 1993.
  • The Department of Corrections' budget is more than $702 million, compared with $57 million in 1985.

The trend is so alarming that the state is preparing to launch a 26-member commission to study possible overhauls of how criminals are punished and for how long.

July 26, 2007 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The dynamics of "fighting" a white-collar charge

Today's New York Law Journal has this piece, entitled "To Fight or Not to Fight?", that discusses the dynamics of plea choices for defendants facing white-collar charges.   Here are a few snippets:

Trial by jury.  It is the right of every American accused of a crime but one that is rarely exercised in white-collar cases.  Last year, over 87 percent of defendants charged with federal fraud offenses plead guilty.   Maybe the ultimate outcome for defendants facing criminal charges would be better if that changed....

Defense counsel must make as realistic an assessment as possible of the downside risk of conviction.  The trial judge's sentencing practices must be researched, and a detailed guidelines analysis must be performed....

Like most good lawyering, advising a client whether his or her best interests are served by going to trial or pleading guilty is an art and not a science.

July 26, 2007 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Death and the Sixth Circuit

I am consistently impressed with the Sixth Circuit work on non-capital sentencing issues (some recent examples are here and here and here and here).  However, everyone else notices the deep and somewhat ugly divisions within the court on death penalty cases.  These divisions were revealed again through the circuit's en banc 8-6 vote to uphold a death sentence in Getsy v. Mitchell, No. 03-3200 (6th Cir. July 25, 2007) (available here), a death sentence that the original panel had set aside as unconstitutionally disproportionate.

Lots of commentary can be found at ODPI and at DotD and at The Volokh Conspiracy and at Infinity Ranch.  Ahh, if only the circuit's (more consequential) non-capital decisions would get so much thoughtful attention.

Related prior post:

July 26, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 25, 2007

Ninth Circuit addresses jurisdictional issues in face of appeal waiver

The Ninth Circuit today in US v. Castillo, No. 05-30401 (9th Cir. July 25, 2007) (available here), resolves through an en banc ruling an issue explained in the first sentence of the majority's ruling:

We granted en banc review in this case to resolve a question to which we have given inconsistent answers: Do we have jurisdiction to hear an appeal when the defendant entered a guilty plea in which he waived his right to appeal?

In case you don't want to have to read the full opinion, here is the majority's bottom line: "Regardless of whether a defendant enters into a conditional plea or an unconditional plea, we retain jurisdiction to hear the appeal."

July 25, 2007 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vick being sacked by the collateral consequences of an indictment

Earlier this week, as discussed here, USA Today had a long article discussing collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.  But, as the on-going Michael Vick story highlights, just a criminal indictment can have profound consequences for the accused.  The New York Times has this article covering the latest news on Vick:

The Atlanta Falcons were prepared to suspend quarterback Michael Vick for four games after he was indicted on federal felony charges related to a dogfighting operation before Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped in.  On Monday, Goodell ordered Vick not to appear at training camp and the team to hold off on disciplining him.

Arthur Blank, the Falcons’ owner, speaking publicly for the first time since Vick was indicted last week, said the team had begun drafting the letter about the suspension when Goodell decided that the National Football League would conduct an investigation into the charges against Vick....  Blank said that he never asked Vick if he was involved in dogfighting — he spoke to Vick about putting himself in bad situations, Blank said — and that he had not spoken to Vick since last Wednesday.

More of the latest Vick coverage can be found in the Washington Post and in USA TodayThough the Falcons and the NFL are apparently making lawful employment decisions, it is interesting to see that Vick's employer and the league in which he works are essentially treating him as guilty until he is proven innocent. 

These collateral consequences realities must ratchet up the pressure on Vick to plead guilty and cooperate with authorities even if he might have a real chance to contest the charges in court.  At this point, Vick's lawyers are probably telling him that a quick plea deal and cooperation — rather than protracted and costly legal proceedings — likely presents Vick with the best hope of getting on with his football career and his normal(?) life.

Some recent related Vick posts:

July 25, 2007 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

The latest chapter in the California prison overcrowding saga

This AP story provides the basic details on the latest development in the on-going saga over California's prison overcrowding problems:

California's $7.8 billion prison reform plan will only make conditions worse behind bars, two federal judges said in ordering the creation of a judicial panel to recommend better ways to ease prison crowding.  The move, which could lead to the capping of the inmate population or the early release of some prisoners, drew criticism from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said he would appeal.

U.S. District Court Judges Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento and Thelton Henderson of San Francisco held a joint hearing on the matter in June and issued the simultaneous opinions Monday.  They said the state's prison system has grown so large that conditions make it impossible to provide acceptable medical and mental health care to inmates.

Last spring, lawmakers agreed to build 53,000 new prison and jail cells as part of an ambitious $7.8 billion program to address a crisis that has been building for decades, but the judges rejected the plan. Karlton and Henderson said the state can't hire enough guards and medical professionals to provide proper care and oversight for the inmates it has now, let alone the thousands more who might be added through the building program.  "From all that presently appears, new beds will not alleviate this problem but will aggravate it," Karlton wrote.

Thanks to the New York Times, the order from Judge Henderson can be accessed at this link.  Also, the California Progress Report provides this extended analysis of the district judges' orders.  And, the Sacramento Bee has this thoughtful editorial responding to the federal judges' new order.  Here is how it ends:

None of these [California political] leaders seem to get it.  The courts are concluding that they are the lawbreakers because of their refusals to confront the overcrowding crisis. This does not necessarily mean that the three-judge panel will order early release of inmates.  In his decision, Henderson made clear he "would like nothing more" than to avoid such an order.

If state leaders would make some meaningful moves toward sentencing reform, parole, drug treatment programs, real rehabilitation and better medical care, it's still possible they could retain some control over the outcome of this legal showdown.

July 25, 2007 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 24, 2007

Seventh Circuit reverses sentence based on the right to allocute

The Seventh Circuit today in US v. Luepke, No. 06-3285 (7th Cir. July 24, 2007) (available here), reverses a sentence because of an allocution problem. Here is how the lengthy opinion in Luepke begins:

Following a plea of guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, see 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B), 846, Michael Luepke was sentenced by the district court to 240 months’ imprisonment. He timely appeals his sentence. Because the district court did not afford him a meaningful opportunity to address the court prior to the imposition of sentence, we must vacate the sentence imposed and remand the case to the district court for a new sentencing proceeding.

July 24, 2007 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Controversy over proposed Michigan sentencing reforms

This local article provides an effective review of the controversies brewing over Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's suggested changes to the state's sentencing laws.  Here are excerpts:

Public safety is not state government leaders' priority. That is the reaction Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte had upon learning about Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposed reforms to the state's sentencing laws. "The state is trying to fix its problem by dumping (them) on the county," Bezotte said. "As far as I'm concerned, the state government is shirking its responsibility. Public safety is not one of their priorities."

The Granholm administration is pushing to change the state's sentencing laws so fewer criminals are locked in state prisons and county jails. However, Bezotte said the proposal will only land more people in the county jail, which continually sees overcrowding.

According to the proposed sentencing law reforms report, about 140 felonies — such as fourth-degree fleeing and eluding, felonious driving, negligent homicide and writing bad checks — would become one-year misdemeanors, which mean a potential jail sentence — not prison. The plan also calls for putting lower-level offenders behind bars for less time....

Attorney General Mike Cox as well as other law enforcement officials on Monday blasted the proposal, calling it "seriously flawed." 

The state report disagrees with Bezotte's analysis of the likely impact, indicating that statewide county jail intake will be reduced by a net of 11,939 admissions each year....  "We need these sentencing reforms," Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said. "If we want to see significant costs savings, we need to decrease the prison population." That's all well and good, local officials say, but the problems the state hopes to eliminate are simply being passed to the county governments.

This AP article and this addition local piece provides additional information about the attacks on Gov.  Granholm's proposals. 

July 24, 2007 in State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Gearing up for two big-time white-collar sentencings

The papers today have reports on notable developments in two high-profile white-collar sentencings in the works:

July 24, 2007 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2007

The latest lethal injection litigation in the Sunshine State

Capital Defense Weekly, as detailed here, has been keeping close watch on the latest developments in the lethal injection saga in Florida.  This news story provides some of the highlights:

An Ocala judge interrupted a death penalty trial questioning whether the state's lethal injections are cruel and unusual punishment after telling the Department of Corrections its executions protocols are lacking.  Fifth Circuit Court Judge Carven Angel gave the oral order to stop executions on Sunday after abruptly shutting down a week-long hearing in which lawyers for convicted killer Ian Lightbourne questioned Florida's death penalty procedures in the aftermath of the botched December execution of Angel Diaz....

[Judge] Angel, whose written order is expected to be released this afternoon, criticized the [state]'s revamped execution policy, telling lawyers that they were deficient, according to sources in the courtroom. The trial is slated to begin on Sept. 21, five weeks after corrections officials are to submit their revised protocols.  The delay could also postpone the scheduled Nov. 15 execution of Mark Schwab and a Florida Supreme Court ruling on the death penalty, scheduled for oral arguments on Oct. 11 in anticipation of a resolution of the Lightbourne case.

July 23, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

PBS series POV on "Prison Town, USA"

As detailed in this press release, airing as part of public television's P.O.V. series, this week PBS will premiere "Prison Town, USA."  PBS has this terrific website supporting the show, which has a synopsis that includes these passages:

What happens when a struggling rural community tries to revive its economy by inviting prisons in?  The story of four families living in a modern-day prison town, as told in "Prison Town, USA," is a riveting look at one of the most striking phenomena of our times: a prison-building and incarceration boom unprecedented in American history....

"Prison Town, USA" lays bare the economic and political dynamics behind the prison-building frenzy that is changing the landscape of rural America, shedding light on some of the little-understood human costs of the nation's criminal-justice policies.

Also on the PBS website also includes resource links covering Prisons in the US and Three Strikes Law and Prison Reform Organizations.

July 23, 2007 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Learning from exonerations

Thanks to this post at ODPI, I see that Adam Liptak has this thoughtful new piece in the New York Times, entitled "Study of Wrongful Convictions Raises Questions Beyond DNA."  The piece discusses two new forthcoming law review articles that examine clear-cut DNA exoneration cases.  Here are excerpts from the NYT piece: 

Brandon L. Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia, has, for the first time, systematically examined the 200 cases, in which innocent people served an average of 12 years in prison. In each case, of course, the evidence used to convict them was at least flawed and often false — yet juries, trial judges and appellate courts failed to notice....

The 200 cases examined in the study are a distinctive subset of criminal cases.  More than 90 percent of those exonerated by DNA were convicted of rape, or of both rape and murder, rape being the classic crime in which DNA can categorically prove innocence.   For other crimes, there is often no biological evidence or, if there is, it can give only circumstantial hints about guilt or innocence....  Professor Garrett’s study strongly suggests, then, that there are thousands of people serving long sentences for crimes they did not commit but who have no hope that DNA can clear them....

Professor Garrett also found that exonerated convicts were more apt to be members of minority groups than was the prison population generally. For instance, 73 percent of the convicts cleared of rape charges were black or Hispanic, compared with 37 percent of all rape convicts.

The courts performed miserably in ferreting out the innocent.... Only 20 of the 200 even appealed on the ground that they were innocent; none of those claims were granted.  Perhaps the most troubling finding in Professor Garrett’s study was how reluctant the criminal justice system was to allow DNA testing in the first place.  Prosecutors often opposed it, and 16 courts initially denied requests for testing.  Yet DNA evidence can do more than free the innocent. In many cases, it also identified the person who actually committed the crime....

The era of DNA exonerations should be a finite one. These days, DNA testing is common on the front end of prosecutions, meaning that in a few years, the window that the 200 exonerations has opened on the justice system will close. We should look carefully through that window while we can.

Returning to the main theme of this blog, I think sentencing decision-makers and reformers have much to learn from exonerations.  It is clear that the criminal justice system consistently make particularly types of mistakes when assessing guilt and innocence; sentencing decision-makers and reformers should be noting how the system consistently make particularly types of mistakes when assessing sentence lengths.

July 23, 2007 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

USA Today covers collateral consequences

This morning's USA Today has this article, entitled "Ex-cons' sentences don't always end with release," highlighting some of the modern realities of collateral sentencing consequences.  Here is how it starts:

In New Jersey, some ex-convicts can't get a driver's license.  In Alabama, a misdemeanor drug conviction means a ban on adopting a child.  In 12 states, former felons are ineligible for food stamps. 

As record numbers of people leave prison, thousands of ex-criminals are pouring into communities. They've served their time, but their conviction bars them from many jobs, state and federal aid and some types of housing.  Policymakers are beginning to consider whether the hodgepodge of state laws and regulations are protecting the public or creating an underclass of ex-cons who, after serving their sentence, cannot return to society.

Congress will consider the issue later this year.  And a nationwide legal conference will vote on a model state law this month. "What we're seeing around the country is prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges all coming to an understanding that just because someone has committed a crime and had to pay a price for it, doesn't mean they should be relegated forever to second-class citizenship," says Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and chairman-elect of the American Bar Association's criminal justice section.

Perhaps folks like Lewis Libby, Martha Stewart, Lil' Kim, Michael Milken, Paris Hilton and other high-profile "ex-criminals" who have poured into the community can help bring attention to this issue.

July 23, 2007 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Another exposition on Rita reasonableness from the Sixth Circuit

Following up on its work last week in Liou (discussed here), the Sixth Circuit today in US v. Wilms, No. 06-1896 (6th Cir. July 23, 2007) (available here), provides another important discussion of the Supreme Court's work in Rita and what it means for post-Booker sentencing.  Here is how the opinion starts:

Defendant-Appellant Blake Wilms appeals his sentence of sixty-three months in prison following his plea of guilty to four counts of bank robbery and one count of attempted bank robbery.  Wilms argues that the district court improperly applied a presumption of reasonableness to the applicable Guidelines range, thereby failing to consider properly the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).  Because the record indicates that the district court applied a rebuttable presumption that Wilms should be sentenced within the applicable Guidelines range, we VACATE Wilms’s sentence and REMAND the case for resentencing.

July 23, 2007 in Rita reactions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Commentaries and editorials on border agents case

A new week brings a new set of commentaries and editorials about the border agents case.  Interestingly, as the headlines below suggest, not everyone has the same perspective on this case:

Commentary here from Debra Saunders, "Where's George Bush: Free the Border Patrol Two"

Commentary here from Rick Lowry, "Justice demands sentence commutation for border agents"

Editorial here from the Houston Chronicle, "Border incident Inflexible sentencing law — not prosecutor — created long sentence for rogue border agents"

Editorial here from the Sacramento Bee, "Feinstein takes the low road with border agents: With a grandstanding hearing and a letter to Bush, senator stoops to tarnish -- herself"

Some prior posts about the Border Agents case:

July 23, 2007 in Examples of "over-punishment" | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2007

More examples of why district judges need to show their sentencing work

Just a few days after Booker was decided, I highlighted in this post the message from the US Sentencing Commission to sentencing judges to "Always remember to show your work."  Two circuit opinions at the end of last week reinforce this message some 30 months later.

In US v. Liou, No. 06-4405 (6th Cir. July 20, 2007) (available here), the Sixth Circuit affirms a district judge's choice of a within-guideline sentence because the "district court offered clear reasons for its sentence [having] articulated the various § 3553(a) factors and then identified the two factors it found most relevant."  Liou is also an important ruling because it provides one of the first extended circuit discussions of the Supreme Court's work in Rita.

In US vs. Lawson, No. 06-3035 (DC Cir. July 20, 2007) (available here), the DC Circuit has to vacate and remand a sentence because "the record is muddled as to whether the district court considered [a particular guideline range as the] starting point for its analysis."  The Lawson court explains that "[w]ithout knowing the point at which the sentencing court began its calculation, we cannot address Lawson's argument that his was unreasonable."

July 22, 2007 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday sentencing headlines

Here are a few stories from the Sunday papers that should be of interest to sentencing fans:

July 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

NYT Magazine examining juve sex offenders

The New York Times magazine today has this cover story on juvenile sex offenders entitled "How Can You Distinguish a Budding Pedophile From a Kid With Real Boundary Problems?."   Here is a lengthy excerpt from a piece that merits a full read:

Juveniles account for about one-quarter of the sex offenses in the U.S.  Though forcible rapes, the most serious of juvenile sex offenses, have declined since 1997, court cases for other juvenile sex offenses have risen.  David Finkelhor, the director of Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, and others argue, however, that those statistics largely reflect increased reporting of juvenile sex offenses and adjudications of less serious offenses. “We are paying attention to inappropriate sexual behavior that juveniles have engaged in for generations,” he said.

The significant controversy isn’t whether there is a problem; it’s how to address it. In other words, when is parental or therapeutic intervention enough? What kind of therapy works best? And at what point should the judicial system get involved — and in what ways?

[Therapist Robert] Longo and other experts have increasingly advocated for a less punitive approach. Over the past decade, however, public policy has largely moved in the opposite direction.  Courts have handed down longer sentences to juveniles for sex offenses, while some states have created tougher probation requirements and, most significant, lumped adolescents with adults in sex-offender legislation.

The best-known example is Megan’s Law.  Since 1994, federal legislation has required many sex offenders to register with the police, which can aid sex-crime investigations. But Megan’s Law, which went into effect in 1996, mandates that law enforcement also notify the public about certain convicted offenders in their communities.  One of the ways states do this is through publicly accessible Web sites. At least 25 states now apply Megan’s Law, also known as a community-notification law, to juveniles, according to a recent survey by Brenda V. Smith, a law professor and the director of the National Institute of Corrections Project on Addressing Prison Rape at American University’s Washington College of Law. That means on many state sex-offender Web sites, you can find juveniles’ photos, names and addresses, and in some cases their birth dates and maps to their homes, alongside those of pedophiles and adult rapists.

Now that concept has reached the federal level. In May, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales proposed guidelines for the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.... Among other things, the legislation, sponsored by Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, and signed into law by President Bush last year, creates a federal Internet registry that will allow law enforcement and the public to more effectively track convicted sex offenders — including juveniles 14 and older who engage in genital, anal or oral-genital contact with children younger than 12.  Within the next two years, states that have excluded adolescents from community-notification laws may no longer be able to do so without losing federal money.

In recent posts, Sex Crimes and TalkLeft note this NYT magazine article.

July 22, 2007 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack