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December 10, 2007

SCOTUS rules for the defendants in Gall and Kimbrough!!

Providing a great Hanukkah present for me and anyone else tired of waiting, today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Gall and Kimbrough. SCOTUSblog here provides the basics:

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the federal guidelines on sentencing for cocaine violations are advisory only, rejecting a lower court ruling that they are effectively mandatory.  Judges must consider the Guideline range for a cocaine violation, the Court said, but may conclude that they are too harsh when considering the disparity between punishment for crack cocaine and cocaine in powder form.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the decision in Kimbrough v. U.S. (06-6330)....

Ruling in a second Guidelines case, Gall v. U.S. (06-7949), the Court — also by a 7-2 vote — cleared the way for judges to impose sentences below the specified range and still have such punishment regarded as “reasonable.” The Justices, in an opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, told federal appeals courts to use a “deferential abuse-of-discretion standard” even when a trial sets sets a punishment below the range.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., announced the opinion in Stevens’ absence.

Once I have a chance to read and reflect on the opinions in these cases, I will provide A LOT more commentary.

UPDATE: Thanks to SCOTUSblog, the opinion in Kimbrough (06-6330) is here, and here are the voting blocks:

GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and STEVENS, SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., and ALITO, J., filed dissenting opinions.

The opinion in Gall (06-7949) is here, and it has similar voting blocks:

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., and SOUTER, J., filed concurring opinions. THOMAS, J., and ALITO, J., filed dissenting opinions.

December 10, 2007 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 9, 2007

Are you ready for some sentencing?

With apologies to Hank Williams's Monday Night classic, I cannot help but do a little song parody as I gear up for tomorrow's scheduled sentencing date for Conrad Black and Michael Vick (basics here).  Here goes:

Well it's Monday in court and we're ready to riff!
Time to get all the points, the levels and the briefs.
It's sentences of the year that's comin' your way.
The lawyers and the judges are ready to play.
We gotta get ready, we gotta get right
Cause prison terms are getting handed out before tonight!
So get ready. I mean, get ready.
Are you ready for some sentencings?! A Monday prison party!
I have not established an official betting line on either sentence, but I would probably set Michael Vick's over/under at 18 months in prison, and I would set Lord Blacks over/under at 8 years in prison.  Readers are encouraged to tell me whether they'd take the over or the under for either prominent defendant.

December 9, 2007 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The ripples of death's demise in New Jersey

Thanks to How Appealing, I saw this fanscinating article in the Newark Star-Ledger headlined "Law clerks' most morbid duty eases." Here are excerpts:

Ever since New Jersey restored capital punishment a quarter of a century ago, the state Supreme Court has assigned at least one of its law clerks each year to delve deep into the law of death. The task for this recent law school graduate is to examine every detail of each death penalty case that comes before the court -- from the crime scene photographs to the nuances of capital punishment law.

Soon the job could disappear.  New Jersey is on track to become the first state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty.  The state Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on legislation to replace that sentence with life in prison without parole. The Assembly is slated to take up a similar measure this week. Gov. Jon Corzine has called the change a move in the right direction. And it would eliminate the need for the death penalty law clerk.

Created in recognition of the extraordinary care needed to examine the facts and issues in cases in which a person has been sentenced to die, the post is so unusual that not even the U.S. Supreme Court has such a specialist....  Recognizing the grueling nature of the work, the justices have always made sure the clerk has at least a few non-capital matters to handle.

And the pace of the job has slowed considerably in recent years. New Jersey now has just eight people on death row, and since most have been there for more than a decade, their appeals are running down. "There aren't as many matters coming to the court," said Townsend. Halfway into the current court term, this year's clerk, Emma Freudenberger, hasn't gotten to do much death penalty work yet.

December 9, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The capital year in review in Texas

Thanks to this post at CDW, I noticed this effective report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP). Though TCADP obviously has a anti-death penalty agenda, this report is mostly facts and just a bit of opinion. The 8-page report is entitled " Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2007: The Year in Review," and here is how it starts and ends:

December 7, 2007 marks the 25th anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas — and the nation’s first execution by lethal injection. This comes at a time of unprecedented scrutiny of the death penalty on numerous fronts.

Even Texas has felt the impact and implications of this intense period of review. This report presents information on the death penalty in Texas in 2007, including executions, stays, and new death sentences, judicial and legislative activity, and other developments affecting the criminal justice system in the nation’s most active death penalty state....

In a year of caution, when most other states expressed concern about or acknowledged problems with their administration of the death penalty, Texas continued to carry out executions at a rate that far exceeded any other state. At one point, Texas even appeared to be on track to carry out an above average number of executions. A variety of state and federal court decisions forced the state to put its death penalty apparatus on hold for the time being, however. In addition, a spate of exonerations from Dallas County, the ongoing review of cases implicated by the Houston Police Department crime lab scandal, and investigations into potential wrongful executions continue to raise questions about the reliability of the criminal justice system. The decline in new death sentences also appears to reflect public concerns about fairness and accuracy. While efforts to improve the system met with mixed success in 2007, there is promise that recent events will have a positive impact on the future of capital punishment in Texas.

December 9, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Some highlights from around the blogosphere

Along with the Sunday papers, sentencing fans will want to check out a number of posts from some of my favorite blogs.  Specifically:

December 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack