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December 19, 2007

Notable plea deal in controversial capital case

As detailed in this AP story, a controversial capital case from Ohio has now been resolved through a plea deal. Here are the specifics:

A man who spent 20 years on Ohio's death row before his sentence was overturned has agreed to a plea deal that will give him his freedom, his attorney said Wednesday.  Ken Richey, a U.S. and British citizen, will enter a plea Thursday and return to his native Scotland on Friday, said the attorney, Ken Parsigian.

Richey was convicted of murder 20 years ago in a fire that killed a 2-year-old girl. Prosecutors said Richey set the northwest Ohio blaze to get even with his former girlfriend, who lived in the same apartment building as the toddler.  A federal appeals court ruled in August that Richey's former lawyer mishandled his case and ordered prosecutors to try Richey again or release him. The state had been set to try him again in March.

Instead, he will plead no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering, and be sentenced to time already served, Parsigian said.... Richey has drawn support from members of the British Parliament and the late Pope John Paul II. He was nearly out of appeals until the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court ordered a new trial. The court said expert testimony could have contended that the fire wasn't intentionally set.

This article from the Times UK spotlights the international attention that this case has long garnered.

December 19, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Time for the AFDA webcast

As detailed in this prior post, I am about start an audio webcast now (12noon ET Wednesday) in which I will discuss Kimbrough, Gall, the new crack guidelines and related federal sentencing happenings.  Surf here to see how to listen in (free of charge)!

December 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is probation a fitting sentence for backdating convictions?

In this piece in the Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins makes the case for a lenient sentence for Gregory Reyes, who is today scheduled to be sentenced on 10 felony convictions related to options backdating at Brocade Communications.  Here is the pitch:

Mr. Reyes didn't benefit from backdating; he didn't have any discernible motive to overpay his underlings who did.... Mr. Reyes's story is not different from those of hundreds of executives who have not been charged and probably never will be charged, including Apple's Steve Jobs. Mr. Reyes's case featured all the ordinary lineaments of backdating, however, plus one: a claim that he conspired with Brocade's human resources department to keep its finance department "in the dark" about the use of so-called lookbacks to price employee options....

As the National Law Journal notes with exemplary precision, "Stock-options backdating is not illegal. It is the failure to properly account for backdating as an expense to the company that got so many in trouble."...

Punishment should fit the crime; dozens of executives have lost jobs over backdating; a few have been asked to disgorge money and sign regulatory settlements that don't require acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Even the trial lawyers have been unable to make a meal out of this scandal, thanks to an absence of demonstrable shareholder harm.

The great flaw in the Reyes prosecution, which was the first of its kind, was the prosecution's attempt to fulfill the media image of backdating, rather than focusing on the venial offense it was.  The government has suggested Mr. Reyes should face 10-20 years.  Judge Charles Breyer, in a recommendation recently unsealed, proposed 15-21 months.  Some law bloggers think it not impossible Mr. Reyes will receive a suspended sentence.

Let's hope so. Because unless we plan to send Steve Jobs and a hundred other executives to jail for backdating, it would be grossly disproportionate to inflict jail on Mr. Reyes.

I am not one of the "law bloggers" referenced in this post, and I am not sure there really is anything that can or should be called a "suspended sentence" under federal sentencing law.  That said, I think this pitch is for a sentence of probation or maybe a very brief confinement term that could be satisfied entirely through home confinement.

Given the various intriguing dimensions of this particular case and white-collar sentencing more broadly, I wonder if readers agree that proportionate justice for Reyes means no prison time at all.  Here are some questions to ponder in this context: Does the fact that DOJ apparently believes that justice demands decades in prison for Reyes a significant consideration in your analysis?  Does the fact that the guidelines suggest more than a year in prison for Reyes a significant consideration in your analysis?   Does the fact that the recent Gall decision calls probation a significant restriction on liberty a significant consideration in your analysis?

With this high-profile sentencing only hours away, I am eager to read both predictions and recommendations in the comments.

UPDATE:  According to this Reuters article, the sentencing of Reyes was postponed today.  The article explains that today "Judge Charles Breyer of U.S. District Court in San Francisco unsealed Reyes' pretrial statements after prosecutors said they needed them to prepare for Reyes' sentencing, which was postponed from Wednesday to an undetermined date."

December 19, 2007 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

All the data on death from BJS and DPIC

Now available here from DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics is "Capital Punishment, 2006 — Statistical Tables," which presents lots of table withlots and and lots of current and historical data on persons under sentence of death and executed in the United States.   Also, this new CNN piece, headlined "Executions drop in '07 as states rethink death penalty," relies on information from the Death Penalty Information Center for this review of the year in death:

A day after New Jersey banned executions, newly released figures show that capital punishment dropped this year to a 13-year low. Forty-two people have been put to death this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a Washington-based group that opposes the practice.  That figure is down 57 percent from what it was in 1999, when 98 inmates were executed. 

Next year's figures are expected to drop further.  The Supreme Court is to hold oral arguments January 7 about whether lethal injection protocols in 36 of the 37 states with the death penalty are constitutional.

How Appealing collects here coverage of these data in all the major papers.

UPDATE:  The Death Penalty Information Center has now made available here its 13th annual Year-End Report, which has lots of data and other info about the state of the death penalty.

December 19, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Drugged commentary on the sentencing week that was

Over at FindLaw, Mark Allenbaugh has this new piece titled "A Positive Development in All the Sentencing Insanity: How The Supreme Court and the U.S. Sentencing Commission Have Begun to Correct the Damage Done by the War on Drugs." Here is how it starts:

Since the Nixon Administration, our nation has been engaging in a relentless, yet futile War on Drugs — not on crime, but specifically on drugs.  This war has not only been costly, but also done virtually nothing to stem the influx of drugs into our nation or Americans' drug use.  In fact, some have argued that the War on Drugs has actually created incentives for illicit drug manufacturers to develop new products such as methamphetamine and Ecstasy, as well as to develop better and more efficient distribution channels through Mexico, and perhaps even China.

And yet, despite clear indications that we long ago lost this war (at least as defined by the ways we are fighting it and the rhetoric we use), we mindlessly continue along the same path.

But despite all this despairing history, there now is a glimmer of hope for more sane drug sentencing — in the form of two December 10 decisions from the Supreme Court.

I do not view last week's amazing federal sentencing events as anything close to a referendum or even a significant turning point on the "war on drugs."  That said, I do not think it is coincidental or inconsequential that Gall and Kimbrough involved drug offenses.  And, as Mark's commentary notes at the end on this commentary, the critical question going forward is "What Will Congress Do?".

December 19, 2007 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Gall reasonableness case, Kimbrough reasonableness case, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 18, 2007

AFDA webcast on lastest federal sentencing developments

As detailed on this page, Gregory Nicolaysen, the founder of the Association of Federal Defense Attorneys (AFDA), has organized another of his great audio webcast for this Wednesday (December 19) at 12noon ET to allow me to discuss Kimbrough, Gall, the new crack guidelines and related federal sentencing happenings  and its possible aftermath. 

Unlike other groups seeking big bucks for webcasts, the AFDA usually only charges a nominal fee and the Greg has made this webcast free for everyone.  The webcast will be an informal interview conducted over live streaming audio, with accompanying text posted to a viewing screen and links to PDF files containing materials relevant to the topics discussed. To attend this webcast, simply:

Though I plan primarily to recap and expand upon some commentary already appearing here, I'd be grateful if readers might use the comments to note any issues that seem particular important for me to cover during this webcast.

December 18, 2007 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in the Circuits, Claiborne and Rita reasonableness case, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Gall reasonableness case, Kimbrough reasonableness case | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A severe juve sentence seeking SCOTUS attention

How Appealing does a great job here collecting resources relating to the cert petition filed yesterday in the in Pittman v. South CarolinaThis AP article provides the basics:

Attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of a teen sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing his grandparents when he was 12, arguing that the sentence is cruel.... In the brief submitted to the high court late Monday, attorneys from the University of Texas School of Law argued that the 30-year sentence violates Christopher Pittman's Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

The adverse ruling from the South Carolina's highest court, which can be found here, rejected the defendant's constitutional challenge by stating, inter alia, that "we do not believe that evolving standards of decency in our society dictate that it is cruel and unusual to sentence a twelve-year-old convicted of double murder to a thirty-year prison term."

The cert petition, which Howard Bashman has made available for downloading via this link, presents these three questions:

I.  Is a sentence of 30 years without possibility of parole constitutionally disproportionate as applied to a 12-year-old child?

2.  Are the mitigating qualities of youth relevant to whether a 12-year-old's non-capital sentence is constitutionally disproportionate?

3.  Does the Eighth Amendment prohibit the imposition of a sentence of 30 years without possibility of parole on a 12-year-old child where the sentencer was absolutely precluded from considering youth as a mitigating factor justifying lesser punishment?

For lots and lots of reasons, I really hope the Supreme Court takes this case.  In fact, I think Pittman is a much more important and consequential case than the child rape capital case from Louisiana (Kennedy) that many SCOTUS watchers are watching so closely.  But, because capital cases always seem to drawn unique interest from the Justices, I'd probably bet Kennedy is a more likely grant than Pittman.  (In my perfect (and very, very unlikely) world, these cases would be consolidated for one mega-argument about the modern scope and reach of the Eighth Amendment.)

December 18, 2007 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Seventh Circuit tries to keep post-conviction attacks in order

Though a small per curiam opinion, the Seventh Circuit in Collins v. US, No. 07-1820 (7th Cir. Dec. 6, 2007) ("published" today and available here), makes many big points for defendants and litigants trying to sort through various avenues for seeking post-conviction relief following a federal conviction and sentence.  Here are snippets:

[B]oth the Supreme Court in Felker and this court in several opinions have held that judges must respect the plaintiff’s choice of statute to invoke — whether §2241, §2255, or 42 U.S.C. §1983 — and give the action the treatment appropriate under that law....

A motion in a criminal case — whether nominally under Fed. R. Crim. P. 33, or bearing an ancient title such as coram vobis or audita querela — may be treated as one under §2255, because the caption on a document does not matter... [though] the district judge first must alert the prisoner to the consequences of this step and give him an opportunity to withdraw the request. But §2241 and for that matter §1983 authorize distinct forms of relief in specific courts.  Persons who initiate independent litigation are entitled to have it resolved under the grant of authority they choose to invoke.

I have long believed that, in the wake of Blakely and Booker, enterprising lawyers (or even law students) can make a nice career out by figuring out (and helping others effective litigate) strategies for bringing appropriate collateral attacks to unlawful (but "final") federal sentences.  This ruling in Collins, as well as the similar recent ruling from the Second Circuit in Richter concerning the writ of audita querela (details here), confirms my belief.

December 18, 2007 in Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Interview With an Executioner"

The title of thie post is the headline of this piece at ABC News based on the interview given by Jerry Givens, the former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia (hat tip: TalkLeft).  Here is how the lengthy piece starts:

Jerry Givens spent 17 years as a professional killer. From 1982 to 1999, he killed 62 people. He was never punished. His work was paid for by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As the state's chief executioner, Givens pushed the buttons that administered lethal doses of electricity to the condemned. He could even choose how many volts to administer. And he is the first to admit that it was largely guesswork. "If he was a small guy, I didn't give that much. You try not to cook the body, you know. I hate to sound gross,'' he told ABC News in a rare interview.

Only a handful of executioners in America have ever spoken publicly about their experiences, and fewer, if any, have revealed the emotional toll the job can take on a person or the mind-set of the man behind the proverbial mask.  Givens told ABC News that his experiences in the death chamber have caused him to change course and oppose the death penalty.

Givens defies the stereotype of the cold-souled executioner.  A deeply religious layman, Givens claimed he prayed with many of the condemned men he was about to execute, a bold gesture at odds with the grim, emotionless solemnity with which executions are often portrayed in the movies.  He said he'd suggest to a condemned man that this was a last chance to repent and seek forgiveness from God.  And he said he'd join the men in prayer. No one's tomorrow is guaranteed, he said.

December 18, 2007 in Baze lethal injection case | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

It takes a (big) village ... to care for kids with incarcerated parents

Mentorgrass Especially with crime and punishment issues becoming political issues (for both Ds and Rs), I hope everyone on the campaign trail will read this new commentary from the Christian Science Monitor. The piece is titled "Standing in for prison dads, moms: The number of kids whose parents are in prison has surged. They need caring adults to step in."  Here are snippets:

This Christmas, more than 2 million children will not have a parent home for the holidays because that person is sitting in a state or federal prison. These children, whose ranks have grown with the rising prison population, need caring adults willing to mentor them.

In 1995, 500,000 kids had a parent in prison. But since then, as sentencing guidelines have taken effect and probation and parole officers have taken a harder line, more kids are suffering for the mistakes of their parents. That costs them and society, because children of incarcerated parents are much more likely to end up behind bars. (A congressional report in 2000 puts that likelihood at 70 percent)....

A national program called Amachi shows the possibilities of matching caring adults with children of inmates. The effort began in Philadelphia as a public-private partnership in 2000. It went national a few years later and is now in 48 states and 210 cities.  It reaches 60,000 children of inmates. 

Amachi trains other established volunteer organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs, and Volunteers of America to carry out its program across the nation. These groups in turn tap mainly churches and other religious institutions for volunteers. ("Amachi" is a West African word that means: "Who knows what God has brought us through this child?") The program fits the White House emphasis on federal funding for faith groups that do social work, and Amachi relies heavily on $200 million from the Department of Health and Human Services....

Only results justify continued funding, and Amachi can point to studies to back its claims.  A 1995 Big Brothers Big Sisters study shows that a child benefits generally when he or she meets weekly with a mentor over a year.  Amachi's own surveys show that two-thirds of their kids improve their grades, behaviors, and school attendance.

Despite Amachi's growth, the need for volunteers is great.  Girls are fairly easily matched to women mentors, but there's a long waiting list of boys. The program needs adult males, especially African-Americans.... Wilson Goode, who heads Amachi ..., is testament to the power of mentoring.  His dad was in prison as he was growing up, and his high school counselor dismissed college as an option. But Goode's pastor took a special interest in him and helped him get to college. That Goode became Philadelphia's first black mayor, shows the difference a caring adult can make.

More information about Amachi can be found at its website and through its on-line newsletters.  Thanks to this commentary, I have now added Amachi to my holiday donation list (details here).  In addition, I will now be waiting and hoping for some presidential candidate(s) to pledge to double or triple the funding for Amachi.  Even if we increased federal funding for Amachi by 1000 percent, the $2 billion spent on this program in a year would still be less than what we now spend in Iraq each week.

December 18, 2007 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Should never granting a pardon be a point of political pride?

As documented here, now running in Iowa is a TV spot from the campaign of Mitt Romney that attacks Mike Huckabee for being soft on meth offenses and for granting over 1000 pardons and commutations while Governor of Arkansas.  The ad also states, as an apparent point of pride, that former Governor Romney "never pardoned a single criminal."  Interestingly, the Huckabee campaign has issued this official response to the ad, which includes this notable discussion of clemency issues:

Some Governors are content to simply deny the vast majority of clemency applications without bothering to consider their merit. Governor Huckabee, however, believed that respect for the legal process required that he give them the consideration for which they were entitled....

Very rarely does the public oppose a clemency because almost all are granted for minor offenses, involve reductions in fines, or reduced prison sentences that were longer than the average for a particular crime....

Before the mainstream use of background checks, most people could have some youthful arrest, change their lives and become good, tax-paying citizens without that earlier arrest coming back to haunt them. Governor Huckabee found during his time in office that each year the number of people needing clemency to clear their record increased. Denying their request prevented them from continuing to earn a good living and pay taxes. The majority of the clemency requests he granted were for this reason.

I find the effort of the Romney campaign to make political hay out of clemency issues especially interesting in light of the significant Republican call for pardons for Lewis Libby and for the Border Agents.  Also, the ad indirectly suggests that Romney hopes to bring more attention to Huckabee's "Willie Horton" problem in the form of Wayne Dumond, the rapist paroled in Arkansas when Huckabee was governor who murdered a woman after being released (background here and here).

As I have suggested before, various crime and punishment issues will surely play some role in the heated 2008 Presidential campaign.  I am hopeful (though not especially optimistic) that excessive tough-on-crime demagoguery by particular candidates will backfire as the general public becomes more informed and balanced in their understanding of a range of criminal justice issues.

December 18, 2007 in Clemency and Pardons | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Notable media coverage of victims' rights

In the wake of recent Federal Sentencing Reporter issues focused on victims' rights at sentencing (details here and here), I was intrigued to see this new piece from US News and World Report headlined "Giving Crime Victims More of Their Say: A federal law has created tensions in the legal system."  Here are snippets from the piece:

Historically, the adversarial legal system has carved out roles in criminal cases only for the prosecutor and the accused. Victims have been relegated to the sidelines unless they were testifying. Although the interests of prosecutors usually align with those of victims, they are not always the same: for instance, when victims want tougher sentences than prosecutors do. Victims' rights advocates hope the changes are just the start and are pushing to put victims on an equal footing with defendants and prosecutors. "What our goal should be is to put the victim back into the position as if no crime had been committed," says Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who resigned this year to advocate for victims.

Crime victims began winning rights at the state level decades ago, but the 2004 legislation brought the protections to the federal level for the first time.  Victims now must be notified about court developments.  They must be allowed to speak during bail and sentencing hearings. And most important, the law gives them the ability to appeal rulings when they think their rights are being violated.... The Justice Department is even funding three legal clinics, in Maryland, Arizona, and South Carolina, to help victims assert these rights in court.

Some related posts focused mostly on victim input at sentencing:

December 18, 2007 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Congrats to a co-author

I was so pleased to hear, as detailed in this New York Law Journal article, that casebook co-author, FSR editor and dear friend Nora Demleitner has officially been named Dean of Hofstra University School of Law, effective Jan. 1.

December 18, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 17, 2007

Interesting allocution decision from the Ninth Circuit

The Ninth Circuit today in US v. Biagon, No. 06-10479 (9th Cir. Dec. 17, 2007) (available here), has an interesting little opinion on allocution rights.  Here is how it begins:

In this appeal, we consider whether the district court violated the defendant’s right of allocution when it denied a motion to close the courtroom for sentencing.  We conclude that the defendant’s rights were not violated, and affirm the judgment of the district court.

Judge Kleinfeld concurs in a separate opinion to express concerns about what the majority says and ends his opinion in this way:

We ought not use this case as a vehicle to develop a new rule unnecessary to a decision that may sacrifice other important public interests to the interest in press access.

December 17, 2007 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

New Jersey officially kills the state's death penalty

As detailed in this AP story,  New Jersey's "Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed into law Monday a measure that abolishes the death penalty, making New Jersey the first state in more than four decades to reject capital punishment."   As the article explains, the "measure spares eight men on the state's death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting the sentences of those eight to life in prison without parole." 

Notably, among those spared is "Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. The case inspired Megan's Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities."  The AP article also states that the state's action "is being hailed across the world as a historic victory against capital punishment. Rome plans to shine golden light on the Colosseum in support."

This CNN coverage includes quotes from Governor Corzine, which includes this comment: "Society must ask ... is it not morally superior to imprison 100 people for life than it is to execute all 100 when it's probable we execute an innocent?"   In answering this question, it is probably appropriate also to wonder whether we are more likely to discover the one wrongfully convicted person when he is on death row with a few others or when he is serving life in prison with hundreds of others.  Moreover, as I have stressed in prior posts, I am troubled that in eliminating the death penalty, New Jersey has expanded its use of the penalty of life without the possibility of parole.

Some related posts:

UPDATE:  How Appealing here collects other major media coverage of New Jersey's move away from the death penalty.

December 17, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

A sentencing two-fer from the Sixth Circuit

Confirming the reality that last week's amazing events did not change the federal sentencing world too much, the Sixth Circuit this morning affirms two sentences over defense objections.  Here are the basics from the start of each opinion:

US v. Carter, No. 07-5551 (6th Cir. Dec. 17, 2007) (available here), starts this way:

Defendant Vernon T. Carter appeals his sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment for filing false income tax returns. At the sentencing hearing, the district court denied Carter’s motion for a downward departure/variance and enhanced Carter’s sentence by two levels for obstruction of justice. Carter raises three arguments on appeal: (1) the district court erred when it denied his motion for a downward departure and/or variance based upon “exceptional family circumstances”; (2) the district court failed to consider adequately a sentence of probation and home detention based on the sentence given to Carter’s niece for similar conduct; and (3) the district court erred when it enhanced his sentence by two levels for obstruction of justice. Because the district court did not err in applying the obstruction enhancement, and because it imposed a reasonable sentence, we affirm.

US v. Smith, No. 06-6458 (6th Cir. Dec. 17, 2007) (available here), starts this way:

Carlton Victor Smith was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 405 months in prison following his participation in a scheme that was perpetrated by taking the family of a bank manager hostage and threatening to blow up the bank manager’s husband with a bomb unless the bank manager retrieved money from a bank vault. This court upheld Smith’s conviction and sentence in 2004, but the Supreme Court vacated his sentence in light of United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). On remand, the district court sentenced him to 396 months in prison. Smith claims that his sentence is procedurally unreasonable because the district court failed to address an argument that Smith made with respect to reducing his Sentencing Guidelines range, and because the district court assertedly disregarded the Sentencing Guidelines and instead relied on the statutory maximum sentences for his crimes. He also argues that his sentence is substantively unreasonable because it is longer than the sentence received by an individual who played an identical role in a related bank robbery in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Because these arguments are without merit, we affirm.

December 17, 2007 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Focus on the world's leader in juve offenders serving LWOP

This article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, headlined "Pa. leads nation in sentencing minors to life," starts this way:

Pennsylvania has sent more juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole than any other state or foreign country, a recent study shows.   According to "Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison," a study released last month by the University of San Francisco's Center for Law and Global Justice, 433 Pennsylvania inmates were sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed as minors.

That means nearly one-fifth of the country's 2,381 juvenile lifers were sentenced in Pennsylvania. The only other country with juvenile lifers is Israel, which has seven, according to the study.

Some related posts:

December 17, 2007 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Reflections on crack sentencing reform realities

Articles today in the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times provide fitting accounts of why persons interested is significant sentencing reforms should not get too jazzed about last week's amazing federal sentencing events. James Oliphant's Tribune article is headlined "New drug rules won't crack many jail doors," and it starts this way:

When the U.S. Sentencing Commission last week reduced sentences for imprisoned crack cocaine offenders -- reversing years of policy that treated crack far differently from powder cocaine -- the Justice Department and police groups bitterly criticized the action, warning of a flood of criminals rushing out onto America's streets....

But many experts say the reality is not so dramatic.  Fewer than 3,000 prisoners nationwide will be immediately eligible for the relief.  All have already served considerable time.  Each eligible prisoner will have to petition the court for freedom -- and the Justice Department can oppose those petitions.  Few offenders with violent histories are likely to be released.

Adam Liptak's Times column is headlined "Whittling Away, but Leaving a Gap," and it starts this way:

There was an avalanche of sentencing news last week. The Supreme Court gave trial judges more power to show mercy, the United States Sentencing Commission gave almost 20,000 prisoners doing time on crack cocaine charges a good shot at early release, and even President Bush commuted a crack sentence.

The net effect: tinkering.  The United States justice system remains, by international standards at least, exceptionally punitive.  And nothing that happened last week will change that.

December 17, 2007 in New USSC crack guidelines and report | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 16, 2007

Seeking capital punishment predictions for 2008

As I may document in future posts, 2007 was quite a year for the death penalty.  Notably, my prediction in early January that we would likely have less than 46 executions because of lethal injection litigation proved prophetic.  But I did not expect that the year would end with New Jersey becoming the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in four decades.  Building on these developments, this Reuters article tries to predict the capital future:

New Jersey's abolition vote this week highlights scrutiny of the death penalty in America, and analysts say it could be a small step in the direction of an eventual nationwide ban. But with capital punishment still on the books in 36 states, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and broad political support for putting the worst offenders to death, the road to abolition will be long.

"Ultimate abolition is indeed a long way off," said Stuart Banner, a professor at the UCLA School of Law and author of "The Death Penalty: An American History." "I'd be very surprised if the (Supreme) Court casts any doubt any time soon on the constitutionality of capital punishment in general."

New Jersey on Thursday became the first state legislature since the 1960s to abolish the death penalty. Coming on top of an unofficial moratorium on executions, some had questioned whether the move by New Jersey was a step toward national abolition. The unofficial moratorium has been in place since just after the Supreme Court said on September 25 that it would decide an appeal by two death row inmates from Kentucky arguing that the three-chemical cocktail used in lethal injections inflicted unnecessary pain and suffering. One convicted killer was executed in Texas hours later but none have been since then.

Though I am prepared to predict that the Baze litigation will ensure another year of relatively few executions, I am not sure what else we should expect in this arena in 2008.  I'd be grateful if informed (or even uninformed) readers might share their predictions.

December 16, 2007 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

A sober (and caffeinated) look at GPS tracking realities

Sgc_tm_logo_ezrThis week brought two strong pieces from Seattle ("where coffee reigns") that thoughtfully discuss the realities of the hottest development in technocorrections: GPS tracking. Here are links and excerpts from the pieces.

From the Seattle Post Intelligencer here, "GPS for state sex offenders gets split verdict":

More than 40 states use the Global Positioning System to track offenders.  At least 15 require some kind of lifetime monitoring. In California, voters passed a punitive law last year requiring all felony sex offenders -- about 4,000 people -- to wear a tracker for life.

"We have so much business that we can hardly keep up with manufacturing. We're exploding," said David Segal, vice president of software development for Florida-based Pro Tech Monitoring, the country's main provider of GPS correctional trackers.

In Washington, tracking was a largely unfunded, little-used program until September, when Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered immediate funding for it.

From the Seattle Times here, "Are GPS devices for sex offenders worth it?":

More than 20 of the state's most violent sex offenders are tethered to tracking devices that document their locations within a half-block.  The devices are at the heart of Gov. Christine Gregoire's promise to keep people safe from sex predators.

On Wednesday, the governor asked the state Legislature for $8.2 million to better monitor sex offenders.  Nearly $1 million would go toward purchasing the tracking sets for the Department of Corrections (DOC); about $5 million would pay for in-person visits of sex offenders by law enforcement.

But community corrections officers doubt whether the $1,500 devices — ankle bracelets, locator boxes designed to be strapped on people's belts and charging units — would ensure that sex offenders are abiding by the terms of their parole.

December 16, 2007 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack