March 11, 2008
Still more local coverage of crack sentence reductions
Continuing the regular drumbeat of local reporting on reduced crack sentences, here are stories from Vermont and West Virgina:
I assume that the US Sentencing Commission and the Department of Justice are trying to keep track of reduced crack sentences, but I am not sure either will report their data publicly anytime soon. I wonder if anyone else is trying to keep a head-count of exactly how many offenders have secured early release under the new crack rules.
March 11, 2008 in Implementing retroactively new USSC crack guidelines | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Culture, democracy and vengeance in modern American justice
I just received a notice about this new book from Cambridge University Press authored by Kenneth Aladjem and titled "The Culture of Vengeance and the Fate of American Justice." Here is the publisher's teaser for the book:
America is driven by vengeance in Terry Aladjem’s provocative account — a reactive, public anger that is a threat to democratic justice itself. From the return of the death penalty to the wars on terror and in Iraq, Americans demand retribution and moral certainty; they assert the “rights of victims” and make pronouncements against “evil.” Yet for Aladjem this dangerously authoritarian turn has its origins in the tradition of liberal justice itself — in theories of punishment that justify inflicting pain and in the punitive practices that result. Exploring vengeance as the defining problem of our time, Aladjem returns to the theories of Locke, Hegel and Mill. He engages the ancient Greeks, Nietzsche, Paine and Foucault to challenge liberal assumptions about punishment. He interrogates American law, capital punishment and images of justice in the media. He envisions a democratic justice that is better able to contain its vengeance.
I wonder if Aladjem has to resort to water-boarding when he was "interrogating" American law, capital punishment and images of justice in the media.
March 10, 2008
On the topic of high-profile federal prostitution investigations...
a reader suggested that I check out this article from this weekend's Rocky Mountain News. Here are the tawdry details:
Chief federal Judge Edward W. Nottingham, who admitted to indiscretions at a downtown topless club, also may have been a client of a high- priced escort service, according to a television news report. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit is investigating Nottingham for judicial misconduct, according to 9News.
The judge allegedly was a customer of Denver Players, also known as Denver Sugar, which operated out of a four-bedroom home in the Commerce Park neighborhood and was raided and closed by Internal Revenue Service agents and Denver police in January, 9News reported.
Nottingham was the judge in the insider-trading trial of former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio....
Federal and local authorities spent more than a year investigating Denver Players at 1675 Fillmore St., according to federal affidavits that were unsealed last month. A man identified as a chauffeur told 9News that he was responsible for driving prostitutes to meet their clients, including Nottingham.
Should and will NY Governor Elliot Spitzer be prosecuted by the feds?
Breaking crime news from the New York Times: New York Governor "Eliot Spitzer has been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month, according to a person briefed on the federal investigation." Here is more:
The wiretap recording, made during an investigation of a prostitution ring called Emperors Club VIP, captured a man identified as Client 9 on a telephone call confirming plans to have a woman travel from New York to Washington, where he had reserved a room. The person briefed on the case identified Mr. Spitzer as Client 9....
The man described as Client 9 in court papers arranged to meet with a prostitute who was part of the ring, Emperors Club VIP, on the night of Feb. 13. Mr. Spitzer traveled to Washington that evening, according to a person told of his travel arrangements. The affidavit says that Client 9 met with the woman in hotel room 871 but does not identify the hotel. Mr. Spitzer stayed at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Feb. 13, according to a source who was told of his travel arrangements....
Federal prosecutors rarely charge clients in prostitution cases, which are generally seen as state crimes. But the Mann Act, passed by Congress in 1910 to address prostitution, human trafficking and what was viewed at the time as immorality in general, makes it a crime to transport someone between states for the purpose of prostitution. The four defendants charged in the case unsealed last week were all charged with that crime, along with several others.
Anyone know what the standard guideline range might be for violations of the Mann Act?
UPDATE: TalkLeft has this post with more details on the federal criminal case in which all this news broke and Jeralyn notes that it is clear from this 55-page indictment "that Customer #9 was a repeat customer and that he intended to use them again in the future."
New York Times editorial on "Prison Nation"
Joining the chorus of papers commenting on the recent Pew Center report, "One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008" (discussed here), today the New York Times has this editorial titled "Prison Nation." Here are excerpts:
After three decades of explosive growth, the nation’s prison population has reached some grim milestones: More than 1 in 100 American adults are behind bars. One in nine black men, ages 20 to 34, are serving time, as are 1 in 36 adult Hispanic men.
Nationwide, the prison population hovers at almost 1.6 million, which surpasses all other countries for which there are reliable figures. The 50 states last year spent about $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections, up from nearly $11 billion in 1987. Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan and Oregon devote as much money or more to corrections as they do to higher education.
These statistics, contained in a new report from the Pew Center on the States, point to a terrible waste of money and lives. They underscore the urgent challenge facing the federal government and cash-strapped states to reduce their overreliance on incarceration without sacrificing public safety. The key, as some states are learning, is getting smarter about distinguishing between violent criminals and dangerous repeat offenders, who need a prison cell, and low-risk offenders, who can be handled with effective community supervision, electronic monitoring and mandatory drug treatment programs, combined in some cases with shorter sentences.
Persuading public officials to adopt a more rational, cost-effective approach to prison policy is a daunting prospect, however, not least because building and running jailhouses has become a major industry.... A rising number of states are broadening their criminal sanctions with new options for low-risk offenders that are a lot cheaper than incarceration but still protect the public and hold offenders accountable.... These are signs that the country may finally be waking up to the fiscal and moral costs of bulging prisons.
Though hitting a lot of important points, I was a bit diappointed that this editorial fails to assail the presidential candidates (and member of the media) for ignoring these issues during the 2008 campaign. Though there indeed are "signs that the country may finally be waking up to the fiscal and moral costs of bulging prisons," it is long overdue that prominent national politicians take more of a leadership role in trying to educate voters as to the "terrible waste of money and lives" that mass incarceration can involve.
Some recent related posts:
Might crime and punishment finally start drawing the attention of the candidates and the media?
After tomorrow's Mississippi primary, there will be no votes cast in the presidential races for six weeks. This rest period should give the candidates and the media a chance to focus on important issues facing the national that have so far gotten little attention during the crazy cross-country sprint that we've seen since Iowa voters got the primary season started a little over nine weeks ago. Of course, I am hoping that crime and punishment issues come to the forefront during this valuable quietus.
Notably, the states garnering the most media attention right now — Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania —all have some important state criminal justice issues worthy of the candidate's and the media's time and attention: Florida continues to struggle with significant felon disenfranchisement problems; Michigan is one of a few states now spending more money on its prison system than on higher education; Pennsylvania has one of the nation's largest death rows, but it has not executed anyone in nearly a decade.
Some posts on crime and punishment and the 2008 campaign
- Will sentencing issues surface in the Clinton-Obama battle for black votes?
- Race, class and criminal justice in campaign 2008
- Politics and the war on drugs
- Should criminal justice reform be the new civil rights movement?
- Interesting new op-ed on crack sentencing and clemency
- Aren't extreme sentences and mass incarceration a "tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people"?
Looking at the real stories of the death penalty in NYC
This morning's New York Times has this fascinating piece, headlined "Aversion to Death Penalty, but No Lack of Cases," exploring capital prosecutions in New York by federal authorities. Here are excerpts:
In the 20 years since the federal death penalty statute was revived, no federal juries have been more reluctant to sentence federal defendants to death than those in New York. According to records compiled by the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, which coordinates the defense of capital punishment cases, federal prosecutors in New York State have asked juries to impose death sentences 19 times since 1988. In only one case did a jury rule for execution. Nationwide, federal prosecutors win death penalties about one-third of the time, according to the group’s statistics.
But despite this track record, the cases have not stopped coming: In Brooklyn alone, there are six more capital cases on the docket this year, including those of a reputed Mafioso and of two men charged with killing Guyanese immigrants to collect their life insurance policies. The first of these trials — of Gilberto Caraballo, a Brooklyn drug dealer convicted last month of murdering two rivals — will enter its so-called penalty phase on Monday.
Federal judges in New York have gone so far as to call some death penalty cases a waste of time and money. Last week, Judge Jack B. Weinstein of Federal District Court in Brooklyn told prosecutors that their chances of obtaining a death sentence against a drug dealer charged with dismembering two rivals were “virtually nil” and issued an order in which he said he was waiting for the Justice Department to reconsider whether to pursue an execution.
Officials in the federal prosecutors’ offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as the Department of Justice in Washington, declined to comment on their record in death penalty cases.
Lawyers and other experts in the field say that a variety of reasons underpin New York’s status as a tough sell in death penalty cases. They say that there is a fundamental liberal slant to juries in the state, and that New York has some of the best death penalty defense lawyers in the country. They also say many victims in New York capital cases are unsavory characters: drug dealers, mobsters or members of street gangs — not the sort of people whose killers are likely to be punished with death.
“New York has the worst batting average in the country,” said Kevin McNally, a defense lawyer in Kentucky and the director of the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. Federal juries in Connecticut and New Jersey have never ruled for death since 1988, but only three cases have gone before juries in those two states.
March 9, 2008
Another insightful prosecutorial perspective on modern federal sentencing
I noted here a new article by Dan Richman focused on the story of federal prosecutors in the wake of Booker. I now see on SSRN is this fascinating new piece by Michael Simons in the same vein. This article is titled "Prosecutors as Punishment Theorists: Seeking Sentencing Justice," and here is the abstract:
Federal criminal law in the last 100 years has seen three distinct sentencing eras. Most surveys of these three sentencing eras have focused on the changing power of the judge: from unfettered discretion before the Sentencing Guidelines, to severely restricted discretion under the mandatory guidelines, to our current system of guided discretion under United States v. Booker. This article, however, focuses on the role of the prosecutor, which has changed dramatically over time. In the era of individualized sentencing, prosecutors typically either abdicated sentencing responsibility or made non-binding recommendations based on individualization principles. There was little reason for prosecutors to become more involved, given the breadth of judicial discretion and the absence of appellate review. During the mandatory guidelines era, prosecutors became much more active at sentencing, advocating for particular guidelines ranges and appealing sentences that departed from those ranges. Our current system of advisory guidelines combines elements of the first two eras. Prosecutors must still compute and advocate for particular guidelines calculations, but now they must also argue - both at sentencing and on appeal - that the sentences they recommend are reasonable. Put differently, prosecutors now must justify the sentences they seek by reference to the traditional principles of punishment.
This article examines prosecutors' new role as punishment theorists. In particular, the article argues that by forcing prosecutors to justify their sentences, Booker has caused an unintended, but potentially important, shift in prosecutorial engagement with sentencing justice. The article then examines whether this new engagement with sentencing justice can improve other aspects of prosecutorial discretion. In particular, the article argues that the principles of sentencing justice being developed by federal courts in the wake of Booker can inform not just prosecutorial sentencing arguments, but also prosecutorial charging decisions. In the end, the article proposes a solution the persistent challenge of mandatory minimum sentences: prosecutors should use Booker's reasonableness standard in determining whether to file charges that will result in a mandatory sentence above the advisory guidelines range.
Fostering self-help in tracking sex offenders
The New York Times has this interesting article about sex offender tracking, headlined "Woman With a Mission: Keeping Tabs on Sex Offenders." Here are excerpts:
For the past decade, Ms. [Laura] Ahearn has been painstakingly compiling such information about sex offenders and distributing it — first by hand, then by e-mail — to their neighbors, including updates like a new car or new scar. Last week, her nonprofit advocacy group, Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims’ Center, received a $593,000 federal grant to take the project national, using the sharp new mapping program that enables such a computerized tour.
“Probably safer than giving it in person,” said Ms. Ahearn, 44, a tough-talking smoker and workaholic who started the group as a grass-roots crusade with several volunteers and now has 25 part- and full-time employees and a million-dollar annual budget. “Sex offenders may be good at what they do, but all of us are getting better at what we do.”
Senator Charles E. Schumer and Representatives Timothy H. Bishop, Pete King and Carolyn McCarthy all joined Ms. Ahearn in her inconspicuous office in a strip mall here to announce the federal grant. The group plans to use the money to compile sex offender data from all 50 states into maps on a revamped version of parentsformeganslaw.com, its Web site, scheduled to make its debut on May 1; to create a national e-mail notification program to alert people about offenders in their ZIP code; and to establish a toll-free number that Ms. Ahearn says will be the first national Megan’s Law help line.
Critics call Ms. Ahearn’s zealous pursuit of sex offenders counterproductive and unconstitutional, and contend that overexposure can deter the offenders from checking in with the authorities. “Mapping out sex offenders makes them greater social lepers than they already are,” said Seth Muraskin, executive director of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “You’re fostering punishment, not rehabilitation, and you’re leaving them very vulnerable to mob justice. You’re basically challenging vigilantes to come to their doors.”...
Ms. Ahearn, a mother of two, was studying to become a social worker when New York State enacted Megan’s Law in 1995, and she found that it was difficult, despite the new disclosure requirements, to get the names and addresses of local sex offenders from the authorities. So she began pressuring politicians and the police, all the while compiling her own local registry and posting it online, complete with offenders’ addresses and graphic details about their crimes.
Interesting capital news from China
China's top court has rejected 15 percent of death sentences handed by lower courts, citing poor evidence and procedural errors under new rules, but a top judge said the death penalty will remain in place for a long time.
China keeps secret the number of prisoners it executes, but international human rights observers have no doubt it judicially kills more than any other country -- with estimates of executions somewhere between 1,000 and 12,000 a year in recent times.