April 19, 2008
Thoughtful criticism of Second Circuit white-collar sentence reversal
Last month, as detailed in this post, the Second Circuit issued a long opinion in US v. Cutler, No. 05-2516 (2d Cir. Mar. 17, 2008) (available here), which reversed a pair of below-guideline sentences for white-collar offenders as procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Writing in the New York Law Journal, Alan Vinegrad and Doug Bloom have now produced an extended (and mostly critical) analysis of the Culter case. Here is a snippet from the analysis (which can be downloaded below thanks to the NYLJ):
In a series of recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that in establishing "reasonableness" review of sentences, its 2005 Booker decision restored the "substantial deference" that the Court decreed, over a decade ago, was owed sentencing judges.
Last month, however, in its first major application of these decisions to a substantially below-the-range sentence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in United States v. Cutler, gave sharp teeth to reasonableness review, undertaking a searching analysis not only of the district court's sentencing procedure but also of the factual underpinnings and reasonableness of the ultimate sentences....
Cutler seems in tension with another of the Second Circuit's recent descriptions of its approach to reasonableness review. Just two weeks before Cutler, in United States v. Regalado, the court "confirm[ed] the broad deference that this Circuit has afforded the sentencing discretion of the district courts." Time will tell whether, or how, these seeming conflicts in the Second Circuit's approach to sentencing review are ultimately resolved.
Self-serving paternalism: reflections on Baze and law school learning bans
Another full read of Baze led me to a couple unexpected insights: (1) the Justices are very comfortable using 21st-century materials, even as some law schools and professors try to preserve 20th-century teaching norms, and (2) the raging debate over banning laptops or the Internet in law school classrooms is somewhat akin to the debate between Justices Stevens and Scalia in Baze concerning a constitutional ban on state use of capital punishment. Let me explain each insight in turn:
1. In the Baze lethal injection ruling from SCOTUS, a majority of the Justices' opinions (4 of the 7) cited to websites, and I counted a total of 13 references to website materials. Among the cites, Justice Stevens' referenced a forthcoming law review article now appearing only on SSRN, and two opinions cited to two distinct transcripts from legal proceedings that have been made widely available through on-line posting. I am not sure if all these citations officially make Baze the most web-friendly ruling in Supreme Court history, but they clearly reveal that the Justices understand that effective judging in the 21st century — and thus effective lawyering in the 21st century — requires an Internet connection.
And yet, on the very same day that the web-friendly Baze decision is released, we get this report that the University of Chicago Law School is now blocking student access to the Internet in classrooms "to help them concentrate on course instruction." Even though the Justices now clearly appreciate that effective judging and lawyering in the 21st century requires an Internet connection, the super-smarties at the University of Chicago Law School apparently now believe that being an effective law student requires preservation of a 20th-century teaching environment by banning Internet connection in the classroom.
2. I realize that I am troubled by Internet bans and laptop bans in the law school classroom for some of the same reasons that Justice Scalia is troubled by Justices Stevens' advocacy in Baze for a constitutional ban on the death penalty. Responding to Justice Stevens' arguments that the death penalty is now unconstitutional, Justice Scalia laments what he sees as misguided (and constitutionally inappropriate) self-serving paternalism: "Purer expression cannot be found of the principle of rule by judicial fiat. In the face of Justice Stevens’ experience, the experience of all others [such as legislatures, social scientists, and citizens] is, it appears, of little consequence.... It is Justice Stevens’ experience that reigns over all."
I have the same reaction to all the professorial self-congratulation about the positive impact of banning the Internet or laptops in the classroom. I can fully appreciate why the experience of some law professors — particularly those professors who use only traditional casebooks and have not updated their teaching materials, styles or notes in light of modern technology — might be improved if students cannot access 21st-century technologies in the classroom. But I have never thought that my experience in the classroom, rather than the experience of my students, is of paramount importance. Thus, unless and until my students tell me that they prefer a classroom setting without laptops or the Internet (or alumni/practitioners tell me that a web-friendly classroom was not helpful training for their future careers), I will keep trying to create and improve a 21st-century classroom experience for students rather than self-servingly conclude that preserving a 20th-century teaching environment is needed "to help [students] concentrate on course instruction."
Cross-posted at LSI
"Take a Nibble Out of Crime"
The title of this post is the title of this reaction over at The New Republic to Senator Clinton's recently announced crime-fighting proposals. Here are parts of the commentary:
Hillary Clinton gave a major policy speech on crime in Philadelphia one week ago.... Clinton's views on sentencing retroactivity, for the tens of thousands who have been locked up under the current cocaine guidelines, are of equal importance. Commuting prisoner sentences to terms they would have served under the new law is, of course, the right thing to do. But in Iowa, Clinton told viewers of the Black/Brown debate: "In principle I have problems with retroactivity," she said. "It's something a lot of communities will be concerned about as well." Which communities? Why?
The drug wars, addressed intelligently on our site by former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, are not a by-the-wayside policy issue on which Clinton can smudge her former stances without scrutiny. What's more, this anti-crime gambit looks to be an attempt to reverse a monthslong pattern of tacking rightward on criminal justice policy (back when Clinton still had a "general election strategy"). In New Hampshire, for example, Clinton tweaked Barack Obama for his liberal stance on "criminal defendants' rights" and his "extremely progressive record" in Chicago. Who knows to what that refers.
By the Philly address — never having answered that important question on retroactivity — Clinton was putting $1 billion up for grabs among states that want to commit resources to lowering rates of recidivism. But being unjustly punished and backsliding into crime are not totally unrelated issues; longer jail terms erode workplace skills, fossilize social attitudes and drain meaningful support systems — all of which are critical to the well-being of a sucessful parolee. That she would pay for her ambitious $4 billion plan by identifying "unnecessary and outdated corporate subsidies for elimination" (rather than housing and processing costs for thousands of crack offenders) only spotlights the blinders that make real reform in government seem like make-believe.
Some posts on crime and punishment and the 2008 campaign:
- Clinton and Obama, crime and punishment
- Race, class and criminal justice in campaign 2008
- Politics and the war on drugs
- Should criminal justice reform be the new civil rights movement?
- Aren't extreme sentences and mass incarceration a "tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people"?
April 18, 2008
Can and will Iowa's "Minority Impact Statement" legislation help with criminal justice disparities?
In this on-line report, the Sentencing Project spotlights a very interesting legislative development from Iowa. Here is part of the report:
Iowa Governor Signs Nation's First Racial Impact Sentencing Bill: Less than one year after a national report found Iowa prisons and jails maintain the highest rate of racial disparity in the nation, Governor Chet Culver today signed legislation requiring examination of the racial and ethnic impact of all new sentencing laws prior to passage.
More details about this development can be found at this official report from the Iowa Governor's website. Here is how it starts:
Today, at the John R. Grubb YMCA in Des Moines, Governor Chet Culver signed into law HF 2393, a bill requiring a “Minority Impact Statement” for any legislation related to a public offense, sentencing, or parole and probation procedures. The legislation also requires that any application for a grant from a state agency must also include a minority impact statement.
According to Governor Culver, “This means when members of the General Assembly and Executive branch are considering legislation of this nature, we will now be able to do so, with a clearer understanding of its potential effects — positive and negative — on Iowa’s minority communities. Just as Fiscal Impact Statements must follow any proposed legislation related to state expenditures, with my signature, Minority Impact Statements will serve as an essential tool for those in government — and the public — as we propose, develop, and debate policies for the future of our state.”
This bipartisan legislation passed the Iowa House of Representatives unanimously and passed the Senate overwhelmingly with a vote of 47-2.
I find this news VERY exciting, largely because I am eager to see (1) just what these Iowa Minority Impact Statements end up looking like, and (2) whether these statements have a real impact on crime and justice legislation.
Also, since the laboratory of the states has a tendency to replicate effective experiments, I am hopeful that a number of other states will start seriously considering following Iowa's lead here. Moreover, I would be very interested for members of the media to ask the Presidential candidates whether they might support similar legislation at the federal level.
Some related posts on racial disparities in incarceration:
A strong review of sex offender litigation in the states
Stateline.org has this effective new piece headlined "Lawsuits test crackdown on sex criminals." The piece essentially previews the broad array of sex offender laws and issues that could be clogging up the dockets of lower courts (and perhaps also the Supreme Court) for years to come. Here is an excerpt:
From California to North Carolina, a flood of litigation has accompanied an expansion in the scope and severity of penalties imposed by local, state and federal lawmakers on those who commit sex crimes.
Penalties for molesters and other sex criminals have toughened considerably in recent years and now include execution in at least five states, chemical castration in eight states and the use of technology to monitor offenders’ every move in more than half the states.
In some instances, punitive measures are limited only by lawmakers’ imaginations. In Louisiana, for example, a proposal being debated this legislative session would forbid offenders from wearing masks on Halloween or Mardi Gras. In New Jersey, a new state law prevents molesters and others from surfing the Internet unless it is for work-related purposes; Florida and Nevada have similar laws.
The recent legal challenges take aim at laws that sex criminals say violate constitutional guarantees, including privacy, due process and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Supporters of the laws say they are necessary to protect children from predators who are capable of committing brutal crimes.
What do folks think about Justice Stevens' new view on the death penalty?
Though I am still working my way through all the opinions in the the nearly 100-page Baze lethal injection ruling from SCOTUS, I am not surprised to see that Justice Stevens' concurrence is garnering special attention. For example, Linda Greenhouse has this new piece headlined "Justice Stevens Renounces Capital Punishment." Here are excerpts:
When Justice John Paul Stevens intervened in a Supreme Court argument on Wednesday to score a few points off the lawyer who was defending the death penalty for the rape of a child, the courtroom audience saw a master strategist at work, fully in command of the flow of the argument and the smallest details of the case. For those accustomed to watching Justice Stevens, it was a familiar sight.
But there was something different that no one in the room knew except the eight other justices. In the decision issued 30 minutes earlier in which the court found Kentucky’s method of execution by lethal injection constitutional, John Paul Stevens, in the 33rd year of his Supreme Court tenure and four days shy of his 88th birthday, had just renounced the death penalty....
His renunciation of capital punishment in the lethal injection case, Baze v. Rees, was likewise low key and undramatic. While reminiscent of Justice Harry A. Blackmun’s similar step, shortly before his retirement in 1994, Justice Stevens’s opinion lacked the ringing declaration of Justice Blackmun’s “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” Justice Stevens’s strongest statements were not in his own voice, but in quotations from a former colleague, Justice Byron R. White, an early death penalty opponent.
When I have a bit more time to reflect on Justice Stevens' opinion in Baze, I hope to do a post putting his new views in some historical and political perspective. For now, however, I invite readers to comment on Justice Stevens' comments.
UPDATE: It dawns on me that I ought to quote the most telling sentence in Justice Stevens' opinion in Baze, one that could (and should?) launch a thousand law review articles:
The thoughtful opinions written by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and by JUSTICE GINSBURG have persuaded me that current decisions by state legislatures, by the Congress of the United States, and by this Court to retain the death penalty as a part of our law are the product of habit and inattention rather than an acceptable deliberative process that weighs the costs and risks of administering that penalty against its identifiable benefits, and rest in part on a faulty assumption about the retributive force of the death penalty.
Feds giving money to states to track sex offenders
According to all the local stories linked below, this week a number of states got grants from the federal government to assist with sex offender tracking:
- From the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, State receives approval of grant to track sex offenders
- From KCRG (Iowa), Grant to Improve Collection of Sex Offender Info
- From the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Herald, ND receives grant to track sex offenders
I wonder if anyone will be tracking whether this government money being devoted to tracking sex offenders will prove to be a good use of our tax dollars.
April 17, 2008
A constitutional crack bleg from an attorney of note
I got a call from a notable attorney who asked for help on a crack-related claim of unconstitutionality. Here is his follow-up "bleg":
As I stated today in our telephone call, I was Brian Gall's trial attorney and want to take on a new fight. I am interested in attacking the constitutionality of the statutory mandatory minimum for crack cocaine as found in 21 USC 841(b)(1(A)(ii). Specifically, that statute creates a mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months for possession of over 50 grams of crack and for over 5 kilos of powder cocaine.
My client’s specific situation is that he pled to one count of possession of crack, with the factual basis of 85 grams of crack. He had no prior criminal history and was 19 when arrested and 20 years old when sentenced. In 2006 His guideline range was 120-135 months and because he refused to cooperate with the government he received the minimum sentence he could under the guidelines and 21 USC 841(b)(1(A)(ii), i.e. 120 months.
He has now filed a motion for a sentence modification under the new crack guidelines, which put him at a range of 87-108 months, but the government is opposing this due to the mandatory 120 month sentence found in 21 USC 841(b)(1(A)(ii). I would like to file a motion attacking the constitutionality of 21 USC 841(b)(1(A)(ii) mandatory minimum, as it employs the same 100:1 ratio that has been modified in the amended sentencing guidelines as well as criticized by the Supreme Court in Kimbrough. Any help, ideas, research and motion drafting assistance from any other attorneys facing a similar situation or interested in taking on this fight would be greatly appreciated. I can be reached at The Alternative Law Office of Marc Milavitz, 1733 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, CO 80302; (303) 442-2166 (phone); (303) 440-4515 (fax).
Any assistance you or anyone else can give me is greatly appreciated.
April 17, 2008 in Implementing retroactively new USSC crack guidelines | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack
Will the FLDS case impact perceptions of child rape and sex offenders?
Over at Grits for Breakfast, Scott has been doing effective coverage of the FLDS case, including this interesting post asserting that "more law blawggers need to weigh in on West Texas polygamy case." Though I won't fault other law bloggers for their posting agendas, I will do my part by noting one of the reasons I have been fascinated by the scenes and interviews now coming out of the YFZ Ranch which have become the focal point of a lot of the MSM coverage the last few days.
Of particular interest is hearing some pundits talk about the case in terms of "child rape," while seeing videos of many mothers expressing heartfelt (and scripted?) concerns about the well-being of their children. Beyond the fact that the men from the YFZ Ranch are not seen, I wonder if viewers are struggling with the notion that these mothers may be directly complicit (and legally accountable) for what would be the crime of child rape in most jurisdictions.
Needless to say, I doubt most members of the public or politicians think of the FLDS mothers when they think about child rapists and sex offenders. But, as this case continues forward and evidence emerges concerning adults repeatedly having sex with underage girls, the national image of child rape and sex offender may be altered.
The post-Baze uncertainty and litigation begins
As detailed in this effective post at SCOTUSblog, the post-Baze uncertainty and litigation has started before the ink on the Baze ruling is even dry. Here are snippets from the SCOTUSblog post:
The state of Florida moved quickly on Thursday to get Supreme Court permission to carry out the execution of a death-row inmate, and a prisoner in Mississippi asked the Court to rule itself or tell a lower court to rule on his challenge to that state’s execution procedure. These were the first filings in the Court in the wake of Wednesday's ruling upholding the basic elements of execution by use of lethal drug injections.
These filings, indicating that developments following the decision in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) will unfold rapidly, came in cases in which the Justices had delayed scheduled executions at a time when the Court was not permitting any state to go forward with a death sentence.
The two filings demonstrated that death-penalty states believe that the informal moratorium the Court has had in effect is now entirely over, so new executions may be scheduled as the states choose, and that lawyers for death-row inmates in states other than Kentucky are going to try to keep the inmates away from the death chamber while contesting the specifics of other states' procedures.
In the new Mississippi filing, a supplemental brief, lawyers for death-row inmate Earl Wesley Berry contended that the lethal injection procedures used in that state provides fewer safeguards than under Kentucky's procedures for avoiding "serious harm" to the inmate during the execution process. The case is Berry v. Epps, 07-7348. The Court stayed his execution on Oct. 30.
Some related recent posts:
- Now that Baze is out, when and where will there be the first "new" execution?
- Media round-up in wake of Baze
- Lots of praise for Baze and for capital punishment federalism
No delay for Snipes sentencing
For lots of reasons detailed in prior posts, I am really looking forward Wesley Snipes' sentencing on tax evasion charges next week. Thus, I was pleased to see this new news on this front:
A federal judge has rejected a motion to delay actor Wesley Snipes' sentencing on tax evasion charges, scheduled for next week. Senior U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges denied without comment a bid by Snipes' legal team to postpone the sentencing scheduled for April 24.
In the motion filed Tuesday, Snipes lead attorney Daniel Meachum argued that Snipes' tax returns were complex and that the defense and prosecution could not agree on the amount of taxes Snipes owes for 1999, 2000 and 2001. An Ocala jury convicted Snipes on Feb. 1 of three counts of misdemeanor willful failure to file tax returns for those three years. Prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison term for Snipes, the maximum possible, and a fine of at least $5 million.
Some recent related posts:
Washington Supreme Court rebuffs SCOTUS approach to Blakely harmless error
Nearly two years ago in Recuenco v. Washington (discussed here and here), the US Supreme Court declared that violations of Blakely rights could be subject to harmless error. Thanks to an alert reader, I learned that today the Washington Supreme Court decided in this opinion to reject the application of harmless error in this context as a matter of state law. Here is the start and end of the opinion:
This case asks us to determine whether Washington law requires a harmless error analysis where a sentencing factor, such as imposition of a firearm enhancement based on a deadly weapon finding, was not submitted to the jury. The United States Supreme Court in Washington v. Recuenco, 548 U.S. 212, 126 S. Ct. 2546, 165 L. Ed. 2d 466 (2006), held that Blakely errors can be subject to harmless error analysis. We conclude that under Washington law, harmless error analysis does not apply in these circumstances. On remand, we affirm State v. Recuenco, 154 Wn.2d 156, 110 P.3d 188 (2005), and remand to the trial court....
Recuenco was charged with assault with a deadly weapon enhancement, and he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon enhancement, but he was erroneously sentenced with a firearm enhancement. We conclude it can never be harmless to sentence someone for a crime not charged, not sought at trial, and not found by a jury. In this situation, harmless error analysis does not apply. Therefore, we vacate the firearm sentence and remand for correction of the sentence.
Federal prisoners do the darndest things
This AP story, headlined "Texas prison inmate cons way onto Idaho primary ballot," seems ripe for use in a late-night talk-show monologue. Here are the basics:
A federal prison inmate who once gave an Internal Revenue Service line in Ohio for the phone number of his campaign coordinator has got himself listed on the ballot for Idaho's primary as a Democratic presidential candidate, the state's top election official said. Keith Russell Judd is serving time at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Texas for making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999. He's scheduled for release in 2013.
Judd, 49, qualified for the May 27 ballot by submitting a notarized form and paying the required $1,000 fee, state Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said. As a result, Democratic voters will be able to choose among Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Judd. "We got conned," Ysursa told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash.
It's Judd's second presidential bid in Idaho, the newspaper said Wednesday. In 2004 he declared as a write-in candidate for president, which requires only the submission of a declaration, and didn't get any votes. No matter how many votes he gets this time, he won't get any national convention delegates. Idaho's delegates are chosen at party caucuses. "The good thing is the Democratic presidential primary has absolutely no legal significance," Ysursa said.
Prison officials told the state elections office that Judd sent about 14 checks to states seeking to get on the presidential election ballot and about half had been returned. He qualified as a write-in candidate in Kentucky, California, Indiana and Florida, but Idaho apparently is the only state where his name will appear on the ballot....
Somebody needs to tell Mr. Judd that he has things backwards: the standard politician life-plan is to get elected and then get sent to federal prison, not the other way around.
Lots of good sentencing buzz around the blogosphere
Not surprisingly given all the recent SCOTUS action and other happenings, a number of my favorite blogs have lots of posts worth checking out. Specifically, there is lots of new and interesting reading at:
- Capital Defense Weekly
- Concurring Opinions
- Crime and Consequences
- Sex Crimes
- White Collar Crime Prof
Focused analysis of distraction of Kennedy case
Writing at FindLaw, Marci Hamilton has this new piece entitled "The Supreme Court Considers Whether Imposing the Death Penalty for Child Rape Is Constitutional: The Arguments For and Against the Penalty." Though focused mainly on the arguments presented to the Justices, the piece ends with this astute observation:
In sum, whether or not the Court upholds the death penalty for child abusers this Term, the entrenched barriers to identifying predators will not be eliminated, or even reduced. For that reason, from the perspective of the child being abused today or the survivor trying to cope in the wake of abuse decades ago, the case is a lot of hype - a paper battle that distracts from the far more essential battle for the reforms that are truly necessary if justice and decency are to be served.
April 16, 2008
Media round-up in wake of Baze
How Appealing collects here a lot of the national media reaction to the Supreme Court's work in the Baze lethal injection case decided today. And, with the help of Google News, I can provide links to local stories suggesting that many states (but not all) will try to get execution chambers humming again quickly:
- Lethal injections set to resume in Texas from the AP
- California may resume executions by year's end from the Los Angeles Times
- Following Supreme Court decision, Georgia moves to execute condemned killers from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- Executions to resume in Oklahoma from the AP
- Executions won't resume in Md. from the Baltimore Examiner
- Va. Governor Reinstates Executions After Ruling from the Washington Post
The latest views of the Kennedy capital child rape case
Providing more grist for the mill (and for the printer), the transcript of today's Supreme Court argument in the capital child rape case of Kennedy v. Louisiana is available at this link. Corey Yung is doing an extraordinary job covering the case is a series of posts at Sex Crimes, and Lyle Denniston now has this effective summary of the argument up on SCOTUSblog.
The first-cut analysis seems to point to Justice Kennedy being the key swing vote here. But, as we discovered today with the Baze decision, we should not expect the tough criminal cases even in the death penalty setting to always come out as a 5-4 vote.
A taxing analysis of celebrity sentencing issue in US v. Snipes
Writing over at Slate's Convictions, David Feige has this interesting post highlight that the "impending sentencing of Wesley Snipes on his misdemeanor tax convictions nicely frames an interesting question about celebrity and sentencing." Here are snippets from this post:
Basically, what the government is arguing here is that Snipes needs to be hammered for his celebrity. The clear suggestion is that because he's a high-profile defendant, sending him to prison for a long period of time is like a deterrent bonanza. The thing that strikes me, though, is that unlike political trials, or those of thieving cops who abuse a position of trust, Snipes is an actor who never took an oath to serve, protect, or do much of anything else other than look out for No. 1. So here, unlike those other high-profile or political cases that involve an abuse of trust or authority, we really are talking about a sentencing enhancement purely on the basis of notoriety.
Some recent related posts:
Lots of praise for Baze and for capital punishment federalism
I suspect the nearly 100-page Baze lethal injection ruling from SCOTUS today will be subject to a lot of criticism, in part because the array of disparate opinions provide lots of fodder for anyone who want to beat up on the Court as a whole or on just about any particular Justice. Indeed, I likely will take some pot shots at the Court's work once I have a chance to read all the Baze opinions closely. However, my first reaction to the opinion upon a quick skim is to heap lots of praise on the Court's collective work. Here's my thinking:
1. The Court collectively merits lots of credit for relatively speedy work on such an important and challenging case. I was worried state would might have to wait until June for an opinion, but it is now clear that the Justices prioritized getting this case completed so that the urgent business of the death penalty can move forward. Though lacking a clear and strong majority opinion, the Baze ruling still gives states and lower courts a lot of needed constitutional guidance on execution protocol issues.
2. In part because it is lacking a clear and strong majority opinion, the Baze decision provides a little something for everyone. Though I suspect that the anti-death-penalty crowd will be disappointed with the outcome, I suspect many will suggest the "loss" here is mitigated by lots of textured language to be found in all of the opinions. Similarly, the pro-death-penalty crowd may be disappointed that the opinions of Justices Scalia and Thomas did not carry the day, I suspect they will take comfort in Al Davis's old saying, "Just win, baby."
3. In part because the Baze decision provides a little something for everyone, the Baze decision's true impact will largely be decided by local officials (including state judges and "local" federal district judges). Those local officials eager to get executions going again will have new wind behind the sails of an argument that standard lethal injection protocols are constitutionally sound; those local officials content with the de facto moratorium status quo can use various parts of Baze to justify claims that everyone should go slow as officials re-examine execution protocols in light of the Supreme Court's new guidance in Baze.
4. In part because the Baze decision's true impact will largely be decided by local officials, the politics and practicalities of the death penalty can, should and likely will now largely return to where they belong — namely in the hands of local officials, most of whom are elected and politically accountable. I often view the death penalty in America as an example of modern federalism at its finest: states with an affinity for the death penalty can spend (waste?) a lot of time and money on capital cases, while states less excited about this punishment can reject its use de jure or de facto in various ways.
Early thoughts on Begay and Burgess
Though the Supreme Court's Baze lethal injection decision will surely be the focus of SCOTUS discussion today (early coverage here and here and here), the Justices handed down two non-killer Bs today with decision in Begay and Burgess (basics here). For the vast majority of federal state criminal practitioners, these two "little" rulings may be much more consequential than the high-profile Baze ruling.
In part because I likely will not be able to avoid being caught up in the maze of Baze, I hope the very insightful readers of this blog will use the comments to help give me a running start on the import and possible impact of the Justices' work in Begay and Burgess. I will begin the discussion with two quick observations:
- The vote line-up in Begay is fascinating: Justice Breyer writes the main opinion which has the Chief and Justices Stevens, Kennedy and Ginsburg signed on; Justice Scalia concurred separately, and Justice Alito filed the main dissent which Justices Souter and Thomas signed on. It seems that statutory interpretation and criminal justice can make for some unexpected bedfellows.
- Begay was argued back in January at the same time as a similar case, Rodriquez, but we do not get that decision today. This suggests to me that the Justices are finding Rodriquez even more challenging and/or divisive as Rodriquez.