June 9, 2008
YouTube sentencing for digital generation
Thanks to a friendly reader, I saw this notable USA Today article reporting on a creative sentencing for generation next:
A judge here is using YouTube to punish two boys who used the video-sharing website for a prank that ended with battery and criminal mischief charges against them.
The prank, known as "fire in the hole," has become common in the past year. It happened July 25 to fast-food worker Jessica Ceponis at the drive-through of the Taco Bell in Merritt Island, about 50 miles east of Orlando.
Ceponis handed a carload of teenagers their soft drinks. When she returned to the drive-through window to give them their change, they yelled, "Fire in the hole!" hurled a 32-ounce cup of soda at Ceponis and sped off. The teens posted a video of the incident on YouTube.com, alongside a number of other videos showing similar pranks.
Today, the teens are scheduled to post another video on YouTube: an apology that shows them facedown and handcuffed on the hood of a car. The judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys who devised this punishment hope it will serve as a deterrent. "You need to broadcast the apology so that the audience is seeing … there were consequences," said attorney Tony Hernandez, who represents one of the defendants in the case....
The teens wrote, filmed and edited the apology video. They also were sentenced to 100 hours each of community service. In addition, they each have to pay a $30 cleaning fee to the restaurant and write letters of apology. The charges will be dropped when the terms of the sentences are met.
So, in this context, do readers think a picture punishment is worth 1000 hours of jail time?
FBI reports that violent and property crime was down in 2007
Good news on the crime front, as detailed in pieces from the AP and Reuters and ABC News: according to FBI data, violent and property crime trended down in 2007 . Here are the basics from the Reuters story:
U.S. violent crimes like murders and rapes decreased by 1.4 percent in 2007 after two years of increases that caused concern among criminal justice experts, the FBI reported on Monday.
All four violent crime categories declined nationwide in 2007 from prior-year levels, the FBI said. Rape decreased by 4.3 percent, murder and manslaughter dropped by 2.7 percent while robberies and aggravated assaults fell by 1.2 percent. The FBI also reported property crimes, such as burglary, larceny, theft and motor vehicle theft, were down by 2.1 percent last year.
The latest numbers appear to show that the two years of increases in violent crimes — 1.9 percent in 2006 and 2.3 percent in 2005 — represented just a temporary upswing rather than the start of a long-term trend of more crime.
These data are especially interesting against the backdrop of the decrease in executions and death sentences in both 2006 and 2007. Of course, some may link this good news to the ever-increasing US prison population. And everyone should always appreciate the uncertain (and perhaps non-existent) link between punishment realities and crime levels.
Supreme Court acting very civil today
As detailed over at SCOTUSblog and How Appealing, the Supreme Court issued four opinions and granted cert in two new cases, none of which involved significant criminal matters (and none involved 5-4 splits). Thus, the wait continues for highly anticipated ruling in the GTMO cases and Heller and Kennedy and sleepers like Irizarry and Greenlaw.
Apparently, Thursday is the next scheduled day for the release of opinions, and all these opinions are likely to be released before the end of this month. So, sentencing fans, June is sure to be a hot month even though it has gotten off to a relatively slow start.
Signs of the sentencing times
These two notable commentaries from local papers today reinforce my belief (or should I say, my hope) that tough-on-crime rhetoric is getting tired and will be replaced by smart-on-crime realities:
- From the Philadelphia Inquirer here, "A messed-up justice system"
- From the Bangor Daily News here, "Kissing 'tough' era goodbye"
As highlight in this recent post, many folks may still try to play the crime card in the upcoming election. But I am cautiously hopeful that both presidential candidates, with their rhetoric of hope, change and straight talk, can move up past the old political demagogy that has served us poorly in this context.
June 8, 2008
Soft-on-crime Prez mud-slinging gets off to a telling start
And so it begins. This effective Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Opening shot in the battle over crime," reports that the man behind the (in)famous Willie Horton ad is going back to the soft-on-crime playbook two decades later. Here are some details:
On a website he calls ExposeObama.com, Floyd G. Brown, the producer of the Willie Horton ad that helped defeat Michael S. Dukakis in 1988, is preparing an encore.
Brown is raising money for a series of ads that he says will show Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to be out of touch on an issue of fundamental concern to voters: violent crime. One spot already making the rounds on the Internet attacks the presumptive Democratic nominee for opposing a bill while he was a state legislator that would have extended the death penalty to gang-related murders.
"When the time came to get tough, Obama chose to be weak.... Can a man so weak in the war on gangs be trusted in the war on terror?" the ad asks....
Obama's campaign, and some independent observers, say Brown's work is misleading at best. FactCheck.org, a political watchdog, has called the death penalty ad -- which suggests that Obama's vote made him responsible for the gang-related deaths of three youths -- "reprehensible misrepresentation."
The legislation was largely symbolic, because many gang killers were already eligible for death under state law. It also was running up against concern over the administration of the state death penalty law. That concern ultimately led to a statewide moratorium on executions. The Republican governor at the time, George Ryan, eventually vetoed the legislation.
Obama supporters take exception to the notion that their candidate is weak on crime. "I thought ... he tried to strike a decent balance between solid law enforcement and protecting the rights of individuals," said Richard A. Devine, the Cook County state's attorney, who leads the largest prosecutor office in Illinois. In the Legislature, Obama led the push for mandatory taping of interrogations and confessions to ensure fair treatment of the accused. Devine said the gang-related death-penalty bill was "really not moving us forward at all."
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt, asked about the ad, said: "The Republicans will soon realize that trying to divert attention from McCain's plans to continue George Bush's failed policies on Iraq and the economy by launching long ago debunked attacks on Obama won't work. Sen. Obama has a record that demonstrates he is both tough and smart on crime."
Kentucky struggling with growing incarceration costs
This new AP story, headlined Ky. officials looking to reduce state prison burden," details Kentucky's continuing struggle with even expanding incarceration costs. Here are a few excerpts:
With Kentucky's prison population skyrocketing, and only expected to get larger, Gov. Steve Beshear has called on a group of legal authorities from across the state to find ways to relieve the prison system's financial burden on taxpayers.
As Kentucky grapples with budget woes throughout state government — such as sharply reduced spending on public universities — lawmakers are looking to reduce the amount of money the state spends on prisons. A subcommittee of the Kentucky Criminal Justice Council began studying the state's sentencing practices last week.
"The prison population has grown to the point that it's getting close to costing half a billion" dollars, said Charles Geveden, deputy secretary of the state's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. "We need to look at that, but the thing we don't want to sacrifice is the protection of the public — and we won't sacrifice that."...
Beshear has asked the Kentucky Criminal Justice Council to study the issue and report back with recommendations by Dec. 1. The sentencing subcommittee headed by Geveden is one of five reviewing the prison issue. Other subcommittees are looking at Kentucky's drug laws, the penal code, pretrial release and probation and parole.
Geveden's panel on sentencing is looking at, among other things, finding ways of reducing the number of people who re-offend. Some answers could include offering more treatment, education and job training while people are in prison, Geveden said.
Regular readers know I have been on this state sentencing story for quite some time, and here are links to some recent blog coverage of states' struggles with the various costs of large prison populations: