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September 29, 2008

Notable plea deal to avoid mandatory minimum in notable sex case

CNN has this report, headlined "Ex-teacher gets 6 years for sex with boy, 13", that caught my eye in part because of the discussion of how a plea deal was struck to avoid the application of a federal mandatory minimum sentencing term.  Here are excerpts:

A former teacher who fled to Mexico with a 13-year-old student so she could have sex with him was sentenced Monday to six years in federal prison. Kelsey Peterson was sentenced to six years in federal prison for running off to Mexico with a student.

Kelsey Peterson, 26, had pleaded guilty in July to a charge of transporting a minor across state lines to have sex and avoided a similar charge that would have carried a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence. She will be credited for nearly one year she has served and could get another year off for good behavior, said U.S. Attorney Joe Stecher....

She started having sex with the boy when he was 12 years old and a student at the middle school where she taught in the south-central Nebraska town of Lexington.... Peterson was the boy's sixth-grade math teacher at Lexington Middle School during the 2005-06 school year and then started having sex with him in November 2006, according to court documents.

She and the boy disappeared in October, soon after the school district's superintendent confronted Peterson about allegations of an inappropriate relationship with the boy. Peterson was arrested a week later in Mexico after the boy called his family. The boy was an illegal immigrant at the time but has been granted humanitarian parole by the Department of Homeland Security.

Am I wrong to wonder if the plea deal that allowed Peterson to be sentenced to far less than 10 years' imprisonment would have been offered had the defendant been a man and the victim a 12-year-old girl?

September 29, 2008 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

FSR publishes issue on "American Criminal Justice Policy in a 'Change' Election"

I am pleased to report that, just in time for the election stretch-run, the latest issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter focused on American criminal justice is now available here on-line.  The issue is titled, simply enough, "American Criminal Justice Policy in a 'Change' Election."  The full contents of this FSR issue are listed on-line here, and here is just a small sample of what readers can find in the issue:

EDITOR'S OBSERVATIONS

ARTICLES BY ELECTED OFFICIALS

Download bowman_205_ed_obs.pdf

September 29, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A religious pitch for drug courts

This new paper posted at SSRN, titled "An Argument for Providing Drug Courts in All Alabama Counties Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics," provides a religious pitch for drug courts.  Here is the abstract:

A drug court is an alternative process in the criminal justice system for eligible nonviolent drug offenders that focuses on treatment and allows successful defendants to avoid prison time and a criminal record. This article first provides a snap-shot of the availability of drug courts both nationwide and in Alabama and presents two strong arguments supporting the drug court alternative.  The first argument summarizes the substantial evidence indicating that the drug court alternative costs taxpayers substantially less money and enhances public safety.  The second and even more compelling argument illustrates that the moral principles of Judeo-Christian ethics, which require laws to be compassionate towards the sick and support the reasonable opportunity of each person to reach their potential as well as condemn oppressive laws imposing excessive punishment, compel all Alabamians of faith to insist that political leaders adopt an appropriate plan that implements drug courts on all sixty-seven of the state's counties.

September 29, 2008 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Who sets the priorities of New York City prosecutors?

This new story on CNN allows be to do some cat blogging and also has me wondering if all human-related crimes have been solved and resolved in New York City.  The story is headlined "Prosecutors consider retrial in cat-killing case," and here are excerpts:

New York City prosecutors say they're considering a retrial for the former minor league pitcher and actor who killed his girlfriend's cat. 

Manhattan jurors deadlocked 11-1 on Friday at the aggravated animal cruelty trial for Joseph Petcka.  Petcka says he didn't mean to hurt Norman the cat.  He said he overreacted when the cat bit him.   The former Mets minor leaguer and "Sex in the City" actor said on NBC's "Today" show he's grateful for the lone juror who believed he didn't act intentionally.

The jury deadlocked Friday, after five days of deliberations.

Prosecutor Leila Kermani portrayed Petcka as "washed up," saying in closing arguments that he had "zero income and no prospects" last year when he became jealous and killed the cat.  Petcka, who pitched in the New York Mets' minor league system in 1992, was a "washed-up, never-made-it-to-the-big-leagues athlete" and a "D-minus" actor, she said.

Kermani has told jurors that Petcka brutally killed the neutered and declawed cat after complaining that his girlfriend at the time, Lisa Altobelli, loved the cat more than him. Petcka testified that he was defending himself after the 8-pound orange and white tabby bit his right hand and drew blood.

Since I no longer pay New York City taxes, I suppose I need not care how much public time and taxpayer money has been spent trying to convict a "washed-up" athelete and "D-minus" actor for his feline crime.  But, after a juror refused to convict Petcka, do New York City prosecutors to have nothing better to do than go after Petcka again?   I am a huge cat-lover, but how just much public time and New York taxpayer money should be spent seeking justice for Norman the cat rather than keeping prosecutors focused on the more than 8,000,000 humans that live in the city?

September 29, 2008 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Another sad account of modern prison conditions

Hiv_prison_book I just received via e-mail a heads-up about a new book titled "Dying Inside: The HIV/AIDS Ward at Limestone Prison."  This webpage provides information about the book, including this summary description:

Dying Inside brings the reader face-to-face with the nightmarish conditions inside Limestone Prison's Dorm 16 — the segregated HIV ward.  Here, patients chained to beds share their space with insects and vermin in the filthy, drafty rooms, and contagious diseases spread like wildfire through a population with untreated — or poorly managed at best — HIV.

While Dorm 16 is a particularly horrific human rights tragedy, it is also a symptom of a disease afflicting the entire U.S. prison system. In recent decades, prison populations have exploded as Americans made mass incarceration the solution to crime, drugs, and other social problems even as privatization of prison services, especially health care, resulted in an overcrowded, underfunded system in which the most marginalized members of our society slowly wither from what the author calls "lethal abandonment."

This eye-opening account of one prison's failed health-care standards is a wake-up call, asking us to examine how we treat our forgotten citizens and compelling us to rethink the American prison system in this increasingly punitive age.

September 29, 2008 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Nearly 500 teens serving life terms in Pa. prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this notable article from this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Here are some excerpts:

Pennsylvania leads the nation in teen lifers -- prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed as minors -- and last week legislators met to examine the issue for the first time.

In a courtroom in Pittsburgh, 18-year-old twins Devon and Jovon Knox faced exactly that fate -- life without parole -- for killing 18-year-old Jehru Donaldson in a botched car-jacking in July 2007, when they were 17.  They join the 444 teen lifers currently held in Pennsylvania prisons, which is about a fifth of the nation's total and 110 more than runner-up Louisiana, according to a May 2008 report by Human Rights Watch.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and called the hearing, said he was startled to learn that Pennsylvania held the No. 1 spot and that the United States is the only country in the world that regularly imprisons youths for life.  "That got my attention," he said. "I felt a responsibility to look at [the issue] ... which is why we held the hearing."

Some states have considered laws that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles or that would eliminate the penalty altogether. Five states and Washington, D.C., prohibit the practice altogether. Last year in Pennsylvania, nine people were sentenced to life for crimes they committed as minors.  Today, 10 people in Allegheny County await trial for crimes they committed as minors and could wind up in prison for life. (First- and second-degree murder are the only crimes that result in a minor being sentenced to life in prison.)

The issue has been polarizing, with human rights activists arguing that sentencing a juvenile to life in prison is excessively harsh and some victims advocates arguing that those who commit homicide should spend the rest of their lives in prison, regardless of their age. Still, it's the number -- 444 -- that troubles some.  "It could be a commentary on Pennsylvania law ... it could also be a commentary on society," said Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, who heads the county's Family Division and has adjudicated some juvenile homicide cases. "It makes me very sad."

Some related posts on juve life sentences:

September 29, 2008 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

September 28, 2008

Making an economic case against the death penalty

This op-ed from a local paper in Califorinia, headlined "Price isn't right for the death penalty," makes a economic pitch against the use of the death penalty.  Here are excerpts:

As the country's economic woes continue to mount, frightening many Americans, it has become clear that the United States simply cannot afford capital punishment. The death penalty is the revenue-guzzling SUV to the cost-efficient hybrid of life without parole. Researchers all over the country are crunching the numbers and coming to the same conclusion — the death penalty is far too expensive.

In its recently released report, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice found that California's current death penalty system costs $137 million annually compared with $11.5 million for a system without the death penalty. The commission also reported that California's system is "dysfunctional" and that it will cost an additional $200 million a year to fix it....

In Maryland, the Urban Institute study of March 2008 noted that it costs the state three times more to try a death penalty case than a non-death penalty case.... A 2004 study in Tennessee said the findings were the same.  Capital trials cost almost 50 percent more than trials where life without parole is sought.  Similar findings have been made in Washington, North Carolina, Indiana, Florida, Kansas and Texas.

The death penalty is a failed government program for many reasons.  One is that it is a colossal waste of government resources. Since 1977 we've carried out over 1,100 executions in this country to the tune of what is conservatively estimated over $1 billion.  We would have been far wiser using this money to meet our many pressing needs, such as improving our schools, building safer communities, fixing our deteriorating infrastructures, shoring up our social security system, providing health insurance for children, etc....

Many [of the more than 3000 death row] prisoners will die of natural causes before they can be executed. It would be far cheaper to commute these sentences to life without parole than to continue this failed policy of state killing....  The death penalty is a bankrupting policy. Let's abolish it.

I have long thought that the economic case against the death penalty is the strongest and also one that ought to appeal to both sides of the political ailse.  Put simply, there is an extraordinary amount of big government bureaucracy that surrounds each and every capital case.  Though some will argue that the psychic benefits of capital punishment outweigh the real economic costs of running the system, few can make a strong claim that modern capital punishment schemes are either efficient or effective from an economic perspective.

Unfortunately, this op-ed makes the tired liberal pitch that the money now spent on the death penalty could be used for other social programs.  I think a more effective pitch would be to say that the money now spent on the death penalty could and should be used on other more efficient and effective means of saving innocent lives by, e.g., by putting more resources into reducing drunk driving and other avoidable traffic deaths, by improving funding for urban police forces to better deal with violence on the streets, by being more willing to invest in crime-fighting innovations (like GPS tracking, perhaps) that can help monitor and control those offenders in the community most likely to commit violent crimes.

Some related posts:

September 28, 2008 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack