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October 18, 2008

If I had a billion dollars ... I'd buy some guideline reform

With apologies to BNL for tweaking their lyrics (an for linking to this version of their fun $$$ song), I find quite interesting this WSJ $$$ blog entry noting billionaires fundings various ballot initiatives this election season.  Of course, what really caught my eye was some competing criminal justice efforts:

Billionaire George Soros spent $1.4 million to support California’s Proposition 5, which would expand drug-treatment programs and apply new restrictions on sending paroled drug offenders back to prison for parole violations....

Loren Parks has spent $3 million on this year’s [Oregon] election –- partly to fund ballot measures designed to get tougher on criminals and to shift a portion of the state’s lottery proceeds to law enforcement....

Is all this billionaire-backed politics democratic?  Not initially, since ballot measures often are the creation of wealthy political donors. But come election day, it is up to the voters. Many of Mr. Parks’ previous measures, for instance, have failed. And since the millionaires and billionaires often fund opposing campaigns, they can cancel each other out.  Money can buy you a spot on the ballot: but it doesn’t buy a win.

Hat tip: TalkLeft.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Making a case for juvenile imprisonment

The punitive turn in juvenile justice is often criticized, but not often rigorously evaluated.  But this new piece available through SSRN, titled "Juvenile Jails: A Path to the Straight and Narrow or Hardened Criminality?," finds some notable good news when examing the move to incarcerate more juveniles.  Here is the abstract:

Juvenile justice systems throughout the United States have become increasingly punitive since the 1970s.  Most states have passed legislation making it easier to transfer juveniles to the criminal courts.  Supporters of this 'get tough' movement argue, in part, that juvenile courts are ineffective in deterring young offenders.  This claim, however, is primarily based on poorly designed evaluations that do not account for the non-random nature of sentencing.  This paper demonstrates how the institutional features of the justice system can be exploited to identify causality when true random assignment is not feasible.  In particular, I capitalize on discontinuities in punishment that arise in Washington State's juvenile sentencing guidelines to identify the effect of incarceration on the post-release criminal behavior of juveniles. The results indicate that incarcerated individuals have lower propensities to be reconvicted of a crime.  This deterrent effect is also observed for older, criminally experienced, and/or violent youths.

October 18, 2008 in Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sixth Circuit vacates below-guideline sentence for lack of adequate explanation

The Sixth Circuit on Friday in US v. Henry, No. 05-0000 (6th Cir. Oct. 17, 2008) (available here), vacated a below-guideline sentence due to the district court's failure to explain adequately the basis for its sentencing decision.  Here are the highlights from this sentencing ruling:

[T]he district court failed to explain how the § 3553(a) factors specifically applied to Henry’s non-Guidelines sentence or articulate why the sentence constituted an adequate punishment in Henry’s case....

Although the imposition of an appropriate sentence is the province of the district court, appellate courts must have sufficient information about the justifications offered for the sentence imposed in order to conduct a meaningful review.... In sum, there is no means for judges to avoid such disparities in the first instance, or correct them on review, without demanding that substantial variances be supported by substantial reasons.

The sentence in the present case may or may not be reasonable.  We cannot tell because the district court failed to adequately explain its reasoning or to meaningfully articulate why Henry was entitled to the greatly reduced sentence that he received.  We therefore vacate the sentence imposed below and remand the case for resentencing.

October 18, 2008 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Legal wranglings over sentence in Hamdan case

Friday's Wall Street Journal had this interesting article headlined "New Sentence Is Sought for Bin Laden's Driver."  Here is how it starts:

The Bush administration wants the military jury that sentenced Osama bin Laden's former driver to reconvene for new deliberations that could add five years to his scheduled release date of Dec. 31.

In August, a six-officer panel convicted Salim Hamdan of providing material support to terrorism.  It acquitted him of a more serious conspiracy charge and sentenced him to four months and 22 days beyond the time he had already served -- far less than the 30 years prosecutors sought....

Prosecutor John Murphy, a Justice Department attorney, initially said the government accepted the decision and called it "a victory for the system."  But on Sept. 24, prosecutors filed a motion asking that the sentence be reconsidered.  The Defense Department released the document Thursday, after inquiries by The Wall Street Journal.

The motion contends that the military judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, lacked authority to credit Mr. Hamdan for the time he served in pretrial confinement.  Without such credit, Mr. Hamdan, who was captured in November 2001, would face an extra five years.

October 18, 2008 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 17, 2008

Modern teenagers, society's sexuality and the internet

ABC News has this interesting new piece highlighting how today's teenagers may be pushed by societal influences into becoming unwitting sex offenders.  The piece is headlined, "Inside the Minds of Teens Who Post Sexual Images of Themselves: Internet Facilitates Self-Nude Photos but Teens Miss the Implications," and here is how it starts:

Despite specific warnings from prosecutors, the 15-year-old Ohio girl who was arrested last week and accused of sending nude pictures of herself to classmates probably doubted that she could ultimately be forced to register as a sex offender under state law, psychologists and Internet experts say.  More than likely, they suggest, she was only after a sliver of notoriety, the product of a culture where pornography has gone mainstream and fame can be had in an instant by simply distributing a sexually explicit video with a cell phone or on the Internet.

"They think they're going to get attention -- that it makes them stars of their own reality show," Internet privacy and piracy lawyer Parry Aftab said of the growing number of U.S. teenagers who publish sexual images of themselves online. "They don't understand the consequences," said Aftab, an ABC News consultant. "They don't think about where that video is going to go, or how long it's going to be on the Internet and the 50-year-old who is going to be drooling over it."

If convicted, the girl, whose identity has not been released, could face a sentence of anywhere from probation to several years in a juvenile detention center. The high school student in Newark, Ohio, denies the charges; authorities are also considering charges for the students who received her photos, which are considered child pornography under law....

There are other examples. Earlier this year, an Ohio boy reportedly made a sexual cell phone video of himself and sent it to female classmates, one of whom then forwarded the video to at least 30 other people.  Similar incidents have been reported in Wyoming, New York and Pennsylvania.

Such incidents are a symptom of a culture where sexual imagery like the infamous photo of Britney Spears' exposed crotch or Vanity Fair's seminude photos of 15-year-old "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus have become the norm, said Jean Kilbourne, author of "So Sexy, So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids."

October 17, 2008 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

"Bold new idea: Make punishment fit the crime"

The title of this post is the title of this op-ed appearing in the the Seattle Post Intelligencer.  Here is the start of a potent piece:

The U.S. Sentencing Commission sets the parameters federal judges are obliged to follow in sentencing convicted felons. It has long been, in effect, the hanging judge of the federal criminal justice system, backing long, inflexible sentences and making judicial discretion an oxymoron.

But, surprise, last year the commission defied the Bush administration by reducing crack-cocaine sentences to reflect those for powder cocaine, easing a disparity that was a major source of the wildly disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans.  What's more, it boldly applied the new standard retroactively.  And now the commission is studying possible sentencing alternatives to imprisonment, a move toward making recommendations to Congress.

About time. We have become the world's champion jailer, imprisoning a far higher percentage of our people than any other industrialized nation, as if Americans were somehow a uniquely criminal people.  The national prison population is nearing 2.5 million, with some 200,000 of those in federal lock-ups.  Another five million are under criminal-justice control -- probation, parole and so on. The roots of this ugly flowering are in the law-and-order politics that started in the 1970s and lasted into the '90s.

October 17, 2008 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 16, 2008

Final version of my article on the SCOTUS death docket

I am pleased to report that Ohio Northern University Law Review now has in print my recent article (from a lecture I gave at ONU) lamenting the Supreme Court's tendency to consider on the merits too many death penalty cases and too few other cases.  (These complaints should be familiar to regular readers, but this piece has more footnotes, data and ideas than my blog grumbling.)   The article is titled, "A Capital Waste of Time? Examining the Supreme Court's 'Culture of Death'," and can be downloaded below.  Here is part of the introduction:

My interest in modern sentencing jurisprudence has led me to follow closely the Supreme Court’s certiorari process and choices, and I now believe that more attention (and criticism) should be directed toward the Justices’ performance in their first job of deciding what to decide.  To put my particular concerns bluntly, I have concluded that, at least in the arena of criminal justice, the Supreme Court has recently done a poor job setting its own agenda and its failings have had a negative impact on state and federal legal systems.  Specifically, the Supreme Court has become caught up in what I call a “culture of death:” the Court devotes extraordinarily too much of its scarce time and energy to reviewing death penalty cases and adjudicating the claims of death row defendants.  As the title of this commentary suggests, I consider this phenomenon a “capital waste” of the Court’s time, which results in various problems for the administration of both capital and non-capital sentencing systems.

Beyond criticizing the Supreme Court’s troublesome affinity for obsessing over capital cases, I wish to explore agenda-creating and agendasetting realities that can influence the Supreme Court and its work.  My goal is to spotlight some under-examined dynamics that shape the Court’s engagement with legal issues and its work-product, which in turn should facilitate broader reflection on the institution of the Supreme Court and the Justices’ modern efforts in discharging both of their important decisionmaking jobs.  In addition, as a final coda to this commentary suggests, a change in personnel on the Court may prove as consequential for how the Court sets its docket as for how the Court resolves cases.

Download Berman_34-3_Ohio_Northern_Law_Rev.pdf

Some related posts:

October 16, 2008 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The quality of mercy is not strained, but its geography is notable

Over at Pardon Power, P.S. Ruckman has this interesting new post titled "The Geography of Bush's Pardons."  Here is how it starts:

Here are some data on the distribution of President Bush's clemency decisions (157 pardons and 6 commutations of sentence) by state:

Number (State)
17 - Texas
14 - Florida
10 - Georgia

Ruckman also has an ever-helpful Watch List as we approach the upcoming traditional presidential pardon season in a few weeks.

October 16, 2008 in Clemency and Pardons | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ACS proposals for next administration's Justice Department

Though disappointingly light on criminal justice discussions, there are still a lot of interesting ideas to be found in a series of federal justice policy papers released today by the American Constitutional Society.  The details and papers of this project, titled "A Fresh Start for a New Administration: Reforming Law and Justice Policies," can be found at this link.  Here are some of the papers that should be of special interest to sentencing fans:

October 16, 2008 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Notable appeal waiver ruling from the Third Circuit

The Third Circuit today issued a long opinion addressing the enforceability of an appeal waiver in US v. Goodson, No. 06-4895 (3d Cir. Oct. 16, 2008) (available here). Here is how the opinion begins:

Daniel J. Goodson appeals from the sentence imposed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, challenging a condition of supervised release requiring Goodson to consent to a search of his place of business. The government asserts that we are precluded from reviewing this issue because Goodson, pursuant to a plea agreement, waived his right to file a direct appeal under 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a).  In his reply brief, Goodson acknowledges for the first time the existence of an appellate waiver.  He contends, however, that the waiver does not preclude this particular appeal and that, in any event, the waiver is invalid because it was unknowing and involuntary.

We must determine whether Goodson’s failure to address the applicability of the appellate waiver in his opening brief effectively foreclosed him from subsequently challenging in his reply brief the enforceability of the appellate waiver.  We hold that it does not.  Nonetheless, we will enforce the appellate waiver and will affirm the judgment of the District Court.

October 16, 2008 in Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Intriguing little habeas sentencing ruling from the Seventh Circuit

Yesterday the Seventh Circuit issued an interesting little decision in the habeas case, Burr v. Pollard, No. 07-4031 (7th Cir. Oct. 15, 2008) (available here).  Here is the issue as described in the opinion:

Burr renews his claim here that his due process rights were violated when the judge considered the “bullying” allegation after striking it from the record and that his Fifth Amendment rights were infringed when the judge enhanced the confinement component of his sentence because he remained silent.

Folks familiar with the challenges of modern habeas claims by state prisoners can likely predict the outcome.

October 16, 2008 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Is having an A-list, rich, beautiful girlfriend a mitigating sentencing factor?

Anne_3I love being able to call People magazine professional reading, and I can now do that due to the upcoming sentencing of actress Anne Hathaway's former boyfriend.  Here is People's coverage of the ex-beau's latest sentencing arguments:

Anne Hathaway's ex will definitely do hard time — the question is how much. Admitted con man Raffaello Follieri — who pleaded guilty last month to wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy — is hoping to shave off some of his prison sentence, the Associated Press reports.

In papers submitted to a Manhattan federal court Tuesday, his attorney asked that the Italian-born businessman be sentenced to three years in prison, not the four-plus years he agreed to in his plea deal, the wire service reports.  Attorney Flora Edwards says Follieri had good intentions when he started a business to buy property from the Catholic church. But he "became intoxicated with it all" when he began moving in A-list circles.

Follieri, 30, dated Hathaway for four years.  They split in June just before his arrest.... He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 23.

Thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, you can read the 13-page sentencing submission from the defense at this link.  The conclusion encourages the sentencing to echo a "deeper public commitment to compassion."

October 16, 2008 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 15, 2008

A last chance for a debate to bring up crime and punishment issues

Everyone is suggesting that tonight's Presidential debate will look and feel a lot different than what has come before.  I hope so, in part because a very different debate might lead finally to some national discussion of national crime and justice issues.  I am not expecting any serious criminal justice talk tonight, but just maybe we will hear some mention of the death penalty or the Second Amendment or mass incarceration or federal drug sentences.  I will be watching, just in case.

Some related posts:

October 15, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Two very different takes on Ice

Two top-notch court watchers have two very different perspectives on what yesterday's oral argument in Oregon v. Ice might mean for the future of the Apprendi/Blakely line of Sixth Amendment cases.  Lyle Denniston, in this long post at SCOTUSblog, starts his summary of the Ice argument this way:

With Justice Stephen G. Breyer waging, seemingly alone, a rear-guard effort to limit juries' fact-finding role in determining criminal sentences, the Supreme Court on Tuesday displayed a strong inclination to stay on course in the eight-year effort to add to the jury’s power.

In sharp contrast, Kent Scheidegger, in this long post at Crime and Consequences, ends his post with this radically different assessment:

This looks pretty good for the state.  Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, both essential votes for the extension of Apprendi in Booker, seem to be reluctant to extend it this far.

My first read of the Ice transcript led me toward Lyle's assessment, but I have long given up making serious predictions about anything concerning what the Justices are going to be doing in the Apprendi/Blakely line of constitutional rulings.  However, the fact that the traditional left/right divide does not hold in this Sixth Amendment setting perhaps explains why the Court's efforts even at oral argument are hard to assess (and also explain why I find this jurisprudence so interesting).

Some related Ice posts:

October 15, 2008 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Notable NY Times piece on drug courts

The drug court movement continues to be getting a lot of good attention these days, and this article in the New York Times should further help the movement.  The article is headlined "Courts Give Addicts a Chance to Straighten Out," and here are some extended excerpts:

In Seattle, as in drug courts across the country, the stern face of criminal justice is being redrawn, and emotions are often on the surface. Experts say drug courts have been the country’s fastest-spreading innovation in criminal justice, giving arrested addicts a chance to avoid prison by agreeing to stringent oversight and addiction treatment.  Recent studies show drug courts are one of the few initiatives that reduce recidivism — on average by 8 percent to 10 percent nationally and as high as 26 percent in New York State — and save taxpayer money....

Since the first drug court began work, in Miami in 1989, the idea has spread to more than 2,100 courtrooms in every state, though they still take in only a small fraction of addicted criminals. Offenders, usually caught in low-level dealing or stealing to support their addictions, volunteer for 9 to 18 months or more of intrusive supervision by a judge, including random urine testing, group therapy and mandatory sobriety meetings.  The intent is a personal transformation that many participants say is tougher than prison — and with the threat of prison if they drop out or are kicked out....

Nationwide, 70,000 offenders are in adult or juvenile drug courts at any given time, with the number growing, said C. West Huddleston III, director of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. The concept has been supported by the Clinton and Bush administrations.  "To find an intervention that works has generated great excitement in the criminal justice community," said Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, a research group in New York, where Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has been a strong advocate....

But some scholars say that, because of high up-front costs, the limited success of drug treatment and a shortage of judges with the required personal talents, drug courts are unlikely to make a significant dent in the prison population.  Some lawyers also say the courts can infringe on the rights of defendants given that offenders usually must acknowledge guilt to enter the court, or in some places have already agreed to a plea bargain and sentence.  Thus an addict might opt for drug court to avoid prison or with sincere intentions of going straight, but if treatment fails and he is expelled from the program, he must serve a sentence without having seriously fought the charges.  His total time in court custody, between drug court and then prison, may be longer than it would have been otherwise.  Advocates respond that such offenders are facing a plea-bargaining mill in any case, and are offered an invaluable chance for change.

Some related posts about drug court programs and research:

October 15, 2008 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Around the criminal blogosphere

There is lots of interesting new stuff to be found at some of my favorite criminal cyber-stops:

In addition, a helpful reader sent along a link to this new blog about criminal justice, which includes a recent great post on Ten must-see criminal justice YouTube videos.

October 15, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

New federal sex offender law (with Senator McCain's imprint?)

Earlier this week President Bush signed into law two new statutes aimed at sex offenders.  This official press statement from the White House provides a summary of the new laws:

On Monday, October 13, 2008, the President signed the following bills into law:

S. 431, the "Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act of 2008" or the "KIDS Act of 2008," which requires: sex offenders to provide Internet identifiers, including e-mail addresses, to State sex offender registries; and tasks the Justice Department to establish and maintain a system that allows social networking websites to compare Internet identifiers of its users with those provided to the National Sex Offender Registry;

S. 1738, the "PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008," which requires the Department of Justice to create and implement a National Strategy for Child Exploitation, Prevention, and Interdiction; statutorily establishes the existing Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program; and makes other amendments to Federal child pornography laws.

These new laws have not yet gotten much traditional media attention, but Corey Yung at Sex Crimes has some of the early coverage.  Notably, this Wired article suggests that Senator John McCain can take some credit for the KIDS Act of 2008, but this Newsday article gives credit to Senator Charles Schumer.  I am hopeful that this official press release from Senator Schumer's office is accurate when it provides this account of the background and particulars of the legislation:

The legislation, which is co-sponsored by Senators Barack Obama (D-IL), John McCain (R-AZ) and 18 other senators, passed the House without objection two weeks ago, and then cleared the Senate by unanimous consent on September 30.  The new law will require sex offenders to register their online identifiers, such as email and instant messaging addresses, with the National Sex Offender Registry.  This information will be released only to participating websites in a secure and protected form so that website operators can monitor their services and expel sex offenders from their pool of users if they choose. Failure to register or update registration of email information, like other required information, will subject violators to up to ten years’ imprisonment.

October 15, 2008 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

"On Justifying Punishment: The Discrepancy between Words and Actions"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting article from a social scientist that was recently posted on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This article reveals a discrepancy between the actual and stated motives for punishment.  Two studies conducted with nationally representative samples reveal that people support laws designed on the utilitarian principle of deterrence in the abstract, yet reject the consequences of these same laws when they are applied.  Study 1 (N = 133) found that participants assigned punishment to criminals in a manner consistent with a retributive theory of justice rather than deterrence.  The verbal justifications for punishment given by these same respondents, however, failed to correlate with their actual retributive behavior.  Study 2 (N = 125) again found that people have favorable attitudes towards utilitarian laws and rate them as "fair" in the abstract, but frequently reject these same laws when they are instantiated in ways that support utilitarian theories.  These studies reveal people's inability to know their own motivations, and show that one consequence of this ignorance is to generate support for laws that they ultimately find unjust.

I lack the social science background essential to assess carefully the empirical work and analysis found in this article.  But the ultimate conclusions drawn by the author could have profound implications for sentencing structures and policies at both system-wide and case-specific level.

October 15, 2008 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Yale LJ Pocket Part piece on Kennedy rehearing denial

I am intrigued to see that the Yale Law Journal Pocket Part already has this new piece on-line concerning the Supreme Court's denial of rehearing in the Kennedy child rape case.  The piece is by Bidish Sarma and is titled "Still in Search of a Unifying Principle: What Kennedy v. Louisiana and the Supreme Court’s Denial of the State’s Petition for Rehearing Signal for the Future."  Here is an excerpt from the piece's introduction: "

The State of Louisiana claimed that a recent change in military law invalidated the Court’s finding [in Kennedy] of a national consensus.  It attempted to capitalize upon fresh media coverage and widespread confusion about the facts by filing a petition for rehearing with the Supreme Court.  On October 1, 2008, the Court denied the request for a rehearing.  This piece briefly explores: (I) the basis of the Court’s decision to reject the request for rehearing; and (II) the Kennedy decision’s implications for the Eighth Amendment’s future.

October 15, 2008 in Kennedy child rape case | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2008

Ice oral argument transcript now available

I have not yet had a chance to review the Ice oral argument transcript, but it is now available at this link.  As explained in this preview post, the Ice case has the potential to heat up or cool down lower court debates over the reach of Blakely and the limits of judicial fact-finding at sentencing.

I plan to post later on anything really significant that jumps out from the oral argument transcript.  In the meantime, readers are encouraged to use the comments to give their views on whether the Ice argument proved to be hot or cold.

UPDATE:  After a quick read of the transcript, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that the jurisprudential discussion of Apprendi and Blakely has not become more advanced and sophisticated even a full decade into this modern Sixth Amendment debate. That said, I was surprised and somewhat pleased to see pro-Sixth Amendment instincts expressed by nearly every member of the Cunningham six during the Ice argument (though Justice Thomas remained his usual quiet self).

For a variety of reasons, I have been fearful that the six Justices who continued to champion Sixth Amendment principles in the Cunningham decision dealing with California's sentencing system (who are the five Justices in the Apprendi/Blakely majorities plus Chief Justice Roberts) are not eager to keep the modern Sixth Amendment sentencing revolution marching forward.  But the transcript of the Ice argument suggested to me that Justice Breyer, who has always opposed the Apprendi/Blakely line of cases, may be the only Justice deeply and seriously concerned about the possible consequences of continued commitment to the principles of this line of cases. 

I had expected that Justices Alito and Kennedy, who were part of the dissenting block in Cunningham, would be vocal in articulating concerns about the arguments put forward by the defendant in Ice.  But Justice Alito was surprisingly quiet during argument — I do not think he asked a single question — and Justice Kennedy did not reveal any deep continuing hostility to Apprendi principles.  I am now starting to wonder if every member of the current Court, save Justice Breyer, is ready to have their ticket stamped to Apprendi-land.  If so, and especially if Ice ruling ends up reflecting this new reality in bold terms, it could end up being a sleeper case this Term.

October 14, 2008 in Blakely in the Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack