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October 21, 2008

More on the consequences and costs of undue leniency for repeat drunk driving

This article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that reinforces my concerns (recently discussed here) about the harmful consequences and costs of undue sentencing leniency being shown to repeat drunk drivers. The new piece is headlined "One drunken driver’s tab: $365,000," and here is how it starts:

The little blue Chevy Cavalier was mangled, its 19-year-old driver trapped inside. Up against a nearby tree, the pickup truck was on fire. The crash woke Blaze Selestow, who ran out of his house and heard the pickup's driver pleading: "Help me. Help me." Selestow smelled alcohol as he pulled Ricky Adair out of the cab. Moments later, the truck burst into flames.

Adair was a mess. He had two broken kneecaps and two broken ankles, along with a huge gash on his forehead and a host of other injuries.  He also had a blood-alcohol level of 0.273, then nearly three times the legal limit.  It wasn't the first time Adair had been caught driving drunk, or the second, or even the fifth.  Before the accident that nearly killed 19-year-old Sarah Johnson, Adair, then 36, had been convicted of drunken driving at least nine times.

The March 1999 accident in Menomonee Falls and Adair's other drunken-driving offenses came with years of financial and emotional costs: to the taxpayers, to society, and to Adair, Johnson and their families.  Adair's drinking and driving has cost nearly $365,000 since 1985, the Journal Sentinel found.  Of that, nearly $240,000 came out of other people's pockets in the form of tax dollars or insurance payouts.  But the money spent to prosecute, punish and rehabilitate Adair and to compensate Johnson is only part of the story.

In 2007 alone, there were 8,327 alcohol-related crashes in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.  The costs are enormous.... Every year, Wisconsin taxpayers pay $2.7 billion in alcohol-related police and court costs; incarceration; crash investigation and cleanup; lost productivity; academic failures; and premature deaths, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Linked to the story is this interesting graphic that documents how the paper determined the economic costs resulting from a single defendant's inability to stop drinking and driving.  Needless to say, the social and personal costs of this crime (and our failure to be tough enough at sentencing) dwarfs the raw economic numbers. 

Interestingly, the Sentinel article goes on to report that Adair finally got a tougher sentence for drunk driving after this tenth offense — five years in prison, of which he served over three years — and this tougher sentence finally helped him finally become a law-abiding citizen:

By the time Adair finished a program and got out of prison, he had served 40 months of his 60-month sentence. Keeping him locked up cost more than $100,000. By then, both his parents had died. Finally, he said, he had reached the point where the negative consequences of drinking outweighed the fun.

"By having enough pain from it, the physical, the mental . . . missing my family, that impact was enough on me to not ever want to do that again," he said.  Since his release from prison more than five years ago, Adair has been convicted of two misdemeanors for running an unmetered natural gas line to his garage. 

Adair has not been charged with another drunken-driving offense. He holds a valid driver's license.  He said he also has not taken a drink.  "Every time I wake up I'm just happy that I'm not in prison or hurting anybody or hurting myself anymore," he said.

Some related posts:

October 21, 2008 in Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

October 20, 2008

Dueling Oregon initiatives on drug sentencing reform

This local AP article notes that voters in Oregon are considering a pair of competing ballot initiatives that call for reform of the state's drug sentencing laws. Here are details from the story:

A pair of crime measures on the November ballot offer Oregon voters a choice between mandatory sentencing or increased sentences and expanded drug treatment programs — but not both.

One, Measure 61, is an initiative sponsored by former state lawmaker Kevin Mannix that would send first-time offenders to prison for up to a mandatory three years. The other, Measure 57, is a referral from the Legislature that would increase prison terms for repeat offenders convicted of nonviolent property or drug crimes while expanding treatment and prevention programs.

In the event that both measures pass, as polls suggest, Measure 57 contains a clause stipulating that the one with the highest vote count becomes law.

Mannix said a mandatory sentence for drug and property crimes is needed because so many offenders are given probation that it has become "a joke that's also an insult to the victims of crime."  Supporters of Measure 57, however, say the competing Mannix proposal will cost at least twice as much without providing any treatment programs to prevent the most common cause of property crime — drug and alcohol abuse and addiction....

The coalition of supporters for Measure 57 also includes the sheriffs of the state's largest counties, police chiefs, unions, the Oregon Education Association, AARP Oregon and the Oregon Nurses Association....

The state Criminal Justice Commission has estimated that Measure 57 would cost an additional $140 million per biennium while the Mannix initiative would cost between $256 million to $400 million.

October 20, 2008 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A little sentencing action from SCOTUS

As detailed in this post at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court made a few sentencing waves today.  Here is how Lyle Denniston summarizes the significant sentencing action:

The Supreme Court, in the only new grant on Monday, agreed to spell out the proof that federal prosecutors must offer in order to obtain a more severe punishment for criminal identity theft under a 2004 law.  The granted case is Flores-Figueroa v. U.S. (08-108).  The Justice Department, noting a split in the lower courts on the issue, had supported review.

The issue is whether the law enhancing the sentence for identity theft requries proof that an individual knew that the identity card or number he had used belonged to another, actual person — that is, a knowledge requirement.   The Circuit Courts have split 3-3 on the issue.  The dispute centers on the meaning of the word “knowingly” in the 2004 statute....

The Court’s denial of review of another case, testing the constitutionality of the death penalty as it is applied in Georgia, drew a strongly worded statement from Justice John Paul Stevens (available here) arguing that the appeal’s challenge appeared to be supported by the Court’s prior precedents. Stevens, however, did not dissent from the denial, conceding that the inmate had not raised the issues in lower courts.  The case is Walker v . Georgia (08-5385).  Justice Clarence Thomas, in a separate statement supporting the denial of review (available here), argued that Georgia’s Supreme Court had “faithfully and without any error” applied the Court’s death penalty precedents.

October 20, 2008 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A notable (and notably late) Second Circuit conviction reversal

The Second Circuit today in US v. Ogando, No. 05-0236 (2d Cir. Oct. 20, 2008) (available here), reverses for insufficient evidence a set of jury trial convictions for a livery cab driver hired to pick up a drug courier at the airport.  Though not a sentencing case, this paragraph at the end of the long factual recitation in the opinion caught my eye:

Ogando was convicted on all four counts.  The Pre-Sentence Report calculated a Guidelines range of 63 to 78 months' imprisonment.  The court granted the defense’s motion for a downward departure based on aberrant behavior, U.S.S.G. § 5K2.20, and sentenced Ogando principally to 30 months'  imprisonment.  Ogando has completed serving his prison sentence.

This case makes me wonder whether bail pending appeal ought to be a default rule for any non-violent first offender.  The fact that the Ogando received a (pre-Booker) downward departure for aberrant behavior suggests he had no serious criminal history or propensity for violence.  Nevertheless, he had to serve a 30-month prison sentence based on unlawful convictions that it took a few years to get reversed. 

Ogando and his case surely will not get anything close to the attention that wrongfully convicted capital defendants receive.  Nevertheless, this kind of injustice might readily be corrected through sounder rules and rulings concerning bail pending appeal.  Especially in a criminal justice world in which wrongful convictions are an enduring problem, a loosening of bail pending appeal standards perhaps should become an important agenda item for modern criminal justice reformers.

October 20, 2008 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

More examples of undue leniency shown to repeat drunk drivers

Drunk drivers pose a much bigger day-to-day threat to average Americans than terrorists or sex offenders.  As this official data spotlights, though alcohol-impaired driving fatalities declined in 2007, roughly 250 persons were killed each and every week in the US as a result of alcohol-impaired driving crashes.  Nevertheless, though we have an on-going war on terror and see lots of new law designed to get tough and hyper-regulate sex offenders, the terrible harms from the crime of drunk driving still has not prevented recidivist drunk drivers from getting breaks at sentencing.

The latest evidence of undue leniency being shown to drunk drivers comes today from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has this fascinating new article headlined "Most felony drunken drivers avoid prison."  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Four-year-old Jon Port's 1991 death marked the beginning of a grass-roots movement to toughen the state's drunken-driving laws.  Eight years later, a new law took effect, making fifth-offense drunken driving a felony.  The Legislature's intention was to get repeat offenders off the road. Yet almost a decade later, fewer than half the people sentenced for the felony in Milwaukee County go to prison, a Journal Sentinel analysis found.

Almost two-thirds of people sentenced under the stricter law spent a year or less in custody.  Those with higher blood-alcohol levels didn't always serve more time. And almost a quarter of the people convicted of the fifth-offense felony between 1999 and 2006 already have re-offended — some more than once....

Just 70 defendants, or 43%, went to prison, receiving an average sentence of 18 months. Seventeen of those had an opportunity to shave substantial time off their sentences by completing boot camp or a treatment program.  At least one defendant got out early after petitioning the judge.  More defendants were sentenced to probation than prison.  Although 70 of the 71 who got probation terms served between three and 12 months in the Milwaukee County House of Correction, about half were allowed to spend their days in the community on work release. Twenty more defendants received jail sentences, 11 with work-release privileges....

The severity of the sentences for five-time offenders in Milwaukee County varied widely depending on the judge.  Daniel Konkol sentenced five defendants on the charge, and all five went to prison. Dennis Moroney sentenced six out of nine defendants to prison. Moroney said he hopes incarceration will make drunken drivers think twice....  On the other hand, David Hansher gave probation in 11 of the 12 fifth-offense drunken-driving cases he heard.  Charles Kahn Jr. gave probation in five out of six cases.

As I have indicated in prior posts, I think drunk-driving sentences should start getting pretty tough starting with the second conviction, and I would be fine with a "three-strikes-you're-out" approach to this crime that contributes to the deaths of so many innocent persons and many related social harms.  But I find it both troubling and telling that defendants facing sentencing for their fifth conviction for drunk driving are still more likely to receive probation than a prison term.

Some related posts:

October 20, 2008 in Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Proceedings from USSC imprisonment alternatives symposium

I am very pleased to see that the US Sentencing Commission has now posted here on its website the proceedings of its big event this past summer examining incarceration alternatives.  Here is how the USSC describes the event in its link to the proceedings:

On July 14-15, 2008, the United States Sentencing Commission held a national symposium on alternatives to incarceration in Washington, D.C.  The purposes of this symposium were to gather information regarding the use of alternatives to incarceration and to provide a forum for idea-sharing concerning possible implementation of non-incarceration sanctions in the federal system.

The proceedings page has lots of interesting materials through this link to the CD of materials dIstributed at the symposium.  Also, the transcript of the proceedings has the look of a formal publication that the USSC has produced.  This publication is now must reading for any and everyone working on alternatives to incarceration.

Some recent related posts:

October 20, 2008 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 19, 2008

One criminal justice echo in the midst of the economic crisis

Various bloggers focused on crime and justice have been pondering how the recent economic crisis could impact criminal justice issues. Today's New York Times looks into some of these realities in this article, headlined "F.B.I. Struggles to Handle Financial Fraud Cases." Here is the lead:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is struggling to find enough agents and resources to investigate criminal wrongdoing tied to the country’s economic crisis, according to current and former bureau officials.

The bureau slashed its criminal investigative work force to expand its national security role after the Sept. 11 attacks, shifting more than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of all agents in criminal programs, to terrorism and intelligence duties.  Current and former officials say the cutbacks have left the bureau seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime, which has taken on urgent importance in recent weeks because of the nation’s economic woes.

Some recent related posts:

October 19, 2008 in White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack