« November 9, 2008 - November 15, 2008 | Main | November 23, 2008 - November 29, 2008 »

November 22, 2008

The Sentencing Project's thoughtful call for racial justice

On Friday, I received from The Sentencing Project the following e-mail announcing an important new report addressing racial justice: 

We're pleased to call your attention to a newly released report, Compact for Racial Justice: An Agenda for Fairness and Unity.  The publication was produced by the Applied Research Center as a proactive agenda for fairness and unity in communities, politics, and the law. 
 
The Sentencing Project was the lead author of the chapter promoting criminal justice reforms (beginning at page 17). In this chapter, we discuss the failed crime policies of the past 30 years, marked by the six-fold increase in the prison population since 1972.  Much of this increase can be attributed to the War on Drugs and the consequent sentencing disparities it imposed.   In addition to calling for reforms of current policies, we caution policymakers in the new administration against repeating the mistakes of the past through enacting policies and practices that impose harsh penalties that produce disproportionate effects on minorities, youth, and immigrants. 
 
Finally, we offer four specific recommendations for immediate action: implement racial impact statements, abolish the mandatory detention of immigrants, support people in reentry and the communities where they return, and make racial equity a standard for all criminal justice policy and practice.
 
You can obtain this publication here.

November 22, 2008 in Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Around the blogosphere

Lots of new goodies at for sentencing fans at:

November 22, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ACLU makes argument for right to counsel at crack retroactivity proceeding

Yesterday, I received a press release from the ACLU noting the filing of a notable brief in the Fifth Circuit.  Here are the basics:

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed its opening brief before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to preserve the constitutional right to counsel for those seeking resentencing based on the recent reduction to the federal sentencing guideline range for crack-cocaine offenses.

“When an individual’s freedom hangs in the balance, fundamental fairness and the most basic of our constitutional protections demand that the right to counsel be honored,” said Adam Wolf, a staff attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project.  “Those unfairly sentenced under the initial, now infamous crack-cocaine guidelines must not face further injustice through the denial of necessary and deserved legal representation.”...

The ACLU’s brief argues that the denial of such a resentencing motion -- when new facts may be introduced that significantly impact the length of incarceration -- without granting the defendant access to legal counsel or an opportunity to review and respond to new evidence violates the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel and the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, respectively....

The case, U.S. v. Ross, is on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.  The ACLU’s brief may be found online at this link.

November 22, 2008 in Implementing retroactively new USSC crack guidelines | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 21, 2008

The revised make-up of the US Sentencing Commission

A helpful reader helped me discover that the US Senate yesterday confirmed two important Presidential nominees to the US Sentencing Commission.  Specifically, it appears that by voice vote the Senate has now (1) confirmed Judge Ricardo Hinojosa to continue serving as a Commissioner (and Chair?) of the USSC, and (2) confirmed William Carr to start a term as a new Commissioner of the USSC (replacing the now retired John Steer). 

Hearty congrats to both Commissioners Hinojosa and Carr.  I have come to know and respect both of these sentencing gurus, and I am already looking forward to what they might have planned for the USSC in the months and years ahead.  I am especially hopeful that they are willing to be especially bold and creative about federal sentencing law and policy in the wake of an election in which both major political parties were stressing the need for legal and policy changes in DC.

I am hopeful that the USSC website will soon have an official public discussion of these notable developments.  Also, I am left wondering about the status of current Commissioner Michael Horowitz, who had been nominated by President Bush for another stint but apparently was not considered by the Senate yesterday.  Because the USSC has statutory constraints on its composition — involving party affiliation and judicial status — the seat of Commissioner Horowitz might need to be filled by a different person.  But here I am just speculating (and I fear that neither the Obama transition team or likely new AG Holder has had much time to date to really focus on the only federal agency technically in the judicial branch).

I welcome any insider reports (or outsider comments) on these developments or on yesterday's USSC public meeting.  This is an exciting time (and quite dynamic and uncertain time) to be in the thick of federal sentencing law and policy debates.

Some recent related posts:

November 21, 2008 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Notable Sixth Circuit discussion of reasonableness review in child porn case

The Sixth Circuit provides an interesting read this morning in US v. Blackie, No. 07-2002 (6th Cir. Nov. 21, 2008) (available here). The opinion starts by providing a review of all the issues it reviews:

Kerry Blackie pled guilty to a single count of possession of visual depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(B) and (b)(2). The district court imposed a sentence of 42 months, which is outside the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range. Blackie appeals his sentence, alleging that the district court: (1) improperly considered the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a); (2) imposed a sentence outside the Guidelines range without stating its reasons for doing so as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3553(c)(2); and (3) failed to provide notice of its intent to depart from the Guidelines range as required by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(h).

For the reasons set forth below, we VACATE Blackie’s sentence and REMAND the case for resentencing consistent with this opinion.

November 21, 2008 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Deep thoughts on the structure of appellate review

Anyone following the post-Booker jurisprudence surrounding reasonableness review cannot help but ponder the nature and value of appellate review of sentencing decisions.  For anyone really eager to go deep into the topic of appellate review, the latest issue of the Vanderbilt Law Review has these two new pieces worth checking out:

November 21, 2008 in Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Members of Congress push for commutation of Border Agent sentences

This AP article details the latest effort to encourage President Bush to use his clemency power to do some sentencing justice for two notable federal defendants.  Here are the specifics:

A handful of lawmakers want President George W. Bush to commute the sentences of two Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting a now-convicted drug smuggler and covering it up. The House members said Thursday that Bush should commute the sentence of the two men before he leaves office to show his concern for law enforcement officers and the danger of their jobs. They asked the Justice Department to recommend the agents' cases to Bush....

The lawmakers pushing for the pardon attorney to at least commute the sentence of the Border Patrol agents or possibly pardon them say his action on their plea will be a barometer for other pardons. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean were sentenced to 11 years and 12 years, respectively, after being convicted in 2006 of shooting now-convicted drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete Davila of Mexico and trying to cover up the incident.... "If you can't do it for Ramos and Compean, how can you do it for anyone on that list?" said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa....

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, said lawmakers will pressure President-elect Barack Obama to show leniency to the agents if Bush does not. Other lawmakers who had signed a letter to the Justice Department's pardon attorney by Thursday morning are Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. and Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas, Dana Rohrabacher, Howard McKeon and Ed Royce of California and Walter Jones and Sue Myrick of North Carolina.

Some prior posts about the Border Agents case:

November 21, 2008 in Examples of "over-punishment" | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2008

A not-so-clever way to seek a sentencing postponement

This local story from Florida provides an interesting companion to the recent story from Australia on the broader topic of dumb sentencing strategies.  Here are the basics:

A Vero Beach man accused of making two bogus bomb threats earlier this month to “avoid his pending commitment to prison,” has been arrested, according to records released Thursday.

Deandre Love, 26, faces two counts of false report of a bomb in connection with the Nov. 7 incidents that happened just before Love was supposed to appear before Circuit Judge Robert Belanger for a felony sentencing hearing....

Investigators came up with Love’s name by researching cell phone information, and compared a recording of the 911 call to court proceedings.  “The confirmed voice of the defendant was consistent with voice of the suspect who called in the bomb threat to 911/dispatch,” sheriff’s records show.

November 20, 2008 in Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Notable new California appellate ruling about sex offender registration and trial rights

I just get an e-mail from a friendly readers forwarding me a new California Court of Appeal case which "finds that the residency restrictions in California's sex offender registration law are "punishment" for Apprendi purposes."  This notable new ruling comes in People v. Mosley, No. (Cal. App. 4th Dist. Nov. 19, 2008) (available for download below), and here is how the opinion begins:

This appeal sits at the intersection of two topical, controversial legal issues: sex offender registration and the right to a jury trial.  The Legislature and the voters have drastically expanded the reach and ramifications of sex offender registration in recent years, culminating in “The Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act: Jessica’s Law” (Jessica’s Law), approved in 2006 as Proposition 83.1  The United States Supreme Court has revitalized the right to a jury trial over the same period, culminating in decisions striking down the federal sentencing guidelines in 2005 and California’s determinate sentencing law (DSL) in 2007.  Juries, not judges, must determine any additional facts necessary to impose punishment beyond that otherwise provided by statute based solely on the jury’s verdict....

In this anomalous case — where the jury acquitted defendant of any sexual offense, but the court subjected defendant to the residency restriction by requiring sex offender registration based on its own fact-finding — we affirm defendant’s conviction on the underlying offense, misdemeanor assault.  But we must reverse the imposition of the registration requirement.  We modify the judgment by striking the sex offender registration requirement and affirm the judgment as modified.

Download cal_sex_offender_ruling.pdf

November 20, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

An amusing tale of failed sentencing fakery from Down Under

Here is a local report from Australia, headlined "Fake engineer produces fake references to get a lighter sentence," about an amusing sentencing proceeding:

Timothy McCormack produced four excellent character references to persuade a judge to give him a lighter sentence for faking his engineering credentials to work on Qantas aircraft.

But during his sentencing hearing in the District Court yesterday he sat hunkered down in the dock with his head between his fists, bent so low that only his hair was visible to the bench. The references were too good to be true, the court heard. The fake engineer had also falsified each of his references.

They included a fictional school counsellor, which had been misspelt "councilor", and an allegedly fictional Senior Sergeant Woodward, who purported to be the president of a fictional Hornsby Junior Australian Rules Football Club. "There is no football club by that name," said the Crown prosecutor, Paul McGuire.

Judge Mark Marien, who described the proceedings as an "extra-ordinary event", said that all the references were formatted in the same way and signed by the same hand. McCormack, 27, pleaded guilty in September to 42 charges relating to the falsification of documents, including his exam results for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority's aircraft maintenance engineer licence and his engineering credentials.

He duped Qantas for nine months by posing as a licensed aircraft engineer before he was discovered in July last year. He had performed 30 maintenance checks. The plane that later gained notoriety for an emergency landing in Bangkok was among the aircraft he checked for maintenance.

His barrister, Sydney Jacobs, asked for a six-week adjournment so it could be determined whether his lying was a psychiatric rather than a behavioural disorder. "What I seek to explore is that there is some pathological condition," Mr Jacobs said....  Judge Marien granted a two-week adjournment. "What has occurred in these sentencing procedures is, in my experience, an extraordinary event," he said.

November 20, 2008 in Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Through the federal clemency looking glass with Holder

Though I am still ruminating over the selection of Eric Holder for the next Attorney General (as evidenced here and here and here), the latest political buzz over the nomination has me depressed about what I see as the likely impact of the Holder choice on public perceptions of federal executive clemency. Consider this Politico reporting in this new piece that the Marc Rich pardon will be a central part of debate in Holder's confirmation hearing:

Eric Holder’s long and distinguished public service career may now be defined by what he did in his last full day at the Justice Department.  The former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, who’s now President-elect Barack Obama’s reported choice to be attorney general, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate – but not without some serious scrutiny of his involvement in President Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of fugitive financer Marc Rich....

As deputy attorney general, Holder famously let Rich’s last-minute pardon move across his desk. It was a bad decision, Holder later acknowledged, and one that has haunted his otherwise solid career of public service and philanthropy. "If I had focused on this in a way that I could have, should have, the recommendation I would have given him would have been, 'Don't do this, Mr. President,' " Holder told The Washington Post in March, 2001.

Republican legal advocates are pushing the Senate to scrutinize the pardon, even as they admit the issue is unlikely to scuttle Holder’s confirmation.

Similarly, The Washington Post today has this new editorial headlined "Mr. Holder at Justice? The likely nominee needs to answer questions about a pardon."  In other words, against the backdrop of a long and distinguished public service career, the biggest concern expressed about Holder will be his failure to stop his boss from making a stupid and self-serving decision to grant clemency to someone who did not deserve it.  I suggest this puts us through the federal clemency looking glass: when so much unjust harshness defines our modern federal criminal justice system, it is both sad and telling that one lone act of unjust mercy garners all the headlines concerning Holder in particular and for the clemency power in general.

I have no problem with Holder getting some political heat over his role in the Rich pardon: after all, political accountability is the only real restraint on the exercise of the absolute executive clemency power that is constitutionally enshrined.  But, I am very troubled that Holder is going to be politically pilloried for not trying to block an ugly act of clemency by President Clinton, rather than being questioned about the the broader (and, in my view, much uglier) failure of recent Administrations to use the clemency power proactively to remedy the many unjustly long federal sentences that have been imposed over the last two decades.  

Beyond questions about the failure to grant justifiable clemency petitions, Holder should be asked about lots of other federal criminal justice failings during the Clinton Administration.  The Washington Post and others inside the Beltway really should not worry about questioning Holder about his role in clemency decisions.  After all, Bill Clinton clearly was "the decider" here.  Rather, the Post and others should be asking who is going to question Holder about more important matters of federal criminal sentencing administration such as:

(1) the Clinton Administration's abject failure to do anything serious about the crack/powder disparity in the wake of the US Sentencing Commission's major report on the disparity in 1995,

(2) the Clinton Administration's abject failure to do anything serious about needed mandatory minimum reforms (beyond the safety-valve legislation),

(3) the Clinton Administration's abject failure to do anything serious about acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements under the guidelines, especially following the Supreme Court's Watts decision in 1998, and 

(4) the Clinton Administration's abject failure to effectively staff and support the work of the US Sentencing Commission, especially in the late 1990s when there were literally no Commissioners because of a variety of political stalemates over potential appointments.

I fear that none of these important questions will be asked, in part because many pundits and politicans rather bloviate about the Marc Rich pardon for which Bill Clinton (and Hillary Clinton?) ultimately merit much more blame and grief than Eric Holder.  But I really hope I am not the only one with enduring concerns about Holder's role in these other more consequential sentencing law and policy issues, and also not the only one interested in his current views on these still-important issues a decade later.

UPDATE:  I just noticed at TalkLeft this post, titled "Right Gearing Up To Attack Holder On Rich Pardon," which concludes that "it appears opposing Holder will be a rallying point for the Right."  I think it is much too early to assume that anyone will rally behind opposing Holder, especially given that for now attacks on Holder (especially as they related to the Rich Pardon) seem to be just a conveninent way to vent about some ugly final days of the Clinton Administration.

That said, the comments to the TalkLeft post raise some interesting questions:

A.  Will any of the new Holder-related pardon buzz impact how President Bush uses his clemency powers in the weeks ahead?

B.  Shouldn't Scooter Libby, who represented Marc Rich from 1985 to 2000 (details here), have a lot of useful information if/when Holder is questioned by the Senate about these matters?

November 20, 2008 in Clemency and Pardons | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

"Real offender in this sex case is Georgia law"

The title of this post is the title of this potent new editorial from the Altanta Journal-Constitution.  Here is how it starts:

In its relentless efforts to expel Wendy Whitaker from her Columbia County home, the state of Georgia has crossed the line from protector to persecutor of its citizens.  The state isn’t inciting torch-wielding mobs to chase Whitaker from her home 20 miles west of Augusta.  But it is using a gaggle of state attorneys and a politically driven, poorly written sex offender law to wreck her life.

Twelve years ago, Whitaker engaged in oral sex with a classmate in her sophomore class on high school property. She had just turned 17; the boy was three weeks shy of 16.  After they were caught, Whitaker pleaded guilty to sodomy, never realizing that the admission to a single act of adolescent stupidity would cast a shadow on her life that she could never escape.  Whitaker is now doomed to be on Georgia’s sex offender registry for the rest of her life.  She can’t live near schools, churches, swimming pools, school bus stops, day care centers, parks, rec centers or skating rinks, or work near schools, churches or day care centers.

Whitaker poses no danger to the children of Georgia; she’s a happily married 29-year-old, trying to get on with her life and live in the home that she and her husband bought a few years ago.  Yet, the state has spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to force Whitaker from her house.

Related post:

November 20, 2008 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The legal backstory of Heller

Over at Reason online, one can now find this lengthy article telling the backstory of the case that resulting the the Heller ruling.  The article is titled "How the Second Amendment Was Restored: The inside story of how a gang of libertarian lawyers made constitutional history."  Ultimately, I share Ilya Somin's view that this article overstates the ultimate importance and significance of Heller.  But this article is still a must-read as a piece of modern legal history, and also for a useful set of lessons for anyone seriously committed to impact-oriented constitutional litigation.

Some related posts on the Heller's (lack of) importance:

November 20, 2008 in Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Ethics dilemma for lawyers when inmates seek death"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting piece from the AP, which discusses at length one of the hardest lawyering issues that surround representation of death-eligible offenders.  Here are snippets:

About 12 percent of the 1,133 inmates executed in the U.S. since 1977 abandoned their appeals and asked for their sentences to be carried out, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the center and a law professor at Catholic University in Washington. Each time, the inmate either fired the defense lawyer or told them to stop filing appeals. "It amounts to the same thing," Dieter said.

Attorneys are required to follow the client's wishes or have themselves removed from the case, said Michael Mello, a Vermont Law School professor who teaches ethics and death penalty law. "Their hands are pretty well tied," Mello said. "These are the cases that haunt you. This is the most hideous of cases."

November 20, 2008 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 19, 2008

Three late afternoon thoughts on the Holder pick: race, tough and tech

I have so many old and new thoughts about the importance of the next Attorney General and about President-Elect Obama's apparent selection of Eric Holder for that spot.  At the end of a long day, I want to focus on three particular thoughts/words:

1.  Race:  The import and impact of racial issues in all aspects of the work of the federal Justice Department (both criminal and civil) should not be overlooked, even though war on terror and political issues have dominated modern DOJ and AG discussions.  An appointment of the first African-American Attorney General is therefore noteworthy and important for many reasons.  And, while many aspire for post-racial dialogues about crime and justice, the interplay between race and justice will be that much more salient when Eric Holder becomes the nation's top cop.

2.  Tough:  Jeff Rosen wisely notes here that, because Holder "has impeccable credentials as a tough-on-crime prosecutor," he might be uniquely positioned to achieve a "Nixon in China on Crime."  While many might be concerned about his past connection to all the tough-on-crime posturing during the Clinton Administration, that very background might give him a unique ability and unique credibility if and when he tries to turn the corner on "tough-on-crime" in an effort to now be "smart-on-crime."

3.  Tech:  I was pleased to learn during this NPR segment that Holder is, according to a close friend, "a technology junkie."  As some of my regular technocorrections blogging helps to highlight, I expect some of the hardest and most unpredictable crime and justice issues on the horizon will involve technology issues.  Whatever his policy positions or instincts, the fact that Holder has an affinity and comfort with technology should be a great assert for his new job.

Some recent Holder as AG posts:

November 19, 2008 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

More thoughtful thoughts on emotions and the death penalty

Professor Susan Bandes has this new piece up at SSRN, titled "Repellent Crimes and Rational Deliberation: Emotion and the Death Penalty." As regular readers know, this is a topic that I find very interesting, and I also find Susan's insights to be thoughtful and interesting (and we often agree on premises and disagree on where those premises take up). Here is the abstract for this new piece:

It is often assumed that the anger, outrage and other strong emotions provoked by repellent crimes interfere with rational deliberation. There is some truth to the notion that heinous murders and other shocking crimes place an enormous strain on the criminal justice system, and may exert a destructive influence on institutional process. Nevertheless, the argument that strong emotion interferes with rational deliberation begs the question: what is rational deliberation? This article argues for an understanding of rational deliberation that recognizes its pervasive emotional content. It suggests that the legal system operates on certain misconceptions about emotion that are themselves harmful to institutional process. The most pervasive misconception is that the very attempt to address emotion is destabilizing to the rule of law. Though the legal system rarely incorporates scientific or social-scientific knowledge of emotional dynamics, it nevertheless operates on its own assumptions about how emotions work. It tends to take three approaches to emotion: requiring it to be "set aside" (e.g. the anti-sympathy instruction); permitting it to be "introduced," (e.g. the victim impact statement) and ignoring it (e.g. the refusal to clarify the meaning of life without parole despite evidence that juries misunderstand the term and that clarifying it will affect their sentencing decisions).

I will argue that the legal approach to emotion and rationality is based on three primary misconceptions about the nature of emotion: 1) that emotions are tangible objects with an identity independent of the person they are in, or the institutional context in which they occur; 2) that emotions are private and internal feelings, rather than processes that take shape in a social world; and 3) that emotions are bursts of uncontrollable passion that short-circuit rational deliberation. Using the example of capital punishment, the article illustrates that these misconceptions have serious consequences for the structure and functioning of the capital system.

Some related posts on the death penalty and emotion:

November 19, 2008 in Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Debate over doctors and death protocols in NC

As reported in this local article, which is headlined "High court debates execution issue: N.C. justices chide doctors, legislators for not resolving lethal injection deadlock," the messy realities of state lethal injection protocols was the subject of appellate court conversation in North Carolina yesterday.  Here are some of the details:

The N.C. Supreme Court dove into the two-year stalemate on executions Tuesday by asking attorneys to define what legislators meant by requiring a doctor's presence when convicted murderers are put to death. The debate over the word “present” has created a de facto moratorium on executions in North Carolina.

The legal battle pits the N.C. Medical Board against the Department of Correction, which wants a doctor to make sure lethal injections are properly administered. That, the department says, guards against a violation of the constitutional law against cruel and unusual punishment.

But the medical board contends that lawmakers, in requiring a doctor's presence, only meant that the doctor should certify that an inmate was executed. Taking part in the execution by monitoring an inmate's vital signs would violate a doctor's basic mission to preserve life, the board says. That has prevented the department from finding doctors to attend executions.

During an hourlong hearing Tuesday, Associate Justice Edward Thomas Brady challenged Todd Brosius, a lawyer for the medical board, on the legislature's intent in having a doctor present.... Brady and other justices also challenged state Assistant Attorney General Joseph Finarelli, who argued that lawmakers meant for doctors to do more than attend and certify death.

The justices noted that state lawmakers had an opportunity to clarify the law with two bills filed last year. But the General Assembly did not take up the legislation. Some justices suggested that the legislature, not the courts, should resolve the stalemate. “Why don't we send this right over where it belongs?” Associate Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson asked.

November 19, 2008 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Any early federal sentencing thoughts on Eric Holder, the next U.S. Attorney General?

Holder The AP has this latest report on the buzz surrounding President-Elect Obama's choice for attorney general: "A source close to the process of selecting Barack Obama's attorney general says the president-elect has 'informally' offered the post to Washington lawyer Eric Holder, who has accepted."  On this latest word, I am prepared to declare this a done deal.  I am also prepared to predict that Holder will get confirmed by the Senate, notwithstanding all the hold-over Clinton Administration DOJ scandals that necessarily will be a cause for media discussion and pundit critiques in the days and weeks ahead.

Many folks will use the Holder selection as an excuse to rehash lots of old Clinton Administration stories — involving once-semi-(in)famous figures ranging from Elian Gonzales to Marc Rich.  Fortunately, many others will be more eager to look forward.  Glenn Greenwald here at Salon, for example, already has a long and interesting piece up, under the headline "Preliminary facts and thoughts about Eric Holder: Is Obama's likely nominee for Attorney General an encouraging sign for advocates of the Constitution and the rule of law?"  Greenwald, who is mostly focused on war-on-terror issues, comes to this tentative early view: "on balance -- particularly in light of what he was saying regarding the most extreme Constitutional and executive power abuses of the last eight years and, more importantly, how he was saying it -- this choice, as a preliminary matter, seems like a step in the right direction."

Of course, my focus is on federal sentencing law and policy, and I am not yet even prepared to start forming preliminary thoughts.  I have a instinctual bias against anyone closely connected to the Clinton Administration because I have come to view that administration as uniquely willing and eager to put tough rhetoric and political calculations before sound sentencing policy-making.  And yet I sense that Holder's past Clinton Administration record can provide only a very limited guide to his future Obama Administration work.  For this reason, I am especially eager to have readers share any and all early federal sentencing thoughts about our likely next Attorney General.

November 19, 2008 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Ohio executes while Texas has to postpone two scheduled executions

Providing another tangible example of the unpredictability of modern application of the death penalty, Ohio and Texas had surprisingly different executions experiences over the last 24 hours.  As detailed in new reports here and here, two different defendants in Texas had their scheduled executions postponed, whereas Ohio this morning went forward with a scheduled execution this morning.  This AP report provides the basics on Ohio's capital activity:

Ohio on Wednesday executed a man for the 1992 stabbing death of a collectibles store owner in Toledo, the state's second execution in as many months. Gregory Bryant-Bey, 53, died by lethal injection at 10:41 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Some recent related posts:

November 19, 2008 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Larger Inmate Population Is Boon to Private Prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this new article from the Wall Street Journal.  Here is how it starts:

Prison companies are preparing for a wave of new business as the economic downturn makes it increasingly difficult for federal and state government officials to build and operate their own jails.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons and several state governments have sent thousands of inmates in recent months to prisons and detention centers run by Corrections Corp. of America, Geo Group Inc. and other private operators, as a crackdown on illegal immigration, a lengthening of mandatory sentences for certain crimes and other factors have overcrowded many government facilities.

Prison-policy experts expect inmate populations in 10 states to have increased by 25% or more between 2006 and 2011, according to a report by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts.

Private prisons housed 7.4% of the country's 1.59 million incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons as of the middle of 2007, up from 1.57 million in 2006, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a crime-data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

I suppose we can all be grateful that at least we can count on one growth industry in these tough economic times.  And, needless to say, this article provides still more support for my favorite modern sentencing mantra: "It's the prison economy, stupid."

Some related posts:

November 19, 2008 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack