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March 18, 2009

Abolitionists seem more motivated in New Mexico death penalty debate

I have always suspected that, while a majority of the public favors the death penalty, those who are opposed to the death penalty tend to be more passionate and motivated.  This view would seem to be supported by this official press release from the New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's office:

Governor Bill Richardson continues to hear from New Mexicans about a bill to repeal the death penalty and today released details on the more than 9,400 calls, emails and walk-ins he’s received on the issue. The Governor has heard from a total of 9,413 constituents who voiced their opinion on House Bill 285. Of those, 7169 were FOR the repeal of the death penalty and 2244 were AGAINST.

After lawmakers passed the bill on Friday, the Governor urged New Mexicans to call and email him on their thoughts of the bill. The Governor then met with more than 100 New Mexicans at his office on Monday, many of which had concerns either pro or con, the repeal of the death penalty.

The Governor has until midnight on Wednesday, March 18th to take action on HB 285.

I would seriously doubt that public opinion throughout New Mexico runs 3 to 1 against the death penalty.  But, as this press release reveals, it appears that those constituents who are opposed to the death penalty made extra efforts to ensure Governor Richardson heard their views.  In light of this press release, I am now inclined to predict that Governor Richardson will sign the repeal bill that's on his desk tonight. 

March 18, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"To save money on prisons, states take a softer stance"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article from USA Today. Here are excerpts:

[A]cross the nation, the deepening financial crisis is forcing dramatic changes in the hard-line, punishment-based philosophy that has dominated the USA's criminal justice system for nearly two decades.

As 31 states report budget gaps that the National Governor's Association says totaled nearly $30 billion last year, criminal justice officials and lawmakers are proposing and enacting cost-cutting changes across the public safety spectrum, with uncertain ramifications for the public.

There is no dispute that the fiscal crisis is driving the changes, but the potential risks of pursuing such policies is the subject of growing debate. While some analysts believe the philosophical shift is long overdue, others fear it could undermine public safety.

Ryan King of The Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for alternatives to incarceration, says the financial crisis has created enough "political cover" to fuel a new look at the realities of incarcerating more than 2 million people and supervising 5 million others on probation and parole. "It's clear that locking up hundreds of thousands of people does not guarantee public safety," he says.

Joshua Marquis, a past vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, agrees the economy is prompting an overhaul of justice policy but reaches a very different conclusion about its impact on public safety. "State after state after state appears to be waiting for the opportunity to wind back some of the most intelligent sentencing policy we have," Marquis says. "If we do this, we will pay a price. No question."

Some recent related posts:

March 18, 2009 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 17, 2009

New ACS brief urging a new approach to drug policy

I just received an e-mail alerting me to this new issue brief from the American Constitution Society by Professor Alex Kreit, titled "Toward a Public Health Approach to Drug Policy." Here is the ACS's description of the paper:

ACS is pleased to distribute "Toward a Public Health Approach to Drug Policy," an Issue Brief by Alex Kreit, Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.  On March 11, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that he will nominate Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to be the next director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, also known as the "Drug Czar."  Chief Kerlikowske's nomination comes as we approach the 40th anniversary of the "war on drugs," which followed the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970.  Professor Kreit argues that, after nearly 40 years, "it is becoming increasingly clear that our current drug control strategy has not worked."  He reaches this conclusion after discussing a variety of studies and surveys that detail the amount of money that has been spent by the United States as part of this "war," and the results we have gotten in terms of the rate of drug use in general, use of drugs by young people, and the ease of obtaining drugs, particularly in comparison to other countries that have used different approaches to addressing these issues.  He also discusses the significant impact that U.S. drug policy has had on the size and composition of our prison population.

Professor Kreit calls on the President and the new Drug Czar to change the focus of our nation's drug policy from a punitive approach to one that looks at and addresses the problem through the lens of public health.  In a discussion of recent surveys and election results, Professor Kreit sees the opportunity for politicians to seek fundamental change in our approach to combating drug use because the views of voters have been changing, and American citizens are now more open to these changes than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.  He acknowledges that "[t]here is no magic bullet that can solve the problem of substance abuse."  Nevertheless, Professor Kreit believes that "[t]here are ... a number of readily identifiable reforms that can help begin to set us on the right track and build a foundation for more significant improvements in the future."  In particular, he suggests shifting funding from programs that have unsuccessfully focused on limiting the supply of drugs to programs that have proven successful at reducing demand, and seeking changes to federal law to remove provisions that are hampering the government's ability to pursue effective programs.  In addition to adopting the changes he proposes, Professor Kreit concludes by advocating for the creation of a commission to conduct a comprehensive reevaluation of U.S. drug policy in light of the significant amount we have learned from other countries and four decades of our own experience with the current approach.

March 17, 2009 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Why Can’t Martha Stewart Have a Gun?"

The title of this post is the title of a new article by C. Kevin Marshall that will appear the Spring 2009 issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public PolicyA helpful reader sent me a copy of the article, perhaps after noticing this post I wrote way back in January 2008 questioning the justification for asserting that Martha Stewart and Scooter Libby and other non-violent felons are completely and forever excluded from the Second Amendment's protection.  I have secured permission to post this new article, which starts this way:

In 2004, domestic diva Martha Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and two counts of conspiracy in connection with dubious stock transactions.  Although sentenced to only five months in jail plus a period of supervised release, she risked a much harsher punishment.  Because she was convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, federal law bans her from having any gun.  Her ban is for life, unless the Attorney General lifts the disability — a because Congress regularly bars the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from spending any money to review petitions to lift firearms disabilities.

Is the public safer now that Martha Stewart is completely and permanently disarmed?  More to the point, how could such a ban be constitutional, now that the Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, not only has confirmed that the Second Amendment secures a personal right to keep and bear arms, but also has emphasized its historical tie to the right of self-defense?

Here is how Mr. Marshall concludes his exploration of this interesting and important post-Heller topic:

Research and analysis need to replace dicta and assertions on this topic.  Especially after Heller, there is much room for further thinking and discussion.  Yet wherever the constitutional line may be, it is difficult to see the justification for the complete lifetime ban for all felons that federal law has imposed only since 1968.  And among the various lines that the Second Amendment might draw, it is at least curious how Martha Stewart could merit anyone’s concern.

Download Marshall article on 2A and felon gun possession

Some related Second Amendment posts:

March 17, 2009 in Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

First Circuit affirms sentence of "87-month term of immurement"

There is nothing especially ground-breaking about the First Circuit's sentencing work in US v. Vargas, No. 08-1377 (1st Cir. March 17, 2009) (available here), but a word choice in the opening paragraph alone makes the opinion blog-worthy: 

Defendant-appellant Victor Vargas pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine.  See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846.  The district court sentenced him to an 87-month term of immurement.

Other words of note in the Vargas opinion include "anent" and "aposematic" and "asseverates" and "boon" and "congeners."  These terms, in addition to informing knowledgeable readers of the author of this opinion, lead me to wonder if Mr. Vargas has access to a dictionary sufficient to help him understand fully the decision which affirms his sentence.

March 17, 2009 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Here comes the Obama judges ... do we need to prepare for the "mass freeing of criminal defendants"?

Just before the 2008 election, Senator John McCain wrote this op-ed asserting that "Obama's judges would coddle criminals,"  and Professor Steven Calabresi, in this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, warned that if Barack Obama becomes President and appoints a large number of federal judges, "we could possibly see ... the abolition of capital punishment and the mass freeing of criminal defendants."  If anyone took this heated punditry to heart, now it's time to double-lock the doors and keep the kids from playing outside: according to this New York Times article, "President Obama is expected to name his first candidate to an appeals court seat this week."

Interestingly, the headline for this Times report is "Moderate Is Said to Be Pick for Court," and here are a few more particulars:

President Obama is expected to name ... David F. Hamilton, a highly regarded federal trial court judge from Indiana, for the appeals court in Chicago....

Judge Hamilton, who is said by lawyers to represent some of his state’s traditionally moderate strain, served as counsel to Senator Evan Bayh when Mr. Bayh was the state’s governor; he is also a nephew of former Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana.

A senior administration official said Judge Hamilton would have the support of both Mr. Bayh, a Democrat, and the state’s other senator, Richard G. Lugar, a Republican.

Ooh, Judge Hamilton sure does sound scary, doesn't he?  And given that Judge Hamilton is from the state that birthed infamous figures like Senator Ted Stevens and speeder David Letterman (not to mention Chief Justice John Roberts and Johnny Appleseed and Larry Bird), who knows what we should expect once Judge Hamilton gets a chance to use his Hoosier charms to influence the likes of Judges Easterbrook and Posner on the Seventh Circuit.

All kidding aside, the Times article notes a recent sex offender sentencing ruling by Judge Hamilton that likely will get (too much?) attention given the modern affinity for partisan judicial confirmation battles:

In 2008, Judge Hamilton struck down as unconstitutional an amendment to the state law requiring convicted sex offenders to provide the authorities with personal information, including any e-mail addresses or user names.  The amendment would also have required the offenders to agree to allow their home computers to be searched at any time and to pay for a program to allow monitoring of their Internet use.

The judge said the amendment cut into the heart of a person’s right to privacy in his home.  “The ability of the individual to retreat into his home and therefore to be free from unreasonable intrusion by the government stands at the very core” of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, he said.

I reported and linked to this ruling by Judge Hamilton in this post, where I speculated that this 52-page(!) ruling "might make its way to the Seventh Circuit and perhaps further."  I do not know if Judge Hamilton's ruling has been appealed, though I suspect we will hear a lot more about this case if Judge Hamilton is soon tapped to move up to the Seventh Circuit.

Some related old and new posts on judicial appointments:

UPDATE:  And so it begins.  This official press release reports that "President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Judge David Hamilton to the United States 7th Circuit Court of Appeals."  In response, former judge Paul Cassell at Volokh here describes Judge Hamilton as " a very sensible and reasonable person -- a good selection for the Seventh Circuit."  But the folks at National Review's bench memos do not seem too pleased as evidenced by these new posts over there:

March 17, 2009 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Lots of headlines about death penalty reform debates

Lots of states are in the midst of debating the death penalty, resulting in lots of stories about these debates:

March 17, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New scholarship on sex offender residency restrictions

I just noticed on SSRN this new article by Professor Asmara Tekle-Johnson, titled "In the Zone: Sex Offenders and the Ten-Percent Solutions." Here is the abstract:

At first glance, sex-offender residency restrictions appear plausible because they ostensibly place a convicted sex offender's residence out of reach of children.  However, these regimes address less than ten percent of the very real problem of child sex abuse, as family members and acquaintances of children commit more than ninety percent of this abuse.  On the other hand, many schemes effectively banish almost 100% of convicted sex offenders to society's literal and social margins, condemning many low-risk offenders to a lifetime of isolation while breeding optimal conditions for high-risk offenders to reoffend.  The practical implications of this policy choice, therefore, are dangerous and real, lulling the public into a false sense of security.

This Article challenges prevailing judicial orthodoxy that many sex-offender residency restrictions are constitutional under the Ex Post Facto Clause.  The Article applies the analytical framework of Smith v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court's most recent case involving sex-offender legislation. It also forges a new way of thinking about these regimes as land-use policies that "negatively" zone individuals out of the urban cores. The Article proposes an innovative "positive" zoning scheme, the Sex-Offender Containment Zone, which zones high-risk convicted sex offenders back into the city in a manner that is effective, humane, and constitutional.

March 17, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 16, 2009

"Texas jail was an Animal House, authorities say"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP story, which I just could not resist blogging.  Here is how the piece starts:

For months, perhaps longer, the Montague County Jail was "Animal House" meets Mayberry. Inside the small brick building across from the courthouse, inmates had the run of the place, having sex with their jailer girlfriends, bringing in recliners, taking drugs and chatting on cell phones supplied by friends or guards, according to authorities. They also disabled some of the surveillance cameras and made weapons out of nails.

The doors to two groups of cells didn't lock, but apparently no one tried to escape — perhaps because they had everything they needed inside....

There were whispers in the past year about an affair between a female jailer and male inmate, but folks dismissed the rumors as small-town gossip.  It was not until late last month, when a Texas grand jury returned a 106-count indictment against the former sheriff and 16 others, that the inmates-gone-wild scandal broke wide open.

The indictment charged Bill Keating, sheriff from 2004 until December, with official oppression and having sex with female inmates.  The others indicted include nine guards — seven women and two men — who were charged with various offenses involving sex or drugs and other contraband.  Four inmates also were charged.  Local, state and federal authorities are still trying to figure out how this small-town Texas jail was turned into something resembling a frat house.

March 16, 2009 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Deep thoughts about punishment theory and the genius behind the MPC

Professor Anders Walker has now posted here on SSRN a great-looking new piece that should help me while I otherwise wait impatiently for the NCAA basketball tourney to get started. The piece is titled "American Oresteia: Herbert Wechsler, the Model Penal Code, and the Uses of Revenge," and here is the abstract:

The American Law Institute recently revised the Model Penal Code's sentencing provisions, calling for a renewed commitment to proportionality based on the gravity of offenses, the "blameworthiness" of offenders, and the "harms done to crime victims."  Already, detractors have criticized this move, arguing that it replaces the Code's original commitment to rehabilitation with a more punitive attention to retribution.  Yet, missing from such calumny is an awareness of retribution's subtle yet significant role in both the drafting and enactment of the first Model Penal Code (MPC).  This article recovers that role by focusing on the retributive views of its first Reporter, Columbia Law Professor Herbert Wechsler. Though a dedicated utilitarian, Wechsler became increasingly aware of retribution's value to sentencing over the course of his career, using that awareness to guide both the development and adoption of the MPC.  Recovering his view helps us to contextualize and perhaps even better appreciate the current revision's emphasis on proportionality.

March 16, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

New York Times noticing Heller's lack of practical significance

I am pleased to see that the Old Gray Lady is taking note of the fact that the Supreme Court's supposedly revolutionary Second Amendment ruling in Heller has not had much of a practical impact.  Specifically, Adam Liptak has this new piece on Heller's impact for the New York Times, headlined "So Far, Few Ripples From Landmark Ruling on Guns."  Here are snippets:

About nine months ago, the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment, ruling for the first time that it protects an individual right to own guns. Since then, lower federal courts have decided more than 80 cases interpreting the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, and it is now possible to make a preliminary assessment of its impact.

So far, Heller is firing blanks.

The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal aliens and by drug addicts.  They have upheld laws banning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns.  They have upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices.  And they have upheld laws concerning concealed and unregistered weapons.

“The Heller case is a landmark decision that has not changed very much at all,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who keeps a running tally of decisions based on the case. “To date, the federal courts have not invalidated a single gun control law on the basis of the Second Amendment since Heller.”...

There is one arguable exception to this trend.  Two judges have struck down a part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, named after the murdered son of John Walsh, the host of “America’s Most Wanted.”  The act says that people accused of child pornography offenses must be prohibited from possessing guns while they await trial.

That provision may well have been unconstitutional as a matter of due process even before Heller, as it seems to impose a punishment before conviction.  But two courts have struck down the provision based partly on the fact that a fundamental constitutional right is at stake....

“My own bet,” said Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas, “is that Heller will more likely than not turn out to be of no significance to anyone but constitutional theorists.”

Regular readers will not be at all surprised by this news, since I have been noting and lamenting the lack of significance that Heller has had in lower courts.  (Just a few examples of my Second Amendment moaning appears in these posts: What if no lower court judges participate in a "Second Amendment Revolution"? and Has there been a single pro-gun-rights rulings in lower courts since Heller?.)

Relatedly, my commentary and complaints about the Supreme Court's work in its recent Hayes gun possession case (see here and here) has been based in part on my view that the Hayes case gave the Justices their very first opportunity to reinforce or repudiate the lack of attention and respect that Second Amendment rights and Heller has received from lower federal courts.  The fact that none of the Justices ever even mentioned the Second Amendment or Heller is its ruling provided strong evidence that not even the Justices who helped rescue the Second Amendment from the historical dust-bin had any serious problems with lower courts throwing lots and lots of dust on the rights that Heller purports to vindicate.

Some related Second Amendment posts:

March 16, 2009 in Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Another notable new little data report from the USSC

Lately the US Sentencing Commission has been producing a series of interesting little reports on interesting little federal sentencing topics.  Specifically, just in the last few months we have gotten new (and reader-friendly) reports on federal escape offenses and on the growth of the federal criminal caseload and on alternative sentencing in the federal system.  And now today I see up on the USSC's website this latest addition to its releasing of notable little reports:

Impact of Prior Minor Offenses on Eligibility for Safety Valve:  This report provides an analysis of the role of convictions for prior minor offenses in the sentences of federal offenders.  offenders from receiving a sentence below the statutory mandatory minimum punishments for drug trafficking crimes.  The publication utilizes data drawn from a large research sample of offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2006.

Here is the full text of the conclusion of this latest report:

Prior convictions for minor offenses have a minimal impact on safety valve eligibility. Some offenders are subject to an increase in their criminal history score and become ineligible for safety valve relief as a result of their prior minor offenses.  However, these offenders comprise a very small percentage of the drug trafficking offender population.  Therefore, the notion that including minor offenses in the criminal history calculation causes wide spread inequity in sentencing is an overstatement.  Of the 24,483 drug trafficking offenders in the sample, only 260 (1.1%) were disqualified from eligibility for the safety valve provision due to minor offenses in their criminal history. For the vast majority of drug trafficking offenders, past convictions for minor offenses have no effect on the punishment they receive for their later federal crime.

March 16, 2009 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The "mire" and (slow-moving) "train wreck" that is federal criminal history sentencing

In recent months, I have not blogged much about the lower-court mess that constitutes federal sentencing law and policy concerning the use of a defendant's state criminal history as an aggravating sentencing factor.  Part of the reason for not discussing the lower-court mess has been the Supreme Court's recent efforts to try to clean up some of the mess through its rulings in James and Logan and Begay and Rodriquez and Chambers (all of which have come down over the last two years).  But the mess is hardly going away.

Notably, Justice Alito wrote separately in Chambersin order "to emphasize that only Congress can rescue the federal courts from the mire into which" federal statutes and SCOTUS jurisprudence has cast federal law.  And today, though a separate opinion in US v. Mayer, No. 07-30274 (9th Cir. March 16, 2009) (available here), some federal circuit judges are noting a "train wreck in the making" in the middle of this jurisprudential mire.  Here is the start of Chief Judge Kozinski's denial from en banc review in Mayer:

This is a train wreck in the making.

The panel cleaves a formerly uniform doctrine — the Taylorcategorical approach — into two branches. One approach for most things; a separate, incompatible version for a single clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act.  This approach is novel, difficult to administer and will encourage future panels to splinter the categorical approach into even smaller pieces.  That’s not all: The panel also reads ACCA’s residual clause so broadly that nearly any crime will qualify.  And it does so by embracing an argument that the Supreme Court rejected this Term, in an opinion on which the ink is barely dry. This is precisely the sort of case we need to take en banc in order to prevent serious damage to the fabric of our circuit law.

March 16, 2009 in Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Kansas death penalty debate impacted by capital killers already on the row

This article from the Topeka Capital Journal, which is headlined "Death penalty repeal on tap," details some of the ways in which a debate over repealing the death penalty in Kansas is being impacted by a couple defendants already condemned to death:

The Senate is preparing for an extraordinary debate today on a bill that may render capital punishment in Kansas a casualty of financial austerity, appellate fatigue and moral outrage.

Countering those weighty forces of change will be the legacy of mayhem left by 10 men who have drawn the state’s ultimate sanction since reimposition of the death penalty in 1994.  The leading edge of arguments by defenders of the death penalty will be the depraved saga of murder, torture, rape and robbery that catapulted Reginald and Jonathan Carr to death row.  Both were sentenced to die in 2002 for a Wichita crime spree that put five people in their grave....

Under Senate Bill 208, the death penalty would no longer be an option for Kansas judges and juries after July 1.  Opponents of the death penalty have campaigned against the law on moral grounds but recently built support with an argument drawn from practical experience.  The cost of a death penalty prosecution averages $1.2 million, according to a 2003 state audit, while the cost of other murder cases is $740,000. No one has been executed in Kansas since reimposition of the death penalty....

Supporters of the repeal said the bill was written so Kansas inmates with a pending sentence of death, including the Carr brothers, would remain on death row.  However, Attorney General Steve Six said abolition of capital punishment for future offenders would trigger new appeals by anyone facing execution in Kansas.  Outcome of those legal proceedings is unclear, he said.

March 16, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Will SCOTUS soon be considering California's corrections crisis?

This new AP article, headlined "California fight over inmate care may go to high court," provides the latest developments in the various legal battle over California's corrections mess.  Here are a few of the details:

When the quality of health care in California's sprawling prison system was first challenged in court, it seemed only a matter of time before major reforms would take hold. Nearly two decades later, the desires of the federal courts and inmate advocates have run into a wall of political inertia.

Legislative stonewalling, California's mounting financial problems and legal counterpunches by the state have conspired to stall the most ambitious of the overhaul plans. The result is a showdown over whether federal judges can take control of California's inmate population and order the state to make costly changes to its corrections system.

The dispute seems headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. If the state appeals to the high court, the justices will face a clash between two constitutional amendments: one that shields inmates from cruel and unusual punishment, and another protecting state sovereignty....

The legal challenges over California's inmate medical and mental health care systems date back to 1991 and initiated studies that found the system was indeed failing prisoners. Some doctors, for example, reused tongue depressors, passing them from patient to patient.

Ultimately, the courts ruled that negligence or malfeasance in the prison health care system was leading to the death of an inmate at the rate of roughly one a week. Finding the level of care unconstitutional, a federal judge in San Francisco in 2005 appointed a receiver to oversee the medical and mental health systems and implement reforms. Improvements have followed.

The receiver has gone on a hiring binge and ordered higher salaries to fill vacancies, with many prison doctors now making about $250,000 a year. A private company runs prison pharmacies, while hundreds of millions of dollars have been redirected from the state general fund to pay for new prison medical buildings and equipment....

The result was a pushback from the Schwarzenegger administration and Attorney General Jerry Brown. "This thing has escalated out of control. It's the most extravagant proposal for inmate health care we've ever seen in the United States," Brown, a Democrat, said in an interview.  Brown said the receiver's plan would create a system that coddles inmates with "Cadillac care" not afforded to many California taxpayers.

As noted in this recent post, UC Hastings College of the Law this week is going to have, as detailed here, a great conference on “The California Correctional Crisis.”   The full schedule for this timely conference is available at this link, and the full list of participants is available here. In addition, the conference organizers have this terrific blog, which is providing "News, Updates and Opinions on Sentencing and Corrections in California."

March 16, 2009 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 15, 2009

Gov. Richardson asking for public input on whether to sign death penalty abolition bill

As noted in this post, late Friday the New Mexico state legislature finally passed a bill to repeal the death penalty in that state.  Now, as detailed in this local story, Gov. Bill Richardson is actively seeking public input concerning whether he should sign the bill:

Gov. Bill Richardson, whose signature could abolish the death penalty in New Mexico, spoke publicly Saturday about his dilemma over signing the bill.

The governor said in the days after the attacks of 9-11, he supported the death penalty. But in the last couple of years, he says his thinking has started to change. "You see prosecutorial abuse, you see inmates that have been wrongly incarcerated, you see DNA evidence that's faulty," Richardson said.

Those doubts could play a role in Richardson's decision to either sign or reject a bill passed by the New Mexico Senate Friday that would abolish the death penalty for life without parole. The governor has until Wednesday to decide. "I've struggled with this. It's something probably that you get as governor once in a lifetime, so I want to make the right choice," he said....

The governor said he is looking for the public's input before he decides. "I want to hear compelling argument, factual arguments. I want to hear from the clergy-conscious arguments," he said....

The governor's office has been flooded with thousands of calls and e-mails on the issues, with opinion split evenly. Now, the governor says he wants to go face-to-face with voters. "We're going to be available all weekend to hear from constituents," he said. "I'm going to meet with constituents on Monday--anyone that wants to talk to me about this issue," he said.

You can call the governor at 505-476-2225. You can also e-mail him through his website under the "contact the governor" link.

March 15, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sex offender registration news and notes

Two local stories in the Sunday papers provide two interesting ground-level perspectives on the challenges and difficulties posed by sex offender registration laws:

March 15, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A new opportunity to assess the economy/crime rate connection

20090314_112853_cd15crime_9The relationship between economic conditions and crime rates has always been considered an important (and unclear) component of criminal justice realities.  This interesting new article from today's Denver Post, which is headlined "This time, economy, crime fall in tandem: Metro area seems to buck trend of downturns breeding scofflaws," provides some new food for thoughts concerning this relationship.  Here is how the article starts:

The number of reported burglaries, car thefts and larcenies has dropped steadily in several Colorado cities despite historic data that say crime should be on the rise during this deep economic recession.

The decrease puzzles criminologists but gives police reason to tout crime-prevention initiatives and tougher sentencing laws putting prolific burglars and car thieves away. Yet even the police aren't sure of all of the factors driving the phenomenon. "Perhaps it would be a natural assumption that crime would increase when the economy is bad," said Detective Shannon Lucy of the Aurora Police Department. "It does kind of go against what people would expect."

It may be too early in this recession to see whether the downward crime trend holds. Some who are young, poor and uneducated may yet be driven to crime after repeated failed attempts to find jobs, some experts said. "People don't become criminals overnight. It takes some time for the strain to hit them," said Jeff London, assistant professor of criminology at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Between 1979 and 1981, when wages dropped 20 percent, the number of property crimes reported jumped 18 percent nationwide, following a long-established pattern in which recessions cause crime to spike. Colorado experienced a similar leap of 18 percent in property-crime numbers between 1979 and 1981, according to Colorado Department of Public Safety reports.

But during the current recession, several Colorado communities, including Denver, Thornton and Aurora, are seeing double-digit-percentage declines. Statewide totals for 2008 won't be available for two months.

But while the numbers look promising for getting through the recession without a crime spike, there are dominoes yet to fall. Mass layoffs during a recession force people with master's degrees to seek jobs normally taken by those with bachelor's degrees, who, in turn, take openings normally taken by less-educated youths, who find it increasingly difficult to find any job. It also takes time for people to run out of unemployment benefits.

March 15, 2009 in Data on sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack