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April 18, 2009

Should the US Sentencing Commission have more members?

A conversation with a thoughtful sentencing observer got me to thinking about whether folks interested in significant reform of the federal sentencing system might urge a novel structural change in a key federal sentencing player.  Specifically, perhaps the US Sentencing Commission, which only has seven members and has often through its history been beset with disruptive vacancies, ought to be bigger.  Many state sentencing commissions are double the size, and there are lots of reasons to believe that larger, more diverse commissions are better able to propose, promote and protect new and needed sentencing reforms.

April 18, 2009 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 17, 2009

Notable student note defending a new ex post facto analysis after Booker

As I have indicted in a prior post, I think one of the most interesting and amazingly underexamined post-Bookerissue concerns whether or not the conversion of the guidelines to advisory status changed the settled pre-Booker determination that ex post facto doctrine precluded the application of new harsher guidelines to old crimes. Consequently, I am pleased to see this new student note on the issue, titled "Defending Demaree: The Ex Post Facto Clause's Lack of Control Over the Federal Sentencing Guidelines after Booker."  Here is the abstract:

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines violated a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because they allowed a judge to depart from a mandatory range based on facts not presented to a jury.  As a solution, the Court modified the Guidelines to be "advisory," yet curiously held that sentences were still subject to appellate review for reasonableness.  Given this tension, U.S. courts of appeals are split on whether the Guidelines are "laws," subject to the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  This Note argues that the Guidelines are advisory, given the level of deference the Supreme Court and circuit courts have recently given to sentencing judges in departures from the Guidelines, and thus they are not "laws" under the Ex Post Facto Clause.

As I have noted before here, I believe that the Justice Department's official position on this ex post facto issue has changed after the Supreme Court's ruling in Irizarry.  But I am not sure if there are any good cases in the pipeline to get this issue to before SCOTUS anytime soon.

April 17, 2009 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Justice very delayed in a capital case leads to a reprimand

Anyone who wonders why some capital cases take sooooo long to make their way though the various layers of appeals available to capital defendants should be sure to check out this local article.  Here are snippets:

A Shelby County Criminal Court judge was publicly reprimanded today for taking more than seven years to rule on an appeal in a death penalty case.

The Tennessee Court of the Judiciary issued the reprimand against Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett, citing state laws that require the appeal — called a petition for post-conviction relief — to be handled within one year of its filing and ruled on within 60 days after the petition has been heard.

The petition of Perry Cribbs was filed April 13, 1998, but Blackett did not enter her ruling for seven years, five months and 21 days.

April 17, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

En banc Third Circuit upholds probation sentence in tax evasion case

On the heels of yesterday's long panel ruling finding a child porn downloader's sentence unreasonable as too harsh in Olhovsky (discussed here), the Third Circuit today issued an even longer en banc opinion in US v. Tomko, No. 05-4997 (3d Cir. April 17, 2009).  A helpful reader send me the ruling (which does not yet appear on line, but can be downloaded below), and here is how the majority opinion starts:

The Government appeals the reasonableness of William Tomko’s below-Guidelines sentence of probation, community service, restitution, and fine for his tax evasion conviction. If any one of a significant number of the members of this Court — including some in today’s majority — had been sitting as the District Judge, Tomko would have been sentenced to some time in prison. But “[t]he fact that the appellate court might reasonably have concluded that a different sentence was appropriate is insufficient to justify reversal of the district court.”  Gall v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 586, 597 (2007).... Where, as here, a district court decides to vary from the Guidelines’ recommendations, we “must give due deference to the district court’s decision that the § 3553(a) factors, on a whole, justify the extent of the variance.” Id. at 597. These principles require us to affirm Tomko’s sentence.

The full majority opinion runs nearly 40 pages, and the dissent also runs almost another 40. Both sides make a bunch of good points, and it is especially interesting to speculate about whether the Justice Department might be inclined to seek cert in this case. 

Download Tomko 3d Circuit opinion

UPDATE:  The Tomko decision is now available on-line at this link.

April 17, 2009 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Some notable cert petitions to watch

After another mid-season break, the Supreme Court start the always exciting final stretch of the Term with a cert conference today.  Though we may not hear the results until Monday, the folks at SCOTUSblog in this post spotlight these two notable cases for criminal justice fans that have a good chance of becoming merits cases in the fall:

Docket: 08-769
Title: United States v. Stevens
Issue: Is 18 U.S.C. 48, on depictions of  animal cruelty, facially invalid under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment?

Docket: 08-833
Title:  Oliver v. Quarterman
Issue:  Does juror consultation of the Bible during sentencing deliberations  deprive a defendant of Sixth Amendment rights and what standard of proof should apply in evaluating the possible prejudice to the defendant?

In addition, I believe this cert conference also has at least one crack retroactivity petition and a few other federal sentencing cases that could possibly get the Justices' attention.

April 17, 2009 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 16, 2009

Third Circuit issues big opinion finding child porn sentence unreasonable

The Third Circuit has a major new sentencing decision today in a child porn case.  The decision in US v. Olhovsky, No. 07-1642 (3d Cir. April 16, 2009) (available here), runs 73 pages, but its first paragraph is brief and provides an effective summary of the ruling:

Nicolau Olhovsky appeals the sentence of six years imprisonment that was imposed after he pled guilty to possessing child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(5)(B). He argues both that the sentence is unreasonable and that the sentencing court erred as a matter of law in refusing to allow his treating psychologist to testify at the sentencing hearing. For the reasons that follow, we agree. Accordingly, we will remand for resentencing.

UPDATE:  I found the time late this evening to make it all the way through the Olhovsky opinion.  The case and this ruling are remarkable for many reasons, and all federal sentencing fans will want to take the time to review closely the reasonableness discussion of the last 25 pages. 

Of particular note, as Peter G. flags in the comments, Olhovsky appears to be the first case in which a circuit found a below-guidelines sentence of imprisonment to be substantively unreasonable as too harsh in light of the overarching parsimony principle of 3553(a).  Yet, because the facts of Olhovsky are so remarkable and distinctive, it seems unlikely that this ruling will have too broad of an impact in other setting.  Still, it is nice to see a panel finally give some real attention to the parsimony principle and to its obligations to judge the substantive reasonableness of a prison term in light of all the 3553(a) factors and not just in terms of the calculated guideline range.

April 16, 2009 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

The latest, greatest federal sentencing data from the USSC

The US Sentencing Commission has some fresh new sentencing data now up on its website. The USSC's latest data report, which can be accessed here, is described this way:

First Quarter FY09 Quarterly Sentencing Update:  An extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during the first quarter of fiscal year 2009.  The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices. (Published April 15, 2009)

The new data continue to show remarkable stability in the operation and application of the advisory federal guideline sentencing system: these data show, yet again, that just under 60% of all federal sentences are within the calculated guidelines range, with prosecutors requesting a below-range sentence in nearly 25% of all cases.  

Not long after the election, I speculated here that ground-level sentencing trends might show the imprint of a new administration before there were any formal legal and policy developments.  Interestingly, these latest numbers reveal a slight uptick in the number of judge-initiated departures and a slight down-tick in the number of prosecutor-initiated departures.  But these changes seem to be too slight at this early stage to assert that the federal sentencing times are a-changing.

April 16, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Troy Davis gets no relief on innocence claims in Eleventh Circuit

The Eleventh Circuit today in this long per curiam opinion disposes of the legal claims of Georgia death row defendant Troy Davis.  Here is how the opinion starts:

On October 22, 2008, Troy Anthony Davis (“Davis”), a Georgia death row inmate, has filed an application with this Court seeking authorization to file a second or successive 28 U.S.C. § 2254 federal habeas petition, raising for the first time a freestanding actual innocence claim.  Davis had previously filed a federal habeas petition in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia in 2001, alleging, among other things, violations of Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 92 S. Ct. 763 (1972), Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194 (1963), and Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984).  Davis now claims that his execution would violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because he is actually innocent of the offense of murder. We took the unusual step of staying Davis’s execution, which had been scheduled for October 27, 2008, and ordered the parties to submit further briefs.  Thereafter, we scheduled the case for oral argument.  Having the benefit of the parties’ briefs and after hearing extensive oral argument, we deny Davis’s application.

This ruling will surely get lots and lots of attention from all the usual death penalty suspects, which of course includes many Justices of the Supreme Court.  It will be interesting to see if SCOTUS will eventually take up this case.

April 16, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

What does the tea party movement have to say about taxing and spending on the death penalty, the drug war and mass incarceration?

I am having a hard time figuring out what to think about the whole tea party movement, though at times it seems that even those involved in the movement are not always sure what exactly the whole tea party movement is really about.  Helpfully, PJTV and Glenn Reynolds here provide this overview:

America is on the brink of another revolution.  In a new American Tea Party, citizens across the USA are beginning to protest giant government programs that reach deep into their pockets. These programs create huge economic burdens on American families and threaten their livelihood now and into the future.

As regular readers know, one of the most sizable "giant government programs" run by many states (especially so-called "red states") are criminal justice programs that "create huge economic burdens" in the course of seeking to execute certain murderers, chasing lots of drug users and dealers, and locking up many thousands of individuals.  I hope that criminal justice programs, which seems likely to result in as much wasteful spending as any other "giant government program," do not that escape the attention and criticisms of those involved in the tea party movement.

Of course, much of the tea party movement seems focused on federal spending, but again there is reason to have serious criminal justice spending concerns.  This page at the DOJ websitenotes that the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R.1) includes $4 billion in Department of Justice grant funding to enhance state, local, and tribal law enforcement efforts, including the hiring of new police officers, to combat violence against women, and to fight internet crimes against children."  Though $4 billion no longer seems like a lot of money, the array of scandals and problems surrounding DOJ in recent years leads me to hope that the tea party folks will keep the "giant" Justice Department in its critical sights.

Some related (old and new) posts:

April 16, 2009 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

(Phony?) sentencing expert convicted of fraud for impersonating lawyer

Many practitioners know the name Howard O. Kieffer from his federal sentencing work in a vareity of settings on a variety of issues.  But, as detailed in this AP article and this local piece, Kieffer now need to devote his expertise to his own upcoming sentencing after his federal conviction this week.  Here are the fascinating details:

A federal court jury has convicted a Duluth man on charges of mail fraud and false statements in impersonating a lawyer. A prosecutor says he hopes the case continues in other states. Authorities said Howard O. Kieffer, 54, represented clients in at least 10 states. North Dakota was the first to charge him.

The Bismarck jury of seven men and five women reached a verdict after about an hour and a half of deliberation Wednesday afternoon. Kieffer faces up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. U.S. District Judge Patrick Conmy did not immediately set a sentencing date but ordered Kieffer to remain on home confinement until sentencing....

“I hope there are other districts in this country that will pursue something,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hagler said immediately after the two-day trial. Hagler told jurors that Kieffer made his own rules and befriended reputable attorneys because “he needed to use them” to vouch for him in applying to practice law.

Kieffer’s attorney, Joshua Lowther, called no witnesses, but he said the government did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Kieffer did not testify at his trial.

Prosecutors called two witnesses Wednesday who said they paid Kieffer at least $20,000 to appeal prison sentences for their loved ones, only to find out later he was not an attorney.

Ken Henderson of Woodbury, Minn., testified he paid Kieffer $25,000 to file an appeal for his wife, Denise, after her conviction for lying to the government in a Social Security fraud case. Natasha Caron of Naples, Fla., said she paid Kieffer $20,000 for an appeal of her son’s drug conviction.

Neither appeal succeeded. Henderson said his wife found out in talking with other federal prisoners that Kieffer was not really an attorney. Caron said her daughter found out Kieffer was a phony by searching prison Web sites. She said her son’s conviction and Kieffer’s handling of the case caused her “health and emotional collapse.” “I put my son’s case in this man’s hands and he was not an attorney,” Caron testified....

Other attorneys testified earlier that they thought Kieffer was one of their colleagues because he seemed to know about federal court matters and because they saw him at attorney training seminars. Bismarck attorney Chad McCabe said he vouched for Kieffer on his application to practice law in North Dakota.

Cases Kieffer handled outside North Dakota include that of former St. Louis Blues player Michael Danton, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to plotting to kill his agent, and a Colorado woman who was convicted of soliciting the killing of her former husband.

Kieffer was charged in North Dakota last year after one of his clients, a man accused of child pornography, wrote to U.S. District Judge Dan Hovland in Bismarck, raising questions about whether Kieffer had ever been a licensed attorney.  Conmy had said Hovland would be among the trial witnesses but the judge did not testify.

Court records show Kieffer was convicted earlier of theft and filing false tax returns and served time in a federal prison from 1989 to 1992.

I would be eager to hear in the comments about what sort of sentencing readers think would be appropriate in this case.  Folks who knew Keiffer are especially encouraged to share their thoughts.

UPDATE:  TalkLeft has this post on the case, which includes a link to this long and effective article on Kieffer appealing in the April 2009 ABA Journal.

April 16, 2009 in Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Colorado legislature moving toward death penalty repeal and additions sentencing reforms

As detailed in this Denver Post article, headlined "House backs death-penalty demise: Another vote is needed before the Senate gets the bill, which would use the money saved to solve cold cases," the Colorado legislature is moving forward on a death penalty repeal proposal.  In addition, some other sentencing reforms all also moving forward with cost issues front and center. Here are a few particulars:

Colorado's death penalty took one step toward the grave Wednesday as lawmakers in the state House gave initial approval to a bill that would end capital punishment and use the savings to solve cold cases. House Bill 1274 progresses as lawmakers prepare to take up a proposal next week that would drastically cut sentences for nonviolent, drug and property offenses and end jail time altogether for some offenders.

Both plans have earned the ire of district attorneys, who argue that such changes will encourage crime and make it more difficult to properly punish the most heinous criminals. Five Democrats stood with the Republican caucus in opposing HB 1274, though it wasn't enough to kill the legislation.

House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, the bill's sponsor, isn't celebrating yet, saying the final role call vote on the bill will pose a tough hurdle. He's pitching the legislation as a way to save state money and make streets safer by helping to clear some of Colorado's 1,400-plus unsolved murder cases.

"You can debate all day long the morality of the death penalty. You'll never resolve it," said Weissmann, D-Louisville. "Any other part of government that spent this much money and was so rarely used would be one of the first things we set out to cut." Colorado has executed one person in four decades and has two more murderers on death row.

The bill's opponents argued that without the death penalty, there would be no checks on inmates already sentenced to life who might kill guards or other inmates, or order killings from prison. Some critics, like Democratic Rep. Edward Casso of Thornton, said capital punishment is one of a handful of issues voters should decide directly.

Legislative analysts estimate the bill could save Colorado about $800,000 a year and put $883,000 a year toward solving cold-case murders.

Meanwhile, the bill to overhaul Colorado's sentencing scheme is also being pitched as a way to save millions of dollars by putting fewer people in prison for shorter durations. Proponents say treatment and probation get better results than jail time for low-level offenders.

April 16, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 15, 2009

Iowa legislature working on revising state's sex offender residence restriction

This local story out of Iowa provides details on a fascinating legislative development from the state that largely pioneered the use of extreme sex offender residency restrictions:

Key lawmakers say they are close to an agreement on a plan to revise state laws dealing with sex offenders and scaling back a controversial law that prohibits offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or day care.

Law enforcement officials have criticized the 2,000-foot law for years, saying it’s difficult to enforce. Large areas of cities were off limits as places to live for convicted offenders whose crimes were against children.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has been meeting behind closed doors in recent weeks to hash out a plan to revise the law and still provide protection to the public. Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield, said the latest version of working group’s plan would apply the 2,000-foot rule only to the most serious offenders. “I think the agreement will have the support of law enforcement and victims’ groups,” Kreiman said.

But the plan would clamp down on all people on the state’s sex offender registry and prohibit them from going into or working in exclusionary zones that would include schools, libraries and places where groups of children gather. Offenders also would be prohibited from loitering within 300 feet of areas covered by those zones. Under the plan, corrections officials would have discretion to decide which sex offenders would wear bracelets with real-time, GPS tracking abilities. Sex offenders on the state’s registry would have additional reporting requirements to local sheriff’s offices.

Kreiman, who is chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, said he’s not sure whether a deal has been reached on the package. Majority Democrats are looking for support from Republicans as well as Gov. Chet Culver before bringing the package to a vote. “I think we’re very, very close” on reaching a deal, Kreiman said.

April 15, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

"Man shoots self, gets 33 months"

The title of this post is the comical headline given to this local story of a recent federal sentencing. Here is the fuller explanation:

A Winslow man who accidentally shot himself in the leg with a stolen gun more than four years ago was sentenced in U.S. District Court on April 8 to 33 months for violating firearm laws.

Dennis L. Whitman, 26, also was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Woodcock to three years of supervised released after he completes his sentence. Whitman pleaded guilty in January to possession of a stolen gun and possession of a gun after being convicted of a crime of domestic violence.

He was charged after Winslow police were called on Aug. 26, 2004, to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer unit in Waterville to investigate an accidental shooting. Whitman, according to court documents, accidentally shot himself with a .22-caliber handgun that was tucked into his waistband when he was helping a friend move furniture into an apartment.

Whitman told police that he had wrapped the gun in a blue towel and given it to the friend he had been with when he was shot and told him to get rid of it because it was stolen. When interviewed, Whitman’s friend said he had taken the gun to the Waterville-Winslow bridge and thrown it into the Kennebec River.

A Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department dive team found the gun, according to court documents. By tracing the serial number, police confirmed that it had been reported stolen on Aug. 19, 2004, from a Searsport home.  Whitman admitted that he knew the gun had been stolen but refused to tell police who had given it to him.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2007 and arrested the next month. He pleaded guilty to the charges in December. He faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.  Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, he faced between 33 and 41 months in prison.

Though the federal charges in this case are legally distinct from the New York state gun charges facing Plaxico Buress, he and his lawyers will surely take no comfort from a headline suggesting that nearly three years in prison is the going rate for stupid self-shootings.

April 15, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Renewing a lawyerly pitch for ending drug prohibition

Thanks to this postat TalkLeft, I see that the New York City Bar Association's Committee on Drugs and the Law has issued this interesting five-page document titled "A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition, Fifteen Years Later."  Here are snippets from the start of the report:

In 1994, the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Drugs and the Law concluded that the societal costs of drug prohibition are too high to justify it as a policy and called for a national dialogue on alternatives.  Fifteen years later, that dialogue has not occurred, we are no closer to a drug-free society, and the problems associated with the illegal drug trade are worse than ever....

On June 10, 1994, the Committee on Drugs and the Law (the “Committee”) of the New York City Bar Association released a report (the “Report”) entitled “A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition.” It is available at http://www.nycbar.org/pdf/report/94087WiserCourse.pdf

The Report argued in detail, inter alia, that drug prohibition strains the judicial system with no apparent diminution in drug trade or drug use, fills prisons at great expense to the taxpayers, disproportionately punishes racial minorities, corrupts police and erodes constitutional rights, subsidizes organized crime, drafts poor children into the drug trade, causes violence by engendering competition over the lucrative illegal drug market, fails to decrease demand for drugs, facilitates the spread of disease and impairs the health of drug users, and diverts resources from prevention and treatment to law enforcement.

In short, the Report argued that U.S. drug control policy is the cause of, rather than the solution for, many social problems associated with drugs, and it identified several alternatives to prohibition proposed by members of the federal judiciary (including repeal of all federal laws banning drug sales and possession in favor of state-level drug control, a policy of reduced arrests, and sale of drugs through state stores) without advocating any specific policy....

Today the Committee makes a renewed call for a serious discussion of U.S. drug policy through a focus on the medical paradigm and the Controlled Substances Act.

Some recent related posts:

April 15, 2009 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

"The cost of capital punishment"

The title of this post is the headline of this editorial against the death penalty appearing in today's Boston Globe.  Here are snippets:

It may be too soon to call it a trend, but two states have abolished the death penalty in the past three years, and 10 others have legislation pending. States and voters are reconsidering capital punishment, and many have a new reason: money....

A recent study by the Urban Institute found that an average death penalty trial costs a state about $2 million more than a murder trial where no death penalty is sought.  The Death Penalty Information Center estimates that keeping an inmate on death row costs $90,000 a year in extra security. Almost every state is facing a deficit, and getting smart about corrections budgets is an unexpected side benefit.

Abolitionists will take whatever argument they can, but money isn't the only, or the best, reason to stop executions.  The death penalty is not a deterrent to most deadly crimes. It is applied unevenly.  It places the United States among the world's most brutal regimes. And there are 130 other reasons: the 130 death-row inmates who were exonerated by new evidence. Their deaths would have carried an awful price tag.

April 15, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Two notable sex offender rulings from the Missouri Supreme Court

As detailed in AP articles here and here, the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled against a couple of sex offender in a couple of interesting settings.  The headlines of the articles provides a summary of the rulings: " Missouri Supreme court upholds 2005 child-visitation law for sex offenders" and "Mo. Supreme Court says psychologist licensure cannot stop hearing for sex offender."

April 15, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2009

New report from The Sentencing Project on the drug war's racial dynamics

Continuing its well-established traditions of producing interesting, informative and timely reports on hot criminal justice topics, the folks at The Sentencing Project have a new study looking at race and the drug war.  Here are the details from the text of an e-mail I just received:

For the first time in 25 years, since the inception of the "war on drugs," the number of African Americans incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses has declined substantially, according to a study released today by The Sentencing Project. It finds a 21.6% drop in the number of blacks incarcerated for a drug offense, a decline of 31,000 people during the period 1999-2005.

The study, The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs, also documents a corresponding rise in the number of whites in state prison for a drug offense, an increase of 42.6% during this time frame, or more than 21,000 people. The number of Latinos incarcerated for state drug offenses was virtually unchanged.

The study notes that the black declines in incarceration represent "the end result of 50 state law enforcement and sentencing systems" which need to be examined individually. But overall, the decline in blacks incarcerated for a drug offense follows upon declining arrest and conviction rates for blacks as well. The study suggests much of the disparity resulting from the drug war has been a function of police targeting of open-air drug markets. As crack use and sales have declined, or moved indoors in some cases, law enforcement activity may have been reduced correspondingly.

Because of the rising number of whites in prison for a drug offense, the overall number of persons serving state prison time for a drug offense remained at a record 250,000 during the study period. The white increase may be related in part to more aggressive enforcement of methamphetamine laws, according to the study. While methamphetamine is only used at significant levels in a relative handful of states, data from states such as Iowa and Minnesota show a substantial influx of these cases during this time period.

The analysis by The Sentencing Project also documented a sharp contrast between state and federal prison populations. While the number of persons in state prisons for a drug offense rose by less than 1% during the study period, the increase in federal prisons was more than 32%. These latter changes are attributed to ongoing aggressive enforcement of drug laws, including application of harsh mandatory sentencing policies. Despite declines in the use of crack cocaine, federal prosecution and incarceration levels for crack offenses remain high and have a stark racially disparate impact.

April 14, 2009 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Sixth Circuit concurrence talks about capital punishment's economic costs

As detailed in links below, lots of legislators, advocates and media folk have been talking about the economic costs of the death penalty lately.  But today in Wiles v. Bagley, No. 05-3719 (6th Cir. April 14, 2009) (available here), Judge Martin writes a concurrence in the affirmance of an Ohio death penalty that explores this issue from a judicial perspective. Here is how this part of the concurrence starts:

Now in my thirtieth year as a judge on this Court, I have had an inside view of our system of capital punishment almost since the death penalty was reintroduced in the wake of Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).  During that time, judges, lawyers, and elected officials have expended great time and resources attempting to ensure the fairness, proportionality, and accuracy that the Constitution demands of our system. But those efforts have utterly failed. Capital punishment in this country remains “arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair.”  Moore v. Parker, 425 F.3d 250, 268 (6th Cir. 2005) (Martin, J., dissenting).  At the same time, the system’s necessary emphasis on competent representation, sound trial procedure, and searching post-conviction review has made it exceedingly expensive to maintain.

The system’s deep flaws and high costs raise a simple but important question: is the death penalty worth what it costs us?  In my view, this broken system would not justify its costs even if it saved money, but those who do not agree may want to consider just how expensive the death penalty really is.  Accordingly, I join Justice Stevens in calling for “a dispassionate, impartial comparison of the enormous costs that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefits that it produces.”  Baze v. Rees, ___ U.S. ___, 128 S.Ct. 1520, 1548-49 (2007) (Stevens, J., concurring).  Such an evaluation, I believe, is particularly appropriate at a time when public funds are scarce and our state and federal governments are having to re-evaluate their fiscal priorities.  Make no mistake: the choice to pay for the death penalty is a choice not to pay for other public goods like roads, schools, parks, public works, emergency services, public transportation, and law enforcement.  So we need to ask whether the death penalty is worth what we are sacrificing to maintain it.

Some recent related posts:

April 14, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Need to track sex offenders, there's an app for that...

Anyone who enjoys the new iPhone ads spotlighting interesting applications can join me in wondering if the newest app will get its own commercial.  This press release provides the details:

The WatchOut! iPhone application, which enables consumers to search any given area for registered sex offenders based on location or specific name, officially launches today. Ten percent of profits from the WatchOut! application go to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center (www.dvccct.org).

The WatchOut! application features an easy-to-use interface that enables users to identify dangers around them by searching for registered sex offenders by zip code or by name. The program also allows the user to determine where the highest concentrations of offenders live by plotting the locations on a map. The WatchOut! application is perfect for parents of young children, people who are planning to move to a new area, those who are in the dating scene and anyone else who is interested in knowing who is nearby in order to be safer.

Believing that nothing is more important than safety, WatchOut! Software, LLC in partnership with Mobile Simplicity (www.mSimplicity.com) utilize the power of the iPhone to make consumers better informed about potential dangers. The reality is that nearly everyone lives near a registered sex offender, but few are aware of who these people are and where they live. "We feel that it is important for people who are moving into a new area to be aware of their surroundings and any possible dangers to their family," said Rick Krakowski, President of Mobile Simplicity, the firm that developed the mobile application. "It should be a part of anyone's research when looking into a new area, or even to increase awareness in one's current neighborhood."

April 14, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 13, 2009

Split Tenth Circuit panel denies denies Nacchio bail pending cert.

Howard Bashman has linked here the news reports and the short opinion coming from the Tenth Circuit on the issue of whether the former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio should get bail pending his attempt to get cert to review his white-collar conviction.  Here is the line that jumps out from the Tenth Circuit's disposition: "Mr. Nacchio has not shown that there is a reasonable chance that the Supreme Court will grant his petition." 

I suppose, as this request for bail goes up to the Justices (see AP report here and SCOTUSblog report here), the Court itself will have an opportunity to confirm or rebuff this significant cert prediction from the Tenth Circuit panel.

Some related posts:

April 13, 2009 in White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack