August 2, 2009
Latest FSR issue, "Fast-Track Sentencing," now available on-line
I am pleased to report that the latest issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporteris available on-line, bearing the title "Fast-Track Sentencing." Through this Issue, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of guest editor Alison Siegler, FSR has now published a set of articles and primary materials concerning federal early-disposition programs, which are known more commonly as “fast-track” sentencing programs.
As explained in Alison's Guest Editor’s Observations, which can be accessed at this link, the goal of this FSR Issue was to describe the history of fast-track sentencing programs, as well as to illuminate the current debates over whether and when judges have discretion to consider fast-track disparities when sentencing defendants who quickly plead guilty in non-fast-track districts. To this end, this Issue reprints a variety of difficult-to-obtain primary sources that reveal the dynamic and diverse nature of fast-track sentencing programs in federal districts across the nation.
The Table of Connects for this latest FSR issue can be accessed at this link, and all the articles are available electronically here. (A full subscription to the Federal Sentencing Reporter can be ordered on-line here.)
Other recent FSR issues:
- FSR Issue 21.4: On the Shoulders of Giants
- FSR Issue 21.3: "Second Look" Sentencing Reforms
- FSR Issue 21.2: Sex Offenders: Recent Developments in Punishment and Management
- FSR Issue 21.1: Thoughts for the U.S. Sentencing Commission
- FSR Issue 20.5: American Criminal Justice Policy in a "Change" Election
- FSR Issue 20.4: Debates and Realities Surrounding Crack Retroactivity
- FSR Issue 20.3: White-Collar Sentencing
- FSR Issue 20.2: Prisoner Reentry
Famed researchers write in support of NC Racial Justice Act
Thanks to this post at DPIC, I see that renowned researchers David Baldus and George Woodworth have penned an op-ed supporting North Carolina's proposed Racial Justice Act. Here is how the piece starts:
The various attacks on the proposed North Carolina Racial Justice Act, a bill that would allow capital defendants to present claims of racial bias to the court, are, at best, based on a lack of understanding, and at worst, emotional and misleading arguments used in an effort to obscure the issues.
Some critics claim that the use of statistics to show racial bias in death penalty cases is inappropriate, but these critics offer no alternatives. Statistical analysis provides the only way to understand the role of racial bias in a system. Rigorous statistical analyses, grounded in actual information about the crimes and the charging and sentencing decisions relating to them, facilitate a nuanced understanding of the real role of race. The only alternative is willful blindness.
Closing the door to this kind of analysis closes the door to an informed debate. It is for this reason that statistical analyses are used routinely and properly in housing and employment discrimination cases.
Some critics claim that there is no evidence of racial discrimination in the death penalty system. The enormity of this canard is breathtaking. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has said that racial discrimination in capital punishment is "real, acknowledged in the decisions" of the Supreme Court, and "ineradicable."
Does the death penalty process aggravate victim suffering?
This new AP article, headlined "Death-penalty cases harder on survivors than life sentences," prompts the question in this title of this post. Here are snippets from the piece:
As lawmakers weigh the future of the death penalty in some states, officials are giving greater weight to the effect of prolonged death-penalty cases on victims’ families. Commissions in New Jersey and Maryland in recent years found that death-penalty cases are more harmful to the families of victims than cases that end with life sentences.
“The commission finds that regardless of whether or not a survivor supports an execution, years of court dates, reversals, appeals and exposure to the killer is harmful to the family members of murder victims,” the Maryland commission wrote in its report last year. New Jersey repealed its death penalty in 2007, while Maryland has had a moratorium since 2006.
Across the country, relatives of murder victims say the plodding pace of a death-penalty case in court is difficult.
Phyllis Bricker of Baltimore has sat through 26 years of court hearings since her parents were murdered in 1983. Their killer, John Booth-El, remains on death row. “It’s hard on the family, very hard,” Bricker said. “Your life is on hold because you never know when another trial is coming up, another appeal is coming up.” One time, Bricker said, the defendant turned to her family and said “See you next year.”
Despite the protracted battle, Bricker said she does not favor a sentence of life without parole. She said that option did not exist at the time of the crime and she’s skeptical prisoners would be kept behind bars for life.
The Rev. Cathy Harrington’s daughter, Leslie Ann Mazzara, was killed in 2004 in California. A 2007 plea agreement was reached in which her convicted killer, Eric Copple, got life in prison. “I could see us exhaling,” Harrington said of her family at the sentencing. “I hadn’t realized how tense we were. I didn’t have any room to really grieve properly. I was so busy trying to get through this, never knowing when the phone rang who it was going to be.”
Madoff's prison consultant speaks out
Herb Hoelter, the consultant who played a role in Bernie Madoff case (and runs the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives), has this new commentary in today's New York Daily News. Here is how it starts:
Bernie Madoff's 150-year prison sentence was an affront to the federal criminal justice system. There were a number of idiosyncrasies in his sentencing that even a seasoned expert could not have expected: the length of the sentence, the justification by the court for imposing the sentence and the evolution of a new term to describe people in my profession — "prison coaches."
I've been a professional federal sentencing consultant for more than 32 years. I have worked with hundreds of white-collar offenders over the past 25 years — Madoff, most recently — whose punishments dramatically increased in direct proportion to the government trumpets of justice, punishment and deterrence. Having lived through the past two decades of federal sentencing guidelines (no longer to be "presumed reasonable," ruled the Supreme Court this year), I know that the Madoff sentence was the crown jewel for the government.
In imposing sentence, however, the court ignored virtually all statutory sentencing principles and trumped the defunct federal sentencing guidelines. The sentence was imposed, acknowledged Judge Denny Chin, for symbolic purposes, which violates the supposed blindfolds of our nation's justice system.
The sentence was, of course, within the law. But being within the law does not always mean a sentence is appropriate. Legal scholars will be hard-pressed to find a first-offender sentence of Madoff proportions — the maximum statutory term imposed on each count, to be served consecutively.