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September 26, 2009

Interesting discussion of contributions and legacy of Jeremy Bentham

I just noticed on SSRN this posting of an interesting looking book chapter discussing the contributions and legacy of Jeremy Bentham. Here is the abstract:

Jeremy Bentham is associated in criminology with his invention of the 'Panopticon.' In many ways this appeared as the quintessential disciplinary institution, training subjects to be 'docile' and obedient. Yet Bentham's classical criminology also stressed that actors are rational choice optimisers, and are to be seen as inventive and enterprising rather than servile and mindless. In part, the overemphasis on the Panopticon leads modern criminologists ignore this side of his thinking and to see Bentham as narrowly punitive and disciplinary. But in his later years he turned toward 'pecuniary sanctions', fines and damages, that he regarded as the optimal liberal sanction. Bentham outlined many of the advantages of monetary justice, and advocated their use in relation to almost every crime, in place of the more usual punishments. This chapter suggests a need to reconsider the contribution of Bentham to criminology and penology in terms of such later works and ideas rather than his advocacy of the Panopticon alone.

September 26, 2009 in Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Notable buzz about proportionality review in capital cases

A helpful reader passed along some helpful information about recent developments concerning proportionality review in capital cases.  Here are the basics:

A cert petition in Holmes v. Louisiana, which questions whether the operation of Louisiana’s capital punishment scheme and the State Supreme Court’s proportionality review violate the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against arbitrariness in capital sentencing, was recently spotlighted on SCOTUSblog's Petitions to Watch List here.  Notably, Charles Ogletree & the Houston Institute for Racial Justice at Harvard Law School are counsel of record.  And they have posted this press release on the case.

Relatedly, Bidish Sarma has an interesting little piece on proportionality review that was just posted on the Cardozo Law Review's online site, which can be accessed via this blog post.

September 26, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Could and should new technologies help achieve perfect deterrence?

This amusing article, which is headlined "Fantasy iPhone applications: 20 apps we would like to see," provides a technology suggestion that might help criminal deterrence work even better:

Below we present 20 iPhone apps that we would like to see.  Some will remain the stuff of fantasy without bolt-on hardware, but others should not be too difficult for developers to create....

6) Jail time

Provides instant sentencing guidelines for the most common offences, so would-be criminals can make informed choices. 

I like this idea so much, I am inclined to support its development beyond just an iPhone application.  What if a program like this was pre-loaded on to every computer and could provide a pop-up window every time a computer user seemed to be doing something hinky?  I  would certainly like to believe that many folks would stop using their computers for sex crimes if they were effectively informed about how harsh the guideline sentencing ranges have become for these crimes in the federal system.

September 26, 2009 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 25, 2009

Technocorrections, economic realities and a new privacy/liberty relationship

Today's Washington Post has this interesting article focused on alcohol monitoring devices, which is headlined "Sweat Becomes Offenders' New Snitch: Alcohol-Sniffing Anklet Saves Money but Stirs Privacy Fears."  As this excerpt reveals, the piece discussion various important issues that come up in the context of many technocorrections:

[Bari Lynne] Williams wears a high-tech sensor on her ankle that can detect the faintest whiff of alcohol in her perspiration. If she sneaks a drink, the device will know it -- and so will a judge, who could put her behind bars for violating a court order to avoid alcoholic beverages.

At $12 a day, the anklet is a bargain, compared with $150 a day to house a minor offender such as Williams in the Loudoun County jail, and far less than the $24,332 a year it costs Virginia to keep a felon in state prison.  Best of all, backers say, Williams and other offenders pay the bill.

The biometric anklet represents a recent technological breakthrough whose popularity is gaining as state and local governments search for ways to close budget deficits during the recession. More than half of all states have slashed spending on corrections this year, while some, including New Hampshire, Michigan, California and now Virginia, are closing prisons, releasing some prisoners early or expanding the use of electronic monitoring.

Local governments are also targeting jails for cost-savings. Loudoun, which began using the alcohol-monitoring device 18 months ago, introduced a pilot program last week using anklets with global positioning system technology to track juvenile offenders. Fairfax County Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) hopes to promote the use of it for his county, and a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge applied it to a defendant in a domestic violence case.

But the gadget has also stirred "Big Brother" jitters as technological advances make it easier for governments and corporations to keep tabs on people. While law enforcement has been using satellite-based GPS to track offenders' whereabouts for some time, privacy advocates say the alcohol-monitoring device -- known as Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM -- has taken law enforcement into the realm of continuously and remotely monitoring people's physical condition. "We are at a point where no one could have even imagined 15 years ago," said Albert J. Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University who has written about electronic monitoring and privacy since a New Mexico judge, inspired by Spider-Man comics, became the first to sentence a defendant to home confinement with an electronic monitor.

The driver these days is money. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists 28 states that are squeezing savings from corrections by easing harsh drug laws, laying off staff workers or closing prisons. New Hampshire's governor has proposed using home confinement for habitual drunk drivers, and California lawmakers considered freeing thousands of nonviolent inmates and monitoring them with GPS devices before opting for less-controversial cuts.

As I was reading this piece, I got to thinking about how technology in general and technocorrections in particular could be producing a new a relationship between liberty and privacy.  Before certain modern technologies and technocorrections, one could generally assume that enhanced individual privacy would also advance and ensure enhanced individual liberty.  But, as this story spotlights, due to economic realities and other forces, some offenders who are willing (or required) to give up privacy by being monitored by GPS and SCRAM and other devices may actually be rewarded with increased liberty by being able to avoid extra time in prison or jail. 

Some related posts on GPS tracking and related technocorrections:

September 25, 2009 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Around the blogosphere

Here are some posts of note around the blogosphere to close out the week:

In addition, lots of thoughtful bloggers are talking about the briefs submitted in the Supreme Court case of Pottawattamie County vs. McGhee, which concerns whether prosecutors have "absolute immunity" when presenting false evidence that produces a wrongful conviction.  Posts worth checking out include notable ones from Grits and Crime and Federalism and Simple Justice and The Volokh Conspiracy.

September 25, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Ninth Circuit awaits SCOTUS action on Second Amendment incorporation issue

As detailed in this SCOTUSblog post, the Ninth Circuit decided on Thursday to "put on hold its consideration of a case testing whether the Second Amendment right 'to keep and bear arms' restricts laws passed by state and local governments."  Here's more:

After a hearing before an 11-judge en banc Court in San Francisco, the Court issued an order vacating submission of the case of Nordyke et al. v. King et al. (docket 07-15763), until the Supreme Court acts on pending cases raising the same issue.

Earlier, a three-judge panel of the Circuit Court had extended the Second Amendment to the state, county and city level, through the Fourteenth Amendment.  That ruling was vacated when the Circuit Court agreed to reconsider the issue en banc.   The Supreme Court may act as early as next week on one or more of  three pending cases: National Rifle Association v. Chicago (08-1497), McDonald v. Chicago (08-1521), and Maloney v. Rice (08-1592).  All three are scheduled to be considered at next Tuesday’s private Conference.

How Appealing here links to press coverage of the en banc hearing and also to an audio of the oral argument. 

September 25, 2009 in Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Other states watching Arkansas lethal injection case"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP article discussing arguments yesterday in the Eighth Circuit.  Here is how it starts:

An attorney for four Arkansas death row inmates who are challenging the state's lethal injection procedure told a federal appeals court panel Thursday that even with new methods in place, the process can cause pain and suffering.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case filed on behalf of convicted killers Don William Davis, Jack Harold Jones Jr., Terrick Nooner and Frank Williams Jr.

Other death penalty states are watching the outcome, which isn't expected for several weeks. In fact, an attorney for Missouri death row inmate Reginald Clemons was in court to observe. The issue also drew attention earlier this month after a failed attempt to execute an inmate in Ohio.

Lethal injection had been on hold across the country until a Supreme Court ruling last year in a case out of Kentucky about whether the three-drug combination used in executions causes unconstitutional pain and suffering. Roughly three dozen states use the combination — an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer and a substance to stop the heart.

After that ruling, Arkansas prison officials introduced new procedures. Joe Cordi of the Arkansas Attorney General's office told the panel the new protocol is thorough in trying to ensure that the inmate doesn't suffer. But the attorney for the inmates, Scott Braden, said concerns remain both about the written procedures and how they would be carried out, especially because Arkansas has a history of botched executions.

Seom recent related posts on lethal injection litigation:

September 25, 2009 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Alabama litigation over whether and how homeless sex offenders have to register

This article from Alabama, headlined "Alabama's sex offender laws challenged," spotlights some of the legal difficulties surrounding registration requirements for homeless sex offenders.  Here is how the piece starts:

A Montgomery circuit judge has struck down a portion of the state's sex offender law, saying that a provision that requires indigent offenders to provide a verifiable address as a condition of their release is unconstitutional. Advertisement

Several homeless sex offenders sought to have the Class C felonies that they were charged with for not complying with the law dismissed citing that the provision violated their rights. But the state's top attorney said he's ready to take the cases to the highest court he can to protect children from pedophiles.

Under Alabama's Community Notification Act, incarcerated sex offenders must provide law enforcement officials a verifiable address where they will live 45 days prior to their release.

Failure to comply with that provision is a Class C felony, and the sex offender is immediately taken to county jail upon release. The offender could face 15 years to life in prison if convicted because of the state's Habitual Offender Act, according to briefs filed on behalf of the homeless defendants.

Lawyers for the defendants in the cases argued successfully that they were being punished for not complying with a law that was physically impossible to abide by, and that they were essentially being re-imprisoned after they had served their sentences.

Attorney General Troy King said he is appealing the rulings because an "actual address," which the law requires, can be anything from a homeless shelter to a park bench.

September 25, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 24, 2009

Below-guideline sentence for corrupt Alaska state representative

As detailed in this local article from Alaska, which is headlined "Former Alaska rep gets 6 months in state's bribery scandal," another high-profile white-collar offender has received another high-profile below-guideline federal sentence.  Here are the details:

Former state Rep. Beverly Masek was sentenced to six months in federal prison today for her part in the Alaska political corruption scandal, a lenient punishment that sliced a year from the minimum confinement recommended by federal guidelines.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said Masek betrayed the public trust and the oath of office she took five times in Juneau -- one for each of the two-year terms she served representing the Willow area in the Legislature.  Masek admitted taking two illegal payments in 2003 of $2,000 each from former Veco Corp. chief executive Bill Allen, the second time in payment for spiking an oil-tax bill. Allen, an oil-field contractor, was concerned that the tax bill would hurt his clients.

In delivering a sentence substantially below the 18- to 24-month recommendation in federal guidelines, Beistline cited the long delay between the commission of the crime and its prosecution by federal authorities, who didn't charge Masek until March.  She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

Masek, 45, a former Iditarod musher, cried throughout the 80-minute hearing, including when she promised to obtain sobriety treatment after her prison sentence.  "I feel I've been operating on a broken sled runner," Masek said, recalling her days has a dog musher. "I feel I've been on that broken sled runner for quite a while. I'd really like to fix it."

September 24, 2009 in Booker in district courts, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Judge: Teen too pregnant for jail; She can give birth first, then go, judge says"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local article from Michigan. Here are the details:

A 19-year-old Pontiac woman was to be sentenced to prison Wednesday for her role in a crash that killed her pregnant friend. Instead, she will get a nine-week reprieve because she is now pregnant and due to deliver in five weeks. The sentencing judge said he did not want the child born behind bars.

Alexis D. Wilson stood before Oakland County Circuit Judge Edward Sosnick. Sosnick told her she would have to report for sentencing Nov. 25. Her baby is due Nov. 1.

Wilson, who is unemployed, faces 43 to 86 months in prison for the July 6, 2008, death of Tamia Williams, 17. Blood tests, taken at the scene but completed almost six months later, showed traces of marijuana in Wilson.

She pleaded no contest earlier this year to driving while intoxicated causing death, manslaughter with a motor vehicle and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, causing a miscarriage.

Her attorney, Cyril Hall, said there was no evidence marijuana was a cause. "There is no evidence whatsoever that this accident was the result of intoxication," he said. "It's like drinking 30 days ago, then you get stopped today and arrested for drunk driving."

However, under Michigan law, drivers who have marijuana in their bloodstream at the time of an accident are guilty of a crime.

September 24, 2009 in Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

"Time for a Moratorium to Rethink Executions"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary now up at The Huffington Post authored by Ohio's Secretary of State (and US Senate candidate), Jennifer Brunner.  The piece springboards off the failed execution attempt of Romell Broom in Ohio last week to set forth a fairly thorough (and rambling) assault on the death penalty on Ohio or anywhere else.  Here are a few excerpts from an interesting piece that might shake up the status quo concerning capital punishment in Ohio:

I am running for the United States Senate because I believe that public service is for the purpose of helping our fellow citizens realize improvement in their lives.  I believe that a government that treats its citizens with fairness, equality and respect, brings peace and justice to its citizens.  In this framework, killing in retribution for killing has no place.  It is in the community of sharing each other's burdens that we bridge the human chasm we cannot comprehend....

After Broom's execution was called off, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio asked state officials to immediately halt executions. "Ohio's execution system is fundamentally flawed. If the state is going to take a person's life, they must ensure that it is done as humanely as possible," ACLU Ohio counsel Carrie Davis said. "With three botched executions in as many years, it's clear that the state must stop and review the system entirely before another person is put to death."

I agree....

I cannot condone a system that perpetuates the pain from which sprang the punishment. A civilized society does not abide barbarism to ease its pain. It is not justice for me. Even when those who represent me and make the laws say that it is, I say that the people have said, "Then if this is justice, it must not perpetuate the cruelty from which it has sprung." It must neither torment its recipients nor its administrators.

In Ohio, after a 30-month review of the state's death penalty system, a team of Ohio legal experts, working under the auspices of the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, issued a report on September 24, 2007 calling for a temporary halt to executions in Ohio in light of numerous problems the team uncovered....

The failed attempted execution of Romell Broom is the latest reason to end the death penalty in Ohio. Since 1976 Ohio has executed 32 people. That puts Ohio in the top 10 of states and it's a top 10 we must exit....

Now is the time to rethink, first, how we kill, and then move on to the larger question of whether we even should kill in the first place.  We must begin to be the change we seek to improve individual lives one-by-one with temperance, patience and understanding.  We must focus on the improvements that shape and build and strengthen individual lives in our communities.  We must recognize and internalize that all are entitled to the basic rights as we the people have determined in our constitutions and entrusted to our courts to protect.  And when one of us violates those rights, we must continue to abide by these principles in addressing it.

There is much discussion ahead as we dare to embrace the change that lay before us. With your help I can begin that discussion in the Senate along with many other thoughtful and diverse minds.

In the interim I call for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty to allow the dialog to begin once again -- not just about how people are put to death, but whether they should be.  Like 15 other states that have outlawed prisoner executions, I believe that answer is no. I ask that you join me.

September 24, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Oregon Supreme Court declares two non-capital sentences disproportionate

A helpful reader altered me to today's ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court in State v. Rodriguez/Buck, No. S055720 (Ore. Sept 24, 2009) (available here), in which the Court relies on the state's constitutional proportionality provision to deem two sentences in two sex offense cases too long. Here is how the opinion starts:

These two criminal cases, which we consolidated for argument and disposition, require us to interpret and apply the requirement in Article I, section 16, of the Oregon Constitution that "all penalties shall be proportioned to the offense."

Veronica Rodriguez touched a 13-year-old boy when, standing behind him in a room with 30 to 50 other people, she brought the back of his head into contact with her clothed breasts for about one minute. Darryl Buck touched a 13-year-old girl when the girl, who was sitting next to him while she was fishing, leaned back to cast her fishing line, bringing her clothed buttocks into contact with the back of his hand and Buck failed to move his hand; that happened one or two more times. When they stood up, Buck brushed dirt off the back of the girl's shorts with two swipes of his hand. Each of those touchings was unlawful because a jury in Rodriguez's case and a judge in Buck's case found that they had been for a sexual purpose -- a fact that brought the physical contact within the definition of first-degree sexual abuse. ORS 163.427(1)(a)(A). Rodriguez and Buck were both convicted of that crime.

First-degree sexual abuse carries a mandatory sentence of six years and three months (75 months) in prison, under Ballot Measure 11 (1994). In each of these cases, however, the trial judge determined that the mandatory sentence was not "proportioned to the offense" committed by the defendant and therefore was unconstitutional under Article I, section 16. The trial courts imposed shorter sentences -- 16 months in the case of Rodriguez and 17 months in the case of Buck. The state appealed the trial courts' sentencing rulings, and Rodriguez and Buck cross-appealed their convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, but agreed with the state that the trial courts should have imposed mandatory 75-month sentences.  State v. Rodriguez, 217 Or App 351, 174 P3d 1100 (2007); State v. Buck, 217 Or App 363, 174 P3d 1106 (2007).

Defendants filed petitions for review, which we allowed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendants' convictions. However, we reverse the decisions of the Court of Appeals as to sentencing and affirm the sentences imposed by the trial courts. We conclude that the imposition of the mandatory 75-month sentence for first-degree sexual abuse, as applied to the facts of Rodriguez's and Buck's offenses, would violate the constitutional requirement that the penalty be proportioned to the offense.

September 24, 2009 in Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

State judge makes pitch for ignition locks for drunk drivers

Thanks to a helpful commentor, I just noticed this terrific Slate piece in which a retired state court judge makes an effective pitch for one of my favorite modern technocorrection punishment : ignition locks for drunk drivers.  The piece is headlined "Baby, You Can't Drive Your Car: A judge's favorite punishment for drunken drivers—ignition-interlock," and it discusses lots of legal reform issues that transcend just how to deal with drunk drivers:

On May 28, 1987, I became the first judge in the state of California to order convicted drunken drivers to install ignition-interlock devices in their cars.  The device is designed to stop people who have been drinking alcohol from starting their cars by requiring them first to blow into it.  If there is alcohol on the driver's breath, the device will not allow the ignition system to operate.

Ordering convicted drunken drivers to install these devices seems to me a matter of common sense and basic safety.  But in fact, the matter proved far more complicated.  The California courts may soon require judges to follow my lead on ignition-interlock sentencing.  But it has taken more than 20 years and new legislation, which is on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk awaiting his signature. Why has it taken so long?  And why do we need a law mandating such an obvious safety measure when judges could put it into effect themselves?

My own history suggests one unsettling answer.  Early on, my fellow judges did not support my ignition-interlock sentences. Judges, no less than the rest of us, resist change. My colleagues who were assigned to calendars filled with drunken driving charges wanted to dispose of these cases quickly and quietly, obtaining guilty pleas as early in the process as possible. Completing the additional paperwork that went with ignition-interlock devices did not sit well with them.

Then came the totally unexpected opposition from the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In their view, the ignition-interlock devices weren't punitive enough; they preferred more jail time for drunken drivers. Incarceration, however, is a temporary remedy. As the recidivism numbers clearly demonstrate, convicted drunken drivers return to the roads in numbers too great to ignore.

And finally, in my own court, as I continued to order the installation of ignition-interlock systems, I started to worry about fairness, since the devices are expensive....

Today, almost all 50 states have laws permitting the imposition of ignition-interlock devices as sentencing alternatives for drunken drivers. The devices have a proven track record as an effective deterrent.  The American Journal of Preventive Medicine notes that five out of six studies found that interlocks reduced the rate of recidivism for DWI charges.  Participants in the interlock programs were 15 percent to 69 percent less likely than other offenders to be rearrested for drunken driving.

And yet, as a recent New York Times op-ed noted, while the effectiveness of the devices is clear, judges often fail to order the installations, even when the law requires it. Anecdotally, you can take your pick of explanations: too much paperwork; too much court time to review the results of the breath printouts; opposition to any other sentencing options other than jail; ignorance of the fact that this is a sentencing alternative.  In any case, just as convicted drunken drivers must be made to use the devices, judges must be made to order them.  The well-documented carnage on our highways and the tremendous economic impact wreaked upon us by drunken drivers are far too great to leave to judicial whim.

In California, the bill on the governor's desk, which passed earlier this month, would require judges to order the installation of ignition-interlock devices in the vehicles of convicted first-time and repeat drunken drivers, as a pilot project in the counties of Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare.  If Gov. Schwarzenegger signs the bill, the pilot program would start in July 2010 and become statewide law in 2016.  This legislation is supported by a wide array of law enforcement agencies, including MADD, which has changed its stance on ignition-interlock sentencing.

Schwarzenegger should sign the bill. It will make our judges better.  And it will make our streets safer.  Finally.

There are so many important insights and lessons to be drawn from this story, especially as it relates to the institutional status quo biases that often prevents sensible and effective sentencing and punishment reforms from gaining traction.  Here is hoping not only that ignition locks soon become a standard punishment term for drunk driving, but also that this story helps folks interested in "smart on crime" reforms to understand the structural challenges that make even the soundest sentencing changes hard to achieve.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

September 24, 2009 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

SCOTUS stays Texas execution based on pending Alabama case

As detailed in this AP report, the "U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday night stopped the scheduled execution of Texas death row inmate Kenneth Mosley a day before he was to receive lethal injection for the fatal shooting of a suburban Dallas police officer."  Here's why:

The court agreed to halt the lethal injection until it resolves an Alabama death penalty case that Mosley's attorney said could affect his case. The Alabama case, to be heard by the high court in November, centers on whether a trial lawyer was constitutionally deficient in failing to raise objections during the punishment phase of the trial.

Mosley's attorneys have raised similar claims, saying his trial attorneys were deficient for not objecting to victim impact testimony from the officer's wife and for not calling witnesses to testify about Mosley's drug and alcohol addictions. Mosley, 51, was condemned for the February 1997 shooting death of Garland Officer Michael David Moore. Moore was responding to a 911 call about a robbery at a bank.

September 24, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A Bill James furlough for a jailed Red Sox fan

I became a Bill James fan as a kid after reading the baseball guru's extraordinary analysis of a seemingly meaningless loss mid-season by the Kansas City Royals in the mid 1980s.  Two decades later, I recall this memory because of this local sentencing story, which is headlined "Jailed Red Sox fan in Iowa gets Royal treatment," sent my way by a helpful reader.  Here are excerpts:

It’s like a little bit of the Bay State in the Corn Belt. Red Sox Nation citizenship got one Hawkeye out of jail for the day.

Taking a page from furlough-happy Massachusetts jurisprudence, an Iowa judge sprung a jailed man so he could watch his beloved Red Sox play the Kansas City Royals last night.

Randy Barker is half-way through two concurrent 10-day sentences for violation of a protective order, but prior to his conviction last week, his dad scored tickets to the Sox Midwest showdown, according to his court-appointed lawyer, Margaret King. She told the court Barker is a diehard Sox fan.

In a move King called “compassionate,” magistrate Benny Waggoner allowed Barker’s father and brother to pick him up from jail, drive him the four hours to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, then bring him back, she said. “He’s going to be allowed to go with his daddy and brother. They’ll bring him back tonight,” she said. “It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody trusts everybody . . . Everybody had a lot of compassion for him.”

When reached, the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office in Keosauqua, Iowa, said no one was available to comment on the arrest. County Attorney Craig Miller said he objected to the decision, but not strenously “under the circumstances.” “I opposed the motion, because he was serving a jail sentence,” Miller said. “I think the judge made the decision, trying to be fair to the defendant and to the family.”

September 24, 2009 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 23, 2009

Charting the uncertain future for death row inmates left behind after New Mexico repeal

This interesting local article from New Mexico, which is headlined "Uncertain Fates: NM’s next governor could commute death sentences," discusses the uncertainty that surrounds the fate of the two condemned murderers that were left on death row even after New Mexico repealed its death penalty earlier this year. Here is how it starts:

And you thought capital punishment was dead. Although the New Mexico Legislature voted to repeal the death penalty in March, the new law doesn’t impact the two men currently on death row or any others who could be sentenced to death for crimes committed before July 2009.

Gov. Bill Richardson told reporters at the bill signing that he wouldn’t use his pardon power to commute the remaining sentences, and so death-penalty opponents looked to the New Mexico Supreme Court for relief.

In May, the court’s justices entertained the idea of finishing what the Legislature started, during oral arguments in the case of accused deputy-killer Michael Astorga. They, too, left the issue hanging when they quashed Astorga’s appeal, without explanation, on Sept. 17.

This volleys the death penalty into the voters’ court: The next governor will have the power to commute the sentences of those left on death row.

September 23, 2009 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Gubernatorial candidates discuss California prison reforms

This front-page article from today's Sacramento Bee, which is headlined "Gubernatorial hopefuls split on California prison changes," suggests that mostly standard ideas are coming from the leading candidates looking to take over one of the most dysfunctional sentencing and prison states.  Here are the highlights from the piece:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't done battling federal judges over plans to relieve California prison overcrowding. But as Schwarzenegger's last year in office approaches, much of the burden for cutting state inmate numbers will fall to the chief executive who follows him.

Schwarzenegger filed a plan last week to ease overcrowding that falls well short of a demand by a three-judge panel that he reduce the population by 40,000 inmates within two years. That means the four declared gubernatorial candidates as well as Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is widely expected to run, face questions about how they would act to fix what everyone acknowledges is a broken state corrections system.

In conversations with The Bee, they've laid out two distinct visions:

Two of the Republican candidates, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, have rejected proposals that would let inmates out early or keep some parole violators out of prison. The two have also called for building more prisons to relieve overcrowding and sending inmates to other states with surplus bed space.

On the other side are Democrat Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, and Republican Tom Campbell, a former congressman, both of whom support reworking prison and parole guidelines to divert more inmates into parole and keeping some parole violators out of prison.

Brown, in interviews with The Bee, declined to comment on specific reform proposals, saying that as attorney general he has to enforce whatever proposals become law. But in the past he has been harshly critical of a prison system that he said grew as a result of media-driven fears and profiteering by private corrections companies and prison guards.

Both he and Newsom said that reducing the state's nation-high recidivism rate – estimated at more than 70 percent – would go a long way to easing prison overcrowding. "We're simply not preparing these prisoners for life outside of the system," Newsom said, "and the issue of re-entry programs becomes critical. Therein lies our big focus, at least mine."

Whitman and Poizner, on the other hand, have tried to out-tough each other, railing against legislation passed last month by the state Senate that would have let some inmates out earlier and appointed a commission to rework state sentencing laws.

September 23, 2009 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Lil Boosie Gets Two-Year Prison Sentence For Drug Possession"

And now from the entertainment sentencing news desk, as the title of this post is the headline of this sentencing story from MTV.  Here are the basic details:

Louisiana rapper Lil Boosie (born Torrence Hatch) pleaded guilty to a third-offense marijuana possession charge on Tuesday and was sentenced to two years in prison. The plea deal came just one day before it was announced that the MC's latest album, Superbad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz, will debut in the top 10 on next week's Billboard albums chart.

According to Baton Rouge station WBRZ, Boosie will serve at least one year in prison after prosecutors reached an agreement with his lawyers in which all but two years of a 10-year sentence were suspended. The rapper will also be on active supervised probation for two to five years after his release from prison. If he completes his probation, the gun charge will be dropped.

"I'm ready to get this behind me," Boosie, 25, told Judge Chip Moore one week before he was scheduled to stand trial in connection with his October 22 arrest.  During the incident, East Baton Rouge sheriff's deputies found a bag of marijuana, a cigar loaded with weed and another unspecified drug and a gun in a car driven by Boosie.  At the time, he was charged with third-offense possession of marijuana, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, as well as possession of a firearm with a controlled dangerous substance, a crime that carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison term.

The judge set a November 9 sentencing date and strongly warned Boosie to stay out of trouble and away from drugs, guns and convicted felons between now and his sentencing, according to WBRZ. If the rapper is rearrested, tests positive for drugs or fails to show up for his November sentencing date, the judge warned the consequences will be harsh. "When I do catch up with you, I can assure you I will not abide by this agreement of 10 years. It will be much more," Moore said.

September 23, 2009 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Ninth Circuit upholds barring from San Francisco as a supervised release condition

SF bridge

A Ninth Circuit panel today has an interesting ruling upholding an unusual condition of supervised release in US v. Watson, No. 08-10385 (9th Cir. Sept. 24, 2009) (available here). Here is how it starts:

Deandre Watson, who pled guilty to carjacking pursuant to a plea agreement containing a waiver of the right to appeal, challenges a condition of his supervised release barring him from entering San Francisco without the prior approval of his probation officer. He argues that the district court did not provide the necessary notice before issuing this condition and that the condition itself violates his “constitutional rights to travel and move, to freedom of association, to intimate association with his family and related rights.”

A waiver of the right to appeal does not bar a defendant from challenging an illegal sentence. We conclude, however, that the disputed supervised release condition directing Watson to stay out of San Francisco during the term of his super vised release unless he obtains permission from his probation officer is not unlawful. It is reasonably tied to the court’s stated aims of rehabilitation and deterrence and is no more restrictive than reasonably necessary to serve those purposes. Nor do we find here any of the other circumstances that cause a waiver of appeal to be ineffective. The language of Watson’s plea agreement waiver encompasses this appeal and the waiver was knowingly and voluntarily made given the circumstances surrounding the agreement. We accordingly dismiss the appeal.

September 23, 2009 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Still another noteworthy federal child porn downloading sentence

This local story, headlined "Teacher sentenced in child pornography case," provides yet another noteworthy example of the variation and uncertainty that surrounds federal child porn sentencing. Here are some unique parts of this sentencing story that drew my attention:

Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV, whose federal courtroom was awash in competing human tragedies, yesterday sentenced a former teacher of the year to 70 months in prison for possession of child pornography.

The case of Gregg Woodward, 46, formerly of Milford, confronted the judge with the feelings read by prosecutor Karin M. Bell of a young woman whose image was found on Mr. Woodward’s computer because she had been raped and photographed by her father when she was 10 and 11 years old: that she was being raped over and over again when she discovered that the pictures of her could be viewed forever by people like Mr. Woodward on their computers.

But defense lawyer Raymond A. O’Hara said that law enforcement investigated and found no evidence Mr. Woodward, a Foxboro High School teacher, had ever used public computers to view pornography, much less acted out his fantasies to abuse children. He said the law needs to make a distinction between voyeurs and predators.

But the case of the defendant, whose parents live in Millbury, became even more serious after he was incarcerated in Wyatt Detention facility in Rhode Island following his guilty plea. He was distributing to other inmates hand-drawn images depicting the rape and torture of minor children, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Bell. A search of his cell in the protective custody section of the jail in April also turned up a handwritten, illustrated 65-page document of stories and plays focusing on the rape and torture of minor girls by family members, Ms. Bell said.

Following that incident Judge Saylor allowed a motion by Mr. O’Hara to have Mr. Woodward hospitalized in a prison psychiatric facility because his client “feared he was no longer in control of his thoughts or actions” and suffered “auditory and visual hallucinations.” Mr. O’Hara said that his client had been cut off from medications and counseling following his March 31, 2008 arrest by the FBI....

The prosecutor, who recommended a sentence of 87 months in prison, said that in addition to the direct harm to the subjects of pornography, those who buy it create the demand that provides the incentive for people to produce it. She also objected to the defense of what Mr. Woodward did not do — abuse girls in person.

But Mr. O’Hara said there is something wrong with a justice system that sentences a man who lured an underage girl to Massachusetts to have torrid sex with him to less time — 60 month’s in prison as happened in federal court in Boston last year — than the government is seeking for Mr. Woodward, who is charged only with viewing pornography. Less than 20 years ago he said he had a case in which defendants who received pornography passed a lie detector test indicating they had never abused a child nor had a tendency to do so and “the case disappeared” because of the apparent policy of the U.S. Attorney’s office back then....

Judge Saylor said that he was torn by this “unusually difficult case” and other pornography cases. As a parent he is appalled by child pornography, but numerous of his fellow federal judges have testified that they feel the advisory guidelines for pornography are too severe. He discounted the increased sentence the guidelines call for merely for using a computer to view pornography and sentenced Mr. Woodward to less than the 78 to 97 months the guidelines otherwise would have called for.

Some related federal child porn prosecution and sentencing posts:

September 23, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack