December 26, 2009
"Md. girl's death sharpens criticism of sex offender laws"The title of this post is the headline of this new local article reporting on the unsurprising response to the latest brutal high-profile crime by a registered sex offender in Maryland. Here are excerpts:
Not even a full day after police found the body of an 11-year-old girl who was kidnapped, authorities say, by a registered sex offender, the Salisbury tragedy was spotlighted by Maryland activists who consider the state's child protection laws inadequate.
Jerry Norton, who heads Citizens for Jessica's Law in Maryland, a group that for years has fought to fortify laws against pedophiles, was calling lawmakers Saturday, underscoring his position....
Police said the girl had been taken from her bedroom Tuesday night by a registered sex offender, Thomas James Leggs Jr., who has been held since Wednesday in the abduction. Leggs briefly dated the girl's aunt, who had custody of her and her two siblings....
Leggs, 30, is listed in the Maryland registry because of a third-degree sex offense conviction in 1998. In Delaware, he is listed as a "high-risk" sex offender in connection with the rape of a minor in 2001.
Norton is flabbergasted that a man who raped a minor could be free so soon and associating with children. "What . . . is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?" he said. "I think the problem is with these guys going through a revolving door."
State Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) co-sponsored Maryland's version of Jessica's Law, a bill passed in 2006 that set sentencing guidelines for child sex offenders. It's named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, sexually abused and killed by a convicted child sex offender.
At the urging of activists such as Norton, Jacobs and other legislators have tried unsuccessfully to tighten the law to prevent offenders from getting parole. She thought Sarah's case would "absolutely" inspire legislators to reinforce the law. "I've already had e-mails from people asking about it," Jacobs said. "It's about how far can we go, and I'm in favor as going as far as we can."
Jacobs also said the case exposes weaknesses in how Maryland communicates with other states about child sex offenders. If Leggs was considered "high risk" in Delaware, she thinks he should have been in Maryland, too.
Del. Mike D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil), who, heading into the 2010 legislative session, has pre-filed three bills that would tighten child sex offender laws, said he has been "seething" over the Salisbury case.
He's considering such options as civil incarceration, cracking down on plea bargains and allowing wiretapping of suspected child sex offenders. "We have very strict laws in Maryland, but I think more has to be done," he said. "These child predators are incorrigible. We have to find ways to deal with this threat to our community."
"Smart Answers to Recidivism"The title of this post is the headline of this notable New York Times editorial. Here are excerpts:
Faced with soaring prison costs, states are finally focusing on policies that would help former prisoners stay out of jail after they are released. Some legislatures are reshaping laws that land parolees back inside for technical violations that should be dealt with on the outside. More than a dozen cities and counties have taken steps that make it easier for qualified ex-offenders to land government jobs, except in education and law enforcement and other sensitive areas from which people with convictions are normally barred by law.
Still, the nation as a whole needs to do much more about laws that marginalize former offenders — and often drive them back to jail — by denying them voting rights, parental rights, drivers licenses and access to public housing, welfare and food stamps, even in cases where they have led blameless lives after prison.
New Jersey — a state with a terrible record of marginalizing former prisoners — could lead the way. Before the State Legislature in Trenton is a comprehensive package of reforms that would help ex-offenders rejoin society’s mainstream and lower the chances, and costs, of recidivism.
New Jersey lawmakers heard some depressing testimony in hearings leading up to the legislation. Deterred by barriers to jobs, housing and education, about two-thirds of the people released from prison in New Jersey end up back inside within three years. Since taxpayers spend about $48,000 per prison inmate per year, by some estimates, the state could reap significant savings from even a small decline in the return-to-prison rate....
The New Jersey Legislature has a chance to provide a new lease on life to thousands of families while offering a model for the rest of the nation.
Rough first holiday season for Bernie Madoff in prisonThis ABC News report permits an extra little bit of Bernie Madoff schadenfreude this holiday season:
Bernie Madoff fell out of bed and suffered facial injuries, according to ABC affiliate WTVD in North Carolina. The affiliate had initially reported that the convicted Ponzi schemer had facial fractures, broken ribs and a collapsed lung consistent with an assault, but is now reporting he experienced heavy facial bleeding from the fall. Duke University Medical Center said Madoff had been treated there, according to the Associated Press.
Bernie Madoff attorney Ira Sorkin told ABC News that Madoff was admitted to the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure.
December 24, 2009
Obama as Scrooge: no Christmas clemency grants
As I complained in posts here and here and here around Thanksgiving, it was sad and telling that President Barack Obama's first use of his historic clemency power was to continue the modern (silly?) tradition of pardoning a turkey. At that time, however, I was hoping that Prez Obama might be saving up some holiday clemencies for the Christmas season. But now the Obamas have gone off to Hawaii on their vacation; as this official webpage reveals, Prez Obama has left behind on Christmas Eve nearly 3,500 requests for pardons and commutations sitting unresolved on his Oval Office desk.
In this new Huffington Post commentary, which is titled "What I Want For Christmas: Mass Clemency," Jacob Appel makes a fulsome pitch for all executive branch leaders to consider the granting of mass clemency this holiday season. Here are some highlights:
[W]ith the United States now boasting the highest incarceration rate in the world -- more than 1 in every 100 Americans in currently behind bars -- our nation is long overdue for a mass clemency of non-violent felons and those unlikely to re-offend. Such a collective pardon and commutation would reunite hundreds of thousands of families, save billions of dollars in incarceration costs, and might foster a national spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation....
So here's my Christmas wish: Each chief executive should order a special panel to determine, as quickly as possible, which prisoners either have a history of extreme violence or pose a high risk of re-offending. Those meeting neither criteria should be transitioned home as quickly as possible....
One of the glaring -- yet too often overlooked -- failings of contemporary America is that we have become a nation obsessed with justice and retribution. We claim to be The Land of the Free, yet we have lost sight of what it means to be imprisoned: denied liberty and access to one's family, subjected to isolation and violence and unspeakable boredom. We have come to believe, in the most pernicious way, that people should get what they deserve. What a sea change it might be in our public discourse and our civic life if we focused instead upon mercy and forgiveness. A merciful and forgiving culture might find itself with less anger, less social disruption, and even less crime. If we liberated only half of our prisoners, we could spend the billions of dollars saved educating children, or providing substance-abuse treatment to addicts, or training mental health workers -- breaking the cycle of neglect that sets future prisoners on their initial trajectory toward misconduct....
Fortunately, the majority of our more than two million prisoners are not fanatics and sociopaths. Many are good people who have exercised poor judgment. They have the same hopes and dreams as ordinary, free Americans, but they now squander their lives behind bars because our prison-industrial complex has gone haywire. They are, in short, the meek and wretched who the Biblical Jesus -- whether literal or figurative -- would want us to remember in our holiday prayers.
Will the White House read this column and decide upon a mass clemency? Unlikely. Such a bold step might make President Obama truly worthy of his Nobel Prize, and win him the praise of history, but political leaders of all stripes think in terms of poll numbers. I suspect that a mass clemency could be sold to the American public -- particularly as more and more Americans find their own loved ones imprisoned -- but I understand that to attempt such a courageous step requires a leap of considerable faith. I am more optimistic that, if enough people clamor for a mass clemency, one inspired state governor -- possibly a lame-duck chief executive without a political future -- will consider such a dramatic and compassionate act. If that happens, and the social order does not crumble, other political leaders may have the courage to follow. In the interim, I can only hope that the government lawyers assembling last-minute pardons lists, possibly as I write this, remember that each name they add to their clemency register is another flesh-and-blood human being who will be able to spent the Christmas holiday with his or her family.
While I am impressed by Appel's pitch for mass clemencies, I would have been grateful if President Obama would have granted even a single clemency before heading off to the islands. In this Thanksgiving post, I called out President Obama and the criminal justice members of his White House team as turkeys. Now, this Christmas Eve, the label Scrooge seems fitting for all these folks.
Relatedly, as I have suggested before, I think that the media, public policy groups and the left side of the blogosphere also merit some spiritual grief this Christmas eve. Save for an few commentaries like Appel's, there has been precious little media or blogosphere criticism of the failure of President Obama to bring any hope or change to modern federal clemency stinginess. Sadly, far too many criminal justice groups and bloggers, who should be making a big stink about Obama's failure to show a true concern for the meek and wretched sitting in prison this holiday season, seem to be content tucked in their beds without stirring this night before Christmas.
Some related posts on federal clemency realities:
- The true sentencing turkeys on this Thanksgiving eve
- Justified complaints that Obama's first pardon will be of a turkey
- "President Barack Obama proving stingy with his pardon power"
- Notable press stories noting Obama's lack of clemency action
- A simple plea for Prez Obama: grant at least a single clemency in your first 100 days
- Historical evidence that it is NOT too early to start demanding clemencies from President Obama
- When will President Obama start acting like President Lincoln when it comes to the clemency power?
- "The Fall of the Presidential Pardon"
- What might 2009 have in store for . . . executive clemency?
No happy ending in sentencing appeal by defendant involved in (illegal) happy endings
A panel of the Seventh Circuit issued an interesting little sentencing opinion yesterday in US v. Young, No. 08-2357 (7th Cir. Dec. 23, 2009) (available here). The start of the Young opinion helps explain the title of this post:
Bok Young helped to run a day spa in Highland, Indiana, at which she and other workers provided sexual massages to spa customers. She was arrested when the spa was raided by local and federal agents. Young eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to use the facilities of interstate commerce to facilitate prostitution, see 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1952(a)(3), and the district court ordered her to serve a prison term of eighteen months, the minimum term called for by the Sentencing Guidelines. Young appeals, contending that the district court made two errors in calculating her Guidelines range: characterizing Young’s role in the offense as that of a manager or supervisor, see U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(b) and (c), and treating Young’s co-workers as victims whom she had enticed to engage in prohibited sexual conduct, see U.S.S.G. § 2G1.1(d). Young also argues that the court failed to give meaningful attention to the mitigating factors she cited as a basis for a lower sentence, and that the sentence imposed by the court is unreasonable. We affirm.
Two notable end-of-year appeals to SCOTUS
Thanks to How Appealing, I saw these two articles reporting on notable new sentencing appeals come from state officials to the US Supreme Court:
From the San Jose Mercury News here, "Schwarzenegger makes last plea to U.S. Supreme Court in prison case"
- From the Louisville Courier-Journal here, "Sex-offender case appealed to U.S. Supreme Court"
Because the Supreme Court has so far dodged the California prison litigation, I am not sure Schwarzenegger is likely to get the Justices to take the case up now. Similarly, though the sex offender case from Kentucky presents SCOTUS with a first opportunity to consider sex offender residency restrictions, I have an inkling that the Justices may be inclined to GVR the Kentucky AG's appeal after the Court addresses various ex post facto issues in the pending Carr case (which concerns sex offender registration requirements).
UPDATE: In this post at C&C, Kent indicates that the Schwarzenegger appeal provides "very little to decide, as this is one of those rare cases where Congress has provided for an appeal rather than a writ of certiorari. It is not in the Court's discretion to take it or not. If they have jurisdiction, they have to take it." I trust Kent's judgment here, though I suspect the Justices can figure out a way to dodge this case if they really set their mind to it. Remember, SCOTUS is not final because it is infallible, it is infallible because it is final.
Second Circuit amends Stewart sentencing ruling to suggest need for longer sentenceAs detailed in this New York Law Journal article, which is headlined "Amended Ruling Could Mean Tougher Term for Disbarred Terror Case Lawyer," the Second Circuit has tweaked its recent ruling in the Lynne Stewart case to suggest even more strongly that a longer prison term may be required. Here is the NYLJ report:
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released an amended opinion on the resentencing of Lynne Stewart on Wednesday, adding language that appears to require Judge John Koeltl to consider a much longer sentence for the disbarred lawyer. The circuit had ruled on Nov. 17 that the 28-month sentence Koeltl gave Stewart for helping imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman pass messages to his followers in an alleged terror group in Egypt was too low.
A majority told Judge Koeltl to make a finding on whether Stewart committed perjury at trial and examine in greater detail her abuse of her position as a lawyer -- two factors that would both increase the sentence and help the circuit evaluate whether it was reasonable. But new language was added Wednesday at the end of the amended opinion requiring Koeltl to revisit the terrorism enhancement in the federal sentencing guidelines "and take that enhancement into account" -- which could add years to Stewart's sentence....
The amended opinion also directs Judge Koeltl to reweigh the fact that no persons were actually harmed by the passing of messages to and from the sheikh.
The amended opinions in US v. Stewart, which now runs 199 pages(!), can be accessed at this link.
December 23, 2009
Maine's high court finds part of sex offender registration law unconstitutionalAs detailed in this local press report, the "Maine Supreme Judicial Court has found some of the provisions of Maine's sex offender registry law are unconstitutional." Here are more details:
Attorney General Janet Mills says the court upheld most of the sex offender registry law, but found that some specific retroactive provisions violated both state and federal constitutional provisions that severely limit what are called ex post facto laws. "Those parts that they found extra burdensome in retroactive application are the lifetime registration and the 90 day in-person registration, absent some kind of waiver provision that used to be in the law. Absent some remedy for the individual to say, 'I no longer should have to register.'"
Mills says she's pleased that the court found that the state has the authority to require sex offenders to register with the state and that the public should have the ability to see who is on that list. She believes the Legislature can fix the law to meet the objections of the court and says she will work with lawmakers to craft a measure that will meet constitutional muster.
The full 54-page ruling in Maine v. Letalien is available here.
Sentencing chapter of balloon boy hoaxI fear we are not yet done hearing about the balloon boy parents. But today they were each sentenced to a few weeks in jail for their hoax. Was justice served, dear readers?
UPDATE: Now back at my desktop, I can link to this CNN coverage of the sentencing (which includes a video clip for the ballon-boy-obsessed).
"Judges seek flexibility in child porn cases"The title of this post is the headline of this new article in USA Today discussing a facet of post-Booker federal sentencing well-known to regular readers of this blog. Here are excerpts:
People convicted of possessing child pornography are getting support from an unexpected source: federal judges. In hearings across the country, defense attorneys and federal judges are asking the U.S. Sentencing Commission to allow judges greater flexibility to give lighter sentences for possession of child pornography when no other crime is involved....
Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, says judges already give sentences that are lighter than the guidelines. He says they sometimes minimize the crimes by not examining the pornography involved and are too often swayed by defendants who appear before them and do not match society's stereotypes of people who look at child porn.
"Doctors, lawyers, business executives, schoolteachers, police officers — they come out of mainstream America," Allen says. "So in a lot of situations, judges look at them and say, 'They're not dangerous,' or they minimize it and say, 'This is just kiddie porn.' "
U.S. District Judge William Sessions, chairman of the commission and chief judge of the district of Vermont, says judges have been nearly unanimous that the guidelines and the mandatory minimums restrict their ability to sentence convicts based on the specifics of each case and defendant. He says police and prosecutors want to maintain them intact to serve as deterrents to crime, and to use possible sentence reductions as incentives to win defendants' cooperation in investigations.
A few related recent child porn federal sentencing posts:
- ABA Journal covers the controversies over federal child porn sentences
- Potent DOJ response to ABA Journal article about federal child porn sentencing
- Potent response to DOJ account of federal child porn sentencing
- Strong sentencing opinion noting disparities in federal child porn downloading cases
- More examples of sentencing uncertainty surrounding federal child porn cases
- Effective review of federal uptick in child-porn prosecutions
- Documenting the uptick in child porn prosecutions
- "Does the punishment fit the crime for child porn?"
- "Federal judges argue for reduced sentences for child-porn convicts"
- Effective local reporting on realities and debates surrounding federal sentencing guidelines for child porn
December 22, 2009
Are federal prosecutors acting worse or are judges just starting to notice?
Two new and notable stories of federal prosecutorial misconduct have caught my attention the last few days. And these headlines discussing these stories prompt the question in the title of this post:
From the Fulton County Daily Report here, "Judge Blasts U.S. Attorneys' Pursuit of High-Profile Defense Lawyer"
- From the Cato @ Liberty blog here, "Judge Dresses Down Federal Prosecutors"
The particulars of both of these stories of prosecutors gone wild could likely justify a full book and not merely a few blog posts. But rather than focus on the particulars here, I wanted to pose the broader question of whether the rash of these kinds of stories suggests that prosecutorial misconduct is on the rise or if, instead, judges are just becoming more observant of (and more likely to call out) prosecutors acting badly.
I am inclined to speculate that the answer to the question of this post is "a little of both." I fear that lately prosecutors are a bit more likely to push the ethical envelope, and I hope that lately judges are a bit more likely to call prosecutors out for their transgressions.
Tenth Circuit affirms (way-below-guideline) probation sentence for sympathetic drug muleA panel of the Tenth Circuit today in US v. Sayad, No. 08-1366 (10th Cir. Dec. 23, 2009) (available here), affirms a sentence of probation for five years for a first-offender drug mule over the government's complaints of procedural and substantive unreasonableness. The ruling in Sayad does not really break any significant new jurisprudential ground, but I always think it is notable when a below-guideline sentence of only probation is affirmed over a government appeal.
A nose-for-a-nose and an ear-for-an-ear punishment in Pakistan
Though not exactly involving the biblical punishment of an eye-for-an-eye, this CNN story reports on a sentence imposed in Pakistan that gets pretty close:
A court in Lahore, Pakistan, has ordered that two men have their noses and ears chopped off, after the two were convicted of doing the same to a young woman.
The anti-terrorism court also ordered that brothers Ammanat Ali, 29, and Sher Mohammed, 27, spend life in prison and pay 700,000 rupees ($8,300) in compensation to the victim, Punjab province chief prosecutor Chaudary Mohammed Jahangir said Tuesday. The sentence was handed down Monday in accordance with Islamic law and the country's anti-terror laws, the prosecutor said....
The two men attacked the woman, Fazeelat Bibi, 22, on September 28, in the village of Zafarkey, southwest of Lahore, Inspector Hakim Ali said. Along with their cousin Mohammed Ali and two other men, they hid, stopped Bibi on her way home from work, and strangled her with a wire, the officer said.
When they thought she was dead, they cut off her nose and ears, Ali said. They mutilated her "to set an example," prosecutor Jahangir said....
The high court must confirm the sentence before it is carried out, and a doctor must determine that they can survive the punishment. The high court has suspended similar sentences in the past.
"Family Reluctantly Accepts Plea Bargain That Spares A Killer's Life"The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local story that tells the tale of what sometimes happens after a state death sentence is reversed by a federal habeas court. Here are some of the details:
He committed one of Cleveland's most notorious murders, but Monday, a condemned killer escaped the death penalty. The saga began in March 1985, when 12-year-old Mario Trevino was found beaten to death on Cleveland's near west side.
Police arrested 22-year-old Alfred Morales and he confessed to the crime. Morales, who called himself the demon of darkness, told investigators he killed young Mario as revenge against the boy's family because his sister had refused to date Morales, and his brother refused to give Morales an alibi for an unrelated crime he was accused of.
Aldred Morales was sentenced to death, and his crime would continue to haunt those who loved Mario Trevino....
Fast forward 24 years, Alfred Morales and his appellate attorney convince a federal court that he received inadequate counsel during his trial. The appeals court threw out the death sentence, and ordered a new penalty phase of Morales' trial, ruling that among other things his original lawyer did not tell the jury about his alcohol abuse or the difficulties he suffered as a Native American child.
But Monday, Cuyahoga County prosecutors struck a deal with Alfred Morales, agreeing to drop the possibility of the death penalty. In exchange, Morales must serve at least 30 more years in prison and agrees to give up his right to further appeals. The victim's sister, Elsa Trevino, tells Fox 8 "it's absolutely not what the family wanted, but looking at the way the judicial system works, the liberals out there, I think we took the route we had to take."
His life spared, Morales addressed the Trevino family 24 years after killing Mario. He told them "I think at this point, there's nothing i can say that will ease the pain and suffering that I caused this family, the only thing that I can say is that I hope they find it in their heart to forgive me for what I did."
The Trevino family says justice for Mario will ultimately come from a higher court. Jesse Trevino told us "I believe in the hereafter, you know and it's in God's hands and he will have to face him and then I believe he will burn in hell."
Was justice done in the New York state sentencing of Astor's heir?I have not followed closely the crime and prosecution of Brooke Astor's son Anthony Marshall for stealing for his rich mother. But, yesterday's sentencing of Marshall leads me to wonder aloud in this space whether justice was done. For some background, here is the New York Daily News coverage of the sentencing:
Brooke Astor's 85-year-old son is going up the river for one to three years. Whether he comes back is anybody's guess. Frail and white-haired, Anthony Marshall looked stunned Monday when a Manhattan judge sentenced him to state prison for looting his late mother's $185 million fortune.
Blinking behind his glasses, the ailing son of New York's beloved grande dame stood slack-jawed as Supreme Court Justice Kirke Bartley gave him a tongue-lashing. "It is a paradox to me that such abundance has led to such incredible sadness," the judge said. "What would your mother say if she were here? Would she blanch at the spectacle? Would she despise you for the breach of trust?"
Marshall, who has been free on bail since his arrest in November 2007, will be allowed to stay home for the holidays. He must report to the big house on Jan. 19. He faced up to 25 years in prison.
His lawyer buddy Francis Morrissey, 66, was also sentenced to one to three years in prison, for forging Astor's signature on a will....
Close behind him was Marshall's much-maligned wife, Charlene, her eyes wet with tears. She was not charged with a crime, but prosecutors claimed her greed drove Marshall to rip off his senile socialite mother.... Meanwhile, Marshall's son Philip, whose elder abuse allegations sparked the criminal probe of his father, sent out a mass e-mail with a simple message, "No comment from Philip Marshall."...
Marshall was not called to the stand during the epic trial where he and Morrissey were convicted of fleecing Astor out of millions. She died two years ago at age 105.
Bartley noted that Charlene Marshall — who everybody agrees was loathed by Astor — could inherit at least some of her millions. He said a "Solomon-like decision" would be to give all of Astor's money to charity. "However, I am constrained to follow the law," he said.
Bartley said he believed Marshall loved his mother, but he then added, "While justice may be blind, I most certainly am not.... The forces at work here are abundantly clear to me."
In lowering the boom on Marshall, Bartley dismissed an earlier plea for leniency from Marshall's lawyer John Cuti, who asked the judge if there was a way "to avoid some of the horrors of incarceration" for Marshall. "He's not some venal credit card thief or pickpocket," Cuti said. He argued that prison time would kill Marshall, who suffers from heart problems and had quadruple-bypass surgery last year.
Prosecutors asked Bartley to sentence Marshall to up to 4-1/2 years in prison and accused the 85-year-old of engaging in "grand theft Astor." "He didn't steal from his mother to give to the Coalition for the Homeless," said Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann. "He didn't steal from Brooke Astor to give to the poor and downtrodden."
Anyone interested in Anthony Marshall's backstory should be sure to check out this New York Times profile, which further reminds me during this holiday season that money, possessions and happiness are often only casual acquaintances.
Federal prosecutions reach record high in FY 2009As detailed in this New York Times article, which is based on this report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), federal prosecutions "reached a record high in the 2009 fiscal year, with the surge driven by a sharp increase in cases filed against immigration violators." Here are more details from the article in the Times:
The 169,612 federal prosecutions were a jump of nearly 9 percent from the previous year, according to Department of Justice data analyzed by a research center at Syracuse University in a new report. Immigration prosecutions were up nearly 16 percent, and made up more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government, the report said.
Much of the spike, immigration experts say, arises from Bush administration efforts to increase immigration enforcement and to speed prosecutions. The administration greatly increased the number of Border Patrol agents and prosecutors, and also introduced a program known as Operation Streamline that relied on large-scale processing of plea deals in immigrant cases in some parts of the country.
The relatively simple cases have become the low-hanging fruit of the federal legal system: Immigration prosecutions, from inception to court disposal, are lightning quick, according to the report. While white-collar prosecutions take an average of 460 days and narcotics cases take 333, the immigration cases are typically disposed of in 2 days.
And while federal prosecutors decline to prosecute about half of the white-collar cases that are referred to them by law enforcement agencies, they prosecute 97 percent of the immigration cases, according to the Syracuse group.
December 21, 2009
Good news on 2009 crime rates from the FBIAs detailed in this Reuters report, the FBI released some exciting data concerning crime rates for the first half of 2009. Here are the details:
Violent crime in the United States, including murder and robbery, dropped 4.4 percent in the first half of 2009 and property crime like car thefts also dropped, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Monday.
The latest statistics suggest U.S. violent crime could drop for a third full year in a row, a steady decline despite the harsh economic recession that some policymakers and police groups had feared would lead to an upward spike....
The number of murders fell 10 percent compared to the same six-month period in 2008, while robbery declined 6.5 percent and forcible rape dropped 3.3 percent, according to preliminary statistics released by the FBI. Violent crime in all of 2008 fell 1.9 percent from 2007.
But in some cities hit hard by the economy, like Baltimore and Detroit, the murder rate climbed. In Detroit, hurt by the auto industry's woes, there were 163 murders reported in the first six months of 2009 versus 146 during the same period in 2008.
But other cities where murder rates had been high, like New York and Los Angeles, saw a drop off. In New York, there was a drop from 252 murders in 2008 to 204 reported during the first half of 2009....
The overall decline was not limited to violent crime. Property crimes dropped 6.1 percent during the first six months of 2009, with vehicle theft plummeting 18.7 percent and burglary falling 2.5 percent, the FBI statistics showed. Reported cases of arson fell during the first half of 2009, dropping 8.2 percent from the same period in 2008.
In addition to being very encouraging, these data should also be very confounding to anyone who thinks that any single or simple factor helps explain variations in crime rates. Notably, as detailed in this recent post, the total US prison population may have declined during 2009, and thus the (too) easy suggestion than more prisoners means less crime does not effectively account for the 2009 crime drop. And, of course, the economy and unemployment rates were rough in 2009, but this did not produce any (often predicted) uptick in crime.
Relatedly, as detailed in this press release from folks at the Second Amendment Foundation, the relative lack of crimes cannot be attributed to a relative lack of guns:
A ten percent drop in murders during the first six months of this year at a time when gun sales were up dramatically is more proof that there is no correlation between gun ownership and violent crime, the Second Amendment Foundation said today....
"What this shows," said SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb, "is that gun prohibitionists are all wrong when they argue that more guns result in more crime. Firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens are no threat to anyone. Perhaps violent criminals were actually discouraged by all of those gun sales earlier this year, because the media made a point of reporting the booming gun market.
"Anti-gunners," he continued, "have lost another one of their baseless arguments. Millions of Americans bought guns during the first six months of this year, many of them for the first time. Yet with all of those new guns in circulation, coupled with an increased demand for concealed carry licenses around the country, the streets have not been awash in blood, as gun banners repeatedly predict.
Whatever the reasons for the continued downward trend in crime, we should all be content to celebrate the good news and hope that US law and policy continues to do whatever happens to be working.
A novel (and constitutionally questionable?) dating restriction as a probation conditionThis local story from Wisconsin, which is headlined "Appleton teen convicted of fleeing Wisconsin with his girlfriend not allowed to date girls for three years," reports on a novel condition of probation imposed in a local court. Here are the particulars:
Appleton teen convicted of fleeing the state with his girlfriend in a stolen car with a stolen gun will not be allowed to date any girls for the next three years.
Jordan Christensen, 19, was placed on three years probation Friday by Outagamie County Judge John Des Jardins, who ordered, as a condition of probation, “no dating of the opposite sex without permission of your probation agent.”
Christensen was sentenced on charges of theft of a firearm, auto theft and bail jumping for the May 26 series of incidents that triggered an Amber Alert.
Des Jardins also sentenced Christensen to a year in jail, however, with six months credit he will be out in six months after which his probation agent will have to rule on the suitability of any possible girlfriends. He is also prohibited from making contact with his former girlfriend. “He just creates more trouble for himself,” said Des Jardins who also banned Christensen from making use of any social networking sites on the Internet during his period of probation.
Christensen’s bail jumping charge stemmed from an attempt to renew contact with the girl through her social networking page when he was out on bond. On May 26, Christensen stole a gun from his foster parents’ residence, stole their car and fled the state with his 16-year-old girlfriend, claiming through a blog posting that they intended to get married.
Under the circumstances, the judge's imposition of this novel condition of probation seems to make some sense. But it also would likely be pretty hard to enforce (what qualifies as "dating" these days) and perhaps raises some constitutional questions. But the story sure makes for good blog fodder (and perhaps good comments) during an otherwise slow holiday week.
A form of cruel and unusual punishment for java junkiesAs this local piece reports, tight budget times have led an Ohio jail to deprive inmates of what is a life-saving elixir for some of us: coffee. Here are the details:
Tight budgets mean no more java at the jail in Cleveland. The Cuyahoga County jail has cut out inmate coffee, serving only milk with breakfast and fruit drinks with lunch and dinner.
Warden Kevin McDonough says the decision was made earlier this year as a matter of economics, and because he says coffee has no nutritional value. He says there have been few inmate complaints about the move, except from a couple of old timers.
Israel now having well-worn debate over sentencing guideline systemAs detailed in this article from Israel, the usual suspects are having the usual debate over a proposal to adopt sentencing guidelines for that country. Here are the details:
A proposal to standardize prison sentences is expected to generate stormy debate in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee today, with the Public Defender's Office condemning the adoption of what it calls a "price list" that will encourage tougher sentences.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will attend the meeting to lend support for the plan, which passed its first reading in the Knesset in 2006 and is now due for second and third readings.
The bill aims to minimize the differences in the sentences meted out by different judges, by mandating establishment of specific sentences for certain offenses. The courts would still have the discretion to alter the severity of the punishment, depending on the circumstances. The bill provides sentencing guidelines and a list of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
"It's hard to believe that in the State of Isrel, after 60 years, the legislature has not yet bothered to define the guiding principles of punishment, or the mitigating and aggravating circumstances for sentencing, or to give the judge even minimal guidance in sentencing," Mazuz said in July 2006, when the bill was last discussed.
"The most important goal is to prevent inconsistency and inequality in sentencing," he added. "You don't need to conduct field research to know that there are gaps, sometimes very large ones, in the sentences handed out in the various courts ... for similar offenses in similar circumstances. Sometimes the differences are very significant."
Dana Pugach, director of the Noga Legal Center for Victims of Crime, wrote the law and justice committee that such a law would help increase public confidence in the justice system.
However, the Public Defender's Office opposes the legislation, and claims it would push judges to give harsher sentences, especially jail time. In a statement submitted to the committee, the agency also said the bill would "damage fundamental equality and social justice."
December 20, 2009
Potent punishments for ponzi players after Madoff messThis local article from Florida, which is headlined " Ponzi convictions are weightier now," provides an effective window into the modern dynamics surrounding sentencing for a certain class of white collar offenders. Here is how the effective article starts:
It's a bad time to be picked off for running a Ponzi scheme. Once brushed off, white-collar scams with real victims are now being treated as serious criminal enterprises by both prosecutors and judges operating in a post-Madoff world.
Getting out on bail is tough and sentences are getting longer. Compounding the situation for defendants in federal cases is that there is no such thing as parole.
Last week, three Sarasota residents -- Beau Diamond and John and Marian Morgan -- were indicted by a federal grand jury on 18 felony counts each. They now face the prospect of months of dreary trial preparation, or attempts to do post-indictment plea bargains in which the government has a stronger hand.
They join Arthur G. Nadel, another Sarasotan who has been in a Manhattan jail cell since early this year, charged with 15 counts of securities, wire and mail fraud and now awaiting an April trial.
Today's Ponzi schemers face a "perfect storm," says Bill Branscum, whose Naples-based Oracle International specializes in hunting down international financial assets for victims. "You've got law-enforcement people who are really doing a good job. You've got prosecutors demanding serious penalties. You've got judges who are hammering these people at trial," he said.
On top of that, because of the record-breaking Ponzi scheme masterminded by New York's Bernard Madoff -- not to mention the 150 years he was sentenced to serve -- "you've got people everywhere in the news talking about Ponzis and pyramids, which really was not part of the dynamic two years ago," Branscum said.
Notable prediction that prison population may decline in 2009This AP article speculates, perhaps accurately, that the total US prison population may decline in 2009 for the first time in decades. Here are the details from the article:
The United States may soon see its prison population drop for the first time in almost four decades, a milestone in a nation that locks up more people than any other.
The inmate population has risen steadily since the early 1970s as states adopted get-tough policies that sent more people to prison and kept them there longer. But tight budgets now have states rethinking these policies and the costs that come with them....
The U.S. prison population dropped steadily during most of the 1960s, and there were a few small dips in 1970 and 1972. But it has risen every year since, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics....
In the past, prison populations have been lower when drafts were enacted, including during World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. "People who go to war are young men, and young men are the most likely to get arrested or prosecuted," said James Austin, president of the JFA Institute, a research organization that advises states on prison issues. The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't involved in a draft.
Instead, the economic crisis forced states to reconsider who they put behind bars and how long they kept them there, said Kim English, research director for the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.
In Texas, parole rates were once among the lowest in the nation, with as few as 15 percent of inmates being granted release as recently as five years ago. Now, the parole rate is more than 30 percent after Texas began identifying low-risk candidates for parole.
In Mississippi, a truth-in-sentencing law required drug offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences. That's been reduced to less than 25 percent.
California's budget problems are expected to result in the release of 37,000 inmates in the next two years. The state also is under a federal court order to shed 40,000 inmates because its prisons are so overcrowded that they are no longer constitutional, Austin said.
States also are looking at ways to keep people from ever entering prison. A nationwide system of drug courts takes first-time felony offenders caught with less than a gram of illegal drugs and sets up a monitoring team to help with case management and therapy....
The reforms in many state prisons and courts come even as crime rates continue to drop nationwide. "It's economically driven, but the science is there to support it," Austin said. "They are saving money, but not doing it in a way that jeopardizes public safety." One exception to the trend is Florida, which has enacted a law requiring all convicts to serve a high percentage of their sentences. The law is straining the state's prison resources. "They know that they are stuck in a time bomb they can't get out of," Austin said.
"Why is use of the death penalty going down?"
The title of this post is the headline of this piece from The Christian Science Monitor. Here is how it begins:
Fewer people received a death sentence over the past 12 months than in any year since 1976 — the year that capital punishment was reinstated in the US.
That finding was released Thursday by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). But it doesn’t mean that capital punishment is headed for immediate extinction: The death penalty is included in the laws of 35 states — and in some states, such as California, the number of death sentences has actually risen. Also, surveys show that the capital punishment has the support of most Americans.
But if use of the death penalty is declining overall, why is that?
One reason: Some state prosecutors are growing more hesitant to seek a death sentence in cases that might later be upended because of DNA evidence. Since DNA entered the courtroom in 1989, 248 criminal convictions have been overturned, 17 of which involved inmates on death row, according to the Innocence Project of Florida.
I am not sure that innocence issues are the key or even the main reason for declining use of the death penalty, but I do think it is an important factor in a very dynamic story.