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December 20, 2009

Potent punishments for ponzi players after Madoff mess

This 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.

December 20, 2009 in Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Notable prediction that prison population may decline in 2009

This 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.

December 20, 2009 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

"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.

December 20, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack