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April 6, 2010

"Sarah Palin, Marijuana Law Reformer?"

The title of this post is the partial headline of this item at the Huffington Post, which continues with "Nevada Group Hopes $25,000 Convinces Palin To Back Reform Of Marijuana Laws." Here are snippets of the piece:

Could Sarah Palin become the highest profile conservative to endorse reforms to the nation's marijuana laws?

She clearly has no problem with legalized inebriation. Palin, who is scheduled to give the keynote address Tuesday at the national convention for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, will be offered to give a similar speech at a Nevada event about marijuana.  Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (NSML), a ballot initiative group, is poised to offer the former Alaska Governor $25,000 to speak at one of their upcoming events, according to a statement from the Marijuana Policy Project.

As evidence that Palin might be willing to support marijuana, NSML's Campaign Manager Dave Schwartz pointed to Palin's willingness to endorse alcohol....

But Schwartz might do well to prepare himself for rejection.  According to a Politico report, the former Republican candidate for vice president charges at least $75,000 per speaking engagement.

Though I do not think the folks at NSML should start booking a room for Palin at its upcoming event, I am hopeful that some of the anti-government rhetoric coming from some notable conservatives might lead them to seriously consider supporting movements urging government to get out of the business of pot prohibition.

Some related older and more recent posts:

April 6, 2010 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

New UK sentencing structure attacked for giving judges too much discretion

The title of this new piece in The Guardian caught my eye because I thought the federal sentencing system was being discussed under the headline "Judges given free rein by 'pitifully loose' sentencing law."  But, as this excerpt shows, the article concerns new UK sentencing law:

New legislation guiding judges on sentencing criminals is so "pitifully loose" that judgments could become idiosyncratic and inconsistent, according to the head of the Sentencing Advisory Panel. Professor Andrew Ashworth struck out at the government on the eve of the panel's replacement today by a new body, the Sentencing Council.

In an interview with the Guardian, Ashworth called the new council "defective". He said the legislation dictating its powers and responsibilities "dilutes and even trivialises the proper approach" to the rule of English law. Ashworth, the Vinerian professor of English law at the University of Oxford, accused the government of "changing course in response to judicial opposition to the creation of the new council".

He said the government has given judges a virtually free rein in deciding what sentence to hand down. "It's not democratic. It is about retaining the confidence of the judiciary, who were concerned that the new council would threaten what they consider to be their independence, at the cost of reducing the effectiveness of the guidelines," he said.

"The whole idea of guidelines has been undermined. The purpose of guidelines is to steer judges along particular channels but the new legislation is destructive because it hardly binds judges at all. It is possible that the new legislation will lead to the sort of idiosyncratic sentencing that used to cause people such worry. It depends on how tightly the court of appeal polices things, but under the new statute as we now have it, that is a possibility."

April 6, 2010 in Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 5, 2010

SCOTUS short-list speculation as Justice Stevens talks of retirement

As highlighted in all the links here at How Appealing, it is time once again to crank up the speculation stories about when exactly Justice Stevens will retire and who President Obama might nominate to replace him.  Given that Tom Goldstein has already predicted that current SG Elena Kagan will get the post, that's the smart money bet.  But, especially because I will be off-line most of today, I am eager to hear the readers of this blog discuss the next possible SCOTUS transition (ideally with a sentencing spin).

Here are some of my "classic" short-list posts from earlier SCOTUS transition periods:

April 5, 2010 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Report on capital justice delayed in Alabama

This local article from Alabama, which is headlined "Death penalty cases take longer to complete as debate continues," provides details on why capital justice takes a long time in the Yellowhammer State. Here are excerpts:

When a new inmate arrives on Alabama's death row, the chief capital punishment attorney for the state does not begin making plans for the execution. Instead, Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw begins making plans for representing the state in numerous appeals of the death sentence, which can often last for more than 20 years.

Crenshaw said the average length of time between a death sentence being imposed and an execution carried out in Alabama is 13.5 years. He said that period is growing as appeals courts spend more time before issuing decisions. "The courts are taking longer than ever to issue opinions on death penalty cases and I'm not sure why," Crenshaw said. "The Alabama Supreme Court can take two years just to decide if it is going hear a case."

Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said he always discusses the lengthy appeals process with family members of capital murder victims when deciding if the death penalty will be pursued. "We want to make sure they understand the execution is not going to happen overnight and they could be attending appeal hearings for 20 years or more before an execution takes place."...

Connolly said the likelihood of a capital murder case lingering in the courts for decades before the execution occurs sometimes prompts family members of the victim to opt for a life sentence in prison, without parole, for the defendant to bring quick closure to the case.

April 5, 2010 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

"there is no such thing as a nonviolent crime"

This title of this post is a line from this remarkable op-ed from a "senior supervising psychologist" at a California prison. The op-ed is headlined "State plays dangerous game when it considers the early release of inmates," and it highlights some of the arguments and rhetoric that makes cutting prison populations so challenging. Here are excerpts:

After spending 20 years in corrections as a psychologist, I am astonished that anyone -- much less the governor -- could define any class of felons as nonviolent.  The current plan to release thousands of California inmates with no or shortened parole is fatuous, if not disingenuous.  It is a complete fiction to believe that any convicted felon upon release is safe for community re-entry without serious strengthened parole supervision and community-based rehabilitation.

The re-offense numbers are striking and troublesome.  According to up-to-date reports readily available through the state corrections department, 57.44 percent of all paroled felons are returned to prison within three years for parole violations or for a new offense.  And those are just the ones who have been caught.

Moreover, there is no such thing as a nonviolent crime.  Virtually every blue-collar crime is committed by someone willing to do some kind of violence if in the doing of the crime they are discovered....

Do some inmates leave prison and lead exemplary lives? Of course.  But the last thorough study revealed that out of 10,000 paroled criminals followed over many years, fewer than a dozen -- yes, a dozen -- of those multiple thousands truly turned themselves around.  The rest faced post-release lives skirting the law and flirting with re-arrest by continuing their crime....

Not a pretty picture, especially when we are facing personnel reductions in police and sheriff's departments, locally and throughout the state.  More felons on the street, fewer of society's "protectors" in the field.  Not hard to see where that might lead.

The only credible solution if these felons are to be released is to redirect a serious portion of money saved through the release program to parole programs throughout the state to greatly reduce the number of parolees on an agent's caseload -- as has now wisely been done -- to 40 or fewer, so that supervision is close, frequent and regular.  And these parolees need to be in rehab programs and forced to wear GPS devises so that at any time they can be located for random checks.  Anything short of that, we're courting disaster.

I am a bit surprised to see a prison psychologist making such an aggressive argument against the notion that some crimes are nonviolent and for the idea that all felon pose a significant risk to the community upon release.  Nevertheless, this op-ed provide a great example of the kind of fear-mongering that can make it so very hard for states to keep moving forward with plans to reduce prison populations.

April 5, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

April 4, 2010

Georgia not (yet) considering prison reduction to cut costs

This effective piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is headlined "Georgia prison population, costs on rise," suggests that Georgia may soon have start considering it prison populations as it tries to deal with budget deficits. Here are excerpts:

As Georgia lawmakers desperately search for ways to slash spending, they are not debating an option taken by other states: cutting the prison population. Georgia operates the fifth-largest prison system in the nation, at a cost of $1 billion a year.  The job of overseeing 60,000 inmates and 150,000 felons on probation consumes 1 of every 17 state dollars.

The state’s prison population has jumped by more than a quarter in the past decade and officials expect the number of state inmates to continue to creep upward. Georgia has resorted to measures other than reducing the prison population to keep corrections spending under control....

Georgia prisoners are serving longer sentences due to tough-on-crime laws adopted in the 1990s. Those laws ban early release through parole for many offenders. A wave of convictions related to illegal methamphetamine also pushed up prison admissions in recent years.

Enough states are experimenting with keeping fewer offenders behind bars that the total number of state prisoners held nationwide declined this year for the first time in nearly four decades, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States.  The Pew study found that prison populations dropped in half the states.  Georgia was among the states that posted an increase.

Budget problems played a role in the prison population reductions elsewhere.  But so did a sense among some policy makers that continuing to put greater numbers of offenders behind bars for longer sentences would not be effective at reducing crime, especially for some non-violent offenders and those incarcerated on drug charges....

States working to cut prison populations are relying on new research that helps them identify which offenders are likely to do well outside of prison and which programs work best to discourage recidivism....

Cutting Georgia’s prison population hasn’t been debated this year, even as legislators have considered drastic cuts in education, health care programs and the judiciary.  Given the state’s finances, some influential voices say it is time to begin a conversation about prison spending.

State Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta), who leads a subcommittee that oversees public safety spending, said it makes sense for the Legislature to study alternatives.  Martin said sentencing some low-risk offenders to house arrest at night, while requiring them to work during the day, could be more effective than placing them behind bars for a year with hardened criminals.

Such an approach could conserve resources to keep dangerous offenders locked up, he said, while also steering low-level offenders into more productive lives.  “If they are non-violent and do not pose a risk to the community or themselves,” Martin said, “let’s find a way to punish them and make them continue to work and pay restitution and support their family.”

Newt Gingrich, the former Georgia Republican congressman who served as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, wrote recently in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “Georgia simply can’t afford for the corrections system to maintain the status quo.” Gingrich argued that recidivism rates are unacceptably high and that churches and non-profits need to offer more resources and support to help offenders who are released from prison build productive lives in the community.

“Celebrating taking criminals off the street with little thought to their imminent return to society is foolhardy,” Gingrich wrote in the article, which was co-authored by Mark Earley, a former attorney general of Virginia.

April 4, 2010 in Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

A busy week that was at SCOTUS for sentencing fans

The biggest story for criminal justice fans coming from the Supreme Court this week was surely its ruling in Padilla concerning the application of the Sixth Amendment to how an attorney advises a defendant prior to a plea (details here and here).  But the Justices also heard argument on consequential sentencing issues in Dillon and Barber and on some other complicated criminal justice issues with various sentencing implications (see list here). 

Anyone looking for comprehensive coverage of all these happenings should head over to SCOTUSblog, but here I can link my recent coverage of the Justices' doings during the dynamic week that was.  Many of these posts have long, thoughtful comments by readers that especially merit careful reading:

I will have more to say specifically about the Padilla ruling in a subsequent post, though readers are welcome to continue the commentary on this major Sixth Amendment decision.  I am also eager to get reader comments on any other aspects of what the Justices are doing or thinking on sentencing issues these days.

April 4, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack