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June 9, 2010

Will three strikes or other California sentencing issues become a hot political topic?

I do not see too many huge sentencing stories emerging from yesterday's primary elections in a bunch of states.  But this report from the Los Angeles Times on California's Attorney General race notes the place that the state's three-strikes law has already played in the run up to that state's primary yesterday:

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley convincingly won the GOP primary for attorney general on Tuesday, giving Republicans a strong chance at capturing the state's top law enforcement job in the November contest.

His San Francisco counterpart, Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, appeared to overcome an aggressive — and expensive — challenge in the Democratic primary as she seeks to become the first woman, first Asian and first African American to serve as attorney general. Harris claimed victory late Tuesday, though her nearest rival had yet to concede.  Former Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo was running well behind in a crowded field.

Cooley, a political moderate who has won three district attorney elections in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County, was leading despite a bruising primary battle in which his two GOP rivals unsuccessfully attempted to portray him as being too liberal for the Republican faithful.

Despite his numerous law enforcement endorsements, Cooley came under fire for his attempt four years ago to seek changes to the "three-strikes" law that would have — with some exceptions — limited the law's sentences of 25 years to life to criminals whose third strikes were violent or serious.

It seems unlikely that California Democrats will attack the GOP's candidate for Attorney General for being soft on applying the state's tough three-strikes law.  Still, because DA Cooley has long staked out a notable position on California's most notable (and notorious?) sentencing law, it will be interesting to see if his sentencing record becomes a campaign issue this fall.

More generally, sentencing fans should be sure to keep an eye on all the big races in California this fall.  Sentencing topics ranging from the death penalty, to prison crowding and costs, to marijuana prohibitions likely all will get some attention in the state campaigns.  I am especially interested to watch how current AG Jerry Brown and former E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman stake out positions on these issues in the months ahead.

June 9, 2010 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A notable district court opinion on the post-Booker ex post facto issue

Thanks to this piece in the New York Law Journal, which is headlined "Use of Current Sentencing Rules Barred for 2003 Confession," I see that a New York district court has issued a notable and quite thoughtful ruling addressing post-Booker ex post facto issues in the context of giving a relatively low sentence to a child porn downloader. Here is how the NYLJ piece describes the case and the ruling:

An admitted possessor of child pornography who was not prosecuted for more than four years following his confession in 2003 cannot be subjected to the longer prison sentences established in the interim under the federal sentencing guidelines, a federal judge has ruled.

Southern District of New York Judge Richard J. Holwell said the Constitution's ex post facto clause -- Article I, Section 9, Clause 3 -- would be violated if Brennan Sweeney were sentenced to a longer prison term than the guidelines called for in 2003 when the FBI raided his apartment. Holwell held that "retroactive application of the guidelines increases poses a 'significant risk of increased punishment,'" in United States v. Sweeney, 08-cr-212.

In October 2003, FBI agents found child pornography on Sweeney's computers. Sweeney consented to an interview and admitted to possessing more than 1,000 images of children. The FBI seized his computers but inexplicably did not arrest Sweeney until March 2008. He pleaded guilty in May 2009 to possessing and distributing child pornography.

The guidelines at the time of his confession called for a sentencing range of two years and three months to two years and nine months. But the current guidelines call for a much longer sentence -- a range of six years and six months to eight years and one month.

Holwell sentenced Sweeney on May 27 and followed with a written opinion explaining why it would be unconstitutional to subject the defendant to a term within the higher range even though the federal statute, 18 U.S.C. §3553(a)(4)(A)(ii), requires application of the current guidelines range.

The full opinion in Sweeney is available at this link.

Related posts on post-Booker ex post issues in the circuits:

June 9, 2010 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Utah getting ready for an "old school" execution

The AP has this lengthy new piece about a high-profile upcoming execution in Utah. The piece is headlined "At inmate's request, Utah prepares firing squad," and here is how it begins:

Barring a last-minute reprieve, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be strapped into a chair, a hood will be placed over his head and a small white target will be pinned over his heart. The order will come: "Ready, aim..."

The 49-year-old convicted killer will be executed by a team of five anonymous marksmen firing with a matched set of .30-caliber rifles. He is to be the third person executed by firing squad in Utah - or anywhere else in the U.S. - since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Utah was a long holdout in keeping the method, which it has used in 40 of its 49 executions in the last 160 years. Utah lawmakers made lethal injection the default method of execution in 2004, but inmates condemned before then can still choose the firing squad. That's what Gardner did in April, politely telling a judge, "I would like the firing squad, please." Neither he nor his attorneys have said why.

Critics decry the firing squad as a barbaric method that should have been relegated to the dustbin of the frontier era. "The firing squad is archaic, it's violent, and it simply expands on the violence that we already experience from guns as a society," Bishop John C. Wester, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said during an April protest. The diocese is part of a new coalition pushing for alternatives to capital punishment in Utah.

Even some death-penalty supporters would prefer not to see the method used. State Rep. Sheryl Allen, a Republican from Bountiful who pushed for the switch to lethal injection, said she's not happy to see the reprise of the firing squad because it shifts attention away from the victim to the convicted killer.

June 9, 2010 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 8, 2010

Might Elena Kagan be a fan of shaming sanctions?

A helpful reader alerted me to this report on an interesting little sentencing tidbit to be found in the recently released papers from Elena Kagan time in the Clinton Administration:

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library provided 46,500 pages of records from Kagan's four years of working in the Clinton White House in the 1990s. The papers, released today by the National Archives in Washington, are the first installment in a 160,000-page file....

[In these papers] Kagan also expressed interest in the idea of "shaming" criminals after a 1997 Wall Street Journal editorial lauded efforts such as making convicted drunk drivers affix bright "DUI" stickers to their bumpers and requiring nonviolent sex offenders to post warning signs on their property. "Do you think there's a way of sensibly hooking into this trend?" Kagan wrote to two colleagues.

June 8, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

"Protecting Crime Victims in Federal Appellate Courts"

The title of this post is the first part of the title of former-judge and now Professor Paul Cassell's latest article advocating for the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act to be given a broad reading. This article is available here via SSRN and its full title is "Protecting Crime Victims in Federal Appellate Courts: The Need to Broadly Construe the Crime Victims' Rights Act's Mandamus Provisions."  Here is the start of the piece's abstract:

In 2004, Congress passed the Crime Victims’ Rights Act to dramatically reshape the federal criminal justice system and ensure that crime victims are treated fairly in the criminal process. An important feature of the CVRA is its provisions allowing victims to enforce their rights not only in trial courts, but also in appellate courts. Among the enforcement provisions is one guaranteeing a crime victim expedited access to appellate review. The CVRA provides that if the district court denies any relief sought by a crime victim, the victim “may petition the court of appeals for a writ of mandamus. . . . The court of appeals shall take up and decide such application forthwith within 72 hours after the petition has been filed.”

The CVRA’s appellate review provision appeared to provide crime victims the same sort of appellate protections as all other litigants – as several courts of appeals have held in reviewing crime victims’ petitions. Unfortunately, in a recent decision the Tenth Circuit (In re Antrobus) parted company with those other circuits and eviscerated the appellate protections promised to crime victims. In In re Antrobus, the Tenth Circuit rejected carefully reasoned decisions from the Second and Ninth Circuits and held that crime victims could only obtain appellate relief if they show that the district court had made a “clear and indisputable” error. This Article critiques the Tenth Circuit’s Antrobus decision, arguing that the Second and Ninth Circuits (among other circuits) got it right and the Tenth Circuit simply got it wrong.

June 8, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Federal prosecutors asking "only" for 40 years for now-cooperating lawyer Ponzi schemer

As detailed in this prior post, this week's scheduled federal sentencing of Scott Rothstein, Florida's answer to Bernie Madoff, is bringing up a host of interesting legal issues and sentencing recommendations.  This new piece available at law.com, which is headlined "Prosecutors Recommend 40 Years for Rothstein; Defense Asks for 30," highlights that federal prosecutors are in part responsible for making this high-profile white-collar sentencing so interesting. Here is how the piece starts:

Federal prosecutors say Ponzi scheme purveyor Scott Rothstein deserves a break -- just not as much as his defense attorney wants.

The lawyer who turned his fast-growing Fort Lauderdale, Fla., firm into a vehicle for Florida's largest Ponzi scheme -- defrauding investors of $1.2 billion -- should spend 40 years in prison, federal prosecutors told U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn in a sentencing memorandum filed Monday.

Rothstein is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. Defense attorney, Marc Nurik has asked Cohn to sentence the one-time political power broker to 30 years. The federal probation office has proposed life, driven largely by the outsized dollar loss to victims. The statutory maximum is 100 years.

"While the defendant's criminal activity in this case can only be described as reprehensible, it is beyond dispute that his post-offense conduct has been extraordinary," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence D. LaVecchio wrote, referring to Rothstein's cooperation explaining his fraud and working as an informant in a case related to organized crime.

June 8, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

In Missouri, it is the prosecutors complaining about sentencing guidelines

This local story from Missouri, which is headlined "Prosecutors seek changes to sentencing guidelines," reports on complaints about the state sentencing guidelines that are tellingly similar to complaints we hear about federal sentencing guidelines. But, as highlighted in this excerpt, the source of the usual complaint is tellingly distinct:

Some Missouri prosecutors remain unhappy with the way convicted criminals are sentenced, especially since the state began using sentencing guidelines in November 2005 that are based on actual sentencing practices of Missouri's trial judges.

"Prosecutors continue to be unhappy with the one-size-fits-all recommendations in the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission's recommendations," said Eric Zahnd, Platte County prosecutor and a member of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys' legislative committee.  "There is, simply, no way to include enough variables in a recommended sentencing structure to provide a meaningful recommendation for any individual crime."

The association on Monday issued a news release thanking Supreme Court Judge Michael A. Wolff, who chairs the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission (MOSAC), for appointing a subcommittee to review the recommended sentences. During MOSAC's May 25th meeting, Wolff said prosecutors, public defenders and judges should be represented on that subcommittee.

Zahnd said prosecutors hope it will consider a "motion by prosecutors to abolish the recommended sentences, at least for violent and sexual offenses."  He said prosecutors particularly are unhappy with the "Sentencing Advisory Report," or SAR, that often is ordered by a judge before imposing a final sentence in a criminal case.  The prosecutors association said those "recommended sentences ... are unreasonably lenient, particularly for violent and sex crimes."

As serious sentencing fans know, in the federal system it is the defense attorneys who often lament "one-size-fits-all" sentencing rules and who often claim that unique individual sentencing factors make any guideline system inherently problematic.  It is telling and somewhat amusing to now hear these classic complaints about sentencing guidelines coming from prosecutors in Missouri.

Because I seriously doubt that all the state prosecutors in Missouri are former federal defenders, this story is really just an example of how sentencing advocates will often "shoot the messenger" of sentencing guidelines rather than just focus on their fundamental concern with the substance of sentencing rules they consider either too harsh (in the federal system) or too lenient (in Missouri's system).  Just as I am glad that the federal defense bar has failed to eliminate all guidelines in the federal system, I hope the Missouri prosecutors fail to bring down that their state's seemingly successful (and fully advisory) guideline system. 

June 8, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 7, 2010

SCOTUS certification in Juvenile Male: a passive virture that only a Bickel fan could love?

The SCOTUS ruling today concerning the calculation of good-time credits in Bareber v. Thomas (basics here, comments here) is clearly the biggest sentencing story of the day.  But I cannot help but be really intrigued by the Supreme Court's per curiam decision in  in US v. Juvenile Male to deal with a complicated sex offender issue by certifying a question to the Montana Supreme Court (basics here). 

Helpfully, Lyle Denniston has this post with a helpful explanation of the basic factual background of Juvenile Male and the Court's certification maneuver.  Disappointingly, Lyle's post does not indicate when was the last time SCOTUS decided to deal with a cert petition by certifying a question to a state Supreme Court, nor does it speculate just why the Justices concluded why certification rather than a simple cert denied was the approach adopted here.

When I was clerking on the Second Circuit years ago, I became enamored with the authority of federal circuit courts to certify questions to state courts. Because I am generally a fan of federalism, the legal process jurisprudential school, and Bickelian second-look doctrines, the practice through which a federal court could dodge and/or clarify a tough state law issue by certifying questions to the highest court of a state seemed to me almost too cool to be true.  Consequently, I could not help but be a bit giddy this morningn upon hearing that SCOTUS had dusted off this (arcane?) procedure to deal with the tough SORNA issues raised in Juvenile Male.

But, for a host of complicated reasons and especially in criminal justice settings, there do not seem to be too many modern fans of federalism, the legal process jurisprudential school, and Bickelian second-look doctrines.  Thus, I cannot help but wonder if others are not as impressed with the SCOTUS certification move today as I am.  More importantly, I wonder if the certification in Juvenile Male will prove to be a one-trick-pony or if we can and should expect to see some other examples of SCOTUS passive virture for us Bickel fans in forthcoming work by the Court.

Whatever else one thinks of this certification move, I must assert yet again that, at least in the arena of criminal justice adjudication, the early Roberts Court is already a heck of a lot more interesting and unpredictable than was the late Rehnquist Court.

June 7, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

"Bernie Madoff, Free at Last"

The title of this post is the headline of this long new article in New York magazine about life in prison is like for everyone's favorite Ponzi-schemer scoundral. (Hat tip: The WSJ Blog.)  This piece looks very buzz-worthy, as its start highlights:

Last August, shortly after his arrival at the federal correctional complex in Butner, North Carolina, Bernard L. Madoff was waiting on the evening pill line for his blood-pressure medication when he heard another inmate call his name.  Madoff, then 71, author of the most devastating Ponzi scheme in history, was dressed like every other prisoner, in one of his three pairs of standard-issue khakis, his name and inmate number glued over the shirt pocket.  Rec time, the best part of a prisoner’s day, was drawing to a close, and Madoff, who liked to walk the gravel track, sometimes with Carmine Persico, the former mob boss, or Jonathan Pollard, the spy, had hurried to the infirmary, passing the solitary housing unit — the hole — ducking through the gym and the twelve-foot-high fence and turning in the direction of Maryland, the unit where child molesters are confined after they’ve served their sentences. As usual, the med line was long and moved slowly.  There were a hundred prisoners, some standing outside in the heat, waiting for one nurse.

Madoff was accustomed to hearing other inmates call his name. From July 14, the day he arrived, he’d been an object of fascination. Prisoners had assiduously followed his criminal career on the prison TVs.  “Hey, Bernie,” an inmate would yell to him admiringly while he was at his job sweeping up the cafeteria, “I seen you on TV.” In return, Madoff nodded and waved, smiling that sphinxlike half-smile. “What did he say?” Madoff sometimes asked.

But that evening an inmate badgered Madoff about the victims of his $65 billion scheme, and kept at it. According to K. C. White, a bank robber and prison artist who escorted a sick friend that evening, Madoff stopped smiling and got angry.  “Fuck my victims,” he said, loud enough for other inmates to hear.  “I carried them for twenty years, and now I’m doing 150 years.”

June 7, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Connecticut governor vetoes bill which would have created a state sentencing commission

This local storyfrom Connecticut, which is headlined "Rell vetoes bill to create sentencing commission," reports on an interested sentencing development from the Nutmeg State.  Here are the details:

Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill today that would have created a new commission within the Office of Policy and Management to review state sentencing policies.  The governor argued the legislature's Judiciary Committee already performs this function, and that the bill would have required an extra $130,000 in spending to provide salaries and benefits for commission staff.

"While I appreciate the need for review of our sentencing statutes and practices, given our state's ongoing economic challenges, this is simply the wrong time to create yet another state entity," Rell wrote in her veto message. "I have spent much of the last year examining our state budget to find ways to save money so that we would not have to increase the burden borne by our already struggling taxpayers. Some of the cuts we have made were painful. None were easy."

The bill passed overwhelmingly during the regular 2010 legislative session, which ended May 5, clearing the House unanimously and the Senate by a 34-1 margin. It would have created a 23-member Connecticut Sentencing Commission to review the existing criminal sentencing structure and any proposed changes to it. The panel would be funded, according to the bill, "within existing budgetary resources."

But the governor noted that the group would have to maintain a database and conduct trend analyses to identify areas of disparity, which would create new expenses. "I believe that the Judiciary Committee is the appropriate body to carry out these function, as they have done in the past," Rell added.

Sen. Andrew J, McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, disagreed strongly though, arguing his panel has neither the staff nor the othe resources needed to conduct this research.

McDonald added the legislation not only enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in the legislature but had "universal backing" from the chief state's attorney's office, criminal defense lawyers and criminal justice advocates. "This legislation held the prospect of creating a more coherent and sustainable system for implementing fair and proportional sentences," he added. "We held a public hearing and nobody testified against it. And up until this veto, we've had no input from the governor's office."

The legislature is tentatively scheduled to meet in special session on June 21, and could attempt to override the governor's veto later this month.  That would require a two-thirds' vote in both chambers. McDonald said he believes a veto override attempt would be appropriate, but he hasn't discussed that option yet with legislative leadership.

I tend to assume that a well-functioning state sentencing commission generally can and will produce criminal justice savings that help pay for its start-up costs.  And this is the first time I have heard of a policy-maker using cost concerns to justify doing without a sentencing commission. 

Consequently, I suspect there is more to this veto story than just an extra $130,000 in spending.  Indeed, I feel pretty confident that a concern for dollars and cents is not what is driving Gov. Rell's veto given this news piece from last week, which reports that "Connecticut Comptroller Nancy Wyman says unexpectedly good job and tax revenue growth have swelled the 2010 state budget surplus to nearly $167 million."  Seems to me that spending less than 0.1% of an unexpected state budget surplus is not too much to spend on a sentencing structure that could produce sentences that were more fair and proportional.  But I am not the Governor of Connecticut, so I do not get to make that call.

June 7, 2010 in State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

New articles of note from The National Law Journal

Thanks to law.com, we can all freely access these two notable new pieces from the National Law Journal:

June 7, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ninth Circuit allows for Bivens suit against operator of private federal prison

Addressing an issue that has the smell of a future cert grant, a Ninth Circuit panel today in Pollard v. Geo Group, Inc., No. 07-16112 (9th Cir. June 7, 2010) (available here) allows a Bivens action to go forward against the operators of a private prison. Here is how the majority opinion starts:

Plaintiff-Appellant Richard Lee Pollard, a federal inmate, appeals the district court’s order dismissing his Eighth Amendment claims against employees of a private corporation operating a federal prison under contract with the Bureau of Prisons.  This appeal presents the question of whether the implied damages action first recognized in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), allows a federal prisoner to recover for violations of his constitutional rights by employees of private corporations operating federal prisons.  We conclude that it does.

A partial dissent, which flags why this ruling may be cert worthy, starts this way:

I agree that the district court properly dismissed GEO from the lawsuit and that employees of a private corporation operating a federal prison are federal government actors. I conclude, however, that we would err by creating a split in the law of the various circuits by holding that a prisoner may maintain a cause of action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), against such employees where adequate state law remedies exist. Until now, the federal circuits that have addressed the issue have held correctly that a prisoner may not maintain such an action.  See Alba v. Montford, 517 F.3d 1249 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 129 S. Ct. 632 (2008); Holly v. Scott, 434 F.3d 287 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1168 (2006); Peoples v. CCA Det. Ctrs., 422 F.3d 1090 (10th Cir. 2005), vacated in relevant part and aff’d by equally divided en banc panel, 449 F.3d 1097 (10th Cir. 2006) (per curiam), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1056 (2006) and 549 U.S. 1063 (2006). The evolution of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bivens jurisprudence confirms that this Court should follow their lead.

June 7, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fascinating sentencing dogs that did not end up barking in Barber

The fact that many folks went to law school in order to avoid math may itself ensure that the Supreme Court's decision today in Barber v. Thomas concerning the calculation of prisoner good-time credits (basics here) does not get all the attention it merits.  More fundamentally, because the Barber ruling affirms the good-time calculation status quo, this Term's biggest sentencing sleeper case will probably go down in history as just another jurisprudential dog that could have, but in the end did not, bark in the face of modern mass incarceration. 

But before sentencing fans move on, I recommend everyone — not just sentencign fans, but everyone — find the time to read and reflect on the opinions and the votes in Barber.  Put simply, there is a lot of "there there" in both opinionsi n Barber, and in this post I can only just start scratching the surface of what should be noticed in the Court's work with this initial post. 

Starting with the opinion of the Court authored by Justice Breyer, it is intriguing and notable how both the legislative purpose and legislative history of the Sentencing Reform Act is deftly operationalized to support the Court's anti-defendant interpretation of the good-time credit statute.  Though I am not a statutory interpretation guru, I sense Justice Breyer worked extra hard to craft language that enabled Justice Scalia and others to be comfortable signing on to his opinion's non-textual elements.  And, for truly hard-core statutory interpretation junkies, there are also some really interesting rule of lenity and Chevon deference moves in the Barber majority worth noticing as well.

Turning to the voting patterns, I suspect that long-time blog readers will not be too surprised to see a pro-government ruling coming from the pen of Justice Breyer.  What is a bit more surprising, and certainly noteworthy, is that this ruling in Barber lost the vote of Justice Kennedy even though it retained the vote of Justice Sotomayor.  I cannot recall another split opinion this term in which Justice Sotomayor went against the defendant while Justice Kennedy when against the government. 

I stress the voting patter in Barber in part because I still recall all the debate over "empathy" in last year's confirmation battles concern then-Judge Sotomayor.  As highlighted by this first paragraph from the dissent in Barber, it would seem that it is Justice Kennedy who really knows how to turn on judicial emphaty:

The Court has interpreted a federal sentencing statutein a manner that disadvantages almost 200,000 federal prisoners.  See Pet. for Cert. 11, and n. 2.  It adopts thisreading despite the existence of an alternative interpreta-tion that is more consistent with the statute’s text. Absent a clear congressional directive, the statute ought not to beread as the Court reads it. For the Court’s interpretation — an interpretation that in my submission is quite incorrect — imposes tens of thousands of years of additional prison time on federal prisoners according to a mathematical formula they will be unable to understand.  And if the only way to call attention to the human implications of this case is to speak in terms of economics, then it should be noted that the Court’s interpretation comes at a cost to the taxpayers of untold millions of dollars. See id., at 11.  The interpretation the Court adopts, moreover, will bedevastating to the prisoners who have behaved the bestand will undermine the purpose of the statute.  These considerations, and those stated below, require this respectful dissent.

Whatever else one makes of the legal debate in Barber, I am eager to give Justice Kennedy props for writing an opening paragraph that manages to pull on both heart-strings and purse-stings at the same time.

June 7, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Interesting state certification "dodge" to deal with juve SORNA case from Montana

I am intrigued (and I think pleased) that the Supreme Court this morning in US v. Juvenile Male decided to deal with a complicated issue involving retroactive application of a federal sex offender notification provision for adjudicated juvenile delinquents by certifying a question to the Montana Supreme Court. The per curiam order in this case has the SCOTUS Justices asks this question of the Montana Justices:

Is respondent’s duty to remain registered as a sex offender under Montana law contingent upon the validity of the conditions of his now-expired federal juvenile-supervision order that required him to register asa sex offender, see Mont. Code Ann. §§46–23–502(6)(b), 41–5–1513(1)(c) (2005); State v. Villanueva, 328 Mont. 135, 138–140, 118 P. 3d 179, 181–182 (2005); see also §46–23–502(9)(b) (2009), or is the duty an independent requirement of Montana law that is unaffected by the validity or invalidity of the federaljuvenile-supervision conditions, see §46–23–502(10) (2009); 2007 Mont. Laws ch. 483, §31, p. 2185?

I am uncertain whether this "passive virtues" approach to dealing with the Solicitor General's cert request following Ninth Circuit's ruling in Juvenile Male is a clever or curious dodge of a complicated sex offender registration issue.  But I am certain that this approach shows the SCOTUS Justices' continued concern with at least some aspects of the scope and operation of federal SORNA provisions.

June 7, 2010 in Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

SCOTUS upholds BOP's method for calculating good time credits in Barber v. Thomas

SCOTUS watchers will likely be disappointed that the Justices did not hand down any of its big pending opinion this morning. But federal prisoners should be even more disappointed that the one criminal justice opinion in an argued case that was handed down this morning, Barber v. Thomas, has turned out to be a 6-3 loss for defendants.  Barber could have been the most practically consequential sentencing case of the Term if it had come out the other way, but now it is perhaps most interesting for its (unprecedented) voting blocks.  Here is how SCOTUSblog reports on the Barber ruling:

The third and last opinion is in 09-5201, Barber v. Thomas... The Court affirms the lower court, with Justice Breyer writing for the Court...

The vote is 6-3, with Kennedy dissenting joined by Stevens and Ginsburg...

The Court upholds the federal Bureau of Prison's method for calculating inmates' good-time credits.

The full opinion in Barber is available here, and I will have commentary on the ruling later in the day.

June 7, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Charlie Sheen plea deal includes creative (and dramatic?) sentencing provisions

This new CNN report, which is headlined "Charlie Sheen's sentence could include theater internship," details an interesting aspect of a high-profile celebrity sentencing taking place in Aspen today.  Here are the details:

Charlie Sheen will stand before a judge Monday afternoon to plead guilty to charges stemming from a Christmas morning argument with his wife in Aspen, Colorado, a prosecutor said.

If the judge accepts the plea agreement, the television star would spend the next month as a theater intern by day and a jail inmate at night.  Pitkin County, Colorado, District Attorney Arnold Mordkin would not confirm reports that  Sheen would serve 30 days in jail, but the sheriff has already scheduled a news conference to answer questions about his jail.

The proposal includes a month of community service for Sheen, 44, working with Theater Aspen, according to Paige Price, the theater's artistic director. "We've often been in a position of helping people fulfill their community service, but he would be our highest profile intern," Price said.

Sheen's duties with the community theater haven't been outlined, but it would involve "some utilization of his skills as an actor," Price said.  Sheen, who began acting professionally in 1974, may teach master classes for professional actors working during Theater Aspen's summer productions, Price said.

I sure hope I might get a chance to do community service as a lawyer and law professor if I ever get in trouble like Charlie Sheen.

June 7, 2010 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

"[M]ost law reviews are simply a waste of trees"

The title of this post (which is cross-posted at LSI) comes from the last phrase of this amusing and effective commentary by Professor Gerald Uelmen in the June 2010 issue of the California Lawyer.  (Hat tip: C&C.) The piece is titled "The Wit, Wisdom, and Worthlessness of Law Reviews," and here are a few snippets:

During California's legal "golden era" of the Gibson and Traynor Courts in the 1950s and '60s, law reviews were cited with increasing frequency. In a classic study of the authorities cited in California Supreme Court opinions, Stanford law professor John H. Merryman counted 164 law review citations in the court's 1970 opinions, a "sharp increase" over previous years (Merryman, "Toward a Theory of Citations," 50 S. CAL. L. REV. 381 (1977)).

I did my own count recently of the California Supreme Court opinions published during the past five years that relied on law reviews as authority: There were just six.  This despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that law reviews have tripled in number since the 1970s.  The 20 ABA-accredited law schools in California now publish a total of 82 law reviews. UC Berkeley's alone publishes 14, while Stanford and UC Hastings each publish 9.  Both law professors seeking tenure and law students seeking employment at elite law firms eagerly fill these volumes.  But who reads them now? Surely not the judges who decide the law. And not practicing lawyers either.

As Adam Liptak of the New York Times observed a few years ago, "Articles in law reviews have certainly become more obscure in recent decades.  Many law professors seem to think they are under no obligation to say anything useful or to say anything well.  They take pride in the theoretical and in working in disciplines other than their own.  They seem to think the analysis of actual statutes and court decisions — which is to say the practice of law — is beneath them."...

Of course, there are still a few law professors who would rather publish for practicing lawyers and judges than just for other professors. But given the way the academic game is played these days, they do so at their peril — particularly if they are seeking tenure. Still, law reviews are in no danger of disappearing anytime soon.  After all, big law firms and elitist judges continue to demand "law review experience" as a prerequisite for hiring.  The publication of student notes also provides a vehicle to enhance badly needed writing skills for barely literate law students.  But in terms of contributing to the profession, most law reviews are simply a waste of trees.

To put a little sentencing spin on this effective attack on modern law reviews, I wonder how many of the "20 ABA-accredited law schools in California [that] now publish a total of 82 law reviews" have produced articles discussing the dysfunctionality of California's state sentencing system or the profound legal issues that surround its long-lasting prison over-crowding problems.  I know of a few strong "local" pieces on California's three strikes law and other local topics, but not as many as are justified or needed for the legislators, courts and practitioners struggling daily with these issues.

As readers of this blog know, there are an array of interesting and important (and theoretically sophisticated and challenging) issues surrounding California's sentencing law and policy that merit extended and repeated coverage in law reviews.  And I am proud to note that one of the law reviews that I edit, the Federal Sentencing Reporter, has this new issue on "California's Corrections Crisis."  I am thus glad that Professor Uelmen says only that "most" not "all" law reviews are a waste of trees.  (And, of course, no trees were killed or even hurt in the production of this blog post.)

June 7, 2010 in On blogging, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Will sixth time be the charm in capital trial(s) of Curtis Flowers?

CNN has this interesting report on what appears to be a record-setting capital trial scheduled to start this week in Mississippi.  Here is how the piece gets started:

Curtis Flowers has stood before five juries in the past 13 years on capital murder charges, accused of killing four people in a Mississippi furniture store.  This week, prosecutors are hoping his sixth trial will be the last.

Flowers, 40, is believed to be the only person in recent U.S. history to be tried six times on the same capital murder charges.

Bertha Tardy, the owner of Tardy's Furniture in downtown Winona, and three employees were shot execution-style in the head the morning of July 16, 1996, inside the store, court records say.

The shootings rattled the sleepy central Mississippi town, with a population of about 5,500 that has declined in the 14 years since then.... After months of interviews and a $30,000 reward for information, Flowers was arrested in January 1997 on four counts of capital murder. He has been in custody ever since.

Flowers has been convicted three times and sentenced to death twice, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed those verdicts and ordered a new trial each time.  His two most recent trials ended in hung juries, leading his supporters to question why the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office continues to seek a conviction.

The prosecution's case is based largely on circumstantial evidence.  There is no DNA, the alleged murder weapon has not been found and eyewitnesses who say they saw Flowers the day of the shooting have provided conflicting accounts.  Still, Montgomery County District Attorney Doug Evans says it's a straightforward case of a disgruntled worker taking out his anger against his former employer.

Others, who believe Flowers is innocent, say the case has turned into a crusade and suggest that race has played a major role in the prosecution and convictions of Flowers. "The fact they're trying this case for the sixth time suggests to me there's some racial motivation here, because there's no way in the world I can see a white guy accused of doing the same thing being tried six times to procure a conviction," said Jackson City Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, who represented Flowers in his second trial in 1999.

Flowers' supporters say it is a classic example of a case built upon weak circumstantial evidence and shaky eyewitness testimony intended to blame an easy target: a poor black man.  "What does it say about the prosecution that they have chosen to ignore two jury verdicts?" said Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice, a nonprofit organization that monitors due process violations in the criminal justice system.

"I really think the only way to save Winona from this nightmare is to force the Montgomery County district attorney to step aside and appoint the attorney general's office.  If you did that, I am convinced you wouldn't see the prosecution of Curtis Flowers, because the evidence just isn't there."

To Evans, though, Flowers' prosecution is about seeking justice for the victims and bringing closure to the community. "Any time that we feel there is evidence to prove a case, we're going to pursue it," said Evans, who tried the five previous cases and will lead the prosecution this time.

June 7, 2010 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Another notable Ponzi schemer up for federal sentencing this week

As detailed in this local article from Florida, which is headlined "Rothstein’s abuse of legal system looms large in sentencing," another big federal sentencing of another big Ponzi schemer is on tap for this week. Here are the basics:

He ran the largest fraud in Florida history, laundered money and lied to clients, colleagues and investors. But, when it comes to sentencing Scott Rothstein for his crimes, legal experts agree that his biggest problem is his gross abuse of the legal system. The 47-year-old Ponzi schemer is facing up to 100 years in prison.

There are mitigating factors: Rothstein’s help in bringing down alleged mobsters will be noted, experts say. But, any benefit provided by his cooperation may be outweighed by the inescapable fact that he spent years undermining the state and federal justice system.

“The same judicial system that he desecrated will now pass judgment on him,” said Charles Intriago, a former prosecutor who founded the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists. “If I was a federal prosecutor, I’d be saying those things on behalf of the United States of America.”

The pinnacle of Rothstein’s abuse of the legal system came when he forged the signatures of two federal judges while trying to fleece one of his best-known clients, Ed Morse of the Ed Morse Automotive Group, which has dealerships throughout Florida, including Broward and Palm Beach counties, and in Mobile County, Ala.

Rothstein has already pleaded guilty and will appear before U.S. District Judge James Cohn on June 9 to learn his fate. He was charged with five criminal counts, including wire fraud, mail fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Speculating about his sentence has become a popular guessing game in legal and business circles....

Still, federal sentencing guidelines for financial fraud are driven by the amount of loss. The $1.2 billion take for Rothstein’s Ponzi scheme will set the bar high....

Rothstein pleaded guilty to using his law firm as a front for his Ponzi scheme and to selling interests in phony lawsuit settlements. He has admitted to fabricating plaintiff and defendant names for the bogus settlements, and also admitted to funneling illegal money through his firm’s attorneys for political donations.

In this post over at his Souther District of Florida Blog, David Oscar Markus has lots of coverage of the up-coming Rothstein sentencing (including this link to Rothstein's sentencing memo).  Attorney Markus adds these comments:

Scott Rothstein asks Judge Cohn for 30 years, and I'm a bit surprised.  I thought he'd ask for less. The PSI calls for life (a level 52), but the statutory maximum is 100 years.  Rothstein will be 48 the day after his sentencing this week.

June 7, 2010 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 6, 2010

"California has high hopes of reinstating death penalty"

6W5DEATHPENALTY.highlight.prod_affiliate.4 The title of this post is the headline of this front-page story from the Sacramento Bee.  Here is how the piece gets started (and click here for a larger version of the graphic that accompanies the piece):

When Caryl Chessman died in California's gas chamber 50 years ago – probably the state's most notorious execution – 18 inmates were left on death row. Today, there are 702. The last execution at San Quentin State Prison was that of Clarence Ray Allen on Jan. 17, 2006, the 13th in California since 1978.

Since that day, at least 205 convicts have been executed in other states, 24 death row inmates at San Quentin have died from natural causes or suicide, and 83 people have been sentenced to death in California courts.

But no one has been executed in California since Allen. That's largely because of two court challenges over the state's lethal injection methods and its attempt to short-circuit the procedure for revising those methods.

Now corrections officials hope they are on the verge of winning approval of their rewritten lethal injection rules, which will give the rules the force of law.  That approval, due by Friday, will reignite a pending legal battle over whether California can rejoin 34 other states that have the death penalty, and whether it should.

Supporters and opponents say the likelihood of executions resuming anytime soon in California is slight. "I've just kind of lost faith in the system, that it's ever going to work," said Barbara Christian, a 72-year-old Wilton woman whose daughter, Terri Lynn Winchell, was savagely raped and murdered 29 years ago when she was 17.  "I'd like to see justice for my daughter."

I think Ms. Christian's pessimism is justified, and I will be surprised if California gets back into the business of execution anytime soon.  As this Bee article does on to spotlight, the new California protocol will surely be challenged vigorously in both state and federal courts, and there is little reason to for death penalty abolitionists to fear, or for death penalty proponents to hope, that the judges on the Ninth Circuit in particular will be in any big rush to make sure lethal injection litigation gets resolved quickly.

The extraordinary slow pace in which California has tried to improve its lethal injection protocol stands in remarkable contrast to Ohio's ability late last year to completely revise its execution protocol and resume executions within a matter of months.  The Ohio lethal injection story highlights that where this is a true will, there is often a real way to improve the administration of capital punishment.  But I do not think this will really exists in California, even though the state clearly enjoys putting more people on death row than any other state in country.

Some related posts:

June 6, 2010 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack