July 3, 2010
Should local Wisconsin DA be lauded or lambasted for his broad reading of Heller and McDonald?
Thanks to this post by Eugene Volokh, I see that at least one law enforcement official thinks that Heller and McDonald should be interpretted quite broadly. Here are snippets from this press release issued last week issued by the DA of Wisconsin's Jackson County:
Yesterday, ... the [Supreme] Court declared that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right, and that self-defense is at the core of the freedoms protected by the amendment.
This Supreme Court ruling is binding on all states and local governments, and immediately renders some of Wisconsin’s current laws unconstitutional. Therefore, in keeping with my oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, I hereby declare that this office will no longer accept law enforcement referrals for violations of the following statutes:
- Section 167.31, prohibiting uncased or loaded firearms in vehicles;
- Section 941.23, prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons, including firearms;
- Section 941.235, prohibiting the possession of firearms in public buildings;
- Section 941.237, prohibiting the possession of firearms in establishments where alcohol may be sold or served; and,
- Section 941.24, prohibiting the possession of knives that open with a button, or by gravity, or thrust, or movement.
All of these statutes constitute unjustifiable infringements on the fundamental right of every law-abiding American to arm themselves for self-defense and the defense of their loved ones, co-workers, homes and communities. This change also invalidates Jackson County Ordinance Sections 9.01 (firearms in public buildings) and 9.29 (CCW)....
As with the other fundamental rights, such as the freedom of speech, of religion, of association, or of security in our homes, persons, and effects, government limitations on fundamental rights are lawful only in the rare case that the state can show a compelling governmental need that can be accomplished only by enacting a narrowly-tailored restriction, in terms of time, place and manner. Clearly, a blanket prohibition against carrying your loaded firearm in your personal vehicle does not pass that test....
The fact is, criminals don’t pay attention to gun laws, only we good folks do. After 15 years of criminal law practice, I can state positively that when criminals resolve to harm someone, no law will stop them. These so-called “public safety” laws only put decent law-abiding citizens at a dangerous disadvantage when it comes to their personal safety, and I for one am glad that this decades-long era of defective thinking on gun issues is over.
I will watch for the legislature to make needed corrections in these areas. In the meantime, while I am happy to declare that we will follow the Supreme Court’s ruling, I want to emphasize that with fundamental rights come grave responsibilities, and I will continue to vigorously enforce the laws against unlawfully using firearms, such as the prohibition against felons being armed; going armed while intoxicated; using a firearm to commit a crime; and endangering safety by negligent handling of a weapon, to name just a few.
In his post on this press release, Eugene Volokh adds these comments:
This strikes me as an overreading of McDonald and Heller, which made clear (whether or not correctly) that concealed carry bans and bans on carrying into public buildings are constitutional. But a D.A. is entitled, given his prosecutorial discretion, to refuse to enforce laws that he believes to be unconstitutional, even if the courts think the laws are constitutional.
As the title to mt post indicates, I am very interested in reader reactions to the express statement by a local DA saying he will, on questionable constitutional grounds, refuse to enfore a duly enacted state law. Do folks think this is an appropriate way to respect fundamental right or a dangerous example of an executive official taking too much of the law into his own hands?
July 2, 2010
"How The Recession Hurts Private Prisons"The title of this post is the headline of this Newsweek feature. Here is how the interesting piece gets started:
Baldwin, Mich., (population 1,107), will soon have more prison beds than full-time residents. On the outskirts of town, one of the country’s largest private prison companies recently spent $60 million to expand a former juvenile prison into a 1,755-bed facility meant to house illegal immigrants before deportation. This is the same town where every summer locals gather for a carnival nicknamed Troutarama at which teenage girls vie for the crown of Ms. Lake County. Thirty-two percent of Baldwin’s families live below the poverty line, in a state with a 13.6 percent unemployment rate, compared to the national unemployment rate of 9.7 percent. Baldwin residents were counting on the private prison to create jobs, but this past March, the federal government pulled back its funding on the bid. This left the Geo Group, Inc., with an empty fortress in the middle of rural Michigan, 85 miles north of Grand Rapids.
A similar scenario is playing out across the country, in states such as California, Oklahoma, and Colorado, where entire private prisons now sit vacant. The Huerfano County Correctional Facility in Colorado and the Diamondback Correctional Facility in Oklahoma temporarily shut their doors this spring after the state of Arizona stopped sending prisoners out of state in an effort to save money. Cornell Companies, one of the three largest private prison operators in the U.S., expects two of its California prisons to remain empty through 2010, while 11,600 of Correction Corporation of America’s beds were unoccupied as of early May. The empty prisons are not a result of the number of inmates dropping. In fact, according to the Pew Public Safety Performance Project, the number of inmates rose in 2007 in Arizona, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Florida. Instead, the empty beds are because state corrections agencies are crowding prisoners into more facilities as they do in California, or trying to change legislation to make sentencing less harsh for nonviolent criminals. The private prison industry’s reliable mix of housing state and federal inmates and illegal immigrants — a model that helped to fuel two decades of growth — is no longer a surefire way to get rich. “There are only so many places you can find people,” says Martin F. Horn, a former commissioner with the New York City Department of Correction and a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Though it’s certainly not disappearing and there are signs of a potential recovery for the sector, the private corrections business is under financial pressure to change its business plan, and as that happens, prison advocates worry that the industry and it’s bottom-line approach will come to dominate other areas of the justice system. Rather than worrying about upping the number of inmates, private prison companies are tapping into overseas markets and offering a wider range of services. GEO increased its revenue by $20.2 million in the last year by opening up prisons in Australia and the United Kingdom, while also eyeing contracts in South Africa and New Zealand. Cornell runs halfway houses and youth prisons and has noticed an uptick in the demand for drug treatment, housing, or job placement programs that help prisoners reenter society. “The challenge for reentry is funding,” says James Hyman, CEO and president of Cornell Companies. “If states can’t fund programs for their star college graduates, how do they fund programs for the prisoners?”
Public defenders in Kentucky challenging prosecutorial discretion in capital casesAs detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Kenton County case to be used as Ky. death penalty test," state public defenders in Kentucky are making a broad challenge to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in death penalty cases. Here are the basics:
Kentucky's public defenders have picked a Kenton County homicide case to challenge the constitutionality of allowing prosecutors to decide whether to seek the death penalty.
A person who commits a crime in one county may face death while a person who commits the same crime in another county may not face death. That practice makes Kentucky's death penalty process "arbitrary and capricious," public defender Joanne Lynch argued Thursday in Kenton Circuit Court. She is representing Marion "Timmy" Lawson Parker III, 27, of Covington. He could be sent to death row if found guilty in the January beating and strangling of Shawn Davis, 28, of Covington.
While state law outlines what crimes are death penalty-eligible, there is no guideline to help individual prosecutors to decide when to apply it, Lynch said. Under state law, the death penalty applies only in homicides in which an aggravating circumstance exists. Those include if the killing occurs during the commission of arson, robbery, burglary, rape or sodomy.
"As far as our research has shown, this is relatively a novel issue," Lynch said. "It has not been decided by the courts of the commonwealth."
Lawyers from the Kentucky Attorney General's Office traveled from Frankfort to defend the state's death penalty statute from the legal attack. Robert Long of the attorney general's office said Lynch's argument is flawed because, if it was equally applied to all cases, prosecutors would lose all discretion in whether to decide to charge individuals....
Kenton Circuit Judge Gregory Bartlett said federal courts have a system to review all death penalty-applicable cases, even if the death penalty isn't sought. "They are arguing Kentucky may need a review of when death penalty cases are not sought," Bartlett said.
The judge declined, however, to weigh in on the debate. "What we have in essence here is a challenge to the legislation," Bartlett said. "I think this needs to be addressed, if not by the supreme court, then legislators."
By making the arguments now, Parker will be able to appeal on those constitutional grounds if he is ultimately found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
Seeking SCOTUS reflections for guest posts over holiday weekend
I am heading on the road this morning and will be away from my usual blog locales for an extended holiday period. Blogging will continue, but will likely be relatively light over the next week or so. During this period, I would really like to receive from thoughtful (and even not-so-thoughtful) reflections on the Supreme Court and sentencing that I might post in this space to provides some diverse reflections on the Roberts Court's past, present and future.
Folks are, of course, welcome to send me via e-mail comments on the SCOTUS Term that just wrapped up (my first reflections appear in this recent post). But I would also love to be able to post comments on how sentencing (or broader criminal justice) issues are developing during the first few years of the Roberts Court. Or about how Justice Souter's replacement by Justice Sotomayor and Justice Stevens replacement my (likely) Justice Kagan might impact where the Roberts Court is heading on various criminal justice issues. Or about the nature and development of the SCOTUS docket and cert pool. Or about any other related question.
If/when folks send me materials for guest posts, it would be helpful to indicate if and how you would like to be identified. I am happy to post thoughtful comments without attribution, but I will be a bit more likely to post text if the author is prepared to sign his or her name to it.
July 1, 2010
New report details racial disparities in pot possession charges in CaliforniaAs detailed in this press release, the Drug Policy Alliance (which advocates alternatives to the war on drugs) this week "released a report that documents widespread race-based disparities in the enforcement of low-level marijuana possession laws in California." Here are some details from the release:
Focused on the 25 largest counties in the state, t he report finds that African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at substantially higher rates than whites, typically at double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites. Further, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession far out of proportion to their percentage in the total population of the counties.
According to the report, “Targeting Blacks for Marijuana,” these disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates between whites and blacks cannot be explained by their patterns of marijuana use. U.S. government studies consistently find that young blacks consume marijuana at lower rates than young whites. The report was released to coincide with the official endorsement of Proposition 19, the Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative 2010, by the California State Conference of the NAACP. Proposition 19 will appear on the general election ballot November 3rd....
Led by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, researchers studied arrest records from 2004 through 2008 in California’s 25 largest counties, home to about 90 percent of the state's population and almost all of the state's African Americans. Highlights of the report include [the finding that in] the 25 largest counties as a whole, blacks are 7% of the population but 20% of the people arrested for possessing marijuana.
The full report is available at this link.
"Sex offender faces prison for going to movie, authorities say"
The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing local Detroit story which highlights how GPS tracking can play a role in busting a sex offender for going to the wrong pop-culture event. Here are the details:
A sex offender told to stay away from children is facing up to 15 years in prison for allegedly violating his probation.
Michael Keeler, 46, of Gregory appeared in Livingston Circuit Court today. Authorities say he went to MJR Theater in Brighton June 22 to see the blockbuster film "Toy Story 3," putting himself among children despite his probationary terms.
Livingston Judge Michael Hatty set bond at 10 percent of $10,000. A hearing is set for July 8.
Court records showed Keeler served one year in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of criminal sexual conduct, second degree, involving a child under age 13 in 2008.
His probation included lifetime of electronic monitoring and registry on the state's sex offender list. The judge said a GPS monitoring device confirmed his whereabouts on June 22.
Chicago's gun control response to the McDonald rulingThis AP story, which is headlined "Mayor Daley lays out strict gun rules for Chicago," provides the new sure-to-be-challenged gun regulations that Chicago has in the works now that the Supreme Court has made clear that it has to comply with the Second Amendment:
With the city's gun ban certain to be overturned, Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday introduced what city officials say is the strictest handgun ordinance in the United States.
The measure, which draws from ordinances around the country, would ban gun shops in Chicago and prohibit gun owners from stepping outside their homes, even onto their porches or garages, with a handgun....
"As long as I'm mayor, we will never give up or give in to gun violence that continues to threaten every part of our nation, including Chicago," said Daley, who was flanked by activists, city officials and the parents of a teenager whose son was shot and killed on a city bus while shielding a friend.
The ordinance, which Daley urged the City Council to pass, also would:
- Limit the number of handguns residents can register to one per month and prohibit residents from having more than one handgun in operating order at any given time.
- Require residents in homes with children to keep them in lock boxes or equipped with trigger locks.
- Require prospective gun owners to take a four-hour class and one-hour training at a gun range. They would have to leave the city for training because Chicago prohibits new gun ranges and limits the use of existing ranges to police officers. Those restrictions were similar to those in an ordinance passed in Washington, D.C., after the high court struck down its ban two years ago.
- Prohibit people from owning a gun if they were convicted of a violent crime, domestic violence or two or more convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Residents convicted of a gun offense would have to register with the police department.
- Calls for the police department to maintain a registry of every handgun owner in the city, with the names and addresses to be made available to police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders.
Those who already have handguns in the city — which has been illegal since the city's ban was approved 28 years ago — would have 90 days to register those weapons, according to the proposed ordinance.
Residents convicted of violating the city's ordinance can face a fine up to $5,000 and be locked up for as long as 90 days for a first offense and a fine of up to $10,000 and as long as six months behind bars for subsequent convictions.
Perhaps readers can share their views as to which of these proposed regulations seem most likely to withstand or wither under a Second Amendment attack based on Heller and McDonald.
A first-cut criminal justice take on the SCOTUS Term that was
Because the just-completed Supreme Court Term was rich with criminal justices cases that were themselves rich with dynamic issues of constitutional and statutory law, it may not be possible to provide a simple criminal justice take on the Justices' work this past Term. Nevertheless, I wanted here to express my first-cut perspective about the OT 2009 in the hope that readers might confirm or dispute my initial view.
Put most simply, I think the Term had a significant number of little wins for criminal defendants, but the vast majority of cases that could have potentially produced huge wins for defendants ended up being losses (or dismissed cases) or wins via relatively narrow opinions. My view here may be skewed a bit by end-of-term cases like Barber and Comstock and Dillon and Dolan and HLP which were defendant losses that would have been huge if they came out the other way, and also by rulings like Carr and O'Brien and Skilling which were defense wins on possibly the most narrow of the reasonably available grounds.
That said, it is probably accurate to describe the two potentially biggest and most consequential cases, Graham concerning Eighth Amendment restrictions on extreme prison terms and Padilla concerning Sixth Amendment standards for assessing the effectiveness of an defense attorney's pre-plea advice, as big wins for criminal defendants. Especially because of the strong defense-side facts/equities in these cases, wins by the state in these cases would have been a huge blow to future defendants hoping to advance a Sixth or Eighth Amendment claim in related settings. And both Graham and Padilla have dicta that provide significant opportunities for defendants to try to extend these rulings in lower courts. And yet, if recent history is any guide, prosecutors can reasonably hope (and defense attorneys should fear) that lower state and federal courts will generally be inclined to limit the reach of Graham and Padilla.
This cursory review of the SCOTUS criminal justice work in the past Term leaves out police procedure cases (which were mostly wins for prosecutors) and habeas procedure cases (which were mostly wins for the defense). And the fact that there are so many cases to discuss reinforces my initial comment that a simple take on OT 2009 just may not possible.
Split Seventh Circuit upholds seemingly Carr-questionable SORNA convictionA number of helpful readers have alerted me to a notable split Seventh Circuit opinion today in United States v. Vasquez, 09-2411 (7th Cir. July 1, 2010) (available here), which in the words of one reader "appears on quick glance to thumb its’ nose at the Supreme Court’s holding in Carr." The start of a lengthy dissent by Judge Manion provides a window into the dispute:
In reading the court’s opinion and the recent Supreme Court case Carr v. United States, this fact cannot be lost: there are seemingly two statutes at issue here. There is § 2250 as we interpreted it in United States v. Dixon, and as the court continues to interpret it, and then there is § 2250 as the Supreme Court interpreted it in Carr. That being said, I have two principal disagreements with the court’s opinion. The first is that it gives Carr too limited a reading; the second is that its interpretation of § 2250 renders the statute constitutionally defective.
Georgia to seek en banc review of Eleventh Circuit panel ruling about Atkins applicationAs detailed in this post from a few weeks ago, a Eleventh Circuit panel in Hill v. Schofield, No. 08-15444 (11th Cir. Jun. 18, 2010) (available here), declared unconstitutional Georgia's procedures for implementing the Atkins ruling prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded persons. As detailed in this lengthy and effective Fulton County Daily Report article on the ruling, the state of Georgia is going to seek to get the ruling reconsidered. Here are snippets from the article:
Although Georgia was the first state in the nation to outlaw the execution of mentally retarded defendants in 1988, it remains the only state to require an offender to provide proof of mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt -- the most stringent legal standard, according to the opinion. The maximum penalty for mentally retarded offenders in Georgia is life imprisonment.
Twenty-two other states require a defendant to prove mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence; four states have adopted a "clear and convincing standard" -- both less stringent, civil standards of proof. Three states have no uniform standard of proof with regard to mentally retarded capital defendants.
The findings of the 11th Circuit panel -- which included Judges Rosemary Barkett, Stanley Marcus and Frank M. Hull -- included a strong 29-page dissent by Hull, who said that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 decision outlawing the execution of mentally retarded defendants, Atkins v. Virginia, "left it for the states to develop the procedural and substantive guides for determining who is mentally retarded."...
State Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker, who is running for the state Democratic nomination for governor and whose office is defending the Georgia statute, will ask the the 11th Circuit to reconsider the ruling en banc, Baker spokesman Russell D. Willard said Tuesday. "We believe the majority decision was erroneous, and we look forward to making our argument before the full 11th Circuit," Willard said. He declined to detail the nature of the errors, saying that they would be included in pleadings the attorney general will file "shortly."...
Brian Kammer, an attorney with the Georgia Resource Center who has been representing defendant Warren Lee Hill Jr. in state and federal appeals of his 1991 death sentence since 1996, said the appellate panel's ruling has reversed a "stark instance of injustice."
"The burden of proof has been challenged several times in different cases unsuccessfully in Georgia," Kammer said. "But it certainly hadn't gotten to 11th Circuit before now." Hill's case, Kammer continued, "is a primary example of how the reasonable doubt burden of proof will likely result in the execution of the mentally retarded."
Whether or not the full Eleventh Circuit takes up this issue, I think there is a very good chance that the Supreme Court will be considering some variation on this Atkins implementation issue before too long.
June 30, 2010
In the Kagan hearings, were any core criminal justice issues been discussed?
The formal and direct questioning of SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan wrapped up this afternoon. Based on media reports, it seems that the death penalty and gun rights are the only criminal justice issues that were at any point discussed during the two days of Q+A between the Senators and Kagan. I suppose this is not really all that surprising, but it is certainly disappointing given that dozens of cases come before the Supreme Court each Term dealing with core criminal justices issues ranging from police practices to criminal trial procedures to sentencing law. Oh well.
I hope readers will let me know if I missed any noteworthy discussion of criminal justice issues during the hearings dealing with criminal justice issues other than death and guns. I also hope readers will report on anything they think could still get in the way of Elena Kagan becoming Justice Kagan in short order.
UPDATE: A helpful reader reported to me this exchange on federal crack/cocaine sentencing:
Here is what Kagan said in response to a question from Sen. Durbin on crack cocaine:
“Crack cocaine issue is one of the things I’ve had the most to do with as a policy matter. We suggested a 10-1 ratio because we thought that it was the practical approach to take. As a judge, the only thing that would matter would be the statute; unless and until Congress changes it, the current statute would apply.”
Interesting details about the first(?) post-McDonald suit brought in North CarolinaThis local story out of North Carolina provides some of the interesting details surrounding the first high-profile challenge to a state gun law in the wake of the McDonald Second Amendment ruling earlier this week:
The same day the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that gun rights advocates saw as an open door to challenge the constitutionality of firearms restrictions, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in North Carolina seeking an injunction against the governor and others from declaring states of emergency that restrict who can carry guns in public.
The suit was filed Monday by Second Amendment Foundation, Grass Roots North Carolina and three individuals against Gov. Bev Perdue, Reuben F. Young, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, Stokes County and the City of King....
The North Carolina case, filed in the state's eastern federal district, questions whether state laws limiting who can carry guns in states of emergency are overreaching. The suit also contends that government officials, under the state of emergency law, are allowed to prohibit the purchase, sale and possession of firearms and ammunition — actions the plaintiffs describe as violations of their Second Amendment rights.
Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, a gun rights advocacy group, said the suit was filed, in part, to test whether the state can impose such restrictions in times of emergency. "Not only will it get to that," Valone said Tuesday. "It will set binding precedent."
Under North Carolina law, the governor can declare states of emergency as can municipalities and counties. Since Sept. 1, 2004, according to the lawsuit, at least a dozen states of emergency have been declared by a North Carolina governor. All but one were weather-related — for hurricanes, tropical storms, snow and ice. One was for the 2008 wildfire that swept through Hyde, Tyrell and Washington counties.
In some towns and cities, though, states of emergency are declared when large crowds are expected to gather in small places. In such circumstances, law enforcement officers are able to confiscate weapons.
King, a Stokes County town of about 4,700 people nearly seven miles north of Winston-Salem, was named in the suit because in February, the mayor declared a state of emergency after a fierce winter snow and ice storm felled trees and damaged properties. The mayor did so, according to city administrators, so that King could be a candidate for federal funds to help with the cleanup after the storm....
State law enforcement advocacy groups and North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, an advocate for gun controls, declined to comment about the specifics of the case. "We want to wait for more input from law enforcement," said Roxane Kolar, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.
Some old and new recent related posts on state litigation and McDonald:
- Effective review of state gun laws likely to be challenged after McDonald
- The "Silent Six" states worth watching for post-McDonald Second Amendment litigation
- North Carolina Supreme Court finds state constitutional right for some felons to bear arms
- Notable new Alaska appellate decision on denying gun rights to non-violent felons
- SCOTUS decides Second Amendment applies to the states in 5-4 opinion
- The likely state criminal litigation impact of McDonald and state applications of the Second Amendment
- Puzzling through the doctrine and dicta of McDonald on the Second Amendment's limits
Notable new district court opinion addressing effort to defend child porn sentencing guidelinesRegular readers know well the robust on-going debate in the federal courts concerning the federal sentencing guidelines and appropriate sentencing for child porn offenses. Though most detailed written sentencing opinion on the subject have assailed the operation and severity of the federal guidelines for child porn downloading offenses, earlier this year US District Judge John Adams issued a thoughtful opinion in US v. Cunningham, No. 1:09CR154 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 26, 2010) (discussed here) provided a detailed defense of the federal child porn guidelines. Now I have received a new opinion from US District Judge Lynn Adelman, US v. Diaz, No. 09-CR-302 (E.D. Wisc. June 30, 2010) (available for download below), which takes on the reasoning of Cunningham and "respectfully disagree[s] with the court’s observations." Here is a snippet of this disagreement:
[T]he Cunningham court argued that the fact that certain enhancements apply on a frequent basis does not serve as a basis for negating the guidelines. Id. at 852-53. But where, as here, the imposition of those enhancements results in sentences approaching the maximum in criminal history category I, the approach developed by the Commission breaks down. Specifically, the Commission developed the criminal history axis of the Grid based on its conclusion that a defendant’s past record of criminal conduct was directly relevant to the four purposes of sentencing: a defendant with a record is more culpable than a first offender and thus deserving of greater punishment; deterrence requires that a message be sent that repeat criminal behavior will aggravate the need for punishment with each recurrence; to protect the public, the likelihood of recidivism must be considered; and repeated criminal behavior is an indicator of a limited likelihood of successful rehabilitation. See U.S.S.G. ch. 4 introductory commentary. If even a first offender approaches the maximum based on the offense level alone, chapter four becomes irrelevant, and a first-time offender is treated similarly to a recidivist. That is not what the Commission (or the Sentencing Reform Act) intended.
The academic in me who is interested in robust sentencing debate is especially intrigued and excited to see these district judges issuing dueling sentencing opinions providing thoughtful and thorough written accounts explaining just how and why they decided to exercise their sentencing discretion in a particular way. But the citizen in me who is generally interested in federal defendants facing similar sentencing realities for similar criminal conduct is wondering if and when federal appellate courts or the Sentencing Commission or Congress will try to start herding the district court sentencing cats that continue to stray because the current sentencing guidelines appear to most participants to be providing very poor guidance in the vast majority of child porn downloading cases.
Some related prior federal child porn prosecution and sentencing posts:
- Fascinating data on recent trends and circuit specifics for federal child porn sentences
- Thorough and thoughtful district court defense of federal child porn guidelines
- "Federal judges argue for reduced sentences for child-porn convicts"
- ABA Journal covers the controversies over federal child porn sentences
- "Judge Weinstein Takes On Child Pornography Laws"
- Effective local reporting on realities and debates surrounding federal sentencing guidelines for child porn
- The latest (beneficial?) litigation front in child porn downloading battles
- Noting the latest data showing reduced (but disparate) federal sentences for child porn downloaders
- More examples of sentencing uncertainty surrounding federal child porn cases
Fascinating Ninth Circuit ruling on whether prisoners have medical privacy rightsThe Ninth Circuit issued an interesting ruling today concerning the medical privacy rights of a prisoner in Seaton v. Mayberg, No. 05-56894 (9th Cir. June 30, 2010) (available here). Here is how the main panel opinion starts and ends:
We address a claim to privacy rights in his medical records of a prisoner being evaluated for civil commitment....
One who goes to a physician in order to obtain medical benefit to himself or his family has substantial privacy interests that may or may not be constitutionally protected. One who is compelled to submit to medical examination for the benefit of the public, to determine whether because of mental disease he is likely to engage in sexually predatory behavior, does not.
Former NC lottery commissioner first(?) to get released based on Skilling honest service rulingA helpful reader sent me an order entered yesterday in Geddings v. US (available for download below), in which a district court has ordered the release of a former North Carolina lottery commissioner based on the new narrowed interpretation of the federal honest services fraud statue set forth in last weeks Skilling decision. Here is a key snippet from the order:
On June 24, 2010, the court orderedthe United States to submita memorandum of law not later than June 29, 2010, addressing whether this court should grant post-conviction relief to Geddings. On June 29, 2010, the United States submitted a memorandum acknowledging that under Skilling:it is no longer a federal crime for state public officials to corrupt their public offices by engaging in undisclosed self-dealing. The new interpretation of Section 1346 does not cover the undisclosed self-dealing that Geddings committed in connection with his service as a North Carolina Lottery Commissioner. Consequently, the Government concedes that Geddings is entitled to have his conviction vacated.
Govt. Mem. 1. The government also contends that Geddings is not entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 or 28 U.S.C. § 1651, but is entitled to relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See id. at 2, 10-12 (citing In re Jones, 226 F.3d 328, 332 (4th Cir. 2000)). The government moves the court "to release Geddings, as soon a practicable, pending the resolution of the Section 2241 process." Govt. Mem. 2, 12-13.
I hope somebody will end up keeping track of how many convictions end up vacated as a result of the Skillingruling, as well as what sentences were imposes/served based on convictions that end up vacated. Notably, Kevin Geddings got sentenced to 48 months in May 2007and was denied bail pending appeal in June that same year.
Split Second Circuit panel reverses death sentence for NYC double cop killerAs detailed in this New York Times report, which is headlined "Death Sentence Is Voided for Killer of 2 N.Y.P.D. Officers," the Second Circuit today has reversed a high-profile federal death sentence. Here are the basics:
A panel of federal judges has overturned the death sentence given to a Staten Island man convicted of killing two undercover New York City police detectives in 2003. In January 2007, when a federal jury sentenced the man, Ronell Wilson, to die by lethal injection for killing the detectives, the verdict was praised by prosecutors and the president of the Detectives Endowment Association.
Relatives of the two detectives — each shot in the back of the head in a car on a dead-end street on Staten Island in 2003 after posing as gun buyers — called out “God bless” after the jury foreman ordered sentences of death on five counts, the first successful federal capital punishment prosecution in New York State in more than 50 years.
But, a little more than three years later, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned the death sentences on Wednesday. The judges ruled that federal prosecutors violated Mr. Wilson’s constitutional rights.
Here is a key section from the start of the majority opinion in US v. Wilson, No. 07-1320 (2d Cir. June 30, 2010) (available here):
[W]e vacate the death sentences, and remand, because two arguments made to the jury by the prosecution — both bearing on the critical issues of remorse, acceptance of responsibility, and future dangerousness — impaired Wilson’s constitutional rights. The government argued: [i] that Wilson put the government to its proof of guilt rather than plead guilty; and [ii] that Wilson’s allocution of remorse should be discredited because he failed to testify notwithstanding the fact that “[t]he path for that witness stand has never been blocked for Mr. Wilson.” As to the first argument, although a guilty plea may properly be considered to support a sentence mitigation for acceptance of responsibility, the Sixth Amendment is violated when failure to plead guilty is treated as an aggravating circumstance. As to the second, it is a fair argument for the prosecution to say that an allocution of remorse is unsworn and uncrossed, but the Fifth Amendment is violated when the defendant is denied a charge that limits the Fifth Amendment waiver to that which is said in the allocution and the jury is invited to consider more generally that the defendant declined to testify. These constitutional violations were not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
Judge Livingston dissents from this portion of the panel's ruling, say this at the end of her opinion:
I conclude that if there was Fifth Amendment error here — and I find it doubtful — such error had no impact on the jury that sentenced Wilson. With regard to the Sixth Amendment, there is simply no error to review. Having reached these conclusions, I believe the death sentences should be affirmed.
As the dissent highlights, these constitutional issues are not clear cut, which makes en banc review by the Second Circuit and/or a cert grants by the Supreme Court quite likely. In other words, this legal battles over the defendant's death sentence have likely only just begun.
Effective review of state gun laws likely to be challenged after McDonaldThe AP has this effective new piece, headlined "Gun law challenges likely after high court ruling," which reviews the state gun restrictions that might soon be subject to post-McDonald litigation. Here is the article's list:
Among other laws already facing lawsuits or expected to be challenged:
- Age limits that bar people younger than 21 from buying or owning guns
- Lockbox and trigger-lock requirements to keep guns away from children
- One-gun-a-month purchase limits in California, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia
- Georgia's prohibition on carrying guns into churches
- Bans on guns in bars
- California's outlawing of certain handguns
- Assault weapons and ammunition bans
- Federal and state prohibitions aimed at keeping domestic violence offenders from having guns.
I would be interested in hearing reader views on which of these laws seem most likely and least likely to survive Second Amendment challenges.
Texas about to conduct back-to-back executionsAs detailed in this AP article, the execution chamber in Texas is due to be busy this week:
Condemned prisoner Jonathan Green faces lethal injection for the abduction, rape and strangling of a 12-year-old girl near Houston 10 years ago. Green is scheduled to die in the Texas death chamber in Huntsville on Wednesday evening. The 42-year-old inmate would be the 14th killer Texas has executed this year and the first of two on consecutive nights in the nation's most active death penalty state.
Assuming these executions are conducted, there will have been already 31 execution in the US in 2010, nearly as many as the number of executions that were conducted in all of 2008. As revealed by this yearly execution data at DPIC, 2010 may be on pace to have as many or more executions than any other year in nearly a decade.
June 29, 2010
Fascinating racial justice debate on California pot legalization propositionThis AP article, which is headlined "Calif NAACP to back pot legalization initiative," provides an interesting example of how California's November ballot proposition that would decriminalize marijuana is already dividing some usual bedfellows:
The NAACP's California chapter pledged its support on Tuesday for a marijuana legalization ballot measure, saying current laws are unfairly used to target minorities. The group highlighted findings it says show the arrest rate among blacks for low-level marijuana crimes far exceed those of whites in the state's largest counties....
The NAACP's announcement outraged a Sacramento preacher who is leading opposition to the measure. International Faith-Based Coalition president Ron Allen said African-American leaders are distressed that one of the country's most respected civil rights organizations would disregard the harm caused by illicit drugs among blacks. "The NAACP does not represent the African-American community when it comes to legalizing marijuana," Allen said.
Drug legalization advocates hailed the endorsement as a major step forward in broadening the coalition of groups who support the reform of marijuana laws. Opponents of current drug prohibitions frequently point to the issue of race and drug arrests as evidence of a flawed national policy.
"There have not been high profile organizations or elected officials within African-American communities to say enough is enough, we have to end marijuana prohibition. This is really a first," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Some related posts on pot policy and politics:
- Should and will California's voters legalize marijuana in that state this November?
- "Legalizing marijuana not really a dopey idea"
- Might Sarah Palin's sensible points about pot get Tea Party types to push for sensible drug reforms?
- Thoughtful academic thoughts on ending marijuana prohibitions
- Green tea party: will Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or other professed liberty lovers support ending pot prohibition in California?
- Do "mama grizzlies" have a particular approach to crime and punishment issues?
- NPR's interesting coverage of "The New Marijuana"
- How can and should we assess the "success" of medical marijuana and pot prohibition reform efforts?
- This is Fox News on drugs ... lots of questions
Kagan confirmation comedy clubThis AP article, which summarizes some aspects of Day 2 of the confirmation hearings for SCOTUS nominee Elena Kagan, highlights some of her amusing answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee:
She cracked up senators and the audience alike when she was asked about her whereabouts on Christmas Day, when there was an attempted airplane bombing, telling the committee: "You know, like all Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant."
Kagan's humor got a thumbs-up from Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., one of her most cantankerous questioners. Talking about television coverage of the courts, Kagan told Specter: "It means I'd have to get my hair done more often."
That left him momentarily speechless. Then he offered: "Let me commend you on that last comment, and I say that seriously. You have have shown a really admirable sense of humor, and I think that is really important."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., later predicted Kagan would give Justice Antonin Scalia, who gets the most laughs on the high court, a run for his money.
On a more serious note, here are some headlines and links from various sources providing some substantive highlights of today's confirmation festivities:
- Kagan sidesteps empathy question, says 'it's law all the way down'
- Kagan Takes Gun Off Table, Calls Recent SCOTUS Cases 'Good Precedent'
- Kagan insists she didn't block military at Harvard
- Kagan indicates support for limiting corporate spending on elections
Because I lacked the time or the energy to watch much of the hearings, I would be grateful if readers use the comments to report on anything they found particular noteworthy from the interchanges to so far.