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October 30, 2010

Decorated Vietnam vet gets way below-guideline sentence for child porn

This notable local article from South Dakota, which is headlined "War vet sentenced 18 months for child porn," reports on another interesting and notable federal sentencing case involving a child porn downloader. Here are the fascinating details:

A decorated Vietnam veteran with no criminal history and only a vague memory of his crime will spend 18 months in a mental health facility for dabbling in child pornography.

The unique circumstances in the case of 65-year-old Truman Wages led U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol to deviate from federal sentencing guidelines -- and his own judicial philosophy -- by trimming what would have been a five-year prison sentence to 18 months in a secure mental institution. "Frankly, the public needs to see that if you engage in child pornography, you're going to go to prison," Piersol said at the Parkston man's sentencing on Friday.

The judge agreed, nonetheless, with the assessments of Wages by defense lawyer Tim Langley and forensic psychiatrist Ricardo Ascano.  Namely, that the near-suicidal veteran with a deteriorated memory does not represent a threat to the community. "This is not a pedophile," Langley said. "This is a person who can't even give a reasonably coherent account of what he was trying to do when he stumbled onto these things."

What investigators found during a 2008 search of Wages' home and property were nearly 100 CDs with some pornography on them. Among them were three discs containing child pornography.  Prosecutor Jeff Clapper said that one of the 10 videos contained footage of an adult male engaging in sex acts with a 1-year-old child. "He didn't just view it on the Internet, he downloaded it, saved it and put it on a disc," Clapper said.

Ascano's psychiatric profile showed Wages to prefer adult women overwhelmingly as sexual partners, evidenced by a collection of adult pornography and a wandering sexual history that includes more than 200 female partners.  Part of each monthly disabled veteran's check goes to support some of his children in Mexico, Langley said.

When asked to explain his foray into child pornography, Wages said he had probably stumbled across the material while searching for an herbal cure for erectile dysfunction.

Wages earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, Ascano said, and has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since.  Veteran's Affairs clinics in California and Arizona diagnosed him with depression, anxiety and schizoid personality disorder, Ascano said, and he attempted suicide in 1993. The deterioration in his memory stems from a long-term refusal to take medications for his Type II diabetes and hypertension. He refuses, the doctor says, because he is "parasuicidal."...

Clapper recommended a higher sentence than Piersol ultimately issued, but said the serious crime came about in a "highly unusual" manner.  Wages' use of pornography increased with his age, Clapper said, alongside his self-imposed isolation and depression. "We've got a person who has lived a hypersexual life, and later in life he isn't able to live that way anymore," Clapper said.

October 30, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Offender Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 29, 2010

Noting the impact of Graham for all juve LWOP sentences

Today's Wall Street Journal take note of the echoes of the Supreme Court's ruling last Term in Graham v. Florida via this effective article, headlined "Judges Forced to Revisit Juveniles' Life Sentences." Here are excerpts:

Judges are grappling with whether it is ever proper to sentence a juvenile to life in prison without parole in light of a Supreme Court decision that such a punishment for non-murderers is cruel and unusual....

Since the decision, state courts have been reducing the sentences of prisoners covered by the ruling.  An Iowa judge last month decided that Jason Means, 34 years old, who was serving life without parole for a kidnapping committed when he was 17, was eligible for parole.

Approximately 150 inmates are automatically eligible for lighter sentences, according to attorneys.  But the impact could be broader still as the ruling has emboldened attorneys nationwide to push for shorter sentences for juveniles serving life sentences for murders, a larger inmate population.

Roughly 2,500 inmates are serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles, according to one 2009 survey by Human Rights Watch, which opposes such sentences. Forty-four states allow life without parole for juvenile offenders, generally defined as being under 18 when they committed their crimes, while six states bar such sentences. The vast majority were convicted for homicides, so they don't automatically qualify for resentencing under Graham, according to attorneys.

For example, Joseph Ligon, 73, a Pennsylvania inmate who has been in prison about 57 years, is challenging the life-without-parole sentence he received for his role in two murders committed when he was 15. Mr. Ligon "has learned and grown," said his attorney Bradley Bridge.  "The child who went to prison in 1953 no longer exists."

Mr. Ligon's appeal is likely to be one of hundreds of cases testing the reach of the Supreme Court ruling.  Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that contends that Graham should apply to the case of an inmate sentenced to life without parole for killing a police officer at the age of 15....

Prosecutors say a relatively small number of juveniles receive life without parole, and there should be little leniency.  "There are millions of young kids who do not commit outrageous crimes," said Scott Burns, the head of the National District Attorneys Association.  "To say we can excuse a small percentage who do just because their frontal lobe hasn't developed is not persuasive."

Defense lawyers and juvenile-justice advocates, who plan to test the reach of the Supreme Court ruling in cases across the country, concede that it will be difficult to persuade judges to significantly reduce life sentences in non-homicide cases, let alone to offer sentencing relief in murder cases.

Indeed, courts in Alabama and Missouri have already declined to extend the Supreme Court ruling to murder cases involving juveniles.

On Monday, a state judge in Michigan handed down a life-without-parole sentence to Dakotah Eliason, 15, who was convicted of murdering his step-grandfather earlier this year.  The defendant, who was 14 at the time of the murder, had suffered recent traumas, including the deaths of his cousin, friend and dog, according to his lawyer, Lanny Fisher.

October 29, 2010 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Pot and the GOP: Is the party of ‘Just Say No’ morphing into the party of ‘Just Say Grow’?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable and effective new piece in Newsweek.  Here are excerpts:

You’d expect aging flower children to fight for the right to get high. But aging conservatives?  As the ideals of the Tea Party’s most vocal libertarians infiltrate the Republican ranks, and state and federal officials slash budgets even as they pump cash into an expensive war on drugs, some conservatives are making the case for legalizing marijuana.  It isn’t Nancy Pelosi who’s speaking out in favor of legalized pot — she’s been careful not to take a position on Prop 19 — but rather her Republican challenger in California, John Dennis.  And in Massachusetts, Barney Frank’s Tea Party–backed Republican opponent, Sean Bielat, has said he leans libertarian on the issue, and it hasn’t hurt his race against the longtime congressman, who strongly supports decriminalization of pot.  “As you see the liberty wing of the Republican Party grow, you’ll see more support for legalization,” says Dennis, who drew cheers during a campaign stop recently at the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo in San Francisco, where his staff altered his campaign sign to sport Rastafarian colors and a pot leaf.  Republican power broker Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, points out that legalization can make sense from a conservative perspective because it touches on issues of national security and fiscal prudence.  “First, there is the mess that is Mexico.  Narcoterrorism is made possible by our drug prohibition in the U.S.  Then there is the cost of incarceration,” he says.  Gary Johnson, the Republican former governor of New Mexico and a putative presidential candidate for 2012, says he believes that “Proposition 19 has the opportunity to be the domino that could bring about rational drug policy nationwide.”

Pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck and former judge Andrew Napolitano have also joined in the debate, on the pro-legalization side.  “You know what, I think it’s about time we legalize marijuana. Hear me out for a second…” Beck told viewers in April.  “We have to make a choice in this country.  We have to either put people who are smoking marijuana behind bars, or we legalize it.  But this little game we’re playing in the middle is not helping us, is not helping Mexico, and is causing massive violence on our southern border.”  Even Sarah Palin, who’s opposed to legalization, has called pot a relatively “minimal problem,” telling Fox Business Network this summer, “I think we need to prioritize our law-enforcement efforts.  And if somebody’s gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems that we have in society.”  (Palin has copped to trying pot during the time it was decriminalized in Alaska, but said she didn’t like it.)

Legalization may not carry the day in California: in a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, support has fallen to 44 percent in favor of Prop 19 from 52 percent in September.  Yet Prop 19 has sparked a surprisingly sober national discussion lacking in the hyperbole that has long surrounded marijuana.

Some related posts on pot policy and politics:

October 29, 2010 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Misguided poster child for New York Times to claim "No Justification" for the death penalty

The New York Times this morning has this notable editorial headlined "No Justification," which uses the latest kerfuffle over Arizona's execution of Jeffrey Landrigan earlier this week to assail the death penalty. Here is how the editorial begins:

Two years ago, when a splintered Supreme Court approved lethal injection as a means of execution in Baze v. Rees, Justice John Paul Stevens made a prophecy.  Instead of ending the controversy, he said, the ruling would raise questions “about the justification for the death penalty itself.”  Since then, evidence has continued to mount, showing the huge injustice of the death penalty — and the particular barbarism of this form of execution.

In the case of Jeffrey Landrigan, convicted of murder and executed by Arizona on Tuesday, the system failed him at almost every level, most disturbingly at the Supreme Court.  In a 5-to-4 vote, the court’s conservative majority allowed the execution to proceed based on a stark misrepresentation.

Because Jeffrey Landrigan had his substantive appeals heard and decided by the Supreme Court back in 2007, and because he had 20 years (at Arizona taxpayers' expense) to pursue appeals of his 1990 death sentence, I found bothersome the assertion that the "system failed him at almost every level." I went back and reviewed the Supreme Court's ruling in his case, and these snippets especially stood out:

Jeffrey Landrigan was convicted in Oklahoma of second-degree murder in 1982. In 1986, while in custody for that murder, Landrigan repeatedly stabbed another inmate and was subsequently convicted of assault and battery with a deadly weapon.  Three years later, Landrigan escaped from prison and murdered Chester Dean Dyer in Arizona....

[At the penalty phase for his Arizona murder, responding] to counsel’s statement implying that the prison stabbing involved self-defense because the assaulted inmate knew Landrigan’s first murder victim, Landrigan interrupted to clarify that the inmate was not acquainted with his first victim, but just “a guy I got in an argument with.  I stabbed him 14 times.  It was lucky he lived.”

To review, Landrigan was convicted of murder in 1982 and then, while being punished for that severe crime, he tried to murder a fellow inmate and then he escaped from prison and did murder an innocent man.  Seems to me that Landrigan is a poster child for sound justifications for the death penalty. He was a mortal threat to fellow inmates when imprisoned and also a threat to escape and kill again.  A punishment of life imprisonment would subject prisoners, prison guards and even outsiders to persistent mortal risks.

In short, for such a violent and dangerous multiple murderer like Landrigan, it is hard to know what punishment other than death would be effective or just.  Any yet the New York Times editorial page is suggesting this case shows the death penalty has "no justification" and is an example of the "the huge injustice of the death penalty"?

I understand and respect those abolitionists who adopt the categorical moral view that the death penalty is never justified even for the most brutal and remorseless mass murderer.  But, given that our democratic system of laws has not embraced that position in every state, it strike me as highly misguided for those with abolitionist views to hold up Landrigan's as an example of the failings of our system of capital punishment and the "the huge injustice of the death penalty."

October 29, 2010 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (51) | TrackBack

Will white-collar offenders get special sentencing help from new guidelines on age?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Bloomberg story, which is headlined "White-Collar Criminals in US May Invoke Age to Seek Lighter Sentence." Here are excerpts:

Elderly people convicted of financial fraud and other federal crimes will be more likely to invoke their age in seeking lower prison terms due to a change in U.S. sentencing guidelines set to go into effect Nov. 1, a white-collar crime expert said.

The amendment states that age may be relevant in calculating sentencing ranges. The current language says age is “not ordinarily relevant.” Some high-profile defendants such as Adelphia Communications Corp.’s John Rigas and former Illinois Governor George Ryan were in their 70s and 80s when sentenced.

“These sentences can turn into death sentences for individuals who are older,” Jeff Ifrah, co-author of “Federal Sentencing for Business Crimes,” said in a phone interview. “You’ll start seeing defendants” ask for lower departures from the normal guideline “based on age in the appropriate circumstances.”

White-collar defendants tend to be older than those convicted of other federal crimes. Almost half of all defendants sentenced last year for tax offenses and 28.3 percent for money laundering were older than 50, the most of any age category in statistics compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Defendants in 22 percent of larceny cases and 19.8 percent of fraud cases were older than 50, according to the commission, a Washington-based agency that advises the president and Congress on crime policy.

Last year, only 2.6 percent of defendants got a downward departure from the guideline range due to age, according to the commission....

“We were supportive of this particular amendment,” Mark P. Rankin, co-chairman of the sentencing committee at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said in a phone interview. “Anything that broadens the scope of the district judge’s discretion is good for the sentencing process.” Rankin is a partner at Shutts & Bowen LLP in Tampa, Florida....

While the federal sentencing guidelines, in effect since 1987, have been advisory rather than mandatory since a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, statistics show that courts continue to adhere to them. Last year, 56.8 percent of defendants were sentenced within the guideline range and another 25.3 percent were sentenced below it at the government’s request, according to the sentencing commission.

October 29, 2010 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 28, 2010

Great new Vera Institute report on how states are trying to balance tight budget and public safety

I received via e-mail blast this afternoon this helpful heads-up about a helpful new report about state corrections practices:

A report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections suggests that after decades of increases in corrections spending, states are trying something new. The Continuing Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Setting a New Course is based on a two-part investigation that sought to gauge the current status of states’ corrections policies: Vera staff surveyed state officials about their planned corrections spending for fiscal year 2011 and reviewed states’ recent corrections-related legislative initiatives.  The results show officials planning to spend less even as they initiate changes aimed at shoring up public safety.

According to the report, two factors are driving these developments.  First, ongoing budget pressures are compelling officials to seek savings whenever safely possible.  At the same time, states are drawing on decades of research and using identified policies and practices that can be counted on to yield positive results.

The Center on Sentencing and Corrections has also created an interactive online resource highlighting data from the new report.  The page features a map and chart illustrating changes in individual states’ corrections appropriations from fiscal year 2010 to 2011, including funding sources.

Download the report.

View the interactive map and chart.

October 28, 2010 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Interesting and notable federal clemency developments on two fronts

Thanks to the effective work by Josh Gerstein at Politico, everyone can catch up quickly on these two new and notable federal clemency stories:

Both of these stories are full of legal and political nuance, which I hope to find time to blog about later today after I finish teaching two classes and before I get lost in Game 2 of the World Series.

UPDATE:  On my request, former US Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love sent me this reaction via e-mail to these notable clemency developments:

"It is unfortunate that the Obama administration has evidently become captive to the mistaken idea that pardoning necessarily involves political as opposed to justice-based decisions.  As a result, the federal pardon process has all but ceased to function, and pardons are expected only as holiday gift-giving.  It is a shame because there are so many deserving individuals who have no other recourse, including many long-time legal residents with dated minor convictions who are threatened with deportation.  In the past the pardon process has not particularly benefited from additional transparency, but sunshine may at least reveal where the hold-up is."

October 28, 2010 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Why is Obama's DOJ, after urging Congress to "completely eliminate" any crack/powder disparity, now seeking to keep the 100-1 ratio in place as long as possible?

There are lots of notable and important aspects to the thoughtful new opinion by US District Judge D. Brock Hornby in US v. Douglas, No. 09-202-P-H (D. Maine Oct. 27, 2010) (available here), which concludes that a defendant guilty of committing a crack offense back in 2009 but "not yet sentenced on November 1, 2010, is to be sentenced under the amended Guidelines, and the Fair Sentencing Act's altered mandatory minimums apply to such a defendant as well."  But in this post I want to spotlight and wonder aloud about a footnote from the opinion noting DOJ's current advocacy position on this important and consequential issue.

Specifically, after explaining that the government in Douglas was urging that the old crack mandatory minimums apply to "to all future prosecutions and sentencings based on pre-August 3, 2010, conduct," Judge Hornby drops this footnote:

At oral argument, I did inquire of the Assistant United States Attorney whether his argument was a matter of individual U.S. Attorney Office discretion or the position of the Department of Justice, and he replied that he understood it to be the policy of the Department of Justice.

I am very pleased that Judge Hornby asked this important question, and now very curious why President Obama's Department of Justice has adopted the advocacy policy that the unfair and now reformed old crack sentencing statute should and must be applied for as long as possible to as many defendants as possible.  For a number of reasons, this policy/advocacy seems deeply misguided and troublesome:

First, as I sought to explained in this amicus letter I submitted in a pending case in NYC, I think a fair reading of congressional intent and statutory construction principles call for the FSA to apply to pending cases as soon as possible.

Second, given that there are debatable statutory claims here and that every defendant in every district court with a sentencing pending will press for immediate application of the FSA, the DOJ's current position ensures extensive, costly federal litigation for many months and will likely ensure disparate sentencing outcomes in different parts of the country for many years. If DOJ is really interested in consistent sentencing practices and outcomes, it could and should simply embrace the policy of having the FSA now apply to all not-yet-sentenced defendants.

Third, way back in April 2009, the official advocacy policy of the DOJ was to call upon Congress to "completely eliminate[] the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine" (testimony here). Disappointingly, Congress only partially reduced the disparity; but, now even more disappointingly, DOJ now seems to want the old unjust 100-1 ratio to apply for a long as possible to as many defendants as possible.

I can imagine various reasons why federal prosecutors have adopted its worrisome position in these FSA pipeline case.  But because DOJ is supposed to be a Department of Justice, not merely a Department of making the best arguments for federal prosecutors, I am hopeful that DOJ might before long consider changing course.

October 28, 2010 in New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Nicholas Kristof urging that we "End the War on Pot"

One of the many (beneficial?) consequences of Proposition 19 being on the ballot in California is that it has enabled and seemingly encouraged major commentators to urge in major papers that we consider a whole new approach to marijuana laws and policies.  Earlier this week, we had George Soros calling for pot legalization in the pages of the Wall Street Journal (noted here), and today we get this New York Times piece by Nicholas Kristof, which is headlined "End the War on Pot."  Here are excerpts:

Our nearly century-long experiment in banning marijuana has failed as abysmally as Prohibition did, and California may now be pioneering a saner approach.  Sure, there are risks if California legalizes pot.  But our present drug policy has three catastrophic consequences.

First, it squanders billions of dollars that might be better used for education. California now spends more money on prisons than on higher education. It spends about $216,000 per year on each juvenile detainee, and just $8,000 on each child in the troubled Oakland public school system.  Each year, some 750,000 Americans are arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana.  Is that really the optimal use of our police force?...

The second big problem with the drug war is that it has exacerbated poverty and devastated the family structure of African-Americans.  Partly that’s because drug laws are enforced inequitably.  Black and Latino men are much more likely than whites to be stopped and searched and, when drugs are found, prosecuted....

The third problem with our drug policy is that it creates crime and empowers gangs. “The only groups that benefit from continuing to keep marijuana illegal are the violent gangs and cartels that control its distribution and reap immense profits from it through the black market,” a group of current and former police officers, judges and prosecutors wrote last month in an open letter to voters in California.

I have no illusions about drugs.  One of my childhood friends in Yamhill, Ore., pretty much squandered his life by dabbling with marijuana in ninth grade and then moving on to stronger stuff.  And yes, there’s some risk that legalization would make such dabbling more common.  But that hasn’t been a significant problem in Portugal, which decriminalized drug use in 2001....

One advantage of our federal system is that when we have a failed policy, we can grope for improvements by experimenting at the state level.  I hope California will lead the way on Tuesday by legalizing marijuana.

October 28, 2010 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Noting that the circuits are getting behind below-guideline kiddie porn downloading sentences

This morning's Legal Intelligencer has this new piece discussing the Third Circuit's important Grober ruling from earlier this week (discussed here).  The piece is headlined "Appeals Courts Criticize Child Porn Sentencing Guidelines," and here is how it gets started:

As the sentencing guidelines for child pornography crimes have grown increasingly harsh, a strong trend has developed among federal judges to reject the proposed prison terms as draconian. Now two influential federal appellate courts -- the 2nd and 3rd Circuits -- have joined the trend and declared that the child pornography guidelines are seriously flawed, or at least that a trial judge wouldn't be wrong for thinking so.

One of the key flaws cited by many of the judges is that the harsher penalties were imposed directly by Congress, every time the guideline was amended, rather than the usual process in which the Sentencing Commission studies an issue and proposes changes that are then subject to congressional approval. Prosecutors have been fighting the trend by urging trial judges to follow the guidelines and sometimes by taking appeals from those who don't.

But a decision in May from the 2nd Circuit and another this week from the 3rd Circuit suggest that the Justice Department may be waging a losing battle, and that trial judges are now freer than ever to reject the child pornography guidelines in cases where the judge sees the suggested punishment as too harsh.

In United States v. Grober, the Justice Department urged the 3rd Circuit to reverse an extraordinary ruling by U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden that said the proposed sentence of nearly 20 years for David Grober was "outrageously high." Hayden, who sits in New Jersey, set out to explore how the guidelines had gotten so harsh and ultimately held hearings over 12 days that led her to conclude that they were unworkable and unfair.

Among the flaws cited by Hayden were a series of "enhancements" that, in her view, would apply in almost every case, as well as a failure to distinguish between defendants whose crime involved nothing more than downloading images as opposed to those involved in producing, selling or trading in illegal images. Ultimately, Hayden issued a 46-page opinion that declared the guideline was not worthy of deference. Instead of imposing a term of 235 months, she imposed a term of 60 months.

Now the 3rd Circuit has voted 2-1 to uphold Hayden's ruling, strongly rejecting the Justice Department's argument that Hayden had abused her discretion.

October 28, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 27, 2010

"Sarah Palin E-Mail Hacker Seeks Probation, Feds Want 18 Months"

The title of this post is the headline of this Wired story about my favorite high-profile (and low-importance?) sentencing story. Here are excerpts:

David Kernell, the Tennessee student convicted of hacking into Sarah Palin’s personal e-mail account, has asked the court to forgo a prison sentence and give him probation for his crimes.

Kernell, 22, was convicted earlier this year of misdemeanor computer intrusion and a felony count of obstruction of justice. The jury found him not guilty of a wire-fraud charge and hung on a fourth charge for identity theft, after four days of deliberating.

The convictions carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $250,000. Federal sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of between 15 and 21 months in prison. The government is seeking 18 months. Kernell, scheduled to be sentenced in Tennessee on Nov. 12, was found to have deleted evidence from his hard drive to thwart investigators, in the most serious charge.

In a motion filed with the court (.pdf) on Wednesday, his attorney asserted that although his client might have deleted evidence, this should be balanced against the fact that he didn’t destroy the computer entirely or get rid of it.

“The proof showed that Mr. Kernell very quickly took actions that resulted in the evidence being preserved,” defense attorney Wade Davies wrote.  He also said that his client’s behavior was an “aberration” from his normal conduct and that the “public humiliation, trial and felony conviction” his client had endured were enough to deter him from future crimes.  “General deterrence has been achieved in this case by educating the public that accessing another’s e-mail account is conduct that violates federal law,” Davies wrote.

In prior posts, I have suggested that some kind of creative shaming sanction or community service might be especially appropriate in this case --- e.g., it would seem be fitting for the defendant here to be ordered to create a YouTube video explaining the harms of hacking and perhaps a "beware of hacker" pop-up on David Kernell's social media pages. 

Especially if tonight's great World Series Game 1 match-up does not live up to the hype, perhaps readers can suggest some other creative and tech-savvy sentencing possibilities for this case in the comments.

Some related posts:

October 27, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New USDC opinion applying new FSA law to not-yet-sentenced defendants

A helpful lawyer altered me to a thoughtful new opinion by US District Judge D. Brock Hornby in US v. Douglas, No. 09-202-P-H (D. Maine Oct. 27, 2010) (available here), which concludes that a defendant guilty of committing a crack offense back in 2009 but "not yet sentenced on November 1, 2010, is to be sentenced under the amended Guidelines, and the Fair Sentencing Act‘s altered mandatory minimums apply to such a defendant as well."  Here is Douglas opinion's final substantive paragraph (and footnote) explaining how Judge Hornby reaches this conclusion:

I conclude, based upon the context of the Act, its title, its preamble, the emergency authority afforded to the Commission, and the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, that Congress did not want federal judges to continue to impose harsher mandatory sentences after enactment merely because the criminal conduct occurred before enactment.  Yes, the 1871 Saving Clause deserves attention, but it does not command special attention. Generally, as Great Northern recognized, an earlier Congress cannot bind a later Congress. If it is a stretch to say that the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 "expressly provide[s]" that the previous mandatory minimums are vacated for future sentences, Congress certainly made clear the urgency of change and its concern for fairness; and it gave no signal that it was distinguishing the emergency Guideline amendments that it expressly mandated from the statutory sentencing floors from which they directly flow.  In the words of the Supreme Court, it is either a "necessary implication" or a "fair implication" that, although retroactivity to those previously imprisoned might not be contemplated, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 permits no further federal crack sentencings that are not "fair."[FN57]

[FN57] Indeed, I would find it gravely disquieting to apply hereafter a sentencing penalty that Congress has declared to be unfair. One can imagine the ramifications of a contrary decision.  Defendants would seek to negotiate with federal prosecutors to waive indictment and plead to an information that charges conduct that extends after August 3, 2010, so that they could be sentenced under the new Act.  That charging option would be formidable leverage for prosecutors until the statute of limitations has run on criminal conduct that occurred before August 3, 2010.  And that discretion would be lodged with prosecutors where its exercise is invisible, rather than with judges whose decisions must be explained upon the public record.  That operation of the Fair Sentencing Act would belie its title, at least for the next few years.

October 27, 2010 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Another notable (and disparate) child porn downloading restitution award

Regular readers are familiar with the varied and disparate federal district court rulings in response to a victim of child abuse/pornography seeking restitution from criminal defendant found guilty of downloading her picture.  Thanks to a reader sending me this news report from Indiana, which is headlined "Valparaiso man ordered to pay $533,000 to child porn victim," we have another example of how a district court is dealing with this challenging issue. Here are the basics:

A Valparaiso man has been ordered to pay more than $500,000 in restitution to one of the victims identified in child pornography he possessed. Whether any of that money will ever be paid is unlikely, defense attorney Michael Bosch said.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen said in a ruling issued Tuesday that Nathanial Josiah Worden has to pay the victim, identified in a court hearing as "Amy," $533,244 for counseling she is expected to need throughout her life. The amount was just a little less than the $544,000 U.S. prosecutors had asked for and much higher than the $3,000 that Bosch, Worden's lawyer, had argued for.

Van Bokkelen issued the order a day after a restitution hearing in U.S. District Court in Hammond, at which a psychologist testified how Amy had been victimized as young as age 4 by her uncle. The psychologist, Joyanna Silberg, said the victim now suffers from paranoia and fear of people seeing the child pornography images of her. She said those fears keep her from living her life, including from getting help, because she is so embarrassed.

Bosch had argued that even though the victim already has about $143,000 in restitution payments made from other defendants, she hasn't attended weekly counseling the past two years. Therefore, he said, officials couldn't say she would need so much more money from Worden to pay for her counseling.

Van Bokkelen said in his ruling that Worden had agreed in his plea deal to pay full restitution. He added that Worden could have been on the hook for much more -- $3.3 million -- if Amy had asked for full damages, including emotional distress.

Bosch said Tuesday that the matter is mostly academic because his client has no assets and is just beginning to serve a 35-year sentence for advertising child pornography. Worden, who is 31, would be in his 60s when released from prison. "I think the likelihood of him paying anything is slim to none," Bosch said.

Some related recent federal child porn restitution posts:

October 27, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Elderly, Ill Sex Offender Sues Perry Over Monitor"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting and effective new piece from the Texas Tribune reporting on interesting technocorrections developments and litigation in the Lone Star State.  Here are the particulars:

Sixty-one-year-old Marvin Brown has had three mini-strokes in the last two months. He has diabetes, stage-four renal disease and congestive heart failure.  On good days, he walks with a cane.  Other times, he gets around with a walker or an electric wheelchair.

But according to Gov. Rick Perry, Brown is among the most dangerous sex offenders in Texas.  Perry has ordered that Brown and other registered sex offenders who were previously released from continuous monitoring must now be monitored again with ankle bracelets.  Brown, who was convicted in 1985 of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and of indecency with a 16-year-old boy, says forcing him to wear the ankle monitor not only puts his fragile health at risk — it's also a violation of his civil rights.  On Tuesday, he filed a lawsuit asking the federal courts to keep the state from putting him back on the monitor. “They can’t give you freedom and then take it away,” Brown says.

Last month, Perry announced a raft of new measures to crack down on what he called “the most dangerous sex offenders.”  Among other things, Perry said he would designate $1.7 million in federal grant money to help the Texas Department of Criminal Justice use technology to monitor high-risk sex offenders on parole.  “These initiatives will provide greater protections to our citizens by taking our efforts in dealing with sex offenders up yet another notch,” Perry said in a press release.

Since that announcement, 153 parolees have been returned to active electronic monitoring, says Michelle Lyons, a criminal justice department spokeswoman.  All the parolees who have received ankle bracelets, she says, were previously on a passive monitoring system that logged their daily whereabouts and created a report for parole officers.  Ankle bracelets, she says, allow for real-time monitoring to ensure sex offenders aren’t going near playgrounds or other areas where children congregate.  With the grant money, the department could put ankle bracelets on as many as 600 high-risk sex offenders.

Brown found out about Perry’s new crackdown efforts a couple of weeks ago, when his parole offic er told him he was on the list of sex offenders to be put back on active monitoring. Brown served 14 years of his 40-year sentence in the criminal justice department before he was paroled in 1999 and placed on intensive supervision, which required him to wear an ankle bracelet with a GPS monitor.  In 2007, the Board of Pardons and Paroles took Brown off intensive supervision and removed the monitor.  With the monitor off, Brown says, he could lead a somewhat normal life — shopping, making friends, eating out with family and attending church without an ominous-looking briefcase that carried a beeping device.

He could also deal more easily with his health problems, going to the doctor’s office and taking emergency trips to the hospital when necessary.  Brown, who lives alone, had a life alert-like system installed at his house so that he could use the telephone to update nurses at the hospital with his vital statistics and so that he could get quick help in case he had another stroke or heart attack and couldn’t reach the phone.  The ankle bracelet, he says, will interfere with the system, and he worries that without it he could die.  “If you have a stroke or a heart attack and nobody finds you until the next day, it’s too late,” he says...

In the lawsuit, he alleges that the state is violating his constitutional right to due process by forcing him back on the ankle monitor without justification or a legal hearing on the matter.  “It’s a public embarrassment,” Brown says.  “I don’t know how I’d be able to attend church.”...

Attorney Bill Habern has defended parolees and sex offenders like Brown for decades.  He says he sympathizes with Brown but believes his lawsuit is probably doomed.  The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — in a case Habern defended and is appealing — ruled that once a person is a convicted sex offender, the state can impose conditions it sees fit to protect the public....

Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the governor, says the move to increase sex offender monitoring was not politically motivated but was intended to provide greater public protection from sexual predators.  Lyons, the criminal justice department spokeswoman, says she can't comment on pending litigation but maintains that the ankle monitors are designed for those who are considered at high risk for reoffending.  “I can't see how having more supervision wouldn’t add to public safety,” she says.

October 27, 2010 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

With SCOTUS blessing and foreign drugs, Arizona completes lethal injection execution

As detailed in this CNN story, which is headlined "Arizona convicted killer's last words: 'Boomer Sooner'," the state of Arizona got to conclude a few furious days of litigation with a long-planned lethal injection execution. Here are the details:

The state of Arizona executed convicted killer Jeffrey Landrigan late Tuesday after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the lethal injection, a corrections official said. The execution was carried out at 10:26 p.m. (12:26 a.m. ET), said Barrett Marson, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections.

"I'd like to say 'thank you' to my family for being here and all of my friends," were Landrigan's final words, according to Marson. He concluded with "Boomer Sooner," a cheer often used by University of Oklahoma fans....

The way for the execution was cleared after a majority of Supreme Court justices moved to vacate a federal judge's order that had temporarily stopped the execution scheduled for earlier in the day. In a 5-4 decision, the court overturned two lower court rulings.

Earlier Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver, who blocked Landrigan's execution 18 hours before it was set to happen at noon MT Tuesday (2 p.m. ET)....

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruling vacated the lower court order, saying "there is no evidence in the record to suggest that the drug obtained from a foreign source is unsafe."... "There was no showing that the drug was unlawfully obtained, nor was there an offer of proof to that effect," the Supreme Court ruling said.

The decision to vacate the order was supported by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor sided with Silver and would not have vacated the ruling.

In 1989, Landrigan escaped from an Oklahoma prison, where he was serving time for second-degree murder.  He was convicted of strangling Chester Dean Dyer in Arizona a year later during an armed burglary, and a trial judge sentenced him to death.

The one-page order in this case can be found at this link.

October 27, 2010 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

October 26, 2010

"Prop 19: The Day After"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new piece of original reporting from The Crime Report about what we can and should expect on the pot prohibition front after next week's vote on California's proposition 19.  Here are some notable excerpts:

In an email to The Crime Report Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, indicated that pro-decriminalization groups are ready for a long national fight. “Win or lose on Prop 19, the plan is the same,” writes Nadelmann, “which is to put the issue on the ballot wherever polls show a reasonable majority of the electorate in a state in favor, in those states that have the initiative process, and where elected officials are unwilling to move forward ... economics, demographics and principle are all on our side.”

Indeed, if Prop 19 passes, Representative Peter Buckley of Oregon told The Crime Report he will introduce a similar measure in his state.  And, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story, Democrats across the country are watching this race closely for just that reason: if marijuana gets Democrats to the polls (the same way gay marriage drives Republicans to vote), the party might support similar initiatives in 2012.

That may be why Holder’s letter made no specific promises of a lawsuit.  In fact, in contrast to the passionate tone of the original DEA heads’ letter, it was a markedly tepid response....

In some ways, California has already blurred the national template over drug policy. In 1996, the state approved Proposition 215, which legalized pot for medical use. In the nearly 15 years since, dispensaries have either thrived or been shuttered depending upon their locations.  In Oakland, where dispensaries blend in among office buildings, the citizens even levied the nation’s first tax on the weed in 2009 , and the city council recently approved a measure allowing for industrial cultivation of marijuana.

And regardless of the outcome of Prop 19, California has already moved the goalposts on marijuana policy.  On September 30, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new law downgrading possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a simple infraction, which, like a traffic ticket, carries only a $100 fine.

Some have argued that the move by the governor, who opposes Prop 19, erases the urgent need for legalization.  However, supporters claim decriminalization would save millions by allowing police to concentrate on more serious crimes.  But police say they aren’t really spending resources on petty pot offenses anyway....

Much ... depends on who wins the race for attorney general. Both candidates, Steve Cooley and Kamala Harris are officially opposed to Prop 19. In a recent debate, Harris was non-committal when asked to give details about her response should the measure pass, but Cooley was clear, saying he believed it was “unconstitutional” and “preempted by federal law.”

A few related posts on pot policy and politics:

October 26, 2010 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

California Supreme Court upholds dismissal of criminal cases due to lack of judges

The dysfunctionality of California's criminal justice system never ceases to surprise me, and the latest data point in this ever on-going story is reflected in this new Los Angeles Times article.  The piece is headlined "State Supreme Court upholds Riverside County's dismissal of criminal cases," and here are excerpts:

A shortage of judges in Riverside County has led to the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases, a practice the California Supreme Court upheld on Monday and blamed on the state's budget woes. In unanimous ruling, the state high court said Riverside County's dearth of judges represented a "chronic" problem that was the fault of the budget-strapped state.

The case before the court involved an accused burglar, one of 18 criminal defendants whose cases were dismissed on the same day after they invoked their rights to speedy trials.  Two of the 18 were charged with felonies.  Riverside County Deputy Public Defender William A. Meronek said Monday's ruling also would end prosecution for as many as 300 other defendants whose cases were on appeal after being dismissed for lack of judges.

But Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Tate said his office would fight to prosecute the most serious of the dismissed cases. "There are quite a few very serious allegations, some involving dead bodies — vehicular manslaughter, assault on police officer, assault with deadly weapon, crimes against children," said Tate, who argued the case before the Supreme Court.

The judiciary has long insisted that California needs more judges, but nowhere has the shortage been more dramatic than in Riverside County.... Riverside prosecutors challenged the dismissals, arguing that the court should have made every judge in the courthouse, including those in juvenile, family law and probate, available for the cases. But the state high court said Riverside County already was giving criminal cases priority over civil disputes, and the court was not required to halt proceedings in civil cases to make room for criminal matters.  An absolute rule giving precedence to all criminal cases could force a court "to abandon entirely its responsibility to provide for the fair administration of civil as well as criminal matters," George wrote....

A 2004 study by the Judicial Council, which George heads, said 350 new judgeships were needed in the state.  Since then, the Legislature has authorized 100 new judicial positions.  In a 2008 report to the Legislature, the Judicial Council ranked Riverside County the most in need of judges.  A task force the year before had found that 25% of jail inmates in Riverside had been awaiting trial for more than one year, 177 for more than two years, 32 for more than four years and one for more than eight years.

The full ruling in this case is available at this link.

October 26, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Michigan trial court rejects constitutional attack on mandatory LWOP for juve killer

Thanks to this post at TalkLeft (which is worth a full read), everyone can find out the outcome and read the opinion in the Michigan case previously blogged about here in which a sentencing judge was required to impose a life without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who, at age 14, murdered his grandfather and was tried as an adult for the crime.

This local press report, which is headlined "15-year-old Dakotah Eliason sentenced to life without parole," provides more details on the case and a video of the defendant's statement at sentencing.   And available here is the trial court's 14-page opinion rejecting constitutional and international law attacks on the sentence.

Prior related post:

October 26, 2010 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Split Third Circuit affirms way below-guideline sentence in major(?) child porn ruling

A split Third Circuit panel has a long and dynamic set of opinion in a federal child porn sentencing case in which I was actually called as an expert witness at sentencing.  The litigation and ruling in US v. Grober, No. 09-1318 (3d Cir. Oct. 26, 2010) (available here), merits extended discussion, but for now I will quote for the start of the majority opinion and the end of the dissent.  First, the start of the majority opinion:

It is an unassailable proposition that “[c]hild pornography harms and debases the most defenseless of our citizens.” United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 307 (2008).  We believe that, and the District Court believed that.  Nonetheless, the Court was deeply concerned about the sentence the government said the Court should impose on defendant David Grober under the child pornography Guidelines. It recognized, on the one hand, the tension between a mechanical application of those Guidelines and the “outrageously high” sentence –- indeed, the “truly remarkable punishment” -– of 235-293 months of imprisonment they advised, and, on the other, a fair and reasonable sentence that does justice.  Determined to take a long and hard look at the child pornography Guidelines in an effort to understand why Congress and the Sentencing Commission did what they did and whether it made sense both as an objective matter and as to the defendant, the Court embarked on a careful study of how the Guidelines range urged on it by the government came to be. It took evidence over twelve days, heard extensive oral argument and considered extensive written submissions, and rendered a lengthy oral opinion at sentencing and a forty-six page written opinion thereafter explaining in great detail how it arrived at what it believed to be the correct sentence for this defendant.  All of this is to be much admired.

There is a flip side, however, when a district court devotes such an extraordinary amount of time and attention to an issue so clearly troubling it and so freely expresses its concerns on the record, reaching out for whatever might assist it in assuaging those concerns.  The flip side is this: in the unusual case, such as this, in which a district court arguably does too much rather than too little, there is much more grist for the mill, as here the government points to everything the District Court did and did not do and everything it should and should not have done.  After this microscopic examination –- but without ever challenging the substantive reasonableness of the ultimate sentence imposed –- the government has found what it describes as procedural error. We will affirm.

And here is the end of this dissent:

As I noted at the outset, the District Court labored mightily to impose a just sentence upon David Grober.  That effort was animated by a candid fear that Congress’s zeal to address the proliferation of child pornography has resulted in penalties grossly disproportionate to the culpability attendant to this type of crime.  Even accepting that premise, it is still wrong for a sentencing court to: (1) categorically reject the validity of a Guideline by impugning generally the plea bargaining system; (2) punish a party for failing to present “evidence” it never should have presented in the first place; (3) mischaracterize a defendant’s crimes of conviction; and (4) use a categorical rejection of a Guideline as a proxy for ignoring some of the relevant § 3553(a) factors. Because each of these errors is manifest on this record, I would vacate Grober’s judgment of sentence and remand for a new sentencing hearing.

October 26, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

First-degree felony murder, sentencing and plea bargaining possibilities for the "Hiccup Girl"

I am teaching felony murder today in my 1L Criminal law class, and a high-profile new case has conveniently come to the fore to spotlight the issues that the traditional felony murder doctrine presents.  I refer, of course, to the case of the (in)famous "Hiccup Girl" who is one of three individuals charged with first-degree murder in Florida based on her role as "bait" in a robbery scheme gone bad.

It seems few facts are in dispute in the case against Jennifer Mee, who became famous at age 15 because she was afflicted with never-ending hiccups.  Now 19 and mixed up with a bad crowd, Mee helped Lamont Newton and Laron Raiford lure Shannon Griffin to an empty house to be robbed.  Here is how the story linked above describes the crime and Mee's involvement:

Griffin met Mee online just a week before his death, police said. They arranged to meet Saturday night at 511 Seventh St. N. It was a trap.  The three plotted to lure Griffin to the empty home and rob him, police said.

Griffin pulled up about 10 p.m. Mee led him to the back, where police said Newton and Raiford tried to rob him.  Mee kept on walking, but seconds later gunshots rang out. Griffin struggled with the men, police said, and was shot three times in the chest and once in the shoulder with a .38-caliber revolver.

No one reported the gunshots. Police found Griffin when a caller reported a sleeping transient about 11 p.m. Saturday.  Police found the gun and shoes left behind by a suspect.  Griffin had less than $60 on him when he was killed.

Because of Florida's murder statutes and its sentencing rules, Mee and her co-defendants all would appear to be guilty of first-degree murder for which the only available punishments are death and life without parole. 

I will use the "Hiccup Girl" case to highlight common arguments against broad felony murder provisions (e.g., that it treats too harshly a defendant with little or no bad mens reaconcerning causing another's death and may not be an effective was to deter underlying felonies).  But the case has me now wondering whether and how first-degree murder cases such as this one can and should get resolved via plea bargains. 

As a technical matter, the only form of homicide which the "Hiccup Girl" can be charged with is first-degree murder.  I do not think an honest prosecutor and/or judge could or should allow Jennifer Mee to plead to a lesser homicide charge.  I suppose a prosecutor and/or judge can (and likely will?) allow Mee to plead guilty only to robbery charges and simply not bring any homicide charges.  But would this be truly a just outcome?  Would such a plea deal, in essence, be a form prosecutorial nullification given that the Florida legislature apparently has decided that the Jennifer Mee's of the world out br be facing first-degree murder for which the only available punishments are death and life without parole?

October 26, 2010 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack