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June 27, 2011

California legislator offers bill to put state death penalty repeal on 2012 ballot

As detailed in this local article, a California "lawmaker on Monday introduced a bill seeking a public vote on whether California should abolish capital punishment and convert death sentences to life in prison, citing a study that said most condemned inmates die of suicide or old age despite billions in taxpayer costs." Here is more:

Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock, of Berkeley, said the state can no longer afford the cost of trying capital cases, defending them through a lengthy appeals process and housing inmates in the nation's most populous death row....

"Capital punishment is an expensive failure and an example of the dysfunction of our prisons," Hancock said in a statement. "California's death row is the largest and most costly in the United States. It is not helping to protect our state; it is helping to bankrupt us."...

There are 714 California inmates now awaiting execution. That's nearly twice the number than in Florida, the state with the next largest death row population, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

On average, executions take 20 years to carry out from the time of sentencing. No one has been put to death in California since 2006 because of an ongoing legal challenge to how the state carries out executions by lethal injection and, more recently, a shortage of execution drugs.

Of inmates who had been awaiting execution, 78 have died of suicide or natural causes. Hancock's bill would amend state law to require life in prison without parole for those convicted of what are now capital crimes. It would put the question before voters on the November 2012 ballot.

One Republican lawmaker said Hancock's bill was misguided. "I appreciate that they're trying to save money, but I don't think we should put a price on justice," said Sen. Joel Anderson, of La Mesa.

Anderson, vice chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said costs could be reduced by streamlining the appeals process for death row inmates and carrying out executions more quickly. "Death row was never intended to be a retirement home," he said....

Hancock needs only a majority of lawmakers to approve her bill in a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat, has said he personally opposes the death penalty but defended the law when he was attorney general.

June 27, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Jury Convicts Blagojevich"

The title of this post is the headline of this Wall Street Journal piecereporting on the outcome of a high-profile retrial.  Here are the details:

A federal jury on Monday found former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich guilty of 17 counts of corruption, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.  The jury found Mr. Blagojevich not guilty on one of 20 corruption counts in his second trial and deadlocked on two other counts.  The verdicts came more than two years after Mr. Blagojevich, 54 years old, was arrested by federal agents.

Jurors told the judge they couldn't agree on two counts and were confident they wouldn't concur even if they kept deliberating.  Scores of onlookers gathered outside the courthouse to await the verdict.  Mr. Blagojevich arrived looking pale and shook hands and kissed a woman on the cheek when she wished him good luck.

The verdict was a victory for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who initiated "Operation Board Games" just a few months after Mr. Blagojevich took office.  In the hours after the then-governor's arrest, Mr. Fitzgerald said he had "interrupted a political corruption crime spree" and that Mr. Blagojevich had "put a for-sale sign on the naming of a United States Senator."...

Unlike his first trial, in which the former Chicago congressman escaped conviction on 20 of 21 counts, Mr. Blagojevich testified for seven days at his second trial.  He said his intent was to use the seat as leverage to pass legislation that would have benefited the residents of Illinois....

After court was dismissed, Mr. Blagojevich hugged his wife and kissed her on the top of her head.  Mr. Blagojevich was found guilty on counts including wire fraud and attempted exortion.  He was found not guilty of soliciting bribes.

His attorneys have until July 25 to request a retrial.  The judge told Mr. Blagojevich he may not travel outside the northern district of Illinois without permission of the court. "That doesn't mean I will never grant permission," Judge Zagel said.

Among other notable features, the conviction of Blagojevich now raises lots of interesting issues in the application of the 3553(a) sentencing factors.  Readers are highly encouraged to suggest they think would be "sufficient, but not greater than necessary" for this former Governor of Illinois.

June 27, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Justice Scalia's amusing assault on ACCA jurisprudence in dissent from denials of cert

As mentioned briefly in this prior post, Justice Scalia got in another complaint about the vagueness of the Armed Career Criminal Act as he dissented from a denial of cert in a set of ACCA cases.  Here is the heart of his complain from this entertaining little opinion in Derby v. US:

Before us are petitions for certiorari by criminal defendants asking us to decide whether four more of the “vast variety of . . . criminal offenses” that we have not yet addressed, see Sykes v. United States, ante, at 2–4, 7 (SCALIA, J., dissenting), are crimes of violence under the residual provision of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).  See 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B)(ii)....

How we would resolve these cases if we granted certiorari would be a fine subject for a law-office betting pool.  No one knows for sure.  Certainly our most recent decision interpreting ACCA’s residual clause, Sykes v. United States, ante, p. 1, would be of no help.  The “rule” we announced there, as far as I can tell, is as follows: A court must compare the degree of risk of the crime in question with the degree of risk of ACCA’s enumerated offenses (burglary, extortion, arson, and crimes involving the use of explosives) as a “beginning point,” ante, at 6–7; look at the statistical record, which is not “dispositive” but sometimes confirms “commonsense conclusion[s],” ante, at 8; and check whether the crime is “purposeful, violent, and aggressive,” unless of course the crime is among the unspecified “many cases” in which that test is “redundant with the inquiry into risk,” ante, at 11.  And of course given our track record of adding a new animal to our bestiary of ACCA residual-clause standards in each of the four successive cases we have thus far decided, see ante, at 2–4 (SCALIA, J., dissenting), who knows what new beasties our fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth tries would produce?  Surely a perfectly fair wager.

If it is uncertain how this Court will apply Sykes and the rest of our ACCA cases going forward, it is even more uncertain how our lower-court colleagues will deal with them. Conceivably, they will simply throw the opinions into the air in frustration, and give free rein to their own feelings as to what offenses should be considered crimes of violence —which, to tell the truth, seems to be what we have done.  (Before throwing the opinions into the air, however, they should check whether littering — or littering in a purposeful, violent, and aggressive fashion — is a felony in their jurisdiction.  If so, it may be a violent felony under ACCA; or perhaps not.)

Since our ACCA cases are incomprehensible to judges, the statute obviously does not give “person[s] of ordinary intelligence fair notice” of its reach.  United States v. Batchelder, 442 U. S. 114, 123 (1979) (internal quotation marks omitted).  I would grant certiorari, declare ACCA’s residual provision to be unconstitutionally vague, and ring down the curtain on the ACCA farce playing in federal courts throughout the Nation.

In addition to be joyfully amusing, I think there are some very interesting and important jurisprudential ideas lurking in this opinion for lower courts.  I will expand on this thought in some future posts.

June 27, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Any speculations on criminal justice echoes from SCOTUS rejection of violent video game regulation?

The Supreme Court rejected California's effort to regulate minors' access to violent video games as violative of the First Amendment today in EMA v. Brown (opinion here). Here is a key passage from the end of the opinion for the Court authored by Justice Scalia:

California’s effort to regulate violent video games is the latest episode in a long series of failed attempts to censor violent entertainment for minors. While we have pointed out above that some of the evidence brought forward to support the harmfulness of video games is unpersuasive, we do not mean to demean or disparage the concerns that underlie the attempt to regulate them — concerns that may and doubtless do prompt a good deal of parental oversight. We have no business passing judgment on the view of the California Legislature that violent video games (or, for that matter, any other forms of speech) corrupt the young or harm their moral development.  Our task is only to say whether or not such works constitute a “well-defined and narrowly limited clas[s] of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem,” Chaplinsky, 315 U. S., at 571– 572 (the answer plainly is no); and if not, whether the regulation of such works is justified by that high degree of necessity we have described as a compelling state interest (it is not).  Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.

California’s legislation straddles the fence between (1) addressing a serious social problem and (2) helping concerned parents control their children. Both ends are legitimate, but when they affect First Amendment rights they must be pursued by means that are neither seriously underinclusive nor seriously overinclusive.  See Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520, 546 (1993).  As a means of protecting children from portrayals of violence, the legislation is seriously underinclusive, not only because it excludes portrayals other than video games, but also because it permits a parental or avuncular veto.  And as a means of assisting concerned parents it is seriously overinclusive because it abridges the First Amendment rights of young people whose parents (and aunts and uncles) think violent video games are a harmless pastime. And the overbreadth in achieving one goal is not cured by the underbreadth in achieving the other. Legislation such as this, which is neither fish nor fowl, cannot survive strict scrutiny.

Nothing jumped out from a quick scan of Justice Scalia as obvious fodder for use by criminal justice advocates in other contaxts.  But, as the question in the title of this post is meant to prompt, I think the ruling could have echo effects and I am eager to hear early reader perspectives on this front.

June 27, 2011 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Lots of interesting last-day SCOTUS action on a variety of fronts

Today marks the last big day of the Supreme Court's October 2010 Term, and the action reported at SCOTUSblog is fast, furious and intriguing.  Though there are no criminal justice blockbuster decisions in the mix, there are lots of interesting developments such as:

As time and energy permits and thoughts justify, I will have separate posts discussion any big sentencing stories lunking in these and other SCOTUS developments today. 

June 27, 2011 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Interesting commentary on the comments here at SL&P

Over at Crime & Consequences, Bill Otis has this interesting lengthy post commenting on the nature of comments here at SL&P.  Here are excerpts:

I frequently comment at Sentencing Law and Policy because, among other reasons, I like to keep my finger on the pulse of what the other side is thinking.... The commenters are something else.  Some are anti-American hotheads.  Some are ex-cons.  Some are defense counsel, who can range from snark specialists to extremely thoughtful and fair-minded people.  A few are conservatives and/or libertarians....

I have found some common blind spots that recur on the Left no matter what the topic. Right now I want to talk about three of them.  They are the failure fully to understand that (1) every act of government, in law enforcement and otherwise, costs money; (2) every institution of government is unavoidably fallible, because human beings are unavoidably fallible; and (3) everything in life involves trade-off's, often painful ones.

I want to emphasize what an appreciation of these errors, taken together, means, to wit, that it's frivolous for our opponents to engage in blinkered sloganeering and think they've made an "argument."  For example, to bullhorn constantly about the costs of X, without being candid about what X achieves, or the costs the alternative to X is likely to create, is unpersuasive and dishonest.

Even more than dishonest, it is, I have come to believe, childlike -- not in the sense of charming or innocent, but in the sense of bedazzlement with things that sparkle combined with disinterest in things that don't, but are equally or more important to the task at hand. The juvenile quality of Leftist thinking, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes it consistently untrustworthy in matters of consequence.

There are a number of topics current in criminal law: Drug legalization, the big price tag for incarceration, and the costs of the death penalty.  The errors I have described are rampant in the Left's analysis of all three.

Let's start with the costs of the death penalty.  We hear that it costs a lot to litigate a capital case, and it does.  What we don't hear about is the trade-off, i.e., the costs saved by resolving murder cases with a guilty plea brought about in part by the threat of the death penalty if the case goes to trial.  We also don't hear about the significant extra costs it will take to house (and, in his elder years, provide medical care for) a (say) 30 year-old killer of the especially ruthless or conscienceless kind -- the kind who are most likley to find themselves in a capital prosecution....

Now let's talk about the costs of incarceration.  Again, they are substantial, and they've been growing significantly over the last 25 years or so.  It's easy to illustrate how, if we just release inmates, we save dollars.  And we save those dollars now, in time, shall we say, for the next election.  But what's the never-mentioned trade-off?

Well, first, there's justice.  These people were not in prison for no reason.  To release them prematurely is to give them a parole they had yet to earn.  Second, there's increased crime.  The incidence of recidivism is not zero.  Indeed it's way, way above zero.  When we release inmates early, we are sentencing innocent and unsuspecting people to be crime victims.  The difference, of course, is that the number and identity of those victims is not yet known.  These facts are therefore easy for politicians to sweep under the rug, even as they hold a smiley-faced press conference to announce that -- see there! -- we're saving the taxpayers X number of dollars next year.

Unmentioned are the human and financial costs of the additional crime they have made inevitable.  And if any of the release-them-now crowd pushing for this solution has ever said that, well, we should make some effort to at least keep track of the coming, increased crime-related costs -- so we can re-visit the cost question with more information -- I never heard of it.

There is a good deal more to say on this question, and I'm afraid I might have promised more than I have delivered right now, anyway, but I wanted to get these thoughts down.  I'll have more to say later.  But the three analytical errors I mentioned are so pervasive that I wanted to get this on the table now.

I am greatly appreciative of Bill Otis's history of service to criminal justice law and policy and also his engagement on this forum.  But this extended discussion highlights for me that Bill's thinking is often subject to the very same "childlike" problems and "blind spots" he assails.  Let me give a few examples.

Bill claims he has "never heard of" efforts to track "increased crime-related costs" of early prison releases.  It seems, then, that Bill is blind to the fact that the US Sentencing Commission has studiously kept track of recidivism rates of those released early under the 2007 lower crack guidelines (details here), and that the folks at Pew have been doing broad evidence-based assessments of recidivism rates nationwide (details here).  I share Bill's instinct that we should have more evidence-based analysis of many crime and punishment issues, but I dispute his suggestion that all advocates of reform are eager to avoid serious examination of cost-benefit realities.

Even more fundamentally, Bill (eagerly?) overlooks how the Left's approach to many criminal justice matters is driven by a deep understanding that "every institution of government is unavoidably fallible, because human beings are unavoidably fallible."  This is most obvious in the death penalty debate, where many abolitionists say that because we can never be sure the criminal justice system will always get it right, this system should never terminate life.  I personally do not find this argument convincing, but it is very much based on the essential belief that the death penalty is a bad idea precisely because "every institution of government is unavoidably fallible."

This fallible reality also often informs advocacy for prison reform and is critically missing in Bill's understanding of support for reductions in incarceration.  Bill, in a childlike and blind way, seemingly believes "justice" is always achieved by keeping folks in prison because they "are not in prison for no reason [and] releas[ing] them prematurely is to give them a parole they had yet to earn."  But whether we are considering extreme crack sentences some other too-long nonviolent sentencing terms (like those given, say, to Scooter Libby), what about the possibility that the original prison terms are unjust, reflecting a fallible criminal justice system that often will over-punish in the heat of the latest crime concern?

I throw out Scooter Libby as a telling example because Bill Otis obviously appreciated the societal value of early prison release when he forcefully and successfully advocated for presidential commutation of Libby's prison term following his perjury convictions.  Bill seems blind to the possibility that many on the Left believe that, among the 2.3 million people in prison, there are a lot more folks like Libby who could and should be safely released early to the benefit of both these offenders and society itself. 

I hope that when Bill has "more to say later" he will explain why his advocacy for Libby's early release is distinct from comparable advocacy by those on the Left whom his clearly disdains.

June 27, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

US Sentencing Commission slated this week to vote on new FSA crack guideline retroactivity

As indicated in this official public notice, this Thursday, June 30, a public meeting of the US Sentencing Commission is scheduled at which the USSC is expected to vote on whether and how to make the new reduced crack offense sentencing guidelines applicable retroactively to previously sentencing defendants.  The new guidelines reflect the 18-1 quantity ratio between crack and powder cocaine quantities that became the new federal sentencing standard after the Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

As I have detailed in prior posts (some of which are linked below), a decision to make the crack guidelines retroactive would potentially impact the sentences of many thousands of federal prisoners, and this fact has made this issue a subject of considerable controversy.  The Sentencing Commission has posted here on its website a lot of interesting links to the input the USSC has received about this consequential issue.  (Enterprising researchers and students can learn a lot about the politics and practicalities of federal drug sentecing by reviewing these materials.)

Based on the (incomplete and non-insider) buzz that I have heard surrounding this issue, I predict that the Sentencing Commission will vote to make the new crack guidelines retroactive with a few (but not too many) limitations on which previously sentencing defendants can get the benefit of the new lower guidelines.

A few related posts on this particular retroactivity decision before the USSC are linked below, and readers interested in a broader understanding of the FSA should check out this February 2011 issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporteron the FSA and those interested in a broader discussion of the last round of crack retroactivity should check out this April 2008 FSR issue on crack retroactivity:

June 27, 2011 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Implementing retroactively new USSC crack guidelines, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tucson shooter Jared Loughner to be forcibly medicated in prison

As detailed in this CBS News piece, the appointed attorneys "for the Tucson shooting rampage suspect say federal prison officials have decided to forcibly give him anti-psychotic drugs." Here is more:

Attorneys for Jared Loughner filed an emergency motion on Friday asking U.S. District Judge Larry Burns to stop them from doing so.  Burns has twice denied their requests to be given notice before their client is drugged.

Defense attorney Judy Clarke wrote that a prison administrative hearing on June 14 found Loughner was a danger to himself.  She doesn't know if they have started giving him drugs.  Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Mental health experts who examined Loughner concluded he suffers from schizophrenia; he has been at a federal prison facility in Springfield, Mo., since May 28, where experts will try to make him psychologically fit to stand trial.  He will spend up to four months there. If Loughner is later determined to be competent enough to understand the case against him and assist his lawyers, the court proceedings will resume.  His stay at the facility could also be extended.

USA Today reported earlier this month that it's likely Loughner will eventually be cleared to stand trial. "It's a fairly routine part of criminal justice," Richard Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, told the newspaper.  Bonnie said about 85 percent of patients initially ruled mentally unfit are eventually cleared to stand trial or otherwise face charges against them.

June 27, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 26, 2011

Interesting sentencing news from China

Two reports on sentencing developments in China caught my eye this weekend:

Based on these stories, it now sound like sentencing law and policy in China is now quite a lot like in the old USA.

June 26, 2011 in Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Feds ask for (inappropriate?) 385 years(!) for white-collar offender

As detailed in this Wall Street Journal article, headlined "U.S. Seeks 385 Years in Prison for Ex-Taylor Bean Chairman, the federal government is asking for a sentencing term of biblical proportions in a high-profile white-collar case out of Virginia. Here are the particulars:

Federal prosecutors said the former chairman of mortgage lender Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., Lee Farkas, should spend the rest of his life behind bars because he continues to deny responsibility for the devastation he wrought as the mastermind of a multibillion-dollar "fraud of staggering proportions."

Prosecutors on Thursday filed court papers urging U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema to impose the statutory maximum prison sentence of 385 years on Mr. Farkas, whom a jury in April found guilty of 14 counts of conspiracy and bank, wire and securities fraud.  Mr. Farkas, 58 years old, is set to be sentenced next Thursday.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Farkas's attorneys filed court papers requesting a sentence of 15 years, which they said would not only "adequately punish" Mr. Farkas but could also effectively be a life sentence for the 58-year-old man with a heart stent....

Mr. Farkas, who built up Ocala, Fla.-based Taylor Bean into one of the nation's biggest mortgage lenders, was found guilty of misappropriating about $3 billion from banks such as Colonial Bank of Montgomery, Ala., and of trying to fraudulently obtain more than $550 million from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

Prosecutors said Mr. Farkas personally pocketed $40 million from the scheme, which he used to buy a jet, an "exotic" car collection, multiple homes and businesses.  "Farkas fueled his lifestyle of ostentatious wealth by ripping off banks and attempting to steal from the government, all with little to no regard for the consequences to TBW's or Colonial Bank's employees, thousands of whom lost their jobs when TBW and Colonial Bank closed," prosecutors said.  "And to this day … Farkas continues to deny any responsibility for the devastation brought on by the staggering fraud scheme that he initiated and led."...

In addition to the 385-year prison sentence, prosecutors are also asking that Judge Brinkema order the forfeiture of $42.2 million from Mr. Farkas.

Meanwhile, dozens of letters from Mr. Farkas's friends, family members, former employees and other acquaintances have come in urging the judge to be lenient.  The letters describe Mr. Farkas's philanthropy not only in the Ocala community but also in their lives, from helping people care for sick relatives, start their own businesses and fund college educations.

This month, Judge Brinkema handed down sentences for Mr. Farkas's co-conspirators in the scheme.  Taylor Bean's former chief executive, Paul Allen, and former president, Raymond Bowman, received 40 months and 30 months in prison, respectively.  Taylor Bean's former treasurer, Desiree Brown, received a six-year sentence, while Colonial Bank officials Catherine Kissick and Teresa Kelly received sentences of eight years and three months, respectively.

The disparity between those sentences and the proposed sentence for Mr. Farkas is warranted, prosecutors said.  "Farkas's co-conspirators are generally decent people who made terrible decisions and failed to extricate themselves from a fraud scheme spiraling out of control. Farkas can hardly be included in this category," they said.  "For years, he manipulated his co-conspirators and others to his personal advantage...Farkas exemplifies the adage that there is 'no honor among thieves'."

Prosecutors also said that handing down the highest-possible sentence to Mr. Farkas would serve as a powerful deterrent to executives lured by the promise of easy corporate profits and substantial riches for themselves.

I do not dispute (and neither does the defense team here, it seems, that Farkas merits a serious punishment for his serious crimes.  But it strikes me as a bit silly and arguably inappropriate for the Government to assert that only a maximum term of 385-years imprisonment qualifies as "sufficient, but no greater than necessary" for Lee Farkas under the terms of 3553(a).  Seem to me that for a 58-year-old offender, a sentence of, say, 100 years would seem to be more than enough to achieve whatever purposes that prosecutors deem critical.  But, remarkable, the feds think they need to ask for more than triple that length of sentence for this offender.

June 26, 2011 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Does Casey Anthony case really "show Florida's death-penalty system is broken"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable recent commentary in the Orlando Sentinel, which is healined "Casey Anthony case, others show Florida's death-penalty system is broken." Here are excerpts:

Support of the death penalty is almost a prerequisite to holding statewide office in Florida. Kill more. Kill them faster. But this political agenda is clashing ever more often with the constitutional requirement of due process.

And so we are spending millions of dollars sentencing far more people to death than we can possibly kill. The result has been a growing glut of death-row inmates. Consider these statistics:

  • Since the 1970s, Virginia has executed 121 inmates. It currently has 14 death-row inmates.
  • Oklahoma has had 96 executions. It currently has 85 death-row inmates.
  • Florida has had 69 executions. We have 399 inmates on death row.

At our current pace of executions, it would take 200 years to clear them out. More people on Florida's death row have been exonerated, resentenced to a prison term or died while awaiting execution than have been executed.

The 23 inmates exonerated and set free are the most of any state, making our system the most error-prone in the country. Some of these inmates were obviously innocent. Some probably were guilty, but trial errors, prosecutorial misconduct or other issues nullified their convictions.  Ironically, if these freed inmates had been sentenced to life in prison without parole instead of death, they probably would still be in jail because they wouldn't have had access to the scrutiny and appeals granted death-row inmates....

There also is no rhyme or reason to which cases are pursued as capital crimes.  The original purpose of the death penalty was to execute the worst of the worst.  But legislators have consistently expanded the types of crimes eligible for the death sentence, so now it can be pursued with most all murder charges.  This gives state attorneys wide leeway in deciding what cases to pursue as death-penalty cases.  Most state attorneys don't have written guidelines, making their decisions completely arbitrary.

Sometimes they are driven by politics, as with Casey Anthony.  This is not a death-penalty case, and in the unlikely event she is sentenced to death, it will be overturned on appeal.

So why pursue it?  A death case requires jurors who state beforehand they are willing to impose a death sentence.  Such jurors are more prone to deliver guilty verdicts.  If you have a shaky, circumstantial case in a high-profile trial like this, you increase the odds of a conviction by stacking the deck with a death jury....

All this comes with a cost.  Death cases are very expensive because they require two trials, one establishing guilt and the second to impose the sentence.  Then come years of appeals. One death-row inmate had his case reviewed 20 times by state and federal courts before his sentence was reduced to life in prison.  Judge Eaton cites estimates that each execution costs Florida about $20 million....

And yet this year Gov. Rick Scott and legislators abolished the Commission on Capital Cases, a small state agency that tracks cases, keeps statistics and makes recommendations to the courts and lawmakers.

June 26, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

"Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws at Home and Abroad: Is an International Megan’s Law Good Policy?"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Christopher King available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Comparative reviews of sex offender laws at the foreign level have been rare; discussions at the international level are nonexistent. This article seeks to address these needs in the following ways.  First, federal, US sex offender laws are reviewed.  Countries with sex offender registration and/or notification laws are then identified and their sex offender schemes compared (with a focus on registration, community notification, retroactive application, and/or international travel reporting).  Next, the International Megan’s Law proposal that has recently been surfacing in Congress is discussed and critiqued. Finally, an alternative, more cost-effective proposal is offered.

June 26, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack