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July 9, 2011

Why the Second Amendment is not (and should never be?) "part of normal constitutional law"

Earlier this week, the Seventh Circuit issued a lengthy and detailed ruling in Ezell v. Chicago (available here), which issued a preliminary injunction against Chicago gun range ban based on the Second Amendment.  The Ezell ruling is both interesting and intricate; in this extended new post over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Second Amendment scholar and fan David Kopel astutely explains how and why "Ezell v. Chicago is a tremendously important case for Second Amendment doctrine."

I share Kopel's view about the importance of the Ezell opinion, and I recommend highly his summary and assessment of Ezell in his astute post.  However, as evidenced by the title of my post here, I want to take issue with a key assertion Kopel makes at the start of the (otherwise astute) concluding paragraph of his post.  Kopel finishes with these summary observation about what Ezell tells us:

In short, the Second Amendment is part of normal constitutional law.  The standard of review is not the absolutist “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?’” Nor is the standard “reasonableness” as a euphemism for “rational basis so long as all guns are not banned”; nor the weak “undue burden” standard that was invented for one particular unenumerated right which is an extreme outlier in the weakness of its basis in history, tradition, and other sources for unenumerated rights.  Intermediate scrutiny does apply sometimes, as with the First Amendment, and, also as with the First Amendment, stricter scrutiny applies at other times.  As with much of the rest of 21st century constitutional law, the interpretive methodology includes both originalism and a practical analysis which some persons would call “living constitutionalism.”

The problem I have is with the claim that Ezell demostratrates that the Second Amendment is "part of normal constitutional law," principally because Ezell distinguishes the Seventh Circuit's approval in Skoein of the federal crime prohibiting certain misdemeanants from possessing guns (basics here) by emphasizing that only "law-abiding, responsible citizens" get full Second Amendment protection.  If Second Amendment rights and jurisprudence truly depends and pivots on who is deemed a "law-abiding, responsible citizen," then the Second Amendment is not part of normal constitutional law because I know of no other constitutional right that only protects "law-abiding, responsible citizens."

Of course, a citizen's constitutional rights can and often are diminished or extinguished as a result of conviction and sentencing for a crime.  Incarcerated prisoners, in addition to obviously losing many liberty rights, also generally have no Fourth Amendment rights and have very limited First Amendment rights.  Similarly, duly imposed conditions of probation and/or parole that are part of a formal criminal sentence can lawfully result in restrictions on otherwise constitutional activities and liberties.

However, as I have explained in some prior posts, I am not aware of any other fundamental rights expressly protected by the Bill of Rights which are forever lost or forfeited whenever a person has ever once previously broken the law or been less than "responsible" in their behavior.  Indeed, I think we would be deeply troubled by a constitutional jurisprudence that held that once a citizen was ever convicted of any crime, even just a misdemeanor (e.g., speeding, littering), then that person never again has any First Amendment right to free speech or to attend church or any Fifth Amendment right to prevent the taking of their property or any Sixth Amendment to confront witnesses or to counsel in a criminal trial. 

In posts in the wake of Heller, I had predicted and feared that Second Amendment doctrine would start distinguishing between good "law-abiding, responsible citizens" people who get protected by this fundamental constitutional right and bad "other citizens" who get little or no constitutional protection.  The important Ezell opinion suggests the doctrine is developing in just this way, and that reality leads me to balk when Kopel asserts that "the Second Amendment is part of normal constitutional law." 

Or, to cast my concerns in a different light, I suggest we all should be very concerned if and when "normal constitutional law" starts to embrace and enforce significant distinctions between good "law-abiding, responsible citizens" people who get protected by constitutional rights and bad "other citizens" who get little or no constitutional protection.  I genuinely fear that this kind of "normal" constitutional doctrine, which is now emerging in the Second Amendment setting, very well could start a path toward the significant formal and/or functional reduction of many fundamental constitutional rights and liberties.

A few related Second Amendment posts:

July 9, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Second Amendment issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

"Death Penalty, Still Racist and Arbitrary"

The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times op-ed authored by law professor David Dow. Here are excerpts:

Last week was the 35th anniversary of the return of the American death penalty. It remains as racist and as random as ever.

Nationwide, blacks and whites are victims of homicide in roughly equal numbers, yet 80 percent of those executed had murdered white people. Over the past three decades, the Baldus study has been replicated in about a dozen other jurisdictions, and they all reflect the same basic racial bias. By insisting on direct evidence of racial discrimination, the court in McCleskey essentially made the fact of pervasive racism legally irrelevant, because prosecutors rarely write e-mails announcing they are seeking death in a given case because the murderer was black (or because the victim was white).

In Texas, though, they do come close. In 2008, the district attorney of Harris County, Chuck Rosenthal, resigned after news emerged that he had sent and received racist e-mails. His office had sought the death penalty in 25 cases; his successor has sought it in 7. Of the total 32 cases, 29 involve a nonwhite defendant.

Since 1976, Texas has carried out 470 executions (well more than a third of the national total of 1,257). You can count on one hand the number of those executions that involved a white murderer and a black victim and you do not need to use your thumb, ring finger, index finger or pinkie.

Well, you might need the pinkie. On June 16, Texas executed Lee Taylor, who at age 16 beat an elderly couple while robbing their home. The 79-year-old husband died of his injuries. Mr. Taylor was sentenced to life in prison; there he joined the Aryan Brotherhood, a white gang, and, four years into his sentence, murdered a black inmate and was sentenced to death. When Mr. Taylor was executed, it was reported that he was the second white person in Texas executed for killing a black person. Actually, he should be counted as the first. The other inmate, Larry Hayes, executed in 2003, killed two people, one of whom was white.

The facts surrounding Lee Taylor’s execution are cause for further shame. John Balentine, a black inmate, was scheduled to die in Texas the day before Lee Taylor’s execution. Mr. Balentine’s lawyers argued that his court-appointed appellate lawyer had botched his case, and that he should have an opportunity to raise issues the lawyer had neglected. Less than an hour before Mr. Balentine was to die, the Supreme Court issued a stay.

Lee Taylor’s lawyers watched the Balentine case closely; their client too had received scandalously bad representation, and, they filed a petition virtually identical to the one in the Balentine case. But by a vote of 5-to-4, the justices permitted the Taylor execution to proceed. If there were differences between the Balentine and Taylor cases, they were far too minor to form the boundary between life and death. But trivial distinctions are commonplace in death penalty cases. Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., one of the five justices in the McCleskey majority, retired from the court in 1991. Following his retirement he said he had voted the wrong way. If Justice Powell had changed his mind a year sooner, Warren McCleskey, who was executed in Georgia in 1991, would still be alive.

And because of a vote from a single Supreme Court justice, John Balentine lives while Lee Taylor died. When capital punishment was briefly struck down, in 1972, Justice Potter Stewart said the death penalty was arbitrary, like being struck by lightning.

It still is, and it’s the justices themselves who keep throwing the bolts.

July 9, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Split Iowa Supreme Court endorses denial of good behavior credit for sex offender who refuses to admit guilt in treatment program

As detailed in this news report, headlined "Justices: It's OK to push inmates to admit guilt," the Iowa Supreme Court yesterday held that "Iowa sex offenders can be compelled to admit their crimes as part of prison treatment programs without triggering a violation of the inmates' right against self-incrimination." Here is more:

Four of the seven Iowa justices found that the Mount Pleasant Correctional facility didn't violate Robert Harkins' Fifth Amendment rights by denying him time off for good behavior if he refused to participate in a treatment program. The remaining justices said they would have allowed the requirement only if the state offered immunity to prevent any admissions from being used against Harkins in court.

Iowa law says state prison inmates can earn 1.2 days off their sentences "for each day the inmate demonstrates good conduct and satisfactorily participates" in any program he or she is determined by prison officials to need.

Harkins, convicted of third-degree sexual abuse in 2006, argued in court pleadings he filed himself that linking those "earned-time credits" to completion of sex-offender treatment violated his constitutional rights because the treatment required signing a contract that would have forced Harkins to "assume full responsibility" for his past offenses and behavior....

[T]he majority of justices - Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield, Bruce Zager and Chief Justice Mark Cady - ruled Friday that state prison officials have "important rehabilitative goals" in using the possibility of a longer prison term to compel sex-offender treatment.

"The state is not using a threatened loss of credits to try to extract testimony; instead it is attempting to administer a bona fide rehabilitation program for sex offenders who have already been found guilty under a statutory scheme that afforded them all required due process," Mansfield wrote in a 27-page opinion for the majority.

"Harkins had every right not to be a witness against himself. ... Now that he has been convicted as a sex offender, though, the State of Iowa may constitutionally establish an incentive for him to obtain treatment in prison by withholding earned-time credits if he declines to participate."

Justice Brent Appel, author of a 30-page dissenting opinion on behalf of a minority that included Justices David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht, said the case boils down to a tough choice for Harkins: "Simply put, if he chooses to remain silent by not participating in the program, he likely will be incarcerated for a substantially longer period of time."

Appel's opinion concludes that Iowa has imposed "an impermissible penalty for the exercise of (Harkins') Fifth Amendment rights" and argues that "the state may force Harkins to choose" between self-incrimination and a longer sentence "only if it provides Harkins with use and derivative-use immunity from prosecution."

I cannot yet find a copy of this ruling available on line, but I will post a link to the ful opinion once available.

July 9, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

July 8, 2011

Why Smith Equal Protection ruling and execution stay in Ohio is a huge (and national?) new death penalty story

As noted in prior posts here and here, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost this morning issued a ground-breaking ruling which stays an execution based on a death row defendant's Equal Protection claim concerning how Ohio runs its machinery of death.  Though only formally dealing with only one planned execution in one state, the fundamental constitutional claims and basic litigation approach driving the Smith ruling makes the case huge for Ohio and possibly for every other state that regularly executes condemned murderers.  Let me explain.

First, the Smith ruling (60 pages long, available here) is based on Equal Protection constitutional claims that seem applicable to any and every person subject to execution in Ohio.  As noted in this recent post, Ohio has scheduled execution dates for 11 inmates over the next year, and every one of these planned executions would appear to be in jeopardy in light of the Smith ruling.  (Importantly, the Smith case is only at a preliminary posture, and a full trial of the issue is scheduled for later this year.  Still, the imposition of an execution stay for one defendant pending this trial on the merits has implications for all those in Ohio's execution queue.)

Second, the Smith ruling is premised in the developed evidence that Ohio's written protocol for lethal injection executions is never followed exactly and is often modified "on the fly."  As regular readers surely know, this problem is hardly unique to Ohio: because of the historic challenges of getting qualified and experienced medical persons to help conduct executions, as well as recent challenges in getting supplies of needed execution drugs, I suspect that many (if not all) states that conduct executions rarely follow written execution protocols exactly and often must modify these protocols "on the fly."  Thus, the Smith ruling not only likely blocks all future executions in Ohio, it possibly raises new constitutional questions about what is going on in many other states with active death chambers.

I quite doubt that many judges (either in state or federal courts) will be very eager or swiftly able to follow the lead of the Smith opinion and readily declare Equal Protection problems with other state execution practices.  But I am quite certain that many defense attorneys with capital clients facing upcoming executions will be very eager and swiftly able to take cues from the Smith opinion and readily argue (both in state and federal courts) that potential Equal Protection problems with state execution practices demand a stay and additional litigation before any more executions proceed.

Some recent related posts:

July 8, 2011 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Path started to place pot legalization on Colorado ballot in 2012

I expect backers of legalized marijuana will try to get the issue on the California ballot again in 2012 after the relatively narrow loss of an initiative in 2010.  However, as this local article highlights, Colorado is another state to watch closely in the debates over pot prohibition and possible legalization:

In a little more than a year, Colorado may become the first state to legalize marijuana. Between now and then, prepare to meet petition waving enthusiasts. In fact, prepare to meet competing petition wavers as it is quite likely that at least two different pro-marijuana groups will propose at least two different legalization schemes.

First out of the box is the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, sponsored and/or supported by groups such as SAFER Colorado, Sensible Colorado, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.

This initiative would amend the Colorado Constitution to allow people 21 and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. They would also be able to grow up to six plants and to possess all of the marijuana produced by those plants.

Mason Tvert, the leader of the group, says that the black market currently makes marijuana more easily accessible to children and teenagers than alcohol is. “Parents should support this,” he said. “This will shift it from a prohibition paradigm to a regulation paradigm.”

He said they were planning on the 2012 election because they think the higher voter turnout of a presidential election should favor legalization of marijuana.  He said this initiative has been in the works for more than five years.  He said it took that long to “bring forward the best initiative possible.”...

He said the time seems right to legalize and regulate marijuana, noting that Congressman Jared Polis had recently co-sponsored a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level, leaving it to states to decide how to deal with it.  He said this was an issue that both liberals and conservatives agree on. In fact, during last year’s Colorado governor’s race, the only candidate who favored legalization was the most conservative: Tom Tancredo....

The initiative would enable the state to collect sales taxes on marijuana and also to levy an excise tax of up to 15 percent. Vicente said the first $40 million raised annually from the excise tax will be earmarked for public school construction. “We estimate overall it will bring in about $70 million a year including savings to law enforcement,” he said....

Supporters emphasized that if this initiative becomes law it will not allow people under 21 to buy or possess marijuana. It will not allow use in public. It will not allow people to drive vehicles when under the influence of marijuana. It would not require businesses to allow use at work or to make any accommodation for marijuana users....

Even as they were holding their press conference at Civic Center Park in downtown Denver, someone from one of the competing marijuana groups was handing out information sheets detailing what they think is wrong with this proposal, namely that it doesn’t really legalize marijuana. The flyer referred to this SAFER initiative as a “sentencing reform initiative,” because possession of more than an ounce would remain illegal and subject people to arrest.

The opposing group, calling itself Legalize2012, hopes to begin a petition drive for “true legalization” soon. One of the leaders of that group, Laura Kriho, actually referred to Tvert as “my opponent” in a recent public appearance.

She said she wants to abolish all marijuana crimes from the books in Colorado and that if voters reject such language, she will try again in 2014, 2016 etc. Kathleen Chippi, at the same forum last month, noted that truly legalizing marijuana would make it more like potatoes. “I can have as many potatoes as I want. The entire drug war is based on lies,” she said. “Let’s get the cops out of our lives.”

Some older and newer related posts on pot policy and politics:

July 8, 2011 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Split Ninth Circuit panel reverses Arizona death sentence based on claim of judicial bias

The split Ninth Circuit panel has reversed an Arizona death sentence today in Hurles v. Ryan, No. 08-99032 (9th Cir. July 7, 2011) (available here), in an opinion that starts this way:

Richard D. Hurles appeals the district court’s denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus from his murder conviction and death sentence. He argues the district court erred on four issues: judicial bias, ineffective assistance of sentencing counsel, ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, and procedural default (related to portions of his ineffective assistance of counsel claims).

For the reasons set forth below, we reverse the district court’s denial of Hurles’s judicial bias claim. The highly unusual facts of this case — in which the trial judge became involved as a party in an interlocutory appeal, was denied standing to appear as an adversary, and then proceeded to preside over a murder trial and single-handedly determine Hurles’s death sentence — compel us to conclude that Hurles was denied his right to due process. These exceptional facts raise the probability of actual bias to an unconstitutional level.

A lengthy dissenting opinion by Judge Ikuta gets started this way:

Today the majority overturns a convicted murderer’s capital sentence, ignoring AEDPA’s command to defer to a state court’s decision unless it is objectively unreasonable. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000).  The AEDPA analysis here is straightforward. During the preliminary phases of Hurles’s capital trial, the state trial judge denied Hurles’s motion for appointment of a second attorney. Hurles appealed that denial in a special action proceeding, and the state Attorney General submitted a brief in the trial judge’s name defending the ruling.  Over seven years later, after an unsuccessful direct appeal and post-conviction proceeding, Hurles claimed that the trial judge’s participation in the special action proceeding violated his due process rights and moved for her recusal from further participation in his case.  The trial judge denied Hurles’s motion and rejected his claim that her participation in the special action proceeding created an unconstitutional “appearance of bias.”  Hurles now claims that this conclusion is contrary to Supreme Court precedent.  Because there is no clearly established Supreme Court authority that even hints the trial court’s decision was wrong, we must defer to its determination and deny the petition.  Murdoch v. Castro, 609 F.3d 983, 991 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc).

This ruling seems to have all the classic elements (e.g., win for state capital defendant, strong dissent) needed to prompt further review by an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit and/or the Justices of the Supreme Court.  It will be interesting to see how Arizona opts to continue this battle.

July 8, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Interesting substantive reasonableness ruling from Eighth Circuit

In an interesting sentencing ruling today in US v. Shakal, No. 10-3019 (8th Cir. July 8, 2011) (available here), reveals yet again how hard it is to get a within-guideline sentence reversed as substantively unreasonable if and when a district judge provides a thoughtful explanation for his sentencing decision. Here are a few key paragraphs from the ruling:

Yahya Muhumed Shakal pleaded guilty to four counts of aiding and abetting the preparation of false federal income-tax returns. At sentencing, Shakal argued that his experiences in Somalia during the violent Somali civil war entitled him to a sentence well below the advisory Guidelines range. The district court denied Shakal's request, and sentenced him to a Guidelines sentence of 72 months' imprisonment. Shakal now appeals, urging that the district court's sentence is substantively unreasonable. We affirm....

The record clearly shows that the district court considered Shakal's violent experiences during the Somali Civil War, including witnessing the murder of his father and the rapes of his sisters. Indeed, the district court agreed with Shakal's counsel that Shakal and his family had "been through hell," and conceded that "[t]he real issue is going to be . . . how should that affect his sentence this morning."

Also, the district court considered but rejected Shakal's sentencing-disparity argument. Specifically, Shakal maintained, as he does now, that a "Mr. Mohamed" initially taught Shakal how to fraudulently request the fuel tax credit on tax returns, and that Mohamed received only 18 to 24 months at sentencing (from a different judge). The district court responded to this argument by first acknowledging that it had read through Mohamed's entire file the night before Shakal's sentencing, but ultimately concluded that Mohamed's case differed greatly from Shakal's in that Mohammed's tax scheme cost the United States Government only $44,000, far less than Shakal's $2 million haul....

[In addition, as the sentencing transcript shows,] the district court not only considered Shakal's personal history and circumstances in fashioning a sentence but reduced the sentence it would have otherwise assessed Shakal in light thereof.  Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Shakal to 72 months' imprisonment.

July 8, 2011 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Ohio lethal injection ruling provides lessons in litigation realities, the rule of law and a law of rules

As noted in this prior post, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost this morning issues a ground-breaking (and perhaps extremely important) ruling which stays an execution based on a death row defendant's Equal Protection claim concerning how Ohio runs its machinery of death.  Though I am still reading through Judge Frost's thorough and thoughtful Smith opinion, these passages jumped out at me (and prompted the title of this post due to part I have put in bold):

Throughout the course of this litigation, Ohio time and again has used its written protocol as both a sword and a shield.  Defendants have attacked various inmates’ claims of dangerous state practices by pointing to the written protocol as evidence of official policy and procedure that provide salvaging order and predictability.  At the same time, Defendants have cloaked themselves in the various permutations of the written protocol, which they have periodically updated to formalize the customs and practices that propped up an often teetering protocol, all in an effort to shield Ohio’s lethal injection practices from invalidation under the Constitution.  But after literally over half a decade of litigating the issues that way, it now appears that the state officials involved have decided either to change their minds or to come clean on what the actual beliefs and practices are and not what they have previously told this Court to be true....

The man who once testified that the written protocol carries the force of law now offers that the written protocol does not set out mandated regulations.  The controlling set of mandates constituting the written protocol that often shielded Ohio’s practices from constitutional infirmity and provided the state with a sword to puncture inmates’ claims is thus revealed to be an advisory compilation of guidelines subject to being ignored....

The latest evidence presents at least these four deviations from the core components of the written protocol.  Such core deviations as a matter of policy were once considered improbable....  [But what] was once a theoretical concern relegated to the unlikely or impossible has become (or has finally been revealed to be) reality.

Ohio’s execution policy now embraces a nearly unlimited capacity for deviation from the core or most critical execution procedures.  No inference is required to reach this conclusion, much less the stacking of inference upon inference.  Rather, as set forth below, simply paying attention to the hearing testimony mandates this conclusion.  These core deviations are not mere cosmetic variations from an optional or even aspirational set of guidelines.  Rather, the deviations are substantive departures from some of the most fundamental tenets of Ohio’s execution policy. These tenets or core components embody concerns that cannot be disregarded and are described below.

The passages I have highlighted showcase, I believe, that Judge Frost had been hearing Ohio defend its execution practices for years based on the lethal injection protocol rules the state created, but then learned at a recent evidentiary hearing that Ohio never actually follows its own rules with real care or much concern.  Thus, this important ruling emerges from the death row lawyers making clear at an evidenitary hearing that Ohio does not really do what it says it is doing during an execution, and Judge Frost making clear that the Constitution here demand that Ohio keep its word when it says its lethal injection process follows the protocols it has created.

July 8, 2011 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Federal district judge finds Equal Protection Clause violated by Ohio's injection processes

As detailed in this breaking AP report, a federal district judge in Ohio has issued a ground-breaking ruling this morning in the course of ordering a stay to an Ohio execution planned for later this month:

Kenneth Smith was scheduled to be put to death July 19 for killing a husband and wife in their Hamilton home during a 1995 robbery.  U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost on Friday criticized what he called Ohio's haphazard application of its death penalty protocols.

If upheld on appeal, Frost's decision would allow Smith to argue in an upcoming trial that the state violates the constitution with its uneven application of its rules for executing inmates.

In this controversial and often-politicized context, it think bears noting that Judge Frost (bio here) is a former local prosecutor who was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush in 2003.  With that background, here is how Judge Frost's 60-page stay opinion in Smith (which can be downloaded below) gets started:

It is the policy of the State of Ohio that the State follows its written execution protocol, except when it does not. This is nonsense.

This matter is before the Court for consideration of Plaintiff Kenneth Smith’s motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction (ECF No. 908), Defendants’ memorandum in opposition (ECF No. 920), Plaintiff’s reply memorandum (ECF No. 923), Defendants’ incorporated motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 919), Plaintiff’s incorporated summary judgment memorandum in opposition (ECF No. 925), and Plaintiff’s supplemental memorandum related to the June 29, 2011 hearing (ECF No. 944).  The issue presented by this briefing is relatively simple: has Plaintiff demonstrated that he is likely to succeed in establishing that the Ohio has an unconstitutional execution policy so that he deserves a stay of execution that will afford him the chance to prove his case?  Because Plaintiff has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of succeeding on his Equal Protection claim, this Court finds the motion for injunctive relief well taken.  Thus, it is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that the State of Ohio, and any person acting on its behalf, is hereby STAYED from implementing an order for the execution of Kenneth Smith issued by any court of the State of Ohio until further Order from this Court.

Download Order_granting_TRO_and_Stay_of_Execution_re_Smith

This Smith ruling seems certain to be appealed to the Sixth Circuit, though how and how quickly the Sixth Circuit (and perhaps also the Supreme Court) will consider this matter is harder to predict (and will be fun to watch over the next few weeks).

July 8, 2011 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Ninth Circuit puzzling over whether Tucson shooter Jared Loughner can be forcibly medicated

The new piece posted at the WSJ Law Blog, headlined "Government Still Not Cleared to Forcibly Medicate Jared Loughner," provides a good account of the on-going legal debate over the treatment of the Tucson shooter. Here are excerpts:

We thought it was settled that prison officials could forcibly medicate Tucson gunman Jared Loughner, who is accused of shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others earlier this year.   A federal judge last month upheld an earlier decision by prison officials to force Loughner to take anti-psychotic drugs in an effort to try to render him mentally fit to stand trial for the shootings.

But the 9th Circuit late last week halted the forced medication, and yesterday a three-judge panel of the court expressed skepticism that prison officials were legally entitled to administer drugs involuntarily without first getting court clearance, WSJ reports.

The battle over medicating Loughner, who has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, will be a key factor in determining whether he ever stands trial.  At yesterday’s 9th Circuit hearing, government lawyer Christina Cabanillis said that under a Supreme Court decision, federal prison officials can make a medication decision on their own when they determine that someone in their custody is a danger to himself or others, WSJ reports.

But 9th Circuit judges drew a distinction between a convicted inmate, who was the subject of the Supreme Court decision, and a pretrial detainee, such as Loughner, who has the presumption of innocence. 

“Why should someone presumptively innocent not be treated with greater personal deference” than an inmate, asked Judge Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the 9th Circuit....

Whether a person is an inmate or a pre-trial detainee, Cabanillis countered, “when you are dangerous in a prison setting, you are dangerous.”  

The 9th Circuit is expected to rule soon.

July 8, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Burress says he met two-year prison sentence with disbelief"

The title of this post is the headline of this piece from NFL News, which reports on a recent revealing interview with recently released Plaxico Burress.   Here are excerpts:

Plaxico Burress has seen the view from the top of life, so when he suddenly found himself behind bars, he couldn't believe how low he had sunk so quickly.

Little over a year after his touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLII capped the Giants' 17-14 upset of the previously undefeated New England Patriots in February 2008, Burress was imprisoned on a felony weapons charge, the result of him accidentally discharging an unlicensed handgun in a Manhattan nightclub.

"To go on the other side of that wall, to be on the inside of that fence, knowing what your world and life is supposed to be on the other side, when they close that door behind you, you say to yourself, 'Is this really serious?' " Burress told Fran Charles in an exclusive interview on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" on Thursday. "I actually said to myself a couple times when I first went in, 'You know what? Somebody's going to come and get me tomorrow.' "...

The wide receiver said he originally expected to serve at most a four- to six-month sentence for reckless endangerment and that it took some time for him to accept the reality of his situation -- a two-year prison sentence.  Burress was released in June, three months early for good behavior....

Burress described his prison time as "an out-of-body experience" that changed him for the better.  He said his approach to life now is about patience, something he'll have to show plenty of as he attempts to return to the NFL.

This interview confirms and continues my concern that Plaxico's legal team failed to fight against his criminal charges as effectively as it might have give the plausible Second Amendment defense that I still think he could and should have mounted.

Some related posts on the Burress cases:

July 8, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 7, 2011

Split 5-4, SCOTUS refuses to block Texas execution of Mexican national

As noted in prior posts, Texas has plans this evening to execute a Mexican national whose consular right were violated in his prosecution for murder. And, as now reported at How Appealing and at SCOTUSblog, the Justices this afternoon refused to issue a stay even upon the request of the US Solicitor General.

The Court's per curiam ruling, along with Justice Breyer's dissent, are available here.

UPDATE: As reported in this local article, Texas carried out the execution without a hitch:

Strapped to the gurney in Huntsville's death chamber Thursday evening, Humberto Leal Jr. used his last words to apologize to both his family and the family of his victim, a San Antonio teen. “I have hurt a lot of people,” he said. “Let this be final and be done. I take the full blame for this. I am sorry and forgive me, I am truly sorry.”

Witnessing his execution was his attorney Sandra Babcock, his sister and three friends. The family of his 16-year-old victim, Adria Sauceda, was not present. Robert McClure, the man who prosecuted Leal in 1995, attended with another Sauceda family friend.... Leal began his last statement at 6:10 p.m. and the lethal dose of drugs was administered a minute later. “I am sorry for the victim's family and what I had did,” he continued. “May they forgive me. I don't know if you believe me.”

Leal ended by saying, “One more thing, Viva Mexico, Viva Mexico.” “Ready warden, let's get this show on the road.” He was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m.

The execution came 17 years after the gruesome sexual assault and bludgeoning death of Adria, who was last seen alive with Leal after a neighborhood party in the early hours May 21, 1994.

The teen's nude body was found on a dirt road that ended in a wooded, secluded area not far from the South Side party. A 35- to 40-pound rock was used to bludgeon her in the face and head. A stick was left protruding from her body.

July 7, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack

"Would porn incite prison violence?"

The question in the title of this post is the main heading given to this new piece at Salon, which carries this subheading: "An inmate sues over a ban on explicit material, but officials say smut causes aggression. We look at the evidence." Here are excerpts:

A 21-year-old inmate is suing the governor and state of Michigan for depriving him of porn while locked up. This case follows on the heels of a suit last month by the ACLU to force a South Carolina prison to loosen its broad restrictions on reading materials, which was sensationalized in the press as a push for porn in prison, causing officials to explain that smut was a danger to inmates because it would cause aggression and violence.

Is there really evidence that it would, though?

The short answer is: No, there isn't solid proof that it would. The longer answer is, as Joseph Slade, the author of "Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide," tells me: "No responsible academic researcher claims that evidence supports pornography's causing hostility or violence, principally because of the number of variables involved in constructing studies, the divergent definitions of pornography, and the sometimes unconscious biases of those who look for effects," he said. These studies also focus on the immediate, short-term impact. "That does not mean that there are no effects, just that they cannot be ascertained." That's exactly why in 2007, Sweden's Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing porn in prison: Officials couldn't prove that it would "jeopardize the safety of the institution."

In a piece for the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, researchers Milton Diamond and Ayako Uchiyama pointed out that there is a fundamental problem with assuming that people in the real world function just like the college students in these laboratory experiments: "In real life, individuals can elect to experience some pornography for minutes or hours, at a single session, or over years. In real life, individuals are free to satisfy different sexual urges in ways unavailable to students in classroom situations." (Just to further complicate things, none of these studies specifically look at the effect in prison, which is, clearly, a very unique environment with yet more variables.)

Setting all those serious caveats aside for a minute, a meta-analysis attempted to settle the debate once and for all by surveying the sizable amount of research on the effects of pornography and concluded that viewing "pictorial nudity reduces" -- yes, reduces -- subsequent aggressive behavior. At the same time, though, "consumption of material depicting nonviolent sexual activity increases aggressive behavior," but "media depictions of violent sexual activity generates more aggression than those of nonviolent sexual activity."...

So, as I said, the short answer is that there isn't evidence that porn causes aggression -- and yet prisons continue to ban explicit material on those very grounds. Considering our general disregard for science -- not to mention the fact that prisoners' sexual fantasy lives are not at the top of most people's lists of important world problems -- it's no real surprise.

July 7, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

California legislative panel advances proposal to put state DP repeal on 2012 ballot

As detailed in this Los Angeles Times piece, headlined "Bill to abolish death penalty in California advances," a new "proposal to ask California voters to repeal the death penalty was advanced Thursday by a state legislative panel after opponents of the current law argued it was an expensive and ineffective approach to violent crime."  Here is more:

The Assembly's Public Safety Committee approved legislation by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) that would put a measure on the ballot replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the state's most extreme punishment.

Hancock cited estimates that it costs the state $184 millon a year to keep more than 700 people on Death Row, and she noted that only 13 criminals have been executed in the last 33 years.

"The death penalty is not the swift and certain punishment that experts tell us most effectively deters crime,’’ Hancock told the committee before it voted 5-2 along party lines to approve SB 490. Those supporting the bill included Jeanne Woodford, executive director of the nonprofit group Death Penalty Focus and former warden of San Quentin State Prison,

Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) opposed the measure, saying the state should instead reform the system to "speed up the process." He said other states, such as Arizona, spend much less to enforce the death penalty. He also said there was a large cost in keeping inmates in prison for life.

The bill next goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

July 7, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Tough on Crime (on the State's Dime): How Violent Crime Does Not Drive California Counties' Incarceration Rates -- And Why it Should"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Professor W. David Ball, which now is available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

California’s prisons are dangerously and unconstitutionally overcrowded; as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Plata v. Schwarzenegger, the state must act to reduce its prison population or face court-ordered prisoner releases.  The state’s plans to reduce overcrowding are centered around what it calls criminal justice “realignment”, whereby California will send a portion of the state prison population to county facilities.  The plan faces opposition from county officials, who see it as pushing the state’s problem on to the counties.

But what if state prison overcrowding is really a county problem?  I argue that state prison overcrowding is due in large part to county decisions about how to deal with crime.  Using data from 2000-2009, I will show that California’s counties use state prison resources at dramatically different rates, and, moreover, that the counties which use state prisons the most have below-average crime rates.

The contribution the Article makes, then, is twofold.  First, it reinforces that incarceration in state prisons is one policy choice among many, not an inexorable reaction to violent crime.  Counties can and do make different choices about how to respond to violent crime, including the extent to which they use prison.  Second, the Article demonstrates why localities are crucial -- and critically underexamined -- contributors to state prison populations.  Decisions are made at local levels about prosecution, investigation, plea bargaining, and sentencing, and these decisions are made by officials who are either elected locally (such as DA’s, judges, and sheriffs) or appointed locally (police and probation officers).  Local policies and policymakers affect the state’s corrections budget, even though the state has no say in designing or implementing these policies. State officials must take these local differences into account, and create incentives for counties to behave differently.

The problem is that it is difficult to distinguish between justifiable, crime-driven incarceration and optional, policy-driven incarceration.  I propose a new metric for distinguishing between these two types of incarceration, one which defines justified incarceration in terms of violent crime.  This would allow the state to manage local usage of state prison resources without either penalizing crime-ridden areas or rewarding prison-happy ones.

This Article is the first of two articles dealing with the state/county prison relationship. While this Article quantifies the ways in which the extent of local prison admissions is not necessarily a function of the violent crime rate, a second Article will examine whether, given these differences, it makes sense for the state to subsidize county commitments to prison.

July 7, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Only six DAYS left in Casey Anthony's four-year sentence

After calculating all of Casey Anthony's myriad sentencing credits, it appears she has only six more days to serve on her four-year term. Remarkable!

UPDATE: I am still looking for information about just how Florida laws concerning good time and gain time and other factors mean Anthony is to end up being in jail only for about 33 months on a sentence of 48 months. I keep hearing that Florida offenders usually serve 85% of their prison sentences after good time credits, but it appears that Anthony is only to end up serving about 70% of her imposed jail time.

July 7, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Interview with Anthony Juror #3 confirms that pursuit of death penalty played role in acquittals

In this post right after the surprising Casey Anthony verdict, I speculated that prosecutors' pursuit of a death sentence may have primed the jurors to expect a forensic smoking gun, and that the jurors in turn may have ultimately been that much more willing to find reasonable doubt on all serious charges when no such evidence was presented.  This speculation seems to be confirmed by the first Casey Anthony juror to be speaking out about the verdict, as detailed in this report on the interview:

ABC News's much-flapped-about interview with Casey Anthony juror Jennifer Ford aired last night on "Primetime" -- and it's only going to fuel verdict fury.  That's because Ford -- who appeared even-keeled and intelligent -- answered Terry Moran's questions in a way that supports the overprosecution theory on the verdict.

The number-one complaint from those analyzing the outcome has been that the prosecution overreached, throwing out claims they couldn't support....

What it came down to, Ford reiterated again and again, was that all signs pointed to Casey being involved in Caylee's death -- but that no one managed to string the signs together.   "How can you punish someone if you don't know what they did?" Ford said.  "Do I think she's completely innocent?  I have no idea... not guilty doesn't mean innocent."

And having the death penalty on the table infinitely upped the ante.   "If I'm wrong, and I kill someone else, I can't live with that," Ford said.  "If they [the prosecution] want me to kill someone else, they have to prove it."

Recent related posts on Casey Anthony verdict: 

July 7, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

New York Times editorial urges SCOTUS to delay Texas execution of Mexican national

In this new editorial, headlined "The World Is Watching," the New York Times weighs in on the international kerfuffle over a planned Texas execution today.  Here are excerpts:

On Thursday, Humberto Leal Garcia Jr. is scheduled to be executed in Texas at 6 p.m.  Mr. Leal, a Mexican citizen, has petitioned the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, while a bill is pending in Congress that would give him the right to a hearing about the violation of his rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  The justices should grant the stay to allow Congress to pass the law.  It would ensure that states are in compliance with the treaty, which requires that foreign nationals be told of their right to have their embassy notified of their arrest....

The Supreme Court is Mr. Leal’s last hope.  The court ruled in 2008 that Texas did not have to comply with the treaty because there was no federal law requiring states to do so. But Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. indicated that once Congress took up the treaty issue, it would be unjust not to allow a foreign citizen to have his case reviewed.

The solicitor general filed a brief supporting a stay because that would “serve compelling national interests.”  The Mexican government told the court a stay was “absolutely critical.”  Congress is in the process of fixing the gap in the federal law.  It would be a miscarriage of justice if the Supreme Court allowed Mr. Leal’s execution before Congress could complete that remedy.

Recent related post:

July 7, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Casey Anthony gets maxed out sentence of 4 years imprisonment for four misdemeanor convictions

In a sentencing ruling that seemed quite like what I had imagined in this post yesterday, Judge Belvin Perry at sentencing for Casey Anthony this morning imposed the maximum sentencing term of one year for each of the four counts of providing false information to authorities and ordered these counts to run consecutively.  In other words, Anthony officially received a four-year sentencing term from Judge Perry this morning.  

When Anthony actually gets released, however, is now to turn on complicated Florida state rules on good time and gained time credits.  I will be grateful for comments from any Florida practitioners who know exactly what the state credits mean for how long Anthony will actually have to serve in prison.

Recent related posts on Casey Anthony verdict:

July 7, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Oklahoma lawmaker plans to introduce 'Caylee's law'"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Reuters article, which reports on a bill being discussed that is a classic example of a high-profile case leading to new crime legislation.  Here are the details:

An Oklahoma lawmaker said on Wednesday he planned to introduce a "Caylee's law" in his state requiring parents to swiftly report the death or disappearance of a child in the first legislation stemming from the death of the Florida toddler....

"It is unconscionable for a parent to delay notifying the authorities of the death of their child. Most parents would immediately notify authorities if their child had gone missing," state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft said, adding he planned to introduce the law in Oklahoma's 2012 legislative session.

"Any delay could endanger the life of the child and, in the case of a child's death, make it that much harder to collect evidence.  I think the actions of Caylee's mother were reprehensible," he added, saying most people he met felt that Casey Anthony "escaped true justice"....

Wesselhoft said it was a problem that there were no laws regulating the timely reporting of a child's death or disappearance, and that the law should give a parent 24 hours to report the death of a child and 48 hours to report a child under age 12 as missing. "Violation of this law would be a maximum misdemeanor or a felony conviction. Oklahomans do not want to experience a situation such as what occurred in the Caylee Anthony case," said Wesselhoft, a Republican.

UPDATE:  This WSJ Law Blog piece, headlined "Proposed 'Caylee’s Law' Generates Virtual Frenzy," provides interesting info about the social media buzz pushing the idea of this new law:

More than 98,000 – and counting -- people across the country have signed onto a virtual campaign calling for a new federal law that would make it a felony for parents not to alert police of a child’s disappearance.

The online petition, started by an Oklahoman woman less than 24 hours ago on a social change website, comes on the heels of the Casey Anthony trial in which the jury reached a “not guilty” verdict on first-degree murder charges Tuesday....

The petition is the fastest-growing campaign that has ever been hosted on the site and is causing website traffic problems, a spokesman for Change.org told the Law Blog.

It calls for the creation of a new federal statute called “Caylee’s Law” – named after Anthony’s deceased daughter -- that would make it a felony for parents not to report the death of a child to law enforcement within an hour of discovering the incident, or within 24 hours in the case of child disappearance.

But some question the constitutionality of such a proposed law. Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar at Harvard, points out that criminal laws usually fall within the realm of state jurisdictions.

When Congress does enact them, however, it does so under the Constitution’s commerce clause, which applies to cases that significantly impact interstate commerce. Tribe posits that the proposed “Caylee’s Law” would fail to meet that test and would not hold up at the federal level. “This is an understandable reaction to…a verdict that people feel unsatisfied with, but violating the constitution would hardly solve the problem,” Tribe told the Law Blog.  “There is no basis I can see for any congressional power to deal in this broad way with all cases of injury -- and perhaps fatal injury -- to children.”

July 7, 2011 in Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Willie Nelson sweet plea deal for pot possession goes up in smoke

This New York Times piece, headlined "Case of Willie Nelson Pot Bust Isn’t Extinguished Yet," reports on the latest notable turn of events in a high-profile pot possession case.  Here are the details:

The seemingly routine occurrence of Willie Nelson’s being found in possession of marijuana has stoked a small conflagration in a Texas county where a judge says she will not permit what she sees as the lenient punishment of this singer by an overly deferential prosecutor.

Judge Becky Dean-Walker of Hudspeth County said on Tuesday morning that she would not accept a mailed-in plea agreement for Mr. Nelson that stemmed from a 2010 drug arrest there and that she believed that the county attorney, Kit Bramblett, was giving the singer preferential treatment because he is famous.

“He’s supposed to file the charge he feels is appropriate,” Judge Dean-Walker said of Mr. Bramblett in a telephone interview.  “Not what he feels he should do for his favorite singer. It is up to the judge to agree or not.”  Judge Dean-Walker added, “If you’re not going to do it for the guy in the corner, why do it for a celebrity?”

Mr. Nelson was arrested at a border stop in Sierra Blanca, Tex., on Nov. 26 when a Border Patrol agent there smelled marijuana on the musician’s tour bus.  Though agents said they had found about six ounces of marijuana on the bus, Mr. Bramblett later said that weight included containers and paraphernalia, and that the total amount of the drug was about three ounces.

The case drew headlines in March when Mr. Bramblett said Mr. Nelson could plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge if he paid a small fine and sang “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in court.  Judge Dean-Walker quickly responded that she would not accept such an arrangement.

In June Mr. Bramblett said Mr. Nelson had pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia and would pay a $500 fine and about $280 in court costs. But on Friday Reuters reported that the judge would not accept this deal, either.

Judge Dean-Walker said on Tuesday that Mr. Bramblett previously asked to have Mr. Nelson’s charge reduced to a Class C misdemeanor and that she had refused. She added that Mr. Bramblett “has made a habit of speaking with the press before anything has been resolved.”...

Judge Dean-Walker said she was not concerned that the disagreement over Mr. Nelson’s plea was denying the singer his due process. “At no point do I have to let him off,” the judge said. “If Willie Nelson gets off with nothing, I’m not going to be part of it.”

July 7, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 6, 2011

Eleventh Circuit panel re-issues (updated) opinion finding FSA lower crack mandatories apply all sentenced after FSA

Regular readers may recall this post a few weeks ago about the important Eleventh Circuit panel ruling in US v. Rojas late last month declaring that the reduced statutory crack sentencing terms of the Fair Sentencing Act apply "to defendants who committed crack cocaine offenses before August 3, 2010, the date of its enactment, but who are sentenced thereafter."  Today, the Eleventh Circuit released a new version of the Rojas opinion, available here, which now starts this way:

We sua sponte modify our previous opinion in this appeal to reflect recent developments in the law of the First and Seventh Circuits. See United States v. Fisher, 635 F.3d 336, 340 (7th Cir. 2011); United States v. Douglas, No. 10-2341, 2011 WL 2120163 (1st Cir. May 31, 2011).

The issue in this appeal is whether the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (“FSA”), Pub. L. No. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372 (2010), applies to defendants who committed crack cocaine offenses before August 3, 2010, the date of its enactment, but who are sentenced thereafter.  We conclude that it does.

Here is what appears to be a key new paragraph from the new Rojas opinion:

We do not disagree with our sister circuits in one major sense — absent further legislative action directing otherwise, the general savings statute prevents a defendant who was sentenced prior to the enactment of the FSA from benefitting from retroactive application.  Further, we share in the well-reasoned view of the First Circuit that Congress intended for the FSA to apply immediately.  See Douglas, 2011 WL 2120163, at *4 (“It seems unrealistic to suppose that Congress strongly desired to put 18:1 guidelines in effect by November 1 even for crimes committed before the FSA but balked at giving the same defendants the benefit of the newly enacted 18:1 mandatory minimums.”).

Some posts on this FSA pipeline issue:

July 6, 2011 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fort Hood shooter to face court martial with death penalty in play

As detailed in this new Reuters piece, which is headlined "Fort Hood shooting suspect to face court martial," a mass murder on a military base is now on the path to be the subject of a military trial.  Here are the basic details:

A U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in a 2009 killing rampage at a Texas military base will face a court-martial where he could be sentenced to death, a military official ruled on Wednesday.  Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 40, who U.S. officials have linked to a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen, is charged in the Fort Hood shootings killed 13 people and wounded 32 others.

Lieutenant General Donald Campbell, Fort Hood's commander, referred Hasan's case to a general court martial which "is authorized to consider death as an authorized punishment," according to a statement issued by Fort Hood.

A date has not been set for the court martial, the statement said.  The first likely step would be for a military judge to inform Hasan of his rights at an arraignment, it said.

According to witnesses who testified at evidentiary hearings at Fort Hood in 2010, Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar" -- Arabic for "God is Greatest" -- just before opening fire on a group of soldiers undergoing health checks before being deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hasan is confined to a wheelchair after he was paralyzed from the chest down by bullet wounds inflicted by civilian police officers during the Nov. 5, 2009 shooting.

July 6, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Imagining a (sound and satisfying?) sentencing script in the Casey Anthony case

With Casey Anthony's sentencing coming up tomorrow, and with so many apparently unsatisfied with her acquittal on all the felony counts she was facing, I have now been thinking a lot about what could and what should happen at her sentencing on the four misdemeanor convictions based on her lies to the police.  Specifically, I wonder what folks would think if this is what we were to hear from Judge Perry at sentencing for Casey Anthony:

Ms. Anthony, I respect the jury's verdict of not guilty of all the felony counts against you relating to the death of your daughter.  However, the lies for which you were convicted by this same jury were not merely run-of-the-mill statements of false information to the police.  Rather, they were knowing and willful false statements to the police while they were investigating the disappearance of your own daughter. 

These many false statements to investigators for which you stand convicted may well have delayed greatly the effort to discover just how and when your daughter died.  In addition, these false statements, as well as the evidence presented at trial, leave me with a firm conviction that you had some role in the death, or at the very least in the cover-up of the circumstances of the death, of your young daughter.   Consequently, because I view the nature and circumstances of your false statements to be highly aggravated, I have decided to impose the maximum sentence allowed for your crimes of conviction under Florida law.

Ms. Anthony, you shall serve a year in prison for each of your four false statement convictions, to run consecutively.  With credit for time served, you shall be imprisoned until October 2012.

Recent related posts on Casey Anthony verdict:

July 6, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Interesting split Eighth Circuit ruling on uncounseled prior convictions used to enhance sentence

The Eighth Circuit has a very interesting ruling today in US v. Cavanaugh, No. 10-1154 (8th Cir. July 6, 2011) (available here), concerning both the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and sentencing enhancements based on priro convictions. Here is the start of the majority opinion (Per Judge Melloy):

Roman Cavanaugh, Jr., was charged for the offense of domestic assault by a habitual offender, 18 U.S.C. § 117.  As elements of the offense, the government must prove Cavanaugh received "a final conviction on at least 2 separate prior occasions in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings" for certain abuse offenses.  Id. § 117(a).  Below, the district court dismissed the indictment because, although Cavanaugh had received prior misdemeanor abuse convictions in tribal court on three separate occasions, Cavanaugh had not received the benefit of appointed counsel in the proceedings that resulted in the convictions.

The issues presented in this appeal are whether the Fifth or Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution preclude the use of these prior tribal-court misdemeanor convictions as predicate convictions to establish the habitual-offender elements of § 117. Cavanaugh's prior convictions resulted in actual incarceration that, pursuant to Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), and Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367 (1979), would have been unconstitutional in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to appointed counsel if the convictions had originated in a state or federal court.  The district court, recognizing that the Sixth Amendment imposes no duty on Indian tribes to provide counsel for indigent defendants, noted that the prior convictions were valid at their inception and that the prior terms of incarceration were not in violation of the United States Constitution, tribal law, or the Indian Civil Rights Act, 25 U.S.C. § 1302.  The court, nevertheless, held that the uncounseled convictions were infirm for the purpose of proving the habitual-offender, predicate-conviction elements of the § 117 offense in these subsequent federal court proceedings.

The government appeals, and we reverse.  In doing so, we note an apparent inconsistency in several cases dealing with the use of arguably infirm prior judgments to establish guilt, trigger a sentencing enhancement, or determine a sentence for a subsequent offense. Ultimately, however, we are persuaded in this case that the predicate convictions, valid at their inception, and not alleged to be otherwise unreliable, may be used to prove the elements of § 117.

And here is the start of Judge Bye's dissent:

I agree with my panel colleagues' observation as to the Supreme Court's jurisprudence failing to provide clear direction in determining whether the Sixth Amendment precludes a federal court from using an uncounseled tribal court misdemeanor conviction to prove the elements of a subsequent federal offense.  The majority's opinion exhaustively covers the subject matter and aptly describes the tension in the decisions which we must consider.  I can also agree the lack of clarity means reasonable decision-makers are likely to differ on the conclusions they reach with respect to allowing or prohibiting such use of an uncounseled tribal court conviction.  I disagree with the conclusion reached by the majority, however, and therefore respectfully dissent.

July 6, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Assessing Racial Discrimination in Parole Release"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

We investigate possible racial discrimination in the context of discretionary parole release.  We develop a rational choice model of release whereby a parole board must balance parolees risk of violation with the cost of not releasing prisoners who may not violate their parole.  A color-blind parole board would release all individuals below a certain risk threshold.  To test this prediction, we take advantage of a unique data set that reports all prisoners released on parole between 1983 and 2003 in the U.S.  We apply the outcome test methodology recently used to assess racial profiling in police search decisions.  Here, a higher rate of parole violation within a group suggests that the parole board used a less restrictive paroling criterion, and is thus biased in favor of that group. To overcome the concern of inframarginality that traditionally plagues outcome tests we provide evidence that parole boards strategically time the release of parolees.  In turn, both minority and white prisoners become marginal from the perspective of their probability of parole violation.  Parole boards operating under an indeterminate sentencing regime appear biased against white prisoners whose violation rate is significantly smaller than that of African Americans.  In contrast, this gap is smaller or null when there is no discretion in the paroling system.  Further evidence rules out post-release discrimination. We propose different hypotheses to account for the evidence.

July 6, 2011 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hunger strike among California prisoners growing

As detailed in this new article, "[i]nmates in at least 11 of California's 33 prisons are refusing meals in solidarity with a hunger strike staged by prisoners in one of the system's special maximum-security units, officials said Tuesday." Here is more:

The strike began Friday when inmates in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison stopped eating meals in protest of conditions that they contend are cruel and inhumane.  "There are inmates in at least a third of our prisons who are refusing state-issued meals," said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation....

Some inmates are refusing all meals, while others are rejecting only some, Thornton said. Some were eating in visitation rooms and refusing state-issued meals in their cells, she said.  Assessing the number of actual strikers "is very challenging," Thornton said....

More than 400 prisoners at Pelican Bay are believed to be refusing meals, including inmates on the prison's general-population yard, said Molly Poizig, spokeswoman for the Bay Area-based group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity....

The group's website claims that prison officials attempted to head off the strike by promoting a Fourth of July menu that included strawberry shortcake and ice cream. According to the website, the wife of a Security Housing Unit inmate said her husband had never had ice cream there and "has never seen a strawberry."...

The strike was organized by Security Housing Unit inmates at Pelican Bay protesting the maximum-security unit's extreme isolation. The inmates are also asking for better food, warmer clothing and to be allowed one phone call a month. 

The Security Housing Unit compound, which currently houses 1,100 inmates, is designed to isolate prison-gang members or those who've committed crimes while in prison.  The cells have no windows and are soundproofed to inhibit communication among inmates. The inmates spend 22-1/2 hours a day in their cells, being released only an hour a day to walk around a small area with high concrete walls.

Prisoner advocates have long complained that Security Housing Unit incarceration amounts to torture, often leading to mental illness, because many inmates spend years in the lockup.  Gang investigators believe the special unit reduces the ability of the most predatory inmates, particularly prison-gang leaders, to control those in other prisons as well as gang members on the street.

Recent related post:

July 6, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Mexican National Set for Execution in Texas Despite Obama's Pleas for Delay"

The title of this post is the headline of this ABC News report on the latest news from Texas surrounding a scheduled execution with state, federal and international elements.  Here is how the piece starts:

Lawyers for the Obama administration are taking the unusual step of asking the Supreme Court to delay the execution scheduled for Thursday of a Mexican national who is on death row in Texas.  

Humberto Leal, who has lived in the United States since he was 2 years old, is set to be executed for the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of Adria Sauceda, a 16-year-old girl.

But Leal's case has been complicated by the fact that he and other Mexican nationals on death row across the country were never informed of their right to seek legal assistance from the Mexican consulate.  Such a failure of notification is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations -- a treaty that the United States is a party to -- which says that foreigners in custody have the right to consular notification, communication and access.

"The violation of the Vienna Convention in Mr. Leal's case was no mere technicality," said Sandra Babcock, who serves as Leal's lead counsel.  "The Mexican consulate would have provided experienced and highly qualified attorneys who would have challenged the prosecution's reliance on junk science to obtain a conviction and would have presented powerful mitigating evidence at the penalty phase, including expert testimony regarding Mr. Leal's learning disabilities, brain damage, and sexual abuse at the hands of his parish priest."

The case is generating interest at the highest levels of the U.S. government from officials who do not want to send a message abroad that foreigners in custody have no right to consular notification.  But it also has stirred a debate about the role of international courts and state death penalty convictions.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial body of the United Nations, determined that Leal and some 50 other Mexican Nationals on death row in the United States were entitled to judicial hearings to determine whether there had been a breach of their rights.

After the ruling, then President George W. Bush directed state courts to review the cases. But Texas pushed back, arguing that state courts were not subject to the rulings of an International Court.  In 2008, the issue reached the Supreme Court, which said that Congress would have to pass legislation in order for the ICJ decision to be enforced.

But it was only last month that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the Consular Notification Compliance Act, which was meant to facilitate U.S. compliance with consular notification and provide judicial review for these particular foreign nationals who were denied access to their consulate.

As things stand now, the law has no chance of passing before the planned execution of Leal.Only the Supreme Court or Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have the power to delay the execution and Perry has indicated that he is not sympathetic to the international court's finding.  "If you commit the most heinous of crimes in Texas, you can expect to face the ultimate penalty under our laws" Perry's spokesman Katherine Cesinger. Cesinger added that the governor has yet to make a final decision on the case.

Solicitor General Donald V. Verrilli jury asked the Supreme Court on Friday to delay Leal's execution until the end of the next congressional session, Jan. 3, 2012, in order to give time for congress to pass the law.

Verrilli writes that without a stay of execution, the relationship between the United States and Mexico will be strained. "Those relations are enjoying an unprecedented level of cooperation but they are also unusually sensitive, so that a breach resulting from petitioner's execution would be particularly harmful," Verrilli writes.

July 6, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Crime paying pretty well for doctors in California's prison system

As detailed in this AP article, headlined "Data show prison doctors at top of state pay scale," it appears that in California doctors working within the state correction system are finding ways to profit from the state's prison problems. Here are some details:

Doctors, dentists and psychiatrists with the federal receiver's office overseeing inmate medical care are the highest paid state employees in California, according to government salary data the state controller's office released Tuesday.

Two prison doctors make more than $700,000 a year.  Dozens of other prison medical personnel, some with the Department of Mental Health, make more than $300,000 a year. A top official with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection makes $309,000 annually.

The controller's office began requesting the data in response to the compensation scandal in the Los Angeles County city of Bell.  Residents there voted the entire city council out of office in March after learning that council members and other top officials were giving themselves enormous salaries and pensions.

The people with the top four state salaries are two doctors, a dentist and a psychologist, all working for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who were paid salaries ranging from $777,323 to $582,609....

The information is available on a website that shows salary ranges as well as actual compensation in calendar year 2010, said Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for Controller John Chiang.  It lets users see the employees' true earnings, including overtime, bonuses, and if they cashed in vacation time or sick leave, she said.  "There are people who are making more than the maximum salary (range)," Jordan said, by the time additional income is added to their base salaries.  All five of the top-paid state employees earned more than the maximum salary listed for their position....

Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the court-appointed federal receiver who controls prison medical care, said many of the prisons' health care providers do not earn the maximum salary listed for their professions.

July 6, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ohio's queue for executions now 11 deep and more than a year long

As detailed in this Columbus Dispatch article, headlined "2012 execution dates set for two murderers," the Ohio Supreme Court continues to line up executions dates, roughly one each month, for condemned Ohio murderers. Here are the details:

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday set two more execution dates in 2012, meaning the line of condemned killers scheduled to die is now more than a year long.

The court set a July 26, 2012, execution date for John Eley, 62, who shot and killed Youngstown store owner Ihsan Aydah in 1986.  The court also set Sept. 20, 2012, as the execution date for Donald Palmer, 46, of Belmont County, who killed Charles Sponhaltz and Steven Vargo in 1989.

The state has executed four killers this year; five more executions are scheduled through the end of the year. Now six are set for 2012.

The next lethal injection is set for July 19. Kenneth Smith of Butler County is to be put to death for murdering a Hamilton couple in their home in 1995.  The Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended that Gov. John Kasich not grant clemency.

Though Ohio is continuing to set a notable execution pace (especially for a state not named Texas), the state still has a very long way to go to clear even its current death row.  At latest count, Ohio has 152 persons on death row; even if it could regularly complete 10 or 11 executions each year, the state would still not execution all those its juries have already condemned to death until around 2026.

July 6, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"The GOP's Born-Again Prison Reformers"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent piece over at The Daily Beast.  Here is how it begins:

Back in the early 1990s, William Kennedy was a power player who toed the Republican Party line and put the likes of Ed Meese, Ronald Reagan’s tough-on-crime attorney general, on the cover of his Conservative Digest magazine.  Then some business deals went south and he was convicted of racketeering and money laundering and spent 17 years behind bars (his first night in Colorado’s Ed Meese Detention Center, of all places). Recently dozens of leading conservatives gathered at a private home in Virginia to welcome him back to society.  Kennedy insists he was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct, but a bitter irony still overwhelms him.  “I helped push the same laws that put me away all these years,” he told us in his first interview since his release in January . “I was a law-and-order conservative.  What an idiot I was.”

His is not the only transformation.  The party of Nixon’s 1968 law-and-order campaign, Just Say No, and the Willie Horton ad is now seeing a growing number of leaders tackling what once would have been political suicide: reforming the country’s overwhelmed criminal justice system.  While the recent Supreme Court decision to free tens of thousands of California prisoners due to overcrowding has upset conservatives (Justice Antonin Scalia dissented strongly, describing the potential release of “46,000 happy-go-lucky felons”), the magnitude of the decision makes it even harder to pretend the U.S. doesn’t have a problem.  And these days many conservatives are leading the charge for a solution.

Conservative governors in lock ’em up states are suddenly talking about rehabilitation and redemption, not throwing away the key.  Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation in April that opens the door to overhauling Georgia’s sentencing laws; Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal in January announced a partnership to help fix the state’s ballooning incarceration rate — the highest in the country.  In Indiana, Mitch Daniels says he is fighting for legislation to reduce recidivism (nationally, 43 percent of offenders are back in jail within three years). And Ohio’s new Republican governor, John Kasich, is being feted by conservatives for pushing a prison reform bill through the state house in early May, calling the reform “low-hanging fruit.”  Legislation that would keep more people out of prison has also recently passed in such right-leaning states as Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina.

Inside the Beltway it’s the same story.  Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America once called for more prisons and tougher sentencing, but these days the presidential candidate is co-authoring passionate editorials about the need for “common-sense left-right agreement” on prison reform and “encouragement and love” for offenders who have served time.  He’s joined other conservative icons like Meese, Grover Norquist, William Bennett and NRA president David Keene to pledge their names to the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s recently launched “Right on Crime” website, designed to make the rehabilitation of non-violent offenders and the end of skyrocketing incarceration rates the new conservative cause célèbre.

July 6, 2011 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 5, 2011

Several sentencing reasons Casey Anthony should be thankful she is not in federal court

Ever the sentencing nerd, my chief reaction to today's surprise verdict in the high-profile Casey Anthony murder prosecution (basics here and here) was that Anthony should be very thankful (while I am a bit grumpy) that her sentencing is forthcoming in state court rather than federal court.  Savvy and regular readers know that this reaction is due largely to the serious sentencing terms available for the federal offense of obstruction of justice and the ugly reality that the federal guidelines require consideration of acquitted conduct at sentencing. Let me briefly explain.

To begin, Casey Anthony should be pleased she will learn her state sentencing fate later this week, rather than having the process play out over many months as is the federal sentencing norm.  (This reality essentially eliminated any defense need to seek Anthony's release pending sentencing.)  Though there are often benefits from an extended sentencing process in many cases, sentencing speed seems to help Anthony because this case carries so much emotion and because the jury verdict is already  so widely questioned.

More substantively, Anthony faces sentencing on only four Florida misdemeanor counts based on her lies to police during the investigation of her daughter's disappearance.  In the federal system, such lies might have been charged as a felony count of obstruction of justice, and then each conviction would carry a five-year maximum prison term.  In Florida state court, Anthony is looking at a maximum prison term of four years (a one-year max on all four misdemeanor counts of conviction); were this matter in federal court, she could have been facing up to 20 years total imprisonment based on four lies to authorities.

Most critically, the federal sentencing guidelines would instruct a judge to sentence Anthony based essentially on the crime he believes, based on a preponderance of evidence, she covered up even after a jury has acquitted her of that crime.  In other words, it is not only possible, but surprisingly common, for a federal judge to sentence a defendant for a murder that the defendant has been acquitted of!

Regular readers are no doubt tired of hearing my complaints about the use of acquitted conduct to increase sentences dramatically in the federal courts (some of which are linked below). But my sense is that very few persons other than federal criminal practitioners realize that federal law not merely allows, but often urges, sentences enhanced on the basis of acquitted conduct. This is why I am a bit grumpy that Anthony is not to be sentenced in federal court: if she were, the practice of acquitted conduct sentencing would be in full display in the highest-profile criminal case in many years.

Related posts on uncharged or acquitted murder sentencing enhancements as well as other examples of acquitted conduct sentencing in the federal sentencing system:

July 5, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Crackerjack coverage of new crack guidelines and retroactivity decision on USSC website

I am very pleased to see and to report that the US Sentencing Commission's ever-improving website now has this special webpage titled "Materials on Federal Cocaine Offenses."  This new special page provides especially effective and comprehensive coverage of the USSC's decision last week to make its new crack sentencing guideline retroactive.  This new webpage also brings together in one space via links all the most important USSC materials concerning federal crack sentencing law and policy, including a helpful "Reader-Friendly" Version of Amendment on Retroactivity, which becomes effective November 1, 2011.

I sincerely hope that the US Sentencing Commission will continue to build these sorts of specialized pages with collected materials on all hot federal sentencing topics.  I believe additional special pages on the immigration guidelines, the child porn guidelines, the fraud guidelines and others could and would be very helpful to both practitioners and researchers.

July 5, 2011 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Should Casey Anthony's lawyer be grateful for, not critical of, Florida's use of the death penalty?

I caught a snippet of the comments made by Casey Anthony's chief defense lawyer, Jose Baez, shortly after a Florida jury returned not guilty verdicts on all of the felony charges against his client.  I was especially struck when Baez asserted this case showcased why the death penalty should be abolished; I actually believe the pursuit of capital charges against Anthony may help explain why the jurors refused to convict her on the homicide and abuse charges.  Let me explain my thinking.

By turning this case into a capital prosecution, prosecutors ensured jurors would have to be "death qualified" and thus would know from the outset that prosecutors wanted Anthony executed for her alleged crimes.  Though sometimes death-qualified juries may show a greater willingness to convict, here I suspect that the death-qualification process could have primed the jurors to expect a forensic smoking gun showing conclusively that Casey Anthony murdered her daughter in cold blood.  When no such smoking gun was presented by the prosecution, the jurors may have ultimately been much more willing (and perhaps even eager) to find reasonable doubt on all serious charges.

Similarly, by seeking a capital conviction, prosecutors made it that much harder for the jury to return a compromise verdict in which Casey Anthony got some (but not complete) blame for her daughter's death.  Because the prosecution pushed an intentional killing theory for conviction to support its capital charge, jurors believing that Caylee Anthony's death was perhaps an accident would be pushed to vote not guilty in response to the prosecution's contentions.

And, not to be completely discounted, perhaps many members of the jury were exhausted by the whole process and concluded that it would be near impossible to get a unanimous verdict on the serious charges with talk of the death penalty and/or a life sentence hanging in the air.  Jurors eager to get back to their regulars lives may have concluded that a quick not guilty verdict was the surest means to this end.

Of course, none of this has any impact on the pros and cons of the death penalty in cases in which factual guilt for a murder is not in dispute.  Still, if the death penalty gets jurors to take their responsibilities extra seriously, maybe defense attorneys like Jose Baez should be somewhat less critical of its impact on the criminal justice system in some cases.

July 5, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Seventh Circuit rejects all attacks on acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements

Though not breaking new ground, a lengthy ruling today from the Seventh Circuit in US v. Waltower, No. 09-3967 (7th Cir. July 5, 2011) (available here), thoroughly reviews why federal defendants continue to be sentenced by federal judges for conduct relating to federal criminal charges on which they have been acquitted by a federal jury. Here is the start of the opinion along with an excerpt of note from Waltower:

Stephen Waltower was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). He was acquitted of several other drug-related offenses, but the district court took the underlying (acquitted) conduct into consideration at sentencing. The result was a statutory maximum sentence of 120 months. On appeal, Waltower challenges the use of the acquitted conduct at sentencing. He also maintains that his lawyer should have argued that certain post-arrest, self-incriminating statements he made were solicited in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).  We affirm ....

In rejecting Waltower’s constitutional argument, we blaze no new trails.  Every circuit to have considered the question post-Booker, including ours, has held that acquitted conduct may be used in calculating a guidelines sentence, so long as proved by a preponderance standard....  

Although we, like the D.C. Circuit, understand why defendants consider it unfair to take acquitted conduct into account at sentencing, Settles, 530 F.3d at 924, their use does not violate the United States Constitution under existing doctrine. Waltower enjoys no more success with his less ambitious arguments that the use of acquitted conduct in this case was contrary to the guidelines or otherwise unreasonable. Recall, the district court determined that Waltower’s adjusted base-offense level was 30 instead of 26, because the gun conduct and the drug conduct were part of the same relevant offense conduct for sentencing purposes.

July 5, 2011 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Fourth Circuit (splitting with other circuits) finds problem with appeal wavier demand for extra acceptance reduction

Hard-core sentencing fans (and perhaps only hard-core sentencing fans) should find very interesting and perhaps somewhat surprising a ruling today from the Fourth Circuit in US v. Divens, No. 09-4967 (4th Cir. July 5, 2011) (available here).  Here is the start of the opinion along with an excerpt from part of the opinion spotlighting why the Fourth Circuit is splitting from its sisters on this issue:

Lashawn Dwayne Divens pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Divens signed an acceptance of responsibility statement but declined to sign a plea agreement waiving certain rights to appellate review and collateral attack.  Solely because Divens would not waive these rights, the Government refused to move for an additional one-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility under U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(b).  Divens appeals, challenging the district court’s failure to compel the Government to move for the § 3E1.1(b) reduction.  For the reasons that follow, we vacate Divens’s sentence and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.....

Section 3E1.1(a) of the Guidelines provides for a two-level decrease in a defendant’s offense level if he "clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility for his offense."... The district court awarded Divens the two-level reduction under § 3E1.1(a), but because the Government refused to file a motion under § 3E1.1(b), the court did not award Divens the additional one-level reduction provided by that subsection. The Government makes no claim that Divens does not qualify for a decrease.... [;] the Government’s sole contention is that Divens’s failure to sign the appellate waiver justifies the Government’s refusal to move for the additional one-level reduction under § 3E1.1(b)....

[In our view], under § 3E1.1(b) the Government retains discretion to refuse to move for an additional one-level reduction, but only on the basis of an interest recognized by the guideline itself — not, as with § 5K1.1, on the basis of any conceivable legitimate interest.

We recognize that this holding does not accord with that of other circuits.  See United States v. Deberry, 576 F.3d 708 (7th Cir. 2009); United States v. Johnson, 581 F.3d 994 (9th Cir. 2009); United States v. Beatty, 538 F.3d 8 (1st Cir. 2008); United States v. Newson, 515 F.3d 374 (5th Cir. 2008). Those courts have concluded that the Government may withhold a § 3E1.1(b) motion based on any rational interest. This conclusion relies heavily on cases interpreting § 5K1.1.

In our view, for the reasons explained above, the commentary to § 3E1.1(b) forecloses courts from relying on § 5k1.1 cases in interpreting § 3E1.1(b). This commentary, however, has received little attention from our sister circuits. Instead, those courts focus almost exclusively on the fact that Congress in 2003 amended § 3E1.1(b) to insert the governmental motion requirement. See PROTECT Act, Pub. L. No. 108-21, § 401(g). According to those courts, the mere fact of this 2003 amendment somehow demonstrates that Congress intended that the Government possess the wide discretion under § 3E1.1(b) that it enjoys under § 5K1.1. But nothing in the 2003 reforms evinces such an intent. After all, Congress could have amended the § 3E1.1(b) commentary so that it conformed to the commentary surrounding § 5K1.1. Congress declined to do so; it instead left unchanged § 3E1.1(b)’s mandatory commentary and inserted language suggesting that the Government’s newfound discretion applies only to the question of "whether the defendant has assisted authorities in a manner that avoids preparing for trial." U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1 cmt. 6.

July 5, 2011 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

"McCann: Clemens facing 15-21 months in jail"

The title of this post is the headline of this new story including an expert's sentencing prediction if (and when?) former all-star pitcher Rogers Clemens is convicted in his upcoming federal trial.  Here are the basics:

Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann joined the Dennis & Callahan show to talk about the perjury trial of former Red Sox star Roger Clemens, who allegedly lied to Congress when he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs while playing, that begins this week with jury selection and opening statements by both sides....

If Clemens is convicted on charges that he lied to Congress about not using performance-enhancers, he could face jailtime of 15-21 months, according to McCann, however that number could change a bit.

"That's the recommendation from the sentencing guidelines," McCann said. "Now [U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton] could deviate from that. He could say, 'Well, Clemens is really unapologetic. I don't like him. Let's give him a stronger sentence. Let's really send a message.' Or he could find Clemens more appealing for whatever reason and give him a shorter sentence. But the targeted range is 15-21 months. Now if he's only convicted of one or two counts, then Walton will likely assign a much shorter sentence. It's possible he could assign home confinement which is what Barry Bonds, there's a good shot that's what he'll get ultimately."

As is my tendency, I am disinclined to make sentencing predictions early in a case (especially before even a trial starts).  I am inclined to be amused that Clemens' already high-profile trial is now likely to get even more attention now that all the legal pundits and talking heads are not going to have the Casey Anthony case to cover much longer (basics here).

July 5, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Casey Anthony found NOT guilty on all felony charges, misdemeanor sentencing later this week

As detailed in this CBS News report, this year's trial of the century concluded with a somewhat surprising verdict today down in Florida:

After deliberating for more than 10 hours, a jury of seven women and five men found Casey Anthony not guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder in the 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee.

Anthony was also found not guilty of aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter. She was found guilty of four lesser charges of providing false information to a law enforcement officer.

Here are follow-up sentencing details, about which I will blog more in future posts:

Judge Belvin Perry will sentence Anthony Thursday morning on those charges.  While she could receive up to a year in jail for each count, legal expert Mark O'Mara told CBS affiliate WKMG he expects Perry to give Anthony time served. She has been in the Orange County Jail since October 2008.

July 5, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Mid-year thoughts on (slow?) 2011 for sentencing stories

As folks get back to work after the long holiday weekend, I have been thinking about what might become big sentencing stories through the second half of 2011. Nothing really major jumps to mind, perhaps in part because this current year has been relatively calm on various sentencing fronts.

In the death penalty arena, the Supreme Court issued no big rulings this past Term, and no major capital cases appear on the Court's horizon. illinois' decision to abolish the death penalty made for big news, though capital punishment had been functionally dead for a decade there already. Other states continue to struggle getting drugs needed for executions, though we have still had the usual pace of 4 or 5 executions each month nationwide through 2011.

In the federal sentencing arena, the US Sentencing Commission's retroactive application of the new lower crack guidelines is consequential (though not surprising). But Congress seems not yet interested in any broader sentencing reform in the wake of last year's passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. Likewise, while the Justice Department and perhaps the USSC will keep expressing concerns about troublesome features of the federal sentencing status quo, I doubt either will be proposing or pushing major reforms anytime soon.

Because of tight budgets and crowded prisons, state sentencing reforms have been the most dynamic and dramatic in the first part of 2011. And, thanks to the Supreme Court's Plata ruling, California is among the states having to prioritize sentencing and corrections reform.

Of course, for defendants, prosecutors and counsel directly impacted by 2011 developments to date, this year has already been eventful. But after more than half a decade in which a landmark SCOTUS ruling, or a Justice transition, or a national election made headlines through the summer months, right now 2011 feels a bit sleepy by comparison to this blogger

July 5, 2011 in Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 4, 2011

"California 'three-strike' sentences used less often 15 years later"

18PXb9.Hi.4 The title of this post is the headline of this front-page article in the Sacramento Bee.  Here are some hightlights:

Fifteen years after passage of the state's landmark "three strikes" sentencing law, prosecutors in Sacramento and throughout California have become far more selective in applying the full force of the statute, reducing the number of lifetime prison terms being sought for third strikers to a relative trickle.

While it used to obtain the maximum sentences anywhere from 50 to nearly 100 times a year, the Sacramento District Attorney's Office now asks for life terms for third strikers fewer than 20 times a year, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  The office obtained 16 such sentences in 2010 compared with a high of 94 in 1996.....

District attorneys across the state used to collectively pack off criminals on maximum three-strikes terms by the hundreds -- more than 1,700 in 1996 alone.  In the past three years, the numbers have dropped to well short of 200 annually.  California prisons housed 8,727 three-strike lifers as of Dec. 31.

Explanations for the decrease vary.  One factor, said legal experts, is the 1996 California Supreme Court decision that gave judges a say in three-strikes sentencing.  They also point to a basic supply-side issue: Voters and lawmakers have approved a collection of tough sentencing laws that have depleted the pool of eligible offenders earlier in their criminal careers, taking them off the streets before they qualify for 25-to-life terms under the three-strikes statute.

Sacramento prosecutors say they've simply gained a better sense of which offenders truly deserve the harshest measure of the law. "Have we evolved over time? Yes," said Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, whose 17-year tenure in office closely tracks the history of California's three-strikes law.

But she also believes there just aren't as many people to sentence anymore, noting Sacramento County has imprisoned 557 offenders on 25-to-life terms since the law went into effect. "Not just in Sacramento but across the state, we've put away people on three strikes and they aren't now in our communities," Scully said.

Passed by the Legislature and overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1994, the three-strikes law can be used to impose 25-to-life prison terms on repeat serious and violent offenders if they pick up a third felony, no matter how minor. It also doubles prison terms for new offenders with single past convictions for serious or violent felonies.

Prosecutors have always had discretion under the law to reduce potential life terms to lesser sentences, but many didn't exercise it. Los Angeles County prosecutors, in particular, refrained from "striking strikes," or dismissing prior serious or violent convictions for the purpose of lowering prison terms.

The approach changed when Steve Cooley was elected L.A. County district attorney in 2000. Elected largely on a platform of refining the law's application, Cooley took the lead in putting a new policy in place. He reserved the heavier sentences for defendants with serious or violent third strikes, but built in exceptions to target offenders with horrific pasts even if their latest charge wasn't so serious.

Cooley said over-application of the law by some California prosecutors -- hitting people for third strikes for minor felonies such as drug possession and pizza theft -- prompted a public backlash. A 2004 statewide ballot measure that would have dumped three strikes altogether came within three percentage points of winning.

"If you have a good law, and you abuse it, you will predictably lose it," Cooley said at a recent symposium on the three-strikes law in Los Angeles.  "If somebody has a rock (of cocaine) in his sock, you give him 25 to life? Give me a break."

In an interview, Cooley said that Proposition 66, the 2004 initiative, "scared the bejesus out of everyone." In its aftermath, prosecutors developed policies "to make sure we're not very disparate in our handling of these cases," Cooley said....

Sometimes, judges dial down life terms on their own.  Over the prosecutor's objection, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi recently removed a prior strike from the complaint on defendant David C. Boult, convicted of being an ex-con with a gun. Instead of 25-to-life, Boult got 10 years and four months.

Sueyoshi's action once would have have been impossible.  The three-strikes law initially allowed only prosecutors to dismiss strikes.  But the state Supreme Court, in a 1996 decision, gave judges the authority to do it.

Even with discretionary authority returned to the judges and prosecutors exercising a softer approach, plenty of critics still think the California statute is unduly harsh and applied unevenly in different parts of the state.  "You still have some district attorneys out there who are still using it to capture aging felons on relatively minor third felonies," said McGeorge School of Law professor Michael Vitiello.

In addition, Vitiello said, the prisons house thousands of offenders who are doing 25-to-life sentences whose cases may not have triggered that term today.  Vitiello said the state needs a "broad sentencing scheme" overseen by an appointed commission that would review the state's entire sentencing structure in order to reserve limited prison space for the most dangerous offenders.

July 4, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

An Independence Day open thread seeking comments on liberty and freedom in the US

Blogging has been light this holiday weekend as I have been enjoying sun, family, fireworks, tennis, golf and lots of company (not necessarily in that order). But the morning of July 4 gets me to my computer for a few minutes to link to my prior Independence Day blogging and to urge readers to use this space to comment on the state of liberty and freedom in the United States.

Prior July 4 posts:

July 4, 2011 in On blogging | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack