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July 16, 2011

"The Causes of Growth in Prison Admissions and Populations"

The title of this post is the title of this important new empirical paper by Professor John Pfaff now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The explosive growth in the US prison population is well documented, but its causes are poorly understood.  In this paper I exploit previously-unused data to define precisely where the growth is occurring.  In short, the growth in prison populations has been driven almost entirely by increases in felony filings per arrest.  All other possible sites of growth -- arrests, admissions per filing, convictions per filings and admissions per conviction, and even (perhaps most surprisingly) time served per admission -- have barely changed over the past four decades.  But the growth in filings tracks that of admissions almost perfectly.  This paper demonstrates the importance of felony filings and considers some of the possible explanations for their growth.

July 16, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (59) | TrackBack

July 15, 2011

Only a year late, AG Holder sees light and reverses course on FSA pipeline sentencing issue

Regular readers know that, since the Fair Sentencing Act became law in August 2010, lower courts have been divided over whether defendants who committed crack offenses before the FSA was enacted but had not yet been initially sentenced should get the benefits of the FSA's new mandatory minimum provisions.  And, as I explained in this post way back in October 2010, I have been troubled and disappointed that the Justice Department had been arguing in these "pipeline" cases that defendants should continue to be sentenced under the old now repealed 100-1 crack/powder ratio if their crimes were committed before August 3, 2010.  

I am now pleased to report than I need not be troubled or disappointed by DOJ's position on this issue anymore, because today Attorney General Eric Holder has come to see the statutory sentencing light and reversed course.  In a two-page memo to all federal prosecutors dated July 15, 2011 (and available for download below), AG Holder details his new view on this issue: 

In light of the differing court decisions -- and the serious impact on the criminal justice system of continuing to impose unfair penalties -- I have reviewed our position regarding the applicability of the Fair Sentencing Act to cases sentenced on or after the date of enactment.  While I continue to believe that the Savings Statute, 1 U.S.C. § 109, precludes application of the new mandatory minimums to those sentenced before the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act, I agree with those courts that have held that Congress intended the Act not only to "restore fairness in federal cocaine sentencing policy" but to do so as expeditiously as possible and to all defendants sentenced on or after the enactment date. As a result, I have concluded that the law requires the application of the Act's new mandatory minimum sentencing provisions to all sentencings that occur on or after August 3, 2010, regardless of when the offense conduct took place.  The law draws the line at August 3, however.  The new provisions do not apply to sentences imposed prior to that date, whether or not they are final.  Prosecutors are directed to act consistently with these legal principles.

Download Holder FSA memo 7.15.11

Though I am pleased that AG Holder has now seen the light on this issue of statutory interpretation, I remain deeply disappointed that the Justice Department argued a contrary (and, in my view, deeply misguided) position in courts around the nation for nearly a year.  Among the costs of this mistake has been a large number of sentencings based on the old law that now will need to be redone, not to mention many litigation resources expended as defense counsel and judges have been force to grapple with DOJ's prior position.  So while I celebrate DOJ now getting this right, I cannot help but express sadness that this reversal of course took so long.

Among the benefits of this change of position should be a quick end to lots of district and circuit (and possible SCOTUS) litigation over this pipeline issue.  But, of course, the principal benefit of this new DOJ policy is that more defendants will now be able to benefit from the fairer sentencing terms that Congress created through its enactment of the FSA last year.

Some posts on this FSA pipeline issue:

July 15, 2011 in New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Might horrific Jaycee Lee Dugard case have led SCOTUS to permit death penalty for child rape?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new commentary by Charles Lane for the Washington Post, which is headlined "The justices and Jaycee Dugard." Here is how the piece starts and ends:

A Stolen Life, Jaycee Lee Dugard’s harrowing memoir of sexual torture and confinement at the hands of Phillip Garrido, has hit the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. I read it, astonished at her courage and her eloquence — and disgusted at the crimes Garrido, on parole for a previous rape, committed against Dugard for years, starting when she was 11.

I also wondered how history might have been different if Dugard had escaped from her 18-year hell before the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, instead of a year after it.  This was the case in which the court voted 5-4 to ban the death penalty for raping a child.  No future Phillip Garrido need ever fear execution, though many who read Dugard’s book will agree with me that he would richly deserve it.

At the time, the majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy struck me as a mixed salad of moralizing and debatable assertions.  Post-Dugard, it’s even less persuasive. ...

To be sure, Phillip Garrido, now sentenced to 431 years, would never have faced capital punishment in California even prior to Kennedy v. Louisiana, because the state didn’t allow it except for murder.  (His accomplice wife, Nancy Garrido, is also in prison).

And Justice Kennedy — joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen A. Breyer, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — was not wrong to worry about allowing capital punishment for any rape, given this country’s sorry history of racially-biased sex-crime prosecutions.  The court has rightly ruled that the death penalty should be limited to the “worst of the worst”; reasonable people can debate whether non-lethal crime belongs in that category.

But that’s the point: These are as much policy issues as constitutional ones, and the court was wrong to trump the people’s representatives, especially on such a flimsy factual foundation.

If anything, there’s a “national consensus” in favor of the death penalty for raping a child. A poll after the court’s ruling showed that only 38 percent of the public agreed with it, while 55 percent disagreed.

A major presidential candidate said that “the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution."

Barack Obama was exactly right.

July 15, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Kennedy child rape case, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (43) | TrackBack

"Black men survive longer in prison than out: study"

The title of this post is the headline of this Reuters article about a new study that seems sure to get significant attention.  Here are the details:

Black men are half as likely to die at any given time if they're in prison than if they aren't, suggests a new study of North Carolina inmates.  

The black prisoners seemed to be especially protected against alcohol- and drug-related deaths, as well as lethal accidents and certain chronic diseases.  But that pattern didn't hold for white men, who on the whole were slightly more likely to die in prison than outside, according to findings published in Annals of Epidemiology.

Researchers say it's not the first time a study has found lower death rates among certain groups of inmates -- particularly disadvantaged people, who might get protection against violent injuries and murder.

"Ironically, prisons are often the only provider of medical care accessible by these underserved and vulnerable Americans," said Hung-En Sung of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.     "Typically, prison-based care is more comprehensive than what inmates have received prior to their admission," Sung, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health by email.

The new study involved about 100,000 men between age 20 and 79 who were held in North Carolina prisons at some point between 1995 and 2005.  Sixty percent of those men were black. Researchers linked prison and state health records to determine which of the inmates died, and of what causes, during their prison stay.  Then they compared those figures with expected deaths in men of the same age and race in the general population.

Less than one percent of men died during incarceration, and there was no difference between black and white inmates.  But outside prison walls, blacks have a higher rate of death at any given age than whites.  "What's very sad about this is that if we are able to all of a sudden equalize or diminish these health inequalities that you see by race inside a place like prison, it should also be that in places like a poor neighborhood we should be able to diminish these sort of inequities," said Evelyn Patterson, who studies correctional facilities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee....

As in the general population, cancer and heart and blood vessel diseases were the most common cause of death among inmates -- accounting for more than half of deaths. White prisoners died of cardiovascular diseases as often as expected and died of cancer slightly more often than non-prisoners.

Black inmates, by contrast, were between 30 and 40 percent less likely to die of those causes than those who weren't incarcerated. They were also less likely to die of diabetes, alcohol- and drug-related causes, airway diseases, accidents, suicide and murder than black men not in prison.

"For some populations, being in prison likely provides benefits in regards to access to healthcare and life expectancy," said study author Dr. David Rosen, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill....     For Rosen, one of the main messages from the study is the need to make the world outside of prison walls safer, and to make sure people living there have adequate access to healthcare.

The underlying study appealing in the Annals of Epidemiology that is the basis of this article is available via this link 

July 15, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

"California's criminal law: So bad, it could get better"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece in The Economist.  Here are excerpts:

Three strikes has indeed, as advertised, removed some dangerous “career criminals” from the streets. But it has also condemned people to life for stealing a pair of socks.  As these lifers age in prison, they not only mock justice but cost taxpayers ever more money. As for death sentences, it turns out that they exist more in theory than in practice.  California does have the country’s largest death row, with 714 inmates.  But it has executed only 13 people since 1978, whereas 1,242 have been executed in America as a whole.  On California’s death row, 78 inmates have instead died of old age, disease or suicide.  The process of appeal typically takes decades.

It is also tough on taxpayers. California’s death row has cost more than $4 billion since 1978, according to a new study by a federal appeals judge who has also been a state prosecutor in death-penalty cases.  And it will cost more in years to come.  This makes no sense at a time when California is cutting funding for its court system to balance ever tighter budgets.

Voters still favour the death penalty in principle, polls say.  But growing numbers of credible critics are turning against it.  These include Don Heller, the man who wrote the 1978 ballot measure reintroducing capital punishment, and Jeanne Woodford, once an administrator of death row.  Both now want to repeal the penalty and convert death sentences to life terms without parole.  A law to this effect is in the legislature, and could be on the ballot next year.

A similar trend is working against three strikes.  Prosecutors, who used to be its most ardent supporters, are increasingly using their discretion not to invoke the law for minor offences. Some are openly calling for reform.  A new ballot measure to repeal or relax the law may be drafted this summer.  A previous attempt, in 2004, failed.  But a recent Field poll found that 74% of voters now agree that three strikes must be changed — not least because of the chaos it causes in the prisons.

July 15, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Lots of effective Clemens coverage and debate at WCCPB

The folks over at the White Collar CrimProf Blog have already a number of very good posts discussing and debating the mistrial declared yesterday in the trial of Roger Clemens and what might happen next:

In response to this prior post reporting on the mistrial, a terrific discussion broke out in the comments.  Perhaps that will happen again here if folks have more to say about about the feds mistake and how Judge Walton should handle this matter going forward.

July 15, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"12-Year-Old Sentenced for Cyberstalking Classmate"

The title of this post is the headline of this ABC News piece reporting on a case showing that some kids today are now getting their cyber-criminal careers started very early.  Here is the start of the piece:

A 12-year-old Washington girl was sentenced on Wednesday to probation and community service for a cyberstalking incident in which she and another 11-year-old girl doctored a classmate's Facebook account with explicit photos and solicitations for sex.

But the mother of the victim, also 12, said she has "mixed feelings" about the sentencing of the girls who hacked her daughter's Facebook page, and she isn't satisfied with the judge's ruling. "We wrote a letter to the judge and we requested that she have no access to social media for the full term of her probation. The judge felt that it would be fine for her to be on with parental supervision," said Tara Cote, of Issaquah, Wash.

The 12-year-old, who pleaded guilty and whose name has not been released, was charged with Cyberstalking and Computer Trespass First Degree. She was sentenced to six months of probation and 20 hours of community service, along with mandatory adult supervision of all computer usage, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Cote said she wants the tween to have cyber bullying-specific therapy. "Both girls went online and used social media to do damage and used it as a weapon? Regular therapy will not tell you how to not abuse the Internet," said Cote.

In my view, these kind of modern technology crimes call out for a kind of modern technology shaming sanction: perhaps judges can and should be able to require defendants in these kinds of cases (at least when they are adults) to have some kind of scarlet mark on their social media pages so that others know they do not play nice with technology.

July 15, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 14, 2011

"Re-Thinking Illegal Entry and Re-Entry"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper about federal sentencing for immigration offenses by Professor Doug Keller and now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This Article traces the history of two federal crimes that have long supplemented the civil immigration system and now make up nearly half of all federal prosecutions: illegal entry and illegal re-entry.  Little has previously been written about the historical lineage of either crime, despite the supporting role each has played in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border.  

This Article takes a critical look at the use of each crime -- from when they were initially conceived of as a way to deter illegal immigration, then as a way to target dangerous aliens, and most recently as a way to do both.  These shifting strategies, however, have all had one thing in common -- ineffectiveness.  The crimes have never meaningfully deterred illegal immigration, and the government’s poorly designed proxy to determine if an alien is “dangerous” has ensured that prosecutions have not made the public safer.  The most recent period has been particularly troubling -- over 75,000 combined prosecutions a year, at the cost of well over a billion dollars a year and at the expense of prosecuting more serious crimes. Despite these huge costs and the related human carnage, the criminalization of illegal entry and re-entry is invariably left out of the discussion of comprehensive immigration reform, which is emblematic of the silent treatment these crimes have received in the literature on immigration policy and criminal law more generally.  By reviewing eight decades worth of ineffective strategy, this Article makes a case for why the enforcement of the crimes of illegal entry and re-entry warrants more attention and a fundamental re-thinking.

July 14, 2011 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fascinating (and Posnerian classic) opinion on diminished capacity, child porn, and sentencing theory

Judge Posner provides today's must-read circuit opinion in US v. Garthus, No. 10-3097 (7th Cir. July 14, 2011) (available here).  Judge Posner's opinion for the Seventh Circuit in Garthus packs in so much of interest in a tight 13 pages, I have a hard time deciding which part to exceprt.  So, here is just the very start of the opinion along with just one of many interesting passages (with cites removed) to whet everyone's appetite for the whole opinion:

The defendant pleaded guilty to federal crimes of transporting, receiving, and possessing child pornography and was sentenced to 360 months in prison. The guidelines sentencing range was 360 months to life; the statutory minimum sentence was 180 months; he was 44 years old when sentenced.  His appeal challenges his sentence on several grounds, of which the one most emphasized by defense counsel is that the district court improperly failed to consider her argument that the defendant had had “diminished capacity” to avoid committing the crimes, a ground recognized by the sentencing guidelines as a possible justification for a lower sentence....

Why diminished capacity in this sense (or senses) should be a mitigating factor in sentencing is obscure.  The diminution makes a defendant more likely to repeat his crime when he is released from prison.  That is especially so when the crime involves compulsive behavior, such as behavior driven by sexual desire.  Such behavior requires active resistance by the person tempted to engage in it, if it is to be avoided; and diminished capacity weakens the ability to resist.  One of the defendant’s experts opined that the defendant’s ability to resist could be strengthened substantially with medication and therapy.  But both defense experts believed, and defense counsel argued, that he wouldn’t get proper treatment in prison.  That is very damaging to the argument that he won’t recidivate, since by virtue of the statutory minimum he will spend many years in prison and when released may be unable to resist his criminal impulses because his condition will not have been treated effectively in prison.

From a “just deserts” standpoint, diminished capacity argues for a lighter sentence, but from the standpoint of preventing recidivism it argues for a heavier one.  The heavier sentence may not deter a criminal from repeating his crime when he is released (that is implied by saying he has diminished capacity), but it will reduce his lifetime criminal activity by incapacitating him for a longer time than if he received a lighter sentence.

How to choose?  The sentencing guidelines do not embody a coherent penal philosophy. “The [Sentencing] Commission’s conclusion can be summarized thus: since people disagree over the aims of sentencing, it is best to have no rationale at all.”  Andrew von Hirsch, “Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Do They Provide Principled Guidance?,” 27 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 367, 371 (1989).  In the case of diminished capacity the guidelines have embraced a just-deserts theory; but why it has done so — why it has in this instance elevated just-deserts considerations over the interest in preventing recidivism — is not explained.  In any event, under the Booker regime a sentencing judge can adopt his own penal philosophy. And so he can disregard the guidelines’ classification of diminished capacity as a mitigating factor, regard it as an aggravating factor, or regard it as a wash.

July 14, 2011 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Feds cause mistrial in Clemens perjury trial...

should they get to try again?

UPDATE:  Here now are details about just how federal prosecutors messed up via this updated AP report, as well as details on how Judge Walton (over?)reacted to the mess up:

The judge declared a mistrial Thursday in baseball star Roger Clemens' perjury trial after prosecutors showed jurors evidence the judge had ruled out of bounds.     U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said the prosecutors had made a grave mistake.  And he said Clemens could not be assured a fair trial after jurors were shown evidence against the court's orders in the second day of testimony....

Walton scheduled a Sept. 2 hearing to determine whether to hold a new trial. He told jurors he was sorry to have wasted their time and spent so much taxpayer money, only to call off the case.

"There are rules that we play by and those rules are designed to make sure both sides receive a fair trial," Walton told the jury, saying such ground rules are critically important when a person's liberty is at stake.  "If this man got convicted, he would go to jail," Walton said. 

He said that because prosecutors broke his rules, "the ability with Mr. Clemens with this jury to get a fair trial with this jury would be very difficult if not impossible."...  Prosecutors suggested the problem could be fixed with an instruction to the jury to disregard the evidence, but Walton seemed skeptical.  He said he could never know what impact the evidence would have during the jury's deliberations "when we've got a man's liberty at interest."....

Walton interrupted the prosecution's playing of a video from Clemens' 2008 testimony before Congress and had the jury removed from the courtroom.  Clemens is accused of lying during that testimony when he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs during his 24-season career in the Major Leagues.

One of the chief pieces of evidence against Clemens is testimony from his former teammate and close friend, Andy Pettitte, who says Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 that he used human growth hormone.  Clemens has said that Pettitte misheard him. Pettitte also also says he told his wife, Laura, about the conversation the same day it happened.

Prosecutors had wanted to call Laura Pettitte as a witness to back up her husband's account, but Walton had said he wasn't inclined to have her testify since she didn't speak directly to Clemens.  Walton was angered that in the video prosecutors showed the jury, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., referred to Pettitte's conversation with his wife.

"I think that a first-year law student would know that you can't bolster the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence," Walton said.  He said it was the second time that prosecutors had gone against his orders -- the other being an incident that happened during opening arguments Wednesday when assistant U.S. attorney Steven Durham said that Pettite and two other of Clemens' New York teammates, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton, had used human growth hormone.

Walton said in pre-trial hearings that such testimony could lead jurors to consider Clemens guilty by association.  Clemens' defense attorney objected when Durham made the statement and Walton told jurors to disregard Durham's comments about other players.

There was no objection from Clemens' team during the Laura Pettitte reference, but the judge stopped the proceedings, called attorneys up to the bench and spoke to them privately for several minutes.  Hardin pointed out during that time, the video remained frozen on the screen in front of jurors with a transcript of what was being said on the bottom....

The judge eventually told the jurors to leave while he discussed the issue with attorneys in open court. "Government counsel should have been more cautious," Walton said, raising his voice and noting that the case has already cost a lot of taxpayer money.  He then left the courtroom and said he would go consult with a colleague on what to do.

There are so many interesting dimensions to this development, including the notable (pre-)sentencing indication that Judge Walton will be imposing prison time at sentencing if Rogers Clemens gets convicted on the perjury charges he is facing.  

Notably, the early comments to this post all suggest that Judge Walton should not allow the feds to try Rogers Clemens again.  But the mess up by the feds here hardly seem based on this press account to super-extreme efforts to undermine Clemens' right to a fair trial.  I think allowing Clemens to now walk would be something of an unfair windfall for a defendant who is accused of a serious charge of lying to Congress.  But I am also somewhat sympathetic to the notion that, at this stage, the Rocket has already now been punished enough (especially given that Rusty Hardin hardly comes cheap and will surely have the meter still running as the legal  fall-out from this mistrial plays out over the coming months).

July 14, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Could/will/should the federal debt and deficit showdown have any real criminal justice bite?

I often like to tell my students that every significant public policy story always has a criminal justice and sentencing angle.  (As my chief example, I assert that Bush v. Gore and the broader 2000 presidential election fight over who won Florida was really only made possible because Florida has one of the nation's broadest felon disenfranchisement laws.)  But I am having a hard time figuring out just how the 2011 federal political spat over the debt ceiling and federal spending has any significant criminal justice impact.

Of course, there is no doubt in my mind that that general concerns about the huge US debt and federal deficits are playing a role in the thinking of the Department of Justice and the US Sentencing Commission and others as it related to the economic costs of the federal criminal justice.  But, unlike in states when a huge percentage of budgets go to criminal justice spending, the federal criminal justice system rarely occupies much more than 1% of all federal spending.  Though funds can (and have) been cut from various federal criminal justice programs, it is still unclear to me if and how the current federal debt and deficit showdown inside the Beltway can or will have any real criminal justice bite.

On the assumption that some readers may know a lot more about the important issues of dollars and sense, perhaps somebody in the comments can explain just whether and how sentencing fans can and should have a unique rooting interest in what is keeping DC extra hot and bothered this summer.

July 14, 2011 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Notable recent resentencing opinion on career offenders and Kimbrough discretion

I recently received a copy of a notable resentencing opinion from US District Judge Gregory Presnell, who long ago already secured a place in my Sentencing Hall of Fame.  The opinion in US v. Vazquez, No. 6:04-cr-212-Orl-31 (M.D. Fla. June 28, 2011) (available for download below), covers a number of modern federal sentencing issues and reviews a remarkable procedural history for a single low-level drug defendant.

Specifically, way back in 2005 just six months after the Booker ruling, Judge Presnell originally imposed a sentence of just over nine years in prison after refusing to essentially double the defendant's sentence, as the guidelines' career-offender provisions urged, based on two old convictions.  On the government's appeal, this sentence was vacated, with the Eleventh Circuit holding that policy-based criticism of the career-offender guidelines was not permitted.  Judge Presnell then imposed a substantially higher sentence (15 years in prison), a sentence which was upheld by the Eleventh Circuit.  But upon further appeal, the Solicitor General switched positions and argued that the Eleventh Circuit had misinterpreted Kimbrough, and the case was ultimately returned to Judge Presnell for another resentencing.

In this latest opinion, Judge Presnell explains all this history and accounts for the current state of the law within the Eleventh Circuit.  He then reimposes the original sentence, less another 20 months for post-sentencing rehabilitation under Pepper.  Notably, the opinion reports that "the parties agreed that a 20-month reduction would be appropriate to account for the Defendant’s post-sentencing rehabilitation."  Slip op. at 10 (emphasis added).  

There is now such great irony represented by this (finally!) final Vazquez sentence: by virtue of federal prosecutors fighting the original 110-month sentence so effectively from the outset, along with SCOTUS rulings along the way, the defendant here was able ultimately to secure an extra 20 months off his original below-guideline sentence, and federal prosecutors now apparently agree that a sentence even below that originally imposed is now just and proper.  And, assuming the defendant gets his 15% good-time credits for time already served, it would seem he is due to be released from prison not long after his sentence was finally resolved.

Download Vazquez_resentencing_order_from_Judge Presnell 

July 14, 2011 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Kimbrough reasonableness case, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Will cost arguments convince California voters to ditch the death penalty in 2012?

The election season of 2012 will be amazing in California for sentencing fans because it appears that three major criminal justice issues could all be placed directly before the voters in propostions to (1) legalize marijuana, (2) reform the state's three-strikes law, and (3) repeal the state's death penalty.  In all three campaigns, the economic costs of the status quo and the potential benefits of reform will be a major focus, and a couple newspaper commentaries in California papers today are already making the case that California's capital punishment system is a waste of money.

From the Stockton Record, this editorial headlined "Slow-motion death penalty" makes these points:

Since being reinstated in 1978, the death penalty has resulted in 14 executions (one of them in Missouri), the first coming in 1992, 14 years after the penalty was reinstated, and the last in January 2006.  In that same period, 78 death row inmates have died, 18 by suicide but most from natural causes.  Today there are 714 condemned inmates, far more than the 513 men and women California has executed since 1893.  We can accomplish the same slow-motion death by putting these people in the general prison population.

Since 1978, the state has spent about $4 billion sustaining the system.  That's enough money to pay 5,000 police officers $60,000 a year for more than 13 years.  What's this all mean?  It means the system is broken and there is no evidence it can or will be fixed. One thing is sure: The cost of keeping it in place will only increase in the years ahead.

It is that wasteful spending that is at the heart of moves to ask state voters to again consider this punishment.  The simple question: Can its cost be justified?  Not according a growing number of studies and people, including attorney Don Heller, the former prosecutor who authored the state's 1978 death penalty law.  "I fervently believe that capital punishment should be abolished," Heller said. "It's costing the state a huge amount of money."...

Of course, there are those who believe just as fervently that you cannot put a put a price tag on justice. That the victims of the condemned deserve justice. And that killers who are killed don't kill again.

However, what Senate Bill 490 asks voters to do -- assuming it clears the Legislature and is signed by the governor -- is to set aside the moral arguments for and against the death penalty and consider it only in terms of money.  Is it worth the cost?  It has cost California an estimated $4 billion to execute 14 people since 1978.  Based on that, capital punishment is a colossal waste of resources.

Similarly, this op-ed by George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times is headlined "Repeal the death penalty: Each execution costs taxpayers $308 million, a colossal waste."  It begins this way:

Waste, fraud and abuse — also known as California's death penalty. It's a colossal waste of money for arguably the state's most inefficient program.

California has spent an estimated $4 billion to administer capital punishment over the past 33 years and executed only 13 people. That's about $308 million per execution. It's a shameless fraud on the public. Californians have consistently supported the death penalty and been led to believe that it exists. It really doesn't.

We just stack up more and more killers on death row. There's now a backlog of 714. It's an abuse of California resources — property and personnel, public and private.

San Quentin's death row occupies valuable land on San Francisco Bay that is better suited for economic development. Meanwhile, far too many brainy lawyers and academicians test their wits on death penalty issues rather than productively debating projects and policies needed to improve the state.

Don't misread me. You won't find any arguments here about the death penalty being unfair, immoral or barbaric. I don't buy it. Far as I'm concerned, these characters — once proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt — should be immediately removed from our planet. Some creeps should be appropriately tortured first.

But the issue here is not about the merits of the death penalty. It's about inefficiencies and priorities. As we raise university tuitions out of sight, whack the poor and lay off cops, do we really want to be spending $308 million to snuff out one individual?

What California has been doing for the past 33 years is insane: piling murderers into death row with little prospect of executing them. There the condemned get their own single cells. They have access to free lawyers and personal TVs.

A recent extensive study of California's death penalty cited the case of a white supremacist who killed a fellow gang member. He asked his attorney to get him sentenced to death, researchers reported, "because, as his attorney explained, 'living conditions at San Quentin prison's death row will be better than if he serves a life term at Pelican Bay.'"

I personally find these kinds of cost arguments concerning the death penalty convincing and compelling, especially in California where a number of legal and social forces ensure that the state will have to spend many more millions in any effort to execute even a small number of the many hundreds of murderers now on its death row.  But I am certainly not the average California voter, and thus I really wonder whether these argument can and will be effective in a proposition campaign.

July 14, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 13, 2011

Creative (and wise?) Oregon state sentences for poachers

A favorite reader altered me to this interesting Oregon sentencing story headlined "Poachers will spend deer seasons in jail: A Springfield father and son are both barred from hunting for life." Here are the details:

In the words of a prosecutor, hunting season will now be jail season for a Springfield father and son who pleaded guilty Tuesday to more than 130 poaching-related charges.

Rory Donoho, 60, and Shane Donoho, 37, received the unusual sentence for leading what is purportedly Oregon’s largest illegal hunting scheme, wiping out the deer population in a portion of the McKenzie Wildlife Management District near Vida.

Instead of presumptive prison terms of three years and 6½ years, respectively, for their racketeering, identity theft and poaching convictions, the Donohos must report to the Lane County Jail for a 90-day sentence on Oct. 1, the first day of deer season, in each of the next four years.

Prosecutor Jay Hall struck the plea deal with attorneys for the two men. Lane County Circuit Judge Charles Carlson also stripped both men of their hunting privileges for life and placed them on five years of supervised probation.

He ordered Rory Donoho, convicted on 57 counts, to pay $20,000 in restitution to the state. He ordered Shane Donoho, convicted of 82 counts, to pay $42,000 in restitution to the state and to perform 400 hours of community service — including speaking to hunting groups and Boy Scout troops about his crimes. He also ordered him to undergo counseling for a hunting “addiction” as directed by his probation officer.

Hall said Shane Donoho admitted to killing more than 300 deer in the past five years. In most cases, Oregon hunters are limited to bagging one deer per season. Hall said the father and son obtained other people’s tags so they could appear legitimate if a game official caught them with one of their poached animals. The prosecutor called the family’s illegal hunting a generational pattern....

Boyd said Shane and Rory Donoho cooperated with authorities once they learned they were under investigation. Shane Donoho’s attorney, John Haapala, called his client “forthcoming in all regards,” and noted that he had no prior criminal convictions. He also stressed that the Donohos never made any attempt to sell the poached meat. Rather, they intended to eat it or share it with friends, he said.

Rory Donoho’s attorney, Brian Cox, noted that his client also had no previous convictions. “This case also showcases flaws in the system, because you don’t have to show any ID (when buying a tag) proving you are who you say you are,” he said. “This is a huge loophole in the law that screams for a fix.”

The Donohos also forfeited to the government 19 rifles, 1,600 pounds of processed and frozen game meat, and 106 pairs of trophy antlers valued at between $180,000 and $400,000. Boyd said the meat is not certified for human consumption because it wasn’t inspected, but that he intends to provide it to zoos and wildlife rehabilitation centers for feeding to carnivores there.

July 13, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Accused sex offender allowed to watch child porn in jail"

The title of this post is the headline of this local article out of Washington state concerning a story which becomes somewhat less alarming (though still notable) when all the details are explained. Here are all the details:

A strange quirk in the law is allowing an accused child rapist to watch child pornography inside the Pierce County Jail. Marc Gilbert is accused of sexually assaulting young boys and videotaping the abuse.

Under the law, defense attorneys are allowed to review material tied to the case. And because Gilbert has chosen to act as his own attorney, he has had unlimited access to the pornographic footage. Therefore, the jail says it has no choice but to allow Gilbert to review the footage times over with no limits. Restricting his access would risk a mistrial.

Investigators seized from Gilbert's possession more than 100 DVDs containing 28 hours of pornographic footage. Some of the material was allegedly shot by the former jet pilot, and feature the young boys he's accused of luring to his home and exploiting.

The prosecutor and the sheriff say the results of the legal loophole are sickening in this case, but say the state Supreme Court has ruled in Gilbert's favor. "Make no mistake -- I don't like it," said Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor. "But it is not my choice whether to do it or not to do it. There's no question that I don't like it. There's no question that this makes me grind my teeth."

"We don't like it. We don't want to do it, but we have to follow the law. The fix here is to change the law," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

To make sure no other inmates get a chance to see the pornography, Gilbert is made to review them in a separate room. Child advocates say allowing the tapes to be viewed further victimizes the victims.

I am not sure it is quite right to describe this defendant's right to defend himself by having access to the evidence against him as a "strange quirk in the law" or as a "legal loophole."  Nevertheless, as the headline suggest, this is a story that seems sure to be sensationalized.

Digging a bit deeper, I wonder about the local prosecutor's suggestion that the "fix here is to change the law" concerning access to trial evidence by the defense team: could there be constitutional problems with entirely preventing a defendant from having at least some access to the principal evidence to be used against him at trial?

July 13, 2011 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Ohio decides not to appeal federal district court ruling in Smith halting execution

Regular readers may recall posts from last week here and here reporting on the ground-breaking Smith ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost last Friday, which stayed an upcoming execution based on a death row defendant's Equal Protection claim concerning how Ohio runs its machinery of death.  Now this local piece, headlined "Ohio executions may be on hold to adjust procedures," reports that Ohio has decided to try to satisfy Judge Frost (through tweaks of its execution process?) rather than seek an immediate appeal to Sixth Circuit to get the Smith ruling reviewed.  Here are the (surprising?) details:

Executions in Ohio could be on hold for an indefinite period while officials work with a federal judge who criticized the state's "haphazard application" of its lethal injection policies.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told The Dispatch that while he disagrees with U.S. District Court Judge Gregory L. Frost's decision, "the state is going to take that decision and follow it and make revisions and comply with it. Once that is done, I would anticipate that the state would go back to Judge Frost."

DeWine decided not to appeal Frost's order halting Tuesday's scheduled execution of condemned killer Kenneth Smith of Hamilton, Ohio. Smith, 45, was to be executed at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville for his role in the slayings of Lewis and Ruth Ray in their home on May 12, 1995.

Smith's attorneys questioned the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's adherence to its execution policies, specifically regarding the required number of team members present and documentation of the mixing of drugs.

Frost's said in his decision that, "Ohio pays lip service to standards it then often ignores without valid reasons, sometimes with no physical ramifications and sometimes with what have been described as messy if not botched executions."

The ruling could have a far-reaching impact on other death penalty cases pending in Ohio. DeWine said the goal would be to "comply within a short period of time," he would not offer a time frame. The Ohio Supreme Court has set nine additional execution dates through September 2012.

In a statement, the state prisons agency said: "Those involved in implementing court-ordered lethal injection sentences in Ohio have consistently carried out this extremely difficult task in a dignified, professional and humane manner. We will use Judge Frost's decision as an opportunity to improve our policies and procedures in preparation for carrying out future lethal injection sentences."

If I recall correctly, many commentors to my  prior posts on Smith predicted it would only be a matter of time before the Sixth Circuit reversed the decision.  It now appears that Ohio is not even going to give the Sixth Circuit that chance.  How interesting.

Some recent related posts:

July 13, 2011 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Ohio Supreme Court finds new Ohio SORNA-compliant sex offender requirements punitive

In a ruling with potential national implications even though based only on state law, the Ohio Supreme Court this morning in a 5-2 opinion decided that the state's new sex offender registration requirements were punitive and thus could not, as a matter of Ohio state constitutional law, be applied to offenders who committed offenses before this new registration law was put into effect. The majority ruling in Ohio v. Williams, No. 2011-OHIO-3374 (Ohio July 13, 2011) (available here), concludes this way:

[Under the new law], offenders are no longer allowed to challenge their classification as a sex offender because classification is automatic depending on the offense.  Judges no longer review the sex-offender classification. In general, sex offenders are required to register more often and for a longer period of time. They are required to register in person and in several different places. R.C. 2950.06(B) and 2950.07(B).  Furthermore, all of the registration requirements apply without regard to the future dangerousness of the sex offender. Instead, registration requirements and other requirements are based solely on the fact of a conviction.  Based on these significant changes to the statutory scheme governing sex offenders, we are no longer convinced that R.C. Chapter 2950 is remedial, even though some elements of it remain remedial.  We conclude that as to a sex offender whose crime was committed prior to the enactment of S.B. 10, the act “imposes new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction,” Pratte, 125 Ohio St.3d 473, 2010-Ohio-1860, 929 N.E.2d 415, at ¶ 37, and “create[s] new burdens, new duties, new obligations, or new liabilities not existing at the time,” Miller, 64 Ohio St. at 51, 59 N.E. 749.

No one change compels our conclusion that S.B. 10 is punitive. It is a matter of degree whether a statute is so punitive that its retroactive application is unconstitutional.  Cook, 83 Ohio St.3d at 418, 700 N.E.2d 570.  When we consider all of the changes enacted by S.B. 10 in aggregate, we conclude that imposing the current registration requirements on a sex offender whose crime was committed prior to the enactment of S.B. 10 is punitive. Accordingly, we conclude that S.B. 10, as applied to defendants who committed sex offenses prior to its enactment, violates Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from passing retroactive laws.

The General Assembly has the authority, indeed the obligation, to protect the public from sex offenders.  It may not, however, consistent with the Ohio Constitution, “impose[] new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction.” Pratte, 125 Ohio St.3d 473, 2010-Ohio-1860, 929 N.E.2d 415, at ¶ 37.  If the registration requirements of S.B. 10 are imposed on Williams, the General Assembly has imposed new or additional burdens, duties, obligations, or liabilities as to a past transaction.  We conclude that S.B. 10, as applied to Williams and any other sex offender who committed an offense prior to the enactment of S.B. 10, violates Section 28, Article II of the Ohio Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from enacting retroactive laws.

July 13, 2011 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

"Collateral Consequences after Padilla v. Kentucky: From Punishment to Regulation"

The title of this post is the title of this important new piece available via SSRN by Margaret Colgate Love.  Here is the abstract:

This Article analyzes the scope of Padilla v. Kentucky, concluding that its logic extends beyond deportation to many other severe and certain consequences of conviction that are imposed by statute or regulation rather than by the sentencing court.  It proposes a set of reforms that would limit the disruptive effect of these co-called “collateral consequences” on the guilty plea process, and make a defense lawyer’s job easier.

Part I describes a case currently pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that may yield some important clues about how broadly the Padilla doctrine will be applied to status-generated consequences other than deportation.  At issue in Commonwealth v. Abraham is whether a lawyer should have warned his client, a retired public school teacher, that pleading guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense would result in the permanent forfeiture of his vested pension benefits.

Part II looks at the collateral consequences doctrine as applied by the courts before Padilla to demonstrate its weakness in the Sixth Amendment context.  It then examines the Padilla decision itself and its progeny to date, and proposes a test for determining when a lawyer should be constitutionally required to notify a client about a particular statutory or regulatory consequence of conviction.  It concludes that the pension forfeiture at issue in Abraham meets that test.

Part III proposes three non-constitutional reforms “to complete Padilla’s unfinished business” where the substance of plea agreements is concerned.  The goal of these reforms is to minimize the extent to which harsh categorical sanctions destabilize the plea process on which the justice system has come to depend.  Using principles set forth in the ABA Criminal Justice Standards, the article recommends that jurisdictions should 1) compile and disseminate information about collateral sanctions; 2) eliminate those sanctions that are disproportionately severe or bear only a tenuous relationship to the crime; and 3) provide timely and effective ways to avoid or mitigate the sanctions that remain.  These reforms will not only shore up the plea system, they will propel a move away from a punitive model of collateral consequences that is frequently self-defeating and unfair, to one that can be justified in both moral and utilitarian terms.

July 13, 2011 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

"Blaine hacker who terrorized neighbors gets 18 years in federal prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local article from Minnesota reporting on an interesting federal sentencing proceeding for an (interesting?) cyber-criminal who ultimately received an above-guideline sentence.  Here are the details:

Federal prison sentences aren't computed this way, but the 18 years Blaine hacker Barry Ardolf was sentenced to Tuesday works out to one year for every 39.3 days of hell he put his victims through.

Matt Kostolnik told a judge that the 707 days his family spent living next to Ardolf were days of dread and fear.  Ardolf had waged a cybercampaign of terror against them, all because they called the cops after the man planted what they called a "wet kiss" on their young son's lips.  "I felt like me and my family were under attack.  I went numb that day," Kostolnik told U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank of the day of the kissing incident, which occurred the day after they moved into a house on a cul-de-sac next to Ardolf. ...

Ardolf, 46, then a technician at Medtronic, was a "certified ethical hacker," according to the bumper stickler above his bed, who used his skills to hack into the Kostolnik's wireless router.  He then opened email accounts in Kostolnik's name to send lewd and threatening messages to several people in the Kostolniks' lives.  Some emails threatened the vice president and other elected officials, while other messages, to Kostolnik's co-workers and bosses at the downtown Minneapolis law firm where he worked as a lawyer, included child pornography....

The sentence was less than the 24-year, five-month term that Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Rank had asked for.  The seasoned prosecutor, who has stared down murderers, told Frank that Ardolf's capacity for "ruthless cruelty" ranked him among the most dangerous people he'd ever prosecuted.

Defense lawyer Kevin O'Brien had argued that while Ardolf's conduct was bad, the man himself wasn't.  A sentence of no more than 6-1/2 years was appropriate, he argued. O'Brien is Ardolf's court-appointed "stand-by" counsel; the defendant fired his second attorney this year and declared that he wanted to represent himself....

Ardolf was charged in June 2010, agreed to a plea deal, rejected it, was indicted on more charges, went to trial and then halted the trial after a couple of days to plead guilty.  Then, on the eve of his sentencing in March, he told Frank he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea and get a "do-over" trial.  The judge rejected his arguments, setting the stage for Tuesday's proceedings....

Dressed in orange jail antimicrobial clothing and sometimes wearing two pairs of glasses simultaneously, Ardolf, a widower, began his comments by apologizing to the Kostolniks, his own three children and his family, some of whom were in the courtroom.   But he spent most of his time talking about himself, a trait that had prompted Rank to complain at a hearing in May that Ardolf was a narcissist unable to show true remorse or feeling for his victims....

He reeled off a list of recent prison sentences he'd read about in the paper -- including the 10-year sentence meted out to former auto mogul Denny Hecker this year -- and said that relatively speaking, his crime wasn't as bad as those of some people sent to prison for terms less than what he was facing. "I didn't kill anyone," he said.

Even O'Brien stretched to explain Ardolf's behavior, saying that when he first met him, he found him to be "too arrogant, not willing to listen.  The question now is, What is a reasonable sentence for such unreasonable acts?" O'Brien asked.  He acknowledged that Ardolf has "done some bizarre, hurtful acts."

Ardolf had pleaded guilty to unauthorized access to a protected computer, two counts of aggravated identity theft, possession and transmission of child pornography and making threats to the vice president.  Frank said he'd gotten a handful of letters on Ardolf's behalf; a common theme: the man didn't seem the same after his wife died suddenly two days before her 38th birthday....

Frank noted that when Ardolf's points were computed, the guidelines called for a maximum of 15 years and eight months.  But the judge said a harsher punishment -- 216 months, or 18 years -- was called for. "Anything any less than that would not serve the purposes of justice," he told Ardolf, who stood before the judge, hands clasped in front of him.

July 13, 2011 in Booker in district courts, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Michigan Supreme Court rules homelessness not a defense for sex offender failing to register

As detailed this effective local article, "Sex offenders must register and tell law enforcement where they can be found, even if they are homeless, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Monday." Here is more:

The court overturned a lower court ruling that a homeless sex offender shouldn't be punished for not registering an address or giving his whereabouts to law enforcement. Its four Republican members signed the majority opinion, sending the case back to Ingham Circuit Court.

"The Legislature intended SORA (Sex Offender Registration Act) to be a comprehensive system that requires all sex offenders to register, whether homeless or otherwise," Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. wrote in the opinion.  "An offender's homelessness in no way prevents that offender from physically entering a law enforcement agency" and reporting where he's living.

The three Democratic justices dissented, saying the majority's opinion "defies" common sense.  "Defendant had no 'residence' as that term is used in SORA. He had no habitual place at which to sleep. He had no place at which he kept his personal effects. Nor did he have a regular place of lodging,"  Justice Marilyn Kelly wrote for the minority.  "A park bench, highway underpass or steam grate may qualify as a place where a homeless individual sleeps, but they hardly qualify as a 'regular place of lodging' under the statute."...

In Monday's opinion, the majority said the definition of "residence" merely contemplates a "place," and that Dowdy had a legal duty under the law to report that place to police. The minority said the law required him to report his "residence" or "domicile," which it said he didn't have.

Legislation requiring homeless sex offenders to notify police when they change where they are staying passed the Michigan Senate last year but failed to pass the House.

The full Michigan Supreme Court opinion in Michigan v. Dowdy is available at this link.

July 13, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack