« November 13, 2011 - November 19, 2011 | Main | November 27, 2011 - December 3, 2011 »

November 21, 2011

North Carolina sex offender sentenced 5.5 to 7.5 years(!) for Facebook friending of victim

Because I am not a First Amendment expert, I am not sure if there are any viable constitutional arguments against punishing persons for using Facebook.  But as a sentencing expert, I am sure that this local story from North Carolina highlights how severe some punishments can be for sex offenders who use social media in prohibited ways.  Here are the details:

A convicted sex offender was sentenced to 66-89 months in prison Thursday after officials said he sent a Facebook "friend request" to one of his victims.   Victor Terrell Gaston, 36, of Reidsville, pleaded guilty to one count of using social media as a sex offender in Rockingham County Superior Court.  Judge Stuart Albright sentenced his as a habitual offender.

Officials say Gaston sent the request on July 4, exactly 10 years after the offense occurred in 2001.  Gaston had been ordered to not have contact with the victim. Gaston was arrested three days after sending the request. Officers said he had been using Facebook for about two weeks.

Gaston had been a registered sex offender since November 26, 2003.  He has previously been convicted of charges involving assault, larceny, indecent liberties with a child and burglary.

Rockingham County Chief Assistant District Attorney Julia Wolf Hejazi said it is important to keep sex offenders away from social media websites.  "Victims of sexual assaults have a right to be left alone, and this law helps to protect their privacy," Hejazi said, in a press release.

Some related posts:

UPDATE:  This recent AP article, which is headlined "Inmates harass victims via Facebook," highlights why the next bit important criminal law specialty may become social media and crime and punishment. Here is an excerpt:

Across the U.S. and beyond, inmates are using social networks and the growing numbers of smartphones smuggled into prisons and jails to harass their victims or accusers and intimidate witnesses.  California corrections officials who monitor social networking sites said they have found many instances in which inmates taunted victims or made unwanted sexual advances....

"The ability to have these kinds of contacts is increasing exponentially. In many ways, the law has not caught up with these changing technologies," said Rob Bovett, an Oregon district attorney...

Timothy Heaphy, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said criminals' use of social networks to reach witnesses has made his job harder. "We deal every day with witnesses who are afraid of being identified," he said.  "If there are increased instances where folks who are incarcerated can reach outside the walls of the jail, that's going to make it more difficult for us to get cooperation." ...

The issue has emerged as cell phones have proliferated behind bars. In California, home to the nation's largest inmate population, the corrections department confiscated 12,625 phones in just 10 months this year.  Six years ago, they found just 261.  The number of phones confiscated by the federal Bureau of Prisons has doubled since 2008, to 3,684 last year....

In the old days, those behind bars would have to enlist a relative or friend to harass or intimidate to get around no-contact orders.  Social networks now cut out the middle man....

Last June, Oregon legislators approved a law prohibiting inmates from contacting their domestic violence victims from behind bars.   In California, prison officials are working with Facebook to identify inmate accounts and take them down. But that only generally happens only after the damage is done.

November 21, 2011 in Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Might the health care litigation finally get SCOTUS to open up to cameras?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this commentary at Time by Andrew Cohen, which is titled "Why Won’t The Supreme Court Allow TV Cameras?."  Here is how it begins:

When the Supreme Court hears the constitutional challenge to President Obama’s health care program, the American people will be watching.  Well, make that: they should be watching, but they won’t be able to. We live in a media-saturated age, but the Supreme Court remains a camera-free zone.

C-SPAN wrote to the court last week asking for permission to televise the health care case.  C-SPAN would air the arguments itself and make the video available to other media outlets.  After many years of saying no to requests like this one, it is time for the Justices to say yes.

Not only do I agree that the health care SCOTUS arguments should be televised, I strongly believe that all Supreme Court arguments should be recorded on video.  I am not merely a strong advocate in transparency in this context, but I also believe that recorded SCOTUS arguments would make an incredible resource for law students and law schools both in real time and for history.  It would be amazing (and amazingly useful) if law schools could live-stream SCOTUS arguments and then have class discussions about Justices' questions and the lawyers' advocacy.

I am hopeful (though not yet optimistic) that the Justices will come to recognize not only the importance of allowing cameras to cover the health care arguments, but also will thereafter appreciate the potential benefits of having all the Court's arguments recorded.

November 21, 2011 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2011

"Lifers are growing part of prison population"

The title of this post is the headline of this local article from Pennsylvania, which gets started this way:

What's behind the increase of older inmates in the state prison system?  Experts point to everything from aging baby boomers and longer life spans to overall prison population growth and a trend toward stiffer sentences.

"Lifers" make up a sizable portion of the elderly state prison population, said Dr. Larry Rosenberg, a Millersville University assistant professor of sociology who teaches a course on modern corrections.

The elderly prison population also includes repeat offenders incarcerated after their "third strike" and inmates serving long sentences for crimes committed in their 40s and 50s, he said.

Older men are generally less likely to commit violent crimes, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said.  His office also prosecutes only a small number of drug dealers over age 40, he said.

But Stedman has noticed a recent increase in older sex offenders. "We do prosecute a lot of older men for these offenses compared to other crimes, and they tend to get the long sentences, which keep them in," he said.

Regardless of why they landed in prison, it's increasingly difficult for inmates of any age to get out.  Nearly 4,800 men and women currently are serving life sentences in state prisons.

November 20, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New documentary looks at "Young Kids, Hard Time"

Anyone concerned with juvenile crime and punishments (including Supreme Court Justices, who are starting to develop a whole Eighth Amendment jurisprudence on this front) ought to be sure to set their DVRs tonight at 10 pm EST to MSNBC, which will be premiering a one-hour documentary titled " "Young Kids, Hard Time."  A five-minute clip of Act One of the documentary is available at this link, where there is also this summary of the program:

Young Kids, Hard Time is an extraordinary new series from Calamari Productions and MSNBC that throws back the veil on the reality of young kids serving long sentences behind adult prison walls.  With sweeping access to go inside the maximum security Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Indiana -- the only adult prison in the state of Indiana that houses kids sentenced as adults -- Young Kids, Hard Time reveals what life is like for young kids staring down decades behind bars.  Wabash Valley is home to the Youth Incarcerated As Adults cellblock (YIA), where 53 kids eat, sleep, study and recreate while being alienated from their adult counterparts.  But once a youth turns 18, they are transitioned into the adult population, where thousands of adult prisoners await.

UPDATE:  The Scripps Howard News Service has run a series of articles based on investigation of kids serving adult time, which is reported in these two new pieces:

This second piece includes this notable data:

Nine thousand times a year, U.S. judges move juvenile suspects into criminal court, opening the door to a stay in adult jail. While judges say these transfers are meant for youths suspected of the most dangerous offenses, only two out of five transferred youths stands accused of a violent crime against another person, the Scripps Howard News Service found in analyzing data from almost a quarter-million cases. Most youths moved to adult court are charged with crimes involving drugs, weapons or property....

Most transferred juveniles face charges for crimes other than murder, rape, robbery or assault, National Center for Juvenile Justice data show. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit publishes records covering 228,771 cases moved from youth court to the adult criminal justice system from 1985 to 2008....

Even a very young age doesn't exempt defendants from transfer. The database shows some 1,528 suspects 12 or younger were transferred, including 623 charged with violent crimes. More — 651 — faced charges of property crimes.

November 20, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack