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April 30, 2012

Remarkable new trial order in remarkable federal prosecution over house cleaner

A helpful reader altered me to a remarkable 50-page order issued last week by Judge Douglas Woodlock in US v. Henderson, No. 09-10028 (D. Mass. Apr. 25, 2012) (available here). The underlying case seems drawn from a Kafka novel, though Judge Woodlock references other authors (ranging from Emerson to Macaulay to Shakespeare to Thucydides) in the course of ordering a new trial. The full opinion merits a full read, and here is how it gets started:

In this criminal case the heedless, hapless, and negligent hypocrisy of the defendant confronts the stern, solemn, and implacable sanctimony of the government over a matter of household employment: the periodic engagement of a cleaning lady.

Now before me is the question whether a jury verdict supporting a felony conviction should stand in a case where an unmarried professional woman -- with supervisory responsibility for the government in enforcing immigration laws -- employed a person she came to learn was an illegal alien to clean her home from time to time and, when asked, advised the cleaning lady generally about immigration law practices and consequences.  The question is framed by the defendant’s renewed motion for a judgment of acquittal and, in the alternative, by her motion for a new trial.

The cleaning lady’s employment was not itself illegal under regulations promulgated by the Attorney General of the United States.  And the empathetic advice that the defendant gave her cleaning lady about immigration law practices -- induced from the defendant as part of the script contrived for an elaborate undercover investigation involving surreptitious electronic recordings into her relationship with the cleaning lady -- did not advise the cleaning lady to engage in fraud or commit some other crime.

Yet Customs and Border Protection administrative rules prohibit CBP personnel like the defendant from employing an illegal alien, sanctioning such conduct on a spectrum from a fourteen day suspension to removal.  And, more menacingly, a federal criminal statute carrying a five year maximum incarcerative sentence makes it a felony to “encourage or induce” an illegal alien “to reside” in this country.

The defendant's employment of an illegal alien as an intermittent cleaning lady in her home coupled with the immigration advice she gave her was considered sufficient by an earlier administration of the United States Attorney’s Office to mount this felony prosecution. The Office determined to exercise its considerable discretion, despite the fact that the parallel misdemeanor provision treats even more significant conduct as de minimis and consequently not meriting criminal sanction, to initiate this unusual prosecution under a felony statute designed to address conduct so serious that it provides a predicate for application of the blunderbuss Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) statute...

I view the pursuit of this case to have been overkill through the improvident invocation of federal criminal felony process when alternative administrative sanctions more closely tailored to the significance of the misconduct are available and adequate.  And I am puzzled by the dogged consistency which causes this prosecution to continue.  However, my responsibilities at this point are limited to determining whether the federal criminal law can permit such a prosecution and, if so, how a fair trial of such a prosecution may be managed.

After careful and extended review of the serious felony criminal statute the government invokes, I must conclude -- under principles of statutory construction applicable to criminal provisions -- that the government has the power to pursue such a prosecution.  However, I also must conclude -- in light of case law developing in the federal appellate courts while I have had this matter under advisement -- that my instructions to the jury as to the elements of the crime were inadequate, and that a new trial is warranted in which appropriate jury instructions fashioned in response to recent developments in the case law will be delivered.

I suppose we all should be pleased to learn that federal criminal offending is so rare in Massachusetts that the federal prosecutors have ample time to go after folks for mistakes they make in hiring someone to clean their townhouse every few weeks.  But given my sense that federal tax dollars could and should be put to more pressing matters, I cannot take much pleasure in learning just what some folks in Boston decided should be made a federal felony case.

April 30, 2012 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

"High court should hear Rubashkin to consider overzealous DOJ and judge who was essentially on prosecution team"

The title of this post is drawn from the subheading of this new commentary in the National Law Journal by Alan Dershowitz and Ronald Rotunda, which carries a main headline of "Prosecutorial and judicial misconduct."  Regular readers are likely familiar with the Rubashkin case because I have blogged a lot about its sentencing elements.  (As reported here, with the help of the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF), last year I filed an amicus brief on sentencing issues when this case was before the Eighth Circuit; as I will discuss in some future posts, I have lately been working up an amicus brief urge SCOTUS to take up the case to resolve splits over reasonableness review in the circuits.) 

Here are excerpts from the Dershowitz and Rotunda commentary:

Lawyers for Sholom Rubashkin — Paul Clement and Nathan Lewin — filed last month a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. Rubashkin is seeking relief from the Supreme Court because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit refused to consider evidence that Rubashkin first discovered after the trial that made the trial fundamentally unfair.

Indeed, during the past few years, a series of federal judges have criticized the U.S. Department of Justice for prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Emmet Sullivan of D.C. district court, who ordered a criminal investigation into the actions of prosecutors in the trial of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, suggested that the case reflected deeper problems at the Justice Department. Chief Judge Mark Wolf of the District of Massachusetts found that he regularly presided over cases where federal prosecutors withheld important evidence, about every other year for the past two decades.

It's happened again, but this time the judge herself is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  When Agriprocessors, an Iowa kosher processing plant, learned that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) was concerned about its hiring practices and planned a raid, it hired a law firm to contact ICE and offered to cooperate with the authorities in terminating undocumented workers. ICE did not reply. Instead, on May 12, 2008, it launched a highly publicized raid, with about 600 agents in riot gear, accompanied by a Blackhawk helicopter. Agents arrested 389 workers. Five months later, the government arrested the plant's manager, Sholom Rubashkin, on charges of harboring illegal immigrants, but ICE's case had problems. For example, it turned out that an undercover ICE agent had twice tried to secure employment at this plant, but he was turned away because he did not have the proper papers. It would not do to have such a dramatic raid and nothing to show for it. The Justice Department filed seven superseding indictments charging bank fraud. The indictments included a creative theory — that Rubashkin falsely certified to the bank that Agriprocessors was complying with all the laws even though it was employing undocumented aliens. The federal jury did convict on the bank fraud charges, and the federal government dropped all immigration charges....

Federal prosecutors recommended life imprisonment. After widespread criticism of such a harsh sentence by many people (including six former U.S. attorneys general), the government asked for a 25-year sentence. Judge Linda Reade, the trial judge, imposed 27 years instead.

But Reade did more than impose a disproportionate sentence. After Rubashkin's conviction and sentence, defense lawyers learned that Reade, over a six-month period, had been actively engaged in planning the Agriprocessors raid. E-mails and affidavits showed that, long before the raid occurred, Reade met with ICE agents to discuss "charging strategies, numbers of anticipated arrests and prosecutions, logistics, the movement of detainees, and other issues related" to the investigation and operation. At one meeting, which law-enforcement personnel attended at the judge's request, the judge stated that she was "willing to support the operation in any way possible, to include staffing and scheduling." She was essentially part of the prosecution team....

The judge and the prosecutors should have notified Rubashkin's lawyers that she had participated in planning the raid so that they could move to recuse her. Failure to do so was prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.

Related posts on the Rubashkin case:

April 30, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Florida cases support(?) DOJ's expressed concerns about white-collar sentencing disparities

In a speech last month (reported here), AAG Lanny Breuer continued the Justice Department's tendency to lament what it sees as growing post-Booker sentencing disparities, especially in white-collar sentencing. Specifically, in this speech, Breuer complained that "with increasing frequency, federal district courts have been sentencing fraud offenders -- especially offenders involved in high-loss fraud cases -- inconsistently."  Assuming DOJ is keeping a file with examples of this disparity, this new sentencing story from Florida, headlined "Marian Morgan sentenced to 35 years in prison," provides seemingly strong support for these concerns.   Here is how the local story gets started:

Convicted in September for running a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme from her Sarasota mansion, Marian Morgan on Friday was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison.

That's more than twice as long as the sentences for two other notorious Sarasota-based fraud perpetrators — Arthur Nadel and Beau Diamond — even though Morgan's scheme involved fewer victims and less money overall....

Defense attorney Todd Foster argued that Morgan, 57, would be unlikely to turn to crime again if released after 15 to 20 years.  The judge countered that recidivism would not be an issue because of the length of the sentence.

A federal pre-sentencing report recommended Morgan's prison time be based on the size of the fraud; the number of victims; and the sophistication of the crime, among other criteria.  Morgan and her husband, John, stole roughly $28 million from 87 victims, prosecutors said during trial.

Of course, what looks on the surface to be an ugly example of so-called sentencing disparity might upon closer examination really turn out to be more of an ugly example of the so-called trial penalty.  Consider these additional details:

Morgan and her husband were indicted last summer on 22 felony counts that included wire and mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Their Ponzi scheme came to light shortly after two others that were also hatched in Sarasota — Nadel's Scoop Management and Beau Diamond's Diamond Ventures scams.

Diamond was convicted at trial of stealing more money than the Morgans and from more investors.  He is currently serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison in Miami. Nadel robbed more than 400 investors of $162 million, prosecutors determined. Instead of going to trial, Nadel plead guilty to 15 felony fraud counts and was sentenced to 14 years in prison in October 2010.  He died earlier this month in North Carolina at age 79.

In contrast to his wife, John Morgan received a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty to a pair of felony counts. He also agreed to co-operate with prosecutors — which included providing information against his wife....

Marian Morgan, who as managing director of Morgan European Holdings had the most interaction with investors, was defiant to the end. She turned down a plea deal last fall that would have limited her sentence to 18 years, choosing instead to go to trial....

[Morgan's] victims were lured by the promise of monthly double digit returns, with payoffs as short as three months in some cases.  Instead, investors received only frequent emails from Marian Morgan, which promised payments were to arrive soon.  She also offered detailed explanations concerning delays, and later in the scheme threatened that investors would never see their principal again if they contacted authorities....

Morgan plans to appeal her sentence through Tampa defense attorney Barry Cohen. Long and other victims have alleged the money to pay both Cohen and Foster may have come from investors in the Ponzi scheme.  Morgan will likely be imprisoned well into her eighties, even with time already served in Pinellas and time off for good behavior.

Based on this article, it would seem that the "going rate" at sentencing for a significant Ponzi scheme in south Florida is somewhere around 15-years in federal prison.  With this number in mind, the 10-year prison term given to the cooperating Mr. Morgan seems roughly in line with local norms with a five-year discount for cooperation.  And the plea offer capping Ms. Morgan's sentencing exposure at 18 years coming from the feds also seems reasonable under the circumstances.

And yet Ms. Morgan gets with a 35-year prison term (and I suspect that the recommended guidelines range may have been even higher).  If DOJ is truly concerned about unwarranted sentencing disparity in financial fraud cases — rather than, as I fear, really just concerned about the post-Booker potential for unwarranted sentencing leniency or about some defendants who have the temerity to exercise their trial rights not having to pay an extra heavy sentencing price — then federal prosecutors ought to consider supporting Ms. Morgan's sentencing appeal to the Eleventh Circuit.  But I would bet a whole lot of money that on appeal federal prosecutors will defend this extremely long white-collar sentence as reasonable even though it surely does appear out of line with the sentences given to similar defendants convicted of similar crimes.

April 30, 2012 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Do capital repeal and three-strikes reform initiatives help or hurt each other in California?

As noted in this prior post, it became official last week that Californians will get a chance to vote this fall on a ballot initiative to repeal the state's death penalty.  In addition, as reported in this effective press story from late last week headlined "Three Strikes Law initiative likely to qualify for Nov. ballot," it also now appears that voters at the same time will have a chance to reform the state's (in)famously harsh three-strikes sentencing law. Here are the basics on that front:

An initiative written by Stanford University professors to scale back California's tough Three Strikes Law has garnered more than 830,000 signatures of support, virtually ensuring the measure will make the November ballot and triggering the state's latest struggle over how harshly criminals should be treated.

California is the only one of the 26 states with three strikes laws to allow prosecutors to charge any felony as a third strike -- and then to lock up the offenders for 25 years to life. The proposed initiative would reserve that penalty for the baddest of the bad, including murderers, rapists and child molesters.

Supporters turned in more than 830,000 signatures to state election officials Thursday -- 504,760 more than needed. They also announced the endorsement of Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley -- a Republican -- marking a crucial step toward a bipartisan coalition.

"The Three Strikes Reform Act is right for California," Cooley said. "It will ensure the punishment fits the crime. Dangerous recidivist criminals will remain behind bars for life, and our overflowing prisons will not be clogged with inmates who pose no risk to public safety."

Under the existing Three Strikes sentencing scheme, offenders who have committed such relatively minor third strikes as stealing a pair of socks, attempting to break into a soup kitchen to get something to eat and forging a check for $146 at Nordstrom have been sentenced to life in prison.

Cooley's support is particularly notable because he has taken a conservative position on two other criminal-justice controversies in California. He opposes a November ballot measure that would scrap the death penalty and has sharply criticized the Legislature's massive "realignment" program, which started in October to relieve prison overcrowding, for effectively reducing the amount of time low-level offenders spend behind bars.

But Mike Reynolds, a Fresno man who helped draft the Three Strikes Law after his daughter was slain in 1992 by two repeat offenders, said prosecutors like Cooley should have more discretion over how to charge anyone with two strikes on their record who commits another felony, no matter how minor. "It's easy if you live in Palo Alto, where Stanford is and where it's safe, to be for this," Reynolds said. "The only question voters need to answer is which of these offenders with at least two serious or violent convictions on their record would you like to have living next door to you? And if you wouldn't want them next door to you, why would you put them next to any California family?"...

The new measure would allow only certain hard-core criminals to be put away for life for any felony offense, including shoplifting, while restricting the third strike to a serious or violent felony for everyone else.  It also does not include changing the rules for second-strikers, which currently call for sentences to be doubled in many cases, even if the second offense is not serious or violent.  Although an effort to alter the law in 2004 required third-strikers whose last offense was nonviolent and nonserious to be resentenced, the new initiative would allow only third-strikers to ask the courts to resentence them.

District attorneys in the Bay Area are expected to support the initiative, though several were noncommittal about it Thursday.  A spokeswoman for Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said she doesn't take a position on pending initiatives. Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo's top prosecutor, said he would "not be bothered if it won" because it already is extremely rare for his office to seek life sentences for people who commit nonviolent or nonserious offenses, with the exception of sex crimes.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said he'll make a final decision after a meeting in June of the California District Attorneys Association.  "I believe the Three Strikes Law should be reformed," Rosen said through a spokesman.  "The Stanford initiative contains some good ideas."...

Advocates predict the savings will prove persuasive, particularly with critical swing voters, though they also plan to frame the campaign in terms of public safety and fairness.  A previous measure in 2004 failed by about 3 percentage points after a last-minute media blitz by then-Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Gov. Pete Wilson. Brown has declined to comment on the current effort.

Opposition to the new measure is expected to come largely from the Central Valley and parts of Southern California.  The previous measure, Proposition 66, sought to limit felonies that trigger a third strike to violent or serious crimes in every case.

This latest effort to reform California's three-strikes law via inititative is fascinating and worth watching closely in its own right.   But the fact that this reform effort will appear on the ballot (and likely get less attention both nationwide and within California) at the same time as an inititative to repeal yhe state's death penalty adds an extra important (and distorting?) element to the public discourse. 

I can readily imagine some (many? most?) criminal justice reform advocates urging a "yes" vote on both the death penalty repeal and the three-strike reform initiatives. For example, this recent editorial from the San Francisco Examiner, headlined "Time to end the death penalty, reform three-strikes law," wastes little time getting on record support for both initiatives. 

But, as the report above highlights, there is reason to expect some (many? most?) California prosecutors will be fine with the three-strikes reform initiative but will oppose repeal of the death penalty.  In addition, I would not be surprised if some hard-core death penalty abolitionists will express no more than luke-warm support for three-strikes reform if (when?) any polling data suggest that voters may be likely to vote for only one and not both of these sentencing reform proposals.

For a whole bunch of reasons, I do not think these distinct California reform initiative should necessarily stand or fall together.  And yet, I will not be surprised if they do, and I also cannot figure out if this reality makes me extra excited or extra concerned about crime and punishment debates in California over the next sixth months. 

April 30, 2012 in Applicability of Blakely to FSG, Death Penalty Reforms, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

SCOTUS grants cert to consider Padilla's retroactivity

Hard-core criminal procedure fans have to be giddy this morning based on the news in this Supreme Court order list: the Justices have granted cert in Chaidez v. US concerning whether the decision in Padilla applies retroactively to persons whose convictions became final before its announcement.  This is not a huge surprise, in part because the SG's office had urged SCOTUS to grant cert on this issue.

SCOTUSblog has this helpful case page on the Chaidez case.  I suspect and expect this case will end up generating lots of intriguing amicus briefing on both sides, in large part because Chaidez has the potential to be the most significant Teague retroactivity ruling in many years.

April 30, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Maryland's distinctive (and mysterious) approach to sentencing review

A recent high-profile and sad drunk-driving case has brought new attention to a low-profile and distinctive aspect of Maryland's sentencing system.  This recent local article, headlined "'Endless' sentencing hearings in Maryland take toll on victims, families," discusses the cases and surrounding proceedings that have generated significant attention in the Old Line State:

In January, Carolyn Hoover sat in a packed Montgomery County courtroom to watch a judge sentence the young man who drunkenly crashed his car into a telephone pole and trees, killing her son and two others.

Less than four months later, her family was back in court for another sentencing hearing, and a three-judge panel cut 21-year-old Kevin Coffay's prison term from 20 years to eight.

"I felt sick inside," said Hoover, whose 20-year-old son, John, was killed. All involved in the crash attended Magruder High School or were recent graduates. "Every time we have to go to another hearing, it sets us back months."

The case has raised questions about an unusual and little-known Maryland law that lets defendants ask for a new sentence from a three-judge panel, even if there was nothing illegal about their original punishment. The result can be an agonizing process for victims and their families, who are often taken by surprise and must endure numerous court dates yet never feel like a case has reached its end....

It's difficult to tell how often panels review sentences and reduce them. David Soule, executive director of the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy, said the commission does not keep data on sentencing review panels. A Maryland courts spokeswoman and local state's attorney's offices also could not provide that data.

In addition to the panels, defendants can also ask their sentencing judge to reconsider a sentence. It's routine for defendants to request a new sentence through at least one of those avenues, said Seth Zucker, spokesman for the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office.

Most requests for sentencing panels are denied without a hearing and the sentences remain unchanged, said Byron Warnken, a Maryland lawyer who specializes in post-conviction work. But when a hearing is granted, the sentence is reduced about three-quarters of the time, he estimated.

The three-judge panels are most likely to reduce lengthy sentences, Warnken said. "They can throw you a bone without letting you walk away from prison," he said....

Combined with parole and other appeals, prosecutors and victims advocates say, there's often no end in sight. "Our concern here is the virtually endless review process for even legal sentences," Zucker said.

Hoover said the process has made it nearly impossible to move forward after her son's death. "I would rather have had a lighter sentence to begin with and not go through what we had to go through," she said.

This companion article, headlined "Panels created to quell controversy," provides this brief backstory concerning Maryland's sentence review panels:

The sentencing review panels now under fire in Maryland due to a recent drunken-driving case in Montgomery County were created in hopes of quelling controversy over sentences.

A law creating the three-judge panels was enacted after a 1965 report on criminal sentences in the state found "alarmingly disparate" penalties, according to Maryland Court of Appeals opinions that address the act and its history.

I tend to be a strong proponent of strong mechanisms for appellate review of sentencing decisions by individual judges, and thus I am very drawn to the structure of Maryland's means for reviewing sentences. But such a review system ought to bring greater regularity and transparency to the sentencing process, and yet this article suggested Maryland's practice seems wrapped in irregularity and uncertainty.

April 30, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 29, 2012

"Debate rages over severity of child-porn sentences"

The AP has this lengthy new piece, sharing the headline of this post, on what is now a fairly old story: federal judges and others highlighting that the guideline sentences for child porn downloaders seem often unduly harsh.  I am not aware of any major new developments on this front, but these excerpts from the AP piece effectively review recent parts of this long-running debate over federal sentencing law and practices:

Their crimes are so loathsome that some hardened courtroom veterans recoil at viewing the evidence.  Yet child-pornography offenders are now the focus of an intense debate within the legal community as to whether the federal sentences they face have become, in many cases, too severe.

By the end of this year, after a review dating to 2009, the U.S. Sentencing Commission plans to release a report that's likely to propose changes to the sentencing guidelines that it oversees.  It's a daunting task, given the polarized viewpoints that the commission is weighing.  The issue "is highly charged, both emotionally and politically," said one of the six commissioners, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell.

On one side of the debate, many federal judges and public defenders say repeated moves by Congress to toughen the penalties over the past 25 years have badly skewed the guidelines, to the point where offenders who possess and distribute child pornography can go to prison for longer than those who actually rape or sexually abuse a child.  In a 2010 survey of federal judges by the Sentencing Commission, about 70 percent said the proposed ranges of sentences for possession and receipt of child pornography were too high.  Demonstrating their displeasure, federal judges issued child porn sentences below the guidelines 45 percent of the time in 2010, more than double the rate for all other crimes.

On the other hand, some prosecutors and members of Congress, as well as advocates for sexual-abuse victims, oppose any push for more leniency.  At a public hearing in February, the Sentencing Commission received a victim's statement lamenting that child pornography offenders "are being entertained by my shame and pain."...

Once completed, the Sentencing Commission report will be submitted to Congress, which could shelve it or incorporate its recommendations into new legislation.  Already, the commission has conveyed some concerns.  In a 2010 report on mandatory minimum sentences, the commission said the penalties for certain child pornography offenses "may be excessively severe and as a result are being applied inconsistently."

However, similar misgivings voiced by the commission in previous years failed to deter Congress from repeatedly ratcheting up the penalties - including legislation in 2003 that more than doubled average sentences for child pornography crimes....

In a recent article for the journal of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and former federal prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa criticized the approach by Congress.  "The fact that child pornography offenders can be given longer sentences than child abusers or violent offenders reflects a lack of care by Congress," Specter and Hoffa wrote.  "In the rush to prove itself hostile to individuals who possess or distribute child pornography, Congress has obscured the real distinctions between different offenders."...

As a backdrop to the sentencing debate, Internet-based child pornography has proliferated, and the crime is an increasingly high priority for federal law enforcement agents.  According to the Justice Department, federal prosecutors obtained at least 2,713 indictments for sexual exploitation of minors in 2011, up from 1,901 in 2006....

There's one point of agreement in the sentencing debate: All parties agree that penalties should remain severe -- or be toughened -- for those who produce and promote child pornography.  A key point of contention, by contrast, is the degree to which offenders charged with receipt and possession of child porn pose a risk of physically abusing children themselves, as opposed to looking at images of abuse....

Susan Howley, public policy director for the National Center for Victims of Crime, has been urging those involved in the debate to keep the victims in mind.  She says they face higher risk of developing mental health disorders, sexual dysfunction and substance abuse problems. "While sentencing does not appear to be the perfect tool to reduce the market for child abuse images, it is one of the few tools available," Howley told the public hearing in February. "Through sentencing we express to society, and to the individual victims and family members harmed, that we recognize the seriousness of this offense."

A few related older and more recent child porn prosecution and sentencing posts:

April 29, 2012 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Open thread for reflections the 20-year anniversary of the LA "acquittal" riots

NA-BQ529_LARIOT_G_20120427171803I can hardly believe it has already been two decades since the sad and stunning multi-day riots in Los Angeles, which followed the (surprising?) acquittal by an all-white state jury of four white LA police officers who were videotaped severely beating Rodney King following a traffic stop.  There were so many elements to the role of race and media and criminal justice surrounding the Rodeny King events, and sentencing fans also know that the subsequent federal prosecution of the officers involved in the videotaped beating led to Koon v. United States, the most important and consequential Supreme Court ruling about the operation of the federal sentencing guidelines in the period post-Mistretta and pre-Booker.

I suspect many readers of this blog remember many (different) aspects of all the Rodney King events, and I welcome reflections of all sorts on this 20th anniversary of the most violent and remarkable moment in what was ultimately a multi-year saga.  Ever the sentencing nerd, and because the SCOTUS ruling in Koon was the focal point of much of my pre-Booker scholarly writing about the federal sentencing system, I am tempted to opine at length about what the Supreme Court did right and did wrong in Koon.  But readers really interested in that part of the story can and should just check out my (still timely?) article on this topic, Balanced and Purposeful Departures: Fixing A Jurisprudence That Undermines the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, 76 Notre Dame Law Review 21 (2000).

Rather than focus on federal sentencing (and its enduring challenges), perhaps here it is worthwhile to recall Rodney King's famous quote when asked to comment about the riots and the seemingly positive subsequent tales of race relations in LA.   King famously asked back in 1992, “Can we all get along? . . . I mean, we're all stuck here for a while. Let's try to work it out.”  And this Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Twenty Years Later, L.A.'s Divisions Fade: Attitudes Toward Police and Race Relations Have Turned Positive Since Devastating Riots; Economy Is Big Concern Now," suggests we now have a decent answer to this query.

April 29, 2012 in Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack