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May 21, 2012

Public policy groups urge Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate US Pardon Attorney Office

As this new press release reports, Families Against Mandatory Minimums "today released a letter signed by more than three dozen criminal justice reform, religious and civil rights organizations urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate the Office of Pardon Attorney (OPA) at the U.S. Department of Justice."  The text of this letter is available at this link, and here is an excerpt:

The news story jointly published by ProPublica and The Washington Post on May 14 [blogged here] revealed disturbing new information about misconduct in the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) at the U.S. Department of Justice with regard to applicants for sentence commutations. The story follows an earlier report released last December about OPA’s role in the pardon process.  For those of us who were already concerned that the OPA was hindering the clemency process, the two stories confirmed our fears.  It is time for action. We urge you to investigate the activities of the OPA since at least 2001 and to hold an oversight hearing as soon as possible to review the serious questions that have been raised in these news reports....

The OPA was created ostensibly to assist the president in the exercise of this important function.  The recent media investigations into the OPA’s activities, however, suggest that there are troubling racial disparities in the application of pardons and that OPA is withholding or misrepresenting critical information from the presidents it is supposed to serve.  Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize an office that is abusing its power, nor should applicants for executive clemency face a deck that is stacked against them in secret.

Related posts concerning federal clemency practices:

May 21, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What can and should we learn from the new "National Registry of Exonerations"?

As effectively reported via MSM coverage from CNN and the AP and other sources, today marked the roll-out of this amazing new web resource stlyed "The National Registry of Exonerations."  As explained on the site, this registry "is a joint project of the University of the Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law" and it aspires to "maintain an up to date list of all known exonerations in the United States since 1989." This press release via the folks at Northwestern provides some of the highlights (or should I say lowlights) about what this registry reveals and should teach us about mistakes in the criminal justice system:

More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in America in the past 23 years. Nearly 900 of these exonerations are profiled, with searchable data and summaries of the cases on the National Registry of Exonerations...

More than 1,000 additional cases are “group exonerations” that occurred in response to 13 separate police corruption scandals, most of which involved massive planting of drugs and guns on innocent defendants. The group exonerations are described in a report from the National Registry, “Exonerations in the United States, 1989 – 2012,” but are not included in the registry itself.

As the report documents in detail, there are many more false convictions and exonerations that have not been found. “The National Registry of Exonerations gives an unprecedented view of the scope of the problem of wrongful convictions in the United States,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. “It’s a widespread problem.” “It used to be that almost all the exonerations we knew about were murder and rape cases. We’re finally beginning to see beyond that,” said Michigan Law professor Samuel Gross, editor of the registry and an author of the report. “This is a sea change.”

The report includes the following cases, most of which do not appear in any previous compilation:

  • 58 exonerations for drug, tax, white collar and other non-violent crimes
  • 39 exonerations in federal cases
  • 102 exonerations for child sex-abuse convictions
  • 129 exonerations of defendants who were convicted of crimes that never happened
  • 135 exonerations of defendants who confessed to crimes they didn’t commit
  • 71 exonerations of innocent defendants who pled guilty

Plus more than 1,000 group exoneration cases – including more than 200 drivers who were framed for drunk driving by police officers, who usually stole money from their wallets in the process.

[T]he cases in the registry show that false convictions are not one type of problem but several that require different types of solutions.

  • For murder, the biggest problem is perjury, usually by a witness who claims to have witnessed the crime or participated in it. Murder exoneration also include many false confessions.
  • In rape cases, false convictions are almost always based on eyewitness mistakes -- more often than not, mistakes by white victims who misidentify black defendants.
  • False convictions for robbery are also almost always caused by eyewitness misidentifications, but there are few exonerations because DNA evidence is hardly ever useful in robbery cases.
  • Child sex abuse exonerations are almost all about fabricated crimes that never occurred.

The 10 states with the most exonerations are Illinois, New York, Texas, California, Michigan, Louisiana, Florida, Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania (not counting the 39 exonerations in federal cases). The states with most exonerations are not necessarily those where most false convictions have occurred. “It’s clear that the exonerations we found are the tip of an iceberg,” said Gross. “Most people who are falsely convicted are not exonerated; they serve their time or die in prison. And when they are exonerated, a lot of times it happens quietly, out of public view.”

I hope to find some time to review the summary findings and this full report from the registry in order to draw some additional (sentencing-related?) lessons from this extraordinarily important and valuable new criminal justice resource.

May 21, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Dharun Ravi sentenced to only 30 days in jail in NJ webcam case

As reported in this ABC News piece, "former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail by a New Jersey judge today for spying on his roommate's gay tryst."  Here are more about the basics:

"I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi," Judge Glenn Berman told the court.  "He had no reason to, but I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity."... "I heard this jury say, 'guilty' 288 times--24 questions, 12 jurors.  That's the multiplication," Berman said. "I haven't heard you apologize once."

The prosecution, which sought a significant prison term, indicated it will appeal the judge's sentence.

Before the judge's sentencing, Ravi's mother delivered an emotional plea for leniency during which she and her son both broke into tears. At the end of her plea, Ravi's mother threw herself on her son, sobbing and hugging him.

In March, Ravi was found guilty of a bias crime for using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate Tyler Clementi.  The family of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide after his roommate broadcast a gay sexual tryst, bitterly asked the judge today to sentence Ravi to prison time.

Clementi's father, Joseph Clementi, told the judge, "One of Tyler's last actions was to check Ravi's Twitter page" and noted that his son checked his roommate's Twitter page 37 times before leaving the Rutgers campus and driving to the George Washington Bridge where he jumped to his death....

Ravi was convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest, stemming from his role in activating the webcam to peek at Clementi's date with a man in the dorm room on Sept. 19, 2010.

I think this sentence is a bit light, all things considered, but the many direct and indirect consequences of the prosecution and convictions that Ravi has endured and will continue to face (including potential deportation) arguably is greater punishment than any jail term.  These varied criminal justice consequences ought also help in some small way deter others from similar acts of "colossal insensitivity," though nobody should really expect this case (or any punishment for Ravi) to really impact the tendency of young people to be insensitive sometimes.

I have no idea if NJ state prosecutors have much chance of getting a longer sentence through an appeal; perhaps some local NJ lawyers might report if they do.  Especially in these lean budget times, I do not quite see why an appeal here would be a wise use of limited resources unless prosecutors can identify some legal error in the sentencing process for Ravi.

May 21, 2012 in Celebrity sentencings, Collateral consequences, Offense Characteristics, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Celebrity federal drug sentencing appeal prompts doctors' brief urging treatment over punishment

This morning's New York Times has this article, headlined "Doctors Seek New Approach for Jailed Addicts," discussing a notable appellate brief filed in a high-profile federal drug sentencing case.  Here are the interesting details:

A group of prominent addiction doctors has mounted a quiet legal campaign on behalf of Cameron Douglas, the troubled son of the actor Michael Douglas, in hopes of finding a sympathetic ear for their view that drug addiction is best handled with more treatment, not more prison time.

In December, Mr. Douglas, who is 33 and already serving a five-year federal sentence for drug distribution and heroin possession, was sentenced to an additional four and a half years after being caught behind bars with heroin and Suboxone, a prescription medication used to blunt the pull of opioid addiction.

And it was that sentence, believed to be one of the harshest ever handed down by a federal judge for drug possession for an incarcerated prisoner, that prompted about two dozen addiction doctors and groups to file a brief on behalf of Mr. Douglas, whose case is under review by a panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Their argument is that Mr. Douglas, who began injecting heroin daily in his mid-20s, is a textbook example “of someone suffering from untreated opioid dependence” and that more prison time would do nothing to solve his underlying problems.  “My outrage is as a physician for someone who has a medical condition which has been ignored,” said one of the brief’s signees, Dr. Robert Newman, the director of the Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center. “What the judge has imposed has zero benefits for the community and has staggering consequences for society.”

The sentence, handed down by Judge Richard M. Berman of Federal District Court in Manhattan, came after heroin and Suboxone was found in a cell Mr. Douglas was occupying at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, while testifying against a former drug supplier.  Shortly after that, he pleaded guilty to one count of drug possession by a federal prisoner.

Such charges are unusual; most inmates caught with drugs behind bars are sanctioned administratively with loss of prison privileges, said Daniel N. Abrahamson, the director of legal affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, the drug reform group that drafted the brief. Those punishments have also been levied on Mr. Douglas, whose penalties have included stints of isolated confinement in his cell and loss of family visits.

At a sentencing in December, prosecutors asked for an additional term of anywhere from 18 to 24 months, according to Mr. Douglas’s appeal.  But Judge Berman made it clear that his patience with Mr. Douglas was done, saying the inmate had been “continuously reckless, disruptive and noncompliant” and had repeatedly squandered opportunities and refused to obey the law.

Mr. Douglas would seem an unlikely candidate for a cause célèbre, as the scion of an acting family.  But Mr. Abrahamson said the case had little to do with Mr. Douglas’s fame, though he acknowledged that few inmates have the resources needed to wage an appeal in federal court.  He said the goal of the brief was not only to help obtain a reduction, or dismissal, of Mr. Douglas’s 54-month sentence, but also to have the appellate panel make a statement on “how the federal corrections systems, in particular, but corrections in general have for a long time ignored the treatment need of their inmates.”

Mr. Douglas’s travails since his arrest, including episodes in which drugs were smuggled to him while he was incarcerated, have been tabloid fodder, something Howard Josepher, another of the brief’s signees, said has probably made efforts at recovery harder.  “A guy like this gets into prison, he’s got star power, so people inside actually they want to get close to him,” said Mr. Josepher, who runs the New York-based Exponents, which offers drug treatment programs.  “And they do that by offering him drugs.”

Mr. Josepher, 73, an ex-convict and heroin user who said he has been clean for 45 years, said he hoped Mr. Douglas’s case would highlight what he called a contradictory approach to drug abuse by the criminal justice system.  “The various powers that be view addiction as a disease,” he said. “But they treat people who have this illness as criminals.

I will provide a link to this "doctors' brief" if and when I can track down a copy.  This article makes me hopeful that the Second Circuit might issue an important opinion concerning reasonableness review in this case, though it is often hard to predict whether and when high-profile cases will produce truly consequential court rulings.

Prior posts concerning Cameron Douglas's federal sentencings:

May 21, 2012 in Booker in the Circuits, Celebrity sentencings, Drug Offense Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Detailing declines in capital indictments and sentences in Ohio

This new article from my own Columbus Dispatch, which is headlined "Death-penalty cases drop: New sentencing options and changes in attitudes mean fewer are being sent to Death Row," provides an accounting of changes in the administration of the death penalty in Ohio in recent years.   Here are excerpts:

Franklin County sent 17 people to Death Row from 1985 to 2003, an average of nearly one a year.  Then things changed.  The death sentence imposed last week on Caron E. Montgomery was the county’s first in nearly nine years.

The numbers have declined statewide, as well.  Since the state’s current death-penalty statute was enacted in 1981, the number of Ohioans sentenced to death fell from a record 24 in 1985 to one in 2009.  Last year, three people were sent to Ohio’s Death Row. 

“I don’t think there’s any one reason for it,” said Ohio Public Defender Timothy Young. “I think it’s a combination of reasons.”   The reasons include a change in cultural attitudes about the death penalty, the financial burden associated with trying and appealing such cases and the availability of life without parole as an alternative, he said.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said his office began reassessing how it handles potential death-penalty cases in 2005.  “We’re looking at mitigating factors now, just as a judge or jury would, and not just at the crime,” he said. “We’re asking, ‘What is the realistic possibility of obtaining the death penalty in this case?’  ”

Death-penalty indictments in Franklin County dropped dramatically as a result, from 34 in 2004 to five in 2005. Last year, three death-penalty indictments were filed in the county. O’Brien said he changed his approach to the cases after working with the U.S. attorney’s office in early 2005 on the federal death-penalty case against Daryl Lawrence, who was convicted of murdering Columbus police Officer Bryan Hurst and sentenced to death by a federal jury....

The Lawrence case also coincided with a 2005 change in state law that allowed a life sentence without parole to be imposed for aggravated-murder cases that didn’t qualify for the death penalty.  Previously, life without parole was only possible in death-penalty cases. “Suddenly, prosecutors didn’t have to file a death-penalty indictment to get to life without parole,” Young said.

He thinks that’s among the reasons for a statewide decline in death-penalty indictments, from 98 in 2004 to 56 in 2011.  Only Cuyahoga County continues to indict a significant number of death-penalty cases.  In the past three years, 115 were indicted there, accounting for 53 percent of all death-penalty cases in the state.... But for all those indictments, Cuyahoga County sent only three defendants to Death Row in the past three years.

All 33 states with the death penalty on the books now allow judges and juries to consider life without parole as an alternative, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C....  “Juries are hesitant about the death penalty because of all the revelations about wrongful convictions,” Dieter said. “Life without parole is seen as an acceptable alternative.”

Recent related post:

May 21, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2012

Extreme sentence in warning shot case drawing more criticisms of mandatory minimums

I am pleased to see that the extreme mandatory minimum sentence given to Marissa Alexander in Florida is continuing to generate controversy and criticism in the MSM.  This AP article, headlined "Critics hit mandatory-minimum law after woman gets 20 years in prison for firing warning shot," highlights some of the buzz:

Marissa Alexander had never been arrested before she fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her.  Nobody got hurt, but this month a northeast Florida judge was bound by state law to sentence her to 20 years in prison.... Because she fired a gun while committing a felony, Florida’s mandatory-minimum gun law dictated the 20-year sentence.

Her case in Jacksonville has drawn a fresh round of criticism aimed at mandatory-minimum sentencing laws.  The local NAACP chapter and the district’s African-American congresswoman say blacks more often are incarcerated for long periods because of overzealous prosecutors and judges bound by the wrong-headed statute.  Alexander is black.

It also has added fuel to the controversy over Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which the judge would not allow Alexander to invoke.  State Attorney Angela Corey, who also is overseeing the prosecution of shooter George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, stands by the handling of Alexander’s case.  Corey says she believes Alexander aimed the gun at the man and his two sons, and the bullet she fired could have ricocheted and hit any of them.

At the May 11 sentencing, Alexander’s relatives begged Circuit Judge James Daniel for leniency but he said the decision was “out of my hands.” “The Legislature has not given me the discretion to do what the family and many others have asked me to do,” he said.

The state’s “10-20-life” law was implemented in 1999 and credited with helping to lower the violent crime rate.  Anyone who shows a gun in the commission of certain felonies gets an automatic 10 years in prison.  Fire the gun, and it’s an automatic 20 years.  Shoot and wound someone, and it’s 25 years to life.

Critics say Alexander’s case underscores the unfair sentences that can result when laws strip judges of discretion.  About two-thirds of the states have mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, mostly for drug crimes, according to a website for the Families Against Mandatory Minimums advocacy group. “We’re not saying she’s not guilty of a crime, we’re not saying that she doesn’t deserve some sort of sanction by the court,” said Greg Newburn, Florida director for the group.  Rather, he said, the judge should have the authority to decide an appropriate sanction after hearing all the unique circumstances of the case....

Victor Crist was a Republican state legislator who crafted the “10-20-life” bill enacted in 1999 in Gov. Jeb Bush’s first term.  He said Alexander’s sentence — if she truly did fire a warning shot and wasn’t trying to kill her husband — is not what lawmakers wanted.  “We were trying to get at the thug who was robbing a liquor store who had a gun in his possession or pulled out the gun and threatened someone or shot someone during the commission of the crime,” said Crist, who served in the state House and Senate for 18 years before being elected Hillsborough County commissioner....

“The irony of the 10-20-life law is the people who actually think they’re innocent of the crime, they roll the dice and take their chances, and they get the really harsh prison sentences,” Newburn said. “Whereas the people who think they are actually guilty of the crime take the plea deal and get out (of prison) well before.  So it certainly isn’t working the way it is intended.”...

Newburn says Alexander’s case is not an isolated incident, and that people ensnared by mandatory-minimum laws cross racial barriers.  In central Florida, a white man named Orville Lee Wollard is nearly two years into a 20-year sentence for firing his gun inside his house to scare his daughter’s boyfriend.  Prosecutors contended that Wollard was shooting at the young man and missed.

He rejected a plea deal that offered probation but no prison time.  Like Alexander, he took his chances at trial and was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm.  Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen said he was “duty bound” by the 10-20-life law to impose the harsh sentence. “I would say that, if it wasn’t for the minimum mandatory aspect of this, I would use my discretion and impose some separate sentence, having taken into consideration the circumstances of this event,” Jacobsen said.

Recent related posts:

May 20, 2012 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

"Plea-bargaining cases: Form over substance"

The title of this post is the headline given to this notable commentary in the National Law Journal by Harlan Protass concerning what the significant SCOTUS rulings in Lafler and Frye did not do. Here are excerpts:

Lafler and Frye no doubt provide an important remedy to criminal defendants who didn't receive effective assistance from their lawyers in plea negotiations and, thus, were subjected to less favorable outcomes. But neither decision provides any real support to attorneys actually looking to effectively help their clients decide whether or not to go to trial. Rather, only changes in the rules governing governmental disclosure obligations will.

Fifty years ago in Brady v. Maryland (1963), the Supreme Court recognized the importance of disclosing favorable information to criminal defendants bearing on either their guilt or punishment.... Since then the Supreme Court has held in U.S. v. Agurs (1976) that the duty to disclose exculpatory evidence applies even if there has been no request by a defendant or his lawyer and, in U.S. v. Bagley (1985), that the information government lawyers must disclose includes impeachment as well as exculpatory evidence....

Disclosure of all Brady material is obviously important for purposes of  trial. But it's also critical to defense counsel seeking to size up a case and advise their clients concerning the key question of whether or not to go to trial.  After all, it's difficult to give good legal advice without a full picture of the government's case.  Effective assistance of counsel in the context of plea negotiations therefore is difficult to provide without all Brady material in hand....

[But] uncertainty continues as to when favorable Brady material must be disclosed. According to the NACDL, most courts apply a vague and confusing rule requiring disclosure only "in time for the defense to reasonably use the evidence."  Moreover, most federal district courts don't have clear directives specifying the timing of disclosure.  And DOJ's own guidelines still provide ­prosecutors with broad discretion concerning the timing of Brady disclosures....

Various proposals have been made to change the timing of Brady disclosures, thereby giving defense lawyers a real chance in plea negotiations — in other words, the materials they need to provide the effective assistance of counsel contemplated by Lafler and Frye. For example, proposed legislation entitled the "Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act of 2012" would require — "without delay after arraignment and before entry of any guilty plea" — prosecutors to turn over all evidence that "may reasonably appear favorable" to a criminal defendant....

Lafler and Frye surely provide important procedural protections for criminal defendants. They permit relief even after trial for the failure of a defense lawyer to communicate a plea offer or provide competent advice concerning such an offer.  Notwithstanding those benefits, discovery reform, rather than post-conviction procedural protections, is the best means for assuring that criminal defendants receive effective assistance of counsel when considering government plea offers.

May 20, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Federal civil commitment of sex offenders subject to new legal challenges

This lengthy article, headlined "Prisoners challenge extended confinement for sex crimes," provides an effective report on the nature and status of the legal issues surrounding sex offenders that the feds have civilly committed after they have completed their prison terms. Here are excerpts:

The high walls surrounding the Federal Correctional Complex at Butner leave no doubt that it’s a prison.  But for dozens of men held behind those walls, there is a growing question of whether they should be prisoners.

They have served their time and now are being imprisoned not for what they did, but what they might do.  They are sex offenders being held -- sometimes for years -- under a recent federal law that allows the detention of those deemed so dangerous the government will not risk their release even when their sentence is complete.  Now, with the bulk of the detainees being held at Butner, federal courts in North Carolina are trying to sort out who should remain in and who should be released from this legal limbo.

Lawyers for the detainees say the extended captivity reflects a law that applies a different and unfair standard to sex offenders.  They also say many detainees do not meet the level of threat the 6-year-old law requires for indefinite detention.  “The law doesn’t seem fair to me,” said Raleigh attorney John Keating Wiles, who has represented several of the men.  “Traditionally, we don’t take away people’s liberty because they might commit a crime.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has sought to extend the confinement of at least 136 sex offenders since 2006, but almost half the attempts have been rejected by the courts or dropped by the government.  Of the men being held for hearings, some, indeed, have criminal histories and behavioral offenses inside prison that raise questions about their release into the community.

In some cases, though, it is unclear whether the problems are deviant sexual compulsions or broader mental impairments and illness compounded by drug and alcohol abuse.  By law, a federal judge must rule on whether a detainee is too dangerous to be released.  In the Eastern District of North Carolina, a visiting judge from Michigan has been brought in, and several district judges have been assigned to help clear a backlog of cases that stacked up in the first four years after the law was passed.

Many cases were stalled by the lawsuit brought on behalf of Graydon Comstock, one of the first to be detained as sexually dangerous after serving time for receiving child pornography.  In 2011, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the government had that authority, a federal court ruled on the merits of classifying Comstock as sexually dangerous and found he did not qualify for commitment.

Eric J. Brignac, a federal public defender who has been involved with many of the cases in the state’s Eastern District, said the commitment procedure has highlighted a societal challenge. “It’s that tension between liberty and security,” Brignac said....

Each case essentially becomes a battle of the experts, with the government presenting doctors, psychologists and mental health analysts to bolster its claims. The defense brings in experts who offer their own assessments. It is up to a judge to sort through the opinions and evidence....

Thomas Shane Matherly, 36, who was scheduled for release in November 2006 but awaits a hearing on whether he’s sexually dangerous, was in New Bern in March in a federal courthouse making an argument similar to that made by the so-called “enemy combatants” detained at Guantanamo Bay. He argued that he is being wrongly held and is seeking damages of more than $50 million for emotional pain and suffering.

Court filings in his case offer a picture of life inside Butner for sex offenders caught in the legal limbo.  His life is like that of a prisoner. He wears an inmate uniform and eats in the prison mess hall. Matherly contends that he and others in a similar circumstance often are called “baby rapers” and “child molesters,” taunts that “very likely could lead to a physical confrontation at some point.”

In some ways, Matherly contends, his detention under the civil procedure has been more restrictive than when he was serving his sentence for possessing child pornography. Prisoners can take classes in blueprint reading, carpentry, car care and electrician skills, he contends, but detainees may not.  Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous sessions are not available to the detainees, he says.  The detainees are not given as much access to the recreation yard, he complains, or the recreation center with TVs, pool tables, basketball courts, exercise equipment, a band room and hobby-craft rooms.

“The government cannot have it both ways,” Matherly stated in court documents seeking damages. If the confinement is part of a civil process, he further stated, he should not be confined like a criminal. “Civil means civil,” Matherly stated, “with all the rights that accompany it.” Matherly argues that he has “the right to be free from harm.”...

The men branded by the government as sexually dangerous ostensibly are being held because they are mentally ill and need treatment, but few have enrolled in the sexual offender treatment program.  Lawyers and mental health workers advise them to be careful what they say in therapy, acknowledging that it could be used against them at trial....

Some question whether the underlying notion behind the new commitment procedure is about treating the sickest and most dangerous or more about issuing life sentences in cases where criminal law would not otherwise allow. Though prison statistics show low recidivism rates among sex offenders, high-profile cases of repeat offenders have left a lingering belief to the contrary.  “In general, sex offenders are seen as different,” said Brignac, the public defender.  “I think, in part, it is because we see them as incurable.”

May 20, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Does six months in prison for Dharun Ravi seem about right in Rutgers webcam case?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by tomorrow's scheduled sentencing for Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers student convicted of multiple crimes in the high-profile New Jersey webcam spying case.  These local articles highlight all the different perspectives that can be brought to bear:

The top piece above is an editorial making this argument for no prison time for Ravi:

When Dharun Ravi stands before a judge tomorrow, by law he must be sentenced to state prison for his crimes against Tyler Clementi and a visitor. But not, however, in the exceptional circumstance that it “would be a serious injustice.” That clause has been narrowly interpreted by the courts and invoked rarely. It applies only when the injustice of imprisoning someone “overrides the need to deter such conduct in others.”

This is just such a case. Judges must have the ability to do what’s right. And the right thing here is not to send Ravi to state prison, a holding pen for violent and dangerous criminals. What he did was beyond mean — but certainly not monstrous.

The judge should use his power to make that extraordinary call, and instead order probation and community service. If Ravi does get some jail time, he should be released on bail pending appeal. Otherwise, he may end up serving his sentence before his appeal is even heard.

Recent related posts:

May 20, 2012 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack