« August 12, 2012 - August 18, 2012 | Main | August 26, 2012 - September 1, 2012 »

August 20, 2012

California legislature passes intriguiging and novel resentencing bill for juve lifers

As reported in this local piece, which carries the seemingly inaccurate headline "California Senate sends Jerry Brown bill to parole some juvenile murderers," it appears that California's Governor now has on his desk a novel bill to permit some serious juvenile offenders to seek resentencings.  Here are the (somewhat unclear) details from this press account:

California lawmakers are sending Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would allow some juvenile murderers the chance to get out of prison on parole. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 9 on a 21-16 vote today, the bare minimum necessary for it to clear its last legislative hurdle. Brown has until the end of September to act on it. [As reported in this other press account, the bill "was approved by the Assembly on Aug. 16 on a 41 to 34 vote." 

The bill by Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco would allow some murderers to petition for a hearing to have their sentence changed to 25 years to life, allowing them to later petition for parole. Several conditions would apply: They would have to have been under 18 when they committed a murder that got them life in prison with no possibility of parole. They also would have to have already served at least 15 years of their sentence, and wouldn't be released until they had served at least 25 years....

Some criminals would not be eligible -- those with a history of violence before the murder conviction, those who had tortured their victims, and those who had killed a firefighter or law enforcement official.  [This AP story reports there are 309 offenders California serving LWOP for juvenile crimes, but does not suggestion how many might be able to benefit from SB9]

Yee said the bill would only apply when offenders showed remorse and when "it is a very clear case where an individual has made amends and demonstrated that they are not going to re-offend."...

"It is absolutely outrageous that were going to release these little psychopaths out into the streets to murder again," said Sen. Joel Anderson, a Republican from Alpine.

The full text of what appears to be the passed version of this bill is available at this link.  The bill text shows it was first introducted back in December 2010, and it includes a number of intricate provisions that make it difficult for me to assess quickly whether and how many juvenile lifers in California are likely to benefit from this novel piece of legislation if (and when?) it becomes law.

I would be especially grateful to hear from any folks working on these issues in California concerning whether enactment of this bill could be a very big deal.  I also would love to hear opinions from anyone who can sort through just how this new law is suppose to operate and can assess whether this intriguing resentencing rule is a sensible way for a state to consider reconsindering juve LWOP sentences.

August 20, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

"Colorado marijuana legalization among crucial issues in state"

The title of this post is the headline of this Politico article, which reinforces my view (discussed here) that the presidential candidates will have a hard time dodging all discussion of federal pot prohibition and state pot policy reforms this election cycle.  Here are excerpts:

With the first presidential debate in Denver less than six weeks away, strategists and academics intimately familiar with Colorado gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss issues particular to the vital swing state, such as marijuana decriminalization, “personhood” votes, the death penalty, and the influence of rising Democratic star Gov. John Hickenlooper.

In a panel sponsored by the University of Denver and moderated by former White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers, participants said the Aurora, Colo., shooting failed to spark efforts at gun control, but instead elevated talk of the death penalty, an issue that hasn’t received much national attention during this campaign cycle.

“Gun sales went up in Denver the week of the shooting, so it doesn’t seem to have been the impetus for a conversation on gun control. It has generated a fair amount of discussion about the death penalty however,” said Dr. Sam Kamin, a professor of law at the University of Denver.

The University of Denver will be the site of the first 2012 presidential debate between President Barack Obama and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, to be held on Oct. 3....

And while the issues like the economy, Medicare and the deficit will no doubt be addressed during the debate, panelists took the time to address the specific policies making waves in the state.

At the same time as voters in Colorado head to the polls to cast a vote for president, they will also be addressing ballot questions on abortion and “personhood,” as well as the decriminalization of marijuana — so it is likely that the two presidential candidates might be asked about them.

The marijuana issue “is hugely popular with younger voters. … If they come out strongly and the Obama campaign doesn’t do anything to antagonize them on this issue, they could have a real impact,” Kamin said. “There’s a huge push online to get youth voters energized around that proposition, those are the exact same voters that had a lot of enthusiasm for the president four years ago.” Dee Dee Myers pointed out that Colorado is a state with more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks locations.

Some recent and older related posts on pot policies and politics: 

August 20, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

If a bank robber (politiely?) says "I have a gun," is this enough for a "theat-of-death" guideline enhancement?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the split Sixth Circuit ruling today in US v. Wooten, No. 11-5348 (6th Cir. Aug. 20, 2012) (available here). The full ruling is a must-read for lots of reasons, including the copious string cites employed by Judge Sutton in his dissent.

I have an inkling that Wooten could possibly get en banc or even cert attention if prosecutors want to fight this little guidelines issue to the death (pun intended).  But whatever one might think of the merits of this ruling, I have a hard time thinking it would be a good use of federal taxpayer dollars for the feds to make an even bigger federal case out of this seemingly lame little robbery.

August 20, 2012 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Another notable insider trading prosecution now moves to sentencing

White-collar sentencing fans now have another notable case to follow in the wake of the news this morning reported in this New York Times article, which is headlined "Hedge Fund Manager Found Guilty of Insider Trading." Here are the basics:

After less than a day of deliberations, a federal jury found Doug Whitman of Whitman Capital in Menlo Park, Calif., guilty of earning about $1 million in illegal profits trading technology stocks, including Google and Polycom. Mr. Whitman faces a maximum possible sentence of 25 years in prison. His sentencing is set for Dec. 20....

Of the nearly 70 Wall Street traders and corporate executives charged with insider trading by federal prosecutors in Manhattan over the last three years, virtually all have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty. Juries in Federal District Court in Manhattan have convicted all eight defendants who have taken their cases to trial.

Mr. Whitman, 54, fought the charges, arguing that all of his trades were made in good faith and grounded in legitimate stock research. The defense was similar to the one used by Raj Rajaratnam, the former hedge fund billionaire convicted by a jury last year. Mr. Rajaratnam was at the center of an vast insider trading web that ensnared Mr. Whitman.

Prosecutors in Mr. Whitman’s case relied on the testimony of several main cooperating witnesses, including Roomy Khan, a former trader who was also at the center of Mr. Rajaratnam’s trial. Jurors also heard secretly recorded telephone conversations that prosecutors said showed Mr. Whitman trafficking in confidential information.

In a rare tactic for an insider trading defendant, Mr. Whitman took the stand in his own defense. He testified that he never thought his sources possessed any secret information about the stocks that he traded.

Especially because all the recent insider trading convictions appear to be coming out of the same federal district (SDNY), I think an enterprising sentencing researcher could discover a lot of interesting stories by analyzing in depth the ultimate sentences imposed on the "nearly 70 Wall Street traders and corporate executives charged with insider trading by federal prosecutors in Manhattan over the last three years [who] have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty."  I would be especially interested to see what recommended guideline ranges and ultimate sentences were imposed for all the different defendants (and whether and how different offense or offender factors may explain any apparent sentencing disparities).

August 20, 2012 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"Do Prosecutors Have Too Much Power?"

The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times segment of its series "Room for Debate."  The NY Times brought together five leading lights to comment on this question (all of whom appear to supply variations on the answer "Yes").  Here is how the segment sets up the debate, followed by links to the must-read pieces that provide five different answers to the question:

A U.S. district judge in Denver recently rejected a plea bargain in a child pornography case because the defendant had agreed to waive his right to appeal. The judge said such a deal would undermine the purpose of appellate courts. (He later accepted a plea bargain without that stipulation.)

Legal observers — including the editorial board of The New York Times — focused on the judge’s concern as a sign that plea bargains have gotten out of control and in the process given prosecutors too much power.  When one party decides whether to bring charges, what charges to bring and whether to offer a plea bargain, is the justice system lacking checks and balances?

August 20, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 19, 2012

Changes in juve justice in Illinois and nationwide

Gr-annual-cost-624A helpful reader alerted me to this new NPR story piece on juvenile crime and punishment. The piece is headlined "Kids Behind Bars: Illinois Rethinks Juvenile Justice," and here are excerpts:

[A] number of states [are] rethinking how it pursues juvenile justice to make sure kids who've committed a crime once don't end up in a juvenile facility again. Nationally, there were more than 70,000 juvenile in residential placement facilities in 2010, according to Census Bureau data. The number was about 2,200 that same year in Illinois.

A damning report from the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission called the state youth prison system an expensive failure.  Its study showed that "well over 50 percent of youth" leaving the state's facilities will go back to juvenile facilities — and others will head to adult corrections system.  Some of the juveniles in Illinois' system committed serious offenses, the report shows.  But many others are there for lesser crimes and, officials say, would be better served in treatment or educational programs.

George Timberlake, a retired Illinois judge and the report commission's chairman, says the group observed more than 250 prisoner review board hearings and analyzed the files of about 400 young people whose parole was revoked.  He says many of the juveniles who ended up back in custody didn't commit new crimes, but instead were found guilty of technical violations of a parole order, such as skipping school and staying out late....

While the push to change the culture of Illinois' juvenile justice system may help reduce the number of kids who end up in facilities, it's also tied to the state's deep budget woes. In 2010, the Illinois auditor general said that it costs an average of $86,861 a year to keep a juvenile in Illinois' Youth Centers -- far more than for community-based strategies.

That point is underscored in a 2011 report released by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which shows a dramatic difference nationwide between the average annual cost for housing a juvenile compared with community-based programs and public college tuition. The foundation, which provides financial support to NPR, also says the juvenile incarceration rate is nearly five times higher in the U.S. than in other developed nations. That's despite having "only marginally higher" rates of juvenile violent crimes.

"We really only recently have started to take stock of the developmental differences of young people and adults," says Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.  "And in large measure, our juvenile correction system has been modeled after adult corrections."

Nationally, she says, there has been a trend toward treating young people and adults differently when it comes to crime.  Juvenile justice services are migrating to into other state sectors, merging with mental health and education services, for example, rather than being overseen by adult corrections.

The next step in Illinois is already under way.  The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission just awarded more than $1 million to two groups that will work with juvenile offenders being released but returning to areas that have the highest rates of youth incarceration in the state.

August 19, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sentencing at heart of research on "How to Move a Mind"

This week's New York Times Magazine has this must-read article discussing social science research on how opinions change.  (The hard copy delivery to my door carries the summary headline "How to Move a Mind; Changing a strongly held belief has little to do with actual facts." The on-line version here carries a different headline.)  The piece should be read by all lawyers and public policy advocates, and here are excerpts that include reports on notable research involving sentencing issues:

Scientists have been studying attitudes and preferences for more than a century; those topics are bound to the origins of social psychology itself....

In the last decade, psychologists have focused increasing attention on moral attitudes. Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at the Stern School of Business at New York University and author of “The Righteous Mind,” told me that researchers have been especially interested in the way emotions and attitudes interact. Moral attitudes are especially difficult to change, Haidt said, because the emotions attached to those preferences largely define who we are. “Certain beliefs are so important for a society or group that they become part of how you prove your identity,” he said. “It’s as though we circle around these ideas. It’s how we become one.”

We tend to side with people who share our identity — even when the facts disagree — and calling someone a flip-flopper is a way of calling them morally suspect, as if those who change their minds are in some way being unfaithful to their group. This is nonsense, of course. People change their minds all the time, even about very important matters. It’s just hard to do when the stakes are high. That’s why marshaling data and making rational arguments won’t work. Whether you’re changing your own mind or someone else’s, the key is emotional, persuasive storytelling.

In 2006, researchers from Ohio State University and Colorado State University demonstrated that a well-written TV drama can change the political opinions of college students. They split 178 students into two groups. One watched a crime show that told a persuasive story about the value of the death penalty. The other group watched a different, unrelated drama. Afterward, both groups were interviewed about their personal beliefs and their opinions on the death penalty. The students who watched the crime show were more likely to support the death penalty. In fact, support for the death penalty was about the same whether those students self-identified as liberal or conservative. That wasn’t true among the students who watched the other show. There, political ideology strongly predicted their opinions on the death penalty.

Timothy Wilson is a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and the author of the book “Redirect,” about how we change our minds and behavior. Stories are more powerful than data, Wilson says, because they allow individuals to identify emotionally with ideas and people they might otherwise see as “outsiders.”...

In some cases — if we want to think of ourselves as thoughtful and open-minded — we can adopt identities that actually encourage flip-flopping. This is why juries function, and it’s what places pressure on scientists to form opinions based on reliable data. In 2009, the Oregon Legislature mandated the creation of the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, panels made up of random residents assigned to review and assess ballot initiatives in “citizens’ statements.” The panelists know they’re expected to base their opinions on hard evidence, and this expectation becomes part of their temporary identity.

Under those conditions, says John Gastil, professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State, facts suddenly matter. He points to Measure 73, a widely popular mandatory sentencing initiative, which the citizens’ panel voted against, 21 to 3. The panelists felt obligated to consider the measure more carefully than they otherwise would have, Gastil says, so they noted the high costs and thought about people who might be unfairly punished. Only a minority of voters knew the panel existed, so the measure still passed — though by a smaller margin than expected. In a study he performed on the public response to Measure 73, Gastil found that the panel’s opinion significantly changed the minds of those people who read its findings. “You got a shift from two-thirds in favor to two-thirds against just by reading the report,” Gastil says.

August 19, 2012 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack