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September 25, 2012

Following up with killer saved from death via clemency by Ohio Gov Kasich

My local Columbus Dispatch has this interesting story following up on an Ohio condemned inmate a year after his death sentence was commuted to LWOP. The piece is headlined "No future, but it beats death for spared man," and here are excerpts:

Joseph Murphy knows he will die in prison. He just doesn’t know when. He’s OK with that. “I have accepted the fact I will be here the rest of my life,” he said.  “Whatever happens in here, it’s better than it was at home."

Murphy was supposed to be executed by the state on Oct. 18, 2011, for the 1987 throat-slashing murder of 72-year-old Ruth Predmore during a robbery at her home in Marion. Over 24 years, courts at all levels had rejected his appeals.  His attorneys, public defenders Pamela J. Prude-Smithers and Kathryn L. Sandford, knew Gov. John Kasich was their client’s last hope.

On Sept. 26 last year, Kasich intervened, commuting Murphy’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.  Kasich said considering Murphy’s “brutally abusive upbringing and the relatively young age at which he committed this terrible crime, the death penalty is not appropriate in this case.”

Murphy, 47, who spent most of his life — beginning at age 6 — in juvenile lockups, mental-health wards and prison, now faces the prospect of living the rest of his days with no hope of freedom.  The third of Stella and Jerry Murphy’s six children, he was raised in a West Virginia tarpaper shack with no plumbing or electricity.  His mother often failed to feed him as a child, and his father beat him and his siblings with switches, belts and extension cords.

Murphy was stabbed in the head with a steak knife by his brother, raped by a man who supplied Murphy’s father with moonshine and set on fire to prevent a children’s services worker from seeing welts on his back from recent beatings.

Prison is the only real home Murphy knows.  He calls himself “state-raised.”  After spending two decades alone in a cell, Murphy now has a cellmate and is housed in a unit with dozens of other prisoners.  “It was mind-rattling,” he said during an interview last week at the Toledo Correctional Institution, where he was transferred from Death Row at the Ohio State Penitentiary at Youngstown.  “ It was kind of hard being around a bunch of people. ... It’s hard getting used to the noise.”

In nearly a year in Toledo, Murphy hasn’t had an infraction, said Darlene Mitchell, assistant to the warden.  He has corresponded with Peg Predmore Kavanagh, the 68-year-old niece of Murphy’s victim.  Kavanagh testified via video in support of clemency for Murphy at the Ohio Parole Board hearing last year....

His abusive father is dead, and Murphy hasn’t had a single visit, letter or call from his mother or four brothers.  “At first, I was upset.  I wrote to them and said I was off Death Row,” he said.  “I sent her more letters and cards at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but she didn’t write back.  I love my mother to death and I always will.  But it seems like she’s upset that I wasn’t executed.”

September 25, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 24, 2012

Of sentencing interest among SCOTUSblog's "Petitions to Watch"

Today the Supreme Court justices return from summer vacations and get back to work with the (famous?) long Conference during which they select some magical cert petitions to add to their "let's decide this one" to-do list for the coming Term.   SCOTUSblog has its always helpful “Petitions to watch” list in three installments here, here, and here, and here are some petitions being watched that ought to be of extra interest to sentencing fans as listed by the folks at SCOTUSblog:

Rubashkin v. United States: (1) Whether Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 requires a criminal defendant with newly discovered evidence that goes not to guilt or innocence but to the fundamental fairness of his criminal trial –- here, that the trial judge should have been recused under 28 U.S.C. § 455(a) -– to show nonetheless that the new evidence would probably lead to his acquittal; and (2) whether a sentence is unreasonable when a district court fails to consider and explain on the record, as required by this Court’s precedents, its basis for rejecting a defendant’s nonfrivolous argument for a below-Guidelines sentence –- resulting in, here, a twenty-seven-year sentence for a first-time, nonviolent offender that is significantly greater than sentences for similarly situated individuals.

Carter v. Louisiana: Whether the Court should reexamine its “death qualification” framework articulated in Witherspoon v. Illinois and Wainwright v. Witt because the Court announced that framework decades ago without any consideration of, or foundation in, the Framers' intent in protecting a defendant’s right to an “impartial jury” in the Sixth Amendment.

Missouri v. McNeely: Whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a drunk driver under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream.

Strutton v. Meade: Whether an individual, civilly committed for being a “sex offender,” or for otherwise exhibiting a mental abnormality posing a danger to others, has a substantive due process right to treatment that may ameliorate the danger posed by his abnormality, particularly where -- as here -- the withheld treatment was designed with the intention of providing a path to at least a conditional release from custody.

Martel v. Tuite: Whether a federal court may grant habeas corpus relief to a state prisoner without determining that the state court’s “harmless beyond a reasonable doubt” ruling was objectively unreasonable.

Ever eager to encourage betting on the SCOTUS cert pool, I will put the over/under on cert grants from this list at 1.5.  (Interestingly, prop bets on cert grants need to get in earlier this year: SCOTUS has announced it will now start releasing order lists at 9:30am instead of 10am as it had in the past.) 

I feel pretty confident that SCOTUS will be adding at least a few criminal justice cases to its docket, and I feel even more confident that the folks at SCOTUSblog are real good at spotting "top prospects" for a cert grant.  That said, I am not confident SCOTUS will be eager to take up more than one of the cases/issues listed above, and I have a suspicion there might be one or more IFP cases (which SCOTUSblog does not typically review) that get the Justices attention as their summer tans begin to fade.

September 24, 2012 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New report from Vera Institute reviews recent changes to prison populations and expenses

Late last week I received this e-mail informing me of a notable new publication that should interest all sentencing fans:

The fiscal crisis of the past several years has put the nation’s reliance on prisons under intense scrutiny. To reduce costs and improve public safety, states have begun to enact policies based on the large body of research showing that many offenders can be effectively handled within the community using evidence-based practices.

A new report from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, in partnership with the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, examines whether, in light of recent state-level policy changes and ongoing budget deficits, the expected shifts in population and spending from prisons to community corrections between 2006 and 2010 have been realized. The findings of Realigning Justice Resources: A Review of Population and Spending Shifts in Prison and Community Corrections are based on survey responses from 36 state prison agencies and 35 community corrections agencies; follow-up interviews with 24 states; a review of recent sentencing and corrections legislation; and an analysis of population counts from the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Although Vera’s study demonstrates that there is not always a discernible relationship between population and spending shifts from one part of the system to another, several states — such as, Michigan, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Virginia — have successfully implemented policies that curb both prison populations and spending.  The authors suggest that economic, political, and structural factors both within and outside the control of policymakers may have stymied many states’ ambitions.  More time and research may be needed to observe the true impact of policy changes on correctional populations and spending.

The full 36-page report is available for download here, and a summary fact sheet can be foud here.

September 24, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Notable contrasts between Irish and US sentencing responses to child porn possession offenses

The Irish Examiner has this notable new piece, headlined "Sentences contrast in Ireland and US," discussing the very different punishment schemes for child porn downloaders in two not-so-different nations.  Here is how the piece gets started:

What is an acceptable sentence for the possession of child pornography? That’s downloading and viewing the images, not being physically present when the abuse was carried out and the images made.

Consider two cases which progressed through the courts on opposite sides of the Atlantic within a year of each other.

In May, a British national, Simeon Betts, appeared in court in Ireland charged with a stash of child pornography which included 50 videos. The material found on three laptops included the rapes of children as young as four, and gardaí said the level of abuse was of the "upmost scale". Adult males were filmed raping the children, and in one instance an animal also featured in the abuse. For the possession of such sickening material, Betts, aged 45, was sentenced at Limerick Circuit Court to four years in prison, with the final two years suspended.

Now consider the case of Daniel Enrique Guevara Vilca, a 26-year-old who appeared in a Florida court room in November. Vilca had been caught with a significant stash of images — he faced 454 counts. Some of the videos and pictures showed boys aged between six and 12 years engaged in sexual activity with adults and each other. For possessing the images, Vilca was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole....

These two cases show the extremes in which different jurisdictions view the crime of child pornography — and how the leniency or severity are both subject to significant scrutiny among their populations.

In America, the US Sentencing Commission is reviewing the sentencing guidelines for the crime. A survey of the country’s federal judges even found that 70% thought the sentences were too high. Many possession offences in the US carry a minimum tariff of five years and the average sentence handed down is seven years.

Here, sentencing for child pornography crimes falls under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act, 1998. That legislation states that, for producing or distributing child pornography, the maximum sentence is 14 years in prison. For possession, the maximum sentence is five years.

September 24, 2012 in Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

September 23, 2012

Recent commentary on this election season's criminal justice initiatives

It is now just weeks until the election, and thus the time for full-throated pitches on the important criminal justice initiatives coming before voters in various states.  Here are some recent commentary and editorials:

September 23, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Newt Gingrich urging Gov Jerry Brown to sign law to allow resentencings for juve LWOP in California

I am pleased and intrigued to see that Newt Gingrich, now that he is off the Presidential campaign trail, is back to his "Right on Crime" advocacy for a more sensible and softer sentencing system.  In this op-ed written with Pat Nolan, he urges Governor Jerry Brown to sign California's Senate Bill 9 ("The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act"), which authorizes resentencing opportunities for juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.  Here are excerpts from the potent op-ed:

We did some dumb things as teenagers that might have caused a lot of harm.  You probably did, too.  Fortunately, we didn’t hurt anyone too badly, but we cringe now at how clueless we were about the possible consequences of what we did.

Teenagers often don’t make very good decisions.  Our laws take this into account in many ways: We don’t let young people drink until they are 21, and they can’t sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18.

But there is one area in which we ignore teens’ youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adults and teens, and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison without parole (LWOP).  Despite urban legends to the contrary, this law has no exceptions: A teen sentenced to LWOP will die in prison as an old man or woman. No exceptions for good behavior, no exceptions period.  No hope.

You might expect that these LWOP sentences are limited to the “worst of the worst,” but that is not the case. A young teen can be a bit player in a crime, e.g., act as a lookout while his buddies go in to steal beer from a convenience store....  About 45 percent of the inmates serving LWOP for a teenage crime were not the person who caused the death.  Yet they will die in prison of old age, with no chance for release.

But should these youngsters die in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves?

We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities.  That is what prisons are for.  But sometimes we overuse our institutions.  California’s teen LWOP is an overuse of incarceration.  It denies the reality that young people often change for the better.  And it denies hope to those sentenced under it.

Of course, not every young person going through the system turns his or her life around. But wouldn’t it be better to at least consider whether these inmates have matured and improved themselves after a long stretch in prison?  SB 9, which is now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, would allow the court to give this narrow group of inmates convicted of a crime while a teen a chance to apply for parole -- after serving 25 years in prison. That is no “easy stretch.”

And even then, they will not be automatically released.  They must show the parole board that they have participated in programs that prepare them to support themselves and stay on the straight and narrow when they are released.  They must convince the parole board that they are remorseful and have changed so they no longer pose a threat to the community.  Only then might they be given a parole date.

Jesus told us to “Do unto others” as we would have them do unto us.  Shouldn’t we give the kids and grandkids of others the same second chances that we would want for our own families?

An inherent principle of justice is that the punishment should never exceed the harm done by the crime. It is wrong to condemn these inmates to die in prison for being the teenage accomplice to the terrible acts of another.  We urge Gov. Brown to sign SB 9, and thereby restore the chance for these inmates to transform their lives and become good citizens.

This new article from the Los Angeles Times, headlined "Political lines drawn on life sentences for teen killers," reports on some of the others coming out for and against this intriguing legislation:

In a letter to the governor, [Nancy] Pelosi contended that "civilized societies are increasingly prohibiting life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, recognizing that juveniles do not possess the same mental development as adults.”

Brown is hearing plenty from the other side as well. California Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway earlier this month sent the governor a letter seeking veto of the "unnecessary" bill. "California already has a carefully balanced statutory scheme that appropriately balances the need to hold the most serious juvenile murderers accountable for their crimes, while recognizing different levels of maturity and culpability based on the age of the offender, and retains judicial discretion," she wrote.

Indeed, some victim advocates contend that because judges already rejected the possibility of allowing eventual parole for the state's 309 inmates sentenced as minors, there is no reason to revisit the issue. They have political support from lobbyists for prison guards and prosecutors.

The battle lines are not universally inclusive. Mothers Against Murder, for instance, has refused to take an official stance on the bill even though its membership includes families of those killed by juveniles. "We tend not to take a stand due to our respect for different families' wishes," said Executive Director Margaret Petros.

Related recent posts:

September 23, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack