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October 8, 2012

Would any prosecutors throw challenge flag for plea deal cut for sexual misconduct with student?

Though the MLB playoff have me in more of a baseball mood this week, I cannot avoid this football-related AP story about a notable plea deal struck by a former NFL cheerleader.  The story is headlined "Ex-Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader pleads guilty to having sex with former high school student," and here are excerpts:

A former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader pleaded guilty Monday to having sex with her 17-year-old former student while she was a teacher at a northern Kentucky high school, a move that will allow her to avoid jail time.

In a tearful admission in Kenton County Circuit Court in Covington, Ky., 27-year-old Sarah Jones pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and custodial interference in place of more serious charges as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. “I began a romantic relationship while he was a student and I was in a position of authority,” Jones said, her voice cracking as her family members wiped their own tears.

Jones said the relationship began in February 2011 when the boy was 17, saying that the two had sex, that she sent him sexually explicit text messages and lied about the relationship to police.  The teen had been in Jones’ freshman English class in 2008, and she was his peer tutor in 2010 and 2011 before he graduated at the age of 17 this year, according to Monday’s plea agreement, signed by Jones.

In accepting the plea agreement, Judge Patricia Summe granted prosecutors’ recommendation to sentence Jones to five years of diversion but no jail time, and she won’t have to register as a sex offender.  The diversion requires Jones to report to a probation officer and undergo drug tests.

Prosecutors said they were willing to make the deal because the teen, now 18, and his family were uncooperative with them and on Jones’ side.  “We feel that it is a just and it is a fair result,” prosecutor Sara Farmer said.  “It’s certainly difficult when a victim and his family don’t cooperate by not providing information, but it makes our case a lot harder when they’re actually proactive for a defendant, and in this case, the family was more than supportive of the Jones (family).  They were proactive for them.”...

Part of the reason defense attorney Eric Deters said Jones was willing to plead guilty was because Summe had denied his request to keep the text messages that she sent to the teen out of the trial. “They’re embarrassing,” Deters told reporters after the hearing. “They were steamy.”

He also said that now that the teen is 18 years old, he and Jones “are free to be together” and pointed out that they left the courtroom together.  Deters declined to discuss details of their current relationship, saying that the pair would discuss it on the “Today” show and “Dateline” on Friday.

He said that Jones will not try out to be a Bengals cheerleader in the future, and that for now, she’s working as a legal assistant in his office.  Jones has expressed interest in becoming a lawyer and is studying to take the Law School Admission Test, he said....

Jones’ mother, former school principal Cheryl Armstrong Jones, also pleaded guilty Monday, to a misdemeanor charge of attempted tampering with evidence.  She admitted to the judge that she sent the teen a text message telling him to get rid of his phone and also avoided jail time.

As the question in the title of this post suggests, I am curious to know if any prosecutors (or others) are troubled by this plea deal.  Because this story gives me little reason to suspect that the defendant here poses any serious threat to the public, I am not especially troubled she was able to cut a sweet plea deal and has appearances now slated for the "Today" show and "Dateline."  But perhaps others have a different take on this matter.

October 8, 2012 in Celebrity sentencings, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

"Marijuana Only for the Sick? A Farce, Some Angelenos Say"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing piece in today's New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

One year after federal law enforcement officials began cracking down on California’s medical marijuana industry with a series of high-profile arrests around the state, they finally moved into Los Angeles last month, giving 71 dispensaries until Tuesday to shut down.  At the same time, because of a well-organized push by a new coalition of medical marijuana supporters, the City Council last week repealed a ban on the dispensaries that it had passed only a couple of months earlier.

Despite years of trying fruitlessly to regulate medical marijuana, California again finds itself in a marijuana-laced chaos over a booming and divisive industry.  Nobody even knows how many medical marijuana dispensaries are in Los Angeles. Estimates range from 500 to more than 1,000.  The only certainty, supporters and opponents agree, is that they far outnumber Starbucks....

In the biggest push against medical marijuana since California legalized it in 1996, the federal authorities have shut at least 600 dispensaries statewide since last October. California’s four United States attorneys said the dispensaries violated not only federal law, which considers all possession and distribution of marijuana to be illegal, but state law, which requires operators to be nonprofit primary caregivers to their patients and to distribute marijuana strictly for medical purposes.

While announcing the actions against the 71 dispensaries, André Birotte Jr., the United States attorney for the Central District of California, indicated that it was only the beginning of his campaign in Los Angeles.  Prosecutors filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against three dispensaries and sent letters warning of criminal charges to the operators and landlords of 68 others, a strategy that has closed nearly 97 percent of the targeted dispensaries elsewhere in the district, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney.

Vague state laws governing medical marijuana have allowed recreational users of the drug to take advantage of the dispensaries, say supporters of the Los Angeles ban and the federal crackdown.  Here on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, pitchmen dressed all in marijuana green approach passers-by with offers of a $35, 10-minute evaluation for a medical marijuana recommendation for everything from cancer to appetite loss.

Nearly 180 cities across the state have banned dispensaries, and lawsuits challenging the bans have reached the State Supreme Court.  In more liberal areas, some 50 municipalities have passed medical marijuana ordinances, but most have suspended the regulation of dispensaries because of the federal offensive, according to Americans for Safe Access, a group that promotes access to medical marijuana.  San Francisco and Oakland, the fiercest defenders of medical marijuana, have continued to issue permits to new dispensaries....

In downtown Los Angeles, where most of the dispensaries were included in the order to close, workers were renovating the storefront of the Downtown Collective.  Inside, house music was being played in a lobby decorated to conjure “Scarface,” a poster of which hung on a wall. “We don’t worry about this,” the manager said of the federal offensive, declining to give his name. “It’s between the lawyers.”

David Welch, a lawyer who is representing 15 of the 71 dispensaries and who is involved in a lawsuit challenging a ban at the State Supreme Court, said the federal clampdown would fail.  “Medical marijuana dispensaries are very much like what they distribute: they’re weeds,” he said. “You cut them down, you leave, and then they sprout back up.”

October 8, 2012 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Examining the high costs of administering capital punishment in Florida

As highlighted in this new Reuters article, headlined "California Death Penalty Foes Focus on Cost of Executions," the economics of administering capital punishment is at the heart of efforts to repeal the death penalty in the Golden State.  But, as highlighted in this lengthy local article, folks in the Sunshine State perhaps ought also be concerning about capital costs.  The article is headlined "Cost of Florida's death row easily exceeds $1 million per inmate, investigation shows," and here is how the article begins:

As convicted killer Steven Hayward of Fort Pierce enters his fifth year on Florida's death row — one of 16 Treasure Coast men sentenced to die for their crimes — a decades-old debate rages over whether it takes too long and costs too much to legally challenge his capital punishment before he's executed.

With state records showing it takes on average about 14 years for death row inmates to complete their appeals, Hayward could spend another decade behind bars before he faces a lethal injection.  Some legal experts say Hayward's appellate attorneys with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, a state agency known as CCRC tasked with defending death penalty inmates, purposely drag out appeals like his just to keep him alive while costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

During a three-month investigation, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers reviewed the appeals and case files of death row prisoners convicted of first-degree murder in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties to see why it takes dozens of years for some inmates to complete their appeals and be executed — and at what cost to taxpayers.

Research shows the time it takes to present a capital case on appeal in both state and federal court is a major factor in determining how long it takes for an inmate to progress through the judicial system.  How much that litigation costs can vary widely from case to case, depending on the legal matters involved.

The tab for taxpayers can exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars and housing death row inmates costs millions more.  Trying to determine how much a post-conviction appeal case costs taxpayers — especially ones spanning decades — is nearly impossible to determine, Scripps found, because no state entity has ever been mandated to keep a running total of related legal expenses in a particular case.

In fact, Scripps could not determine how much the CCRC has spent appealing Hayward's death sentence because those costs are protected under attorney-client privilege, according to the Justice Administrative Commission, the state agency that pays the regional counsel's bills.

October 8, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 7, 2012

A musical message from Milbarge in honor of Harris reconsideration

Very long-time readers may recall some comical song parodies by the mysterious Milbarge concerning Blakely and Booker (example here). The classic of the genre was "'Twas the Night Before Booker," and even a re-reading of this 2004 ditty brings to mind a more innocent sentencing era.  I was thus excited to receive the following e-mail from Milbarge this weekend:

I'll confess that I'm just as excited for the Court's decision to reconsider Harris [basics here]. So even though my blog is on semi-permanent hiatus..., I decided to dust off the ol' parody song pen and see what I could come up with.

You may recall the old tv Western called "Branded," starring Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors. Here is a video of the opening credits and theme song. And here are the lyrics to the song.

It's kind of a weird song (it's used in "The Big Lebowski," by the way), which makes it difficult to parody, but I couldn't resist the branded/brandished wordplay. So here's my stab at a song to honor what will hopefully be the next sentencing watershed decision:

 

What did the jury find?
What will the sentence be?
Is Apprendi here to stay...?
Brandished!

 

Apprendi’s odd man out.
But can they say it was brandished
By a reas’nable doubt?!

 

Harris hung around...
Never overruled...
But now they’ve taken up Alleyne...
Brandished!

 

Mandatory prison time.
How can the judge say you brandished
When the jury didn’t bite?!

 

And it should be just five
But it’s seven to life.
Did they prove
Or indict...

 

Brandished!

Related post:

October 7, 2012 in Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

"Immigrant Criminals in Overcrowded Prisons: Rethinking an Anachronistic Policy"

The title of this post is the title of this lengthy paper by Professor Peter Schuck, which is available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Under an Immigration and Nationality Act provision dating to 1917, deportable immigrant criminals must serve their entire sentences in the U.S. before being removed from the country. (Exceptions, enacted in 1996, are seldom used).  At the same time, federal and state prisons are dangerously overcrowded, with the Supreme Court soon to rule on the constitutionality of overcrowded conditions in the California system.  The paper shows that the most common proposals for reducing overcrowding are either politically difficult (e.g., shorter sentences) or numerically insignificant (e.g., decriminalizing drug possession for use).  The paper proposes instead, or in addition, to facilitate the earlier removal of deportable criminals and analyzes the legal, policy, and diplomatic changes that would be necessary to implement this approach.

October 7, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Private prison fares poorly in audit by Ohio officials

As reported in this local article, headlined "State audit rips private prison on health, security," Ohio officials were not too happy about what they found during an audit of private prison facilities. Here are the details:

Conditions at the privately owned and operated Lake Erie Correctional Institution are “ unacceptable” and “won’t be allowed to continue,” a state prison official said yesterday after the release of a critical audit.

An internal audit by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction found that the prison in Conneaut, Ohio, in Ashtabula County, met only two-thirds of state operating standards for prisons. It houses about 1,500 inmates. In addition to numerous health, sanitation and security problems, staff members and inmates at the private prison told auditors they had “safety concerns” and do not feel secure.

The state sold the Conneaut prison last year to Corrections Corp. of America of Nashville, Tenn., for $72.7 million. The state pays CCA $44.25 per inmate per day to house, feed and clothe them and provide programs, plus a $3.8 million annual fee for maintenance. The company is obligated to run the prison at a savings of $3 million per year compared with state operation....

State prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the audit findings are “unacceptable, and CCA knows how strongly Ohio thinks that. It’s not unusual for management change to create issues that need refinement, but these results go beyond that and won’t be allowed to continue.” She said the state has put in place an improvement plan and expects to see results.

Steve Owen, spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, said in a statement: “We have built our 30-year reputation on not just meeting but exceeding the expectations of our government partners, and we take it very seriously when we do not meet those expectations. ... CCA is taking concrete corrective steps to ensure that this facility meets not only the ODRC’s goals but our own high expectations for our facilities.”

Chris Mabe, head of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said the audit confirms the union’s concerns about private-prison operations. The prison is not unionized. “There’s things they can’t do cost-effectively and they can’t do safely,” Mabe said. “When you incarcerate people to make money, it’s no-win at the end of the day.”

Some related posts: 

October 7, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Upcoming Sandusky sentencing generates little suspense, but lots of stories

Jerry Sandusky is scheduled to face sentencing this Tuesday.  At this stage, the case holds has seemingly limited suspense; I cannot imagine this serial child molester now could or would get anything less than a functional (if not an actual) life sentence. Still, the high-profile nature of the defendant and his crimes ensures that there will be plenty of press stories about the sentencing.  For example, here are some stories from the AP and UPI appearing in many papers today:

I doubt I will be eager to blog much about this high-profile state sentencing, in part because we can count on the mainstream press to give it plenty (too much?) attention. But perhaps readers can convince me via comments that there is something especially worthy of special blog attention as the Sandusky sentencing day approaches.

October 7, 2012 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack