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May 4, 2013

"Guantanamo camp burns through $900,000 a year per inmate"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Reuters article, which gets started this way:

It's been dubbed the most expensive prison on Earth and President Barack Obama cited the cost this week as one of many reasons to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which burns through some $900,000 per prisoner annually.

The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.

By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.

The high cost was just one reason Obama cited when he returned this week to an unfulfilled promise to close the prison and said he would try again. Obama also said that the prison, set up under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush and long the target of criticism by rights groups and foreign governments, is a stain on the reputation of the United States....

The cost argument could be a potent weapon at a time of running budget battles between Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and of across-the-board federal spending cuts that kicked in in March. The "sequestration" as it is known, is due to cut some $109 billion in spending up to the end of September and has cut government services small and large.

Just one inmate from Guantanamo, for example, is equivalent to the cost of 12 weeks of White House tours for the public - a treasured tradition that the Secret Service says costs $74,000 a week and that has been axed under sequestration.

A single inmate is also the equivalent of keeping open the control tower at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport for 45 months. That control tower, another victim of cuts, costs $20,000 per month to run.

The $900,000 also matches the funding for nearly seven states to help serve home delivered meals to the elderly. Sequestration has cost Meals on Wheels a median shortfall of $129,497 per state, the organization says.

I do not blog much about GTMO because the inmates held there have not be duly convicted and sentenced. That said, I think it is notable just how high the price tag seems to be on keeping that facility in operation.

May 4, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Could pets possess the key to progressive pot policies?

The seemingly silly question in the title of this post is prompted by this seemingly silly new article headlined "Pot for pets? Vet offers unorthodox marijuana treatment for pups in pain." Here is how the article gets started:

With medical marijuana legalized in California and several other states, one veterinarian is asking why a puff can't help ailing pooches.

Dr. Doug Kramer, who runs the Vet Guru animal center in Chatsworth, outside Los Angeles, believes that the active ingredient in pot, THC, could be the key to helping Fido feel better. 

He said that was the case in treating his own dog, Nikita, saying the marijuana regimen increased her "quality of life." Speaking with Vice magazine last month, Kramer said that a friend had first introduced the idea to him, saying that she used marijuana on her dog when other traditional medications were not working.  

When his own Husky, Nikita, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Dr. Kramer knew he had nothing to lose in the battle to help his pet deal with the pain.  "When it became clear that she was nearing the end, that's when she had nothing to lose, as long as it didn't hurt her," he told the magazine.

According to Dogster.com, Kramer is the first vet in the country to offer pot as a treatment for canine pain.... And as long as the movement garners enough support, even animal rights' groups could get behind it.

Ingrid Newkirk, the president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told ABCNews.com that within the right circumstances, THC could help.  "Our position is that anything that can help animals — if it's truly, properly administered in the right amount (and) can relieve a dog's pain — then they should be given the same consideration that humans in pain are given," she said.

May 4, 2013 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 3, 2013

"What I Saw at San Quentin"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new post at Crime & Consequences by Michael Rushford, President of Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.  The post describes at great length a recent tour of what was California's first prison.  Here are excerpts from the start and end of a fascinating read:

While I have been through some other state prisons, San Quentin was different. It was opened in 1852 as the state's first prison.  It was located on a 432 acre point facing the San Francisco Bay because, at the time, the city was overrun with crime.  Although it's obvious that the prison has been expanded over the years, walking through the main gate into the actual prison compound is like stepping back in time.  The gate itself is original and large enough to accommodate a stagecoach. Inside the compound is a grassy quad flanked by the gate wall, a cell block, a hospital and a building housing several small churches.  In addition to death row, which is isolated from the rest of the prison, roughly 4,500 inmates are housed inside the main prison.

The cell block we saw was identical to those portrayed in the movies: long rows of 5 x 9 foot cells, each with sliding bar doors, a metal toilet, sink, and two bunks, stacked five stories high.  Inmates who are able to get along with their colleagues share cells in the largest cell block.  There is a fairly large building called the adjustment center for inmates, including about 200 condemned murderers who are either too violent or too vulnerable to mix with other inmates.  Richard Allan Davis, for example, lives in the adjustment center because the other inmates hate child killers....

Anyone who believes that murderers in California are living comfortably on death row should take this tour.  It is a miserable existence.  I now understand why we receive letters from death row inmates asking for our help in expediting their executions. Legislators, bleeding hearts and judges who think that they are helping these murderers by preventing executions are hopelessly naive.  Those who think we should improve their living conditions are missing a critical point: these murderers have been sentenced to death for murdering innocent people.  Keeping them alive any longer than necessary to confirm their guilt is an injustice.

Finally, San Quentin is a very old, dilapidated facility sitting on 442 acres of the most valuable real estate in California.  It should be torn down and the property sold off.  Some fraction of the profit should be used to built a modern prison in a less expensive part of California.

May 3, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

How can/will Boston bombings victims reasonably "confer" with prosecutors and be "reasonably heard" in proceedings?

Long time readers know that I am a fan of the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771, because it gives express recognition of key rights of participation for federal crime victims and provides means for enforcement of these rights. Also, as the title of this post suggests, the CVRA is potentially a law professor's dream because of the many challenging legal issues that necessarily arise if and whenever there is a major federal crime with lots of obvious (and not-so-obvious) victims who might make claims under the CVRA.

In this post on the night of the capture of Dzhokar Tsarnaev, I quickly flagged a few legal issues the CVRA might raise in his federal  prosecution.  But especially with new buzz about a possible plea deal to take the death penalty off the table for Tsarnaev following the appointment of federal defender Judy Clarke, I wanted to talk through some CVRA concerns a bit more fully.

First, consider the definition of who has rights under the CVRA: section (e) of 3771 states "the term 'crime victim' means a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense."  Tsarnaev has already been formally charged with the federal offense of using a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and using an explosive device in the malicious destruction of property.  Even if we only focus on bodily harm and property harm, there were obviously hundreds of persons at the Boston Marathon finish line who were "directly and proximately harmed" (and severely harmed) by Tsarnaev's federal offenses.  All those sent to the hospital and so many others on the scene when the two bombs exploded clearly have statutory rights under the CVRA now (though I doubt many, if any, have lawyers (yet) working to help them know and understand their CVRA rights).

Moreover, psychological harm also surely "counts" under the CVRA. This means many thousands of persons in Boston (and perhaps tens of millions of persons throughout the US) could at least reasonably claim to have been "directly and proximately harmed" by the Boston bombings.  I wonder if any persons claiming psychological harm might at some point assert they have significant statutory rights under the CVRA now in the prosecution of Tsarnaev.

Second, consider some key statutory rights set forth in the CVRA: section (a) of 3771 states that a crime victim has, inter alia, a "right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing,..." and a "reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case."  And, notably, section (c) states that officials "engaged in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime shall make their best efforts to see that crime victims are notified of, and accorded, [their CVRA] rights" and that the "prosecutor shall advise the crime victim that the crime victim can seek the advice of an attorney with respect to [their CVRA] rights.

Because plea negotiations are not conducted as part of "any public proceeding," the Boston bombing victims would not under the CVRA have a right to "be reasonably heard" during the negotiations.  But, of course, any court proceeding to formally enter any plea will be a public proceeding, which means every obvious (and not-so-obvious) victims here would have a right to urge a judge to accept (or reject) any plea deal arranged by the parties in this case.

Perhaps even more significantly right now, I would assert that a fair reading of the CVRA places a duty on DOJ officials to make "their best efforts" to confer with at least some (many?  most?  all?) of the Boston victims whenever there is serious consideration of any plea deal to take the death penalty off the table.  Prosecutors also would seem to have a duty under the CVRA to let the Boston bombing victims know that they can (and should?) seek help from an attorney when considering these matters.

Criticially, crime victims have never been thought to have a constitutional right to an appointed attorney, and the CVRA plainly does not create a statutory right to an attorney for crime victims.  Consequently, I fear that many (most?  all?) of the Boston bombing victims may ultimately get little professional help in securing the potential benefits of the important statutory rights set forth in the CVRA.  And maybe in a case in which a federal offense has arguably produced many millions of crime victims, perhaps we have to recognize that, for practical if not principled reasons, there may always be significant functional limits on the rights of even the most sympathetic of crime victims.

Some related recent posts:

May 3, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Democrats kill death penalty reform proposals in California

As reported in this local article, "legislation to shorten death penalty appeals in California, and bring back the gas chamber, has been rejected by a state Senate committee." Here are the details:

The bill, sponsored by the California District Attorneys Association, was defeated by the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday on a party-line 5-2 vote.

Backers of SB779, including its author, state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine (San Diego County), said the bill would speed up executions in California, which have been blocked by court orders since 2006.  It was introduced following the narrow defeat in November of a ballot measure to repeal the state's death penalty law.

The bill would have limited most condemned prisoners to one round of appeals in the state court system and another in federal court.  Other provisions would have eliminated public review of regulations on execution procedures, barred disclosure of the suppliers of drugs used in executions and authorized a new method of gas chamber executions.

California's last execution by cyanide gas was in 1993.  A federal judge ruled a year later that the gas chamber at San Quentin caused excruciating pain and violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lethal injections at the prison were halted in 2006 when another federal judge ruled that the executions, carried out by poorly trained staff in a dimly lit chamber, posed an undue risk of a prolonged and agonizing death.  The court-imposed moratorium is likely to remain in place at least through 2013 as the state tries to validate new regulations and cope with a shortage of execution drugs.

May 3, 2013 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

"Proposals would legalize marijuana in Ohio"

The title of this post is the headline of this article that caught my eye this morning in my own local paper.  Here are the basics of the story:

As poll numbers show Ohioans are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of marijuana use, a Youngstown Democrat wants to give people the chance to make the drug fully legal in Ohio.

Rep. Robert F. Hagan has made a few attempts over the years to persuade his colleagues to allow for the use of medical marijuana in Ohio, and each effort has died a quiet death. A spokesman for Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, declined to comment on the pair of proposals Hagan introduced yesterday.

One is a bill that would allow patients with certain chronic conditions such as cancer or sickle-cell anemia to use marijuana for treatment.  Eighteen other states have approved similar measures. “In addition to the studies that show marijuana to be a valuable treatment option for chronic pain, nausea and seizure disorders, I have heard countless stories of how cannabis has made a difference in the lives of people who are sick or dying,” Hagan said.

His other proposal, modeled after an amendment recently passed in Colorado, would ask voters to approve allowing people 21 or older to purchase and use marijuana.  The drug could be sold only by state-licensed establishments and would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax.  “With billions upon billions spent on the war on drugs with little progress to show for it, it is time for more-sensible drug policy in this country,” Hagan said, arguing that the revenue could help restore cuts to education and local governments.

It takes a three-fifths vote for the legislature to put an issue on the ballot.  A recent Saperstein Associates poll of more than 1,000 Ohioans for The Dispatch found that legalizing medical marijuana was overwhelmingly favored, 63 percent to 37 percent, but making pot completely legal was opposed by a 21-point margin.  Martin D. Saperstein, head of the Columbus polling firm, noted that surveys in other states are finding growing acceptance of legalizing marijuana, especially if it would be regulated and taxed.

As I will be blogging about in the coming months, in the Fall I will be teaching a seminar at my law school titled "Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform."  Because Ohio is still a fairly conservative state socially, I doubt talk of marijuana reforms will be much more than talk over the next few years. But I am pleased to see the talk getting started, and it will be especially interesting to watch here whether and how public opinion may change as more and more states move forward with marijuana reform experiments.

May 3, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Nebraska legislature sends "Miller fix" bill to governor

As reported in this local article, headlined "Lawmakers pass new sentencing limits for juveniles," a bill responsive to new Eighth Amendment doctrine which modifies the sentencing options for young killers has been passed by Nebraska's legislature.  Here are the details:

With the bill (LB44), juveniles could be sentenced to a minimum 40 years to life, with eligibility for parole after 20 years. Judges could continue to use discretion on life sentences for young people who commit first-degree murder.  And they could sentence a youth to more than the minimum.

The bill grew out of the state's need to act on a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that indicated states must provide some meaningful opportunity for release based upon demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.  The courts would have to consider mitigating factors in sentencing, such as age, maturity and home environment, including previous abuse of the juvenile.

LB44 passed final reading Thursday on a 38-1 vote.  Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad was the lone vote against it. "I just felt like the mandatory minimums were too extensive, particularly when we are talking about juveniles," she said.

But there are good aspects of the bill, Conrad said.  "And I appreciate the hard work and compromise that the committee and the sponsors and other members diligently worked on."...

The bill doesn't address retroactive action for those inmates who committed their crimes as juveniles and are serving life sentences.  Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Ashford has said the courts would have to address that.  If signed by the governor, those men and women serving mandatory life sentences could file requests to have their sentences reviewed.

I have plans this summer to write an article explaining why I think, both as a matter of law and as a matter of policy, all significant changes to sentencing rules and procedures ought to be presumptively retroactive rather than presumptively non-retroactive (subject to constitutional limits/problems). Consequently, I think court should presume retroactivity in a setting like this one when it appears a legislature has opted not to address whether a new sentencing statute should be retroactive and has punted the issue to the courts to fill in this legislative gap.

May 3, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 2, 2013

"Gideon's Shadow"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Justin Marceau, which is available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The right to counsel is regarded as a right without peer, even in a field of litigation saturated with constitutional protections. But from this elevated, elite-right status, the right to counsel casts a shadow over the other, less prominent criminal procedure rights. Elaborating on this paradoxical aspect of the Gideon right -- that the very prominence of the right tends to dilute other rights, or at least justify limitations on non-Gideon rights -- this essay analyzes the judicial and scholarly practice of employing the counsel right as a cudgel to curb other rights.

This piece now joins my list of must-read pieces providing a provocative perspective during a period that has included lots of Gideon celebrations now that the decision is 50 years old. Here are links to posts noting other articles and commentary in this milieu:

May 2, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Alabama mass shooter wants (but cannot get) a death sentence rather than LWOP

A helpful readers sent me this fascinating article from Alabama, which is headlined "Man charged in Copper Top shooting writes in letter to judge that he is sorry and had asked for death penalty."  Here are the fascinating details:

Nathan Wilkins, the man charged with injuring 18 people in a July 2012 shooting at The Copper Top bar in downtown Tuscaloosa, told a judge in a letter that he is sorry and that he has asked for a death sentence.

In the letter dated April 22 sent to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Brad Almond and filed Tuesday morning, Wilkins wrote that he has issues with his court-appointed attorney. "I know I can't get a fair trial in Tuscaloosa," the letter states. "It is obvious by your actions so far in making me keep the same lawyer that you appointed. I have written you telling you the problems with him but instead of taking care of it you chose to ignore it. Why would I want a lawyer representing me who has me already convicted and sentenced me to life in his mind."

In a letter sent to the judge in December, Wilkins asked for a new attorney and told the judge that he had no memory of the night. He also wrote that he had been prescribed medication that made him suicidal.

Wilkins, 45, was indicted in August on 68 counts in connection with a July rampage that included a late July 16 shooting in the Indian Lake subdivision in Northport and an early July 17 shooting at the Copper Top in downtown Tuscaloosa's Temerson Square. He is accused of using an assault-style rifle in the shootings and of setting fire to his former employer's property in Brookwood and in Northport.

Wilkins turned himself in on July 17 at a FedEx store in Jasper. He remains in the Tuscaloosa County Jail on $2 million bond. A trial has been scheduled to begin Monday.

"I had asked Ted Sexton and my lawyer to give me the death penalty but instead they want to put me in prison for life because it wasn't bad enough because no one died," the letter states. "Why send me to prison for life and support me with taxpayer money. That used to make me so mad when I wasn't in jail and paying taxes and had to support people like that. You can ask anyone who knows me that this is what I believe. So I am taking this out of your hands and sentencing myself to death."

Attempted murder is not included with capital offenses under Alabama law. "I cannot bear to be away from my family especially my grandkids for life," the letter states. "I would like to tell all involved I am sorry. I wish this incident would bring attention to prescription sleeping pills, especially Ambien, before it ruins someone elses (sic) life!  I want to say I'm sorry to everyone involved. Thank you for giving me no other choice."

This story raises so many interesting and challenging issues, I am not sure where to start.  Just discussion purposes, let me ask three different questions of three different groups of potential readers:

1. For strong death penalty opponents: "Do you think this defendant, who seems all but certain to get an LWOP sentence for his many crimes, should be allowed/enabled to commit suicide if and when he gets an LWOP sentence?"

2. For strong death penalty proponents: "Doesn't this case demonstrate that there are some defendants who truly view an LWOP sentence to be worse than death?"

3. For everyone else interested in a constitutional debate: "Do you think that, because (a) death has been deemed by the US Supreme Court to be a "cruel and unusual" punishment for Nathan Wilkins's crimes and (b) he really seems to view LWOP a punishment worse than death, is there at least a reasonable basis for his lawyers to claim that LWOP for Nathan Wilkins should also be considered "cruel and unusual" because their client (genuinely?) views such a punishment to be crueler than death?"

May 2, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

A big day and big new realities for criminal justice in Maryland

As reported in this Washington Post article, headlined "O’Malley to sign death penalty repeal and scores of other bills today," two big national criminal justice reform stories are finding expression in one day of bill signing in Maryland. Here are the basics:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to sign more than 250 bills on Thursday, including legislation to repeal the death penalty, allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses and legalize medical marijuana....

The bills were among those passed in an extraordinarily busy 90-day legislative session that ended last month. A final batch of bills is scheduled to be signed May 16.

With the governor’s signature Thursday, Maryland will become the sixth state in as many years to end capital punishment. Under the legislation, which O’Malley championed, death sentences would be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Catholic Church, which advocated for repeal, is planning to celebrate the signing by lighting up the Baltimore Basilica overnight. The landmark is the first Catholic cathedral in the United States.

MDPetitions, com, a conservative group, is expected to announce soon whether it will launch a petition drive to force a statewide vote on the death penalty repeal. If the group were to collect enough signatures, the law would be put on hold pending the outcome of a November 2014 referendum.

The legislation legalizing medical marijuana limits distribution to academic medical centers, which will be required to monitor patients and publish their findings.

Legislative analysts say it is unlikely that dispensing of the drug would begin before 2016. It is also unclear how many institutions might choose to participate. Two of the state’s most prominent — the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins University — have been reluctant to get involved.

But supporters of the measure have hailed it as a significant step toward a compassionate treatment option for people with such illnesses as cancer and multiple sclerosis. Eighteen states and the District have enacted similar laws.

May 2, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Can a Hard-Core Criminal Become a Better Person?"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece up at Slate coming from Quora where questions submitted by readers get answered by experts or persons in the know.   This question was answered by by Chris Richardson, a consultant, and here are excerpts:

Yes.  My father did.

He was born a sharecropper in Georgia in 1927.  His mother and father, never on easy terms (this is an understatement), separated when he was about 12 years old, and she moved with him and his younger sister to Boston, where she became a popular actress in the New Deal-funded black Shakespearean theater there....

They lived, of course, in the ghetto.  My father became a young hustler very early in his career there, pulling various scams to bring a little extra cash to the family....

When he was 14, the United States went to war.  My father wanted to join the fighting, but not only was his skin color a barrier, he was also too young to enlist.  But he knew he had to get out of Boston and the life of crime (and punishment); he didn't need to be clairvoyant to see in his future.

He eventually figured out how to join a mercenary group recruiting in Canada, was trained, outfitted, and shipped to China, where he fought against the Japanese during the war and later for the Communist Chinese government in various skirmishes afterward. From this, he learned the following: fluency in both Mandarin and Cantonese, much of which he retained in later life; a predilection for Asian women, and indeed for all things Asian; and how to do what was necessary to survive, including killing other humans without reservation or excessive remorse.

The latter skill paid off when, as a young man in the late 1940s, he was shipped to Los Angeles with nothing but a thank you from the Chinese government, a couple hundred bucks in his pocket and the shirt on his back.  He immediately learned that things hadn't changed much in his favor back home, so finding honest work for decent pay was not an option.  So he started hustling again, eventually becoming the leader of a group of drug smugglers bringing various contraband into Texas, Arizona, and California from Mexico. He learned Spanish.  In the course of these activities, he committed any number of violent crimes, including, rumor has it, murder.

A few years later, he was arrested for drug smuggling, tried, convicted, and sent to prison, where he remained for nearly 15 years, until his release in the early 1960s.

And this time, things were different.  The "crazy, liberal" California state government had created a program specifically designed to actually reform ex-convicts, including black ones, by sending them to college on special scholarships.  My father enrolled in Sacramento City College, transferred to UC-Davis (yes, that's my alma mater, too), and excelled. He earned multiple degrees in political science, met and married a crazy, rich white hippie chick from Orinda (my mother), fathered a son (me), and eventually landed a job as a professor of political science at the California State University in Chico.

He retired from Chico State in 1993, at the ripe old age of 66.  Nine years later, he died in his living room of a heart attack, five days before the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, having never committed another crime, other than the occasional traffic violation, again.

May 2, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 1, 2013

DOJ review confirms government waste and mismanagement of BOP's handling of compassionate release

Public policy groups have long criticized the many terrible ways in with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) administered the authority Congress provided it for the early release of prisoners in dire condition. Most notably, late last year, as discussed here, Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums today released a major report criticizing the poor administration of the federal compassionate release program. Today, this big new report from the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General confirmed what critics have long said. Here are key excerpts from the final portion of the report:

We concluded that an effectively managed compassionate release program would result in cost savings for the BOP, as well as assist the BOP in managing its continually growing inmate population and the resulting capacity challenges it is facing.  We further found that such a program would likely have a relatively low rate of recidivism.  However, we found that the existing BOP compassionate release program is poorly managed and that its inconsistent and ad hoc implementation has likely resulted in potentially eligible inmates not being considered for release.  It has also likely resulted in terminally ill inmates dying before their requests for compassionate release were decided.  Problems with the program’s management are concentrated in four areas.

First, the BOP’s regulations and Program Statement do not establish appropriate medical and non-medical criteria for compassionate release consideration and do not adequately define “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances that might warrant release....

Second, the BOP has failed to put in place timeliness standards at each step of the review process....

Third, the BOP does not have procedures to inform inmates about the compassionate release program....

Fourth, the BOP does not have a system to track all compassionate release requests, the timeliness of the review process, or whether decisions made by institution and regional office staff are consistent with each other or with BOP policy....

The BOP also does not track the time it takes to process requests and has no formal or standard means of determining the date the review process begins.  Consequently, the BOP cannot monitor its process effectively.  This is especially problematic for inmates with terminal medical conditions, and we found that 13 percent of inmates whose requests had been approved for compassionate release by a Warden and Regional Director died before a decision was made by the BOP Director....

Further, the BOP does not maintain cost data associated with the custody and treatment of inmates who may be eligible for compassionate release.  Despite this lack of data, the BOP reported to Congress that it could save $3.2 million by expanding the compassionate release program....

Finally, we found the rate of recidivism for inmates approved and released through the existing compassionate release program to be low compared with the overall rate for federal inmates released into the community.

Some recent related posts:

May 1, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Intriguing final (sentencing) chapter in landmark SCOTUS Fourth Amendment case

Via this post at The BLT, which is titled "Man in Landmark Supreme Court GPS Case Pleads Guilty," we find out today that Antoine Jones' success in convincing the Supreme Court to declare his warantless GPS tracking to be an unconstitutional search in the end allowed him to secure a plea deal with a sentence of only 15 years in prison rather than his original federal LWOP term.  Here how:

Facing his fourth trial, the man at the center of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on GPS tracking pled guilty today to a drug conspiracy charge and was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison.

Antoine Jones was arrested in 2005 and charged with participating in a drug trafficking ring in the Washington area. Jones will receive credit for time already served, meaning he'll spend an additional seven years in jail.  After he is released, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle sentenced him to five years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service.

"I think you can teach other people how to stay out of trouble," Huvelle said to Jones during today's hearing. Huvelle has handled the case from the beginning.  "It's been a long haul, Mr. Jones," she said.

Jones stood trial three times. His first trial ended in a mistrial in 2007. He was found guilty at the second trial and received a life sentence, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated that conviction after finding the government violated his Fourth Amendment rights through the warrantless use of a Global Positioning System tracking device.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit's ruling, meaning prosecutors couldn't use the GPS data at trial.  The government had used the information to link Jones to a drug house in Maryland.  During the course of the investigation, the authorities never saw Jones personally handle any drugs.

Following a third trial earlier this year, in which Jones represented himself, the jury split and Huvelle declared a mistrial.  The government announced shortly after that it planned to seek a fourth trial.

Following today's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene Soltys declined to discuss details of the plea negotiations, except to confirm that Jones continued to represent himself.  She also declined to comment on the resolution of the case....

Jones, who waived his right to appeal, requested Huvelle recommend he be placed in a federal prison near Atlanta, where he has family.  Huvelle agreed to make the recommendation; the Federal Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision about his placement.

Huvelle urged Jones to do something "legitimate" with his life after serving his time in jail.  She pointed out that some of the jurors thought Jones performed well as his own lawyer and that he had wasted his talents.

May 1, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

New big Human Rights Watch report assails placing juve sex offenders on registries

Us0513_reportcoverAs reported in this new AP piece, Human Rights Watch today released a big report urging governments to stop placing juveniles on publicly accessible sex-offender registries. Here are parts of the AP account of the report and reactions thereto:

Human Rights Watch said its report, being released Wednesday, is the most comprehensive examination to date of the impact that registry laws have on juvenile sex offenders. "Of course anyone responsible for a sexual assault should be held accountable," says lawyer Nicole Pittman, the report's author.  "But punishment should fit both the offense and the offender, and placing children who commit sex offenses on a public registry — often for life — can cause more harm than good."

The report says the laws, which require placing offenders' photographs and personal information on online registries, often make them targets for harassment and violence. In two cases cited in the report, youths were convicted of sex offenses at 12 and committed suicide at 17 due to what their mothers said was despair related to the registries.  One of the boys, from Flint, Mich., killed himself even after being removed from the list....

The registry laws generally include restrictions that prohibit offenders from living within a designated distance of places where children gather, such as schools and playgrounds. "They often struggle to continue their education," Human Rights Watch said.  "Many have a hard time finding — and keeping — a job, or a home."

According to Human Rights Watch, 747,000 adult and youth sex offenders were registered nationwide as of 2011. The organization said it was unable to quantify how many were juveniles, but it interviewed 281 youth sex offenders while preparing the report, as well as defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, law enforcement officials and victims of child-on-child sexual assault....

Under a federal law, the Adam Walsh Act, states are required to include certain juvenile sex offenders as young as 14 on their registries.  Some states have balked at complying with this requirement, even at the price of losing some federal criminal-justice funding. Other states have provisions tougher than the federal act, subjecting children younger than 14 to the possibility of 25-year or lifetime listings on public registries.

According to Pittman, it's fairly common in about 35 states for juveniles to be placed on public sex-offender registries.  Other states take that step only for juveniles convicted of sex offenses in adult court, she said, while a few place juvenile sex offenders only on registries that are not accessible by the public.

The report recommends that all juveniles be exempted from the public registration laws, citing research suggesting they are less likely to reoffend than adult sex offenders. Short of a full exemption, the report says, registration policies for juveniles should be tailored to account for the nature of their offense, the risk they pose to public safety and their potential for rehabilitation....

Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, said his organization would not support a blanket exemption of juveniles from the sex-offender registries. But he said prosecutors should have the discretion to require registration or not, based upon each case.

"If a 15-year-old 'sexted' a picture of him or herself, it is safe to say that prosecutors would take appropriate steps to ensure that person isn't required to become a registered sex offender for life," Burns said in an e-mail. "If a 17-year-old had committed multiple violent sex offenses against children, registration as a sex offender would most likely be recommended."...

Mai Fernandez, of the center for victims of crime, said the entire sex-offender system — covering both juveniles and adults — is flawed and needs an overhaul.  "If you know a young person living in your neighborhood has raped someone, there are things that should kick in — tighter supervision, more services — to be sure that child doesn't commit that crime again," Fernandez said.  "That's more important than the registry."

The full 111-page HRW report, which is titled "Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US," can be accessed via this link in both complete pdf and on-line form. Here is how that page describes the report:

This 111-page report details the harm public registration laws cause for youth sex offenders. The laws, which can apply for decades or even a lifetime and are layered on top of time in prison or juvenile detention, require placing offenders’ personal information on online registries, often making them targets for harassment, humiliation, and even violence. The laws also severely restrict where, and with whom, youth sex offenders may live, work, attend school, or even spend time.

May 1, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Ohio completes execution of "baby raper" and killer of infant

As detailed in this local report, Ohio this morning carried out an execution this morning of a convicted murderer who made a uniquely disconcerted and unsuccessful argument for clemency in recent months.  Here are the details:

A man convicted of killing a 6-month-old as he raped her was executed today despite his arguments that he never meant to hurt her.  Steve Smith, 46, was executed by lethal injection for the September 1998 killing of his live-in girlfriend’s daughter, Autumn Carter, in Mansfield in northern Ohio.  He was pronounced dead at 10:29 a.m.

Smith had recently tried to get his sentence reduced to life in prison, arguing that he was too drunk to realize that his assault was killing Autumn and didn’t mean to hurt the baby.  The Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich unanimously turned him down, with the board calling him “the worst of the worst.”

“Smith took the life of an innocent 6-month-old infant while using the baby to sexually gratify himself,” the board said in its decision.  “It is hard to fathom a crime more repulsive or reprehensible in character.”

Among the witnesses to the execution was Smith’s 21-year-old daughter, Brittney, who said she has never believed he committed the crime.  “I know my dad’s innocent,” she said. “I do not believe he did this, and you know, he raised all my cousins, my sister before I was even born, and he never did anything (sexually).”

Brittney Smith, who was 7 when her father was arrested for Autumn’s killing, said she can’t reconcile the crime with the dad she knew, the man who taught her and her sister to fish and play card games and who would watch Disney’s The Lion King over and over with them.  She called him “a wonderful dad” and said she recently introduced him to his only grandchild, a 16-month-old girl named Alannah, whom he was allowed to hold and pose for photos with at a state prison.

Autumn’s mother and other family also had planned to witness the execution and considered it justice.  Autumn’s aunt, Kaylee Bashline, said that her family has no reason to doubt that Smith is guilty, especially with his recent admission, and that it’s not fair that he had 15 years since the crime to live, visit family and say his goodbyes. “He got all that, and what did she get?” Bashline said.  “She got to be killed and put in the ground where none of us gets to see her anymore. I don’t find it right.”

Back on the night of Sept, 29, 1998, Autumn’s mother, Kesha Frye, was awoken by Smith, her live-in boyfriend of four months.  Smith, who was extremely drunk and naked, laid a naked and lifeless Autumn on Frye’s bed, according to court records.

Frye rushed the baby and her other 2-year-old daughter to a neighbor’s house and called 911. Autumn was pronounced dead after doctors tried to revive her for more than an hour, and Smith was arrested.  The baby was covered in bruises and welts, had cuts on her forehead and had severe injuries showing she had been brutally raped, though no semen was present....

At trial, Smith didn’t testify in his own defense on the advice of his attorneys, even as prosecutors repeatedly referred to him as a “baby raper,” showed pictures of Autumn’s battered body and told jurors that her assault lasted up to a half-hour.  Expert witnesses for Smith testified that he might have accidentally suffocated the girl within three to five minutes of the assault.  The jury found Smith guilty of aggravated murder and sentenced him to die.

At an April 2 hearing in which Smith sought to have his death sentence reduced to life in prison, he admitted to the crime and said he didn’t mean to kill Autumn.  He also told the Ohio Parole Board that he was not in his right mind the night of the crime and has to live every day with what he did.  He said he was sorry and wished he could ask Autumn for forgiveness.

Smith became the 51st inmate put to death in Ohio since it resumed executions in 1999. The state has enough of its lethal injection drug, the powerful sedative pentobarbital, to execute two other inmates before the supply expires.  Eight more inmates are scheduled to die from November through mid-2015.

Interestingly, Smith's execution was only the 10th in the United States through the first third of 2013. Unless the pace of executions picks up considerable steam through the next few months, it now seems quite possible that the total number of execution in the US this calendar year may be lower than any years since the early 1990.

Given the broader death penalty trends seen throughout the last few years, it seems now quite possible that President Obama's second term could end up having many fewer total executions than during his first term and during the two terms of his two prior predecessors. (There were a modern record of well over 300 executions nationwide during Bill Clinton's second term from 1997 through 2000, and and I think the likely over/under for executions during Obama's second term might reasonably be set at around 100.)

May 1, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Is adjective "draconian" fitting for a proposed 13-year prison sentence for insider trader?

DracoThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Bloomberg article about the defense's sentencing submission in a high-profile, white-collar federal sentencing scheduled for later this month.  The Bloomberg article is headlined "Chiasson Seeks Leniency From U.S. Judge Citing Charitable Deeds," and here are excerpts:

Level Global Investors LP co-founder Anthony Chiasson, convicted of an insider-trading scheme that reaped $72 million, asked a judge to give him less time in prison than the 13-year term called for by U.S. sentencing guidelines.

Lawyers for Chiasson, 39, called such a sentence “draconian” in a, April 29 court filing. They urged U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan to impose an unspecified shorter prison term, saying the alleged crimes were “aberrant” and that Chiasson has led an “exemplary life.”

Defense lawyers Greg Morvillo and Reed Weingarten cited Chiasson’s charitable work, including his effort to save his Catholic Jesuit high school in Portland, Maine, from closure, the creation of a scholarship program for his alma mater, Babson College, and his contributions to the Robin Hood Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  “Anthony Chiasson is an extraordinary man,” Morvillo and Weingarten said in a memo to Sullivan. “But for the conduct that brings him before the court, Anthony has led an exemplary life.”

Chiasson, who began his career on Wall Street at Solomon Brothers and left SAC Capital Advisors LP to start the hedge fund, is scheduled to be sentenced May 13.  While U.S. court officials said that based on non-binding guidelines Chiasson should serve 121 to 157 months in prison, his lawyers said the appropriate range is 78 to 97 months.

A Manhattan federal jury in December found Chiasson guilty of five counts of securities fraud and convicted former Diamondback Capital Management LLC portfolio manager Todd Newman of one count of conspiracy and four counts of securities fraud.  Newman is scheduled to be sentenced May 2.  The U.S. alleged that the two portfolio managers were part of a “corrupt chain” of hedge-fund managers and analysts and insiders at technology companies who swapped and traded on illicit tips.  The U.S. said Level Global earned $68 million as a result of the insider trading based on material nonpublic information Chiasson received from Spyridon “Sam” Adondakis, a former Level Global analyst who worked for him. 

Defense lawyers estimated the fund earned $11.7 million as a result of trading in the stocks of Dell Inc. and Nvidia Corp. They disputed the government’s allegation that Chiasson based the transactions on illicit information and argued that federal sentencing guidelines allow prosecutors to inflate profits generated as a result of alleged crimes.  “There is only one reason the range is so high: the guidelines’ unrelenting predisposition to punish profit,” Morvillo and Weingarten said.

Morvillo and Weingarten also argued that Chiasson “should not be required to forfeit gains of any co-conspirators.” They said that the fund earned more than $21.6 million on trades by David Ganek, a Level Global co-founder who was ruled by Judge Sullivan to be an uncharged co-conspirator in the insider- trading scheme.  Adondakis, who pleaded guilty, testified that he didn’t tell Ganek about the source of his tips.  Ganek hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing....

Chiasson’s lawyers argued that he deserves a sentence comparable to others convicted of insider trading, including former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director Rajat Gupta, who was ordered to serve two years in prison, and former Primary Global Research LLC executive James Fleishman and Michael Kimelman, the co-founder of Incremental Capital LLC, who were both given 30- month prison terms.  In January, a federal appeals court allowed Gupta to remain free while he fights his conviction.  Both Fleishman and Kimelman were recently released from prison.

The adjective draconian is often used now as a synonym for unduly harsh punishments, and I am sure I have sometimes used the term this way in various settings. But the faint-hearted linguistic originalist in me cannot help but note that arguably no prison terms should be really called draconian because incarceration was largely an unknown punishment in achient Greece and Draco the lawgiver was (in)famous for prescribing death as a punishment for both major and minor crimes. (With tongue-in-cheek, I suppose maybe a different (but less real) Draco could be expected to be a proponent of long prison terms, though I this this character probably realized he and his family only narrowly avoid imprisonment in Azkaban.)

Historical and literary references aside, these latest insider-trader, white-collar sentencing cases are surely worth watching closely.  My sense is that, especially with the economy seeming to be improving, there is diminishing public and social pressure to "throw the book" at wall-street types like Anthony Chiasson.  And yet, as the arguments in Chiasson's case highlight, every below-guideline sentence given in major white-collar cases provide a strong defense argument in later cases that only below-guideline sentences are proper pursuant to the sentencing commands of 3553(a).

May 1, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 30, 2013

"The Boston Bomber Should Face The Possibility Of The Death Penalty"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new op-ed published today in Forbes and authored by (frequent SL&P blog commentor) William Otis.  Here are excerpts from this piece:

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother murdered three people at the Boston Marathon, and grossly mutilated dozens more.  The brother was killed in a shootout with police.  The question is what justice Dzhokhar should face.  The answer, as the Justice Department apparently understands, is a jury empowered to consider the death penalty....

Wanting justice is not wanting vengeance.  It is for this reason that our most honored Presidents — Washington, Lincoln and FDR — not only supported but used the death penalty. President Obama supports it.  At least three-fifths of Americans likewise support it.  Liberal New York Sen. Chuck Schumer says he supports it for the Boston killer.  This is not because these people are bloodthirsty or revenge-driven.  It’s because a prison sentence, no matter what its length, hardly seems to fit some gruesome, hate-driven, calculated crimes.

But that’s not the end of it.  Contrary to a typical abolitionist claim, the death penalty is a deterrent, as the majority of scholarly studies has found.  Anecdotal evidence tells us the same thing; California Sen. Diane Feinstein once recounted the story of a robber who left his gun at home for fear that, if he used it, he could face a death sentence....

While the are some cases in which a reasonable person could think we’ve got the wrong guy, this is not one of them.  There is simply no sane account in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev didn’t do it.

Some have voiced racial objections to the death penalty.... But that has no bearing in this case in any event, since neither Tsarnaev nor his victims is a member of a race that has historically suffered discrimination.  The legacy of Jim Crow simply does not exist in this case.

The central reason to keep the death penalty available is graphically illustrated here.   The crime was unbelievably sinister, cruel and sadistic; the victims, including an eight year-old, numerous; the perpetrator unrepentant; and his guilt not open to question by any reasonable person.  A society without the moral confidence to use the ultimate punishment in such a case has all but announced that it has no moral confidence at all.

To say that the jury should be empowered to consider the death penalty for Tsarnaev is not necessarily to say it should be imposed.  There may be mitigating circumstances, not presently in sight, that would warrant a lesser sentence.  It is the genius of the jury system that it takes cases one at a time.  But it is for exactly that same reason that we should not take the death penalty off the table in advance, before all the facts -- possibly mitigating, and possibly even more damning -- are known.

Though not explicitly stated by Bill Otis in this Forbes commentary, I perceive an implicit suggestion here that it would only be proper in this case for a federal jury after a transparent in-court sentencing hearing, and not for a federal prosecutor via an unexplained back-room plea deal, to decide what the proper punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  And via this post at Crime & Consequences, titled "No Quick and Dirty Deals," Bill Otis makes a bit more explicit why he thinks it would, at least right now, be inappropriate for prosecutors "to take capital punishment off the table in exchange for Tsarnaev's cooperation."  Bill concludes his C&C post this way: "In this high stakes showdown, give no deals to this devil and let a jury do what the Framers designed it to do."

For a host of reasons, I largely agree with Bill in this instance that the final punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should ultimately be decided by a jury (or a judge). My principal reason for this view in this is because I believe all sentencing decision-making should be as deliberative, open and transparent as possible, and that final sentencing outcomes should result from adjudicative judgements made by neutral judicial-branch actors rather than via opaque bargains and unreviewable policy decisions made by executive branch officials.

While I am pleased that, in this "high-stakes" setting, Bill Otis sees the value of judicial branch actors having ultimate sentencing authority, I am disappointed and somewhat confused why he has a different view when prison sentences are at issue. Specifically, in long comment exchange to a post about reform of federal mandatory minimums, Bill expressed great concerns about letting judges select final sentencing outcomes on the record according to federal sentencing law rather than letting prosecutors make this decision behind closed doors based on their charging and bargaining instincts.  

Dare I suggest it is only because Bill Otis likes the potential outcome of judicial-branch sentencing (rather than executive branch sentencing) in the Tsarnaev case that he now is keen to assert that prosecutors should not take a particular sentencing option off the table?  (For the record, I think it is fine for Bill Otis (or anyone else) to believe/decide that he will always favor whichever sentencing decision-maker is likely to be harsher (or softer).  But I hope he (and others) recognizes that such a position --- whether driven by a desire for consistent sentencing harshness or sentencing leniency --- necessarily prioritizes a substantive commitment to certain kinds of sentencing outcomes, and suggests that certain substantive sentencing ends always justify whatever procedural means are needed to get there.

Some related recent posts:

April 30, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack

Mizzou Supreme Court hears arguments concerning Miller's impact

As reported in this local article, headlined "MO Sup Court hears cases of two St. Louis juveniles sentenced to life without parole," the top court in the Show Me State is trying to figure out how it must adjust its sentencing system in the wake of last year's Miller ruling by the US Supreme Court.  Here are the basics of what is now before the Supreme Court of Missouri:

Two St. Louis cases were among the first to go before the state's high court Tuesday as it tries to decide what should be done with dozens of juvenile murder convicts who were sentenced to mandatory terms of life without parole before the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional....

One of those is the high-profile case of Ledale Nathan Jr., who was 16 when he and an accomplice stormed into a home in the LaSalle Park neighborhood of St. Louis, burglarized it and shot the family members inside. One woman was killed and two others, a city firefighter and police officer, were wounded.

In Missouri, first-degree murder carries only two sentencing options: life without parole, or death (which the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled could not apply to juveniles).  But in the June 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that while juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole, it cannot be automatic and must only be done after the judge or jury has the opportunity to hear mitigating circumstances that include the defendant's age and a range of other factors.

The state legislature is expected to ultimately decide how to change the statutory range of punishment to comport with the court ruling, clearing things up for cases going forward. But in the meantime, the state supreme court is being asked to consider what the Miller decision means for the older cases — both those on direct appeal, and those that have exhausted their state court remedies.

There are 84 cases in Missouri in which a person is currently serving life without parole for an offense committed as a juvenile, according to the last count by the Missouri Department of Corrections.  Of those cases, 46 of the offenders were age 17 at the time of the crime, 25 were age 16, 11 were age 15, and two were age 14.

Of the three cases argued on Tuesday, two were being heard on direct appeal, one being the Nathan case.  The state, represented by Attorney General Kris Koster's office, conceded that the two cases should get a new sentencing hearing, but argued the only options should be life — which amounts to 30 years in Missouri — or life without parole.

"Allowing life and life without parole achieves as close as the court can get without adding words or redrafting the statute," argued Assistant Attorney General Evan Buchheim, in the Nathan case. Buchheim said until the legislature decide on anything different, "we've got to work with what we've got."

But Nathan's attorney, Jessica Hathaway, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued as a friend of the court, contended that route would go beyond the court's authority by rewriting the statute.  They argued instead for a sentencing range that applies for second degree murder, or a Class A felony, which is ten to 30 years (life)....

Similar arguments were made in the other case being heard on direct appeal, the St. Louis case of Laron Hart, convicted of the fatally shooting of a man and robbery of a woman at gunpoint in January 2010, when he was 17.  In the third case involves the 1995 conviction of a McDonald County woman, Sheena Eastburn, as an accomplice in the shooting death of her husband.  The state has argued Miller does not apply to her case because she has exhausted her appeals, among other procedural issues.

April 30, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

US Sentencing Commission names new executive director

I am very pleased to report, as detailed in this official press release, that a former law school classmate of mine has now been named as the next staff director of the US Sentencing Commission.  (Apparently, the fact that Harvard Law School lacked any kind upper-level sentencing course in the early 1990s did not unduly retard the professional development of some of its students).  Here are the details:

The United States Sentencing Commission announced the appointment of Kenneth P. Cohen as its new Staff Director, succeeding Judith W. Sheon. Cohen has served as the Commission’s General Counsel since February 2007 and previously served as its Director of Legislative Affairs.  His appointment becomes effective on June 2, 2013....

Cohen graduated with highest distinction from the University of Virginia in 1988 and cum laude from the Harvard Law School in 1993.  Previously he served as a credit analyst for Chemical Bank in New York, and he was an associate at the Washington D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling from 1993 to 1997.  He also served at the Commissi on as an attorney advisor to then-commissioner Judge Deanell Tacha, and he served on detail as counsel to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter from 2005 to 2006.

The same press release also notes another notable recent new hire on the USSC: "The Commission also last month added Noah D. Bookbinder as Director of Legislative and Public Affairs.  Bookbinder previously served as Chief Counsel for Criminal Justice for the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he worked from 2005 to 2013, and as a Trial Attorney for the United States Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section from 1999 to 2005.   He graduated summa cum laude from Yale University in 1995 and with distinction from Stanford Law School in 1998 and served as a law clerk to United States District Judge Douglas Woodlock."

April 30, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Might the Gov of Virginia soon be a federal criminal defendant?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Washington Post piece, headlined "FBI looking into relationship between McDonnells, donor."   Here are the basics:

FBI agents are conducting interviews about the relationship between Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, his wife, Maureen, and a major campaign donor who paid for the food at the wedding of the governor’s daughter, according to four people familiar with the questioning.

The agents have been asking associates of the McDonnells about gifts provided to the family by Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and actions the Republican governor and his wife have taken that may have boosted the company, the people said.

Among the topics being explored, they said, is the $15,000 catering bill that Williams paid for the 2011 wedding of McDonnell’s daughter at Virginia’s historic Executive Mansion.  But questions have extended to other, previously undisclosed gifts from Williams to Maureen McDonnell as well, they said.

The interviews, at which Virginia State Police investigators were present, began in recent months as an outgrowth of a federal investigation of securities transactions involving Star Scientific, which produces a dietary supplement called Anatabloc.  The company disclosed that probe in a regulatory filing last month, saying it had received subpoenas from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Now, federal officials are trying to determine whether to expand that investigation into a broader look at whether McDonnell or his administration took any action to benefit Star Scientific in exchange for monetary or other benefits, according to the four people familiar with the interviews.  It is unclear whether the probe will be broadened.

April 30, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack