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May 11, 2013

"Discovery and Darkness: The Information Deficit in Criminal Law"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Ion Meyn now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Scholarship has long recognized a disparity between the discovery rights afforded to civil litigants and those afforded to criminal defendants.  The consensus is that this disparity is caused by resource constraints and limited access to the prosecutorial file.  This Article challenges that conception, contending that criminal defendants are in fact structurally precluded from conducting any formal investigation.  Merely entitled to disclosures of the State's evidence, a criminal defendant must rely on the fruits of the opponent's investigation to somehow suggest a counter-narrative.  This dynamic is inconsistent with the design of the adversarial system and results in a failure to engage in adequate pretrial testing.

This Article recasts a criminal defendant as an essential party to a criminal investigation who should have the pretrial power to compel information from multiple sources. Certainly, greater access to the prosecutorial file and more resources will mitigate discovery deprivations that currently plague criminal defendants.  But without extending a criminal defendant the power to direct an independent and formal investigation, adequate pretrial testing cannot occur.  Evaluating the investigative tools that should be extended to a criminal defendant, the Article utilizes a case study to ascertain how the application of these tools might affect a pretrial investigation.  Finally, the Article surveys and responds to policy arguments against permitting the participation of criminal defendants in criminal investigations.

I think this article has an especially important sentencing salience given that 9 of every 10 convictions are the results of a plea bargain.  I am certain that the terms of sentencing exposure in plea deals are always impacted by the realities of the "discovery" process in criminal cases (just as settlements in civil cases are always impacted by the realities of the civil discovery rules).

May 11, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Taking note of some notable federal tax sentences

This new Forbes commentary by Robert Wood, headlined "Lauryn Hill Jail Time --- What's A Fair Tax Sentence?", discusses some notable recent federal tax sentencing decisions. Here are excerpts (with a few links preserved):

Grammy winning Singer Lauryn Hill was sentenced in Newark.... Ms. Hill didn’t get probation alone as she had requested, but she drew only 3 months of incarceration. That is quite a good deal compared to the 24 to 36 months she faced. Her lawyer Nathan Hochman did a superb job of keeping her sentence down, stressing how she had stepped up, paid all her taxes, and more. In fact, a prior delay in sentencing may have been due to the fact that paying first is clearly better.

Whether it’s fair could be debated, but most observers would say she was lucky and ably represented. Tax sentencing isn’t an exact science. There are sentencing guidelines, but the judge also has discretion. And that can sometimes make similar missteps seem disparately treated. Just compare Stephen Baldwin’s sentence to Wesley Snipes’ [discussed here].

Ms. Hill pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file tax returns on more than $1.8 million between 2005 and 2007. Just as with Wesley Snipes, it could have been far worse had she filed false returns....

This is a light sentence given the dollars involved. It’s the second favorable sentence drawn by Hochman in recent weeks. He was one of the lawyers for 79 year-old Mary Estelle Curran of Palm Beach, who had foreign account troubles. Like Ms. Hill, she was facing serious jail time for filing false 2006 and 2007 tax returns.

That case generated national interest with a potential prison term up to six years. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp gave Ms. Curran one year probation, then instantly revoked it altogether. The Judge even suggested to Ms. Curran’s lawyers that they seek a Presidential pardon [discussed here].

Ms. Hill couldn’t expect the kind of deference Ms. Curran received, who had actually tried to come forward to the IRS about her foreign accounts and was rebuffed.  But regardless of whether you sympathize with celebrities, they often get bum steers from advisers, as clearly happened with Wesley Snipes.  His three-year stint seemed harsh.

In some ways, tax returns are the great levelers. Some things, after all, you just can’t delegate.

May 11, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 10, 2013

Are there (and/or should there be) special death penalty rules for female murderers?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article in the Christian Science Monitor, which is headlined "Jodi Arias case: What's trend line on women getting the death penalty?."  Here are excerpts:

Whether Jodi Arias gets her wish — to be executed rather than spend her life in prison — is now up to the Arizona jury that on Wednesday found her guilty of brutally murdering her one-time boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in a jealous rage on June 4, 2008, in a Phoenix suburb.

The jury must consider whether the cruelty, brutality, and depravity of her attack on Mr. Alexander deserves a sentence of death, a finding that would make Ms. Arias the fourth woman to be awaiting execution on Arizona’s death row.  (The state has not executed a woman since Eva Dugan, a cabaret dancer, was hanged in 1930.)  Against that possibility, jurors will weigh potential mitigating circumstances, such as Arias's allegations of abuse, which she outlined at length during the trial....

The Maricopa County jury will deliberate against a backdrop of evolving societal views about female murderers.  On one hand is a somewhat chivalrous sense that women are not capable of brutality at the same level as men and resort to it under extenuating circumstances — such as sexual abuse that Arias claimed at the hand of her victim.  On the other is a sense that women can indeed be cold-blooded killers who are every bit as deserving of execution as male murderers.

James Acker, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany, describes the “competing theories" this way.  One is that "this is about chivalry, where we’re all bending over backward to make sure no women, or members of the fairer sex, are treated this way, versus the less-sexist notion that women ... who do [commit capital murder] somehow tend to lose their identity as female and become a demonic killer that overwhelms the definition of a woman — that to dispatch someone to execution you almost have to relegate them [to being] outside the human family."  Still, he adds, "it’s more difficult to do that with a woman than a man.”

The Arias case alone probably won’t provide much of a guidepost to the direction of sentiment in the US regarding executing women.  But the sentencing phase comes at a peculiar time in the annals of death row — chiefly that the share of women murderers entering death row has stayed constant even as the percentage of men sentenced to die has noticeably dropped.

Recent related post:

May 10, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

"Marijuana taxes as a cash cow? Think again"

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

Taxing pot could raise hundreds of millions of dollars but still not be the moneymaker states were hoping for. Colorado and Washington State are launching their legal recreational marijuana industries, and both are coming to terms with scaled back expectations.

Washington had projected up to $450 million in annual tax revenue, but the state's new pot consultant figures it could be little more than half that.  In Colorado, the Colorado Futures Center think tank forecasts $130 million in taxes but thinks that won't even cover the cost of regulating the new industry.

Still, these forecasts are rough guesses.  They're based on estimates of drug usage and marijuana prices, both of which are difficult to measure because most of the cannabis industry is underground.

Another problem will be tax collection, especially because it's an all-cash industry. Banks and credit card companies won't service pot businesses while cannabis is still deemed illegal at the federal level.  To address that problem, Washington regulators hope to monitor every gram that's grown, moved and sold.

"We're going to look at some sort of traceability system that's going to track the plant from the plant to the sale," said Pat Kohler, a director at the state's Liquor Control Board. "This is definitely a challenge, a long with many other challenges."

At least one private company, MJ Freeway in Colorado, already does so-called "seed-to-sale" tracking.  Still, CEO Amy Poinsett warns that the all-cash nature of the industry encourages wrongdoing, like laundering money.  "There's quite a temptation to just slip $500 into your pocket," Poinsett said, noting it's a shame because "this is one of the only industries where people are saying, 'Please regulate me. Please tax me.'"

In Colorado, anti-pot politicians are threatening to roll back legalization if voters don't approve higher taxes. There's a proposal to send the question to voters later this fall.

Taxes are already high in Washington.  The law approved by its voters last year includes a 25% sales tax at three different stages: when it's sold from grower to processor, processor to retailer, and retailer to customer.  That will add a few dollars to every store purchase, pushing the price of a gram from its current average of $10 closer to $15.

With tax rates fixed in Washington, raising more revenue would have to come from selling more weed.  To accomplish that, regulators could potentially hand out more licenses and lessen restrictions on growers and sellers.  But that conflicts with one of the state's primary concerns: carefully controlling the price of marijuana.

May 10, 2013 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Notable new Oregon bill to allow some young sex offenders to get off registry

In this recent post about the Second Amendment rights of registered sex offenders prompted a lengthy comment thread about who does and does not end up on sex offender registries.  With that discussion fresh in mind, I found this AP story about a bill making its way through the Oregon legislature interesting:

Some young offenders convicted of having sex with underage partners would be able to request the crime be removed from their records under a bill narrowly passed by the Oregon House on Wednesday. Voting 31 to 27, the House sent the bill to the Senate with little discussion.

Under the bill, in order for adult offenders to apply to have their records erased, coercion or force could not have been used in the sex act. Other conditions include completion of all required court-ordered programs and treatments.

Proponents say the current punishment for such sex offenders does not fit the crime. Opponents say people convicted of sex crimes often reoffend and should not be able to have their records expunged. "Individuals who commit sex offenses ... this isn't their first time and it won't be their last," said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins, who opposes the bill on behalf of the Oregon District Attorneys Association. To say an act is consensual when it involves a person who is too young to give consent is indefensible and minimizes the law, Vitolins said.

For offenders to have their records cleared under the proposed law, they could be no more than five years older than the victim, and the victim must be at least 14. For sex crimes committed by a minor, the victim must be at least 12 and the age difference can be no more than three years.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, a sponsor, brought the legislation forward after hearing from a constituent who was 14 when his friend's parents reported him to the authorities for engaging in inappropriate behavior — which did not involve intercourse — with their young daughter.  "This is the difference between a life of hopelessness and a future for this individual," the Portland Democrat told lawmakers last month.

Among those testifying for the bill was Matthew Shettles, who served three years' probation on a charge of sex abuse for having sex with his girlfriend in 2004 on the night of his high school graduation. In written testimony, Shettles said he had just turned 18 at the time and she was five weeks shy of 15.  A counselor learned of the encounter and was required by a mandatory reporting law to inform authorities, he said.

He said having a sex crime on his record has made it difficult to get hired and rent an apartment. Employers and housing agencies often run criminal background checks.  "It doesn't seem reasonable that a guy who had sex with his girlfriend should have to pay for the rest of his life," Shettles said in the written testimony.

Under the bill, only sex crimes that meet a specific set of requirements could be erased from an offender's record.  Among other things, the person must have successfully applied to be removed from the state's sex offender registry and cannot have been convicted of other serious crimes.

May 10, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 9, 2013

"Looking Past the Hype: 10 Questions Everyone Should Ask About California's Prison Realignment"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN by Joan Petersilia and Jessica Snyder. Here is the abstract:

California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act passed in 2011 shifted vast discretion for managing lower-level offenders from the state to the county, allocated over $2 billion in the first 2 years for local programs, and altered sentences for more than 100,000 offenders. Despite the fact that it is the biggest penal experiment in modern history, the state provided no funding to evaluate its overall effect on crime, incarceration, justice agencies, or recidivism.

We provide a framework for a comprehensive evaluation by raising 10 essential questions: (1) Have prison populations been reduced and care sufficiently improved to bring prison medical care up to a Constitutional standard? (2) What is the impact on victim rights and safety? (3) Will more offenders participate in treatment programs, and will recidivism be reduced? (4) Will there be equitable sentencing and treatment across counties? (5) What is the impact on jail crowding, conditions, and litigation? (6) What is the impact on police, prosecution, defense, and judges? (7) What is the impact on probation and parole? (8) What is the impact on crime rates and community life? (9) How much will realignment cost? Who pays? (10) Have we increased the number of people under criminal justice supervision?

May 9, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Cleveland police report supports Aggavated Murder capital charges against Ariel Castro

I asked in this post yesterday whether Ariel Castro, the monster who abducted and sexually tortured three young women in Cleveland, could and should possibly face the death penalty under Ohio law.  Based on the newly released police report, discussed in this CBS News piece, I am now convinced that Castro can reasonably be charged with with Aggravated Murder pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2903.01. Here are the key facts supporting this conclusion:

New details on the women's harrowing ordeal were confirmed in a police report obtained Wednesday by CBS News.... [Michelle] Knight told police, according to the report, that Castro impregnated her "at least 5 times," but that each time he would starve her and then punch her in the stomach to induce a miscarriage.

Here are the key provisions of ORC 2903.01, with the terms in bold and some italics that highlight the basis on which Ohio prosecutors could charge Aggravated Murder against Castro:

2903.01 Aggravated murder.

(A) No person shall purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy.

(B) No person shall purposely cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy while committing or attempting to commit, or while fleeing immediately after committing or attempting to commit, kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated robbery, robbery, aggravated burglary, burglary, trespass in a habitation when a person is present or likely to be present, terrorism, or escape.

Critically, I do not mean here to assert that state prosecutors must now seek the death penalty in their prosecution of Castro.  I can envision lots of sound reasons for local prosecutors to decide not to seek the punishment of death here -- especially if Castro's three primary victims indicate a strong disinclination to go through the difficulties (and media sensation) of a full-blown capital trial and the inevitable appeals that would likely follow if a jury imposed a death sentence.

But I do mean to assert that state prosecutors should now be considering how they will present to an Ohio grand jury the evidence which could support a charge of Aggravated Murder based on Casto's alleged repeated purposeful efforts to unlawfully terminate Michelle Knight's pregnancies. 

Because Ohio legislators amended the state's Aggravated Murder provisions to expressly include "purposely caus[ing]... the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy," Ohio law now expressly reflects a state policy decision that a defendant who intentionally and unlawfully terminated a pregnancy could face an Aggravated Murder charge.  Based on the facts appearing in the recently released police report, Ariel Castro is the poster child for the kind of "unlawful pregnancy terminator" who, in my view, should be facing charges of Aggravated Murder under Ohio law.

Recent related post:

May 9, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Illinois moves closer to becoming 20th state to legalize medical marijuana

As reported in this article, headlined "Medical marijuana bill clears Illinois Senate committee," a very big and significant state has now moved one step closer to joining the ranks of state's legalizing marijuana for some purposes. Here are the basics:

A key panel of Senate lawmakers advanced legislation Wednesday that would allow patients with certain illnesses to use marijuana to ease their symptoms. The measure was approved on a 10-5 vote by the Senate Executive Committee despite concerns raised by law enforcement officials that the bill would not prevent medical marijuana card holders from driving while under the influence.

The proposal has already passed the House. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he is "open minded" to the legislation but must give the matter further review.

Under the bill, a four year pilot program would be established to allow doctors to prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana over two weeks. Patients would have to buy from one of 60 dispensing centers across the state and could not grow their own.

Sponsoring Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said the rules were the toughest in the nation. A former State's Attorney, Haine promised the bill is "not an opening to legalization" of recreational pot use. Opponents said they acknowledged the relief marijuana could provide but questioned unintended consequences.

May 9, 2013 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 8, 2013

Feds and Jeff Skilling cut resentencing deal to fix new guideline range at 168 to 210 months

As had been previewed a public notice to victims from the Justice Department last month (noted here), federal prosecutors and former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling have reached a deal concerning unresolved matters before Skilling's resentencing. This Reuters article details the basics of this notable high-profile sentencing development:

Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron Corp chief executive, could be freed from prison nearly a decade sooner than originally expected, under an agreement with federal prosecutors to end the last major legal battle over one of the biggest corporate frauds in U.S. history.

The agreement calls for Skilling to see his federal prison sentence reduced to as little as 14 years, down from the 24 years imposed in 2006. It could result in Skilling's freedom in late 2018, with good behavior.

In exchange, Skilling, 59, who has long maintained his innocence, agreed to stop appealing his conviction. The agreement would also allow more than $40 million seized from him to be freed up for distribution to Enron fraud victims.

A resentencing became necessary after a federal appeals court upheld Skilling's conviction but found the original sentence too harsh....  Wednesday's agreement, which is subject to court approval, recommends that Skilling be resentenced to between 14 and 17-1/2 years in prison, including time already spent there. Skilling has been in prison since December 2006.

A helpful readers forwarded to me the 7-page sentencing agreement, which can be downloaded below.  Here are the essential pieces of the deal:

The Government and the defendant agree that, based on the previous decisions of the Fifth Circuit with respect to proper calculation of the United States Sentencing Guidelines range and this Court's prior sentencing rulings on October 23, 2006, the United States Sentencing Guidelines provide that the defendant should be resentenced using an adjusted offense level of 36 and a criminal history category of I, resulting in an advisory guidelines range of 188 to 235 months of imprisonment.

For the reasons set forth below as "Relevant Considerations," the Government and the defendant agree to recommend jointly that the District Court apply a one-level downward variance and resentence the defendant using an adjusted offense level of 35, pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines.  Given that the defendant is located in criminal history category I for resentencing purposes, the jointly recommended adjusted offense level will result in a jointly recommended guidelines range of 168 to 210 months of imprisonment.

Neither the Government nor the defendant will seek any variance or departure from the jointly recommended guidelines range.  The Government may allocute at sentencing, but the Government will not take a position regarding the particular sentence the District Court should impose within the jointly recommended guidelines range.

The defendant agrees to waive all potential challenges to his convictions and sentence, including a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, appeals, and collateral attacks, except as set forth [below]....

Neither the Government nor the defendant will appeal a sentence imposed within the jointly recommended guidelines range.  However, the Government and the defendant each reserve the right to appeal a sentence imposed outside this range.

Download Skilling Sentencing Agreement final.cfv

May 8, 2013 in Enron sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

"Federal Public Defense in an Age of Inquisition"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by federal public defender David Patton, which is now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This Essay asks whether federal criminal defendants receive fairer process today than they did in 1963, when Gideon v. Wainwright was decided.  It concludes that in many situations they do not; indeed, they often receive far worse.  Although Gideon and the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 undoubtedly improved the quality and availability of counsel in the federal courts, extraordinary damage has been done since then to the aspect of the criminal justice system that makes lawyers so valuable: the adversary process.

Sentencing severity, the control of that severity by prosecutors rather than judges or juries, and high rates of pretrial detention have greatly limited defendants’ ability to challenge the government’s version of the facts and the law.  This Essay briefly describes federal criminal practice as it existed in 1963 and illustrates the shifts that have occurred by discussing current practice in the federal public defender office in New York City.

May 8, 2013 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

After high-profile state murder conviction, Jodi Arias claims she wants death penalty over LWOP

As reported in this new USA Today article, "Jodi Arias, convicted of first-degree murder of her on-and-off lover, says she was surprised by the jury's verdict Wednesday and hopes for the death penalty over life in prison."  Here is more:

Arias, who choked back tears as the jury's decision was read, told KSAZ-TV in a courthouse interview after the verdict was announced that she was surprised the jury found her guilty of premeditation in the death of Alexander. "It was unexpected for me, yes, because there was no premeditation on my part," she said.

She said she would "prefer to die sooner than later" and that "death is the ultimate freedom." The Maricopa County sheriff's office said in a statement that Arias was being put on a suicide watch because of her interview comments.

The 12 jurors deliberated reached a verdict after deliberating less than three full days. The televised trial, which began Jan. 2, gained notoriety for its accounts of gore and sex....

Arias spoke to Fox affiliate KSAZ in an exclusive courtroom interview about 20 minutes after the verdict was read.  Arias was mostly calm and chose her words carefully during the 45-minute interview, appearing to hold back tears a few times, much as she did during the trial, according to the interview.

She said she hoped her sentence would be the death penalty. "The worst outcome for me would be natural life (in prison). I would much rather die sooner rather than later," she said.

Arias said she is healthy, doesn't smoke and that longevity runs in her family. That means she would expect to live in prison for a long time. "I said years ago I'd rather get death than life," she said. "I believe death is the ultimate freedom."

Arias added that she hopes the family of victim Travis Alexander can find peace now that the verdict has been rendered. She said she prayed for members of the jury every day and was shocked that they decided the killing was pre-meditated.  Arias said she could "see how it could look that way" but that "there was no premeditation on my part."...

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued a statement after the verdict was read, saying, "We look forward to the next phase of the proceedings, where the state will present evidence to prove the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner."...

Defense attorneys contended that Arias killed Alexander in June 2008 in an unplanned fit of rage as she reacted to what attorneys portrayed as his pattern of emotional and physical abuse.  It had cost Maricopa County taxpayers at least $1.7 million as of late April to defend Arias.

I have not followed this case closely until now, and it will be interesting to see if the capital sentencing proceedings in the days and weeks ahead garner as much attention as the trial did. It will also be interesting to see if Arias and/or her attorneys expressly request the sentencing jury to impose a death sentence.

Based on various press reports, I surmise that Arias appears to be a effective liar, and thus I cannot help but wonder if her desire for a death sentence is not really a desire to die sooner. A shrewd defendant in Arias' position would know that her case and appeals would be sure to get a lot more attention, from courts and abolitionist activists, if she were to be sentenced to death. If Arias gets an LWOP sentence, her life and crimes will likely be forgotten in a few years. But if she gets sentenced to death, we will likely be seeing her name in the papers during each round of legal appeals for decades to come.

May 8, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Senate hearings scheduled this afternnon for two of Prez Obama's USSC nominees

As detailed on this official Senate Judiciary Committee webpage, today at 2:30pm there is a scheduled a hearing on "Nominations" which includes the nomination of "William H. Pryor, Jr., to be a Member of the United States Sentencing Commission" and "Rachel Elise Barkow, to be a Member of the United States Sentencing Commission."

Regular readers may recall from this prior post that I am very excited about all three of the new nominees to fill open spots on the USSC. I am thus thrilled to see two of these nominees get a hearing only a few weeks after their nomination, but also a bit puzzled about why US District Judge Charles Breyer is not also having a hearing. (As a matter of pure speculation, I am inclined to guess that Judge Breyer's nomination is more controversial perhaps because of his brother's status as a sitting Supreme Court Justice.)

Because I will be on the road all afternoon, I will not be able to follow closely this scheduled hearing, but others can watch it live via this link.  I am eager to hear reports on whether the questioning of these two nominees are tough or sweet, as well as whether their views on the import and importance of federalism concerns come up.  (I would also love to see Senators Leahy and Paul ask the nominees whether they share my perspective on the proposed Justice Safetly Valve Act of 2013.)

Some recent and older related posts:

May 8, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Could and should the death penalty be on the table in the Cleveland kidnapping and sexual torture case?

Like perhaps many others, I have feelings ranging from horror to disgust to macabre interest as facts emerge from Cleveland concerning the many awful crimes committed on at least three young women for a decade.  This USA Today story provides just a small flavor of what the victims may have endured for years upon years upon years:

Cleveland police say they'll delay "deep questioning" of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight as they get acclimated to their families and freedom.  While the three appear to be in good health, a disturbing tale of sexual assault, physical abuse, bondage and other horrors is already emerging....

The Castro brothers allegedly forced all three women to have sex, resulting in up to five pregnancies, according to a report by Cleveland's WKYC-TV.  The station, quoting unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that the Castros also beat the women while they were pregnant, with several unborn children not surviving....

A law enforcement official said there is some evidence that the victims were held in chains during at least part of their captivity.  The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, did not elaborate on other conditions of their confinement or whether they were ever moved from the home.

In addition, Khalid Samad, a former assistant safety director for the city, said law enforcement officials told him that the women were beaten while pregnant, with unborn children not surviving, and that a dungeon of sorts with chains was in the home.

I cannot help but wonder if the Supreme Court's decision to categorically precluding consideration of the death penalty for even repeat and aggravated child rape in its 2008 Kennedy opinion might well have come out differently had this horrific Cleveland story been known at that time.  Perhaps because I am a blood-thirsty SOB or just because I know what kind of justice I would want if someone abducted and sexual tortured my children in a dungeon for a decade, my guttural first sentencing thought in this case is some regret that a team of men who rape and torture young girls for over four presidential administrations cannot even face the prospect of our ultimate punishment for these kinds of crimes.

That said, as the title of my post here hints, Ohio law might provide a real and realistic basis to purpose a death penalty charge if there is significant evidence showing that the offenders, through physical abuse and forms of torture, "purposely ... cause[d] ... the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy."  If the defendants beat their victims with an intent to cause them to miscarry, they could well be prosecuted in Ohio with Aggravated Murder pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2903.01(B)

Of course, a lot more facts are going to need to be known and analyzed before anyone should jump to the conclusion that capital murder charges are possible in this high-profile case.  But because Ohio's statutes expressly reference "unlawful termination of another's pregnancy," I would expect and certainly hope that local prosecutors are already thinking about bringing homicide charges as well as rape and kidnapping charges in this case.  Ohio's legislators, by having amended the state's Aggravated Murder provisions to expressly included purposely causing the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy, indicated an interest in the possibility that the "worst of the worst" sorts of "pregnancy terminators" should possibly face the death penalty.  Based on the facts so far known, I feel very comfortable asserting that the defendants in Cleveland are likely among the "worst of the worst" sorts of "pregnancy terminators."

May 8, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

"The Exchange of Inmate Organs for Liberty: Diminishing the 'Yuck Factor' in the Bioethics Repugnance Debate"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Jamila Jefferson-Jones now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract (which prompts for me a reaction of "cool" rather than "yuck"):

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour granted clemency to Jamie and Gladys Scott on December 29, 2010.  This decision indefinitely suspended their double life sentences and freed them after 16 years in prison for armed robbery.  The price of their liberty: Gladys’ kidney.

The story of the Scott Sisters’ release and the condition imposed upon Gladys Scott reflexively elicits an intense negative response on the part of the listener who likely is focusing on the “yuck factor” — a strong sentiment that what they just heard is unfair, unseemly, or just plain wrong.

What happens, then if the Scott Sisters’ story is replicated — if it is multiplied across prison populations?  Were programs put into place that allowed prison inmates to trade their kidneys (or portions of their lungs, livers or pancreases) for liberty, it follows that the “yuck factor” would be multiplied exponentially.  However, it must be noted that in confecting his peculiar clemency condition, Governor Barbour chose a course of action that was, ironically, unobjectionable to the civil rights community (including the state’s Black activist community) that was clamoring for the release of the Scott Sisters.  If one were to cast the civil rights community as guardians of (or at least stakeholders regarding) the interests of poor and minority communities, the Scott Sister’s clemency case is particularly intriguing in that they cheered, rather than crying, “Yuck!” and objecting to the terms of release imposed by the Governor.  The outcry from some bioethicists notwithstanding, this scenario begs the question of why we should not allow other prisoners — those to whom serendipity has not provided an ailing sister — to do the same and whether it is in fact possible to do so while avoiding, or at least mitigating repugnance.

This article contemplates whether the National Organ Transplant Act’s (“NOTA”) prohibition against the trading of organs for “valuable consideration” should include an exception that would allow state and federal prison inmates to donate organs in exchange for release or credit toward release.  Such a stance surely raises questions regarding whether the state would be coercing the forfeiture of body parts as punishment or in exchange for freedom.  Moreover, critics may question the potential effects on the criminal justice system of allowing those facing incarceration to bargain their bodies, and conceivably, their long-term health, in exchange for reduced prison terms.  Therefore, such an inmate organ donation program is only feasible if a system is confected to remove the “yuck factor” ostensibly by removing coercion from the equation and by addressing the other concerns that mirror those addressed in the living donor sales debate.  Such a program would need to reframe the legal context in which the Scott Sisters’ clemency condition was crafted into one in which a great measure of power and choice resides instead in the hands of the inmate participants.

May 8, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 7, 2013

Wall Street Journal pitch for the Prez to get behind the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013

Thanks to the suggestions, and insights and energy of Harlan Protass, a criminal-defense lawyer in New York and an adjunct professor at the Cardozo School of Law, some of the ideas first expressed in this recent post concerning the proposed Justice Safetly Valve Act of 2013 now find expression in this Wall Street Journal opinion piece we co-authored.  Here is are snippets from the the piece:

There are few topics on which leading Democratic and Republican voices agree these days. But the recently introduced Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 — which would authorize federal judges to impose prison terms below statutory mandatory minimums in some cases — represents a new bipartisan effort at addressing America's overcrowded prisons and bloated budget.  Passage of the act, though, will depend on President Obama and his Justice Department getting behind it....

The Justice Safety Valve Act, recently introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and Rand Paul (R., Ky.), and to the House by Reps. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D., Va.) and Thomas Massie (R., Ky.), could help reduce the millions of taxpayer dollars wasted keeping thousands of people sentenced under mandatory minimum laws locked up.  The bill would enable federal judges to consider when or whether a mandatory-minimum sentence serves legitimate law-enforcement purposes given the particular circumstances of the crime and defendant.  Judges could impose prison terms below the statutory minimums only when they explain, through an on-the-record, reviewable opinion, that a shorter term is sufficient to serve the express goals of the criminal justice system set out by Congress....

[B]ipartisan support and sponsorship of the Justice Safety Valve Act highlights that prominent lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree — at this time of lean budgets, sequester cuts and overcrowded prison facilities — that the current federal sentencing scheme is neither fair nor effective, and that mandatory-minimum sentencing laws lie at the heart of the problem.

President Obama's vocal support of this bill would signal a real commitment to using his bully pulpit to advocate on behalf of significant reform proposals.  If he does not, the president's failure to champion sentencing reform may become his most lasting federal criminal-justice legacy.

Some recent and older related posts:

May 7, 2013 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Wait, Wait ... Don't forget to set your DVR for Constitution USA with Peter Segal

H-PETER-SAGAL-348x516As explained on this PBS webpage, a great new four-part series about the US Constitution is premeiring tonight on many local PBS stations.  Here are the basics via a couple links on the official PBS website:

Does the Constitution have what it takes to keep up with modern America?  Join Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! as he hits the road to find out. Traveling across the country by motorcycle, Sagal is in search of where the U.S. Constitution lives, how it works and how it doesn’t… how it unites us as a nation and how it has nearly torn us apart.

CONSTITUTION USA,... is hosted by Peter Sagal.... Over the course of the four-hour series, Sagal hits the road, travelling cross country on a customized red, white and blue Harley-Davidson, to find out where the Constitution lives, how it works, and how it unites us as a nation. From New York to San Francisco, from Missoula, Montana to Tyler, Texas, Sagal visits dozens of cities and small towns across America introducing viewers to some of today’s major constitutional debates — free speech in the digital age, same-sex marriage, voting rights, separation of church and state, presidential power in the post-9/11 world, to name just a few — and the fascinating stories of the people they affect every day.

And for each contemporary story, Sagal dives into the history behind it and talks to prominent legal scholars, historians and public figures, finding out what the Constitution says, the dramatic historical events and crises that defined the Constitution, and why all this matters.  Each one-hour episode of CONSTITUTION USA vividly illuminates a central theme essential to the Constitution.

A More Perfect Union:  Peter explores the Constitution’s most striking and innovative feature: its resilient brand of federalism.  The framers created a strong national government while at the same time preserving much of the power and independence of the states.  This delicate balance of power, seemingly hard-wired for disagreement and conflict, has served America well for more than two centuries.  But it has also led to tensions throughout American history and still sparks controversy today over medical marijuana, gun control, and Obamacare.

It’s a Free Country:  Ask Americans what the Constitution’s most important feature is, and most will say it’s the guarantees of liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  In this episode, Peter explores the history of the Bill of Rights, and also takes on several stories ripped from the headlines, involving freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and right to privacy.

Created Equal: The high ideals of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” endowed with “unalienable rights,” didn’t make it into the Constitution in 1787.  It took three-quarters of a century, and a bloody civil war, before the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868 made equality a constitutional right, and gave the federal government the power to enforce it.  The far-reaching changes created by that amendment established new notions of citizenship, equal protection, due process, and personal liberty and today those notions are being used to fight for same sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action, and immigration reform.

Built to Last?: In this last episode, Peter travels to Iceland where a few years after the country’s economic collapse, leaders decided to create a new constitution, turning to the U.S. Constitution for inspiration.  This prompts Peter to consider why our own founding document has been able to last for more than 225 years.  He looks at the systems that have kept the Constitution healthy — amendments, judicial interpretation, checks and balances — and also at the political forces that threaten to undermine the framers’ vision: excessive partisanship leading to gridlock, money in politics, and gerrymandering.

May 7, 2013 in Television, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

"The Case for Full Restitution for Child Pornography Victims"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN co-authored by Paul Cassell, James Marsh and Jeremy Christiansen concerning an issue that has riven the federal circuit courts and seems destined for SCOTUS consideration before too long. Here is the abstract:

This Article explores the issues of restitution to the victims of child pornography and other federal sex offenses in depth and contends that Congress meant what it said in Section 2259 — specifically that child pornography victims must receive an award for the “full amount” of their losses from any defendant convicted of harming them.  This approach is consistent not only with the plain language of the statute but the well-established tort principle that any intentional wrongdoer is jointly and severally liable with other wrongdoers for an innocent victim’s losses.  Requiring defendants to pay for the full amount of the losses that they have caused will address the significant financial losses suffered by child pornography victims.

May 7, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Are sexy and jobless now the best adjectives to describe federal criminal justice in SD Ohio?

The somewhat bizarre and silly question in the title of this post was my reaction to this somewhat bizarre and not-so-silly article in my own Columbus Dispatch this morning concerning the US Attorney and (former) Chief Federal Public Defender in the Southern District of Ohio. Here are the details:

It turns out that at least one Columbus lawyer ranks pretty high in sexiness. According to a popular business- and technology-news website, the No. 2 sexiest lawyer in America is the city’s own Carter Stewart, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.

“He doesn’t know how he got on the list,” said Fred Alverson, a spokesman for Carter’s office in Columbus. “By that, I mean we don’t know how he got noticed, but we’re honored he’s at the top of the list.” Stewart, 44, is a Harvard Law School graduate and has been in his current job since 2009.

First on the Business Insider list, not surprisingly, is California Attorney General Kamala Harris. President Barack Obama called her “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country” at a fundraising event in early April.

Though his animal magnetism was never brought up, Stewart’s opposite number, Steve Nolder, made an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show last week. Daily Show reporter and comic Aasif Mandvi traveled the country to learn how the federal sequestration is affecting people, and he came to Columbus to interview Nolder, the federal public defender for the Southern District of Ohio.

A straight-faced Nolder told Mandvi he hadn’t had to fire any employees in his office because of the automatic federal spending cuts. Instead, he fired himself. “That’s stupid,” Mandvi blurted out. After that, Mandvi took Nolder to “the only place he can now afford to eat” — a Columbus soup kitchen.

Nolder’s decision to ax his own position is no joke.  He has been with the public defender’s office in Columbus since it opened in 1995 and has been moved to tears several times when talking about his decision to leave the job he loves.

 

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
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I have embedded the Daily Show segment in which Steve Nolder appears at the very end of the end. Though I am not exactly an expert on sexy (and though I am surely biased toward folks who are follicly-challenged like me), I think Nolder might be able to give Carter Stewart a run for his money on that adjective. Jokes aside, though, I wish there was a well-staffed US criminal justice research commission (hint: USSC) or federal department focused on the administration of justice (hint: DOJ) who would be regularly reporting to the press and others on the seemingly very serious impact that the sequester seems already to be having on the day-to-day operation of the federal criminal justice system.

Recent related posts on federal sequester:

May 7, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"Florida tries to speed up executions as Maryland, other states repeal death penalty"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent FoxNews story, which actually does provide a relatively fair and balanced perspective on some recent capital punishment legislative developments:

While other states move to abolish capital punishment, Florida lawmakers are taking an entirely different approach -- trying to speed up executions for death row inmates.

The Republican-controlled legislature has sent a bill to Gov. Rick Scott that, if signed, would require the governor to sign execution warrants 30 days after the state Supreme Court reviews cases. It would require the state to execute a prisoner within 180 days of a warrant being signed. The legislation also sets new deadlines for death row appeals.

The bill arrives on Scott’s desk just days after Maryland became the sixth state in as many years -- and the 18th state overall -- to abolish the death penalty. Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill Thursday, ending what supporters said was decades of racial and socio-economic disparity in death penalty sentencing.

Supporters of the Florida legislation claimed their bill was aimed at improving -- rather than abolishing -- a broken system. They argue it puts an end to condemned prisoners sitting for years on death row -- often through what they consider unnecessary delays in the so-called “post conviction” process.

Republican state Sen. Joe Negron, the bill's sponsor, on Monday called that situation a “mockery” of the criminal justice system. “We believe in due process,” Negron told FoxNews.com. “But this is about cases in which there is no allegation of innocence and a succession of motion after motion.”

He and fellow state Sen. Rob Bradley also argue the bill ends the long waits that surviving families and others must endure between a murder and the justice they seek. “This bill is about closure,” Bradley told The Florida Courier.

The average stay on Florida’s death row before being executed is roughly 13 years, according to state records.

Critics of the legislation, however, question why legislators would want to, in effect, accelerate the appeals process, considering 24 people on death row have been exonerated since Florida resumed executions in the 1970s, which is more exonerations than in any other state. “It is both tragic and ironic that the state that sends the highest number of wrongfully convicted people to death row is considering speeding up executions,” said Mark Elliott, of the group Innocent on Death Row. “Speeding up executions virtually guarantees that innocent people will be executed.”

The legislation attempts to fix the problem of the accused getting shoddy legal services by suspending lawyers for five years from handling death appeals if they are found twice to have provided deficient representation.

May 7, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Corrupt state supreme court judge and sister facing state sentencing in PA

As reported in this local article, headlined "Former Pennsylvania Justice Orie Melvin, sister face sentencing today," a high-profile corruption case in the Keystone State has finally reached the sentencing stage. Here are the basics:

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and former court aide Janine Orie will be sentenced today by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus.

Prosecutors, in briefs filed before the court last month, are seeking incarceration for Ms. Orie Melvin and for her sister, who were convicted in February of misusing state-paid employees in Ms. Orie Melvin's campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009. The sisters were found guilty of theft of services, conspiracy and misapplication of government funds. Janine Orie was also convicted of tampering with evidence and solicitation.

In their briefs, Ms. Orie Melvin's defense attorneys asked for probation, citing her dedication to public service, charitable work and her devotion to her family and the hardship incarceration would bring upon her family, including her six children and elderly father.

The sisters were charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Among the allegations were that staffers wrote speeches, drove Ms. Orie Melvin to campaign events and worked the polls....

At the time of the verdict, Matt Mabon, the jury foreman, explained that the jury couldn't reach a decision on the official oppression count, which was connected to the employment of Lisa Sasinoski, chief law clerk for the justice who was a witness. Because there were competing versions of whether she was fired or resigned, jurors couldn't reach a decision, he said.

Ms. Orie Melvin voluntarily stopped hearing cases before the high court when she was indicted a year ago, just hours before the court issued an order suspending her to "preserve the integrity" of the system. That same day, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a recommendation that she be suspended with pay pending resolution of the criminal case, but in August, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Justice Orie Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.

Justice Orie Melvin fought unsuccessfully to have the charges against her dismissed, claiming that the Supreme Court itself should have jurisdiction over the allegations and not the criminal courts. A month after the verdict, on March 25, Ms. Orie Melvin announced, in a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett, that she would resign May 1 "with deep regret and a broken heart."...

Jane Orie is serving a 21/2- to 10-year prison term for using her staff for her own and Ms. Orie Melvin's campaigns and for forging documents to cover it up. She was found guilty in March 2012 of 14 of 24 counts against her, including ethics violations, theft of services, tampering with evidence and forgery.

Assistant district attorney Lawrence Claus is seeking consecutive sentences of incarceration in the aggravated range for Ms. Orie Melvin. The standard range is probation to 30 months, versus 48 months in the aggravated range. For Janine Orie, the standard range is probation to 27 months and up to 45 months in the aggravated range.

Related post:

UPDATE:  I am very pleased to see from this local article, headlined "Orie Melvin must write apology letters to Pennsylvania judges on photos of herself," that the sentence for the former judge includes a serious shaming sanction.  Here are the awesome basics, about which I will blog more in a future post:

Disgraced former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin was sentenced today to house arrest followed by probation and ordered to send handwritten apologies on photographs of herself to every judge in the Commonwealth.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus sentenced Orie Melvin to three years' house arrest with two years' probation to follow.

A jury found Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie guilty on Feb. 21 of using judicial staff, as well as the staffers of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to work on the campaigns in 2003 and 2009 for the Pennsylvania high court.

Orie Melvin, 56, was found guilty on six of seven counts against her, including conspiracy, theft of services and misapplication of government funds. She resigned from the Supreme Court in March.

She must serve in a soup kitchen three times a week and can otherwise only leave her house for church.

Judge Nauhaus also ordered that an official county photographer take a photograph of Orie Melvin, on copies of which she must apologize to each of Pennsylvania's judges. She must pay for the cost. He ordered a deputy to handcuff her and the photo was taken of her in handcuffs.

Her sentence also includes $55,000 in fines, a prohibition on using the title "justice" during her term and handwriting apologies to former members of her campaign staff and that of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, whom she made engage in illegal work.

May 7, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack