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May 6, 2013

Don't registered sex offenders need gun rights for personal self-defense more than others?

The question in the title of this post is my initial reaction to this big newpaper story from Iowa, headlined "50 sex offenders have gun permits: Law enforcement is concerned that state law allows offenders to easily obtain permits."  Here are excerpts from the lengthy Des Moines Register story,  which is less than fully informative about legal matters, but provides a lot of interesting facts nonetheless:

Joshua Duehr is one of more than 50 sex offenders in Iowa who can carry a gun in public. “I don’t leave the house without one,” said Duehr, who lives in Dubuque.

It’s legal — and it’s news that has surprised some state lawmakers and alarmed a few Iowa and national law enforcement officers.  An FBI official, the president of the Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association, the president of the Iowa State Police Association and two state lawmakers told The Des Moines Register they have public safety concerns after learning that a two-year-old state law on gun permits allows registered sex offenders to obtain a weapons permit....

Some, if not most, applications by sex offenders for permits to carry weapons would have been denied by county sheriffs before 2011, according to officials from the Iowa Department of Public Safety.  But under a two-year-old state law, sheriffs no longer have discretion to reject such applications.

The law change means people convicted of misdemeanor sex crimes can now walk the streets, malls or virtually any public place in the state while carrying a gun.  Almost all of the sex offenders on the Register’s list were convicted of misdemeanors such as lascivious conduct with a minor or assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.

But the Register found three men convicted of felony sex crimes who had permits to carry weapons in public.  Two of those men had their permits revoked by sheriffs after the Register asked about their situations....

Some sheriffs were aware that sex offenders are carrying weapons in public, primarily because they issue the permits and have firsthand knowledge about the issue.  But other professionals in Iowa’s law enforcement community were caught off guard.

Rob Burdess, a Newton police detective and the president of the Iowa State Police Association, was unaware that sex offenders are being issued weapon permits until he was asked about it by the Register.  He noted that people with felonies or domestic abuse convictions are typically unable to obtain weapon permits, so he questions the logic of allowing sex offenders — even those convicted of non-felony offenses — to carry weapons in public....

[A] review of states surrounding Iowa found that some sex offenders can obtain permits to carry weapons even though authorities said they aren’t aware of a large number being issued.  Those states — including Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin — have laws similar to Iowa’s that do not specifically exclude sex offenders from obtaining such permits. Minnesota law, however, makes it a misdemeanor for a person required to register as a sex offender to carry a handgun.

Just as state laws vary, so do opinions about whether armed sex offenders inherently pose more of a risk than other citizens.  Sex offense recidivism rates are much lower than commonly believed, according to legislative testimony given in multiple states by Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University in Florida.  She is frequently recognized as a national expert on sexual violence....

National uniform crime data from 2006 — the most recent data available — show that about half of all reported sex offenses included a weapon of some form (including the use of fists) but less than 1 percent of all reported sex offenses included the use of a firearm, according to Jason Rydberg, a graduate student at Michigan State.  Iowa numbers mirror the national trend.  Of the roughly 5,750 people on Iowa’s sex offender registry, 47 — or less than 1 percent — used guns in their crimes, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Safety....

The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, a national organization focused on the prevention of sexual abuse, generally advocates for cases to be reviewed individually when assessing if a sex offender is likely to reoffend or jeopardize public safety.  “There’s no blanket way of stating that sex offenders are more dangerous than everybody else,” said Maia Christopher, executive director of the association.

Iowa Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield and a former state trooper, isn’t reassured by the type of research offered by Levenson or groups like the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.  Until he was contacted for this article, Baudler was unaware that the new gun permit law he advocated for in 2010 has allowed dozens of sex offenders to obtain weapon permits....

An Iowa sheriff may deny a permit to carry a weapon if he believes probable cause exists that the person is likely to use a weapon in a way that would endanger themselves or others.  Those types of denials typically must be based on documented actions from the past two years.  Iowans who believe sheriffs have wrongly rejected their applications for a weapon permit may appeal.  Each appeal, generally reviewed by an administrative law judge, can cost a county government and taxpayers hundreds of dollars....

The cost and the real possibility of losing a case is one reason sheriffs don’t deny permits to carry weapons — even in cases where they have reservations — several sheriffs told the Register.

Washington County in January issued a permit to acquire a weapon to Ronald Nicholis Hahn Jr., who has been on the sex offender registry since 2005 because he was convicted of indecent exposure.  Dunbar said he approved the permit because Hahn passed background checks.  Hahn, 51, said he poses no threat to public safety and that he uses guns for hunting.  “My offense happened seven or eight years ago and it has nothing to do with weapons, so why should I be denied the ability to purchase a gun?” Hahn asked.

Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, indicated that he believes Iowa’s new weapons permit law doesn’t need to be revised to specifically ban sex offenders.  People convicted of felonies, including sex offenders, are already prohibited from obtaining a permit, he emphasized. “If their local sheriff does not have probable cause to restrict that person under current law from being able to obtain a permit, then that’s the situation at hand,” said Windschitl, a gunsmith who has advocated for multiple pro-gun bills.

Aggravatingly, this story fails to note that it is a serious federal crime, subject to up to 10 years imprisonment, for any and all persons convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor from even possessing a gun. Thus, as the story indirectly notes, only persons without a felony or domestic violence conviction is even lawfully able to possess a gun, let alone get a lawful state permit for one. (I find notable that somehow three sex offender felons were able to get an Iowa gun permit, which perhaps highlights the need for background checks on how good current background checks are in the permit-issuance process in Iowa.)

More to the point of the question in the title of this post, if we think the Second Amendment right to bear arms is linked in some important and significant way to the natural right of personal self-defense (as Heller suggested), a reasonable claim might be made that it would be uniquely unconstitutional to deny gun permits to otherwise eligible persons on a state sex offender registry. There has long been considerable anecdotal evidence of considerable vigilante violence directed toward persons based simply on their presence on a sex offender registry. Given the history of private violence directed toward sex offenders — not to mention the possibility that local law enforcement might not be too quick to come to the aid of someone they know is a registered sex offender — I can fully understand why Joshua Duehr and other low-level registered sex offender might be afraid to move around in public without packing heat to potentially aid any efforts to exercise their natural right of self defense.

Though I do not fancy myself a Second Amendment expert, I wonder if a state law like Minnesota's  prohibiting misdemeanor sex offenders from having a firearm in constitutional in the wake of Heller and McDonald.  If and when a low-level sex offender in Minnesota or elsewhere could reasonably document a history of serious personal threats of serious violence directed toward him because of his placement on the registry and asserted a genuine belief in his need for a firearm in order to protect himself, could a state really require his name and address to stay on the sex offender registry while also denying him a right to keep and bear arms to defend himself?

May 6, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Gun policy and sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Second Amendment issues, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (90) | TrackBack

New bipartisan House Judiciary Committee task force to examine overcriminalization

Overcrim graphicAs reported in this Wall Street Journal article, Congress is creating a new federal criminal justice task force to address the problem of Congress creating too much federal criminal justice.  The article is headlined "Task Force Aims to Lighten Criminal Code: Bipartisan Congressional Initiative Targets Bloated Federal Provisions Cited by Critics for Driving Up Incarceration Rates," and here are excerpts:

Congress plans this week to create a new, bipartisan task force to pare the federal criminal code, a body of law under attack from both parties recently for its bloat.

The panel, which will be known as the House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013, will comprise five Republicans and five Democrats.  It marks the most expansive re-examination of federal law since the early 1980s, when the Justice Department attempted to count the offenses in the criminal code as part of an overhaul effort by Congress.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Va.) said he expected the committee to work through consensus. "We've been warned it's going to be a working task force and it means we'll have to essentially go through the entire code," he said.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) a longtime champion of overhauling the code, will lead the task force.  He is expected to reintroduce a bill he has tried to get through several congresses that would cut the size of the criminal code by a third. "Overcriminalization is a threat to personal liberty and an expensive and inefficient way to deal with a lot of problems," he said.

In a city with deep political divisions, the expansion of federal criminal law has created a coalition of allies from opposite sides of the aisle, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, the libertarian Cato Institute, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association. Legal experts estimate there are 4,500 criminal statutes and tens of thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties, including prison.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year. In recent years, states have reversed years of steady increases by reducing their prison populations while the number of people held at the federal level has continued to climb.  Federal lawmakers and legal experts attribute part of the continuing increase to the rise in criminal offenses and regulations that carry prison time and the creation of laws that don't require knowledge of wrongdoing.

Democrats have long opposed the growth of parts of the system, blaming mandatory minimums for the increase in the federal prison population, especially the rise in African-American inmates.  For Republicans, the encroachment of federal law into areas that could be handled by the states is a top concern....

Other committee members include Rep. Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) and Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.). Recommendations made by the task force will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R., Va.) said in an interview.

As the first sentence of this post suggests, I am not especially optimistic about the prospects for a new federal criminal justice entity doing a robust job of curtailing the size and scope of the federal criminal justice system.  Nevertheless, simply the creation of this new task force, as well as its composition and commitment to work via consensus, suggests that at least a few persons inside the Beltway have come to realize there can and should be bipartisan efforts to shrink the considerable costs of the massive modern federal criminal justice system.

May 6, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

California Supreme Court decides localities can ban storefront marijuana shops

As reported in this new AP article, "local governments in California's have legal authority to ban storefront pot shops within their borders, California's highest court ruled on Monday in an opinion likely to further diminish the state's once-robust medical marijuana industry." Here is more about the ruling and the context via the AP:

Nearly 17 years after voters in the state legalized medical marijuana, the court ruled unanimously in a legal challenge to a ban the city of Riverside enacted in 2010.

The advocacy group Americans for Safe Access estimates that another 200 jurisdictions statewide have similar prohibitions on retail pot sales. Many were enacted after the number of retail medical marijuana outlets boomed in Southern California after a 2009 memo from the U.S. Justice Department said prosecuting pot sales would be a low priority.

However, the rush to outlaw pot shops has slowed in the 21 months since the four federal prosecutors in California launched a coordinated crackdown on dispensaries by threatening to seize the property of landlords who lease space to the shops. Hundreds of dispensary operators have since been evicted or closed voluntarily.

Marijuana advocates have argued that allowing local government to bar dispensaries thwarts the intent of the state's medical marijuana law - the nation's first - to make the drug accessible to residents with doctor's recommendations to use it.

The ruling came in the case filed after Riverside city lawmakers used zoning powers to declare storefront pot shops as public nuisances and ban the operations in 2010. The Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, part of the explosion of retail medical marijuana outlets, sued to stop the city from shutting it down. A number of counties and cities were awaiting the Supreme Court ruling before moving forward with bans of their own.

The 38-page majority opinion from the California Supreme Court, as well as a three-page concurrence by Justice Liu, can be found at this link.

May 6, 2013 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Should the top 1% get sentenced extra tough for defrauding Social Security?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable report of an interesting federal sentencing proceeding taking place today in Minnesota.  Here are the basics:

A North Oaks couple will be sentenced Monday for defrauding the Social Security Administration of more than $300,000 in medical assistance despite a family net worth of $11 million. James and Cynthia Hood pleaded guilty in October to falsely claiming $332,000 in medical assistance payments for their seriously disabled children over five years.

Prosecutors are recommending a 41- to 50-month sentence for James Hood, but no prison time for Cynthia Hood ecause of the critical role she plays in caring for her two disabled children.  One is autistic and the other has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen is expected to sentence the couple in a hearing beginning at 11 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.

The U.S. attorney’s office stated it “does not object to a non-incarcerative sentence for Cynthia Marsalis Hood, which includes home confinement, community service and a fine.” She should normally receive a prison sentence of 27 to 33 months for her conduct, federal prosecutors said in a memorandum last month.

The Hoods’ three children are 15-year-old triplets. Two of them are described by the prosecutors as “severely disabled.” Cynthia Hood sleeps next to one child “on a nightly basis” to keep her airways clear, in addition to helping “with all toileting and bathing needs.”...

The prosecution’s recommendation for a lighter sentence cites specific paragraphs from federal guidelines that indicate Cynthia Hood may have cooperated with the federal investigation. When they pleaded guilty in October, she and her husband paid the U.S. Marshals Service $484,312 as part of the plea agreement....

James Hood is a retired professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the couple “decided to relocate to Minnesota to take advantage of the health care and educational resources available for their children,” the court documents state.

Social Security Income (SSI) benefits for a child require that a parent and child have no more than $2,000 in income and assets, excluding a house and vehicle. “SSI is meant to be a resource of last resort,” prosecutors wrote. However, in a benefits interview in February of 2006, Cynthia Hood lied, claiming her husband lived in Louisiana and she was the sole legal guardian of her children, authorities said. She also lied about her assets and said she only had $1,400 in the bank, they said.

She failed to disclose that she and her husband owned a house in Louisiana that they had listed for sale at $278,000, that she held at least 16 bank accounts while he had 68 bank accounts, and that their combined interest income in 2006 was $183,000, prosecutors said.   Her husband also owned a farm in Batavia, Iowa, that consisted of 180 acres of timber and farmland where corn and soybeans grew, with an income in 2005 of $187,910 that included $19,000 in state and federal agricultural payments.

The documents state that Cynthia Hood was purportedly unaware that for three years, they also received Medicaid payments from Louisiana for their children, thereby defrauding both Minnesota and Louisiana at the same time.  The medical payments Hood received in Minnesota included more than $20,000 per year in salary to serve as a personal attendant for her children and $30,000 for a wheelchair-accessible elevator installed in the Hoods’ North Oaks home.

I would like to see the proverbial "book" thrown at these white-collar scoundrals, but I do not see the value or need for that book to include costly federal incarceration for either of these defendants.

In my view, it would be far more fitting to require James Hood to do 3+ years of community service rather than spend time (and taxpayer money) getting three squares and a cot in some low-level federal prison facility.  I think Mr. Hood could and should be ordered as part of probation to helping truly poor people secure the Medicaid funding they deserve or ordered to spend time back in New Orleans helping truly needy folks still struggling with post-Katrina challenges.

UPDATE:  This follow-up press report reports on the the sentencing outcomes for the Hoods, which appear to track the recommendations made by prosecutors:

A wealthy North Oaks woman will serve no prison time for defrauding Medical Assistance of $332,000. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen sentenced her to probation instead, saying her two severely disabled children “are very, very dependent on you.”

Ericksen ordered Cynthia Hood, 55, to pay a $300,000 fine, but said she was entitled to the lighter sentence because she was not the fraud’s ringleader, cooperated with authorities in investigating her husband, and was essential to caring for the children.

Her husband, James Hood, 69, was sentenced to 3½ years in prison and must pay a $200,000 fine. Erickson called his actions “despicable.”

May 6, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Plea Bargains that Waive Claims of Ineffective Assistance -- Waiving Padilla and Frye"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable and timely new article by Nancy King now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This essay addresses the growing use and enforcement of terms in plea agreements by which a defendant waives his right to attack his plea agreement on the basis of constitutionally deficient representation during negotiations leading to the agreement. Contrary to other commentators and some courts, I argue that the Constitution does not forbid the enforcement of such a waiver, and review steps a judge may have to take in order to ensure that a defendant’s express waiver of the right to effective representation during plea bargaining is knowing and voluntary.  I also argue that although the Constitution does not prohibit judges from enforcing broad waivers of the right to attack a plea-based conviction on the basis of poor representation during bargaining, routine adoption and enforcement of such terms would be unwise, and suggest several strategies to avoid this result.

I am looking forward to finding time to read this article, in part because I have seen a number of federal plea agreements than include express waivers of the right to effective representation during plea bargaining.  I have not given much thought to the constitutional status of these plea terms, but I have long thought it ethically questionable for prosecutors to demand such terms in plea agreements and for defense attorney's to urge defendants to accept such a waiver without also advising the defendant to consider seeking outside advice as to whether he can and should accept such a term in any proposed plea deals.

This view is informed by professional conduct rules (such as this one) which often require a lawyer to recommend a client seek another independent lawyer's advice before waiving potential malpractice claims. Waiving a viable IAC claim seems comparable to waiving a malpractice claim; I think similar professional rules ought to apply to lawyers in this kind of setting, especially since it is the client's liberty and future, rather than just his money, at stake in any dealmaking in any serious criminal cases.

May 6, 2013 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

You be the judge: how would you sentence for the missed tax payments of Lauryn Hill?

Lauryn HillAfter a rescheduling and now some important repayments, an interesting and high-profile federal sentencing is on tap for this morning in Newark, New Jersey.  This new Reuters article provides the basics for all would-be federal sentencing judges to ponder in order to answer the question in the title of this post:

Hip hop artist Lauryn Hill, on the eve of her scheduled sentencing on federal tax evasion charges, has paid off the balance of more than $900,000 she owed in back taxes and penalties, her attorney said on Sunday.

The Grammy-winning musician is scheduled for sentencing on Monday in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey on three charges she failed to file tax returns on more than $1.8 million between 2005 and 2007.  She faces up to a year in jail for each charge, but the final sentence is expected to be adjusted based on her repayment of the money, her attorney said.

She owed at least $504,000 in federal back taxes as well as state taxes and penalties that brought the estimated total to more than $900,000.  "Ms Hill has not only now fully paid prior to sentencing her taxes, which are part of her criminal restitution, but she has additionally fully paid her federal and state personal taxes for the entire period under examination through 2009," her attorney, Nathan Hochman, said in an email.

In April, Hill was admonished by U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo for failing to make promised payments on her unpaid taxes ahead of her sentencing.  She had expected to raise the money from a new recording contract last fall but only paid $50,000 when she did not complete the expected tracks, her attorney said.

Her attorney said last month that Hill lined up a loan secured by two pieces of real estate. He said on Sunday that the tax repayment came from a combination of sources but did not include funds from any new record sales.

A new single by Hill, her first in several years, called "Neurotic Society," was posted on iTunes on Friday.  She posted a link to the song on the social media site Tumblr on Saturday, writing, "Here is a link to a piece that I was ‘required' to release immediately, by virtue of the impending legal deadline.  "I love being able to reach people directly, but in an ideal scenario, I would not have to rush the release of new music... But the message is still there," she wrote.

Hill's 1998 solo album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" won the singer, a former member of the Fugees, five Grammy awards.

Given that it appears Hill has now made the government whole after her tax evasion crimes, and especially given that she apparently can be and wants to continue to be a productive tax-paying member of society, I believe I would be very eager to give Hill some kind of (harsh?  expensive?) alternative to imprisonment sentence.

For all sort of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, I think a significant fine plus a (very burdensome?) community service requirement could and should achieve all the congressional purposes of punishment better than a brief stint in prison.

Indeed, I think a creative shaming sentence could perhaps be especially appropriate in a case like this.It might be very beneficial, and I doubt unconstitutional, to require as part of a probation term that Hill write and release a few songs in which she discusses the consequences of failing to pay required federal taxes and/or in which she discusses the pros and cons of her experiences with the federal criminal justice system. 

UPDATE:  This AP story reports on the actual sentencing outcome for the federal tax code re-education of Lauryn Hill.  I will let readers click through so as not to turn this post into a "spoiler" before reading the comments.

May 6, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 5, 2013

Notable new Judge Weinstein opinion on child porn sentencing for juve offender

Over the weekend, experienced lawyer and federal sentencing guru Mark Allenbaugh (firm website here) alerted me to what he called a "new and (again) excellent opinion by Judge Jack Weinstein" in U.S. v. D.M., 12-CR-170 (EDNY May 1, 2013) (available here).  The opinion runs nearly 50 pages, and Mark provided a summary which he has graciously allowed me to post here:

D.M. is a child porn possession case wherein Judge Weinstein imposed straight probation. What is rather unusual about the case (in addition to the sentence imposed) is the fact that the government initially charged the defendant with distribution, which carries a 5-year mandatory minimum, but later allowed the defendant to plead to a simple possession charge in order for the court not to be bound by the mandatory minimum after the defendant successfully completed a couple of polygraphs regarding whether he intended to distribute (as is typical, he had used a peer-to-peer site to obtain the contraband).

The nature of the plea negotiation is quite interesting, and, as Judge Weinstein rightly notes, counsel for both sides should be congratulated for their effort to seek justice, as opposed to the all-so-typical bidding war regarding months' imprisonment that mirrors what occurs in civil settlement negotiations rather than what should occur (and what did occur here). 

Judge Weinstein begins the opinion as follows: “This case illustrates the sensible cooperation of prosecutor, defense, experts and the court to save rather than destroy an adolescent found to have used his computer to view child pornography.”  How many judges can say that in any criminal case that is resolved by plea?  Far, far too few. 

Judge Weinstein ends thus: “The sentence imposed will provide an opportunity for defendant to succeed in therapy, at school, at attaining employment, and at becoming a functioning and law-abiding member of society. A sentence involving incarceration has been considered and is rejected.  All concerned are best served by following this course.”

This is a good read for all, regardless of practice focus. (Of course, those who have clients charged with child porn, it is a particularly good case to read and cite, not the least of which is because it is the first published opinion to discuss in substantive detail the Commission’s new Child Porn report).

May 5, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

"Retroactivity and Crack Sentencing Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Harold Krent now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This article argues that the strong presumption against retroactive application of reduced punishments articulated in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dorsey v. United States is neither historically grounded nor constitutionally compelled. Although not dispositive in Dorsey, the presumption may prove pernicious in future cases, whether in dealing with marijuana decriminalization or lessened punishment for file sharing, and in no way should signal to Congress that future changes should apply prospectively only.

Although the Court reached the right result in applying the reduction in punishment for crack offenses to offenders whose sentences had not been finalized, the Court inordinately relied on the general savings statute enacted in 1871. Congress enacted that statute not to prevent retroactive decriminalization or diminution in punishment, but to avoid the consequence of abatement of pending prosecutions and penalties that, at common law, followed from alteration of a criminal statute. Congress wished to avoid the bizarre consequence of offenders walking free merely because Congress recodified a law or even increased the punishment for an offense without specifying that prosecutions could continue under the former enactment. In today’s world, the savings statute should be understood more as a default in the face of congressional silence – once it is clear that Congress considered the temporal scope of its action, the presumption disappears.

I next consider whether alternative justifications support a strong presumption for prospective application of any legislative change. I initially turn to the well entrenched norm against retroactive lawmaking. I reject the premise that the conventional reasons against retroactive measures have salience in the context of legislative amelioration of punishment. I then assess two separation of powers concerns that might justify a clear statement rule against retroactive application of congressional leniency. First, I ask whether Congress’s reduction of sentences would interfere with the President’s pardon authority under Article II, and second, whether Congress lacks the power to undo a final decision of the judiciary. The constitutional arguments raise no serious barrier to retroactive application of congressional leniency.

On the other hand, I reject the notion that Congress, in light of equal protection principles, must benefit those who previously committed the offense. To be sure, ignoring the plight of prior offenders at times seems grossly unfair, and Congress from a deterrence perspective lacks any justifiable reason to treat similarly situated offenders so disparately. Nonetheless, I argue that Congress under a retribution rationale can justify the differential punishment scheme and survive equal protection scrutiny.

In short, because there are no compelling policy or constitutional grounds to presume that congressional leniency should apply prospectively only, Congress should be accorded the discretion to determine where to draw the line in determining the proper amount of retribution for those who committed offenses prior to the decriminalization or diminution in punishment. The Court’s decision in Dorsey should have been straightforward – given the directive in the sentencing act to rectify the disparity in sentencing between crack and powdered cocaine offenses as quickly as possible, Congress intended the shortened sentences to apply to all pending cases.

May 5, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Boston bombings apparently does not change Massachusetts' legislators perspectives on the death penalty

The conclusion in the title of this post is my take-away from this new Boston Globe article headlined "The death penalty still divides."   Here are excerpts:

The Boston Marathon terrorism attack is stirring renewed talk about restoring the death penalty in Massachusetts, but so far has apparently done little to ease the sharp divide among lawmakers on the issue.

About a dozen area legislators contacted this past week said their positions on capital punishment — for or against — are largely unchanged in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings on April 15 and the killing of a campus police officer that followed.

The issue briefly captured the spotlight on April 23 with a proposed House budget amendment from Representative James Miceli, a Wilmington Democrat. Miceli’s amendment, identical to a pending bill he filed, would have allowed for the death penalty in cases involving the murder of a law enforcement, court, or correctional officer; or a judge, witness, or others involved in the court process. It would also be available for murders involving torture or carried out as an act of terrorism....

But Representative Ken Gordon, a Bedford Democrat who also represents Burlington and a part of Wilmington, opposes the death penalty, even in such limited cases. Gordon said that the horrific actions of the alleged terrorists had not altered his view. “We don’t have the moral authority to kill our citizens. That’s my position and I don’t make any exceptions.”

Miceli’s amendment was effectively defeated when the House, by a 119-38 vote, agreed to a substitute amendment offered by Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat, calling for a full study of the measure’s impact on the judicial system. Miceli said his amendment was not prompted by the bombings, noting that he filed it three days before the Marathon. But he said he was surprised that the event did not appear to sway his colleagues. “I felt under the circumstances of what had happened on the 15th, that would even give this more impetus, but it didn’t make any difference,” he said....

Miceli, who would favor a broader capital punishment bill, said he is pushing the more narrowly focused bill because he believes it has a better chance of passing. The death penalty has flared as an issue periodically in Massachusetts since the state abolished it in 1984. In 2005, lawmakers rejected a bill filed by then-governor Mitt Romney that is the same measure Miceli is now pushing.

Representative Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, said he has been a longtime opponent of the death penalty, and the recent events did not change that. “In a horrific event like the Boston Marathon attack, understandably it makes us all question what sort of judgment is appropriate for such evil people who commit attacks like that,” Lewis said. But he said he continues to believe that capital punishment is not the right approach “even in the more narrow situation that Representative Miceli proposed.”

Representative John Keenan, a Salem Democrat, said he opposes the death penalty on principle.  “A case like this certainly tests your ability to stand against it in terms of the magnitude of how heinous the crime was.  Personally, you want to see the person punished. But at the end of the day, killing someone to prove killing is wrong is inappropriate,” he said. He also cited the potential for an innocent person to be executed as a factor....

Representative Jerry Parisella, a Beverly Democrat, called the death penalty “an emotional issue and one I’ve been struggling with for quite a while.  I personally don’t want to make a decision based on one particular event.”  Parisella said he leans against the death penalty due to serious concerns about the potential for executing an innocent person.

I think it is notable that even such a dramatic mass murder has apparently not (yet) significantly impacted public policy perspectives on the death penalty in Massachusetts. As criminal justice fans know too well, legislators are often quick (and, in my view, often much too quick) to start talking about making legislative changes in the wake of one high-profile crime and criminal, whether that involves a parolee gone bad or a firearm misused or lying mom acquitted or a suicide by a suspect. But, providing yet another example of how death is different, it appears that long-standing positions on the death penalty are not likely to be remade in the wake of just one notable crime.

Disappointingly missing in this story are any follow-up questions in light of the reality that it appears that the surviving Boston bomber is likely to be facing the death penalty as part of his federal prosecution. I wish the reporter here had followed up with those representatives who support bringing the death penalty on the books in Massachusetts by asking why their efforts are even needed if and when it appears clear that the feds will be able and likely to bring the death penalty on the table if and when any major murder occurs in the state.

Some related recent posts:

May 5, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack