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July 6, 2013

"Crime makes halting comeback as a political issue"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article.   Here are excerpts:

The ad seems like an artifact from an earlier political era — a grainy mug shot of a convicted murderer, flashing police lights, a recording of a panicked 911 call and then a question about Colorado's Democratic governor, up for re-election next year: "How can we protect our families when Gov. Hickenlooper allows a cold-blooded killer to escape justice?"

The online spot from the Colorado Republican Party appeared only hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper in May indefinitely suspended the death sentence of Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people in 1993 and was scheduled to be executed in August. The governor cited problems with the concept and application of the death penalty.

Eclipsed by economic issues and other social concerns, crime is slowly re-emerging as a campaign issue. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, Republicans hammered Democrats on crime for focusing too much on rehabilitation and not enough on punishment and imprisonment. That changed as crime rates plunged in the 1990s and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton inoculated Democrats by being an avid death penalty supporter, interrupting his 1992 presidential campaign to preside over an execution.

Now increasing numbers of states are turning away from mandatory prison sentences and embracing rehabilitation programs to thin out inmate populations and save taxpayer money. The shift has been particularly pronounced in conservative, Republican-dominated states like Georgia, Texas and South Carolina.

That growing consensus is facing its first test in two political bellwether states where demographics have pushed Republicans into a political corner. In Colorado, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held his seat last year partly by attacking his challenger for failing to support a proposed state law to take DNA samples from people arrested on suspicion of committing felonies, and the GOP is hoping crime issues will help them unseat Hickenlooper and win back control of the state legislature in 2014. They have attacked Democrats for rejecting legislation to impose mandatory sentences of 25 years to life on sex offenders and for passing a law limiting prosecutors' ability to charge juveniles as adults. GOP leaders are trying to persuade the district attorney whose office prosecuted Dunlap to run for governor.

Republicans say they have no shortage of issues to run on in Colorado. But one, they say, stands out for its potency. "Crime, justice, law and order, public safety resonate in a more personal way than a chart and graph of GDP growth," said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

In California, which has conducted the most ambitious criminal justice overhaul in the nation, Republicans are targeting Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats over the state's policy that sends lower-level offenders to local jails rather than state prisons. The law went into full effect in late 2011, but already there have been several highly publicized cases of convicts released from prison committing crimes like rape and murder. The most prominent Republican to emerge as a possible challenger to Brown, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, in May launched a ballot campaign to reverse the prison overhaul.

Frank Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley law professor who has written widely on crime and politics, noted that crime rates appear to have leveled out after a two-decade decline. He called the recent GOP efforts "the test run as to whether there could be a resurgence in hard-right, punitive" crime politics. In California, the Republican Party has no statewide office-holders and less than one-third of the seats in the state legislature. In those circumstances, Zimring said, "you consult your greatest hits playbook from previous eras."

It's unclear if those attacks will resonate in an era that still features historically low crime rates and one in which voters have shown a willingness to reconsider tough crime laws. In California, for example, a ballot measure to roll back part of the state's controversial 1994 three-strikes law — it requires 25 years to life in prison for people convicted of a third felony — passed with 70 percent support in November.

"There certainly are signs that politicians are trying to use it as a wedge issue," said Marc Levin of Right on Crime, a Texas-based group that pushes flexible sentences and rehabilitation programs from a conservative perspective. "But I'm struggling to see a legislator who got voted out of office in the last several years for supporting criminal justice reform."...

"It used to be 'how do we demonstrate that we're tough on crime?'" said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts. "Now it's 'how do we get taxpayers better returns on their criminal justice dollars?'"

July 6, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Accounting for the high costs of a lingering death row in Connecticut

This local article from the Nutmeg State, headlined "Taxpayers' Costs Top $3.5 Million For Death Row Inmates' Lawsuit," details that the statutory repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut has not repelled all the costs of capital litigation.  Here are the pricey basics:

The cost to taxpayers of a long-running racial-bias lawsuit by death-row inmates has topped $3.5 million, with more possible before an expected judge's ruling within a few months — and then a possible appeal by whoever loses.  News coverage of the habeas corpus lawsuit in state Superior Court has centered on the trial late last year of claims by five convicted killers that Connecticut's death penalty is biased racially, ethnically and geographically....

[The] totals [now of] slightly more than $3.5 million .... doesn't include the time devoted to the case by the salaried staff members of [Chief State's Attorney Kevin] Kane's office, who have opposed the inmates' claims of bias in the administration of the death penalty. Kane was asked for an estimate more than a week ago, but said it would be difficult to compile and didn't come up with one by Friday.

The tally also doesn't include possible additional payments to the expert witness for the inmates, Stanford Law School professor John J. Donohue III. Records show that Donohue was paid $100,000 from 2006 to 2008. But he's done a lot of work since then, including testifying at the trial last year, said the lead lawyer for the inmates, David Golub of Stamford.  For all the time Donohue has put in, he might be owed "millions," Golub said, although he didn't know how much of that the state would actually end up paying him.

The inmates pursuing the bias suit want their sentences converted to life imprisonment without parole.  The trial of the case ended in December and Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza is expected to render a decision within several months....

The trial was conducted for more than 10 days from September to December in a makeshift courtroom inside Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, which houses the state's 11 death-row inmates. The 11 men on death row still face execution despite the state legislature's abolition of the death penalty in 2012. The abolition doesn't apply to people already on death row whose crimes predated the legislation....

The inmates' claims grew out of a study of Connecticut death penalty prosecutions first authorized by the state Supreme Court in 1995 after it was presented with information indicating that the administration of the death penalty had been disproportionally applied to black defendants, or to defendants whose victims were white. The Supreme Court directed that the information be analyzed to explain any racial disparities. That led to a study by Donohue of all homicides prosecuted in Connecticut between 1973 and 2006. Donohue concluded, and testified in court, that there has been bias. Michelson, the state's expert, has disputed that.

July 6, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

July 5, 2013

A year later, Texas still working through its response to Miller

This New York Times article, headlined "Young Killers in Texas Await Change in Mandatory Life Sentences," reports on the struggles that the Lone Star State has had in fuguring out just how to respond to the Supreme Court's ruling last year in Miller v. Alabama.  Here are excerpts:

[Scottie] Forcey was convicted in 2009 of fatally shooting Karen Burke, a 52-year-old Alvarado convenience store clerk. He is the youngest of 23 Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates who received mandatory sentences of life without parole for committing capital murder when they were younger than 18.

Now, as legislators work to comply with a United States Supreme Court ruling, those inmates could become eligible for parole after serving 40 years.

The justices ruled last year that sentences of life without parole for 17-year-old murderers violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Either the courts or Gov. Rick Perry could change such sentences in Texas. But both are waiting for legislators to decide what punishment juveniles like Mr. Forcey should face. Lawmakers, who failed to pass legislation in two sessions this year, are trying now for a third time.

In Texas, 17-year-olds have faced the same sentencing options as adults convicted of capital murder: the death penalty or life without parole. In 2005, the Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for anyone under 18, deciding that the less-developed brains of juveniles rendered them less culpable. That left only life without parole as the punishment for 17-year-olds.

After the court’s decision last year, in Miller v. Alabama, prosecutors said they had no sentencing options for 17-year-old killers. They asked lawmakers to make them subject to the same punishment Texas law requires for 14- to 16-year-old capital murderers: life with parole eligibility after 40 years.

Lance Long, a Harris County assistant district attorney, recently told lawmakers that until they decided on a sentencing option, such murder trials were being delayed across Texas. “None of these cases are anything but very, very, very serious,” Mr. Long said.

The Texas Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee has approved a bill that would require a sentence of life with parole eligibility after 40 years. The House, however, has indicated it wants to give juries the option to sentence 17-year-olds to life without parole if other factors — like evidence of abuse or mental illness — are considered. In previous sessions this year, both chambers approved bills addressing the sentencing question, but time ran out before they could get final approval.

Mr. Perry has told prosecutors that when lawmakers decided on a new sentencing bill, he would consider recommending commutation for inmates like Mr. Forcey who were sentenced under the old law. “It really only seems fair and just,” said Justin Wood, the legislative liaison for the Harris County district attorney’s office in Houston.

July 5, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 4, 2013

"Judges refuse to delay order to release 9,600 California inmates"

The title of this post is the headline of this latest report from California concerning the on-going (and seemingly never-ending) prison litigation. Here are the highlights:

The federal judges who last month ordered Gov. Jerry Brown to release 9,600 state inmates or find another cure to overcrowding refused Wednesday to delay their edict while the governor appeals their cap on the prison population to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judges' June 20 order, still in effect, requires the Brown administration to begin preparations for freeing inmates immediately unless it has another way to comply with the population limit.

Brown and his lawyers had asked the jurists — U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton and Thelton Henderson and 9th Circuit Appeals Justice Stephen Reinhardt — to delay the order to give the state time to take its appeal to the high court. They vowed Wednesday to persist in that effort.

"We will seek a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court," said state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. She said the state would begin complying with the existing order, but "we look forward to making our case to the Supreme Court justices that no further reduction in the prison population is needed."

In the interim, California authorities must provide a system to identify inmates eligible for early release. State officials told federal judges in a filing late Wednesday that they were doing so but also were "assessing alternatives" to early releases for good behavior and had asked the court's medical overseer for a list of "low-risk elderly" inmates who might be paroled early.

Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said the state also is prepared to continue to send inmates out of state, though the Legislature has not acted on a request for $300 million to fund those transfers. Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has said he does not intend to take up that proposal.

In its request for a stay, the state contended that enacting the judges' requirement that inmates receive increased good-behavior credits to shorten their prison terms would result in changes that "cannot be stopped or undone," at a risk to public safety.

Lawyers representing inmates in the two class-action lawsuits underlying the release order countered that to do nothing would "prolong ongoing irreparable harm — including illness and death" among the 132,000 prisoners they represent. The lawsuits assert that overcrowding results in constitutionally inadequate care for inmates.

In rejecting Brown's request for more time Wednesday, the judges noted that California has been under the population reduction order for four years and said the state had a "long history of ... noncompliance."...

Inmates' lawyers said they doubted the Supreme Court would grant Brown a stay. "The Court has laid to rest every argument that Governor Brown has for not promptly reducing the prison population to constitutionally acceptable levels so that prisoners can get adequate healthcare," said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office, representing inmates in the core medical care lawsuit.

Although California is weeks away from opening its 34th prison, a medical facility near Stockton, officials have not taken other steps to reduce crowding beyond Brown's "realignment" program. That policy took effect in late 2011, requiring counties to house low-level felons and parole violators who otherwise would have been sent to state prisons.

A few recent related posts:

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

Missouri Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off state registry

As reported in this AP story, headlined "Nixon vetoes sex offender measure," the Governor of Missouri is apparently concerned this holiday week that a bill passed by his state's legislature will provide for too potential much freedom for juvenile sex offenders. Here are the basics:

Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday vetoed legislation that he said would remove sex offenders who commit their crimes as juveniles from websites that let the public know who they are, a day after he signed a measure that strengthens laws against sexual offenses.

Nixon said the vetoed measure is too broad. “It would grant this relief to juvenile sex offenders regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted to include forcible rape, forcible sodomy and child molestation,” said Nixon, who was state attorney general before becoming governor.

“Moreover, the bill would deprive victims of sex offenses the opportunity to be heard before an offender is removed from the very websites that are designed to protect victims and other members of the public.”...

State lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to decide whether they will try to override any vetoes.

On Tuesday, Nixon signed a criminal justice bill that includes a change to what constitutes rape. It had been defined as having sex with another person by use of “forcible compulsion,” which includes the use of a substance to physically or mentally impair another without his or her knowledge or approval. The new law broadens that to include instances in which someone is incapacitated, is incapable of consent or lacks the capacity to consent.

July 4, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 3, 2013

"Administrative Segregation, Degrees of Isolation, and Incarceration: A National Overview of State and Federal Correctional Policies"

The title of this post is the title of this important new report emerging from a group of researchers working at Yale Law School.  The report provides a soberly fitting and depressing way to launching into a holiday weekend celebration American freedoms.  Here is the abstract:

This report provides an overview of state and federal policies related to long-term isolation of inmates, a practice common in the United States and one that has drawn attention in recent years from many sectors. All jurisdictions in the United States provide for some form of separation of inmates from the general population. Prison administrators see the ability to separate inmates as central to protecting the safety of both inmates and staff. Yet many correctional systems are reviewing their use of segregated confinement; as controversy surrounds this form of control, its duration, and its effects.

The debates about these practices are reflected in the terms used, with different audiences taking exceptions to each. Much of the recent public discussion calls the practice “solitary confinement” or “isolation.” In contrast, correctional facility policies use terms such as “segregation,” “restricted housing,” or “special management,” and some corrections leaders prefer the term “separation.”

All agree that the practice entails separating inmates from the general population and restricting their participation in everyday activities; such as recreation, shared meals, and religious, educational, and other programs. The degree of contact permitted — with staff, other inmates, or volunteers — varies. Some jurisdictions provide single cells and others double; in some settings, inmates find ways to communicate with each other. The length of time spent in isolation can vary from a few days to many years.

This report provides a window into these practices. This overview describes rules promulgated by prison officials to structure decisions on the placement of persons in “administrative segregation,” which is one form of separation of inmates from the general population. Working with the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), the Arthur Liman Program at Yale Law School launched an effort to review the written policies related to administrative segregation promulgated by correctional systems in the United States. With ASCA’s assistance, we obtained policies from 47 jurisdictions, including 46 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

This overview provides a national portrait of policies governing administrative segregation for individuals in prisons, outlines the commonalities and variations among jurisdictions, facilitates comparisons across jurisdictions, and enables consideration of how and when administrative segregation is and should be used. Because this review is of written policies, it raises many questions for research – about whether the policies are implemented as written, achieve the goals for which they are crafted, and at what costs. Information is needed on the demographic data on the populations held in various forms of segregated custody, the reasons for placement of individuals in and the duration of such confinement, the views of inmates, of staff on site, and of central office personnel; and the long-term effects of administrative segregation on prison management and on individuals. Without such insights, one cannot assess the experiences of segregation from the perspectives of those who run, those who work in, and those who live in these institutions.

July 3, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

"China threatens death penalty for serious polluters"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Reuters article from a few weeks ago that I just came across.  Here is how it gets started:

Chinese authorities have given courts the powers to hand down the death penalty in serious pollution cases, state media said, as the government tries to assuage growing public anger at environmental desecration.

An increasingly affluent urban population has begun to object to China’s policy of growth at all costs, which has fuelled the economy for three decades, with the environment emerging as a focus of concern and protests.

A new judicial interpretation ... would impose “harsher punishments” and tighten “lax and superficial” enforcement of the country’s environmental protection laws, the official Xinhua news agency reported.  “In the most serious cases the death penalty could be handed down,” it said.

“With more precise criteria for convictions and sentencing, the judicial explanation provides a powerful legal weapon for law enforcement, which is expected to facilitate the work of judges and tighten punishments for polluters,” Xinhua said, citing a government statement.  “All force should be mobilised to uncover law-breaking clues of environmental pollution in a timely way,” it added.

Previous promises to tackle China’s pollution crisis have had mixed results, and enforcement has been a problem at the local level, where governments often heavily rely on tax receipts from polluting industries under their jurisdiction.

July 3, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentencing around the world, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 2, 2013

Does postponement of Jacksons' sentencing suggest big rulings are in the works?

High-profile white-collar federal sentencing proceedings always intrigue me, especially when they involve a cocktail of dynamic doctrinal and policy issues as is the case in the upcoming sentencings of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and his wife Sandi. But , as reported here by the Chicago Tribune, it now appears we will have to all wait a bit longer for the Jacksons' day of sentencing reckoning:

The South Side Democrats had been scheduled to learn their fates Wednesday, until the delay was announced by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is not related to the pair.  A court spokesman said neither the prosecution nor defense asked for the postponement.

"The matter was rescheduled to accommodate the court's schedule and workload — neither side requested a continuance," said Jenna Gatski, a spokeswoman for the U.S. District Court.

Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to misusing about $750,000 in campaign cash. Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to failing to report about $600,000 on income tax returns over several years.

The postponement was announced after a telephone conference call between the judge and the Jacksons, the court said. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said the sentencings would not take place this week.

Jackson Jr., 48, faces 46 to 57 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, which are not mandatory. His lawyers want a sentence lower than what the guidelines suggest and assert that Jackson Jr., who reportedly has bipolar disorder, could not get proper medical care in prison. Federal prosecutors want him to serve a four-year sentence and to be placed on supervised release for three years after that.

Sandi Jackson, 49, faces one to two years in prison. Her attorneys want her sentenced to probation, saying the couple's two children, ages 9 and 13, need their mother. Prosecutors want her imprisoned for 18 months and put on supervised release for a year.

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to report that neither side sought a postponement and the indication that the change was "to accommodate the court's schedule and workload."  I would be very surprised if Judge Amy Berman Jackson had a trial or lots of other litigation matters crop up in the middle of this summer holiday week; reading these latest tea leaves now has me wondering (and weirdly excited) that this postponement is based in part on the judge's plans to issue a significant written opinion on federal sentencing law, policy and practice along with her sentencing ruling. (Or maybe the judge just has tickets to see Bryce Harper back playing again for the Washington Nationals during their homestand this week, and she decided it was more fitting to catch a baseball game than to deprive liberty right before we all celebrate Independence Day.)

Related posts:

UPDATE:  This local article now reports that the Jacksons' sentencings have now been set for August 14.

July 2, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Released sex offenders in Great Britain soon to be required to take regular polygraph tests

Keep-calm-and-protect-kids-from-sex-offenders-6As reported in this article from across the pond, a novel (and apparently somewhat efficacious) approach to sex offender monitoring is being expanded in part of Great Britain after a successful pilot program.  The article is headlined "Lie detector tests set to be introduced to monitor sex offenders: Politicians expected to approve law allowing compulsory polygraph tests of sex offenders released into community," and here are excerpts:

MPs are expected to clear the way for the introduction of compulsory lie detector tests to monitor convicted sex offenders across England and Wales from next January.

The national rollout of US-style mandatory polygraph tests for serious sex offenders who have been released into the community after serving their prison sentence follows a successful pilot scheme. The trial was carried out from 2009-11 in two Midlands probation areas and found that offenders taking such tests were twice as likely to tell probation staff they had contacted a victim, entered an exclusion zone or otherwise breached terms of their release licence.

Continuing concerns about the reliability of the tests and misinterpretation of the results mean they still cannot be used in any court in England and Wales. But it is expected that the compulsory polygraph tests will be used to monitor the behaviour of 750 of the most serious sex offenders, all of whom have been released into the community after serving a sentence of at least 12 months in jail.

The tests involve measuring reactions to specific questions by monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and levels of perspiration to assess whether the subject is being truthful. The results will be used to determine whether they have breached the terms of their release licence or represent a risk to public safety and should be recalled to prison.

The power to introduce compulsory lie detector tests was put on the statute book six years ago in the Offender Management Act 2007. On Tuesday MPs will debate secondary legislation in the form of a statutory instrument to come into force from 6 January 2014. The House of Lords will be asked to approve it later this month.

The justice minister Jeremy Wright said: "Introducing lie detector tests, alongside the sex offenders register and close monitoring in the community, will give us one of the toughest approaches in the world to managing this group.

"We recently announced the creation of a National Probation Service tasked with protecting the public from the most high-risk offenders. They will be able to call on this technology to help stop sex offenders from reoffending and leaving more innocent victims in their wake."

Hertfordshire police used the tests in a pilot scheme in 2011 to help decide whether to charge suspected sex offenders and gauge the risk they posed to the public. "Low level" sex offenders were involved in the original pilot. At least six revealed more serious offending and were found to pose a more serious risk to children than previously estimated. A further trial was ordered but at the time the Association of Chief Police Officers voiced caution about the adoption of such tests: "Polygraph techniques are complex and are by no means a single solution to solving crimes, potentially offering in certain circumstances an additional tool to structured interrogation," a spokesman said.

Polygraph testing is used in court in 19 states in America, subject to the discretion of the trial judge, but it is widely used by prosecutors, defence lawyers and law enforcement agencies across the US.

I find curious that this article speaks of "US-style mandatory polygraph tests"; I am not aware of any US jurisdiction that uses mandatory polygraph testing as part of a program of sex offender monitoring.  That said, I would not be at all surprised if some jurisdictions in the US were to consider such a requirement if there is good reason to believe that such testing does a reasonable job of sorting out more (and less) dangerous released sex offenders.

Though I suspect a number of civil rights and civil liberties groups in the US would be quick to express concerns about mandatory polygraph tests of sex offenders, I tend to be open-minded about the use of any form of technocorrections that might serve as a means to both increase public safety and ultimately offender liberty.  For if post-release polygraph testing serves as a means to better assess enduring threats from more-dangerous released sex offenders, then other sex offenders can and should be able to rely on such a program to argue for allowing earlier release of some likely less-dangerous sex offenders (e.g., those who download child pornography but have never been involved in any contact offenses).

July 2, 2013 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Reentry and community supervision, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Second Circuit finds (lengthy?) insider trading sentences reasonable

As reported in this Bloomberg News report, "Zvi Goffer, a former Galleon Group LLC trader, failed to win a reduction of his 10-year prison sentence for passing illegal tips and recruiting members for an insider-trading scheme." Here is more about the sentencing aspects of a lengthy Second Circuit opinion in a combined group of appeals:

The sentences of Goffer and co-conspirator Craig Drimal, and the conviction of co-conspirator Michael Kimelman were upheld today by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan.  The court said a $10 million forfeiture order against Goffer should be reduced based on a change in how such rulings are calculated.

“Defendants’ sentences were reasonable in light of the magnitude of their theft,” the court said.

Drimal was sentenced to 5-1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit those offenses. Kimelman, who was convicted at trial of two counts of securities fraud and conspiracy, was sentenced to 30 months.

Goffer, convicted of two conspiracy counts and 12 counts of securities fraud, was accused of recruiting members of the scheme and asking participants to use prepaid cellular phones to communicate their tips.  “Goffer’s corrosive influence on the integrity of the financial markets and on the expectation of trust and confidence between attorney and client required a significant punishment,” the appeals court said.

The full Second Circuit panel opinion in US v. Goffer is available at this link, and the extended sentencing discussion starts at page 34. I particularly enjoyed this point made by the panel in its final footnote:

Contrary to Drimal’s assertions on appeal, the district court did not reveal a vendetta against the rich when it noted that Drimal did not have compelling reasons to warp the financial markets. Instead, Judge Sullivan recognized the same moral principles that make Jean Valjean more sympathetic than Gordon Gekko.

July 2, 2013 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 1, 2013

"Physician Participation in Executions, the Morality of Capital Punishment, and the Practical Implications of Their Relationship"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN authored by Paul Litton. Here is the abstract:

Evidence that some executed prisoners suffered excruciating pain has reinvigorated the ethical debate about physician participation in lethal injections.  In widely publicized litigation, death row inmates argue that the participation of anesthesiologists in their execution is constitutionally required to minimize the risk of unnecessary suffering. For many years, commentators supported the ethical ban on physician participation reflected in codes of professional medical organizations.  However, a recent wave of scholarship concurs with inmate advocates, urging the law to require or at least permit physician participation.

Both the anti- and pro-physician-participation literature share a common premise: the ethics of physician participation should be analyzed independently from the moral status of capital punishment.  This considerable literature implausibly divorces the ethics of physician participation from the moral status of the death penalty.  Any ethical position on physician involvement requires some judgment about the moral status of the death penalty and the importance of physician involvement.  The article examines anti- and pro-participation arguments to show that each one either is unpersuasive without discussion of the death penalty’s moral status or implicitly assumes a view on the social worth of the death penalty.

The article then articulates the practical implications of its arguments for both lawmakers and professional medical organizations.

July 1, 2013 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

A year after Miller confirmed kids are different, how may kids have different sentences?

Children-Are-Different-InfographicThe question in the title of this post is inspired in part by this public letter posted last week from the director of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Here are excerpts from the letter (with one key link preserved):

[The last week of June 2013] marks the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children. Since then, strides have been made to move our justice system toward one that recognizes the fundamental differences between children and adults, and that provides all youth with a chance to demonstrate their unique capacity for growth and change. Advocates across the country have ushered in better outcomes for youth convicted of serious crimes, and have successfully laid the groundwork for future legislative reforms. But much work remains.  Today we want to share with you some of the highlights and challenges faced by our movement in the year since the Court handed down its decision in Miller.

The Miller decision advanced the fundamental notion that "kids are different" in youth justice reform across the country.  We saw an advocacy community leverage Miller to spark meaningful debate in state legislatures across the country, furthering the education of policymakers about why children should not receive adult sentences.  Bills were introduced in more than 15 states, which we describe in more detail in our Miller legislative roundup.  We saw a growing and engaged coalition of local and national organizations — including the Boy Scouts of America, the American Correctional Association, the National PTA, and the American Psychological Association — come together to voice their support for fair, age-appropriate alternatives to death-in-prison sentences for children.  And due to the tireless work of legal advocates, people declared irredeemable as youth in Illinois, Delaware, and Indiana were given second chances.

We are also mindful of the immense challenges that lie ahead.  In the coming year, we expect to confront legislative proposals in a handful of states that undermine the letter and spirit of the Miller decision.  We expect courts-which to this point have handed down varied interpretations on the reach and scope of the decision-to weigh in on whether Miller applies to the more than 2,000 individuals currently serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences.  And we anticipate difficulties in advancing our reform message in a legislative and criminal justice climate that for years has been dominated by racially-charged rhetoric and shortsighted "tough-on-crime" policies.  

The item linked in the above-quoted discussion is this fascinating three-page document headlined "State Legislative Roundup One Year after Miller v. Alabama." That document notes, inter alia, that since "the Miller decision last June, three states passed legislation that removed JLWOP as a sentencing option for youth."

As the question in the title of this post suggests, unmentioned in all the terrific materials assembled by The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (from which I got the inforgraphic posted here) is any accounting one-year after Miller of what is happening specifically to the "more than 2,000 individuals currently serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences" for crimes committed while juveniles.  I hope this public policy group and/or others are working toward a full (or even partial) accounting of just how many of these juvenile criminals serving LWOP are succeeding in now securing different sentences as a result of Miller and its aftermath.

I know it is likely very challenging (and very costly) to review and monitor all those defendants whose sentences were called in to question by the Miller ruling.  But a number of organizations, government agencies, and even public websites and have shown an affinity for, and an ability to, keep a close watch on many thousands of death sentences and all the murder defendants who go on and off state death rows.  If even a small portion of the attention now given to capital cases could be redirected to track juve LWOP cases, we could and would over time all be able to garner a much keener sense of the real impact and import of the Miller ruling.

July 1, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Will the Jacksons get a slap on the wrist, or will their heads be mounted?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Chicago Tribune commentary, which gets to the heart of the highest-profile federal sentencing story for the coming holiday week.  This commentary was authored by John Kass, and he makes a sassy argument for throwing the book at the Jacksons.  Here is how his commentary gets started:

The two stuffed elk heads of Chicago politics — former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson — are scheduled for sentencing in their corruption and tax cases on July 3.

Our government often delivers bad news at the beginning of a three-day weekend, or before a long holiday like the Fourth of July, so that we taxpayers will have something else on our minds.

So what am I worried about in this case?

That Jackson Jr. gets a light kiss on the wrist and a mere few months at a Club Fed, and that upon his release, he and his father, the Rev. Jesse "King of Beers" Jackson — the hustler who made his career playing the race card — decide to open a restaurant. With Paula Deen.

What should they call it? Butter & Bud.

Prosecutors are asking for four years for Junior, and 18 months for his wife. And although all cases are different, let's not forget another case involving a guy they knew: Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He's rotting in prison.

It was Blagojevich who was convicted of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat that once was held by President Barack Obama. Now Blago is sitting on 14 years. And who was supposed to be the beneficiary of the deal? None other than Stuffed Elk Head No. 1, Jesse Jackson Jr.

But Jackson wasn't charged. He walked away from it, cocky, until, finally, he was hoisted on the horns of his own elk head. Those absurd his-and-hers stuffed elk heads were just two of many ridiculous items the Jacksons purchased when he pilfered $750,000 from his campaign fund.

Most was junk, from the Michael Jackson fedora to shiny wristwatches and jewelry, a list of ostentatious nonsense demonstrating appallingly bad taste. What frosts most of us is that when he was finally caught, Jackson's camp explained it all away by saying he suffered from a bipolar condition.

Yes, he may be ill. But isn't it remarkable that crooked politicos seem to contract a terrible illness just as they're hit by the heartbreak of Feditis?

Some become alcoholics and drug addicts, others develop heart conditions. One guy even lifted his orange jumpsuit to show the judge his terrible belly rash in a plea for mercy. Most recover, miraculously, the moment they're free. And if Jackson's mouthpieces get their way, he won't do any time. They argue that he's mentally ill, but that federal prison psychiatrists aren't good enough for him.

I'm no psychiatrist, but if I were, I'd prescribe four full years in prison, with another four added to help him clear his head.

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July 1, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 30, 2013

"Marijuana's march toward mainstream confounds feds"

The title of this post is the headline of this very lengthy new AP article, which serves as the latest sign of the (high) times.  Here are excerpts:
[I]n just a few short years, public opinion has moved so dramatically toward general acceptance that even those who champion legalization are surprised at how quickly attitudes are changing and states are moving to approve the drug — for medical use and just for fun....

Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor who worked for a national commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana in 1972, sees the public taking a big leap from prohibition to a more laissez-faire approach without full deliberation. "It’s a remarkable story historically," he says. "But as a matter of public policy, it’s a little worrisome. It’s intriguing, it’s interesting, it’s good that liberalization is occurring, but it is a little worrisome."

More than a little worrisome to those in the anti-drug movement. "We’re on this hundred-mile-an-hour freight train to legalizing a third addictive substance," says Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration, lumping marijuana with tobacco and alcohol....

"By Election Day 2016, we expect to see at least seven states where marijuana is legal and being regulated like alcohol," says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national legalization group.

Where California led the charge on medical marijuana, the next chapter in this story is being written in Colorado and Washington state. Policymakers there are struggling with all sorts of sticky issues revolving around one central question: How do you legally regulate the production, distribution, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes when federal law bans all of the above?

How do you tax it? What quality control standards do you set? How do you protect children while giving grown-ups the go-ahead to light up? What about driving under the influence? Can growers take business tax deductions? Who can grow pot, and how much? Where can you use it? Can cities opt out? Can workers be fired for smoking marijuana when they’re off duty? What about taking pot out of state? The list goes on.

The overarching question has big national implications.  How do you do all of this without inviting the wrath of the federal government, which has been largely silent so far on how it will respond to a gaping conflict between U.S. and state law?

The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November’s election and repeatedly has promised to respond soon.  But seven months later, states still are on their own, left to parse every passing comment from the department and President Obama....

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who favors legalization, predicts Washington will take a hands-off approach, based on Obama’s comments about setting law enforcement priorities. "We would like to see that in writing," Polis says.  "But we believe, given the verbal assurances of the president, that we are moving forward in Colorado and Washington in implementing the will of the voters."...

Federal agents in recent years have raided storefront dispensaries in California and Washington, seizing cash and pot. In April, the Justice Department targeted 63 dispensaries in Santa Ana, Calif., and filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing seven pot shops. Prosecutors also sent letters to property owners and operators of 56 other marijuana dispensaries warning that they could face similar lawsuits.

University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin says if the administration doesn’t act soon to sort out the federal-state conflict, it may be too late to do much. "At some point, it becomes so prevalent and so many citizens will be engaged in it that it’s hard to recriminalize something that’s become commonplace," he says....

There’s a political calculus for the president, or any other politician, in all of this. Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are more supportive of legalizing marijuana, as are people in the West, where the libertarian streak runs strong. In Colorado, for example, last November more people voted for legalized pot (55 percent) than voted for Obama (51 percent), which could help explain why the president was silent on marijuana before the election.  "We’re going to get a cultural divide here pretty quickly," says Greg Strimple, a Republican pollster based in Boise, Idaho, who predicts Obama will duck the issue as long as possible.

Despite increasing public acceptance of marijuana, and growing interest in its potential therapeutic uses, politicians know there are complications that could come with commercializing an addictive substance, some of them already evident in medical marijuana states.  Opponents of pot are particularly worried that legalization will result in increased adolescent use as young people’s estimations of the drug’s dangers decline....

More than 30 pot growers and distributors, going all-out to present a buttoned-down image in suits and sensible pumps rather than ponytails and weed T-shirts, spent two days on Capitol Hill in June lobbying for equal treatment under tax and banking laws and seeking an end to federal property seizures.  "It’s truly unfortunate that the Justice Department can’t find a way to respect the will of the people," says Sean Luse of the 13-year-old Berkeley Patients Group in California, a multimillion-dollar pot collective whose landlord is facing the threat of property forfeiture....

As Colorado and Washington state press on, California’s experience with medical marijuana offers a window into potential pitfalls that can come with wider availability of pot. Dispensaries for medical marijuana have proliferated in the state. Regulation has been lax, leading some overwhelmed communities to complain about too-easy access from illegal storefront pot shops and related problems such as loitering and unsavory characters. That prompted cities around the state to say enough already and ban dispensaries....

So how bad, or good, is pot?  There are studies that set off medical alarm bells but also studies that support the safer-than-alcohol crowd and suggest promising therapeutic uses.

J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, set out to sort through more than 100 sometimes conflicting studies after his teenage son became addicted to pot. In a 22-page article for Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012, he laid out the contradictions in U.S. policy and declared that "little about cannabis is straightforward."...

For all of the talk that smoking pot is no big deal, Bostwick says, he determined that "it was a very big deal. There were addiction issues. There were psychosis issues. But there was also this very large body of literature suggesting that it could potentially have very valuable pharmaceutical applications but the research was stymied" by federal barriers.

For a more focused and even more interesting extended tale about marijuana becoming mainstream, be sure to check out this fascinating New York Times magazine article titled "How to Invest in Dope."

June 30, 2013 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

After 500 executions, reviewing some last words of the condemned in Texas

EXECUTE-1-articleLargeToday's New York Times includes this interesting discussion of the interesting last words of the Texas murderers just prior to their execution by the state. The article is headlined "From America’s Busiest Death Chamber, a Catalog of Last Rants, Pleas and Apologies," and here are excerpts (with links):

The state with the busiest death chamber in America publishes the final statements of the inmates it has executed on a prison agency Web site, a kind of public catalog of the rantings, apologies, prayers, claims of innocence and confessions of hundreds of men and women in the minutes before their deaths.

Charles Nealy asked to be buried not to the left of his father but to the right of his mother.  Domingo Cantu Jr., who dragged a 94-year-old widow across the top of a chain-link fence, sexually assaulted her and then killed her, told his wife that he loved her and would be waiting for her on the other side.

The condemned praised Allah and Jesus and Sant Ajaib Singh Ji, a Sikh master.  Three cheered for their favorite sports teams, including Jesse Hernandez, whose execution last year made headlines after he shouted, “Go Cowboys!” They spoke in English, Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Gaelic, German (“Meine schöne prinzessin,” said Mr. Cantu, German for “my beautiful princess”).  They quoted the Koran and the Bible, but also Todd Beamer’s phrase aboard United Airlines Flight 93.

“Sir, in honor of a true American hero, ‘Let’s roll,’” said David Ray Harris, who was dishonorably discharged from the Army and was executed in 2004 for killing a man who tried to stop him from kidnapping the man’s girlfriend.

The execution on Wednesday of Kimberly McCarthy — a 52-year-old woman convicted of robbing, beating and fatally stabbing a retired psychology professor near Dallas — was the 500th in Texas since December 1982, when the state resumed capital punishment after the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.  In those 30 years, Texas has executed more people than Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia combined.

The state’s execution record has often been criticized as a dehumanizing pursuit of eye-for-an-eye justice.  But three decades of last statements by inmates reveal a glimmer of the humanity behind those anonymous numbers, as the indifferent bureaucracy of state-sanctioned death pauses for one sad, intimate and often angry moment.

“I hope that one day we can look back on the evil that we’re doing right now like the witches we burned at the stake,” said Thomas A. Barefoot, who was convicted of murdering a police officer and was executed on Oct. 30, 1984.

Among the death-penalty states, Texas and California are the only ones that make the last words of offenders available on their Web sites.  But only Texas has compiled and listed each statement in what amounts to an online archive.  The collection of 500 statements, which includes inmates’ verbal as well as written remarks, has been the subject of analysis, criticism and debate by lawyers, criminal justice researchers and activists who oppose the death penalty.

It has spawned at least one blog, Lost Words in the Chamber, which has regularly posted the last statements since 2011. Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said there were three million page views of inmates’ final words last year.  “It’s kind of mesmerizing to read through these,” said Robert Perkinson, the author of “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire” and a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Most people about to be executed haven’t had a lot of success in school or life. They’re not always so skilled at articulating themselves. There are plenty of clichés, sometimes peculiar ones, like the Cowboys reference. But I think many of these individuals are also striving to say something poignant, worthy of the existential occasion.”

June 30, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack