January 3, 2015
More great news about declining homicide rates as we close book on 2014
As reported in this Washington Post piece, headlined "In major cities, murder rates drop precipitously," the end of 2014 has apparently brought a continuation of wonderful news about modern homicide trends. Here are the basics:
In 1990, at the height of a decade-long crime wave that swept the nation, 2,245 people were murdered in New York City. In 2014, police investigated just 328 homicides in the five boroughs — a precipitous drop of 85 percent that’s being duplicated in major cities across the country. Preliminary figures suggest 2014 will continue a decade-long trend of falling crime rates, especially in major cities once plagued by violent crime.
Criminologists say the decrease is linked to several factors, some of which are the product of smart policing, others completely out of authorities’ control. But they also say the lack of a consensus on what’s gone right has them convinced that crime rates could spike once again. “I don’t think anyone has a perfect handle on why violence has declined,” said Harold Pollack, the co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “So everyone is a bit nervous that things could turn around.”
But the numbers are encouraging: Chicago recorded an all-time high of 504 killings in 2012, but just two years later homicides were down to 392, and the overall crime rate has declined to its lowest rate since 1972. Charlotte, N.C., recorded 42 killings last year, the lowest number since Mecklenburg County began keeping records in 1977.
Philadelphia’s murder rate has declined from 322 in 2012 to 245 this year. Just 19 slayings were recorded in San Jose, the nation’s 11th-largest city, down from 24 the year before. Even crime-plagued Detroit, which has one of the highest murder rates in the country, is improving: The 304 homicides recorded this year are down from 333 in 2013, the lowest rate since 2010 and the second-lowest number since 1967....
Mid-year statistics in Dallas showed the city on pace to record just half the murders of its peak in 2004. Camden, N.J., has seen the number drop by more than 50 percent since 2012. Murders in Columbus, Ohio, hit a six-year low....
[T]he trend lines are clear: The number of violent crimes has declined since 2006, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people has been dropping even longer, from a high of 758 in 1991 to 367.9 in 2013. The rate hasn’t topped 500 per 100,000 people since 2001....
Not every major city is basking in the glow of lower crime rates. A rash of shootings between Dec. 23 and the end of the year brought the number of murders in Washington, D.C., to 105 in 2014, the second consecutive year of triple-digit murders, after the nation’s capital hit a half-century low in 2012.
The number of homicides in Los Angeles reached 254 last year, up four from 2013 and the first increase in 12 years.... Indianapolis, Austin, Pittsburgh, El Paso and Memphis all saw rates rise.
I have removed from this article a brief discussion of explanations that some folks give for these encouraging homicide numbers, in part because none of the standard (or not-so-standard) accounts for the factors impacting violent crime rates seem to be especially effective in explaining recent trends (save, maybe, the lead-crime-link data). For example, these data would seem to undercut some empirical claims that executions are critical for deterring murders given that homicide rates keep falling in states and regions that have recently abolished the death penalty de jure or de facto. Also, all this good 2014 homicide news could be a joyful by-product of the especially cold winters and/or not-so-hot summer experienced in many locales in 2014.
Whatever help causally account for all this good news, I hope we can and will (by design or by accident) continue doing whatever seem to be working. But I fear there are too many diverse and intersecting variables in play to have too much confidence in any specific public policies accounting for all the modern criminal justice good data news.
Some recent and older related posts:
- Huzzah, Huzzah... all crime goes down again in 2013 according to new FBI data
- Notable new AG Holder comments on reducing crime rates and incarceration levels
- After numerous local, state and federal reforms, crime hits new record lows in biggest US city
- Effective Washington Post commentary talks up great (and still puzzling) crime decline
- Do lead exposure realities continue to best explain modern crime-rate realities?
- "Research on [lead]’s effects on the brain bolsters the hypothesis that childhood exposure is linked to criminal acts"
"How did a law to regulate heroin traffic turn into the costly, futile War on Drugs?"
The title of this post is the subtitle of this lengthy Politico magazine feature carrying the headline "A Hundred Years’ Failure." These titles highlight the basic themes of an article that reviews lots of interesting parts of the modern drug war's back-story, giving special emphasis to opiates and heroin along the way. Here are a few excerpts from a piece that merits a read in full:
Twenty-five years ago, the stated goal of the United States’ anti-narcotic efforts according to the Department of Justice was to “disrupt, destroy and dismantle drug trafficking enterprises.” That same year, the U.S. government pumped almost $8 billion into anti-drug efforts, including $600 million in prison construction alone. It was just a typical fiscal year during the height of the drug war. But two and a half decades later, despite this dizzying spending, we don’t need a drug czar to tell us—even though one of them has—the war on drugs, by its own measures, has been a century-long failure.
A hundred years ago this month, the U.S. government started this fight to rid us of the scourge of opiates. Today, not only have we failed to control drug demand, an entirely new breed of opiate epidemic has flourished in the face of the most draconian drug laws in the world. Aided by aggressive Big Pharma marketing and enthusiastic “pain specialists,” opiate abuse has simply taken on a new shape, moving from urban enclaves and overrunning pockets of New England and the South, from rural Vermont to the suburbs of Dallas, that have little history of widespread drug abuse. Heroin today is cheaper and purer than it was 50 years ago. That’s to say nothing of the 700 percent increase in incarceration of American citizens in the past four decades, the distribution of nearly $450 million worth of military equipment that is used by local and state law enforcement agencies (that “militarization of the police” you’ve been reading so much about lately), and the creation of a wasteful, labyrinthine bureaucracy dedicated to what has proven a perhaps impossible goal: The eradication of drugs....At the beginning of the 20th century, everyone’s medicine cabinet contained opium in some form. Patent medicines mixed alcohol and opium, and women used them for menstrual cramps, coughs and other minor symptoms, as well as for infants’ teething pains. Aging Civil War veterans self-injected morphine to soothe old wounds, and physicians dosed patients liberally with opium pills and morphine. Opium smokers, usually Chinese, but also habitués of the urban underworld and the occasional slumming college student, were the most common recreational users....
During the Progressive Era, a culture war was raging over sexuality, alcohol and modern life—as seen in efforts to censure pornography and eliminate “red light” districts—and prohibition offered the best hope of legislating moral certainty. While alcohol prohibition had the largest domestic constituency, drug prohibition fit with foreign policy interests. Years of lobbying by religious groups in both the United States and Britain, who were appalled at opium smoking in China and places to which the Chinese emigrated, culminated in the 1912 Hague Convention, where a dozen countries agreed to regulate the international narcotics traffic and signatories promised to limit opiate use in their own countries....
After a century of aggressive policing, mandatory minimums and enforcement that disproportionately targeted the most marginalized of American citizens, the failure of the war on drugs is ultimately a cautionary tale about pursuing an agenda at any cost—financial or human. From the founding of a vast bureaucratic infrastructure to support the new war, to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on military police equipment, to the $50 billion spent annually on incarceration, the story of fighting addiction in America has brought out its mirror image: An irrational dependence, despite all logic to the contrary, on a steady flow of government cash and brute enforcement.
We should have just said no.
January 2, 2015
"Policing Public Order Without the Criminal Law"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper now available via SSRN authored by Charlie Gerstein and J.J. Prescott. Here is the abstract:
Millions of Americans every year are charged with and detained for “public order” offenses. These minor offenses are unusual in that the actual sentence violators receive when convicted — usually time already served in detention — is beside the point. Rather, public order offenses are “enforced” prior to any conviction by subjecting accused individuals to arrest, detention, and other legal process. These “process costs” are significant; in fact, they distort plea bargaining to the point that the substantive law behind the bargained-for conviction is largely irrelevant.
Maintaining public order is an important civic function, yet these unmoored cases have serious long-term consequences for defendants, their families, and our criminal justice institutions. Many scholars have argued that vague terms and broad standards in defining public order crimes results in broad discretion that leads to abuse.
In this essay, we argue instead that criminal law process costs essentially decouple statutory discretion from actual police behavior, rendering the debate about statutory language by and large moot. Abuse is better addressed by first recognizing that, in the context of public order crimes, discretion has little to do with substantive criminal law and that, instead, focus is much better placed on mitigating the harmful consequences discretion can generate and on limiting police discretion through other means. To this end, we propose providing the police with new civil enforcement tools that will be equally effective at preserving order but that will in all likelihood cause significantly less unnecessary harm.
January 2, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Victims often left behind as states get tough on sex trafficking
This new AP article, headlined "Funding sometimes lags for sex-trafficking victims," highlights that legislators are often much better at slamming criminals than at supporting crime victims. Here are excerpts:
As awareness of America's sex-trafficking industry increases, state after state has enacted new laws to combat it. But while a few have backed those get-tough laws with significant funding to support trafficking victims, many have not.
In Michigan, for example, a cluster of legislators beamed with pride as Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed a package of 21 anti-trafficking bills. For a state ranked by advocacy groups as woefully behind in addressing the problem, the package was touted as a huge step forward, making Michigan, in Snyder's words, "one of the leading states in fighting this tragic crime." Yet the bills contained virtually no new funding, even though a high-powered state commission had reported a serious lack of support services and specialized housing for victims.
"For all the hoopla, it's blatantly not true that we're now at the forefront," said professor Bridgette Carr, a member of the commission and director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. "For many of these victims, there's often no place to go."...
Without such services, advocates say, many victims are less useful as witnesses against their traffickers and more vulnerable to being forced or lured back to the sordid underworld that exploited them. "We are seeing some states stepping up, but the majority don't have anything specific in their budgets," said Britanny Vanderhoof, policy counsel for the Polaris Project. "There's an idea that once someone is rescued, they're fine," Vanderhoof said. "There's a disconnect with the level of trauma the victims have suffered and the incredible need for services at every level."
Arizona was among the latest states to board the bandwagon, enacting a bill in April that toughens sentences for traffickers of children and stipulates that being a trafficking victim is a defense in prostitution cases. As in Michigan, however, Arizona's bill did not include funding for victim services....
In Oklahoma, several experts met with a legislative panel in September to discuss the growth of sex trafficking, including a boom in the child sex trade linked to the convergence of major trucking routes near Oklahoma City. The legislators "were very receptive, and very shocked," said Kirsten Havig, a professor of social work at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa who was among the speakers.
Yet Havig said the legislators, who have voted to punish traffickers more severely, balked at suggestions that the state spend more on victim services. "The second I start talking about resource allocation, it's, 'We can't do that,'" she said. For now, Havig said, Oklahoma lacks a residential facility suited to care for young sex-trafficking victims and has sent some youths to a facility in Houston. She hopes more state funding might come eventually if advocates can document how many victims need help, "but it's going to be a long haul."...
The Michigan commission's report noted that some states have appropriated significant funds for victim services. It cited a $2.8 million allocation in Minnesota, which is widely considered the national leader in the field.... Florida is another that state that has stepped up with significant funding for victim services — $3 million in the 2014-15 budget.
Yet Florida and Minnesota, with their seven-figure allocations, are exceptions; many states have invested little or nothing from their general funds for victim services. Several states have created funds to be financed with fines and forfeitures from traffickers, but advocacy groups say this method can be an unreliable.
January 1, 2015
Chief Justice promises fully electronic SCOTUS by 2016 in his 2014 year-end report
As reported here by Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSbog, the US Supreme Court "is moving toward a full and free-access system for all documents filed in cases before the Justices — a system expected to be working 'as soon as 2016,' Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., revealed in his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary." Here is a bit more about this exciting news:
The Court already receives some of its filings electronically, but the present arrangements do not include “all filings at the Court,” in the language the Chief Justice used to describe what will be available by 2016. That, he said, will include “petitions and responses to petitions, merits briefs, and all other types of motions and applications.” Public access to all of these materials will be available on the Court’s website without cost, he stressed.
The Chief Justice’s annual report was dominated by a theme of technological advances and their impact on the operation of the courts. He acknowledged that, because of special concerns about security and other operating limitations for the courts, the judiciary has not been moving as rapidly as some other sectors of society in modernizing its information systems. “The courts will often choose to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity,” he commented.
When the new system is in place and operating, according to Roberts, filings will still be made in paper form, but there will be a requirement for electronic versions when filed by any party that is represented by an attorney. Those, like prison inmates, who are too poor to afford lawyers and filing fees and thus are allowed to file papers making their own pleas without cost, will not be required to make electronic submissions. The Court staff will scan those so-called “pauper” filings and upload them to the Court’s system so that those, too, will be available for public access....
The year-end report also discussed the progress of the lower federal courts in adopting and improving the electronic case-filing system that has been in place since 2001. More than one billion documents can now be retrieved from that system, the Chief Justice noted. A “next generation” improvement in that system is now being developed within the judiciary, he added.
The full year-end report from the Chief Justice of the United States can be accessed at this link. It starts with this amusing paragraph:
On November 10, 1893, the Washington Post identified an emerging technology that was reshaping American society: Pneumatics! The miracle of compressed air had led to the creation of new contraptions, including pneumatic tube systems that relied on air compressors to transport cylindrical containers hundreds of feet within buildings. Pneumatic tube systems had found favor in banks and department stores, enabling clerks to transmit documents rapidly from one office to another. Noting this and other applications of pneumatics, the Washington Post lightheartedly proclaimed, “The present era is likely to be known to history as the pneumatic age.”
Kudos to the Supreme Court for being committed to having all its materials on-line for free access to all and to the Chief Justice for effectively explaining the work being done to make this commitment a reality.
December 31, 2014
Some (incomplete) year-in-review highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform
It seems fair to call 2014 the most interesting and dynamic year in modern history for reform and debate over marijuana laws and policies. It would be impossible to completely summarize the "year in pot" in one post, but linking here to some seasonal highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform perhaps provides at least a flavor of what has transpired on the cannabis front:
- Can President Obama single-handedly legalize marijuana?
- More politicians backing marijuana reform
- "Super Bowl Attracts a Marijuana Message"
- Could marijuana reforms end up making our roadways much safer?
- Federal government issues new guidance to financial industry on how it should deal with the marijuana industry
- Banks suggest recent federal banking guidance changes nothing (and they’re probably right)
- Attention 2016 Prez candidates: new poll says 87% in Ohio support use of medical marijuana
- Which poses the bigger threat: Big Marijuana or Little Marijuana?
- New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association endorses marijuana legalization
- Holder is "cautiously optimistic" about legalization in Colorado and Washington
- How might (rare?) tragedies linked to legal marijuana use impact reform developments?
- Justice Stevens says marijuana should be legal
- "Legalizing marijuana has been good for Colorado, voters in the state say 52 - 38 percent"
- Minnesota about to become 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana
- "Why Republicans are slowly embracing marijuana"
- New York pols work out deal to legalize only smoke-free medical marijuana
- Bill Clinton on medical marijuana: "I think we should leave it to the states"
- Former Florida Gov Jeb Bush conflicted about states' rights and federal pot prohibition
- "White House Says Marijuana Policy Is States' Rights Issue"
- Marijuana legalization campaigns for 2016 in Arizona and California start heating up
- New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"
- "Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid by Painkiller Drug Companies"
- "Is Hillary Clinton ready for marijuana's 2016 push?"
- Former NM Gov and GOP Prez candidate Gary Johnson urges marijuana research to respond to Ebola
- Dynamic Colorado debate over suggestion of near complete ban on marijuana edibles
- Oregon voters create a third state to fully legalize recreational marijuana
- Analyzing how Alaska made 2014 a clean sweep for marijuana legalization initiatives
- Highlighting that "fight against legal marijuana is about big money, not public health"
- Nebraska and Oklahoma sue Colorado in US Supreme Court over marijuana legalization
And, last but not least, for some posts focused on reviewing the year that was, check out:
- Effective review of "The Year in Pot" via NBC News
- Reviewing a year of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado
Big 2014 data (and big 2015 plans?) from US Sentencing Commission
The United States Sentencing Commission has closed out 2014 with a release of lots of notable new sentencing data and notice of an notable meeting to kick off 2015. Here are the data basics/links and the meeting notice via the USSC website:
Final Crack Retroactivity Data Report: This report is the final data report concerning motions for retroactive application of Amendment 750, incorporating the provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 into the guidelines.
Notice of Public Meeting: January 9, 2015: The Commission will hold a public meeting to vote on publishing proposed guideline amendments. A presentation will also be given on economic crime.
There are lots of notable stories to be found in these data (and to be anticipated with the USSC's noticed meeting). But most notable, I think, is the quarterly report showing that for all of Fiscal Year 2014 only 46.3% of sentences were imposed within the calculared guideline range and in the final quarter of FY2014 only 43.6% of sentences were within-guideline sentences. in other words, throughout 2014, a non-guideline sentence became more the norm in federal sentencing than a within-guideline sentence.
Critically, these data are surely skewed significantly by the decision by the US Sentencing Commission in January 2014 to lower drug guideline sentences across the board by two levels (combined with the Justice Department's willingness to allow sentencing judges to give effect to the lowered guidelines before they took effect officially on November 1, 2014). Now that the lowered guidelines are officially in place, we might expect to see more within-guideline sentence imposed in FY 2015. But, if the US Sentencing Commission announces in its early 2015 another significant amendment to reduce certain guideline ranges, this pattern could repeat.
In other words, happy data new year from (and to) my favorite judicial branch agency.
Outgoing Maryland Gov commutes final four state death sentences to life
As reported in this CNN article, "Outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley took the state's last four inmates off death row Wednesday, commuting their sentences to life in prison without parole in one of his final acts in office." Here is more:
The move comes as the Democrat considers a run for president — a long-shot bid that many Democrats only expect to gain steam if Hillary Clinton opts not to run.
O'Malley's office announced the move in a release Wednesday morning, noting that the state's legislature had abolished the death penalty with a law that took effect in May 2013 and that the state's courts and attorney general have questioned whether the state has legal authority to carry out death sentences that were already imposed.
"In the final analysis, there is one truth that stands between and before all of us," O'Malley said in a statement. "That truth is this — few of us would ever wish for our children or grandchildren to kill another human being or to take part in the killing of another human being. The legislature has expressed this truth by abolishing the death penalty in Maryland."
The four inmates whose sentences were commuted are Vernon Lee Evans Jr. and Anthony Grandison Sr., who were convicted of the 1983 contract killing of two witnesses scheduled to testify in a federal drug trial; Heath William Burch, convicted of killing an elderly neighbor couple in 1995; and Jody Lee Miles, convicted of robbing and shooting a theater manager in 1997.
O'Malley said in the statement that he'd met with the families of the victims of the four convicted killers whose sentences he commuted, and said they would suffer through "the additional torment of an un-ending legal process."
"In my judgment, leaving these death sentences in place does not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future," O'Malley said.
Prior relates posts:
- Can and should out-going Maryland Gov commute death sentences to ensure LWOP after state's capital repeal?
"Emotion, Authority, and Death: (Raced) Negotiations in Mock Capital Jury Deliberations"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article discussing notable new capital jury deliberation research authored by Mona Lynch and Craig Haney and available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This article explores the role of emotion in the capital penalty-phase jury deliberations process. It is based on the qualitative analysis of data from ninety video-recorded four to seven person simulated jury deliberations that examined the influence of race on death sentencing outcomes. The analysis explores when and how emotions are expressed, integrated into the jury’s sentencing process, and deployed in penalty-phase decision making.
The findings offer critical new insights into the role that emotion plays in influencing these legal judgments by revealing how jurors strategically and explicitly employ emotion in the course of deliberation, both to support their own positions and neutralize or rebut the opposing positions of others. The findings also shed light on the various ways that white male capital jurors utilize a panoply of powerful emotion-based tactics to sway others to their position in a manner that often contributes to racially biased outcomes.
More notable new posts from the Collateral Consequences Resource Center
Because topics covered at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center are so interesting and get little attention in the mainstream media (or many other places in the blogoshere), I plan to continue noting in this space all the the notable posts regularly appearing at CCRC. Here are a bunch more posts of notes from CCRC of as 2014 is winding down:
December 30, 2014
"The Steep Cost of America’s High Incarceration Rate"
The title of this post is the headline of this recent Wall Street Journal commentary authored by Robert Rubin and Nicholas Turner. Here are excerpts:
One of us is a former Treasury secretary, the other directs a criminal-justice institute. But we’ve reached the same conclusions. America’s overreliance on incarceration is exacting excessive costs on individuals and communities, as well as on the national economy. Sentences are too long, and parole and probation policies too inflexible. There is too little rehabilitation in prison and inadequate support for life after prison.
Crime itself has a terrible human cost and a serious economic cost. But appropriate punishment for those who are a risk to public safety shouldn’t obscure the vast deficiencies in the criminal-justice system that impose a significant drag on the economy....
[Mass incarceration] is not only a serious humanitarian and social issue, but one with profound economic and fiscal consequences. In an increasingly competitive global economy, equipping Americans for the modern workforce is an economic imperative. Excessive incarceration harms productivity. People in prison are people who aren’t working. And without effective rehabilitation, many are ill-equipped to work after release.
For the more than 600,000 people who leave prison and re-enter society every year, finding employment can be a severe challenge. Prison time carries a social stigma, which makes finding any job, let alone a good job, all too difficult....
The costs of incarceration extend across generations. Nearly three million American children have a parent in prison or jail. Growing up with an incarcerated parent can harm childhood development. Research by Pew shows that children with fathers who have been incarcerated are nearly six times more likely to be expelled or suspended from school. Incarceration therefore helps perpetuate the cycle of family poverty and increases the potential for next generation criminal activity....
Model programs are being piloted at the state level. For example, the Vera Institute of Justice’s Pathways from Prison to Post-Secondary Education project is working with more than 900 students in 14 prisons. The program provides college classes and re-entry support such as financial literacy training, legal services, employment counseling and workshops on family reintegration. A 2013 meta-analysis by RAND has already found that recidivism decreases when a former inmate graduates from college, which also boosts lifetime earning potential.
And clearly, we need significant sentencing and parole reform. There is widespread bipartisan agreement that we are using prison for too many crimes and for too long, with concentrated effects in many communities. One possibility for reform is the Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican Sen. Mike Lee, which boasts 30 co-sponsors and was successfully reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this spring. The bill’s House companion also enjoys strong bipartisan support. There are also examples of progress in statehouses around the country. In 2013, 35 states passed bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and parole; since 2009, more than 30 states have reformed existing drug laws and sentencing practices, according to reports from Vera this year.
The time has come to make sensible reform in these four areas — sentencing, parole, rehabilitation and re-entry — a national priority. Doing so could accomplish a tremendous amount for families, communities and the U.S. economy.
December 29, 2014
Split Ninth Circuit panel reverses Arizona death sentence over sharp dissent
The Ninth Circuit today issued a notable reversal of an Arizona death sentence by finding that the defendant's attorney was ineffective at sentencing even though the Arizona courts found to the contrary. The ruling in Mann v. Ryan, 09-99017 (9th Cir. Dec. 29, 2014) (available here), produced a notable dissent by Judge Kozinski starting this way:
Once more unto the breach. Time and again, we have been admonished for disregarding Congress’s clear instruction that federal judges in habeas proceedings must adopt a “highly deferential standard” under which “state-court decisions [are] given the benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). In clear violation of this principle, the majority today seizes upon imprecise language in a single sentence of a state court’s otherwise well-reasoned and comprehensive opinion, and uses it to sweep aside AEDPA’s restrictions on the scope of our review. The majority not only fails to faithfully apply Supreme Court precedent, it also creates a split with two other circuits.
If we are not summarily reversed, Mann’s death sentence will surely be reimposed by the state court. One way or the other, Mann will be executed, if he doesn’t die of old age first. But only after he — and the families of the two people he killed 25 years ago — endure what may be decades of further uncertainty. Where’s the justice in that? I respectfully dissent from Part III of the majority’s opinion.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court declares state's sex offender registration regulations violate juve offenders' due process rights
Via How Appealing, I see that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued this majority opinion in In the Interest of J.B., J-44A-G-2014 (Pa. Dec. 29, 2014), declaring unconstitutional part of the state's sex offender registration laws (over a lone justice's dissenting opinion). Here is a portion from the start and end of the majority opinion:
In this case, we consider the constitutionality of provisions of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) as applied to juveniles. 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9799.10-9799.41. Pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 722(7), we review this case directly from the order of the York County Court of Common Pleas holding the statute unconstitutional as violative of the ex post facto clause, protections against cruel and unusual punishment, and due process rights through the use of an irrebuttable presumption. In the Interest of J.B. et al., No. CP-67-JV-726-2010 (CP York Nov. 1, 2013). After review, we affirm the determination that SORNA violates juvenile offenders’ due process rights through the use of an irrebuttable presumption....
Given that juvenile offenders have a protected right to reputation encroached by SORNA’s presumption of recidivism, where the presumption is not universally true, and where there is a reasonable alternative means for ascertaining the likelihood of recidivating, we hold that the application of SORNA’s current lifetime registration requirements upon adjudication of specified offenses violates juvenile offenders’ due process rights by utilizing an irrebuttable presumption.
December 29, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Big talk from Charles Koch about big (money) criminal justice reform efforts
This lengthy article from the Wichita Eagle is garnering attention because of its report on who is now paying a lot of attention to criminal justice reform. The piece is headlined "Charles Koch’s views on criminal justice system just may surprise you," and here are excerpts:
Of all the contentious history between Koch Industries and the U.S. government, the Corpus Christi, Texas, case from 1995 is the one that Charles Koch remembers most vividly. A federal grand jury indicted his company on 97 felonies involving alleged environmental crimes at an oil refinery.
Prosecutors dropped all but one of the charges six years later, after the company spent tens of millions of dollars defending itself. Ultimately, Koch Petroleum Group agreed to pay a $10 million settlement.
“It was a really, really torturous experience,” said Mark Holden, Koch’s chief counsel. “We learned first-hand what happens when anyone gets into the criminal justice system.” Holden said Charles Koch wondered afterward “how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that.”
No one at Koch wants to re-litigate the Corpus Christi case, Holden said. But it prompted Charles Koch to study the justice system — both federal and state — wondering whether it has been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody. His conclusion: Yes, it has.
Ten years ago, he began giving money to support efforts by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense lawyers and reverse what some see as a national trend to get tough on crime, which has resulted in the tripling of the incarceration rate since the 1980s and has stripped the poor of their rights to a legal defense. He’s going to give more to that effort, he said.
“Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said. “And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.” The nation’s criminal justice system needs reform, “especially for the disadvantaged,” Koch said, “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”...
The Corpus Christi case led Charles Koch and his company to give money, starting about 10 years ago, to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The company and the association would not say how much Koch has given, but the amount totals in the seven figures, Holden said.
Campaigning against overcriminalization has prompted Koch to form unofficial alliances with people and organizations that usually champion liberal causes, including political activist George Soros and the American Civil Liberties Union, who are also campaigning for a reduction in prison populations....
Holden, Koch’s counsel ... said laws allow many crimes to be expunged from someone’s record. But that’s a tricky legal process, and many poor people don’t have the money to hire lawyers, he said. It makes no sense to give a life sentence like that to nonviolent offenders after they’ve served time, Holden said. “If you have a nonviolent felony and you get out of prison, we as a country can’t forgive and forget?” he asked.
Some prior related posts on Koch family efforts in support of criminal justice reform:
- Koch Industries give "major grant" to NACDL to help with indigent defense
- Highlighting that George Soros and the Koch Brothers agree on the need for criminal justice reform
- Another sign of the modern sentencing times: notable sponsor for "How the Criminal Justice System Impacts Well-Being"
- ACLU to devote $50 million to political efforts to attack mass incerceration
December 28, 2014
Have messy executions in 2014 moved the death penalty debate in any way?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new AP article headlined "Death penalty backers stand firm despite botched executions." Here are excerpts:
Oklahoma’s last execution went so badly that the state tried to cancel it before the end came. With the inmate writhing while the lethal drugs seeped into his body, his executioners drew the viewing gallery curtains, concealing what the warden later described as "a bloody mess."
The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April and other troubling ones this year in Ohio and Arizona gave capital punishment opponents a flicker of hope that areas of the country most enthusiastically supportive of the death penalty might have a change of heart. They did not.
Although Governor Mary Fallin suspended executions so that Lockett’s death and Oklahoma’s methods could be reviewed, the state held a ceremony for its overhauled death chamber only months later and is scheduled to resume executions in mid-January.
And rather than causing states to question whether capital punishment is just or worth the risk of subjecting someone to a potentially agonizing death, the prolonged executions and problems states have had securing lethal injection drugs have led them to explore new, old, and more efficient ways of killing, including gas.
"I think we had a little flash of hope that it would help our cause, but all it did was generate a lot of conversation about it," said Lydia Polley, a member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "It just led to people thinking of better ways to kill them."...
Lockett’s execution did little to dampen support for the death penalty in Oklahoma, which has executed more inmates than any other state except Texas since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty. In October, officials gave media tours of the renovated execution unit at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, which got a $104,000 overhaul after Lockett’s death and now stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the shabby, 106-year-old facility.
Not content with just the upgrades to the prison and lethal injection equipment, Oklahoma’s Republican-led House conducted a study on the use of nitrogen gas for executions and is expected to consider legislation early next year that would make Oklahoma the first state to adopt hypoxia by gas — the forced deprivation of oxygen — as a legal execution method.
Other conservative states are exploring alternatives to lethal injection because of the problems securing the drugs.... Tennessee passed a law to reinstate the electric chair if it cannot get lethal injection drugs and Utah is considering bringing back the firing squad....
Ralph Shortey, a Republican state senator from Oklahoma City who is pushing for Oklahoma to adopt alternative execution methods to lethal injection, estimates that 90 percent of his constituents strongly support the death penalty, despite what happened to Lockett. "The average Oklahoman is saying he got exactly what he deserves," Shortey said. "A lot of people think they should suffer even more than they do. They think the lethal injection is too easy for them."
Former Virginia Gov McDonnell upcoming sentencing sets out white-collar terms of debate
This lengthy local article from Virginia, headlined "U.S. seeks McDonnell sentence of 10 to 12 years," details the competing arguments being set forth in a high-profile federal white-collar sentencing slated for next month. Here are excerpts from the piece:
Prosecutors are asking that former Gov. Bob McDonnell, convicted of 11 corruption charges in September, be imprisoned for at least 10 years and one month to as much as 12 years and seven months when sentenced Jan. 6 by U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer.
In sentencing memorandums filed Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked for a term within the federal sentencing guideline range determined by the probation office, while McDonnell’s lawyers asked for 6,000 hours of community service instead of prison time and argued the guideline range should be 33 to 41 months.
“After serving as a prosecutor and attorney general, this defendant corrupted an office that few bribery defendants achieve, and then falsely testified and shifted blame for his actions before the jury that convicted him,” wrote Dana J. Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. McDonnell, the government wrote, “stands before this court as only the 12th governor in the United States — and the first governor of Virginia — to be convicted of a public corruption offense.”
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted in a six-week trial in which the marriage and the former first lady were portrayed as troubled. Maureen McDonnell was convicted of nine charges, one later thrown out, and will be sentenced Feb. 20. Bob McDonnell testified on his own behalf, but his wife did not. The McDonnells were indicted in January for accepting more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the then-CEO of Star Scientific, in exchange for promoting a new dietary supplement product. Williams, a key government witness, was granted immunity....
In its 31-page sentencing memorandum, the government urged Spencer to adopt the findings in the presentencing report from the probation office and reject McDonnell’s objections. Prosecutors argued that McDonnell abused his power and violated his duty to the people of Virginia.
“The defendant is fond of pointing out that under Virginia law, no limits on gifts to elected officials existed and that he thus claims that he was merely a ‘part of the culture of unlimited gifts that has permeated Virginia politics,’ ” prosecutors wrote. “But he was not convicted of accepting gifts; he was convicted of accepting bribes. And bribery has always been a violation of state (as well as federal) law,” they added. The government said the presentencing report correctly factored in obstruction of justice based on what it termed McDonnell’s lies from the witness stand....
McDonnell’s 51-page sentencing position, also filed Tuesday, took a very different view of the case. It said: “Bob McDonnell has devoted his life to public service, family, and faith. This offense is a total aberration in what was by all accounts a successful and honorable career.”
McDonnell argued the appropriate guideline range should be 33 to 41 months. “A sentence of imprisonment of any length, however, much less one of 10 years or more, would be a severely disproportionate punishment,” his lawyers contend. “Instead, a variant sentence of probation with a condition of 6,000 hours of full-time, rigorous, unpaid community service at a remote location served over three years is ‘sufficient, but not greater than necessary,’ to provide a just punishment,” they wrote.
“An outcome in which Mr. McDonnell serves any time in prison ... while Mr. Williams suffers no criminal justice consequences at all would neither promote respect for the law nor provide a just resolution to this case,” McDonnell’s lawyers argued.
Much of McDonnell’s sentencing position is taken up with his biography, accomplishments, and service in the military and as a state legislator, Virginia attorney general and governor. Seven appendixes, including hundreds of letters of support, were filed along with the document.
The memorandum notes the outline of the scheme for which he was convicted. “Mr. McDonnell’s actual conduct, however, differs in critical ways from that of others who have been convicted under the same federal bribery laws,” McDonnell’s lawyers argued. “Mr. McDonnell did not demand or receive cash payments from Mr. Williams. He did not take briefcases of money or hide stacks of $100 bills in his freezer,” they wrote. “Rather, the quid that the indictment charges that Mr. McDonnell or his family members received were gifts — a wedding gift to Mr. McDonnell’s daughter and several rounds of golf at Mr. Williams’ country club — as well as three loans at commercial rates that the McDonnells paid back with interest.”
While McDonnell’s decision to accept the items showed poor judgment, Virginia state ethics laws at the time permitted officials to accept unlimited gifts of that nature, McDonnell’s lawyers argued. “Numerous state officials routinely took advantage of these laws and accepted luxury vacations, rounds of golf, sports tickets, dinners, and other things of value from donors and wealthy hangers-on.”...
The defense contends that McDonnell’s trial and conviction already act as powerful deterrents to criminal conduct by others, making imprisonment unnecessary. “No elected official would want to live through the last year of Mr. McDonnell’s life,” his lawyers write. McDonnell and his family “have already suffered tremendously,” the lawyers write. “His once-promising political career is dead,” and “his marriage has fallen apart.”
Defense lawyers wrote that McDonnell’s “sterling reputation in the community has been irreparably damaged,” he has lost his ability to practice law, he is likely to lose his state pension, “and he will have to sell his family home.” The former governor’s lawyers also contend prison is unnecessary to protect the public because there is no risk McDonnell will commit any further crimes. “He is 60 years old and out of politics.”
Relatedly, this Washington Post article reports on some of the notable letters written to the sentencing judge in support McDonnell. The piece is headlined "Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s downfall is wife’s fault, daughter says," and it provides this link to some notable character letters.
Prior related posts:
- Former Virginia Gov McDonnell (and wife) now facing high-profile federal sentencing after jury convictions on multiple charges
- Former Virginia Gov McDonnell facing significant (trial?) penalty in his federal guideline calculation
December 28, 2014 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack