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September 29, 2017

Another look at the realities of more offenders aging and dying in prison

Long-time readers surely recall a number of articles in this space about the aging US prison population. Here is another via the Philadelphia Inquirer under the headline "More people than ever are dying in prison. Their caregivers? Other inmates."  Here is how it gets started:

“The death squad.” Or, “the executioners.” That’s what many inmates used to call the inmate-volunteers who work the Graterford state prison hospice unit, a bleak row of isolation rooms — each one-part hospital room, one-part jail cell— where inmates with terminal illnesses are placed to die.

Then, they saw how the inmates cared for dying men in shifts, undertaking the intimate tasks of feeding, cleaning and comforting them. For many, it is a calling. Over time, attitudes changed, said James, a 51-year-old inmate who volunteers to do this work. “There’s a lot of progress in this place. There is more humanity here now.”

It’s needed, given that far more people are dying in prison than ever before. In Pennsylvania, 483 state inmates have died since January 2015. That’s about 180 deaths in prison each year. From 2005 to 2014, the average was 150 deaths per year.

That increase is a byproduct, officials say, of the extraordinarily fast-growing elderly population in prison. In 2001, there were 1,892 geriatric inmates in Pennsylvania (ages 55 or older). Today, that’s more than tripled to 6,458. The leading causes of death in the state’s prisons are heart disease, cancer and liver disease. Caring for this population is extraordinarily expensive: It’s estimated that elderly inmates cost three to nine times more than young ones. Compassionate release, meanwhile, is granted to just a few inmates each year.

But since 2004, families of dying inmates at Graterford have had the small comfort of knowing they will not die alone. There is just one nurse on staff at the 23-bed infirmary, and visitors are allowed only an hour a day, but volunteers man the hospice on 24-hour vigils, sometimes caring for two or three inmates at once.

A year ago, a statewide memo ordered that all Pennsylvania prisons establish hospice programs, but there’s no set format for those programs to follow, said Annette Kowalewski, who runs the hospice program at Laurel Highlands state prison, which contains a skilled-nursing facility. Staff at five or six institutions have contacted her for guidance.

According to Brie Williams, a professor at University of California-San Francisco who studies geriatric care in prison, some type of hospice care is offered at around 80 prisons nationwide. “Hospices in the correctional setting are a critically needed response to the extraordinarily long sentences and minimum mandatory sentences that were handed down over the past decades,” she said.

September 29, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

September 28, 2017

Yale Law School clinic report looks at "Parole Revocation in Connecticut: Opportunities to Reduce Incarceration"

A helpful reader alerted me to this new report released by The Criminal Justice Clinic at Yale Law School.  This press release from the school's website provides some background and a kind of summary of the report, which carries the title "Parole Revocation in Connecticut: Opportunities to Reduce Incarceration":

A new report highlights opportunities for the State of Connecticut to reduce the high rate of incarceration attributable to its parole revocation process. The report was written by the Samuel Jacobs Criminal Justice Clinic (“CJC”) at Yale Law School.

The report details the findings of a research project that began in the fall of 2015 after Governor Dannel Malloy announced the Second Chance Society initiative.  To support that initiative, CJC agreed to undertake a study of parole revocation in Connecticut to explore ways to reduce incarceration and to facilitate the reintegration of parolees into society....

As part of the CJC study, students and faculty personally observed 49 parole revocation hearings in Connecticut in November 2015.  Shortly after these observations, they reported the following findings to state officials:

  • The Board of Pardons and Paroles (BOPP) revoked parole in 100% of the observed cases.
  • BOPP imposed a prison sanction in 100% of observed cases.
  • Nearly all parolees in the observed cases waived their due process rights in the parole revocation process.
  • No parolee appeared with appointed counsel, even though several parolees seemed clearly to qualify for state-provided counsel under the constitutional standard.
  • The typical procedures at parole revocation hearings made it difficult for parolees to contest disputed facts or to present mitigating evidence. Without counsel, incarcerated parolees did not have a meaningful opportunity to develop evidence in support of their claims.

In 2016, CJC administered a follow-up survey to parolees whose hearings it had observed.  The survey revealed that most parolees did not understand the rights that they had waived during the parole revocation process.  The survey also revealed that 79% of the parolees interviewed had lost jobs as a consequence of parole revocation....

Over the last two years, BOPP has begun to implement reforms to its parole revocation practices in response to the CJC study. In 2017, BOPP asked that CJC present additional recommendations in writing, which led to the release of this report.

September 28, 2017 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

SCOTUS grants cert on a bunch of criminal cases, including at least one possibly exciting sentencing case

Over the weekend in this post, I flagged a bunch of interesting criminal cases flagged in this lengthy In Justice Today accounting of cert petitions to watch as the Supreme Court got back in action with its end-of-the-summer "long conference."  Today, via this short order list, the Supreme Court reported out some of the results of its work at the long conference.  Specifically, the court granted certiorari in 11 cases (three of which about military courts are consolidated).  Interestingly, though I did not see any of the cases I have been watching on the "certiorari granted" order list, it seems at least five of the case that do appear on the latest order list involve criminal issues:

16-1027 COLLINS, RYAN A. V. VIRGINIA

16-1371 BYRD, TERRENCE V. UNITED STATES

16-1466 HAYS, KS V. VOGT, MATTHEW JACK D. (N.B.: "Justice Gorsuch took no part in the consideration or decision of this petition.")

16-8255 McCOY, ROBERT L. V. LOUISIANA (N.B.: the "a writ of certiorari [is] limited to Question 1 presented by the petition")

16-9493 ROSALES-MIRELES, FLORENCIO V. UNITED STATES

Based on a too-quick bit of Google searching, it appears that the first two cases above deal with Fourth Amendment car searches, the Vogt case deals with Fifth Amendment procedure, McCoy is a state capital case seemingly dealing with right to counsel issues, and Rosales-Mireles is a federal sentencing appeal!  I am hopeful that SCOTUSblog will soon have their usual terrific coverage of all of today's grants with links to the filings.  I suspect that hard-core sentencing fans will be most interested in the final two cases listed above, but I will need to see the filings before I will know just how excited to get about these new cases on the SCOTUS docket.

Meanwhile, for all the cases in the cert pool being watched by others, we will need to wait until at least Monday morning to know more about their fate.  For those rooting for cert grants, not being on today's order list is not a good sign.  But a lot of cases get relisted after the long conference, and thus there is still a decent chance at least a handful more criminal cases of note will be added to the docket in the coming weeks.

UPDATE Not minutes after I finished this post, I see Amy Howe has this long post reviewing all of today's cert grants, and here is part of her accounting of the criminal cases:

The Fifth Amendment’s “self-incrimination clause” provides that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” In City of Hays, Kansas v. Vogt, the justices will consider the scope of that clause – specifically, whether the Fifth Amendment is violated when statements are used at a probable cause hearing but not at a criminal trial.... 

In Collins v. Virginia, the justices have agreed to clarify the scope of the “automobile exception” to the warrant requirement – specifically, whether it applies to a car parked on private property, close to a home....

Byrd v. United States: Expectations of privacy in rental car for someone who is not an authorized driver;

Rosales-Mireles v. United States: Standard for the court of appeals to correct a plain error;

McCoy v. Louisiana: Whether it is unconstitutional for defense counsel to concede a defendant’s guilt over the defendant’s objection.

Today’s grants are likely to be argued in either January or February.

September 28, 2017 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12)

US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on "Federal Alternative-to-Incarceration Court Programs"

ThVRFS1G7AThe US Sentencing Commission has this morning released this 100-page report titled "Federal Alternative-to-Incarceration Court Programs."  Here is part of the report's introduction:

During the three decades that it has been in existence, the United States Sentencing Commission (Commission) repeatedly has considered the important issue of when an alternative to incarceration is an appropriate sentence for certain federal defendants. The original 1987 Guidelines Manual provided for alternative sentencing options such as probation for certain low-level federal offenders, and the Commission thereafter amended the guidelines on several occasions to increase the availability of alternative sentences as sentencing options. Despite these amendments, the rate of alternative sentences imposed in cases governed by the sentencing guidelines has fallen steadily during the past three decades, including after United States v. Booker, and Gall v. United States, which increased federal judges’ discretion to impose alternative sentences. In recent years, the Commission has prioritized the study of alternatives to incarceration as a sentencing option.

Many federal district courts around the country, with the support of the Department of Justice (DOJ), have begun creating specialized court programs to increase the use of alternatives to incarceration for certain types of offenders, most commonly for those with substance use disorders. These programs have developed independently of policy decisions of both the Commission and the Judicial Conference of the United States.  Commentators, including judges who have presided over these court programs, have urged the Commission to amend the Guidelines Manual to encourage such programs and provide the option of a downward departure to a non-incarceration sentence for defendants who successfully participate in them and who otherwise would face imprisonment based on their guideline sentencing ranges.

As part of its recent priority concerning alternatives to incarceration, the Commission has studied these emerging court programs. The Commission’s study has been qualitative rather than quantitative at this juncture because of a lack of available empirical data about the programs.  In late 2016 and early 2017, Commission staff visited five districts with established programs, interviewed program judges and staff, and observed proceedings.  On April 18, 2017, the Commission conducted a public hearing about such specialized federal court programs, at which the Commission received testimony from experts on state “drug courts” and other “problem-solving courts” as well as from federal district judges who have presided over three of the more established alternative-to-incarceration court programs.

This publication summarizes the nature of these emerging federal alternative-to-incarceration court programs and will highlight several legal and social science issues relating to them. Part II defines key terms and concepts, discusses the history of alternative-to-incarceration court programs, which originated in the state courts nearly three decades ago, and then specifically describes the types of specialized federal court programs that have been created in recent years.  Part III discusses legal issues related to the federal court programs, including how they fit within the legal framework created by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA) and modified by the Supreme Court in 2005 in Booker.  Part IV identifies social science issues related to the programs, including issues related to the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the federal court programs.

Part V concludes by identifying several questions about the federal court programs that policymakers and courts should consider in deciding whether, and if so how, such programs should operate in the federal criminal justice system in the future.

September 28, 2017 in Booker in district courts, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

"When ‘Not Guilty’ Is a Life Sentence"

The title of this post is the headline of this extended New York Times Magazine article with this summary subheadline: "What happens after a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity? Often the answer is involuntary confinement in a state psychiatric hospital — with no end in sight." Here is an excerpt:

James’s insanity acquittal placed him in an obscure, multibillion-dollar segment of domestic detention.  According to a 2017 study conducted by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, more than 10,000 mentally ill Americans who haven’t been convicted of a crime — people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or who have been arrested but found incompetent to stand trial — are involuntarily confined to psychiatric hospitals.  Even a contributor to the study concedes that no one knows the exact number.  While seemingly every conceivable data point in America’s prison system is meticulously compiled, not much is known about the confinement of “forensic” patients, people committed to psychiatric hospitals by the criminal-justice system. No federal agency is charged with monitoring them. No national registry or organization tracks how long they have been incarcerated or why.

In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled, in Foucha v. Louisiana, that a forensic patient must be both mentally ill and dangerous in order to be hospitalized against his will. But in practice, “states have ignored Foucha to a pretty substantial degree,” says W. Lawrence Fitch, a consultant to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and former director of forensic services for Maryland’s Mental Hygiene Administration. “People are kept not because their dangerousness is because of mental illness. People stay in too long, and for the wrong reasons.”

Michael Bien, a lawyer who helped bring a successful lawsuit against the California prison system on behalf of prisoners with psychiatric illnesses, concurs. “Under constitutional law, they’re supposed to be incarcerated only if they’re getting treatment, and only if the treatment is likely to restore sanity,” he says. “You can’t just punish someone for having mental illness. But that’s happening.”...

[D]espite its reputation as a “get out of jail free” card, the insanity defense has never been an easy way out — or easy to get. After a defendant is charged, the defendant, her lawyer or a judge can request evaluation by a psychiatrist.  A defendant may be found incompetent to stand trial and committed for rehabilitation if she isn’t stable enough or intellectually capable of participating in the proceedings. If she is rehabilitated, she may be tried; if she cannot be, she may languish in a psychiatric hospital for years or decades. But mental illness is not exculpatory in itself: A defendant may be found mentally ill and still competent enough to stand trial.  At that point, the district attorney may offer an insanity plea — some 90 percent of N.G.R.I. verdicts are plea deals.  If the district attorney doesn’t offer a plea, or the defendant doesn’t take it, the case goes to trial. The defendant may still choose insanity as a defense, but then her case will be decided by a jury....

And when an N.G.R.I. defense does succeed, it tends to resemble a conviction more than an acquittal.  N.G.R.I. patients can wind up with longer, not shorter, periods of incarceration, as they are pulled into a mental-health system that can be harder to leave than prison. In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled, in Jones v. the United States, that it wasn’t a violation of due process to commit N.G.R.I. defendants automatically and indefinitely, for the safety of the public.  (Michael Jones, who was a paranoid schizophrenic, had been hospitalized since 1975, after pleading N.G.R.I. to petty larceny for trying to steal a jacket.)  In almost all states, N.G.R.I. means automatic commitment to a psychiatric facility.  In most states, like New York, there is no limit to the duration of that commitment.  In the states that do have limits, like California, the limits are based on the maximum prison sentence for the offense, a model that belies the idea of hospitalization as treatment rather than punishment.  As Suzanna Gee, an attorney with Disability Rights California (a protection and advocacy agency with counterparts in every state), points out, the law allows two-year extensions as patients approach a “top date,” the limit set on their confinement.  And so, she says, “it can be extended in perpetuity.”

September 28, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

September 27, 2017

Should New Jersey be more regularly championed for its profound success in reducing prison populations and crime rates?

New-jersey-clipart-toonvectors-5159-140The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article, headlined "Why is the N.J. prison population shrinking? (It's not just about less crime...)," which highlights how and how successful the Garden State has been in reducing its prison population.  Here are excerpts from the article:

The big house is getting smaller. Fewer people are going to prison in New Jersey these days and the numbers continue to drop, according to an analysis of state Department of Corrections data over the past five years.

Those incarcerated in New Jersey — including men and women in prison, juveniles in detention, and detainees still in halfway houses — dropped this year to 19,619, from 21,123 in 2013. That marked a decline of more than 15 percent.

In fact, the state's inmate population has fallen more from its peak in the 1990s than any other state in the country, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based criminal justice reform group. Since 1999 — when more than 31,000 people were behind bars in New Jersey — the number of inmates has plunged by more than a third. "New Jersey leads the nation in prison population reduction," said Todd Clear, a prison policy expert at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.

Crime has been going down in New Jersey in recent years. But that doesn’t really tell the story of what's happening in the state's prisons, according to Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project. "It's not necessarily one shift that can produce a shift of this magnitude," he said, attributing much of it to the creation of the state's drug courts that focus on diverting people from prison, as well as changes in the parole system that make it less likely someone will be put back behind bars for minor technical violations of their parole.

The corrections department data underscores the impact on how the state treats drug crime. The percentage of those serving time for drug crime is down more significantly than for inmates convicted of any other offense.... According to corrections department officials, a five-year phase-in under Gov. Chris Christie of mandatory drug courts for non-violent offenders, which was expanded to all 21 counties across the state, redirected thousands from state prison and into drug treatment programs.

At the same time, they credited the so-called "ban the box" legislation prohibiting employers from discriminating against people with expunged criminal records, as well as accelerating some expungements, increasing the type of convictions that can be expunged and reducing the waiting period to expunge an entire juvenile record, have given some inmates a better opportunity of finding a job and staying out of prison....

Department of Corrections officials said with the decline in inmate population, they have consolidated facilities and closed some units, reducing overtime costs. "This practice allowed us to undertake much-needed renovations in our facilities," said spokesman Matthew Schuman. "In fact, as part of our consolidation program, we closed Mid-State Correctional Facility in June 2014."

Mid-State reopened in April 2017 as the first licensed, clinically driven drug treatment program provided by the NJDOC. At the same time, a similar substance use disorder program for female offenders became operational at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

Unfortunately, this new article does not address what has become of crime rates and recidivism rates during this period in which New Jersey has been shrinking its prison population, but I think the data is also encouraging.  Specifically, crime data for New Jersey here and here suggests crime has gone down as much if not more in NJ than elsewhere in the country and the state even seems to be largely avoiding the crime spikes that a number of other regions have seen in the last two years.  And this local article from last years reports that the state's corrections "Chief of Staff Judith Lang ... said New Jersey’s recidivism rate has lowered from 48 percent to 32 percent" thanks in part to state investment in reentry services.

Though outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be leaving office with very low approval ratings, the citizens of New Jersey and all those interested in criminal justice reform should praise his efforts in this arena and the broader achievements of all New Jersey policymakers and officials in recent years.  Especially if New Jersey continues to keep crime rates and prison populations low, the state will continue to be an important success story for modern criminal justice reforms that other jurisdictions should aspire to emulate.

September 27, 2017 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Grover Norquist calls criminal justice reform one of the "conservative movement’s most important recent accomplishments"

Anti-tax icon Grover Norquist has this notable Wall Street Journal commentary under the headline "Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform: You don’t hear about it much, but 31 mostly red states have reduced both crime and imprisonment." Here is how it starts:

Every so often I’m asked to list the conservative movement’s most important recent accomplishments.  One always ranks near the top: criminal justice reform.

With leadership from Republican governors and legislators and groups such as Right on Crime, conservatives have pushed to rein in runaway prison spending and adopt cost-conscious correctional policies that improve public safety.  Starting 10 years ago in Texas, more than half of all states have now shifted course, changing laws to ensure that violent offenders serve hard time while those who are not a danger are steered toward less expensive alternatives that can help alter the paths of their lives and make communities safer.

Taxpayers benefit.  In 2007 the Pew Charitable Trusts projected that state prisons would grow 14% over five years, costing states $27.5 billion more.  Instead, the reforms have bent the curve.  The state prison population is down 5%.  Between 2010 and 2015, 31 states reduced both crime and imprisonment, proving that fiscal discipline and safe streets can go hand in hand.

September 27, 2017 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

"Will SCOTUS Let Fear of Sex Offenders Trump Justice?"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Reason commentary by Jacob Sullum spotlighting two cases I have tracked on this blog as they have made their way up to the Justices. Here is how the piece starts and ends:

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, locking up sex offenders after they have completed their sentences is not punishment, and neither is branding them as dangerous outcasts for the rest of their lives.  Two cases the Court could soon agree to hear give it an opportunity to reconsider, or at least qualify, those counterintuitive conclusions.

Karsjens v. Piper is a challenge to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), which since 1994 has confined more than 700 people who were deemed too "sexually dangerous" to release after serving their prison terms.  Although these detainees are supposedly patients rather than inmates, in more than two decades only one of them has ever been judged well enough to regain his freedom....

Another case pending before the Supreme Court, Snyder v. Doe, is an appeal of a 2016 decision in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that Michigan's Sex Offender Registration Act, ostensibly a form of civil regulation aimed at protecting public safety, is so punitive that its requirements cannot be applied retroactively without violating the constitutional ban on ex post facto laws.  The 6th Circuit noted that the law "has grown into a byzantine code governing in minute detail the lives of the state's sex offenders," including onerous restrictions on where they may live, work, and "loiter."....

The Supreme Court has let fear of sex offenders, a despised minority that includes many people who pose no real danger to their fellow citizens, trump traditional concerns about due process and just punishment.  By hearing these cases, it can begin to repair the damage it has done to those principles.

September 27, 2017 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (20)

September 26, 2017

US Supreme Court, voting 6-3, issues last-minute stay of execution in Georgia

As revealed in this new order and explained in this local article, the "U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution tonight to condemned killer Keith Tharpe, three and a half hours after he was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection." Here are the basics:

In a 6-3 decision, the court’s justices were apparently concerned about claims that one of Tharpe’s jurors was racist and sentenced Tharpe to death because he was African-American. Three justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — dissented.

The high court will now decide whether to hear Tharpe’s appeal, and, if it doesn’t, the court said the stay of execution shall terminate automatically. But that will not happen tonight.

Tharpe’s lawyers were overjoyed with the decision. “We’re gratified the court understands this case merits thoughtful consideration outside the press of an execution warrant,” said Brian Kammer, one of Tharpe’s attorneys. “We are extremely thankful that the court has seen fit to consider Mr. Tharpe's claim of juror racial bias in regular order."

Prior related post:

September 26, 2017 in Death Penalty Reforms, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16)

Thoughtful new Vox commentaries on modern incarceration and its contexts

Regular readers likely already know that they ought to be regularly reading Vox for its sharp coverage of a number of criminal justice issues.  And this week, there have already been these two must-read pieces:

September 26, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Acting DEA head officially resigns

As reported here by the New York Times, the "acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration will resign at the end of the week, according to law enforcement officials, who said he had become convinced that President Trump had little respect for the law." Here is more about a not-too-surprising departure:

The official, Chuck Rosenberg, who twice served as chief of staff to the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey and remains a close confidant, had grown disillusioned with Mr. Trump.  The president fired Mr. Comey in May, and then in July told law enforcement officers “please don’t be too nice” when handling crime suspects.

Mr. Rosenberg forcefully rejected Mr. Trump’s comment, sending an email to all D.E.A. employees at the time to tell them that they should not mistreat suspects.  “We must earn and keep the public trust and continue to hold ourselves to the very highest standards,” Mr. Rosenberg wrote in the internal email.  “Ours is an honorable profession and, so, we will always act honorably.”...

Mr. Rosenberg, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015, is a career prosecutor.  Under President George W. Bush, he served as the United States attorney in both southern Texas and eastern Virginia.

In late July, Mr. Rosenberg, told the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, that he did not want to be considered as the permanent administrator of the D.E.A.  Mr. Rosenstein, who wrote a memo that Mr. Trump briefly cited as his rationale for dismissing Mr. Comey, then asked whether Mr. Rosenberg wanted to remain at the Justice Department, and Mr. Rosenberg said he did not.

In a message to D.E.A. employees on Tuesday, Mr. Rosenberg said, “The neighborhoods in which we live are better for your commitment to the rule of law, dedication to the cause of justice and perseverance in the face of adversity.”

“You will continue to do great things,” he added. “I will continue to root for you, now from the sidelines.”

September 26, 2017 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

DOJ seeking DC Circuit en banc review of panel ruling finding 30-year mandatory minimums unconstitutionally excessive for Blackwater contractors who killed Iraqis

In this post last month, I noted the remarkable split DC Circuit panel opinion in US v. Slatten, No. 15-3078 (DC Cir. Aug. 4, 2017) (available here).  I am now not surprised to learn from this news report that the "Justice Department asked a full federal appeals court Monday to review a decision to throw out the first-degree murder conviction of one former Blackwater Worldwide security guard and the sentences of three others in shootings that killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007."  Here are the details:

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall approved the decision, which was expected and filed by appeals lawyers for the department’s criminal division, to seek a full court review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, after a three-judge panel ruled Aug. 4.

The panel said a trial court “abused its discretion” in not allowing Nicholas A. Slatten, 33, of Sparta, Tenn., to be tried separately from his three co-defendants in 2014 even though one of them said he, not Slatten, fired the first shots in the massacre.  Slatten was convicted of murder.

By a separate, 2-to-1 vote, the panel also found that the 30-year terms of the others convicted of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter — Paul A. Slough, 37, of Keller, Tex.; Evan S. Liberty, 35, of Rochester, N.H.; and Dustin L. Heard, 36, of Maryville, Tenn. — violated the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”  They received the enhanced penalty because they were also convicted of using military firearms while committing a felony, a charge that primarily has been aimed at gang members and never before been used against security contractors given military weapons by the U.S. government.

The Justice Department filing called the panel’s sentencing finding “as wrong as it is unprecedented,” saying the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld longer sentences for lesser crimes. “By its plain terms, the statute applies to defendants, who used their most fearsome weapons to open fire on defenseless men, women, and children,” the department said. “Far from being unconstitutional, these sentences befit the ‘enormity’ of defendants’ crimes.”

The government also cited “legal and factual errors” in the ruling granting Slatten a retrial, noting the “great international consequence” of his prosecution for “a humanitarian and diplomatic disaster.” A retrial in “a prosecution of this magnitude (including reassembling the many Iraqi witnesses) poses considerable and uncommon challenges,” the department wrote, urging the full court to reconsider “in a case of such exceptional importance.”

In their own filing Monday, attorneys for the four men asked the full court to toss out the case on jurisdictional grounds and so reverse the panel’s finding that civilian contractors supporting the Pentagon could be prosecuted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act....

A group representing family members and friends of the four tweeted a statement from Slatten last month that said, “Public outrage may be our only chance at true justice for all four of us. While it may be too early to seek pardons for my brothers from President Trump, he especially needs to hear from you.”

I have been meaning to write more about the extraordinary Eighth Amendment analysis in the Slatten decision, but I have been holding back in part due to my sense that en banc or even certiorari review may be forthcoming. The jurisprudential and political elements of this case are truly fascinating, and I really have no idea if the full DC Circuit and/or SCOTUS may want to take up this hot potato of a case. And in the wake of the Arpaio pardon, perhaps Prez Trump will be inclined to jump into the case at some point, too.

Prior related post:

September 26, 2017 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Alliance for Justice assails Third Circuit nominee Stephanos Bibas for his criminal justice work and writings

As revealed in this post from June, I was stoked when sentencing scholar (and my occasional co-author) Stephanos Bibas was nominated by Prez Trump for an open seat on the Third Circuit. But, though Prof Bibas has gotten lots of support from lots of folks across the political aisle, the folks at Alliance for Justice have released this critical new report his record and AFJ President Nan Aron say that in his coming confirmation hearing the "onus is on him to alleviate concerns about his approach to the rights of individuals who might find themselves before him in court."

I surmise that AFJ releases a critical report about every one of the nominees put forward by AFJ, but my professional connections to Prof Bibas and his working in the sentencing arena prompted me to review this particular AFJ report about his work and writings.  This AFJ press release summarizes the report's articulated concerns:

Among other things, AFJ’s report notes:

  • Bibas has written about the treatment of prisoners in ways that are unsettling and raise questions about his respect for their constitutional rights. In a 2012 book, he praises colonial-era punishments such as public whippings that inflict pain and humiliation on convicted persons, suggesting that public shaming is not practiced enough today.  This philosophy regarding punishment would be seriously harmful in a federal judge charged with reviewing countless sentencing decisions that will have enormous and lasting impacts on the lives of real people.  Bibas also argues that prisoners could be forcefully conscripted into the military.

  • In an article, Bibas insisted that while over-incarceration is real, it is not reflective of racial disparities in the justice system or society as a whole as the “liberal” “narrative” maintains.  He also argued that the growth in the prison population was “driven mainly by violent and property crime, not drugs.”

  • Bibas has shown a serious misunderstanding about the nature of drug addiction, having argued that it is not a disease but something that addicts can choose to overcome.

  • Bibas signed an open letter criticizing the University of Pennsylvania’s adoption of new procedures for investigating and resolving sexual assault complaints on campus. The letter made troubling statements suggesting that victims are in part responsible for assaults, and advocated for the university to adopt an adjudicative system for these cases that closely mirrors the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court has discouraged schools, which are supposed to provide safe learning environments for all students, from attempting to replicate criminal investigations and prosecutions on campus.

  • While serving as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, Bibas used federal prosecutorial, law enforcement, and court resources to bring charges against a cashier at a veterans’ hospital cafeteria for allegedly stealing seven dollars. On the morning of the trial, he turned over evidence corroborating the defense that records suggest he may have withheld for some time. The cashier was acquitted, and the prosecution faced scorching media criticism.

For a host or reasons, I am disinclined to engage with the particulars of the AFJ report.  But I am inclined to predict that Prof Bibas, based on his past criminal justice work and writings, will be much more inclined to respect criminal defendants' rights than many other past and future judicial nominees.

Prior related post:

September 26, 2017 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Retributive Justifications for Jail Diversion of Individuals with Mental Disorder"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper posted to SSRN authored by E. Lea Johnston. Here is the abstract:

Jail diversion programs have proliferated across the United States as a means to decrease the incarceration of individuals with mental illnesses.  These programs include pre-adjudication initiatives, such as Crisis Intervention Teams, as well as post-adjudication programs, such as mental health courts and specialized probationary services.  Post-adjudication programs often operate at the point of sentencing, so their comportment with criminal justice norms is crucial.

This article investigates whether and under what circumstances post-adjudication diversion for offenders with serious mental illnesses may cohere with principles of retributive justice.  Key tenets of retributive theory are that punishments must not be inhumane and that their severity must be proportionate to an offender’s desert.  Three retributive rationales could justify jail diversion for offenders with serious mental illnesses: reduced culpability, the avoidance of inhumane punishment, and the achievement of punishment of equal impact with similarly situated offenders.  The article explores current proposals to effectuate these rationales, their manifestations in law, and how these considerations may impact decisions to divert individuals with serious mental illnesses from jail to punishment in the community.

September 26, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 25, 2017

Reviewing the racial bias and other concerns surrounding Georgia's planned execution of Keith Tharpe

CNN has this new article reviewing issues being raised in the run-up a scheduled execution in Georgia.  The article is headlined "Questions of racial bias surround black man's imminent execution," and here are excerpts:

The state of Georgia is set to carry out its second execution of the year on Tuesday, when it plans to put to death Keith Tharpe, who was sentenced in 1991 for murdering his sister-in-law.  But Tharpe, 59, and his attorneys are seeking a stay of execution, based in part on racist comments a juror made after the trial had ended.  Tharpe is black and the now-deceased juror who made the comments was white.

The attorneys are not claiming that Tharpe is innocent of the crimes for which he's been convicted. Rather, they are arguing that his death sentence should be overturned because of juror misconduct.  They say Tharpe's death sentence was the result of a racially biased juror who, in a post-trial interview seven years after Tharpe's conviction and sentencing, used the n-word and wondered "if black people even have souls."

A biased juror, they argue, violates Tharpe's constitutional rights to a fair trial, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.  They also argue that the juror lied during jury selection, concealing the fact that he knew the victim's family. Furthermore, the attorneys say Tharpe is intellectually disabled, which would make it illegal for him to be executed under federal law....

At the time of his crime, September 25, 1990, Tharpe and his wife were estranged. Prosecutors said Tharpe stopped his wife and sister-in-law in the road as they drove to work, according to court filings from the federal district court. The documents say he took his sister-in-law, Jacquelin Freeman, to the back of the vehicle and shot her with a shotgun before throwing her into a ditch and shooting her again, killing her. An autopsy showed Freeman had been shot three times.  Prosecutors alleged Tharpe then raped his wife and took her to withdraw money from a credit union, where she was able to call police for help, according to the documents. Three months later, convicted of malice murder and kidnapping, Tharpe was sentenced to death. 

Tharpe's current case centers on the post-conviction testimony of Barney Gattie, a white juror in Tharpe's trial....  Brian Kammer, Tharpe's attorney with the Georgia Resource Center, said Gattie showed in his interview that he "harbored very atrocious, racist views about black people."  Tharpe's lawyers claim Gattie, who is now deceased, used the n-word with the lawyers throughout the interview, in reference to Tharpe and other black people....

Georgia law states that juror testimony cannot be used to impeach the verdict, or render it invalid -- even if it involves racial bias, Kammer said.  At the time Gattie made the statements in question, this rule kept Tharpe's attorneys from being able to use them to prove his death sentence was the result of racial bias.  In Georgia, defendants can only receive a death sentence if the jury reaches the decision unanimously.

But Kammer and his team are relying on some recent United States Supreme Court decisions to back their motion for a stay of execution.  The central one, Kammer told CNN, is Pena-Rodriguez v Colorado.  In March, the US Supreme Court held in a 5-3 vote that laws like Georgia's are invalidated when a juror "makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

Essentially, a juror's racial bias constitutes a violation of a defendant's rights to an impartial jury guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, and prevents defendants from being able to prove a violation of their constitutional rights.  "A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed -- including, in some instances, after the verdict has been entered -- is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts, a confidence that is a central premise of the Sixth Amendment trial right," Kennedy said.

Tharpe's request for a stay was denied by the 11th Circuit Court on September 21.  A federal district court denied Tharpe's motion seeking a reopening to federal habeas proceedings on September 5, the day before the state issued a warrant for his execution.

September 25, 2017 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12)

Lots more notable new reporting and commentary from The Marshall Project

Regular readers surely recall prior times I have flagged the always terrific Marshall Project for producing many great pieces that should be must-reads for sentencing fans.  As I have said before, I rarely have the time or ability to give blog attention to all of the great work done there.  But I could not resist another shout-out post upon seeing in recent days a bunch of pieces with original reporting and commentary that all struck me as particularly blog-worthy (with the last three connected):

September 25, 2017 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Anthony Weiner given 21 months in federal prison after his plea to "transferring obscene material to a minor"

Anthony Weiner was scheduled to be sentenced at 10am this morning in the Southern District of New York federal courtroom, and apparently US District Judge Denise Cote did not need very long to figure out what sentence she thought fitting.  This AP piece provides a blow-by-blow, and here are excerpts:

A prosecutor has urged a judge in New York City to sentence Anthony Weiner to a significant prison sentence to end his “tragic cycle” of sexting.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kramer told a Manhattan federal court judge Tuesday that Weiner on three occasions in 2016 asked a 15-year-old girl to display her naked body online and to perform for him. The prosecutor noted that sexting had already ruined Weiner’s congressional career and spoiled his run for mayor of New York City before he began interacting with the teenager. Kramer said Weiner should go to prison for between 21 months and 27 months....

Anthony Weiner called his crime his “rock bottom” as he spoke just before a judge in New York City sentences him for his sexting crime. Weiner fought back tears and occasionally cried Monday as he read from a written statement on a page he held in front of him in Manhattan federal court. He said he was “a very sick man for a very long time.” He asked to be spared from prison.

The Democrat’s lawyer, Arlo Devlin-Brown, had asked that Weiner serve no prison time....

Anthony Weiner has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for sexting with a 15-year-old girl in a case that may have cost Hillary Clinton’s the presidency.... Anthony Weiner must report to prison by Nov. 6 to begin serving his 21-month sentence for sexting with a 15-year-old girl.

As his sentence was announced Monday, the former Democratic congressman from New York dropped his head into his hand and wept, then stared straight ahead.  After the hearing ended and Judge Denise Cote left the bench, he sat in his seat for several minutes, continuing to cry.  Weiner was also fined $10,000.  After his sentence is served, he must undergo internet monitoring and must have no contact with his victim. He must also enroll in a sex-offender treatment program.  

Before announcing the sentence, Cote said there was “no evidence of deviant interest in teenagers or minors” on Weiner’s part.  She also said he is finally receiving effective treatment for what she said has been described as “sexual hyperactivity.”

 Prior related posts:

September 25, 2017 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17)

Official FBI crime data confirms that 2016 saw another notable increase in violent crime and further reductions in property crime

Early markers suggested that violent crime was increasing in 2016 in the United States, after having increased in 2015 following record low violent crime rates in 2014.  This official FBI press release provides these basics:

The estimated number of violent crimes in the nation increased for the second straight year, rising 4.1 percent in 2016 when compared with 2015 data, according to FBI figures released today. Property crimes dropped 1.3 percent, marking the 14th consecutive year the collective estimates for these offenses declined.

The 2016 statistics show the estimated rate of violent crime was 386.3 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the estimated rate of property crime was 2,450.7 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants.  The violent crime rate rose 3.4 percent compared with the 2015 rate, and the property crime rate declined 2.0 percent.

These and additional data are presented in the 2016 edition of the FBI’s annual report Crime in the United States.  This publication is a statistical compilation of offense, arrest, and police employee data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.  The UCR Program streamlined the 2016 edition by reducing the number of tables from 81 to 29, but still presented the major topics, such as offenses known, clearances, and persons arrested.  Limited federal crime, human trafficking, and cargo theft data are also included....

Of the 18,481 city, county, university and college, state, tribal, and federal agencies eligible to participate in the UCR Program, 16,782 submitted

  • In 2016, there were an estimated 1,248,185 violent crimes. Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter offenses increased 8.6 percent when compared with estimates from 2015.  Aggravated assault and rape (legacy definition) offenses increased 5.1 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, and robbery increased 1.2 percent.
  • Nationwide, there were an estimated 7,919,035 property crimes. The estimated numbers for two of the three property crimes show declines when compared with the previous year’s estimates. Burglaries dropped 4.6 percent, larceny-thefts declined 1.5 percent, but motor vehicle thefts rose 7.4 percent.
As readers surely know, rising crime rates always provide fodder for politicians and others to championing tougher sentencing regimes, and we have heard both Prez Trump and Attorney General Sessions stress rising violent crime as a justification for certain policies. I suspect we may soon see these new FBI data appearing in speeches by DOJ officials and others, though folks eager to push back on concerns about a modern new crime wave have already been talking up the recent Brennan Center analysis discussed here suggesting crime rates may be stabilizing or declining in 2017.

At the risk of seeming a bit too Pollyannaish, I think the FBI report that property crimes in 2016 dropped for the 14th consecutive year is a big piece of the national crime story very much worth celebrating. Though violent crimes rates understandably get the most attention, property crimes impact the most people — there are, roughly speaking, more than five property crimes for every violent crime — so drops property crimes can end up meaning a lot more persons and families experienced a crime-free year even when there are spikes in violent crime.

I expect various policy folks will be mining this latest FBI data for crime-specific and region-specific stories. I will try to cover some of the coming coverage and analysis in coming posts.

September 25, 2017 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (6)

September 24, 2017

Terrific review of SCOTUS petitions to watch from folks at In Justice Today

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I have previously flagged In Justice Today, a publication of Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, for its copious coverage of a range of criminal justice issues.  Today, I am flagging this extraordinary lengthy In Justice Today accounting of cert petitions to watch as the Supreme Court gets back in action with this "long conference" this week.  Here is the start and just a small part of this very helpful (and link-filled) review of criminal cases that could make their way to the SCOTUS merits docket:

Starting on Monday, the Court has dozens of criminal justice related certiorari petitions to consider. Here are the ten petitions we’re following closely, which cover issues including civil commitment, sex offender registries, non-unanimous jury verdicts, death in prison sentences for juveniles, the death penalty, prosecutorial misconduct, Double Jeopardy protections, and solitary confinement...

Karsjens v. Piper.  On September 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a class challenge to Minnesota's controversial civil commitment regime, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program....

Snyder v. Doe. Over the past decade, Michigan has created one of the most punitive registry schemes in America....  The State of Michigan filed a petition seeking review of the Sixth Circuit’s legal determination that the retroactive application of the sex offender registration laws constituted ex post facto punishment.

Lambert v. Louisiana. In 48 states, juries in criminal cases must return unanimous verdicts. Louisiana and Oregon are the only exceptions; both states permit convictions when only 10 of 12 jurors find the defendant guilty....  Even though the non-unanimity approach only prevails in two jurisdictions, the case arrives at the Court with significant momentum....

Johnson v. Idaho. This term, the Court will have the opportunity to address the question left open in Miller: whether “the Eighth Amendment requires a categorical bar on life without parole for juveniles.” 567 U.S. at 469. In Johnson v. Idaho, the petitioner, Sarah Johnson, challenges the constitutionality of juvenile life-without-parole (JLWOP)....

Ohio v. Moore. In Ohio v. Moore, the State of Ohio is challenging the Ohio Supreme Court’s conclusion that Graham’s prohibition on life-without-parole sentences for juveniles who commit non-homicide offenses also forecloses a term-of-years prison sentence, imposed for multiple non-homicide crimes, that exceeds the juvenile’s life expectancy....

Three other pending petitions — Willbanks v. Missouri Department of Corrections, Garza v. Nebraska, and Castaneda v. Nebraska — present essentially the same question, albeit from the opposite posture. In each, the petitioner challenged the constitutionality of his lengthy aggregate term-of-years sentence, imposed consecutively for several different felony offenses....

Hidalgo v. Arizona. Abel Daniel Hidalgo has asked the Court to consider the constitutionality of Arizona’s death penalty scheme, both in light of its failure to meaningfully narrow the class of murders that are death-eligible and because evolving standards of decency show that, as a categorical matter, the death penalty is unconstitutional....

Farnan v. Walker asks the Court to resolve questions about qualified immunity in the context of prison officials making determinations that a prisoner should be placed in solitary confinement....

September 24, 2017 in Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11)

On eve of federal sentencing, any final predictions (or desires) for Anthony Weiner's punishment for underage sexting?

As previewed in prior posts linked below and as set up in this new AP piece, the next chapter (and I fear not the last) in the sordid sorry story of Anthony Weiner will play out tomorrow in a federal court in New York.  Here are the basics:

It seemed as if Anthony Weiner had hit rock bottom when he resigned from Congress in 2011. "Bye-bye, pervert!" one heckler shouted as the Democrat quit amid revelations that he had sent graphic pictures of himself to women on social media. Time has shown his self-destructive drama had only just begun.

Weiner, 53, is set to be sentenced Monday for sending obscene material to a 15-year-old girl in a case that may have also have played a role in costing Hillary Clinton — former boss of Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin — the presidential election.

Federal prosecutors have asked for a sentence of slightly more than two years behind bars because of the seriousness of the crime, in which Weiner sent adult porn to the girl and got her to take her clothes off for him on Skype. "The defendant did far more than exchange typed words on a lifeless cellphone screen with a faceless stranger," prosecutors wrote to the judge. "Transmitting obscenity to a minor to induce her to engage in sexually explicit conduct by video chat and photo — is far from mere 'sexting.'"

But Weiner's attorneys contend he is a changed man who has finally learned his lesson, calling his compulsive sexting a "deep sickness" best treated without time behind bars. The memo also suggested Weiner himself was a victim of the scandal, saying the North Carolina high school student initiated contact with him because she "hoped somehow to influence the U.S. presidential election" and write a tell-all book.

I have just had a chance to review this short sentencing memo that the government filed a few days ago. I found remarkable both the stupidity of Weiner's decision to "sext" with in an obviously underage girl, as well as the government's conclusion that applicable guideline calculations produce "offense level of 33 [meaning] the resulting Guidelines range would be 135 to 168 months’ imprisonment, but for the statutory maximum of 120 months’ imprisonment."  Luckily for Weiner, the "the Government agreed that a sentence within the range of 21 to 27 months’ imprisonment (which would be the applicable Guidelines range without application of the cross-references) would be fair and appropriate under the specific circumstances of this case."  And the Government makes this assertion in support of a prison sentence in that range: "Weiner’s demonstrated history of professed, yet failed, reform make it difficult to rely on his present claim of self-awareness and transformation. On this record, a custodial sentence is necessary to truly effect specific deterrence and prevent the defendant from committing this crime in the future."

Meanwhile, in his lengthy sentencing memo includes, in its words, "Anthony’s own deeply personal meditation to the Court on sickness and recovery (Exhibit 1 to this submission) that speaks most powerfully to his progress."  It also asserts, I think accurately, that Weiner's "wrongful conduct is on orders of magnitude less egregious than any case involving sexually explicit communications with a teenager that has ever been prosecuted in this district" and that "factors the Court must consider under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) — in isolation and taken together — demonstrate that a sentence of imprisonment is not required here and would result in punishment greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing."

So, dear reader, what do you expect Anthony Weiner will get at sentencing?  I tend predict a "split the difference" outcome in cases like this, so I would be inclined to expect a sentence of a year and a day for him.  Something even a bit shorter would not surprise me, and I would actually be surprised if Weiner got anything more than 21 months.  In the end, at least for me, I have a hard time viewing Weiner's extraordinary stupidity as the involving the kind of evil or danger that really justifies a long federal prison term. 

Prior related posts:

September 24, 2017 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6)