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November 24, 2017

"What Rape Reform Needs: More Convictions, Less Punishment"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent interesting commentary authored by Kari Hong over at The Crime Report. Here are excerpts: 

In what is being called the “Post-Weinstein era,” victims of sexual assault and harassment are finally being believed. This no doubt is overdue, but in the context of rape, believing the victim will not be enough. Three reforms are essential to how we convict and punish rapists.

First, the way states currently define the crime of rape does not target the conduct of unwanted sex. In the United States, rape was initially defined by unwanted sex accompanied by an element of force. The proof of force was and continues to be a high bar to meet, usually requiring threats, physical violence, actual injury, or weapons....

The first needed reform to the definition of the crime of rape, then, is to abandon the definitions of rape used by 42 states. Rape should not be limited to unwanted sex when there is also force or only arising in specific contexts. Rather, all states should simply define rape as only eight currently do: sex without the consent of the other person. Full stop.

Second, unlike homicide and theft offenses, rape law has not benefited from having liability arise from more sophisticated mental states that define the crime....

The second essential reform, then, is establishing a new crime of “rape by malice,” a crime that criminalizes both those who knew — or deliberately did not care to know — if their advances were consented to. Unwanted sex arises from multiple motivations. A mens rea for rape should be flexible and responsive enough to criminalize as much unwanted sex as possible without criminalizing lawful or wanted sex.  Other crimes such as homicide have expansive definitions to capture all killings made by the predators, the fools, and the careless.  A new crime of rape by malice would do the same.

Third, these proposed reforms to the redefinition of rape would lead to more convictions. But convicting more rapists under our current criminal justice system should not be welcomed. On paper, 19 states have respective maximum terms of 99 years, 100 years, and life sentences. And 12 states begin at 10 years.

Although only six states and the federal government even compile data on the number and lengths of sentences, where data is available, the range in actual sentences for rape was from eight to 30 years.  In the rush to condemn rapists, throwing people away in prison is a poor policy option that no other developed country follows.  These numbers should be alarming.  Whereas 40 percent of people convicted of all felonies will be punished with prison terms, about 90 percent of all rapists will receive a prison sentence, and a very lengthy one at that.

In the rush to condemn rapists, throwing people away in prison is a poor policy option that no other developed country follows.  In 35 comparable countries, the vast majority impose prison terms that do not exceed five years. This short sentence does not at all communicate that the crime was not heinous, the offender not depraved, or the victim does not merit justice....

If the goal is to reintegrate into society convicted rapists who will not reoffend, the third essential reform is to impose shorter sentences for rapists.  It is shorter sentences and actual treatment that succeed over calls to simply lock them up.

November 24, 2017 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15)

South African court more than doubles prison sentence of Oscar Pistorius

As reported here via CNN under the headlined "Pistorius' sentence more than doubled; slain girlfriend's family calls it 'justice'," a notable defendant got a notable new sentence via appeal in South Africa this week.  Here are the details:

"Reeva Steenkamp "can now rest in peace," her family said Friday, after a South African high court more than doubled Oscar Pistorius' sentence for her killing. The Supreme Court of Appeal increased his sentence to 13 years and five months for the murder of his girlfriend, Steenkamp. It issued the ruling after the prosecution appealed his previous sentence of six years as too lenient.

The former Olympic and Paralympic sprinter killed Steenkamp at his home in an upscale Pretoria neighborhood on Valentine's Day 2013 -- an act he says was an accident after he mistook her for an intruder. The prosecution called it a deliberate act after the two had an argument. The court's decision is "justice for Reeva," her family's spokeswoman said, adding that they hope "this is the end of the road and that everyone can move forward."

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Pistorius' sentence was "shockingly lenient," while the defense sought to dismiss the appeal.

Supreme Court Justice Willie Seriti said Pistorius failed to explain in court hearings why he fired the fatal shots and "does not appreciate the gravity of his actions."... Seriti said the facts of the case demanded a higher sentence. "The sentence of six years' imprisonment is shockingly lenient to a point where it has the effect of trivializing this serious offense," he added.

Pistorius can appeal the new sentence, according to Kelly Phelps, an adviser to his defense team, but no decision has been made.

Prior related posts:

November 24, 2017 in Sentences Reconsidered, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Furman and Finitude"

The title of this post in the title of this new deep paper authored by Adam Thurschwell now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract

Martin Heidegger's ontological interpretation of death as the possibility of an impossibility — Dasein's (Being-There's) not-being-there — had been a repeated object of Jacques Derrida's critique prior to the Death Penalty Seminar he delivered in 1999 and 2000, and he returned to it again in the Seminar, although only briefly.  His primary goal lay elsewhere, in an investigation into the conceptual structure supporting capital punishment with the practical aim of its eventual abolition.  Nevertheless, a critique of Heidegger's existential analysis lies at the center of the seminar's intention.

In this essay, expanding on that insight, I first present Derrida’s notion that it is the phenomenon of the death penalty, not Heidegger's ontological analysis, that best expresses our precomprehension of the meaning of death.  Next, I explain the central paradox of contemporary abolitionist discourse that Derrida confronts in the seminar: the fact that the fundamental values supporting abolitionists' philosophical arguments lie equally on the side of the death penalty.  I then develop Derrida's resolution of this paradox by drawing out his deconstruction of Heidegger's analytic of death (what I call Derrida's "quasi-existential analysis"), and place this deconstruction in relation to Derrida's other writings on law more generally and to the United States Supreme Court's current death penalty jurisprudence.  I conclude by suggesting that, notwithstanding the weight of its theoretical apparatus, his resolution of the paradox is best understood in terms of praxis, specifically, the legal defense of capital cases.

November 24, 2017 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 22, 2017

Does and should anyone care about just how and where child molester/gymnastics coach Larry Nassar rots in prison?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new CNN article headlined "Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor apologizes, pleads guilty to criminal sexual conduct." Here are the basics from the article, with the last quoted sentence and link of particular note for sentencing fans:

Larry Nassar, the former acclaimed USA Gymnastics team doctor, pleaded guilty Wednesday to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and admitted in a Michigan court to using his position to sexually abuse underage girls.  Three of the charges applied to victims under 13, and three applied to victims 13 to 15 years old.  Other charges were dismissed or reduced as part of a plea agreement.  All 125 victims who reported assaults to Michigan State Police will be allowed to give victim impact statements at Nassar's sentencing in January, according to the plea deal.

Nassar made a short statement apologizing and saying he was hopeful the community could move forward. "For all those involved, I'm so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control," he said.  "I have no animosity toward anyone. I just want healing. ... We need to move forward in a sense of growth and healing and I pray (for) that."

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said Nassar violated the trust of his patients, and she praised the victims for coming forward.... Dozens of women, including several gold-medal winning members of the famed "Fierce Five" team of American gymnasts, have accused Nassar of sexual misconduct in his role as the USA Gymnastics doctor....

In all, Nassar had been charged with 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and 11 counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct at the state level, Megan Hawthorne, deputy press secretary for state Attorney General Bill Schuette, told CNN in July.  Several of the first-degree charges pertained to victims under 13, and all of the state-level charges involve former family friends, gymnasts and patients of Nassar, Hawthorne said.

Separately, Nassar is also awaiting sentencing on federal charges of receiving child pornography, possessing child pornography and a charge that he hid and destroyed evidence in the case.  That hearing is scheduled for Monday.

The linked article at the end here details that Nassar's federal plea from July was to a series of federal counts with a "combined maximum of 60 years of imprisonment." For a host of reasons, I would expect the calculated guideline range for Nassar on his federal child porn charges to be life imprisonment, and I would predict that he will get a richly deserved statutory maximum sentence of 60 years imprisonment at his upcoming federal sentencing.  And because Nassar is in his mid-50s, this means he likely will be getting and serving a functional life sentence in federal court before he is even sentenced in Michigan on the state sex charges that he pleaded guilty to today.

The fact that Nassar likely will already be serving a functional federal life term before being sentenced on state charges does not, in my mind, make state proceedings unimportant or inconsequential, especially given that his victims may only have a chance to have their voices directly heard during the state proceedings.  But I asked the question in the title of this post because I wondered if anyone has a particularized view in a case like this as to whether it matters, symbolically or practically, just how a defendant who commits so many terrible crimes is subject to sentencing and prison service.

November 22, 2017 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10)

Louisiana justice gets a bit too candid expressing his views about capital punishment

This local story, headlined "Louisiana Supreme Court justice recuses self from 'Angola 5' death penalty appeal over radio interviews," reports on some notable comments concerning the death penalty made by a notable public official in the Pelican State. Here are the details:

Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Scott Crichton recused himself on Tuesday from the pending appeal of death row inmate David Brown in the "Angola 5" prison-guard murder case, a day after Brown's attorneys cried foul over comments the judge made about capital punishment on Shreveport talk radio.  Crichton's one-sentence "notice of self-recusal" came without explanation.  It leaves the remaining six state high court justices to weigh Brown's direct appeal over his conviction and death sentence in the 1999 group beating and stabbing death of Angola State Penitentiary guard Capt. David Knapps.  The court could also appoint an ad hoc judge to fill Crighton's seat in the case.

Brown's attorneys filed a motion late Monday claiming Crichton's commentary in recent radio interviews raised at least the appearance of bias in the high-profile capital case. Crichton, 63, mentioned the Angola 5 case on the KEEL morning show on Oct. 23 to illustrate his view that the death penalty can be a valuable deterrent.  A former Caddo Parish prosecutor and district judge who rose to the high court bench three years ago, he agreed with a show host that "if you're in for life, you have nothing to lose" without it.

Brown was serving a life sentence for a different murder when Knapps was killed inside a bathroom at the state penitentiary. Brown's attorneys argued that Crichton's mention of the Angola 5 case alone warranted his recusal.  Crichton went further on the airwaves, however, and Brown's attorneys argued that his other on-air remarks also revealed potential bias in Brown's case, and perhaps in any capital case that reaches the court.

On the Oct. 23 show, Crichton first acknowledged that he "can talk about anything other than a pending case before the Louisiana Supreme Court," then mentioned the Angola 5 case.  He went on to lament the lengthy appeals process in death-penalty cases and argued for well-publicized executions. "If it's carried out and the public knows about it, I believe it's truly a deterrent," he said.  "What really boggles my mind is the inmate who has committed capital murder who is on death row who is begging for his life.  Think about the fact that the victim gets no due process."

Crichton also suggested a workaround to problems many states have had in acquiring one of three drugs in a commonly used "cocktail" for state killings — a shortage he blamed on drug companies being "harassed and stalked" by death-penalty opponents.  Crichton said he favors giving condemned inmates a choice in their death: the cocktail; a new method using a single drug, nitrogen hypoxia; or another, time-tested execution method.  "Firing squad is one," he said.

November 22, 2017 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

November 21, 2017

"Assessing and Responding to the Recent Homicide Rise in the United States"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report coming from the National Institute of Justice and authored by Richard Rosenfeld, Shytierra Gaston, Howard Spivak and Seri Irazola.  Here is the full executive summary:

Big-city homicides rose in 2015 and again in 2016, although not all cities experienced a large increase, and homicides fell in some cities.  We consider two explanations of the homicide rise as guides for future research: (1) expansion in illicit drug markets brought about by the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic and (2) widely referenced “Ferguson effects” resulting in de-policing, compromised police legitimacy, or both.

Larger increases in drug-related homicides than in other types of homicide provide preliminary evidence that expansions in illicit drug markets contributed to the overall homicide rise.  The current drug epidemic is disproportionately concentrated in the white population, and homicides have increased among whites as well as among African-Americans and Hispanics.  We surmise, therefore, that the drug epidemic may have had an especially strong influence on the rise in homicide rates among whites.

Current evidence that links de-policing to the homicide rise is mixed at best.  Surveys of police reveal widespread concerns about increased police-community tensions and reductions in proactive policing in the aftermath of widely publicized deadly encounters between the police and African-Americans.  Increases in homicide followed decreases in arrests in Baltimore and Chicago, although it is not known whether the same was true in other cities.  Nationwide, arrest-offense ratios and arrest clearance rates decreased in 2015, but they had been declining for several years when homicide rates were falling.  The extent of de-policing and its possible connection to the recent homicide rise remain open research questions.

Survey evidence reveals greater discontent with the police among African-Americans than among whites.  Alienation from the police can result in a decreased willingness to contact them when a crime occurs or to cooperate in police investigations and, some studies suggest, an increase in criminal behavior.  One study has shown that calls for police service fell after a controversial violent encounter between the police and an unarmed African-American in Milwaukee.  The reduction in calls for service was greater in African-American neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods.  The rate at which the police are contacted is only one of several indicators needed to measure any connection between diminished police legitimacy and the recent rise in homicides.

We emphasize the provisional nature of these hypotheses regarding the recent homicide rise.  We recommend using city- and neighborhood-level case studies to further refine the hypotheses and develop new ones, and quantitative studies of larger samples of cases should follow.  We discuss several key empirical indicators to measure changes in drug markets, policing, and police legitimacy and offer several suggestions for future research.  The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will play an important role in facilitating the necessary research.

U.S. homicide rates rose substantially in 2015 and 2016.  These increases were much larger than was typical of yearly homicide fluctuations over the past several decades, so they merit close attention.  This paper extends a previous analysis (Rosenfeld 2016) by documenting the homicide rise in 2015 with more complete data and presenting data for large cities in 2016.  The paper then considers two explanations for the recent homicide increase.  The first explanation ties the increase to the expansion of illicit drug markets resulting from the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic in the United States.  The second explanation is the widely referenced Ferguson effect on crime rates, which attributes the homicide increase to reduced proactive policing, community alienation from the police, or both (Mac Donald 2016; Rosenfeld 2016). The paper concludes with recommendations for future research on the recent homicide rise.

November 21, 2017 in Drug Offense Sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (11)

Senator Mike Lee explains how "conservative approach to lawmaking" drives his advocacy for federal sentencing reforms

Lee_1x1Pew's Public Safety Performance Project has this notable new Q&A with Mike Lee under the subheading "A U.S. senator and former assistant U.S. attorney discusses crime and punishment, and how his views on both have changed."  I recommend the entire Q&A, and the final three Qs and As struck me as worth reprinting here:

Q: How has your conversion on criminal justice influenced your career?

A: When I got to the Senate, I remembered what that [Judge Paul Cassell in the Angelos case] had said, and I realized that I had become one of the people who could help fix this problem.  So that’s what I decided to do.  I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but I also knew it was important.  So I started looking for allies, and that led me to team up with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on our legislation.  It’s easy to say you want to be tough on crime and go along with any and every attempt to increase penalties, including minimum mandatory penalties. But to be effective, a criminal justice system must be seen as legitimate.  And for too long, our federal sentencing laws have required punishments that just don’t fit the crime.

Q: Have you encountered any interesting reactions to the change in your views?

A: Most of it is encouraging. Most people I talk to, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, are glad that somebody is doing this. And they’re glad to see me involved. There are some who aren’t. There are some who get upset and pound their chest and say, “You need to take criminals and lock them up and you need to throw away the key. We’ve got to be harder on crime and harder on criminals rather than softer.” So yes, there are those who take that approach, and most of those people would probably describe themselves as conservatives. Regardless of whether you consider that a conservative approach or not, I don’t think it’s a particularly thoughtful one. I don’t think it’s a particularly helpful one. It does us no good to be harsh just for the sake of harshness.  Harshness itself isn’t an end objective.  We want to be smart in the way we punish crime.  We want to be effective. Public safety is the end result we’re trying to achieve.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Some people ask me, “Why are you doing this even though you’re a Republican? And a conservative Republican at that?”  And the answer is that I don’t view criminal justice reform as incompatible with being a conservative; in fact, I’m doing this because I’m a conservative. Conservatives purport to be conservative because, among other things, conservatives believe we should take great care when government intervenes to deprive someone of liberty or property.  There’s no greater due process deprivation than when the government puts someone away, either wrongfully or for a longer period of time than is just.  So for me, this is a natural outgrowth of my conservative approach to lawmaking.

November 21, 2017 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Justice at Last for the Youngest Inmates?"

13046135_1510955771706The question in the title of this post is the headline of this New York Times editorial about juve LWOP sentencing that starts with another question and answer: "How many times does the Supreme Court have to repeat itself before its message gets through?  In the case of life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, the answer seems to be: at least one more time." Here is more:

On Tuesday, the justices will meet to consider whether to hear two separate cases asking them to ban those sentences categorically, in line with the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishments.  It should be an easy call.  For more than a decade, the court has been moving in the right direction, growing ever more protective of juveniles who are facing the harshest punishments in our justice system.

In 2005, the court banned the death penalty for people who committed their crimes before turning 18.  In 2010, it outlawed juvenile sentences of life without the possibility of parole in all cases but homicide.  In 2012, it barred mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles in all cases.  And in 2016, it made that ruling retroactive for the more than 2,000 inmates already sentenced....

[S]ince the court’s string of rulings, many more states have come on board; 20 states and the District of Columbia now ban the sentence in all cases. In four other states it exists on the books but is never imposed in practice. Even Pennsylvania, the juvenile-lifer capital of the country, has since the 2016 ruling avoided seeking such sentences in all but the rarest circumstances.  Not surprisingly, new sentences of life without parole for juveniles have also dropped sharply.

But in a few states, prosecutors are still behaving as though the last 12 years never happened. The problem is worst in Louisiana and Michigan, which together account for more than a quarter of all juvenile lifers. In Michigan, prosecutors are seeking resentences of life without parole in more than half of all the state’s cases, which meets no one’s definition of “uncommon.”  In Louisiana, the state wants life without parole for 82 of the 258 people whose mandatory sentence was struck down last year.  The numbers are even worse at the local level. New Orleans prosecutors are seeking life without parole in half of all cases; in West Baton Rouge Parish, 100 percent.

Statistics like these have nothing to do with careful consideration of “the mitigating qualities of youth,” as Justice Elena Kagan put it in the Miller case, and everything to do with blind retribution. The insistence on maximum punishment is even harder to understand when one considers that the court has hardly issued a get-out-of-jail card to those juveniles serving life without parole.  It has said only that people whose crime occurred when they were too young to vote or buy beer should get “some meaningful opportunity,” usually only after decades in prison, to make a case for release.

As long as there’s a loophole, however, Michigan and Louisiana appear eager to drive a truck through it.  For the sake of the hundreds of juveniles in those states, many of whom have spent decades rehabilitating themselves, and to reaffirm the court’s role as the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution, the justices should ban these sentences for good.

I suspect that Justice Kennedy is still not yet ready to embrace a categorical ban on juve LWOP sentences in all circumstances, and this means there are likely not the SCOTUS five votes needed to move Eighth Amendment jurisprudence where the New York Times is urging.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press has this recent lengthy article under the headline "Michigan remains a battleground in a juvenile justice war keeping hundreds in prison," which further details the ugly record of the state up north in this arena. Here is a snippet:

A year and a half after the Supreme Court ruled that all juvenile lifers across the nation should have the opportunity to be re-sentenced and come home, fewer than 10% of those in Michigan — a total of 34 — have been discharged.

The number, while low, could be chalked up to byzantine bureaucracy and the many moving parts of the criminal justice system. Civil rights activists, however, contend that while an array of procedures have slowed down the re-sentencing process nationally, Michigan is unique in its simple reluctance to recommend shorter sentences.

According to data from court records and the Michigan Department of Corrections, prosecutors in 18 Michigan counties have recommended continued life without parole sentences for all of the juvenile lifers under their purview. Statewide, 66% of Michigan's juvenile lifers have been recommended for the continued life sentence — a sentence which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional but for the rarest of cases.

"First, Michigan took the strongest position in the country against children having a second chance, and now Michigan prosecutors are defying the Supreme Court’s holding that all children are entitled to a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release," said civil rights attorney Deborah LaBelle, who is one of several leading the charge to upturn the current status quo. "They are resisting the explicit ruling of the Supreme Court that this sentence can only be imposed on the rarest of children who commit a homicide and is irreparably corrupted," she continued.

And while the recommendations are a moving target, with some county prosecutors re-evaluating their filings — Saginaw County, for example, originally recommended 20 out of 22 defendants for continued life, but now contends that over half their recommendations have either changed or are now "undetermined" — the uncertainty means hundreds remain in the dark. They recognize the prospect of maybe, possibly, one day coming home, but have no clear roadmap of how this can come to be.

As the legal players dispute the intentions of the high court, men and women just like Hines, persist in a criminal justice limbo, while family members of victims are asked to grapple with unresolved emotions surrounding some of the most traumatic experiences in their lives. The disconnect has meant Michigan — already a touchstone in the juvenile lifer debate, with one of the largest populations in the nation — remains a battleground in a war many assumed to be over.

November 21, 2017 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tennessee judge formally reprimanded for offering reduced jail time for defendants agreeing to vasectomy or birth control implant

I almost did not believe the story from earlier this year, blogged here, about a Tennessee judge giving 30 days credit off imposed jail time if an inmate were to voluntarily agree to have a vasectomy or birth control implant. But the tale was true, and this new Washington Post piece reports on the latest chapters of this remarkable local imprisonment tale:

When Judge Sam Benningfield of White County, Tenn., offered to shave off jail time for inmates who volunteered for sterilization, a chorus of attorneys, advocates and public officials reacted with horror.

Benningfield said his goal was to break a “vicious cycle” of repeat drug offenders with children. But many argued that the proposal, outlined in a May order, was nothing short of eugenics. Not to mention it seemed unconstitutional on its face. Civil rights lawyers brought legal actions and a local prosecutor told his staff to avoid the judge’s program at all costs.

Now, after the wave of backlash and amid multiple lawsuits, state judicial regulators have formally reprimanded Benningfield for promising 30-day sentence reductions to inmates who agreed to receive vasectomies or birth control implants.

In a letter filed Monday, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct found that Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity and propriety. “You have acknowledged that even though you were trying to accomplish a worthy goal in preventing the birth of substance addicted babies,” the board wrote, “you now realize that this order could unduly coerce inmates into undergoing a surgical procedure which would cause at least a temporary sterilization, and it was therefore improper.”...

The judicial board’s letter says the program is no longer available to any inmate and that Benningfield ran afoul of rules requiring judges to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence.” It noted that Benningfield didn’t object to the reprimand. The letter also reprimanded Benningfield for threatening to end an unrelated house arrest program if a defense attorney refused to withdraw a valid objection regarding a client’s probation....

Several inmates who were jailed when the orders were in effect sued the judge and White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe, claiming their constitutional rights were violated. The judge and the sheriff have denied liability.

Daniel Horwitz, who represents a group of male inmates, said the judicial board should have gone further than reprimanding Benningfield and instead should have recommended he be removed from the bench. “A public reprimand is serious, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing short of removal is acceptable,” Horwitz told The Post....

Horwitz filed court papers in September on behalf of three male inmates, who called Benningfield’s program “both illegal and profoundly coercive.”  Two of the plaintiffs declined the offer for vasectomies in exchange for a sentence reduction. Another plaintiff agreed to the procedure in hopes of being released in time to watch the birth of his first grandchild. He enrolled in the judge’s early release program but didn’t receive the reduction.

Dozens of their fellow inmates, male and female, agreed to undergo birth control procedures, which can be irreversible in some cases.  Horwitz’s lawsuit describes one female White County inmate who received a hormonal birth control implant and later tried to cut it out of her arm with a razor blade.  She is not listed as a plaintiff....

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, whose district includes White County and Benningfield’s court, was among those who criticized the sterilization program. Dunaway, who vowed during his election campaign to crack down on repeat offenders, told NewsChannel 5 in July that he had instructed his staff not to take part in Benningfield’s order “in any way.”

“Those decisions are personal in nature,” he said, “and I think that’s just something that the court system should not encourage nor mandate.”

Prior related post:

November 21, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

November 20, 2017

Hasn't Prez Trump has already pardoned a turkey before this week's traditional ceremony?

69684e46-ba40-4d95-b4e1-301af475e2e7The question in the title of this post was prompted, with a tongue in check, by an email I received this evening with the subject-line "Vote: Which Turkey Should President Trump Pardon?."  The email came with the picture reprinted here, as well as the following text and link:

Tomorrow, President Donald J. Trump will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey in a ceremony in the Rose Garden. This year, the President will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation, as he reflects on our Nation’s rich Thanksgiving traditions and wishes American families a safe and healthy holiday.  Vote here.

Clicking through to the link brought up pictures of the turkeys named Drumstick and Wishbone, but I kept thinking there should be other voting options.  Prez Trump has, of course, already pardoned one person earlier this year, and there has been plenty of talk about other possible pardons.

Notably, around this time back in 2009, I had a couple of posts lamenting that Prez Obama had failed to use his clemency powers in any way before it became time for him to participate in the traditional turkey pardon spectacle (a few of these posts are linked below).  In fact, as revealed in this DOJ Pardon Attorney statistics page, Prez Obama and Prez Bush and Prez Clinton all started their presidencies with two full years in which they failed to use their historic clemency powers in any way.

But Prez Trump is unlike his predecessors in so many ways, and his use of the pardon power is yet another example.  Specifically, as folks must surely recall, Prez Trump pardoned attorney former Sheriff Joe Arpaio back in August.  It now appears that either Drumstick and Wishbone will be next, and then who knows.

Posts from 2009 about the last, first Prez Thanksgiving pardon event:

November 20, 2017 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Gun theft from legal owners is on the rise, quietly fueling violent crime across America"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article from The Trace.  I recommend the piece in full, and here is how it gets started, along with some of the reported data:

American gun owners, preoccupied with self-defense, are inadvertently arming the very criminals they fear.

Hundreds of thousands of firearms stolen from the homes and vehicles of legal owners are flowing each year into underground markets, and the numbers are rising. Those weapons often end up in the hands of people prohibited from possessing guns. Many are later used to injure and kill.

A yearlong investigation by The Trace and more than a dozen NBC TV stations identified more than 23,000 stolen firearms recovered by police between 2010 and 2016 — the vast majority connected with crimes. That tally, based on an analysis of police records from hundreds of jurisdictions, includes more than 1,500 carjackings and kidnappings, armed robberies at stores and banks, sexual assaults and murders, and other violent acts committed in cities from coast to coast.

“The impact of gun theft is quite clear,” said Frank Occhipinti, deputy chief of the firearms operations division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “It is devastating our communities.”

Thefts from gun stores have commanded much of the media and legislative attention in recent years, spurred by stories about burglars ramming cars through storefronts and carting away duffel bags full of rifles and handguns. But the great majority of guns stolen each year in the United States are taken from everyday owners. Thieves stole guns from people’s closets and off their coffee tables, police records show. They crawled into unlocked cars and lifted them off seats and out of center consoles. They snatched some right out of the hands of their owners....

In most cases reviewed in detail by the Trace and NBC, the person caught with the weapon was a felon, a juvenile, or was otherwise prohibited under federal or state laws from possessing firearms.

More than 237,000 guns were reported stolen in the United States in 2016, according to previously unreported numbers supplied by the National Crime Information Center, a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that helps law enforcement track stolen property. That represents a 68 percent increase from 2005. (When asked if the increase could be partially attributed to a growing number of law enforcement agencies reporting stolen guns, an NCIC spokesperson said only that “participation varies.”)

All told, NCIC records show that nearly two million weapons have been reported stolen over the last decade.

The government’s tally, however, likely represents a significant undercount. A report by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning public policy group, found that a significant percentage of gun thefts are never reported to police. In addition, many gun owners who report thefts do not know the serial numbers on their firearms, data required to input weapons into the NCIC. Studies based on surveys of gun owners estimate that the actual number of firearms stolen each year surpasses 350,000, or more than 3.5 million over a 10-year period.

“There are more guns stolen every year than there are violent crimes committed with firearms,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group that represents firearms manufacturers. “Gun owners should be aware of the issue.”

November 20, 2017 in Gun policy and sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Noting Justice Department's latest ACCA/AEDPA litigation switch in time hoping to avoid nine Justices

Adam Liptak's latest New York Times Sidebar column, headlined "Serving Extra Years in Prison, and the Courthouse Doors Are Closed," does an effective (though necessarily incomplete) job of reviewing the notable recent change in litigation position coming from the Justice Department.  Here are extended highlights from an article highlighting a complicated and important matter of federal habeas procedure:

It is one thing for a new administration to switch sides in a legal dispute.  That is merely unusual.  It is another to urge the Supreme Court to deny review in a case that would test whether the government’s new position is correct.

In a Supreme Court brief filed last month, the Justice Department tried to have it both ways.  It told the justices that it no longer believed that some federal prisoners serving longer prison terms than the law allowed were entitled to challenge their sentences in court.  For the last 16 years, the Justice Department had taken the opposite view.  It said so in at least 11 Supreme Court briefs.  You might think the Supreme Court should settle things.

But the department urged the justices to refuse to hear an appeal from Dan C. McCarthan, a Florida man who said he was sentenced to seven more years than the law allowed.  It did so even as it acknowledged that the legal question was significant and that the department’s new position could lead to harsh results, condemning inmates to serve out unlawful sentences.

The administration’s request that the Supreme Court deny review in Mr. McCarthan’s case was “incredibly unseemly” and “not a good look for the Department of Justice,” said Leah Litman, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and an authority on the complicated web of statutes that govern post-conviction challenges from federal prisoners....

The Justice Department’s litigation two-step also drew a sharp response from Mr. McCarthan’s lawyers, who include Kannon K. Shanmugam, a partner at Williams & Connolly. “There is nothing inherently wrong with a new administration’s changing position on a question before this court — although it is rare on a question involving the administration of the criminal justice system,” Mr. Shanmugam wrote in a brief filed last week.  “But when the government changes position on a concededly important question that has divided the circuits, it should at least have the courage of its convictions and be willing to defend its new position on the merits in this court.”

Nine federal appeals courts allow the challenges, while two do not.  The new case, McCarthan v. Collins, No. 17-85, started in 2003, when Mr. McCarthan pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge.  That conviction would ordinarily have subjected him to a maximum sentence of 10 years.  But the judge sentenced him to more than 17 years under a federal law that requires longer terms for career criminals.

A career criminal, the law says, is one who has been convicted of at least three serious drug offenses or violent felonies.  One of the convictions that justified Mr. McCarthan’s extra seven years was for escape....  When Mr. McCarthan was sentenced, courts treated all escapes as violent.... [But] “a ‘walkaway’ escape is not a ‘violent felony,’” the [Supreme] court ruled in 2009, six years after Mr. McCarthan was sentenced to extra time based on just such an escape.  He then asked the courts to take another look at his sentence.

In March, the 11th Circuit rejected Mr. McCarthan’s challenge.  The vote was 7 to 4, with the majority saying that Mr. McCarthan had filed his challenge too late under a federal law that places strict limits on habeas corpus petitions.  But the law has an exception, enacted in 1948, for cases in which the ordinary procedure “is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality” of a prisoner’s detention.

The Justice Department had long agreed that the exception applied in cases like Mr. McCarthan’s. It said so in Mr. McCarthan’s own case before the 11th Circuit.  Since the government and Mr. McCarthan agreed that he should at least be allowed the present his challenge, the 11th Circuit appointed a lawyer to argue the opposite position. Then it accepted the appointed lawyer’s argument, which was based on a technical analysis of various statutory provisions.

Only one other federal appeals court has interpreted the 1948 law to bar challenges like Mr. McCarthan’s.  In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled that a prisoner who had pleaded guilty to money laundering in 1999 could not challenge his conviction after the Supreme Court, in a decision issued nearly a decade later, undermined the prosecution’s theory.  The 10th Circuit’s majority opinion was written by Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, who joined the Supreme Court this year.  His 2011 opinion, Professor Litman wrote in January, before his nomination, “makes one wonder what a Justice Gorsuch would mean for criminal justice at the Supreme Court.”

In 2011, the Justice Department criticized Judge Gorsuch’s opinion.  Last month, it endorsed it.  Mr. McCarthan, the department’s brief said, should have argued from the start that his escape was not a violent felony, even though the law at the time was squarely against him.  He should have asked “to have the adverse precedent overturned,” the brief said. It was now too late to raise the question, the brief said.

November 20, 2017 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Anyone eager to draw sentencing lessons in the wake of mass murderer Charlie Manson's demise?

There are any number of old and new California sentencing stories that surround the murderous Manson family, especially as some members of the "family" continue to pursue parole.  With the death of the leader, this extended Daily Beast article, headlined "Charles Manson’s Prosecutor Says He Deserved to Be Killed Years Ago," provides a useful reminder of the awful carnage and legacy of Manson.  Here are snippets with some of the enduring sentencing details:

Charles Manson should have died a long time before today. That’s according to one of the prosecutors who sent Manson and his murderous followers to Death Row, only to see their sentences later commuted to life in prison.

Manson, 83, died Sunday at Kern County hospital in California, corrections officials said. Manson’s death spells “the end of a very evil man,” Stephen R. Kay told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview earlier this year prior to Manson’s death.

Kay was a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who worked with fellow deputy Vincent Bugliosi to secure guilty verdicts for Manson and his flock of killers, who came to be known as “The Family.” Manson, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, Charles “Tex” Watson, Steve “Clem” Grogan, and Bruce Davis were convicted in all or some of the 1969 murders of nine people, including actress Sharon Tate, who was pregnant with director Roman Polanski’s child.

“No, that was a pretty easy decision based on the gruesomeness of the crimes and the motives: wanting to start a race war,” Kay said. “I think there are some crimes that are so heinous that in order for us to exist as a society that we have to say we will absolutely not accept this type of behavior and the person will have to suffer the ultimate penalty. “It’s not that we’re giving Charles Manson the death penalty; it’s that he earned it.”...

At 73, and now retired, Kay said he can still hear the sinister threats on his life made by Manson and his disciples. “Squeaky [Fromme] and Sandy Good snuck up behind me and said they’re going to do to my house what was done at the Tate house,” Kay said....  During one of Manson’s many parole hearings, the death-cult leader detailed how he was going to take out Kay. “The most direct one was after the parole hearing—he told me he was going to have me killed out in the parking lot on the way to my car,” he said. “I mean, that to me was the most memorable one. It was so direct.” Kay acknowledged even with protection, he was merely testing fate if he felt like he was immune to becoming another Manson victim. “When Manson says something like that after what he’s done, you have to take it seriously,” he said.

It’s the kind of power wielded by Manson that the former prosecutor feels was lorded over Fromme, who was caught with a pistol trying to shoot President Gerald Ford in 1975. “I happen to believe that there’s no way Squeaky Fromme on her own would have thought up the idea of trying to assassinate President Ford in the park in Sacramento,” he said. “I believe Manson put her up to that.”

In 1970, Manson, Atkins, Krenwinkel, and Watson (in a separate trial later) were convicted of murder and conspiracy for the Tate-LaBianca killings and were all sentenced to death.  Sealing their fates was fellow Family member Linda Kasabian, who testified against them in exchange for immunity.  In a 1971 trial, Manson was convicted and sentenced to life for the 1969 murders of Donald “Shorty” Shea and Gary Hinman. When Shea, who was a ranch hand and stuntman on Wild Western films returned to Spahn Ranch with a black wife, it allegedly set Manson off. Manson was also convinced that Shea had “snitched” on the group, having tipped off cops on a boosted car, which led to an Aug. 16, 1969, raid at dawn on their compound by police....

All of the Family members who were sentenced to death, including Manson, were spared when the California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty back in 1972 and commuted their sentences to life in prison. The state would later bring back the death penalty, but the life sentences for Manson and his killer kin stuck.  “It would be ex post facto violation of the Constitution to go back and reinstate it because you can only be prosecuted with what the law was when you committed the crime, and these laws were committed in 1969,” Kay said. “And the death penalty that was in effect in ’69 was held to be unconstitutional.”...

Ironically, most of Manson’s former followers have outlived him, save for Susan Atkins, who died in prison from brain cancer back in 2009.  Leslie Van Houten, now 68, held Rosemary Labianca down and covered her face with a pillowcase while another Family member carved “War” into her husband’s stomach after stabbing him in the couple’s home. (Then they helped themselves to chocolate milk in the fridge.)  Van Houten was also the one who scribbled missives on the house walls using their victims’ blood.  “I don’t let myself off the hook,” Van Houten told a parole panel. “I don’t find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself.”  Van Houten was granted parole in September, but Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to reverse the decision as he did last spring.

Charles “Tex” Watson, now 72, did a stint in Atascadero State Mental Hospital and said he has since found God while serving his life sentence as a chaplain at Mule Creek Prison in Ione. Watson failed more than a dozen times to convince a parole board to free him for his part in being Manson’s hitman; his was the last face so many victims saw before they were tortured and slain with a wrench, knife, or pistol.

Patricia “Krenny” Krenwinkel, 70, remains California’s oldest female inmate and has been serving life at California Institution for Women in Corona. She has since renounced Manson and The Family. “What a coward that I found myself to be when I look at the situation,” Krenwinkel said during a 2014 interview with The New York Times.  Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, 61, was granted parole back in 2009 after serving 34 years hard time for the attempt on President Ford’s life. She has reportedly relocated to upstate New York, where she lives in isolation....

That Manson managed to hold on for this long was like an open wound for so many families. “It made the case go on forever,” Kay said. “If the penalty was put into effect then the case would have been done in the 1970s. There’s never really any closure.”...  Tate’s mother, who died in 1992, became an outspoken crusader for justice.  “I think at one time she was the most powerful woman for victims rights in California,” Kay said, adding that if you were a politician worth your salt in California you sought out Tate’s endorsement. “She really started the victims’ rights movement that is still so powerful even today.”

Kay isn’t blind to the irony that had the sentence gone forward Manson wouldn’t have become quite the diabolical deity that has haunted popular culture for decades.  “We wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Kay said.

November 20, 2017 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (6)

November 19, 2017

"How Congress, the U.S. Sentencing Commission and Federal Judges Contribute to Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this recently posted short article by US District Judge Lynn Adelman.  Here is its abstract:

This article argues that each of the major decision-makers in the federal sentencing process, Congress, the United States Sentencing Commission and the federal judiciary contribute substantially to mass incarceration.  The article first discusses how, beginning in the 1960s and continuing for the next three decades, Congress enacted a series of increasingly punitive anti-crime laws. Congress’s focus on crime was inextricably connected to the urban rebellion of the 1960s, and members of both political parties played important roles in passing the harsh legislation. 

Probably the worst of the laws that Congress enacted, and the one that contributed most to mass incarceration, was the mis-named Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 which abolished federal parole and established a commission to promulgate mandatory sentencing guidelines.  The commission proceeded to enact extremely harsh guidelines and virtually preclude sentences of probation.  The article laments how, even after the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory feature of the guidelines, federal judges continue to adhere closely to the guidelines when sentencing defendants.

Finally, the article argues that one of the fundamental problems plaguing federal sentencing is the widespread misconception that the most important indicator of an effective and credible sentencing system is the absence of inter-judge disparity rather than the exercise of informed discretion.

November 19, 2017 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Notable advocacy for Georgia as "national model" for sentencing reform

Newt Gingrich and Kelly McCutchen have this notable new local commentary headlined "Criminal sentencing reform in Georgia has become national model."  Here are excerpts:

Texas is celebrating 10 successful years of reform that has led to the lowest crime rates since 1967 and the lowest rate of incarceration in a generation.  Meanwhile, the state of Georgia is following in the Lone Star State’s footsteps by increasing public safety and reforming the criminal justice system.

This is especially important to note because the FBI reported last month that while the national crime rate is down, violent crime has increased slightly for two years in a row, due in large part to an increase in homicides in cities such as Chicago and Baltimore.

In 2012, Gov. Nathan Deal recognized the breakthroughs Texas was making and began a justice reinvestment plan that tackled some of the biggest challenges facing Georgia’s criminal justice system.

Chief among these challenges was that Georgia sent many low-risk offenders to prison for lengthy sentences. For too long, the assumption was that the most appropriate form of punishment was long-term incarceration.  However, research shows that low-risk, nonviolent offenders who serve long sentences tend to continue to commit crimes after being released.

Once Georgia’s sentencing challenge was identified, the state was able to restructure sentences for property and drug offenses.  Lawmakers came up with alternatives that actually held offenders accountable -- rather than simply punishing them -- and reduced the likelihood that they would reoffend.  Alternatives included substance abuse treatment and accountability courts, both of which more effectively address the causes of many offenders’ behavior. This low-level sentencing change allowed the state to focus on imprisoning serious offenders, which resulted in fewer victims of crime, increased safety outcomes and lowered costs.

Georgia also worked to improve the juvenile justice system, which was exceedingly expensive and not as effective as it could be. The state began to implement programs to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders outside of a detention setting. At the same time, the state shifted its focus toward helping juvenile offenders who had served time to return to society as productive citizens....

The results speak for themselves:

• Violent and property crime rates have been on a steady decline for over a decade, with property crime and total crime taking an even steeper decline since the reforms, compared to the years prior.

• Parole revocation is down 35 percent from 2007 to 2016, a sign that fewer released offenders are sent back to prison because they violated conditions of their supervision.

• The Georgia corrections system now includes 67 percent violent offenders, up 9 percent since 2009, which illustrates a renewed focus on violent crime over low-level drug crime.

Georgia’s story is an incredible one for many reasons. First, it disproves the widely held belief that incarcerating more offenders means less crime.  The reforms in Texas and Georgia -- as well as South Carolina, Mississippi and other states -- show alternatives can be more effective.

Second, it shows that being “tough on crime” by incarcerating offenders for long sentences –-- and for every offense, large or small -- is more about playing politics than getting results. The research tells us that long sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenders can result in worse public safety outcomes.  Housing lower-risk people with more dangerous offenders makes them more dangerous themselves.  In this way, harsh sentences make our streets less safe.

These successes should drive our public policy discussions about crime and safety. We are disturbed by the FBI report on violent crime. Crime, particularly violent crime, is a complex issue that requires careful analysis to identify specific causes and remedies at the local level.  Georgia has already been successful in doing that with nonviolent crimes. It will take a community-wide effort to determine the best ways to keep violent crime at bay.

Those of us on the side of reform vow to work with policymakers, political leaders, and law enforcement to continue on the path that has led to years of low crime rates. This nation cannot backslide into antiquated, tired and misinformed narratives for the sake of political capital and convenience.

November 19, 2017 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)