« December 17, 2017 - December 23, 2017 | Main | December 31, 2017 - January 6, 2018 »

December 29, 2017

Interesting accounting of "Top Criminal-Justice Wins of 2017"

John Legend and Carimah Townes have this extended review of notable 2017 criminal justice developments at The Root under the headline "The Top Criminal-Justice Wins of 2017."  Here is part of the lead into the listing of 11 "victories," which I have then reprinted without the accompanying explanation:

The criminal-justice system took a hard beating this year — especially at the federal level. The Department of Justice’s head honcho, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, directed all federal prosecutors to seek the harshest charges possible in every criminal case, scaled back police department investigations, bolstered civil asset forfeiture, put military-grade weapons back in the hands of local police and expanded the federal government’s role in immigration enforcement.  Important crime statistics  —  including arrest data  —  were stripped from the FBI’s annual crime report, which is typically used to assess national trends and develop potential solutions. Police officers are still getting away with killing unarmed civilians.

Yes, this year was one of the worst in recent memory.  But what if I told you that there’s reason to hope  —  that there is still some good to latch on to?  Well, there is.  Here are 11 criminal-justice victories to prove it.

1. New York and North Carolina “raised the age.”...

2. The Senate passed critical juvenile-justice legislation....

3. Some juvenile lifers were released from prisons....

4. Thousands of convictions were dropped because of lab scandals in Massachusetts....

5. Louisiana passed a comprehensive reform package....

6. A progressive district attorney candidate in Philadelphia won the election by a landslide....

7. New York City announced a plan to close Rikers Island....

8. There are more eyes on prosecutors....

9. Use of the death penalty is still on the decline....

10. Poor drivers in California got some relief....

11. Multiple programs are helping formerly incarcerated people rebuild....

December 29, 2017 in Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 28, 2017

Wall Street Journal taking a close look at "Murder in America" while NYC hits a record low

Over the last few days, the Wall Street Journal has run these two extended articles under the label "Murder in America":

Meanwhile, the largest city in the US is making the largest headlines with its smallest body count ever.  Via Slate here, "New York City Set to Have Fewer Murders This Year Than Any Year Since the City Began Keeping Track":

Just days from the end of 2017, New York City is set to tally a record low number of murders for the year and serious crime, more generally, will have declined for the 27th straight year.  As of Wednesday, 286 murders had been committed in the city, putting New York on pace to dip below its previous homicide low of 333 in 2014.  To give some perspective to how far the murder rate has dropped in the city over the past several decades, the New York Times notes this year’s murder rate is on the verge of being “the lowest since reliable records have been kept,” an unthinkable turnaround from 1990 when there were 2,245 killings in New York City.

Other types of major felony crimes — manslaughter, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand larceny, and car thefts — have fallen since last year and, put together, are also likely to close out the year at historic lows.  The nearly 95,000 major felony crimes committed so far this year is on pace to best last year’s record low of 101,716.  In 1990, by contrast, there were 527,000 major felony crimes recorded in New York City.

December 28, 2017 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (8)

Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht raises notable sentencing issue in SCOTUS cert petition

As detailed in this new Reason piece, headlined "Ross Ulbricht Files Appeal to the Supreme Court on His Life Sentence Without Parole: Silk Road founder's appeal stresses the dangerous Fourth and Sixth Amendment implications of his prosecution and sentencing," a notable federal criminal defendant is bringing some notable issues to the Supreme Court via a new cert petition. The full cert petition is available at this link, and here are the petition's seemingly simple questions presented:

1. Whether the warrantless seizure of an individual’s Internet traffic information without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment.

2. Whether the Sixth Amendment permits judges to find the facts necessary to support an otherwise unreasonable sentence.

SCOTUS gurus know that the first question intersects with issues in the pending Carpenter case, and that fact alone might make this high-profile case a poor vehicle for getting to the post-Booker sentencing issue also raised. The petition, notably, suggests "It would be most efficient for the Court to resolve the question presented in this case now, while it is considering a related question in Carpenter."

SCOTUS gurus know that the second question is one that has been repeatedly avoided by SCOTUS since its Booker-Rita rulings wherein the late Justice Scalia suggested that, even within the advisory guideline system created by Booker, there must be some Sixth Amendment limits on findings by judges to justify lengthy prison sentences.  Despite pushing the matter, Justice Scalia could not garner enough votes for this Sixth Amendment issue to be addressed by the full Court on the merits before his untimely demise.  I am not really expecting a different reality now, although Ulbricht's lawyers astutely notes in his cert petition that Justice Scalia's replacement has previously suggested concerns on this front:

Shortly after Justice Scalia’s opinion in Jones, then-Judge Gorsuch similarly observed that “[i]t is far from certain whether the Constitution allows” a judge to increase a defendant’s sentence within the statutorily authorized range “based on facts the judge finds without the aid of a jury or the defendant’s consent.” United States v. Sabillon-Umana, 772 F.3d 1328, 1331 (10th Cir. 2014) (citing Jones).  Three years later, however, that question re- mains unanswered by the Court, despite intervening opportunities to address it.

A few prior related posts on sentencing and appeals of Ross Ulbricht:

December 28, 2017 in Advisory Sentencing Guidelines, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 27, 2017

"No Trump windfall for private prisons yet, but some bet on gains"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Reuters piece, and here are excerpts:

Investors who bet on private prison operators as big winners from Donald Trump’s tough line on crime and illegal immigration are looking back at a bruising year of high hopes and disappointment. Some, however, say the stocks still offer good value even though an anticipated windfall under the Trump administration so far has failed to materialize.

They say the two listed operators - Geo Group Inc (GEO.N) and CoreCivic Inc (CXW.N) - stand to win contracts from states struggling with prison overcrowding, such as Kansas and Oklahoma, and have plenty of room to accommodate new demand....

The administration’s proposals to bolster the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency could help in the future though it is still unclear how much new money it will bring. “People are focusing on ICE and ignoring the state level opportunities,” said Jordan Hymowitz managing partner Philadelphia Financial Management in San Francisco.

Geo and CoreCivic shares soared after Trump won the White House, partly on expectations that detention centers they run for ICE would fill up thanks to an anticipated surge in arrests along the Mexican border. Yet the opposite happened - arrests declined for months after Trump's inauguration because fewer people attempted to cross the border and shares in CoreCivic and Geo reversed course after peaking in February and April respectively.

While detentions have been rising from month to month since hitting a year-low in May, the stocks have not yet recovered. CoreCivic now trades 37 percent below its post election high, while Geo is about 32 percent below its 2017 peak.

Investors say lack of clarity on how much business they will get from ICE, the companies’ biggest client, is holding the shares back.... The immigration enforcement agency, which cites its average cost per bed at $129 per day, accounted for about a quarter of CoreCivic’s and Geo’s revenue in the first nine months of 2017. Federal, state and local prisons make up most of the remaining revenue. ICE asked Congress for a $1.2 billion funding increase, but the latest budget proposal offered $700 million, according to Geo, and its 2018 funding remains unclear.

GEO and CoreCivic make up two-thirds of the roughly $5.3 billion per year U.S. private prison business, according to market research firm IBISWorld. However, potential state contracts promise to boost prison companies’ earnings and make them less controversial.... Investors said a pending Kansas Department of Corrections proposal for CoreCivic to build a new prison which the state would manage, would address some investor concerns by making the company a landlord rather than a prison operator. If copied by other states, such approach would open new opportunities for the companies, which mostly derive revenue from running their own prisons or government facilities....

Thousands of vacancies at CoreCivic and Geo facilities should also be viewed as a positive, because they could lift earnings with little extra investment, investors say. Hymowitz estimated that CoreCivic, which has around 15,000 empty beds, could boost by a fifth its funds from operations (FFO) per share if it could fill just a quarter of them. CoreCivic said in November it could add $1 to annual earnings per share (FFO) if it can open its eight idle prisons and boost inmate numbers in partially vacant facilities. Geo said in October that filling 7,000 empty beds could add $50-$60 million to its annual earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), a roughly 11-13 percent increase to 2018 analyst estimates.

December 27, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Garden State perspective on sex offender castration ... for no obvious reason

This lengthy new local article from New Jersey, headlined "New Jersey child molesters won’t face castration threat any time soon," provides an example of how castration of sex offenders interests reporters even absent having an obvious reason to focus on the issue.  Here is how the article starts and some additional excerpts:

In a year filled with arrests for sexual crimes against child victims, there is a familiar refrain heard each time one of these arrests is announced.  “Castrate him,” is shouted from all corners of society and social media.

Almost 80 alleged child molesters or kiddie porn collectors were arrested this year by a regional task force.  None of those offenders, however, will ever have to face castration-style penalties if convicted in New Jersey Superior Court.  That’s because New Jersey, unlike a handful of states across America, lacks a law that would require certain sex offenders to be neutered or semi-neutered.

Removing a sex offender’s testicles or doping him up on testosterone-reducing drugs may sound harsh, but that is the law of the land in certain jurisdictions outside the Garden State. Several states across America have laws requiring certain child molesters to take so-called “chemical castration” hormonal drugs that curtail sexual desire by sharply reducing testosterone levels, but New Jersey state lawmakers have not seriously considered that idea since the turn of the century. Surgical castration — a medical procedure that physically removes a male’s testicles — is an option for certain Megan’s Law offenders in California who prefer to voluntarily undergo a permanent, surgical alternative to hormonal chemical treatment....

New Jersey politicians have concerns about the sexual exploitation of children — Republican Gov. Chris Christie on July 21 signed a bill sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex) to strengthen New Jersey’s child pornography laws and establish additional penalties against leaders of child porn networks — but a politician has not introduced a castration bill in the state Legislature in over 20 years.

A state senator in 1996 wanted New Jersey to force male defendants convicted twice of aggravated sexual assault on a young child to receive chemical castration as punishment. Inspired by California’s example, former State Sen. Joseph L. Bubba (R-Passaic) introduced Senate Bill No. 1568 in the chamber on Oct. 3, 1996. He signed on as the primary sponsor of the bill that, if enacted, would have required chemical castration of certain sex offenders.  The bill was introduced in the New Jersey Senate and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it died without being acted upon. 

Bubba’s political career then quickly unraveled when he lost a GOP primary in June 1997.  No other politician since Bubba has introduced a chemical castration bill in the New Jersey Legislature.

December 27, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13)

December 26, 2017

"Association of Childhood Blood Lead Levels With Criminal Offending"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new research from JAMA Pediatrics published online today. The research examines what has been for some a popular theory to try to explain when violent crime increased and decreased considerable over the last half-century. As these "Key Points" reveal, the research does not support a lead-crime connection:

Question Is childhood lead exposure associated with criminal offending in a setting where the degree of lead exposure was not confounded by socioeconomic status?

Findings  In this cohort study of 553 New Zealanders observed for 38 years, lead exposure in childhood was weakly associated with official criminal conviction and self-reported offending from ages 15 to 38 years. Lead exposure was not associated with the consequential offending outcomes of a greater variety of offenses, conviction, recidivism, or violence.

Meaning  Responses toward lead exposure should focus on consequences for health, not potential consequences for crime.

The notable uptick in violent crime in the US over the last two years had seemed to significantly mute a number of earlier discussions of the prospect that reduced led exposure largely explained the major modern crime declines from 1991 through 2014. Of course, neither recent crime data in the US nor this study from New Zealand can itself conclusively prove or disprove any contestable proposition. But I am always inclined in these setting to assert that human behaviors of all sorts often defy any simple explanation.

Some prior related posts talking up lead-crime links:

December 26, 2017 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 25, 2017

Christmas season clemency headlines

President Trump only granted a single commutation this holiday season (details here), but the stories linked below document that a good number of state offenders in a good number of states were able to enjoy an extra merry Christmas thanks to Governors exercising their clemency powers:

Though I suspect this is not a comprehensive accounting of recent clemency actions by Governors, I still cannot help but notice that four of five Governors making holiday headlines with their clemency actions are Republicans.

December 25, 2017 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 24, 2017

Noting some notable SCOTUS petitions

Via How Appealing, I noticed these two notable stories about notable certiorari petitions on notable sentencing issues.  The first linked story concerns a petition in a capital case that has been widely discussed, but that I doubt will be granted; the second linked story concerns a petition in a non-capital juve case that raises an issue that has been festering in lower courts ever since the Supreme Court's Graham ruling in 2010:

December 24, 2017 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11)

Interesting (and sound?) outcome for juve who pled guilty to Slender Man stabbing

Serious crimes committed by young kids present a range of difficult sentencing issues, and a high-profile case of this variety was resolved on quite interesting terms last week.  This ABC News article, headlined "Teen who pleaded guilty in Slender Man stabbing case to remain in institutional care for 25 years, judge says," provide this account of the outcome:

A judge has sentenced one of the two Wisconsin teenagers accused of stabbing their friend in the woods to please the online fictional character Slender Man. Anissa Weier, 16, will now spend 25 years under a mental health institution’s supervision, with credit for her 1,301 days already spent in incarceration.  More than two years and six months of her sentence will be spent in a mental hospital before she can petition the court for release every six months.  If released, Weier will remain under institutional supervision until year 2039 and will be 37 years old.

“I just want everyone involved in this to know that I do hold myself accountable for this,” Weier told the court.  “I want everybody involved to know that I deeply regret everything that happened that day, and that I know that nothing I say is going to make this right, your honor, and nothing I say is going to fix what I broke.  I am just hoping that by holding myself somewhat accountable and making myself responsible for what I took part in that day, that I can be responsible and make sure this doesn’t happen again. I’m never going to let this happen again.”

Weier pleaded guilty earlier this year to attempted second-degree intentional homicide, as a party to a crime, with the use of a dangerous weapon as part of a plea deal.  A jury then found Weier not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Earlier this year the court also accepted a plea deal for co-defendant Morgan Geyser, who pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree intentional homicide.  In accordance with the plea deal, the court also found Geyser not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect despite her earlier guilty plea. Geyser’s sentencing is set for 2018.

In a victim impact statement, Stacie Leutner, mother of the stabbing survivor Payton Leutner, wrote that she and her family accept the plea deals but petitioned Judge Michael Bohren to “consider everything Payton and those closest to her have endured over the last three-and-a-half years” prior to the sentencing. In the victim impact statement, Stacie Leutner wrote that some of her daughter’s wounds from the attack still “tingle and ache and remind her of their presence every day.”...

“We accepted the plea deals for Morgan and Anissa for two reasons,” Stacie Leutner wrote. “First, because we believed it was the best thing to do to ensure Payton would not have to testify.  Traumatizing her further didn’t seem worth it. She has never talked about her attack so asking her to testify and relive her experience in front of a courtroom of strangers felt cruel and unnecessary. And second, because Payton felt placement in a mental health facility was the best disposition for both girls.”  Although she has accepted the plea deals, Stacie Leutner writes that her daughter “still fears for her safety.”

Weier and Geyser were arrested May 31, 2014, after the stabbing of Payton Leutner, whom they left in the woods in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  Leutner crawled to a nearby road and was helped by a passing bicyclist before she was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries but survived. Weier, Geyser and Payton Leutner were 12 years old at the time. Prosecutors have said that both girls were obsessed with the character Slender Man, who is often depicted in fan fiction stories online as a horror figure who stalks children.

In January, Weier's parents told “Good Morning America” that their daughter had expressed remorse. Her mother, Kristi Weier, said that according to police interview tapes of Geyser and her daughter, "They thoroughly believed that Slender Man was real and wanted to prove that he was real."

December 24, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)