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August 18, 2018

Discussions of criminal justice supervision and collateral consequences that merit extended conversations

This past week I saw two notable commentaries over at The Conversation. Here are links and brief excerpts:

Vincent Schiraldi, "Parole and probation have grown far beyond resources allocated to support them"

Today, there are twice as many people supervised on parole or probation as are incarcerated in the U.S....

Thousands of probation and parole officers supervise nearly 5 million people across the U.S. However, as the number of people under community corrections has swelled, resources for officers have lagged. While twice as many people are supervised in the community as are incarcerated, 9 out of 10 correctional dollars is funneled to prisons according to a report from 2009, the most recent year with available data....

In 2017, every major community corrections association in the U.S., along with 45 elected or appointed prosecutors and 35 probation and parole officials as well as myself wrote in a statement: “Designed originally as an alternative to incarceration, community corrections has become a significant contributor to mass incarceration” that should be downsized while reinvesting the savings in “improving community based services and supports for people under supervision.”

Stanley Andrisse, "I went from prison to professor — here’s why criminal records should not be used to keep people out of college"

Beginning next year, the Common Application – an online form that enables students to apply to the 800 or so colleges that use it – will no longer ask students about their criminal pasts.

As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions — Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine — I believe this move is a positive one.  People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.

While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.

August 18, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

In second sentencing from special counsel investigation, feds seeking incarceration "within Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months" for George Papadopoulos

As reported in this New York Times piece, special counsel Robert Mueller and his team have submitted this sentencing memo in conjunction with the upcoming scheduled sentencing of George Papadopoulos. Here is how that memocrandum gets started:

The government submits this memorandum in connection with the sentencing of George Papadopoulosscheduled for September 7, 2018. On October 5, 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a).  The government does not take a position with respect to a particular sentence to be imposed, but respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration, within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months’ imprisonment, is appropriate and warranted.

The defendant’s crime was serious and caused damage to the government’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  The defendant lied in order to conceal his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries during the campaign and made his false statements to investigators on January 27, 2017, early in the investigation, when key investigative decisions, including who to interview and when, were being made.  The defendant was explicitly notified of the seriousness of the ongoing investigation, and was told that he may have important information to provide.  He was warned that lying to investigators was a “federal offense” that could get him “in trouble.”  Instead of telling the truth, however, the defendant repeatedly lied throughout the interview in order to conceal the timing and significance of information the defendant had received regarding the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as well as his own outreach to Russia on behalf of the campaign.  The defendant’s false statements were intended to harm the investigation, and did so.

In light of the defendant’s conduct and the lack of mitigating circumstances, the principles of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) call for a period of incarceration.

Here is more from the memo and context from the NY Times story:

Mr. Mueller’s memo said Mr. Papadopoulos did not provide “substantial assistance” to the investigation, and that “much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history and other information it had obtained via search warrants and subpoenas.”

Thirty-two people have been charged by Mr. Mueller’s office since it took over the investigation in May 2017. The only defendant to be sentenced so far is the lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to making false statements about his conversations with a former Trump campaign official. In April, a judge sentenced him to 30 days in prison.

Mr. Mueller’s office has not yet filed a sentencing memo in the case of Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. He pleaded guilty in December to making false statements to investigators about his contacts with the Russian ambassador and agreed to cooperate with the authorities. Mr. Flynn was scheduled to be sentenced this year, but that has been delayed, suggesting that he is still cooperating with the government.

August 18, 2018 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Divided We Fall: Parole Supervision Conditions Prohibiting Inter-Offender Associations"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted on SSRN and authored by James Binnall. Here is the abstract:

In the United States, almost all criminal offenders who serve a term of imprisonment are subject to a period of post-incarceration supervision.  Commonly known as parole, this form of supervision requires former inmates to comply with a variety of conditions.  A nationwide survey of standard parole conditions reveals that a vast majority of jurisdictions categorically restrict parolees’ associations with other parolees, convicted criminals, and/or convicted felons.  These blanket offender no-association conditions ostensibly presume that former offenders are irreparably flawed, homogenous, and that inter-offender relationships are uniformly criminogenic.

This article questions those presumptions, suggesting that offender no-association conditions endorse an untenable conceptualization of former offenders, a rejection of evidence-based parole practices, an uninformed view of inter-offender associations, and a superficial application of criminological theory.  This article further argues that by categorically prohibiting all inter-offender associations, offender no-association conditions foreclose strengths-based approaches to reentry and inhibit mechanisms that can foster criminal desistance. In this way, such conditions unnecessarily subvert the rehabilitative goal of parole, likely making them impermissibly overbroad in their current form.

August 18, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 17, 2018

Will Trump White House soon "deploy its assets ... to stump" for federal criminal justice reform? It may be critical.

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Hill commentary authored by Holly Harris headlined "Connect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done." Here are excerpts:

When it comes to excuses to pass over federal criminal justice reform, I have heard them all, from “it takes at least 10 years to pass legislation like this” to “there is no way move a criminal justice bill in an election year.” But the one that really burns me is “you cannot point to state success because the federal system is much more complicated.”

The arrogance of the Beltway is incredible.  Of the more than 2.3 million people serving time behind bars in this country, more than 1.3 million are housed in state prisons, and about 615,000 sit in local jails.  Only 225,000 are housed in a federal facility. The Texas prison system alone holds more inmates.  State prison systems deal with overcrowding, stifling budget cuts, and drug epidemics that show no signs of abating.  Because they can see and experience this crisis first hand, governors on the left and the right are passing strong criminal justice reforms that offer alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment programs, provide opportunities that put people back to work, and save millions of taxpayer dollars.

Now these governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.  President Trump, in a savvy move, convened a criminal justice roundtable at his resort in New Jersey and invited Republican and Democratic governors from states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia, all of which have passed strong criminal justice reforms with bipartisan support that decrease incarcerated populations, improve reentry programs, and ultimately lower crime and recidivism.  This is all part of a strategy to take the fight to pass a federal bill straight to the people and away from the status quo in Washington....

Keenly aware that red states like Georgia, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky have made aggressive changes to their justice systems, including sentencing reforms and felony expungement laws, [Jared] Kushner has showed the president these success stories.  In this latest roundtable, Trump included the Democratic governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, who shared that reforms implemented in his state led to a 20 percent decrease in the number of people imprisoned for nonviolent crimes, which frees up valuable resources to fight dangerous crimes and reduce recidivism.

While the public safety benefits of reform are undoubtedly impressive to a “tough on crime” president, the overwhelming public support for these issues must be equally attractive.  Voters across the country are looking to Congress to act. Polling from earlier this year shows that 75 percent of voters, a clear supermajority crossing all partisan, geographic, education, income, racial and ethnic boundaries, believe the criminal justice system needs to be reformed and support changes such as fixing our cash bail system and replacing mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

In the final stretch to a Senate vote, do not be surprised to see this White House deploy its assets to the states to stump for a bill they know the American people want.  There will be folks from every walk of life lining up behind them, from business leaders and military veterans to civil rights advocates and faith leaders.  Just this week, people from 50 organizations of all political stripes and bipartisan senior legislative staff met to talk details. When the phone lines light up in offices all over Capitol Hill demanding a vote, Washington may well be out of excuses.

Candidly, I will be quite surprised if this White House were to deploy its assets to stump for reform, but I certainly hope this will happen.  I am fairly confident that if Prez Trump were to do a series of tweets in support of a federal criminal justice reform bill, that bill would have a much greater chance of getting to his desk.  And Prez Trump does not have to change minds about pending reforms: there is already overwhelming bipartisan support for the basic substance of nearly every serious sentencing and prison reform bill. 

The current challenge is  getting congressional leadership to settle on which version of which bill will be brought up for a vote. Senate leadership has been the bottleneck lately, and the White House surely could and should focus, publicly and privately, on advocacy toward leadership to settle on a bill and finally allow a vote.  (Notably, the FIRST STEP Act got 86% approval when it got to a vote in the House of Representatives, so it seems informed legislators are even more supportive of federal reform than the poll numbers.) 

This piece by Holly Harris highlights just why passage of federal criminal justice reform could be a huge win for this Administration, and I hope Prez Trump sees the potential political value to pushing reform over the finish-line.  Presidents always have unique powers and unique opportunities to grease the legislative process, and a congressional reform discussion that has been going strong for now five years with no tangible results can certainly uses as much grease as it can get. 

Some of many prior recent related posts:

UPDATE: I have just added to the title of this post after seeing this new Politico piece headlined "Criminal justice deal faces steep Senate hurdles despite Trump’s push."  Here is an excerpts that has me thinking reform does not get done unless and until the Trump White House puts all its might behind the effort:

Trump has stepped up his own calls for a deal on the prisons overhaul that the House passed earlier this year, holding two events so far this month.  And groups off the Hill say they're closing in on a path to pass the legislation through the Senate by adding some of the sentencing changes Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) spent years negotiating with Democrats.

But interviews with a dozen GOP senators show that those talks remain in a precarious state.  That’s because the handful of Republicans who have long protested reducing mandatory-minimum sentences leave Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) without any incentive to call up legislation that would split his conference.

One of those longtime critics of adding sentencing to the House-passed prisons bill bluntly predicted Thursday that McConnell would not “bring the bill to the floor any time soon.”

“I’m not sure that we can put together a deal,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said in an interview. “I’m not sure we should.”...

Close involvement from Trump will likely be required for the GOP to get past its internal schism over reducing mandatory minimum sentences as part of a prisons package. Grassley's bipartisan package of sentencing and prison reforms boasts 15 Republican cosponsors, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes even the narrower prisons-only approach the House has passed.

August 17, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

In dissent, Arizona jurist explains why he "would hold, as a matter of state law, that the death penalty is unconstitutional"

Images (14)A helpful reader made sure I saw the remarkable opinions handed down yesterday by the Arizona Supreme Court in Arizona v. Bush, No. CR-11-0107-AP (Az. Oct. 16, 2018) (available here).  This case looks like it was shaping up to be a fairly standard capital appeal, until one judge (sitting by designation to replace a recused Justice) decided to start a constitutional brush fire.  Specifically, Judge Lawrence Winthrop of Arizona Court of Appeals authored a lengthy dissenting opinion that expands on these introductory assertions:

The historical implementation of the death penalty bears little resemblance to its current administration. In distant times when the death penalty was quickly imposed, the execution was open for public viewing, and there was minimal evidence to contradict the accuracy of a defendant’s conviction, the death penalty may have served as an efficient method of not only enforcing criminal law but also advancing legitimate policy goals. Society, however, has evolved and no longer administers the death penalty in this manner.

Instead of taking weeks, prisoners on death row, and the victim’s families, often wait for decades for the sentence to be administered. Further, over the years, numerous studies have criticized the death penalty as disproportionally affecting defendants of color and, with increasing frequency, in part due to advancements in technology, we have become aware of defendants who have been wrongly convicted and whose death sentences have ultimately been commuted―either due to their own actual innocence or because of incurable procedural flaws from their trial. Some of these wrongful convictions were obtained because of overzealous prosecutors who pursued conviction and imposition of the death penalty at the expense of candor; some convictions were obtained because of the failures of defendants’ resource-deprived appointed counsel; some convictions were obtained because of jurors’ biases; and some may have been fortuitously imposed simply because of the county in which the defendant committed the crime. Each conviction obtained through these means highlights the flaws in administering the death penalty, and our historic inability to devise a method to implement the death penalty free from human bias and error.

Additionally, the death penalty has not been conclusively shown to deter criminal behavior, a primary rationale of criminal law and sentencing. Moreover, taxpayers are spending millions of dollars to prosecute, convict, and sentence defendants to death. As further explained below, the death penalty has been shown to be cruel and unusual, to not have any notable deterrent effect, to impose unintended trauma on the victim’s family and friends, and to be cost prohibitive.

Although current United States Supreme Court jurisprudence rejecting Eighth Amendment attacks on the death penalty preclude a state court from interpreting the United States Constitution to provide greater protection than the Court’s own federal constitutional precedents provide, Arkansas v. Sullivan, 532 U.S. 769, 772 (2001), state courts “are absolutely free to interpret state constitutional provisions to accord greater protection to individual rights than do similar provisions of the United States Constitution.” Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1, 8 (1995).  Because we may interpret Arizona’s Constitution to provide greater protections to Arizona citizens, I would hold, as a matter of state law, that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the court in Bush was disinclined to leave the dissent's assertions unaddressed, and here a concluding part of the majority's response:

In sum, the dissent’s resort to article 2, section 15 to support its view that Arizona’s death penalty is unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual” is difficult to reconcile with the relevant text, history, and caselaw. Cf. Glossip, 135 S. Ct. at 2747 (Scalia, J., concurring) (noting that “not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible,” largely because “[i]t is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates” under the Fifth Amendment).  And even if relevant facts might exist to support the dissent’s critique in some respects, they certainly are not in this record as no such evidence was presented here....

Absent a constitutional violation, the propriety of Arizona’s capital scheme is strictly a matter of policy, which is outside our purview under our constitution’s separation of powers.  See Ariz. Const. art. 3 (“[T]he legislative, the executive, and the judicial . . . departments shall be separate and distinct, and no one of such departments shall exercise the powers properly belonging to either of the others.”).  The dissent incorrectly suggests that we would defer to the legislature on matters of constitutional interpretation and application, abdicating our constitutional authority and responsibility.  But that mischaracterizes our position and conflates constitutional issues, appropriate for judicial resolution, with purely policy choices, appropriate for the law-making role of the legislature and governor, or the people themselves.

The dissent’s various criticisms of the death penalty and its alleged flaws — the time and cost involved in pursuing and administering capital punishment; its arbitrary application and disproportionate or discriminatory impact on minorities; implicit and explicit biases, including racial and geographic disparities; and lack of any measurable deterrent effect — are arguments that have been raised over the years for total abolition of capital punishment.  See, e.g., Maloney, 105 Ariz. at 358–59.  But these are largely policy-laden factors that are proper subjects for legislative consideration, debate, and decision, not appropriate topics for judicial resolution in the absence of any evidence or argument.  See, e.g., Endreson, 108 Ariz. at 370 (stating that “the question of the abolishment of the death penalty under the Arizona Constitution is a question properly left to the legislature or the people of this State through constitutional amendment”); State v. Alford, 98 Ariz. 124, 132 (1965) (declining to “pass upon whether capital punishment, as a public policy, is effective” because under Arizona’s separation of powers, “[w]e are limited to the judicial function of faithfully and impartially interpreting the law as enacted by the legislature”).

August 17, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

New research finds racial bias infects sex-offender classification system under SORNA

A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this Crime Report piece headlined "Sex Offender Registration Influenced by Racial Bias, Ohio Study Claims." Here are excerpts:

The classification of sex offenders based on the risks they pose to the community following their release from prison is subject to racial bias, according to a study published in the Criminal Justice Policy Review.  African-American sex offenders were found to be two-and a half times likelier to be inaccurately designated as high-risk than their Caucasian counterparts by a state-sponsored risk-assessment instrument, said the study, which was based on a sample of 673 sex offenders in the state of Ohio who were convicted of a sex crime and released between 2009 and 2011.

Risk assessments that were overly weighted towards prior criminal records led to the skewed assessments, argued the authors, Bobbie Ticknor of Valdosta State University, and Jessica J. Warner of Miami University Regionals.  “Approximately 85 percent of the individuals classified in the highest tier, who theoretically posed the greatest danger, did not have a conviction for a new sex offense after the five-year follow up period,” the study found, adding that 15 percent of “Tier 1” offenders were under-classified, meaning their threat-level was underestimated.

The sample was limited to offenders who had received a classification under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) system established by the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.  The law established guidelines aimed at protecing communities from convicted sex offenders who might pose continued threats to their community following release. SORNA is an offense-based classification system where offenders are assigned to one of three tiers according to “dangerousness.”  Tier designation is determined by prior offenses and the severity of the charge and conviction.... 

The reason why racial bias may influence the accuracy of SORNA designations lies in the fact that SORNA relies heavily on the criminal history of an individual, said the authors. The study cites prior research which produced evidence that “black defendants are less likely to accept a plea deal due to mistrust in the system…”  Going to trial increases the chances of being found guilty of more severe charges and receiving lengthier sentences, especially for minority defendants, according to the authors.

The study being discussed here is available at this link and is published under the title "Evaluating the Accuracy of SORNA: Testing for Classification Errors and Racial Bias." Here is its abstract:

Since its enactment in 2006, several researchers have explored whether the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) classification system under the Adam Walsh Act improves outcomes such as increasing public safety and lowering recidivism of sexual offenders.  This study adds to the growing body of literature by exploring how accurate this offense-based classification system is in terms of recidivism and if there is any racial bias in tier designation.

Specifically, results from contingency analyses suggest that several sex offenders are overclassified, meaning that they were given a classification status that included more supervision and oversight although they did not commit another offense. Furthermore, African Americans were two-and-a-half times more likely to be overclassified than Caucasians which suggests racial bias may exist in this government-sponsored classification system.  Implications for communities and the continued use of the SORNA are presented.

August 17, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Race, Class, and Gender, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 16, 2018

Senator Cotton delivers faulty arguments to prop up faulty federal sentencing system

With Jeff Sessions now in the role of Attorney General, Senator Tom Cotton is one of the last members of Congress eager to push a tough-and-tougher agenda.  Despite the US position as world leader in incarceration, Senator Cotton asserted a few years ago, as noted here, that "we have an under-incarceration problem."  His thinking today finds expression in this new Wall Street Journal article headlined "Reform the Prisons Without Going Soft on Crime: Proposals to give judges more discretion and cut mandatory minimums endanger public safety."  Regular readers will be familiar with many of the moves in this piece (even though we've not heard much from Bill Otis lately).  Here is a sample:

The U.S. faces a drug epidemic today, exactly the wrong time to go soft on crime.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017 more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, a 37% increase from 2015 and a nearly 100% increase since 2008.  Violent crime has declined since the 1980s because mandatory minimums adopted then locked up violent criminals.  But in 2015-16, the most recent years for which full data are available, violent crime increased at its fastest rate in a quarter-century, though preliminary data suggest it might have leveled off in 2017....

This naive policy ignores the reality of recidivism.  Five out of six prisoners end up rearrested within nine years, according to a recent Justice Department study. In fact, on average reoffenders are rearrested five times — and not for minor crimes.  Only a handful of ex-convicts return to prison exclusively for parole violations, whereas 77% of drug offenders are rearrested for serious nondrug crimes, such as murder and rape.  Most criminals will commit more crimes after being released from prison, even with improved rehabilitation programs.  The last thing Congress should do is shorten their sentences or allow them to “serve time” in home confinement....

What is the logic of such leniency?  Activists say they want to reverse “mass incarceration.”  That is a curious characterization when less than half of crimes are even reported to police and more than 80% of property crimes and 50% of violent crimes that are reported go unsolved, according to Pew Research Center.  Tell those victims denied justice that the U.S. locks up too many criminals.

Virtually no one goes to federal prison for “low-level, nonviolent” drug offenses, especially mere drug use or possession. In 2015, there were 247 inmates in federal prison for drug possession. In these rare cases, the inmates usually pleaded down from a more serious offense.  In the extreme case of a manifestly unjust sentence, the pardon power is a better instrument of justice than broad sentencing reductions. President Trump has shown himself more than willing to intervene to redress such cases.

Some fiscal conservatives believe that America spends too much on the prison system.  Yet the Bureau of Prisons costs taxpayers less than $8 billion a year, or about 0.2% of the entire federal budget.  After national security, the government’s most basic responsibility is to protect its citizens from crime. The costs of crime and disorder — personal and economic — far outweigh the downsides of putting serious criminals behind bars.

Mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing laws work. Rather than eliminate them, Congress should improve access to faith-based and other antirecidivism programs in federal prisons.  American families deserve safe communities and protection from drugs and crime.  Criminals, especially first-time offenders who grew up in rough environments, deserve second chances — once they have done their time.

I suspect most readers can readily see logical flaws in Senator Cotton's advocacy here (e.g., how do poor clearance rates for violent crimes justify excessive drug sentences?).  Most fundamentally, the bills with a chance for passage in Congress do not get anywhere close to "eliminating"  mandatory minimums or truth-in-sentencing laws, and they in fact sadly do not really do all that much more than enhance antirecidivism programs in federal prisons.  But even the modest bills with a shot at passage (which have the support of Prez Trump) are too much for Senator Cotton.

John Pfaff has this twitter thread in which he describes the effort as "horrifically dishonest." John attacks various numbers in the op-ed, and I will just stress a telling flip-flop on the clemency front. Senator Cotton says "the pardon power is a better instrument of justice than broad sentencing reductions," but many folks on the right criticized Prez Obama's use of clemency at the end of the term by saying it should be Congress in charge of granting any serious sentencing relief.  Senator Cotton here also says here "President Trump has shown himself more than willing to intervene to redress such cases," but he has so far only commuted two extreme federal sentences (roughly .001% of the federal prison population).  Prez Trump has promised to do more, but he can not be expected to nor depended upon to do the kind of reform via clemency that Congress should be doing in the first instance.

UPDATE: Mark Holden has this new commentary, headlined "Correcting the Record About Sentencing Reform and Mandatory Minimums," which goes point-by-point through key claims made by Senator Cotton and provides different perspective on his assertion.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  Derek Cohen over at Right on Crime also has this notable response to Senator Cotton's piece under the headline "Setting the Record Straight"

August 16, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Tradeoffs Between Wrongful Convictions and Wrongful Acquittals: Understanding and Avoiding the Risks"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting-looking new paper authored by Paul Cassell now available via SSRN. Here is this abstract:

This article focuses on trade-offs that inhere in the criminal justice system, tradeoffs neatly encapsulated in Blackstone’s famous ten-to-one ratio of guilty persons who should be allowed escape justice rather than an innocent suffer. Blackstone’s aphorism reminds us not only of the importance of ensuring that innocent persons are not convicted, but also that unbounded protections might unduly interfere with convicting the guilty.

In my contribution to a symposium in honor of Professor Michael Risinger, I respond to thoughtful articles written by both Professors Laudan and Zalman and make two main points.  First, in Part I, I turn to Professor Laudan’s policy proposal for reducing the number of wrongful acquittals — e.g., lowering the prosecution’s burden of proof at trial for previously-convicted felons to clear and convincing evidence. This proposal is unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedents, which interpret the Constitution to require the prosecutor to prove a defendant’s guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  And in addition, Laudan has failed to demonstrate that his proposal is cost-beneficial because he has not persuasively articulated a way to weigh the costs of wrongful convictions against those of wrongful acquittals. But I offer a “friendly amendment” to Laudan’s idea. It should be possible to capture almost all of the benefits of his proposal by placing violent felons on extended periods of parole or supervised release — a condition of which would be that they not commit new crimes.  Then, when a previously-convicted felon is arrested for a new crime, he could be tried for a parole violation rather than given a new trial.  Supreme Court precedent allows parole violations to be tried under a lower burden of proof. Reconfigured in this way, there are strong reasons for thinking that the proposal might well be a cost-beneficial way of reducing wrongful acquittals.

In Part II, I challenge Professor Zalman’s claim that he is truly writing from an innocentric perspective.  Someone proceeding from this vantage should be willing to endorse a criminal justice reform measure if it meets three criteria: first and most important, it reduces wrongful convictions of the innocent; second, it does not reduce (and ideally would increase) the number of guilty persons convicted; and third, it should not significantly impair any other competing values.  With these evaluative criteria in mind, Zalman appears to be a mere fair-weather friend of the innocent, as he does not appear to truly privilege innocence over other competing values. In contrast, my reform proposals (which Zalman is reluctant to endorse) reorient the criminal justice system away from adjudicating procedural issues and toward adjudicating substantive issues of guilt or innocence.  The truly innocent will benefit in a system that values substance over procedure — and someone who truly holds an innocentric perspective should endorse reforms that move the criminal justice system in that direction.

August 16, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Suggestions for federal criminal justice reforms using the power of the purse

Michael Crowley has this interesting new commentary at the Brennan Center site explaining how the goals of various federal criminal justice reform bills "can be achieved by merely amending spending bills." Here are excerpts from the heart of the short piece (with links from the original):

Unlike standalone reform bills, Congress must pass spending bills each year, or the government shuts down on October 1, the start of the fiscal year.  When the Senate returns from its truncated August recess this week, one of its priorities will be to get spending bills passed. (The House will return from its August recess after Labor Day.) Among the bills needing attention is the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriation, which provides funding for the Department of Justice. Here are a few ways reforms can be added to the House or Senate CJS bills as amendments: 

  • Beef up funding where it will make a difference: Last September, Ed Chung of the Center for American Progress and I outlined one approach for some spending priorities that appropriators should consider: diversion for mental health and substance abuse, reducing incarceration, eliminating the criminalization of poverty, and support for indigent defense. Increasing federal funding where it really matters, and decreasing funding where it doesn’t (also called an “offset” amendment), is one clear path for reforms.

  • Sometimes a little funding goes a long way: The CJS bill funds over $62 billion in federal agencies and programs, so it’s worth remembering that even a tiny shift can have a major impact.  For example, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) has spurred criminal justice reforms in 35 states and an 11-percent drop in state imprisonment.  Yet, JRI has never been a stand-alone bill. Instead, it was created by attaching a small amount of money to the CJS bill.  JRI costs just $25 million a year.

  • Employing “carve-outs” and “set-asides”: JRI also has been the beneficiary of a little trick known as the “carve-out” or “set-aside.”  In essence, Congress funds one initiative within a larger, sometimes unrelated program.  Doing so allows Congress to take credit for both, without increasing spending.  For example, this year, Congress set aside $76 million for nine separate initiatives from an overall $416 million for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG), a general-purpose law enforcement grant program.

  • The percentage set-aside: A percentage doesn’t call attention to itself like a specific dollar amount — but it’s equally effective. Congress employs this tactic to fund any number of things, including a good deal of DOJ research and evaluation.  If Congress were to set aside just 10 percent of the almost $3 billion appropriated each year to DOJ Grant programs, that would be close to $300 million — and a nice down payment on the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act that would go a long way toward reducing the prison population by 40 percent.

  • Setting conditions on spending: Some types of reform don’t need funding but can still be implemented through a spending bill.  For example, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) No Money Bail Act restricts states with money bail systems from receiving Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. That could be implemented as early as October 1 by incorporating it into the CJS bill.

August 16, 2018 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 15, 2018

Assailing the new expanded mandatory minimum for "career offenders" being pushed by AG Jeff Sessions

As noted in prior posts here and here, earlier this month Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a big speech advocating for reform to the Armed Career Criminal Act in part as a response to the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Johnson finding a part of ACCA vague.  Writing at The American Prospect, Manuel Madrid has this new piece unpacking the particulars of this effort.  The full headline and subheadline summarizes the themes of the piece: "Jeff Sessions and the Conservative Nostalgia for Harsh Sentencing: A new Republican bill would slap nonviolent criminals with 15-year mandatory minimum sentences. White-collar crimes, property crimes, and drug-related offenses would all count toward being considered a 'career armed criminal'.”  Here are some excerpts:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s full-court press for more tough-on-crime policies has found a home in Congress.  Speaking before a crowd of law enforcement officials and prosecutors ... in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sessions called for legislation to reinstate an aggressive Reagan-era sentencing law that targets repeat offenders....

About an hour before the speech, Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina offered a glimpse into what such a fix would look like with their new bill, the Restoring the Armed Career Criminal Act of 2018. The proposed legislation revises the language in the original act and broadens its scope to avoid possible legal challenges, while extending hefty mandatory minimum prison sentences to violent and nonviolent criminals alike....

While the original act might have been defended on the grounds that it at least attempted to hone in on some violent criminals, the Cotton-Hatch-Graham redux abandons all pretenses of even trying.  Under the new bill, nonviolent crimes such as identity theft, fraud, and money laundering could earn a person the label of armed career criminal. And the list goes on: Property crimes like burglary and theft and a score of drug-related crimes would all be on the table.

Before the 2015 Supreme Court decision, about 600 offenders were charged each year under the Armed Career Criminal Act. That number dropped to 265 last year.  The change would likely open the floodgates to more mandatory minimum prison sentences, which already disproportionately affect minorities.  In 2017, more than half of felons charged with unlawful possession of a firearm were black and almost 20 percent were Hispanic.  Only 4.4 percent were charged as armed career criminals....

During his time in the Senate, Sessions, along with Senator Cotton, persuaded other Republicans to join them in torpedoing a bipartisan sentencing reform bill in 2016 which would have shortened existing mandatory minimums and narrowed the scope of drug convictions that triggered them....

The drastic expansion of the Armed Career Criminal Act proposed in the Cotton-Hatch-Graham bill would accelerate the federal government’s backsliding on criminal justice, achieving little more than earning the praise from a minority of conservative politicians nostalgic for the hardline policies of decades past.

Prior related posts:

August 15, 2018 in Gun policy and sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"The American Execution Queue"

The title of this post is the title of this new interesting article by Lee Kovarsky now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The modern death penalty presents a puzzle: law and norms heavily constrain how American jurisdictions impose death sentences, but not how they select death-sentenced inmates for executions.  In this Article, I explain why this strange void persists, argue that its presence undermines equality, and offer workable institutional responses. In short, I advance a comprehensive theory of the American execution queue — the process by which death penalty jurisdictions decide which condemned inmates will actually die.

My first objective is explanatory.  Because executing a death-sentenced inmate now entails both significant litigation and extensive coordination among under-motivated state institutions, the process takes ten times as long as it did fifty years ago.  Modern executions have become “scarce,” as American jurisdictions simply cannot kill all of their condemned offenders.  Even though the state must make choices, there are no rules for choosing.  Because there is little consensus around decision-making criteria, the process operates with few constraints.  By the time the state must decide which condemned inmates to execute, the capacity of familiar decision-making criteria to meaningfully sort inmates by death-worthiness — things like offense conduct, blame, or future danger — has been exhausted during prior phases of the capital punishment sequence.

My second objective is normative.  I specify several preferred institutional design strategies, anchored to interests in legitimacy, transparency, fairness, and equality.  First, jurisdictions should centralize the process by which they select death-sentenced inmates for executions; localities should have no role in setting execution dates.  Second, a centralized entity should engage in administrative-law-like rulemaking in order to develop transparent, legitimate selection criteria.  Third, jurisdictions should separate the power to determine execution priority from the power to schedule execution dates.  By shifting to a centralized process grounded in transparent rulemaking and rational decision-making criteria, jurisdictions can curb the arbitrariness that plagues the existing system.

August 15, 2018 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting commutation developments in wake of initiative reform in Oklahoma

This local story, headlined "49 Oklahoma inmates imprisoned for drug crimes asking for commutations; 49 asking state to consider commutations in light of State Question 780," reports on an interesting clemency echo in the wake of a notable ballot initiative passed in Oklahoma in 2016. Here are the details:

Some state inmates serving 10 years to life in prison for what has been described as “low-level” drug crimes have applied for commutations thanks to the help of advocates and law students.

The 49 inmates and those backing their commutation applications are citing recent changes in state law — and Oklahoma’s highest incarceration rate in the nation — as the reason why. “A lot of these are 20-, sometimes 30-year sentences on a crime that if charged now would be a misdemeanor,” said Corbin Brewster, Tulsa County’s chief public defender.

Brewster’s office assisted Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform with creating the list of inmates. The coalition of business and community leaders, law enforcement experts and advocates across the state is led by former state House Speaker Kris Steele.

The state Pardon and Parole Board will take the up the first batch of 23 commutation requests — all female inmates — on Monday in Oklahoma City. The rest are scheduled to be considered next month.

The requests for commuted sentences, if recommended by the parole board and approved by the governor, would only reduce the length of the prison terms. Some sentences could be modified to “time served,” but the convictions would remain on the inmate’s record.

Push for commutations is spurred by the passage of State Question 780, which starting July 1, 2017, made nonviolent drug possession offenses and low-level property offenses misdemeanors instead of felonies. Steele led the call for the state question, which was approved in November 2016 by 58 percent of Oklahoma voters.

Eight law school students, working as summer interns for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, helped choose applicants and interviewed them, said Stephen Galoob, associate professor at the University of Tulsa Law School. Galoob said the effort is aimed at “just making the system work.”

“These are all cases and these are all stories that are really powerful,” he said. “And a lot of what the students are doing is just telling the stories of the people who are in prison for crimes that the people of Oklahoma don’t really think we should be locking people up for.”...

The parole board uses a two-stage process to consider commutations. During the first stage, the board reviews the application before considering whether to pass the request to a second, more thorough review stage. At least a majority vote of the board is needed to forward the commutation request to the governor for final consideration.

The parole board considered 477 commutation requests in fiscal 2018, which ended June 30, said DeLynn Fudge, the agency’s executive director.  The board passed 19 of the requests to the second stage of its review process, of which 10 were forwarded to the governor with a recommendation that they be approved, Fudge said. 

Especially in light of the historical numbers reported in this article, it is especially interesting and exciting to see this follow-up article headlined "Nearly two dozen cases involved in 'commutation campaign' advance to second stage of consideration":

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted Monday to advance a group of nearly two dozen people who are being assisted by a commutation campaign to a second stage of review.

August 15, 2018 in Clemency and Pardons, Drug Offense Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Prison Policy Initiative report which gets started this way:

It’s hard to imagine building a successful life without a place to call home, but this basic necessity is often out of reach for formerly incarcerated people.  Barriers to employment, combined with explicit discrimination, have created a little-discussed housing crisis.

In this report, we provide the first estimate of homelessness among the 5 million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States, finding that formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.  We break down this data by race, gender, age and other demographics; we also show how many formerly incarcerated people are forced to live in places like hotels or motels, just one step from homelessness itself.

August 15, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 14, 2018

Nebraska completes its first ever lethal injection, which is first US execution to include use of the opioid fentanyl

The lengthy local article, headlined "'A monumental day'; Nebraska executes Carey Dean Moore in state's first lethal injection," reports on a milestone capital punishment even in the heartland today. Here are a few details:

Nebraska carried out its first execution in 21 years on Tuesday, using four drugs to end the life of double murderer Carey Dean Moore.

Moore, 60, became the first condemned inmate in the state put to death by lethal injection. He had served 38 years on death row for the 1979 killings of Omaha cabdrivers Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland. Helgeland and Van Ness were shot five days apart as Moore targeted cabdrivers because he knew they carried cash. Both men were 47 years old, fathers and military veterans.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes said the first of four execution drugs was administered at 10:24 a.m. The Lancaster County coroner declared Moore dead at 10:47 a.m. Frakes said the execution was carried it out with "professionalism, respect for the process and dignity for all involved."

The scene outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where the execution occurred, was subdued on Tuesday morning amid on-and-off rain showers. Only about a dozen death penalty opponents prayed outside the prison; only three capital punishment proponents attended. Many more state troopers and media members stood nearby.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who helped lead an effort to overturn a 2015 repeal of the death penalty by the Nebraska Legislature, spent the morning in a meeting with state agency officials. “Today, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services carried out the sentence the court ordered in accordance with the will of the people of Nebraska," Ricketts said in a prepared statement. "The death penalty remains a critical tool to protect law enforcement, corrections officers and public safety.”

Outside the governor's mansion in Lincoln just after the execution, a handful of protesters stood in the rain, one carrying a sign reading "Ricketts has blood on his hands.”

Among the death penalty supporters who came to the prison were Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter was slain inside a Norfolk bank in 2002. "I'm here to support the victims," Tuttle said. "That's the ones I have to stand for." Standing with her was Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, who, along with Tuttle, collected hundreds of signatures to allow voters to restore the death penalty in 2016.

​Tuttle's daughter, Evonne Tuttle, was one of five people killed in a bank robbery in Norfolk on Sept. 26, 2002. Evonne Tuttle, a single mother, went to the bank in Norfolk to cash a $64 check. Three gunmen from the robbery, Jose Sandoval, Jorge Galindo and Erick Vela, all are on death row. "I think it's important that we have voices that still say it's important that we stand for the death penalty. And for the families of victims," Tuttle said.

Moore — who had served the longest time on Nebraska's death row — was led to the execution chamber at 10 a.m. After he was strapped to the execution table, he mouthed the words "I love you" multiple times toward his official witnesses, which included a brother and a niece.

His final words were delivered in a handwritten statement: He hoped that lawyers could get his younger brother, Donald, released from parole, and urged death penalty opponents to pursue claims of innocence by four others on Nebraska's death row....

The four official media witnesses to the execution said that Moore's face gradually turned slightly red, then purple, as the four drugs were administered. The execution was the first using the four drugs obtained by Nebraska, over legal objections by death penalty opponents and some drug manufacturers. The curtain to the execution chamber was lowered at 10:39 a.m. after the fourth drug was administered. The curtains reopened eight minutes later after he was pronounced dead....

Duggan called the execution "a monumental day" after the many debates in the state over capital punishment. The death penalty was restored by voters in 2016 by a 61-39 percent margin after a petition drive, in large part funded by Ricketts, placed the issue on the ballot. "There's no question it's a significant day in the state's history," the reporter said.

In a statement, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said, "Our sympathy is extended to the families of Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland for the loss of their loved ones nearly thirty-nine years ago. Today's somber event serves to provide a measure of closure for what has been a lengthy enactment of justice."

Nebraska has now carried out 38 state-sanctioned executions. Moore was put to death using a previously untried four-drug combination of diazepam, fentanyl, cisatracurium and potassium chloride.

He is the first inmate executed using the drug fentanyl, a powerful narcotic painkiller that has contributed to the nation's epidemic of drug overdoses. He was put to death despite two federal lawsuits filed last week by drug companies seeking to keep their products from being used. The state's last execution before Tuesday took place in 1997, when the electric chair was the method. Lethal injection was adopted in 2009 after the state Supreme Court outlawed electrocution as cruel and unusual punishment.

August 14, 2018 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

High-profile drug arrest of billionaire addict spotlights issues of what is "trafficking" and who is a "victim" and "recidivist"

A high-profile drug arrest in Las Vegas late last week presents a high-profile setting to explore all of the legal uncertainty that necessarily surrounds the modern drug war.  This CBS/AP story, headlined "Tech billionaire Henry Nicholas facing drug trafficking counts in Vegas," provides some of the basics:

Tech billionaire and advocate of crime victims Henry T. Nicholas III is facing drug counts after being arrested along with a woman Tuesday at a Las Vegas Strip casino-resort. Nicholas was arrested on suspicion of trafficking heroin, cocaine, meth and ecstasy, Las Vegas police officer Larry Hadfield said Thursday. He added police responded to the casino-resort following a report from security, which had found contraband in a room [this local piece provides more details of the search and seizures]....

The woman arrested with Nicholas was identified as Ashley Fargo, reportedly the ex-wife of an heir to the Wells Fargo fortune. Hadfield said she faces the same counts as Nicholas. Court records show she has also been released on her own recognizance. Records for the pair show a court hearing scheduled for September.

Attorney and legal analyst Alex Kazarian tells CBS Los Angeles it's likely Nicholas didn't intend to traffic drugs -- but his intent may not matter. "It sounds like his biggest crime is being an addict," Kazarian said. "He's a billionaire. He's not a person that's trying to make money off of drugs. He's a person that's trying to make friends off of drugs. Unfortunateley, the way the laws are written, if you're giving away drugs or if you're selling drugs, you're trafficking."

Nicholas co-founded high-tech chipmaker Broadcom Corp. in 1991 and resigned as president and CEO in 2003. In 2008, he was indicted on narcotics and securities fraud charges. The charges in the securities case were dismissed in 2009 and the narcotics case in 2010.

The billionaire is an advocate for crime victims and has bankrolled ballot measures in the U.S. to guarantee them and their family members some rights. The so-called "Marsy's Law" victims' bill of rights is named after Nicholas' sister, Marsalee "Marsy" Nicholas, a California college student who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend.

Five states - California, Ohio, Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota - have a Marsy's Law on their books.... In Nevada, Marsy's Law will appear on the ballot in November as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, after the measure was approved during the 2015 and 2017 legislative sessions, as required by law. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson have previously endorsed the measure.

As people who work in the drug policy and reform space know well, the dividing line between being a "drug possessor" and a "drug trafficker" can often be a thin one and this story seems to effectively highlight this reality. Moreover, given the extraordinary work that Nicholas has done to promote victim involvement in the criminal justice system, this case provides an interesting setting to explore who can and should be able to claim to be a victim of a "drug trafficker."  In addition, here are some more details about Nicholas's prior involvement with drug charges from this local piece:

In a 2008 federal indictment, Nicholas was accused of possessing and conspiring to distribute drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine. According to federal court records, he was accused of distributing and using drugs on a private flight between Orange County and Las Vegas, “causing marijuana smoke and fumes to enter the cockpit and requiring the pilot flying the plane to put on an oxygen mask.”  The charges against him were dropped in 2010, court records show.

Because charges were drop in the prior case, Nicholas would not qualify as a repeat drug offender subject to recidivist sentencing enhancements. But I cannot help but wonder why and how prior federal drug distribution charges were dropped against him, while also thinking somebody else might get labelled a serious drug offender with this kind of history without Nicholas's legal good fortunes so far.

August 14, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Highlighting how many states have the death penalty in the books without an active execution chamber

John Gramlich at Pew Research Center has this new FactTank piece headlined "11 states that have the death penalty haven’t used it in more than a decade." Here are excerpts (with a few facts highlighted):

Tennessee carried out its first execution since 2009 this month and Nebraska soon may carry out its first since 1997.  The two states underscore the fact that while a majority of jurisdictions in the United States have capital punishment on the books, a considerably smaller number of them use it regularly.

Overall, 31 states, the federal government and the U.S. military authorize the death penalty, while 19 states and the District of Columbia do not, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an information clearinghouse that has been critical of capital punishment.  But 11 of the states that allow executions — along with the federal government and the U.S. military — haven’t had one in at least a decade.

Nebraska, in fact, is among seven states that have the death penalty but haven’t carried out an execution in at least 15 years. New Hampshire hasn’t executed an inmate since 1939; the other states in this category are Kansas (last execution in 1965), Wyoming (1992), Colorado and Oregon (both 1997), and Pennsylvania (1999).  Executions have occurred somewhat more recently — though still more than a decade ago — in California, Montana, Nevada and North Carolina (all in 2006).

The last federal execution also took place more than 15 years ago, in March 2003.  While the U.S. military retains its own authority to carry out executions, it hasn’t done so since 1961.

All 11 states that have the death penalty but haven’t used it in at least a decade have inmates on death row, as do the federal government and U.S. military.  The size of these death row populations ranges from just one inmate each in New Hampshire and Wyoming to 744 in California, which has by far the largest death row in the nation.

California’s death row has grown by nearly 100 inmates, or 15%, since January 2006, when it carried out its last execution, and by nearly 30% since 2000, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which tracks death row populations for all states.  The increase reflects the fact that California juries have continued to sentence convicted defendants to death even as executions themselves have been on hold in recent years amid legal and political disputes....

The federal government’s death row has also grown substantially since the last federal execution.  There are currently 63 federal inmates sentenced to death, up from 26 in January 2003 (just before the federal government’s most recent execution).

I have highlighted the federal piece of this notable story of execution desuetude because I had thought that Prez Donald Trump and AG Jeff Sessions might seriously try to make America execute again.  But I have not seen any effort or even any discussion by federal officials to have any federal death sentences actually carried out.  As I have noted before, this Death Penalty Information Center list of federal death row prisoners reveals that some sentenced to death have been languishing on death row for a full quarter-century and a number of others have been that for at least two decades.  Because I doubt that Prez Trump and AG Sessions are secret abolitionists, I suspect that there is something going on behind the scenes that is keeping federal justice delayed.  But I still find it notable and a bit curious that the federal death penalty still now does not really exist, practically speaking.

August 14, 2018 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 13, 2018

"Algorithmic Risk Assessments and the Double-Edged Sword of Youth"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Megan Stevenson and Christopher Slobogin now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

At sentencing, youth can be considered both a mitigating circumstance because of its association with diminished culpability and an aggravating circumstance because of its association with crime-risk.  In theory, judges and parole boards can recognize this double-edged sword phenomenon and balance the mitigating and aggravating effects of youth. But when sentencing authorities rely on algorithmic risk assessments, a practice that is becoming increasingly common, this balancing process may never take place.

Algorithmic risk assessments often place heavy weights on age in a manner that is not fully transparent -- or, in the case of proprietary “black-box” algorithms, not transparent at all.  For instance, our analysis of one of the leading black-box tools, the COMPAS Violent Recidivism Risk Score, shows that roughly 60% of the risk score it produces is attributable to age.  We argue that this type of fact must be disclosed to sentencing authorities in an easily-interpretable manner so that they understand the role an offender’s age plays in the risk calculation.  Failing to reveal that a stigmatic label such as “high risk of violent crime” is due primarily to a defendant’s young age could lead to improper condemnation of a youthful offender, especially given the close association between risk labels and perceptions of character and moral blameworthiness.

August 13, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Big new Third Circuit opinion sorts through various post-Johnson habeas ACCA headaches

A helpful readers alerted me to a lengthy opinion handed down this morning by a Third Circuit panel in US v. Peppers, No. 17-1029 (3d Cir. Aug. 13, 2018) (available here).  I suspect only hard-core Johnson-habeas-ACCA fans will read all 48 pages of this notable ruling, and its introduction helpfully summarizes what is to be found within:

Ronnie Peppers was sentenced in 2003 to fifteen years of imprisonment for being a felon in possession of a firearm.  That was the mandatory minimum under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“the ACCA” or “the Act”), and the District Court imposed it because of Peppers’s previous convictions.  Peppers now challenges that sentence as unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), which invalidated a clause of the ACCA – the “residual clause” – as unconstitutionally vague.  He argued in District Court in a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 that he was impermissibly sentenced under that invalid clause.  But that § 2255 motion was not his first, and § 2255 itself, through subsection (h), places limits on any effort to file a second or successive collateral attack on a criminal judgment.  The District Court denied Peppers’s second § 2255 motion after determining that his prior convictions remained predicate offenses for ACCA purposes because they are covered by portions of the Act that survived Johnson.  Because we disagree with the District Court’s conclusions, we will vacate its decision and remand the case for further proceedings.

Five holdings lead to our remand.  First, the jurisdictional gatekeeping inquiry for second or successive § 2255 motions based on Johnson requires only that a defendant prove he might have been sentenced under the now-unconstitutional residual clause of the ACCA, not that he was in fact sentenced under that clause.  Second, a guilty plea pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C) does not preclude a defendant from collaterally attacking his sentence in a § 2255 motion, if his sentence would be unlawful once he proved that the ACCA no longer applies to him in light of Johnson.  Third, a defendant seeking a sentence correction in a second or successive § 2255 motion based on Johnson, and who has used Johnson to satisfy the gatekeeping requirements of § 2255(h), may rely on postsentencing cases (i.e., the current state of the law) to support his Johnson claim.  Fourth, Peppers’s robbery convictions, both under Pennsylvania’s robbery statute, are not categorically violent felonies under the ACCA, and, consequently, it was error to treat them as such.  Fifth and finally, Peppers failed to meet his burden of proving his Johnson claim with respect to his Pennsylvania burglary conviction.  We will therefore vacate the District Court’s order and remand for an analysis of whether the error that affected Peppers’s sentence, i.e., the error of treating the robbery convictions as predicate offenses under the ACCA, was harmless in light of his other prior convictions.

August 13, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spotlighting challenges surrounding an Eighth Amendment jurisprudence defining adulthood at 18

Beth Schwartzapfel has this effective new Marshall Project piece on the Supreme Court's recent juvenile sentencing jurisprudence under the headline "The Right Age to Die?: For some, science is outpacing the High Court on juveniles and the death penalty." Here are excerpts:

When 15-year-old Luis Cruz joined the Latin Kings in 1991, he was a child by almost any measure: he couldn’t legally drive, drop out of school, or buy a beer.  But was he still a child a few years later when — just months after he turned 18 — he murdered two people on the orders of gang leaders?

Earlier this year, a federal judge in Connecticut said yes.  The judge decided that a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that forbade mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles should apply to 18-year-olds like Cruz, and granted his request to be resentenced.  It’s one of a small but growing number of cases in which courts are grappling with what to do with young adults who commit the most serious crimes....

When it comes to the most extreme punishments, the Supreme Court has ruled so far that 18 is a “bright line.”  If you’re under 18 at the time of your crime, you can’t be executed.  You also can’t be sentenced to life without parole without a hearing to consider your maturity level.  But the high court has never extended those protections past age 18.

“The qualities that distinguish juveniles from adults do not disappear when an individual turns 18,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Roper v. Simmons, the first of four modern cases in which the court has laid out its thinking on these issues.  “However, a line must be drawn.”  The high court has not revisited that line since Roper was decided in 2005. But state and lower federal courts have begun to consider whether people between the ages of 18 and 21 — the period psychologists now call “late adolescence” — should have the same kind of special consideration that younger teenagers get before they face sentencing for murder.

The Roper case was decided at a time when researchers had recently begun imaging adolescents’ brains.  Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI — like the technology doctors use to look inside the brain for tumors or strokes — researchers were able to observe how young people’s brains responded to various situations.... But it wasn’t until recently that scientists began to research what happens to the brain in late adolescence and young adulthood, says Laurence Steinberg, a leading researcher into adolescent development who helped write the American Psychological Association’s briefs before the Supreme Court and who has testified in many of the more recent lower court cases. And when they did, they found that those same youthful qualities seem to persist until the early- to mid-20s.

In one recent study, Steinberg and his colleagues gave a series of tests to more than 5,000 children and young adults across 11 countries.  They found that the impulse to chase thrills and look for immediate gratification peaks around age 19 and declines into the 20s.  Steinberg describes this system of the brain like the gas pedal in a car.  The “brake” system — the ability to plan ahead and consider consequences — takes longer to catch up: it isn’t generally fully mature until the 20s.  Steinberg says if he had to draw a new bright line, he would draw it at 21.

“Knowing what we know now, one could’ve made the very same arguments about 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds that were made about 16- and 17-year-olds in Roper,” he testified in a recent Kentucky case.In that Kentucky case, a judge found the state’s death penalty statute unconstitutional because it allows people who were under 21 at the time of their crime to be executed. “If the science in 2005 mandated the ruling in Roper, the science in 2017 mandates this ruling,” he wrote.  A Pennsylvania court last year considered an appeal from a woman who was sentenced to mandatory life without parole after serving as a lookout, at 18, during a botched robbery that ended in murder.  The court rejected the appeal on technical grounds, but called 18 an “arbitrary legal age of maturity” and said an “honest reading” of the Supreme Court’s ruling would require courts to reconsider it....

Justice Kennedy, who was often the Supreme Court’s swing vote in close cases and who voted in favor of all four of the court’s major rulings extending these protections to juveniles under 18, retired this summer.  The court is widely expected to tack right when President Donald Trump’s pick assumes Kennedy’s seat.  In light of that, opponents of juvenile life without parole are aiming to keep these cases in lower courts for now, said Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center, which has submitted briefs in support of many of these defendants.  They’re not likely to get a friendly hearing on the question of whether 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are less culpable than adults from the newly composed high court, Levick said.

In the meantime, Steinberg, the psychologist, says he has been hired by the attorneys for Nikolas Cruz, who faces the death penalty as the accused gunman in February’s Parkland school shooting in Florida.  Cruz was 19 when he allegedly killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Steinberg “struggled about this a lot,” he said.  But in the end “it’s really hard logically to say, ‘People your age are too immature to be sentenced to death, unless you do something really, really bad.’”

August 13, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 12, 2018

While I was on road, did others notice that we "stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism"?

The question in this title of this post is my somewhat tongue-in-check reaction after getting a chance to finally read Justice Sotomayor's remarkable dissent from the denial of the application for stay in Irick v. Tennessee handed down last week.  This dissent, which assailed the Court's refusal to stay an execution that Tennessee carried out this past Thursday, concluded this way:

In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis.  I cannot in good conscience join in this “rush to execute” without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result. No. M1987–00131–SC–DPE–DD (Lee, J., dissenting), at 1.  If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism. I dissent.

Because no other justice joined this dissent and Irick's execution did in fact go forward around at 7:30 p.m. CDT on Thursday, August 9, 2018, it seems that last Thursday night according to Justice Sotomayor we "stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism." And, notably, this local report on Irick's execution (and the crime that prompted it) reports that the execution was not completed smoothly:

The execution began later than scheduled. The blinds to the execution room lifted at 7:26 p.m., 16 minutes later than expected. Irick, with nearly shoulder-length hair, a scraggly beard and dressed in a white prison jumpsuit and black socks, was coughing, choking and gasping for air. His face turned dark purple as the lethal drugs took over.

August 12, 2018 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Rounding up a few notable recent commentaries

Will I was on the road last week, I saw a lot of interesting commentaries that I might have blogged had I had regular internet access. Instead, now that I am back on-line, I will be content with this round-up of commentary headlines and links:

David Eads, "Too Many Politicians Misuse and Abuse Crime Data"

Craig DeRoche, "The Church Should Push Federal Criminal Justice Reform Bill to the Finish Line"

Tim Head, "FIRST STEP Act is smart legislation — perfect for prison reform"

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, "The next step in criminal justice reform is fewer laws"

Bruce Western, "Violent offenders, often victims themselves, need more compassion and less punishment"

August 12, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0)

FAMM provides detailed review of SRCA sentencing provisions most likely to be added to FIRST STEP Act

As noted in this recent post, the latest buzz from inside the Beltway is that four sentencing reform provisions from the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act might get added to the FIRST STEP Act in the Senate to produce a final federal criminal justice reform bill that will finally get voted on in both houses of Congress. Helpfully, the folks at FAMM have produced this extended document reviewing which SRCA sentencing provisions are seemingly in play.  The document is styled as a memo to Congress members and staff under the heading "Facts sheets explaining potential sentencing additions to FIRST STEP Act."  Here is part of its introduction:

In May, the U.S. House passed the FIRST STEP Act (H.R. 5682) by a vote of 360 to 59. Some Senate leaders have argued that any criminal justice reform bill considered by the Senate must include sentencing reform. Earlier this month, President Trump expressed a willingness to consider adding four sentencing reform provisions to the FIRST STEP Act.

As Members of Congress consider adding some commonsense sentencing provisions from the Senate Judiciary Committee-approved Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA, S. 1917), we thought it would be useful to provide some background on the four sentencing provisions under consideration. In the four factsheets that follow, we explain the problem that current sentencing law is creating, provide an example of how it is harming real people, share the proposed reform found in SRCA, and relay the potential financial impact based on studies conducted by the Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Sentencing Commission. We recognize that the reforms included in SRCA might change during negotiations and that the impact of these reforms will change accordingly.

For those interested in a detailed (pro-reform) accounting of what sentencing reform provisions now seem to have a real chance of passage, this FAMM document is very much worth checking out. Also, here is a list of just some of the (too) many prior posts I have done about the policy and political debates over federal reforms just this year:

August 12, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)