Thursday, March 12, 2009

Split Fourth Circuit ruling upholding above-guideline sentence shows another circuit struggling with reasonableness review

The Fourth Circuit today through its decision in US v. Heath, No. 07-4715 (4th Cir. March 12, 2009) (available here), provides yet another example (like yesterday's opinions from the Ninth Circuit) of circuit judges struggling to give meaning and content to substantive reasonableness review after Gall.  Here is how the majority opinion in Heath starts:

Toby Franklin Heath pleaded guilty to interfering with commerce by robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 1951 (West 2000) ("Count One"), and possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 922(g)(1) (West 2000 & Supp. 2007) ("Count Two").  The district court sentenced him to a 240-month prison term for Count One, approximately double the Guidelines’ advisory range of 100-125 months, and a concurrent 120-month prison term for Count Two.  On appeal, Heath argues that the district court failed to adequately explain its reasons for making the upward departure in Count One. We placed Heath’s case in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Gall v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 586 (2007) and now affirm.

Here is are some passages from Judge Gregory's dissent that show the basic struggle these reasonableness cases are presenting in the wake of Gall:

I have already expounded upon my views of Gall in United States v. Evans, 526 F.3d 155, 167 (4th Cir. 2008) (Gregory, J., concurring).  But the facts of this case compel me to reiterate my position that substantive reasonableness must encompass more than the rote recitation of § 3553(a) factors that the Court has condoned in numerous post-Gall cases, and which it continues to condone today....

The district court failed to articulate a sufficient justification for imposing the statutory maximum upon Heath, and my independent review of the record finds it similarly devoid of any such justification. Therefore, I believe Heath’s sentence to be both procedurally and substantively unreasonable, respectively.... The rigor with which we assessed reasonableness in finding a floor for downward departures must necessarily be applied in finding a ceiling for upward departures. Therefore, given the record in this case, I must conclude that if Heath’s circumstances are so compelling as to warrant a 92% upward departure to the statutory maximum, it is difficult to imagine any meaningful limit on the discretion of the district court.

Admittedly, the Supreme Court has not provided us with further guidance on these undoubtedly important sentencing issues. But a close reading of Gall reveals careful distinctions that logic and justice cannot ignore — yet, the majority does so today.  With all due respect to my colleagues, I cannot join their opinion.  Therefore, I dissent.

March 12, 2009 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Another reminder of the crime dog that did not bark in the 2008 election season

Since one senate race was only decided last night and another one remains unresolved, this commentary I just noted on SSRN still is timely.  The piece is by Professor Stephen Saltzburg from the Summer 2008 issue of the ABA's Criminal Justice magaine, and it is titled "Where is Criminal Justice in this Presidential Year?".  Here is the abstract:

This article notes that throughout the presidential campaigns there has been little emphasis on criminal justice and few serious proposals by candidates for changing or improving the way in which the federal government enforces criminal law.  There has been little discussion about the respective roles that the federal government and the states should play in law enforcement.  The author calls for the next president to convene an inclusive national congress on criminal justice. He encourages the president to bring together prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, legislators, law enforcement, correctional officials, probation and parole officers, academics, victims advocacy groups, other public interest organizations, and ordinary citizens to reexamine and establish our criminal justice priorities, to propose reforms that will identify more clearly those whose criminal acts warrant long prison sentences and those who are better served by treatment.

December 3, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Friday's news full of mixed blessings for Senator Ted Stevens

As detailed in this local news report, Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens got some bad political news on Friday when more vote counting put him further behind in his race with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.  However, there are tens of thousands of ballots still to be counted before Senator Stevens must give up hope of having been returned by Alaskan voters to the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, as detailed in this blog post, Alaska's Senator Ted Stevens got some good sentencing news on Friday when a split DC Circuit panel affirmed a below-guideline sentence of probation for a tax cheat.  Though there are many sentencing questions that will need to be addressed before I am prepared to predict Stevens' sentencing fate, the DC Circuit's ruling in Gardellini ensures that Stevens' lawyers will be able to effectively advocate against any prison term for the "Alaskan of the Century" (that's last century, I believe).

Some recent related Stevens posts:

November 16, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress"

The title of this post in the title of a new report I just learned about through an e-mail with the text of this press release:

A coalition of more than 20 organizations and individuals is pleased to announce the publication of a catalogue of key criminal justice issues and policy recommendations for the next administration and congress.

Virginia Sloan, President of the Constitution Project, which coordinated the coalition's efforts, said: "'Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress'reflects the ongoing, collaborative efforts of a coalition of more than twenty leading organizations and individuals to provide policymakers with a framework for addressing criminal justice issues. The catalogue includes recommendations drawn from the shared knowledge and experience of a broad coalition of groups devoted to improving our criminal justice system."

The catalogue identifies 43 criminal justice priorities in 15 issue areas, makes recommendations for congressional and executive action, and provides in-depth background information on a broad array of subjects. It also includes lists of issue-based resources and experts.

The catalogue is available online at http://constitutionproject.org/....

The report contains the following chapters:

1.Overcriminalization of Conduct, Overfederalization of Criminal Law, and the Exercise of Enforcement Discretion

2. Federal Law Enforcement Reform - Improve Investigative Techniques, Including Eyewitness Identification, Incentives to Testify, and Interrogation

3. Forensic Science Reform -- Federal Oversight and Standards

4. Federal Grand Jury Reform

5. Federal Sentencing Reform

6. Asset Forfeiture Reform

7. Innocence Issues

8. Prison Reform

9. Pardon Power/Executive Clemency -- Breathe New Life into the Pardon Power

10. Re-entry -- Ensure Successful Reintegration After Incarceration

11. Public Defense Reforms-Make our Communities Safer by Supporting Quality Public Defense System

12. Death Penalty/Habeas Corpus Reform

13. Juvenile Justice Reforms

14. Fixing Medellin: Compliance with International Law and Protecting Consular Access

15. Victim Issues and Restorative Justice

Because the report runs 263 pages(!), I fear it might be too much of a good thing.  But I am looking forward to reading it all the same.

November 6, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Updates on drug policy and crime-related state initiatives

This news report from Join Together provides an effective review of all the drug policy state initiatives that were considered by voters yesterday.  Here is how the review begins:

California voters yesterday soundly defeated closely-watched Proposition 5 and another drug-related initiative, while Massachusetts and Michigan passed marijuana-related measures by wide margins.  Voters in Maine, Oregon, and North Dakota also weighed on in statewide ballot issues related to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

In other initiative news, this AP reportindicates that voters in San Francisco rejected Proposition K, which would have barred local authorities from investigating, arresting or prosecuting anyone for prostitution.

Also, at C&C, Kent provides this opinionated update on Califorina-specific crime-related initiatives:

With 95% of precincts reporting, it appears that Proposition 9, the crime victims' rights initiative, has passed by a 6% margin.  On the same ballot, the Soros-backed Proposition 5 was rejected by a whopping 20% margin.... Proposition 6 was also defeated by a large margin, probably reflecting a distaste for ballot-box budgeting at a time of fiscal crisis....  Confirming that San Francisco is not entirely devoid of common sense, the hooker proposition lost by 16 points.

November 5, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Are we on the verge of a new changed era concerning federal sentencing law and policy?

Yes I hope.  I may be naive in thinking that the historic election results mark a significant turning point in the politics of crime and punishment, but I cannot help but be more hopeful as we begin a new era of leadership in the executive branch of the federal government.

As evidenced by a post titled Jan 21, 2009: crimlaw issues at Capital Defense Weekly, I am not alone at looking forward to a new criminal justice political universe.  But, as a famous lawyer from Harvard once noted, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."  Only time will tell what we can expect in this coming new era.

Some related posts:

November 5, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

VOTE, VOTe, VOte, Vote, vote, votE, voTE, vOTE, VOTE...

or you have much less moral authority for complaining about the nature and direction of American laws and society!!

In my sleepy little Ohio hamlet, I had to wait in line for nearly an hour to cast my vote on a touch-screen machine.  (This wait was about 10 times longer than it has ever taken me to vote, and I am actually proud and excited that I finally got to stand in a line to vote.)

I have done lots and lots and lots of sentencing-related election blogging, but typepad's lousy new archive technology means that only the most recent posts can be found in the archive Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues.  In any event, here are links to some major posts I have done on issues that remain lively this election day:

November 4, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Creating a (merit-based?) circuit court short list for the Prez candidates

In the closing days of the Presidential campaign lots of attention has been given to judicial appointments, including possible appointments to the circuit courts as well as to the Supreme Court.  (Recent examples come from Politico and the National Review and the National Law Journal.)  Though many have speculated about Supreme Court nominee short lists, I have not seen much buzz on exactly who could be on short lists for nominations to the federal circuit courts.

Of course, the results on Election Day and other national and local political forces will have a profound impact on who gets considered and nominated for openings on the US Courts of Appeals.  And, if the Senate has nearly 60 Democrats, a President McCain would have to make bipartisan nominations, while a President Obama would not have to (but still might) worry about Republican opposition to his choices.  But, even before this week's election results, perhaps we should start assembling a list of potential talent whom, based on substantive abilities, should be seriously considered for an appointment to the federal circuit courts in a new administration.

As a sentencing nut, my own short/wish list of potential circuit court nominees is comprised mostly of federal district judges and state court judges who have written thoughtful sentencing and criminal justice opinions.  Moreover, I genuinely hope that the next president, whomever he may be, will consider nominating to the circuit courts thoughtful federal district and state judges aligned with both political parties.  Especially in the arena of sentencing law, I believe perspective matters a lot more than politics.  More generally, I have long thought that the work of federal circuit courts benefit from having smart and dedicated judges coming from a lot of diverse legal and social perspectives.

So, dear readers, I hope you will use the comments to help the candidates start putting together a circuit court short list. 

Some related SCOTUS short-list posts (both recent and distant):

November 2, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Another notable criminal justice ballot proposition to watch in San Francisco

This New York Times article, headlined "San Francisco’s Prostitutes Support a Proposition," provides a thoughtful review of another ballot initiative dealing with an interesting set of criminal justice issues.  Here are excerpts:

When Proposition K was added to Tuesday’s ballot, many people likely snickered at the possibility that San Francisco might take its place alongside such prostitute-friendly havens as Amsterdam and a few rural counties in nearby Nevada.

But this week, it became readily apparent that city officials are not laughing anymore about the measure, which would effectively decriminalize the world’s oldest profession in San Francisco. At a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Gavin Newsom and other opponents seemed genuinely worried that Proposition K might pass....

Supporters of the measure say it is a long-overdue correction of a criminal approach toward prostitutes, which neither rehabilitates nor helps them, and often ignores their complaints of abuse....

The language in Proposition K is far-reaching. It would forbid the city police from using any resources to investigate or prosecute people who engage in prostitution. It would also bar financing for a “first offender” program for prostitutes and their clients or for mandatory “re-education programs.”

One of the measure’s broadest prohibitions would prevent the city from applying for federal or state grants that use “racial profiling” in anti-prostitution efforts, an apparent reference to raids seeking illegal immigrants....

Supporters of the measure accuse the city of profiting from prostitution through fines. They also imply that laws against prostitution are inherently racist because minorities are disproportionately arrested. Proposition K, they say, will increase safety for women, save taxpayer money, and cut down on the number of murders of prostitutes at the hands of serial killers....

Anti-Proposition K forces paint grim pictures of girls and women from across the country held against their will in dark and dangerous brothels here, forced into unsafe sexual behavior, and often beaten, intimidated and raped....

The measure seems particularly abhorrent to San Francisco’s district attorney, Kamala D. Harris, who has made fighting human trafficking a priority. “I think it’s completely ridiculous, just in case there’s any ambiguity about my position,” Ms. Harris said. “It would put a welcome mat out for pimps and prostitutes to come on into San Francisco.”

Central to Ms. Harris’s objections is the theory that prostitution is a victimless crime. Instead, she said, it exposes prostitutes to drug, gun and sexual crimes, and “compromises the quality of life in a community.” She also dismisses the argument that prostitutes would be more likely to come forward if their business were not illegal.

Some recent related posts:

November 2, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 01, 2008

"If Elected ... Criminal Justice"

I just noticed this installment of the New York Times series "If Elected," which is focused on criminal justice issues.  Here are excerpts:

As an Illinois legislator for seven years, Senator Barack Obama sponsored more than 100 bills on crime, corrections and the death penalty, making criminal justice one of his top priorities as a state lawmaker.

In his nearly three decades in Washington, Senator John McCain has had a reputation for taking strong law-and-order stances.

But compared with many past presidential elections, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have paid little attention to issues of criminal justice as they compete for the White House. The change is a reflection, experts say, of 15 years of declining crime rates, an electorate less anxious about public safety and the fact that crime and law enforcement issues are less partisan than they used to be....

In a speech before the National Sheriffs’ Association this year, Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, called for tougher punishment for violent offenders and appeared to disagree with Mr. Obama’s contention that the prison population is too high.... Mr. McCain also favors tougher sentences for illegal immigrants who commit crimes and more federal money to help local agencies detain them.

Both candidates supported the Second Chance Act of 2007, which provides money for job training and for drug counseling and other re-entry programs....

As a state lawmaker, Mr. Obama supported changes to the death penalty, including a bill that let judges reject a death sentence for someone convicted on the sole basis of an informant’s testimony. He also opposed a measure that would have applied the death penalty for gang-related murders because he feared that the law would be applied unevenly....

Since being elected to the United States Senate in 2004, Mr. Obama has helped sponsor legislation intended to reduce the disparity in prison sentences for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine because of his concern that existing laws unfairly discriminate against ethnic minorities.

He has also said he would instruct the Justice Department — particularly the Civil Rights Division — to change mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, create loan-forgiveness programs for law students who become public defenders, and increase the number of police officers nationally.

Some related posts:

November 1, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sentencing and drug policy reform initiatives to watch on Election Day

The Drug War Chronicle has this fantastic new feature article, headlined "Drug Policy Reform and Sentencing Initiatives on the November Ballot."  The article provides an effective review of all the big and little ballot initiative that sentencing fans should keep an eye on as this election season (finally) approaches its end.  Here are excerpts from the start pf the article:

Not only are there a number of state-level initiatives dealing with marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana, and sentencing reform (or its opposite), there are also a handful of initiatives at the county or municipal level. But after a spate of drug reform initiatives beginning in the mid-1990s and continuing into the beginning of this decade, the pace has slowed this year. Of the 139 statewide initiatives identified by the Initiative and Referendum Institute as making the ballot this year, only seven have anything to do with drug reform, and four of those seek to increase sentences for various drug offenses.

Drug reformers have had an impressive run, especially with medical marijuana efforts, winning in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, and losing only in conservative South Dakota. Reformers also scored an impressive coup with California's "treatment not jail" initiative, Proposition 36, in 2002. At the municipal level, initiatives making adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority have won in cities across California; as well as Denver; Seattle; Missoula County, Montana; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Hailey, Idaho. Detroit and several smaller Michigan cities have also approved municipal medical marijuana initiatives.

One reason for the slow-down in reformers' resort to the initiative process is that, as Marijuana Policy Project assistant communications director Dan Bernath put it, "We've already grabbed all the low-hanging fruit."...  "Only half the states have initiatives, so there are only so many places where reformers can push them," he said. "And it is an expensive process that is often complicated. On the other hand, you don't have to rely on timid politicians. The voters are often way out in front of politicians on marijuana reform initiatives, and with an initiative, you don't have to worry about those timid politicians tinkering with your legislation and taking all the teeth out of it," Bernath noted. "As a general rule, I think most reformers would prefer to see something passed by the voters, that gives it a lot of legitimacy."

And that's just what reformers are trying to do with medical marijuana in Michigan and marijuana decriminalization in Massachusetts this year, both of which appear poised to pass.  Likewise, in California, reformers are seeking to expand and deepen Prop. 36, but they also face a pair of sentencing initiatives aimed at harsher treatment of drug offenders.  And next door in Oregon, anti-crime crusaders also have a pair of initiatives aimed at punishing drug offenders -- among others.

Some recent related posts:

October 31, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, October 27, 2008

New op-ed from Senator McCain talking about DOJ and judges

A helpful reader passed along this new op-ed authored by Senator John McCain in which he discusses the future of the Department of Justice and judicial appointments.  Here are snippets that might especially intrigue (and annoy) sentencing fans:

Lax enforcement policies, judges who legislate from the bench and lack of support for law enforcement personnel all continue to force our innocent citizens behind the barred windows of their homes and allow criminals to roam free.

And now drugs are bringing waves of crime and organized gang activity to rural areas thought to be nearly immune from such problems.  The federal government must both support state and local law enforcement and effectively enforce federal laws designed to root out violent crime, organized gangs and other interstate criminal activity.

None of these law enforcement efforts will succeed without a judiciary that understands its proper role and its proper mission.  Senator Obama would appoint liberal activist judges and supply them with greater sentencing discretion.  I will appoint judges who will strictly interpret our Constitution. Senator Obama's judges would coddle criminals.  I will appoint judges who will hold criminals accountable.

If allowed a follow-up question, I would ask how the Supreme Court's Heller Second Amendment ruling fits into all of this rhetoric.  Judges Posner and Wilkinson have described Heller as an example of legislating from the bench, and I believe that local DC police supported the gun ban struck down in Heller.

In addition, I am wondering exactly why John McCain believes that "Obama's judges would coddle criminals," given that most of the major pro-criminal rulings in recent years were authored by Supreme Court justices appointed by Ronald Reagan.  Justice Antonin Scalia coddled a brutal wife-beater with his decision in Blakely and an attempted murderer with his decision in Crawford; Justice Anthony Kennedy coddled a child rapist with his decision in the Kennedy child rape case and coddled a juve killer with his decision in Roper. 

Some related posts:

October 27, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Noticing the new ex-felon voting block

This Los Angeles Times article spotlights a notable new voting block: former felons who have regained the right to vote.  Here are snippets from the article:

At least a dozen states have changed their laws since 2003 to allow more felons who are no longer in prison to cast ballots, reversing a long-standing trend.  And though studies show that felons lean Democratic, states led by Republican governors have loosened their voting rules, including Alabama, Nebraska, Nevada and Florida -- where officials have learned from the 2000 presidential race just how close an election can be.

States restored voting rights to about 760,000 felons in the last decade, according to tallies by voting rights groups, but data on how many have registered to cast ballots are sketchy.  Whether these voters could tip an election in a presidential swing state is a matter of speculation.

But the new laws have produced aggressive registration drives this election season in the most unconventional of places -- soup kitchens, halfway houses, even Alabama state prisons.  "This is the first time in history that some of these places have ever seen this kind of civic activity," said the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, who served time in prison.  He now heads an Alabama nonprofit faith-based organization and has led efforts to register the state's current and former convicts....

In some states, voting rights activists have been joined by evangelical Christian groups who argue that forgiveness plays an important role in rehabilitating criminals.  "We try to challenge the conservatives," said Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship, a conservative Christian justice reform group founded by Charles Colson, the former Nixon administration aide who was convicted of Watergate-related crimes.  Nolan is a former state assemblyman from Glendale who served time in federal prison for racketeering.  "Why, after someone has paid their debt, do we continue to punish them?"

According to advocacy groups, about 5.3 million Americans, or 1 in 41 adults, have lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction.

October 27, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rudy Giuliani doing robocalls accusing Senator Obama of being soft on crime

Earlier this month there were reports that Senator McCain was going to resort to old-school "soft-on-crime" attacks as part of his strategy to get back his mojo in the final month of the 2008 campaign.  Thanks to reporting by Politico, we now are starting to see the specifics of the Big Mac attack on the crime front. 

First, as detailed here and here, the Republican Party of Florida has paid for a flier that alleges in various ways that Senator Obama would be soft on crime.  And now, as reported here and here, everyone's old pal and favorite mayor is getting into the act: "Rudy Giuliani is portraying Barack Obama as soft on crime in robocalls being blasted out to swing states by the RNC and the McCain campaign."

You can here this new robocall at this link, and here is the heart of Rudy's message to voters:

Hi, this is Rudy Giuliani, and I'm calling for John McCain and the Republican National Committee because you need to know that Barack Obama opposes mandatory prison sentences for sex offenders, drug dealers, and murderers.

It's true, I read Obama's words myself. And recently, Congressional liberals introduced a bill to eliminate mandatory prison sentences for violent criminals -- trying to give liberal judges the power to decide whether criminals are sent to jail or set free.  With priorities like these, we just can't trust the inexperience and judgment of Barack Obama and his liberal allies.

Candidly, I am not especially surprised that Senator McCain is playing this old-school "soft-on-crime" card in an effort to make up ground in the polls.  Indeed, I am a bit surprised that it took the McCain camp this long to try to beat up Senator Obama for putting responsible policy-positions ahead of inflammatory rhetoric in the sentencing arena.

Some related posts:

October 22, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A last chance for a debate to bring up crime and punishment issues

Everyone is suggesting that tonight's Presidential debate will look and feel a lot different than what has come before.  I hope so, in part because a very different debate might lead finally to some national discussion of national crime and justice issues.  I am not expecting any serious criminal justice talk tonight, but just maybe we will hear some mention of the death penalty or the Second Amendment or mass incarceration or federal drug sentences.  I will be watching, just in case.

Some related posts:

October 15, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 12, 2008

California's confusing efforts to do criminal justice by initiative

With only weeks until election day, I found interesting this article from the Sacramento Bee, headlined "Justice issues collide on ballot."  As the article explains, a set of diverse criminal justice issues are coming directly before California voters this fall.  Here is how the article starts:

Law and order activists, critics of California's drug laws and victims rights groups independently have loaded three separate crime measures onto the Nov. 4 ballot, and they're not making it easy for state voters to sort them out.

Together, Propositions 5, 6 and 9 cover 115 pages, would change scores of laws and would affect billions of dollars in state spending.

"My mom asked me if I have positions on all of them, and I told her I'm still working on it," said Assembly Public Safety Committee chairman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, who presided over nine hours of hearings on the measures. "There's a lot to digest."

On Nov. 4, voters will decide whether to drastically change the way the state prosecutes drug addicts and the lower-level property crimes they commit, to the tune of diverting an estimated 18,000 offenders from prison into treatment programs. That's the basic thrust of Proposition 5.

They're also being asked to give local law enforcement more money, protect what funds they already get, and toughen laws aimed at street gang members, methamphetamine cookers and serious ex-cons who possess guns in public. Those are the basics of Proposition 6.

The third measure seeks to put victims at or near the center of the entire criminal justice process and give them a constitutional right to participate in plea bargaining and parole decisions. It also wants to make life-term inmates wait 15 years between parole hearings, stop early inmate releases and have counties build tent jails to handle inmate overflow. That's Proposition 9.

October 12, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friday, October 10, 2008

Boston Globe noticing crime dogs not barking in 2008 campaign

Mcgruffscruff With all due respect to McGruff the Crime Dog (who has his own blog), I have been intrigued, somewhat amazed and consistently disappointed by how quiet the 2008 election season has been on issues of crime and punishment.  I am pleased to see that the Boston Globe, in this editorial headlined "Politically, crime doesn't pay," is also noticing that crime dogs are not barking this fall.  And the editorial has some interesting theories why:

Despite an overall drop in crime rates over the past decade, fear of crime remains a daily concern for residents in many American cities.  The candidates are giving short shrift to the issue by succumbing to their own fear of talking about crime.

Obama may be reluctant to draw attention to his hometown problems in Chicago, where murder and gun violence rates are up sharply.  McCain may see no political upside of the crime issue, either. He alienated the gun lobby again by supporting the rollback of the insidious Tiahrt amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement agencies to gain access to comprehensive federal gun tracing data as a means to identify rogue gun dealers....

Americans of all races are still waiting for a healthy debate on why black people are imprisoned at five times the rate of white people. Is it the breakdown of families, the failure of social and economic interventions, or racial bias on the part of police or prosecutors?  This subject deserves at least as much attention from the candidates as they give to "diplomacy without preconditions."

Each candidate still has some explaining to do.  Voters deserve to hear more about why McCain voted against bipartisan crime bills during the 1990s.  And Obama's position on the constitutionality of citywide bans on handguns remains murky, at best. The candidates seem only too happy to duck discussions about crime.  Neither, therefore, deserves commendation as an especially effective crime-fighter.

I concur that both Presidential candidates are happy to duck discussions about crime, but the media (both mainstream and non-traditional) are also responsible for failing to show any real interest or concern about these issues.  Moreover, it has been more than 20 years since either political party has shown a real interest at the federal level in having a truly "healthy debate" about crime and punishment.  Largely inconsequential distractions like the death penalty, the exact scope or federal judicial sentencing discretion, and US attorney firings make for great political theater and sound-bites, but it has been decades since persons in either the White House or Congress has shown a real interest in the hard work of figuring out how best to prevent and fight crime throughout the United States.

Some related posts:

October 10, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Could tonight's town hall debate finally bring up crime and punishment issues?

I am consistently disappointed whenever I start hoping the Presidential candidates will talk seriously about crime and punishment issues.  Nevertheless, my single-issue-blogger hope springs eternal, and perhaps the town hall setting for tonight's debate could help facilitate some discussion of the death penalty or the Second Amendment or mass incarceration or federal drug sentences.  But I am not holding my breath.

Interestingly, as detailed in this AP report and this official press release, the International Association of Chiefs of Police was recently able to get both candidates to responded to six written questions on "crime, terrorism and homeland security."  The Q&A can be accessed in this pdf from the October issue of Police Chief Magazine.  Here is how the AP summarized the answers:

Obama promised to restore funding to the popular Community Oriented Policing Services, commonly called COPS, and Byrne Justice Assistance grants, which local departments use to hire officers. These grants have seen significant cuts since the beginning of the Bush administration. Obama also said he would put in place "innovative" youth crime prevention programs and prisoner re-entry programs....

Republican John McCain also supports prison re-entry programs.  But he did not mention COPS or Byrne grants. Instead, he promised to "restore credibility" to the existing grant programs, get rid of earmarks and give funding to the communities that need it — a similar approach to what is being done in the current administration when distributing homeland security grants.  McCain would also work to improve the economy and unemployment rate as a way to reduce crime.

Some related posts:

UPDATE:  Yawn.... A series of rehashed points from stump speeches masquerading as a town hall discussion.  Another disappointing discussion that did not cover any new ground.  Oh well.

October 7, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A dollars and sense criticism of Senator Obama's crime-fighting plans

Writing over at Slate, Radley Balko has this very interesting critique of Senator Obama's latest campaign talk about crime and justice issues. The piece is titled "Bad Cop: Why Obama is getting criminal justice policy wrong," and here are snippets from the start of a strong piece that should be read in full:

When Sen. Barack Obama expressed concern early in the primary season that there are more young black men in prison than in college, he raised hope that he might be the first major-party candidate in a generation to adopt a more nuanced criminal policy than the typical "longer sentences, more prisons, more cops."...

But in the last month, Obama's line on criminal justice has been a lot less encouraging.  His running mate selection of Joe Biden, long one of the Senate's most strident crime hawks and staunchest drug warriors, was telling.  Since the vice-presidential pick, Obama and Biden have embraced criminal justice policies geared toward a larger federal presence in law enforcement, a trend that started in the Nixon administration and that has skewed local police priorities toward the slogan-based crime policies of Congress, like "more arrests" and "stop coddling criminals."

In particular, Biden and Obama have promised to beef up two federal grant programs critics say have exacerbated many of the very problems Obama expressed concern about earlier in the primaries.  Obama and Biden's position shows an unwillingness to think critically about criminal justice.  They are opting instead for the reflexive belief that more federal involvement is always preferable to less.

The rest of the commentary goes on to explain why putting more federal dollars into more local cops into more federal drug task forces may often prove to be more harmful than helpful (and always proves to be expensive).  Here is the key theme to Balko's analysis and his criticism of federal involvement in local criminal justice issues: "The main problem with federal block grants is that once they're issued, Congress can't monitor them to be sure they're spent properly."

In short, Balko highlights critical concerns that apply to all government activities: the importance of following the money and of demanding cost-benefit accountability and effectiveness.  Indeed, if we were to seriously follow the money and demand cost-benefit accountability and effectiveness throughout all aspects of our criminal justice systems, I think we would have a much more sound and sensible approach to all sorts of crimes and punishments.

Some related posts:

October 7, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, October 06, 2008

Is Senator McCain preparing to attack Senator Obama on crime issues?

Over at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder has this notable new post suggesting that old-school "soft-on-crime" attacks are part of Senator McCain's strategy to get back his mojo in the final month of the 2008 campaign:

This Tuesday's debate will determine whether there's any re-tightening in battleground states, with the McCain campaign conceding that if the election were to be held this Tuesday, Obama would win more than 300 electoral votes....

Here is the gameplan [for issues on which to attack Senator Obama]:...

2. Obama's record on crime.  "Far outside the mainstream."  Crime record -- far outside the mainstream...issues like gang violence and crack/powder retroactivity (which even the Bush admin supports but is not popular)...  Are they skating close to the race line here?  The McCain camp turns it around: since when is a black candidate given a free pass on these issues?

As regular readers know, I have been itching for crime and punishment to be a campaign issue for quite some time.  I am not especially surprised that the campaign of Senator McCain would return to classic line of attack on Democrats; indeed, I am surprised that this issue has not come up sooner.

Because there has been so little campaign talk about crime and punishment, it will be interesting to see how the McCain campaign will try to get this issue attention and also whether the media (both mainstream and online) will make up for lost time by giving the issue the coverage it merits.  Interestingly, I see that John McCain's website has this updated page on "Fighting Crime," but I do not yet see any new video focused on crime and punishment issues.

Some related posts:

October 6, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack