Friday, October 11, 2013

Record-long political corruption sentence for former mayor of Detroit

As reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Kwame M. Kilpatrick, Former Detroit Mayor, Sentenced to 28 Years in Corruption Case," a remarkable case of political corruption culminated yesterday in a remarkable federal sentence.  Here are excerpts from the press account of the sentencing:

Kwame M. Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit, stood before a federal judge on Thursday and apologized for putting the people of his city through a corruption scandal so vast that prosecutors say it helped accelerate Detroit’s march toward bankruptcy. “They’re hurting,” Mr. Kilpatrick said. “A great deal of that hurt I accept full responsibility for.”

They were solemn words from the formerly boisterous figure, a bear of a man at 6 feet 4 inches who many believed would lead Detroit out of its long economic downturn. But on Thursday he stood slouched, wearing a tan prison uniform instead of the flashy suits he once favored.  Court officers replaced the entourage of bodyguards that used to follow him around. The diamond that once studded his ear, an emblem of his reputation as the “hip-hop mayor,” was gone.

Then, declaring an end to the bribery and thieving that marked the Kilpatrick administration, Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of United States District Court imposed the sentence prosecutors had sought: 28 years in prison.

Mr. Kilpatrick, 43, was convicted in March of two dozen counts that included charges of racketeering and extortion, adding his name to a list of at least 18 city officials who have been convicted of corruption during his tenure. His punishment ranks among the harshest major state and local public corruption cases. Lawyers for Mr. Kilpatrick said that they intend to file an appeal of the convictions and sentence.

The hearing came at a sobering moment for the city he once led, which is now remaking itself in bankruptcy court as residents wrestle over whom to blame for the fiscal mess. For Detroiters, Mr. Kilpatrick’s meteoric fall — from potential savior of a struggling city to prison-bound symbol of financial mismanagement — may be the closest they will get to holding past leaders accountable for decades of disappointment and poor fiscal decisions....

In 2008, Mr. Kilpatrick resigned after he lied under oath during a police whistle-blower lawsuit and approved an $8.4 million settlement to try to cover it up. After pleading guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, Mr. Kilpatrick served four months in jail and was ordered to pay $1 million to the city. He was soon behind bars again for hiding assets from the court and telling a judge that he could afford to pay only $6 a month in restitution.

The former mayor and Bobby W. Ferguson, a city contractor and a friend, were indicted in 2010 on sweeping federal corruption charges. All told, prosecutors contend that Mr. Ferguson received $73 million worth of city contracts as a result of an extortion scheme that involved Mr. Kilpatrick, netting $9.6 million in illegal profit. Mr. Ferguson was convicted of nine counts and will be sentenced on Friday. “The amount of crime, it was astonishing and it had a huge impact on this city,” Mark Chutkow, one of the prosecutors, said as he left the courthouse on Thursday.

Mr. Kilpatrick’s lawyer, Harold Z. Gurewitz, who pushed for a sentence of no more than 15 years, argued in court that Mr. Kilpatrick was being unfairly targeted as a scapegoat for Detroit’s insolvency, with people trying to “send him out with the sins of the city over the last 50 years.” The sentence, he said in an interview later, was tougher than necessary and stiffer than some people get for violent crimes.

Among some of the highest penalties for recent public corruption convictions, James C. Dimora, former commissioner of Cuyahoga County in Ohio, was sentenced last year to 28 years in prison for racketeering and bribery. A year before, Rod R. Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for convictions that included trying to sell the Senate seat President Obama left open when he went to the White House.

In her ruling on Thursday, Judge Edmunds said her decision was another strong warning to elected officials. “That way of business is over,” she said. “We’re done. We’re moving forward.”

October 11, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bradley Manning gets 35 years from military judge for espionage convictions

As reported in this breaking news update from USA Today, "Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of espionage and other charges in connection with a massive leak of classified material." Here is more:

The judge in the case, Army Col. Denise Lind, announced the sentence in a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Md. He also received a dishonorable discharge, will forfeit his pay and benefits and was reduced in rank.

Manning faced a maximum of 90 years in prison after his conviction last month on charges of espionage, theft and fraud. Manning was convicted of the largest leak of classified material in U.S. history and was at the center of a growing debate over government secrecy.

Prosecutors urged the judge to sentence Manning to 60 years as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to leak secret documents. "He betrayed the United States, and for that betrayal, he deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in confinement," Capt. Joe Morrow had said during the sentencing hearing.

Manning's defense had urged the military to sentence Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, to no more than 25 years in prison....

The U.S. government said his actions jeopardized U.S. interests and exposed informants and sources to danger. Manning's defense painted him as a misguided idealist who opposed the war in Iraq. "He had pure intentions at the time that he committed his offenses," defense attorney David Coombs said during the sentencing hearing. "At that time, Pfc. Manning really, truly, genuinely believed that this information could make a difference."

Manning's defense attempted to "play up the human aspect" of Manning by highlighting mental health issues, said Phil Cave, a former military lawyer now in private practice. Defense witnesses testified about Manning's "gender-identity disorder," which contributed to the mental stress he was under....

Under military law, the sentence will be automatically appealed. He would probably be eligible for parole after he served one-third or 10 years of his sentence, whichever is longer.

I have blogged very little about this high-profile sentencing case in large part because I am very ignorant about US military sentencing law and procedure. For example, I did not realize that parole remained available for lengthy military sentences (given that federal civilian law eliminated parole from the sentencing system three decades ago), nor am I conversant on what formal rules or guidelines may have impacted the seemingly broad sentencing discretion of Army Col. Denise Lind or could still play a role in the automatic appeal provided by military law.

Both due to my basic ignorance and due to the high-profile nature of this case, I welcome both informed and uninformed opinions on this sentencing outcome. Do folks think 35 years in prison (with parole eligibility in less than 12 years when Manning will still be in his mid-30s) is a fair and effective sentence in this case? Why or why not?

August 21, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Both Jacksons get prison terms, Jackson Jr. to serve first"

The title of this post is the headline of this Chicago Tribune report on today's high-profile federal sentencing in DC.  Here are some of the details:

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced today to 30 months behind bars and his wife, Sandi, got a year in prison for separate felonies involving the misspending of about $750,000 in campaign funds.

In addition to the 2.5 years in prison, Jackson Jr. was sentenced to three years of supervised release. Sandi Jackson was ordered to serve 12 months of supervised release following her prison term.

The judge emphasized that Sandi Jackson was sentenced to exactly 12 months, not the year-and-a-day sentence that some criminals get. Defendants sentenced to a year or less cannot qualify for time off for good behavior in prison. But those sentenced to a year and a day can qualify, which means they may end up serving only about 10 months. Under this rule, Sandi Jackson must serve the full year.

Both Jacksons wept in court as they addressed the judge before sentencing. Jackson Jr. apologized for his crimes and expressed special regrets to his mother and father. “Your honor, throughout this process I’ve asked the government and the court to hold me and only me accountable for my actions,” he said.

When Jackson Jr. spoke, he voice was firm except for the few times he wept openly and paused to dry his eyes with tissue, blow his nose and collect himself. “I am the example for the whole Congress,” he said. “I understand that. I didn’t separate my personal life from my political activities, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Talking about his desire to be sent to a federal prison camp in Alabama, he said: “I want to make it a little inconvenient for everybody to get to me.” He said he hoped that his wife could earn enough money in his absence to keep the family together. “When I get back, I’ll take on that burden,” Jackson Jr. said. “By then I hope my children will be old enough that the pain I caused will be easier to bear.”

After a break in the hearing, Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, got her opportunity to address the court. She started by telling the judge: “I am a little nervous, so I have a written statement that I would like to read to you.”

She continued: “I want to begin by apologizing first to my family, to my friends, my community and my constiuents for the actions that brought me here today." She said she had caused “disappointment in my community” and had “put my family unit in peril.”

“My heart breaks every day with the pain this has caused my babies,” she continued, weeping. “I ask to be parent, provider and support system that my babies will require in the difficult months ahead.” Their children are ages 13 and 9.

Earlier, Jackson Jr.’s lawyer Reid Weingarten said his client felt “horror, shame and distress” over his crimes. But Weingarten also attempted to downplay the impact of Jackson Jr.’s actions, since he took money from his own campaign fund. It’s not as if there are widows and orphans outside the courthouse who are victims and asking for his head, Weingarten said. “This is not a Ponzi scheme,” he said.

Weingarten asked for an 18-month sentence for Jackson Jr. and noted, “He suffers from a very, very serious mental health disease.” He identified the ex-congressman’s illness as bipolar disorder, and conceded that it was relevant even though “we didn’t plead guilty by reason of insanity.”

Matt Graves, an assistant U.S. attorney, countered that Jackson Jr.’s crimes represented one of the largest cases of theft from a campaign treasury that had ever been prosecuted. Graves also took a shot at Jackson Jr.’s reported condition of bipolar disorder, saying normally when mental health issues are litigated in court, there was expert testimony, discovery and an examination of the defendant — and said none had occurred in this case.

“When one looks at the facts,” Graves said, “it’s quite clear that there’s no there there.” He decried Jackson Jr.’s “wasted talent” and “what he threw away.”

Graves said Sandi Jackson's crimes were serious and had occurred over many years. He also pointed out that defendants in federal courts across the country with children were given prison terms.

Jackson Jr., 48, and his wife, Sandi, 49, stood before federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is no relation to the defendants. He pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy count involving the $750,000 and she pleaded guilty to a related charge of failing to report about $600,000 in taxable income....

The Jacksons, both Democrats, pleaded guilty in February after a yearslong spending spree with campaign funds. Among the loot: a $43,000 Rolex watch, furs, vacations, two mounted elk heads and memorabilia ranging from a Michael Jackson fedora to an Eddie Van Halen guitar.

Prosecutors urged that he serve four years in prison and her 18 months. Defense lawyers wanted probation for her and a lighter term for him.

Jackson Jr. was in the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2012. Sandi Jackson served on the City Council from 2007 until last January. Both resigned their positions leading up to their guilty pleas.

August 14, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"A Perfect Prosecution: The People of the State of New York v. Dominique Strauss-Kahn"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new article about a non-prosecution by JaneAnne Murray now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The presumption of innocence may be the foundational principle of the American criminal justice system, but the presumption of guilt is its operational force. The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged this reality in two notable criminal law decisions in 2012, Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, when it described the criminal process as “a system of pleas, not a system of trials”.

People v. Strauss-Kahn is an ideal lens through which to examine this process. It is both an excellent example of a transparent and objective invocation of the criminal sanction, and a sharp counterpoint to the vast majority of cases where law enforcement conclusions are trusted and rarely second-guessed. Stage by stage, the Strauss-Kahn case illustrates how to counterbalance the presumption of guilt and give expression to the presumption of innocence in the pretrial period through vigilantly-invoked and enforced due process protections.

Drawing from this examination, the paper will then explore how to approach this model process in the more standard cases, which typically see a fraction of the judicial, law enforcement, and defense resources afforded Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The Strauss-Kahn prosecution offers several insights, three of which will be sketched at the paper’s conclusion: a requirement that prosecutorial decision-making be subject to a reasonable doubt standard; early enforcement of the prosecutor’s obligation to disclose information that is favorable to the accused; and finally, a requirement that a prosecutor explain in writing any decision to dismiss the felony charges in indicted felony cases, so that the factual, legal and policy bases of these decisions (numbering almost one quarter of New York’s superior court felony cases annually) can be aggregated, analyzed and publicized.

July 20, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Though he was found not guilty by the jury, are sentencing stories in the Zimmerman prosecution and verdict?

The question in the title of my post is my effort to provide a (final?) place for discussion of the high-profile state acquittal in Florida which a jury handed down late last night.  I suspect lots of folks are eager to talk about the substance of the prosecution and verdict, but I want to stress (and praise) the procedures in this post.  

I find quite notable and important the seemingly wide-spread acceptance by so many of the jury-based decision-making process and the use of a beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof at Zimmerman's criminal trial.  And, as regular readers might guess, I wish to tie this reality back to my perception of the profound and enduring wisdom to be found in the Apprendi and Blakely line of cases (as for the Booker remedy, er... not so much).

Though perhaps we will see some future criticisms of the trial procedures in the Zimmerman case, my observation of early media and public reactions suggests a general acceptance of the process even among those who might profoundly disapprove of the outcome.  Indeed, I will be quite surprised if anyone — even those most bothered by the jury acquittal here such as the Martin family — will respond to the acquittal outcome by arguing that the result shows we should have professional judges rather than lay jurors resolving these kinds of cases or by advocating the use of a lesser proof standard than guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal trials.  I surmise that this reality highlights just how deeply all Americans believe adjudication by lay jurors using a high standard or proof is fundamental to a fair and  criminal justice system.

And yet in sentencing in hundreds of courtrooms nationwide every day, once a guilty verdict has be entered by plea or conviction on any count, we still have what Judge Gerry Lynch once astutely called "our administrative system of criminal justice."  A lone state employee in the form of a judge uses informal and often hurried and cursory procedures to decide whether a convicted defendant will get a lenient of harsh sentence.  And the underlying facts in the Graham case (which made it to the Supreme Court for other issues) showed starkly how some judicial bureaucrats may often respond much too leniently at first and then much too harshly thereafter when administrating sentencing justice.

I do not mean this post to be a formal pitch for jury sentencing in all cases or an effort to assail the challenging and couragous decisions that federal and state sentencing judges must make every day.  Rather, I just want to highlight my belief that the apparent acceptance of the Zimmerman verdict even by those who dislike the outcome is a sign of the procedural wisdom of the Constitution's embrace of a unique and uniquely valuable set of procedures — procedures that cases like Apprendi and Blakely (and now Southern Union and Allenye) wisely seek to extend to even more and more criminal justice adjudications.

Prior posts on Zimmerman prosecution:

July 14, 2013 in Blakely Commentary and News, Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 11, 2013

With all evidence now in, are there any (sentencing?) lessons in the Zimmerman prosecution?

I have a strong feeling that lots of readers have lots of strong feelings about the on-going George Zimmerman trial.  As is my tendency, I do not post much (or even think much) about high-profile cases unless and until their is a conviction and a sentencing proceeding in the works.  But perhaps there are insights to draw from the Zimmerman-Martin events and subsequent prosecution even before we get any verdicts, and I thought it might be valuable to provide this opportunity for readers to express any such insights.

I will be off-line much of the day, so I hope commentors will try real hard to keep comments respectful and on-point, while also still feeling free to express genuine opinions and perspectives.

July 11, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Does postponement of Jacksons' sentencing suggest big rulings are in the works?

High-profile white-collar federal sentencing proceedings always intrigue me, especially when they involve a cocktail of dynamic doctrinal and policy issues as is the case in the upcoming sentencings of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and his wife Sandi. But , as reported here by the Chicago Tribune, it now appears we will have to all wait a bit longer for the Jacksons' day of sentencing reckoning:

The South Side Democrats had been scheduled to learn their fates Wednesday, until the delay was announced by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is not related to the pair.  A court spokesman said neither the prosecution nor defense asked for the postponement.

"The matter was rescheduled to accommodate the court's schedule and workload — neither side requested a continuance," said Jenna Gatski, a spokeswoman for the U.S. District Court.

Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to misusing about $750,000 in campaign cash. Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, pleaded guilty to failing to report about $600,000 on income tax returns over several years.

The postponement was announced after a telephone conference call between the judge and the Jacksons, the court said. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said the sentencings would not take place this week.

Jackson Jr., 48, faces 46 to 57 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, which are not mandatory. His lawyers want a sentence lower than what the guidelines suggest and assert that Jackson Jr., who reportedly has bipolar disorder, could not get proper medical care in prison. Federal prosecutors want him to serve a four-year sentence and to be placed on supervised release for three years after that.

Sandi Jackson, 49, faces one to two years in prison. Her attorneys want her sentenced to probation, saying the couple's two children, ages 9 and 13, need their mother. Prosecutors want her imprisoned for 18 months and put on supervised release for a year.

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to report that neither side sought a postponement and the indication that the change was "to accommodate the court's schedule and workload."  I would be very surprised if Judge Amy Berman Jackson had a trial or lots of other litigation matters crop up in the middle of this summer holiday week; reading these latest tea leaves now has me wondering (and weirdly excited) that this postponement is based in part on the judge's plans to issue a significant written opinion on federal sentencing law, policy and practice along with her sentencing ruling. (Or maybe the judge just has tickets to see Bryce Harper back playing again for the Washington Nationals during their homestand this week, and she decided it was more fitting to catch a baseball game than to deprive liberty right before we all celebrate Independence Day.)

Related posts:

UPDATE:  This local article now reports that the Jacksons' sentencings have now been set for August 14.

July 2, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, July 01, 2013

"Will the Jacksons get a slap on the wrist, or will their heads be mounted?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this recent Chicago Tribune commentary, which gets to the heart of the highest-profile federal sentencing story for the coming holiday week.  This commentary was authored by John Kass, and he makes a sassy argument for throwing the book at the Jacksons.  Here is how his commentary gets started:

The two stuffed elk heads of Chicago politics — former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson — are scheduled for sentencing in their corruption and tax cases on July 3.

Our government often delivers bad news at the beginning of a three-day weekend, or before a long holiday like the Fourth of July, so that we taxpayers will have something else on our minds.

So what am I worried about in this case?

That Jackson Jr. gets a light kiss on the wrist and a mere few months at a Club Fed, and that upon his release, he and his father, the Rev. Jesse "King of Beers" Jackson — the hustler who made his career playing the race card — decide to open a restaurant. With Paula Deen.

What should they call it? Butter & Bud.

Prosecutors are asking for four years for Junior, and 18 months for his wife. And although all cases are different, let's not forget another case involving a guy they knew: Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He's rotting in prison.

It was Blagojevich who was convicted of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat that once was held by President Barack Obama. Now Blago is sitting on 14 years. And who was supposed to be the beneficiary of the deal? None other than Stuffed Elk Head No. 1, Jesse Jackson Jr.

But Jackson wasn't charged. He walked away from it, cocky, until, finally, he was hoisted on the horns of his own elk head. Those absurd his-and-hers stuffed elk heads were just two of many ridiculous items the Jacksons purchased when he pilfered $750,000 from his campaign fund.

Most was junk, from the Michael Jackson fedora to shiny wristwatches and jewelry, a list of ostentatious nonsense demonstrating appallingly bad taste. What frosts most of us is that when he was finally caught, Jackson's camp explained it all away by saying he suffered from a bipolar condition.

Yes, he may be ill. But isn't it remarkable that crooked politicos seem to contract a terrible illness just as they're hit by the heartbreak of Feditis?

Some become alcoholics and drug addicts, others develop heart conditions. One guy even lifted his orange jumpsuit to show the judge his terrible belly rash in a plea for mercy. Most recover, miraculously, the moment they're free. And if Jackson's mouthpieces get their way, he won't do any time. They argue that he's mentally ill, but that federal prison psychiatrists aren't good enough for him.

I'm no psychiatrist, but if I were, I'd prescribe four full years in prison, with another four added to help him clear his head.

Related posts:

July 1, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, June 17, 2013

After an apology and less than a week in jail, ex-NFL star Chad Johnson gets out

As reported in this new local news and AP report (which includes a video), "Chad Johnson apologized Monday for disrespecting a judge when the former NFL star slapped his attorney on the backside in court last week, and his immediate release from jail was ordered."  Here is more:

Broward County Circuit Judge Kathleen McHugh accepted Johnson's apology and cut his 30-day jail term for a probation violation to the seven days he had already served since the rear-swatting incident. Johnson, a flamboyant wide receiver formerly known as Chad Ochocinco, said in court that he'd had time to think about why his flippant attitude was wrong — especially in a domestic violence case.

"I just wanted to apologize for disrespecting the court last time," said Johnson, wearing a tan jail jumpsuit with his hands shackled at the waist. "I apologize.  I did have time to reflect on the mistakes I made in this courtroom."

McHugh noted that in a previous hearing Johnson had put his arm around a female prosecutor's shoulders, prompting the prosecutor to tell him twice not to touch her.  The judge also pointed out that when Johnson head-butted his then-wife, Evelyn Lozada of the reality TV show "Basketball Wives," she suffered a three-inch gash on her head that required eight stitches. The judge called those injuries horrific.

McHugh also said Johnson failed to appreciate "the gift of probation" after pleading no contest to battery in the altercation last August with Lozada, which prompted her to quickly file for divorce. Johnson, 35, was in court because he had failed to meet with his probation officer for three straight months. "I find that's an arrogant disregard for a court order," the judge said.

McHugh ordered Johnson to perform 25 hours of community service and attend domestic violence counseling sessions twice a week during probation, and she extended his probation an extra three months through mid-October.

The attorney who had his backside slapped, Adam Swickle, said Johnson will fully comply with all probation conditions and hopes to resurrect his NFL career.... "He understands that this is the kind of situation that can derail a person's career," Swickle said. "We're very confident he will do what he should do."

Recent related post:

June 17, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Arizona prosecutors say they are still planning to try again to get Jodi Arias sentenced to death

As reported in this Reuters article, a "top Arizona prosecutor said on Wednesday that the state still plans to seek the death penalty for convicted murderer Jodi Arias for killing her ex-boyfriend, after a jury deadlocked last month on whether she should be executed." Here is more:
[T]he same eight-man, four-woman jury that convicted Arias of murder and quickly ruled her eligible for the death penalty subsequently failed to reach a consensus as to whether Arias should be executed, prompting a penalty phase mistrial.

The state of Arizona now has the option of retrying the sentencing phase of the trial, which would require a new jury be empanelled. If there is another deadlock, a judge would sentence Arias to natural life in prison, or life with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery told reporters prosecutors would ask a new sentencing jury to do what the previous one could not - put Arias to death. "At this point, we are still preparing to move forward to retry the penalty phase," Montgomery told a news conference.

After the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on May 23, Montgomery said that his office would assess its next steps, but was proceeding "with the intent to retry the penalty phase." A status hearing has been scheduled for June 20. A July 18 court date was set to select a new jury in the case.

Recent related posts:

June 13, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Non-prosecution deal worked out for Chuck Hagel's son on state marijuana charge

As reported in this Washington Post piece, the son of a notable political figure just managed to avoid pursuit of a criminal prosecution on minor marijuana charges.  The piece is headlined "Chuck Hagel’s son, Ziller Hagel, has marijuana charges dismissed," and here are the details:

Ziller Hagel, the 20-year-old son of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, was in Fairfax County District Court Wednesday morning, where charges stemming from a marijuana arrest last year were dismissed, records show.

Hagel, who attends college in the Chicago area, was arrested on the misdemeanor charge last June, but his case was continued several times last year and earlier this year....

Nina J. Ginsberg, an attorney for Hagel, said the arrest happened after police officers spotted him in a parked car near a park area at night, listening to music by himself. “They searched his car and found a tiny amount of marijuana, but no evidence whatsoever that he had used it or where it came from,” she said.  “We had a real issue of whether they could prove it was there and whether there was a legitimate right to search the car.”

Hagel was ready to fight the charges; instead, he worked out a deal with prosecutors to complete 100 hours of community service, after which charges could be dropped. Ginsberg said his first hearing last summer was deferred pending results of a lab test, others to give him more time to finish a community service project slowed by an illness.

May 30, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jodi Arias now pleading for a life sentence before sentencing jury

As reported in this new USA Today piece, "Jodi Arias, who said after her murder conviction she would prefer death to life imprisonment, stood before the jury Tuesday and pleaded for her life instead, asking them not to punish her family for her actions."  Here is more on today's action in a high-profile capital case:

Speaking as the only witness on her behalf in the penalty phase of her trial, she also referred to the family of her victim, onetime lover Travis Alexander, saying, "I never meant to cause them pain."...

Last week, the jury determined that the murder was committed in an "especially cruel manner," making Arias eligible for the death penalty. They heard tearful comments from Alexander's brother and sister as they described how his killing has torn their lives apart.

Arias acknowledged that her plea for life was a reversal of remarks she made to a TV reporter shortly after her conviction, when she said she preferred the death penalty. "Each time I said that, I meant it, but I lacked perspective," the former waitress said. "Until very recently, I could not imagine standing before you and asking you to give me life."

She changed her mind, Arias said, to avoid bringing more pain to members of her family, who were in the courtroom. "I cannot in good conscience ask you to sentence me to death, because of them," Arias said, pointing to her family. "I think death is tantamount to suicide. Either way, I will spend the rest of my life in prison. It will either be shortened, or not. If it is shortened, the people who will be hurt is my family. I am asking, please, please, don't do that to them."

After she finished speaking, the judge told jurors they can consider a handful of factors when deciding what sentence to recommend, including the fact that Arias has no previous criminal record. They also can weigh defense assertions that Arias is a good friend and a talented artist. Arias, wearing glasses, looked at the jury from time to time, but largely read from notes on a sheaf of papers she clutched in her hand.... At one point, she held up a white T-shirt with the word "survivor" written across it, telling the jurors that she would sell the clothing and donate all proceeds to victims of domestic abuse. She also said she would sell her hair to charity while in prison, and had already done so three times while in jail.

At one point in her remarks, Arias said she regretted how her trial, which drew national attention, had become a spectacle. She said she especially regretted testifying to the "darker elements" of her relationship with Alexander and how the "graphic, mortifying, horrific details" got into the public arena.

She said she had tried, instead, to avoid a trial. "I got on TV and lied about what I did and lied about the nature of my relationship with Travis," she said. "It has never been my intention to malign his name or character. In fact, it was a goal of mine to protect his reputation."

Recent related posts:

May 21, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Is OJ providing a high-profile test case for the application of Lafler and Frye?

I have not been following closely the Nevada state habeas proceedings in which convicted armed robber and kidnapper (and acquitted murderer) OJ Simpson is contesting his convictions and sentences.  But this recent Christian Science Monitor article spotlights how "The Juice" is now, yet again, in court bringing attention to notable lawyering and criminal legal practice issues:
O.J. Simpson’s current appeal for a new trial has the potential to shed light on an issue that affects countless lesser-known defendants in the US court system: bad lawyering. Along the way, he might get a helping hand from the US Supreme Court.

Mr. Simpson is seeking a ruling overturning his conviction of armed robbery and kidnapping of sports memorabilia dealers in 2007. He says his counsel was inadequate and that his lawyer misled co-counsel. "I had never sold any of my personal memorabilia, ever," he testified Wednesday, dressed in prison blues.

Squabbles between lawyers and their clients and co-counsels are not uncommon, says Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. “Most clients in this situation are so poor or low on the economic scale that their bad lawyering doesn’t get much attention, and so the issue remains largely unnoticed,” he adds. “Whether Simpson prevails or not, this proceeding has a great chance to put the spotlight on this widespread problem.”...

Simpson’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel “will predictably devolve into a ‘he said, he said,’ conflicting, fact-based narrative by Simpson and his former attorney,” says Professor Pugsley. Simpson's counsel in the robbery case that went to trial in 2008, Yale Galanter, has refused to comment publicly but is scheduled to testify Friday.

Potentially working in Simpson’s favor is a US Supreme Court ruling last session (Missouri v. Frye) that held that the guarantee of “effective assistance of counsel” extends to the consideration and negotiation of pleas – Simpson’s key complaint.

Co-counsel in the 2008 trial, Gabriel Grasso, said on the stand this week that while Mr. Galanter told him he'd talk with Simpson about a proposed plea deal, Galanter never told Mr. Grasso why he rejected it. Grasso said he didn't know if Simpson was even told.

“O.J. might have the good luck to rely on the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Missouri v. Frye. Timing is everything,” says Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles....

Simpson maintains that advice from Galanter not to testify in 2008 is, in fact, part of the reason for this week’s appeal....

The appeal is taking place in Las Vegas, and this is Simpson's last chance under Nevada law to prove that he was wrongly convicted. A federal court appeal is still possible.

However, the standard of proof is so high that Simpson is unlikely to meet it, even if the judge believes everything he says, says Norman Garland, a professor at Southwestern Law School. “Simpson has to prove not only that the advice given to him was deficient, but that he was prejudiced by that deficiency,” says Professor Garland. “The requirements for demonstrating ineffective assistance of counsel are demanding, and the defendant must overcome a strong presumption that counsel’s performance was within the range of competent representation in order to prevail.”

A few recent related posts on Lafler and Frye:

May 19, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Arizona jurors quickly make finding for Jodi Arias to be formally death eligible

As detailed in this new AP report, the "same jury that convicted Jodi Arias of murder one week ago took about three hours Wednesday to determine that the former waitress is eligible for the death penalty in the stabbing and shooting death of her one-time lover in his bathroom five years ago." Here is more about today's jury finding and what now follows in this high-profile capital case:

The decision came after a day of testimony in the "aggravation" phase of the trial, during which prosecutor Juan Martinez hoped to prove the June 2008 killing was committed in an especially cruel and heinous manner.

Family members of victim Travis Alexander sobbed in the front row as Martinez took the jury through the killing one more time. He described how blood gushed from Alexander's chest, hands and throat as the motivational speaker and businessman stood at the sink in his master bathroom and looked into the mirror with Arias behind him....

The trial now moves into the final phase, in which prosecutors will call Alexander's family and other witnesses in an effort to convince the panel Arias should face the ultimate punishment. Arias' attorneys also will call witnesses, likely members of her family, in an attempt to gain sympathy from jurors so they give her life in prison. That phase is scheduled to start Thursday morning.

The aggravation phase played out in quick fashion, with only one prosecution witness and none for the defense. The most dramatic moments occurred when Martinez displayed photos of the bloody crime scene for the jury and paused in silence for two minutes to describe how long he said it took for Alexander to die at Arias' hands on June 4, 2008....

Martinez told jurors Wednesday that Alexander "suffered immensely" at Arias' hands. "She made sure she killed him by stabbing him over and over and over again," he said.

The defense didn't have much of a case given how many times Alexander was stabbed, the defensive wounds on his hands, the length of the attack, and the sheer amount of blood found at the scene. Defense lawyers said Alexander would have had so much adrenaline rushing through his body that he might not have felt much pain.

The only witness was the medical examiner who performed the autopsy and explained to jurors how Alexander did not die calmly and fought for his life as evidenced by the numerous defensive wounds on his body.

Recent related posts:

May 15, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Taking note of some notable federal tax sentences

This new Forbes commentary by Robert Wood, headlined "Lauryn Hill Jail Time --- What's A Fair Tax Sentence?", discusses some notable recent federal tax sentencing decisions. Here are excerpts (with a few links preserved):

Grammy winning Singer Lauryn Hill was sentenced in Newark.... Ms. Hill didn’t get probation alone as she had requested, but she drew only 3 months of incarceration. That is quite a good deal compared to the 24 to 36 months she faced. Her lawyer Nathan Hochman did a superb job of keeping her sentence down, stressing how she had stepped up, paid all her taxes, and more. In fact, a prior delay in sentencing may have been due to the fact that paying first is clearly better.

Whether it’s fair could be debated, but most observers would say she was lucky and ably represented. Tax sentencing isn’t an exact science. There are sentencing guidelines, but the judge also has discretion. And that can sometimes make similar missteps seem disparately treated. Just compare Stephen Baldwin’s sentence to Wesley Snipes’ [discussed here].

Ms. Hill pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file tax returns on more than $1.8 million between 2005 and 2007. Just as with Wesley Snipes, it could have been far worse had she filed false returns....

This is a light sentence given the dollars involved. It’s the second favorable sentence drawn by Hochman in recent weeks. He was one of the lawyers for 79 year-old Mary Estelle Curran of Palm Beach, who had foreign account troubles. Like Ms. Hill, she was facing serious jail time for filing false 2006 and 2007 tax returns.

That case generated national interest with a potential prison term up to six years. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp gave Ms. Curran one year probation, then instantly revoked it altogether. The Judge even suggested to Ms. Curran’s lawyers that they seek a Presidential pardon [discussed here].

Ms. Hill couldn’t expect the kind of deference Ms. Curran received, who had actually tried to come forward to the IRS about her foreign accounts and was rebuffed.  But regardless of whether you sympathize with celebrities, they often get bum steers from advisers, as clearly happened with Wesley Snipes.  His three-year stint seemed harsh.

In some ways, tax returns are the great levelers. Some things, after all, you just can’t delegate.

May 11, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

After high-profile state murder conviction, Jodi Arias claims she wants death penalty over LWOP

As reported in this new USA Today article, "Jodi Arias, convicted of first-degree murder of her on-and-off lover, says she was surprised by the jury's verdict Wednesday and hopes for the death penalty over life in prison."  Here is more:

Arias, who choked back tears as the jury's decision was read, told KSAZ-TV in a courthouse interview after the verdict was announced that she was surprised the jury found her guilty of premeditation in the death of Alexander. "It was unexpected for me, yes, because there was no premeditation on my part," she said.

She said she would "prefer to die sooner than later" and that "death is the ultimate freedom." The Maricopa County sheriff's office said in a statement that Arias was being put on a suicide watch because of her interview comments.

The 12 jurors deliberated reached a verdict after deliberating less than three full days. The televised trial, which began Jan. 2, gained notoriety for its accounts of gore and sex....

Arias spoke to Fox affiliate KSAZ in an exclusive courtroom interview about 20 minutes after the verdict was read.  Arias was mostly calm and chose her words carefully during the 45-minute interview, appearing to hold back tears a few times, much as she did during the trial, according to the interview.

She said she hoped her sentence would be the death penalty. "The worst outcome for me would be natural life (in prison). I would much rather die sooner rather than later," she said.

Arias said she is healthy, doesn't smoke and that longevity runs in her family. That means she would expect to live in prison for a long time. "I said years ago I'd rather get death than life," she said. "I believe death is the ultimate freedom."

Arias added that she hopes the family of victim Travis Alexander can find peace now that the verdict has been rendered. She said she prayed for members of the jury every day and was shocked that they decided the killing was pre-meditated.  Arias said she could "see how it could look that way" but that "there was no premeditation on my part."...

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued a statement after the verdict was read, saying, "We look forward to the next phase of the proceedings, where the state will present evidence to prove the murder was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner."...

Defense attorneys contended that Arias killed Alexander in June 2008 in an unplanned fit of rage as she reacted to what attorneys portrayed as his pattern of emotional and physical abuse.  It had cost Maricopa County taxpayers at least $1.7 million as of late April to defend Arias.

I have not followed this case closely until now, and it will be interesting to see if the capital sentencing proceedings in the days and weeks ahead garner as much attention as the trial did. It will also be interesting to see if Arias and/or her attorneys expressly request the sentencing jury to impose a death sentence.

Based on various press reports, I surmise that Arias appears to be a effective liar, and thus I cannot help but wonder if her desire for a death sentence is not really a desire to die sooner. A shrewd defendant in Arias' position would know that her case and appeals would be sure to get a lot more attention, from courts and abolitionist activists, if she were to be sentenced to death. If Arias gets an LWOP sentence, her life and crimes will likely be forgotten in a few years. But if she gets sentenced to death, we will likely be seeing her name in the papers during each round of legal appeals for decades to come.

May 8, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Corrupt state supreme court judge and sister facing state sentencing in PA

As reported in this local article, headlined "Former Pennsylvania Justice Orie Melvin, sister face sentencing today," a high-profile corruption case in the Keystone State has finally reached the sentencing stage. Here are the basics:

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and former court aide Janine Orie will be sentenced today by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus.

Prosecutors, in briefs filed before the court last month, are seeking incarceration for Ms. Orie Melvin and for her sister, who were convicted in February of misusing state-paid employees in Ms. Orie Melvin's campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009. The sisters were found guilty of theft of services, conspiracy and misapplication of government funds. Janine Orie was also convicted of tampering with evidence and solicitation.

In their briefs, Ms. Orie Melvin's defense attorneys asked for probation, citing her dedication to public service, charitable work and her devotion to her family and the hardship incarceration would bring upon her family, including her six children and elderly father.

The sisters were charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Among the allegations were that staffers wrote speeches, drove Ms. Orie Melvin to campaign events and worked the polls....

At the time of the verdict, Matt Mabon, the jury foreman, explained that the jury couldn't reach a decision on the official oppression count, which was connected to the employment of Lisa Sasinoski, chief law clerk for the justice who was a witness. Because there were competing versions of whether she was fired or resigned, jurors couldn't reach a decision, he said.

Ms. Orie Melvin voluntarily stopped hearing cases before the high court when she was indicted a year ago, just hours before the court issued an order suspending her to "preserve the integrity" of the system. That same day, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a recommendation that she be suspended with pay pending resolution of the criminal case, but in August, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Justice Orie Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.

Justice Orie Melvin fought unsuccessfully to have the charges against her dismissed, claiming that the Supreme Court itself should have jurisdiction over the allegations and not the criminal courts. A month after the verdict, on March 25, Ms. Orie Melvin announced, in a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett, that she would resign May 1 "with deep regret and a broken heart."...

Jane Orie is serving a 21/2- to 10-year prison term for using her staff for her own and Ms. Orie Melvin's campaigns and for forging documents to cover it up. She was found guilty in March 2012 of 14 of 24 counts against her, including ethics violations, theft of services, tampering with evidence and forgery.

Assistant district attorney Lawrence Claus is seeking consecutive sentences of incarceration in the aggravated range for Ms. Orie Melvin. The standard range is probation to 30 months, versus 48 months in the aggravated range. For Janine Orie, the standard range is probation to 27 months and up to 45 months in the aggravated range.

Related post:

UPDATE:  I am very pleased to see from this local article, headlined "Orie Melvin must write apology letters to Pennsylvania judges on photos of herself," that the sentence for the former judge includes a serious shaming sanction.  Here are the awesome basics, about which I will blog more in a future post:

Disgraced former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin was sentenced today to house arrest followed by probation and ordered to send handwritten apologies on photographs of herself to every judge in the Commonwealth.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus sentenced Orie Melvin to three years' house arrest with two years' probation to follow.

A jury found Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie guilty on Feb. 21 of using judicial staff, as well as the staffers of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to work on the campaigns in 2003 and 2009 for the Pennsylvania high court.

Orie Melvin, 56, was found guilty on six of seven counts against her, including conspiracy, theft of services and misapplication of government funds. She resigned from the Supreme Court in March.

She must serve in a soup kitchen three times a week and can otherwise only leave her house for church.

Judge Nauhaus also ordered that an official county photographer take a photograph of Orie Melvin, on copies of which she must apologize to each of Pennsylvania's judges. She must pay for the cost. He ordered a deputy to handcuff her and the photo was taken of her in handcuffs.

Her sentence also includes $55,000 in fines, a prohibition on using the title "justice" during her term and handwriting apologies to former members of her campaign staff and that of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, whom she made engage in illegal work.

May 7, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, May 06, 2013

You be the judge: how would you sentence for the missed tax payments of Lauryn Hill?

Lauryn HillAfter a rescheduling and now some important repayments, an interesting and high-profile federal sentencing is on tap for this morning in Newark, New Jersey.  This new Reuters article provides the basics for all would-be federal sentencing judges to ponder in order to answer the question in the title of this post:

Hip hop artist Lauryn Hill, on the eve of her scheduled sentencing on federal tax evasion charges, has paid off the balance of more than $900,000 she owed in back taxes and penalties, her attorney said on Sunday.

The Grammy-winning musician is scheduled for sentencing on Monday in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey on three charges she failed to file tax returns on more than $1.8 million between 2005 and 2007.  She faces up to a year in jail for each charge, but the final sentence is expected to be adjusted based on her repayment of the money, her attorney said.

She owed at least $504,000 in federal back taxes as well as state taxes and penalties that brought the estimated total to more than $900,000.  "Ms Hill has not only now fully paid prior to sentencing her taxes, which are part of her criminal restitution, but she has additionally fully paid her federal and state personal taxes for the entire period under examination through 2009," her attorney, Nathan Hochman, said in an email.

In April, Hill was admonished by U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo for failing to make promised payments on her unpaid taxes ahead of her sentencing.  She had expected to raise the money from a new recording contract last fall but only paid $50,000 when she did not complete the expected tracks, her attorney said.

Her attorney said last month that Hill lined up a loan secured by two pieces of real estate. He said on Sunday that the tax repayment came from a combination of sources but did not include funds from any new record sales.

A new single by Hill, her first in several years, called "Neurotic Society," was posted on iTunes on Friday.  She posted a link to the song on the social media site Tumblr on Saturday, writing, "Here is a link to a piece that I was ‘required' to release immediately, by virtue of the impending legal deadline.  "I love being able to reach people directly, but in an ideal scenario, I would not have to rush the release of new music... But the message is still there," she wrote.

Hill's 1998 solo album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" won the singer, a former member of the Fugees, five Grammy awards.

Given that it appears Hill has now made the government whole after her tax evasion crimes, and especially given that she apparently can be and wants to continue to be a productive tax-paying member of society, I believe I would be very eager to give Hill some kind of (harsh?  expensive?) alternative to imprisonment sentence.

For all sort of obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, I think a significant fine plus a (very burdensome?) community service requirement could and should achieve all the congressional purposes of punishment better than a brief stint in prison.

Indeed, I think a creative shaming sentence could perhaps be especially appropriate in a case like this.It might be very beneficial, and I doubt unconstitutional, to require as part of a probation term that Hill write and release a few songs in which she discusses the consequences of failing to pay required federal taxes and/or in which she discusses the pros and cons of her experiences with the federal criminal justice system. 

UPDATE:  This AP story reports on the actual sentencing outcome for the federal tax code re-education of Lauryn Hill.  I will let readers click through so as not to turn this post into a "spoiler" before reading the comments.

May 6, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Intriguing final (sentencing) chapter in landmark SCOTUS Fourth Amendment case

Via this post at The BLT, which is titled "Man in Landmark Supreme Court GPS Case Pleads Guilty," we find out today that Antoine Jones' success in convincing the Supreme Court to declare his warantless GPS tracking to be an unconstitutional search in the end allowed him to secure a plea deal with a sentence of only 15 years in prison rather than his original federal LWOP term.  Here how:

Facing his fourth trial, the man at the center of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on GPS tracking pled guilty today to a drug conspiracy charge and was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison.

Antoine Jones was arrested in 2005 and charged with participating in a drug trafficking ring in the Washington area. Jones will receive credit for time already served, meaning he'll spend an additional seven years in jail.  After he is released, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle sentenced him to five years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service.

"I think you can teach other people how to stay out of trouble," Huvelle said to Jones during today's hearing. Huvelle has handled the case from the beginning.  "It's been a long haul, Mr. Jones," she said.

Jones stood trial three times. His first trial ended in a mistrial in 2007. He was found guilty at the second trial and received a life sentence, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated that conviction after finding the government violated his Fourth Amendment rights through the warrantless use of a Global Positioning System tracking device.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit's ruling, meaning prosecutors couldn't use the GPS data at trial.  The government had used the information to link Jones to a drug house in Maryland.  During the course of the investigation, the authorities never saw Jones personally handle any drugs.

Following a third trial earlier this year, in which Jones represented himself, the jury split and Huvelle declared a mistrial.  The government announced shortly after that it planned to seek a fourth trial.

Following today's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene Soltys declined to discuss details of the plea negotiations, except to confirm that Jones continued to represent himself.  She also declined to comment on the resolution of the case....

Jones, who waived his right to appeal, requested Huvelle recommend he be placed in a federal prison near Atlanta, where he has family.  Huvelle agreed to make the recommendation; the Federal Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision about his placement.

Huvelle urged Jones to do something "legitimate" with his life after serving his time in jail.  She pointed out that some of the jurors thought Jones performed well as his own lawyer and that he had wasted his talents.

May 1, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The Boston Bomber Should Face The Possibility Of The Death Penalty"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new op-ed published today in Forbes and authored by (frequent SL&P blog commentor) William Otis.  Here are excerpts from this piece:

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother murdered three people at the Boston Marathon, and grossly mutilated dozens more.  The brother was killed in a shootout with police.  The question is what justice Dzhokhar should face.  The answer, as the Justice Department apparently understands, is a jury empowered to consider the death penalty....

Wanting justice is not wanting vengeance.  It is for this reason that our most honored Presidents — Washington, Lincoln and FDR — not only supported but used the death penalty. President Obama supports it.  At least three-fifths of Americans likewise support it.  Liberal New York Sen. Chuck Schumer says he supports it for the Boston killer.  This is not because these people are bloodthirsty or revenge-driven.  It’s because a prison sentence, no matter what its length, hardly seems to fit some gruesome, hate-driven, calculated crimes.

But that’s not the end of it.  Contrary to a typical abolitionist claim, the death penalty is a deterrent, as the majority of scholarly studies has found.  Anecdotal evidence tells us the same thing; California Sen. Diane Feinstein once recounted the story of a robber who left his gun at home for fear that, if he used it, he could face a death sentence....

While the are some cases in which a reasonable person could think we’ve got the wrong guy, this is not one of them.  There is simply no sane account in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev didn’t do it.

Some have voiced racial objections to the death penalty.... But that has no bearing in this case in any event, since neither Tsarnaev nor his victims is a member of a race that has historically suffered discrimination.  The legacy of Jim Crow simply does not exist in this case.

The central reason to keep the death penalty available is graphically illustrated here.   The crime was unbelievably sinister, cruel and sadistic; the victims, including an eight year-old, numerous; the perpetrator unrepentant; and his guilt not open to question by any reasonable person.  A society without the moral confidence to use the ultimate punishment in such a case has all but announced that it has no moral confidence at all.

To say that the jury should be empowered to consider the death penalty for Tsarnaev is not necessarily to say it should be imposed.  There may be mitigating circumstances, not presently in sight, that would warrant a lesser sentence.  It is the genius of the jury system that it takes cases one at a time.  But it is for exactly that same reason that we should not take the death penalty off the table in advance, before all the facts -- possibly mitigating, and possibly even more damning -- are known.

Though not explicitly stated by Bill Otis in this Forbes commentary, I perceive an implicit suggestion here that it would only be proper in this case for a federal jury after a transparent in-court sentencing hearing, and not for a federal prosecutor via an unexplained back-room plea deal, to decide what the proper punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  And via this post at Crime & Consequences, titled "No Quick and Dirty Deals," Bill Otis makes a bit more explicit why he thinks it would, at least right now, be inappropriate for prosecutors "to take capital punishment off the table in exchange for Tsarnaev's cooperation."  Bill concludes his C&C post this way: "In this high stakes showdown, give no deals to this devil and let a jury do what the Framers designed it to do."

For a host of reasons, I largely agree with Bill in this instance that the final punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should ultimately be decided by a jury (or a judge). My principal reason for this view in this is because I believe all sentencing decision-making should be as deliberative, open and transparent as possible, and that final sentencing outcomes should result from adjudicative judgements made by neutral judicial-branch actors rather than via opaque bargains and unreviewable policy decisions made by executive branch officials.

While I am pleased that, in this "high-stakes" setting, Bill Otis sees the value of judicial branch actors having ultimate sentencing authority, I am disappointed and somewhat confused why he has a different view when prison sentences are at issue. Specifically, in long comment exchange to a post about reform of federal mandatory minimums, Bill expressed great concerns about letting judges select final sentencing outcomes on the record according to federal sentencing law rather than letting prosecutors make this decision behind closed doors based on their charging and bargaining instincts.  

Dare I suggest it is only because Bill Otis likes the potential outcome of judicial-branch sentencing (rather than executive branch sentencing) in the Tsarnaev case that he now is keen to assert that prosecutors should not take a particular sentencing option off the table?  (For the record, I think it is fine for Bill Otis (or anyone else) to believe/decide that he will always favor whichever sentencing decision-maker is likely to be harsher (or softer).  But I hope he (and others) recognizes that such a position --- whether driven by a desire for consistent sentencing harshness or sentencing leniency --- necessarily prioritizes a substantive commitment to certain kinds of sentencing outcomes, and suggests that certain substantive sentencing ends always justify whatever procedural means are needed to get there.

Some related recent posts:

April 30, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack