Monday, April 14, 2014

Two notable circuit discussions of federal consequences of child porn production

I have just come across two notable circuit opinion dealing with the criminal and civil consequences child porn production.  One was handed down late last week by the Fourth Circuit, US v. Cobler, No. 13-4170 (4th Cir. April 11, 2014) (available here), and it begins this way:

In this appeal, we consider the constitutionality and the reasonableness of a 120-year sentence imposed on a defendant convicted of production, possession, and transportation of child pornography, in connection with his sexual molestation of a four-year-old boy.  The defendant argues that his lengthy prison sentence is disproportionate to his crimes, constituting cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and that the sentence is greater than necessary to achieve legitimate sentencing goals.  Upon our review, we reject the defendant’s constitutional challenge and conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing a sentence designed to protect the public and to address the seriousness of the defendant’s crimes.  Accordingly, we affirm.

The other opinion was handed down this morning by the Sixth Circuit, Prewett v. Weems, No. 12-6489 (6th Cir. April 14, 2014) (available here), and it begins this way:

Stanley Weems pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography.  See 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a).  His victim, J.W., filed this civil action against Weems to obtain compensation for the abuse.  See id. § 2255(a).  The district court awarded $1 million, a figure reached by multiplying the presumed-damages floor in the civil-remedies statute ($150,000) by the number of videos Weems produced (seven) and by capping the damages at the relief sought in J.W.’s complaint ($1 million).  This accounting raises an interesting question: Does the civil-remedies statute set a presumptive floor of $150,000 for each criminal violation or a presumptive floor of $150,000 for each cause of action without regard to the number of alleged violations?   As we see it, the text, structure and context of the statute, together with the structure of related civil-remedy laws, establish that the $150,000 figure creates a damages floor for a victim’s cause of action, not for each violation.  We therefore reverse the district court’s contrary conclusion.

April 14, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Would embrace of "judicial corporal punishment" help remedy mass incarceration?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this provocative new commentary by John Dewar Gleissner and given the headline "Who is biased against prison and sentencing reform?".  Here are excerpts:

Private prison companies and the guards’ labor unions are biased, of course.  Politicians do not wish to appear soft on crime.  Some communities need the jobs prisons provide. The public is biased about crime generally, and believes crime rates are going up when they are actually declining.  Many want prison to be horrible.  Who can blame crime victims? Taxpayers dislike money going to prisons. Law-abiding people do not have much in common with prisoners.  Businesses don’t sell much to prisoners.  Prison industries lose money and cannot succeed with government control.

The media prefer sensational stories about egregious criminal behavior. Once the offender is sentenced, the story usually ends. Prisoners do not have access to the internet.

Incarceration is hidden from the eyes of the people, harmful to the morals of prisoners and expensive.  Cultural, generational and religious bias prevent us from crediting our ancestors or other countries with effective crime-control techniques....

Attacking the supply of illegal drugs did not work.  The costs of fully supporting 2.3 million inactive welfare recipients, America’s prisoners, finally caught our attention.  The Constitution is the standard in conditions of confinement litigation.  But when the Constitution was adopted, massive incarceration as we now know it did not exist.  Back then, judicial corporal punishment was constitutional; it was approved of or used by all the presidents carved into Mt. Rushmore.

Incarceration is all Western civilization has known for several generations.  As the death penalty declines, most of us think of prison as the nearly exclusive serious punishment method.  Criminal justice systems focus on the single, inflexible, expensive and inexorable dimension of time.  Most Americans are shocked by the idea of judicial corporal punishment, which is invariably depicted as cruel, perverted or unjust in movies and TV.

Science proves that rehabilitation, restitution and deterrence are not often achieved by lengthy incarceration.  But some violent offenders deserve their long prison sentences. Prisons will not be abolished.  Real bad folks need to stay behind bars.

We think society moves forward.  Reformers are supposed to be “forward-looking.”  Belief in continual social progress ignores history.  Society periodically degenerates into barbarism, disorganization, bankruptcy, genocide, war and revolution.  Scientific study of changed values sometimes takes decades before conclusions are reached and legislation enacted. Our belief in social progress is accompanied by rejection of biblical principles in favor of unproven secular values.

We do not often enough look in the Bible for answers. If we did, the relatively simple solution to ending massive incarceration would be obvious: Deuteronomy 25:1-3. We could cut the American prison population in half. Modern behavioral and neurological science can and would confirm the superior effectiveness of traditional judicial corporal punishment. Believe it or not, judicial corporal punishment was largely abolished in the U.S. because it was too effective.

Judicial corporal punishment is in public, less expensive, much faster and repeatable. Its last use in the United States was to punish wife-beating without diminishing family income. In The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, Harvard law professor William J. Stuntz wrote, “Today's would-be reformers would do well to … consider the possibility that the best models for productive change may not come from contemporary legislation or court decisions, but from a past that has largely disappeared from our consciousness. Sometimes, the best road forward faces back.”

April 14, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Another notable (and astute?) local shaming sentence for elderly bully

Bully Sign Latino

As reported in this AP piece, "Ohio Judge Sentences Man To Wear 'I AM A BULLY' Sign," another notable sentence involving shaming has made national news this weekend. Here are the details:

A man accused of harassing a neighbor and her disabled children for the past 15 years sat at a street corner Sunday morning with a sign declaring he's a bully, a requirement of his sentence.

Municipal Court Judge Gayle Williams-Byers ordered 62-year-old Edmond Aviv to display the sign for five hours Sunday. It says: "I AM A BULLY! I pick on children that are disabled, and I am intolerant of those that are different from myself. My actions do not reflect an appreciation for the diverse South Euclid community that I live in."...

Aviv arrived at the corner just before 9 a.m., placing the hand-lettered cardboard sign next to him as he sat in a chair. Within a couple of minutes, a passing motorist honked a car horn. Court records show Aviv pleaded no contest in February to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge. His attorney didn't return a telephone call for comment.

Aviv has feuded with his neighbor Sandra Prugh for the past 15 years, court records show. The most recent case stemmed from Aviv being annoyed at the smell coming from Prugh's dryer vent when she did laundry, according to court records. In retaliation, Aviv hooked up kerosene to a fan, which blew the smell onto Pugh's property, the records said.

Prugh has two adult adopted children with developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy and epilepsy; a husband with dementia, and a paralyzed son. Prugh said in a letter to the court that Aviv had called her an ethnic slur while she was holding her adopted black children, spit on her several times, regularly threw dog feces on her son's car windshield, and once smeared feces on a wheelchair ramp. "I am very concerned for the safety of our family," Prugh wrote in a letter to the court for Aviv's sentencing. She said she just wants to live in peace.

The judge also ordered Aviv to serve 15 days in jail and to undergo anger management classes and counseling. He also had to submit an apology letter to Prugh. "I want to express my sincere apology for acting irrationally towards your house and the safety of your children," Aviv wrote. "I understand my actions could have caused harm but at that time I was not really thinking about it."

Regular readers know that I tend to be a supporter of shaming sentences as an alternative to prison terms in appropriate cases. And this case seem like just the kind of matter in which a little public shaming, as opposed to an extended jail term, seems to have a reasonable chance of being an effective deterrent and a less cost to Ohio taxpayers.

April 13, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

"Sex offender housing restrictions do more harm than good"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable Concord Monitor editorial.  Here are excerpts:

Of all the constituents that politicians want to help out, sex offenders probably rank at the very bottom of the list.  But the New Hampshire Senate should summon the courage to do just that. By helping sex offenders, as strange as it sounds, the Senate will end up making life safer for everyone else.

At issue is legislation that would ban cities and towns from placing broad restrictions on where sex offenders may live.  Several communities have attempted such restrictions, and lower-court judges have already struck down two as unconstitutional: one in Franklin and one in Dover.  In both cities, local officials wanted to keep convicted sex offenders from living too close to places where children regularly gather: schools, day care centers and playgrounds.  Several other communities still have such ordinances on the books, among them Tilton, Sanbornton, Northfield and Boscawen.

The impulse to keep sex offenders away from kids via zoning is completely understandable.  But there is strong reason to resist. And there is strong reason to set such policy at the state level, rather than leaving it to individual communities.

A growing body of evidence — gathered not just by civil liberties lawyers, but from law enforcement officers, public officials and child advocacy groups — suggests that residency restrictions are placebo pills at best and counterproductive at worst.  Such ordinances give communities a false sense of security while driving sex offenders underground or into rural areas where they can’t access the services that give them the best chance at rehabilitation....

An Iowa study, for instance, showed that sexual-abuse convictions had remained steady since statewide residency restrictions went into effect five years earlier but that the number of sex offenders failing to register their addresses with local police departments, as the law required, had more than doubled.

When a sex offender has served his sentence, it is in everyone’s interest that he succeed on the outside. Passing this bill would help.

April 1, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Monday, March 31, 2014

Controversy long after du Pont heir got probation as punishment for raping his small daughter

As detailed in this lengthy local article from Delaware, headlined "Heir's sentence raises questions in child rape case," a high-profile child rape case from years ago is now generating new controversy because the low sentence imposed on the rapist just became public.  Here are the details: 

A judge who sentenced a wealthy du Pont heir to probation for raping his 3-year-old daughter noted in her order that he "will not fare well" in prison and needed treatment instead of time behind bars, court records show.  

Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden's sentencing order for Robert H. Richards IV suggested that she considered unique circumstances when deciding his punishment for fourth-degree rape.  Her observation that prison life would adversely affect Richards was a rare and puzzling rationale, several criminal justice authorities in Delaware said. Some also said her view that treatment was a better idea than prison is a justification typically used when sentencing drug addicts, not child rapists.

Richards' 2009 rape case became public this month after attorneys for his ex-wife, Tracy, filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the abuse of his daughter. The fact that Jurden expressed concern that prison wasn't right for Richards came as a surprise to defense lawyers and prosecutors who consider her a tough sentencing judge. Several noted that prison officials can put inmates in protective custody if they are worried about their safety, noting that child abusers are sometimes targeted by other inmates.

"It's an extremely rare circumstance that prison serves the inmate well," said Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O'Neill, whose office represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer. "Prison is to punish, to segregate the offender from society, and the notion that prison serves people well hasn't proven to be true in most circumstances." O'Neill said he and his deputies have often argued that a defendant was too ill or frail for prison, but he has never seen a judge cite it as a "reason not to send someone to jail."...

O'Neill said the way the Richards case was handled might cause the public to be skeptical about "how a person with great wealth may be treated by the system."  Richards, who is unemployed and supported by a trust fund, owns a 5,800-square-foot mansion in Greenville, Del., he bought for $1.8 million in 2005.  He also lists a home in the exclusive North Shores neighborhood near Rehoboth Beach, according to the state's sex abuse registry. His great-grandfather is du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, and his father is Robert H. Richards III, a retired partner in the Richards Layton & Finger law firm....

The lawsuit filed by Richards' ex-wife accuses him of admitting to sexually abusing his infant son between 2005 and 2007, the same period when he abused his daughter starting when she was 3.  Police said they investigated allegations involving the boy in 2010 after his mother filed a complaint, but said they did not have sufficient evidence to justify charges. Investigators will take another look at the allegations included in the lawsuit, which are based on reports by probation officers.

State Attorney General Beau Biden's office had initially indicted Richards on two counts of second-degree rape of a child -- Class B violent felonies that carry a mandatory 10-year prison term for each count.  According to the arrest warrant filed by a New Castle County Police Detective JoAnna Burton in December 2007, the girl, then 5, told her grandmother, Donna Burg, that Richards sexually abused her.

Burg said the child reported that her father told her it was "our little secret" but said she didn't want "my daddy touching me anymore." Tracy Richards, who confronted her then-husband, told police he admitted abusing his daughter but said "it was an accident and he would never do it again," the warrant said.

Richards was free on $60,000 secured bail while awaiting trial on the charges that could have put him behind bars for years.  But in June 2008, just days before a scheduled trial, prosecutor Renee Hrivnak offered Richards a plea to a single count of fourth-degree rape, which carries no mandatory time, and he accepted, admitting in court that he abused his child.

"It was more than reasonable, an enlightened plea offer," Richards attorney Eugene J. Maurer Jr. said.  Fourth-degree rape is a Class C violent felony that by law can bring up to 15 years in prison, though guidelines suggest zero to 2 1/2 years in prison.

At Richards' February 2009 sentencing, Hrivnak recommended probation, Biden's chief deputy Ian R. McConnel said, adding that in retrospect he wished she would have sought prison time.  Hrivnak would not comment.... McConnel would not discuss the rationale behind the Richards' plea deal and Hrivnak's recommendation of probation for the fourth-degree rape conviction.

While judges have the latitude to sentence defendants within legal parameters, they are urged to follow more lenient guidelines established by the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission, a panel of judges and other top officials in the criminal justice system. The panel has a policy that prison should be reserved for violent offenders, including rapists.

Jurden gave Richards, who had no previous criminal record, an eight-year prison term, but suspended all the prison time for probation. "Defendant will not fare well in Level 5 setting," said the final line of her sentencing order. In Delaware's correctional system, Level 5 is prison....

Defense lawyer Joseph A. Hurley said it makes sense to him that the judge would be concerned about Richards' time in prison. "Sure, they have protective custody, but that is solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. We're not a third-world society," Hurley said. "Sex offenders are the lowest of the low in prison," Hurley said. "He's a rich, white boy who is a wuss and a child perv. The prison can't protect them, and Jan Jurden knows that reality. She is right on."

Though lots of reactions to this story are possible, I cannot help but highlight that a story which might seem like an example of a sentencing judge being surprisingly lenient proves to really be a story of prosecutors being surprisingly lenient through plea bargaining and sentencing recommendations. Without a lot more information about the evidence in the case, I am disinclined to robustly criticize either the prosecutors or the judge for how this du Pont heir was treated. But I am inclined to encourage everyone to appreciate how this story reveals yet again how prosecutorial charging, bargaining and sentencing decisions are never subject to transparency or formal review, while judicial sentencing decisions have to be made in open court, on the record, and can in some cases be appealed.

March 31, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Illinois commission advocates against putting all juve sex offenders on registry

As explained in this AP article, headlined "Commission: Remove Juveniles From Sex Offender Registries," a new public policy report urges Illinois officials to no longer require juvenile sex offenders to register. Here are the basics:

Requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders impairs rehabilitation efforts for a crime that very few of them ever commit again, according to a study released Tuesday.  The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission’s report recommends ending the practice of making offenders younger than 17 add their names to sex-offender registries, which can negatively affect an offender for years.  Every juvenile convicted of a sex crime must register, and 70 percent of the 2,553 currently registered must do so for life, the report said.

The 150-page review of laws and treatment practices regarding juvenile sex crimes calls for the state to abolish the categorical requirement for young offenders’ registration.  The report [available here], which the General Assembly requested in 2012, says sex crimes committed in youth are seldom repeated in adulthood and that individualized, community-based treatment plans are highly effective and more productive than incarceration.

“Automatic, categorical registries do not protect public safety,” commission chairman George Timberlake, a retired chief circuit judge from Mount Vernon, told The Associated Press.  “There’s no evidentiary basis that says they do and more importantly, they have very negative consequences in the effects they have on the offenders’ life, and perhaps the victim’s life.”

Timberlake said the victim, often a family member, loses confidentiality through offender registration and can also suffer from not being able to resume a familial relationship with an offender who is required to register.  He added that a registry might be appropriate based on risk.  Many states offer courts flexibility.

The report recommends developing statewide standards and training for courts and law enforcement professionals for intervening with young sex offenders and victims.  It also calls for a consistent assessment tool for evaluating risks an individual juvenile poses. Also, the report says, offenders whenever possible should be kept in treatment programs in their homes that involve parents as opposed to locking them up.

March 25, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, March 24, 2014

AG Eric Holder announces new rules for federal halfway houses

Via this official press release, I see that Attorney General Eric Holder is continuing his effort to reshape the policies and practices of the federal criminal justice system, this time through new policies and programming for federal halfway houses.  The title and subtitle of the press release itself provides a summary of this latest development: "In New Step to Fight Recidivism, Attorney General Holder Announces Justice Department to Require Federal Halfway Houses to Boost Treatment Services for Inmates Prior to Release; New Rules Also Instruct Federal Halfway Houses to Provide Transportation Assistance, Cell Phone Access in Order to Help Inmates Seek Employment Opportunities."

Here is more from the start of the press release:

In a new step to further the Justice Department’s efforts towards enhancing reentry among formerly incarcerated individuals, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will impose new requirements on federal halfway houses that help inmates transition back into society.  Under the proposed new requirements, these halfway houses will have to provide a specialized form of treatment to prisoners, including those with mental health and substance abuse issues.  For the first time, halfway houses will also have to provide greater assistance to inmates who are pursuing job opportunities, such as permitting cell phones to be used by inmates and providing funds for transportation.  The new requirements also expand access to electronic monitoring equipment, such as GPS-equipped ankle bracelets, to allow more inmates to utilize home confinement as a reentry method.

Holder announced the changes in a video message posted on the Department’s website. The BOP’s new policies have the potential to be far-reaching. To ease their transition, those exiting prison typically spend the last few months of their sentence in either a federal halfway house — known as a residential reentry center (RRC) — or under home confinement, or a combination of the two. These community-based programs provide much needed assistance to returning citizens in finding employment and housing, facilitating connections with service providers, reestablishing ties to family and friends, and more.

Last year alone, more than 30,000 federal inmates passed through a halfway house. Among the most significant changes Holder announced is the requirement for standardized Cognitive Behavioral Programming (CBP) to be offered at all federal halfway houses.  This treatment will address behavior that places formerly incarcerated individuals at higher risk of recidivism. As part of this treatment requirement, BOP is setting guidelines for instructor qualifications, class size and length, and training for all staff at the halfway houses.

Several other modifications are being made to the standard contracts that apply to federal halfway houses in order to provide greater support to returning citizens. Examples include requiring halfway houses to provide public transportation vouchers or transportation assistance to help residents secure employment, requiring all federal halfway houses to allow residents to have cell phones to facilitate communication with potential employers and family, and improving and expanding home confinement by increasing the use of GPS monitoring.

March 24, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Should sex offenders be prohibited from winning lottery jackpots?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new FoxNews report headlined "Massachusetts official seeks to prevent sex offenders from collecting large lotto payouts."  Here are excerpts:

A Massachusetts state senator is pushing to close a lottery loophole that allows sex offenders to pocket huge payouts and potentially use their winnings to buy their victims' silence.

"Should someone on the sex offender list purchase a ticket and win, I think we should find a way from preventing them from enjoying the proceeds," state Sen. Richard Moore told The Boston Herald. "This doesn't smell right to start with."

Moore's concern came as it was revealed that a Level 3 serial child predator walked away with a $10 million win in 2008 and used his winnings to buy gifts for a boy he was allegedly abusing. Daniel T. Snay, 62, was convicted four separate times of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 years or older from 1974 to 1987. He pleaded not guilty Monday at his arraignment on charges including indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 and other charges....

"I guess he bought my silence by giving me gifts and stuff," the boy, now 16, told police, according to a transcript released in court, the paper reported. The alleged abuse occurred about the same time he won the lottery and it continued until March 1, 2012, the report said.

Police Chief Jeffrey Lourie said Snay's "windfall aided the commission of the crimes" by helping him gain favor with people. Sam Goldberg, Snay's attorney, told the paper the allegations are "very easy to bring ... especially when you know this is someone who’s already been a lightning rod ... because of the lottery winnings."

The director of the state's lottery told the paper that winnings can be intercepted by the IRS or Department of Revenue, but a payout cannot be withheld “based on someone’s character."

March 19, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Notable new federal front in drug war being tried in South Carolina

I was intrigued to see this lengthy article at the Huffington Post headlined "Federal Prosecutor Tries A Radical Tactic In The Drug War: Not Throwing People In Prison." The piece merits a read in full, and here is a taste:

Conway is a small city, with a population of about 16,000. Many residents work in tourism-related jobs in nearby Myrtle Beach. The drugs and gangs have made them feel unsafe at home. Dianne Davis, 56, said she tries "not to let the dark catch me" and described other Conway residents as barricading their doors with two-by-fours. "I want to be able to stand on my porch," Davis said. "I have a beautiful garden."

"There are a lot of gangsters running around in that area," Jimmy Richardson said of the neighborhood where Huckabee Heights is located. Richardson is the chief state prosecutor for Horry County, which includes Conway, and a resident of the city himself.

To South Carolina's top federal prosecutor, however, the troubles in Conway present an opportunity. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration. Conway is the third city in South Carolina to implement a version of the plan, and federal prosecutors in other states and the Justice Department are watching closely. If the program's success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country.

"What I want to do is to make the people's lives who are law-abiding citizens in this community better," Nettles said on the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Conway from his office in Columbia last month. "Incarceration is no longer the goal, but is one of many tools available to allow you to effect your goal of improving their lives. It represents a fundamental shift, a seismic shift in terms of how you're viewing what you're doing."

"When you declare a 'war on drugs,' the community sees the cops as the occupiers, and the cops see the people in the community as enemy combatants," Nettles said. "Well, that's not the way it's supposed to be."

Nettles' plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea.

While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project.

The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.

The ones who are chosen know that not everybody gets this chance. The initiative in each city does not have endless resources. So only certain low-level offenders, those with limited criminal histories and no violent crimes in their past, are given the opportunity to avoid prison.

For a period of time, typically more than a year, they are monitored to make sure they remain law-abiding citizens. If they do, they will remain free of the criminal justice system. Until they complete the program, however, the threat of arrest based on the evidence already collected continues to hang over their heads. If officials receive complaints about anyone involved in the program, a judge can sign off on an already prepared arrest warrant....

"These people are being regularly drug tested, they are in a stringent program, and if they fail out or don't show up or quit doing their stuff for work, I'm going to arrest them," Nettles explained. "That is what some people call a motivated employee." Part of their motivation also comes from the fact that a steady paycheck can actually be more lucrative than the drug business. Contrary to the popular image of drug lords rolling in cash, many street-level dealers are barely getting by.

March 1, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A shameful suggestion for how to NYC roads and walkways safer

I was asked yesterday to contribute my thoughts to the Room for Debate section of the New York Times to address the question of "what steps can [New York City] officials, pedestrians and drivers take to reduce the number of accidents?".  My suggestion in available at this link, and here is a segment:

Perhaps Mayor de Blasio might try to impose salient shaming sanctions rather than other traditional punishments.

What if, after a reckless driver has caused a crash in Midtown, the offender were required to create a video reciting recent accident data, which would be posted on YouTube and regularly shown on screens in Times Square? What if, after a cyclist is caught dangerously weaving through traffic in Brooklyn, that scofflaw had to make a live apology during halftime of a Nets game? What if all drivers convicted of speeding were required to place bumper stickers on their cars highlighting that the owner does not follow traffic rules? ...

Because we have rarely tried to make traffic offenders “pay” for their crimes through prominent use of shaming, I cannot confidently predict it would be more effective. But given the challenges in trying to capture the attention and obedience of busy New York City drivers, it is worthwhile to consider creative alternative punishment schemes.

February 20, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Healthcare Not Handcuffs": Will ACA help end the drug war?

JUS13-Web-HCNHC-Header-REL2The title and question of this post is my take on this notable recent report from the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance titled "Healthcare Not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform." Here is an excerpt from the report's introduction:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the most significant expansion of healthcare coverage in generations, and there is almost no area of the U.S. healthcare system that is not impacted by the reform in some way.  Even as debate about the ACA continues, it is now the law of the land, and implementation is fully under way.  For criminal justice reform and drug policy reform advocates, the ACA represents a remarkable opportunity to advance efforts to end both mass incarceration and the criminalization-based approach to drug policy often known as the War on Drugs.

Under the ACA, tens of millions of people in the United States will gain healthcare coverage for a broad array of health services and conditions, including, for the first time, substance use and mental health disorders.  Of course, there are also problems with the ACA and its implementation, not the least of which is that millions of people will remain uninsured even after the law is fully operational.  Yet even with these challenges, the ACA sets the stage for a new health-oriented policy framework to address substance use and mental health disorders -- health problems that have been largely relegated to the criminal justice system for more than 40 years.

This is an enormous paradigm shift that has yet to fully register with criminal justice and drug policy reform advocates, let alone with health policy advocates and the general public. The financial benefits of providing substance use disorder treatment instead of incarceration are well established. But by fully incorporating substance use and mental health disorders into healthcare -- by truly treating them as health issues and requiring public and private insurance plans to cover their treatment -- the ACA creates an opening and financial incentives to shift drug policy into a public health framework, undermining the rationale for a criminal justice approach....

The passage and implementation of the ACA coincides with the growing momentum across the political spectrum to end the War on Drugs, reverse the incarceration boom, and abandon criminal justice policies that have resulted in the criminalization of whole communities.  But the paradigmatic shift from criminalization to health will not occur unless criminal justice and drug policy reform advocates seize the moment and leverage the ACA to realize its full transformative potential.

To assist advocates in navigating this new terrain, this paper outlines some of the major provisions of the ACA immediately relevant to criminal justice and drug policy reform (Part One), and then explores specific applications of those provisions, including program and policy examples and suggested action steps (Part Two)....

This is a unique, perhaps even once-in-a-lifetime scenario for criminal justice and drug policy reform advocates: with the ACA, we can start to build true alternatives to the criminal justice response to substance use, the enforcement of which has fundamentally undermined community health and safety.  Addressing substance use as a health condition has the potential to lower health costs, dramatically reduce the number of people involved in the criminal justice system, and improve health outcomes and overall wellbeing for millions of people.

February 15, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Monday, February 10, 2014

Registered sex offender makes case against sex offender registry

Guy Hamilton-Smith, a registered sex offender and law school graduate who has so-far been denied the opportunity to become a member of the bar, has this new op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader under the headline "Sex-offender registry misguided thinking." Here are excerpts:

I am a sex offender. I know well the tremendous power of those words. In 2007, I pled guilty to possession of child pornography.

Nothing here is meant to defend what I did or to minimize the gravity of my actions. I had a major problem with pornography, and I was far too deep in denial and too scared to reach out to anyone.  Help eventually came when my girlfriend discovered child porn on my computer and went to the police.  I was then and remain grateful to her for taking that step.

As I went through the legal process after my arrest, I developed a keen interest in the law, and a sincere desire to advocate on the behalf of those who are hated, who are lost, and who are forgotten.  With luck, I managed to win acceptance to law school despite my conviction.  I worked harder than I'd ever worked in my life, because I knew I'd have a lot to do to overcome my past.  I did well in school, graduated, secured a job at a law firm after disclosing my past, and applied to take the bar exam.  Recently, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that I will not be allowed to take the bar exam until I am no longer on the sex-offender registry, which will be another 18 years from now.

But the point I want to make is not about me. It isn't about my case. I am not here to say whether the court's decision was right or wrong. The principles at play are much larger than me.  

Strange as it may sound coming from a felon and a sex offender, I believe in the necessity of punishment.  How else, after all, are people supposed to make amends for the harm that they cause? ... I believe in many ways that my life was saved by virtue of my arrest.  I am sensitive to the fact that my crime, and the crimes of others on the sex offender registry, are serious. I do not mean to denigrate the plight of victims, as I was also a victim at one point in my own childhood.

My point, rather, is simply this: punishment that becomes unmoored from considerations of proportionality, redemption and reintegration becomes poison, and we — society, victims and perpetrators — become diminished by it.

Nowhere is this more evident than the sex-offender registry.  Those who find themselves constituents of the registry are routinely and uniformly denied the same second chance afforded to so many other criminal defendants after they have served their sentences.  

The impetus behind the registry is the popular belief that sex offenders always commit new sex crimes.  That view, however, is at odds with data from the Department of Justice and others....

I know that I am not a sympathetic figure by virtue of my crime.  I know that I can never change the past or undo the things that I have done.  My hope here is that we can have a discussion in this country that is long overdue — namely, what it is that we hope to achieve from our system of criminal justice.

February 10, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 06, 2014

"Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from Human Rights Watch. Here is the start of the report's summary:

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a person sentenced to probation cannot then be incarcerated simply for failing to pay a fine that they genuinely cannot afford. Yet many misdemeanor courts routinely jail probationers who say they cannot afford to pay what they owe — and they do so in reliance on the assurances of for-profit companies with a financial stake in every single one of those cases.

Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time.  They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services.  Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance.  Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes.  Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees.

This report, based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013, describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US.  It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors.  It explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this.  It also argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay.  In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.

The problems described in this report are not a consequence of probation privatization per se.  Rather, they arise because public officials allow probation companies to profit by extracting fees directly from probationers, and then fail to exercise the kind of oversight needed to protect probationers from abusive and extortionate practices.  All too often, offenders on private probation are threatened with jail for failing to pay probation fees they simply cannot afford, and some spend time behind bars.

February 6, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Sex offender fights registry by registering his registerers"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting Washington Post article discussing an efforts of, and challenges facing, one registered sex offender seeking to showcase the realities of being a registered person.  Here are excerpts:

If nothing else, Dennis Sobin is not your typical ex-con.

At first glance, he looks like the model returning citizen: After serving more than a decade in prison, Sobin, 70, returned to the District, started a gallery for prison art and ran for mayor. His nonprofit organizations have received grants from George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts and, in 2010, he appeared on the cover of the Washington City Paper .

But Sobin is also sex offender. A former pornographer who’s appeared on “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show” and “Geraldo,” Sobin was convicted of sexual performance using a minor in 1992 in Florida. So, every 90 days, Sobin must report to D.C.’s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), and his photo appears on D.C.’s public registry.

Sobin thinks it’s unfair. So, for his latest act, Sobin has decided to protest his treatment by creating his own online data base and registering the people who monitor him at the sex offender registry. Now, in an unusual case that will be heard on Tuesday, a D.C. Superior Court judge will decide whether a court employee can file a civil protection order to prevent Sobin from posting her photo on his anti-registry registry, www.idiotsregistry.info, and distributing her photograph on fliers.

“Here at www.IdiotsRegistry.info you will find the names of politicians and public figures who have encouraged the creation of, or have refused to denounce, government registration websites that target citizens for harassment,” Sobin’s site reads. “In the tradition of Nazi registration of Jews and Gypsies and the Salem lists of alleged witches, modern government registries are unfair and un-American.”

Stephanie Gray, who works for CSOSA, is asking the court to force Sobin to remove her picture from the site. Sobin, who was under Gray’s supervision until she got another position at the agency, did not mince words when criticizing Gray. “Face of Evil: ‘Registry Specialist’ Stephanie Gray shoots icy stare,” Sobin posted under a photo of Gray. “Gray requested and received a transfer due to the guilt she felt in her loathsome job.”

Sobin said his action was inspired by Supreme Court rulings which hold that sex offender registries are not punitive and do not constitute double jeopardy. “If it’s not punishment to be on a list, we thought we’d put the people who do the registering on a list,” he said.

Gray took another view. “He writes derogatory information about me,” Gray wrote in her request for a protection order. “I have been move[d] from the Sex Offender Registry and he continues to trash the bldg. where I am with pictures he has taken of me without me knowing.”

Should Sobin prevail,“It would send a message to all sex offenders in the District of Columbia,” according to a petition filed by Gray’s attorneys which accused Sobin of stalking. “Convicted criminals required to report to CSOSA could harass them with impunity under the guise of protected political speech.” Gray, through her attorneys, declined comment, as did CSOSA.

Sobin has found an ally: the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief on his behalf. “We think there are some significant First Amendment issues,” said Art Spitzer, legal director of ACLU’s D.C. office, who pointed out that Gray is not alleging physical harm. “Domestic violence laws are supposed to protect people from crimes, but not hurt feelings. . . . People are allowed to embarrass each other and make each other feel bad when making a political point.”...

Should Sobin win, Gray’s civil protection request will be denied, but D.C.’s sex offender registry will not be affected. But, Sobin said, he’ll have struck a blow for free speech and shown the flawed logic behind the registry — even if there’s collateral damage.

“Ms. Gray happens to be a very sensitive, compassionate individual who is on the registration list,” Sobin said. “It’s a war. . . . They’re involved in this registration thing and unless they move themselves out, we’re going to oppose them.”

January 26, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Monday, January 20, 2014

Explaining why I am rooting so hard for "Amy" in Paroline

Oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States now is just a couple of days away, and this new AP article provides effective background on the case while also helping to spotlight some reasons I am rooting hard for "Amy" and her advocates to prevail:

The case being argued at the Supreme Court on Wednesday involves a Texas man who pleaded guilty to having images of children engaged in sex acts on his computer.  Doyle Randall Paroline is appealing an order holding him responsible for the full amount of losses, nearly $3.4 million, suffered by the woman known as Amy.  Of the several hundred incriminating images on Paroline's computer, just two were of Amy.

Advocates for child pornography victims say that holding defendants liable for the entire amount of losses better reflects the ongoing harm that victims suffer each time someone views the images online. The threat of a large financial judgment, coupled with a prison term, also might deter some people from looking at the images in the first place, the advocates say.

Thirty-four states, dozens of victims' rights and child advocacy groups, local prosecutors and members of Congress are urging the court to uphold the ruling against Paroline by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

No one has intervened on Paroline's behalf. But his lawyer, Stanley Schneider of Houston, said in court papers that there is no link between the restitution ordered by the appeals court and Paroline's conduct. "An award of $3.4 million against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate," Schneider said....

The Obama administration is trying to steer a middle course. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said the government agrees with Amy that her injury comes from the widespread viewing on the Internet of the assaults by her uncle. "The real question is whether ... a court must impose all of Amy's aggregate losses on each defendant. On that issue, Amy and the government take different views," Verrilli told the court. The administration said the correct answer is greater than zero and less than the entire amount and said trial judges should make the determination....

Regardless of the outcome of the court case, Congress could change the law. The U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that lawmakers consider doing just that to eliminate confusion among federal judges about the right way to calculate restitution....

Since 2005, there have been about 2,000 prosecutions in federal court that, like Paroline's, included images of the rapes, for which Amy's uncle spent about 10 years in prison and paid a few thousand dollars for counseling sessions for Amy.... Courts so far have awarded restitution in 182 cases and Amy has collected $1.6 million. Of that total, $1.2 million came from one man.

Typically, the court-ordered awards and the amounts collected have been much smaller, as little as $50 in one case, according to Justice Department records. Many judges have ordered no payments at all, Marsh said. The restitution law does not allow Amy to receive more than the lifetime estimate of her losses, Marsh said. But until the 5th Circuit ruling, Marsh said, "She has been forced to go around the country endlessly seeking out defendants with assets. It's endless, and it takes a toll on the victim."

If upheld, the ruling would change the equation.  Courts would not have to determine exactly how much harm any one defendant caused Amy.  Instead, all defendants would be liable for the entire outstanding amount, raising the possibility that a few well-heeled people among those convicted might contribute most, if not all, of the remaining restitution. Marsh said such an outcome would be just, and wealthy defendants could fight among themselves about who should pay what. "It's really about shifting the burden from the innocent victim to the people who are responsible," Marsh said.

Long-time readers know that I take a consequentialist view on most sentencing and punishment issues, and I strongly believe better consequences will prevail if all persons convicted of unlawfully downloading Amy's picture are all jointly liable for the full amount of her documented economic losses.  As the AP article suggests, if Amy wins then only the richest porn downloaders will end up paying her the most money in restitution.  But if DOJ's vague approach prevails, the richest porn downloaders will likely end up spending lots of money on lawyers in order to aggressively argue at sentencing that they should not have to pay much or any restitution to Amy or other victims.

More broadly, I actually think better consequences can and will ultimately prevail for future federal defendants convicted of unlawfully downloading child porn if Amy prevails in this case.  This is because I think, in light of the instructions of 18 USC 3553(a), federal judges would in the future be fully justified (and arguably even required) to generally impose a shorter federal prison sentence on a child porn defendant if and whenever that defendant is to be held jointly liable for the full amount of documented economic losses.  (Intriguingly, Doyle Randall Paroline himself got sentenced only to two years in prison, while the average downloader of child porn prosecuted in federal court these days gets a prison term of nearly a decade.)    

In her reporting and commentary on this issue (noted here and here), Emily Bazelon has rightly suggested that having child porn downloaders pay for their crimes through full restitution award (rather than through very lengthy prison terms) makes for better outcomes not only for victims but also for society.  As she has explained:

[J]oint and several liability ... works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants.  Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible.  This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts.  If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.

Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse.  For Amy [and other like victims], it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times.  Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution.  The Supreme Court should too.  And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.

Because DOJ is not completely on Amy's side, and because some of the more conservative Justices have in the past expressed some constitutional concerns about some victims getting big awards in tort suits, I do not think it a certainty that Amy will prevail in this matter.  But because this is technically a statutory interpretation case, and because the briefs on Amy's side have done such an effective job highlighting reasons to think Congress would want Amy to prevail in this battle of equities, I think she has a pretty good chance to prevail.

A few (of many) prior posts on Paroline and child porn restitution issues:

January 20, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Orange County DA hoping California high court will rescue local sex offender park ban

As reported in this local article, headlined "D.A. will take sex-offenders fight to state Supreme Court," a California prosecutor is planning to seek review in the Supreme Court of a lower state appellate court ruling that struck down local laws banning sex offenders from parks.  Here are the details:

The Orange County District Attorney's Office plans to go to the California Supreme Court to defend local ordinances that ban registered sex offenders from city parks.  A state appeals court on Friday struck down an Irvine law that barred registered sex offenders from city parks without written permission from police, a ruling that will become legal precedent. The court also struck down a similar Orange County law.

About a dozen other Orange County cities passed similar ordinances banning sex offenders from parks at the urging of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.  Rackauckas helped craft Orange County's law with county Supervisor Shawn Nelson. “Protecting children from dangerous sex offenders is an ongoing war, and we believe that it's one of the most important jobs we have at the D.A.'s (office),” said Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas' chief of staff.

Janice Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, said of the pending appeal. “I think they're foolish to do it. They're wasting taxpayer money.”  Bellucci said her organization will urge Orange County cities that adopted similar legislation to pull the laws off their books or face a lawsuit.  

Opponents criticize the ordinances as overly broad and an infringement on civil rights.  They are “unenforceable,” Bellucci said.  “These ordinances give a false sense of security to parents. They don't really protect their children from those who are most likely to assault their children,” Bellucci said....

The Orange County ordinance, which became a model for local cities, made it a misdemeanor for any registered sex offender to enter a county park, beach or other recreational area without permission from the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Those convicted would face six months in jail or a $500 fine.

In Friday's ruling, a panel of judges said state laws regulating sex offenders pre-empt any local ordinances.  State law has long overseen sex-offender registration, the opinion said. State law already regulates where sex offenders may live and also identifies certain sex offenders who must be monitored by law-enforcement via GPS.

Offenders whose victims were younger than 14 may only enter parks where children gather with permission from their parole agents. The laws create a comprehensive system regulating sex offenders' daily lives, the court said.  No outright ban on sex offenders in parks is included in state law, an omission that “manifests a legislative determination that such a ban is not warranted,” the court said. Any such local laws undermine the decisions of the Legislature, the court said.

January 16, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

"Should We Let Prisoners Upgrade Their Prison Cells?"

9515_luxury_prison_by_iMoo_pupuDesign-1The title of this post is the headline of this interesting report from the OZY media resource. Here are excerpts:

Would prison be so bad if your cell was spacious and included a private bathroom, kitchen and cable TV? These are the accommodations for some prisoners at San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. But luxury isn’t free: For about $1,000-1,500, an inmate can purchase a high-class cell for the duration of his or her sentence.

San Pedro is divided into eight sections ranging from shared small cells with risks of stabbings at night to the opulent cells that have access to billiard tables and fresh juice stands. Every person must buy or rent a cell, no matter the quality, and many inmates have jobs as hairdressers, laundry staff, food stall operators or TV repairmen.

Does the idea of paying for better prison accommodations sound ludicrous? Would you bet this could never happen in the U.S.? Think again.

In California there are multiple jails with “pay-to-stay” programs where inmates can pay from $75-155 a day for a private cell in quiet areas away from violent offenders, and they are occasionally allowed to bring in an iPod or computer for entertainment. They must be approved for the program and their crimes are usually minor offenses. The ACLU is not a fan, calling the program a “jail for the rich.”

Supporters of pay-to-stay say they benefit the cities where they are located by providing revenue. For example, if the Fremont jail — which spends $8.35 a day on each inmate — houses 16 inmates for two nights per week a year, the city would net a profit of about $244,000. One immediate question is whether cities should make a profit off of prisoners. Another question has to do with equality.

Two people who commit the same crime but end up in different facilities depending on their ability to pay isn’t exactly equitable, but the American incarceration system doesn’t have the best record when it comes to treating the poor and rich equally....

But what if you weren’t allowed to use Daddy’s dollars to secure better living conditions while serving time for a DUI? What if, instead, you started out the same as every other inmate, regardless of personal wealth or outside resources?

Could a fairer option be that you start your sentence with a financial blank slate, earn money by taking jobs inside the prison or jail and then apply your self-earned dollars to book a nicer and more comfortable living situation? Should prisoners be allowed to pay to upgrade the quality of their cells, or should the nature of their crime be the sole factor in how they live out their prison terms?

January 7, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, January 06, 2014

"Sex offender seeks admission to Kentucky bar"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article discussing a notable dispute concerning the potential professional collateral consequences of getting convicted of downloading the wrong dirty pictures.  Here are the details, followed by a bit of commentary: 

Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith graduated in the top third of his law school class at the University of Kentucky, but the state Supreme Court blocked him from taking the bar exam because he is a registered sex offender.  In the first case of its kind in Kentucky, the court rejected Hamilton-Smith’s bid and a move by the state Office of Bar Admissions to create and endorse a blanket rule that would have kept all registered sex offenders from gaining access to the bar.

“Rather, we believe the better course would be to allow any applicant for bar admission who is on the sex offender registry the opportunity to make his or her case on an individualized basis,” Chief Justice John D. Minton wrote in the Dec. 19 opinion on Hamilton-Smith’s case and the proposed rule.

Hamilton-Smith, who was convicted of a charge related to child pornography in 2007, has until Jan. 13 to ask the court to reconsider its decision. In an email, Hamilton-Smith referred Associated Press questions to his attorney, who said the reconsideration request will be filed.

Nationally, cases of felons seeking admission or re-admission to the bar are common. But situations of registered sex offenders attempting to do so appear to be rare. Beyond a recent rejection in Ohio and an ongoing case in Virginia, legal experts and those who work to rehabilitate sex offenders couldn’t recall a similar situation arising in recent years.

But Shelley Stow of Reform Sex Offender Laws — a Massachusetts-based organization that seeks to ease restrictions on offenders and promote rehabilitation — said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more cases out there. “It is so difficult for registrants to even get jobs and support themselves and function day to day, let alone pursue a law career,” she said.

The Kentucky case brings up the question of how to treat someone who has admitted to criminal activity, wants to rehabilitate himself and serve others, but is still monitored by law enforcement, said Hamilton-Smith’s attorney, Scott White, of Lexington. “It’s a highly stigmatized thing,” White said.

Hamilton-Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a child in March 2007. He received a five-year prison sentence, which was suspended, and was required to register as a sex offender for 20 years — until 2027.

After disclosing the conviction and sex offender status on his applications, Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University and Brandeis Law School at the University of Louisville both rejected him in 2008. But the University of Kentucky College of Law accepted him in 2008 and he graduated in 2011. Hamilton-Smith later competed on the National Trial Team and National Moot Court Team, and he had a piece published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal through the University of California law school.

Since graduating in 2011, Hamilton-Smith has held a non-lawyer position for Baldani, Rowland and Richardson. The Lexington firm has filed letters in support of Hamilton-Smith taking the bar exam, White said. But Hamilton-Smith still has not been cleared by the Kentucky Office of Bar Admissions to take the exam that would allow him to practice law.

White called Hamilton-Smith “a classic sex addict.”

“The classic example is somebody who just downloads buckets of pornography,” White said. “In that download, there just happened to be child pornography.” In this case, Hamilton-Smith has gone through Sex Addicts Anonymous, despite a few admitted relapses with adult, but not child, pornography, White said.

White also said his client used law school as a redemptive and rehabilitative effort while owning up to his criminal conduct. “He just hasn’t let it define him,” White said....

For the justices, the nature of the crime defines someone lacking in the “requisite character and fitness” to be admitted to the bar.  “Indeed, our certification could significantly mislead the public into believing that we vouch for (Hamilton-Smith’s) good character,” Minton wrote.  “Consequently, a client’s subsequent discovery of the registry listing could then justifiably lead him to question the value of this court’s certification of the good character of those who are permitted to take the bar examination.”

I find this matter interesting for lots of reasons, especially because I suspect that Hamilton-Smith's personal background and recent professional challenges are likely to make him a much better lawyer to serve the (ever-growing) legal needs of the (ever-growing) sex offender population.  Indeed, were I running a law firm that often dealt with sex offense cases and offenders, I would be very eager to hire Hamilton-Smith to help me serve this client population whether or not he ever gets admitted to the bar.

That said, it is quite possible (even likely?) that Hamilton-Smith is eager to develop a legal practice that has nothing to do with sex offenders.  If that is true, I cannot help but wonder and worry that his status as a registered sex offender may always serve as a problematic disability in the competitive legal marketplace: I fear Hamilton-Smith's adversaries may be inclined (even perhaps eager) to use the modern stigma associated with sex offenders to harmfully impact both Hamilton-Smith and his clients.

More broadly, if the goal of the barring process was only to ensure that only those capable of being a competent lawyer served in this profession, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should be allowed to sit for the bar exam.  Conversely, if the goal the barring process was only to ensure that nobody with a blemished past could become a lawyer, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should not be allowed to sit for the bar exam.  But because it seems the goal of the barring process is a little of both, this is an interesting case.

Cross-posted at PrawfsBlawg

January 6, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Feds now saying Lynne Stewart should get compassionate release from prison term

This notable new AP story, headlined "Government asks NY judge to release ailing ex-terror trial lawyer from 10-year prison term," provides the grist for a useful final post for 2013. Here are the basics:

A dying former civil rights lawyer convicted in a terrorism case and sentenced to 10 years in prison is entitled to compassionate release because she has less than 18 months to live, prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Prisons told a judge on Tuesday.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, the government said 74-year-old Lynne Stewart was suffering from breast cancer that has metastasized to the lungs and bones. "Despite aggressive treatment, doctors have advised that her prognosis is poor," the letter said, adding she also has been diagnosed with anemia, high blood pressure, asthma and Type 2 diabetes. Stewart has been undergoing treatment at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas, as supporters have rallied to get her released. Once released, the letter said, she will live with her adult son in Brooklyn.

Stewart was convicted of helping a blind Egyptian sheik communicate with followers while he was serving a life sentence in a plot to blow up five New York landmarks and assassinate then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. She has been imprisoned since 2009 and wasn't scheduled for release until August 2018.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2005. The cancer went into remission but was discovered to have recurred after she was imprisoned. Stewart has written to the judge, saying she doesn't want to die in "a strange and loveless place" and wants to go home.

A previous compassionate-release request was denied in part on the grounds that Stewart had more than 18 months to live, though the judge said he would act promptly if the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed she had less than 18 months to live and granted a compassionate-release application.

A federal appeals court in 2012 upheld Stewart's 10-year sentence, saying she earned it through serious crimes that she refused to acknowledge. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was fair to boost Stewart's sentence from the two years and four months she was given in 2006. The three-judge panel that had ordered Stewart to be resentenced said it disagreed with her claim that her sentence was "shockingly high." It accused her of exhibiting a "stark inability to understand the seriousness of her crimes."

Arguably the biggest sentencing story of 2013 has been a (slight?) softening around the edges of a very harsh federal criminal justice system, largely as a product of the work of Attorney General Eric Holder. It is thus perhaps fitting that on the last day of 2013, federal officials are now supporting compassionate release for Stewart, only a few years after they succeeded in a multi-year, multi-court fight to seek to ensure she received a lengthy prison sentence that could have ensured she had to die in prison.

December 31, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (33) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Audit reveals serious problems with GPS tracking of serious offenders in LA

As reported in this new Los Angeles Times article, headlined "One in four GPS devices on criminals in L.A. County were faulty," the potential technical problems posed by technocorrections have been revealed by a new local audit. Here is how the story starts:

One in every four GPS devices used to track serious criminals released in Los Angeles County has proved to be faulty, according to a probation department audit — allowing violent felons to roam undetected for days or, in some cases, weeks.

The problems included batteries that wouldn't hold a charge and defective electronics that generated excessive false alarms. One felon, county officials said, had to have his GPS monitor replaced 11 times over a year; for five days during the 45-day audit period, his whereabouts were unknown. "If you have faulty technology, that is a recipe for disaster," said Reaver Bingham, deputy chief of the probation department.

The findings come as nearly every California county is moving forward with some form of electronic monitoring to contend with tens of thousands of state inmates being released to their supervision, an offshoot of the effort to reduce prison overcrowding.

In Kern County, officials have instituted a "virtual jail." San Bernardino County is using GPS to track its homeless felons. And Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has floated a proposal to move 3,000 inmates out of crowded jails and into the community wearing GPS trackers.

Mandated for use on high-risk sex offenders by the 2006 passage of "Jessica's Law," GPS tracking has been promoted by both lawmakers and state law enforcement officials as a safe and cost-effective alternative to prison or jail. However, a Los Angeles Times investigation earlier this year showed that California corrections officials were aware of massive problems in their program. Citing an "imminent danger" to the public, the state in 2011 quietly replaced the GPS monitors on half of the paroled sex offenders.

Los Angeles County began leaning on electronic monitoring heavily in 2011, putting GPS devices on its highest-risk felons — repeat sex offenders, domestic abusers who had violated restraining orders and violent gang members.

December 29, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack