Thursday, January 29, 2015
"The Eternal Criminal Record"
The title of this post is the title of this important new book by James B. Jacobs. Here is a description of the book via the publisher's website:
For over sixty million Americans, possessing a criminal record overshadows everything else about their public identity. A rap sheet, or even a court appearance or background report that reveals a run-in with the law, can have fateful consequences for a person’s interactions with just about everyone else. The Eternal Criminal Record makes transparent a pervasive system of police databases and identity screening that has become a routine feature of American life.
The United States is unique in making criminal information easy to obtain by employers, landlords, neighbors, even cyberstalkers. Its nationally integrated rap-sheet system is second to none as an effective law enforcement tool, but it has also facilitated the transfer of ever more sensitive information into the public domain. While there are good reasons for a person’s criminal past to be public knowledge, records of arrests that fail to result in convictions are of questionable benefit. Simply by placing someone under arrest, a police officer has the power to tag a person with a legal history that effectively incriminates him or her for life.
In James Jacobs’s view, law-abiding citizens have a right to know when individuals in their community or workplace represent a potential threat. But convicted persons have rights, too. Jacobs closely examines the problems created by erroneous record keeping, critiques the way the records of individuals who go years without a new conviction are expunged, and proposes strategies for eliminating discrimination based on criminal history, such as certifying the records of those who have demonstrated their rehabilitation.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Could charter schools within the prison system help reduce recidivism?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting article from Georgia headlined "Gov. Deal wants new charter high schools for prison system." Here are excerpts:
Gov. Nathan Deal in the both the amended 2015 and 2016 budgets is [recommending the legislature devote] money to help lower the recidivism rate in Georgia’s prisons. He’s including over $15 million dollars for two new charter high schools in the prison system so inmates can actually earn a diploma as opposed to just a GED. He says seven out of ten Georgia inmates have neither.
“Education can open the door of opportunity while shutting the revolving door that has plagued our prison system for far too long,” says Deal.
The recommendation includes nearly 30 academic positions for the new schools which would begin with the 2015-2016 school year. Deal says the schools would partner with the newly renamed Georgia Career College System, formerly the state’s technical colleges, to teach vocational skills. He says private prisons would also be given incentives to do the same.
“With a high school diploma or a GED, these individuals will certainly be better equipped to get a job and hopefully able to assume a greater pursuit of a job opportunity in the future because they have this basic education behind them,” says Deal.
He’s also including money to help inmates better assimilate into society once released through a transitional housing program for those inmates considered at highest risk for reoffending. Another $5 million is being proposed to expand the state’s accountability courts to keep non-violent offenders out of prison.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Another remarkable exoneration thanks only to NC Innocence Inquiry Commission
On this blog, I typically do not extensively cover or frequently discuss exonerations and criminal appeals based on actual innocence claims because, as some may know, I fear guilt/innocence concerns can at times distort sentencing procedures and policy debates focused only on indisputably guilty persons. But this new amazing story out of North Carolina, headlined "After 36 years, Joseph Sledge's unfamiliar feeling: normal," seemed especially blogworthy for various reasons.
Most significantly, I think, is that this remarkable NC story highlights the unique benefits resulting if (and perhaps only when) a jurisdiction has a special institution and special procedures for dealing specifically with innocence claims. Here are the basic of one remarkable story that is embedded in the broader realities of North Carolina's unique approach to innocence concerns:
Joseph Sledge looked out across Lake Waccamaw on Friday afternoon, shivering against a cold January rain and trying to embrace an unfamiliar feeling: normal. Sledge walked out of jail Friday for the first time in 36 years without the burden of handcuffs and shackles.
He is finally free. The state had been wrong about him in 1978, and in all the years since; he is no killer. At 70, he will begin again. “I’m full up on freedom,” Sledge said shyly, leaning over a menu at Dale’s Seafood, a lakeside restaurant in rural Columbus County.
Sledge is the eighth man freed through a unique process that forces the state to deal with prisoners’ claims of innocence. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, created in 2006, examined Sledge’s innocence claim over the last 18 months, and in December, it voted that his case merited a possible exoneration.
On Friday afternoon, a trio of judges did just that. Jon David, the Columbus County district attorney, made their decision swift and easy; David told judges he had become convinced that Sledge was innocent.
As Superior Court Judge Tom Lock announced Sledge’s exoneration, a dozen photographers and reporters rushed toward Sledge and his attorneys. Sledge smiled slightly as his attorneys, Christine Mumma and Cheryl Sullivan of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, pulled him close. Applause erupted....
Sledge ... stole some T-shirts from a department store in the early 1970s. A judge sentenced him to four years in a prison camp in rural Eastern North Carolina. In 1976, with just a year left in his sentence, he escaped from the White Lake Prison Camp one night after a beef with another inmate.
That very night, not 5 miles away, someone brutally murdered Josephine and Ailene Davis, a mother and daughter, who lived together in rural Bladen County. That horrible coincidence set the course for Sledge’s life.
Sledge’s exoneration is bittersweet. It comes after dozens of mistakes and casual dismissals of his pleas for help. David, the district attorney, ticked through the justice system’s blind spots in Sledge’s case. The system wasn’t what it is now, he said. No DNA testing was available. The best it had – microscopic hair comparison – could only determine that Sledge’s pubic hair was consistent with pieces left on one victim’s exposed torso. Sledge’s escape and the wild testimony of two jailhouse informants made it all seem too obvious during the 1978 trial, which had been moved to Columbus County.
David said Friday that he regretted the system’s weaknesses and any part that court officials played in it. “There’s nothing we regret more to our values as prosecutors than to believe an innocent person is in prison,” David said. He offered Sledge an apology.
Mumma, who first encountered Sledge’s case a decade ago, has had a hard time swallowing all of the ways the criminal justice system failed Sledge – and the amount of time it took to make it right. Clues that should have sent investigators to other suspects were disregarded. None of the nearly 100 fingerprints taken from the crime scene matched Sledge’s. Investigators also collected head hairs from the victims’ bodies, but Sledge had always shaved his bare.
During two decades, Sledge sent dozens of letters to judges, police officials and prosecutors asking that they find and test evidence from his case for DNA. Yet it took nearly 20 years for a clerk to find hairs that would prove his innocence. By happenstance, a Columbus County clerk climbed a ladder in late 2012 while cleaning the evidence vault; she found an envelope flat on the top shelf with the missing hairs. The clerks had been ordered to search for that evidence as far back as 2003.
Without the state’s new apparatus for testing innocence claims, Sledge might have remained in prison. The Center on Actual Innocence and the Innocence Inquiry Commission interviewed dozens of people, testing memories that had faded over decades. Commission staff discovered crime scene evidence and investigators’ notes that local sheriff’s deputies had said for years had been lost or destroyed. The commission spent $60,000 on forensic testing.
January 24, 2015 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Should a court hearing be required anytime a registered sex offender seeks entry to a public school?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable article from Virginia headlined "ACLU questions new sex offender bill." Here are the details:
Their faces and address are already public, now one Virginia lawmaker wants registered sex offenders to face public hearings before going inside schools. To have access to Virginia public schools, House Bill 1366 would require violent sex offenders to pay for a newspaper ad publicizing a personal court hearing. It would run once a week for two weeks. Then anyone could attend the hearing and testify against them.
The bills author, Delegate Jeff Campbell, says it’s about safety, but the ACLU says it crosses the line of civil rights. “The public hearing is simply an invitation for an angry mob to gather at a school and get in the way of a parent’s right to be involved in the education of his or her child,” said ACLU of Virginia’s Executive Director Claire Gastanaga.
Gastanaga said there is no real proof that registries and restrictions like this keep kids safer. He said the most direct impact of the bill would be on parents with kids in school who want to go and meet with the kids’ teachers.
Delegate Campbell disagrees: “I disagree totally, what it does is it gives parents of the other children a say in who is around their children.”... “The public’s right to know who is around their children and to have a say in whether they agree in that or not trumps that individual’s right to free access to the school,” he said.
Currently, sex offenders must inform school superintendents before they go inside a Virginia school. Delegate Campbell said there was an incident last year in Wise County where a parent did that and got permission to attend sporting events, but then started showing up to school at other times. Parents got upset and that is the reason for his bill.
A subcommittee unanimously passed the bill on Monday, but there is no set date yet for it to go before the full committee.
Because Virginia's court system is surely already pretty crowded, the burden this bill will create for state court personnel strikes me as significant and notable. A bit of research revealed that there are about 20,000 registered sex offenders in Virginia. Even if only 10% of that group has good reason to go to a public school each year, the Virginia court system is going to have to handle 2000 more annual hearing to consider (and supervise?) any school visit.
Friday, January 16, 2015
AG Holder announces notable new limits on civil forfeitures to fund local police
As reported in this Washington Post article, headlined "Holder limits seized-asset sharing process that split billions with local, state police," the out-going Attorney General today announce a notable new policy that ought to take some of the economic incentives out of some drug war enforcement activities. Here are the basics:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without proving that a crime occurred. Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing. The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.
“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement. Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.
While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund. A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”
Holder’s decision follows a Washington Post investigation published in September that found that police have made cash seizures worth almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
January 16, 2015 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Fifth Circuit reverses computer filter lifetime supervised release condition for sex offender
A Fifth Circuit panel yesterday handed down an intriguing little ruling in US v. Fernandez, No. 14-30151 (5th Cir. Jan. 14, 2015) (available here), reversing a notable condition of supervised release. Here is how the ruling starts and ends:
In 2013, Fernando Fernandez was convicted, pursuant to his guilty plea, of failing to register as a sex offender, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). He challenges a life-term special condition of supervised release, requiring him to “install [computer] filtering software . . . block[ing]/monitor[ing] access to sexually oriented websites” for “any computer he possesses or uses”. At issue is whether the court abused its discretion by imposing the software-installation special condition in the light of, inter alia, Fernandez’ neither using a computer nor the Internet in committing either his current offense (failing to register as a sex offender) or his underlying sex offense (sexual assault of a child)....
In the light of the facts at hand, the district court abused its discretion in imposing the software-installation special condition provision at issue, when, inter alia, neither his failure-to-register offense nor his criminal history has any connection to computer use or the Internet. Similar to Tang, the special condition imposed in this instance is related neither to the nature and circumstances of Fernandez’ offense (failing to register as a sex offender) nor his criminal history and characteristics.
Along that line, the district court’s reason for justifying the special condition is not sufficiently tied to the facts. As noted, for justifying its imposition, the court stated: “‘Failure to register’ means he’s a sex offender in the past. Ease of access through the Internet”. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the court’s general concerns about recidivism or that Fernandez would use a computer to perpetrate future sex-crimes are insufficient to justify the imposition of an otherwise unrelated software-installation special condition.
January 15, 2015 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack
Friday, January 02, 2015
"Policing Public Order Without the Criminal Law"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper now available via SSRN authored by Charlie Gerstein and J.J. Prescott. Here is the abstract:
Millions of Americans every year are charged with and detained for “public order” offenses. These minor offenses are unusual in that the actual sentence violators receive when convicted — usually time already served in detention — is beside the point. Rather, public order offenses are “enforced” prior to any conviction by subjecting accused individuals to arrest, detention, and other legal process. These “process costs” are significant; in fact, they distort plea bargaining to the point that the substantive law behind the bargained-for conviction is largely irrelevant.
Maintaining public order is an important civic function, yet these unmoored cases have serious long-term consequences for defendants, their families, and our criminal justice institutions. Many scholars have argued that vague terms and broad standards in defining public order crimes results in broad discretion that leads to abuse.
In this essay, we argue instead that criminal law process costs essentially decouple statutory discretion from actual police behavior, rendering the debate about statutory language by and large moot. Abuse is better addressed by first recognizing that, in the context of public order crimes, discretion has little to do with substantive criminal law and that, instead, focus is much better placed on mitigating the harmful consequences discretion can generate and on limiting police discretion through other means. To this end, we propose providing the police with new civil enforcement tools that will be equally effective at preserving order but that will in all likelihood cause significantly less unnecessary harm.
January 2, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Monday, December 29, 2014
Pennsylvania Supreme Court declares state's sex offender registration regulations violate juve offenders' due process rights
Via How Appealing, I see that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued this majority opinion in In the Interest of J.B., J-44A-G-2014 (Pa. Dec. 29, 2014), declaring unconstitutional part of the state's sex offender registration laws (over a lone justice's dissenting opinion). Here is a portion from the start and end of the majority opinion:
In this case, we consider the constitutionality of provisions of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) as applied to juveniles. 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9799.10-9799.41. Pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 722(7), we review this case directly from the order of the York County Court of Common Pleas holding the statute unconstitutional as violative of the ex post facto clause, protections against cruel and unusual punishment, and due process rights through the use of an irrebuttable presumption. In the Interest of J.B. et al., No. CP-67-JV-726-2010 (CP York Nov. 1, 2013). After review, we affirm the determination that SORNA violates juvenile offenders’ due process rights through the use of an irrebuttable presumption....
Given that juvenile offenders have a protected right to reputation encroached by SORNA’s presumption of recidivism, where the presumption is not universally true, and where there is a reasonable alternative means for ascertaining the likelihood of recidivating, we hold that the application of SORNA’s current lifetime registration requirements upon adjudication of specified offenses violates juvenile offenders’ due process rights by utilizing an irrebuttable presumption.
December 29, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Friday, December 26, 2014
South Dakota legislator suggests using drug war proceeds to fund public defenders
This local article, headlined "Hickey: Use seized drug money for public defender," reports on some notable public advocacy by a public official concerning public defenders in South Dakota. Here are the details:
A Sioux Falls lawmaker wants to use seized drug money to help pay the legal defense bills of those who can't afford a lawyer, but the state's attorney general says counties should look elsewhere to save money on court-appointed attorney costs.
Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, says the money in the state's Drug Control Fund is correctly used to tackle the problem of drug use, but he says he worries about the legal costs counties bear after the arrest. The fund is made up of money seized during drug investigations and money from the sale of seized property, such as vehicles.
"My thought is that we should put some of that money not just into catching more bad guys, but put some of it into the cost of defending them we're stuck with afterward," Hickey said. "We get excited about sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, but after those tickets get written, someone has to pick up the tab."
Hickey's bill would ask for a more thorough accounting of the money seized by law enforcement from suspected drug dealers and direct between 25 percent and 50 percent of it toward the legal fees amassed by counties. The fund is administered by Attorney General Marty Jackley's Office, which decides where the seized money is spent. "It seems to me that there's very little oversight," Hickey said....
Counties are legally obligated to offer court-appointed lawyers to the indigent. Local governments can ask that legal fees be repaid, but many bills go unpaid, either because defendants don't earn enough or own enough to pay or because they go to prison or jail.
Hickey's proposal comes alongside growing concerns over court-appointed attorney fees in Minnehaha County. Commissioners want judges to consider income guidelines when deciding whether to appoint a public defender, and they've offered a county employee to check defendants' income statements.
The state's largest county has spent $3.8 million on indigent defense this year, but reimbursements from defendants stand at $824,000. The county also has more than $26 million in liens on defendants who haven't paid their bill.
Commissioner Cindy Heiberger hasn't seen Hickey's proposal, but says any discussion about helping the counties that shoulder the burden of legal defense is welcome. "It sounds really good on the surface. Anything we can use to pay for court-appointed attorneys or court costs is something we should talk about," Heiberger said. But, she cautioned, "when we're taking money from one pot and moving it to another, we need to make sure the logistics make sense for everyone."
The notion of using seized drug money to pay for criminal defense doesn't sit well with Attorney General Marty Jackley. The drug control fund consists of money seized from suspected drug sales and other cash collected from auctioning off seized vehicles and other property. "I do not support using the profits of criminals to defend their activities," Jackley said.
The money pays the drug testing bills for cities and counties, Jackley said, and the remaining money is used to buy vehicles, camera systems and other items for local police and sheriff's departments. Giving some of the money to counties for indigent defense could force local agencies to bear the cost of drug testing and reduce the availability of funds for equipment upgrades and replacements.
In 2013, $70,514 was awarded from the drug control fund for law enforcement and prosecution costs in Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County. Overall in 2013, $643,722 was awarded from the drug control fund to local agencies. Drug control money pays an average of $60,000 per month to local law enforcement for drug testing, according to DCI records.
December 26, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
"Relief in Sight? States Rethink the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction, 2009-2014"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from The Vera Institute of Justice. Here are excerpts from the report's summary:
Collateral consequences of criminal convictions are legion and present significant and often insurmountable barriers to housing, public benefits, employment, and even certain civil rights (e.g., voting rights) for people with criminal histories well after sentence completion.
Lessening the burden of post-punishment penalties has become a matter of significant bipartisan state-level legislative activity in recent years. In this report, Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections provides (1) concise summaries of representative legislation, (2) an analysis of the limitations of current reforms, and (3) recommendations for making future efforts sustainable and comprehensive.
Since 2009, forty-one states and the District of Columbia, enacted 155 pieces of legislation to mitigate collateral consequences for people with certain criminal convictions. In reviewing this legislative activity, Vera found that states have pursed one or a combination of seven broad approaches to reform. They created or expanded expungement and sealing remedies; issued certificates of recovery; allowed for offense downgrades; built relief into the criminal justice process; ameliorated employment-related collateral consequences; improved access to information; and addressed discrete collateral consequences.
While efforts to remove or alleviate the impact of collateral consequences may indicate a broader shift in how the criminal justice system views law-breakers, vast numbers of post-punishment penalties remain in place and a closer look at recent legislation suggests that efforts do not go far enough. In particular:
- Reforms are narrow in scope;
- Relief mechanisms are not easily accessible;
- Waiting periods are long in many cases; and
- New rules restricting third-party use of criminal history are difficult to enforce.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Is US Rep. Grimm likely to advocate for federal sentencing reform following his felony plea?
The question in the title of this post is my first thought after reading this interesting Reuters story in the wake of a high-profile federal tax fraud plea entered today. The piece is headlined "U.S. Representative Grimm says will not resign after pleading guilty to tax fraud," and here are details:
U.S. Representative Michael Grimm of New York said he would not resign from Congress following his guilty plea on Tuesday to a federal felony tax charge. "As long as I'm able to serve, I'm going to," said Grimm, who noted he easily won a third term in November despite a 20-count federal indictment unveiled in April.
Grimm, a Republican, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to aiding the preparation of a false tax return in connection with a health food restaurant, Healthalicious, that he co-owned before his political career. "While operating a restaurant, we underestimated the gross receipts and used some of the money to pay employees off the books and some other expenses," Grimm said in court.
As part of a plea deal, Grimm, whose trial had been scheduled for February, also signed a statement of facts, admitting to concealing over $900,000 in gross receipts from 2007 to 2010 and lying during a 2013 deposition....
A Boehner spokesman said he would not comment until he has discussed the issue with Grimm. Grimm told reporters he has had "private discussions" with leadership but would not elaborate.
The 44-year-old former Marine and FBI agent, who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in New York City, faces a maximum of three years in prison when he is sentenced on June 8. His lawyers indicated they would seek a more lenient sentence.
Grimm told reporters he was accepting responsibility for a "mistake" that occurred before he joined Congress. "For the past four years, I've been a very effective, strong member of Congress," he said, adding that he had received many words of support from his constituents.
House members who plead guilty to a crime that carries two or more years in prison "should" refrain from voting on the floor or participating in committee business, according to House rules. The House could also vote to reprimand, censure or even expel Grimm, as it did in the case of Democratic Representative James Traficant, who was found guilty of taking bribes and other crimes in 2002 but refused to resign.
Prosecutors had accused Grimm of hiring illegal immigrants, paying staffers under the table and under-reporting how much he spent in wages. He was also charged with lying under oath about his practices while defending against a lawsuit brought by former Healthalicious employees.
The indictment grew out of a probe of Grimm's fundraising, morphing into one of the highest-profile prosecutions by the office of Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who has since been nominated to become U.S. attorney general. Lynch in a statement said the plea made clear that U.S. authorities "will vigorously investigate and prosecute fraud wherever we find it, and that no one is above the law."
Given that the last three US Presidents have all admitted violating federal drug laws and have all been (reasonably?) accused of violating many more federal laws, I am moved by Rep Grimm's claims that his admission of violating federal tax laws in the past should not require him to give up his current job making new laws. Moreover, as the title of this post hints, I think there could be real value in having a member of Congress with personal experience with the federal criminal justice system as a defendant.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Should problematic police be on a registry like sex offenders?
The provocative question in the title of this post is drawn from this provocative new commentary by Ed Krayewski at Reason titled "Time for a Police Offenders Registry." Here are excerpts:
There's a moral obligation to keep bad cops off the streets. A job with a police department is not a right and shouldn't be treated like one. Police unions that push for permissive rules that end up protecting bad cops pose a serious public safety threat. Nevertheless, dismantling them where they've taken root is a difficult prospect even in the long-term. There are other ways to keep bad cops off the streets. The federal government, and state governments, ought to create and encourage the use of a police offender registry list. Such a list would register individuals who while employed as law enforcement officers were found unfit for duty or faced serious disciplinary issues they may have resigned to avoid. Just as any other component of comprehensive police reform, this won't eliminate excessive police violence, but it's a start.
When actually identified, a surprising (or not) number of officers involved in controversial, high-profile use of force incidents have previously disciplinary history. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City cop who put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold, had been previously accused, at least twice, of racially-motivated misconduct, including strip searching a man in the middle of the street and allegedly hitting his testicles. The police union in New York City is among the strongest in the country. When a rookie cop shot Akai Gurley in apparent panic last month, he didn't think twice to reportedly contact his union rep first. A man lay dying in a stairwell for no other reason that he startled a rookie, and the fact that the officer called his union representative before calling for assistance isn't shocking enough to lead to the officer's termination. Even if it were, it would still be impossible to terminate the officer immediately. While all this is happening, the state of New York is on the verge of placing even more of the disciplinary regime that applies to cops under the purview of the police unions.
But not everywhere is the situation as hopeless as in New York City. In other parts of the country, cops can get fired relatively more easily. But it doesn't stop them from finding jobs elsewhere. Richard Combs, who was the sheriff and only cop in Eutawville, South Carolina, is now facing a murder charge for shooting a resident after an argument at Town Hall, but Combs had been previously terminated from the county sheriff's office for unspecified "unsatisfactory performance." In Cleveland, Ohio, the cop who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, mistaking the boy's toy gun for a real one, had been previously found too emotionally unstable and unfit to carry a firearm for law enforcement. In Georgia, the cop who shot and killed 17-year-old Christopher Roupe after the teen opened the door to his home holding a Wii controller, had been previously fired for multiple disciplinary problems including shooting at an unarmed person....
This is just a sampling of stories that received enough local attention to gain some prominence. The situation is unconscionable. Police found unfit for duty in one jurisdiction shouldn't be employed in another. Cops who resign to avoid disciplinary charges shouldn't slither their way into another department. Cops who cost taxpayers millions in lawsuit settlements shouldn't be able to expose taxpayers in other places to the same risk....
State governments, and the federal government, can help. Sex offender registries, which in some jurisdictions can lead to 19-year-olds who receive sexts from their 17-year-old friends being branded sexual predators for life, are an odious thing that makes a mockery of due process and the idea of the penal system as rehabilitation. But for some of the same reasons they would work to police the privilege of employment in law enforcement. Constitutionally, the federal government could not mandate states use its police offender registry list or operate their own. Yet because many of the most troublesome police departments (those in big cities and those in the sticks) also rely most on federal assistance in one way or another, the feds could induce compliance by tying it to such assistance. The federal government has done this before, though usually to push states to impose certain laws on its residents, not to protect residents from abusive government employees. Such a list wouldn't be a comprehensive solution to excessive police violence, but it's an important part, one that could work to lower the number of bad cops operating on the streets and begin to rebuild trust between police and the communities they're supposed to serve.
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
Lots more notable new posts at Collateral Consequences Resource Center
Last week I noted in this post all the notable posts appearing at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. Just a week later, I see again that te CCRC has lots of new content on a bunch of issues not too often discussed in other like fora, such as these recent postings that seemed worth highlighting:
Sunday, December 07, 2014
Two astute commentaries about California's emerging Prop 47 issues
Opinion by Alexandra Natapoff, headlined "Prop 47 empties prisons but opens a can of worms":
California is doubling down on decriminalization. Three weeks ago, the passage of Prop. 47 converted a half-dozen felonies to misdemeanors. In 2011, marijuana possession was reclassified from a misdemeanor to an infraction without jail time. If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep a decade ago at the height of California’s prison boom and woke up this morning, he’d quickly recognize this as a scramble to undo decades of harsh and expensive policy.
The state is not alone — we are seeing a seismic shift in how the United States handles punishment, especially with respect to misdemeanor decriminalization. Marijuana is the most famous example, but many states are eliminating jail time for other minor offenses, such as driving violations and public order crimes, and replacing them with so-called “nonjailable misdemeanors,” “nonarrestable” or “fine-only” offenses, and “civil infractions.”
There are a lot of great things about decriminalization. But it has a surprisingly punitive and racially charged dark side, and it doesn’t always work the way people think it does. The “non-jailable misdemeanor” — popular in many states — is still a crime that triggers arrest, probation and fines, criminal records and other collateral consequences. Even the gold standard of decriminalization — the “non-arrestable” civil infraction — can derail a defendant’s employment, education and immigration status, while the failure to pay noncriminal fines can lead to contempt citations and incarceration. And while decriminalization sounds egalitarian — after all, it’s a promise not to lock up people who would usually get locked up — sometimes it might actually make things worse for the poor and people of color....
It’s often hard to tell whether criminal justice reform is real progress or a shell game. Is California actually reducing incarceration, or is it quietly shifting prisoners around or repackaging punishment so as to avoid appointing lawyers for poor people? Decriminalization offers great promise, but it needs to be carefully monitored to make sure it lives up to its tantalizing name.
Editorial by Los Angeles Daily News, headlined "Prop. 47 sentencing changes are working out just as feared":
The saga of Proposition 47 and its troublesome implications is a crime story in which everybody left fingerprints except the real villains. The villains are California legislators, who kept their hands off the crucial challenge of criminal sentencing reform despite the need to address the state’s big problems with prison overcrowding and overly harsh policies that favor punishment over rehabilitation.
With lawmakers unwilling or unable to touch the issue, advocates picked it up and handed over the complex topic of sentencing reform to the public in the form of last month’s ballot initiative. Voters were asked to say yes or no to reducing felony sentences to misdemeanor penalties for many drug-possession and other criminal convictions.
The well-intended but dangerously flawed Prop. 47 passed easily with 59 percent of the vote. Now state and local legal authorities, including those in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, are having to confront the consequences....
In Humboldt County, the release of 35 percent of the county jail population has been accompanied by a reported rise in burglaries, thefts and vandalism. If that becomes a state trend, so much for Prop. 47 supporters’ title for the measure: The Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act.
It’s possible Prop. 47’s troubles can be worked out and it will achieve its goals. When FiveThirtyEight.com’s data journalists analyzed outcomes in states that have undertaken similar sentencing reforms, they found more positive than negative results at reducing prison populations and incarceration costs.
But the results in California will bear watching. Gov. Jerry Brown, who had planned to issue prison-reform proposals in January, other state officials and legislators must be ready and willing to act to make this work. Of course, if lawmakers had been willing to tackle the issue earlier, we wouldn’t be in this situation now.
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Some notable new postings at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center
Busy with end-of-semester activities at the end of a busy semester, I have not been able to keep up lately with my usual review of significant postings from the various websites and blogs linked in my sidebars. But I have still made sure to keep up a "new kid" on the cyber-block, the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, because it covers a bunch of issues not too often discussed in other like fora. And these recent postings seemed especially worth highlighting:
Praise for Texas justice embracing "Right on Crime" from across the pond
This new BBC article, headlined "Why Texas is closing prisons in favour of rehab," provides a notable example of the rest of the world taking note (and praising) the "right on crime" movement. The piece is authored by a Danny Kruger, a former speechwriter for UK's prime minister David Cameron, and here are excerpts:
Coming from London to spend a couple of days in Texas last month, I was struck most of all by how generous and straightforward everyone was. Talking to all sorts of different people about crime and punishment, the same impression came across: We expect people to do the right thing and support them when they do. When they don't we punish them, but then we welcome them back and expect good behaviour again. It's not naive, it's just clear.
For years that straightforward moral outlook translated into a tough criminal justice system. As in the rest of the US, the economic dislocations of the 1970s, compounded by the crack epidemic in the 1980s, led to a series of laws and penal policies which saw the prison population skyrocket. Texas, for instance, has half the population of the UK but twice its number of prisoners.
Then something happened in 2007, when Texas Republican Congressman Jerry Madden was appointed chairman of the House Corrections Committee with the now famous words by his party leader: "Don't build new prisons. They cost too much." The impulse to what has become the Right on Crime initiative was fiscal conservatism — the strong sense that the taxpayer was paying way too much money to fight a losing war against drugs, mental ill-health and petty criminality.
What Madden found was that too many low-level offenders were spending too long in prison, and not reforming. On the contrary, they were getting worse inside and not getting the help they needed on release. The only response until then, from Democrat as well as Republican legislators, was to build more prisons. Indeed, Mr Madden's analysis suggested that a further 17,000 prisoners were coming down the pipe towards them, requiring an extra $500m (£320m) for new prisons.
But he and his party didn't want to spend more money building new prisons. So they thought of something else — rehab. Consistent with the straightforward Texan manner, the Congressional Republicans did not attempt to tackle what in Britain are known as "the causes of crime" — the socio-economic factors that make people more disposed to offend. Instead, they focused on the individual criminal, and his or her personal choices. Here, they believe, moral clarity and generosity are what's needed.
Though fiscal conservatism may have got the ball rolling, what I saw in Texas — spending time in court and speaking to offenders, prison guards, non-profit staff and volunteers — goes way beyond the desire to save money. The Prison Entrepreneurship Programme, for instance, matches prisoners with businesspeople and settles them in a residential community on release. Its guiding values are Christian and its staff's motives seem to be love and hope for their "brothers", who in turn support the next batch of prisoners leaving jail.
The statutory system is not unloving either. Judge Robert Francis's drugs court in Dallas is a well-funded welfare programme all of its own — though it is unlike any welfare programme most of the 250 ex-offenders who attend it have ever seen. Clean and tidy, it is staffed by around 30 professionals who are intensely committed to seeing their clients stay clean and out of jail, even if that means sending them back to prison for short periods, as Judge Francis regularly does when required....
Immediate, comprehensible and proportionate sanctions are given for bad behaviour, plus accountability to a kind leader and supportive community. This is the magic sauce of Right on Crime.
Far from having to build new jails for the 17,000 expected new inmates, Jerry Madden and his colleagues have succeeded in closing three prisons. I visited one by the Trinity River in Dallas, now ready for sale and redevelopment. They spent less than half the $500 million earmarked for prison building on rehab initiatives and crime is falling faster than elsewhere.
This, then, ticks all the boxes - it cuts crime, saves money and demonstrates love and compassion towards some of the most excluded members of society. It is, in a sense, what conservatives in America and Britain dream of — a realistic vision of a smaller state, where individuals are accountable for their actions and communities take responsibility for themselves and their neighbours. It is a more positive version of the anti-politics — anti-Washington, anti-Westminster — tide that seems to be sweeping the West.
December 3, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Growing awareness of the limited efficacy of local sex offender residency restrictions
This new Wall Street Journal article highlights the new awareness of enduring problems with sex offender residency restrictions. The lengthy piece is headlined "Cities and Towns Scaling Back Limits on Sex Offenders: Officials Say Buffer Zones Don’t Prevent Repeat Offenses and Make Predators Harder to Track," and here are excerpts:
When Palm Beach County, Fla., was sued earlier this year over its housing restrictions for registered sex offenders, its attorneys took an unusual approach: They suggested the county relax its law.
The county’s commissioners — prompted largely by the lawsuit brought by a sex offender who claimed the limits rendered him homeless — voted in July to let such offenders legally live closer to schools, day-care centers and other places with concentrations of children. “We realized the law was costing the taxpayers money [for services for the homeless] and was causing more problems than it was solving,” said county attorney Denise Nieman.
In the mid-1990s, states and cities began barring sex offenders from living within certain distances of schools, playgrounds and parks. The rationale: to prevent the horrible crimes sometimes committed by offenders after their release. In October, for instance, officials charged sex offender Darren Deon Vann with murdering two women in Indiana. Mr. Vann, who is suspected of killing several others, pleaded not guilty.
Now, a growing number of communities are rejecting or scaling back such limits — out of concern that they don’t prevent repeat offenses, and, in some instances, may make sex offenders harder to track....
A 2013 Justice Department study that examined Michigan’s and Missouri’s statewide restrictions showed they “had little effect on recidivism.” Other studies have found the vast majority of sex-offense cases involving children are committed not by strangers but by family members or others with established connections to the victims, such as coaches or teachers.
About 30 states and thousands of cities and towns have laws restricting where sex offenders can live, while others are adding them. In March, a 1,000-foot buffer from parks took effect in San Antonio. In July, Milwaukee passed a law banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a variety of places where children gather....
Critics, however, say such moves do little more than score lawmakers political points and give an area’s residents a false sense of security. Some argue they can make communities less safe, by making it hard for offenders to find stable housing.
David Prater, district attorney of the county that encompasses Oklahoma City, said he and other state prosecutors have tried to get the state to relax its 2,000-foot buffer, to no avail. “No politician wants to be labeled the guy who lessens restrictions on sex offenders,” he said....
Some smaller towns are chucking restrictions, partly in the name of public safety. De Pere, Wis., a town of 23,000 south of Green Bay, tossed out its 500-foot buffer last year after reviewing data on its effectiveness, said several council members. The issue was reopened by some townspeople several months ago ,when a convicted sex offender moved across the street from a school for children with special needs. But the council didn’t budge. “You track where they live, you check in on them, but you let them live at home, where they’re comfortable and stable,” said Scott Crevier, a DePere city councilman. “I feel we’re actually safer than a lot of other towns in the state that have them.”
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Ninth Circuit upholds injunction, on First Amendment grounds, blocking California law requiring sex offenders to report report online activities
As reported in this Bloomberg story, "California can’t enforce a law to combat sex trafficking because it tramples on free speech rights of sex offenders by requiring them to report online activities, such as their Twitter, e-mail and chatroom accounts, a U.S. appeals court ruled." Here are more of the ruling's basics via the press:
The San Francisco-based court today upheld a judge’s decision to block enforcement of a voter-approved law that was backed by former Facebook Inc. (FB) executive Chris Kelly and garnered support from more than 80 percent of California voters in 2012.
The measure, known as Proposition 35, isn’t clear about what accounts or Internet service providers offenders are required to report and targets online speech that could include blogging about politics and posting comments on news articles, the appeals court’s three-judge panel said today.
The law also harms sex offenders’ ability to engage in anonymous speech because it allegedly allows police to disclose their online identities to the public, the court said. Failure to report on Internet activity can lead to criminal sanctions.
A requirement that registered sex-offenders notify police within 24 hours of using a new Internet identity chills activity protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, U.S. Circuit Judge Jay S. Bybee wrote in the unanimous ruling.
The ruling in Doe v. Harris, No. 13-15263 (9th Cir. Nov. 18, 2014) (available here), officially gets started this way:
California law has long required registered sex offenders to report identifying information, such as their address and current photograph, to law enforcement. Cal. Penal Code §§ 290.012, 290.015. The Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (“CASE”) Act sought to supplement and modernize these reporting obligations by requiring sex offenders to provide “[a] list of any and all Internet identifiers established or used by the person” and “[a] list of any and all Internet service providers used by the person.” Id. § 290.015(a)(4)–(5). The Act also requires registered sex offenders to send written notice to law enforcement within 24 hours of adding or changing an Internet identifier or an account with an Internet service provider (“ISP”). Id. § 290.014(b).
Appellees Doe, Roe, and the nonprofit organization California Reform Sex Offender Laws filed a complaint alleging that the CASE Act infringes their freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment. Appellees filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which the district court granted. Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, and Intervenors, the proponents of the CASE Act, appeal. We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion by enjoining the CASE Act. Accordingly, we affirm.
Wonderful new on-line resource, Collateral Consequences Resource Center, now available
I am very pleased to be able to report on a very important addition to the criminal justice on-line universe, the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. This posting by Margy Love provides this background and something of a mission statement:
The Collateral Consequences Resource Center website launches on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. We hope it will fill a growing need for information and advice about the modern phenomenon of mass conviction and the second-class citizenship it perpetuates.
The legal system is only beginning to confront the fact that an increasing number of Americans have a criminal record, and the status of being a convicted person has broad legal effects. The importance of collateral consequences to the criminal justice system is illustrated by cases like Padilla v. Kentucky (2010), holding that defense counsel have a Sixth Amendment obligation to advise clients about the possibility of deportation. Civil lawyers too are mounting successful constitutional challenges to harsh consequences like lifetime sex offender registration, categorical employment disqualification, and permanent firearms dispossession, which linger long after the court-imposed sentence has been served. Government officials have tended to regard collateral consequences primarily as a law enforcement problem involving the thousands leaving prison each year, but they are now considering how to deal with the lifetime of discrimination facing the millions who have long since left the justice system behind. Advocates are pointing out how counterproductive and unfair most mandatory collateral consequences are, and legislatures are paying attention. People with a record are organizing to promote change.
The time is right to launch the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, which will bring together in a single forum all of these diverse interests and issues. The Center’s goal is to foster public discussion and disseminate information about what has been called the “secret sentence.” Through its website the Center will provide news and commentary about developments in courts and legislatures, curate practice and advocacy resources, and provide information about how to obtain relief from collateral consequences in various jurisdictions. The Center aims to reach a broad audience of lawyers and other criminal justice practitioners, judges, scholars, researchers, policymakers, legislators, as well as those most directly affected by the consequences of conviction. It invites tips about relevant current developments, as well as proposals for blog posts on topics related to collateral consequences and criminal records: staff@CCResourceCenter.org.
Impressively, this new web resource (which I guess I will call CCRC) has a ton of terrific content already assembled at webpages dedicated to State-Specific Resources, Books and Articles, and Reports and Studies. And here are links to a few recent notable blog postings:
- More states rely on judicial expungement to avoid collateral consequences
- Minnesota project examines how different life would be with a criminal record
- Dismissed Charges Not Always the Best Outcome?
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
New York City mayor announces new policy concerning marijuana enforcement
As reported in this New York Times article, headlined "Concerns in Criminal Justice System as New York City Eases Marijuana Policy," the NYC's new mayor and old sherrif are bringing a new approach to marijuana enforcement to the Big Apple. Here are the basics:
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office promising to reform the Police Department and repair relations with black and Latino communities, on Monday unveiled his plan to change the way the police enforce the law on marijuana possession.
Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have had an especially harsh impact on minority communities, and under the change announced on Monday, people found with small amounts of marijuana will typically be given a ticket and cited for a violation instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.
The news, outlined by the mayor and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, at Police Headquarters, marked the most significant criminal justice policy initiative by Mr. de Blasio since he was sworn in as mayor in January. While he stressed that he was not advocating the decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. de Blasio said the impact of enforcement on the people arrested and on the Police Department compelled him to rethink how the police handle low-level marijuana arrests.
“When an individual is arrested,” he said, “even for the smallest possession of marijuana, it hurts their chances to get a good job; it hurts their chances to get housing; it hurts their chances to qualify for a student loan. It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that, for many, are very difficult to overcome.”
For a Police Department that has devoted enormous resources to tens of thousands of marijuana arrests a year, the shift in strategy should, the mayor said, allow officers to focus on more serious types of crime by freeing up people who would otherwise be occupied by the administrative tasks lashed to minor marijuana arrests.
But the change, detailed in a five-page Police Department “operations order” that is set to go into effect on Nov. 19, immediately raised questions and concerns in many corners of the criminal justice system. It directs officers who encounter people with 25 grams or less of marijuana, in public view, to issue a noncriminal violation in most instances, rather than arrest them for a misdemeanor....
As they headed into a meeting with departmental leaders to hear about the new policy, some police union leaders said the changes seemed to run counter to the “broken windows” strategy of policing, long championed by Mr. Bratton as a way to prevent serious crime by cracking down on low-level offenses. “I just see it as another step in giving the streets back to the criminals,” said Michael J. Palladino, the head of the city’s Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union representing police detectives. “And we keep inching closer and closer to that.”...
At the news conference, Mr. Bratton said officers would still have to use discretion. If marijuana was being burned or smoked, an arrest would be made, he said. If offenders had an “active warrant,” or were wanted, or could not produce proper identification, they would be taken to the station house, he said. Officials said violations would not constitute a criminal record. They said court appearances, within weeks of the violation, could lead to a fine of up to $100 for a first offense....
Critics have said the police and prosecutors have been improperly charging people with possession of marijuana in public view, often after officers ask them to empty their pockets during street stops.
In 2011, Raymond W. Kelly, then the police commissioner, issued an order reminding officers to refrain from such arrest practices. Mr. Bratton said such practices were not now in use and the problem had been fixed. By now, the number of marijuana arrests has decreased, roughly mirroring the drastic reduction in the frequency of police stop, question and frisk encounters.
Of the 394,539 arrests made last year, marijuana arrests totaled slightly more than 28,000, or a little less than 10 percent of all arrests made in the city. That is down from 50,000 a few years ago.
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform