Monday, September 23, 2013
In praise of a stat-max fine that hits a federal white-collar defendant (and not the federal taxpayer) where it hurts
Some readers of this blog may come to (wrongly) believe I tend to disfavor most harsh punishments, whereas in fact I tend to favor most harsh punishments if and whenever they prove to be especially efficacious and economical. Consequently, I tend to be fairly skeptical of punishments in the form of lenghty terms of imprisonment, whereas I tend to be fairly supportive of punishments in other forms.
This mini backstory on my views is provided here to account for my particular affinity for the sentence imposed and now affirmed (via an unpublished ruling) in United States v. Turner, No. 12-6483 (6th Cir. Sept. 20, 2013) (available here). Here is how the opinion gets started, which provides a summary of the ruling and the facts which led up to the defendant's prosecution:
Arch Turner appeals a $250,000 fine imposed by the district court as part of his sentence for conspiring to buy votes. He argues that the fine is procedurally unreasonable because the court did not provide specific reasons for the variance from the Guidelines range of $4,000 to $40,000, and that it is substantively unreasonable because the court impermissibly considered Turner’s socio-economic status. We conclude that the court adequately explained its reasoning in open court, that any deficiencies in duplicative explanations did not rise to the level of plain error, and that the court did not impermissibly rely on Turner’s socio-economic status. Accordingly, we AFFIRM Turner’s sentence.
Arch Turner, a superintendent of the Breathitt County, Kentucky schools, led and assisted a group of people to buy votes for a candidate in a May 2010 primary election. He coordinated meetings in which he distributed funds he had received from third parties for the purpose of buying votes, and he withdrew cash from his own bank account for the same purpose. During the government investigation, Turner lied to an FBI agent, convinced a co-conspirator to lie to a grand jury, and attempted to convince another co-conspirator to lie to FBI agents. During one such attempt, he told a co-conspirator that the FBI had no evidence against them and that they would not get in trouble if neither of them told on the other. During another, Turner contacted his codefendant, which was a violation of his bond release, told his co-defendant that he could not tell on anyone because he had not seen cash change hands, and instructed his co-defendant to purchase a phone that could not be traced. Eventually, Turner decided the jig was up and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States through buying votes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 and 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(c).
Thanks to a plea deal, this vote-buying scoundral faced "an advisory Guidelines range of 18 to 24 months imprisonment plus 1 to 3 years of supervised release and a $4,000 to $40,000 fine ... [and a] statutory maximum sentence [of] 5 years of imprisonment plus 3 years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine." The district judge thereafter notified In October 2012, the district court issued a notice advising the parties that the court intended to consider an upward variance from the Guidelines range and sought at sentencing to hear arguments concerning an upward variance of “not only time but money.” In the end, the sentencing judge imposed a 24-month prison term (the top of the calculated range) as well as a stat-max fine of $250,000.
I suspect that a number of federal sentencing judges may have shared the view that the defendant in this case deserved to have the "book thrown at him," but I fear that most would have done so by increasing the length of the defendant's imprisonment rather than maxing out his fine. As a federal taxpayer who usually see little obvious public safety benefit from imprisoning a non-violent white-collar offender for more than a few years, I am pleased that the judge in this case concluded that it would be arguably more fair and efficient to punish in this case with a greater deprivation of property rather than a greater deprivation of liberty.
Litigation prompting California city to give up Halloween sex offender posting lawAs reported in this Los Angeles Times piece, headlined "O.C. city likely to drop Halloween law aimed at sex offenders: A lawsuit challenges a city of Orange law requiring sex offenders to post signs to discourage trick-or-treaters," it appears that just the filing of a constitutional lawsuit is prompting reform of a local ordinance. Here are the basics:
An Orange County city will probably toss out a law requiring registered sex offenders to post a sign in front of their homes on Halloween to discourage trick-or-treaters after it was hit with a federal lawsuit alleging the practice is unconstitutional.
Registered sex offenders in the city of Orange are legally required to post a sign on Halloween, no smaller than 12 by 24 inches, that reads, "No candy or treats at this residence." Violators face a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday on behalf of an individual identified only as "John Doe," alleges the law violates the 1st Amendment rights of registered sex offenders and puts them, and anyone living with them, at risk of physical and emotional harm.
"If you think about it, a lot of older kids go out to trick rather than treat," said Janice Bellucci, an attorney and president of the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group. "All you have to do is look for the house with the sign."...
Bellucci filed a similar lawsuit last year to strike down a Simi Valley ordinance that also required people convicted of sex crimes to post a sign. That law also banned them from putting up Halloween displays and outside lighting on Oct. 31. But the day before the Simi Valley law went into effect, federal court Judge Perry Anderson issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from enforcing the sign provision.
The judge let stand provisions of the ordinance that keep sex offenders from turning on outside lights, decorating their homes and answering their doors to trick-or-treaters....
In Orange, no registered sex offenders have been cited since the ordinance was adopted, said City Atty. Wayne Winthers. When the city passed the law in February 2010 officials counted 81 registered sex offenders, with 81% of them having convictions involving minors, according to city records.
There was no need for the group to file the lawsuit, he said, since the city had been in contact with Bellucci and the City Council was expected to discuss the issue next week in closed session. "I read the district court's [Simi Valley] ruling and I don't see any reason why the court would look at ours any differently," said Winthers, who said he intended to ask the council to remove the sign requirement from the Halloween ordinance. "Our intent wasn't to bring any unnecessary harm or scrutiny to any particular individual," Winthers said. "We just wanted to protect children."
Monday, September 09, 2013
Second Circuit panel provides fuller account of child porn restitution accountingThe Second Circuit today released a lengthy panel opinion in US v. Lundquist, No. 11-5379 (2d Cir. Sept. 9, 2013) (available here), providing a detailed discussion of the rules and standards for child porn restitution sentencing decisions. Here is how the opinion begins:
In this case, defendant-appellant Avery Lundquist was convicted of receiving and possessing child pornography. Among the images in his possession was one of "Amy," the pseudonym for a young woman who was sexually abused by her uncle when she was four years old. The uncle photographed his abuse of Amy, and disseminated those images on the Internet.
Amy is now in her twenties, and the pornographic images her uncle took of her continue to be traded on the Internet. Some 113 individuals -- including Lundquist -- have been convicted of possessing images of her. The questions presented are whether Lundquist may be ordered to make restitution to Amy and, if so, in what amount.
The district court (Suddaby, J.) concluded that Lundquist proximately caused $29,754.19 of Amy's losses, but decided he should be held jointly and severally liable, along with all others convicted of possessing Amy's images, for her total losses of $3,381,159. We conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of proximate cause and that the district court reasonably estimated the share of Amy's losses to be attributed to Lundquist as her total loss divided by the number of persons convicted of possessing her images at the time of the restitution request. The district court abused its discretion, however, by including in its calculations losses that Lundquist could not have proximately caused and by holding Lundquist jointly and severally liable for harm caused by defendants who were not before the court. Accordingly, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for recalculation of the amount of restitution.
Friday, September 06, 2013
New commentary calls "creative" shaming punishments "terrible" (on curious grounds)Slate's crime correspondent, Justin Peters, has this notable new commentary headlined "Dear Judges: Your Creative Punishments Are Hilarious and Also Terrible. Please Stop." I will reprint below the commentary in full (with original links also reproduced) because I always find these kinds of (purportedly rightous) attacks on creative shaming sentences puzzling and curious:
If there’s one thing Americans love, other than the troubled-restaurant-turnaround stylings of Gordon Ramsay, it’s judges who impose “stunt” sentences on defendants. These sorts of stories crop up a couple of times per year, and they always seem to make the “lighter side” segment on the 10:00 news. The most recent example of this comes from Cleveland, where Judge Pinkey Carr sentenced a man named Richard Dameron, who threatened a police officer, to stand outside a police station wearing a sign that read “I apologize to Officer Simone and all police officers for being an idiot calling 911 threatening to kill you. I'm sorry and it will never happen again.” To give the sentence a personal touch, the judge hand-lettered the sign herself. These sorts of “Oh, snap!” sentences are undeniably funny. But are they actually legal? Do public humiliations like these constitute cruel and unusual punishments?
Legislatures generally give judges a lot of latitude to freestyle from the bench, as long as they can make the case that their funny punishments serve some sort of rehabilitative purpose. Federal courts have supported creative sentencing, too. In 2004’s United States v. Gementera, the Ninth Circuit ruled that a district court judge was well within his rights to sentence mail thief Shawn Gementera to, among other things, stand outside a postal facility wearing a sign that read “I stole mail; this is my punishment.” In his opinion, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain (!) determined that “the district court imposed the condition for the stated and legitimate statutory purpose of rehabilitation and, to a lesser extent, for general deterrence and for the protection of the public.”
So these sentences, although unusual, are not seen to be unconstitutionally cruel. And they clearly stem from valid frustration with America’s imperfect criminal justice system, which sends convicted criminals into dangerously overcrowded prisons, fails to rehabilitate them, and then releases them back into society, where they are apt to offend again. It’s a frustrating cycle, and so you can understand why, rather than send an abusive father to prison, a judge might think it more effective to have him sleep in the same doghouse where he allegedly used to banish his son, or to sentence a burglar to have something valuable stolen from his house. Call it poetic justice. Call it common sense.
But as George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has written, poetic justice rarely has anything to do with legal justice. The entire point of a code of laws is to move away from “common sense” justice and its attendant inconsistencies, and to professionalize the process by establishing a standardized list of crimes and punishments that’s valid in all jurisdictions. The judiciary’s role is to interpret these laws and pass judgment on behalf of the state; judges are theoretically elected or appointed based on their supremely nuanced understanding of these laws, not based on their ability to hand-letter punitive signage. This doesn’t mean that the system always works. But it’s meant to ensure that, at the very least, the system proceeds with a measure of fairness and dignity.
Theatrical, cornpone deviations from this standard undermine the judicial system. A sentencing hearing becomes less about the state passing judgment on a convicted criminal than an individual judge imposing her standards of right and wrong. Our criminal justice system might not work very well. But it ought to be fixed in the legislatures, not on an ad hoc basis by grandstanding judges who act as though they won their robes in a raffle. Public shaming is better suited for courtroom reality shows, which, indeed, is where one of stunt sentencing’s most famous practitioners — Judge Joe Brown — ended up. If that’s where Judge Pinkey Carr is bound, then I wish her well, and I hope she gets there soon, because her brand of homespun, alternative justice has no business in a real courtroom.
In short, this commentary recognizes that both the Constitution and legislatures permit shaming sanctions if and when, to quote the Ninth Circuit, they seek to serve the "stated and legitimate statutory purpose of rehabilitation and ... for general deterrence and for the protection of the public." In addition, this commentary seems to acknowledge that in many cases, the traditional punishment of locking someone in a cage often will not effectively or efficiently serve these purposes. Nevertheless, apparently because a judge's purported role is to "to interpret [criminal] laws and pass judgment on behalf of the state" and because the criminal justice system is to proceed "with a measure of fairness and dignity," then creative shaming punishments somehow "undermine the judicial system."
Huh? For me this kind of argument and its fuzzy logic just does not compute. Perhaps this is fundamentally because I see very little "fairness and dignity" coming from locking humans in cages, but it is also because there is anecdotal evidence that creative shaming sanctions may be significantly more effective than imprisonment in serving the express statutory sentencing purposes set forth by Congress and state legislatures.
If and when data indicate creative sanctions are less effective than imprisonment at achieving public safety, I will be moved by the notion that such punishments are bad policy. If and when Congress or state legislatures expressly prohibit shaming sactions because the people's representatives conclude such punishments "undermine the judicial system," then I will support claims they are unlawful. Until such time, and especially because I also think our traditional punishments "might not work very well," I have a hard time being convinced by reactionary criticisms of seemingly reasonable efforts by seemingly well-meaning judges to try to make the criminal justice system they help administer work just a little better for all of society's benefit.
I sometimes think that what really explains these kinds of criticisms of creative shaming sanctions is the discomfort that the critic feels from having to see on full display and then think seriously about the many ugly realities of crime and punishment in our modern criminal justice systems. When tens of thousands of defendants are sent away to prison every year in the United States, and thus effectively hidden away from public view (absent hunger strikes or suicides or other dramatic and harmful actions), those who do not regularly encounter many crime victims and/or criminal defendants need not think too much to the ugly modern realities of crime and punishment in our modern criminal justice systems. But when a just few defendants are given creative shaming sanctions each year by seemingly well-meaning judges who are trying to improve the system, we all must confront the disconcerting reality that these kinds of punishment may actually be a significant improvement over the "traditional" status quo.
I understand why the notion that creative shaming sanctions are a possible improvement over traditional punishment is a reality that could be deeply disconcerting to those who want to champion (and cling to) high-minded conceptions of the importance of "fairness and dignity" in our criminal justice system. But attacking judges who are looking for novel sentencing alternatives which could be more effective and efficient than locking humans in cages is, in my view, an example of shooting the messenger because you do not like the real-world news being delivered through these kinds of punishments.
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
"Mercenary Criminal Justice"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Wayne Logan and Ronald Wright now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Today, a growing number of bill collectors are standing in line to collect on the debt that criminals owe to society. Courts order payment of costs; legislatures levy conviction surcharges; even private, for-profit entities get a piece of the action, collecting fees for probation supervision services and the like. While legal financial obligations (LFOs) have long been a part of the criminal justice system, recent budget cutbacks have prompted an unprecedented surge in their use. The resulting funds are dedicated to sustaining and even expanding system operations. With this shift, criminal justice actors have become mercenaries, in effect working on commission.
While a significant literature now exists on the adverse personal consequences of LFOs for offenders, this article is the first to examine their legal and institutional ramifications. Although any single LFO might be justifiable, the cumulative effects of assessed LFOs might overwhelm offenders. Further, when criminal justice actors find themselves collecting payments that benefit their own institutions or entities, there comes systemic risk of self-dealing. To mediate these threats, the article proposes use of LFO commissions, which could inventory and assess the propriety of current and proposed LFOs, and monitor their use going forward.
Monday, September 02, 2013
"Against Juvenile Sex Offender Registration"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Catherine Carpenter now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Imagine if you were held accountable the rest of your life for something you did as a child?
This is the Child Scarlet Letter in force: kids who commit criminal sexual acts and who pay the price with the burdens and stigma of sex offender registration. And in a game of “how low can you go?,” states have forced children as young as nine and ten years old onto sex offender registries, some with registration requirements that extend the rest of their lives.
No matter the constitutionality of adult sex offender registration — and on that point, there is debate — this article argues that child sex offender registration violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Once a sex offender, always a sex offender is not an apt adage when dealing with children who commit sexual offenses. Low recidivism rates and varied reasons for their misconduct demonstrate that a child’s criminal sexual act does not necessarily portend future predatory behavior. And with a net cast so wide it ensnares equally the child who rapes and the child who engages in sex with an underage partner, juvenile sex offender registration schemes are not moored to their civil regulatory intent.
Compounding the problem is mandatory lifetime registration for child offenders. This paper analogizes this practice to juvenile sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida. This article argues that mandatory lifetime registration applied to children in the same manner as adult offenders is cruel and unusual punishment because it violates fundamental principles that require sentencing practices to distinguish between adult and child offenders.
Scrutiny of child sex offender registration laws places front and center the issue of what it means to judge our children. And on that issue, we are failing. The public’s desire to punish children appears fixed despite our understanding that child offenders pose little danger of recidivism, possess diminished culpability, and have the capacity for rehabilitation. In a debate clouded by emotion, it is increasingly clear that juvenile sex offender registration is cruel and unusual punishment.
September 2, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Second Circuit upholds huge securities fraud restitution award (without any real Sixth Amendment discussion)A unanimous Second Circuit panel opinion this morning in US v. Gushlak, No. 12-1919 (2d Cir. Aug. 30, 2013) (available here) upholds a restitution award of over $17 million based on seemingly debatable fact-finding by a federal district judge. Here is how the lengthy opinion starts and ends:
Defendant-appellant Myron Gushlak challenges, on various grounds, the May 15, 2012, restitution order entered against him in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Nicholas G. Garaufis, Judge). The order, which was entered pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. § 3663A, awarded a total of $17,492,817.45 to victims for losses stemming from Gushlak's role in the manipulation of the price of a publicly traded security. We affirm....
We return to where we began, the inexpertness of most judges in most technical matters, including the forces afoot in the securities markets and their impact on the prices for any particular security at any particular time. We must therefore rely on the testimony of professionals with appropriate expertise. The district court took great pains in addressing the restitution issues over an extended period of time, requiring repeated efforts by the government to obtain a proper valuation for losses under the particular circumstances, and in light of the peculiar challenges, presented by the case before it. It relied on a qualified expert as a guide. We can identify no clear error of fact or mistake of law that the court committed in reaching, with such care, its result.
Based on a quick scan of the opinion, I see no obvious basis to fault or even question the panel's formal analysis of restitution here in Gushlak. But, as the title of this post suggests, I am quite surprised that the defendant apparently here did not argue that the Supreme Court's June 2012 opinion in Southern Union now requires reconsideration of the circuits' prior rulings that the Sixth Amendment jury trial right is not implicated by judicial fact-finding in support of statutory-based restitution punishment.
Though I am not aware of any major rulings reconsidering this Aprrendi-land issue after Southern Union, I am sure that the decision in Southern Union included significant language that provides a strong basis for such reconsideration. And, with over $17 million dollar at stake and with judicial fact-finding apparently so challenging and contestable in a case like Gushlak, I think a Sixth Amendment argument could have had at least some extra traction in a case like this.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
"Is it fair for sex offenders to stay listed on a registry for life?"The title of this post is the headline of this recent lengthy article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here are excerpts:
On one side of the latest debate over Missouri’s sex-offender registry are people such as Daniel Ray Winfrey. In 1991, when Winfrey was 15, he and three others raped and murdered sisters Julie and Robin Kerry at the Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis.
Winfrey testified against his co-defendants in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence. Though back in prison, he has been paroled twice since his conviction. At those times, he was free but still listed on the state’s sex-offender registry website. That website, Gov. Jay Nixon argues, is the only way for most neighbors and others to know of the potential danger while such offenders are among them.
“You wouldn’t want to know if one of these guys moved in next door?” Nixon asked last week. He was defending his veto of a bill that would remove from the website all offenders who, like Winfrey, were under 18 when they committed their crimes.
On the other side are people such as Ali Nemec’s fiancé. He was 17 when he was arrested for having child pornography on his computer. Now 24 and still listed on the registry website, he’s had difficulty at work, has been been turned away from housing and lives with his parents.
“We can’t go to a park, we can’t go to a mall. If there’s an event with our friends near a school, we can’t go,” said Nemec, 23, of St. Peters. “He made a mistake ... (but) he is not the boy that he was. There’s no reason to ruin him for the rest of his life.”
The registry is today’s ultimate “scarlet letter.” Long after they’ve served their time, sex offenders remain barred from parks and schools and limited in their employment and housing options. Their names and faces are posted on the Internet, easily accessible to friends and neighbors.
In Missouri, they stay listed for life, even if they were juveniles when they committed their crimes. The state Legislature passed this year a bill to change that. Nixon vetoed it, potentially setting up an emotionally charged veto fight next month.
The bill would remove from the sex-offender registry website hundreds of offenders such as Nemec’s fiancé and Winfrey, whose crimes were very different but who were both under 18 when they committed them. By one estimate, the bill would cull about 870 names from the more than 13,000 on the site, in addition to future offenders in the same situation.
Those offenders would still be listed on the registry itself, accessible to law enforcement and anyone from the public who requests the information. But the bill would allow the offenders to petition for complete removal from the registry starting five years after the end of their sentences.
“These kids have served their debt to society. They are adults now and haven’t done anything wrong since,” said Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, a co-sponsor of the measure. He and others note that listed offenders have high unemployment rates because many employers won’t hire them. “We’re just trying to give them another shot at being productive citizens.”
Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill in July, arguing that it makes no distinction between relatively minor offenders and those who used force or violence. In a news conference at St. Louis police headquarters last week, defending the veto amid the backdrop of uniformed officers, the governor warned that the measure could make Missouri a haven for sex offenders from other states who want to hide from their pasts....
In Missouri, and nationally, the issues connected to sex-offender registries — who should be on them, how long they should stay listed — have been in flux for years, with opposing interests battling to tighten or loosen the requirements.
The concept behind the lists is that because of the high rate of repeat offenses among sex offenders, the public needs to be warned of their whereabouts even after their sentences are served. Civil libertarians have long argued that this amounts to an unconstitutional open-ended punishment, but courts have generally upheld the registries....
Missouri’s system is tougher than some because once a person is on the list, he or she is on it for life, regardless of the severity of the original crime or the offender’s age at the time. Illinois, in contrast, has a lifetime tier and a 10-year tier, based on the details of the crime. People who commit crimes as juveniles have to register, but they aren’t listed on the registry’s public website....
Critics claim that the registry nets are cast so widely they often catch people who most would agree aren’t sexual threats. One commonly cited example are the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders, who had consensual sex with teenage lovers, sometimes when they themselves were teenagers. Critics say those pitfalls in the system are especially ominous in Missouri, where juvenile crimes are listed for life.
August 27, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Debate continues after Mizzou Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off registriesAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vetoed bill could affect 870 Mo. sex offenders," the Show Me state is showing all of us how a focused debate over juvenile sex offenders can play out these days. Here are the basics:
A Missouri bill removing the names of juvenile sex offenders from public registries could affect hundreds more people than originally estimated and help hide the whereabouts of some high-profile offenders, Gov. Jay Nixon said Wednesday.
The Democratic governor pointed to new figures and specific examples of sex-offenders as he traveled to St. Louis and Kansas City to try to build a case for why legislators should sustain his veto of the bill.... Republican legislative leaders have said the measure is a likely target for a veto override, noting that it passed originally with overwhelmingly support.
Under the bill, people who are younger than 18 when they commit sex offenses would no longer appear on law enforcement websites that list the home addresses and physical description of sex offenders. Adults who are currently listed because of sex offenses committed as juveniles also could be removed from the public registry five years after their convictions or release from prison.
Supporters of the bill have said the public registries leave a permanent mark on adults who may have been convicted as teenagers for consensual sexual activities with younger juveniles. They have said such people deserve a second chance outside of the public spotlight.
The bill passed the House 153-0 and the Senate 28-4 earlier this year. Nixon has said the legislation would weaken state laws and undermine public safety....
"The leadership of the House may be ready to help violent sex offenders hide from the public and law enforcement, but their victims, and the millions of Missourians who use these websites to help keep their families safe, are not," Nixon said.
The governor's office distributed information about specific sex offenders who could be removed from the list if lawmakers were to override his veto. Among them is Daniel Winfrey, who was 15-years-old in April 1991, when sisters Julie and Robin Kerry were raped and killed at the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River in the St. Louis area. Winfrey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and rape after agreeing to testify against several others involved in the crime.
Other offenders that the governor's office cited as likely to be removed from the public registry included men who had been convicted as juveniles of rape, sexual assault and sodomy against children who were ages 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the legislation would benefit people who committed "heinous" acts. "These aren't Romeo and Juliet people we're talking about here," Holste said.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
"North Carolina appeals court strikes social media ban for sex offenders"
The title of this post is the headline of this local press report on a notable intermediate state appeals court ruling today. Here are the details:
The full 21-page opinion in NC v. Packingham, No. 10 CRS 57148 (N.C. App Aug. 20, 2013), is available at this link.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down North Carolina's ban on registered sex offenders using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The court said the ban in N.C. General Statute 14-202.5 "is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the 'evil' it is intended to rectify."
"The statute violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, and it is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's judgment," wrote the court.
The ruling centered around a Durham case in which Lester Gerard Packingham appealed his felony conviction for accessing a commercial networking site last year. According to the trial records, the Durham Police Department was looking at evidence that registered sex offenders were using the websites MySpace and Facebook, and an officer recognized Packingham's photo on Facebook.
The North Carolina law says registered sex offenders may not use commercial social media sites if they know the site "permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages."
But in its ruling, the appeals court said the law "arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal [of preventing contact with children.]"
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wanted the law but admits it may have to be rewritten, but he will try to appeal the North Carolina Supreme Court. Cooper notes that there are still laws on the books that investigators can use to charge suspects with soliciting children online. However, he believes we need a law to try to prevent child sex crimes before they happen....
If Cooper's attempt at an appeal fails, he says he will go back to the legislature to see if they can craft a new sex offender social media law that will withstand a legal challenge.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
New Nebraska study suggests sex offender registry changes pushed by feds may do more harm than goodAs reported in this notable local piece, headlined "UNO report: Nebraska sex offender law 'founded more on public emotion than good science'," an important new study suggests that state sex offender registry laws have perhaps been made less effective as a result of reforms prodded by new federal sex offender laws. Here are highlights from the report on the report:
A newly released report questions whether public safety has improved since Nebraska adopted a state law that requires all convicted sex offenders to be listed on a public website.
The law, known as the Adam Walsh Act, was passed in 2009, but has been criticized as being too harsh on former offenders who committed minor crimes, are low risks to reoffend and have now become productive, law-abiding citizens....
On Monday, a report done by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Consortium for Crime and Justice Research concluded that the Adam Walsh Act “was founded more on public emotion than good science, which is its fundamental shortcoming.”
The 58-page document stated that Nebraska’s previous system of sex-offender registration, which required only that the highest risk offenders be listed publicly, “did not seem to be broken.” The report, though, stated that it could not be discerned if the previous, or new, registration system was superior in deterring repeat sex offenses.
The adoption of the Adam Walsh Act in Nebraska was controversial and spawned a lawsuit by a group of convicted sex offenders, who said it violated their constitutional rights. It was also praised for removing the subjective decision of whether an offender was at low or high risk to reoffend....
Prior to 2009, only the names and photographs of sex offenders who had committed the most serious offenses and were deemed by the patrol as most likely to reoffend were publicized on the patrol’s website. Under the old system, those who committed minor offenses and were considered a low risk were required to register with law enforcement agencies, but their information wasn’t made public.
Nebraska’s Adam Walsh Act, Legislative Bill 285, required that all sex offenders — low risk and high risk — have their photos and addresses posted on the state website, and to report to local law enforcement officials. The photos are to stay for 15 years for misdemeanor offenses, but as long as 25 years to life for more serious offenses.
The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee two years ago discussed whether to exclude low-risk offenders from the public website, but instead decided to seek more information, via the UNO report, which cost $60,000....
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the UNO report provides better data for lawmakers on which to judge the effectiveness of sex offender registries. He said his committee may look at revamping the registration requirements of lower-risk offenders, but that overall, the report showed him that it’s not necessary to repeal the entire Adam Walsh Act. “I don’t see that changing registration laws and going back to tiering them is the answer,” Ashford said.
The senator added that the report’s data will aid his effort to reform state criminal sentences to ease the state’s chronic prison overcrowding. Treating sex offenders outside of prison must be considered, Ashford said, because among state prison inmates, sex offenders make up one of the largest categories....
Among the UNO report’s other findings:
» Recidivism rates for sex offenders were low — more than 97 percent do not reoffend — but were lower following the passage of the Adam Walsh Act. For instance, the recidivism rate for Level 2 (medium-risk) offenders was 0.5 percent after passage of the act and 2.5 percent before....
» Registries that show the addresses of offenders could provide a false sense of security because most sex offenders do not commit crimes in their own neighborhoods. Only 7 percent of such crimes were committed within a mile of an offender’s residence.
The full report, titled simply "Nebraska Sex Offender Registry Study," is available at this link.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Intriguing AP review of the challenges of GPS tracking
The AP has this intriguing piece of new reporting on a (too?) popular modern form of technocorrections. The piece is headlined "Some Ankle Bracelet Alarms Go Unchecked," and here are excerpts:
Three decades after they were introduced as a crime-fighting tool, electronic ankle bracelets used to track an offender's whereabouts have proliferated so much that officials are struggling to handle an avalanche of monitoring alerts that are often nothing more sinister than a dead battery, lost satellite contact or someone arriving home late from work.
Amid all that white noise, alarms are going unchecked, sometimes on defendants now accused of new crimes. Some agencies don't have clear protocols on how to handle the multitude of alerts, or don't always follow them. At times, officials took days to act, if they noticed at all, when criminals tampered with their bracelets or broke a curfew....
Twenty-one agencies that responded to the AP inquiry logged 256,408 alarms for 26,343 offenders in the month of April alone. It adds up for those doing the monitoring. The 230 parole officers with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice handled 944 alerts per day in April. The Delaware Department of Correction, which has 31 field officers, handled 514 alarms per day....
Sorting through alerts, and deciding which are serious enough to merit a rapid response, can be fraught with peril....
Supporters of electronic monitoring say [violent crimes by monitored offenders who set off alarms and other] tragedies are the exception and that the devices are a valuable tool for authorities who previously relied only on shoe leather and the telephone to keep tabs on released prisoners. In many cases involving violence by people on trackers, the accused likely would have been free on bail or parole even if electronic monitoring didn't exist, and would have been far harder to monitor.
"No one should think this is going to be 100 percent effective," said George Runner, a former California legislator who wrote that state's voter-approved law requiring bracelets for all paroled sex offenders. "It's just a tool. When used, and used effectively, it can be not only helpful in modifying behavior, but we've heard stories about it actually preventing crimes."
Once used to track straying cows, electronic monitoring of criminals debuted in 1983, when a New Mexico judge inspired by a Spider-Man comic book allowed a man who violated probation to wear an ankle bracelet rather than go to jail. Use took off in the last decade, as technology improved and lawmakers became enamored of trackers as a cost-effective alternative to incarceration and a way of monitoring sex offenders for life.
Today, 39 states require monitoring of sex offenders. The biggest user of ankle bracelets is the federal government, which tracks people on pretrial release and probation, as well as thousands of immigrants fighting deportation....
"It's virtually impossible to sit there and track a person all day," said Kelly Barnett, a union official who represents probation officers doing GPS tracking in Michigan. Barnett said that while officers see value in the monitoring, such programs also give "a false sense of security to the community."
Studies have found mixed results on the devices' value as a crime deterrent. Bill Bales, a criminology professor at Florida State University, said he believes they are beneficial. Offenders wearing them tend to stay home more with their families. "They're glad to be in the free world, albeit tethered, rather than in prison," Bales said.
The key to making the devices work, he and other experts said, is to figure out how best to process the immense amounts of information they generate.
Monday, July 08, 2013
"In Opposition to the Mandatory Registration of Juvenile Sexual Offenders"The title of this post is the title of this short paper by David Katner, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The mandatory registration of juvenile sex offenders incorrectly assumes that the same dynamics of adult sex offenders apply to juveniles. In doing so, this group of juveniles is labeled and placed in a category that will ultimately hinder their development, rather than contribute to their rehabilitation. Accordingly, this mandated registration will have a negative effect on these individuals along with society as a whole based upon how they are perceived by others in the community and their lack of ability to contribute to the greater good.
Thursday, July 04, 2013
Missouri Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off state registryAs reported in this AP story, headlined "Nixon vetoes sex offender measure," the Governor of Missouri is apparently concerned this holiday week that a bill passed by his state's legislature will provide for too potential much freedom for juvenile sex offenders. Here are the basics:
Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday vetoed legislation that he said would remove sex offenders who commit their crimes as juveniles from websites that let the public know who they are, a day after he signed a measure that strengthens laws against sexual offenses.
Nixon said the vetoed measure is too broad. “It would grant this relief to juvenile sex offenders regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted to include forcible rape, forcible sodomy and child molestation,” said Nixon, who was state attorney general before becoming governor.
“Moreover, the bill would deprive victims of sex offenses the opportunity to be heard before an offender is removed from the very websites that are designed to protect victims and other members of the public.”...
State lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to decide whether they will try to override any vetoes.
On Tuesday, Nixon signed a criminal justice bill that includes a change to what constitutes rape. It had been defined as having sex with another person by use of “forcible compulsion,” which includes the use of a substance to physically or mentally impair another without his or her knowledge or approval. The new law broadens that to include instances in which someone is incapacitated, is incapable of consent or lacks the capacity to consent.
July 4, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Friday, June 28, 2013
Oklahoma Supreme Court finds state's new sex offender registration requirements punitive and thus limited by ex post facto doctrineAs reported in this local article, headlined "Attorney says up to 3,000 registered Oklahoma sex offenders could benefit from ruling," the top court in Oklahoma handed down a major ruling this week limiting the reach of the state's sex offender registration law. Here are the basics:
[T]he court ruling said Corrections Department officials have been violating the Oklahoma Constitution by retroactively applying state sex offender laws, thereby dramatically increasing the time many convicted sex offenders must remain listed on the registry.
Rejoicing in Tuesday's ruling was convicted sex offender Brad Crawford, 58, of Oklahoma City. “It means a lot to me. It gives me freedom. It takes a monkey off my back,” said Crawford, who was convicted in 1998 in Canadian County on a charge of lewd or indecent proposals/acts to a child. “I'm tired of dealing with them and their harassment.”
Crawford lamented that being listed on the registry limits offenders from living where they want and watching their grandkids' baseball games. Registered sex offenders are not allowed to live close to schools, playgrounds or licensed child care centers....
Crawford's crime was peeking over the top of a tanning booth. He said Crawford thought he was sneaking a peek at a woman, which might have brought misdemeanor peeping Tom charges. The “woman” turned out to be a 15-year-old girl who was a day shy of her 16th birthday, so Crawford was convicted of the more severe felony charge of lewd acts with a child....
Crawford originally received a five-year suspended sentence, except for 30 days in the Canadian County jail. He also was placed on the sex offender registry for 10 years....
However, before the 10 years was over, the Oklahoma Legislature passed new laws in 2007 that created a three-tiered risk level assessment system. The law required convicted sex offenders to be placed on the sex offender registry for 15 years, 25 years, or life, depending on their assessment levels....
Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said department officials are discussing the Court's ruling and expect to post something on the agency's website within the next day or two, explaining how the department will comply with the decision.
Preliminary discussions have centered on department officials reviewing the registry and removing the names of sex offenders who appear to qualify under the court's ruling. Massie said no time frame has been established for such a review, but it “might take a month or so.” At the end of the process, sex offenders who believe they were wrongfully kept on the registry could ask to have their cases reviewed, he said.
The full Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling is available at this link, and here are a few paragraphs from its closing sections:
Here we are not balancing the rights of sex offenders against the rights of their victims. We are making a determination as to whether the means chosen to protect the public have exceeded the state's valid interest in public safety and infringed on the Oklahoma constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws.
Out of the seven Mendoza-Martinez factors we have reviewed herein, five favor a punitive effect. It is not the number that is important but the weight of these factors that leads us to our conclusion. SORA's obligations have become increasingly broad and onerous. We find there is clear proof that the effect of the retroactive application of SORA's registration is punitive and outweighs its non-punitive purpose. The retroactive extension of SORA's registration is inconsistent with the ex post facto clause in the Oklahoma Constitution.
This is not to say that Oklahoma's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) is unconstitutional on its face. A sex offender registry is a valid tool for the state to use for public safety. The State may impose registration duties and may publish registration information as part of its punishment of this category of defendants. The Oklahoma Constitution prohibits the addition of sanctions imposed on those who were already convicted before the legislation increasing sanctions and requirements of registration were enacted.
"Should child porn 'consumers' pay victim millions? Supreme Court to decide."
The title of this post is the headline of this new Christian Science Monitor piece discussing the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari yesterday in Paroline (noted here). Here is how the piece gets started:
The US Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to examine whether anyone convicted of possessing images of child pornography can be required to pay a multimillion dollar restitution award to the abused child depicted in the illicit images — even if the individual had no direct contact with the child-victim.
Under the Mandatory Restitution for Sexual Exploitation of Children Statute, Congress said that a judge “shall order restitution” for the victim in a child pornography case in “the full amount of the victim’s losses.” The law applies to those who personally engage in physical abuse of a child while producing pornographic images of the abuse. But the question in the appeal is whether the same law requires anyone who views or possesses the resulting child pornography to also pay the total amount of restitution.
The issue has arisen in hundreds of cases across the country involving possession of child pornography. The vast majority of courts have declined to require child pornography consumers (as opposed to producers) to pay the full amount of restitution. Only one federal appeals court, the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals, has ordered full restitution under such circumstances.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed to examine a case from the Fifth Circuit and decide whether the government or the victim must be able to prove there is a causal relationship between the defendant’s conduct and harm to the victim and the victim’s claimed damages.
Recent related post:
Monday, June 24, 2013
Big SCOTUS majority blesses congressional power to go after sex offenders through SORNAThough Supreme Court anticipation now is mostly about matters tangential to the interest of truly hard-core sentencing fans, there was one last case dealing with federal regulation of sex offenders that SCOTUS handed down this morning. Here is the early report via SCOTUSblog:
U.S. v. Kebodoeux. The Fifth Circuit is reversed and remanded. Registration requirement under SORNA as applied to Kebodeaux falls within the scope of Congress's authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause.
Justice Breyer has the opinion for hte Court. Vote is 7-2. Chief Justice files a concurring opinion (in the judgment only) joined by Alito; Justice Scalia dissents, for himself; Justice Thomas dissents in an opinion joined in part by Justice Scalia.
SORNA is the Sex Offender and Registration Notification Act.... Here is the opinion in Kebodeaux, the SORNA case.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
"Executive Summary: National Survey of Veterans Treatment Courts"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper on SSRN by Julie Marie Baldwin. Here is the abstract:
This summary reports the major results from the author’s dissertation research using data collected from a national survey administered to 79 Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) in 2012. This research produced a comprehensive national overview of VTCs; the complete findings, additional analysis, and an in-depth case study of a VTC can be found in her dissertation titled “Veterans Treatment Courts: Studying Dissemination, Implementation, and Impact of Treatment-Oriented Criminal Courts” (University of Florida).
And here are just a few of the notable findings from the paper's list of 28 "key findings":
VTCs are actively operating in most states with increases in membership and continuing to disseminate nationwide.
About one in five eligible veterans opt out or drop out, primarily because they consider the VTC program too rigorous or they do not want treatment....
The majority of VTC participants are male, white, and between 21 and 30 years of age; served in OIF/OEF/OND and in the Army; and have veteran status and trauma experience....
In the VTC participant population, there is a significant overrepresentation of veterans who are African American, Hispanic or Latino, under the age of 40, from the OIF/OEF/OND era, or served in the Marine Corps.
Drug-related offenses were the most reported type of offense to bring male and female veterans to VTC.
The majority of male and female VTC participants face substance abuse, mental health, and family challenges.
The majority of VTCs broadly define their target populations in their mission statements, but nearly half of VTCs exclude veterans who have been dishonorably discharged or have a current felony charge.
Funding sources vary between VTCs, and slightly less than half receive funding outside of their traditional court budget.
Most VTCs have a single judge, use a reward/sanction ladder, operate at the county level, and utilize peer mentors....
Overall, VTCs evaluate many areas of possible need and offer a wide variety of services to participants, including mental health, substance abuse, housing, vocational, and transportation services....
All VTCs require participants to attend treatment sessions, and the majority require participants to frequently appear in court and check in with VTC personnel, sign a contract, plead guilty, and go on probation....
Passing drug screens was the most difficult requirement for both male and female participants; however, difficulty levels with all other requirements varied by sex....
Overall, the majority of respondents believe there is definitely or probably a relationship between military service, personal challenges, and involvement in the criminal justice system.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Documenting problems with using electonic tracking for crime control in ColoradoThe Denver Post recently published this lengthy article headlined "Electronic monitoring of Colorado parolees has pitfalls," which documents that the benefit GPS tracking may depend on who monitors the monitoring. Here are exceprts:
One sex-offender parolee hooked his GPS tracking device to his dog's collar so he could consort with underage girls and collect firearms, drugs and ammunition, police say.
Another parolee disappeared from his motel the day he was tethered to an electronic monitor. He now is charged with raping two women and attempting to rape another. A third kept unplugging his monitoring device and ignored warnings that he stop moving without approval. Authorities now believe he killed a 59-year-old man at a motel.
Well before parolee Evan Ebel tore off his ankle bracelet in March and allegedly killed two people, including Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements, the state's electronic-monitoring system showed signs of trouble. A Denver Post review of parolee cases and monitoring data from October to April found that serious alerts sometimes went unheeded until it was too late, even as the system generated thousands of false and minor notifications.
Colorado's most dangerous parolees are outfitted with high-tech equipment that is supposed to keep a close watch on their whereabouts. Monitors are strapped to their ankles and receivers installed in their residences. In the most serious sex-offender cases, parolee movements are tracked by a GPS system.
But problems arise. Batteries run down. Plugs get ripped from wall sockets. The systems go dark. The Post found several cases in which parole officers responded slowly as parolees went off the grid and allegedly committed new violent crimes....
Tim Hand, the state's director of parole, requested an audit by the National Institute of Corrections, a U.S. Department of Justice agency, following the Ebel case. Hand has not talked publicly since being placed on administrative leave last month, but in an interview in April, he said electronic monitoring is a challenge.
"The public thinks we put an ankle bracelet on and everything is fine, but the electronic monitoring is just a tool," Hand said. "It's better, in my view, than not having that tool, but it doesn't mean that offender can't cut it off and run away. It doesn't mean we're going to be able to control that offender's every move."...
Under the state's new rules, when a tamper alert occurs, parolees will be required to stay at their residences until parole officials can visit with them. Parole officers, who previously had the discretion to respond on their own time frame, will be required to visit a parolee's home within 24 hours after a tamper alert to decide whether an arrest warrant is needed.
Officials also plan later this month to submit a $600,000-a-year plan to legislative leaders for a new parole unit to track down absconders. In the past, those roundups occurred on an ad-hoc basis using overtime payments to parole officers, with the assistance of local law enforcement. There are currently more than 800 Colorado parole absconders....
The data showed that a team of 212 parole officers had to respond to nearly 90,000 alerts and notifications generated by the electronic monitoring devices in the six months reviewed.
Carl Sagara, a past deputy director of parole and community corrections in Colorado, said he suspects that such high volume quickly can become overwhelming to parole officers. "These guys come into the office in the morning, and they have got 30 guys on electronic monitors, and the computer has so much information on all these guys, and the parole officers just go, 'Holy smokes,' " Sagara said.
In addition, many electronic-monitoring programs throughout the nation aren't staffed appropriately, said George Drake, a consultant who has worked on improving the systems. "Many times when an agency is budgeted for electronic-monitoring equipment, it is only budgeted for the devices themselves," Drake said. "That is like buying a hammer and expecting a house to be built. It's simply a tool, and it requires a professional to use that tool and run the program."
He added that programs also can get out of control if officials don't develop stringent protocols for how to respond to alerts and don't manage how alerts are generated. "I see agencies with so many alerts that they can't deal with them," Drake said. "They end up just throwing their hands up and saying they can't keep up with them."
Monday, June 03, 2013
Upon second thought, split South Caroline Supreme Court (sort-of) upholds mandatory lifetime GPS monitoring for sex offender
In this post just over a year ago, I noted that the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an interesting (and somewhat confusing) ruling in SC v. Dykes which declared unconstitutional some apsects of state law concerning GPS tracking of sex offenders. Then, in this post from last September, I noted on the rehearing of this case by South Carolina Supreme Court. And now, thanks to this new post at The Volokh Conspiracy, I have discovered that a new Dykes decision was handed down last week.
The ruling is available at this link, and here is how the majority opinion now gets started:
Jennifer Dykes appeals the circuit court's order requiring that she be subject to satellite monitoring for the rest of her life pursuant to sections 23-3-540(C) and (H) of the South Carolina Code of Laws (Supp. 2011). We affirm as modified.
Section 23-3-540 represents a codification of what is commonly referred to as Jessica's Law. Many states have some version of this law, which was enacted in memory of Jessica Lunsford, a nine-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender in Florida. Across the country, these laws heightened criminal sentences and post-release monitoring of child sex offenders. The specific issue presented in this case concerns the mandate for lifetime global positioning satellite monitoring with no judicial review. The complete absence of judicial review under South Carolina's legislative scheme is more stringent than the statutory scheme of other jurisdictions. A common approach among other states is either to require a predicate finding of probability to re-offend or to provide a judicial review process, which allows for, upon a proper showing, a court order releasing the offender from the satellite monitoring requirements. See generally, N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-208.43 (West 2010) (providing a termination procedure one year after the imposition of the satellite based monitoring or a risk assessment for certain offenders). While we hold that the statute's initial mandatory imposition of satellite monitoring is constitutional, the lifetime requirement without judicial review is unconstitutional.
A lengthy dissent to this notable new version of the Dykes ruling gets started this way:
Because I believe Dykes' status as a sex offender does not diminish her entitlement to certain fundamental rights, I would hold section 23-3-540(C) is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored. I express no opinion on the constitutionality of section 23-3540(H) because that subsection was never challenged and is thus not before us. Dykes' argument is, and always has been, that subsection (C) of 23-3-540 — the provision requiring lifetime satellite monitoring for persons who violate a term of probation and were convicted of committing criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the first degree or committing or attempting a lewd act upon a child under sixteen — violates her substantive due process rights by imposing monitoring without any showing of her likelihood to reoffend. By invalidating a statutory provision not challenged, the majority ignores those settled principles of error preservation and appellate jurisprudence, and awards Dykes a consolation prize she has never requested and arguably has no standing to accept.
Prior related post:
- South Carolina Supreme Court declares lifetime sex offender GPS tracking unconstitutional on various grounds
- South Carolina Supreme Court reconsidering big constitutional ruling concerning broad GPS tracking