Saturday, May 18, 2013
"Crackheaded Ruling by Sixth Circuit"The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Ed Whelan at the National Review Online concerning yesterday's suprising split panel ruling by the Sixth Circuit in US v. Blewett, No. 12-5226 (6th Cir. May 17, 2013) (opinion here; my commentary here). Here are excerpts from Whelan's take:
[I]n an opinion that will likely surprise all nine justices, a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled (in United States v. Blewett) that the more lenient sentences of the Fair Sentencing Act apply to all crack-cocaine offenders, including those who were sentenced before the Act’s effective date. The justices will be much less surprised to discover that the opinion was authored by Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. and joined by Boyce F. Martin Jr., two Carter appointees who have plagued the Sixth Circuit for more than three decades. It’s notable that the thorough dissent comes not from a Republican appointee but from Clinton appointee Ronald Lee Gilman....
Under [the panel majority's] illogic, once it becomes known that a law has a (constitutionally permissible) racially disparate impact, the maintenance of that law would suddenly be transformed into intentional discrimination. As Judge Gilman observes, there is no support for such a proposition.
As Judge Gilman spells out, there is much more that is wrong with the majority opinion, from the fact that it rules on an “unbriefed and unargued issue” to its multiple violations of circuit precedent. Let’s see if the en banc Sixth Circuit will repair the damage or will instead leave it to the Supreme Court to do so.
Unsurprisingly, folks at the ACLU and FAMM have a much different perspective on the Sixth Circuit panel majority's work in Blewett. Here are the titles and links to the press releases coming from these groups:
- from the ACLU here, "Appeals Court Says Fair Sentencing Act Applies Retroactively"
- from the FAMM here, "Don't Appeal Crack Fairness Ruling, FAMM Tells DOJ"
For legal, policy and practical reasons, it should be very intriguing to watch closely just where, when and how the Justice Department and others are going to argue that the majority in Blewett really blew it.
- On (wrong?) constitutional grounds, split Sixth Circuit panel gives full retroactive effect to new FSA crack sentences
May 18, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack
Lots of thoughts on how to save more innocent lives on highways
Is decreasing this number the best way to minimize traffic fatalities?
Here are the contribututions, with links via the commentary titles:
"Follow Up on a Life-Saving Trend" by Deborah A. P. Hersman, National Transportation Safety Board
"Tipsy Driving Is Dangerous, Too" by Barron H. Lerner, author, “One for the Road"
"Let’s Not Stigmatize Innocent Drivers" by Gary Biller, National Motorists Association
"Lower Levels Mean Fewer Fatalities" by Kathryn Stewart, Safety and Policy Analysis International
"Other Measures Are Just as Important" by Jan Withers, Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Sunday, May 05, 2013
"Retroactivity and Crack Sentencing Reform"The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Harold Krent now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This article argues that the strong presumption against retroactive application of reduced punishments articulated in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dorsey v. United States is neither historically grounded nor constitutionally compelled. Although not dispositive in Dorsey, the presumption may prove pernicious in future cases, whether in dealing with marijuana decriminalization or lessened punishment for file sharing, and in no way should signal to Congress that future changes should apply prospectively only.
Although the Court reached the right result in applying the reduction in punishment for crack offenses to offenders whose sentences had not been finalized, the Court inordinately relied on the general savings statute enacted in 1871. Congress enacted that statute not to prevent retroactive decriminalization or diminution in punishment, but to avoid the consequence of abatement of pending prosecutions and penalties that, at common law, followed from alteration of a criminal statute. Congress wished to avoid the bizarre consequence of offenders walking free merely because Congress recodified a law or even increased the punishment for an offense without specifying that prosecutions could continue under the former enactment. In today’s world, the savings statute should be understood more as a default in the face of congressional silence – once it is clear that Congress considered the temporal scope of its action, the presumption disappears.
I next consider whether alternative justifications support a strong presumption for prospective application of any legislative change. I initially turn to the well entrenched norm against retroactive lawmaking. I reject the premise that the conventional reasons against retroactive measures have salience in the context of legislative amelioration of punishment. I then assess two separation of powers concerns that might justify a clear statement rule against retroactive application of congressional leniency. First, I ask whether Congress’s reduction of sentences would interfere with the President’s pardon authority under Article II, and second, whether Congress lacks the power to undo a final decision of the judiciary. The constitutional arguments raise no serious barrier to retroactive application of congressional leniency.
On the other hand, I reject the notion that Congress, in light of equal protection principles, must benefit those who previously committed the offense. To be sure, ignoring the plight of prior offenders at times seems grossly unfair, and Congress from a deterrence perspective lacks any justifiable reason to treat similarly situated offenders so disparately. Nonetheless, I argue that Congress under a retribution rationale can justify the differential punishment scheme and survive equal protection scrutiny.
In short, because there are no compelling policy or constitutional grounds to presume that congressional leniency should apply prospectively only, Congress should be accorded the discretion to determine where to draw the line in determining the proper amount of retribution for those who committed offenses prior to the decriminalization or diminution in punishment. The Court’s decision in Dorsey should have been straightforward – given the directive in the sentencing act to rectify the disparity in sentencing between crack and powdered cocaine offenses as quickly as possible, Congress intended the shortened sentences to apply to all pending cases.
Friday, May 03, 2013
"Proposals would legalize marijuana in Ohio"The title of this post is the headline of this article that caught my eye this morning in my own local paper. Here are the basics of the story:
As poll numbers show Ohioans are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of marijuana use, a Youngstown Democrat wants to give people the chance to make the drug fully legal in Ohio.
Rep. Robert F. Hagan has made a few attempts over the years to persuade his colleagues to allow for the use of medical marijuana in Ohio, and each effort has died a quiet death. A spokesman for Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, declined to comment on the pair of proposals Hagan introduced yesterday.
One is a bill that would allow patients with certain chronic conditions such as cancer or sickle-cell anemia to use marijuana for treatment. Eighteen other states have approved similar measures. “In addition to the studies that show marijuana to be a valuable treatment option for chronic pain, nausea and seizure disorders, I have heard countless stories of how cannabis has made a difference in the lives of people who are sick or dying,” Hagan said.
His other proposal, modeled after an amendment recently passed in Colorado, would ask voters to approve allowing people 21 or older to purchase and use marijuana. The drug could be sold only by state-licensed establishments and would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax. “With billions upon billions spent on the war on drugs with little progress to show for it, it is time for more-sensible drug policy in this country,” Hagan said, arguing that the revenue could help restore cuts to education and local governments.
It takes a three-fifths vote for the legislature to put an issue on the ballot. A recent Saperstein Associates poll of more than 1,000 Ohioans for The Dispatch found that legalizing medical marijuana was overwhelmingly favored, 63 percent to 37 percent, but making pot completely legal was opposed by a 21-point margin. Martin D. Saperstein, head of the Columbus polling firm, noted that surveys in other states are finding growing acceptance of legalizing marijuana, especially if it would be regulated and taxed.
As I will be blogging about in the coming months, in the Fall I will be teaching a seminar at my law school titled "Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform." Because Ohio is still a fairly conservative state socially, I doubt talk of marijuana reforms will be much more than talk over the next few years. But I am pleased to see the talk getting started, and it will be especially interesting to watch here whether and how public opinion may change as more and more states move forward with marijuana reform experiments.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Intriguing final (sentencing) chapter in landmark SCOTUS Fourth Amendment caseVia this post at The BLT, which is titled "Man in Landmark Supreme Court GPS Case Pleads Guilty," we find out today that Antoine Jones' success in convincing the Supreme Court to declare his warantless GPS tracking to be an unconstitutional search in the end allowed him to secure a plea deal with a sentence of only 15 years in prison rather than his original federal LWOP term. Here how:
Facing his fourth trial, the man at the center of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on GPS tracking pled guilty today to a drug conspiracy charge and was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison.
Antoine Jones was arrested in 2005 and charged with participating in a drug trafficking ring in the Washington area. Jones will receive credit for time already served, meaning he'll spend an additional seven years in jail. After he is released, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle sentenced him to five years of supervised release and 200 hours of community service.
"I think you can teach other people how to stay out of trouble," Huvelle said to Jones during today's hearing. Huvelle has handled the case from the beginning. "It's been a long haul, Mr. Jones," she said.
Jones stood trial three times. His first trial ended in a mistrial in 2007. He was found guilty at the second trial and received a life sentence, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated that conviction after finding the government violated his Fourth Amendment rights through the warrantless use of a Global Positioning System tracking device.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit's ruling, meaning prosecutors couldn't use the GPS data at trial. The government had used the information to link Jones to a drug house in Maryland. During the course of the investigation, the authorities never saw Jones personally handle any drugs.
Following a third trial earlier this year, in which Jones represented himself, the jury split and Huvelle declared a mistrial. The government announced shortly after that it planned to seek a fourth trial.
Following today's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene Soltys declined to discuss details of the plea negotiations, except to confirm that Jones continued to represent himself. She also declined to comment on the resolution of the case....
Jones, who waived his right to appeal, requested Huvelle recommend he be placed in a federal prison near Atlanta, where he has family. Huvelle agreed to make the recommendation; the Federal Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision about his placement.
Huvelle urged Jones to do something "legitimate" with his life after serving his time in jail. She pointed out that some of the jurors thought Jones performed well as his own lawyer and that he had wasted his talents.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
"D.C.’s Race Disparity in Marijuana Charges Is Getting Worse"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary by Rend Smith appearing in Washington's City Paper. Here are excerpts (with links from the original):
[D]ozens of marijuana activists converged on the National Mall to celebrate 4/20 and push for the drug's legalization. If photos and videos are any indication, most of the attendees were white. As a black man, I find their efforts laudable and hearteningly altruistic. D.C.'s campaign against marijuana is racist. If it wasn't, District marijuana enforcement would look a lot less abominable.
In 2010, I wrote about how Jon Gettman, a public policy professor at Shenandoah University, pored through the city's 2007 marijuana arrest records to discover the District had arrested more pot offenders per capita than any other jurisdiction in the country. Gettman also found that the overwhelming majority of pot miscreants the city went after that year — 91 percent — was black.... In 2007, a black person was eight times more likely to be arrested for a District marijuana offense than a white person, even though researchers have exposed what any college pot dealer can tell you from the comfort of his Barcalounger: Members of both racial groups consume cannabis at nearly equal rates.
D.C.'s dope divide is just as striking when you zoom out. According to arrest numbers obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department and crunched by a statistician, between 2005 and 2011, D.C. cops filed 30,126 marijuana offense charges. A staggering number of those — 27,560, or 91 percent — were filed against African-Americans. Only 2,097 were filed against whites.
Blame-the-victim folklore contends that pot-arrest asymmetries, which show up in various cities around the country, are about blacks smoking outside and getting their pot on street corners. Recent studies contradict that. And if D.C.'s shameful pot disparity was about anything but racial bias, we'd see it narrowing.
Instead, though the number of black and white pot charges filed fluctuated from year to year, reefer charges filed against blacks rose 6 percent and declined 10 percent for whites between 2005 and 2011.
Over the last decade, the federal city's black population has wavered as its white population shot up. If municipal pot arrests were impartial, that should have equaled more white potheads learning what the inside of a squad car looked like as arrests of black potheads became scarcer. Latinos, moving into the city in steady if not overwhelming numbers, for instance, saw their pot arrests rise 40 percent between 2005 and 2011, from 93 pot charges to 153.
Also, at a time when weed has become another chic amenity, there's a good chance that the city's affluent whites have most of D.C.'s stash. Last year, Washingtonian ran a gleeful article about the massive amount of weed rambling through D.C.'s elite neighborhoods courtesy of drug-dealing stroller moms and tony pot-delivery services....
The only politician explicitly working to address the dope divide is longshot at-large D.C. Council candidate Paul Zukerberg, who's made marijuana decriminalization part of his platform. He attributes the disparity to cops using stop-and-frisk powers on young black males. "In D.C., we’re giving young people twice as many marijuana arrests as high school diplomas," he writes on his website.
Other D.C. politicians I contacted, like Mayor Vince Gray, wouldn't comment on the matter or didn't return messages. But when I mentioned the dope divide to Police Chief Cathy Lanier (who told the Washington Post she’d tried weed as teen) during an email exchange last year, the top cop seemed concerned. “Broad statement,” she wrote. “Mixed feelings on enforcement here...” When I tried to get Lanier to say more, she referred me to her spokesperson, who told me that MPD doesn't insert itself into politics.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Justice Safety Valve Act gets bipartisan introduction in House of RepresentativesA helpful media members forwarded me a press release which provided the basis for this notable federal sentencing news from inside the Beltway:
Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-VA, and Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, today introduced the bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which would give federal judges the flexibility to issue sentences below mandatory minimums.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had previously introduced a Senate version of the bill on March 20.
Scott said that mandatory minimum sentences have been shown to mandate unjust results. “They have a racially discriminatory impact, studies conclude that they waste the taxpayer’s money, and they often violate common sense,” he said.
Massie added that the one size fits all approach of federally mandated minimums does not give local judges the latitude they need to ensure that punishments fit the crimes. “As a result, nonviolent offenders are sometimes given excessive sentences,” Massie said. ”Furthermore, public safety can be compromised because violent offenders are released from our nation’s overcrowded prisons to make room for nonviolent offenders,” he said.
Now that there is bipartisan support in both houses of Congress for the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (Senate story covered here), we finally have the foundation and the opportunity to find out if President Obama and his Department of Justice are prepared to start walking the walk (instead of just talking the talk) about the need for cost-conscious, data-driven modern federal sentencing reforms. importantly, the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 is a big deal in the formal law which would really not be that big deal in actual practice: the law essentially provides that now-mandatory minimum statutory sentencing terms would be presumptive minimum sentencing provisions for federal judges (which, of course, has always been their status for federal prosecutors, who have charging/bargaining powers that can allow them to take mandatory off the table when it suits their interests).
Especially in the early part of a second term, with federal criminal justice actors dealing with budget cuts and furloughs, and with most Americans pleased with the possibility of federal charges in Boston including a (discretionary) death sentencing system, now is the time for President Obama to finally live up to his 2007 campaign promise at Howard university (covered here) to "review mandatory minimum drug sentencing to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the blind and counterproductive warehousing of non-violent offenders." If not now, when? And if not with support of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, how?
Less than three weeks ago, Attorny General Holder stated forcefully in a big speech (covered here) that, in the United States today, "too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason." In that same speech, AG Holder stated plainly: "Statutes passed by legislatures that mandate sentences, irrespective of the unique facts of an individual case, too often bear no relation to the conduct at issue, breed disrespect for the system, and are ultimately counterproductive." The Justice Safetly Valve Act of 2013 could and would (especially if made retroactive) directly and perhaps profoundly address these issues in the federal sentencing system via one simple bill.
If President Obama and AG Holder really mean what they say and say what they really mean, we should expect press releases coming from the Department of Justice and the White House putting the force force and weight of the Obama Administration behind the Justice Safetly Valve Act of 2013 and urging its passage ASAP. But I fear that we will not be seeing such a press release in the near future -- that worrisome reality will, in turn, lead me again to my growing concern that the Obama Administration's persistent failure to champion badly needed sentencing reforms will become its most lasting federal criminal justice legacy.
Some recent and older related posts:
- Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
- Potent new quote from AG Eric Holder: "Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason"
- "Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"
- "Right on Crime: The Conservative Case for Reform" officially launches
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- NAACP head recognizes Tea Party favors some progressive criminal justice reforms (and sometimes more than Democrats)
April 24, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (37) | TrackBack
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Obama Administration still talking up, but still not heavily investing in, drug courtsA corollary to the classic wisdom "follow the money" is the admonition "put your money where you mouth is." These phrase came to mind for me as I read the text of this speech by Acting Assistant AG Mary Lou Leary given today at the National African American Drug Policy Coalition National Spring 2013 Summit. These passages from the speech, in particular, reinforced my concern that the Obama Administration is still doing a great job of talking the talk, but still is not really walking the walk, in its support of drug courts:
[W]hen it comes to drugs, we know that the only way the justice system is going to realize its full potential as a problem solver is by using its authority to encourage and support treatment. And there’s no better illustration of how this can work than the drug court.
Drug courts use the authority of the judicial system to bring together criminal and juvenile justice agencies and social service and treatment providers to deal with the underlying causes of addiction in drug-involved offenders. In other words, it’s court-sanctioned and court-supported treatment. There are more than 2,600 drug courts in operation across the country, and our research shows that they’re effective in reducing recidivism, decreasing future drug use, and saving money.
Our challenge is to expand the drug court approach. Right now, they serve some 120,000 people, but that’s only a fraction of the 1.2 million non-violent drug offenders now in the system. At the Office of Justice Programs, we’re continuing a proud tradition of supporting drug courts, going back to my early days at the agency under Attorney General Janet Reno, who started the first drug court program in Miami. Continuing her legacy, last year our Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded 60 grants totaling almost $18 million to fund drug courts.
We’re also supporting the development and expansion of juvenile and family drug courts. Young drug-involved offenders can really benefit from the treatment, support, and accountability that drug courts provide, and families where children live with substance abusing parents can begin the process of stabilization through the drug court model.
I’m pleased the President’s budget to Congress requests $44 million to continue supporting drug courts and other problem-solving courts modeled on drug court principles.
I am pleased to hear continued promotion of drug courts by the Obama Administration because of the research that "shows that they're effective in reducing recidivism, decreasing future drug use, and saving money." But I am not pleased to here that the President's budget to Congress only requests $44 million to continue supporting drug courts and other problem-solving courts. The President's FY2014 budget calls for about $3.8 trillion, so a request of $44 million for drug courts amounts to, roughly, around 0.0001% of the total budget.
I know I should not look a drug court budget gift horse in the mouth especially in these lean budget times. But I still cannot help but wish this gift horse was larger given that research shows that drug courts are "effective in reducing recidivism, decreasing future drug use, and saving money."
April 18, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Two big significant states perhaps on track join growing ranks legalizing medical marijuana
As I have hinted in prior posts, I think it could become a very big deal if (and when?) a majority of US states have formally legalized medical marijuana — especially if (and when?) a number of jurisdictions have also legalized recreational marijuana use and the majority of Americans become accustomed to seeing legitimate "pot shops" in their communities. Consequently, these new stories today strike me as especially notable and significant:
From Illinois here, "Illinois House Approves Use of Medical Marijuana"
From New York here, "State senator: Clear majority backs legalizing medical marijuana"
From Washington DC here, "D.C. Marijuana Poll: Majority Of Residents Support Decriminalizing, Legalizing Pot"
Monday, April 15, 2013
Second Circuit finds Cameron Douglas's above-guideline sentence substantively reasonable
The latest (and perhaps final) significant chapter in the federal sentencing saga concerning Cameron Douglas was finished this morning when a Second Circuit panel rejected his claim that his second federal sentence was substantively unreasonableness in US v. Douglas, No. 11-5384 (2d Cir. April 15, 2013) (available here). In addition to thinking the Second Circuit panel came to the right basic outcome here, I am especially pleased that both the majority opinion and the concurrence in Douglas provide an extended discussion of sentencing practice and policy as part of the continuation of a (still nascent, but-not-yet-dormant) post-Booker common law of reasonableness review.
As I have explained in a number of prior posts (which are liked below), I have found the Cameron Douglas story of crime and punishment consistently worthy of attention — in part because the involvement of celebrities at his federal sentencings and in part because of the many legal and social issues raised by the seemingly lenient sentence Michael Douglas's drug-addicted son was given at his first sentencing and the seemingly harsh sentence he got the second time around (some backstory here). The Second Circuit's Douglas opinion tells this story effectively (though leaving out the celebrity part), and then provide a lot of analytical meat for any and all federal sentencing fans to chew on. I highly recommend reading the Douglas opinions in full, though I will here spotlight two notable passages from the opinions concerning the relationship between addiction and drug sentencing.
At the very end of the majority opinion (per Judge Gerard Lynch), we get these notable comments from the Second Circuit panel:
Finally, we take note of the argument, made by Douglas and supported by amici, that punitive sanctions are a less appropriate response to criminal acts by persons suffering from addiction than drug treatment. It may well be that the nation would be better served by a medical approach to treating and preventing addiction than by a criminal-justice-based “war on drugs.” See, e.g., Heather Schoenfeld, The War on Drugs, the Politics of Crime, and Mass Incarceration in the United States, 15 J. Gender Race & Just. 315 (2012); Juan R. Torruella, Déjà Vu: A Federal Judge Revisits the War on Drugs, or Life in a Balloon, 20 B.U. Pub. Int. L.J. 167 (2011). But Congress has made a different choice, and this case is not a vehicle for deciding questions of comprehensive drug policy. For so long as the sale and possession of narcotics remain crimes, courts must struggle with the difficult task of sentencing those who commit such crimes.
We do not hold that district courts may not approach cases of addicted defendants who seek treatment and show promise of changing their lives with compassion and with due consideration of the relative costs and effectiveness of treatment versus long prison sentences. Indeed, that is precisely how the district court approached Douglas’s original sentence in this case. Sentencing courts are not required, however, to turn a blind eye to behavior that can reasonably be understood as demonstrating that a particular defendant has shown himself to be a poor candidate for treatment or for leniency. District courts are in the best position to decide whether the defendant before the court is likely to respond to drug treatment or has spurned chances at rehabilitation and persisted in a life of “reckless, criminal, dangerous, destructive, [and] deceitful conduct.” We therefore cannot say that the district court’s assessment of the sentence appropriate for Douglas was unreasonable.
And, at the very start of the concurring opinion by (my former boss) Judge Guido Calabresi, we get these notable comments:
I join the majority opinion in full because I agree that it is not substantively unreasonable for a district judge, after having given a defendant a number of breaks and second chances, to impose a sentence like this one. I write separately to emphasize my view that a term of imprisonment of between 5 and 10 years ought not to be seen merely as a punishment. It also must represent an expression of some faith that the convict might be rehabilitated within that time. Prisons should have a duty, therefore, not just to keep the convict locked away, but to enhance his ability to become a responsible citizen. When the convict’s crime involves drug addiction, a necessary part of this rehabilitation is enforced, medically monitored withdrawal. Congress has passed a law criminalizing possession of drugs by an inmate in federal prison, and there is no question that Douglas broke that law and manifested, as the majority opinion shows, a high level of culpability. There is also no question in my mind, however, that the incidence of this crime also demonstrates a significant level of culpability on the part of the jailing institution. When a prison cannot protect an addicted inmate from the capacity to relapse, it has failed to perform an essential obligation – an obligation that it owes both to the inmate and to the society that the inmate will someday rejoin.
Prior posts concerning Cameron Douglas's federal sentencings:
- Does having celebrity "a-listers" ask for leniency help a defendant's cause at sentencing?
- Cameron Douglas sentenced to five years for federal drug offense
- "Did Michael Douglas' Son Get Celeb Treatment With Reduced Sentence?"
- Should we care that Cameron Douglas, though sentenced to 5 years in prison, will likely be out in 2012?
- Stiff sentence given to Cameron Douglas for drug possession while in prison
- Celebrity federal drug sentencing appeal prompts doctors' brief urging treatment over punishment
- Celebrity witness for high-profile (and interesting) federal sentencing appeal
April 15, 2013 in Booker in the Circuits, Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Former NFL player now a high-profile felon facing (severe?) federal sentencing realitiesAs reported in this ESPN piece, headlined "Sam Hurd pleads guilty," I now have a new high-profile (and potentially high) federal defendant to watch as his sentencing approaches. Here are just some of the interesting details:
Former NFL wide receiver Sam Hurd pleaded guilty Thursday to trying to buy cocaine and marijuana to set up a drug-distribution network, a move that leaves him facing significant prison time.
Hurd, 27, pleaded guilty in federal court in Dallas to one count of possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to distribute. His trial was scheduled to begin Monday, and a federal judge had refused his attorney's request to delay it.
Prosecutors and Hurd's attorneys have been in plea discussions for months, according to one of his attorneys, Jay Ethington. One sticking point was what allegations Hurd would acknowledge in a plea agreement, which will factor into his recommended sentence on the indictment, Ethington said in September.
Ethington told The Chicago Tribune that he plans to "vigorously contest" Hurd's sentencing, contending that the former receiver didn't engage in drug trafficking to the extent alleged by prosecutors. "He's a marijuana freak," Ethington told the newspaper. "He loves marijuana. He's addicted to high-grade marijuana."
Ethington said Hurd was not a marijuana dealer. "Sell? No. Share with his friends? Yes," Ethington told the newspaper.
Hurd was a player for the Chicago Bears when was arrested in December 2011 outside a Chicago-area steakhouse after accepting a kilogram of cocaine from an undercover officer, according to documents prosecutors filed in the case. Prosecutors alleged he told the officer and an informant at the steakhouse that he wanted to purchase up to 10 kilograms of cocaine a week for $25,000 per kilogram.
His arrest shocked his teammates and led to his release from the team. Months later, he was back in court after failing two drug tests and allegedly trying to arrange another drug buy. Two men linked to Hurd's alleged attempts to buy drugs have pleaded guilty and were prepared to testify against him.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
"The most interesting part of [Rand Paul's] speech was his widely anticipated defense of drug law reform."The title of this post is drawn from this early report via Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post concerning Senator Rand Paul's notable policy speech today at Howard University. Here is some context and more content from Rubin's strong first-cut analysis of Senator Rand's efforts (with one particular line emphasized by me):
Regular readers (and certainly my dad and close friends) know that my political commitments lean toward the libertarian, and thus I was inclined to be a fan of Senator Rand Paul from the get-go. More broadly, as regular readers and others surely know, I strongly believe our modern federal criminal justice system ought not be so committed to costly big national government one-size-fits-all solutions for what seem, at least to me, to often be local small community diverse problems. Thus, I am especially excited that Senator Paul is apparently committed to bringing his libertarian perspective to the arena of federal criminal justice reform.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delivered an important and intriguing speech at Howard University as part of his determined effort to expand the reach of the GOP and take his message everywhere.
His remarks, as prepared for delivery, highlighted the best and the worst aspects of his thinking, and they left some question marks....
The most interesting part of the speech was his widely anticipated defense of drug law reform. “I am working with Democratic senators to make sure that kids who make bad decisions, such as non-violent possession of drugs, are not imprisoned for lengthy sentences. I am working to make sure that first-time offenders are put into counseling and not imprisoned with hardened criminals. We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake.” He described two young men, one white and privileged and the other mixed race and modest in income, who could have had their lives ruined by a drug arrest. He concluded with a kicker: “Instead, they both went on to become presidents of the United States. But for the grace of God, it could have turned out much differently.”
He then explained his opposition to mandatory minimum sentences:
"Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy-handed and arbitrary. They can affect anyone at any time, though they disproportionately affect those without the means to fight them. We should stand and loudly proclaim enough is enough. We should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence. That’s why I have introduced a bill to repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences. We should not have drug laws or a court system that disproportionately punishes the black community."...
It was a nervy effort on his part, and a sincere one, I think, to explain his views to an audience not enamored of his party or philosophy. He should do more of it, and in more concrete terms, to persuade and explain how his philosophy works and why liberalism doesn’t.
He is a force to be reckoned with; liberals and conservatives ignore him at their own risk. If nothing else, he demonstrated that a forceful reiteration of history can illuminate the Republican Party and that conservatism deserves a fair hearing. That’s more than 90 percent of Republicans have done.
But the single sentence I have highlighted above reflect a different theme and one that strikes a different chord with my own philosophical commitments. Saying that "We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake," reflects not a unique political philosophy but rather suggests a kind of personal moral philosophy grounded in a deep commitment to (1) recognizing the reality of human fallibility, and (2) embracing the potential for human improvement and achievement even after a human mistake is made.
Of course, if one really accepts this kind of deep moral commitment and wants criminal laws to reflect this commitment, there are a whole lot of important sentencing implications beyond reform of federal drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing terms. Such a personal moral philosophy, at least in my view, would necessarily call for eliminating the death penalty and LWOP for any and all first offenders, and it might even call for eliminating any imprisonment any and all first offenders. But I do not want to, at least right now, start setting out a script for just how Senator Rand Paul should seek to operationalize his political and personal philosophies. For now I just want to (a) celebrate the fact that he is really starting to talk the talk on long-needed federal criminal justice reforms, and (b) continue to get excited about how he will be soon walking the walk on long-needed federal criminal justice reforms.
Some recent and older related posts:
- "Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"
- Could Romney appeal to independents and minorities with bold crime and punishment vision?
- "Right on Crime: The Conservative Case for Reform" officially launches
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- NAACP head recognizes Tea Party favors some progressive criminal justice reforms (and sometimes more than Democrats)
- Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
April 10, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Fascinating (distinct/similar?) commentary on marijuana policy and politics from inside the Beltway
As regular readers know well, I find the law, policy and politics of modern marijuana reform to be fascinating. Two recent commentaries in the Washington Post reinforce my perspective.
First, consider this notable commentary by Peter Wehner, who worked in the last two Republican presidential administrations, under the headline "GOP should stand firm against drug legalization." I find especially telling that this piece, as excerpted below, makes a forceful argument that (big federal) government works and that drug use is a moral issue that calls for more (big federal) government intervention:
Strong, integrated anti-drug policies have had impressive success in the United States. Both marijuana and cocaine use are downsignificantly from their peak use in the 1970s and ’80s....
In his dialogues, Plato taught that no man is a citizen alone. Individuals and families need support in society and the public arena. Today, many parents rightly believe the culture is against them. Government policies should stand with responsible parents — and under no circumstances actively undermine them....
In taking a strong stand against drug use and legalization, Republicans would align themselves with parents, schools and communities in the great, urgent task of any civilization: protecting children and raising them to become responsible adults....
[R]arely do people say that drug use is wrong because it is morally problematic, because of what it can do to mind and soul. Indeed, in some liberal and libertarian circles, the “language of morality” is ridiculed. It is considered unenlightened, benighted and simplistic. The role of the state is to maximize individual liberty and be indifferent to human character.
This is an impossible stance to sustain. The law is a moral teacher, for well or ill, and self-government depends on certain dispositions and civic habits. The shaping of human character is preeminently — overwhelmingly — the task of parents, schools, religious institutions and civic groups. But government can play a role. Republicans should prefer that it be a constructive one, which is why they should speak out forcefully and intelligently against drug legalization.
Now, consider this notable commentary by Jonathan Rauch, who is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, under the headline "Let’s go down the aisle toward legalized pot." I find especially telling that this piece, as excerpted below, makes a forceful argument that (big federal) government now will not work unless it adapts to new circumstances and that drug use is a moral issue that calls for (big federal) government withdrawal in light of changing attitudes:
All but a small fraction of the people who enforce the marijuana laws work for state and local governments and answer to state law. Although states cannot break federal law, neither must they step in and enforce it. Federal prosecutors probably could shut down regulated marijuana distributors in Colorado and Washington with relative ease by sending threatening letters to landlords and bankers. But that would leave those states, and others that follow, with the option of legalizing marijuana without regulating it, because unconditional legalization under state law is indisputably within the states’ power. The effect of removing states’ troops from the battlefield would be to strand the federal government with marijuana laws it could not enforce.
The chaos that might result would be counterproductive even (or especially) for drug hawks. Instead of shutting down the states’ experiments, then, the federal government might better serve the policy goals of the Controlled Substances Act by working with Colorado and Washington to concentrate federal and state enforcement on high federal priorities, such as preventing legalized marijuana from spilling across state borders....
In a number of important respects, marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage track closely. Both are controversial social issues about which public opinion has changed dramatically in the past few years; on both issues, polls show the public closely divided but tipping toward legalization.
Moreover, for both issues, young people are driving the trend; older opponents of legalizing both are exiting the scene. The issues’ demographics suggest that public opinion is virtually certain to continue shifting. A true national consensus, however, remains some distance away, and partisan and regional differences are sharp.
In recent years, the country has pushed many controversial issues — abortion, crime, education — up to the federal level. But same-sex marriage has taken the opposite path, with leadership left to the states. The result, though somewhat messy as policy, has been a remarkable political success at a time when the country has few to boast of. That some states could try same-sex marriage without betting the whole country reduced the stakes and contained the conflict. States’ experiments with gay marriage educed valuable information about its real-world consequences, or lack thereof, allowing for a better-informed, more rational debate.
Above all, localizing the dispute gave people across the country time to work out what they think and to adjust policies as public opinion changed.... State leadership on marijuana policy has all of the same advantages as on marriage. It contains conflict by reducing the stakes; educes knowledge about what happens if marijuana policy is changed; and allows incremental adjustment to social change. For the federal government, yielding some measure of control over marijuana policy to the states is not a threat; it is an opportunity to manage change and preserve options. Painting federal policy into a corner serves no one, not even drug warriors.
Though I am eager to say a lot more about both of these commentaries, but I will conclude for now with the adjective that captures most of my feelings here: fascinating!
A few recent and older related posts:
- Supporting pot prohibition as divining rod pointing toward social conservatives and away from fiscal conservatives
- "Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72%) say that, in general, government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth"
- "Buzzkill? Cash-strapped states eye pot tax"
- An effective primer on the federal tax issues facing state marijuana businesses
- "Medical marijuana businesses see opportunity in Mass."
- AG Holder indicates federal response to state marijuana reforms coming "soon"
- Intriguing new comments from President Obama on federal pot prohibition policy
- "California inspired — and now inspired by — other states' marijuana legalization measures"
- "Marijuana poll: Californians' support for legalizing pot at record level"
Friday, April 05, 2013
"Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72%) say that, in general, government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth"The title of this post is the sentence and finding that struck me as the most notable and most interesting data point emerging from the just-released survey on marijuana law and policy by the Pew Research Center. This extended press release from the folks at Pew, which carries the headline "Majority Now Supports Legalizing Marijuana," reports on all of the survey's main findings, and here are a few excerpts:
For the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. A national survey finds that 52% say that the use of marijuana should be made legal while 45% say it should not.
Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010. The change is even more dramatic since the late 1960s. A 1969 Gallup survey found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84% were opposed.
The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults, finds that young people are the most supportive of marijuana legalization. Fully 65% of Millennials — born since 1980 and now between 18 and 32 — favor legalizing the use of marijuana, up from just 36% in 2008. Yet there also has been a striking change in long-term attitudes among older generations, particularly Baby Boomers.
Half (50%) of Boomers now favor legalizing marijuana, among the highest percentages ever. In 1978, 47% of Boomers favored legalizing marijuana, but support plummeted during the 1980s, reaching a low of 17% in 1990. Since 1994, however, the percentage of Boomers favoring marijuana legalization has doubled, from 24% to 50%....
The survey finds that an increasing percentage of Americans say they have tried marijuana. Overall, 48% say they have ever tried marijuana, up from 38% a decade ago. Roughly half in all age groups, except for those 65 and older, say they have tried marijuana....
Among those who say they have used marijuana in the past year, 47% say they used it “just for fun,” while 30% say it was for a medical issue; 23% volunteer they used it for medical purposes and also just for fun....
More recently, there has been a major shift in attitudes on whether it is immoral to smoke marijuana. Currently, 32% say that smoking marijuana is morally wrong, an 18-point decline since 2006 (50%). Over this period, the percentage saying that smoking marijuana is not a moral issue has risen 15 points (from 35% then to 50% today).
Amid changing attitudes about marijuana, a sizable percentage of Americans (72%) say that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth. And 60% say that the federal government should not enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of marijuana in states where it is legal....
While Americans increasingly support legalizing marijuana and fewer see its potential dangers, many still do not like the idea of people using marijuana around them. About half (51%) say they would feel uncomfortable if people around them were using marijuana, while 48% would not feel uncomfortable. As with nearly all attitudes about marijuana, there are substantial age differences in discomfort with others using marijuana — 74% of those 65 and older say they would be uncomfortable if people around them used marijuana, compared with 35% of those under 30.
I genuinely wonder if there is any other serious federal felony law for which 3 out of every 4 persons would say that government enforcement efforts "cost more than they are worth." I also wonder whether and how these public opinions will start to have a tangible impact on federal marijuana laws, policies and practices.
April 5, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Offense Characteristics, Pot Prohibition Issues, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Monday, March 25, 2013
Eleventh Circuit discusses key factor in application of federal safety valveWhile on the road, I missed an intriguing lengthy Eleventh Circuit panel decision in US v. Carillo-Ayala, No. 11-14473 (11th Cir. Mar. 22, 2013) (available here), concerning the application of the safety-valve provision of federal law allowing sentencing below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum. Here is how the opinion gets started:
This case presents an issue of first impression in this Court concerning the “safety valve,” but one the trial judge noted is an all too frequent conundrum for a sentencing judge. When a defendant stands convicted of a drug offense carrying mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment and supervised release, the sentencing judge may impose a sentence below the other wise mandatory minimum terms if the defendant meets five criteria. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f); U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2. Only one of the five criteria is relevant here. It requires the defendant to show that he “did not . . . possess a firearm . . . in connection with the offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)(2); U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2(a)(2).
Defendant Arturo Carillo-Ayala admits he was a drug dealer and admits he sold firearms, but his ostensible business plan was “Guns and Drugs Sold Separately.” The question before us is whether a drug-dealer who also sells firearms to a drug customer possesses those firearms “in connection with” the charged drug offense. The answer is “not necessarily.”
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
New report details arrests and NYC police time spent on low-level marijuana offensesAs detailed in this new press release, the Drug Policy Alliance has released a new report on marijuana arrests in New York City. Here are details via the release:
A new report released today documents the astonishing number of hours the New York Police Department has spent arresting and processing hundreds of thousands of people for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. The report finds that NYPD used approximately 1,000,000 hours of police officer time to make 440,000 marijuana possession arrests over 11 years. These are hours that police officers might have otherwise have spent investigating and solving serious crimes.
The report was prepared by Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at Queens College and recognized expert on marijuana possession arrests, at the request of members of the New York City Council and the New York State Legislature.
Additionally, the report estimates that the people arrested by NYPD for marijuana possession have spent 5,000,000 hours in police custody over the last decade. The report includes a compendium of quotes from academics, journalists, law enforcement professionals and elected officials attesting to the wastefulness, consequences and racial disparities inherent in these arrests....
“This report shows that people arrested for marijuana possession spend an average of 12-18 hours, just in police custody, and the vast majority of those arrested are young Black and Latino men from seven to ten neighborhoods in NYC,” said Chino Hardin, Field Coordinator and Trainer with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions. “This is not just a crisis, but a frontline civil rights issue facing urban communities of color in the 21st century. We are calling on Governor Cuomo to do the right thing, and exercise the moral and political will to address this injustice.”...
The release of One Million Police Hours takes place as Governor Cuomo and leaders from the Senate and Assembly are in negotiations about the governor’s proposal to fix the state’s marijuana decriminalization law. Although the state decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in 1977, it authorized the police to charge a person with a crime if the marijuana was “in public view.” As has been well-documented in both studies and media reports, police in New York, and particularly in NYC, have used this loophole to charge a crime when the marijuana is in public view as a result of a police search or a demand that the contents of someone’s pockets, backpacks, etc. be revealed.
The full 16-page report is available at this link.
Thursday, March 07, 2013
"Medical marijuana businesses see opportunity in Mass."One need not remember this classic scene from a classic political movie to know that one of the best ways to understand and predict human behavior (of politicians and others) is to "follow the money." This fascinating new Boston Globe article, with the headline that is quoted in the title of this post, has me thinking about these realities and the many ways in which they seem sure to impact our nation's quickly evolving perspectives on marijuana use and distribution. Here are excerpts from the article:
Kayvan Khalatbari rings up more than $1 million in annual sales at Denver Relief, the medical marijuana dispensary he runs out of a downtown storefront, and business keeps getting better.
But rather than opening an additional store, Khalatbari, 29, is expanding in a different direction: He has been devoting more time to doing lucrative consulting work for about 15 fledgling cannabis entrepreneurs who are interested in setting up shop in Massachusetts.
Denver Relief is one of several companies in Colorado — the epicenter of the nation’s medical marijuana industry — eager to capitalize on the expected “green rush” as Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program gets off the ground this year.
There is lots of money to be made by the ancillary businesses — including consulting, accounting, law, and marketing — as well as in the treatment centers. “There is a great opportunity here in Massachusetts,” said Khalatbari, who charges $250 an hour for his services.
Tripp Keber, widely considered the king of cannabis-infused products, is also looking East. His Dixie Elixirs & Edibles enterprise earned more than $1 million in 2012 by selling medicated carbonated beverages, infused edibles such as chocolate truffles and fruit lozenges, and other items to roughly 500 medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2000. The medical marijuana business has spawned a variety of companies making products like drug-laced mints and containers. The bag at bottom right holds medicated drinks, balms, and salves.
Keber projects his company’s sales will more than triple this year as Dixie Elixirs strikes deals in Arizona, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, and Massachusetts. He is in discussions with six Bay State entrepreneurs, including one in Nantucket, to license the brand and technology.
At Dixie’s Colorado headquarters, molecular biologists wearing white lab coats work with mechanical engineers, chemists, food scientists, and a chef to create dozens of products in a Willy Wonka-like setting. They concoct a rainbow of elixirs, including sparkling pomegranate sodas formulated with up to 75 milligrams of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) per 12-ounce serving and mandarin orange-flavored energy boosters with about 60 milligrams of THC and as much caffeine as a cup of premium coffee. The standard dose is about 10 milligrams, so such products are not intended to be single-serve.
Keber has more than 40 employees after acquiring four medical marijuana businesses and is negotiating to take over two more. To support the growing empire, Dixie has hired three law firms, five consultants, a graphic designer, and a security company.
“Medical marijuana has created a cottage industry. This business is growing exponentially,” Keber said during an interview in his office, where he proudly showcases Dixie’s most recent honor: a fake marijuana leaf in a snow globe emblazoned with the words “Most Valuable MMJ Business,” awarded by local cannabis consultants. (MMJ is industry shorthand for medical marijuana.)
“Two to three years ago, we couldn’t get someone to return our calls,” Keber said. “Now, on any day, we have three to five vendors calling, e-mailing, or knocking on our door wanting to do business with us.”
When states start medical marijuana programs, the business impact extends far beyond dispensaries and cultivation operations, said Chris Walsh, editor of the Medical Marijuana (MMJ) Business Daily, a trade publication based in Denver. Many other types of companies crop up to provide services, including hydroponics shops, software firms, and packaging vendors. For instance, MMC Depot, a Colorado company that sells high-end glass jars and colorful plastic prescription bottles to hold marijuana, is interested in opening an East Coast branch in Boston. “These other businesses generate millions of additional dollars in revenues and put more people to work,” Walsh said.
In Denver, Brian Vicente has built a law practice around medical marijuana. He helps start-ups across the country cope with local laws, negotiate leases, draw up mergers and acquisitions, and — if needed — represents them in court. The company is doing so well it recently moved from a modest office — with waiting room magazines that included The Hemp Connoisseur and High Times Medical Marijuana — to a brick mansion across the street.
Vicente’s firm has doubled its space and shares some with other medical marijuana firms. He was one of the first Denver professionals to set up an office in Massachusetts and hire a full-time lawyer, based in the Financial District, who helped organize the recently formed Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Association.
He estimates Massachusetts could enroll more than 100,000 patients within two years — similar to the patient base in Colorado. “We know this issue is going to be big, and we want to help it grow in the right direction,” Vicente said.
Sunday, March 03, 2013
Drug courts come to federal system (and New York Times' front page)Regular readers know about the drug courts movement and its (varied but still very important) success as an alternative means to process certain drug offenders through the modern criminal justice system. But, thanks to this big new front-page article in today's New York Times, which is headlined "Outside Box, Federal Judges Offer Addicts a Free Path," the notable new story of drug court development in the federal criminal justice system is due to get a lot more attention. Here are extended passages from the Gray Lady's important coverage of this important federal sentencing story:
Federal judges around the country are teaming up with prosecutors to create special treatment programs for drug-addicted defendants who would otherwise face significant prison time, an effort intended to sidestep drug laws widely seen as inflexible and overly punitive.
The Justice Department has tentatively embraced the new approach, allowing United States attorneys to reduce or even dismiss charges in some drug cases. The effort follows decades of success for “drug courts” at the state level, which legal experts have long cited as a less expensive and more effective alternative to prison for dealing with many low-level repeat offenders.
But it is striking that the model is spreading at the federal level, where judges have increasingly pushed back against rules that restrict their ability to make their own determination of appropriate sentences. So far, federal judges have instituted programs in California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington. About 400 defendants have been involved nationwide.
In Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Thursday, Judge John Gleeson issued an opinion praising the new approach as a way to address swelling prison costs and disproportionate sentences for drug trafficking. “Presentence programs like ours and those in other districts mean that a growing number of courts are no longer reflexively sentencing federal defendants who do not belong in prison to the costly prison terms recommended by the sentencing guidelines,” Judge Gleeson wrote.
The opinion came a year after Judge Gleeson, with the federal agency known as Pretrial Services, started a program that made achieving sobriety an incentive for drug-addicted defendants to avoid prison....
The new approach is being prompted in part by the Obama administration, which previously supported legislation that scaled back sentences for crimes involving crack cocaine. The Justice Department has supported additional changes to the federal sentencing guidelines to permit the use of drug or mental health treatment as an alternative to incarceration for certain low-level offenders and changed its own policies to make those options more available.
“We recognize that imprisonment alone is not a complete strategy for reducing crime,” James M. Cole, the deputy attorney general, said in a statement. “Drug courts, re-entry courts and other related programs along with enforcement are all part of the solution.”...
The development of drug courts may meet resistance from some Republicans in Congress. “It is important that courts give deference to Congressional authority over sentencing,” Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Republican of Wisconsin, a member and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. He said sentencing should not depend “on what judge happens to decide the case or what judicial circuit the defendant happens to be in.”
At the state level, pretrial drug courts have benefited from bipartisan support, with liberals supporting the programs as more focused on rehabilitation, and conservatives supporting them as a way to cut spending. Under the model being used in state and federal courts, defendants must accept responsibility for their crimes and agree to receive drug treatment and other social services and attend regular meetings with judges who monitor their progress. In return for successful participation, they receive a reduced sentence or no jail time at all. If they fail, they are sent to prison....
In interviews, the federal judges who run the other programs pointed to a mix of reasons for their involvement. Judge Ricardo S. Martinez ran a state drug court in Seattle before he was appointed to the federal bench. “People that have a serious addiction, you can put them in custody, but the minute you put them back in the community, they go back to the same thing and lo and behold you see them again,” Judge Martinez said in an interview.
Some of the most pointed criticism of the status quo has come from Judge Gleeson, a former federal prosecutor. The drug court he helped set up is open to defendants who committed a range of nonviolent crimes, like fraud and selling prescription pills, and whose addictions fueled their actions.
In a 35-page opinion he issued this week, he criticized the Justice Department for charging defendants with drug offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences, urged the Sentencing Commission to reduce the guideline range for many drug offenses and called for more programs that divert defendants from prison time. The opinion chronicled the case of three graduates of the drug court....
Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said she backed the program because drug courts elsewhere had lowered recidivism rates. “Our overall strategy of law enforcement and crime prevention isn’t just incarceration,” Ms. Lynch said.
At a sentencing hearing for Ms. Leitch last month, a prosecutor vacated her guilty plea and agreed to dismiss the charges if she did not use drugs or get arrested for 18 months. After the hearing, Judge Gleeson offered some encouraging words for the defendant, and then a hug. “I don’t know them as just the judge,” Ms. Leitch said later. “People see judges as the bad guy. They get deeper. They get to know who you are.”
Judge Gleeson's 35-page opinion in US v. Leitch et al, 11-CR-00609 (EDNY Feb. 28, 2013), not only merits NY Times front-oage coverage, but also a read in full. I have uploaded that opinion here.
Some older and newer related posts about drug court programs and research:
- Talk of drug courts, but not major policy changes, in drug war from Obama team
- Important new NACDL report critical of modern drug court movement
- New report on drug courts from The Sentencing Project
- "Rethinking Drug Courts: Restorative Justice as a Response to Racial Injustice"
- NJ commission endorsing expanding drug courts
- A religious pitch for drug courts
- New JPI report expressing concerns about drug courts and net widening
- New research shows positive outcomes from drug court programs
March 3, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
AG Holder indicates federal response to state marijuana reforms coming "soon"As reported in this piece from The Hill, "Attorney General Eric Holder promised Washington and Colorado state attorneys general on Tuesday that the Justice Department would issue its verdict 'soon' on how it plans to treat the states’ recent moves to legalize marijuana." Here is more from the report:
“We’re still in the process of reviewing both of the initiatives that were passed,” said Holder, speaking at the National Association of Attorney General annual conference in Washington, D.C.
“You will hear soon. We’re in the last stages of that review and we’re trying to make a determination as to what the policy ramifications are going to be, what our international obligations are — there are a whole variety of things that go into this determination — but the people of [Colorado] and Washington deserve an answer and you will have one soon.”
Holder was responding to Colorado state attorney general John Suthers, who asked the nation’s top law enforcement official when the DOJ would be weighing in on the state laws that have been in effect for nearly two months. The DOJ is charged with enforcing the federal prohibition on marijuana, and the state laws run counter to the long-existing ban, creating a debate over which law should be enforced and which law is most responsive to the will of the people.
Marijuana has been a centerpiece of the federal government’s “war on drugs,” aimed at cracking down on drug use in the United States. But the growing number of people who support the decriminalization of pot — which is still legally classified nationally in the same category as heroin — has some policymakers in Washington, D.C., rethinking their approach.
On Monday, nearly a dozen House Democrats introduced several bills that would decriminalize marijuana and remove the drug from the list of controlled substances, while requiring the federal government to regulate it and impose penalties on tax-evaders.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Some notable recent NPR coverage of modern incarceration realitiesI was pleased to hear on my local NPR station this afternoon, while I was driving around in my Prius looking for a good place to get a latte, this lengthy feature story concerning US incarceration levels on the On Point program. Here is how the program is described via its website:
The Cost Of Prison: States fed up with high prison costs and mandatory sentencing move to change. Must the U.S. be number one in prisoners?
The USA is number one in the world when it comes to the number of people in prison. Bigger than China. Bigger than Russia. America’s prison population is tops. 2.2 million. Bigger than fifteen American states. And its incarceration rate is number one..... All that American imprisonment is very expensive. And very debatable when it comes to effectiveness, fairness -- to justice itself. Now states across the country are reconsidering the mandatory sentencing policies and more that filled those cells. This hour, On Point: slimming down American prisons.
In addition, last week NPR had two new pieces as part of this special series titled "The Legacy And Future Of Mass Incarceration." Here are links and brief descriptions:
Decades On, Stiff Drug Sentence Leaves A Life 'Dismantled': George Prendes was 23 when he was sentenced under New York's Rockefeller drug laws — tough mandatory sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug crimes. The 15 years Prendes served for a drug transaction still reverberate for him and his family.
The Drug Laws That Changed How We Punish: Forty years ago, New York enacted tough laws in response to a wave of drug-related crime. They became known as the Rockefeller drug laws, and they set the standard for states looking to get tough on crime. But a new debate is under way over the effectiveness of such strict sentencing laws.
February 20, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack