Sunday, June 02, 2013

Another notable GOP member of Congress advocating for federal sentencing reform

ChafAs regular readers know, I have been excited and heartened to see a number of notable Republican leaders speak out in favor of state sentencing reforms in the last few years.  Significant sentencing reform efforts at the state level have gotten a real boost from GOP governors like Chris Christie, Nathan Deal, Bobby Jindal and John Kasich.  Other high-profile folks on that side of the aisle ranging from Newt Gingrich to Ed Meese to David Keene to Grover Norquist have also been vocal in support of cost-saving sentencing reform efforts.  But this right-side movement has not gotten much attention or traction at the federal level, save for the recent work of Sentator Rand Paul advocating for reform of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions.

Consequently, it is now great to see that another notable GOP elected official is starting to talk up the need and opportunity for effective sentencing reforms at the federal level.  Specifically, as detailed in this lengthy new article in The Salt Lake Tribune, GOP representative Jason Chffetz is now among the Republican stalwarts urging federal sentencing reform. The article is headlined " Chaffetz unveils prison program to reduce recidivism and lower crime: Plan would put low-risk inmates in halfway houses, increase use of ankle bracelets," and here are excerpts:

Hoping to shrink the glut of low-risk federal inmates consuming tax dollars in prison, Rep. Jason Chaffetz is about to unveil a post-sentencing reform bill that would allow drug offenders and others to earn early release into halfway houses, home confinement and ankle-bracelet monitoring.

Quietly, the Utah Republican has worked Washington’s back channels for 18 months to forge bipartisan support. He insists the program — vetted by the Heritage Foundation and the ACLU — would reduce recidivism, lower crime rates and rein in spending on the federal prison system.

“There’s some really good work being done by states that we ought to learn from,” Chaffetz told The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board this week. “It’s a financial imperative, it’s a moral imperative — it just makes a lot of sense.”

The challenge, Chaffetz concedes, is assuring the political right the measure isn’t soft on crime, while convincing the left it goes far enough — short of unwinding mandatory minimum sentences. “The risk, if there is with this, is the over-simplification,” the congressman said, bemoaning bumper-sticker politics. “It does take some explanation. It does take an adult conversation to say, ‘folks, we can do this.’ ”

The proposal marks a pivot for Chaffetz, whose more partisan turns with conservative media include talk of impeaching President Barack Obama regarding recent investigations, including the embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya....

The program would work by dividing federal prisoners into high, moderate or low risks of recidivism. They would be judged by level of engagement in existing programs, holding prison jobs and participation in faith-based services and educational courses.

Low-risk inmates would earn 30 days credit per month, moderate would notch 15 days, while high-risk convicts could get eight days worth of credit. Only low-risk prisoners would be eligible for pre-release custody into a halfway house, home confinement or ankle-bracelet program. Prisoners convicted of violent felonies, terrorism, rape or a sex offense against a minor would not be considered. Neither would undocumented immigrants, an “albatross” and too touchy a topic, Chaffetz says.

The measure neither reduces minimum sentence time nor impacts Truth in Sentencing requirements. That’s because 85 percent of each federal sentence still would be completed as mandated — though some of it could be outside the prison walls....

Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney, remembers how inflexible the federal system seemed when a young man “who had a bad weekend” with drugs was slapped with a 35-year minimum sentence.

Then there is Utah music producer Weldon Angelos, who had no prior criminal record and now is considered a casualty of the war on drugs. Convicted in 2003 while he was in his early 20s of selling small amounts of marijuana — a witness claimed he had a gun on his side — Angelos was sentenced to 55 years under federal minimums. Cassell, the judge in the case hamstrung by the law, urged President George W. Bush to commute the sentence, calling it “unjust, cruel and irrational.”...

“We’ve got to fix the front end,” said Mary Price, vice president of the nonprofit Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which is still reviewing the Chaffetz bill. “We’re still pouring thousands of people into prison every year for sentences that are frankly too long.”

Karen McCreary, executive director of ACLU of Utah, says she too would like to see reform to mandatory minimums but is intrigued by Chaffetz’ bill. “The drug wars have made our system so full, so this is a positive,” McCreary said. “It seems like a good step in the right direction.”...

The Chaffetz proposal is modeled partly on Texas, which became the first state to complete a so-called “justice reinvestment” process, saving the state $1.5 billion in construction costs and $340 million in averted operating costs.

Tolman told the editorial board it’s time the feds learned effective prison models from states like Texas. “We’ve always been arrogant and felt that we can do things better,” Tolman said. “Either we’re so large and cumbersome that we can’t, or we’re so ignorant and stubborn that we won’t.”

Some recent and older related posts:

June 2, 2013 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Marijuana"

StrangeloveThe title of this post is not only an homage to one of the greatest movies of all time, but also the headline of this new Time magazine piece by reporter Christopher Matthews.  (Among other enjoyable aspects of starting to think about Dr. Strangelove in this context, I wonder if the good doctor might well have been better able to deal with his alien hand syndrome problems with the help of high quality medical marijuana.)  Though I suspect some Americans may now still fear marijuana reform as much as they once feared "The Bomb," here are excerpts from the Time piece explaining why many have stopped worrying so much about the wicked weed:

For nearly a century, the United States has been one of the fiercest advocates and practitioners of marijuana prohibition in the world.  At the height of the America’s anti-pot fervor in the 1950s and ’60s, one could even receive life imprisonment for simple possession of the drug.

But the puritanical fervor that once dominated the national discussion surrounding cannabis has been conspicuously absent of late.  Earlier this month, the Colorado State legislature, by order of a November referendum, passed bills to implement the legalization and regulation of recreational marijuana use.  Washington State voters also approved legalization by referendum on election day....  The Organization for American States recently suggested that marijuana legalization could be a way to cut down on drug-violence in the western hemisphere.  Perhaps most important, the movement has finally found a voice on Capitol Hill, as representatives Earl Blumenauer and Jared Polis submitted legislation earlier this year that would end federal prohibition of the drug, and allow states to tax and regulate it as they see fit....

Indeed, the feeling that the further liberalization of marijuana laws is inevitable is backed up by the polling trends.  According to Gallup, as recently as 2005, two-thirds of Americans opposed legalization of marijuana.  Now 48% percent of the population supports it.  And a similar poll from Pew puts the number even higher — at 52%. But what exactly explains this sudden change in American attitudes towards pot?

Undoubtedly, part of the reason for the increased acceptance is demographic.  It might make you feel old to read this, but on Friday, both Bob Dylan and Tommy Chong celebrated birthdays, turning 72 and 74 respectively.  The aging of these counterculture icons hasn’t directly changed American attitudes towards marijuana, of course, but it does underscore the fact that the vast majority of Americans living today came of age during a time when marijuana was widely in use....

And while national political leaders aren’t necessarily falling over themselves to endorse marijuana legalization, there isn’t a lot of room in the current political climate to defend it, either.  The political right has done an excellent job over the past thirty years convincing the American public of the limitations of government.  They have argued that even when the government has the best of intentions it can be astoundingly ineffective at achieving its stated goals, and often creates unintended and pernicious consequences to boot.  This is the same argument that has led to deregulation of industry, historically low tax rates, and legislative efforts like welfare reform.  It’s only logical to extend it beyond social welfare programs to something like drug policy.

And supporters of ending marijuana prohibition do indeed point to the unintended consequences of the policy as reason to legalize.  According to the FBI, in 2011, 1.5 million people were arrested on drug charges, and roughly half of those were for marijuana, costing billions per year in law enforcement and court costs.  And that doesn’t count the human toll on those arrested, like potential loss of work, government benefits, the right to vote, and student aid.  Meanwhile, the government simply hasn’t come anywhere close to achieving the stated goal of marijuana prohibition, which is to prevent drug addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, since the beginning of the so-called war on drugs, the addiction rate in America has remained steady at 1.3%, despite the fact that each year state and local governments spend more and more money — over $1 trillion in total — fighting the drug war.

What’s more, the unintended consequences of marijuana prohibition do not stop at our borders.  In fact, the brunt of the side effects may be being felt in places like Mexico....

We are in a political moment where social conservatism has been somewhat sidelined as a political force by the growing influence of libertarianism in the Republican party.  This dynamic emphasizes the tension between liberty and morality that has been with us since the founding of our country, and at this moment liberty appears to be ascendant.  But make no mistake, the puritanical impulses that once made America the leading voice in marijuana prohibition haven’t gone anywhere — and advocates of reform should know that pendulums, once set it motion, swing back again.

A few recent and older related posts: 

May 28, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Prison-Sentence Reform: A bill to give judges flexibility to impose shorter sentences deserves conservatives’ support."

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new National Review commentary by David Keene, a former president of the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union, explaining why conservatives should support the Justice Safety Valve Act.  Here are extended excerpts:

Like many conservatives, I supported many [mandatory minimum sentencing] laws when they were enacted and still believe that, in some narrow situations, mandatory minimums makes sense. But like other “one-size-fits-all” solutions to complicated problems, they should be reviewed in light of how they work in practice.

Fortunately, Senators Rand Paul (R., Ky.) and Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) have crafted a smart and modest reform bill that will fine-tune these laws to eliminate many of the unforeseen and, frankly, unfair consequences of their application when the facts demand more flexibility. This bipartisan measure deserves conservative support.

The bill, the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, maintains existing federal mandatory-sentencing laws. It enables judges to depart from the minimums in certain cases, however, such as when the mandatory sentence is not necessary to protect public safety and seems blatantly unfair in light of the circumstances of the offense. In so doing, their proposal fulfills the primary objective of criminal-justice policy: protecting public safety, while promoting our constitutional separation of powers and saving taxpayers the expense of unnecessary and counterproductive incarceration.

Many people, conservatives as well as liberals, have come to believe that most mandatory-minimum-sentencing laws should be repealed. These laws give prosecutors nearly unchecked power to determine sentences, even though courts are in a better position to weigh important and relevant facts, such as an offender’s culpability and likelihood of reoffending.

Federal mandatory-minimum-sentencing laws are especially problematic. Not only do they transfer power from independent courts to a political executive, they also perpetuate the harmful trend of federalizing criminal activity that can be better prosecuted at the state level.

For years, conservatives have wisely argued that the only government programs, rules, and regulations we should abide are those that can withstand cost-benefit analysis. Mandatory minimum sentences, by definition, fail this basic test because they apply a one-size-fits-all sentence to low-level offenders, even though the punishments were designed for more serious criminals.

Economists who once wholeheartedly supported simple pro-prison policies now believe they have reached the point of diminishing returns. One is University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, best known for the best-selling Freakonomics, which he co-authored with Stephen J. Dubner. Levitt recently told the New York Times, “In the mid-1990s I concluded that the social benefits approximately equaled the costs of incarceration,” and, today, “I think we should be shrinking the prison population by at least one-third.”

In other words, the initial crackdown was a good thing, but we are now suffering the effects of too much of that good thing. If Levitt’s estimate is even close, right now we are wasting tens of billions of dollars locking people up without affecting the crime rate or enhancing public safety. In fact, spending too much on prisons skews state and federal budgetary priorities, taking funds away from things that are proven to drive crime even lower, such as increasing police presence in high-violence areas and providing drug-treatment services to addicts.

The Paul-Leahy bill will help restore needed balance to our anti-crime efforts. Repeat and violent criminals will continue to receive and serve lengthy prison sentences, but in cases involving lower-level offenders, judges will be given the flexibility to impose a shorter sentence when warranted.

The Paul-Leahy bill is a modest fix that will affect only 2 percent of all federal offenders, and even they won’t be spared going to prison. They will simply receive slightly shorter sentences that are more in line with their actual offenses. The bill will improve public safety, save taxpayers billions of dollars, and restore our constitutional separation of powers at the federal level while strengthening federalism. This is a reform conservatives should embrace.

Some recent and older related posts:

May 24, 2013 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Monday, May 13, 2013

Noting some new GOP sentencing reform voices inside the Beltway

Cap hillThis notable new article, amusingly headlined "An End to the Jailhouse Blues?", authored by By John Gramlich and appearing in CQ Weekly discusses what I am inclined to call the "new right on criminal justice reform" on the Hill.  Here are excerpts:

Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons and that mandatory-sentencing laws disproportionately harm minorities and tie judges’ hands.  Lately, they have been joined in those criticisms by Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party-backed Republican with White House aspirations.  “I think the Republican Party could grow more if we had a little bit more of a compassionate outlook,” the Kentuckian says.

Paul is emblematic of a quiet but unmistakable shift among conservatives in Congress when it comes to criminal justice.  Not only are Republicans engaging in a serious debate about relaxing federal criminal penalties — an idea that was once anathema to lawmakers who worried that their next campaign opponent would label them “soft on crime” — they are leading the discussion.

The House Judiciary Committee, which has poured cold water on Democratic priorities since Republicans regained control of the chamber in 2010, last week created a bipartisan, 10-member task force that will conduct a six-month analysis of the estimated 4,500 crimes on the federal books.

The task force will examine “overcriminalization” in the federal justice system and evaluate what Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte calls an “ever-increasing labyrinth” of criminal penalties, some of them for relatively minor crimes in which perpetrators may not have realized they were breaking the law. The Virginia Republican cited the example of an 11-year-old girl who “saved a baby woodpecker from the family cat” but received a $535 fine because of a federal law banning the possession of a migratory bird.

The panel will be led by law-and-order Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Virginia Democrat Robert C. Scott, an outspoken critic of more-contentious criminal policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing, which the task force will also evaluate. A diverse range of groups endorses the effort, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

At the same time, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal prison spending, Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, plans to work with his Democratic ranking member, Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, to create a separate task force to review all aspects of the rapidly growing federal correctional system. Wolf is outraged that federal prisoners are not provided more opportunities to gain work experience and believes the Bureau of Prisons is holding too many people, including ill older inmates who no longer pose a threat to society. A report by the Justice Department’s inspector general recently came to the same conclusion.

“If you’re 68 years old and you’re dying of cancer and your life expectancy is seven months, why do we want to keep you in prison?” Wolf says.

Then there is Paul, who perhaps more than any other Senate Republican aligns with Democrats on sentencing issues. Paul is co-sponsoring a bill with Democratic Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont that would allow federal judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences under certain conditions — a so-called “safety valve” that effectively would do away with congressionally mandated punishments in many cases. Similar House legislation is co-sponsored by Scott and another Kentucky Republican, Thomas Massie. “Some of the sentencing has been disproportionately unfair to African-Americans, and so I am for getting rid of the mandatory minimums or letting judges override them,” Paul says.

He argues that young drug offenders, in particular, are vulnerable to overly harsh punishments and points out that each of the past three presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — was “accused of doing drugs as a kid.... Had they been caught, none of them would have ever been president,” he says. “Just by luck of not being caught, they did fine. But a lot of kids don’t.”...

If Republicans sound kinder and gentler on criminal justice today than they did two decades ago, their perspective has been guided by cold, hard numbers.

Goodlatte last week cited statistics showing that Congress has added an average of 500 new crimes to the law books in each of the past three decades. Those federal crimes overlap with scores of existing penalties for the same crimes enacted by the states, which handle the vast majority of the nation’s criminal trials.

The creation of hundreds of new federal crimes, combined with mandatory minimum sentencing laws and the 1984 elimination of parole for federal offenders, has resulted in a steady and costly uptick in the federal prison population. The federal corrections system is now the largest in the country, much larger than state systems in Texas and California.

In fiscal 2006, the Bureau of Prisons had 192,584 inmates. Five years later, the number had grown 14 percent to 218,936, according to a November report by the Justice Department inspector general.

Massie, formerly the top elected official in Lewis County, Ky., says his perspective has been shaped by his experience managing a local budget, where he says his “biggest line item” was incarceration. The first-term lawmaker backs a bipartisan corrections overhaul that Kentucky enacted in 2011 and said Republicans on the federal level should embrace similar changes because mass incarceration runs counter to established GOP principles on government spending. “I call it socialism with constrained mobility,” Massie says. “You’re paying for all their medical costs. You’re paying for all their food, all their housing. You’ve got to have air conditioning. Jails are not cheap.”

While the dialogue may be changing, passing legislation, as always, is another story. Even the idea of studying the criminal justice system proved too controversial in the Senate in 2011, when a national commission proposed by former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia fell to partisan fighting.

The House task force might agree to weed out relatively minor crimes such as possession of a migratory bird — the kind of regulations Republicans tend to view as government overreach — but it may be less inclined to rethink the mandatory minimum sentences that many Democrats abhor....

While the challenges are clear, those who support the GOP-led discussion surrounding criminal justice say it is encouraging that the debate is happening at all. It’s a significant step forward that a bipartisan group of legislators is really for the first time looking in a very serious way at ways to try to get their arms around this behemoth,” says John G. Malcolm, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Some recent and older related posts:

May 13, 2013 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

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):

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.

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.

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:

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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

New group opposing death penalty emerges at CPAC

US News and World Report has an this interesting report on a notable new group that emerged at last week's CPAC meetings.  The piece is headlined "Small Government Conservative? Group Says You Should Oppose Death Penalty," and here are excerpts:

Squeezed amid the dozens of stalls you'd expect to find last week at CPAC — stalls that were pro-gun, pro-life and pro-liberty — sat a group that was more unexpected: Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty....

But that stereotype no longer holds true.  As Maryland prepares to become the 18th state to ban the death penalty, CCADP advocacy coordinator Marc Hyden tells [Us News] the reaction the group is getting from conservatives is: "Where have you been for so long?"

Hyden says hundreds of people at CPAC signed up to join the group, which officially launched at the conference. For those who didn't sign up, Hyden, who previously worked for the NRA, came ready with reasons why they should.  He says he sways some conservatives with the pro-life, religious argument, but more often Hyden talks about the cost.

"It is widely accepted that [the death penalty] is so much more expensive than life without parole," Hyden says.  "If there is a cheaper alternative, we as fiscal conservatives should embrace it."

It may be no surprise, then, that the group has also been greeted with open arms by libertarians, whose political stars, Ron and Rand Paul, both oppose the death penalty. Several bigger names have also jumped aboard the CCADP team, including Jay Sekulow, a top litigator of free speech and religious liberty cases.  Sekulow tells [US News] he's been concerned about the death penalty from a legal perspective for years, but that there was never one conservative group that concentrated on the issue.

"We're in the infancy stages of a movement to galvanize awareness," says Sekulow, noting that several Republican governors have come out against the issue in recent years, such as Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.  "This issue now crosses political lines."

March 23, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

UN agency and former DEA officials complain about the end of pot prohibition in two states

As reported in this notable Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Government Urged to Act Over Pot Laws," there are some notable new folks making noise about the efforts by two US states to end pot prohibition. Here are the interesting details:

A United Nations agency and a group of former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration heads pressed the U.S. government Tuesday to challenge laws making recreational pot use legal in Colorado and Washington state.

The U.N.'s International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors implementation of U.N. drug-control conventions, said in its 2012 annual report that the states' pot laws violate international narcotics conventions and that it "urges the Government of the United States to take the necessary measures to ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory."

Separately Tuesday, eight former DEA administrators issued a joint warning that the government must act now or lose the chance to nullify the Colorado and Washington laws. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week he is in the last stages of reviewing the laws.

"We are urging Attorney General Holder, as he did in the case of the Arizona immigration law, to file a lawsuit challenging the Colorado and Washington laws without delay," said one of former DEA Administrators, Judge Robert Bonner, in the statement.

"It's not up to the U.S. Attorney General to decide that he is going to abandon the law; it is his job to enforce the law," said Peter Bensinger, another of the former DEA administrators, in an interview.

Both states are working on rules to codify how marijuana's production, processing and sale will be regulated after voters in the states last November passed ballot measures letting adults use pot recreationally.

"It doesn't change what we're doing," said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is formulating pot-use rules there.

"This is an over-reach by outside entities," said Colorado state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a legalization advocate. A spokesman for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the office had no comment.

As political observers know, in nearly all other settings, folks on the right side of the aisle are typically quick to complain if and whenever either the United Nations or a federal agency tries to dictate whether and how an independent US state seeks to conduct its legal business.   I sure hope, just because we are now dealing with state laws concerning the use and distribution of a plant — rather than, say, state laws concerning the use and distribution of firearms or state laws concerning the operation of the death penalty — that the folks on the right do not conveniently forget the usual states' rights mantra in opposition to UN meddling or big federal agency over-regulation of state business.

A few recent and older related posts: 

March 5, 2013 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Republicans a victim of safer streets"

The title of this post is the headlined of this notable recent commentary by Charles Lane in the Washington Post.  Here are some excerpts:

Americans were unhappy about many issues as 2012 began. In one area, though, contentment reigned.  By a margin of 50 to 45 percent, a Gallup Poll reported, the public felt “satisfied” with the nation’s policies on crime.

It was a well-founded sentiment. In 2010, Americans were less than a third as likely to be victimized by violent crime as they had been in 1994; the murder rate had declined by roughly half.  Today we are approaching the low murder rates of the 1950s.

For the Republican Party, this is a triumph — and a disaster, as the 2012 election results proved.  It is a GOP triumph, because the enormous decline in crime over the past two decades coincided with the widespread adoption of such conservative ideas as “broken windows” policing and mandatory minimum sentences.

Whether such policies actually caused the crime decline is a separate, and much-debated, social-science question.  The important thing is that many people believe that they did.  As a result, conservative crime doctrine remains dominant in politics, with the two parties differing mainly over how to control and punish unlawful conduct most cost-effectively.

Hence the 2012 disaster for the GOP.  Beginning with Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign for president in 1968, Republicans pretty much owned the issue.  Fear of street crime — and its association, accurate or not, with post-’60s moral license, liberal Democratic policies and the rise of an urban black population — converted many a white working-class Democrat into a Republican....

As the first Democratic president since Clinton, and the first African American one ever, Barack Obama has done essentially nothing to reverse Clinton’s crime and welfare policies. He signed a bill reducing the disparity in penalties for crack and powder cocaine possession under federal law, a modest reform that enjoyed wide Republican support in Congress....

We’ll never know whether 2012 would have played out the same way if crime had staged a comeback during the recession, as many expected.  Certainly in the past, crime was as important to the Republican brand as abortion and gay rights, if not more important.  Safer streets, though, have blunted what was once a sharp wedge issue, and, perhaps, freed the electorate to consider social and moral issues in a different light.

In the crime-ravaged ’70s and ’80s, Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” Callahan acted out Middle America’s fantasy of a no-holds-barred war on crime.  By the time an elderly Eastwood appeared at the 2012 GOP convention, though, violent crime was a fading specter. And when he led the crowd in a chorus of “Go ahead, make my day,” it was history repeating itself as farce.

He should have said, “We need a new issue.”

I suggest that Republicans consider for their new issue a call to end federal pot prohibition, replaced by state-level regulation and experimentation on marijuana reform.  Among other benefits for Republicans, if an end to pot prohibition really does lead to an increase in crime and related harms, it can better trade of the political rhetoric of crime yet again.

November 27, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Intriguing accounts of how California's three-strikes reform will be implemented

The San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times both had interesting pieces today on how California's ballot-initiative reform of its three-strikes law will get implemented.  Here are snippets from the San Jose Mercury News piece, headlined "California Prop. 36: Families of some three-strikers hope for early release or shorter sentences":

By an overwhelming margin, they'd passed Proposition 36 to revise the state's tough Three Strikes Law. The new law prohibits judges from imposing a life sentence on most repeat offenders who commit minor crimes. But it also includes a provision that could result in an early release or shorter sentence for ... up to 3,000 inmates ... who were sentenced to life in prison for nonviolent, relatively minor crimes like stealing a credit card....

But just how fast lifers get a resentencing hearing before a judge -- and if they get out early at all -- is likely to depend on where they were convicted. The movement on cases might go more slowly in conservative places like the Central Valley, while in relatively liberal Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, things might move along more efficiently. "We're probably less likely to see the DA acquiesce on petitions for release or resentencing in many cases,'' said Kern County's interim chief public defender, Konrad Moore.

Jeff Adachi, San Francisco's public defender and a spokesman for the California Public Defenders Association, estimated it will take six months to a year in most counties. In contrast, Santa Clara County is nearly ready. The county's acting public defender, Molly O'Neal, has already drawn up a list of 127 three-strikers who may be eligible to apply for a shorter sentence or early release. "I hope we begin getting people out before the end of the year," O'Neal said. "This will right an unfairness in the system dating from (1994) when Three Strikes was passed."

The process will be much quicker in Santa Clara County because District Attorney Jeff Rosen promised well before the election that he would seek shorter terms or outright release for at least some three-strikers even if Proposition 36 lost. His office has already done much of the necessary research, cutting down on the need for lengthy court hearings in cases where he and O'Neal agree on a solution.

O'Neal said a Stanford law school graduate who worked on the university's Three Strikes Project is helping with the effort for free. The director of the project, law school Professor Michael Romano, co-authored Proposition 36.

Here are excerpts from the Los Angeles Times piece, which is headlined "Softer 3-strikes law has defense lawyers preparing case reviews":

A day after California voted to soften its three-strikes sentencing law, defense lawyers around the state Wednesday prepared to seek reduced punishments for thousands of offenders serving up to life in prison for relatively minor crimes.

The process of asking courts to revisit old sentences could take as long as two years and benefit roughly 3,000 prisoners.  They represent about a third of incarcerated third-strikers.

Proposition 36 garnered about 69% of the vote.  The initiative won in all 58 counties, amending one of the nation's toughest three-strikes laws, one that had overwhelming voter support when it was approved in 1994 amid heightened anxiety over violent crime. "People want a fair and just criminal justice system," said Michael Romano, who helped write the proposition and runs a Stanford Law School project that represents inmates convicted of minor third strikes....

Courts can reject a request to reduce a sentence if they determine the prisoner is a danger to public safety. Inmates with prior convictions for rape, murder and child molestation cannot be released under the measure.  "This is not going to open the prison floodgates," said Garrick Byers, a senior attorney with the Fresno County public defender's office.

Byers, who said he spoke for himself and not his office, received several calls from relatives of third-strikers Wednesday seeking help for loved ones and said he suspected that other attorneys around the state received similar requests.

In Los Angeles County, the public defender's office estimates 500 to 525 former clients could seek reduced sentences.  Hundreds more represented by private lawyers or the county's alternate public defender's office when they were originally sentenced under the law could also head back to court.

Although defense lawyers have plenty to do in the short term, Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown said he expects the new law will have little impact on future cases. The county's prosecutors have followed a general policy of not seeking life sentences for relatively minor strikes since Steve Cooley became district attorney in 2000. "I don't see a major sea change for L.A. County," Brown said....

Mike Reynolds, whose daughter's 1992 murder led him to spearhead the creation of three strikes, said he believed many voters were misled to think Proposition 36 was a tough-on-crime measure.  He predicted the initiative would undermine an important deterrent and prevent prosecutors from locking up repeat offenders before they had the chance to hurt new victims. "This was a great day for criminals and their attorneys," Reynolds said.

November 8, 2012 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

California voters appear to be approving three-strikes reform, rejecting death penalty repeal

As of the writing of this post, Election Day has been over for three hours in my time zone and is just about to end in California.  According to the result on this official California webpage with right now just over half of all precincts reporting, Proposition 34 calling for the repeal of California's death penalty is losing the popular vote by 46% to 54% and Proposition 36 calling for the reform of California's severe three-strikes sentencing law is winning the popular vote by 68% to 32%.

Assuming that the precinct which have reported are faily representative, it looks as though the voters in California are going to keep the death penalty on the books and are going to curtail the harshest aspects of the state's recidivism sentencing law.  Though I had predicted these basic outcomes (informed by the generally on-point polling data from the last few weeks on these issues), I am a bit surprised that the death penalty repeal vote is so close and that the three-strikes reform vote is so one-sided.

Ain't democracy grand!

November 7, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Voters call for experimenting with pot in the state laboratories of Colorado and Washington

I thought it would be remarkable and remarkably important if voters in just one state through the ballot initiative process had legalized marijuana.  But, as reported in this NBC News piece headlined "Colorado, Washington approve recreational marijuana use," it appears voters in two states are ready to experiment with ending pot prohibition. Here are the basics:

Voters in Colorado and Washington on Tuesday approved measures allowing adults to use marijuana for any purpose, NBC News projected, marking an historic turning point in the slow-growing acceptance of marijuana usage.

In Massachusetts, voters also approved an initiative allowing people to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, NBC News projected. In Arkansas, a similar initiative failed, according to NBC News projections....

The laws legalizing marijuana for recreational or other purposes could face federal challenges, because marijuana possession is still a federal crime. But so far, the Justice Department has declined to discuss how it might react if the laws pass....

Opponent Kevin Sabet, a former senior advisor to the Obama administration and an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s college of medicine, said he was expecting legal challenges at the state and federal level. “This is just the beginning of the legalization conversation, so my advice to people who want to toke up legally or think that they can buy marijuana at a store tomorrow is that we’re a very long way from (that),” Sabet said.

Proponents of the legislation also said they expected some legal wrangling. “It sets up a clear and obvious challenge with the federal government,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, which has fought for years to legalize cannabis.

But proponents also were celebrating what they saw as a turning point in a long-running battle to make marijuana more available to the general public. “We are reaching a real tipping point with cannabis law reform,” said Steve DeAngelo, a longtime advocate for legalizing marijuana and the director of the nation’s largest medical cannbabis dispensary, Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged legal challenges but said the state would work to resolve the conflict between federal and state laws. "It's probably going to pass, but it's still illegal on a federal basis. If we can't make it legal here because of federal laws, we certainly want to decriminialize it,” he told NBC’s Brian Williams.

This lengthy Huffington Post article discusses these developments and the intricacies of the legal process going forward in Colorado.   This piece also includes this amusing reaction to the Colorado outcome:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a vocal opponent to the measure, reacted to the passage of A64 in a statement late Tuesday night: "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will. This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly."

November 7, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

With Prez Obama projected to win second term, could sentencing reform get a boost?

All the major networks are now projecting that President Barack Obama has tonight won a second term; my first thought, of course, is to start to speculate about what this could mean for the future of sentencing reform.  For many reasons, I think the outcomes of the three state marijuana legalization initiatives and the California three-strikes and death penalty initiatives could ultimately have more national criminal justice echoes than the presidential results.  Still, with the occupant of the White House now certain again, I see two great new uncertainties concerning the prospects for future criminal justice reforms:

1.  After a pretty "status quo" first term with very little political capital or energy spent on criminal justice reform, might President Obama give more attention to criminal justice reform issues in his second (lame-duck) term?  Might he, for example, start using his clemency powers more fully or urge his Justice Department to advocate more forcefully for reductions in federal prison populations?

2.  Upon recognizing that the party's national election fate could be doomed by an enduring failure to appeal to minority and younger voters, might some of the smartest stategists within the GOP view criminal justice reform (and especially drug war reform) as a potential means to seek to reconnect with these critical voting blocks?

I fear that the answer to all these questions will end up being no, but it could become a really exciting time for sentencing reform fans if some of these questions are answered yes.

November 7, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Seeking Election Day predictions on the biggest criminal justice initiatives

Vote-buttonAs regular readers know, I will be staying up very late this evening to see election results from all the western states that have been criminal justice initiatives on the ballot today.  I have long been tentatively predicting that one of three marijuana legalizations initiatives will pass and that California voters will approve reform of its three-strikes law and reject abolition of its death penalty.  But this is guesswork, and I am eager to hear other prediction as we all await these (and other) results.

P.S.  Nobody is allowed to comment unless and until they have at least tried to vote!

November 6, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, November 05, 2012

A few criminal justice headlines on Election Eve

I may be too exhausted from fast-forwarding through a stunning number of election ads to put together a detailed SL&P election 2012 guide in the next few days. Fortunately, a lot of the highlights for sentencing fans can be found in old and new media stories, such as these I noticed this morning:

November 5, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friday, November 02, 2012

Latest poll shows death penalty repeal leading in California

Field pollAs reported in this new front-page Sacramento Bee article, advocates for repeal of the death penalty in California have some (surprisingly?) good news in the latest polling data.  The article is headlined "Field Poll shows measure to end death penalty gaining, but still lacking 50%," and here are excerpts:

With concern over the cost of capital punishment rising, California voters may be poised for a historic vote to abolish the state's death penalty, a new Field Poll indicates.

Support for the measure, Proposition 34, remains below 50 percent. But the poll released this morning found 45 percent of likely voters favor replacing the punishment with life in prison, while 38 percent oppose doing away with capital punishment. Another 17 percent say they remain undecided.

The latest survey shows support for abolishing the death penalty rising as Election Day nears. A Field Poll released in September found 42 percent in favor of the measure and 45 percent opposed, with 13 percent undecided at that time.

"It's certainly an encouraging poll for the Proposition 34 supporters, but it still has a long way to go," Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said. "It's got to get above 50 percent, and it's moving in the right direction." DiCamillo said many measures tend to lose support after voters take a closer look at the issues, but Proposition 34 "is actually gaining strength as voters learn more about it."

That may stem from the fact that there is an increasing number of likely voters – 53 percent in the new poll – who have concluded that maintaining the death penalty is more expensive than keeping inmates in prison for the rest of their lives. The proponents of Proposition 34 have based their campaign on that notion, saying California could save hundreds of millions of dollars by doing away with the death penalty and that the state has spent $4 billion to execute only 13 inmates since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978.

"The single issue that reasonates is cost," said Sacramento attorney Don Heller, who wrote the initiative that restored the death penalty in California in 1978 but now opposes capital punishment. "Even when you address the issue of potentially executing an innocent person, it's the cost that reasonates. All of a sudden it's being brought home, when counties are going bankrupt and cities are going bankrupt, that there's just not enough money out there."

Death penalty supporters dispute the cost savings claims and questioned the latest poll figures, especially the finding that 17 percent of voters are undecided on such an issue. "This poll shows that Proposition 34 continues to be under 50 percent," said Peter DeMarco, a spokesman for opponents of the measure. "It's never been above 50 percent since the beginning of the campaign. And I think the 17 percent undecided is significantly inaccurate for an issue that is of such familiarity in California."

DeMarco said he believes that when voters are asked to actually decide, they will trend toward keeping the death penalty in place. He noted that numerous law enforcement groups, prosecutors and political leaders have spoken out against Proposition 34....

The poll of 1,566 likely voters was taken in two waves of telephone questioning, the first from Oct. 17-24 and the second from Oct. 25-30, and the initiative gained support in the later survey period. In the first wave, the measure was nearly tied, with 41 percent saying they would vote to abolish the death penalty and 40 percent opposed. It was in the second round of interviews that support rose to 45 percent.

I think it is fair to predict that repeal of California's death penalty via voter initiative would be a transformative moment in the modern history of the death penalty in the United States.  Depite these latest poll numbers, I am still expecting/predicting that Proposition 34 will fail.  Nevertheless, I find the trends here fascinating and perhaps yet another example of Justice Thurgood Marshall's (in)famous hypothesis in Furman that the more informed people are about the actual operation of the death penalty, the less likely they are to support its administration.

Some very recent related posts (with lots of notable comments):

November 2, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

If nothing else, pot legalization initiatives in 2012 have produced serious buzz

With now less than a week to go before election day, the mainstream media is starting to discuss more broadly the possibility that one or more state will legalize marijuana.  Here is just a sampling of some of the notable recent media stories from outside the trio of states (Colorado, Oregon, Washington) in which voters are soon to have their say on state pot prohibition:

UPDATE This new AP story provides more interesting marijuana reform food for thought. It is headlined "Mexican think tank says Colorado, Washington, Oregon pot legalization would cut cartel profit."

October 31, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three former California Govs (but not the Terminator) advocate against terminating the death penalty

As reported in this Reuters article, which is headlined "Trio of former California governors seeks to preserve death penalty," some former chief executives of the Golden State are speaking out about the state's death penalty ballot initiative. Here are the details:

A trio of former California governors urged voters on Tuesday to preserve the death penalty in the state by defeating a ballot initiative seeking to abolish capital punishment on cost grounds, and a recent poll showed the measure gaining support but falling short of passing.

The initiative, if passed by voters next week, would automatically commute the sentences of 725 death row inmates in California, which has nearly a quarter of the nation's condemned prisoners but has executed none in the last six years.

"Prop. 34 is a horrible injustice," said former Democratic Governor Gray Davis, referring to the ballot proposition.  "Like a giant eraser, it would wipe out the death penalty convictions of 700 killers on death row."

Those convicts are responsible for killing 200 children and 43 police officers, said Davis, who was governor from 1999 to 2003 and who was joined in opposing death penalty repeal by former Republican governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian.  "Don't let the bad guys on death row win," Davis said.  The governors were joined at a Los Angeles hotel by relatives of murder victims, prosecutors and police officers.

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have been silent on the initiative.

The push by the former governors follows a poll of 1,504 registered voters released on Friday by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times that showed support for repeal at 42 percent, with 45 percent opposed.  The poll had a margin of error of 2.9 percent.  Those numbers represented a much narrower gap than in a September survey by the same group that showed the pro-repeal side at 38 percent compared to 51 percent who wanted to keep the death penalty.

October 30, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Friday, October 26, 2012

Latest California polling data suggests hard-core sentencing will be up real late on election night

La-me-death-penaltya1-20121025-gI have an inkling (and certainly a hope) that we will know the outcome of the 2012 presidential election not all that long after 9pm EST on November 6th: the polls will by then be closed in the crucial swing states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia.  But this big Los Angeles Times article, which provides the latest poll numbers on the two big sentencing reform ballot initiatives in California, suggests that hard-core sentencing fans should plan for very late night watching election returns from the Golden State. the article is headlined "Support for end to California death penalty surges; Nearly half of registered voters still back capital punishment, but the margin has shrunk to 3 percentage points; Voters also favor easing the three-strikes law." Here are excerpts:

Voter support for a ballot measure to repeal California's death penalty has jumped dramatically, though not enough to ensure its passage, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll has found. Support for a separate measure that would ease the state's three-strikes sentencing law remained high, with more than 60% in favor of amending it.

The survey, conducted last week, showed that the gap between supporters and opponents of Proposition 34, the capital punishment measure, is now very small — only 3 percentage points — compared with last month.  Still, less than half of respondents said they would vote for the measure, which would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Forty-two percent said they would vote for Proposition 34, with 45% saying no. In September, the gap was 38% to 51%, a 13-point difference.  A significant 12% of respondents said they did not know how they would vote, nearly identical to the 11% who had not decided last month.  "There is no question there has been a sharp shift," said Dan Schnur, who heads the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.  The results suggest that passage is "not impossible" but still "very difficult," Schnur said.

When voters heard more information about Proposition 34, such as its financial ramifications and details of the effect on prisoners, responses flipped: 45% were in favor and 42% against — still very close to the survey's margin of error, which is 2.9 percentage points.

The latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll [with crosstabs available here] questioned 1,504 registered voters by telephone from Oct. 15 to Oct. 21, before the Proposition 34 campaign launched radio and television ads. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, did the survey with American Viewpoint, a Republican company. 

Proposition 34 would apply retroactively to condemned inmates, require convicted murderers to work in prison and contribute to victim restitution funds, and direct $100 million to law enforcement over four years.  It could save the state as much as $130 million a year, according to California's nonpartisan legislative analyst.  California has more than 727 inmates on death row, the most in the nation....

Natasha Minsker, campaign manager for Proposition 34, said the poll's findings prove that "this election is absolutely moving in our direction."  But Peter DeMarco, a strategist for the opposition, expressed confidence that the shift was too small to make a difference....

La-me-death-penalty-inside-20121025-g

Meanwhile, support for the three-strikes measure, Proposition 36, has held relatively steady in recent weeks, with 63% of voters in favor, 22% opposed and 15% undecided or not answering.  Last month, the initiative was leading by 66% to 20%.  "Unless the opponents can convince voters that the criminals being impacted by this measure are still dangerous, the initiative looks pretty safe at this point," Schnur said. 

The three-strikes law allows prosecutors to seek sentences of 25 years to life for any felony if offenders were previously convicted of at least two violent or serious crimes, such as rape or residential burglary. Proposition 36 would amend the law so offenders whose third strikes were relatively minor felonies, such as shoplifting or drug possession, would no longer be eligible for life terms.  Of the state's nearly 8,900 third-strikers, about a third were convicted of drug or minor property crimes.

This week, the proposition's campaign unveiled a television ad in which the district attorneys from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties tell voters that the amendment would ease prison overcrowding, save the state millions of dollars and "make the punishment fit the crime."  Opponents point out that the current law already allows prosecutors and judges to spare a third-striker the maximum sentence and argue that flexibility is needed to protect the public.

I suspect that the polling on these sorts of initiatives can be subject to lots of statistical noise, so I am quite chary about making book on these latest poll numbers.  That all said, it will be big news if either of these sentencing reform initiatives pass, and huge news if they both do.  Thus, I now have yet another reason to wish Election Day 2012 was here already.

October 26, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Latest campaign front news concerning California death penalty repeal initiative

This new local article, headlined "California's Prop. 34: Battle over fate of state's death penalty heating up," reports on the latest campaign developments two weeks before California's go to the polls to decide whether to repeal the state's death penalty. Here are excerpts:

[T]he two rival campaigns are unveiling ads this week relying on very different messages to appeal to voters being asked for the first time to abandon the death penalty since it was restored more than three decades ago. In short, the pro-Proposition 34 forces are asking voters to save California money and rid the state of the justice system's most costly and controversial law. And law enforcement foes of the measure are reminding the public of the notorious killers who wind up on death row, from Richard Allen Davis to mass murderer Charles Ng.

Proposition 34 backers on Monday launched a series of statewide television and radio ads, bankrolled by a campaign that has pulled in more than $6.5 million from a roster of the rich and famous. Actors Martin Sheen and Edward James Olmos provide the introductions to the television ad, which features a Los Angeles man who spent more than 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

The radio spots focus on the central theme of the Proposition 34 campaign: that the California death penalty system is too flawed and expensive to maintain and should be scrapped to save what backers say could be a billion dollars or more in the coming decade. Don Heller, a former Sacramento prosecutor who co-authored the 1978 law and has now renounced the death penalty, anchors the radio ads. "These ads are going to be important," said former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, a one-time death penalty supporter now backing the campaign.

Meanwhile, the cash-strapped opposition to Proposition 34, with just a few hundred thousand dollars in campaign funds raised so far, is relying on Web advertisements that offer up a new death row villain to profile every few days, highlighting victims' families and law enforcement officials who've encountered the worst killers in California. The ads thus far have included Ng and the most recent released on Monday about Tahua "Tao" Rivera, sentenced to die for the 2004 slaying of a Merced police officer.

Using what they call a "grass roots" campaign, the No on Proposition 34 leaders are also taking their show on the road. That includes a public event Tuesday in San Jose, where Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe and Marc Klaas, father of murder victim Polly Klaas, will speak out against the measure.

October 23, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Death Penalty Reforms, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rooting for crime and punishment questions at tonight's town-hall Prez debate

600x399101In this post before the first debate in Denver between the Prez candidates, I correctly predicted that there would not be a single question dealing with criminal justice issues (despite the reality that a significant portion of federal government spending and a massive portion of state government spending is devoted to these big government programs).  Tonight's scheduled town-hall tussle on Long Island is probably going to follow the same script.  But I think there is at least a slim chance that one of the real people being allowed to ask real questions might be allowed to really press the candidates on the really interesting issues for sentencing fans like federal pot prohibition or mass incarceration or even the administration of the federal death penalty or perhaps state felon disenfranchisement. 

For old-times sake, I tracked down the last memorable discussion of crime and punishment in a town-hall debate.  Specifically, almost exactly 12 years ago, on October 17, 2000 to be precise, the death penalty came up during the town-hall debate between then-Governor George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore.  Here are excerpts from this capital Q&A from a dozen years ago via this debate transcript:

Mr. ANDERSON:  In one of the last debates held, the subject of capital punishment came up, and in your response to the question, you seemed to overly enjoy, as a matter of fact, proud that Texas leads the the nation in execution of prisoners.  Sir, did I misread your response, and are you really, really proud of the fact that Texas is number one in executions?

Gov. BUSH:  No, I'm not proud of that. The death penalty is very serious business, Leo. It's an issue that good people obviously disagree on. I take my job seriously, and if you think I was proud of it, I think you misread me, I do.  I was sworn to uphold the laws of my state.  During the course of the campaign in 1994 I was asked, `Do you support the death penalty?' I said I did if administered fairly and justly, because I believe it saves lives, Leo. I do.  I think if it's administered swiftly, justly and fairly, it saves lives....

There have been some tough cases come across my desk.  Some of the hardest moments since I've been the governor of the state of Texas is to deal with those cases.  But my job is to ask two questions, sir: Is the person guilty of the crime, and did the person have full access to the courts of law?  And I can tell you, looking at you right now, in all cases those answers were affirmative.  I'm not proud of any record.  I'm proud of the fact that violent crime is down in the state of Texas.  I'm proud of the fact that we hold people accountable, but I'm not proud of any record, sir. I'm not....

Vice Pres. GORE:  I support the death penalty. I think that it has to be administered not only fairly, with attention to things like DNA evidence, which I think should be used in all capital cases, but also with very careful attention if, for example, somebody confesses to the crime and somebody's waiting on death row, there has to be alertness to say, 'Wait a minute, have we got the wrong guy?'  If the wrong guy is put to death, then that's a double tragedy, not only has an innocent person been executed but the real perpetrator of the crime has not been held accountable for it and in some cases may be still at large.  But I support the death penalty in the most heinous cases.

Mr. LEHRER:  Do both of you believe that the death penalty actually deters crime? Governor?

Gov. BUSH:  I do. That's the only reason to be for it.... I don't think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don't think that's right.  I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people's lives.

Vice Pres. GORE:  I think it is a deterrence.  I know it's a controversial view but I do believe it's a deterrence.

Back to the present day, In this prior post and in many others, I have already detailed some of the federal criminal justice questions I would love to hear asked of the candidates this season.  Perhaps readers will join in my on-going (and seemingly futile?) debate game by adding some queries of interest  via the comments.

A few recent and older related posts: 

October 16, 2012 in Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues , Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack