Saturday, April 27, 2013
"Passive Pedophiles: Are child porn viewers less dangerous than we thought?"The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary by Emily Bazelon at Slate. Here are excerpts:
Making child pornography is abuse. What about possessing it? As a group, these offenders — the ones who look but don’t abuse children to create new images — are serving increasingly long prison sentences. In 2004, the average sentence for possessing child pornography was about 4 ½ years. In 2010, it was almost eight years. Child sex offenders may also be kept in prison beyond their release dates through “civil commitment” if the state deems that they’ll have “serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.”
It’s hard to feel concern for people (mostly men) who prowl the Internet for sexually abusive images of children, some of whom are very young. Their crimes aren’t “victimless,” as defense lawyers sometimes argue. These men create the market for new images. They are the demand behind the supply. I’ve written about how hard it is for women who were abused and photographed as girls to know that men are still viewing, and taking pleasure in, the record of their suffering — and about the victims’ efforts to win restitution from these men.
But the main reason Congress has upped the penalties for men who possess child pornography is the deep-seated belief that many of them physically abuse children and that they are highly likely to keep doing so because they can’t stop themselves. Is that true? I’ve heard it so many times it’s hard to think otherwise. Yet that premise is contested in a new 468-page report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (the body Congress established to advise it about federal sentencing law). The commission did its own research. It says the federal sentencing scheme for child pornography offenses is out of date and argues that this leads to penalties that “are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders.”...
This isn’t an easy subject. Punishments for sex offenders move only in one direction in this country — they get harsher. But the Sentencing Commission’s critique should get a serious hearing. Prison comes with a cost for taxpayers as well as the people it incarcerates. And if there’s increasing hope for effective treatment, as the commission suggests, investing in it could save kids....
Maybe men convicted of possessing child pornography probably reoffend more than the researchers can measure because they don’t tell. Surely they commit more new crimes than the number they get arrested for, as the commission is careful to say. The question is how many more. Do they really pose a different risk in this regard than other criminals do? The Justice Department “takes issue” with the commission’s conclusions about recidivism and the link between viewing pornography of children and molesting them. These questions won’t be resolved any time soon. In the meantime, Congress could fix the aspects of child pornography sentencing that both DOJ and the Sentencing Commission see as broken.
April 27, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack
Friday, April 26, 2013
Months before scheduled sentencing, lawyers buzzing about Jesse Jackson Jr.'s mental healthAs highlighted in this story about a hearing in a high-profile federal case in DC, "prosecutors raised the prospect on Friday in court of having their experts examine former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. if his lawyers plan to raise his bipolar disorder as a mitigating factor in trying to reduce his prison sentence." Here is more:
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson made no decision after prosecutor Matt Graves said he wanted to “alert” her to the possible issue in advance of the sentencing July 1 of Jackson and his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson. The two pled guilty in February to looting $750,000 from campaign funds for personal use.
Judge Jackson asked for the hearing because she is taking over the case after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins — who handled the pleas of the couple — withdrew without explanation from the case.
Graves said the government is “entitled” to have Jackson checked “by our own experts” if Jackson’s lawyers decide to argue Jackson’s mental health should be taken into consideration by the judge when she sentences him.
Defense attorney Reid Weingarten told Judge Jackson that the former congressman’s bipolar disorder is well known and “not controversial.” Weingarten also said they do not intend to argue that Jackson’s “criminal activity” was caused by his mental illness. The former congressman was hospitalized at Mayo Clinic last year for treatment of bipolar depression.
Judge Jackson — who consolidated two separate sentencing dates into one morning July 1 sentencing session for the couple — had nothing before her to rule on, since the defense lawyers have yet to show their hand. The judge signaled that the former congressman’s mental state may be a factor for her, since she said she was required to consider “who he is as a person.”
Recent related posts:
- You be the prosecutor: what federal sentence should be sought for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife?
- Jacksons plead guilty and federal prosecutors recommend significant prison terms for both
- Noteworthy new lawyer and now a new judge for Jesse Jackson Jr. sentencing
"Sometimes a number is just a number, but when the number at issue triggers an enhancement under the Sentencing Guidelines, that number matters."The title of this post is the first sentence of this notable Eleventh Circuit panel decision today in US v. Washington, No. 11-14177 (11th Cir. April 26, 2013) (available here). Here is the rest of the first paragraph, as well as an interesting extra little part of the story from the final section of the Washington opinion (cites omitted):
In this appeal we decide whether the government presented sufficient evidence that 250 or more persons or entities were victimized by the fraud scheme in which Gary Washington participated. Because the government failed to put on any evidence that there were 250 or more victims, we vacate Mr. Washington’s sentence and remand for the district court to resentence Mr. Washington with a 2-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(2)(A) rather than a 6-level enhancement under § 2B1.1(b)(2)(C)....
The government asks that it be allowed to prove on remand that there were 250 or more victims for whom Mr. Washington was responsible. We decline the government’s request. Nothing prevented the government -- which was aware of Mr. Washington’s objection -- from putting on evidence concerning the number of victims at the sentencing hearing, and a party who bears the burden on a contested sentencing issue will generally not get to try again on remand if its evidence is found to be insufficient on appeal. We have discretion to permit the government to present evidence at resentencing even though it amounts to giving the party a second bite at the apple. But often a remand for further findings is inappropriate when the issue was before the district court and the parties had an opportunity to introduce relevant evidence, and here the government failed to present any evidence concerning the number of victims.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Imagine the debate and analysis if we had an "FSG draft"
Hard-core football fans have long had this date circled on their calendars because tonight is the start of the 2013 National Football League Draft. Though I am a huge sports fan, I tend not to get too worked up about who may be taken in the first round by what team or whether and when there will be some big trade to move up or down the draft board. But I am consistently intrigued and impressed my how much time and energy is devoted, on ESPN and sports talk radio and elsewhere, to the pros and cons of different college football players who are about to become pros (and may, in the future, also become cons).
With tonight's NFL draft on my mind, I came up with the idea suggested in the title of this post, namely imagining a draft of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines by a bunch of sentencing experts. In part because I think there are at least a few good existing features of the US Sentencing Guidelines which do not get much attention or praise, I especially like the notion of imagining the goal of this draft to be having a bunch of federal sentencing stakeholders pick the very best of the existing federal sentencing guidelines which they would be eager to preserve as the starting points for a new-and-improved federal sentencing structure.
Put more simply, dear readers, if you were forced to select one of the existing federal sentencing guidelines as the very best, which one would you select. Is the an existing guideline you like so much (for whatever reason) that you would be eager to bestow upon it the title of "Top FSG Draft Pick"? Even better, would anyone like to be the Mel Kiper Jr. of the FSG Draft to provide a "big board" ranking the top guidelines or explaining why you think certain guidelines should slip way down the draft board?
I realize one has to be a pretty big sentencing geek to get a kick out of this thought experiment, but I sure hope somebody might be inclined to play along with me here.
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
Monday, April 22, 2013
Law and Contemporary Problems devotes March 2013 issue to sentencing reform around the worldI am so very pleased to see that available on line here is the full March 2013 issue of the journal Law and Contemporary Problems, which is devoted to providing a "Global Perspective on Sentencing Reforms." The issue has a dozen articles, some of which are focused on state sentencing reforms, some of which are focused on federal sentencing reforms, and some of which are focused on sentencing reforms in the UK and Germany and elsewhere. And all of the article look like must reads for sentencing geeks like me. The Foreward to the Issue is authored by by Professor Oren Gazal-Ayal of the University of Haifa, and here are excerpts from the start and end of this introduction:
The articles published in this issue of Law and Contemporary Problems examine the effects of different sentencing reforms across the world. While the effects of sentencing reforms in the United States have been studied extensively, this is the first symposium that examines the effects of sentencing guidelines and alternative policies in a number of western legal systems from a comparative perspective. This issue focuses on how different sentencing policies affect prison population rates, sentence disparity, and the balance of power between the judiciary and prosecutors, while also assessing how sentencing policies respond to temporary punitive surges and moral panics.
The effects of sentencing guidelines are highly contested and debated among scholars. As a result, there are a number of outstanding questions regarding the actual effects of such guidelines. For instance, do sentencing guidelines transfer sentencing powers from the judiciary to prosecutors? Should the guidelines bear some of the responsibility for the surge in prison population in the United States? Has the lack of guidelines helped Germany constrain its prison population? Do sentencing guidelines help mitigate the effects of punitive surge, or, on the other hand, do they facilitate the punitive effect of moral panics? Do guidelines effect racial and ethnic disparity in sentencing? And how should guidelines be structured?...
The articles in this issue are the out come of a conference on sentencing reform that was held at the University of Haifa, Faculty of Law in February 2011. The conference and this issue address the effects of sentencing reforms from a global perspective, relying mainly on empirical research. The result is, as in most such attempts, incomplete. But we did come closer to answering some of the pressing questions — though only to find out that many new questions hide behind the answers to the old ones. It seems that sentencing, a topic that has been the focus of academic debate for centuries, will continue to attract this much needed attention for centuries to come.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
If (and when?) confirmed, will Judge William Pryor champion federalism concerns within the US Sentencing Commission?
As reported in this post yesterday, President Obama officially nominated three new persons to serve on the US Sentencing Commission:
- an east-coast academic (NYU Professor Rachel Barkow)
- a west-coast district judge (ND Cal Judge Charles Breyer), and
- a southern appeals judge (Eleventh Circuit Judge William Pryor)
Notably, the comments to my prior post already include a variety of (not-always-informed) perspectives on these nominations. As I suggested in my prior post, I am a big fan of these nominees, in part because of their diverse backgrounds and professional history and in part because I have interacted with them all personally and been consistently impressed by their insights.
Some comments to the prior post direct particular criticism directed toward Judge Pryor, perhaps because he was a controversial figure when appointed to the bench by President Bush. I submit that, in this context, any assessment of Judge Pryor would be premature unless and until one has read Judge Pryor's own recent account of his history with sentencing and his perspective on the federal sentencing system. That account appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of my own Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law as William H. Pryor Jr., Federalism and Sentencing Reform in the Post-Blakely/Booker Era, 8 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 515 (2011).
I recommend that all sentencing fans read the entire OSJCL article by Judge Pryor. These passages from the article's introduction should help explain the question in the title of this post (and perhaps also help account for why I hope all new nominees to the USSC get confirmed and get started ASAP):
During my tenure as a state attorney general from 1997 to 2004, I considered myself a sentencing reformer. My office drafted and successfully lobbied for the legislation that created the Alabama Sentencing Commission. Before my term as attorney general ended, the Commission began its long-term campaign to dismantle a regime of explosive growth in the prison population, disparities and dishonesty produced by indeterminate sentencing, and a system of corrections that offered few alternatives to incarceration as a form of punishment. Our hope was to create over time a system of voluntary sentencing guidelines to the end that criminal sentencing in Alabama could be made honest, fair, and rational.
My contributions to sentencing reform in Alabama ended in February 2004, when President George W. Bush appointed me first to serve temporarily as a circuit judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and later to a term of good behavior, which was confirmed by the Senate in 2005. In the meantime, the theater of sentencing changed dramatically — both for the states and the federal government — when the Supreme Court decided Blakely v. Washington in 2004 and United States v. Booker in 2005. I have had a front row seat as this play unfolded.
Although I consider myself a generalist in the performance of my public service, my experiences over the last dozen years have given me a comparative perspective of sentencing guidelines and scholarship. Over the last several years, I have participated in the adjudication of hundreds of federal appeals of criminal convictions and sentences and the collateral review of hundreds of state convictions and sentences. I have followed the successful, but often ignored, efforts of state sentencing commissions and reform movements and served as part of the members' consultative group of the revision of the sentencing provisions of the Model Penal Code. I also have read scholarship about and discussed with colleagues the widespread dissatisfaction with the federal sentencing guidelines....
I also have a perspective of federalism, shaped by my experience as a state attorney general, federal judicial servant, and teacher of federal jurisdiction, that a structural problem underlies the current challenges to federal and state sentencing reform. This structural problem involves the federalization of crime. In the spirit of making a modest contribution to the vision of the great reformer, Judge Frankel, I submit that sentencing commissions and lawmakers should consider this structural problem and together find creative solutions to the current challenges for sentencing reform.
My hope for sentencing reform is rooted in a respect for federalism, a venerable feature of the American constitutional order. Restoring some respect for federalism in criminal law might help bridge the political divide between the left and the right, the judicial divide between formalists and pragmatists, and the sentencing divide between individual sentencing and consistency in sentencing. To restore respect for federalism, we must reverse the federalization of crime.
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.
Latest proof that every issue, including gay marriage, has a sentencing angleOne of many reasons I love to obsess over sentencing is because I see sentencing issues in everything other issue of public or private concern. Indeed, as my students (and reader of this blog) often hear from me, I see any and every issue of public policy concern to really be a crime and punishment issue in some way. The latest proof of this sentencing-is-everything perspective comes today with a gay marriage spin thanks to this new article from the New York Daily News. The piece is headlined "Openly gay daughter of Colombo gangster pleads for mercy in sentencing," and here are excerpts:
As federal sentencing gurus know, there is a long-running (and never quite resolved) debate over whether and how "family ties and responsibilities" can and should impact a federal sentencing decision. This story provides a timely reminder that whether and where same-sex marriage is allowed can and will, in turn, impact whether and how defendants with gay relatives can and will be able to tell a more modernized story of the importance of "family ties and responsibilities."
The openly gay daughter of Colombo gangster Dennis Delucia has outed her father as a supporter of same-sex marriage. In a moving letter seeking mercy from the judge who will sentence him, Donna Delucia says her father is a family man in the truest sense.
“My dad was the one who told me he would love me no matter what I would do or tell him,” Donna Delucia wrote to Judge Kiyo Matsumoto. “I finally came out at 22 years old. My mother did not handle it well and pushed me away .... I was scared, frightened and afraid of my dad’s reaction,” she continued in the letter filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.
“My dad accepted me, embraced me and has supported me. His love and acceptance helped me through the rough times and growing pains.”
Dennis Delucia, 71, a reputed capo in the crime family, pleaded guilty last year to extortion and faces 46 months in prison. He admitted using a couple of extra-large goons who made him look like a “midget” to intimidate the operator of a rival gambling club in the Bronx.
She conceded her father is a “chauvinist” and recalled his “king of the castle” views that included prohibiting her brothers from cleaning off the dinner table because they were boys. But after Donna fell in love with her partner and informed him they were planning to have a baby, the mobster cried. “He made me so proud,” Donna wrote.
Delucia helped pay for Donna and her spouse to move from Philadelphia to New York where same-sex parents pass parental rights to their partner. Today, they live in Kentucky, “far from the hype of Italian-Americans,” where they are raising their 9-year-old son. “Please let him come home,” Donna begged the judge. “I want my son to spend long days with his grandfather. I want him to know my dad.”
April 11, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Guest post on federal sentencing data and costs of incarceration for child porn offenses
Experienced lawyer and federal sentencing guru Mark Allenbaugh (firm website here) sent me this "accounting" of the latest year-end federal sentencing data:
"Yesterday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission published its Annual Report to Congress, and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics for fiscal year 2012. Increasingly, this part of the Commission’s work is becoming of central importance to its mission. Indeed, the stats reveal something rather startling, if not outright shocking, about the cost of incarceration.
"Since United States v. Booker, the federal government has spent nearly $30 BILLION on incarceration, which exceeds the GDP of many countries including North Korea. Of this, over $2 BILLION was spent on incarcerating child pornography offenders; 12,115 have been sentenced (not all to imprisonment, but most) under the guidelines since 2006. What makes this rather startling is looking at other major offense categories. For example, in the same period of time, over four times as many people have been sentenced for fraud offenses (54,813), however, the total cost of incarcerating those individuals was almost a billion dollars LESS! ($2.1 billion for child pornography; $1.3 billion for fraud). In other words, incarcerating 12,115 child pornography offenders cost the public fisc $2.1 billion, while incarcerating nearly 55,000 fraud offenders cost (only) $1.3 billion.
"So, why the big difference in cost? Easy. The increasingly longer sentences imposed on child pornography offender than for any other major offense category. What that translates into is that the actual annual cost per offender is far higher for child pornography offenders than for any other major offense category. We spend nearly $25,000 incarcerating child pornography offenders than fraud offenders, who cost only $3,500 per year. Fraud is comparatively cheap because a substantial number do not receive any term of incarceration, and those that do often serve less than a year. Here is a chart showing the AVERAGE sentences over the past 6 years for all major offense categories. A quick glance shows how out of the ordinary child pornography offenses are, or more accurately, how obscenely out of whack they are.
"After spending $2 Billion over the last six years, it’s far past time to rein in this madness. The Commission’s recent report on Federal Child Pornography Offenses effectively disavowing the sentencing guideline for non-production offenses is an enormous leap in the right direction. We simply cannot afford to continue being fiscally foolish on child pornography sentencing; these data put the magnitude of the madness in sharp relief. Hopefully Congress acts quickly to grant the Commission’s wish to have 'enact legislation providing the Commission with express authority to amend the current guideline provisions that were promulgated pursuant to specific congressional directives or legislation directly amending the guidelines.'
"[NOTE ON CALCULATION METHODS: the statistics were derived from table 13 and the BOP’s recent cost of incarceration estimate from FY 2012. I simply took the total number sentenced each year (06-12), multiplied that by the MEDIAN sentence in months from each (to be conservative in my estimate; the mean or average would have resulted in much higher figures) and divided that by 12 to get the number of “Inmate Years” for a category. I then multiplied the Inmate Years by $26,359, which is the average annual cost of incarceration per BOP. This gives you the Total Cost FY06-12 for a category, e.g. $2,118,989,027 for Child Porn. The Total Sentenced FY 06-12 is just exactly what it says. Per Inmate, Per Year Cost is just the total cost divided by the total sentenced, then that number divided by 7 (7 years inclusive of FY2006-2012).]"
April 9, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Friday, March 29, 2013
Two notable resentencing stories via the New York Times
Continuing its recent notable extra interest in an array of modern sentencing stories, today's New York Times has two pieces that are both must reads for all sentencing fans. And because neither story enables simply summarization, I will just here reprint the headlines and the links:
Ever the nerdy and obsessed sentencing law professor, I could readily imagine teaching a week of classes about either of these noteworthy cases. But I wonder if readers think one or the other of these modern sentencing stories merits some extra blog attention.
March 29, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
"Fun with Numbers: Gall's Mixed Message Regarding Variance Calculations"The title of this post is the title of this notable new student note by Nicholas Deuschle now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This Comment seeks to resolve an unaddressed issue stemming from recent developments in the Supreme Court’s sentencing jurisprudence. In Gall v. United States, the Supreme Court required that appellate courts "consider the extent of the deviation" of criminal sentences imposed outside the Sentencing Guidelines range. The Court, however, provided little guidance as to what this requirement means. Specifically, how should appellate courts calculate that deviation from the Sentencing Guidelines?
Saturday, March 16, 2013
"Sentencing Policy Adjudication and Empiricism" with a focus on federal child porn sentencingThe title of this post is drawn from the basic title of this notable new and timely article by Melissa Hamilton now on SSRN and just titled "Sentencing Policy Adjudication and Empiricism." Here is the abstract, which highlights why this piece is especially a must-read for anyone working on federal child porn cases:
Federal sentencing is in disarray with a raging debate pitting Congress, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the federal judiciary against each other. Ever since the Supreme Court rendered the federal guidelines as merely advisory in United States v. Booker, the rate of variances from guidelines’ recommendations has increased. After the Supreme Court in Kimbrough v. United States ruled that a sentencing judge could reject the crack cocaine guideline for a policy dispute with a Commission guideline, the variance rate has risen further still. While Booker/Kimbrough permits the judiciary some discretionary authority, it is threatening to the Commission and the legitimacy of its guidelines.
The downward variance rate is at its most extreme with a very controversial crime: child pornography offending. The courts are in disagreement as to whether, as a matter of law, a sentencing judge has the authority to use a Kimbrough-type categorical rejection of the child pornography guideline. Through a comprehensive review of federal sentencing opinions, common policy objections to the child pornography guideline are identified. The guideline is viewed as not representing empirical study, being influenced by Congressional directives, recommending overly severe sentences, and resulting in both unwarranted similarities and unwarranted disparities. The issue has resulted in a circuit split. This article posits a three-way split with four circuit courts of appeal expressly approving a policy rejection to the child pornography guideline, four circuits explicitly repudiating a policy rejection, and three circuits opting for a more neutral position. A comprehensive review of case law indicates that the circuit split is related to unwarranted disparities in sentencing child pornography offenders nationwide. This assessment was then corroborated by empirical study.
The Sentencing Commission’s dataset of fiscal year 2011 child pornography sentences were analyzed to explore what impacts policy rejections and the circuit split may have on actual sentences issued. Bivariate measures showed statistically significant correlations among relevant measures. The average mean sentence in pro-policy rejection circuits, for example, was significantly lower than in anti-policy rejection circuits. A multivariate logistic regression analysis was employed using downward variances as the dependent variable. Results showed that that several circuit differences existed after controlling for other relevant factors, and they were relatively consistent with the direction the circuit split might suggest.
The article concludes that the child pornography guideline suffers from a multitude of substantial flaws and deserves no deference. It also concludes that there are no constitutional impediments to preventing a district judge from categorically rejecting the child pornography guideline. Booker and its progeny stand for the proposition that there are no mandatory guidelines, even if a guideline is the result of Congressional directive.
Some recent related posts:
- US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on federal child porn sentencing
- Doesn't the new USSC report necessarily rebut any appellate "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline child porn sentences?
- The many (impossible?) challenges of federal child pornography sentencing
- DOJ agrees with US Sentencing Commission that child porn guidelines are badly broken
- Notable debate in Wisconsin over new state child porn sentencing law
March 16, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack
Thoughtful response to Judge Rakoff's call to scrap fraud guidelinesWes Porter, who is now a law professor but was before a senior trial attorney for the fraud section of DOJ's Criminal Division, has this lengthy new commentary headlined "Sentencing Guidelines Needn't Be Scrapped." The piece provides a point-by-point response to Judge Jed Rakoff's recent suggestion (blogged here) for the fraud guidelines to be "scrapped in their entirety" in favor of a "non-arithmetic, multi-factor test." Here are excerpts:
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York has offered an important voice on a wide range of issues in federal practice, typically from the bench.... Rakoff recently sounded off from the podium on the current state of federal sentencing. On March 7, as the keynote speaker at the 27th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime in Las Vegas, Rakoff railed against the numerical calculations and formulaic approach that still drives criminal sentencing in federal court: the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.
Rakoff said the guidelines represent a set of numbers "drawn from nowhere" that continue to steer most federal judges imposing criminal sentences. He's right. The U.S. Sentencing Commission, the congressionally created entity responsible for the guidelines, has never articulated on what basis they equate another $50,000 in loss, the next 40 victims of a scheme, or an additional 20 grams of heroin (each carries a two-level increase in "offense level points" under the guidelines). Rakoff concluded, "Basically, my modest proposal is that they should be scrapped in their entirety."
I, like other academics and (former) federal practitioners, agree in part.... Rakoff, like many of us, seeks federal sentences that are fair, well-reasoned and consistent throughout the country....
As opposed to "scrapped" completely, the federal government should phase out the numbers and calculations in the guidelines and convert them into factors the court may consider. District judges could consult the guidelines as specific factors to consider in individual cases. The numbers and calculations, however, have no sustainable utility. Modern district judges do not consider available sentencing data from the decades of federal sentences preceding the guidelines (pre-1998), right? That's because sentencing numbers from the past are not helpful to judges imposing sentence tomorrow....
Rakoff states that many in the federal judiciary blindly follow the arbitrary numbers in the guidelines. That's true. But removing the guidelines "in their entirety" will not necessarily result in better justified sentences. Courts would parrot the broad sentencing platitudes and similarly arrive at arbitrary numbers. And the additional downside would be that federal sentences would become less fair and uniform.
In contrast, rather than throw out the guidelines, if district judges were required only to consult the guidelines' numbers and calculations when they are helpful in a specific case, then judges would deviate from the guidelines more and would be more likely to better justify their sentences. Also, the U.S. Probation Office, the arm of the federal court that prepares a pre-sentence report, could provide more numeric information to the district judge before sentencing, such as regional sentencing statistics (since 2005), state statistics of comparable offense conduct, and a digest of comparable sentences. The guidelines need not be the only numbers before the sentencing judge. The courts could weigh the additional information and incorporate it into its own reasoning.
If the goal is to make better and more robust judicial reasoning for federal sentences, then rather than forcing judges to calculate and consider unhelpful numbers, make it optional or incentivize the U.S. Probation Office, and others, to provide more numeric information to the courts to supplement those in the guidelines. ...
If we phase out the numbers and calculations of the guidelines, then the existing appellate court review and the "reasonableness" standard will become more robust and meaningful.
I hope Judge Rakoff's voice is heard by leaders in the federal government with the power to change our federal sentencing system, and that a robust discussion follows to reach the most optimal solution for the government and criminally accused.
Recent related post:
- Judge Rakoff calls for fraud guidelines to be "scrapped in their entirety" in favor of a "non-arithmetic, multi-factor test"
Monday, March 11, 2013
Judge Rakoff calls for fraud guidelines to be "scrapped in their entirety" in favor of a "non-arithmetic, multi-factor test"As reported in new press accounts here and here, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff gave a speech late last week at a white-collar offense conference which should warm the heart of critics of the existing federal sentencing guidelines. The start of this Reuters piece provides these highlights:
A prominent Manhattan judge has called for federal sentencing guidelines to be revamped, saying their current emphasis on losses in white-collar crimes has led to irrational results.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, a longtime critic of the sentencing guidelines, told attendees of a Las Vegas legal conference Thursday that the United States should move away from its current system of distilling offenses into numbers for calculating a sentence to one that was more flexible. "My modest proposal is that they should be scrapped in their entirety and in their place there should be a non-arithmetic, multi-factor test," he said.
Rakoff made the remarks during a lunchtime keynote address at the National Institute on White Collar Crime conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. The ABA's white-collar group has recently created a committee that includes Rakoff as a member to focus on how white-collar sentencing guidelines should be changed.
The guidelines came into place following the passage of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which gave birth to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The goal at the time was to reduce discrepancies in sentences.
Rakoff argued that the "fundamental flaw" of the guidelines is they assume every situation can be distilled into a number for the purpose of then calculating a sentence. He called the numbers assigned to various situations "arbitrary."
"The Sentencing Commission to this day has never been able to articulate why it has two points for this, or four points for that," he said. "These are just numbers. And yet once they are placed the whole thing is blessed and said to be rational."
Thursday, March 07, 2013
DOJ agrees with US Sentencing Commission that child porn guidelines are badly brokenThanks to a helpful reader, I have learned that earlier this week a representative of the US Department of Justice sent a lengthy and detailed letter to the US Sentencing Commission concerning its recent huge child pornography federal sentencing report (basics here and here). Disappointingly, as of this writing, I cannot seem to find a copy of this important and interesting letter on the website of either the DOJ or the USSC. ButI have a pdf copy of the letter, which is dated March 5, 2013, and I have posted the full 7-page letter below.
The lengthy letter needs to be read in full by any and everyone concerning with federal child porn sentencing dynamics. And these sentences from the first page highlights that DOJ agrees with the USSC's basic conclusion that the current child porn federal sentencing guidelines are badly broken:
[T]he Department agrees with the Commission's conclusion that advancements in technologies and the evolution of the child pornography "market" have led to a significantly changed landscape -- one that is no longer adequately represented by the existing sentencing guidelines. Specifically, we agree with the Report's conclusion that the existing Specific Offense Characteristics ("SOCs") in USSG § 2G2.2 may not accurately reflect the seriousness of an offender's conduct, nor fairly account for differing degrees of offender dangerousness. The current guidelines can at times under-represent and at times over-represent the seriousness of an offender's conduct and the danger an offender possesses.
As I suggested in this recent post, now that the US Sentencing Commission has said that the current federal guidelines for child pornography are broken, it not longer seems proper for these guidelines to be given much weight and it seems plainly improper for within-guideline CP sentences to still carry a presumption of reasonableness on appeal. Now that the Justice Department has officially stated that it agrees with the USSC's position on these guidelines, I wonder if federal prosecutors will not be not merely authorized, but actually required, to agree with the common defense arguments in CP cases that the current guidelines should be afforded little or no weight in the broader 3553(a) analysis.
Indeed, in light of this DOJ letter, which details the many ways ways in which the current CP guidelines are broken, perhaps circuit courts should begin to adopt a blanket presumption of unreasonableness for any and every within-guideline child porn sentence. (Of course, that presumption could be rebutted if and when a district judge were to explain how other 3553(a) factors justified a within-guideline sentence in a child porn case. But, in light of what the USSC and DOJ are saying about the flaws of the current CP guideline, it would seem only logical now to view any within-guideline child porn sentence as presumptively flawed rather than presumptively sound.)
Recent related posts:
- US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on federal child porn sentencing
- Doesn't the new USSC report necessarily rebut any appellate "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline child porn sentences?
- The many (impossible?) challenges of federal child pornography sentencing
March 7, 2013 in Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
US Sentencing Commission soon to be looking for a new staff directorBecause I have come to know and really like the current staff director of the United States Sentencing Commission, I am now really quite melancholy about having just discovered this new press release on the USSC's website. Here is how it begins:
Judith W. Sheon announced that she will retire on May 31, 2013, after serving for eight years as staff director of the United States Sentencing Commission. She retires as the longest serving staff director of the Commission, having served under three chairs of the bipartisan agency — Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa of the Southern District of Texas, Judge William K. Sessions III of the District of Vermont, and most recently Judge Patti B. Saris of the District of Massachusetts.
Ms. Sheon’s tenure as staff director was marked by the Commission’s transition to advisory guidelines after the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker. She led the Commission’s efforts to modernize and expand its collection, analysis, and reporting of federal sentencing data, and oversaw the drafting of several major reports to Congress, including two reports on federal child pornography offenses and the continuing impact of Booker on federal sentencing that were issued last month. Among the Commission’s major policy accomplishments during her tenure are amendments that reduced the guideline penalties for crack cocaine offenses.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Doesn't the new USSC report necessarily rebut any appellate "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline child porn sentences?Regular readers know that I have never been a fan of the so-called "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences adopted by some circuit courts after Booker . This is because, despite its repeated reference and application in the circuits which have adopted it, there has yet to be any appellate rulings which explores — or, for that matter, even expressly discusses — when and how this “presumption” can be rebutted on appeal of a within-guideline sentence and what might be the legal consequences of any such (phantom) rebuttal. In actuality, this purported "presumption" is really just the means some circuits use to declare that any and every within-guideline sentence is functionally immune from substantive reasonableness review: notably, in the eight+ years since Booker, not a single within-guideline sentence has ever been found substantively unreasonable in the circuits that have embraced this so-called “presumption.”
That I said, I remain ever hopeful that those circuits which embrace the so-called "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences will try to give some sensible and functional meaning to this appellate review standard. And, as the question in the title of this post suggest, I think the US Sentencing Commission's new report on federal child pornography sentencing (basics here), provides a unique opportunity to give the review standard some real meaning. I come to this conclusion after seeing this key passage (from p. xviii) in the executive summary of the new report:
The current sentencing scheme in §2G2.2 places a disproportionate emphasis on outdated measures of culpability regarding offenders’ collecting behavior and insufficient emphases on offenders’ community involvement and sexual dangerousness. As a result, penalty ranges are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders. The guideline thus should be revised to more fully account for these three factors and thereby provide for more proportionate punishments.
In short, the US Sentencing Commission is saying that the current federal guidelines for child pornography are broken because they give too much significance to some offense factors and too little to others, and thus guideline-calculated ranges for child porn offenses are "too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders." Put even more directly, the USSC is here declaring that the existing child porn guidelines are not a reasonable means to ensure just, effective and proportionate punishment.
This basic reality in turn prompts my query, which is designed to promote circuits which generally apply the "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences to now recognize (and expressly hold) that this appellate presumption does not apply in any case involving the child porn guidelines. In saying this, I am not asserting that this new USSC report necessarily connoted that any and all within-guideline child porn sentence must be declared (or even presumed) substantively reasonable. But I am asserting that, because the USSC has now clearly declared that the existing guidelines now set forth "penalty ranges [that] are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders," it would be both unjust and obtuse for a circuit court to now presume any within-guideline child porn sentence is substantively reasonable.
Recent related post:
February 27, 2013 in Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on federal child porn sentencingAs reported in this official press release, this morning "the United States Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress its comprehensive report examining federal sentencing policy in child pornography cases." Here is more from the press release, which serves as a partial summary of the 468-page(!) report (which is available in full here):
All the pieces of this important new report are available via this link. The press release summary alone suggests there is considerable food for sentencing thought in this important new USSC report, and I am going to start my view by reading closely the 26-page executive summary available here.
Although still only a small percentage of the overall federal caseload, child pornography prosecutions have grown significantly during the past decade and now account for nearly 2,000 federal cases each year. That growth reflects the increasing role of the Internet in child pornography offenses. Before the Internet, law enforcement officers had significantly curtailed the child pornography market in the United States.
Significant technological changes in offenders’ conduct have occurred since the federal penal statutes and sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses were last amended comprehensively a decade ago. Child pornography offenders today typically use Internet technologies such as peer-to-peer file-sharing programs that enable offenders to distribute, receive, and collect child pornography images more easily and in greater quantities than when the current penalty structure was established. Several penalty enhancements in the guidelines for child pornography offenses,such as use of a computer, now apply to typical offenders. As a result, prison sentences for efendants convicted of federal child pornography offenses have almost doubled in the last decade to approximately five years for possession and 11 years for receipt and distribution.
Judge Saris concluded, “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision. Child pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines.”
The Commission’s study found that approximately one in three federal child pornography offenders had a known history of engaging in illegal sexual misconduct prior to or in conjunction with their federal child pornography offenses. Such illegal behavior ranged from sexual assaults against children to “non-contact” sex offenses such as soliciting self-produced sexual images from minors in on- line communication. The Commission’s recidivism study also concluded that approximately 7 percent engaged in illegal sexual misconduct after serving their sentences for federal child pornography offenses. Both figures should be considered conservative because such offenses are underreported....
Judge Saris stated, “The Commission will continue to study child pornography sentencing practices, and looks forward to working with Congress on developing a sentencing scheme that serves to better distinguish offenders, thereby reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities in these serious crimes.”
I expect a lot more posts on this topic will following the days ahead. And in addition to digging into the substance of this report, I also will be keeping on eye on how federal officials in other branches and the media respond to what the USSC has to say.
February 27, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Thursday, February 21, 2013
US Sentencing Commission website back in action with full Booker report and FY 2012 sentencing data
I am very pleased to have discovered tonight that the US Sentencing Commission, just less than a month after Anonymous hacked into its website (basic here), now has its website up and running again. And not only is the USSC website back, but it is now better than ever with these two new big sets of materials:
This report assesses the continuing impact on the federal sentencing system of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker.
This report includes an extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during fiscal year 2012. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.
Congrats to the USSC for getting its on-line house back in order. I for one truly missed the USSC website when it was gone.
Recent related posts:
- US Sentencing Commission releases (and provides on-line here only) new Booker report
- Summary of key USSC findings in its big new Booker report
- Wall Street Journal covers USSC's new Booker report (and its unusual coverage)