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)
Jacksons plead guilty and federal prosecutors recommend significant prison terms for bothThis recent post, titled "You be the prosecutor: what federal sentence should be sought for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife?", engendered a lengthy debate over federal sentencing law and practice as applied to a pair of new high-profile federal defendants. Now, this New York Times article, headlined "Jesse Jackson Jr. Pleads Guilty: ‘I Lived Off My Campaign’," reports that federal prosecutor, apparently parroting the recommendations of the federal sentencing guidelines, have already urged significant prison terms for Jesse and Sandi Jackson. Here are the details:
Jesse L. Jackson Jr., the former Democratic representative from Illinois, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one felony fraud count in connection with his use of $750,000 in campaign money to pay for living expenses and buy items like stuffed animals, elk heads and fur capes.
As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors recommended that Mr. Jackson receive a sentence of 46 to 57 months in prison. The federal judge overseeing the case, Robert L. Wilkins, is scheduled to sentence Mr. Jackson on June 28....
“Guilty, Your Honor — I misled the American people,” Mr. Jackson said when asked whether he would accept the plea deal. Mr. Jackson’s father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, his mother and several brothers and sisters accompanied him to the hearing.
Mr. Jackson’s wife, Sandi, also accompanied him, and later in the day she pleaded guilty to a charge that she filed false income tax statements during the time that Mr. Jackson was dipping into his campaign treasury. Prosecutors said they would seek to have her sentenced to 18 to 24 months....
Last summer, Mr. Jackson took a medical leave from Congress and was later treated for bipolar disorder. After winning re-election in November, he resigned, citing his health and the federal investigation into his use of campaign money.
After the hearing, Mr. Jackson’s lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, said his client had “come to terms with his misconduct.” Mr. Weingarten said that Mr. Jackson had serious health issues that “directly related” to his conduct. “That’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact,” Mr. Weingarten said.
Court papers released by federal prosecutors on Wednesday provided new details about how Mr. Jackson and his wife used the $750,000 in campaign money to finance their lavish lifestyle.
From 2007 to 2011, Mr. Jackson bought $10,977.74 worth of televisions, DVD players and DVDs at Best Buy, according to the documents. In 2008, Mr. Jackson used the money for things like a $466.30 dinner at CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental in Washington and a $5,587.75 vacation at the Martha’s Vineyard Holistic Retreat, the document said.
On at least two instances, Mr. Jackson and his wife used campaign money at Build-A-Bear Workshop, a store where patrons can create stuffed animals. From December 2007 through December 2008, the Jacksons spent $313.89 on “stuffed animals and accessories for stuffed animals” from Build-A-Bear, according to the documents....
Documents released on Friday showed how Mr. Jackson used his campaign money to buy items like fur capes, celebrity memorabilia and expensive furniture. Among those items were a $5,000 football signed by American presidents and two hats that once belonged to Michael Jackson, including a $4,600 fedora.
Because neither Jesse Jr. nor Sandi Jackson would appear to present any threat to public safety whatsoever, I am not quite sure why federal prosecutors believe that imposing a sentence "sufficient but not greater than necessary" to achieve congressional sentencing purposes requires a muti-year prison term for both of them. I fully understand, of course, that the sentences here ought to be severe enough to serve general deterrence purposes. But I am not sure that such extended prison terms are needed, especially if the Jacksons' sentences require them now to pay significant criminal fines and penalities in addition to forfeiting all ill-gotten gains and paying all their tax liabilities.
Former federal prosecutor Bill Otis has said repeatedly in recent threads that federal prosecutors should not have their sentencing recommendations defined by applicable sentencing guidelines. But I surmise that the prosecutors' recommendations here that Jesse Jr. get 46 to 57 months in prison and that Sandi get 18 to 24 months are drawn directly from the guidelines. (We can be quite sure that the defense attorneys in these cases will not draw their recommendations from the guidelines, and I would guess that the defense will end up making full-throated arguments for non-prison sentences for both Jesse Jr. and Sandi.)
Recent related post:
February 21, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack
Monday, February 18, 2013
You be the prosecutor: what federal sentence should be sought for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife?Regular readers know that, often on the eve of a high-profile or unique sentencing proceeding, I urge folks to imagine being the judge and to propose a just and effective sentence for the defendant. (See, e.g., prior "you be the judge" posts involving a rouge federal judge, a Ponzi schemer, the "Spam King", and an NBA star.) Today, however, as the title of this post highlights, I am changing the script after being inspired by this Chicago Tribune article about a latest very high-profile federal political corrpution case. the article is headlined "Lawyers: Jackson Jr., wife intend to plead guilty to charges," and here are the (not so simple) basics:
Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi intend to plead guilty to federal charges alleging the former congressman misused $750,000 in campaign funds while she understated their income on tax returns for six years, their lawyers say.
Jackson Jr., 47, a Democrat from Chicago, was charged in a criminal information Friday with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements. He faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.
Sandi Jackson was charged with one count of filing false tax returns. She faces up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.
Jackson Jr. is accused of diverting $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use. Federal authorities allege that Jackson Jr. used campaign funds to purchase a $43,350 men’s gold-plated Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas, and $9,588 in children’s furniture. The purchases were made between 2007 and 2009, according to the criminal information, which authorities noted is not evidence of guilt....
The government also alleged that Jackson Jr. made false statements to the House of Representatives because he did not report approximately $28,500 in loans and gifts he received. "He has accepted responsibility for his actions and I can confirm that he intends to plead guilty to the charge in the information," Jackson Jr.'s attorney Brian Heberlig said.
Sandi Jackson is accused of filing incorrect joint tax returns with her husband for calendar years 2006 through 2011, reporting income “substantially less than the amount of income she and her husband received in each of the calendar years,” with a substantial additional tax due. Her attorneys released a statement saying she has "reached an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office to plead guilty to one count of tax fraud."
Jackson Jr. stepped down from the House of Representatives on Nov. 21, citing both his poor health and an ongoing federal probe of his activities. In a statement then, he said he was doing his best to cooperate with federal investigators and to accept responsibility for his “mistakes.”...
Sandi Jackson's attorneys released a statement saying she "has accepted responsibility for her conduct, is deeply sorry for her actions, and looks forward to putting this matter behind her and her family. She is thankful for the support of her family and friends during this very difficult time."...
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he would "leave it up to the courts system" to determine his son's fate. "We express our love for him as a family," he said....
Last June, Jackson Jr. began a mysterious leave of absence for what originally was called “exhaustion” but later emerged as bipolar disorder. He spent months in treatment and won re-election Nov. 6 despite never returning to service in the House or staging a single campaign appearance....
Jackson Jr. was first elected to Congress in 1995. Sandi Jackson was a Chicago alderman until she resigned her post last month. They have two children.
Federal sentencing fans know well that the willingness of the Jacksons to accept responsibility and plead guilty should help them considerably when a federal judge is tasked with imposing a sentence on the alleged federal charges. Indeed, I have to assume that this willingness to plead guilty is a reason that the initial charges in this case appear to limit Jesse's maximum prison sentence to only five years and Sandi's maximum sentence to only three years.
But, regular readers should recall from recent discussions over the high-profile Amish beard-cutting federal case, federal prosecutors not only need to decide what criminal charges to file, but they also need to decide what sentence should be recommended after convictions are secured. Ergo the question for readers in the title of this post: assuming the Jacksons both plead guilty and show deep and genuine remose for their wrong-doing, what sentence do you think federal prosecutors should seek for Jessie Jr. and Sandi?
P.S. Depite the US Sentencing Commission's website still being down (grrr....), I was able to do a quick guidelines guestimate that Jesse Jr. would be facing, at the very least, three or more years in federal prison as a recommended guideline range (principally because the "loss" amounts alleged here are pretty high). But, of course, as Bill Otis was quick to remind us in the Amish beard-cutting conversation, federal prosecutors need not (and arguably should not) utilize the guidelines range as a starting metric for any prosecutorial sentencing recommendations.
UPDATE: I have added a picture of the Jackson family to this post in part because I had been wondering about the ages of their two children. Though the picture reprinted here may be a bit dated, I have confirmed (via this Wikipedia entry) that the kids are still pretty young — ages 12 and 9 as of this writing — which means they would likely be harmed greatly if both their parents are sent to prison at the same time. Ergo, if any would-be federal prosecutors are inclined to recommend prison sentences for both Jessie Jr. and Sandi, I wonder if you would oppose a likely request from the defense to stagger any prison terms so that the Jackson children can always have at least one parent on the outside.
February 18, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack
Sunday, February 17, 2013
If you are eager for access to all parts of the new US Sentencing Commission Booker report...
Federal practitioner Mark Allenbaugh has posted via this special page (which is part of his firm website) all the separate parts of the US Sentencing Commission's massive report on the post-Booker federal sentencing system.
Regular readers will recall that I had the honor, via this post, of being the first website to post Part A of the new USSC Booker report (and an accompanying press release) due to the technical difficulties facing the USSC website thanks to the Anonymous scoundrals. I has been hoping, now a full three weeks after the US Sentencing Commission's website was hacked up and taken down, that the USSC would have its on-line home back in working order. But, as of this writing, the USSC's main webpage is still "under construction."
Word among those in the know is that, within the next few weeks, the US Sentencing Commission will also be releasing a big new report about federal child porn sentencing. I remain hopeful that the USSC's website will be back in action by the time the CP report is ready. But I suppose only time will tell.
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)
February 17, 2013 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
DC Circuit works hard to figure out just what Freeman means for guideline retroactivityAn informed and thoughtful reader recommended to me today's interesting rulng by a DC Circuit panel in US v. Epps, No. 11-3002 (DC Cir. Feb 12, 2013) (available here). The Epps court, in a setting which one judge thought make the case moot, has to unpack the SCOTUS Freeman decision concerning plea agreements and guideline retroactivity. Among other interesting aspects of the case, the panel unpacks the important issue of which SCOTUS opinion controls when the Justices divide 4-1-4 . Here is how the Epps opinion gets started:
In Freeman v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2685 (2011), the Supreme Court held that the district court is not categorically barred from reducing a defendant’s sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) where the defendant entered into a plea agreement pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). The decision was splintered, however, with the plurality and concurring opinions adopting different reasoning. Prior to Freeman, the district court denied Ricardo Epps’ § 3582(c)(2) motion for a reduction of his Rule 11(c)(1)(C) sentence. United States v. Epps, 756 F. Supp. 2d 88 (D.D.C. 2010). Epps appeals, contending that there is no controlling opinion in Freeman and that because the district court (as well as the Rule 11(c)(1)(C) agreement) relied upon the crack-cocaine Guidelines range when determining whether to accept the stipulated sentence, his sentence was imposed “based on” the Guidelines range and the district court was authorized under § 3582(c)(2) to reconsider and reduce his sentence in light of the Sentencing Commission’s reduction of the sentencing range applicable to him. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand the case to the district court.
February 12, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Sunday, February 10, 2013
"Plea Bargaining, Sentence Modifications, and the Real World"The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN by Julian A. Cook. Here is the abstract:
This article examines the 2011 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Freeman. At issue was whether defendants, such as Freeman, who enter a guilty plea pursuant to a binding plea agreement, are entitled to seek a modification of their sentence when the guideline range applicable to their offense has subsequently been lowered by the United States Sentencing Commission. By a five-to-four vote, the Court found that Freeman was eligible to seek a sentence reduction. However, as the article explains, the concurring and controlling opinion of Justice Sotomayor may ultimately prove to be problematic for criminal defendants generally and for the Commission for many years to come. In her opinion, Sotomayor suggests, in dicta, that the government can preempt future sentencing reduction claims through the insertion in plea agreements of waiver clauses. Should the Department of Justice adopt such a policy, the article warns of (and describes) the long-term adverse consequences that such a decision would have for criminal defendants and for ability of the Commission to achieve equity through guideline sentencing.
As part of its critique of Freeman, the article also explains why the Freeman Court erred in its analytical approach. In so doing, it illuminates the real world of plea bargaining in the Freeman context, and explains why this plea negotiation truism provides a sounder, firmer, and clearer foundation to decide not only Freeman-type cases but any such case involving a sentence reduction claim. The article also uses Freeman to highlight and correct a common misunderstanding about the nature of plea agreement contracts. It explains why plea agreements have been erroneously construed as unilateral arrangements between the prosecution and the defendant, and why they should properly be interpreted as bilateral contracts involving three parties — the prosecution, the defendant and the court.
Guest post on Amish sentencing: "A Travesty in Cleveland"
Experienced lawyer and federal sentencing guru Mark Allenbaugh (firm website here) attended this past Friday's high-profile federal sentencing of the Amish defendants involved in the high-profile beard-cutting attacks in northern Ohio. I am pleased to be able to now reprint his lengthy guest-post on the sentencing proceedings:
Living in northeast Ohio, I have encountered Amish on several occasions, usually on the road behind their horse-drawn buggies, but never in a courtroom. Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit through perhaps the most surreal sentencing I will ever encounter. Reminiscent of the movie “Witness,” the followers of Samuel Mullet, Jr. sat on the right side, with the women wearing kerchiefs, while victims and their supporters sat on the left with the women wearing bonnets — the only apparent distinction between the two groups. The men, all in similar attire, had large, solid hands, built up from years of farming, some with flecks of mud on their clothing. They sat quiet, subdued, and unlike the “English” present, did not speak among themselves.
These obviously were simple, passive people, involved in a serious and unfortunate dispute. A dispute that resulted in shameful and abusive conduct by Mullet and some of his followers against other Amish: beard and hair cutting, which held religious symbolism. This conduct, while criminal, was not tantamount to the seriousness reflected in the severity of the sentences handed down. That Mullet received a 15-year sentence for ordering the assaults, and that his remaining followers received from a year-and-a-day to 7 years, which will result in effectively orphaning a few dozen children, was the most surreal part of yesterday’s sentencing.
Given the severity of the sentences the government (incredulously sought) — in Mullet’s case, life — it was surprising that statistics were not raised during the hearing.
First, 18 U.S.C. s. 249 offenses are rarely prosecuted, and despite their high-profile nature, hate crimes generally are rarely sentenced. While the FBI reports that in 2011 there were 6,222 hate crime incidents, per the most recent U.S. Sentencing Commission datafile, there were exactly two cases involving a 249 charge in 2011, and the hate crime enhancement at 3A1.1 was applied a mere 35 times. Likewise, section 2H1.1 of the guidelines under which Mullet and his co-defendants were sentenced was applied only 47 times last year. Section 2A4.1, which governs kidnapping and was the ultimate guideline the court utilized for sentencing, was applied in slightly more cases: 108 out of over 86,000 cases. In light of recent and widespread criticism regarding the guidelines lacking empirical support, it would seem that offenses rarely prosecuted and guidelines rarely utilized in such unique circumstances as these would render any sentencing range not only questionable, but plainly inapplicable.
Second, while at a considerable variance from the advisory guideline sentence of life, Mullet’s sentence still is nearly equivalent to the median sentence for murder (189 months), and far, far greater than those for manslaughter (37 months), sexual abuse (87 months), assault (27 months) and arson (50 months). While it is close to the median sentence for kidnapping (184 months), given that this was a kidnapping in a very technical sense (much as this was only a technical hate crime), that should have given the Court considerable pause before imposing such a draconian sentence. Is Mullet’s offense really the equivalent of a murder and more serious than manslaughter?
Finally, Mullet is 67. A 15-year sentence still effectively is a life sentence for him. With an already over-crowded federal prison system and growing, Mullet’s time will be even more onerous than most in light of his age and most glaringly, his cultural and religious background, will make him highly susceptible to abuse. Further, his age will impose additional financial burdens on the BOP, with some estimates as high as $90,000 per year. Is this an appropriate use of the public fisc?
This was an awful case from every perspective. Why the federal government thought it was appropriate to bring criminal charges under truly unique circumstances defies explanation. Clearly, the courts of Ohio could have (and should have) addressed this matter. The sentences handed down merely have compounded the travesty of this prosecution. While Judge Polster did an admirable job in detailing his reasoning — especially noting the irony of the Amish defendants trampling the very Constitution that makes their lifestyle possible — but for the absurdity of a federal sentencing system that has for years encouraged the judiciary to hand out multi-year sentences as if they are candy, one wonders how Judge Polster would have sentenced unencumbered by a sentencing regime that clearly did not contemplate the facts of this case and has otherwise run amok.
The federal government not only chose to prosecute these assaults as if they were kidnappings but hate crimes. While technically hate crimes given the religious motivation for the assaults, the assaults, which left no permanent physical injuries, certainly were nowhere of the kind the statute was intended to address, while the punishment, ironically, was. Indeed, the hate crime statute upon which the defendants’ convictions rested — 18 U.S.C. s. 249 — was enacted as part of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. Both Shepard and Byrd were the victims of the most atrocious and violent hate crimes in recent memory — Shepard tortured and left to die tied to a fence in Wyoming because of his sexual orientation, and Byrd gruesomely dragged to his death and decapitated behind a pick-up because of his race. Sentencing these Amish assaults as if they were equivalent to the offenses suffered by Shepard and Byrd is an affront to their memories. Hopefully the Sixth Circuit will rectify this manifest injustice.
- Ohio Amish hair-cutting incidents now a federal hate crimes sentencing matter
- Stark extremes for forthcoming debate over federal sentencing of Amish beard-cutters
- Interesting defense arguments for sentencing leniency in Amish beard-cutting case
- Feds request LWOP for Samuel Mullet Sr., leader of Amish beard-cutting gang
- Are tough sentences sought in Amish beard-cutting case part of a DOJ "war on religion"?
- "Amish beard-cutting ringleader gets 15 years"
February 10, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack