Wednesday, April 23, 2014

SCOTUS splits the difference for child porn restitution awards in Paroline

The Supreme Court handed down two criminal law opinions this morning, and the big one for sentencing fans is Paroline v. US, No. 12-8561 (Apr. 23, 2014) (available here). Intriguingly, Justice Kennedy authored opinion of the Court with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito and Kagan joining.. Chief Justice Roberts, Jr. issued a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, while Justice Sotomayor issued a distinct a dissenting opinion. Here is the heart of the majority's ruling:

In this special context, where it can be shown both that a defendant possessed a victim’s images and that a victim has outstanding losses caused by the continuing traffic in those images but but where it is impossible to trace a particular amount of losses to the individual defendant by recourse to a more traditional causal inquiry, a court applying §2259 should order restitution in an amount that comports with the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim’s general losses. The amount would not be severe in a case like this, given the nature of the causal connection between the conduct of a possessor like Paroline and the entirety of the victim’s general losses from the trade in her images, which are the product of the acts of thousands of offenders. It would not, however, be a token or nominal amount. The required restitution would be a reasonable and circumscribed award imposed in recognition of the indisputable role of the offender in the causal process underlying the victim’s losses and suited to the relative size of that causal role. This would serve the twin goals of helping the victim achieve eventual restitution for all her child-pornography losses and impressing upon offenders the fact that child-pornography crimes, even simple possession, affect real victims.

There remains the question of how district courts should go about determining the proper amount of restitution. At a general level of abstraction, a court must assess as best it can from available evidence the significance of the individual defendant’s conduct in light of the broader causal process that produced the victim’s losses.

Good luck with that, district courts! Snide comments aside, this ruling confirms my sense that these are really hard issues and that a majority of the Justice were uncomfortable with either a complete victory (which Justice Sotomayor urges) or a complete loss (which CJ Roberts urges) for child porn victims. Lots more on this ruling after I have a chance to process it fully.

April 23, 2014 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 06, 2014

"Reviving the Excessive Fines Clause"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Beth Colgan now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Millions of American adults and children struggle with debt stemming from economic sanctions issued by the criminal and juvenile courts.  For those unable to pay, the consequences — including incarceration, exclusion from public benefits, and persistent poverty — can be draconian and perpetual.  The Supreme Court has nevertheless concluded that many of these concerns lie outside the scope of the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. In interpreting the Clause, the Court relied upon a limited set of historical sources to restrict “fines” to sanctions that are punitive in nature and paid exclusively to the government, and to define “excessive” as referring to — either exclusively or primarily — the proportionality between the crime’s gravity and the amount of the fine.

This Article takes the Court at its word by assuming history is constitutionally relevant, but it challenges the Court’s limited use of history by providing the first detailed analysis of colonial and early American statutory and court records regarding fines.  This robust historical analysis belies the Court’s use of history to announce historical “truths” to limit the scope of the Clause, by showing significant evidence that contradicts those limitations.

The Article uses the historical record to identify questions regarding the Clause’s meaning, to assess the quality of the historical evidence suggesting an answer to such questions, and then to consider that evidence — according to its value — within a debate that incorporates contemporary understandings of just punishment.  Under the resulting interpretation, the historical evidence articulated in this Article would support an understanding of a “fine" as a deprivation of anything of economic value in response to a public offense.  “Excessive,” in turn, would be assessed through a broad understanding of proportionality that takes account of both offense and offender characteristics, as well as the effect of the fine on the individual.  The proposed interpretation more faithfully reflects the history and its limitations, and broadens the Clause’s scope to provide greater individual protections.

April 6, 2014 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, March 17, 2014

You be the federal sentencing judge: months, years or decades in prison for notable Medicaid fraudsters?

White-collar crimes, especially when there are few if any individual victims, oft raise especially tough and dynamic issues concerning how to weigh and balance offense- and offender-related sentencing consideration. These realities seem especially true in an interesting federal health care fraud case from South Carolina described in this local article. The piece is headlined "As Medicaid fraud sentencing nears, SC youth agency founder seeks leniency so he can be positive role model for his children," and here are excerpts:

The founder of the Helping Hands Youth and Family Services agency, guilty of bilking the federal Medicaid program for millions of dollars, has asked a federal judge for leniency when he is sentenced Wednesday for six felony charges related to health care fraud.

Truman Lewis — who founded the for-profit youth mentoring agency that had offices in Conway, Georgetown, Columbia and Rock Hill — said in court documents that he still maintains his innocence and deserves no more than a six-month prison sentence.

Lewis and his brother, Norman Lewis, were found guilty in an August jury trial of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and four counts of wire fraud.  They each face up to 10 years in prison for committing health care fraud and up to 20 years in prison for the money laundering and wire fraud charges. Both men will be sentenced Wednesday in Charleston by Judge Richard Gergel.

The jury found that the Lewises billed Medicaid for $8.9 million — much of it fraudulent  — over a nearly two-year period starting in 2009, and then used the money to buy luxury cars, a beachfront condominium and homes.  At the time of their indictment in June 2012, the Lewises had $1 million in certificates of deposit and bank accounts.  The jury determined that all of those assets can be seized to help pay back the money taken through fraudulent billings.

Helping Hands — which was supposed to provide mentoring services to low-income children with family or behavioral problems — had hundreds of youth clients in Horry and Georgetown counties.  Those clients were referred to the agency by the state’s Department of Social Services and area school officials, even though the agency’s counselors were not licensed.

Truman Lewis, in a court document filed on Friday, said he “may have made mistakes along the way but does not believe he did so with a malevolent intent and is wanting to work his way out of this position he finds himself in.”

At age 35, Truman Lewis is the oldest of 14 siblings who were “sometimes forced to live on food stamps,” the court document states, adding that the youth mentoring agency he founded allowed him “to pave the way for his siblings in school and work to show them there was a way out of poverty.”  Truman Lewis said he never should have faced criminal charges because his agency had entered into a repayment plan with state officials who oversee the Medicaid program before any charges were filed.  He said a long prison sentence would be detrimental to the government because he would not be able to work and pay restitution.

If the court allows Truman Lewis “to serve a sentence below the guidelines range, he may be able to seek employment to help work on restitution to the government,” the court document states.  Truman Lewis said he also wants a minimum prison sentence so he and his wife can continue to be positive influences on their four children.  “The entire family is extremely religious and attend church regularly, sometimes four to five times weekly as a family,” the court document states, adding that Truman Lewis and his wife “have a deep abiding belief in their religious convictions and are trying to pass their beliefs on to the children.”

David McCann, a court-appointed lawyer representing Norman Lewis, filed a document Monday asking for leniency for his client, but the filing does not recommend a specific prison sentence.  A lengthy sentence for the 32-year-old Norman Lewis “interrupts his young family and presents the unnecessary cost to taxpayers for confinement and treatment, if available,” McCann said in the court filing.

Norman Lewis’ previous court appearances have been marred by outbursts and repeated requests to represent himself at trial.  Norman Lewis initially told Gergel he wanted to be represented by God and Jesus rather than a court-appointed defender.  He also spoke during an arraignment hearing about more than 100 songs and poems he has written about his work with Helping Hands, “doing so in a manner that left the court concerned with the defendant’s mental capacity.”

A psychiatric exam in December 2012 showed Norman Lewis was competent to stand trial, prompting Gergel to approve his request to represent himself. Gergel rescinded that request in February 2013 after Norman Lewis repeatedly refused to accept boxes of discovery documents needed for trial preparation.  Norman Lewis’ refusal to meet with a probation officer led to his incarceration three months later and he was charged with contempt of court in July for speaking to potential jurors.

Norman Lewis’ wife, Melanie Lewis, pleaded guilty last year to one conspiracy charge in a plea agreement to avoid a trial.  That charge carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. Melanie Lewis will be sentenced on Thursday in Charleston.

Testimony during the August trial showed Helping Hands officials — most of them Lewis family members — falsified records and submitted bills for ineligible or non-existent clients in order to boost Medicaid payments.  Lewis family members then transferred that money to personal bank accounts and purchased items such as 10 automobiles, including an $89,000 Bentley and a $55,900 Mercedes....

Bank records included in court documents show Helping Hands billed Medicaid a steadily increasing amount starting in January 2009, when the agency received $13,500 from the federal health program.  By April 2010, Helping Hands was billing Medicaid for $1 million per month.  The agency closed for good in 2011.

Based on the amount of money apparently involved in this federal fraud (as well as enhancements for leadership role and other aggravating guideline factors), I would guess that the guidelines recommend a sentence of a decade or more for Truman and Norman Lewis. But would it be more effective and efficient for them to get a shorter prison sentence coupled with a rigorous set of restitution obligations to help ensure federal taxpayers are made whole?

You be the judge (and, ideally, propose in the comments a sentence that makes a clever pun about Helping Hands).

March 17, 2014 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, February 21, 2014

SCOTUS permits additional briefing on CP restitution issues in light of Burrage

The Supreme Court issued a notable two-sentence order today in Paroline v. US, the pending case on child porn restitution sentences.  Here is the text of the order:

The motion of respondent Amy Unknown for leave to file a supplemental brief after argument is granted.  The other parties may file supplemental briefs, not to exceed 3,000 words each, addressing the effect of our decision in Burrage v. United States, 571 U. S. ___ (2014), on this case, on or before Friday, March 7, 2014.

Lyle Denniston over SCOTUSblog has an extended discussion of this intriguing new development, which includes these passages:

The Court, it appears, did not stir up this new issue on its own.  The day after the Burrage decision had been issued, counsel for Doyle Randall Paroline sent a letter to the Court suggesting that this ruling should apply to his client’s case.  The new “Amy Unknown” brief came in response to that, and argued that there were fundamental differences involved.

Two different laws are at issue in the two cases, but the Court’s new action seemed to suggest that there may be some overlap in how to interpret them....

In a letter to the Court Clerk on January 29, Houston attorney Stanley G. Schneider noted the new Burrage ruling, and said he believed it “should apply to the arguments made on behalf of Mr. Paroline.”  The letter offered to submit a brief on the point.

In the supplemental brief, filed on February 11, lawyers for “Amy Unknown” disputed that suggestion, saying that the Court was obliged to interpret a criminal law like the heroin sentence enhancement law in a strict way, but that there is a long tradition of interpreting remedies for torts (legal wrongs) more expansively.  In particular, the new brief said, there is strong authority for the concept of assessing the full amount of damages for a tort to those who had contributed to the harms done.

The supplemental filing accepted by the Supreme Court today from lawyers for “Amy Unknown” is available at this link.

A few (of many) prior posts on Paroline and child porn restitution issues:

February 21, 2014 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 06, 2014

"Profiting from Probation: America's 'Offender-Funded' Probation Industry"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from Human Rights Watch. Here is the start of the report's summary:

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a person sentenced to probation cannot then be incarcerated simply for failing to pay a fine that they genuinely cannot afford. Yet many misdemeanor courts routinely jail probationers who say they cannot afford to pay what they owe — and they do so in reliance on the assurances of for-profit companies with a financial stake in every single one of those cases.

Every year, US courts sentence several hundred thousand people to probation and place them under the supervision of for-profit companies for months or years at a time.  They then require probationers to pay these companies for their services.  Many of these offenders are only guilty of minor traffic violations like speeding or driving without proof of insurance.  Others have shoplifted, been cited for public drunkenness, or committed other misdemeanor crimes.  Many of these offenses carry no real threat of jail time in and of themselves, yet each month, courts issue thousands of arrest warrants for offenders who fail to make adequate payments towards fines and probation company fees.

This report, based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013, describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US.  It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors.  It explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this.  It also argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay.  In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.

The problems described in this report are not a consequence of probation privatization per se.  Rather, they arise because public officials allow probation companies to profit by extracting fees directly from probationers, and then fail to exercise the kind of oversight needed to protect probationers from abusive and extortionate practices.  All too often, offenders on private probation are threatened with jail for failing to pay probation fees they simply cannot afford, and some spend time behind bars.

February 6, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Court struggles with restitution for child porn"

The title of this post is the headline of this AP report on this morning's SCOTUS oral argument in Paroline v. United States.  The AP article highlights the Justices' difficulties sorting through all the challenging competing issues in a case that regular readers know I find fascinating.

Similarly, Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog has an effective summary of today's argument in this new post which starts and ends this way:

The Supreme Court left no doubt on Wednesday that it is willing to do its part to make sure that victims of child pornography get paid money to offset the harm done to them. But it also found itself very much in doubt about just what that part would be. The answer in the case of Paroline v. United States may depend upon how the Court understands two words: “apportion” and “contribution.”...

The hearing ended where it began: in unresolved complexity.

I hope to find time in the next few days to read carefully and comment upon the substance of the argument today, and everyone can find now at this link the full transcript.

A few (of many) prior posts on Paroline and child porn restitution issues:

January 22, 2014 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Monday, January 20, 2014

Explaining why I am rooting so hard for "Amy" in Paroline

Oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States now is just a couple of days away, and this new AP article provides effective background on the case while also helping to spotlight some reasons I am rooting hard for "Amy" and her advocates to prevail:

The case being argued at the Supreme Court on Wednesday involves a Texas man who pleaded guilty to having images of children engaged in sex acts on his computer.  Doyle Randall Paroline is appealing an order holding him responsible for the full amount of losses, nearly $3.4 million, suffered by the woman known as Amy.  Of the several hundred incriminating images on Paroline's computer, just two were of Amy.

Advocates for child pornography victims say that holding defendants liable for the entire amount of losses better reflects the ongoing harm that victims suffer each time someone views the images online. The threat of a large financial judgment, coupled with a prison term, also might deter some people from looking at the images in the first place, the advocates say.

Thirty-four states, dozens of victims' rights and child advocacy groups, local prosecutors and members of Congress are urging the court to uphold the ruling against Paroline by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

No one has intervened on Paroline's behalf. But his lawyer, Stanley Schneider of Houston, said in court papers that there is no link between the restitution ordered by the appeals court and Paroline's conduct. "An award of $3.4 million against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate," Schneider said....

The Obama administration is trying to steer a middle course. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said the government agrees with Amy that her injury comes from the widespread viewing on the Internet of the assaults by her uncle. "The real question is whether ... a court must impose all of Amy's aggregate losses on each defendant. On that issue, Amy and the government take different views," Verrilli told the court. The administration said the correct answer is greater than zero and less than the entire amount and said trial judges should make the determination....

Regardless of the outcome of the court case, Congress could change the law. The U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that lawmakers consider doing just that to eliminate confusion among federal judges about the right way to calculate restitution....

Since 2005, there have been about 2,000 prosecutions in federal court that, like Paroline's, included images of the rapes, for which Amy's uncle spent about 10 years in prison and paid a few thousand dollars for counseling sessions for Amy.... Courts so far have awarded restitution in 182 cases and Amy has collected $1.6 million. Of that total, $1.2 million came from one man.

Typically, the court-ordered awards and the amounts collected have been much smaller, as little as $50 in one case, according to Justice Department records. Many judges have ordered no payments at all, Marsh said. The restitution law does not allow Amy to receive more than the lifetime estimate of her losses, Marsh said. But until the 5th Circuit ruling, Marsh said, "She has been forced to go around the country endlessly seeking out defendants with assets. It's endless, and it takes a toll on the victim."

If upheld, the ruling would change the equation.  Courts would not have to determine exactly how much harm any one defendant caused Amy.  Instead, all defendants would be liable for the entire outstanding amount, raising the possibility that a few well-heeled people among those convicted might contribute most, if not all, of the remaining restitution. Marsh said such an outcome would be just, and wealthy defendants could fight among themselves about who should pay what. "It's really about shifting the burden from the innocent victim to the people who are responsible," Marsh said.

Long-time readers know that I take a consequentialist view on most sentencing and punishment issues, and I strongly believe better consequences will prevail if all persons convicted of unlawfully downloading Amy's picture are all jointly liable for the full amount of her documented economic losses.  As the AP article suggests, if Amy wins then only the richest porn downloaders will end up paying her the most money in restitution.  But if DOJ's vague approach prevails, the richest porn downloaders will likely end up spending lots of money on lawyers in order to aggressively argue at sentencing that they should not have to pay much or any restitution to Amy or other victims.

More broadly, I actually think better consequences can and will ultimately prevail for future federal defendants convicted of unlawfully downloading child porn if Amy prevails in this case.  This is because I think, in light of the instructions of 18 USC 3553(a), federal judges would in the future be fully justified (and arguably even required) to generally impose a shorter federal prison sentence on a child porn defendant if and whenever that defendant is to be held jointly liable for the full amount of documented economic losses.  (Intriguingly, Doyle Randall Paroline himself got sentenced only to two years in prison, while the average downloader of child porn prosecuted in federal court these days gets a prison term of nearly a decade.)    

In her reporting and commentary on this issue (noted here and here), Emily Bazelon has rightly suggested that having child porn downloaders pay for their crimes through full restitution award (rather than through very lengthy prison terms) makes for better outcomes not only for victims but also for society.  As she has explained:

[J]oint and several liability ... works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants.  Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible.  This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts.  If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.

Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse.  For Amy [and other like victims], it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times.  Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution.  The Supreme Court should too.  And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.

Because DOJ is not completely on Amy's side, and because some of the more conservative Justices have in the past expressed some constitutional concerns about some victims getting big awards in tort suits, I do not think it a certainty that Amy will prevail in this matter.  But because this is technically a statutory interpretation case, and because the briefs on Amy's side have done such an effective job highlighting reasons to think Congress would want Amy to prevail in this battle of equities, I think she has a pretty good chance to prevail.

A few (of many) prior posts on Paroline and child porn restitution issues:

January 20, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You be the federal judge: what sentence should the Beanie Babies billionaire get for tax evasion?

Beanie babyAs reported in this short AP article, today "the billionaire creator of Beanie Babies is in a Chicago federal courtroom for his sentencing on a tax evasion charge." Here is more:

H. Ty Warner could get up to five years in prison Tuesday for evading taxes on $25 million in income. The 69-year-old Warner was told when he pleaded guilty last year that he would have time at his sentencing to apologize for stashing money in Swiss bank accounts.

Warner's attorneys have asked the judge for a sentence of probation, not prison. They pointed to Warner's unhappy childhood and his charity work. Prosecutors say Warner should spend some time in prison, though they haven't recommend how much. They also say his philanthropy shouldn't be "a get-out-jail card."

Though perhaps not authorized by federal law, my proposed punishment for this billionaire would be a week in jail, a maximum (lifetime?) term of supervised release (for which he has to pay the costs), plus a fine of $100 million (four times the amount of income he tried to hide). According to Forbes here, Warner's net worth is 2.6 billion, and thus a $100 million fine for him is the equivalent of only a $100,000 fine for someone worth $2.5 million. Ergo, such a fine should clearly not be considered constitutionally excessive for Warner and it should better help deter rich folks from illegally trying to avoid paying their fair share.

Importantly, the maxed out term of supervised release is a big aspect of my proposed ideal sentence. Though some may think a few years in prison for a white-collar offender is more onerous than other punishments, I suspect a billionaire like Warner would be much more bothers by forever being subject to control of his liberty by probation officers. (I would also like to order Warner to a community service requirement of coming to my house each year to clear the dust off my kids' stuffed animals, but I am not sure I would be able to get away with such a term of service even if I was a federal judge.)

UPDATE:  This Reuters article indicates that Warner's sentencing outcome in federal court on Tuesday is resulting in him paying for his nonviolent crime in a lot of ways, but not with any time in prison: 

The billionaire creator of Beanie Babies, Ty Warner, will serve two years of probation, including mentoring high school students, following his guilty plea on a tax evasion charge, but no jail time, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. Warner, 69, who pleaded guilty in October, told U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kocoras in Chicago that his crime was the "biggest mistake" of his life. Warner already had agreed to pay a civil penalty of nearly $53.6 million.

Ranked as the 209th richest American by Forbes with a listed net worth of $2.6 billion in 2013, Warner failed to report more than $24.4 million in income and evaded nearly $5.6 million in federal taxes from millions hidden in Swiss bank accounts, according to Chicago prosecutors.

Prosecutors had argued that Warner should serve time in jail given the extent of the cover-up, and federal guidelines called for up to five years in prison. "I am truly sorry," said the slightly-built Warner, who wore headphones to compensate for hearing loss. He told Kocoras the letters of support he received "made my feelings of shame and embarrassment that much more unbearable."

Kocoras cited Warner's many acts of charity before imposing probation rather than prison. Kocoras said he had reviewed letters from people helped by the billionaire, including a woman with a kidney disease Warner had stopped to ask for directions. After learning of her condition, Warner paid for her treatment. "Society will be best served by allowing him to continue his good works," Kocoras said.

Warner was sentenced to at least 500 hours of community service, which will include mentoring students at Leo High School, a Catholic boys' school in a poor, mostly African-American neighborhood in Chicago....

The federal charge to which Warner pled guilty alleged that, in 2002, Warner earned more than $3.1 million through investments held in his UBS account, but did not tell his accountants and failed to report it on his tax form.

January 14, 2014 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

"Should We Let Prisoners Upgrade Their Prison Cells?"

9515_luxury_prison_by_iMoo_pupuDesign-1The title of this post is the headline of this interesting report from the OZY media resource. Here are excerpts:

Would prison be so bad if your cell was spacious and included a private bathroom, kitchen and cable TV? These are the accommodations for some prisoners at San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. But luxury isn’t free: For about $1,000-1,500, an inmate can purchase a high-class cell for the duration of his or her sentence.

San Pedro is divided into eight sections ranging from shared small cells with risks of stabbings at night to the opulent cells that have access to billiard tables and fresh juice stands. Every person must buy or rent a cell, no matter the quality, and many inmates have jobs as hairdressers, laundry staff, food stall operators or TV repairmen.

Does the idea of paying for better prison accommodations sound ludicrous? Would you bet this could never happen in the U.S.? Think again.

In California there are multiple jails with “pay-to-stay” programs where inmates can pay from $75-155 a day for a private cell in quiet areas away from violent offenders, and they are occasionally allowed to bring in an iPod or computer for entertainment. They must be approved for the program and their crimes are usually minor offenses. The ACLU is not a fan, calling the program a “jail for the rich.”

Supporters of pay-to-stay say they benefit the cities where they are located by providing revenue. For example, if the Fremont jail — which spends $8.35 a day on each inmate — houses 16 inmates for two nights per week a year, the city would net a profit of about $244,000. One immediate question is whether cities should make a profit off of prisoners. Another question has to do with equality.

Two people who commit the same crime but end up in different facilities depending on their ability to pay isn’t exactly equitable, but the American incarceration system doesn’t have the best record when it comes to treating the poor and rich equally....

But what if you weren’t allowed to use Daddy’s dollars to secure better living conditions while serving time for a DUI? What if, instead, you started out the same as every other inmate, regardless of personal wealth or outside resources?

Could a fairer option be that you start your sentence with a financial blank slate, earn money by taking jobs inside the prison or jail and then apply your self-earned dollars to book a nicer and more comfortable living situation? Should prisoners be allowed to pay to upgrade the quality of their cells, or should the nature of their crime be the sole factor in how they live out their prison terms?

January 7, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Yet another effective review of the child porn restitution challenges facing SCOTUS

I have already blogged some previews of the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States even though oral argument is still six weeks away because the issues strike me as so interesting and dynamic.  (The parties' main briefs and now lots of amicus briefs are now available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page.)  And I suspect we are seeing other notable coverage of the case already because lots of others are also intrigued by the issues and arguments now before the Justices in Paroline.  The latest example comes via Emily Bazelon here at Slate, and it is headlined "Paying Amy: Doyle Paroline owned two pornographic pictures of an 8-year-old girl. How much should he have to pay?" Here are a few excerpts (with cites to some of the filed briefs):

In January, the Supreme Court will hear the appeal of Doyle Randall Paroline, who was caught with two pictures of Amy among 280 illegal images and was found liable by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for the full amount of the restitution Amy, who is now 24, has claimed. The 5th Circuit said it was up to Paroline — not Amy — to find the other men who could also be on the hook for restitution and go after them for contributions. The legal theory is called joint and several liability. It’s the way courts deal with pollution cases in which a bunch of defendants all dump toxic waste into a single lake. A plaintiff sues one wealthy company for all the damages, and then that defendant has to sue other companies to share the costs.

Is this how Congress intended victims to recover from sex offenders when it passed [the Violence Against Women Act] in 1994?...

Of the eight appeals courts that have heard challenges by men like Paroline, only the 5th Circuit agreed entirely with Amy’s theory of recovery.  The Department of Justice also disagrees with a key to it, saying that joint and several liability doesn’t apply in these cases.  But a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators have filed a brief before the Supreme Court arguing that Congress wanted to give Amy an easy path to restitution. VAWA could “hardly be clearer,” say the senators (roll call: Orrin Hatch of Utah, Dianne Feinstein of California, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, John McCain of Arizona, Patty Murray of Washington, and Charles Schumer of New York)....

Five appeals courts have said they doubted that victims like Amy can win more than nominal restitution.  Two others let her keep awards of only $10,000 or less. She has been able to collect larger amounts only from men who have agreed to settle or waived their right to appeal.  The senators, though, say that all these courts got it wrong and the 5th Circuit got it right.  They quote Vice President Joe Biden, chief architect of the VAWA, who called it “the most victim-friendly bill [the Senate] ever passed.”  And they provide an important piece of history about how VAWA was drafted....

Here’s the clearest way to think about how and why Amy and other victims like her should win restitution.  Their trauma can’t be neatly parceled out among the individual men convicted for possessing their pictures.  But the harm is crystal clear in the aggregate.  And so Paroline and other defendants shouldn’t be relieved of their obligation to pay “simply because Amy would continue to suffer harm if there were one less child-pornography consumer in the world,” as the Department of Justice puts it. This makes sense to me: You can’t let each viewer off the hook because he is merely one small part of the whole.

How much does each viewer who is convicted have to pay?  The Department of Justice argues — vaguely and without any basis I can see in VAWA — that each defendant should pay restitution in an amount greater than zero but less than the whole.  Courts should use their discretion to pick some place in the middle, the government says.  It rejects the idea of joint and several liability as “practically unworkable” and “unduly harsh.”

If Paroline had to pay millions of dollars for his two pictures of Amy, then yes, that would be unfair.  But that’s not how joint and several liability works. It works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants.  Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible.  This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts.  If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.

Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse.  For Amy and Nicole, it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times.  Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution.  The Supreme Court should too.  And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.

A few prior posts on Paroline:

December 5, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Friday, November 22, 2013

Gearing up for Paroline with a short "Child Pornography Restitution Update"

Through oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States is still a couple months away, it is not too early to start thinking about the range of challenging issues restitution sentences for child porn downloading victims presents for the Justices.  One way to gear up, of course, is to review the parties opening briefs, all of which are now in and are available via SCOTUSblog on this Paroline case page.

Another effective way to start gearing up would be to read this short piece available now on SSRN titled simply ""Child Pornography Restitution Update" and authored by Mary Leary and James Marsh (who represents a victim seeking restitution). Here is the abstract:

This article discusses the issue of restitution for victims of child pornography cases. It specifically explores the legal background to this issue, relevant court opinions, and implicated statutes (18 U.S.C. §§ 2259; 3771) regarding the ability of child pornography victims to obtain restitution from those who possessed child pornography images, also known as images of child sexual abuse. The article addresses the current circuit split and pending Supreme Court case, Paroline v. United States. In addition to an analysis of the judicial opinions, this piece also discusses several policy initiatives available to address the issue.

November 22, 2013 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack