Friday, June 22, 2018

Fourth Circuit affirms ruling that DC sniper Lee Malvo entitled to resentencing due to Miller and Montgomery

Last year, as reported in this prior post, a US District Judge concluded that infamous sniper Lee Boyd Malvo was entitled to re-sentencing as a consequence of Supreme Court rulings precluding mandatory life sentences for juvenile murderers.  Yesterday, the Fourth Circuit affirmed that decision in a unanimous panel ruling in Malvo v. Mathena, No. 17-6746 (4th Cir. June 21, 2018) (available here). This ruling gets started this way: 

In Virginia in 2004, a defendant convicted of capital murder, who was at least 16 years old at the time of his crime, would be punished by either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, unless the judge suspended his sentence.  After a Virginia jury convicted Lee Boyd Malvo of two counts of capital murder based on homicides that he committed in 2002 when he was 17 years old, it declined to recommend the death penalty, and he was instead sentenced in 2004 to two terms of life imprisonment without parole, in accordance with Virginia law.  Thereafter, Malvo, again seeking to avoid the death penalty, pleaded guilty in another Virginia jurisdiction to one count of capital murder and one count of attempted capital murder — both of which he also committed when 17 years old — and received two additional terms of life imprisonment without parole.

After Malvo was sentenced in those cases, the Supreme Court issued a series of decisions relating to the sentencing of defendants who committed serious crimes when under the age of 18.  It held that such defendants cannot be sentenced to death; that they cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole unless they committed a homicide offense that reflected their permanent incorrigibility; and that these rules relating to juvenile sentencing are to be applied retroactively, meaning that sentences that were legal when imposed must be vacated if they were imposed in violation of the Court’s new rules.  See Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005); Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010); Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012); Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016).

In these habeas cases filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, we conclude that even though Malvo’s life-without-parole sentences were fully legal when imposed, they must now be vacated because the retroactive constitutional rules for sentencing juveniles adopted subsequent to Malvo’s sentencings were not satisfied during his sentencings.  Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s order vacating Malvo’s four terms of life imprisonment without parole and remanding for resentencing to determine (1) whether Malvo qualifies as one of the rare juvenile offenders who may, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole because his “crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility” or (2) whether those crimes instead “reflect the transient immaturity of youth,” in which case he must receive a sentence short of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Montgomery, 136 S. Ct. at 734.

June 22, 2018 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Split Michigan Supreme Court rejects Sixth Amendment challenge to state's new juve LWOP statute

Ruling 4-2, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a lengthy opinion yesterday upholding the procedures of its new juvenile sentencing statute.  The majority opinion in Michigan v. Skinner, No. 152448 (Mich. June 20, 2018) (available here), gets started this way:

At issue here is whether MCL 769.25 violates the Sixth Amendment because it allows the decision whether to impose a sentence of life without parole to be made by a judge, rather than by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  We hold that MCL 769.25 does not violate the Sixth Amendment because neither the statute nor the Eighth Amendment requires a judge to find any particular fact before imposing life without parole; instead, life without parole is authorized by the jury’s verdict alone.  Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals in Skinner and affirm the part of Hyatt that held that “[a] judge, not a jury, must determine whether to impose a life-without-parole sentence or a term-of-years sentence under MCL 769.25.”  People v Hyatt, 316 Mich App 368, 415; 891 NW2d 549 (2016).  However, we reverse the part of Hyatt that adopted a heightened standard of review for life-without-parole sentences imposed under MCL 769.25 and that remanded this case to the trial court for it to “decide whether defendant Hyatt is the truly rare juvenile mentioned in [Miller v Alabama, 567 US 460; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012)] who is incorrigible and incapable of reform.” Hyatt, 316 Mich App at 429. No such explicit finding is required.  Finally, we remand both of these cases to the Court of Appeals for it to review defendants’ sentences under the traditional abuse-of-discretion standard of review.

The dissenting opinion gets started this way:

There is much in the majority opinion with which I agree.  For example, I agree that if MCL 769.25 can reasonably be construed in a constitutional manner, we should so construe it.  And I generally agree with the majority’s discussion of the applicable legal principles.  But I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that there are two reasonable ways of interpreting MCL 769.25, one of which is constitutional.  Reading the statute as “murder-plus” would violate the Sixth Amendment under Apprendi v New Jersey, 530 US 466; 120 S Ct 2348; 147 L Ed 2d 435 (2000), and its progeny.  And I disagree with the majority that reading the statute as “murder-minus” cures all its constitutional deficiencies. In my view, reading the statute as murder-minus renders it unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in Miller v Alabama, 567 US 460; 132 S Ct 2455; 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012), and Montgomery v Louisiana, 577 US ___; 136 S Ct 718; 193 L Ed 2d 599 (2016). Read either way, MCL 769.25 suffers from a constitutional deficiency.

June 21, 2018 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Blakely in the States, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Suggesting home confinement as an incarceration alternative to avoid family separation back home

Tyler Cowen has this notable new commentary bringing home a controversy over immigration policies.  The piece is headlined "American Families Shouldn't Be Separated, Either: What if more parents, when convicted of crimes, were sentenced to house arrest for the benefit of their children?".  Here is how it starts and ends:

One of the worst American policies today is the decision of President Donald Trump’s administration to separate many immigrant parents from their children after they illegally cross the U.S. border.  Obviously, a case can be made for enforcing the border, but deliberate cruelty is never a good idea.  Those children — innocent victims all of them — will likely be traumatized for life.  I am uncomfortably reminded of the U.S.’s long history of separating parents and children from the days of slavery and during Native American removal and extermination.

If you agree with me on this, I’d like to push you one step further.  It’s horrible to forcibly separate lawbreaking parents from their young children, but we do that to American citizens, too.  According to one 2010 study, more than 1.1 million men and 120,000 women in U.S. jails and prisons have children under the age of 17.  These separations can be traumatic, and they help perpetuate generational cycles of low achievement and criminal behavior.

These problems are especially pressing for female prisoners and their children.  From 1991 to 2007, the number of children with a mother in prison more than doubled, rising 131 percent. About two-thirds of the women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses.  Sixty percent of those women have children under the age of 18, and in one survey one-quarter of the prisoners’ children were under the age of 4. Forty-one percent of the women in state prison had more than one child.

I have a simple proposal: Let’s take one-tenth of those women and move them from prison to house arrest, combined with electronic monitoring.  That would allow for proximity to their children.  If the U.S. isn’t plagued by a subsequent wave of violent crime — and I don’t think it will be — let us try the same for yet another tenth.  Let’s keep on doing this until it’s obviously not working.  In some of these cases the court might rule that the mother — especially if she is prone to child abuse or substance abuse — will not have full custody rights to her children.  Many other children, though, will benefit, and even visitation rights can help a child....

One estimate suggests that 11 percent of the children of imprisoned mothers end up in foster care.  This is not an area of investigation where data collection has been thorough or systematic, another sign of our neglect of the issue.  Nonetheless it seems that after the arrest of a parent, treatment of the children by the police is irregular across the country and often poorly handled.

In citing this evidence, I don’t mean to normalize the current treatment of illegal immigrant families — I consider it a moral disgrace.  What I am saying is that our treatment of outsiders is rarely an accident, and it so often mirrors how we have been treating each other all along.  That is yet another reason to be nicer to those who are most vulnerable.

June 20, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Split Second Circuit panel reverses lengthy child porn sentence for second time; dissent notes "sentence is barbaric without being all that unusual"

I do not tend to blog much any more about circuit opinions conducting reasonableness review because, now more than a decade since the Supreme Court ensured reasonableness review would be very deferential thanks to Rita, Gall and Kimbrough, few circuit sentencing opinions break any new ground.  But though a Second Circuit panel opinion yesterday, US v. Sawyer, No. 15-2276 (2d Cir. June 19, 2018) (available here), does not break new ground, it still struck me as blogworthy for both the majority opinion and the dissent.

The majority opinion in Sawyer is well summarized by the preamble to the opinion: 

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (D’Agostino, J.) imposing a sentence of 300 months of imprisonment for the offenses of producing child pornography and receiving child pornography. This court previously vacated as substantively unreasonable a sentence of 360 months of imprisonment for the same offenses, identifying specific deficiencies in the district court’s analysis. The district court did not sufficiently address those deficiencies on remand and suggested that it would have difficulty putting aside its previously-expressed views.

The key factor that appears to have driven the original panel opinion and this second reversal was the "the district court’s failure to give sufficient downward weight to the effect of the severe sexual abuse Sawyer endured at home throughout his childhood."  Tellingly, even at the second sentencing, the district court stressed that the guidelines called for 80 years in prison(!), suggesting no "failure to afford sufficient weight to the way [the defendant was] raised in determining [his] sentence, looking at the fact that [the original sentence] departed by 50 years from the [80 year] guideline range."  In this way in this case,  we can and should see how extreme guideline ranges can persistently distort a district court's sentencing decision-making even after a circuit court has concluded that the district court failed to comply with the requirements of the first time around 3553(a).

Beyond noticing the impact and import of broken guidelines even in a case in which everyone agrees they should not be followed, the Sawyer case struck me as blogworthy because of a (casual?) line in the dissenting opinion by Judge Jacobs. Here is the context for the line quoted in the title to this post, with my emphasis added:

In decrying the 25-year sentence, the majority opinion observes (fairly) that this case is not the most heinous or egregious on record.  At the same time, however, this is not a case such as United States v. Dorvee, 616 F.3d 174 (2d Cir. 2010), or United States v. Brown, 843 F.3d 74 (2d Cir. 2016), in which decades of imprisonment were imposed solely for looking at images created by others, and in which any harm to a child was inflicted at one or more removes. This defendant was hands-on.  He produced the pornography, and he used a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old to do it.  For these acts, a 25-year sentence is not a shocking departure from sentences routinely imposed in federal courts for comparable offenses — especially considering that the mandatory minimum is fifteen.  The sentence is barbaric without being all that unusual.

I appreciate the candor and yet remain stunned by Judge Jacobs stating simply that the defendant's sentence here is "barbaric" but yet not "all that unusual" and thus ought to be affirmed despite the obligation of circuit courts to review sentences for their reasonableness in light of the requirements of 3553(a).

June 20, 2018 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Whether the Bright-line Cut-off Rule and the Adversarial Expert Explanation of Adaptive Functioning Exacerbates Capital Juror Comprehension of the Intellectual Disability"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN authored by Leona Deborah Jochnowitz.  Here is its abstract:

This paper examines a sample of Capital Jury Project (CJP 1) cases with available trial transcripts in which jurors were presented with mitigating intellectual disability evidence and may have been confused by issues of proof, definitions, and extralegal factors.  It tests the hypothesis that jurors’ receptivity to mitigating intellectual disability (ID) was limited by their difficulties with the adversarial mental proof and clinical definitions needed to establish it.  Further the juror decision-making may have been obscured by distractions from extralegal factors, unrelated to the evidence like premature decision-making and heuristic shortcuts, pro-death bias, and racial prejudice.  It also examines whether the bright line cut-off rule, followed in some sample states prior to the Supreme Court decision in Hall v. Florida (2014), exacerbated jurors’ understanding of the disability, and encouraged popular stereotypes and misconceptions about intellectual disability.

In Kentucky, a state with the bright line cut-off rule, at the time these cases were decided, jurors were confused about a range of IQ scores and intellectual declines during developmental years. “IQ was perhaps not above what we consider a moron? I think they were contending that he had an IQ of 70 or 76 or so, had been tested as high as the 80s I recall.” (CJP KY death case #531, juror #725).  Even in non-bright line sample States like South Carolina, with no ID exemption at the time, jurors misunderstood the range of numerical IQ evidence. The study concludes that juror assessment of intellectual disability (ID) is variable.  Some jurors view ID as a more “organic” sympathetic disorder than other mental disorders, and they seem to understand it in practical, lay terms.  Yet, capital juror decision making is marred by extra-legal factors that impair consideration of the mitigating evidence.

The study concludes that juror misunderstanding regarding mitigating evidence has stubbornly persisted throughout the history of the Capital Jury Project and arises from shortcomings in human cognition which impede jurors’ moral consideration of intellectual disability evidence.  In light of these flaws, it may be impossible to avoid the unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.  This study suggests that mildly intellectually disabled persons were indeed executed because jurors misunderstood the ID evidence and were persuaded by extralegal racial biases and premature decision making.

June 19, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Focus on fathers behind bars on Father's Day

Last month, to mark Mother's Day, I collected in this post a lot of commentary about mothers in prison.  I have noticed far less comparable commentary to mark  Father's Day (perhaps because everyone is busy debating what Phil Mickelson did yesterday).  But I have seen these two new pieces authored by Pat Nolan:

June 17, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sixth Circuit panel struggles to figure out Tennessee law to assess Miller challenge in high-profile case

As reported in this local article, headlined "While considering Cyntoia Brown's case, appeals court scrutinizes conflicting sentencing laws," an interesting federal circuit panel struggled during oral argument today to sort through applicable state sentencing law in an interesting Eighth Amendment habeas case. Here are the details:

A federal appeals court seems poised to consult the Tennessee Supreme Court before they rule on the case of Cyntoia Brown, a Nashville woman serving a life sentence in prison for a murder she committed at 16.  Brown's attorneys this year appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, arguing her life sentence was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that giving juveniles life sentences without parole was cruel and unusual in most cases.

Brown, now 30, has been locked up since 2004, when she was convicted of shooting 43-year-old Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen. Allen had picked her up at an East Nashville fast food restaurant and drove her to his home.  Prosecutors said she committed a cold blooded murder, then robbed Allen before she fled with his car. Advocates for Brown say she was a victim of child sex trafficking who feared for her life, and that her age and fetal alcohol syndrome made it impossible for her to consider the full ramifications of her actions.

Attorneys representing the state have argued the 2012 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court does not apply in Brown's case because she is not serving a true life sentence. They cite parts of Tennessee law that suggest Brown could be eligible for release after 51 years behind bars.  The three-judge panel in Cincinnati suggested at multiple points that if she was serving a 51-year sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling might not apply.

But Brown's attorneys pushed back, citing another section of the law that says "there shall be no release eligibility" for offenders convicted of first degree murder, like she was. Thorny questions on sentencing law in Tennessee dominated the debate on both sides of the oral arguments Thursday morning, which lasted less than an hour....

At multiple points, the judges read directly from contradictory passages in Tennessee code, as they tried to decipher what portions applied to Brown's case. They suggested that they might seek clarification from the Tennessee Supreme Court before moving forward.  Judge Joan L. Larsen, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, asked multiple questions about the proper way to do so.

Judge Amul Thapar, another Trump appointee, aggressively questioned the argument from state attorneys that case law had established a way to cherry pick parts of Tennessee sentencing law to apply to Brown while ignoring other parts. Thapar rubbed his face and shook his head while questioning attorneys on dueling sections of the law. "We're trying to guess what Tennessee is doing here," Thapar said, later adding, "The way I read this statute is that she's got life without the possibility of parole."

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has already sided with the state on this issue, saying that Brown's sentence is not entirely for life.  But Brown's attorneys say the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued a conflicting ruling.

Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, said she couldn't believe a Tennessee court hadn't issued a definitive ruling on the appropriate reading of the sentencing law.  Gibbons said Brown's case "raises some interesting, tricky issues."

If the panel does ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to clarify sentencing in this case, that court could decide whether or not it would offer an answer. The appeals court would then take the response into consideration while ruling on the broader case.  "Can we certify that to the Tennessee Supreme Court and ask them?" Thapar said.  "If they're ever going to answer one question that's the one to answer."...

The judges did not address the argument from Brown's attorneys that she should not be held responsible for a premeditated murder at 16 because fetal alcohol syndrome had slowed her mental development.

The pending federal appeal is one of multiple tracks Brown's attorneys are pursuing in their high-profile attempt to get her out of prison.  Brown also is asking Gov. Bill Haslam for clemency; the state parole board made conflicting recommendations to the governor after a hearing in May. Brown's previous appeals have been denied.  But a surge of interest from news outlets, celebrities and national legal groups has galvanized efforts that are unusual for a case like hers.

Brown was featured in the documentary "Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story" by filmmaker Dan Birman. In 2016, a joint reporting project on juvenile sentencing laws by the USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee, Dan H. Birman Productions and "Independent Lens" explored Brown's trial and conviction in depth.  Then, in 2017, celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West called for Brown's release, dramatically increasing the scrutiny of the case.  On social media, the hashtag #FreeCyntoiaBrown went viral.

June 14, 2018 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Spotlighting the role of prisons and jails as our modern mental health facilities

Esquire has this lengthy piece on modern prison realities that is notable for both its content and its author.  The full title and subtitled reveals its contents and author:

'THIS PLACE IS CRAZY': Our mental-health-care system is broken.  Ten of every eleven psychiatric patients housed by the government are incarcerated. Here’s what this crisis looks like from the inside—a series of lost lives and a few rare victories—as reported by a prisoner-journalist.

Here is the full bio from the article of the article's author:

John J. Lennon, a contributing writer at The Marshall Project, has written for Vice, The Atlantic, and The New York Times.  He is currently in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York.  He will be eligible for parole in 2029.

And here is a snippet from the piece worth reading in full:

Nearly 20 percent of the fifty-two thousand prisoners in New York’s prison system — ten thousand in all — have mental illness.  The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), which runs the state’s correctional facilities and supervises its parolees, is not alone: Nearly four hundred thousand of 2.2 million prisoners nationwide have a psychiatric diagnosis. Compare that with the thirty-eight thousand patients that the country’s state-run psych hospitals can accommodate.  The math is as easy as it is shocking: Ten out of every eleven psychiatric patients housed by the government are behind bars.

The financial toll is enormous: Treating prisoners with mental illness costs twice as much as providing community-based care.  State prisons spend an estimated $5 billion each year to imprison nonviolent offenders with a disorder.  As the National Alliance on Mental Illness says, “In a mental-health crisis, people are more likely to encounter police than get medical help.”  Jails and prisons have become our de facto asylums.

June 11, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 07, 2018

After SCOTUS rejected its standards, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals again rejects Bobby Moore's intellectual disability claim to preclude death penalty

As noted in this post last year, the US Supreme Court in Moore v. Texas, No. 15-797 (S. Ct. March 28, 2017) (available here), rejected the restrictive factors then being used by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to assess intellectually disability for death penalty ineligibility under the Eighth Amendment.  But the defendant in that case, as reported in this local article, has now had his intellectually disability claim rejected again by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  Here are the basics:

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the death sentence of Bobby Moore in a case over the definition of intellectual disability — despite pleas from both Moore and the prosecution to change his sentence to life in prison.

More than a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down Texas’ method of determining intellectual disability for death-sentenced inmates in Moore's case, ruling the state used outdated medical standards and rules invented by elected judges without any authority. In a 5-3 ruling on Wednesday, the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accepted the use of current medical standards to determine intellectual disability but said Moore still fails to qualify — making him eligible for execution.

Moore was sentenced to death nearly 38 years ago, three months after he walked into a Houston supermarket with two other men and fatally shot James McCarble, the 73-year-old clerk behind the counter, according to court documents....

In a new evaluation using the current medical framework, the majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Moore still did not show enough adaptive deficits to qualify as intellectually disabled, citing the fact that he learned to read and write in prison and buys items from commissary — the prison’s store. The Supreme Court had warned against using strengths gained in a controlled environment like prison, but the Texas court said some of Moore’s deficits were due to the “lack of opportunity to learn,” according to the opinion written by Presiding Judge Sharon Keller.

The court’s opinion also noted that before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that people with intellectual disabilities were exempt from execution, Moore had claimed in court that he did not have a disability and that his difficulties were due to an abusive childhood and his lack of learning opportunities.

In a 67-page dissent, death penalty critic Judge Elsa Alcala, joined by Judges Bert Richardson and Scott Walker, said the court’s majority erred in its use of the current medical standards and that Moore is intellectually disabled. Alcala said the court disregarded the standards by improperly weighing Moore’s strengths against his deficits in his adaptive functioning and put too much weight on his progress in a controlled death row environment.

She cited the decision by the lower Texas court that held a live hearing on the issue, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s request for a change of sentence based on Moore’s deficiencies and many observations in the Supreme Court ruling that appeared to agree Moore was disabled. “I’m in good company in reaching this conclusion,” Alcala wrote. “There is only one outlier in this group that concludes that applicant is ineligible for execution due to his intellectual disability, but unfortunately for applicant, at this juncture, it is the only one that matters.”...

Though it hasn’t changed his sentence, the Supreme Court ruling in Moore’s case has had repercussions throughout Texas. At least two men on death row had their sentences changed to life in prison after the ruling, and on Tuesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals halted an execution set for June 21 because of the Moore case. The judges sent the case of Clifton Williams back to a lower court to look into claims of intellectual disability given the Supreme Court ruling.

Though Moore will remain on the row in solitary confinement, it seems unlikely he will get an execution date set while Ogg, a Democrat elected in 2016, is in office. Execution dates are set by convicting county courts after appeals have been exhausted, usually prompted by the district attorney’s office. And Ogg asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to change Moore’s sentence to life in prison last November, agreeing that he was intellectually disabled. Ogg did not answer a question from The Texas Tribune about seeking an execution date for Moore. Instead, she said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon that she anticipated the court’s decision to use “correct scientific standards” would immediately be applied to assess intellectual disability claims of other death row inmates, without mentioning Moore at all.

The 35-page majority opinion in Ex parte Bobby James Moore is available here, the 67-page dissenting opinion is available here.

June 7, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Lots worth reading on eve of historic recall vote of Califorinia Judge Aaron Persky after his lenient treatment of Brock Turner

Regular readers surely already know a lot of the story and backstory surrounding the controversial sentencing of Brock Turner and the controversial recall campaign against the judge who sentenced him.  That recall campaign culminates in a vote this coming Tuesday, and that has prompted another notable round of media coverage.  Here are some recent media pieces with varying degrees of depth:

From CNN here, "Will voters bench the judge who gave a 6-month sentence in the Stanford sexual assault case?"

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Vandalism, threats, broken friendships: The heated campaign to recall judge in Brock Turner case"

From Vox here, "Brock Turner was sentenced to 6 months in jail for sexual assault. Now voters may recall the judge."

From HuffPost here, "When the Punishment Feels Like A Crime: Brock Turner's twisted legacy — and a Stanford professor's relentless pursuit of justice."

I would especially encourage readers to find the time to read the lengthy HuffPost piece, which is particularly focused around Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber's work on the recall campaign.  The reporting in the piece stuck me as particularly thoughtful and balanced, and I learned new things big and small about the campaign and her efforts and goals.

Despite all this new reporting, I must note my own sense that there are still lots of angles on this case that are still not getting fully explored.  In particular, these articles and others only give passing mention of the fact that Turner was sentenced to a lifetime on the sex offender registry.  I have long speculated that this reality — which I believe was mandatory for his convictions — not only may have largely accounted for Judge Persky's short jail sentence, but also may have been a main reason Turner was unwilling to plead guilty and accept responsibility in the way the victim wished.  Ever since BuzzFeed published the full courtroom statement of Turner's victim (available here and recommended reading), I have always been struck by this passage: "Had Brock admitted guilt and remorse and offered to settle early on, I would have considered a lighter sentence, respecting his honesty, grateful to be able to move our lives forward. Instead he took the risk of going to trial, added insult to injury and forced me to relive the hurt as details about my personal life and sexual assault were brutally dissected before the public."   This passage still has me wondering about what kind of plea had been offered to Turner and whether the prospect of a lifetime on the sex offender registry was central to his decision to go to trial.

The CNN article linked above does make one (possibly overstated) point about the sex offender registry part of his punishment: "That's a penalty so burdensome that if Turner were to have children someday, he wouldn't be able to get near their school."  Of course, being on the registry for life means a whole lot more, too.  I continue to wonder not only if that reality influenced Judge Persky, but if other judges in California or around the nation regularly adjust their prison terms knowing the severe impact of the collateral consequences of sex offender registration.  I hear stories all the time of prosecutors and defense attorneys looking to "charge or plea around" particular crimes that carry sex offender registration or other severe collateral consequences.  If these collateral sanctions influence attorneys, surely they influence sentencing judges in various settings in various ways.  I would love to see more reporting on this element of the Turner case and Judge Persky's decision-making (recalling that Persky himself has been a state sex crimes prosecuot).  But perhaps only a sentencing nerd like me really cares all that much about this part of the story. 

In any event, readers can gear up for the recall election also by reviewing a number of prior posts here about the Brock Turner case.  I think it is fair to say that in these posts I have expressed various concerns about both the lenient sentence Turner received and about the campaign to recall Judge Persky.  Here is just a sampling of the prior posts this case has generated:

June 3, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Sad uncertain realities behind ugly headline about child rape sentencing

The headline of this story understandably caught my attention and had me wondering: "California man sentenced to 90 days of house arrest for rape of 5-year-old girl."  A bit of digging revealed, via press reports here and here, a bit more of the story behind the story that would seem to partially explain this outcome.  Excerpts below come from the two linked pieces, respectively:

A 79-year-old man who pleaded no contest to felony statutory rape of a child was sentenced this week to 90 days' detention and will not have to register as a sex offender. The sentence upset the parents after they gave emotional testimony at the hearing....

Despite the word "rape," the crime did not involve penetration, said Robert Himelblau, supervising deputy district attorney for San Joaquin County. Gregory Davenport, an attorney for Burgess, said the charge is based on a claim by the girl's mother that she saw Burgess stick his hand down her daughter's pants in 2016.

At the hearing, the judge reminded the parents that they thought the plea agreement was fair when it was reached.... Davenport told the Associated Press on Friday that Burgess accepted the plea deal despite being innocent because he is in frail health and wanted to move on with his life. Burgess denies ever touching the child inappropriately. "The whole case was based upon some minor touching that my client denied even occurred," Davenport said....

Lyle Burgess, 79, was sentenced by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Ron Northup to either 90 days in an alternative-work program or in-home detention plus five years of informal probation. He does not have to register as a sex offender.

Burgess, who founded Rare Parts Inc. in Stockton in 1981 — an automotive parts manufacturer and distributor — will in all likelihood opt for in-home detention due to his frail physical and mental health, according to defense attorney Gregory Davenport. “My client maintains his innocence,” Davenport said outside the courtroom.

During Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, both parents of the victim gave emotional testimony about what their daughter has been going through, the impact on their family and their dissatisfaction with Burgess’ conviction. The parents’ names are not being used to protect the identity of the minor victim. “Our daughter has been harmed by this man continuously,” the victim’s mother said through tears, describing two incidents she says she witnessed between Burgess and her daughter at Burgess’ cabin in Calaveras County in the fall of 2016.

“I’m incredibly disgusted by his behavior and continuously disgusted by his lies,” she said before describing his sentence as “getting off so easy” and not registering as a sex offender. “I want other kids to be protected by possible future abuse by this man,” she said.

The victim’s father, who has known Burgess for more than two decades, said: “I don’t have too many prized possessions in this world other than my family. (My daughter) will remember this the rest of her life. She sleeps on the floor outside our room.”

Northup told the parents their statements do have an impact but “courts are somewhat limited” in ruling on a negotiated plea and reminded them that at the time it was reached, they felt it was fair.

The parents and the victim recently filed a civil case against Burgess seeking unspecified damages for sexual abuse and intentional infliction of emotional distress.... Davenport, Burgess’s attorney, said: “I believe the allegations are motivated by greed. They are using this instance to try to gain financially.”

I do not know the ins-and-outs of California plea and sentencing procedure, but these articles suggest that the sentence here was largely determined by the terms of a plea deal (and one that the parents of the victim assented to).  This other local article, notably, provides this additional (confounding?) account of matters from the prosecutors:

According to the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, Burgess' sentence was initiated by the county court because of his age and health.  When Burgess was arrested in 2016, he was originally booked on four counts of lewd acts upon a child.  The charge was later changed to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, though the DA says there were no allegations the girl was "sexually penetrated." Prosecutors say the plea deal was agreed upon by both Burgess and the girl's family.

I do not know what it means for this sentence to have been "initiated by the county court because of his age and health," but I do know it now sounds as if the sentencing judge largely attributes the outcome to the plea deal and the prosecutions largely attribute the plea deal to the sentencing judge.   As I see it,  sadness persists from every perspective in this case.  And I surmise from my Twitter feed that the case is generating anger, too, and I wonder if recall or other campaigns targeting the judge or DAs might be in the offing.

May 28, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Amazing new empirical research in federal sentencing outcomes detailing disparities based on political background

This week brought this amazing new working paper by Alma Cohen and Crystal Yang titled simply "Judicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions." I did not want to blog about the paper until I had a chance to read it, and doing so make me want to now do dozens of blog posts to capture all the issues the paper covers and raises. The paper's simple abstract provides a hint of why the paper is so interesting and provocative:

This paper investigates whether judge political affiliation contributes to racial and gender disparities in sentencing using data on over 500,000 federal defendants linked to sentencing judge.  Exploiting random case assignment, we find that Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to 3.0 more months than similar non-blacks and female defendants to 2.0 fewer months than similar males compared to Democratic-appointed judges, 65 percent of the baseline racial sentence gap and 17 percent of the baseline gender sentence gap, respectively.  These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.

Each of these three sentences could alone justify multiple postings on just research particulars: e.g., I believe a database with over 500,000 sentencings might be the largest ever assembled and analyzed; I wonder if the data looks different for Clinton and Obama judges among the Ds, for Nixon and Reagan and others judges among the Rs; I fear many judge characteristics like prior jobs and connections to certain communities are really hard to control for.  In other words, just the scope and methods of this research is fascinating.

Moreover and more importantly, there is great richness in the findings of the full paper.  For example, the authors find "statistically significant differences in racial gaps in base offense level and final offense level by judge political affiliation."  In other word, the authors have discovered worrisome disparities in how guideline ranges are set/calculated, not just in how judges sentence in reaction to a particular guideline range.   Some additional notable findings are summarized in this recent WonkBlog piece at the Washington Post headlined "Black defendants receive longer prison terms from Republican-appointed judges, study finds."  Here are excerpts:

Federal judges appointed by Republican presidents give black defendants sentences that are, on average, six to seven months longer than the sentences they give to similar white defendants, according to a new working paper from Alma Cohen and Crystal Yang of Harvard Law School.  That racial sentencing disparity is about twice as large as the one observed among judges appointed by Democrats, who give black defendants sentences that are three to four months longer than the sentences they give to white defendants with similar histories who commit similar crimes....

They did find, however, that the gap between sentences for black and white defendants was smaller for more-experienced judges than for less-experienced ones.  They also found that differences between how Republican and Democratic judges treat black and white defendants grew larger after the Supreme Court's 2005 decision in United States v. Booker, which gave federal judges much more leeway to depart from federal sentencing guidelines.

Importantly, however, they found that growing differences between Democratic and Republican judges in the post-Booker era are due to Democratic judges reducing disparities in how they sentence black and white defendants.  Given more discretion, in other words, Democratic judges treated defendants of different races more equally, while Republican judges continued to carry on as they had before.

Cohen and Yang also found one important geographical effect: Black defendants fared particularly poorly in states with high amounts of population-level racial bias, measured here by the percentage of white residents in a given state who believe there should be laws against interracial marriage.  These states tend to be clustered in the South, and previous research has shown a similar racial sentencing bias in these states when it comes to capital punishment.

Finally, they also observed an opposite effect in how Democratic and Republican judges treated female defendants: While all judges tended to hand down shorter sentences to women than to men charged with similar crimes, Republican judges were considerably more lenient to women.  “Overall, these results indicate that judicial ideology may be a source of the persistent and large racial and gender disparities in the criminal justice system,” Cohen and Yang conclude.

Anyone with any experience in the federal sentencing system knows full well how judicial ideology may be a source of the persistent and large disparities in the operation of the system. But reflecting on my own experiences as a defense attorney and expert in a number of federal sentencing settings, I am eager here to highlight how the impact of judicial ideology may be impacted by the work of other actors involved in the federal sentencing process. I often sense that those judges (perhaps disproportionately Republican Appointees) with an earned reputation as a "by the guideline" type may not consistently receive the same type of mitigating information from probation officers and defense attorneys as do those judges known often to depart or now vary.

If readers are as intrigued and engaged by this new paper as I am, please say so in the comments, and I may try to see if I can encourage some folks to write up some guest-postings about this research.

UPDATE: A helpful reader sent me this link to the full paper in case folks are not able to access it via the NEBR site.

May 24, 2018 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Disconcerting updated data on state prisoner recidivism from the Bureau of Justice Statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has just released this notable "Special Report" that updates its data on criminal justice interactions of a huge cohort of state prisoners released in 2005.  This new report is titled "2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014)." Here is how the document get started:

Five in 6 (83%) state prisoners released in 2005 across 30 states were arrested at least once during the 9 years following their release. The remaining 17% were not arrested after release during the 9-year follow-up period.

About 4 in 9 (44%) prisoners released in 2005 were arrested at least once during their first year after release. About 1 in 3 (34%) were arrested during their third year after release, and nearly 1 in 4 (24%) were arrested during their ninth year.

This report examines the post-release offending patterns of former prisoners and their involvement in criminal activity both within and outside of the state where they were imprisoned.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed the offending patterns of 67,966 prisoners who were randomly sampled to represent the 401,288 state prisoners released in 2005 in 30 states.  This sample is representative of the 30 states, both individually and collectively, included in the study (see Methodology).  In 2005, these 30 states were responsible for 77% of all persons released from state prisons nationwide.

There is lots more data in this report, and the data I always want to look at closely in there recidivism settings is what type of crime or activity led to re-arrest for these released prisoners. It appears, if I am reading the data correctly, that rearrests were significantly more common for drug or property crime than for violent crime. But still the data show a significant number of rearrests for violent crimes.

As is true for any detailed criminal justice data, these latest recidivism numbers can be spun in support of all sorts of sentencing argument. Some can say (and some surely will say) that disconcerting recidivism data shows why it is so important to enact meaningful sentencing and prison reform at all levels. Others can say (and surely will say) that disconcerting recidivism data shows why any reduction in prison sentences will result in more crime sooner.

May 23, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Noting the distinctive juve sentencing realities to face the Texas school mass murderer

Yet another horrific school shooting, this time by a juvenile offender, provides yet another need to work through modern sentencing realities facing a mass murderers.  This local article reviews the sentencing basics under the headline "The accused Santa Fe shooter will never get the death penalty. Here’s why." Here are excerpts:

The high school junior accused of gunning down 10 students and teachers at a Santa Fe school is facing a capital murder charge - but he’ll never face the death penalty, even in Texas. Some day, he’ll even be eligible for parole.

Though Dimitrios Pagourtzis was charged as an adult and jailed without bond, even if he’s found guilty he can’t be sentenced to death because of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. And in the Lone Star State, he can’t be sentenced to life without parole as the result of a 2013 law that banned the practice for minors....

The Santa Fe High School student admitted to the mass shooting that killed 10 and wounded 10 others early Friday, according to court documents. He planted fake explosives and selected his targets so as to spare the students he liked, he later told police.

For an adult, that sort of crime could lead to the death chamber.  Murders involving multiple victims can be charged as capital offenses, and for adults that leaves two options: death or life without parole.

At one time, those options were both on the table for teens, too. But then in 2005, Christopher Simmons, a Missouri killer condemned to die, won a landmark case in the Supreme Court. After surveying practices in death penalty states, the justices decided that the national consensus was against executing minors.  Only a few states — including Texas —  were the outliers still carrying out death sentences for those convicted of crimes committed as minors....

Before the court’s decision, Texas had been the biggest executioner of juvenile offenders, Dunham said.  Across the nation, there were 22 convicts executed for crimes committed as juveniles - and more than half of them were in Texas. After the court eliminated the practice, in June 2005 Gov. Rick Perry commuted a slew of death sentences to life, removing 28 prisoners from death row, including 12 from Harris County.

Then in 2012, the Supreme Court took it one step further when the justices struck down mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles.  The following year, Texas legislators passed a law making life with parole — instead of life without parole — the only sentencing option for minors charged with capital crimes. For life sentences where parole is an option, Marzullo said, the first chance at release comes after 40 years in prison.

Whether or not he’s ultimately convicted, the accused Santa Fe shooter will be behind bars for the foreseeable future.  During his first court appearance Friday night, a judge opted to hold him without bond. "At the moment he's in solitary confinement," Judge Mark Henry said after the teen's first court appearance Friday evening. "He's going to be here a while."

Because Pagourtzis slaughtered 10 people and injured many more, his case has me wondering about the application of consecutive sentences under Texas laws to potentially extend the period in which a juvenile offender would not be eligible for parole under life sentences. As regular readers know, there is a robust debate in lower courts about whether and how the Supreme Court's announced Eighth Amendment jurisprudence limiting life without parole for juvenile offenders ought to be applied in cases in which a juvenile has committed multiple very serious crimes. That debate may well end up impacting how this latest school shooter gets sentenced.

May 19, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11)

Interesting discussions of new prison units dedicated to offenders who are veteran

The start of this local article, headlined "Allegheny County Jail designates cell block for inmates who are veterans," really struck me:

The new veterans pod at the Allegheny County Jail made David Francis feel welcome in a way he didn't experience when returning from Vietnam.  “(The pod) gives veterans hope where there hadn't been any,” Francis said.  “We were not liked when we came back from Vietnam.  We weren't welcomed in coming home.  It wasn't like other wars.  So this is a blessing.”

Here is more from the piece:

An American flag and other patriotic images are also painted near the pod's entrance — the work of three inmates over the weekend. The paintings are the only visual difference between the pod and others in the jail. It consists of two levels of cells in a circle surrounding a common area, where jail and county officials held a news conference Monday.

The difference, though, will be the specialized services offered to veterans, as well as a chance to interact with their fellow veterans on a daily basis. “We decided we need to do something for the veterans in our facility and prepare them for a successful re-entry into society,” said Warden Orlando Harper, an Army veteran himself.

At least 86 prisons and jails across the country have pods designated for veterans. Many of them have been created in the past five years, according to an Associated Press report in January. Nationally, veterans account for about 8 percent of all inmates....

Placing many of the jail's veterans all in one place makes it easier for organizations to serve them, as well as less costly for the county, officials said. “We want more veterans assistance programs,” Harper said. Many have already committed to participate.

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit will offer workforce literacy classes, including help with cover letter and resume writing, according to a county news release. Veterans Administration Veterans Justice Outreach will help the inmates apply for enrollment in the VA health care system, discuss treatment options and legal issues, along with presentations on post-traumatic stress, suicide prevention and job opportunities.

Organizations Soldier On; PAServes; the Veterans Leadership Program; the Duquesne School of Nursing; and Veterans Thinking for Change-Pittsburgh Mercy also have committed to providing services.

The AP article referenced above is available at this link and reports on some encouraging data emerging from this form of prison reform:

Inmates and officials say the Albany pod is cleaner and less troublesome than other tiers. When a guard was attacked here in 2016 by an inmate from another unit, the pod inmates ran from across the common area to the guard’s aid.

“We send all these young men and women overseas and when they come back, a lot of them with PTSD, domestic violence, drug issues,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, who started the veterans pod more than three years ago. “And I just felt we could have treated them better or done something for them.”

Apple said 6 percent of the roughly 331 participating veterans in Albany over the years have returned to jail, far better than the typical jail recidivism rates of more than 40 percent.

It helps that Soldier On also provides post-release services like housing.  So when Tommy Hartmann was released from the Albany jail last year after 90 days he had a place to go. The 29-year-old Army veteran moved into Soldier On’s transitional housing in Leeds, Massachusetts. He also got a job with Soldier On, on the resident staff.

When the group helped serve a holiday meal recently, Hartmann returned to his old block to chat up inmates he knew. This time he wore khakis and a tie. And he got to go home at the end of the night. “They set me up to succeed when I got out,” Hartmann said before his visit. “Rather than just sitting on the tier, playing cards, watching TV, doing pushups, whatever, I was doing positive stuff toward my recovery and becoming a better part in society.”

These stories lead me to want to call modern prison reform efforts another important way to support our troops.

May 19, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Updated accounting of America's aging prison population

In this post four years ago, I spotlighted a notable white paper from The Osborne Association titled ""The High Costs of Low Risk: The Crisis of America’s Aging Prison Population." Today, via this Crime Report piece, I see that a new version of this paper is available at this link.  Here is the start of the Crime Report's review of its coverage:

At least one-third of the U.S. prison population will be over 50 by 2030, according to a white paper released Thursday by the Osborne Association.

The association, a New York-based advocacy group that works with justice-involved people and their families, cited figures showing that even as states are working to reduce prison populations, the number of older adults in prison and jail is projected to grow by a “staggering 4,400 percent” in the 50-year period between 1980 and 2030—to an estimated 400,000 people.

According to statistics quoted by the researchers, adults over 50 comprised just three percent of the total incarcerated population in 1993, representing 26,300 individuals.

“Justice isn’t served by keeping elderly people locked up as their bodies and minds fail them and they grow infirm and die,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, president and CEO of the Osborne Association, which advocates for improved conditions in prisons and jails, better discharge planning, and expanded compassionate release of the elderly and infirm. “It’s both inhumane and inefficient.”

According to the report, entitled “The High Cost of Low Risk: The Crisis of America’s Aging Prison Population,” extreme sentences doled out during the tough- on-crime era, as well as limited mechanisms for compassionate release, have driven what is now a costly and inhumane crisis that the corrections system is unequipped to manage.

The medical costs of caring for a burgeoning elderly population behind bars alone will add to the strains of resource-strapped corrections systems, many experts have said. According to data analyzed by the American Civil Liberties Union, it costs twice as much to incarcerate someone over 50; in some cases, it may cost up to five times more when medical costs are added.

Between 40 percent and 60 percent of prisoners over 50 have some type of mental illness or cognitive impairment, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Some prisons are setting up makeshift hospice wings and opening nursing wards for people with serious cognitive degeneration.

Elsewhere, inmates suffer from such pronounced dementia that they are unable to follow rules, and may not remember why they are incarcerated. For many with cognitive, visual, or hearing loss, a diminished capacity leads to behaviors that are mistaken for disobedience, subjecting them to punishments such as solitary confinement.

Prisons were never designed to be geriatric care facilities and this surging elder incarceration comes at a high cost,” wrote the authors of the Osborne report. At the same time, research by the Pew Center on the States shows that incarcerated people over 50 pose little public safety risk, and have the lowest recidivism rate as any other inmate demographic.

May 17, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (15)

US Sentencing Commission releases new research report on "The Criminal History of Federal Offenders"

Cover_2018-crim-histAs reported via this webpage, the US Sentencing Commission has released a new research publication titled simply "The Criminal History of Federal Offenders." The full report, available here, has lots of notable data and charts and graphs, and here is how the USSC summarizes its contents and key findings on its website:

Summary

The publication The Criminal History of Federal Offenders provides for the first time complete information on the number of convictions and types of offenses in the criminal histories of federal offenders sentenced in a fiscal year.

While the Commission has collected the criminal history points and Criminal History Category (CHC) as determined under the guidelines, it has not collected complete information on the number of convictions or the types of offenses in the criminal histories of federal offenders until now. The Commission is now able to utilize recent technological improvements to expand the scope of information it collects on an offender’s criminal history and provide a more complete assessment of the criminal history of federal offenders. In completing this report, the Commission collected additional details about the criminal histories for 61,946 of the 67,742 federal offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2016 for whom complete documentation was submitted to the Commission.

Key Findings

Key findings of the Commission’s study are as follows:

  • Almost three-quarters (72.8%) of federal offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2016 had been convicted of a prior offense. The average number of previous convictions was 6.1 among offenders with criminal history.

  • Public order was the most common prior offense, as 43.7 percent of offenders with prior criminal history had at least one conviction for a public order offense.

  • A conviction for a prior violent offense was almost as common as prior public order offenses, as 39.5 percent of offenders with criminal history had at least one prior violent offense. Assault was the most common violent offense (29.5%), followed by robbery (8.1%), and rape (4.4%). Just under two percent of offenders with criminal history had a prior homicide offense.

  • The nature of offenders’ criminal histories varied considerably by their federal instant offense.  The substantial majority (91.7%) of firearms offenders had at least one previous conviction compared to about half of fraud (52.4%) and child pornography (48.2%) offenders.  Firearms offenders were also most likely to have violence in their criminal histories, as 62.0 percent of firearms offenders with a previous conviction had a violent previous conviction.  Fraud offenders were the least likely of offenders with criminal history to have a violent previous conviction (26.2%).

  • Most (86.6%) federal offenders with criminal history had convictions that were assigned criminal history points under the guidelines.  Offenders who had at least one three-point conviction were the most likely of all offenders with convictions to have a murder (3.8%) or rape/sexual assault (7.0%) offense in their criminal histories.

  • A criminal history score of zero does not necessarily mean an offender had no prior criminal history. Almost one in ten offenders (9.8 percent) in fiscal year 2016 had a criminal history score of zero but had at least one prior conviction.

May 17, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Lots of juvenile sentencing developments as Oklahoma sorts through application of Miller

Last week brought interesting developments in the arena of juvenile sentencing in Oklahoma thanks to all three branches of the state government.   As this local article details, the Oklahoma legislature earlier this month passed, with some controversy, a new law to seeking to operationalize existing Eighth Amendment limits on LWOP sentences for juveniles:

Senate Bill 1221 would put sentencing for teen killers in the hands of a judge, not the jury that convicted them....  The bill passed Wednesday in the state Senate would require judges to determine sentencing based on a number of factors including the underage killers’ maturity, psych tests, and take jury’s out of the sentencing equation.

But some lawmakers cried foul. “We are going to circumvent an Americans right to equal protection under the law because the kid is 17 years old not 21,” said Senator AJ Griffin (R) Guthrie....  “It’s disrespectful to the citizens of this state that elected us and put us here in order to do our job. If an adult deserves a jury a kid deserves a jury,” Senator Griffin said.

As this excerpt indirectly reveals, because jury sentencing is the norm in Oklahoma, this new law would have created a distinctive judge-centric sentencing procedure just for juvenile murders in Oklahoma.  But before Oklahoma's Governor acted on this bill, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (the state's highest criminal court) handed down a big new juve sentencing ruling in Stevens v. Oklahoma, 2018 OK CR 11 (Ok. Crim. App. May 10, 2018) (available here). Stevens is yet another notable example of another state court working through just how Miller and Montgomery should be applied, and it includes these notable passages (with most cites removed):

In all future trials where the State intends to seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for an offender who committed his or her offense under the age of eighteen (18) years of age the State shall give notice of this fact by stating at the bottom of the Information in bold type: "The State is seeking the punishment of life without the possibility of parole for the offense of Murder in the First Degree, as Defendant (state last name here) is irreparably corrupt and permanently incorrigible." See Parker v. State, 1996 OK CR 19, ¶ 24, 917 P.2d 980, 986 (adopting notice pleading). Both parties shall be afforded full discovery on this issue in accordance with established discovery law. 22 O.S.2011, § 2001 et seq. The assigned trial judge has the authority under our Discovery Code to issue any orders necessary to accomplish this task.

The Sixth Amendment demands that the trial necessary to impose life without parole on a juvenile homicide offender must be a trial by jury, unless a jury is affirmatively waived. Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000). The defendant's trial shall be bifurcated and the issue of the defendant's guilt shall be separately determined from the enhancement of his or her sentence.... [E]ach party shall be afforded the opportunity to present evidence in support of its position as to punishment in the second stage of the trial. The trial court shall submit a special issue to the jury as to whether the defendant is irreparably corrupt and permanently incorrigible....

It is the State's burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is irreparably corrupt and permanently incorrigible. Luna, 2016 OK CR 27, ¶ 21 n. 11, 387 P.3d at 963 n. 11; see also Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002) (holding facts increasing punishment beyond the maximum authorized by a guilty verdict must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt). The State shall have the opportunity to present any evidence tending to establish this fact subject to the limitations of 12 O.S.2011, § 2403. Generally, this will include, but not be limited to, evidence concerning the defendant's: (1) sophistication and maturity; (2) capability of distinguishing right from wrong; (3) family and home environments; (4) emotional attitude; (5) pattern of living; (6) record and past history, including previous contacts with law enforcement agencies and juvenile or criminal courts, prior periods of probation and commitments to juvenile institutions; and (7) the likelihood of the defendant's rehabilitation during adulthood. See Luna, 2016 OK CR 27, ¶ 20, 387 P.3d at 962; Cf. 10A O.S.2011, § 2-5-205(E).

Similarly, the defendant must be permitted to introduce relevant evidence concerning the defendant's youth and its attendant characteristics. Miller, 567 U.S. at 489 ("[A] judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for a juveniles."). Generally, this will include, but not be limited to, evidence concerning the defendant's: "(1) chronological age and its hallmark features--among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences; (2) the incompetencies associated with youth--for example, his inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors (including on a plea agreement) or his incapacity to assist his own attorneys; and (3) whether the circumstances suggest possibility of rehabilitation." Luna, 2016 OK CR 27, ¶ 20, 387 P.3d at 962 (quotations and citation omitted).

If the sentencer unanimously finds that the defendant is irreparably corrupt and permanently incorrigible it is then authorized to consider imposing a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  If the sentencer does not make this finding it is prohibited from considering a sentence of life without the possibility of parole and may only impose a sentence of life imprisonment.

Notably, Oklahoma's Governor followed up all this activity by vetoing the bill that would allow for juvenile sentencing to be before a judge.  Gov Mary Fallin's veto statement here states:

Senate Bill 1221, also known as the Alyssa Wiles Juvenile Life Without Parole Sentencing Act, has provisions that, are in my opinion, in violation of the United States Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 SCt. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407. That decision was followed by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in its decision rendered May 10, 2018, in Roberts A. Stevens v. The State of Oklahoma. Case No. PC-2017-219.

In case anyone cares, I believe there is at least a plausible argument that Apprendi jurisprudence does not demand that a jury make the essential "findings" that Miller and Montgomery seem to make constitutionally required under the Eighth Amendment for sentencing a juvenile to life without parole.  Readers with long memories may recall that I have long argued that Blakely's Sixth Amendment rule makes most sense only when applied to offense facts rather than to offender characteristics.  The Supreme Court has vaguely, but not conclusively, rejected such a conceptual distinction in the reach of the Sixth Amendment.  But even though I can see possible constitutional uncertainty as to how offender-eligibility factors are must be adjudicated under the Supreme Court's Sixth and Eighth Amendment jurisprudence, I think it may well be sound practice for these kinds of determinations to be given to juries (perhaps particularly in a state with a strong tradition of jury involvement in sentencing decision-making).

May 15, 2018 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Blakely Commentary and News, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 14, 2018

"Killer Nanny" gets LWOP sentence plus 50 years for murdering kids in her care

Though I am never quite sure how often to blog about individual cases, I sometimes cannot resist reporting on the high-profile sentencing of defendants who get notorious monikers.  Today, as reported in this New York Daily News piece, the "Killer Nanny" got sentenced.  Here are some details:

The Upper West Side nanny who butchered two helpless children in 2012 was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 50 years Monday, capping a harrowing story that has gripped the city for nearly six years.

Yoselyn Ortega, 55, was convicted of first-degree murder on April 18 after a heartbreaking two-month trial in Manhattan Supreme Court. The conviction, which carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole, sealed her fate of never seeing the light of day as a free woman.

It provided a much-needed measure of relief for the parents of 6-year-old Lulu and 2-year-old Leo Krim, who were savagely slain in the bathroom of their W. 75th St. home on Oct. 25, 2012, while the mom was out at a swim class with their middle sibling Nessie, then 3.

The children's parents, Kevin Krim, 42, and Marina Krim, issued statements thanking the judge and jurors and the district attorney's office. Marina Krim, 41, went a step further, and called out the "evil defendant" and her "entire family of bad, unethical people." Her husband echoed her sentiments, but dedicated his statement to memories of their two slain children....

At trial, Ortega's lawyer argued she should be found not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect — a bid the jury rejected after weeks of psychiatric testimony from experts on both sides. Ortega stabbed and slashed the adorable children in the rear bathroom of the second-floor apartment of the La Rochelle before plunging a kitchen knife into her own throat in a failed suicide attempt.

She settled her affairs by leaving her important documents for her sister and family heirlooms for her 17-year-old son — which prosecutors argued was proof she was of sound mind when she planned the unthinkable acts of that day.

Assistant District Attorney Stuart Silberg argued she was driven by spite aimed at Marina and rage over her own personal failures. "It was her intention to take their lives and to destroy the family," he said at the sentencing. "This defendant to this day has shown no remorse. She has never shed a tear for these children. Why isn't she in tears now?"

Little Lulu, who desperately tried to defend herself, sustained about 30 knife wounds, many defensive, while her kid brother suffered about five. Ortega cut them both across the throat leaving the tots no chance for survival. "Every stab, every slash — each one had a purpose and that purpose was to end the lives of those children," Silberg argued in summations....

Ortega also cried a little just before the sentence was imposed, framing herself as the real victim. "I'm very sorry for everything that happened, but I hope that no one goes through what I have gone through," she told the court.

May 14, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (6)

A couple dozen Dimaya GVRs in federal criminal cases in latest SCOTUS order list

The US Supreme Court this morning handed down this order list, and criminal justice fans should take notice of the significant number of federal criminal cases in which certiorari is granted followed by the "judgments are vacated, and the cases are remanded to the United States Court of Appeals ... for further consideration in light of Sessions v. Dimaya." 

Based on a quick scan, it would appear that SCOTUS has now "GVRed" at least one of every type of post-Dimaya case that John Elwood flagged in this SCOTUSblog "Relist Watch" post a few weeks ago (though in one case it appears SCOTUS said the GVR was to allow further consideration in light of Beckles).

Long story short: the fall-out from the Dimaya vagueness ruling seems likely to take many months (perhaps years) and many rulings to sort out.  Of course, I said this same thing about the Johnson vagueness ruling in 2015, and Dimaya et al three years later is really just itself one big part of the post-Johnson fall-out.  And because Johnson was fundamentally the product of the late Justice Scalia's continued railing against the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act, the long tail of the Johnson/Dimaya jurisprudence serves as an interesting (and perhaps never-ending) part of his constitutional legacy.

May 14, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day review of moms in incarceration nation

Growing awareness and concern with incarceration levels in the US are reflected in the significant number of articles I have noticed this week discussing incarcerated mothers.  I figure Mother's Day is a fitting day to round-up some of these recent pieces:

From The Crime Report here, "Mother’s Day Behind Bars"

From Teen Vogue here, "Mother's Day Needs to Be Inclusive of Incarcerated Moms, and Here’s How You Can Help"

From USA Today here, "In remembering her own mother, activist and attorney makes Mother's Day plea for incarcerated women"

From Jezebel here, "Mothers Are Incarcerated at Record Rates, Yet Prison-Nursery Beds Go Empty"

From Leafy here, "9 Ways to Help Moms Jailed for Cannabis"

From Yahoo here, "Mom serving 16 years for marijuana pens Mother's Day letter to daughters: 'I'm dreaming of your sleepy faces'"

May 13, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Oregon Supreme Court upholds 112-year aggregate sentence for juve mass murderer Kip Kinkel

A helpful reader made sure I did not miss the notable Oregon Supreme Court's ruling today in Kinkel v. Persson, 363 Or 1 (Oregon May 10, 2018) (available here). The defendant in this case, Kip Kinkel, is a high-profile juvenile offender because back in 1998, at age 15, he killed his parents and then the next day at his high school shot two classmates and wounded 25 others.  The start of the Oregon Supreme Court majority opinion explains the sentencing proceedings and the court's ruling: 

Petitioner pled guilty to four counts of murder and 25 counts of attempted murder, as well as pleading no contest to a twenty-sixth count of attempted murder.  As part of a plea bargain, petitioner and the state agreed that he would receive concurrent 25-year sentences for the four murders.  They also agreed that each side would be free to argue that the mandatory 90-month sentences for each of the attempted murders should run consecutively or concurrently.  After a six-day sentencing hearing, the trial court ordered that 50 months of each 90-month sentence for attempted murder would run concurrently but that 40 months of each of those sentences would run consecutively to each other and to the four concurrent 25-year sentences. As a result of that ruling, petitioner’s aggregate sentence totals slightly less than 112 years.

In this post-conviction proceeding, petitioner argues that, because he was a juvenile when he committed his crimes, the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of an aggregate sentence that is the functional equivalent of a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Petitioner’s federal argument entails primarily three issues.  The first is whether, as a matter of state law, petitioner’s Eighth Amendment claim is procedurally barred.  See ORS 138.550(2) (barring post-conviction petitioners from raising grounds for relief that were or reasonably could have been raised on direct appeal); Verduzco v. State of Oregon, 357 Or 553, 355 P3d 902 (2015) (applying a related statute).  If it is, the second issue is whether Montgomery v. Louisiana, ___ US ___, 136 S Ct 718, 193 L Ed 2d 599 (2016), requires this court to reach petitioner’s Eighth Amendment claim despite the existence of that state procedural bar.  Third, if petitioner’s Eighth Amendment claim is not procedurally barred, the remaining issue is whether and how Miller v. Alabama, 567 US 460, 132 S Ct 2455, 183 L Ed 2d 407 (2012), applies when a court imposes an aggregate sentence for multiple crimes committed by a juvenile.

As explained below, we hold that, even if ORS 138.550(2) does not pose a procedural bar to petitioner’s Eighth Amendment claim, his claim fails on the merits.  More specifically, the issue in Miller was whether the Eighth Amendment prohibited a juvenile from being sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a single homicide.  The Court held that such a sentence could be imposed but only if the trial court found that the crime reflected irreparable corruption rather than the transience of youth.  The Court did not consider in Miller whether a juvenile who has been convicted of multiple murders and attempted murders, as in this case, may be sentenced to an aggregate consecutive sentence that is the equivalent of life without the possibility of parole.  This case thus poses a different issue from the issue in Miller.  Beyond that, we conclude that the facts in this case, coupled with the sentencing court’s findings, bring petitioner within the narrow class of juveniles who, as Miller recognized, may be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

May 10, 2018 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Lots of sentencing fun — thanks to enduring Johnson fallout — to be found in cert pool relists

The Justice of the Supreme Court will have a conference tomorrow to discuss cert petitions, and that means John Elwood has another of his always valuable "Relist Watch" posts up at SCOTUSblog. This version of relists has lots that should interest sentencing fans, and I will reprint those parts here:

Before we head on to this week’s new relists, a word about the old. The big tangle of Sessions v. Dimaya relists returns this week. During the intervening week, yet another court of appeals has weighed in on one of the issues awaiting resolution in the wake of Dimaya, namely whether yet another criminal code provision defining “crime of violence” with a problematic residual clause, 18 U.S.C. §924(c)(3)(B), is unconstitutionally vague in light of Johnson v. United States (and now Dimaya). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has now weighed in, favoring defendants. These Section 924(c)(3)(B) cases strike me as the best candidates of the remaining Dimaya relists for an outright grant. But we’ll see soon whether four justices agree, or whether they call an audible and do something else....

Lester v. United States17-1366, would justify readers in feeling a bit of déjà vu all over again.  The case presents the question whether the residual clause of the career offender sentencing guideline was unconstitutionally vague back before United States v. Booker when the Sentencing Guidelines were still mandatory.  If that seems as familiar as Indiana Jones 4, that very question is already before the court in a number of serial relists: Allen v. United States17-5684Gates v. United States17-6262James v. United States17-6769 (all relisted nine times) and Robinson v. United States17-6877 (relisted seven times).  This case is unusual in that the improbably named petitioner Stoney Lester filed his petition before the court of appeals had even ruled on his case, and certiorari before judgment is a rare (and rarely successful) move.  Lester’s petition was filed after Allen and Gates and James had already been relisted five times, making me wonder whether my boy Jack rushed to file a petition hoping the court would pick this case to be the sole combatant on this issue.  This case has one benefit: According to Lester, his case, alone among all cases presenting the question, was granted a certificate of appealability by the relevant court of appeals.  But the government waived its right to file a responsive brief, so unless the court calls for a response, Lester is a longshot for bringing home the roses.

Finally, I am at a loss for what might have enticed the court to relist Kitchen v. United States17-7521.  Neither of the issues it presents is very promising.  First, the petitioner argues that a prior Florida conviction for drug trafficking that rests upon the mere possession of drugs does not qualify as a “controlled substance offense” for purposes of a federal sentencing guidelines enhancement, because the Florida statute lacks an element of intent to distribute.  But the case simply involves the construction of one of the sentencing guidelines, and the court usually just allows the Sentencing Commission to resolve such splits.  The other issue the petition raises — whether the federal prohibition on felons possessing firearms exceeds Congress’ authority under the commerce clause when applied to intrastate possession of a handgun — is interesting, but splitless, and would be reviewed only for plain error because Kitchen did not raise it in district court. Which raises the question why this case is here. Did the cert-pool author have too much vino rosso? Maybe the court simply kept the case around because of the petitioner’s unusual name: Sadonnie Marquis Kitchen.

May 9, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"Are Elderly Criminals Punished Differently Than Younger Offenders?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new piece at HowStuffWorks.  The question is prompted by the upcoming sentencing of 80-year-old Bill Cosby, and I had the pleasure of speaking to the reporter on the topic.  Here are excerpts from the piece (with a few links from the original):

After Bill Cosby's recent conviction in a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania court on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, the judge in the case rejected the prosecution's request that the 80-year-old comedian and actor, who his attorneys say is legally blind, be sent immediately to jail pending sentencing.   "With his age, his medical condition, I'm not going to simply lock him up right now because of this," Judge Stephen T. O'Neill explained when he allowed Cosby to remain at home on bail as he awaits sentencing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Some think that decision gives a hint of how Cosby's sentencing will go.  Under the law, he could receive as much as 30 years in prison, and the state's sentencing guidelines recommend between five-and-a-half and nine years.  But as CNN reports, many legal experts suspect that Cosby may get a lesser sentence, at least in part because of his age and health.

The Cosby case raises a discomforting question.  Should elderly offenders be treated more leniently by the courts than younger criminals, because they have less time left to live, and because their physical frailty might make it more difficult for them to survive a prison term?....

The relatively few studies on the subject suggest that judges do often give older offenders a break.  One study published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B in 2000 found that in Pennsylvania courts, offenders in their 60s were 25 percent less likely to be sentenced to prison than those who were in their 20s, and their sentences were eight months shorter on average.  Those who were in their 70s got an even sweeter deal — they were 30 percent less likely to end up behind bars than 20-somethings, and those who were incarcerated served 13 months less on average.

More recently, a study by Arizona State University researchers, published in 2014 in the journal Criminal Justice Studies, similarly found that in the federal court system, judges gave older offenders a "senior citizen discount" when it came to jail time.

Prior related posts:

May 8, 2018 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, May 05, 2018

"A Rational Approach to the Role of Publicity and Condemnation in the Sentencing of Offenders"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting article recently posted to SSRN authored by Mirko Bagaric and Peter Isham. Here is the abstract:

The punishment imposed on criminal offenders by courts often does not exhaust the hardship they experience.  There are a number of collateral forms of punishment that many offenders are subjected to as a result of their offending.  Some of these deprivations are institutional, such as being dismissed from employment or being disqualified to vote. Other hardships are less predictable and harder to quantify.  Public scorn, often directed towards high profile offenders, such as O.J. Simpson and Anthony Weiner, can be the cause of considerable additional suffering to offenders.  It can engender feelings of shame, embarrassment and humiliation.  At the same time, the high profile nature of the cases provides courts with an opportunity to demonstrate to the wider community the consequences of violating the law.

There is no established jurisprudence regarding the role that public criticism of offenders should have in sentencing decisions.  Some courts take the view that it should increase the penalty imposed on high profile offenders in order to deter others from committing similar offences.  By contrast, it has also been held that public condemnation should reduce penalties because the offender has already suffered as a result of the public condemnation.  On other occasions, courts have held public condemnation is irrelevant to sentencing.  The issue is increasingly important because the internet and social media have massively increased the amount of publicity that many criminal offenders receive. Simultaneously, this is an under-researched area of the law.

In this Article, we develop a coherent jurisprudential and evidence-based solution to the manner in which public opprobrium should be dealt with in sentencing decisions.  We argue that sentencing courts should neither increase nor decrease penalties in circumstances where cases have attracted wide-ranging media attention.  The hardship stemming from public condemnation is impossible to quantify and in fact causes no tangible suffering to some offenders.  Thus, the extent of publicity that an offender receives for committing a crime should be an irrelevant consideration with respect to the choice of punishment. In proposing this reform, we carefully analyze the jurisprudence in the United States.  We also consider the position in Australia, where the issue has been considered at some length.

May 5, 2018 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Feds forego capital prosecution for airport mass murderer, allowing guilty plea to LWOP

This new local article from Florida, headlined "Airport shooter Esteban Santiago to plead guilty, spend life in prison," highlights how (jury) sentencing discretion and other procedural rights in capital cases can impact how prosecutors approach charging and bargaining even in horrible murder cases.  Here are the details (with my emphasis added), with a bit of commentary to follow:

Esteban Santiago, the man who confessed to fatally shooting five people and wounding six at Fort Lauderdale’s international airport, has agreed to plead guilty and spend the rest of his life in federal prison.

Prosecutors have accepted his offer and are not seeking the death penalty but the judge first wants Santiago to undergo a mental health evaluation to make sure he’s legally competent to plead guilty.

The decision takes a very expensive and potentially long and emotional trial — followed by years of appeals — off the table.  Santiago’s documented history of severe mental illness, the fact that he went to the FBI and asked for help two months before committing the mass shooting, his willingness to plead guilty and his military service in the Iraq War were likely among the top factors that affected the decision, experts said.

Santiago, 28, had pleaded not guilty to a 22-count indictment in the Jan. 6, 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.  Ten of those charges carried a potential death sentence or life in federal prison. His change-of-plea hearing is expected to be scheduled in the next several weeks in federal court in Miami.

Both sides are due back in court May 23 for a competency hearing with U.S. District Beth Bloom. If the judge is satisfied that Santiago is mentally competent, she would then allow him to plead guilty....

He was briefly hospitalized for psychiatric care in Alaska in November 2016, two months before the shooting. He had driven to the FBI office in Anchorage, asked for help and told agents he was hearing voices and thought the government was controlling his mind.

After Santiago surrendered at the airport, FBI agents said he confessed and told them he was “programmed” to act under government mind control. Later in the interview, he said he was inspired by the Islamic State extremist group, but authorities said no terrorism links have been found.

Though the line highlighted above tells a big part of the story, I still find myself left wondering about what factors played a central role in the sentencing decision-making of federal prosecutors here. I wonder if many or even most of the victims/family members supported this decision to forego a capital prosecution (and also wonder if they at all troubled that this critical decision lingered for 16 months from the time of this awful crime). I also wonder if prosecutors, perhaps concerned about a possible insanity defense and criticisms of mental health care given to veterans, we not even confident about getting a guilty verdict, let alone a death sentence, were this case to go to trial.

Whatever the reasons for the feds decision-making here (which will remain hidden and are essentially unreviewable), this case helps reveal the range of forces that necessarily place brakes on any efforts by the Trump Administration and Attorney General Sessions to make significantly more use of the death penalty.  A mass shooting in an airport of nearly a dozen people with five deaths would seem to be a textbook example of a "worst-of-the-worst" offense.  But because the defendant can make the case that he is not a worst-of-the-worst offender, federal prosecutors (in a pro-death penalty state) are not even willing to try to secure a death sentence.  

May 1, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

New Jersey Supreme Court finds unconstitutional requiring juveniles to be subject to lifetime sex-offender registration

The Supreme Court of New Jersey yesterday handed down a lengthy unanimous opinion in Interest of C.K., No. A-15-16 (N.J. April 24, 2018) (available here) declaring that the state's sex-offender registry law is unconstitutional as applied to some juvenile offenders. Here is how the opinion begins:

Juveniles adjudicated delinquent of certain sex offenses are barred for life from seeking relief from the registration and community notification provisions of Megan’s Law. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 to -11, -19; N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g).  That categorical lifetime bar cannot be lifted, even when the juvenile becomes an adult and poses no public safety risk, is fully rehabilitated, and is a fully productive member of society.  Defendant C.K. was adjudicated delinquent for sex offenses committed more than two decades ago and now challenges the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g)’s permanent lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles.

Subsection (f) of N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 subjects all sex offenders, including juveniles, to presumptive lifetime registration and notification requirements.  Unlike subsection (g), however, subsection (f) allows a registrant to seek relief from those requirements fifteen years after his juvenile adjudication, provided he has been offense-free and is “not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others.”  Subsection (g) imposes an irrebuttable presumption that juveniles, such as defendant, are irredeemable, even when they no longer pose a public safety risk and are fully rehabilitated.

The record in this case reveals what is commonly known about juveniles -- that their emotional, mental, and judgmental capacities are still developing and that their immaturity makes them more susceptible to act impulsively and rashly without consideration of the long-term consequences of their conduct.  See State v. Zuber, 227 N.J. 422 (2017).  The record also supports the conclusion that juveniles adjudicated delinquent of committing sex offenses, such as C.K., who have been offense-free for many years and assessed not likely to reoffend, pose little risk to the public. Indeed, categorical lifetime notification and registration requirements may impede a juvenile’s rehabilitative efforts and stunt his ability to become a healthy and integrated adult member of society.

We conclude that subsection (g)’s lifetime registration and notification requirements as applied to juveniles violate the substantive due process guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. Permanently barring juveniles who have committed certain sex offenses from petitioning for relief from the Megan’s Law requirements bears no rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective.  In the absence of subsection (g), N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) provides the original safeguard incorporated into Megan’s Law: no juvenile adjudicated delinquent will be released from his registration and notification requirements unless a Superior Court judge is persuaded that he has been offense-free and does not likely pose a societal risk after a fifteen-year look-back period.

Defendant may apply for termination from the Megan’s Law requirements fifteen years from the date of his juvenile adjudication, and be relieved of those requirements provided he meets the standards set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f).

April 25, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Effective (and depressing) report on compassionate release (or lack thereof) in Wisconsin and nationwide

Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this terrific (and lengthy) piece on compassionate release programs titled "Release programs for sick and elderly prisoners could save millions.  But states rarely use them."  I recommend the full piece, and here is how it gets started:

A Wisconsin program that allows elderly and severely ill prisoners to be released early from prison could save state taxpayers millions of dollars a year.  But thousands of the state’s elderly prisoners — many of whom prison officials acknowledge pose little or no risk of committing new crimes — aren’t allowed to apply, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found.

More than 1,200 people age 60 and older were serving time in Wisconsin prisons as of Dec. 31, 2016, the most recent count available.  By one estimate, the average cost to incarcerate each of them is $70,000 a year — for an annual total of $84 million.  Last year, just six inmates were freed under the program.  Among those who didn’t qualify were a blind quadriplegic and a 65-year-old breast cancer survivor who uses a breathing machine and needs a wheelchair to make it from her cell to the prison visiting room.

Around the country, early release provisions for elderly and infirm prisoners are billed as a way to address problems such as prison overcrowding, skyrocketing budgets and civil rights lawsuits alleging inadequate medical care. But throughout the U.S., they are used so infrequently that they aren’t having much impact.

Of the 47 states with processes to free such prisoners early or court rulings requiring them to do so, just three — Utah, Texas and Louisiana — released more than a dozen people in 2015, according to a Journal Sentinel survey.  The reasons for the low numbers, according to experts, are usually found in the statutes that created the programs, known as compassionate release, geriatric release and medical parole, among other things.

Some laws, like Wisconsin’s, exclude inmates based on the type of sentence or the crime committed. Some allow release only for people who are terminal — a definition that varies by medical provider and doesn’t apply to chronic conditions or disabilities.  Some lack an efficient process for application and approval, leaving sick prisoners to die before they can complete it.  It’s also hard to find care facilities willing to accept former prisoners.

Because many of these laws were written without input from doctors who specialize in aging and end-of-life care, they exclude the people who would benefit most, according to Brie Williams, a physician and professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco.  “We’ve taken health out of criminal justice policy to such a degree that the policies that have been developed do not have the geriatric and palliative care knowledge they need to make sense,” she said.

While these programs are presented as money savers, in 2015 a majority of states granted release to fewer than four applicants each.  Within states that have a compassionate release program and track the numbers, there were 3,030 people who applied, with only 216 being granted release.

April 20, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Alabama completes execution of (record-old) murderer of federal judge

As reported here by CNN, "Alabama has executed Walter Leroy Moody, 83, who had been convicted of murder for the mail bombing death of a federal judge in 1989." Here is more:

Moody is the oldest person put to death since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to figures compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Earlier Thursday, the Supreme Court denied the appeals from Moody's attorney after temporarily delaying his death by lethal injection.

Moody was convicted in 1996 for the murder of federal Judge Robert Vance in Birmingham, Alabama. "Moody has spent the better part of three decades trying to avoid justice. Tonight, Mr. Moody's appeals finally came to a rightful end. Justice has been served," Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said....

He was convicted in Alabama for sending a bomb that killed Vance, a federal appeals court judge. Moody, according to prosecutors, sought revenge on the court and the judge because they had previously refused to overturn his conviction in a 1972 bomb possession case.

He also was convicted in federal court in 1991 for killing Vance and for the bombing death of Robert Robinson, an NAACP attorney in Savannah, Georgia. He was sentenced to life in prison.

April 19, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"The Role of Age in Plea Bargain Decision Making"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Anton Gollwitzer.  Here is its abstract:

Research has elucidated that defendants in criminal cases behave differently depending on their age.  How age specifically affects plea bargain behavior, however, has only been sparsely investigated.  In four studies, we observed that age influences whether lay individuals’ plea bargain decision making is concordant (i.e., accept plea bargains if guilty and opt for trial if innocent) or discordant (i.e., accept a plea bargain if innocent and opt for a trial if guilty) in ‘mock’ criminal scenarios.

In line with emerging adults’ (18-28 years old) increased just-world beliefs and illusions of transparency, Study 1 provided indirect evidence that emerging adults’ plea bargain decision making is more concordant than mature adults (29-40).  Study 2, however, found that this effect is dependent on the defendant’s likelihood of conviction.  Studies 3 and 4 emulated Studies 1 and 2, however, they examined how parents of differently aged children advise their children regarding plea bargains decision making.  Parents of younger children (8-11 years old) advised their child similarly to how they themselves would act.  Parents of adolescents (12-18), on the other hand, adopted an entirely concordant approach, advising their adolescent child to behave according to their child’s culpability.  Overall, we find that individuals’ approach to plea bargain decision making depends on their age group (or the age group of their children), culpability, and probability of conviction.

April 15, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another federal court reaction to federal sentencing realities of modern drug war

In this post a few weeks ago, I noted an interesting Seventh Circuit ruling which not only explored ineffective assistance of counsel in plea negotiations, but also highlighted how our federal drug laws can functionally operate to turn a seemingly minor crime into an offense carrying a 20-year mandatory minimum.  That post generated a lot of thoughtful comments, leading me to think it worthwhile to spotlight another drug war sentencing tale with a different variation in the work of counsel and court.

Specifically, a couple of helpful readers sent me a notable sentencing memorandum and a recently unsealed sentencing opinion in US v. Smith, No. 6:17-cr-147-Orl-31KRS (M.D. Fla. Feb. 27, 2018). In this case, as explained by the sentencing judge, Judge Gregory Presnell, Tyrone Smith faced a huge increase in his sentence range under the career-offender guideline for two prior low-level cocaine sales:

Smith was arrested and charged in Count 2 of the Indictment with distribution of a mixture containing a detectable amount of carfentanil.  He pled guilty and appeared before me for sentencing.  The PSR (Doc. 80) scored defendant with a base of 24.  Subtracting two levels for his minor role in the offense and three levels for his acceptance of responsibility, his guideline score would be 19.  With a criminal history score of III, his suggested guideline sentence would be 37-46 months. But the prior state court offenses described above make defendant a career offender as defined by USSG 4B1.1.  Application of this enhancement increases defendant’s score from 19-III to 29-VI, resulting in a guideline range of 151-188 months, a 400% increase for selling $120 worth of cocaine ten years ago!

Running through the 3553(a) factors and noting the "growing chorus of federal judges who reject application of the career offender guideline in certain cases," Judge Presnell concluded "that a reasonable sentence in this case is 30 months, which constitutes a modest downward variance from the low end of defendant’s unenhanced guideline score."

I have provided here for downloading counsel's sentencing memorandum for Tyrone Smith as well as Judge Presnell's "Bench Sentencing Opinion":

Download Sentencing memorandum Final

Download Bench Sentencing Opinion

April 15, 2018 in Booker in district courts, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Interesting intricate ruling from Wyoming Supreme Court about limits on extreme aggregate sentences for juve murderers

For whatever reason, the last few months have brought a number of big notable opinions from an array of courts concerning the reach and application of the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence limiting severe sentences for juvenile offenders. See examples here and here and here and here from the Third Circuit, the District of Connecticut, and the Iowa Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme Court. 

The latest (and perhaps longest) such opinion was handed down on Friday by the Wyoming Supreme Court in Davis v. Wyoming, 2018 WY 40 (April 13, 2018) (available here).  The majority opinion in Davis covers an array of substantive and procedural issues, and it start and ending provide a flavor of its work:

In 1982, when Donald Clyde Davis was seventeen years old, he and a friend picked up a hitchhiker, robbed, and then murdered him.  Mr. Davis pled guilty to first degree murder, felony murder, and aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a consecutive twenty-to-fifty-year sentence for aggravated robbery.  Following the decisions of Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), Montgomery v. Louisiana, U.S. , 136 S.Ct. 718, 193 L.Ed.2d 599 (2016), Bear Cloud v. State, 2013 WY 18, 294 P.3d 36 (Wyo. 2013) (Bear Cloud II), and the Wyoming Legislature’s amendment to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-10-301(c), after serving over thirty-three years, Mr. Davis was granted parole from his life sentence, began serving his consecutive twenty-to-fifty-year sentence, and received a new individualized sentencing hearing.  After the hearing, the district court declined to modify his original sentence.  Mr. Davis appeals and raises a number of issues regarding his sentence. We will reverse and remand with instructions to conduct a new individualized sentencing hearing....

We find that the district court abused its discretion by weighing Mr. Davis’ youth as an aggravating instead of mitigating factor; considering the nature of the crime to only a limited extent and failing to consider the participation and potential peer pressure of Mr. Davis’ codefendant; placing undue significance on dated psychological evaluations; concluding that he was not capable of rehabilitation without the benefit of expert testimony concerning Mr. Davis’s potential for rehabilitation, and by considering Mr. Davis’ disciplinary record in prison without taking into account the fact that for the majority of his incarceration he had no hope of release, and without weighing his accomplishments and personal growth while in the penitentiary.  The district court’s failure to consider Mr. Davis’ family and home environment and whether he might have been convicted of a lesser offense but for incompetencies associated with youth, without providing an explanation for omitting analysis of those factors, also constituted an abuse of discretion. Finally, the district court abused its discretion by failing to make a finding of permanent incorrigibility based upon its analysis of all the Miller factors.  When the Miller factors are not properly considered and weighed and when there is no finding of permanent incorrigibility, or when a finding of permanent incorrigibility is not supported by the Miller factors, the resulting sentence violates the Eighth Amendment.

Accordingly, we reverse.  At the time of the hearing and the district court’s decision, the parties and the district court did not have the advantage of our rulings concerning the procedure, burdens, and potentially relevant evidence for a Miller determination, contained here.  Consequently, remand for an additional sentencing hearing and resentencing is appropriate.  On remand, the sentencing court should approach the case with the understanding that, more likely than not, life without parole is a disproportionate sentence for Mr. Davis, and it should consider the Miller factors and decide whether he is the truly rare individual mentioned in Miller who is incapable of reform.

The dissent opinion in Davis likewise covers lots of group, but its start spotlights an issue that I suspect will be setting US Supreme Court attention relatively soon:

As I observed in Sam v. State, 2017 WY 98, ¶ 88, 401 P.3d 834, 862 (Wyo. 2017), reh’g denied, and Sen v. State, 2017 WY 30, ¶¶ 36-37, 390 P.3d, 769, 779 (Wyo. 2017) (Sen III), the United States Supreme Court has not prohibited consecutive sentences for juveniles who commit multiple crimes including murder.  The U.S. Supreme Court never found such sentences to be “the functional equivalent of life without parole.”  I continue to disagree with the concept of “de facto life without parole” arising from consecutive sentences for separate crimes.  In my opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court established a process to assure that a juvenile offender’s age, immaturity and potential for improvement are considered in sentencing.  Unfortunately, some courts, including this one, have focused on the result of the sentencing, rather than on the process.

I recognize some states have concluded that Miller, Graham and Montgomery point to a conclusion that lengthy consecutive sentences for juveniles, when aggregated, are the same as a single sentence of life without parole.  Other states have not done so.  I find the better logic supports those states who have not expanded the holdings in Miller, Graham and Montgomery.  Within the past year, Missouri, Colorado and Pennsylvania have all determined that Miller and Montgomery do not apply to the aggregation of consecutive term of years sentences for multiple crimes committed by a defendant under the age of 18.

April 15, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, April 09, 2018

Big Third Circuit panel ruling asserts age of retirement should be central to applying Eighth Amendment limits on long juvenile sentences

The Third Circuit today handed down a huge ruling today in US v. Grant, No. 16-3820 (3d CIr. April 9, 2018) (available here), to address the application of Eighth Amendment limits on juvenile sentences.  The panel opinion runs nearly 50 pages (followed by a 10+ page partial dissent), but these paragraph sets up the context and part of the heart of the opinion (with emphasis in original):

This case presents several difficult challenges for this Court. It calls upon us to decide a novel issue of constitutional law: whether the Eighth Amendment prohibits a term-of-years sentence for the duration of a juvenile homicide offender’s life expectancy (i.e., “de facto LWOP”) when the defendant’s “crimes reflect transient immaturity [and not] . . . irreparable corruption.” Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718, 734 (2016). Next, if we find that it does, then we must decide what framework will properly effectuate the Supreme Court’s determination that the Eighth Amendment affords nonincorrigible juvenile offenders a right to a meaningful opportunity for release. Furthermore, we must take great pains throughout our discussion to account for the substantive distinction that the Supreme Court has made between incorrigible and non-incorrigible juvenile offenders in order to ensure that the latter is not subjected to “a punishment that the law cannot impose upon [them].” Id. (quoting Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 352 (2004)).

Our decision today therefore represents an incremental step in the constitutional discourse over the unique protections that the Eighth Amendment affords to juvenile homicide offenders....

[W]hat is clear is that society accepts the age of retirement as a transitional life stage where an individual permanently leaves the work force after having contributed to society over the course of his or her working life.  See, e.g., Retirement, BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (10th ed. 2014) (“Termination of one’s own employment or career, esp. upon reaching a certain age . . . .”). It is indisputable that retirement is widely acknowledged as an earned inflection point in one’s life, marking the simultaneous end of a career that contributed to society in some capacity and the birth of an opportunity for the retiree to attend to other endeavors in life.

As we stated above, a non-incorrigible juvenile offender is not guaranteed an opportunity to live a meaningful life, and certainly not to a meaningful retirement.  Nevertheless, in order to effectuate the Eighth Amendment’s requirement of meaningful opportunity for release, a juvenile offender that is found to be capable of reform should presumptively be afforded an opportunity for release at some point before the age of retirement.  Cf. Graham, 560 U.S. at 58 (“To determine whether a punishment is cruel and unusual, courts must look beyond historical conceptions to the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 102)).  A sentence that preserves the juvenile offender’s opportunity to contribute productively to society inherently provides him or her with “hope” to “reconcil[e] with society” and achieve “fulfillment outside prison walls.” Id. at 79.  It also accounts for the Court’s trepidation that LWOP sentences deprive non-incorrigible juvenile offenders of vocational training opportunities, which presumably otherwise prepare them to become productive members of society’s working class.  See id. at 74.

Accordingly, lower courts must consider the age of retirement as a sentencing factor, in addition to life expectancy and the § 3553(a) factors, when sentencing juvenile offenders that are found to be capable of reform.  Critically, under all circumstances, lower courts must only consider the uniform national age of retirement.  Otherwise, estimates of retirement ages that account for locality, state, gender, race, wealth or other differentiating characteristics raise similar constitutional concerns to those plagued by reliance on life-expectancy tables alone. Without fixing the age of retirement to a uniform standard, classes of juvenile defendants that retire on average later in life would unreasonably be subjected to longer sentences.  Cf. Mathurin, 868 F.3d at 932 (sentencing juveniles based solely on mortality tables “would unquestionably lead to challenges from defendants from longer-living ethnic groups who would be subject to longer sentences based on that ethnicity”).

Because I am on the road today, I may not be able to review and further comment on this big opinion for some time. But I surmise there is a whole to worth discussing in this opinion, and I hope commentors might share a range of thoughts about it.

April 9, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 02, 2018

SCOTUS grants cert on yet another ACCA case(!) while Justice Sotomayor is in fine dissenting form on other criminal justice matters

Before taking another two week break from oral arguments, the US Supreme Court this morning issued this order list which included a cert grant on yet another case interpreting the application of the Armed Career Criminal Act. As it does so well, SCOTUSblog already has this case page for the new ACCA case providing this basic accounting:

Stokeling v. United States

Docket No. 17-5554 (opinion below from 11th Circuit)

Issue: Whether a state robbery offense that includes “as an element” the common law requirement of overcoming “victim resistance” is categorically a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i), when the offense has been specifically interpreted by state appellate courts to require only slight force to overcome resistance.

Today's order list is also noteworthy for two lengthy dissents authored by Justice Sotomayor that together take up more than half of the entire order list.  The long one, which has Justice Ginsburg also on board, complains about the Court summarily reversing a Ninth Circuit ruling concerning a police officer's liability for shooting a suspect.  The shorter dissent has her complaining solo about the Court's denial of cert in a Florida capital case.  The closing substantive paragraph and footnote of this dissent struck me as blogworthy:

Therefore, the Florida Supreme Court has (again)[FN4] failed to address an important and substantial Eighth Amendment challenge to capital defendants’ sentences post-Hurst. Nothing in its pre-Hurst precedent, nor in its opinions in Truehill and Oliver, addresses or resolves these substantial Caldwell-based challenges.  This Court can and should intervene in the face of this troubling situation.

[FN4] “Toutes choses sont dites déjà; mais comme personne n’écoute, il faut toujours recommencer.” Gide, Le Traité du Narcisse 8 (1892), in Le Traité du Narcisse 104 (R. Robidoux ed. 1978) (“Everything has been said already; but as no one listens, we must always begin again”).

April 2, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8)

Sunday, April 01, 2018

"The Intersection between Young Adult Sentencing and Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Josh Gupta-Kagan available on SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This Article connects two growing categories of academic literature and policy reform: arguments for treating young adults in the criminal justice system more leniently than older adults because of evidence showing brain development and maturation continue until the mid-twenties; and arguments calling for reducing mass incarceration and identifying various mechanisms to do so. These categories overlap, but research has not previously built in depth connections between the two.

Connecting the two bodies of literature helps identify and strengthen arguments for reform. First, changing charging, detention, and sentencing practices for young adults is one important tool to reduce mass incarceration. Young adults commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Because so many offenders are young adults, treating young adults less severely could have significant impacts on the number of individuals incarcerated.

Second, focusing on young adults responds to retributive arguments in defense of existing sentencing policies, especially for violent offenses. The mass incarceration literature shows that sentences for violent offenses explain much, if not most, of recent decades’ prison growth. Young adult violent offenders deserve punishment, but their youth mitigates their culpability and thus offers a response to retributive calls for long sentences.

Third, considering mass incarceration can add both urgency and new ideas to the growing debate about reforming sentencing of young adults. Such reforms have thus far been tentative, following well-grounded desires to test different alternative interventions for young adults. The mass incarceration literature adds an important consideration – the status quo demands prompt and far-reaching reform – and new ideas, such as prosecutorial charging guidelines that encompass defendants’ age.

April 1, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Examining gender realities and disparities in modern federal sentencing

Dagan-women-prisoners-11David Dagan has this interesting new piece at FiveThirtyEight under the headline "Women Aren’t Always Sentenced By The Book. Maybe Men Shouldn’t Be, Either." As this title suggests, the piece is about gender disparities in sentencing, and here are excerpts:

Official federal sentencing guidelines don’t distinguish between female and male offenders.  They often downplay or outright disregard circumstances that are common among women, such as the role of an offender as the sole caretaker for children or an offender having been coerced into committing a crime.  But judges commonly compensate ad hoc, which has led to women on the whole receiving much shorter sentences than men when facing the same punishments.

Critics say the sentencing benchmarks should provide more flexibility from the start — a change that would benefit women ... but also men in similar circumstances, whose extenuating factors may be even more likely to be overlooked.  “The notion that you simply deal with a complicated situation by saying, ‘Let’s ignore the complexity,’ is idiotic,” said former federal judge Nancy Gertner, now a lecturer at Harvard Law School.

Congress established the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 1984 with the Sentencing Reform Act, partly in response to concerns that sentencing was marred by racial and geographic disparities.  The commission was charged with writing the federal guidelines to remedy those problems, and it updates them occasionally.

But people of different races and genders still fare differently under the guidelines. Race looms large, according to a November 2017 report from the sentencing commission.  It found that black men in federal court are sentenced to 19.1 percent more time, on average, than white men who, at least on paper, committed the same crimes and have similar criminal histories.  Women receive much shorter sentences than even white men — though the difference also varies by race.

That disparity grows even larger when the full scope of discretionary decision-making is considered. Prosecutors exercise at least as much power as judges in sentencing because they decide what charges to bring after an arrest.  A 2015 study from the University of Michigan Law School found that when such decisions are taken into account, sentences for men are on average 63 percent longer than sentences for women.

But women’s criminal involvement often looks different than men’s: They may be minor players in drug rings, are sometimes pushed into crime by a violent partner and often carry trauma from physical and sexual abuse....  More than 56 percent of the women in federal prison are there for drug offenses, compared with about 47 percent of men.  In drug cases involving multiple people, each defendant can be held responsible for the full weight of the drugs involved, even if he or she were far down on the organizational chart.  That approach is hard on women, who are often low-level players in such operations, experts said.

The guidelines do compensate by offering “role adjustments” for people who were merely drug mules, for example. But for many women, Gertner said, “those adjustments don’t begin to capture their insubstantial role.”  So judges, who must consider the guidelines but since 2005 have not been compelled to follow them, may be responding with lower-than-recommended sentences.

Also largely excluded from the guidelines is any consideration of how a defendant got into crime in the first place.  Yet research on incarcerated women shows that abusive relationships can put them on the wrong side of the law. Most women who assault their intimate partners have also been victimized by those partners, and they often cite self-defense as a motive.  Researchers have also turned up many cases of incarcerated women who reported being forced into committing a crime by threats of violence.

A broader history of victimization is also common among female offenders. When researchers interviewed 125 women awaiting release from North Carolina prisons, they found that almost two-thirds had experienced childhood physical or sexual abuse and more than a quarter had been sexually victimized in the year before they went to prison.  (Most studies do not draw explicit comparisons with men, but a survey of about 7,500 state prisoners conducted in 2005 found that while men and women had similar rates of childhood physical abuse, women had far higher rates of childhood sexual abuse.)

The sentencing guidelines set a high bar for considering such life experiences, and then only in cases involving nonviolent crimes.  Judges are also discouraged from factoring in the role of drug addiction except in extraordinary circumstances.

The upshot is that the guidelines “disproportionately disadvantage anyone who has a significant trauma,” said Christine Freeman, who runs an Alabama organization that provides lawyers to poor clients charged with federal crimes. The exclusion of life experience may have been motivated by an effort to ensure that people of higher socioeconomic status could not work the system to their advantage, Freeman said.  “But what it did was tell the courts that it was OK to ignore all these factors that obviously have motivated this situation and led a person to this point.”...

And the federal guidelines specifically discourage taking family considerations into account, declaring them “not ordinarily relevant” to sentencing. But they are certainly relevant to defendants like James who face separation from their children — and women appear to be particularly affected. Among federal prisoners in 2004, a higher share of men than women reported being the parents of minor children, but almost 80 percent of the mothers reported that they lived with their children just before incarceration, compared with half of the fathers.  Gertner said that judges might be particularly sensitive to the consideration that sending parents away is bad for public safety: “We know as a public-safety measure that (in) families that have been fractured by imprisonment, there’s actually a risk to the next generation.”...

Whatever contributes to the sentencing difference, there are few voices arguing that the solution is longer sentences for women. Instead, as the University of Michigan study said, “Policymakers could equally sensibly ask: Why not treat men like women are treated?”

March 30, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (8)

US District Judge concludes Miller applies to 18-year-old murderer to find his mandatory LWOP sentence violates the Eighth Amendment

I just saw this fascinating federal ruling handed down yesterday by US District Judge Janet C. Hall, the Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Connecticut, in Cruz v. US, No. 11-CV-787 (D. Conn. March 29, 2018) (available here). The ruling runs 50+ pages, so I will need to read it carefully before opining about it at length. But these excerpts from the start art end of the opinion should reveal why it is worth attention:

Cruz turned 18 on December 25, 1993. On May 14, 1994, when Cruz was 18 years and 20 weeks old, Cruz and another member of the Latin Kings, Alexis Antuna, were given a mission by gang leader Richard Morales. See United States v. Diaz, 176 F.3d 52, 84 (2d Cir. 1999). The mission was to kill Arosmo “Rara” Diaz. See id. Carrying out that mission, Cruz and Antuna shot and killed Diaz and his friend, Tyler White, who happened to be with Diaz at the time. See id. Cruz testified at the hearing before this court that he now admits to committing both murders. See Cruz Tr. at 27. He further testified that Antuna informed him at the time that the leaders of the Latin Kings were debating what would happen to him as a result of his attempt to leave the gang. See id. at 19. According to his testimony, Cruz believed that, if he did not carry out the mission, he himself would be killed. See id....

[W]hen the Roper Court drew the line at age 18 in 2005, the Court did not have before it the record of scientific evidence about late adolescence that is now before this court.

Thus, relying on both the scientific evidence and the societal evidence of national consensus, the court concludes that the hallmark characteristics of juveniles that make them less culpable also apply to 18-year-olds.  As such, the penological rationales for imposing mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole cannot be used as justification when applied to an 18-year-old.

The court therefore holds that Miller applies to 18-year-olds and thus that “the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole” for offenders who were 18 years old at the time of their crimes.  See Miller, 567 U.S. at 479.  As applied to 18-year-olds as well as to juveniles, “[b]y making youth (and all that accompanies it) irrelevant to imposition of that harshest prison sentence, such a scheme poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment.” See id.  As with Miller, this Ruling does not foreclose a court’s ability to sentence an 18-year-old to life imprisonment without parole, but requires the sentencer to take into account how adolescents, including late adolescents, “are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.” See id. at 480.

I think it a near certainty that the feds will appeal this consequential ruling to the Second Circuit and it will be interesting to watch how that court approaches this issue. And, in all likelihood, whatever the outcome in the Second Circuit, a cert petition would follow. So, stay tuned.

March 30, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Texas woman sentenced to five years in prison (!?!?!) for voting illegally

When I first saw the basics of this state sentencing story out of Texas, reported under the headline "Tarrant County woman sentenced to five years in prison for illegally voting in 2016," I did not really believe it. Even after reading the details excerpted below, I am still not quite sure I believe that a judge decided it was just and effective to send someone to prison for half a decade for casting a vote illegally:

A judge sentenced a Rendon woman to five years in prison Wednesday for voting illegally in the 2016 presidential election while she was on supervised release from a 2011 fraud conviction. Crystal Mason, 43, waived her right to a jury trial and chose to have state District Judge Ruben Gonzalez assess her sentence.

J. Warren St. John, her defense attorney, said after the verdict was rendered that an appeal had already been filed and he is hopeful his client will soon be released on bond. "I find it amazing that the government feels she made this up," St. John told the court. "She was never told that she couldn't vote, and she voted in good faith. Why would she risk going back to prison for something that is not going to change her life?"...

During her testimony, Mason — who served just shy of three years in federal prison — told the court that she was assigned a provisional ballot after she arrived at her usual polling place and discovered that her name was not on the voter roll.

Gonzalez, who questioned Mason during her testimony, asked why she did not thoroughly read the documents she was given at the time. The form you are required to sign to get the provisional ballot is called an affidavit, Gonzales told Mason. "There's a legal connotation to that, right?" Gonzales asked.

Mason responded that she was never told by the federal court, her supervision officer, the election workers or U.S. District Judge John McBryde, the sentencing judge in her fraud case, that she would not be able to vote in elections until she finished serving her sentence, supervised release included. She also said she did not carefully read the form because an election official was helping her.

During cross-examination by Tarrant County prosecutor Matt Smid, Mason was reminded that she had jeopardized her freedom in the past by violating federal tax laws. Sacrificing her freedom to vote was not something she would knowingly do, Mason told Gonzales. "I inflated returns," Mason said. "I was trying to get more money back for my clients. I admitted that. I owned up to that. I took accountability for that. I would never do that again. I was happy enough to come home and see my daughter graduate. My son is about to graduate. Why would I jeopardize that? Not to vote. ... I didn't even want to go vote."

Mason was taken to jail after the conclusion of her trial on Wednesday as a chorus of small children leaving the courtroom waved and said, "Bye-bye, Big Mama."

Mason, who was known as Crystal Mason-Hobbs at the time, pleaded guilty to fraud in 2011. As part of her plea agreement, she was ordered to pay $4.2 million in restitution, according to court documents. The fraud charge stemmed from a tax preparation business Mason and her ex-husband, Sanford Taylor Hobbs III, owned and operated in Everman in which they submitted inflated tax refunds to the Internal Revenue Service on behalf of clients.

Mason later divorced her husband, who received a similar sentence after he also pleaded guilty. Mason testified Wednesday that she has remade herself since her release from prison, including getting a degree in a new field and getting a new job.

She had gone to vote at her mother's insistence and brought her driver's license as identification, according to her testimony. When poll workers could not find her name on the list of registered voters, Mason said, she obtained a provisional ballot and was coached through the process by a worker. Mason testified that she did not remember the form saying anything about people on supervised release being prohibited from voting.

To register to vote in Texas, a person must be 18 and a U.S. citizen and cannot be a convicted felon or have been declared mentally incapacitated by a court. In Texas, convicted felons can have their voting privileges restored after fully completing their sentences.

I really cannot fully wrap my mind around the notion that the crime of voting once illegally, even if done with great malice, is the sort of offense that should or even could lead to multiple years in prison. Of course, one might think this is a story about how tough Texas is with all criminals.  But a quick Google new search produces these recent stories of seemingly much worse crimes resulting in probation sentences in Texas:

"Hallsville man sentenced to probation in online solicitation of minor case"

"Woman who made up story about being raped by black men is sentenced to probation"

"Jury gives Waco man probation in deadly drunken driving crash"

March 30, 2018 in Examples of "over-punishment", Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics | Permalink | Comments (11)

Monday, March 26, 2018

"Deviancy, Disability, and Dependency: The Forgotten History of Eugenics and Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Laura Appleman now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Racism, harsh drug laws, and prosecutorial overreach have formed three widely-discussed explanations of the punitive carceral state.  These three narratives, however, only partially explain where we are.  Neglected in our discussion of mass incarceration is our largely-forgotten history of the long-term, wholesale institutionalization of the disabled.  This form of mass detention, motivated by a continuing application of eugenics and persistent class-based discrimination, provides an important part of our history of imprisonment, shaping key contours of our current supersized correctional system.  Only by fully exploring this forgotten narrative of long-term detention and isolation will policy makers be able to understand, diagnose, and solve the crisis of mass incarceration.

March 26, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

High-profile New Jersey case highlights many challenges of sentencing drunk drivers who kill (and appellate review of sentences)

1360879220_amy-locane-bovenizer-lgThis local article, headlined "Former 'Melrose Place' actress to be re-sentenced -- again -- in fatal drunken crash," reports on yet another notable sentencing opinion from a high-profile state sentencing case. Here are the basics from the article, with the full opinion and follow-up thereafter:

Former "Melrose Place" actress Amy Locane who was convicted of killing a 60-year-old woman in a drunken 2010 crash will be re-sentenced -- for the second time. An appellate court ruling issued Friday lambasts the judge's lenient three-year sentence for Locane, calling it "striking."

"We expect our colleagues will agree that the sentence in this case, a hair's breath away from illegal, shocks the conscience," the appellate ruling states.

In August 2016, the state's Appellate Division ruled that the leniency granted by state Superior Court Judge Robert B. Reed in sentencing Locane in the Montgomery Township crash that killed Helene Seeman lacked enough explanation. Locane returned to court for resentencing on Jan. 17, 2017. Reed did not give her any additional jail time, angering the victim's family and leaving prosecutors bewildered.

It appears a three-judge appellate court panel is just as confused. "(Locane) went unpunished for the injuries inflicted upon Seeman, despite the fact she could have easily made alternative arrangements the night of the accident and could have easily avoided driving, was extremely intoxicated, and was engaging in risky maneuvers before the crash," the appellate ruling states. "That is an error we cannot correct."

Locane, who was driving with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit during the June 27, 2010, crash, was cleared of the manslaughter charge but found guilty of vehicular homicide and assault by auto.

Locane faced up to 15 years in prison. Reed imposed a sentence that was about a fifth of what she faced under the maximum penalty. He cited the former actress' two small children, including one with Crohn's disease, as a reason for the lenient sentence. Locane was out of prison in two-and-a-half years.

In a sit-down interview with NJ Advance Media in November, Locane said she hadn't touched alcohol since the crash. "I know Judge Reed went out on the limb for me and I'm not going to let him down," she said. "When someone sees the good in you like that and gives you a second chance, you don't want to disappoint them."

But Locane's fate this time around won't be up to Reed. "We are thus compelled to remand this matter for re-sentencing before a different judge," the appellate ruling says.

Locane's attorney, James Wronko, said the comments made by the appellate division about Reed "were simply unwarranted."

"Judge Reed is an excellent judge," he said. "We intend to file with the New Jersey Supreme Court to have them review the matter and then we'll proceed from there." Ironically, Wronko said, Locane was in Steinert High School in Hamilton speaking to students about the dangers of drinking and driving as the appellate court issued its ruling Friday morning.

Hard-core sentencing fans should take some time to check out the full opinion of the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division in NJ v. Locane, which runs 43 pages and is available at this link. Though a bit dense with Jersey-specific cites, this Locane opinion remarkably covers in various ways so many intricate issues of modern sentencing policy and practice.

Most fundamentally, this case highlights the challenging balance between offense and offender factors in sentencing, as the appellate court is concluding the trial court wrongfully downgraded the severity of the offense by being unduly moved my the defendant's remorse and rehabilitation. But is also, obviously, raises issue about the discretion of sentencing courts and review of that discretion on appeal. In addition, Sixth Amendment and double jeopardy issues arise in the Locane opinion. So too does the role of concurrent and consecutive sentencing, as well as punishment theory as it relates to sentencing drunk drivers (with a little hint to concerns about race, gender and class).  And the opinion's final paragraph highlights still other matters the opinion engages:

In the beginning of this opinion, we referred to the statements made by the victims during the State's presentation, pursuant to the Crime Victim's Bill of Rights, N.J.S.A. 52:4B36[n]. Their comments dovetailed the sentencing goals embodied in the Code, which in this case were not met. In Liepe, the defendant was sentenced to, in real time, life. In this case, defendant was sentenced to a NERA term of three years. The lack of uniformity is striking and in derogation of the Code.

Put slightly differently, anyone teaching a sentencing class might readily build a number of real interesting exam questions around this case and opinion.

March 26, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Highlighting the Big Apple as a source for In Justice Today

My headline is a not-so-clever attempt to set up the fact that the latest two postings at the always great In Justice Today are focused on not-so-great criminal justice realities in New York.  Here are links to the two recent pieces with excerpts (and links from original): 

"NY Gov. Cuomo’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Plan to Protect Your Kids" by Guy Hamilton-Smith:

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently unveiled a legislative proposal packaged as part of a budget amendment to expand already onerous residency and presence restrictions for some sex offenders in New York.

The proposal expands blanket presence and residency restrictions for sex offenders who are on parole or post-release supervision by vastly increasing the number of places they cannot be near. It would outlaw the presence of some sex offenders within 1,000 feet of school grounds, “any facility or institution that offers kindergarten or pre-kindergarten instruction,” or any other place that is “used for the care or treatment” of minors. The proposal also prohibits level 2 and 3 sex offenders — those whom the state deems most at risk to re-offend — from staying at homeless shelters that serve families, even if they are no longer under supervision.

In dense urban environments like New York City, such restrictions — which make it illegal for sex offenders to merely exist in many places — are tantamount to banishment. While sex offender registries (and many of the restrictions that go along with them) have proven to be ineffective and inhumane, public defenders, experts, and advocates say that few restrictions are as ineffective and punitive as those proposed by Cuomo.

"Despite Leaders’ Progressive Promises, NYC Remains ’Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World’" by Shaun King:

In spite of committing to simply ticketing people for possession of small amounts of marijuana, last year the NYPD arrested an astounding 16,925 people for it. These were not drug lords and kingpins. These were the very low-level offenses they said they’d stop arresting people for.

Do the math. That’s 46 people a day. It’s an enormous waste of time and resources. And it’s horribly disingenuous to publicly make the claim that the arrests are coming to an end when clearly they aren’t.

This literally makes New York City “the marijuana arrest capital of the world,” according to a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance. And a staggering 86 percent of those arrests are of men and women of color.

And let’s be clear — whites and people of color use drugs at roughly the same rate. Some studies even show that whites actually sell drugs at a higher rate, but people of color make up 86 percent of the arrests here in New York nonetheless.

This is a scandal. And Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD continue to contort themselves to blame anything they can possibly think of other than institutional racism for this racial gulf in arrests and prosecutions.

De Blasio criticized the Drug Policy Alliance report, pointing out that marijuana possession arrests dropped by 37 percent between 2013 and 2016. But that doesn’t explain away the nearly 17,000 arrests last year.

NYPD Chief James P. O’Neill recently said they were making the arrests because people don’t like the smell. Really, man? How about we start arresting people for farts too? Arresting people because someone doesn’t like the smell? That’s not even a good lie.

March 20, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Pot Prohibition Issues, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, March 12, 2018

"A Touchy Subject: The Eleventh Circuit's Tug-of-War Over What Constitutes Violent 'Physical Force'"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Conrad Kahn and Danli Song now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In a prosecution for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a pivotal question is whether an individual is subject to a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).  If an individual has three or more prior convictions that qualify as “violent felonies” or “serious drug offenses,” the ACCA increases his statutory range of imprisonment from zero-to-ten years to fifteen years to life.

Historically, a prior conviction could qualify as a “violent felony” if it satisfied at least one of the three “violent felony” clauses—the elements clause, the enumerated-offenses clause, or the catch-all residual clause.  But on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court invalidated the residual clause in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015) (Johnson II).

Since Johnson II, substantial disagreements have emerged both within the Eleventh Circuit and among the other circuits regarding Johnson II’s reach and the proper application of the ACCA's elements clause.  This Article examines those disagreements, including three ways the Eleventh Circuit got it wrong — specifically, the court’s unusual conduct in ruling on requests to file second or successive post-conviction motions based on Johnson II and recent rulings on whether the Florida offenses of robbery and felony battery qualify as “violent felonies” under the elements clause.  This Article argues the ACCA’s elements-clause analysis should focus on the degree of force used in an act, and the Supreme Court should resolve these disagreements and provide guidance to the lower courts by reviewing whether one of these offenses satisfies the elements clause.

March 12, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter | Permalink | Comments (6)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Iowa Supreme Court issues latest major ruling on juve sentencing limits and process after Miller

As reported in this local article, the "Iowa Supreme Court on Friday offered guidance to judges for interpreting a 2015 law that lays out sentencing guidelines for juveniles convicted of murder."  Here is more from the press report about the latest in a series of rulings following up on the US Supreme Court's juve sentencing jurisprudence:

Some justices also signaled in concurring opinions that they believe rigid sentences for other crimes committed by juveniles should eventually be rolled back.

The court ruled Friday in a murder case in which Rene Zarate stabbed Jorge Ramos to death in 1999, when Zarate was 15.  Zarate, now 34, originally received a mandatory sentence of life without parole, but requested a resentencing hearing after a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibited such sentences for juveniles.  His new sentence makes him eligible for parole after 25 years, with credit for time served.

Zarate challenged his sentence as well as the constitutionality of a 2015 Iowa law that revised how juveniles who commit first-degree murder are sentenced. Under the law, the sentencing judge could choose from a variety of options including life without the possibility of parole, life with parole after a certain amount of the sentence is served, and life with the immediate possibility of parole.  The law further outlined 25 factors for the court to take into consideration when sentencing juveniles for murder.

In 2016, after that law was passed, the Iowa Supreme Court found that life sentences without parole are unconstitutional for juveniles.  But Friday's ruling was the first time the Iowa Supreme Court addressed the new law. A majority of justices said Friday that the guidelines laid out in the law are constitutional — except for the subsection that allowed for life sentences without parole....

They said judges must give juvenile offenders an individualized hearing taking the circumstances of the case into account, and must consider as mitigating factors things such as the offender's age at the time of the crime, family and home environment and the possibility for rehabilitation and change. But the district court judge who re-sentenced Zarate did so based on his belief that anyone that anyone who takes the life of another individual should spend a certain amount of time in prison, according to the opinion joined by four of the seven justices. "The sentencing judge allowed the nature of Zarate’s offense to taint his analysis by imposing a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment due to his belief that there should be a minimum term of imprisonment for anyone who commits murder, regardless of their age at the time of the offense," Justice Bruce Zager wrote in the majority opinion....

The court's remaining three justices issued separate concurrences urging the court to go further in striking down mandatory minimums for juveniles as unconstitutional. Justice Brent Appel, who authored the court's earlier opinion against life sentences without parole for juveniles, said it's time to re-examine the constitutionality of all mandatory minimum sentences for minors who commit crimes. "Instead of imposing mandatory minimums through an unreliable judicial guess, the constitutionally sound approach is to abolish mandatory minimum sentences on children and allow the parole board to make periodic judgments as to whether a child offender has demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation based on an observable track record," Appel wrote in his concurrence.

Justice Daryl Hecht, writing a concurrence joined by Justice David Wiggins, wrote that he believes mandatory minimums for juveniles are categorically prohibited by the Iowa Constitution. "Whether imposed by legislative mandate or by a sentencing court, the constitutional infirmity of mandatory minimum sentences for juvenile offenders is the same in my view," Hecht wrote.

The full opinion in Iowa v. Zarate, No. 15-2203 (Iowa Mar. 9, 2018), which rests much of its constitutional analysis on the Iowa Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment (rather than the US Constitution's Eighth Amendment), is available at this link.

March 10, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

You be the sentencing juror: what punishment for deadly drunk driving by Texas State college student?

UntitledThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article in Texas, headlined "‘I’m guilty’: Former Texas State student testifies in deadly DWI crash," which highlights that in the Lone Star State jurors are sometimes called to serve as primary sentencers in non-capital cases.   Here are some case particulars via the local press piece:

When Shana Elliott took the stand Thursday morning, she admitted: “I’m guilty.” Elliott, 22, says she was intoxicated and should not have been driving the evening of Aug. 2, 2016, after a day of tubing on the San Marcos River. “We decided to go float the river, we weren’t thinking ahead, we didn’t plan who was going to be driving,” Elliott said on the stand. “The float ended around 5 and that’s when nobody else was going to drive and I decided that I would.”

On that day, Elliott, who was 21 years old at the time, allegedly drove drunk and ran head-on into a car on State Highway 21 killing 23-year-old Fabian Guerrero Moreno and injuring his pregnant wife, Kristian Nicole Guerrero. Guerrero was five months pregnant. The unborn child did not survive.

Elliott says before the crash she dropped her friends off at their homes then decided to drive home herself. “It’s really blurry, I just remember as soon as the accident happened, I know that I made the worst decision ever.”

She says she got out of her car at the scene of the crash and ran to the other vehicle. “I just remember fighting, I wanted to go to make sure they were okay,” she said. “I’m sorry. I accept responsibility and I know what I did was wrong.”

At Elliott’s home, investigators found meth, heroin and a large bag of marijuana.  On the stand Elliott admitted to being addicted to heroin at one time, she said she smoked marijuana, but never did meth. She says after a previous arrest for drugs she had plans to sober up.

While Elliott was on the stand, prosecutors presented a large bottle of alcohol that was found at the crash site.  Elliott told the jury it was hers, adding it was full before she and her friends began floating the river.

Prosecutors also played recordings of phone calls Elliott made from jail. In one of the recordings, Elliott is talking with her boyfriend, speculating the other victims of the crash were part of the cartel. In another recording, Elliott can be heard joking and laughing with her friends about getting her eyebrows threaded in jail just four days after the crash.

Elliott’s grandmother Eleanor Brumley also took the stand Thursday morning. “She was determined to make something of herself,” said Brumley. “I’ve always been proud of her.” Brumley describes Elliot’s childhood as difficult. She says her father died of a heart attack and her stepdad was an alcoholic and was abusive mentally and emotionally. “Shana would deal with that and walk out the door with a smile on her face. She didn’t complain. She’s always thinking of everybody else,” said Brumley.

Elliott says she tried to deal with the abuse herself, but when she arrived at college she sought psychiatric help through a doctor at Texas State University.  She claims the doctor diagnosed her with depression, anxiety and slight PTSD stemming from her difficult childhood.

At the time of the crash, Elliott was a senior at Texas State University. Records show her blood alcohol content was .199 at the hospital.  On Monday, Elliott entered a plea of guilty for two counts of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault. The jury is expected to decide her punishment this week.

UPDATE: This local article reports on the jury's sentencing decision:

Shana Elliott, a former Texas State University student, was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday afternoon on each count in the deaths of a man and his unborn child.... Elliott, who pleaded guilty Monday, received seven years in prison each for two counts of intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle in the deaths of Fabian Guerrero-Moreno and his unborn child, who were killed in a drunk driving crash in August 2016.

March 8, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22)

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Federal prosecutors seeking (way-below-guideline) sentence of 15 years for "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli

As reported in this new Reuters piece, "U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday said former drug company executive Martin Shkreli should spend at least 15 years in prison after being convicted of fraud, saying his lack of remorse and respect for the law justified a long time behind bars." Here is more, with a final point stressed for commentary:

The request by the Department of Justice came three days before Shkreli’s scheduled sentencing by U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto in Brooklyn federal court. Prosecutors called Shkreli “a man who stands before this court without any showing of genuine remorse, a man who has consistently chosen to put profit and the cultivation of a public image before all else, and a man who believes the ends always justify the means.”

Shkreli, 34, had requested a 12-to-18-month term following his conviction last August for lying to investors about the performance of his hedge funds MSMB Capital and MSMB Healthcare, and conspiring to manipulate the stock price of the drug company Retrophin Inc. Known as “Pharma Bro,” in part for his ability to attract attention, Shkreli is perhaps best known for raising the price of the anti-parasitic drug Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent in 2015, while serving as chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, now called Vyera Pharmaceuticals....

Shkreli has been in jail since September, when Matsumoto revoked his bail after he offered social media followers $5,000 for a hair from former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. On Monday, Matsumoto ordered Shkreli to forfeit $7.36 million of ill-gotten gains. She said he may be forced to give up assets such as a Picasso painting and a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album if he cannot find the money....

In a letter to the judge last week, Shkreli said he accepted that he had made “serious mistakes,” but still considered himself “a good person with much potential.”

But prosecutors said that while in jail, Shkreli has privately expressed disdain for his conviction and the judicial process, providing further evidence he does not deserve mercy. It cited a January email conversation where Shkreli allegedly wrote “fuck the feds” and expressed hope for a big tax refund because only his “liquid money” was affected by the forfeiture. “Shkreli’s email communications confirm that any remorse he may express publicly is a carefully constructed facade,” prosecutors said.

A 15-year term is shorter than the minimum 27 years recommended under federal guidelines. Brafman has called that length “draconian and offensive.”

There is much in this story and in this high-profile sentencing that merits commentary, but I am especially struck by the decision by federal prosecutors to request a sentence here that is more than a decade below the advisory guideline range.  Recall that the May 2017 Sessions Memo said federal prosecutors "should in all cases seek a reasonable sentence under the factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553. In most cases, recommending a sentence within the advisory guideline range will be appropriate."  This high-profile case is still more proof that federal prosecutors recognize that the applicable federal sentencing guidelines for at least some fraud offenses are not reasonable and can be unreasonable extreme by more than a decade.

Prior related posts:

March 6, 2018 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 05, 2018

Spotlighting the modern realities and challenges of geriatric executions

Adam Liptak has this new Sidebar piece in the New York Times headlined "Too Old to Be Executed?  Supreme Court Considers an Aging Death Row." Here is how the piece gets started:

The nation’s death rows are starting to look like geriatric wards. Condemned inmates in many states are more likely to die of natural causes than to be executed.  The rare ones who are put to death often first spend decades behind bars, waiting.

It turns out that executing old men is not easy.  In November, Ohio called off an attempt to execute Alva Campbell, 69, after the execution team could not find a suitable vein into which to pump lethal chemicals.  The state announced that it would try again in June 2019, by which time he would have been 71.

But Mr. Campbell suffered from what one judge called an “extraordinary list of ailments.”  He used a walker, could barely breathe and relied on a colostomy bag.  He was found lifeless in his cell on Saturday, having died in the usual way, without government assistance.

In Alabama last month, state officials called off the execution of Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, also because they could not find a suitable vein. Mr. Hamm has at least two kinds of cancer, cranial and lymphatic, and he may not have long to live with or without the state’s efforts.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of another Alabama inmate, Vernon Madison, 67, who suffers from dementia and cannot remember the crime that sent him to death row.  The court, which has barred the execution of juvenile offenders and the intellectually disabled, is now turning its attention to old people.

Prior related posts:

March 5, 2018 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"The Politics of Prosecution: Examining the Policymaking Role of Prosecutors"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper available via SSRN authored by Abhinav Sekhri. Here is the abstract:

This short paper focuses on prosecutors in the federal setting and contributes to this growing field of scholarship.  Through the lens of Prosecutorial Agreements in the sphere of corporate criminal liability, I demonstrate that prosecutors engage in important policy making exercises.  I argue that this analysis helps better understand the constrains in which prosecutorial discretion is exercises, and here I suggest how such an analysis offers a more nuanced reading of the prosecutorial charging practices in corporate crime over the last two decades.  I conclude by suggesting that examining the policymaking potential of prosecutors merits great attention today, as the importance of these actors within the criminal justice system is being appreciated beyond legal spheres.

March 1, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2018

At just what level of Dante's Inferno does modern ACCA jurisprudence reside?

Dante_s_inferno_by_somnium_maris-d68js14The silly question in the title of this post is my silly reaction to a not-so-silly ruling from a Fourth Circuit panel today flagged for me by a helpful reader.  I will get to that ruling in a minute, but first I must spotlight this website's helpful explanation of the circles of hell set forth in Dante's Inferno:

The Levels of Hell

In Dante's Inferno, Hell is described as having 9 different levels, or circles, each lower than the last.  As one descends into the depths of hell, he comes closer to the 9th circle where Satan himself resides.  Each level of hell is reserved for different types of sinners, and different punishments are inflicted on the damned depending on the nature and severity of their sin.  The greater their sin, the lower the level to which they are condemned to spend eternity.

Notably, the "seventh level of hell is reserved for those who are guilty of violence, whether it be against themselves, property, nature, or other people."  I suppose that would be the fitting level for locating the modern federal court jurisprudence over application of the Armed Career Criminal Act because what is typically debated within this jurisprudence is whether a defendant's prior conviction qualities as a "violent felony." 

But, in referencing Dante's Inferno, I am really thinking about federal criminal practitioners and federal judges who must feel like they are dropping through various levels of hell as they sort through various intricate precedents to try to figure out what is and what is not a "violent felony" for ACCA purposes.  Last week I noted here a big split Fifth Circuit en banc ruling holding that Texas burglary convictions do not serve as predicates for the Armed Career Criminal Act.  Today, it is a Fourth Circuit panel ruling that has my ACCA head hurting; US v. Middleton, No. 16-7556 (4th Cir. Feb. 26, 2018) (available here), gets started this way:

Jarnaro Carlos Middleton was sentenced as an armed career criminal pursuant to the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e).  Middleton challenges the district court’s determination that his prior conviction for South Carolina involuntary manslaughter qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA.  Due to the idiosyncrasies of the Supreme Court’s “categorical approach,” the ultimate issue in this case is whether selling alcohol to a minor involves the requisite use of violent force.  We conclude that it does not and reverse.

Critically, there is no suggestion in this opinion that Jarnaro Carlos Middleton's conviction for involuntary manslaughter had anything to do with selling alcohol to a minor.  But a 1992 opinion of the Court of Appeals of South Carolina upholds an involuntary manslaughter conviction involving selling alcohol to a minor, and that fact ends up shaping whether Jarnaro Carlos Middleton faces a 15-year statutory mandatory minimum or a 10-year statutory mandatory maximum for the federal crime of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).  Somewhere Franz Kafka (as well as Dante Alighieri) is blushing.  And if the realities of the majority opinion does not whet your ACCA appetite, Middleton comes with a partial concurrence that starts this way:

The majority concludes that a conviction for South Carolina involuntary manslaughter does not categorically qualify as a “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(i).  While I agree with that conclusion, I hesitate to join the majority’s analysis.  In my view, our recent decisions in In re Irby, 858 F.3d 231 (4th Cir. 2017), and United States v. Reid, 861 F.3d 523 (4th Cir. 2017), undermine the majority’s reasoning that South Carolina involuntary manslaughter can be committed with de minimis force and by simply causing injury without using force.  Nevertheless, I would hold that South Carolina involuntary manslaughter cannot be an ACCA predicate because, although the ACCA force clause requires a higher degree of mens rea than recklessness, an individual can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter in South Carolina based on reckless conduct.  Therefore, while I write separately as to Part II.B, I concur in part and concur in the judgment reversing the denial of habeas relief.

Natch.

February 26, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

SCOTUS takes up Alabama case concerning competency to be executed while again turning away post-Hurst capital challenges

The US Supreme Court issued this order list this morning, and capital punishment followers will find a few SCOTUS cert decisions of note.  First, the Court granted certiorari in Madison v. Alabama, No. 17-7505, and the docket number here is quite important because Vernon Madison had two notable cert petitions pending: Madison v. Alabama, 17-7505, which was granted raises asked whether Alabama may "execute a prisoner whose mental disability leaves him without memory of his commission of the capital offense?";  Madison v. Alabama, 17-7535, which was denied raised the issue of whether Alabama could move forward with the execution of a defendant whose death sentence result from the state's now-abolished practice of judicial override.

The death sentencing procedural issue that the Supreme Court decided not to take up in Vernon Madison's case is, of course, yet another off-shoot of what I have long called the "post-Hurst hydra."  After the Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida declared Florida's death penalty procedures violative of the Sixth Amendment, I coined the term term "post-Hurst hydra" to describe the multi-headed, snake-like litigation destined to develop in various ways in various courts as state and federal judges tried to make sense of just what Hurst must mean for past, present and future capital cases.  I am further reminded of that hydra because today's SCOTUS order list concluded with two short dissents from the denial of certiorari authored by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor in two Florida capital cases.  Justice Sotomayor's dissent is a bit longer and joined by Justice Ginsburg and includes these passages:

Dale Middleton and Randy Tundidor were sentenced to death under a Florida capital sentencing scheme that this Court has since declared unconstitutional.  See Hurst v. Florida, 577 U. S. ___ (2016).  Relying on the unanimity of the juries’ recommendations of death, the Florida Supreme Court post-Hurst declined to disturb the petitioners’ death sentences, reasoning that the unanimity ensured that jurors had made the necessary findings of fact under Hurst.  By doing so, the Florida Supreme Court effectively transformed the pre-Hurst jury recommendations into binding findings of fact with respect to the petitioners’ death sentences.

Having so concluded, the Florida Supreme Court continually refuses to grapple with the Eighth Amendment implications of that holding.  If those then-advisory jury findings are now binding and sufficient to satisfy Hurst, petitioners contend that their sentences violate the Eighth Amendment because the jury instructions in their cases repeatedly emphasized the nonbinding, advisory nature of the jurors’ role and that the judge was the final decisionmaker.  This Court has unequivocally held “that it is constitutionally impermissible to rest a death sentence on a determination made by a sentencer who has been led to believe that the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the defendant’s death rests elsewhere.” Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U. S. 320, 328–329 (1985).

February 26, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What a difference a DA can make: new Philly District Attorney taking new approach to juve lifer resentencings

This recent local article, headlined "Why Philly DA Krasner could let 180+ juvenile lifers out of prison early," reports on the impact the recently elected Philadelphia prosecutor is having local cases demanding resentencing in the wake of the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller. Here are the details:

Philadelphia has sentenced more teens to life in prison with no chance of parole than any other jurisdiction in the world — and that meant it had the largest number to resentence after the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago ruled that its 2012 ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences for minors must be applied retroactively.

As of this week, 127 out of approximately 315 juvenile lifers from Philadelphia have been resentenced. For those whose cases are still in process, the election of District Attorney Larry Krasner appears to have immediately and dramatically changed the outlook.

It means new deals are already on the table for 17 who had rejected offers made under the previous District Attorney’s Office, which mostly stuck close to current state sentencing guidelines that set minimums at 35 years to life for first-degree murder and 30 to life for second-degree murder. The latest offers make all but two of the lifers eligible for parole right away; it would also keep them all on parole for life. Some set minimums as low as 21 years for first-degree murder.

As for the remaining resentencings, Krasner said he intends to consider each case individually. Rather than relying on the sentencing guidelines, he said he would look to the historical, national and international context that has made Pennsylvania second in the nation in imposing life-without-parole sentences. “We are being consistent as we do our duty, which is to consider all these unique factors in resentencing,” he said. “It’s worth bearing in mind that Pennsylvania is an extreme outlier in excessive sentencing, and the United States is an extreme outlier in excessive sentencing.”

What’s unclear, however, is whether a Philadelphia judge will sign off on those agreements. At a recent status hearing, Common Pleas Judge Kathryn Streeter-Lewis, who is in charge of approving agreements in juvenile-lifer cases, asked the district attorney to submit briefs defending the deals’ legality in light of precedent-setting rulings by Pennsylvania’s appellate courts in the case of Qu’eed Batts, an Easton man who was 14 when he participated in a gang-related execution. In his case, the court acknowledged each judge has discretion to craft individualized minimum sentences, but said “sentencing courts should be guided” by current state law. “I understand that there is a different administration,” she said, but added, “Some of these [offers] are very much below the guidelines the decision required. … I’m going to need some reasons.”

One such case involved Avery Talmadge, who’s been locked up 22 years and was offered a time-served deal that — in a departure from past practice for the District Attorney’s Office — contemplates whether the original conviction was even appropriate. “The case was a street fight that turned into a shooting,” Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey told Streeter-Lewis. “The [DAO’s internal resentencing] committee believes this is closer to a third-degree, though it was a first-degree conviction.” She said he also had an excellent prison record, reflecting the Supreme Court’s underlying rationale that kids, while impulsive and immature, also have a great capacity for rehabilitation.

Bradley Bridge of the Defender Association, which represents many of the lifers, believes the new offers will withstand judicial scrutiny — and that of the public. Krasner, he said, “sees the dangers of overincarceration and has come up with a meaningful solution.  He has reevaluated offers and, consistent with the protection of the public, has recognized that new offers can take into account to a more significant degree the juvenile’s growth while in prison.”...

Krasner said offers he’s approved so far have included minimums ranging between 40 years and just under 20 years.  He declined to specify a floor for minimum sentences. “I see no arbitrary number. We are approaching this the way the Anglo-American court system has approached these for centuries: on a case-by-case basis.”

February 25, 2018 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10)