Friday, May 09, 2014
Connecticut debate spotlights how fights over death penalty can impede other needed reforms
Long time readers know that one of my enduring frustrations with debates over the fate of death penalty concerns how this debate can sometimes get in the way of other important criminal justice work. A notable new example of this dynamic was on display this week in Connecticut, as evidenced by this local article headlined "Juvenile Sentencing Bill Fails Second Year In A Row." Here are the basic details:
A barrage of amendments, a planned Republican filibuster over the merits of reviving the death penalty, and recent charges against a Milford teen in the fatal stabbing of a classmate scuttled a criminal justice bill on the last day of the 2014 session.
The bill would have offered inmates serving long prison sentences for crimes they committed at a young age a chance at freedom. The measure was crafted in response to two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, in 2010 and 2012. The court held that life sentences for offenders younger than 18 are unconstitutional and that juvenile offenders must be given a "meaningful opportunity" to seek release.
The legislation cleared the House of Representatives on a broad and bipartisan vote in early April. But for the second year in a row, it failed to come up in the Senate by midnight Wednesday, when the General Assembly adjourned. Republicans signaled to Democratic leaders that they were going to block the bill by filing 22 amendments, including one to reinstate the death penalty in Connecticut for convicted terrorists and another to eliminate a program that aims to rehabilitate prisoners by offering them credit toward early release....
Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams said there were enough votes to pass the measure. But, facing Republican opposition and wanting to avoid votes on controversial issues like the death penalty, Williams opted not to bring the bill up....
The proposed bill was based on recommendations by the non-partisan Connecticut Sentencing Commission. It would have permitted prisoners who committed crimes as teenagers and are serving prison terms of 20 years or less to be eligible for a sentence review after they had served 60 percent of their time. Inmates serving 50 years or more could receive that "second look" 30 years into their sentences. The proposal would not have guaranteed freedom for the inmates but would have given them the opportunity to argue their case at a special parole hearing with highly restrictive criteria.
"We're disappointed with what happened in the Senate," said David M. Borden, a retired state Supreme Court justice who chairs the Sentencing Commission, the panel charged with reviewing criminal justice policy and proposing legislation. The commission's members include prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, corrections officials and the state victims advocate. "When you look at the bill dispassionately and look at the facts dispassionately and clear away all the underbrush of things that don't have anything to do with it, it's a very good bill," Borden said Thursday. "To the extent politics got in the way, well, we live in the real world ... we'll take the consequences."
The commission will meet in June and determine whether it will push for the measure again in 2015. "I don't think there's going to be a strong sentiment for giving up this fight," Borden said. He said 70 inmates in Connecticut already have filed cases seeking revisions in their sentences, based on the two Supreme Court rulings. "This bill would have set down reasonable parameters for how these cases should be handled," Borden said.
In the absence of legislation setting a legal framework, the decision of how to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings likely will be left to state courts, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday. "Don't be surprised if it goes to court," Malloy said. The courts "will do what the [legislature] should have done and perhaps do more."
May 9, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Thursday, May 08, 2014
Fascinating discussion of "mom movement" to reform sex offender registration laws
NBC News has this lengthy new piece about efforts to reform sex offender registration laws under the headline "My Son, the Sex Offender: One Mother's Mission to Fight the Law." The full piece is worthy of a full read, and here is how it gets started:
In the run up to Halloween one year, Sharie Keil saw something that really made her jump: Missouri governor Jay Nixon, then the attorney general. He was on television to announce that registered sex offenders were hereby banned from participating in her favorite holiday. On threat of a year in jail, they had to stay inside and display a sign saying they had no candy. The goal was “to protect our children,” as Nixon put it, but Keil heard only a peal of political hysteria.
She is not a sex offender nor, at 63, a new-age apologist for pedophiles or predators. She is a mother, however, and in 1998 her 17-year-old son had sex with a pre-teen girl at a party. He was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse, which got him six months in county jail and a lifetime of mandatory registration as a sex offender. Ten years later, after the Halloween law, Keil felt shocked into action.
”As my husband says, I decided to go on the war path,” she remembers. Today, she’s at the forefront of a growing fight against sex offender registries, a shame-free alliance of offenders and their families, supported by researchers and some advocates who helped pass stringent anti-abuse laws in the first place. They’re organized (albeit loosely) under Reform Sex Offender Laws, a five-year-old lobby that claims 38 state affiliates and a steady patter of legal and legislative victories.
Most of their progress, however, has been limited to a slice of the registry: juvenile offenders. That would remove Keil’s son, but this former soccer mom and chapter head of the League of Women Voters wants to abolish the public registry altogether. She funds a powerful RSOL affiliate, Missouri Citizens for Reform, which has helped push sweeping changes through the Missouri House four years in a row, only to see the effort smothered in the Senate or, last summer, stabbed by a governor’s veto.
“Changing the registry would provide relief for tens of thousands of Missourians,” Keil says. “Since there are nearly 800,000 people on the registry nationally, millions of lives would change for the better.”
As reckless as Keil’s ideas may sound, she and her intellectual allies—among them Nicole Pittman, an attorney who slammed registries in a Human Rights Watch report last year—are fervently opposed to sexual abuse and believe in jail time for law breakers. However, they also hope to realign the law with second-chance ideals and new research that shows rehabilitation is possible, even for America’s last pariahs.
If they succeed, Keil believes, public safety will actually improve. As the registries shrink or disappear, law enforcement will be freed to focus on crime prevention. If the movement fails, she warns, public safety could suffer. Truly dangerous people will be lost in the thousands that police must monitor, while relatively harmless offenders break bad in a system that gives them no hope for a normal future.
Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Elderly coke dealer, on his 90th birthday, gets 3-year prison sentence
As reported in this local piece, headlined "90-Year-Old Drug Mule Sentenced To 3 Years For Part In Major Drug Scheme," a unique drug dealer got a pretty standard drug sentence in federal court in Michigan today. Here are the details:
Leo Sharp learned that he would spend three years in federal prison for his role in a major drug operation in which prosecutors say Sharp transported more than 2,000 pounds of cocaine to across the country before being caught in Michigan. Sharp was running bricks of cocaine from Tucson, Arizona, to Detroit when he was pulled over near Chelsea, 60 miles west of Detroit, after making a bad lane change in 2011.
Outside the courthouse Sharp cried that he was “heartbroken” and didn’t feel that his age had anything to do with the length of his prison sentence. When a state trooper approached, Sharp was upset and declared, “Just kill me and let me leave this planet.”...
Prosecutors were recommending a five-year prison sentence — urging the judge to look beyond Sharp’s age and health issues and lock him up for delivering more than a ton of cocaine. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline, noted that there’s video of Sharp — known as “grandpa” and “old man” — joking and laughing with others charged in the drug conspiracy.
Graveline said Sharp received at least $1.25 million from his handlers for hauling more than 2,750 pounds of cocaine to Michigan from the Southwest in 2010 and 2011. He’s one of 19 people under indictment in a case connected to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. Graveline said the cartel “literally flooded the streets of southeast Michigan and Fort Wayne, Indiana, with kilograms of cocaine.”
Sharp, of Michigan City, Indiana, had hoped to stay out of prison. Defense attorney Darryl Goldberg said Sharp has dementia and other issues, and would be a burden for the prison system. “Of course I respectfully disagree with the judge’s sentence but she is a very experienced jurist and I hope that Leo can survive the sentence,” said Goldberg....
During sentencing Judge Nancy Edmunds said Sharp was in the middle of a huge operation and transported cocaine six different times and was paid more than a million dollars.
Recent related post:
- You be the federal sentencing judge: what prison term for massive drug courier ... who is a 90-year-old WWII vet?
Monday, May 05, 2014
Detailing notable legal challenge to juve sex offender registration requirements
The AP has this notable new article headlined simply "Juvenile Sex-offender Registries are Challenged." Here are excerpts:
By the time he was arrested for sexually assaulting two siblings, 15-year-old J.B. had been molested by his alcoholic father and subjected to 25 moves among his birth, foster and adoptive families. He had also suffered from untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.
Though tried in juvenile court, with its focus on privacy and rehabilitation, he was later required by a 2012 Pennsylvania law to register as a sex offender — branded a long-term danger to society, with no way off the list for at least 25 years. Juvenile law advocates campaigning against such automatic registries argue that they undermine the rehabilitative purpose of juvenile law and wrongly force judges to treat offenders the same, no matter their circumstances. In Pennsylvania, local judges increasingly agree with them.
Late last year, a central Pennsylvania judge weighing the cases of J.B., as he is known in court documents, and six others found the registration law violated the state constitution. Now the issue is headed to the state high court.... In the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday, juvenile advocates will argue that the registration requirement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and creates roadblocks for young people trying to rebuild their lives.
Across the country, a growing number of juvenile judges, advocates and policymakers are questioning the effect of the registration mandate Congress passed under the 2006 Adam Walsh Act, named after the Florida boy abducted and killed in 1981. States that don't comply risk losing millions in federal law enforcement grants. A few states, including Texas and California, decided it was cheaper to opt out of the Walsh Act, and the Ohio Supreme Court has since found the juvenile registry unconstitutional....
Prosecutors in York County defend the law. "The standards are not meant to be easy," said Tim Barker, the chief deputy district attorney. "They were created with an eye toward the protection of the public." Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said the law was forced on states by the funding tie-in. But he said he believes the mandate is appropriate in the most serious cases, including one in his county in which a teen raised amid violent pornography assaulted a 3-year-old neighbor....
The Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, which successfully argued J.B.'s case, believes judges need the authority to fashion what they deem appropriate placement and treatment plans. "That's very separate and distinct from saying we're going to put a scarlet `A' on these kids for the rest of their lives," said Marsha Levick, the center's chief counsel.
Recent reports by Human Rights Watch and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission — both critical of juvenile registries — found that children lash out sexually for different reasons than adults and are less likely to reoffend. One survey involving about 11,000 young offenders put the recidivism rate at 7 percent, compared with 13 percent for adult sex offenders, according to the Human Rights Watch report.
Nearly all other states compile some sort of registry, although 11 states do so only if the juveniles are tried in adult court. Pennsylvania's law applies to teens 14 to 17 accused of rape, aggravated sexual assault and other serious sex crimes. In practice, though, lesser pleas are often being negotiated to avoid triggering the reporting mandate, prosecutors and defense attorneys said.
Some related posts:
- State judge in Pennsylvania finds lifetime sex offender registration for juve offenders unconstitutional
- Ohio Supreme Court finds required juve sex offender registration unconstitutional on numerous grounds
- New big Human Rights Watch report assails placing juve sex offenders on registries
- Missouri Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off state registry
- Illinois commission advocates against putting all juve sex offenders on registry
Thursday, May 01, 2014
You be the federal sentencing judge: what prison term for massive drug courier ... who is a 90-year-old WWII vet?
This remarkable Detroit Free-Press article reports on a remarkable drug criminal facing a remarkable federal sentencing next week. The piece is headlined "Convicted drug mule to spend 90th birthday in court facing sentencing," and here are the details:
An Indiana senior citizen will celebrate his 90th birthday in bizarre fashion Wednesday: getting sentenced in federal court for hauling cocaine across the country for a Mexican drug cartel. Convicted drug mule Leo Earl Sharp, though, is hoping to stay out of prison....
Sharp’s lawyer says prison is no place for his client: a frail, decorated World War II veteran who suffers from dementia. “Labeling a war hero like Mr. Sharp a federal felon and forever tarnishing his reputation is sufficient punishment in itself; a sentence of imprisonment would be greater than necessary,” defense attorney Darryl Goldberg wrote in court documents....
The U.S. Attorney’s office has not yet filed a sentencing recommendation, but is expected to do so before Sharp’s sentencing before U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds. In a previous court document — Sharpe’s plea agreement — prosecutors recommended a five year prison sentence.
Sharp, of Michigan City, Ind., was arrested in 2011 during a traffic stop near Ann Arbor, where he was busted with nearly $3 million worth of cocaine in his pickup. Authorities eventually learned that the elderly pickup driver was a courier for a massive drug ring that ran a cocaine pipeline between Mexico and Detroit for several years, according to an indictment that charged 18 defendants total....
In October 2013, Sharp pleaded guilty to conspiracy to posses with intent to possess and deliver cocaine. Under the terms of his plea agreement, the sentencing guidelines call for a 168-210 month prison sentence, although prosecutors said they would recommend five years. Sharpe’s lawyer has requested home confinement.
“When you are living on Social Security for your entire income, you are really in need of money and that’s why I did what I did at first. I didn’t think about the consequences of my actions and I made a tremendous mistake. I should not have gotten involved and I feared for my life and my family’s lives and felt I had no choice,” Sharp explained in a report to a U.S. probation officer. Sharp also explained that he “agreed to transport money in exchange for a fee … and was later asked to carry drugs.” When he told his cohorts that he “wasn’t going to do that anymore, they put a gun to (his) head and threatened (him) and said they would kill (his family.)”...
According to the indictment, Sharp was a drug courier for two years, delivering roughly 670 kilograms of cocaine to conspirators in Michigan between 2009 and 2011. Shipments of cocaine would be received at the Arizona-Mexico border, and then driven to Michigan, where members would meet at a warehouse in Wyandotte and unload the drugs for distribution. The drug organization, records show, is a part of an international drug cartel based in Sinaloa, Mexico, and helped distribute between 100 and 300 kilograms of cocaine per month in metro Detroit from 2008 through 2011.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
How many of current federal prisoners satisfy all six of the new DOJ clemency guidelines?
As reported here, yesterday the US Department of Justice announced more formally its plans and criteria for its Clemency Initiative, and this memo by Deputy AG Cole there set forth "six criteria the department will consider when reviewing and expediting clemency applications from federal inmates":
Under the new initiative, the department will prioritize clemency applications from inmates who meet all of the following factors [numbering added]:
-  They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
-  They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
-  They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
-  They do not have a significant criminal history;
-  They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
-  They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
This BOP page indicates that, as of April 24, 2014, there are 216,614 total federal prisoners, and this BOP accounting of sentences imposed indicates that the majority of federal prisoners are serving sentences of less than 10 years. Moreover, I suspect that less than half of the roughly 45,000 federal inmates current serving prison terms of 15 years or more have already served at least 10 years of their prison sentence. In other words, clemency criteria #3 above alone probably cuts the number of possible "priority clemency applicants" down to around 20,000.
In a sound and cautious sentencing system (and likely in most state sentencing systems), there would be relatively few among the group of inmates serving over 10 years in prison who were "non-violent, low-level offenders" who lacked a "significant criminal history" and also have "no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment." Nevertheless I fear that in the federal sentencing system under old-mandatory guidelines, there may be thousands of crack offenders and many other drug offenders (and perhaps even some white-collar offenders?), who have been imprisoned for a decade for non-violent, low-level offenses.
Thanks to the Fair Sentencing Act, many of the crack offenders should be able to state that "by operation of law, [they] likely would have received a substantially lower sentence." But can any lower-level non-violent drug offender also reasonably make this claim if she was sentenced before Booker? Could these drug defendants point to the now pending drug guideline amendments (as well as Booker) to claim they meet clemency criteria #1?
Long story short, I suspect there may well be perhaps 5000 or more federal prisoner who can make a plausible claim that they meet all six of clemency criteria.
April 24, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
"Are female sex offenders treated differently?"
The title of this post is the headline of of this new Salon article which carries this subheadline: "A light sentence for a teacher suggests courts still don't get it about women predators." Here is how the piece begins:
It’s an all too common story – a high school teacher facing sex abuse charges involving students admits to the wrongdoing and faces the criminal justice system. But was a sentence of just one month in custody at a Community Correction Center sufficient punishment for a 39-year-old educator who has sex abuse investigations dating back six years? And could the slap on the wrist sentence have anything to do with the fact that in this case, the teacher sentenced is a woman, and the victim is a boy?
In a case that involves charges of abuse from two male students, Oregon teacher Denise Keesee has acknowledged multiple sexual encounters in 2008 with a then 16-year-old student, and currently faces a $5.1 million lawsuit from another male student. According to Oregon Live, court documents show that “Keesee told detectives she kissed [the other student] several times in 2012 when they were alone in her classroom. She also reportedly admitted to sending him photos of herself, including one of her naked.” Because that student was 18, no criminal charges were filed.
The justice system doesn’t lack for stories of male abusers who get off with relatively light punishments. And it’s important to note that every story involving sex abuse is unique. But at the same time that Denise Keesee is facing just 30 days of confinement for what happened between her and a 16-year-old, a male teacher in her same state was last week sentenced to nearly three years in prison for “an inappropriate sexual relationship” with a 16-year-old female student. Last month in Idaho, a special education teacher was sentenced to five to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing two adolescent girls.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Short federal sentence for cocaine offense when "'Breaking Bad' meets 'Walter Mitty'"
A remarkable federal drug sentencing case culminated in a short prison sentence as reported in this local article headlined "'Breaking Bad' meets 'Walter Mitty' in Alachua County contractor's cocaine sentencing." Here are the details:
The judge said the criminal case seemed to be more like a movie than an actual court proceeding. But on Monday the strange saga of an Alachua County man who went to Puerto Rico to try and dig up 11 pounds of cocaine ended in a short prison sentence and a pledge to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan sentenced Rodney Hyden, 56, to 60 days in prison, one year of home detention and five years of supervised release. In imposing the sentence, Corrigan said it was one of the most difficult decisions he’d had to reach in a long time. He said he’s struggled with what the proper sentence should be.
Hyden, who owns his own construction company, will also be required to volunteer an average of 20 hours a week at Habitat for Humanity during his home detention and supervised release and will also be expected to build a Splash Park for the city of Newberry, where he lives.
Hyden could have faced 10 years in prison, but prosecutors waived the minimum mandatory laws and said the crime didn’t mandate a sentence that long. The head of Habitat and the mayor of Newberry also wrote letters to Corrigan saying they were comfortable with Hyden providing his services.
Defense Attorney Mark Rosenblum argued that his client should be let off without jail time and required to do the community service with Habitat for Humanity and Newberry. Federal prosecutor Tysen Duva asked for 30 months of prison. “Rodney Hyden is a good man who made a bad mistake,” Rosenblum said. “Luckily for him, the government was represented by an honest prosecutor and the case was presided over by an extremely fair judge.”
A neighbor of Hyden’s in Newberry told him that when he lived in Puerto Rico he found cocaine washed up on the beach and buried it near the trailer where he lived at the time. Hyden talked to several people about getting the cocaine, but he didn’t know that one of those people, Daniel Jimenez, was working as an informer for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
Two undercover agents posing as narcotics traffickers met with Hyden and offered to help him get the drugs to Northeast Florida. Hyden went to Puerto Rico twice seeking the drugs, but couldn’t find them. He ended up giving a treasure map of where he thought the drugs might be to the undercover agents. Police found the drugs, which had degraded to the point of being worthless, and arrested Hyden.
During the trial, Rosenblum argued that his client had been entrapped by the government and never would have gone after the drugs if people working for the government hadn’t encouraged it. Jurors rejected that argument.
Hyden was convicted of a serious crime, but at the same time there was no real victim in the case, and even if he’d managed to retrieve the drugs he could not have sold them because they had degraded so much, Corrigan said. Corrigan said the seriousness of the drug crime mandated some prison time, but not a lot.
The judge also dropped some pop culture references. “If this case wasn’t so serious it would make a great movie,” Corrigan said. “It’s a combination of ‘Breaking Bad’ and the ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty.’”
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
NY Times editorial laments "Echoes of the Superpredator"
While traveling, I missed this recent New York Times editorial discussing the persistence of tough juve sentencing laws after superpredator fears have receded. Here are excerpts:
News reports — usually featuring images of glowering black teenagers — warned of the coming wave of violence that would flood the country. Respected criminologists bought into and amplified the hysteria. Most destructively, almost every state passed laws making it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults, by increasing the number of crimes or reducing the age that triggered adult prosecution — and in some cases eliminating the minimum age altogether....
Two decades later, it’s easy to look back in judgment, but it would be a mistake to think the nation has fully moved beyond that mind-set. Many states continue to punish juveniles as harshly as they can, even though the Supreme Court has held in a series of landmark rulings since 2005 that young people are “constitutionally different” from adults....
Some states have taken the court’s rulings, and its reasoning, to heart. Since the ruling in Miller, five states have abolished juvenile life without parole in all cases. In March, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that provides parole review for any juvenile who serves at least 15 years in adult prisons. Similar legislation is pending in Connecticut and Hawaii.
But other states keep fighting to prevent their juvenile offenders from ever having the chance to see the light of day. Michigan now gives judges the “choice” of imposing a minimum sentence of 25 to 60 years instead of life without parole. Courts in other states have refused to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling retroactively, stranding many of the more than 2,000 inmates who were sentenced before the Miller decision.
The issue is not, as supporters of mandatory sentencing would have it, about going easy on criminals. No one is ordering judges to release inmates who are not rehabilitated, or who pose a threat to society. Rather, it is about giving legal meaning to the neurological, psychological and emotional vulnerabilities of young people. Those who make mistakes — even terrible ones — should not be sentenced to die in prison.
The myth of the superpredator helped spawn a generation of misguided laws that treated young people as adults, despite evidence that doing so actually increases recidivism. Most of these laws remain in effect. The Supreme Court has rightly begun to dismantle their constitutional foundations, but some states are determined to act as if it were always 1995.
Recent related post:
Saturday, April 12, 2014
"Bombshell or Babystep? The Ramifications of Miller v. Alabama for Sentencing Law and Juvenile Crime Policy"
The title of this post is the title of this symposium foreword authored by Paul Litton and now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This short essay, which serves as the Symposium Foreword, argues that the rationale of Miller is incoherent insofar as it permits juvenile LWOP sentences and that the Court misidentifies the foundational principle of Roper.
First, in banning mandatory juvenile LWOP sentences, the Court invokes Woodson, which bans mandatory death sentences. The Court maintains that Woodson, from its capital jurisprudence, applies because juvenile LWOP is “akin to the death penalty” for juveniles. But if the Court’s capital jurisprudence is binding based on that equivalence, Roper should imply that juvenile LWOP, like the death penalty, is unconstitutional for juveniles. This essay briefly explores whether there is a principled reason for the Court to invoke Woodson but not Roper from its capital jurisprudence.
Second, the Court does cite Roper for its “foundational principle,” which is, according to the Court, “that imposition of a State’s most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they were not children.” However, this principle cannot be the bedrock of Roper. Since Lockett, state capital sentencing schemes have not proceeded as though juvenile offenders were not children. Juvenile capital defendants could introduce their youth and accompanying characteristics in mitigation. Roper, therefore, is based on a much stronger principle, one that requires categorical removal of juveniles from the universe of death-eligible defendants and, thus, should imply the same for penalties equivalent to death.
This Foreword also provides a guide to the symposium’s wonderful contributions by Nancy Gertner, Will Berry, Frank Bowman, Josh Gupta-Kagan, Michael O’Hear, Clark Peters, Mary Price, and Mae Quinn. In doing so, it highlights a fascinating theme running through many authors’ answer to whether Miller represents a “bombshell or babystep”: Miller’s implications for the Court’s methodology for conducting proportionality analyses and, specifically, for the role of “objective indicia” of public attitudes in such analyses.
April 12, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Reviewing how US prisons now serve as huge warehouses for the mentally ill
This MSNBC article, headlined "Prisons are the ‘new asylums’ of the US: Report," effectively summarizes a new study documenting that that US prisons now "house ten times more people with mental illnesses than its hospitals." Here is more:
The report, released Tuesday by the Treatment Advocacy Center, found that state prisons and county jails house approximately 356,268 people with mental illnesses, while state mental hospitals hold only 35,000. The disparity is also a nationwide problem – only six states have psychiatric hospitals with more people in them than a prisons or jail.
Prisons, according to the report, have become the nation’s “new asylums.” The number of beds available at hospitals for mental health patients has been dropping for decades. And as the population of incarcerated people has exploded, so has the number of people with serious problems....
The report provided a breakdown of the number of mentally ill prisoners in each state’s correctional facilities, the laws governing treatment, and examples of how inmates are treated. Among others, they include a Mississippi prison designed for mentally ill inmates, overrun by rats, where some prisoners capture the rats, put them on makeshift leashes, and sell them as pets to other inmates. There was also a case in which a schizophrenic man spent 13 of 15 of his years in prison in solitary confinement....
“Inmates who linger untreated in jails and prisons become increasingly more vulnerable to their symptoms and the resulting victimization or violence,” the report read. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center and lead author of the study, said in a statement, “The lack of treatment for seriously ill inmates is inhumane and should not be allowed in a civilized society.”...
The report’s authors admit that reducing the number of mentally ill inmates in jails would have to come along with a massive recommitment to high-quality mental health care in hospitals – a tall order in this age of austerity. In the interim, they advocate for more outpatient treatment and jail diversion programs, as well as more planning, both when inmates enter the system and leave it.
The full report released by the Treatment Advocacy Center is titled "The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey," and it can be accessed in full at this link.
Retro Report provides reminder of "When Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear."
The New York Times together with Retro Report puts together articles and videos looking back a media coverage and the aftermath of high-profile stories of years gone by. The latest production is available here under the headline "hen Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear." Here are excerpts from the article that goes along with the great 10-minute video on the topic:
Social scientists like James A. Fox, a criminologist, warned of “a blood bath of violence” that could soon wash over the land. That fear, verging on panic, is the subject of this week’s segment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories from years ago and explore what has happened since.
What happened with the superpredator jeremiads is that they proved to be nonsense. They were based on a notion that there would be hordes upon hordes of depraved teenagers resorting to unspeakable brutality, not tethered by conscience. No one in the mid-1990s promoted this theory with greater zeal, or with broader acceptance, than John J. DiIulio Jr., then a political scientist at Princeton. Chaos was upon us, Mr. DiIulio proclaimed back then in scholarly articles and television interviews. The demographics, he said, were inexorable. Politicians from both major parties, though more so on the right, picked up the cry. Many news organizations pounced on these sensational predictions and ran with them like a punt returner finding daylight.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. Instead of exploding, violence by children sharply declined. Murders committed by those ages 10 to 17 fell by roughly two-thirds from 1994 to 2011, according to statistics kept by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mugged by reality, a chastened Mr. DiIulio has offered a mea culpa. “Demography,” he says, “is not fate.” The trouble with his superpredator forecast, he told Retro Report, is that “once it was out there, there was no reeling it in.”
It certainly had consequences. It energized a movement, as one state after another enacted laws making it possible to try children as young as 13 or 14 as adults... Many hundreds of juveniles were sent to prison for life, though in the last few years the United States Supreme Court has ruled that such sentences must not be automatic, even in murder cases. Individual circumstances and possible mitigating factors should be weighed, the justices said....
The superpredator scare fit neatly with a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to rising crime that had taken hold even before the ‘90s. Many states are now moving in the opposite direction, if only because incarceration is expensive, in both its human toll and its burden on strapped government budgets....
Fears about predators, super or not, have not entirely disappeared. Of late, some are concerned about what is called “the knockout game.” It involves a young man or group of young men punching a stranger on the street. This is cast essentially as a black-on-white crime, perhaps a gang initiation rite. No question, such assaults have taken place. But are they part of an organized “game”? In New York, the police seem unsure if they amount to more than isolated incidents.
As for superpredators, not everyone has abandoned the notion. In the ‘90s, Mr. DiIulio called those youngsters “remorseless” and “impulsive,” describing them as unburdened by “pangs of conscience.” Hmm, said Richard Eskow. Or words to that effect. Mr. Eskow, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, wrote for The Huffington Post two years ago that he knew a group of people who matched those very descriptions. They were, he said, the reckless bankers and Wall Street high rollers who almost brought the United States economy to its knees a few years ago.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
How many states now require judges to consider military service and/or PTSD at sentencing?
The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by this short local article headlined "Calif. Bill Urges Judges To Consider PTSD In Sentencing Of Military Veterans." Here are the basics:
A bill moving through the state Legislature would urge judges to grant probation and give shorter prison terms to defendants who have mental health problems stemming from their military service.
AB2098 passed the Assembly on Monday on a 70-1 vote. It requires courts to consider post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues in sentencing. The bill’s author, Democrat Marc Levine of San Rafael, says as many as one in five soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD and are more likely to commit crimes.
California law already requires judges to consider ordering treatment when granting probation for veterans with mental illness. The bill is one of several that address how to deal with veterans in the criminal justice system. It now heads to the Senate.
I view legislative action regarding consideration of military service and/or PTSD at sentencing to be part of a broader set of modern sentencing developments focused on the importance of offender characteristics. The modern structured/guidelines sentencing reform era has often generated laws and practices suggesting sentencing decision-making could and should focus much more, if not exclusively, on the specifics of an offense rather than the nature of the offender.
But the Supreme Court's recent Eighth Amendment rulings in Graham and Miller now suggest that an offender's youth is a constitutionally essential sentencing consideration (at least in some settings). State sentencing laws requiring consideration of military service and/or PTSD seems another example of the (post-modern?) view that consideration at sentencing of at least some offender characteristics may be essential to a fair and effective sentencing system.
Some older related posts:
- Should prior military service reduce a sentence?
- Prior military service as a sentencing mitigator gets a big boost from SCOTUS
- "Judge suggests more sentencing options for war veterans"
- Can downloading of child porn be blamed on post-traumatic stress disorder?
- "Judges Consider New Factor at Sentencing: Military Service"
- Kansas legislature considering bill for PTSD-based sentence reductions for veterans
- Ohio bill to require consideration of military service at sentencing
- "Neuroscience, PTSD, and Sentencing Mitigation"
- "Military Veterans, Culpability, and Blame"
Monday, April 07, 2014
Does an imprisoned white supremacist have a right to an anti-Kosher diet?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Illinois headlined "White Supremacist Hale Sues Bureau Of Prisons For Violating His Rights." Here are the basics:
It was nine years ago today that Matt Hale of East Peoria was sentenced to 40 years in prison – convicted of soliciting the murder of a federal judge. Now, without a lawyer, Hale is suing the federal Bureau of Prisons because he says his rights are being denied.
Matt Hale, a minister in the religion of Creativity, is suing because he says the federal prison system has been taking away his mail privileges.
“They just come in and announce to him that his mail is being taken away from him,” said Evelyn Hutcheson, Hale’s 75-year-old mother. Hutcheson is his staunchest defenders. She says her son is moral, never plotted against a judge – and she says his trial was dirty and tainted. “I would like to see him freed before I die. I really would. But I just know how dirty it is. I’m sorry. I know how dirty it actually is. And who am I? I’m just a little peon. I’m nothing.”
Besides wanting to get his mail regularly, Hale is suing the prison system to be served the diet he says his anti-Jewish religion requires: uncooked food like raw fruits, vegetables and nuts.
Friday, April 04, 2014
"Should T.J. Lane's 3 life sentences get another look from the appellate court?"
The title of this post is the question in the headline of this local editorial discussion of a high-profile school shooter who might be the type of juvenile murderer that even the US Supreme Court would conclude can be given a juvenile LWOP sentence. Here are a few excerpts:
The lawyer for Chardon High School shooter T.J. Lane wants an appellate court to overturn Lane's three consecutive life sentences for the 2012 shootings in which three students died and three were wounded on the grounds that the sentencing judge didn't explicitly consider Lane's age — 17 at the time of the crime — as a mitigating factor in the sentencing. A recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling in another case said a judge must specifically address the age of a juvenile defendant when sentencing a youth to life without parole. Geauga County prosecutors say the appeal is frivolous because Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry was well aware of Lane's age throughout the proceedings and that his age also featured prominently in the many reports on T.J. Lane's psychological state and life going back to kindergarten that Fuhry had before him at sentencing.
Does Lane's lawyer raise a valid point or should the three life sentences stand? Editorial board members share their thoughts on this case...
Thomas Suddes, editorial writer: The appeal of T.J. Lane's sentencing is a perfect example of why so many Ohioans, like Charles Dickens' Mr. Bumble, think "the law is a ass — a idiot." First, Lane pleaded guilty to killing three students, and wounding three others, in Chardon High School's cafeteria. His guilty plea is a fact. There is no question about his guilt, no doubt his guilty plea was voluntary. Those, too, are facts. Second, Lane's sentence — three consecutive life terms in prison without parole — was, is, eminently just. Third, unless an Ohioan was on Mars, virtually everyone who knew of the Chardon murders, and just about everybody in Ohio did know about them, also knew that Lane was 17 when he embarked on his homicidal rampage....
The facts of the sentencing that resulted from the Cincinnati case are whatever those facts are. But no rational bystander can claim that Fuhry was unaware of, or failed to take into account, Lane's age when he murdered. Everyone charged with a crime is entitled to a vigorous legal defense, but given the facts of the Lane case, and his guilty plea, this appeal represents the privileging of form over substance. In Lane's case, justice was done. And justice was seen to be done. And justice requires the dismissal of this appeal.
Kevin O'Brien, deputy editorial page editor, The Plain Dealer: Age is an arbitrary measure that often comes into play in the law. People under 21 cannot legally consume alcohol — a rule made based on the supposition that allowing otherwise would be detrimental to social order. T.J. Lane’s lawyer is making a general argument about 17-year-olds that doesn’t fit the specifics of his client’s case. Lane knew what he was doing in the school cafeteria, and he certainly was aware that it was wrong. He knew what he was doing at his sentencing hearing, when he wore his disgustingly boastful T-shirt. He is a cowardly assassin who, far from showing any remorse, has gone out of his way to compound the emotional hurt to his victims’ loved ones. He is right where he belongs, and three consecutive life sentences are perfectly appropriate.
Elizabeth Sullivan, opinion director, Northeast Ohio Media Group: Judges should consider a young offender's age when sentencing someone to life in prison without any possibility of parole. The Ohio Supreme Court is absolutely right about that, and if any judge fails to do so, he or she should be challenged on it. But it seems the most trivial of technicalities to suggest that Judge David Fuhry in Geauga County didn't consider T.J. Lane's age simply because he didn't explicitly reference it in his sentencing decision. Lane's age was a factor throughout this case, whether or not the judge spoke to it during sentencing. That's why this appeal is likely going nowhere. And if the appellate court takes a second look, what then? Two consecutive life terms instead of three? All the data before the judge at the time of sentencing pointed to the fact that T.J. Lane, a clearly disturbed and dangerous young man, should be locked up for life.
Christopher Evans, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group: The cold-blooded executions of three Chardon High School students and the wounding of three others, the lack of remorse and the contempt for the families, the community and the justice system made Lane ageless. He wasn't 17. He was psycho. The smirk, the handwritten "Killer" T-shirt — which mirrored the one he wore when he opened fire in the school cafeteria — and his offensive comments to the packed courthouse all speak to that. Lane earned every minute of those three life sentences for the three lives he took. But we're better than T.J. Lane. Reduce his sentence to two life sentences without parole. I can live with that.
Prior related post:
- Is TJ Lane eager to be the "uncommon" juvenile murderer who can constitutionally get an LWOP sentence?
Monday, March 31, 2014
Is it time for AARP to get active in policy debates over sentencing and prison reforms?
The (provocative) question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy article from a local Pennsylvaia paper under the headline, "Older criminals present challenges for prisons, courts; Our population is getting grayer everywhere, including behind bars." I have seen and highlighted a number of these article in the past, and often they appear in a series of articles about state prison policies and reform. But this lengthy article is within a series of articles called "Coming of Age" addressing a range of issues facing a greying baby-boom population.
It is surely a sign of the modern mass incarceration times that a series about growing old includes a lengthy article about growing old in prison. And here are excerpts from the piece:
Older prison inmates are more likely to have chronic illnesses and mental conditions that require special treatment, and moving them through the court system can be a complicated balancing act on the scales of justice.
At the Bucks County Correctional Facility in Doylestown Township, 7.5 percent of the population — about 89 prisoners — are 65 and older. There is no special cell block for the elderly, although some prisoners who are especially frail may be placed in protective custody, said William Plantier, Bucks County’s director of corrections....
Most of Pennsylvania’s state correctional institutions house elderly inmates. All have wheelchair-accessible cells and showers that can accommodate people with disabilities. Inmates with medical conditions that require elaborate care are sent to SCI Laurel Highlands, a minimum security prison located about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Built on the site of a former state hospital, Laurel Highlands is set up like a medical facility. Inmates receive treatments like kidney dialysis and chemotherapy, and staff members have been trained to treat chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Laurel Highlands has 15 dialysis chairs. Before the facility opened in 1966, inmates had to be transported to outside clinics for treatment. “We’re saving a ton of money by doing it in-house,” said Betsy Nightingale, assistant superintendent at Laurel Highlands. “It’s also much better for security purposes, because the inmates do not have to travel.”
Inmates in Laurel Highlands follow a normal prison schedule; there are regular times when prisoners are counted and meals follow a schedule. Frail inmates who cannot move about the facility easily have activities brought to them. “There’s bingo and a current events program,” Nightingale said.
About 120 inmates reside in Laurel Highland’s skilled care unit. That part of the prison has nurses on staff 24/7. Prisoners who have Alzheimer’s and other incapacitating illnesses take up most of the rooms. While the majority of the 1,571 beds at Laurel Highlands are filled with older inmates, younger people with chronic illnesses may also be sent there. Sometimes, they are nursed back to health and transferred to another prison.
Currently, about 5,365 of Pennsylvania’s 51,512 state-sentenced prisoners are over age 55. That’s about 10.42 percent of all prisoners. In 2000, the percentage was 4.82, about 1,775 out of 36,802 inmates.
There are 1,249 prisoners over age 65 — about 2.49 percent of the prison population. Nationwide, the number of prisoners age 55 and older has risen sharply over the past decade, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Charitable Trust, a nonpartisan research center. In 1999, there were 43,300 prisoners age 55 and up. By 2011, that number had blossomed to 121,800.
The health care costs for inmates age 55 and older with a chronic illness is, on average, two to three times that of the cost to house and care for other inmates, according to the study. In Pennsylvania, the ratio of older to younger inmates fluctuates, as prisoners complete their sentences and are released, said Susan Bensinger, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Corrections. “Not everyone who is older and goes to prison, even to Laurel Highlands, goes there to die, which is a common assumption,” she said.
But the reality is, people do die behind bars. To address this issue, the department has created an end-of-life care initiative, in which an inmate volunteer is paired with another prisoner who is terminally ill. The two inmates spend several hours a day together, so the dying prisoner spends less time alone and is more comfortable. The program, which isn’t hospice care, can be an emotional experience for the volunteers, Bensinger said. “It’s a very different thing to watch another human being die,” she said. “Some of them are probably seeing themselves in 10 years. The volunteers are very compassionate.”
In the prison system, 50 is considered elderly. That’s because inmates often enter the facilities with serious health problems. “Many inmates come to us never having received dental care or regular health care. Most of them also have drug and alcohol dependence, which ages a body much more rapidly,” Bensinger said.
Controversy long after du Pont heir got probation as punishment for raping his small daughter
As detailed in this lengthy local article from Delaware, headlined "Heir's sentence raises questions in child rape case," a high-profile child rape case from years ago is now generating new controversy because the low sentence imposed on the rapist just became public. Here are the details:
A judge who sentenced a wealthy du Pont heir to probation for raping his 3-year-old daughter noted in her order that he "will not fare well" in prison and needed treatment instead of time behind bars, court records show.
Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden's sentencing order for Robert H. Richards IV suggested that she considered unique circumstances when deciding his punishment for fourth-degree rape. Her observation that prison life would adversely affect Richards was a rare and puzzling rationale, several criminal justice authorities in Delaware said. Some also said her view that treatment was a better idea than prison is a justification typically used when sentencing drug addicts, not child rapists.
Richards' 2009 rape case became public this month after attorneys for his ex-wife, Tracy, filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the abuse of his daughter. The fact that Jurden expressed concern that prison wasn't right for Richards came as a surprise to defense lawyers and prosecutors who consider her a tough sentencing judge. Several noted that prison officials can put inmates in protective custody if they are worried about their safety, noting that child abusers are sometimes targeted by other inmates.
"It's an extremely rare circumstance that prison serves the inmate well," said Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O'Neill, whose office represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer. "Prison is to punish, to segregate the offender from society, and the notion that prison serves people well hasn't proven to be true in most circumstances." O'Neill said he and his deputies have often argued that a defendant was too ill or frail for prison, but he has never seen a judge cite it as a "reason not to send someone to jail."...
O'Neill said the way the Richards case was handled might cause the public to be skeptical about "how a person with great wealth may be treated by the system." Richards, who is unemployed and supported by a trust fund, owns a 5,800-square-foot mansion in Greenville, Del., he bought for $1.8 million in 2005. He also lists a home in the exclusive North Shores neighborhood near Rehoboth Beach, according to the state's sex abuse registry. His great-grandfather is du Pont family patriarch Irenee du Pont, and his father is Robert H. Richards III, a retired partner in the Richards Layton & Finger law firm....
The lawsuit filed by Richards' ex-wife accuses him of admitting to sexually abusing his infant son between 2005 and 2007, the same period when he abused his daughter starting when she was 3. Police said they investigated allegations involving the boy in 2010 after his mother filed a complaint, but said they did not have sufficient evidence to justify charges. Investigators will take another look at the allegations included in the lawsuit, which are based on reports by probation officers.
State Attorney General Beau Biden's office had initially indicted Richards on two counts of second-degree rape of a child -- Class B violent felonies that carry a mandatory 10-year prison term for each count. According to the arrest warrant filed by a New Castle County Police Detective JoAnna Burton in December 2007, the girl, then 5, told her grandmother, Donna Burg, that Richards sexually abused her.
Burg said the child reported that her father told her it was "our little secret" but said she didn't want "my daddy touching me anymore." Tracy Richards, who confronted her then-husband, told police he admitted abusing his daughter but said "it was an accident and he would never do it again," the warrant said.
Richards was free on $60,000 secured bail while awaiting trial on the charges that could have put him behind bars for years. But in June 2008, just days before a scheduled trial, prosecutor Renee Hrivnak offered Richards a plea to a single count of fourth-degree rape, which carries no mandatory time, and he accepted, admitting in court that he abused his child.
"It was more than reasonable, an enlightened plea offer," Richards attorney Eugene J. Maurer Jr. said. Fourth-degree rape is a Class C violent felony that by law can bring up to 15 years in prison, though guidelines suggest zero to 2 1/2 years in prison.
At Richards' February 2009 sentencing, Hrivnak recommended probation, Biden's chief deputy Ian R. McConnel said, adding that in retrospect he wished she would have sought prison time. Hrivnak would not comment.... McConnel would not discuss the rationale behind the Richards' plea deal and Hrivnak's recommendation of probation for the fourth-degree rape conviction.
While judges have the latitude to sentence defendants within legal parameters, they are urged to follow more lenient guidelines established by the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission, a panel of judges and other top officials in the criminal justice system. The panel has a policy that prison should be reserved for violent offenders, including rapists.
Jurden gave Richards, who had no previous criminal record, an eight-year prison term, but suspended all the prison time for probation. "Defendant will not fare well in Level 5 setting," said the final line of her sentencing order. In Delaware's correctional system, Level 5 is prison....
Defense lawyer Joseph A. Hurley said it makes sense to him that the judge would be concerned about Richards' time in prison. "Sure, they have protective custody, but that is solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. We're not a third-world society," Hurley said. "Sex offenders are the lowest of the low in prison," Hurley said. "He's a rich, white boy who is a wuss and a child perv. The prison can't protect them, and Jan Jurden knows that reality. She is right on."
Though lots of reactions to this story are possible, I cannot help but highlight that a story which might seem like an example of a sentencing judge being surprisingly lenient proves to really be a story of prosecutors being surprisingly lenient through plea bargaining and sentencing recommendations. Without a lot more information about the evidence in the case, I am disinclined to robustly criticize either the prosecutors or the judge for how this du Pont heir was treated. But I am inclined to encourage everyone to appreciate how this story reveals yet again how prosecutorial charging, bargaining and sentencing decisions are never subject to transparency or formal review, while judicial sentencing decisions have to be made in open court, on the record, and can in some cases be appealed.
Friday, March 28, 2014
"Adventures in Risk: Predicting Violent and Sexual Recidivism in Sentencing Law"
The title of this post is the title of this new article by Melissa Hamilton now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Risk has become a focal point of criminal justice policy. Officials draw upon the sciences for the best evidence to differentiate between offenders at high risk of being a future threat to society, for whom preventive incapacitation may be justifiable, and those at low risk, for whom diversion might alleviate the overuse of imprisonment. A recent turn in evidence-based practices is to borrow the newest technologies developed in the forensic mental health field to better classify offenders accordingly to their predicted likelihood of recidivism.
Actuarial risk assessment is considered the new frontier as a progressive sentencing reform, representing best practices in predicting recidivism risk. The actuarial turn is adjudged to offer probabilistic estimates of risk that are objective, reliable, transparent, and logical. Policy groups, state legislatures, judges, and probation offices actively promote the use of actuarial risk assessment, believing the empirically-derived tools effectively standardize sentencing practices, mitigate bias, and thereby increase the legal and moral standing of sentencing outcomes.
Actuarial prediction is promoted as founded upon scientific and empirical principals. This Article critically analyzes the predictive abilities of actuarial risk prediction tools utilizing statistical, empirical, and legal methods. A specific focus herein is the risk prediction of those criminals for whom fear is strongest: violent and sexual offenders.
Several questions are of interest: Is widespread reliance on actuarial sentencing justified? Are actuarial risk results sufficiently relevant, valid, and reliable for sentencing law? Is actuarial evidence too prejudicial, confusing, and misleading to meet evidentiary standards in sentencing?
The Article addresses proponents’ arguments that, regardless of any weaknesses, actuarial risk results should be admissible because they constitute merely one piece of evidence in a multi-faceted decision and that any flaws or errors in the evidence can be deduced through normal adversarial processes.
March 28, 2014 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Killer bride Jordan Graham moves to withdraw murder plea claiming feds breached deal in sentencing arguments ... UPDATE: motion denied!
I am intrigued and amazed to learn via this local article, headlined "Newlywed asks to withdraw guilty plea in husband's murder," that the Montana killer bride has now formally moved to withdraw her guilty plea based on the assertion that the federal prosecutors' sentencing arguments breached the (mid-trial) plea deal struck between defendant Jordan Graham and the feds. Here are the details:
The Kalispell newlywed accused of pushing her husband off a cliff last summer asked to withdraw her guilty plea late Tuesday, arguing the agreement she accepted was “illusory” and a “hollow formality.” Jordan Graham, 22, was to be sentenced in Missoula’s U.S. District Court Thursday for the July murder of 25-year-old Cody Johnson along a trail in Glacier National Park. It’s now unclear if the sentencing will proceed as scheduled.
First, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy will have to rule on Graham’s motion to withdraw her guilty plea. If he accepts the motion, a new trial will be scheduled. If he rejects her motion, the sentencing could continue as planned.
In Tuesday’s motion, federal public defender Michael Donahoe argued that prosecutors “breached the plea agreement” by suggesting in a sentencing memorandum filed last week that Graham murdered Johnson with both intent and premeditation. That memorandum, and its suggestion that Graham be sentenced to life in prison, rendered December’s plea agreement “nothing but an empty promise” — merely a means by which prosecutors avoided a possible manslaughter verdict, Donahoe said.
Graham accepted the plea agreement near the end of her trial, pleading guilty to second-degree murder. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge — and its contention that Johnson’s death was premeditated.
For a first-degree murder conviction, prosecutors needed to prove there was intent on Graham’s part; intent is not required for a second-degree murder conviction. “By offering and agreeing to accept a plea agreement to second degree supported by an extreme recklessness plea colloquy, the government effectively removed the issue of defendant’s alleged premeditation as an issue in the case,” Donahoe wrote Tuesday. “That was the entire purpose of the plea agreement,” he added.
Then came the sentencing memorandum, where prosecutors argued that Graham planned the murder of Johnson on the night of July 7 and should spend the rest of her life in prison — or at least the next 50 years.
Graham has admitted pushing her husband of eight days off a cliff in Glacier Park during an argument. She was experiencing doubts about their marriage, she said, and shoved Johnson during a heated exchange. Her intent was not to kill him, Graham said, but rather an instinctive response to Johnson grabbing her arm.
In his sentencing memorandum, assistant U.S. attorney Zeno B. Baucus honed in on evidence that Molloy expressly prohibited from December’s trial. That evidence included a long, black cloth found in the vicinity of Johnson’s body, which prosecutors theorized Graham used to blindfold her husband before pushing him off a cliff along Glacier Park’s Loop trail. Graham also took away her husband’s car keys, prosecutors contended, and removed his wedding ring before the altercation....
On Tuesday, Donahoe said the prosecution’s return to premeditation theories rendered the plea agreement void — and asked the judge to allow Graham to withdraw her admission of guilt.... “By making what should have been its closing argument to the jury in its sentencing papers, the government has furnished a ‘fair and just reason’ to support defendant’s request to withdraw her plea,” Donahoe wrote. “The government’s plea agreement promise ... is an empty and hollow formality,” he said. “Therefore, the defendant argues that the government’s offer for a plea agreement was and is illusory and in bad faith.”
I expect the government will file a full-throated response to this motion sometime today. And I am sure the government will stress that, by taking a plea to the lesser-charge of second-degree murder, Garaham got an extraordinarily important sentencing benefit: the sentencing range for that charge is a range of 0 to life, whereas a first-degree murder conviction carried a mandatory LWOP sentence. I fully understand why Jordan Graham and her lawyer are troubled that the feds are making a forceful sentencing argument for an LWOP sentence, but I am not sure why its sentencing advocacy alone provide a basis for withdrawing a seemingly otherwise valid (and valuable) plea.
I have been obsessing about the upcoming sentencing in this case with my sentencing students because, as noted in this recent post, I think it provides a great and accessible tutorial on federal plea bargaining and sentencing realities. Little did I expect that this live tutorial would take on this interesting extra lesson.
Previous related posts (with lots of interesting prior comments):
- You be the federal sentencing judge: "Newlywed Admits to Pushing Husband off Cliff"
- Seeking pre-trial sentencing views in high-profile federal murder prosecution of homicidal bride
- Killer bride in Montana takes a plea deal to second-degree murder just before jury gets case
- Bridezilla murderer Jordan Graham's federal sentencing as amazing teaching opportunity
UPDATE: As this AP article reports, prosecutors do not agree that they breached any promises in this case:
Prosecutors responded Wednesday that they agreed to dismiss the first-degree murder charge but did not agree to ignore other evidence offered at trial in recommending a sentence of 50 years to life.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean noted that Graham agreed to plead guilty on Dec. 12 without the benefit of a plea agreement. At that time, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy reminded Graham that her plea meant she could face a life sentence in federal prison.
The federal government is not limited by the defendant’s description of events in recommending a prison term, McLean wrote in his response Wednesday. He argued the court can consider any information about the background, character and conduct of the defendant when determining a sentence.
The government’s sentencing memo recommends the court consider an upward variance to a sentence of life in prison, but no less than 50 years, in part because “the circumstances surrounding Cody’s death closely resemble conduct that is often associated with a first-degree murder conviction.”
Prosecutors said the fact that Graham was unhappy in her new marriage, that she somehow ended up with the only set of keys to the car Johnson drove into the park on July 7 and the fact that she texted a friend saying if the friend didn’t hear from her at all again that night, “something happened,” indicated Graham was “planning and considering murder.”
Graham is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by Molloy in Missoula. It was not clear how Graham’s motion might affect the sentencing schedule.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, as this local article reports, the "judge has denied a Kalispell newlywed's request to withdraw her guilty plea for the murder of her husband in Glacier National Park last summer." Here is more:
U.S. District Judge Don Molloy began Thursday's sentencing hearing by considering Jordan Linn Graham's motion to withdraw her guilty plea to second-degree murder....
Molloy ... ruled Thursday that Graham had knowingly and willingly pleaded guilty near the end of her trial last December - and said that plea will remain in place. He made the ruling after hearing brief arguments from both sides. He then proceeded to the sentencing.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Illinois commission advocates against putting all juve sex offenders on registry
As explained in this AP article, headlined "Commission: Remove Juveniles From Sex Offender Registries," a new public policy report urges Illinois officials to no longer require juvenile sex offenders to register. Here are the basics:
Requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders impairs rehabilitation efforts for a crime that very few of them ever commit again, according to a study released Tuesday. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission’s report recommends ending the practice of making offenders younger than 17 add their names to sex-offender registries, which can negatively affect an offender for years. Every juvenile convicted of a sex crime must register, and 70 percent of the 2,553 currently registered must do so for life, the report said.
The 150-page review of laws and treatment practices regarding juvenile sex crimes calls for the state to abolish the categorical requirement for young offenders’ registration. The report [available here], which the General Assembly requested in 2012, says sex crimes committed in youth are seldom repeated in adulthood and that individualized, community-based treatment plans are highly effective and more productive than incarceration.
“Automatic, categorical registries do not protect public safety,” commission chairman George Timberlake, a retired chief circuit judge from Mount Vernon, told The Associated Press. “There’s no evidentiary basis that says they do and more importantly, they have very negative consequences in the effects they have on the offenders’ life, and perhaps the victim’s life.”
Timberlake said the victim, often a family member, loses confidentiality through offender registration and can also suffer from not being able to resume a familial relationship with an offender who is required to register. He added that a registry might be appropriate based on risk. Many states offer courts flexibility.
The report recommends developing statewide standards and training for courts and law enforcement professionals for intervening with young sex offenders and victims. It also calls for a consistent assessment tool for evaluating risks an individual juvenile poses. Also, the report says, offenders whenever possible should be kept in treatment programs in their homes that involve parents as opposed to locking them up.
March 25, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack