Thursday, May 1, 2014

DEA head tells Senate DEA supports "scientific research efforts" concerning marijuana

As reported in this Washington Post article, headlined "DEA chief says marijuana-trafficking spiking in states near Colorado," the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency testified in Congress yesterday and expressed concerns about marijuana legalization and expressed support for mandatory minimum drug sentences:

Administrator Michele Leonhart said the DEA is troubled by the increase in marijuana trafficking in states surrounding Colorado and worries that the same phenomenon could be repeated around Washington state, where recreational marijuana is expected to be sold legally soon. In Kansas, she said, there has been a 61 percent increase in seizures of marijuana from Colorado.

Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leonhart said the softening of attitudes nationwide about the risk of marijuana has confirmed some of the agency’s fears. “The trends are what us in law enforcement had expected would happen,” she said. “In 2012, 438,000 Americans were addicted to heroin. And 10 times that number were dependent on marijuana.”...

DEA officials have expressed frustration privately about the legalization of marijuana by Colorado and Washington state, where local officials consider the change an opportunity to generate tax revenue and boost tourism. But in January, James. L. Capra, the DEA’s chief of operations, called marijuana legalization at the state level “reckless and irresponsible,” and warned that the decriminalization movement would have dire consequences. “It scares us,” he said during a Senate hearing. “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”...

On Wednesday, Leonhart spoke about why she thinks marijuana is dangerous. She said that marijuana-related emergency-room visits increased by 28 percent between 2007 and 2011 and that one in 15 high school seniors is a near-daily marijuana user. Since 2009, she said, more high school seniors have been smoking pot than smoking cigarettes....

Leonhart also spoke out in support of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, an issue Holder has highlighted recently as part of his initiative to reduce prison crowding and foster equity in criminal sentencing. Holder has instructed his 93 U.S. attorneys to use their discretion in charging low-level, nonviolent criminals with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

Leonhart, in response to a question from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), said: “Having been in law enforcement as an agent for 33 years [and] a Baltimore City police officer before that, I can tell you that for me and for the agents that work at the DEA, mandatory minimums have been very important to our investigations. We depend on those as a way to ensure that the right sentences equate the level of violator we are going after.”

Though the press coverage of the DEA chief's remarks suggest she is continuing the standard drug war posture of all modern administrations, her prepared testimony (available here) included thes three notable sentences about the DEA's support for medical marijuana research:

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other components of the National Institutes of Health are conducting research to determine the possible role that active chemicals in marijuana, like tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, or other cannabinoids may play in treating autoimmune diseases, cancer, inflammation, pain, seizures, substance use disorders, and other psychiatric disorders.  DEA supports these, scientific research efforts by providing Schedule I research registrations to qualified researchers.  In fact, DEA has never denied a marijuana-related research application to anyone whose research protocol had been determined by the Department of Health and Human Services to be scientifically meritorious.

Perhaps these kinds of statements from DEA in support of "scientifically meritorious" medical marijuana research are not uncommon.  Still, these sentences struck me as notable and telling in the context of the DEA chief's many other anti-marijuana-legalization comments.

May 1, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Montana Supreme Court orders resentencing in controversial rape case

As reported in this AP article, a "former high school teacher who served one month in prison after being convicted of raping a 14-year-old student faces more time behind bars after the Montana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that his original sentence was too short." Here is more about a seeming just resolution to a high-profile and controversial state sentencing case:

Justices in a unanimous ruling ordered the case of Stacey Dean Rambold assigned to a new judge for re-sentencing. The decision means Rambold must serve a minimum of two years in prison under state sentencing laws, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said.

The high court cited, in part, the inflammatory comments of the sentencing judge, District Judge G. Todd Baugh, who drew wide condemnation for suggesting that the victim shared some responsibility for her rape. Baugh said during Rambold's sentencing in August that the teenager was "probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant." He later apologized....

The defendant was a 47-year-old business teacher at Billings Senior High School at the time of the 2007 rape. The victim, one of his students, killed herself while Rambold was awaiting trial. Rambold's sentence had been appealed by the state Department of Justice. Attorney General Tim Fox said the Supreme Court's decision had "rebuffed attempts to place blame on a child victim of this horrible crime."

Under state law, children younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse. Rambold's attorneys insisted in court filings that the original sentence was appropriate, and cited a "lynch mob" mentality following a huge public outcry over the case. Like Baugh, they suggested the girl bore some responsibility and referenced videotaped interviews with her before she committed suicide. Those interviews remain under seal by the court....

The family of victim Cherice Moralez issued a statement through attorney Shane Colton saying the court's decision had restored their faith in the judicial system. The statement urged the family's supporters to continue working together to keep children safe from sexual predators. During last year's sentencing hearing, prosecutors sought a 20-year prison term for Rambold with 10 years suspended.

But Baugh followed Lansing's recommendations and handed down a sentence of 15 years with all but 31 days suspended and a one-day credit for time served. Rambold was required to register as a sex offender upon his release and to remain on probation through 2028. After a public outcry, Baugh acknowledged the sentence violated state law and attempted retroactively to revise it but was blocked when the state filed its appeal.

The Supreme Court decision did not specify what sentence would be more appropriate. That means Rambold potentially could face even more time in prison. County Attorney Twito said he would consult with attorneys in his office and the victim's family before deciding how much prison time prosecutors will seek. The case will likely be assigned to a new judge sometime next week, Baugh said Wednesday. He said he was not surprised by the court's decision.

The judge sparked outrage when he commented that Moralez appeared "older than her chronological age." Her 2010 suicide took away the prosecution's main witness and resulted in a deferred-prosecution agreement that required Rambold to attend a sex-offender treatment program. When he was booted from that program — for not disclosing a sexual relationship with an adult woman and having an unauthorized visit with the children of his relatives — the prosecution on the rape charge was revived.

During August's sentencing, the judge appeared sympathetic to the defendant, fueling a barrage of complaints against him from advocacy groups and private citizens. It also led to a formal complaint against Baugh from the Montana Judicial Standards Commission that's now pending with the state Supreme Court. Justices said they intend to deal with Baugh separately. But their sharp criticism of the judge's actions signals that some sort of punishment is likely. "Judge Baugh's statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice," Justice Michael Wheat wrote. "There is no basis in the law for the court's distinction between the victim's 'chronological age' and the court's perception of her maturity."

The full Montana Supreme Court decision is available at this link.

Prior related posts:

April 30, 2014 in Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Notable new data on crime, punishment and mass incarceration

This interesting new commentary by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times Business section, headlined "In the U.S., Punishment Comes Before the Crimes," combines the standard modern US story of mass incarceration with some notable new data suggesting we might be able to have less violent crime and less punishment. Here are excerpts:

Few things are better at conveying what a nation really cares than how it spends its money. On that measure, Americans like to punish. The United States spent about $80 billion on its system of jails and prisons in 2010 — about $260 for every resident of the nation. By contrast, its budget for food stamps was $227 a person.

In 2012, 2.2 million Americans were in jail or prison, a larger share of the population than in any other country; and that is about five times the average for fellow industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The nation’s unique strategy on crime underscores the distinct path followed by American social and economic institutions compared with the rest of the industrialized world.

Scholars don’t have a great handle on why crime fighting in the United States veered so decidedly toward mass incarceration. But the pivotal moment seems to have occurred four decades ago. In 1974, the criminologist Robert Martinson published “What Works? Questions and Answers About Prison Reform.” Efforts at rehabilitation, it concluded, were a waste of time....

Crime was rising in the 1960s and 1970s, alarming the public and increasing the risk to politicians of appearing “soft” on crime. The decline in manufacturing employment, once the backbone of many urban economies, wasn’t helping. Later, in the 1980s and ’90s, crack cocaine became a scourge of the nation’s inner cities.

But as Steven Raphael of the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael A. Stoll of the University of California, Los Angeles, note in their book “Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?,” what drove up imprisonment rates was not crime but policy. If rehabilitation was out of reach, the thinking went, all that was left was to remove criminals from society and, through harsh sentencing, deter future crime.  From 1975 through 2002, all 50 states adopted mandatory sentencing laws, specifying minimum sentences. Many also adopted “three strikes” laws to punish recidivists. Judges lost the power to offer shorter sentences.

And the prison population surged. Four decades ago, the correctional population in the United States was not that dissimilar from the rest of the developed world. Less than 0.2 percent of the American population was in a correctional institution. By 2012, however, the share of Americans behind bars of one sort or another had more than tripled to 0.7 percent.

Bruce Western of Harvard suggests a specific American motivation, which sprang to some degree from the victories of the civil rights movement. “The crime debate was racialized to an important degree,” Professor Western told me. “The anxieties white voters felt were not just about crime but about fundamental social changes going on in American society.”

Today, a little under half the state and federal prison population is black. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that a black boy born in 2001 had a 32.2 percent chance of doing time behind bars. Growing inequality, too, appears to have played a role. As Devah Pager of Harvard told me: “There is something to the idea that the more distant the rich become to the poor, the easier it is to impose policies that are more punitive than others.”...

The United States had another singularity: a comparatively small welfare state that struggled to address social and economic dislocation. “The criminal justice system became the only effective institution that could bring order and manage urban communities,” Professor Pager said. Prison, according to Professor Western, “became a last resort for a whole variety of social failures.” Whether it is caused by problems with mental health, drug abuse or unemployment, he said, “all the people that slip through the safety net and end up in crime end up in the prison system.”

What did we get from this? Crime rates have fallen by almost half since 1990, to the lowest level since the early 1970s. But that may have little to do with mass incarceration. Demographic trends — there are simply fewer young men around — help explain much of the decline. Some states, like New York, have managed to reduce crime even while cutting the prison population through better policing.

The United States still suffers higher rates of violent crimes than European countries that have lighter sentencing policies. In 2012, the United States had five intentional homicides for each 100,000 people. In Canada, the rate was 1.8. In Australia, 1.2. Mass imprisonment not only suffers from diminishing returns. After a certain point, it might actually increase crime.

Indeed, a growing body of research has concluded that the costs of the strategy are much steeper than prisoners’ room and board. Anna Aizer of Brown University and Joseph J. Doyle Jr. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that putting a minor in juvenile detention reduced his likelihood of graduating from high school by 13 percentage points and increased his odds of being incarcerated as an adult by 23 percentage points.

The impact of incarceration on a former inmate’s future life is difficult to disentangle. Still, a report by Mr. Western and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington suggested that serving time reduced men’s hourly wage by 11 percent and annual employment by nine weeks. More than half of inmates have minor children. Their children are almost six times as likely to be expelled or suspended from school. Family incomes fall 22 percent during the years fathers are incarcerated.

On Wednesday, the National Academy of Sciences is unveiling a report on the causes and consequences of American mass incarceration. On Thursday, the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project will present its evaluation, alongside an analysis by Mr. Raphael and Mr. Stoll, which suggests that less imprisonment might not produce more crime.

California — which had to release tens of thousands of prisoners in 2011 and 2012 to reduce prison crowding — offers a perspective into what life might be with a more lenient approach. According to calculations by Professors Raphael and Stoll, there were 1.2 more auto thefts for every prison year not served. Violent crime wasn’t affected at all.

Extrapolating to a national scale, they estimated that reducing the imprisonment rate by 20 percent would lead to 121 new property crimes for every 100,000 Americans, a 5 percent increase over 2012. This is a price American voters, and their elected officials, might be willing to pay — especially if they can save money on prisons....

In Washington, a bipartisan group of senators — as varied as the Texas Republican Ted Cruz on the right to Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat, on the left — are supporting a bill to lighten sentences for low-risk drug offenders. These changes could turn around the imprisonment juggernaut. After rising relentlessly for three decades, the nation’s incarceration rate hit a peak in 2008 and started gradually to decline. In 2011 and 2012, the total correctional population actually shrank slightly. We might spend the savings on food stamps.

April 30, 2014 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Ugly Oklahoma execution leading to calls for national moratorium

Not surprisingly, the failing of government agents in Oklahoma to effectively and efficiently carry out a sentence of death yesterday (basics here) is now prompting new calls for a mortorium on all executions around the country.  This lengthy new Washington Post article, headlined "Botched Oklahoma execution reignites death penalty debate," provides lots of details about last night's dysfunction in Oklahoma's machinery of death and the early reactions thereto. Here are the basics:

Tuesday night’s botched execution in Oklahoma, which resulted in an inmate’s writhing death from a heart attack 43 minutes after he received what was supposed to be a lethal injection, was just one in a series of bungled execution attempts the past few years. It’s prompting calls for a moratorium on capital punishment from death penalty opponents....

Patton told reporters Lockett’s vein line had “blown.” When asked what he meant, Patton said the vein had “exploded.”  

Soon afterward, an alarmed Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin stayed for 14 days the other execution that was scheduled for Tuesday night....  “I have asked the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening’s execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett,” Fallin said. “I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed.”

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, also called for an investigation as well as an immediate moratorium on all executions in the state, saying, “In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world.”  And National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty responded in a statement: “This night will be a catalyst for those aggrieved and outraged to continue to fight to abolish the death penalty in Oklahoma and every other state in America.”

Executions have become increasingly difficult for states to carry out over the past two years because of similar incidents....  These controversies have begun a whole new phase in the decades-long struggle over capital punishment.  For years, opponents of the death penalty fought about its fundamental fairness under the Constitution.  When they lost that fight, they attacked the capacity of the criminal justice system to actually mete out the death penalty reliably and without racial bias. They lost that fight, too, in the 1980s.  

Now the battle concerns not who dies, but how they die, and the competence of states to carry out executions humanely.  The visibility and drama of Oklahoma’s trouble Tuesday night is likely to intensify that conflict, though, there has been no doubt about the guilt of these two condemned men.  Lockett, 38, was convicted of shooting a teenager and watching as she was buried alive.  Warner, 46, was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend’s 11-month-old baby.  Both were set to be executed Tuesday, Lockett at 6 p.m. Central time and Warner at 8 p.m.

Lockett’s execution was halted when it appeared the lethal injection administered to him was ineffective.   Contrary to the description from media eyewitnesses, officials said he remained unconscious and passed away in the execution chamber at 7:06 p.m. “There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having that [desired] effect, and the doctor observed the line at that time and determined the line had blown,” Patton said in a news conference. “After conferring with the warden, and unknown how much drugs went into him, it was my decision at that time to stop the execution.”  Still, 43 minutes after the first injection, Lockett suffered a heart attack and died....

After Tuesday’s failure, Lockett’s attorney David Autry questioned the amount of the sedative, midazolam, that was injected, saying he thought the 100 milligrams called for in the Oklahoma’s execution protocol was “an overdose quantity.”  He said he was also skeptical of the department’s determination that Lockett’s vein had failed. Tuesday was the first time the state had administered midazolam as the first drug in its execution protocol.  

Earlier this year, the state attorney general’s office announced that a deal to obtain pentobarbital and vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer, had fallen through, and Lockett and Warner’s executions were delayed.  The new protocol was identified in court papers and included the combination of midazolam and hydromorphone....

Regarding Warner’s scheduled execution, federal public defender Madeline Cohen, one of his attorneys, told the Washington Post, “Oh, we will be pursuing further action.”

No matter what is revealed during the "full review of Oklahoma’s execution procedures" ordered by Oklahoma's Governor, I would be very surprised if Oklahoma succeeds in going forward with Warner's execution in the next two weeks. And I have seen this morning press releases from the ACLU and the NACDL urging a national moratorium on executions nationwide in response to what happened in Oklahoma last night. I doubt that any other state Governors will be quick to announce execution moratorium in states that regularly carry out death sentence, but I also doubt that various groups will let up on the pressure to halt executions.

According to this DPIC "Upcoming Executions" page, there are serious execution dates scheduled in May in the states of Texas, Missouri and Ohio. Notably, as reported in this local article (which I will discuss in a later post), clemency has now been recommended in the Ohio case, and I predict it will be granted. So the states to watch real closely for execution debate an action over the next month are Missouri and Texas.

Recent related posts:

April 30, 2014 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

New survey suggests that "medical community supports the use of medical marijuana"

WebMDIn many prior discussions of modern marijuana reform, frequent (but now MIA) commentor Bill Otis was often very quick to highlight that the American Medical Assocation has expressed serious concerns and considerable reservations about the potential health impact of legalizing marijuana.  I largely agree with Bill that the medical community should have a significant role and voice in the on-going national marijuana reform debate, and thus I found notable this new FOXBusiness article headlined "Survey: 53% of Doctors Support National Legalization of Medical Marijuana."  Here are the details:

Medical marijuana might be legal in 21 states, but it is still not widely prescribe by doctors across the country — despite the majority of doctors and patients supporting its use. According to a survey by online medical resource WebMD, 69% of doctors and 52% of patients polled say marijuana delivers benefits.

“Regardless of past restrictions, a majority of patients and doctors see marijuana as delivering real benefits to treat patients,” says Michael Smith, chief medical editor at WebMD in the research report. “Uncertainty is the next largest response, with 37% of patients unsure of marijuana’s benefits versus 20% of doctors.”

Among the nearly 1,500 doctors surveyed, 82% of the physicians in favor of medical marijuana were oncologists and hematologists. What’s more, a wide majority of respondents say medical marijuana should be an option for patients. However, the support of legalized marijuana has its limits, according to the survey: 53% of doctors and 51% of consumers oppose legalizing it nationally for recreational use.

WebMD and its Medscape unit polled 3,000 consumers along with 1,500 doctors for its report. Support for medicinal use of marijuana is strong even in states where it’s illegal. According to the survey, 50% of doctors practicing in states where it’s banned say it should be legalized, while 52% of doctors practicing in states that are considering legalizing it for medicinal use support the practice. Forty-nine percent of consumers living in states where it’s not legal support legalizing medical marijuana.

Smith says the findings of the survey indicate the medical community supports the use of medical marijuana, but more studies are needed to boost doctors’ confidence as to where medical marijuana can help and where it may not. “Despite more than 20 years of anecdotal evidence about the medicinal effects of marijuana, doctors and consumers remain in search of answers,” he said in a recent press release.

The press release referenced in this article is available at this link, and it provides some more details about the survey and its results.  I also now see WebMD has this entire special section of its website providing coverage of marijuana-related issues.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.

UPDATE:  I am pleased to see that Bill Otis has responded to this post via a new post here at Crime & Consequences headlined "How Do You Conduct a Phony Pot Survey?" This response confirms my hope that Bill continue to engage with what I post here even though he, for reasons unexplained to me, no longer seems able or willing to comments directly in the comment section.

April 30, 2014 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)

"Waiving the Criminal Justice System: An Empirical and Constitutional Analysis"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and important new paper now available on SSRN and authored by Susan Klein, Donna Lee Elm and Aleza Remis.  Here is the abstract:

Constitutional criminal procedural guarantees are becoming increasingly marginalized in a world where "the criminal justice system is the plea bargaining system."  Plea agreements are boilerplate, and the 97% of defendants who enter guilty pleas cannot, for the most part, negotiate individual terms, nor run the risk of rejecting the deal and going to trial. As we have transformed from an adversary process where guilt was determined by trial to an administrative process where guilt and penalties are determined by negotiation, the government has begun demanding the waiver of all constitutional criminal procedure rights, not just the trial and investigative-related ones inherent in replacing the trial with the plea.

In this essay, we will first describe the growth of two non-trial-related waivers that have not yet been accepted by the Supreme Court — waivers of the due process right to obtain exculpatory evidence as to guilt and punishment, and waivers of the newly-expressed Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel at the plea negotiation stage.  We then offer the results of an empirical project that Professor Susan Klein undertook at the United States Sentencing Commission and a national survey of federal plea agreements conducted by Public Defender Donna Elm.  After examining caselaw and practice in the area, we conclude that effective assistance of counsel waivers are unethical, unwise, and perhaps unconstitutional.

April 30, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

First of two planned Oklahoma executions botched, though condemned dies of heart attack after getting execution drugs

As reported in this CNN article, an "Oklahoma inmate died Tuesday evening of an apparent heart attack after authorities botched the delivery of drugs and stopped his execution.  Another execution scheduled for the same day was postponed."  Yikes.  Here are the details:

Convicted murderer Clayton Lockett was sedated and then given the second and third drugs in the protocol, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton told reporters.  "There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having the effect, so the doctor observed the line and determined that the line had blown," he said.  When asked what he meant by "blown," Patton said that Lockett's vein had "exploded."

"I notified the attorney general's office, the governor's office of my intent to stop the execution and requested a stay for 14 days for the second execution scheduled this afternoon," said Patton, referring to the execution of Charles Warner.

Lockett later suffered what appeared to be a heart attack and died, the director said. Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order granting a stay for Warner and ordered an investigation.  Lockett remained unconscious after the drugs were administered and died in the execution chamber at 7:06 p.m., according to her office.

"I have asked the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why during this evening's execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett," Fallin said in a statement.  "I have issued an executive order delaying the execution of Charles Frederick Warner for 14 days to allow for that review to be completed."...

"Something went horribly awry," Warner's attorney told CNN late Tuesday.  "Oklahoma cannot carry out further executions until there's transparency in this process," said Madeline Cohen.

Recent related posts:

UPDATE:  As he does so well, Howard Bashman in posts at How Appealing here and here effectively collects lots of press reports on Oklahoma's execution struggles, which seems sure to be the biggest US death penalty story over the next few days and weeks (and months and years, perhaps).

April 29, 2014 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

Judge Paul Friedman identifies drug defendant who should benefit from Clemency Project 2014

I am intrigued and pleased to have learned that this afternoon District Court Judge Paul Friedman issued an opinion in US v. McDade, No. 13-1066 (D.D.C. Apr. 29, 2014) (available for download below), which in part responds to the Justice Department's recent announcements about its new clemency initiative.  I urge all those wondering about the types of defendants and cases that the new clemency initiative might help to read Judge Friedman's new McDade opinion in full; here is a snippet that provides a sense for why:

On February 25, 2002, after a ten-day trial, a jury found defendant Byron Lamont McDade guilty of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. Most of the witnesses at trial were his former co-defendants or others involved in the conspiracy who had negotiated pleas with the government involving cooperation and testimony. In fact, McDade was the only one of those charged in this multi-defendant case to have proceeded to trial.  Regrettably, pursuant to the then-mandatory pre-Booker sentencing guidelines, the Court was required to sentence McDade to 324 months in prison, a sentence which the Court described at the time as “much more than sufficiently punitive.”...

At the time the Court sentenced Mr. McDade nearly twelve years ago, on May 31, 2002, he was a 34-year old married man with two young children, one of whom is disabled.  He was a high school graduate who had been employed more or less steadily as a loader for United Parcel Service, as an apprentice for a plumbing company, as a self-employed operator of a company that provided transportation to the handicapped, and as a sanitation truck driver.  He was described by his wife, a hair stylist who suffers from a heart murmur, as a good father to their children and to her son by a prior relationship.   Before his current conviction, Mr. McDade had one prior misdemeanor conviction for which he was ordered to pay a ten-dollar fine. Id. at 10-11. For the instant offense, he faced a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence and, at Offense Level 41, Criminal History Category I, a pre-Booker guideline sentence of 324 months to life.....

In denying Mr. McDade’s first motion to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, the Court [noted that] ... had Mr. McDade not exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and instead pled guilty, the likely sentence under even a mandatory Guideline regime would have been approximately 168 months, approximately half the sentence the Court was required to impose after Mr. McDade was found guilty at trial.  [This Court also then noted that] had the Sentencing Guidelines been advisory in 2002, or if Booker were retroactive now, the Court would vary substantially from the Guideline sentence of 324 months....

Earlier this year, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole previewed a new effort on the part of the Department of Justice to identify individuals who are potential candidates for executive clemency and sentence commutations and whom he hoped, with the help of volunteer lawyers and bar associations, would be encouraged to prepare clemency petitions to the Department of Justice.  He said at the time: “For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair. These older, stringent punishments, that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws, erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system.”  Then, just last week, Deputy Attorney General Cole formally announced a new initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the President, an initiative that will have the assistance of numerous volunteer attorneys and groups under the umbrella Clemency Project 2014.  He noted that the initiative is not limited to crack offenders, but to “worthy candidates” who meet six specific criteria.  He stated that this clemency initiative “will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice under law.” 

The Court continues to believe that Byron McDade is a prime candidate for executive clemency.  The sentence this Court was required to impose on Mr. McDade was unjust at the time and is “out of line” with and disproportionate to those that would be imposed under similar facts today.  While the Court is powerless to reduce the sentence it was required by then-existing law to impose, the President is not.  The Court urges Mr. McDade’s appointed counsel to pursue executive clemency on Mr. McDade’s behalf so that justice may be done in this case.

Download McDade opinion

April 29, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Double execution scheduled for tonight in Oklahoma drawing international interest

As reported in this Tulsa World article, "Oklahoma's rare dual execution Tuesday is drawing international attention, with reporters from Japan, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands requesting to serve as media witnesses, prison officials say." Here is more about tonight's plans in the Sooner state:

Barring any last-minute court rulings in their favor, inmates Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner will be executed Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively, at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said 17 news organizations, including 12 from Oklahoma, have requested media credentials to cover the executions.

Media outlets from outside the state requesting to witness the executions are The New York Times, The Guardian, Esquire Magazine UK, Kyoto (Japan) News and NRC, a newspaper based in the Netherlands. The Department of Corrections allows up to 12 media witnesses, with preference given to The Associated Press and to Oklahoma media outlets, including the Tulsa World, The Oklahoman and local newspapers where the crimes occurred. Because more than that have requested credentials, the DOC likely will hold a lottery to select the media witnesses for each execution, Massie said.

Lockett was sentenced to die for killing 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman of Perry during a botched home-invasion robbery in 1999. Warner received the death penalty for raping and killing 11-month-old Adrianna Waller in Oklahoma City in 1997.

The executions have drawn wide interest following a complicated legal battle by the inmates to throw out the state's execution-secrecy law. The law shields the identities of those who supply and administer drugs during the execution process. States including Oklahoma have passed such laws in reaction to shortages of execution drugs....

Two executions on the same day weren't a rare occurrence in Oklahoma in the 1930s. The last double execution was June 11, 1937. On four separate occasions, Oklahoma put three men to death on the same day. On Sept. 20, 1935, it took only 14 minutes to execute three self-confessed murderers in the electric chair at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, according to Tulsa World archives.

Massie said the prison has developed procedures for the dual execution, including having more staff on hand than usual. Both inmates will be moved into single adjoining cells next to the death chamber on Tuesday morning, he said.

This New York Times article about the two planned executions includes this account of why tonight's activities have drawn more than the usual modern execution attention:

The planned executions of Clayton D. Lockett, 38, and Charles F. Warner, 46, dramatized the growing tension nationally over secrecy in lethal injections as drug companies, saying they are fearful of political and even physical attack, refuse to supply drugs, and many states scramble to find new sources and try untested combinations. Several states have imposed secrecy on the suppliers of lethal injection drugs, leading to court battles over due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Tonight, in a climate of secrecy and political posturing, Oklahoma intends to kill two death row prisoners using an experimental new drug protocol, including a paralytic, making it impossible to know whether the executions will comport with the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual suffering,” said Madeline Cohen, a federal public defender for Mr. Warner. “We have serious questions — were these drugs imported, are they counterfeit, what is the expiration date, are they tainted?”

But the appeals were over as Gov. Mary Fallin, expressing the sentiment of many here, said: “Two men that do not contest their guilt in heinous murders will now face justice.”

Recent related posts:

April 29, 2014 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Why innocent people plead guilty": Judge Jed Rakoff suggests "tens of thousands of innocent people" have been "coerced into pleading guilty"

Judge-Jed-Rakoff-400x400The title of this post is drawn from this report via USC News summarizing a provocative recent speech given by Judge Jed Rakoff (which a kind reader alerted me to). Here are excerpts:

Rakoff, who sits on the Federal District Court in Manhattan, N.Y., spoke recently at the USC Gould School of Law’s Neiman Sieroty Lecture on “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty.”...

“The criminal justice system is nothing like you see on TV — it has become a system of plea bargaining,” Rakoff said. Today, only 2 percent of cases in the federal system go to trial, and 4 percent of cases in the state system go before a jury. As a result, accepting a deal from prosecutors — despite one’s guilt or innocence — has become a common choice for individuals accused of a crime.

“Plea bargains have led many innocent people to take a deal,” Rakoff said. “People accused of crimes are often offered five years by prosecutors or face 20 to 30 years if they go to trial. … The prosecutor has the information, he has all the chips … and the defense lawyer has very, very little to work with. So it’s a system of prosecutor power and prosecutor discretion. I saw it in real life [as a criminal defense attorney], and I also know it in my work as a judge today.”

What can be done? Rakoff said prosecutors should have smaller roles in sentence bargaining and the mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated. “But to be frank, I don’t think, politically, either of those things is going to happen. … When it comes right down to it, I think the public really wants these high penalties, and that’s because when these harsh penalties were imposed [in the 1980s], the crime rate went down.”

Another more controversial solution is to allow judicial involvement in the plea bargain process. A judge who is not involved in the case could take a first pass at an agreement, working with prosecutors and defense attorneys. “What I have in mind is a magistrate judge or a junior judge would get involved,” Rakoff said. “He would take offers from the prosecutor and the defense. … He would evaluate the case and propose a plea bargain if he thought that was appropriate, and he might, in appropriate cases, say to the prosecutor, ‘You don’t have a case and you should drop it.’ This would be very difficult for the judiciary; it’s not something I come to lightly, but I can’t think of any better solution to this problem.”

Until extraordinary action is taken, Rakoff said little will change. “We have hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of innocent people who are in prison, right now, for crimes they never committed because they were coerced into pleading guilty. There’s got to be a way to limit this.”

April 29, 2014 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)

Insider "Joe FedCourt" rails against federal "defenders sucking up all the oxygen" in budget fights

Late last week, I received a remarkable email from someone calling himself/herself "Joe FedCourt" which complained about the title I had given to a link in my Resources side-bar.  Because the email revealed from an apparent insider some serious tension between federal court personnel and federal defenders (as well as non-Artile III judges), I requested and received permission to reprint the lengthy email from "Joe FedCourt" in full.  Here it is:

I work in the Federal Courts, and the judge I serve is on a prominent committee of the Judicial Conference.  As I can't talk to people like you without permission, I have to go this route.

Look, there is no such thing as the "US Office of Defender Services". That doesn't exist anymore. Just under a year ago the Conference and the AOUSC realized you can't have non-court entities running around undermine the credibility of the Article III judges. So they created 3 departments of the AOUSC. That way magistrates, Defenders, and probation/pretrial types have to work through another layer of oversight and supervision before they reach the Director and the Conference. Otherwise their parochial concerns take away from the real work of the Judicial Conference.

So in this case, "Office of Defender Services" is now called the "Defender Services Office WITHIN the Department of Program Services. So you should write:

"Administrative Office of the US Courts, Department of Program Services, Defender Services Office".

We have enough trouble in the Judiciary -- just on Friday we saw an article on the FRONT PAGE of the WASHINGTON POST discussing a magistrate "revolt" regarding what criminal investigators may keep when they procure evidence under a warrant.  As if it is their place to step in and question ANY Article III judge.  This only follows upon what we have seen this past year, with Defenders running to the Hill, talking to DOJ about clemency, and discussing indigent defense with the press.  The mechanics of how justice is administered in this country, in terms of the allocation of resources and the scope of jurisdiction, is exclusively the purview of the Judicial Conference of the United States and should be recognized as such.  The Conference could have gotten more money for judges' chambers and court staff if it weren't for people like the Defenders sucking up all the oxygen last summer and fall!  Not to mention magistrates undermining confidence in the Conference as people wonder who the hell is running the Judiciary!!!

I sound bitter, but really.  How do you think it makes a member of, say, the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference feel to be asked, for example, why Defenders can't have varying caseloads when judges do?

How does a member of Congress even ASK such a question, blindsiding a committee member who thinks the topic will be emergency judicial vacancies?  Is it not the EXCLUSIVE purview of the Judicial Conference to determine whether all defendants should get a Chevy or a Yugo level of defense, without defenders whining so much that the Hill robs Clerk Peter's travel budget for circuit learning opportunities to give to Defender Paul's investigators.  Especially when those investigators are almost always just reinventing the wheel???  Doesn't the Judicial Conference have far more important matters to consider than whether some guy heading for Leavenworth should get 21 or 18 years?

So please follow Judicial Conference policy.  There is no "US Office of Defender Services" for an administrative organ of a program wholly subservient to the Federal Judiciary. It's about time these well-quoted Defenders learned that, not to mention others who think they are mentioned in the Constitution (hint -- you're not, bankruptcy judges). You can help.

Wowsa!  Critically, I neither endorse these comments nor have the kind of insider knowledge to know if these complaints are unique to just Joe FedCourt or instead represent broader views among those who work directly with Article III judges.  For that reason and others, I am quite eager to (1) hearreactions to this Joe FedCourt rant and/or (2) report on additional perspectives and information concerning any serious on-going tensions among various key players in the federal court community.

April 29, 2014 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

Ohio concludes condemned murderer experienced no pain during troubled execution

As reported in this Columbus Dispatch article, headlined "Inmate did not experience pain during execution, report says; State to continue using same drugs but in higher doses," a three-month investigation of a seemingly problematic Ohio execution has led the state to conclude on a tweak in the execution protocol is needed. Here are the details:

Ohio prison officials will use the same drugs, but in much higher dosages, as those used in the troubled execution of Dennis McGuire on Jan. 16. A report issued yesterday by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction concluded that McGuire “did not experience any pain or distress. The massive doses of drugs given to McGuire rendered him unconscious before any of the irregular bodily movements were observed.”

Witnesses observed that McGuire, 53, gasped, choked, clenched his fists and appeared to struggle against his restraints for 10 minutes after the administration of two drugs, midazolam and hydromorphone, before being pronounced dead at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville. It was the first time that those drugs were used in an execution in the United States.

The prison review said McGuire’s reactions were “consistent with the effects of the drugs, his obesity and other body characteristics, and involuntary muscle contractions associated with the ending of respiratory function.” The report concluded: “DRC is confident that Inmate McGuire was not conscious beginning a few minutes after the drugs were administered. He did not experience pain, distress or air hunger after the drugs were administered or when the bodily movements and sounds occurred.”

However, because of concerns about McGuire’s execution, the agency will boost the dosage of midazolam, a sedative, to 50 milligrams from 10 milligrams, and increase the dosage of hydromorphone, a powerful painkiller, to 50 milligrams from 40 milligrams. In addition, the revised policy calls for having a third syringe ready containing 60 milligrams of hydromorphone; other syringes will be prepared and available “if needed.”

The next execution, of Arthur Tyler of Cuyahoga County, is scheduled for May 28.

McGuire was executed for the murder of 22-year-old Joy Stewart in 1989. The condemned man’s attorneys warned in advance that using the two drugs might result in “air hunger” as his body struggled in the final death gasps. State officials dismissed that claim at the time and in yesterday’s report.

Some recent related posts on Ohio's recent controversial execution:

April 29, 2014 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Legalizing marijuana has been good for Colorado, voters in the state say 52 - 38 percent"

The title of this post is the first line of this notable press release discussing the results of a notable new Colorado poll.  Here is more from the press release:

Legalizing marijuana has been good for Colorado, voters in the state say 52 - 38 percent, but 52 percent of voters are less likely to vote for a candidate for office who smokes marijuana two or three days a week, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today....

Legalized marijuana has been bad for the state, Republicans say 63 - 28 percent and voters over 65 years old say 62 - 28 percent. All other listed groups say it's good for the state....

"Colorado voters are generally good to go on grass, across the spectrum, from personal freedom to its taxpayer benefits to its positive impact on the criminal justice system," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll. "But if you are a politician, think twice before smokin' them if you got 'em," Malloy added.

I tend not to put too much stock in a single poll, and a lot could change concerning public opinion regarding legalized marijuana in the weeks and months ahead. But the demographic breakdown of the results in this poll are quite interesting and reveal that, relatively to the general Colorado population, independents, women and persons under 50 all most strongly believe that legalizing marijuana has been good for the state. These numbers confirm my sense that supporting legalized marijuana may now help a politician attract key swing voters more than opposing it.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.

April 28, 2014 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

New study concludes "conservative estimate" of erroneous US capital convictions has been over 4%

As reported in this new AP article, headlined "Study: 1 in 25 death cases likely innocent," a notable new report makes a notable new claim about the number of innocent persons who have been sent to death row in the United States.   Here are the basics:

About one in 25 people imprisoned under a death sentence is likely innocent, according to a new statistical study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  And that means it is all but certain that at least several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were innocent, the study says.

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.  But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment.  Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.

Gross and three other researchers, including a biostatistics expert, looked at the issue using a technique often used in medical studies called survival analysis.  Yale University biostatistics expert Theodore Holford, who wasn’t part of the study, said the work done by Gross “seems to be a reasonable way to look at these data.”  Because of various assumptions, it might be best to use the margin of error in the study and say the innocence rate is probably between 2.8 percent and 5.2 percent, said University of South Carolina statistics professor John Grego, who wasn’t part of the study.

The study is the first to use solid and appropriate statistical methods to address questions of exoneration or false convictions, an important subject, said Columbia Law School professor Jeffrey Fagan, who also is a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health.  The research combines data from three independent sources, a rigorous approach used by few studies on capital punishment, he said....

The study concluded that the number of innocent defendants who have been put to death is “comparatively low. ...  Our data and the experience of practitioners in the field both indicate that the criminal justice system goes to far greater lengths to avoid executing innocent defendants than to prevent them from remaining in prison indefinitely.”...

Death sentences represent less than one-tenth of 1 percent of prison sentences in the U.S., but they account for 12 percent of known exonerations of innocent defendants from 1989 to 2012. One big reason is that far more attention and resources are devoted to reviewing and reconsidering death sentences....

The study estimates that if all defendants sentenced to death remained in that status, “at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated.  We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

The full report is available via this link. The authors are Samuel R. Gross, Barbara O’Brien, Chen Hu, and Edward H. Kennedy, and the paper's official title is "Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death."

April 28, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)

Is change at top of The Office of the Pardon Attorney the biggest part of DOJ's new clemency initiative?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the subheadline of this effective article by Abby Rapoport at The American Prospect. The piece carries the main headline "Pardon Me, Mr. President?", and its subheadline makes this astute observation: "By appointing an advocate for defendants' rights as the new pardon attorney, the Obama administration has signaled it is serious about commuting drug offenses." Here is a snippet from the piece (with a few links preserved, which merits a full read:

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the start of a new initiative on clemency, encouraging thousands of inmates — particularly those convicted during the Drug War crackdown of the 1990s — to send in petitions to have their sentences commuted.  The new initiative offers six new criteria by which petitioners will be judged, including the following: prisoners must have served 10 years of their sentence, must not have lengthy criminal records or gang convictions, and show that they would have gotten off with a lighter sentence had they been tried today. In his more than five years in office, Obama has been the stingiest president in history when it comes to granting pardons; the new program could make him one of the most generous.

But the biggest news for criminal-justice reformers has been the administration’s appointment of a new pardon attorney to oversee the program: Deborah Leff, who spent her years at DOJ working on the Access to Justice Initiative, an agency meant to help low-income defendants get a fair hearing in court.  “Poor people often do not have access to counsel, and when they do get an attorney, that lawyer is often overworked, undertrained, undercompensated, and placed in a system that encourages a quick plea bargain and discourages carefully listening to the needs of clients,”  she wrote in an article with Melanca Clark for the American Bar Association. Those who come from the prosecutorial side of things — which is most everyone at the Department of Justice — tend to be more skeptical of the idea that convicted criminals can be reformed. But Leff's background makes her more likely to be sympathetic to requests for clemency.

“One thing about law and particularly this kind of law is that almost always people are more important than rules,” says Mark Osler, a law professor at St. Thomas University and founder of the nation’s first federal clemency clinic (I recently profiled his story in our most recent print issue). “Leff’s work within the DOJ has largely been about making sure that people who have a petition or grievance have a way to have it heard fairly.” For those hoping to see a robust clemency push, her background bodes well. The administration’s clemency criteria have plenty of wiggle room, which makes the selection of a new pardon attorney all the more significant.  The department wants petitions from applicants who are “non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels.”  Depending on how the U.S. pardon attorney exercises her discretion, an offender who grew up with gangs and was loosely affiliated with them could either be an ideal candidate for clemency or excluded altogether. Similarly, petitioners must have “demonstrated good conduct in prison”—a criterion that could include or exclude prisoners with one or two black marks on their records depending on the pardon attorney’s views....

Ron Rodgers, the U.S. pardon attorney until this week, was known for his opposition to clemency requests. Rodgers and David Margolis, the Department of Justice assistant deputy attorney general, both got blasted in a 2012 report for the dramatic mishandling of one particular petition during the Bush regime: Clarence Aaron, who received a triple life sentence for his role a drug conspiracy.

Leff’s appointment helps send a clear signal that this new initiative isn’t just lip service to the reform community, which until now hasn’t seen much action from the Obama administration.  Despite rhetoric in the 2008 election about the casualties of America’s War on Drugs, in his tenure the president had done little to help those still serving decades-long sentences.

A few of many recent and older posts concerning federal clemency practices:

April 28, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Curious SCOTUS cert calls in criminal cases continuing, though overcriminalization now on docket

Court-yates_0056I was lamenting earlier this month in this post that the Justices seem to have relatively little interest in big criminal justice issues of late (especially on sentencing fronts), though I suppose I could have reconsidered this idea after SCOTUS last week took up two new criminal cases as reported here.  Today, via this new order list, SCOTUS showcases some more curious cert pool splashing around as detailed in this post at SCOTUSblog:  

The Court on Monday granted review in two new cases; both will be decided next Term. One seeks clarification of what a home loan borrower must do in order to get out from under the mortgage because the lender allegedly failed to provide full disclosure of the loan terms (Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans).

The second case raises a novel issue about how federal law treats fish as an object that cannot be destroyed because it may figure in a criminal investigation. At issue in Yates v. United States is whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s ban on destroying a “tangible object” includes only materials like documents or other records, or also includes a physical object like a fish. A fisherman convicted of destroying undersized fish that he allegedly caught illegally in the Gulf of Mexico raised the question whether he had fair notice that the law applied to his action. The Court limited its grant to the first question raised in the petition.

The ongoing mystery of what the Court is doing with a California murder case — submitted to the Justices in twenty straight Conferences without word of any action — continued on Monday. The case is Ryan v. Hurles, testing when a federal habeas court must defer to a state court that did not hold an evidentiary hearing on a claim that the judge was biased. Presumably, that case will be listed again this week, for a twenty-first time. It has been put before the Justices in every scheduled Conference since September.

The Court also took no action on the latest attempt to get the Court to expand the Second Amendment right to possess a gun so that it applies outside the home. The case is Drake v. Jerejian, seeking to challenge a New Jersey law that requires an individual to obtain a permit to carry a handgun in public. The law requires proof that an individual has a “justifiable need” to carry a gun in public for purposes of self-defense....

In accepting review of the Yates case, the Court will be spelling out the scope of a law passed in the wake of the corporate scandals, particularly involving Enron Corp. A provision of that law made it a crime to interfere with a federal investigation by destroying, hiding or altering vidence. The law forbids destroying, multilating, altering, concealing or falsifying “any record, document or tangible object,” with the intent to impede or obstruct a federal investigation.

The case involves John L. Yates, a Floridian who captained a commercial fishing vessel, Miss Katie, working the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. An inspector boarded the vessel in 2000 to check for compliance with fishing regulations. While on board, he saw several red grouper fish, which appeared to him to be smaller than the 20-inch minimum size for taking that species. He measured them, and found 72 that he deemed were too small.

Yates and his crew were told to return to port, and not to disturb the catch. Yates later was charged with violating the law against destroying evidence, for allegedly ordering a crew member to throw the undersized fish overboard. The crew then replaced the discarded fish with other red grouper.

At his trial on criminal charges, including destroying evidence, Yates’ lawyers contended that the law against destroying evidence was designed only to deal with documentary evidence, and that its coverage of “tangible objects” meant to apply on to the same category. That argument failed in the trial court, and Yates was convicted of violating that provision by ordering the casting overboard of the small red grouper. The Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, rejecting his challenge to the scope of the evidence law.

I have complained about the recent tendency of SCOTUS to take up lots of seemingly quirky criminal justice cases unlikely to have a huge impact, and then also dodging big issues like the reach and application of the Second, Sixth and Eighth Amendments in light of recent rulings. This new Yates case strikes me as another example of a seemingly quirky criminal justice case with only limited implications UNLESS some Justices were eager to make a big stink about the feds going criminally after a little fisherman.

If a majority of Justices were to develop some novel jurisprudence to help fisherman Yates prevail (and, as this local article highlights, he seems like a pretty sympathetic character), this Yates case could possibly become a very big part of on-going policy debates concerning the overfederalization and overcriminalization of seemingly small matters that arguably could and should be handled through civil means and without too much federal prosecutorial involvement.  Indeed, I suspect (and certainly hope) that this Yates case might bring out more amici from the right than from the left, largely because the big concern raised by the case is the ability for small local businesses to conduct their affairs without facing criminal prosecution for not playing nice with federal bureaucrats. 

April 28, 2014 in Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

Feds in NYC corruption sentencing argue 105 and 80 years necessary for white-collar defendants

An interesting white-collar sentencing scheduled for today in Manhattan is previewed in this New York Times article last week which ran under the headline "Decades in Prison Sought for CityTime Scheme." Here are the details that prompt the title of this post:

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have asked a judge to impose sentences of 105 years, 80 years and up to 40 years on three men who the government has said became “unbelievably rich” in connection with New York City’s scandal-marred payroll modernization project known as CityTime.

The three men were convicted in a federal corruption trial last fall in Federal District Court and are scheduled to be sentenced on Monday. T he cost of the CityTime project was originally budgeted at $63 million but exploded to about $700 million, with almost all of the more than $600 million that New York City paid to its prime contractor, Science Applications International Corporation, or S.A.I.C., tainted by fraud, a federal indictment charged.

“The CityTime fraud, kickback and money laundering scheme that these defendants orchestrated, managed and operated represents one of the worst, if not the worst, financial crimes against the city,” the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said in a memo filed on Sunday night recommending the sentences, which it said were appropriate under the advisory sentencing guidelines.  “The need for general deterrence supports severe sentences in this case,” the office added.

The government asked the judge, George B. Daniels, to sentence Gerard Denault, 52, who was S.A.I.C.’s project manager on CityTime, to 105 years in prison.  “He used his significant talents to abuse his executive position at S.A.I.C. to an extreme degree,” two prosecutors, Howard S. Master and Andrew D. Goldstein, wrote.  “Testimony at trial from witness after witness reflected that he used his power and his intellect to intimidate and sideline anyone at S.A.I.C who stood in the way of his criminal scheme.”

Mr. Denault’s lawyer, Barry A. Bohrer, said his only comment on the government’s request was “not one that is printable.”  He has requested a five-year sentence for his client.

Mr. Bharara’s office said in the memo that another defendant, Mark Mazer, 50, a former consultant to the city’s Office of Payroll Administration, had “abused his power as the city’s project manager to line his own pockets to a breathtaking degree rarely seen in any fraud or kickback case,” taking about $30 million over five years.  The prosecutors’ office asked that he be sentenced to 80 years.

Mr. Mazer’s lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, who is seeking a five-year sentence for his client, said in a phone interview on Monday that it was the government’s request that was “breathtaking,” and that such sentences “should be reserved for the worst offenders among us.” Mr. Shargel said that the large amounts of money in the case had helped to inflate the recommended sentences.  “Just because the guidelines give the prosecutors the authority to argue for this sentence, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Shargel said. “What do you give a murderer — 160 years?”

Without knowing all the facts of these cases, I cannot comment on whether these fraud defendants are really among the truly "worst of the worst" of white-collar criminals.  But I can comment that federal prosecutors, at least in this case, seem to not be really committed to helping the district judge here determine what sentence would truly be "sufficient but not greater than necessary" to achieve federal sentencing goals under 18 USC 3553(a).

Given that it would be remarkable if the defendants here would be able to live even half as many years in prison as the prosecutors are urging, it is obviously ludicrous to assert that a 105-year sentence is not greater than necessary for a 52-year-old defendant.  But it seems that a representative of the US government is going to stand up in to federal court today and make such a ludicrous sentencing claim.

UPDATE: The headline of this AP article about the now-completed sentencings in this matter reports the basic outcome: "NYC payroll scandal defendants each get 20 years."

April 28, 2014 in Booker in district courts, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"What botched executions tell us about the death penalty"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new Boston Globe op-ed by Austin Sarat.  Here are excerpts:

[I]n keeping its death penalty, New Hampshire did preserve a strange distinction: It is one of three states where hanging still is a legal method of execution.

If it seems surprising, even brutal, that hanging would still be technically legal in 2014, that’s because the evolution of the death penalty in America has been so closely entwined with our belief in technological progress.  As executions have evolved from one method to the next—from hanging to electrocution, from electrocution to lethal gas, from electrocution and gas to lethal injection — supporters have proclaimed the dawning of an era of more humane executions while denouncing previous methods as barbaric and unreliable.  The story of execution in the United States is partly a story of technology making a final punishment less painful and cruel.

But has it?  Using newspaper accounts and a database of all American executions, my collaborators and I recently completed the first comprehensive study of botched executions in the United States and documented the ways that different methods of execution go wrong.  We examined every execution from 1890 to 2010 and found that no technology has been able to ensure that capital punishment would not, on occasion, become either a gruesome spectacle of suffering or a messy display of incompetence.

During the time period covered by our research, 3 percent of all executions were botched, from the decapitations that happened at hangings to the “high tech” electric chair in which condemned criminals have caught on fire.  Botched executions have not disappeared since America has adopted the current state-of-the art method of lethal injection.  In fact, executions by lethal injection are botched at a higher rate than any of the other methods employed since the late 19th century, 7 percent.

This history of botched executions suggests whatever benefits we think we are bringing when we invent and deploy new execution methods may be illusory.  A close look at executions in America suggests that despite our best efforts, pain and potential for error are inseparable from the process through which the state extinguishes life — and that the conversation about capital punishment needs to take that fact into consideration.

April 27, 2014 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Will Congress fix (quickly? ever? wisely?) the "puzzle of paying Amy" after Paroline?

The questions in the title of this post is a by-product my reaction to the Supreme Court's work this week in Paroline (basics here) and draws from the title of this Slate essay by Eric Posner headlined "The Puzzle of Paying Amy: Congress has to fix the problem with restitution for child pornography victims that stumped the Supreme Court."   The analysis of the Paroline issues in this article is effective (though I disagree with some of it), and I recommend a full read.  Here are brief excerpts to set up the question in the title of this post, with a key issue and concern emphasized at the end:

The Violence Against Women Act provides for restitution for child pornography victims, so Amy sought payment from the people convicted of possessing her images.  She proved that she had lost almost $3.4 million in therapy expenses and future income as a result of the abuse and the viewing of the images, but because of the collective nature of the wrongdoing that caused her harm, she could not prove how much of the loss could be attributed to any specific defendant.  Doyle Randall Paroline was convicted of possessing two images of Amy.  This week’s puzzle for the Supreme Court: How much should he have to pay her?

Zero, three of the conservative justices argued in dissent Wednesday.  All $3.4 million, argued Justice Sonia Sotomayor, also in dissent.  Something, held the majority, in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.  The conservatives got the law right, Sotomayor got the morality right, and Kennedy — characteristically trying to have it both ways — created a muddle....

The problems with Kennedy’s and Sotomayor’s approaches stem from the same source: When Congress drafted the provision about restitution in the Violence Against Women Act, it thought about traditional types of harms — when one person directly injures another — and not the unusual collective injury in this case.  That’s why the justices’ efforts to twist the statutory language lead to unfair and bizarre outcomes.

Congress created this mess, and only Congress can fix it.  Every person who is convicted of child pornography should pay a large fine into a government trust.  The fine would be tailored to the wealth of the defendant and the magnitude of his wrongdoing.  Then this fund would be used to compensate all the identified victims of child pornography, who would share it in proportion to the severity of their injuries.  That way, not Kennedy’s or Sotomayor’s, lies fairness.

Two quick responses right away, with a lot more to write on this topic in the days and weeks and months ahead:

1. Ironically, the basic substantive proposal for a statutory Paroline fix emphasized above is, in many significant respects, really something of a variation of the new judicial restitution doctrine functionally embraced/created by the Paroline court through Justice Kennedy's majority opinion, though it changes the key sentencing term a fine rather than restitution and would presumably require every CP defendant to pay rather than just the (vast majority of) defendants who have a picture of an identified victim.

Consequentially, I believe DOJ can (and should) on its own operationalize the post-Paroline restitution sentencing process somewhat along the lines Posner suggests: DOJ could (and should) announce formal guidelines concerning the amount of restitution it will request in each CP downloading case involving Amy (or Vicky or other victims) based on the the wealth of the defendant and the magnitude of his wrongdoing (with some reference to factors mentioned by the Paroline majority).  With such a restitution schedule created, Amy and other victims can reasonably expect DOJ will be mostly responsible for making sure she and other identified victims collects restitution reasonably efficiently and effectively without actually requiring these victims and their lawyers to be actively involved in every CP case.

2. Though there are lots of good reasons to contend that Congress should try to fix Paroline in some way via statutory reform, the fact that some (many? most?) proposals for such reform may look similar to the new judicial restitution doctrine functionally embraced/created by the Paroline court, I am not at all confident that Congress will get around to enacting a wise statutory fix anytime soon.  If the statutory interpretation proposed by CJ Roberts in dissent, which concluded Amy and other victims get nothing based on the existing statute, then I suspect even our divided/dysfunctional Congress would have gotten a lot of pressure from both victims and DOJ to enact a statutory fix.  But with the split-the-difference outcome (which was urged by DOJ) now the new post-Paroline status quo, I am not at all confident there will be the same momentum to push Congress to act.

Notably, one of Amy's lawyer, Professor Paul Cassell, has been talking up a legislative fix in posts here and here at The Volokh Conspiracy since Paroline was handed down.  In the first of these posts he states that he and "crime victims’ advocates around the country ... intend to take up with Congress the cause of Amy and the many other child pornography victims who suffer real, quantifiable losses from these serious crimes." Because Paul and other "crime victims’ groups can be very effective advocates, I certainly believe it may be possible that Congress will respond in some way after Paroline. But if (when?) the Justice Department is disinclined to join the call for statutory reform, I would predict that the post-Paroline status quo is could stay in place for some time.

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

April 26, 2014 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)

"Not just clemency, but smarter sentencing: Congress must act to make criminal justice more just"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Washington Times op-ed authored by Craig DeRoche who is president of Justice Fellowship. Here are excerpts:

President Obama’s decision to grant clemency to a large number of nonviolent offenders in federal prison has ignited a much-needed national discussion on criminal justice reform, but voices on both sides are missing some key underlining problems.

Over the past several decades, Congress has passed disproportionate mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses that infringe upon the moral and constitutional duties of judges to ensure fair and equitable justice.  As the head of a faith-based organization guided by the Christian values of redemption and transformation, I am called to advocate for a system that values compassion and mercy as necessary policy counterweights to justice.

Justice is giving someone what they deserve, based on the harm they have caused, whereas mercy is extending leniency that is undeserved.  Clemency was designed to be an instrument of mercy, while lawmaking is an exercise of justice.

If the aim of Mr. Obama’s clemency initiative is to correct unjust policy rather than extend mercy in specific cases, then it does nothing to address systematic problem plaguing America’s burgeoning criminal justice system; namely, the disproportionate and ineffective sentencing laws for nonviolent crimes that have led to a federal prison system at 38 percent above capacity.

This unacceptably high level of overcrowding is dangerous for both prison guards and prisoners.  It also diminishes the capacity for faith-based nonprofits such as ours to provide effective programming that helps transform prisoners into law-abiding citizens when they return to our communities.  Not to mention that paying for the skyrocketing federal prison population is essentially accomplished by theft from budgets that formerly went toward victims’ services, prosecutors, investigations and crime-prevention tools.

Some on the political right, in particular members of Congress, object to what Mr. Obama is proposing on the grounds that this is yet another executive action by an imperial president who they think is interfering with the constitutional prerogatives of lawmakers to make policy.

While there is no doubt that both the current and previous occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have governed — sometimes questionably — through executive action, the Constitution clearly assigns the power of both clemency and pardons to the chief executive.  This is, in fact, a presidential prerogative inherited by way of ancient English constitutional law, which has always held the head of state to be the lead in executing prosecution, punishment and mercy.

The issue is not whether the president has the power to grant clemency, but rather whether Mr. Obama will overreach with that power in a way that undermines the long-term policy changes that can only be established through Congress’ lawmaking power.  Instead of using clemency as a blunt instrument to fix the broken policies and laws governing the criminal justice system, all three branches of government must work together to rebalance the scales of justice and restore a system that is no longer working for anyone....

Congress and the president have the opportunity to fulfill their constitutional obligations with two pieces of pending legislation that have attracted strong bipartisan support and affirm the growing consensus in support of reforming the criminal justice system.

One of the bills is the Smarter Sentencing Act, which has attracted the co-sponsorship of two polar opposites in the Senate: Mike Lee, a Tea Party Republican from Utah, and Richard J. Durbin, a liberal Illinois Democrat. The other is the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, an unabashed liberal Democrat from Rhode Island, and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican conservative, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 15-2 vote.

This rare consensus should not be taken for granted. Discussions and hearings alone are lip service. If Congress wants to avoid an executive-dominated approach to the challenges facing our criminal justice system, it must take the lead in not only proposing, but passing, long-term solutions. All three branches of government working as our Founding Fathers envisioned will not only show the American public that our democracy still works, but that our society has become a more just one.

April 26, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)