Thursday, November 26, 2015
So thankful for federal sentencing reform moving ahead in Congress... but...
this recent article from the New York Times highlights why I will not celebrate the reform movement's accomplishments until a bill is being signed by the President. The article, headlined "Rare White House Accord With Koch Brothers on Sentencing Frays," details what has become more controversial elements of bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts. Here are excerpts:
For more than a year, a rare coalition of liberal groups and libertarianminded conservatives has joined the Obama administration in pushing for the most significant liberalization of America’s criminal justice laws since the beginning of the drug war. That effort has had perhaps no ally more important than Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by a pair of brothers who are wellknown conservative billionaires.
Now, as Congress works to turn those goals into legislation, that joint effort is facing its most significant test — over a House bill that Koch Industries says would make the criminal justice system fairer, but that the Justice Department says would make it significantly harder to prosecute corporate polluters, producers of tainted food and other whitecollar criminals.
The tension among the unlikely allies emerged over the last week as the House Judiciary Committee, with bipartisan support, approved a package of bills intended to simplify the criminal code and reduce unnecessarily severe sentences. One of those bills — which has been supported by Koch Industries, libertarians and business groups — would make wholesale changes to certain federal criminal laws, requiring prosecutors to prove that suspects “knew, or had reason to believe, the conduct was unlawful,” and did not simply unknowingly violate the law.
Many laws already carry such a requirement — known as “mens rea” — but Congress left it out of many others, and libertarian groups say that has made it too easy to unknowingly violate obscure laws. Some environmentalists argue, however, that the real motive of Charles Koch, the philanthropist and the company chairman, in supporting the legislation is to block federal regulators from pursuing potential criminal actions against his family’s network of industrial and energy companies, a charge the company denies.
If the bill passes, the result will be clear, said Melanie Newman, the Justice Department spokeswoman. “Countless defendants who caused harm would escape criminal liability by arguing that they did not know their conduct was illegal” she said.
The debate over the bill, sponsored by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, has become particularly complicated for House Democrats, who have been warned that its passage would be essential for obtaining support from Republicans for a larger package of criminal justice bills. Many liberal Democrats see this session of Congress as a rare chance to address what they see as significant unfairness in the criminal justice system. Many of them feel that anything that jeopardizes that opportunity, like trying to block Mr. Sensenbrenner’s bill, is not worth doing. Two liberal members of the Judiciary Committee, Representatives John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, were cosponsors of the bill.
Mr. Conyers, in a statement on Tuesday, said he supported the bill, which the Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote last week, because outside parties had raised “a number of concerns about inadequate, and sometimes completely absent, intent requirements for federal criminal offenses.” But he said he was committed to finding a way to address the Justice Department’s concern....
“There are some groups on the left that mistrust the people who have put this proposal forward,” said John G. Malcolm, who served in the Justice Department’s criminal division during the Bush administration. He now works at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research center, where he has aggressively pushed for the change in the mens rea provisions. “It is an unfair and unwarranted characterization,” he added.
Koch Industries and conservative groups have some important liberal allies on the matter, including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Norman L. Reimer, the organization’s executive director, said it was not surprising the Justice Department opposed the legislation. “D.O.J. is always up in arms over anything that looks like they’d have to do their jobs,” he said. If the Justice Department’s job was harder in some cases, he said, that would be a good thing. For example, he cited a case in which prosecutors charged a fisherman with violating federal accounting laws by tossing undersized fish overboard. (Koch Industries made a major donation to the defense lawyers’ group last year.)
November 26, 2015 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Notable Ninth Circuit panel squabble over computer-search supervised release condition
Yesterday, a split Ninth Circuit panel rejected a defendant's claim that a computer-search condition in his supervised release terms was clearly unreasonable. The majority opinion in US v. Bare, No. 14-10475 (9th Cir. Nov. 24, 2015) (available here), found adequate the government's contention that, since "Bare kept paper records of his illicit firearms pawn business," if officers were permitted to search "only paper records — but not computers — [it] might enable Bare to evade discovery of recidivist activity by switching his records into an electronic format." Judge Kozinski dissent starts this way:
Persons on supervised release may have diminished expectations of privacy, but they have privacy rights nonetheless. Moreover, Congress has instructed us to adopt conditions of supervised release that impose “no greater deprivation of libertythan is reasonablynecessary” to achieve the goals of supervised release. 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(2). The majority today disregards this command by allowing probation officers to search defendant’s computer at anytime, for any reason or no reason, even though defendant did not use a computer to carry out his crime, and (so far as we know) did not even own a computer when he committed the offense.
The majority’s rationale, that defendant’s crime could be committed with the help of a computer, is no limitation at all. Pretty much any federal crime can be committed by using a computer in some way — to maintain records, to case the premises using Google Street View or to track down accomplices, methods and supplies necessary for committing the crime. If a hypothesis about how the crime might have been committed is a sufficient justification for imposing a supervised release condition, then any condition can be justified by supposing that the crime could be committed in a way that’s different from the method employed by the defendant. I cannot subscribe to such a broad and amorphous standard.
Monday, November 23, 2015
US District Judge Bennett finds legal limit to giving retroactive effect to new lower federal drug sentencing guidelines
Regular readers know that US District Judge Mark Bennett regularly produces thoughtful and thorough opinions on an array of cutting-edge federal sentencing issues. The latest Judge Bennett opus arrived today via US v. Feauto, No. CR 12-3046-MWB (D. Iowa Nov. 23, 2015) (available for download below). As this start to the Feauto opinion reveals (with lengthy footnotes left out and breaks added), Judge Bennett's latest work likely means a not-so-happy Thanksgiving week for at least on federal defendant:
Before me for consideration is defendant Randy Feauto’s eligibility for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) in light of Amendment 782, the “All Drugs Minus Two Amendment,” to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The parties and the Federal Defender for the Northern and Southern Districts of Iowa, as invited amicus curie, argue that a defendant subject to a mandatory minimum sentence who previously received a “substantial assistance” reduction below that mandatory minimum can be resentenced pursuant to Amendment 782 without regard to the mandatory minimum. That position was originally music to my ears, because I have consistently — and vehemently — disagreed with the harshness of most mandatory minimum sentences. In fact, in most of the over 1,000 congressionally-mandated mandatory minimum sentences that I have imposed over the past twenty-two years, I have stated on the record that they were unjust and too harsh. I would often inform or remind defendants and their families and supporters in the courtroom that reform of mandatory minimum sentencing must come from the legislative branch of our federal government — Congress.
So it is with significant irony, but consistent with my view that only Congress has the authority to waive mandatory minimum sentences (with the exception of substantial assistance motions, pursuant to § 3553(e) and FED. R. CRIM. P. 35(b), and “safety valve” eligibility, pursuant to § 3553(f)), that I disagree with the parties’ argument that the Sentencing Commission has the authority to use Amendment 782, or any other amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines, to “nullify” a mandatory minimum sentence established by Congress. For the reasons set forth below, my understanding is that only Congress itself, not the Sentencing Commission or the Judicial Branch, has that power. Consequently, the proper net effect of Amendment 782, applied either retroactively or prospectively, is that it can only reduce the sentence of a defendant who originally received a reduction for substantial assistance if he had no mandatory minimum or both his original guideline sentence and his amended guideline sentence are above his mandatory minimum. Feauto is not such a defendant.
I fully recognize that, like the vast majority of mandatory minimum sentences themselves, this construction leads to a harsh result, but fidelity to the rule of law and principles of non-delegation and separation of powers trumps any personal views on the harshness of federal sentencing. As discussed below, the construction urged by the parties and amicus creates an Alice In Wonderland like scenario in which the retroactive application of Amendment 782 opens a rabbit hole that Feauto, instead of Alice, falls through and receives a lower sentence in Wonderland than if he were originally sentenced today for his crime with the application of post-Amendment 782. Surely, this Mad Tea Party scenario creates the very kind of unwarranted disparity the guidelines were intended to avoid.
November 23, 2015 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard released as rare federal offender with parole conditions to challenge
Though parole was formally ended for all federal offenses three decades ago through the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, offenders convicted for crimes committed before that time still are eligible for parole release. As reported in this article, headlined "Lawyers Contest Pollard’s Parole Conditions," a controversial offender was released on parole under controversial conditions. Here are the basics:
Jonathan Pollard was released from prison Friday after 30 years behind bars for spying for Israel, and his lawyers immediately went to court to challenge tough parole conditions seemingly designed to ensure he doesn’t spill any U.S. military secrets he might have left.
The 61-year-old former Navy intelligence analyst was set free in the middle of the night from a medium-security federal prison in Butner, N.C., after being paroled from a life sentence that had turned him into a continual source of tension between the U.S. and Israel.
Under the rules of his release, he must wear a GPS unit to transmit his whereabouts at all times, allow the installation of monitoring equipment on any computers he uses at work or at home, and agree to periodic, unannounced inspections of those machines.
“The notion that, having fought for and finally obtained his release after serving 30 years in prison, Mr. Pollard will now disclose stale, 30-year-old information to anyone is preposterous,” his lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, said in a statement....
Despite parole requirements that he not leave the U.S. without government permission for the next five years, Pollard has expressed a desire to renounce his American citizenship and move to Israel, where he is seen by some as a national hero. The White House has come out against the request.
U.S. intelligence officials have long argued that Pollard, who pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage, did severe damage to the United States during the Cold War by giving away an enormous volume of military intelligence secrets that some suspect wound up in Soviet hands. His defenders have contended that his punishment was overly harsh for helping a close U.S. ally.
The prosecutor who handled the case, former U.S. Attorney Joseph DiGenova, said it is legitimate for the government to be concerned that Pollard might still have secrets to tell.
Pollard’s lawyers submitted a statement from former U.S. national security adviser Robert McFarlane dismissing such fears. “To the extent Mr. Pollard even recalls any classified information, it would date back 30 years or more, and would have no value to anyone today,” he said.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Capital defense lawyers in Utah seek to depose all county prosecutors to make constitutional case against death penalty
This local story from Utah, headlined "Murder defense to depose all of state's top prosecutors," reports on the latest defense approach to putting a bee in the state's capital punishment bonnet in the Beehive State. Here are the interesting details:
The defense in a 2010 murder case plans to schedule depositions with all of Utah’s 29 county prosecutors and other state law enforcement representatives possibly including Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes as part of its bid to overturn a death penalty ruling in the case. Attorneys Gary Pendleton and Mary Corporan announced their plans on Wednesday to seek testimonies from anyone in the state who decides whether the death penalty should be applied in a criminal case. The issue forms part of their arguments that the death penalty is unconstitutional and applied inequitably.
The pair represent Bloomington Hills resident Brandon Perry Smith, 34, who is accused of killing 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen two weeks before Christmas 2010 in a brutal downtown incident. Pendleton told 5th District Judge G. Michael Westfall that he and Corporan have investigated how many death penalty-eligible cases since 1992 have actually ended up with a suspect being referred to death row. They determined that the prosecution seeks the death penalty in fewer than 3 percent of eligible cases, with most cases leading to a life in prison sentence instead, Pendleton said.
“Why is the death penalty not being sought in those cases but it is being sought in this case?” he asked. “I think we have to call as witnesses the charging authorities who were in positions of authority to make the charging decisions at the time the (state’s other) cases were filed either as capital cases — aggravated murder cases — or not,” Corporan said.... Pendleton’s question amounts to a challenge about whether anyone should be sentenced to death unless everyone who could legally be sentenced to death receives that ultimate penalty....
The death penalty has since been allowed on a state-by-state basis, and Utah established eight aggravating circumstances to define death penalty cases. “Over the years, we have now come to 22 or 23 aggravators,” Pendleton said, adding that at one time Utah had more than any other state. “Even though we supposedly have a statute that narrows the class, … (in) only 3 percent of (those cases) is the state seeking the death penalty and they’re not seeking the death penalty based upon any articulable standard,” Pendleton said. “It’s completely arbitrary. … The state can’t articulate and won’t articulate on what basis they are making that selection and deciding that this is a death-worthy case. They’re not doing it based on the statute.”...
Pendleton and Corporan initially asked Westfall to schedule a three-day hearing in Smith’s case that would require the presence of all the affected prosecutors from across the state, but Westfall said he feared such a hearing would create a devastating delay for the case because of the difficulty of coordinating everyone’s schedules as well as problems for the other attorneys’ caseloads. “We’re talking about a real domino effect,” he said.
Shaum suggested deposing each affected prosecutor individually would be more practical, even though Corporan and Westfall conceded that to do so will still likely create significant delays in trial scheduling, especially with the holiday season approaching. With the attorneys’ agreement, Westfall scheduled a review hearing for Feb. 3 to check the progress of the depositions.
Christensen’s mother, Ellen Hensley, has previously expressed concerns about the length of the court process and held a candlelight vigil at the courthouse on the last anniversary of her daughter’s death to call for swifter justice for the victims of crimes. Westfall expressed apparent awareness of her concerns, reminding the attorneys that “I also think that we need to keep in mind that we’ve got some victims’ family members in this case that I think are also entitled to try to see if we can get this case resolved. … I am still concerned about moving this case along and making sure that we get a decision as soon as possible.”
“I’m concerned about providing adequate representation on all the legal issues,” Pendleton replied, adding that the depositions will be “only the tip of the iceberg” in his motion to have the death penalty declared unconstitutional, but that they will be the only real evidence issue before moving to legal arguments.
Vermont killer makes broadside constitutional attack on federal death penalty prior to capital retrial
As reported in this local AP article, headlined "Fell’s lawyers challenge death penalty law," a notable killer is now making a notable argument to preclude capital punishment's application at his retrial. Here are the details:
A Vermont man facing the federal death penalty for the 2000 killing of a woman abducted from outside a Rutland supermarket is asking a judge to declare the death penalty law unconstitutional, court documents say. In documents filed in federal court Monday, attorneys for Donald Fell argue the federal death penalty is unreliable, arbitrary and adds “unconscionably long” delays in cases. “Most places within the United States have abandoned its use under evolving standards of decency,” the attorneys say.
They contend that U.S. Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier this year “issued a clarion call for reconsideration of the constitutionality of the death penalty.” It also noted that the Connecticut Supreme Court, relying largely on Breyer and Ginsburg’s arguments, found that state’s death penalty unconstitutional. “Mr. Fell asks this Court to (rule)... that the federal death penalty, in and of itself, constitutes a legally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments,” his filing said.
Fell, 35, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005 for the 2000 killing of Terry King, a 53-year-old North Clarendon grandmother who was abducted in Rutland and later killed. A judge last year ordered a new trial for Fell because of juror misconduct during the original trial. The trial is scheduled for next fall.
U.S. Attorney Eric Miller said his office would respond to the defense filings at the appropriate time. Vermont has no state death penalty; Fell was sentenced to death under federal law. In 2002, the judge then hearing the case declared the federal death penalty unconstitutional. But two years later, an appeals court overturned that ruling, allowing the trial to go forward.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said a decade’s worth of data has accumulated showing the legal problems with the federal death penalty since the ruling allowing Fell’s case to go forward.... “You can expect going forward that there will be constitutional challenges of this type filed in most, if not all, federal capital prosecutions,” Dunham said.
I share the view that defendants will be making this kind of categorical constitutional argument against the death penalty this will be made in most federal capital prosecutions, and I would go even further to assert that it may now be pretty close to obligatory for defense attorneys to make some form of this argument in any and every capital case. In light of the comments by Justices Breyer and Ginsburg in Glossip, and the risk of having an argument considered waived if not brought as soon as possible, I would think most capital defense attorneys would feel duty-bound to at least raise this kind of argument in order at leas to preserve it for future high court consideration.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Local Arkansas judge accused of soliciting sex from defendants to reduce sanctions
As reported in this local article, headlined "Panel accuses judge of lenient rulings for sexual favors, other violations," a local judge in Arkansas is accused of reaching some new lows in judicial misconduct. Here are just some of the sorted details:
A Cross County district judge was accused by a state disciplinary panel Tuesday of multiple violations of the judicial code involving a wide range of offenses, including lenient rulings for sexual favors from younger male offenders, possessing child pornography and verbal abuse of people in his courtroom.
The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission announced that it filed formal charges against District Judge Joseph Boeckmann Jr. of Wynne, whom it alleged violated 14 judicial ethics rules, including abuse of office and breaking state law.
The commission's director, David Sachar, said Boeckmann has 30 days to respond to the allegations, which were the result of a 14-month investigation. The case could then go to a public trial before the nine-member commission. Boeckmann did not return calls placed to his office. The judge's attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, offered this statement: "We are going to file a response denying the allegations, and we'll be fighting the charges in front of the commission."
Depending on its findings, the commission can issue letters of discipline, ranging from caution to reprimand. The panel also can ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to suspend or remove Boeckmann from the bench. Sachar said the commission also handed over information to a state prosecutor, but he declined to identify the prosecutor.
Boeckmann was first elected to the part-time judicial position in 2008 and took the bench in 2009. He is not seeking re-election. The investigation began with the Department of Human Services' Adult Protective Services Division, after an investigator fielded a complaint against a woman working for Wynne Elder Care LLC.
Eventually, the DHS investigation led the judicial commission to conduct its own investigation, in which it found unidentified witnesses who claimed to have seen pornography on the judge's computer that involved "prepubescent males," according to the complaint....
Boeckmann is accused of "awarding community service to certain litigants based on gender," the complaint said, in which the judge offered "substitutionary sentences" to young men. Those sentences often involved picking up cans on the side of the road or at the judge's Wynne residence, Tuesday's complaint said.
"Boeckmann would photograph the buttocks of the men as they were bending to retrieve the garbage," the complaint stated. "Multiple male litigants have been photographed. ... Boeckmann maintained these photographs of male litigants' buttocks in his home for his personal use," the complaint said.
The complaint stated that Boeckmann's "method of operation" was to seek out young white men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 35, who had criminal or traffic citations in his court. During meet-ups for "trash pickup," Boeckmann is accused of soliciting "sexual relations" from the men in exchange for reductions in court costs and fees, according to the commission's investigation.
On Tuesday, Sachar said he was unable to say how many men were involved or how many court fees were waived as a result, but he said his staff had pored over thousands of pages of court and financial documents.
One witness, identified only as "A.A.," was in jail for several days in 2001 when his girlfriend approached Boeckmann, then an attorney, for help, and Boeckmann asked if "A.A. was good looking," the complaint stated. Through 2011, A.A. worked for Boeckmann and was involved in a sexual relationship with him, the complaint said, and even had a room at Boeckmann's home. In that time, Boeckmann bought A.A. two vehicles and a boat, the complaint said. He also paid rent and utilities for A.A.'s family, and engaged in "spankings" with A.A. whenever A.A. got into trouble, the complaint stated.
I sincerely hope, if these disgraceful allegations are true, that this judge will be facing some serious criminal charges.
Is it appropriate for condemned's lawyers to give up capital fight at 11th hour?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this extended Dallas Morning News article headlined "Condemned man’s lawyers stop helping, cite ‘false hope’." Here is the start and end of the story involving a murderer scheduled to be executed today in Texas:
From his cell on death row, Raphael Holiday drafted letter after desperate letter to lawyers who represent the condemned. He begged for their help to plead for mercy from Gov. Greg Abbott, to try any last-ditch legal maneuvers that might stave off his impending execution.
Holiday’s appointed lawyers had told him that fighting to stop his punishment was futile, and they wouldn’t do it. The 36-year-old thought he’d be left to walk to the death chamber with no lawyer at his side.
Less than a month before his execution — scheduled for Wednesday — Holiday secured help. Austin attorney Gretchen Sween agreed to ask the court to find new lawyers willing to try to keep him from dying. But Holiday’s federally appointed lawyers — the ones who said they would do no more to help him — are opposing their client’s attempts to replace them.
Now, just hours before he is set to face lethal injection for burning to death three children, including his own daughter, Holiday is awaiting word from the U.S. Supreme Court on his latest request for help.
Lawyers James “Wes” Volberding and Seth Kretzer said they worked diligently to find new evidence on which to base additional appeals for Holiday, but that none exists. Seeking clemency from Abbott, a staunch death penalty supporter, would be pointless, they say. The two contend they are exercising professional judgment and doing what’s best for their client.
“We decided that it was inappropriate to file [a petition for clemency] and give false hope to a poor man on death row expecting clemency that we knew was never going to come,” Volberding said in a telephone interview.
But others say the law under which death row lawyers are appointed doesn’t allow that kind of discretion. It requires attorneys to make every possible effort to save a client’s life, if that’s what the inmate wants. “This seems unconscionable,” said Stephen Bright, president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights and a teacher at Yale Law School. “Lawyers are often in a position of representing people for whom the legal issues are not particularly strong, but nevertheless they have a duty to make every legal argument they can.”
So far, appeals courts have sided with Volberding and Kretzer. Last Thursday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion to have them replaced. On Monday, Sween appealed to the Supreme Court.
Holiday was convicted of intentionally setting fire to his wife’s home near College Station in September 2000, killing her three little girls. He forced the children’s grandmother to douse the home in gasoline. After igniting the fumes, Holiday watched from outside as flames engulfed the couch where authorities later found the corpses of 7-year-old Tierra Lynch, 5-year-old Jasmine DuPaul and 1-year-old Justice Holiday huddled together. Volberding and Kretzer were appointed in February 2011 to represent Holiday in his federal appeals. They filed a 286-page petition in federal court, alleging dozens of mistakes in Holiday’s case, ranging from assertions that he was intellectually disabled to charges that clemency is so rarely granted in Texas that the process has become meaningless.... In decades of practicing, Bright said he had never seen a case like Holiday’s in which appointed lawyers so vociferously fought to keep a death row inmate from retaining a different attorney. In some cases, he said, new lawyers have discovered evidence others overlooked pointing to an inmate’s innocence or showing people’s intellectual disabilities made them incompetent for execution. “Most people don’t get executed for crimes they committed,” Bright said. “They get executed for mistakes their lawyers made.”
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Terrific original reporting by The Crime Report on challenging extreme policing bordering on entrapment
Regular readers know I am a big fan of all the criminal justice reporting work done at The Crime Report (TCR), and a new two-part series authored by Adam Wisnieski at TCR showcases why. In these two extended pieces, TCR highlights the extraordinary examples of extreme stings and the limited willingness of courts to police the work of police and prosecutors in this arena:
Here is an excerpt from the first of these two important pieces:
A TCR investigation found 126 motions to dismiss a case on the grounds of “outrageous government conduct” filed during an 18-month period between 2014 and August 2015. In those 126 cases, only seven were initially successful. Three of those were overturned on appeal, and an appeal on the fourth is still pending — though it is expected to be denied.
In the rare occurrences where a claim of “outrageous government conduct” is successful, something profound happens: police behavior changes. In one instance this year, the motion’s success directly led to a law enforcement agency changing policy on undercover sting operations involving prostitution. (More on this below.)
Nevertheless, the motion’s lack of success raises troubling questions for the future of American law enforcement. Legal scholars and critical judges say the near-overwhelming failure of courts to rule aggressive police behavior is “outrageous” when such motions arise has created a climate in which such behavior is likely to increase — while eroding the power of the judicial branch to check the government when it overreaches and, by implication, threatening Americans’ constitutionally enshrined right to due process.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Should SCOTUS deal with Johnson retroactivity through an original habeas petition?
The question in the title of this post should get habeas and/or sentencing geeks like me really excited, and I apologize in advance to everyone else. But the question is on my mind and has me excited after reading this terrific (and lengthy) new PrawfBlawg post by Steve Vladeck titled "How an Obscure SCOTUS Procedure Can Solve AEDPA's Retroactivity Catch-22 (and a Growing Circuit Split)." The full post is today's must read for habeas and/or sentencing geeks, but the start and end of the effort should whet geeky appetites:
Thanks to Montgomery v. Louisiana, the retroactivity of new Supreme Court decisions is already an important part of the Court's current Term. But as I explain in the post that follows, a new application pending before the Justices, In re Butler, raises a far more important retroactivity question, one that is already the subject of a 5-3 (and growing) circuit split, one that has an ever-shortening clock, and, most significantly, one that may only be definitively answerable if the Court does something it hasn't done in 90 years — issue an "original" writ of habeas corpus.
To unpack this dense but significant topic, Part I flags the origins of the problem — the restrictions on second-or-successive applications for post-conviction relief in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and the Supreme Court's fractured 2001 interpretation of those provisions in Tyler v. Cain. Part II turns to the current circuit split, which involves whether the Court's June decision in Johnson v. United States, which invalidated a provision of the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA), can be retroactively enforced in second-or-successive petitions. Part III explains why that circuit split can't be resolved by the Supreme Court via certiorari — and why, instead, the best way for the Court to take up the Johnson question is through an "original" writ of habeas corpus in a case like Butler. Finally, Part IV argues that the Court should use Butler not just to answer the Johnson question, but also to resolve the debate over Tyler, lest this exact same scenario repeat itself after the next Johnson-like ruling....
In a paper I wrote in 2011, I argued that there's actually a value in preserving the obscurity of the Supreme Court's original habeas jurisdiction — and that, if original writs became common, they'd lose their utility as a safety valve, since Congress would presumably also think to take away that authority as part of future jurisdiction-stripping initiatives. But there's a difference between elusive remedies and illusory ones. For two decades, we have labored under the fiction that AEDPA's gatekeeper provisions don't raise serious constitutional problems entirely because of this safety valve. If, as a result of disuse, it turns out that the safety valve is sealed shut, then we can no longer dodge those constitutional questions. Thus, although we may be in the midst of a perfect storm for retroactivity, a case like Butler may actually be the perfect vehicle for the Justices to remind themselves about their original habeas authority — and, in the process, to issue an opinion that dramatically reduces the need for such relief in future retroactivity cases.
November 16, 2015 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
"Risk, Race, & Recidivism: Predictive Bias and Disparate Impact"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely empirical paper by Jennifer Skeem and Christopher Lowenkamp now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
One way to unwind mass incarceration without compromising public safety is to use risk assessment instruments in sentencing and corrections. These instruments figure prominently in current reforms, but controversy has begun to swirl around their use. The principal concern is that benefits in crime control will be offset by costs in social justice — a disparate and adverse effect on racial minorities and the poor. Based on a sample of 34,794 federal offenders, we empirically examine the relationships among race (Black vs. White), actuarial risk assessment (the Post Conviction Risk Assessment [PCRA]), and re-arrest (for any/violent crime).
First, application of well-established principles of psychological science revealed no real evidence of test bias for the PCRA — the instrument strongly predicts re-arrest for both Black and White offenders and a given score has essentially the same meaning — i.e., same probability of recidivism — across groups. Second, Black offenders obtain modestly higher average scores on the PCRA than White offenders (d = .43; appx. 27% non-overlap in groups’ scores). So some applications of the PCRA could create disparate impact — which is defined by moral rather than empirical criteria. Third, most (69%) of the racial difference in PCRA scores is attributable to criminal history — which strongly predicts recidivism for both groups and is embedded in sentencing guidelines. Finally, criminal history is not a proxy for race — instead, it fully mediates the otherwise weak relationship between race and re-arrest. Data may be more helpful than rhetoric, if the goal is to improve practice at this opportune moment in history.
November 16, 2015 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sentencing prominent federal defendants: should sex offender Jared Fogle or Sunwest CEO fraudster get longer prison term?
Two notable (and notably different) federal prosecutions are to reach sentencing this week in Indiana and Oregon. Though the crimes and defendants are not similar, the range of sentences being requested by prosecutors and defendants in these two cases are comparable. Via press reports, here are the basic elements of these two federal cases (with links to some underlying documents):
Jared Fogle, who pleaded guilty to federal sex offenses, "Jared Fogle asks for 5-year prison term in court filing before sentencing":
Jared Fogle's attorneys asked for a five-year prison term for the former Subway restaurant pitchman in a court filing before his sentencing Thursday. The filing says Fogle will speak publicly during his hearing before Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in federal court in Indianapolis. "He is painfully aware of the fact that he has impacted the lives of minor victims, hurt those closest to him and, for all practical purposes, destroyed the life he worked to build over the last 18 years," the filing says.
Fogle has agreed to plead guilty to two counts: possession of child pornography and traveling across state lines to engage in sex with a minor. The prosecutor is asking for 12½ years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised probation. That was the maximum sentence the U.S. attorney had agreed to seek in a plea bargain struck with Fogle in August. Fogle faced a maximum sentence on the two federal felony charges of 50 years. The judge has discretion to sentence Fogle to more or less than what the prosecution has requested.
The defense filing acknowledges that the advisory sentencing guideline is 135 to 168 months, but said it is "entitled to little weight because it is the result of a flawed and widely criticized set of … provisions."
Jon Michael Harder, who pleaded guilty to federal fraud offenses, "Former Sunwest CEO, facing sentencing for $130 million fraud, apologizes for 'carnage and problems'":
U.S. prosecutors accuse former Sunwest Management CEO Jon Michael Harder of orchestrating the biggest investment fraud in Oregon history, and they are asking a judge to sentence him to 15 years in prison. IRS criminal investigators say that as the head of a vast network of assisted living centers, he helped make off with $130 million from 1,000 investors between 2006 and 2008.
Harder will go before a judge Monday morning for a rare two-day sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon, who found him guilty last January of mail fraud and money laundering.
Harder's legal team, seeking leniency, is asking Simon to sentence him to five years in prison. Assistant Public Defender Christopher J. Schatz took the unusual step of filing a court declaration that describes his client as possibly suffering from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder from the emotional clubbing he took after Sunwest's failures. "Many of the investors in Sunwest were family members, family friends and members of the Seventh Day Adventist community," Schatz wrote. "Mr. Harder feels that he let all the investors down, that he failed them all."
Harder, too, filed a court paper — a letter of apology to Simon. "I feel incredibly badly for all the carnage and problems that I have caused," he wrote. "I have obsessed, over the last 7 ½ years, about what I should have or could have done differently in operating Sunwest."
A government sentencing memo paints Harder as a chief executive who burned through corporate cash as if it were his own. He drove luxury cars, owned six homes, and once flew about 100 people to Alaska — most of them Sunwest employees — to go fishing.
Intriguingly, it seems that the federal sentencing guidelines would call for a much, much longer sentence for the fraudster than the sex offender: while Jared Fogle appears to be facing a guideline sentencing range of roughly 12 to 14 years, Jon Harder appears to be facing a guideline sentencing range of life without the possibility of parole.
November 16, 2015 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10)
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Can and will "big data" enable astute (and/or scary) recidivism risk assessment?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting Christian Science Monitor article, headlined "Microsoft says its software can tell if you're going back to prison." Here are excepts:
In a scenario that seems ripped straight from science fiction, Microsoft says its machine learning software can help law enforcement agencies predict whether an inmate is likely to commit another crime by analyzing his or her prison record.
In a series of videos and events at policing conferences, such as one on Oct. 6 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Microsoft has been quietly marketing its software and cloud computing storage to law enforcement agencies.
It says the software could have several uses, such as allowing departments across the country to analyze social media postings and map them in order to develop a profile for a crime suspect. The push also includes partnerships with law enforcement technology companies, including Taser – the stun gun maker – to provide police with cloud storage for body camera footage that is compliant with federal standards for law enforcement data.
But in a more visionary – or possibly dystopian – approach, the company is also expanding into a growing market for what is often called predictive policing, using data to pinpoint people most likely to be at risk of being involved in future crimes.
These techniques aren’t really new. A predictive approach — preventing crime by understanding who is involved and recognizing patterns in how crimes are committed — builds on efforts dating back to the early 1990s, when the New York City police began using maps and statistics to track areas where crimes occurred most frequently.
“Predictive policing, I think, is kind of a catch-all for using data analysis to estimate what will happen in the future with regard to crime and policing,” says Carter Price, a mathematician at the RAND Corporation in Washington who has studied the technology. “There are some people who think it’s like the movie ‘Minority Report’ ” — in which an elite police unit can predict crimes and make arrests before they occur — “but it’s not. No amount of data is able to give us that type of detail.”
Scholars caution that while data analysis can provide patterns and details about some types of crimes – such as burglary or theft – when it comes to violent crime, such approaches can yield information for police about who is at high risk of violent victimization, not a list of potential offenders.
“Thinking that you do prediction around serious violent crime is empirically inaccurate, and leads to very serious justice issues. But saying, ‘This is a high risk place,’ lets you focus on offering social services,” says David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the 1990s, he pioneered an observation-driven approach that worked with local police in Boston to target violent crime. After identifying small groups of people in particular neighborhoods at high risk of either committing a crime or becoming a victim of violence, the program, Operation Ceasefire, engaged them in meetings with police and community members and presented them with a choice – either accept social services that were offered or face a harsh police response if they committed further crimes. It eventually resulted in a widespread drop in violent crime often referred to as the “Boston Miracle.”...
In one video tutorial for law enforcement agencies, Microsoft makes a sweeping claim. Using records pulled from a database of prison inmates and looking at factors such as whether an inmate is in a gang, his or her participation in prison rehabilitation programs, and how long such programs lasted, its software predicts whether an inmate is likely to commit another crime that ends in a prison sentence. Microsoft says its software is accurate 90 percent of the time.
“The software is not explicitly programmed but patterned after nature,” Jeff King, Microsoft’s principal solutions architect, who focuses on products for state and local governments, says in the video. “The desired outcome is that we’re able to predict the future based on that past experience, and if we don’t have that past experience, we’re able to take those variables and then classify them based on dissimilar attributes."...
While predictive policing is still in the early stages, some say the data it generates could have a mixed impact. While the information could improve police transparency, it could also lead to other problems. “If police departments had access to social media accounts, and it turned out that crimes were being committed by people who liked a certain kind of music and a certain sports team, it could lead to certain kinds of racial discrepancies,” says Dr. Price, the RAND researcher. “It’s a useful tool, but it should always be done with [the idea of] keeping in mind how this will impact populations differently, and just sort of being cognizant of that when policies are put in place."
But Kennedy, the criminology professor, says that for violent crimes, using data that shows crime risks to influence policing actions could have devastating consequences. “People have been trying to predict violent crimes using risk factors for generations, and it’s never worked,” he says. “I think the inescapable truth is that, as good as the prediction about people may get, the false positives are going to swamp the actual positives ... and if we’re taking criminal action on a overwhelming pool of false positives, we’re going to be doing real injustice and real harm to real people.”
Friday, November 13, 2015
"Alternative Courts and Drug Treatment: Finding a Rehabilitative Solution for Addicts in a Retributive System"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Molly Webster now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Sentencing drug crimes and treating drug-addicted defendants often stem from contradictory theories of punishment. In the late twentieth century, courts traded rehabilitation for retributive ideals to fight the “War on Drugs.” However, beginning with the Miami-Dade Drug Court, treatment and rehabilitation have returned to the forefront of sentencing policy in traditional and alternative drug courts.
Jurisdictions have implemented a variety of policies designed to treat addiction as opposed to punishing it. Community courts, such as the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, New York, community-panel drug courts, such as the Woodbury County Community Drug Court in Iowa, and Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement represent efforts to address treatment within the court system. This Note argues that certain policies are more likely to benefit drug-addicted defendants than others, including procedural justice, predictable sanctions, and an increased focus on treatment. It also posits that qualitative studies measuring long-term success of drug treatment programs should be commissioned to ensure that drug courts utilize the most effective treatment policies that promote rehabilitative ideals.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Federal prosecutors seeking plea-deal max sentence of 12.5 years for Jared Fogle
As reported in this local article, headlined "Prosecutor to ask court to sentence Jared Fogle to 12.5 years," the feds have filed their sentencing recommendations in the child sex prosecution of former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle. Here are some of the details via the press report:
A court filing by prosecutors in advance of Jared Fogle's sentencing next Thursday tells the judge she must send a message to others involved in child exploitation. Fogle, the former Subway pitchman, has agreed to plead guilty to two counts: possession of child pornography and traveling across state lines to engage in sex with a minor.
The prosecutor is asking U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt to sentence Fogle to 12-1/2 years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised probation. That was the maximum sentence the U.S. Attorney had agreed to seek in a plea bargain struck with Fogle in August. Fogle faced a maximum sentence on the two federal felony charges of 50 years. The judge has discretion to sentence Fogle to more or less than what the prosecution has requested.
"Persons with a sexual attraction to young children may be difficult to deter, but these sentences matter," the document said. "These offenders frequently communicate with each other online and they are concerned about the law enforcement efforts. "In many ways, the results of these cases help to deter and teach by example. There is no avoiding the point that, whatever the result, in this matter, it will be closely watched by current and potential offenders who have not yet been identified."
The document said that Fogle "repeatedly expressed sexual fantasies concerning children to multiple persons," but despite exhaustive investigation, "no victims under the age of 18 years could be specifically identified from those victims already charged in this case." Prosecutors have identified 14 victims. Prosecutors said in the filing that they were trying to prevent more trauma to the victims in a high-profile case that has already caused "substantial anguish."
"A public trial would only have made this process of healing even more protracted and difficult, without changing the outcome," the filing said. Among the new information in the court filing:
• Fogle paid for sex from adults "on hundreds of occasions."
• Some of the commercial child pornography he had, which prosecutors believe was produced in Eastern Europe, included actual or simulated sexual intercourse by children as young as 6.
• Russell Taylor, former head of Fogle's foundation, who has also agreed to plead guilty to child porn charges, gave minors drugs, alcohol and money to induce them into sex acts. Two of the minors were 14 years old.
Taylor will be sentenced Dec. 10. In his case, prosecutors agreed not to seek a sentence of more than 35 years in prison. Taylor agreed not to ask for less than 15 years in prison.
The new court filing said that Fogle rationalized his viewing of child porn made by Taylor. Because Taylor was going to secretly produce the material anyway, "he might as well benefit from the production by seeing the results, which interested him."
Prosecutors noted that Fogle had a "good childhood" and that his wife, who has filed for divorce, "had no idea he was doing any of these things."
Prior related posts:
- Subway pitchman and his "Jared Foundation" subject to serious child porn investigation
- What sort of child porn federal plea deal might be in works for Subway pitchman Jared Fogle?
- Even with plea deal, Subway pitchman Jared likely facing at least a decade in federal prison for sex offenses
- Has Jared Fogle gotten a sweetheart plea deal and/or celebrity treatment for sex crimes?
- Federal child porn downloaders complaining to judges about Jared Fogle's (too sweet?) plea deal
November 12, 2015 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16)
Split Ohio Supreme Court rejects constitutional challenge to registration requirement for 21-year-old who had consensual sex with 15-year-old
Any and all college guys in Ohio who may still be dating younger high school girls will want to know about the new Ohio Supreme Court opinion in Ohio v. Blankenship, No. 2015-Ohio-4624 (Nov. 12, 2015) (available here). Here is how the majority opinion gets started:
Appellant, Travis Blankenship, challenges as cruel and unusual punishment the sex-offender-registration and address-verification requirements imposed upon him as part of his sentence for violating R.C. 2907.04 by engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with M.H., a 15-year-old, when he was 21. Because we hold that the Tier II registration requirements imposed upon him are not so extreme as to be grossly disproportionate to the crime or shocking to a reasonable person and to the community’s sense of justice, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.
The chief dissent gets started this way:
The framework within which an issue is presented can unduly influence the outcome. For example, if you ask a stadium full of people whether requiring a Tier II sex offender to comply with certain reporting requirements shocks their sense of justice, you are unlikely to receive a single affirmative response. But... but add that the offender was an adult male who had sex with a 15-year-old girl ...[and] add that the offender was a 21-year-old male, that the 15-year-old girl consented, and that the registration and address-verification requirements must be complied with every six months for 25 years, and now we are at the threshold. Many will see the consent as a mitigating factor, many will see the relatively modest age difference as a mitigating factor, and many will see the 25-year time period as unnecessarily long. As the majority notes, and I acknowledge, these potentially mitigating factors are not statutorily relevant, but they are nevertheless constitutionally relevant.
Assume further that the offender has been determined by a psychologist to have none of the characteristics of a sex offender and to have a low risk of reoffending. There would be many who would be shocked at the severity and length of the punishment, i.e., the reporting requirements. Assume all of the above and add that the offender could have received a sentence of up to 18 months, see R.C. 2929.14(A)(4), that he was sentenced to six months in prison (the shortest term possible), and that a judge released him after he had served a mere 12 days. Now the community’s sense of justice has been violated. Few would deem it appropriate to require a person who committed a crime that warranted a 12-day sentence to comply with reporting requirements every six months for the next 25 years.
The touchstone of federal cruel-and-unusual-punishment analysis is that the punishment must be proportional to the crime. Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 367 (1910). The case before us fails this standard.
November 12, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (17)
Ninth Circuit panel reverses, on procedural grounds, district court ruling declaring California's capital system unconstitutional
Today via a procedural ruling in Jones v. Davis, No. 14-56373 (9th Cir. Nov. 12, 2015) (available here), a panel of the Ninth Circuit has reversed this ground-breaking ruling by US District Judge Cormac Carney that California's system of reviewing capital convictions and sentences " violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment." The circuit panel's majority opinon in Jones, authored Judge Graber, gets started this way:
The State of California authorizes the execution of a capital prisoner only after affording a full opportunity to seek review in state and federal courts. Judicial review ensures that executions meet constitutional requirements, but it also takes time — too much time, in Petitioner Ernest DeWayne Jones’ view. He argues that California’s post-conviction system of judicial review creates such a long period of delay between sentencing and execution that only an “arbitrary” few prisoners actually are executed, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), federal courts may not consider novel constitutional theories on habeas review. That principle “serves to ensure that gradual developments in the law over which reasonable jurists may disagree are not later used to upset the finality of state convictions valid when entered.” Sawyer v. Smith, 497 U.S. 227, 234 (1990). Because we conclude that Petitioner’s claim asks us to apply a novel constitutional rule, we must deny the claim as barred by Teague. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s judgment granting relief.
A concurrence by Judge Watford in Jones gets started this way:
My colleagues conclude that relief is precluded by Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), which bars federal courts from applying “new rules of constitutional criminal procedure” to cases on collateral review. Beard v. Banks, 542 U.S. 406, 416 (2004) (emphasis added). The Teague bar does not apply to new rules of substantive law. Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 352 n.4 (2004).
The rule announced by the district court, while undoubtedly “new” for Teague purposes, is substantive rather than procedural. The court held that the death penalty as administered in California constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment. In particular, the court concluded that the long delays between imposition of sentence and execution, resulting from systemic dysfunction in the post-conviction review process, combined with the low probability that an inmate sentenced to death will actually be executed, preclude the death penalty from serving any deterrent or retributive purpose. Jones v. Chappell, 31 F. Supp. 3d 1050, 1053, 1062–65 (C.D. Cal. 2014); see Glossip v. Gross, 135 S. Ct. 2726, 2767–70 (2015) (Breyer, J., dissenting). The Supreme Court has held that capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment if it does not fulfill those two penological purposes. Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407, 441 (2008). Thus, the effect of the district court’s ruling is to categorically forbid death as a punishment for anyone convicted of a capital offense in California. A rule “placing a certain class of individuals beyond the State’s power to punish by death” is as substantive as rules come. Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 330 (1989).
I would reverse the district court’s judgment on a different ground. A federal court may not grant habeas relief unless the petitioner has first exhausted the remedies available in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). Jones concedes he has not done that. He never presented the claim at issue here to the California Supreme Court to give that court an opportunity to rule on the claim in the first instance. Jones did present a so-called Lackey claim to the California Supreme Court, which asserted that the long post-conviction delay in Jones’ own case has rendered his death sentence cruel and unusual punishment. See Lackey v. Texas, 514 U.S. 1045 (1995) (Stevens, J., respecting denial of certiorari). But the claim on which the district court granted relief rests on a different set of factual allegations and a different legal theory. Presenting the Lackey claim to the California Supreme Court therefore did not satisfy the exhaustion requirement. See Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 162–63 (1996).
Jones contends that exhaustion should be excused here. The federal habeas statute provides just two scenarios in which a petitioner’s failure to satisfy the exhaustion requirement may be excused: (1) when “there is an absence of available State corrective process,” or (2) when “circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(B). Jones’ case does not fit within either of these exceptions. He does not dispute that he can file another habeas petition in the California Supreme Court to exhaust the claim at issue here, so the first exception doesn’t apply. And the second exception does not apply because Jones can’t show that filing a new habeas petition with the California Supreme Court would be ineffective to protect his rights.
I will have some commentary on this significant and interesting circuit court ruling later today in a follow-up post after I find some time to read the opinions here closely. But even without a full read, I can predict with certainty that the defense team (and their amici) are all-but-certain to seek en banc review before the full Ninth Circuit and/or certiorari review in the Supreme Court. In all likelihood, those further appeals will keep this case going (and provide an excuse for California to not set any execution dates) throughout the rest of 2015 and probably all of 2016.
Notable new ACLU report on impact of California's Prop 47 one year later
In this prior post last week, I reported on this Stanford Justice Advocacy Project report providing one perspective on the impact and import of California voters' embrace of criminal justice reform last year through Proposition 47. I have just seen that the ALCU of California has this week released its own report on this important topic. This report, titled "Changing Gears: California’s Shift to Smart Justice," covers lots of ground about local implementation of Prop 47. Here are excerpts from its six main findings (which has its numbering a bit off):
For this survey, the ACLU obtained and reviewed public records from sheriffs, probation chiefs, district attorneys, and behavioral health departments from around the state. The findings below are offered as a starting point for policymakers and advocates working to better understand the choices local agencies are making in responding to Prop 47 and the voter mandate behind it – and begin to evaluate whether those choices are appropriate.
1. Thousands are waiting for their Prop 47 resentencing/ reclassification petitions to be reviewed. Under Prop 47, people who may be eligible to change the felony on their record to a misdemeanor have a limited time to ask the court to make the change. The November 2017 deadline to apply is now just two years away. As of June 2015, courts statewide had reported a total of about 160,000 applications for Prop 47 relief – both for resentencing and reclassification.29 Responding to public records requests by the ACLU, many counties were unable to provide accurate data on how many people may still be incarcerated or under supervision awaiting resentencing. Although most counties acted quickly to establish a process for resentencing eligible incarcerated people, it is less clear how many people eligible for Prop 47 resentencing are still serving felony sentences under community supervision. According to Californians for Safety and Justice, there may be up to one million Californians who have an old felony on their record that may be eligible for reclassification....
2. Jail populations fell after Prop 47, but they are rising again. Due to overcrowding, jail populations in California are largely determined by jail administrators’ decisions about how to manage jail capacity. They determine who will be booked into jail and who will be released, how and under what conditions. Following enactment of Prop 47, jail populations statewide dropped by almost 11% from October 2014 to March 2015. During the same period, the number of people who were released early due to jail overcrowding dropped by one-third. However, jail populations soon began to increase again as administrators adjusted detention policies and practices....
3. Some in law enforcement have prioritized low-level arrests while others de-prioritized them. The ACLU obtained several county sheriff departments’ arrest numbers for low-level drug and property offenses for each month in 2014 through mid-2015. (Sheriff’s departments represent a small sample of the hundreds of law enforcement agencies in the state.) Changes in arrests in the fi rst six months of 2014 compared to the fi rst six months of 2015 demonstrate that local agencies are applying their discretion to arrest for Prop 47 offenses very differently....
4. Some county jails are making room for people charged with low-level offenses. The facts belie the claim by some in law enforcement that people facing misdemeanor charges cannot be jailed. In 2015, people facing misdemeanor charges are taking up a growing number of jail beds....
4. A majority of counties already require supervision for some people convicted of a low-level offense. In response to ACLU inquiries, 38 county probation departments reported supervising some people for misdemeanor convictions. Other counties put misdemeanants on court probation (which does not involve active monitoring). Following Prop 47, some counties reported putting people who have been resentenced from a felony to a misdemeanor under the supervision of the probation department. Other counties have chosen not to provide formal supervision....
5. Agencies have been focused on individual agency roles, rather than collaborative planning. In records provided to the ACLU, communication among criminal justice agencies at the county level have focused on the individual roles of each agency rather than on how best to maintain the county’s overall public safety goals. Few counties appear to have made the space to discuss how various agencies and the county as a whole should adjust policies and practices to ensure that counties adhere both to the legal requirements and the voter intent behind Prop 47.
A few (of many) prior related posts on Prop 47 and its impact:
- "Proposition 47 Progress Report: Year One Implementation"
- Interesting takes on California developments since passage of Prop 47
- Spotlighting significant back-end impact of Prop 47 sentencing reform in California
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Urging AG Lynch to ensure DOJ policies on § 851 enhancements are followed consistently
I was pleased over this weekend to be part of an effort spearheaded by Prof Kate Stith to write to Attorney General Loretta Lynch to express concerns about federal prosecutors' charging practices in drug cases. The short letter sent yesterday to AG Lynch on this matter, which can be downloaded below, gets started and ends as follows:
We write to urge you to issue renewed guidance to all U.S. Attorneys to reiterate and enhance compliance with former Attorney General Eric Holder’s September 2014 Memorandum (“Holder Memo”) instructing U.S. Attorneys not to leverage 21 U.S.C. § 851 enhancements to induce defendants to plead guilty. Recent statements by Steven H. Cook, head of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA), as well as field research being conducted by students at Yale Law School, suggest that at least some federal prosecutors are not consistently complying with this policy. This creates prosecutor-driven disparities that are plainly unwarranted....
[T]here is mounting evidence that at least some U.S. Attorneys still consider it appropriate to routinely threaten to file § 851 enhancements if defendants exercise their right to go to trial. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Steven Cook of NAAUSA “said the rates of cooperation have not changed in part because mandatory sentences are still in play as leverage in negotiations. The Holder memo, he said, has been interpreted differently by individual prosecutors, sometimes in the same office. Defense attorneys ‘understand that this tool is still in our pocket.’”
Though the study is still ongoing, preliminary inquiries and data analysis by students at Yale Law School likewise reveal inconsistent application of the Holder Memos. Moreover, prosecutors in many districts continue to wield the explicit or implicit threat of § 851 enhancements to induce defendants to plead guilty. In numerous districts across the country, it is common knowledge that a prosecutor will almost certainly file an enhancement if a defendant elects to go to trial. Such practices contravene the spirit and letter of the Holder Memos.
We urge you to issue renewed guidance to all U.S. Attorneys in order to ensure compliance with and consistent application of the August 2013 and September 2014 Holder Memos. Additionally, in order to foster and facilitate consistent application of federal sentencing laws nationwide, we recommend that you (1) include these policies in the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, and (2) require U.S. Attorneys to report when they file § 851 enhancements, and their reasons for doing so pursuant to the Holder Memos.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Via lengthy summary reversal, SCOTUS grants qualified immunity to police officer involved in fatal shooting
Though not technically a sentencing issue, folks who closely follow all "hot" criminal justice issues (and/or the work of the Supreme Court) will want to make time to read the Supreme Court's lengthy per curiam opinion handed down today. In Mullenix v. Luna, No. 14-1143 (S. Ct. Nov. 9, 2015) (available here), the Court via a 12-page per curiam opinion decided the Fifth Circuit was wrong to deny summary judgment based on qualified immunity to an officer involved in a fatal shooting.
Justice Sotomayor was a lone dissenter in the ruling, and the start of her dissent highlights the facts that kept this civil rights case going until SCOTUS decided to jump in today:
Chadrin Mullenix fired six rounds in the dark at a car traveling 85 miles per hour. He did so without any training in that tactic, against the wait order of his superior officer, and less than a second before the car hit spike strips deployed to stop it. Mullenix’s rogue conduct killed the driver, Israel Leija, Jr. Because it was clearly established under the Fourth Amendment that an officer in Mullenix’s position should not have fired the shots, I respectfully dissent from the grant of summary reversal.
Connecticut Gov calls for older teens to be treated as juves in state criminal justice system
As effectively reported in this local article, headlined "Malloy: Raise the age for juvenile justice system to 20," Connecticut's Governor Dan Malloy delivered a significant criminal justice policy speech on Friday focused on bail reform and juvenile justice. Here are some details:
"I would like to begin a statewide conversation about raising the age of eligibility for our juvenile justice system and considering how we think about our young offenders," Malloy said at the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford. "Let's consider this: age within our laws and criminal justice system is largely arbitrary…You can commit a nonviolent offense at 17 without a criminal record, but if you're 18 and you commit the same crime, it lasts a lifetime."
Malloy also would overhaul the bail system, always a politically fraught undertaking at the General Assembly, with the intention of ensuring that no one is jailed for want of a minimal bail, a change that one policy analyst said could shrink the state's jail population by up to 1,000 inmates.
He was the keynote speaker at an all-day symposium sponsored by the Connecticut Law Review. His audience included judges, prosecutors and the commissioner of correction, Scott Semple.
Malloy, a Democrat who won bipartisan passage earlier this year for a Second Chance Society initiative aimed at reducing incarceration for non-violent crimes, proposed that the records of those under 25 who commit less severe offenses be shielded from public disclosure and possibly expunged.
Malloy said such a change would "wipe the slate clean" for low-risk offenders that have not matured entirely. "Is it right that that 17 year-old can have a second chance but a 22 year-old cannot? This is the question that we should collectively answer," Malloy said. He intends to propose a package of reforms to the General Assembly for its 2016 session, which convenes in February.
The changes Malloy proposed would make Connecticut the first state in the nation to raise the age for its juvenile justice system past 18.... He said one inspiration for the idea came on a trip with Semple to Germany, where offenders are treated as juvenile up to age 20.
“This is uncharted territory in terms of going that far," said David McGuire, the legislative and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. "It makes a lot of sense. It will save a lot of lives. It will really impact an entire generation."
In 2007, state lawmakers changed state law so that 16- and 17-year-olds charged with less serious offenses enter the juvenile justice system, where they are often provided with a range of community-based supports, rather than automatically being sent to the adult court system. A study commissioned by the state before the age was raised to 18 found that up to 75 percent of teenagers sent to the adult system were receiving no rehabilitative services. And the services other teens received were subpar, according to the study.
Malloy said the current age is still too low. "It's time to think about changing the artificial barriers that we imposed. It's time that we get it right. For that reason we need to take a different approach for these young adults between the ages of 18 and 24," Malloy said, pointing out that many of these young offenders are victims of trauma.
Sunday, November 08, 2015
California (finally!) officially announces switch to one-drug lethal injection protocol
California, the state with the largest death row and the seemingly most-dysfunctional and expensive capital punishment system, late last week announced that it is finally going to try to modernize its long-dormant execution protocol. This extended Los Angeles Times piece provides the details and the back-story:
California unveiled a new method for executing prisoners Friday, proposing a “humane and dignified” single-drug injection protocol that could restart capital punishment after a nearly 10-year hiatus. The regimen would replace a three-chemical method the state used in the past. That mixture was struck down in 2006 by a judge who said it could cause inhumane suffering if one of the drugs failed to work.
The new proposal stems from a lawsuit filed against the state by crime victims' families who favored the death penalty and wished to see it enforced. A settlement of the suit, brought by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, required the state to devise a new lethal injection method by this month.
Executions are not likely to resume immediately, however. Public vetting of the proposal could take a year, and court challenges may follow. In addition, voters may see one or more ballot measures on the death penalty next year....
The new California protocol would allow a choice of four barbiturates for lethal injection: amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital and thiopental. The selection would be made on a “case-by-case basis, taking into account changing factors such as the availability of a supply of chemical,” according to the proposal, published online Friday by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The single-drug protocol creates “a better flexibility, a better system of options,” said Michael Rushford, who heads the foundation that filed the suit. Rushford expressed chagrin over the state's decision to use the regulatory process, which allows two months for public comment and will delay the resumption of executions.
He said officials had dragged their feet in crafting a new policy. He attributed that to Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, who oppose the death penalty although they have said they would enforce it. “If we had a different governor and a different attorney general, these wouldn't be problems,” Rushford said.
Harris' office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton, speaking for the Brown administration, ascribed the delay to the developing national debate over execution methods, not resolved until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June.
At least 16 death row inmates in California have exhausted their appeals and could be executed if the protocol is adopted. The inmates range in age from 49 to 78. One was condemned for crimes that took place 36 years ago.
Some condemned prisoners were stoic when told about the impending arrival of a new execution protocol. “In the meantime, I have my life,” Clifton Perry, 46, said in a recent interview, noting that legal challenges could drag on for years. He was sentenced to death for the 1995 killing of a convenience store owner during a robbery.
California has 749 inmates on death row, the most in the country. Since 1978, the state has executed 13 prisoners, 68 condemned offenders have died from natural causes and 24 have committed suicide....
California voters narrowly defeated a ballot measure in 2012 that would have abolished the death penalty. Eight states have rescinded capital punishment laws since 2000. Death penalty opponents have proposed an initiative for the November 2016 ballot that would replace capital punishment with life without the possibility of parole. Legislative analysts this week said such a move would save California some $150 million a year, by reducing the costs of capital punishment trials and subsequent penalty appeals.
A competing measure, sponsored by law enforcement and victim groups, also has been submitted for state review. That measure would propose changes to speed up executions.
Saturday, November 07, 2015
Split NC Supreme Court upholds state prohibition on sex offenders using social media available to kids
As reported in this local article, yesterday the "N.C. Supreme Court has upheld a state law prohibiting registered sex offenders from using Facebook or other social networking sites that minors can join." Here is more about the notable ruling:
In the split opinion issued Friday, the justices reversed an N.C. Court of Appeals ruling that found the 2008 law too broad and vague, and therefore unconstitutional. The challenge was brought by Lester Gerard Parkingham Jr., a registered sex offender in North Carolina, who faced additional charges after Durham police found a Facebook page he created under an assumed name.
The case raises questions about whether such laws prohibit sex offenders from participating in web-based forums, which have become virtual town squares, as they re-enter society. The four justices in the majority ruled that the “incidental burden imposed” upon convicted sex offenders “is not greater than necessary to further the governmental interest of protecting children from registered sex offenders.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Edmunds stated, “the General Assembly has carefully tailored the statute in such a way as to prohibit registered sex offenders from accessing only those Web sites that allow them the opportunity to gather information” about minors. For example, Edmunds wrote, the defendant could join The Paula Deen Network site, where people swap recipes, because users must be at least 18.
Edmunds wrote that the law is meant to limit conduct and that it only incidentally affects speech. “The justification of the statute — protecting minors from registered sex offenders — is unrelated to any speech on a regulated site,” he wrote.
Emails and text messages aren’t restricted by the law. “Accordingly, the regulation leaves open ample channels of communication that registered sex offenders may freely access,” Edmunds stated in the majority opinion.
Justice Robin Hudson dissented, and Justice Cheri Beasley joined her in a minority opinion describing the law as unconstitutionally vague. They contended that the law prohibits sex offenders from “communicating with others through many widely used commercial networking sites.” It also could restrict sex offenders from joining news sites and being able to use retailers such as Amazon....
In North Carolina, where 14,268 people are entered in the N.C. Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry database, civil liberty organizations have paid close attention to Packingham’s case. The 2008 restriction was part of a legislative package that N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper advocated for years. Packingham argued that prohibiting him from those social media sites is a violation of his rights to “free speech, expression, association, assembly and the press under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”...
Glenn Gerding, the Chapel Hill attorney who represented Packingham, argued several years ago that the law as written could make it difficult for a registered offender to engage in routine Internet activity, such as a Google search. The law defines a “commercial social networking website” as one that derives revenue from membership fees or advertising, facilitates social introductions and allows users to create pages to post information.
The full ruling in North Carolina v. Packingham, No. 366PA13 (N.C. Nov. 7, 2015), is available at this link. The majority opinion in this case explained why the court believed that the North Carolina statute being challlenged was more narrowly tailored than somewhat similar statutes struck down by federal courts in Indiana and Louisiana. But the dissent cites some recent US Supreme Court rulings to make the case that the NC statute is still not sufficiently limited to be compliant with the First Amendment.
Though I am never good at predicting whether and when the Supreme Court will take up an important criminal justice issue, I would not be at all surprised if the Justices show some interest in this case if (when?) the defendant were to seek certiorari.
Thanks to retroactive drug guidelines, federal prison population under 200,000 for first time in nearly a decade
I was pleased to discover from this webpage providing a weekly updating of the official federal prisoner headcount that, for the first time in nearly a decade, the federal prison population is now officially under 200,000. I believe that the official count last week was around 205,000, and thus it would seem that this milestone was achieved officially as a result of the implementation of the first set of drug-2 retroactivity early prisoner releases.
I have heard talk in various settings of an interest in having the federal prison population down eventually to 150,000 (which, I believe, would still have the facitlities officially a bot above their standard capacity). I think the passage and effective implementation of the bipartisan federal sentencing reform bills now in Congress would likely go a long way to getting to that goal in a responsible way.
Friday, November 06, 2015
SCOTUS grants review on federal/international sex offender registration issue
The big news from the US Supreme Court's order list this afternoon is the grant of review on another issue concerning the intersection of religious liberty and Obamacare requirements. But sentencing fans might be interested to see SCOTUS also took up a federal case involving sex offender registration laws: by granted cert on just question 1 in the case of Nichols v. United States, the Justices will consider later this Term "whether 42 U.S.C. $ 16913(a) requires a sex offender who resides in a foreign country to update his registration in the jurisdiction where he formerly resided, a question that divides the courts of appeals."
November 6, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12)
"How Federal Judges Contribute to Mass Incarceration and What They Can Do About It"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by US District Judge Lynn Adelman and his clerk Jon Deitrich now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Talk of reforming federal sentencing law by eliminating some mandatory minimum sentences is much in the air. The fact is, however, that many federal offenders are unnecessarily imprisoned in cases where there is no mandatory minimum.
This article attempts to expand the conversation about excessive imprisonment by discussing first how the federal sentencing guidelines place far too much emphasis on prison and far too little on sentences served in the community. Next, we discuss federal judges' excessive attachment to the guidelines despite their deep flaws and even after the Supreme Court has made clear that judges are free to reject them. Finally, we propose an approach to federal sentencing that is much less deferential to the guidelines and places much more emphasis on 18 U.S. § 3553(a), the parsimony statute, which requires judges to impose the least punitive sentence necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Reviewing oral arguments during a dynamic SCOTUS criminal justice week that was
As detailed in this post at the start of this week, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in six cases, four of which involved criminal law issues. Drawing from the always-terrific SCOTUSblog coverage of the work of the Justices, here are links to reviews of the arguments in the cases:
"Prosecutors are addicted to the War on Drugs: Inside law enforcement’s rabid defense of mandatory minimums"
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Salon article authored by Daniel Denvir. Here are excerpts:
Federal prosecutors are fighting a rearguard action to defeat criminal justice reform legislation in Congress, warning that modestly dialing back harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would hinder their campaign against drugs amidst a heroin crisis.
“Slashing federal mandatory minimum sentences will undermine the ability of law enforcement officials to dismantle drug trafficking organizations,” a National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys white paper on “the dangerous myths of drug sentencing ‘reform'” warns. Reduced sentences “threaten the prosecution of many of the most dangerous and high level criminals involved in drug trafficking by undermining the cooperation incentive that the current sentencing structure creates.”
Because of harsh mandatory minimums in federal and state law, many nonviolent drug dealers have been sentenced to spend much of their life behind bars — including sentences of life without parole — for crimes as minor as delivering LSD to fellow Deadheads. Defending the justice or proportionality of such sentences is a rather difficult task. So NAAUSA isn’t focusing on that. Instead, the group, which represents many federal prosecutors, is warning that they need the threat of harsh sentences to scare low level offenders into selling out their superiors: the big-time kingpins who have blood on their hands.
“The leverage, the hammer we have comes in those penalties,” federal prosecutor and NAAUSA president Steven H. Cook told the Washington Post in an article highlighting the group’s case against reform. “It is the one and only tool we have on the other side.”...
Cook concedes that prosecutors need the threat of draconian sentencing to tip the scales of justice in their favor, scaring defendants into pleading guilty and snitching. In 2013, more than 97 percent of all federal cases that weren’t dismissed (which was just 8 percent) ended in guilty pleas. The practice effectively denies people their constitutionally-enshrined right to trial, deprives judges of their role, leads to the conviction of the innocent, and disproportionately punishes people who simply lack information to trade.
“I can understand prosecutors who want to have their jobs made easier by maintaining mandatory minimums in their current form,” says Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “At the end of the day, the criminal justice system does not exist to make the workload of certain individuals easier.”
That federal prosecutors are defending mandatory minimums in such instrumental terms might be a concession that they can no longer make a compelling argument that such harsh sentences fit the crimes for which they are imposed....
The federal drug war grinds on despite the Obama Administration’s calls for moderation. Most notably, Cook makes the startling suggestion, according to the Post, that then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s 2013 memo calling for U.S. Attorneys to limit the use of mandatory minimums is being ignored or resisted by some prosecutors....
Cook emails that “one of the fundamental concepts of any criminal justice system is that it have a deterrent effect. Long prison sentences serve to deter people. Trafficking in heroin is a highly profitable business and to offset the attractiveness we have to make the cost of engaging in that activity high.”
But there is no evidence that harsh prosecutions actually do anything to keep heroin off the streets and out of users noses and arms. To the contrary, the evidence shows that the drug war has entirely failed to limit heroin supply if we look at two standard measures: price and purity. According to a 2012 Global Commission on Drug Policy report, “since the early 1980s, the price of heroin in the US has decreased by approximately 80 percent…and heroin purity has increased by more than 900 percent.”
Indeed, the irony is that many of the most dangerous things about heroin use are created not by the drug — which is no doubt plenty dangerous and addictive — but by its prohibition, which make it difficult to measure dosage and detect dangerous adulterants like fentanyl.
The current push for reform is modest and will by no means even come close to ending mass incarceration. But it is nonetheless historic and significant for those whose lives will be somewhat less ruined if it is passed and signed into law. The legislation has received bipartisan support, extending beyond Congress to odd-bedfellow advocates like the ACLU, Koch Industries and a new coalition called Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.
Doug Jones, a member of the law enforcement reform group and the former US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, says that he understands that prosecutors are concerned for their communities and also, he says, with managing their heavy caseloads. But he says that pro-reform law enforcement officials “are looking at a broader perspective” that takes account of the toll of having some of the highest incarceration rates on earth. “More incarceration is not necessarily the safest way to do things.”
To make his case, Cook is trying to turn the political clock back to 1990, warning that “reforms” may already be causing “homicides and other violent crimes” to be “spiraling upward in cities across the country.” This is similar to the argument in favor of a so-called “Ferguson effect,” the idea that increased scrutiny of police has deterred them from doing their job and thus caused more crime. This idea persists despite statistics showing that there is no demonstrable nationwide violent crime spike. In reality, violent crime has continued its long decline....
Cook states that harsh mandatory minimums are “the one and only tool we have.” But prosecutors, as evidenced by the fact that so few cases ever make it to trial, wield incredible power in the courtroom and have too often supplanted judges as the real arbiter of justice. In a just society governed by the rule of law, the only tool that prosecutors are supposed to have in court is evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime. And when they prove it, the punishment should be proportionate.
As American Bar Association standards state, “The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.” For many federal prosecutors, however, the maximum amount of incarceration is still the favored solution.
Wednesday, November 04, 2015
"Death sentences are down across the country — except for where one of these guys is the defense attorney."
The title of this post is the subheadline of this notable new Slate commentary authored by Robert Smith. The piece merits a full read, and here are some excerpts:
“He looks like a killer, not a retard,” Nathaniel Carr, a lawyer in Maricopa County, Arizona, wrote about his client, Israel Naranjo, who is now on death row. Naranjo has a standardized IQ score of 72, but Carr badly botched the introduction of this evidence at trial. The trial judge found that Carr “violated the rules of criminal procedure” and admonished him for both lacking candor and filing “offensive” and “incomprehensible” motions. The Arizona Supreme Court said Carr’s behavior could be described as “willful misconduct.” Carr has represented four of the men who currently occupy Arizona’s death row....
Carr might not visit his capital clients very often, but he does seem to be dedicated to his job — his other job as a high school football coach. People who knew Carr at the county courthouse told Paul Rubin of the Phoenix New Times that “coaching seems Carr’s true passion.” Indeed, Carr “often was unavailable to clients and co-counsel on most weekday afternoons during football season—and always on game days.” This dual career did not stop Carr from billing the county an average of $370,000 per year for his services — even though some the hours he billed were for team meetings and prison visits that appear to be fictitious. (Carr did not respond to requests for comment.)
Last year marked the lowest number of new death sentences in modern American history. Nationwide, in the five-year period from 2010 through 2014, only 13 counties imposed five or more death sentences. Maricopa County is one of those 13. With 24 new death sentences between 2010 and 2014, Maricopa is the nation’s second highest producer of death sentences, after Los Angeles County, which is twice as populous.
One explanation for why counties like Maricopa hang on to capital punishment is that the prosecutors in these places are outliers who continue to pursue death sentences with abandon, mitigating circumstances and flaws in the system be damned. But prisoners sentenced to death in these counties often suffer a double whammy — they get both the deadliest prosecutors in America and some of the country’s worst capital defense lawyers. Nathanial Carr makes that list of awful lawyers, but he is not the only one from Maricopa who deserves to be included.
Herman Alcantar has been called, by a lawyer intervening on behalf of one of his former clients, “arguably the busiest capital defense attorney in the entire United States.” That’s not a compliment. Capital cases are notoriously complex and time-consuming. One trial-level capital case can be a full caseload for a defense attorney, and almost no one considers it a good idea to handle more than two active death penalty cases at a time. During the winter of 2009, Alcantar represented five pretrial capital defendants at once. He was so busy, in fact, that one month before the trial of Fabio Gomez was set to begin, Alcantar had neither filed a single substantive motion nor visited his client in more than a year. Six of Alcantar’s former clients are on death row....
Like Maricopa, Duval County, Florida, is among the few counties in America that continue to regularly impose death sentences. Since 2010, it is the second highest producer of death sentences per capita, after Caddo Parish, Louisiana. MO When Shirk took over, he fired 10 lawyers, including senior capital litigators Ann Finnell and Pat McGuinness, whose stellar representation of a wrongfully arrested 15-year-old, Brenton Butler, was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary film, Murder on a Sunday Morning. With his experienced capital litigators gone, Shirk hired Refik Eler to be his deputy chief and the head of homicide prosecutions. Since 2008, Eler has been a defense lawyer on at least eight cases that resulted in a death sentence. That’s more than any other lawyer in Florida. (Eler declined to comment.)...
The quality of defense representation in capital cases has substantially improved in many places. But not in Caddo Parish. Like Maricopa and Duval counties, Caddo Parish, Louisiana, is one of the few districts that continue to regularly impose the death penalty. Indeed, Caddo has become the leading per capita death-sentencing machine in America. Of the death sentences imposed in Caddo Parish since 2005, 75 percent of the cases involved at least one defense lawyer who, under the new case representation standards, is no longer certified to try capital cases in Louisiana....
In the counties with the most death sentences, prosecutors and defense lawyers, often abetted by judges and other local officials, fight to maintain the status quo that Stephen Bright wrote about 20 years ago. In these places, the death penalty is still a punishment reserved mostly for the people with the worst lawyers. Disproportionate numbers of death sentences in these few counties do not result from a high number of murders, or even the unique fervor of the residents who reside there, but instead from the operation of death’s double whammy—bloodthirsty, overreaching prosecutors and woefully inadequate defense lawyers.
Notable USSC member, Judge Bill Pryor, responds to Rep Goodlatte's attack on USSC
As noted in this prior post, titled "House Judiciary Chair Goodlate makes case for sentencing reform by attacking sentencing reform," a notbale member of Congress recently authored this notable attack on the recent work of the US Sentencing Commission reducing federal drug sentences. Interestingly, a notable member of the Commission, 11th Circuit Judge Bill Pryor (who was the attorney general of Alabama from 1997 to 2004), has now authored this response, which runs in the National Review under the headline "In Defense of the U.S. Sentencing Commission." Here are excerpts:
On November 2, Representative Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, published an article in National Review Online attacking the 2014 decision of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce sentencing guidelines for federal drug offenders. If you were to read Chairman Goodlatte’s article with no knowledge of federal law, you would think that the Sentencing Commission operates “irresponsibly” and “recklessly,” without congressional oversight, and sets sentencing guidelines “without regard to an inmate’s criminal history and public safety.” Nothing could be further from the truth....
When the commission votes to amend the sentencing guidelines, its decision becomes effective no sooner than six months later — that is, only after Congress has had an opportunity to exercise its statutory authority to reject the proposed change. Congress, of course, did not exercise that authority last year after the commission proposed modest changes in sentencing for drug cases. Instead, several members of Congress publicly supported those changes, and few said anything in opposition. In fact, Chairman Goodlatte did not even schedule a hearing to review our decision.
Now that the commission’s decision is being implemented without objection from Congress, Chairman Goodlatte objects to making the changes in drug sentencing retroactive, but he fails to mention that Congress gave the commission that authority. Indeed, Congress required the commission, whenever it lowers any guideline, to consider whether to make that change retroactive. And every retroactive change becomes effective only after Congress has had the opportunity to reject that decision. Congress again did not reject the decision to make the changes in drug sentencing retroactive, and Chairman Goodlatte did not schedule a hearing about it.
Moreover, when the Commission makes a change retroactive, each inmate must go before the sentencing judge, who must then consider whether the inmate should receive a reduced sentence under the new guideline. A retroactive guideline is not a get-out-of-jail-free card: That is, an inmate does not automatically receive a reduced sentence. Every sentencing judge must separately consider each inmate’s request together with any prosecution objection and then weigh concerns about each inmate’s criminal history and the need to protect public safety before reducing any inmate’s sentence....
Chairman Goodlatte referred to the commission as a group of “unelected officials” that is “going about sentencing reform in the wrong way,” but he failed to mention that Congress, with the support of the Reagan administration, created the commission as a permanent agency to consider and make needed sentencing reforms. The commission has seven members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for fixed terms. By law, at least three members must be federal judges, and the membership must be bipartisan. For example, I was appointed to the commission by President Obama based on the recommendation of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The commission conducts public hearings and considers thousands of public comments before changing any guideline. And our decision to change the drug guideline and to make it retroactive was unanimous....
I and other members of the commission support Chairman Goodlatte’s goal of saving taxpayer dollars, reducing prison overcrowding, and making drug sentencing fair and responsible. We look forward to working with him and other members of Congress toward those ends. But he should not pretend that the independent and bipartisan Sentencing Commission is some sort of bogeyman working against those interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.
November 4, 2015 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)
Tuesday, November 03, 2015
"Death Penalty Opponents Split Over Taking Issue to Supreme Court"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new New York Times article by Adam Liptak. Here is how the piece gets started:
In the long legal struggle against the death penalty, the future has in some ways never looked brighter. In a passionate dissent in June, Justice Stephen G. Breyer invited a major challenge to the constitutionality of capital punishment. This fall, Justice Antonin Scalia all but predicted that the court’s more liberal justices would strike down the death penalty.
But lawyers and activists opposed to the death penalty, acutely conscious of what is at stake, are bitterly divided about how to proceed. Some say it is imperative to bring a major case to the court as soon as practicable. Others worry that haste may result in a losing decision that could entrench capital punishment for years.
“If you don’t go now, there’s a real possibility you have blood on your hands,” said Robert J. Smith, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute. His scholarship was cited in Justice Breyer’s dissent from a decision upholding the use of an execution drug that three death row inmates argued risked causing excruciating pain.
But others are wary. “There are reasons to be cautious about pushing the court to a decision too early,” said Jordan M. Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas.
The divide is partly generational. Many veteran litigators have suffered stinging setbacks in the Supreme Court, and they favor an incremental strategy. They would continue to chip away at the death penalty in the courts, seek state-by-state abolition and try to move public opinion. Some younger lawyers and activists urge a bolder course: to ask the Supreme Court to end capital punishment nationwide right away.
"The Retroactivity Roadmap"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new essay by William Berry III available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held that imposing a mandatory life-without-parole (“LWOP”) sentence on a juvenile offender constituted a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Three years later, the question remains whether the holding in Miller applies retroactively. As explained below, the applicable exception to the Teague presumption of prospective application of new criminal rules concerns whether the new rule is substantive or procedural. Generally, if the rule is substantive, its application is retroactive; if the rule is procedural, its application is prospective. This term, the Court will take up that question in Montgomery v. Louisiana.
This short essay argues that the new rule articulated in Miller possesses both substantive and procedural characteristics. This essay then explains why, for purposes of retroactivity, the substantive content of Miller matters more than the procedural content. As a result, Miller should apply retroactively. Finally, the essay suggests that the argument in Montgomery provides a roadmap for future Eighth Amendment challenges. Specifically, each characterization of Miller — substantive and procedural — has novel implications for the scope of the Eighth Amendment, and offers intriguing opportunities for future petitioners to challenge the constitutionality of mandatory sentences and LWOP sentences.
Monday, November 02, 2015
House Judiciary Chair Goodlate makes case for sentencing reform by attacking sentencing reform
The somewhat curious title of this post is prompted by this somewhat curious new National Review commentary authored by Representative Bob Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The piece is headlined "Reduce Prison Sentences, but Not for Violent Offenders: The release of dangerous criminals shows why Congress needs to act on criminal-justice reform." Here are excerpts from the piece (with a few patently false phrases emphasized):
Starting this month, thousands of federal inmates are set to be released early from federal prison, including serious violent felons and criminal aliens. This action is not the result of legislation passed by the people’s elected representatives in Congress. Rather, it is a result of a decision made by unelected officials appointed to the United States Sentencing Commission.
In early 2014, the Sentencing Commission adopted an amendment to reduce the sentences for certain drug-trafficking and distribution offenses, including trafficking offenses that involve drug quantities substantial enough to trigger mandatory minimum sentences. The Sentencing Commission made these reductions retroactive, applying them to tens of thousands of inmates in the Bureau of Prisons’ custody who are serving sentences for drug offenses. Since then, thousands of federal inmates have filed motions with their courts of jurisdiction for sentence reductions and have been granted approval for early release.
The problem with the Sentencing Commission’s changes to federal drug-sentencing requirements is that they are applied without regard to the inmate’s criminal history and public safety. Consequently, criminals set to be released into our communities as a result of the Sentencing Commission’s amendment include inmates with violent criminal histories, who have committed crimes involving assault, firearms, sodomy, and even murder.
There is growing consensus in Congress that certain federal drug sentences, such as mandatory life imprisonment for a third drug-trafficking offense, are unnecessarily harsh and contribute to prison overcrowding and a ballooning federal prison budget. However, the Sentencing Commission is going about sentencing reform the wrong way. Its new guidelines blindly apply sentencing reductions to all federal inmates without considering the impact an early release would have on the safety of our communities.
The Sentencing Commission’s unilateral changes show why it is imperative that Congress act on sentencing reform and other criminal-justice issues. If Congress does not act, the matter is left in the hands of an entity that has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to act responsibly. Fortunately, leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate agree that our nation’s criminal-justice system needs improvement and are working on bipartisan legislation to do just that....
Recently, I joined several leaders of the committee in introducing our first piece of bipartisan legislation to reform federal sentencing requirements and simultaneously prevent serious violent criminals from getting out early.
That bill — the Sentencing Reform Act — makes the criminal-justice system more fair, efficient, and fiscally responsible. It reduces certain mandatory minimums for drug offenses, including cutting the third-strike mandatory life sentence to 25 years and the second-strike mandatory sentence from 20 to 15 years. The bill also broadens the mechanism for non-violent drug offenders to be sentenced below the mandatory minimum sentence and provides judges in those cases with greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences. These changes will help save taxpayer dollars and take an important step toward reducing crowding in our federal prisons and the amount of federal taxpayer dollars spent on incarceration each year.
Our criminal-justice system is in need of reform, but we must ensure that changes to the system do not compromise the safety of the American people. Most important, the bill contains major limitations on the retroactive application of these reforms, to ensure that serious violent criminals serve the full time for their crimes in federal prison and do not get out of prison early. This is in stark contrast with what the Sentencing Commission has done to federal sentencing requirements....
While the fruit of the Sentencing Commission’s reckless changes is laid bare beginning this month, the House Judiciary Committee will move forward with the Sentencing Reform Act so that sentencing reform is done responsibly. Our criminal-justice system is in need of reform, but we must ensure that changes to the system do not compromise the safety of the American people.
The phrases I have highlighted are patently false because the instructions that the US Sentencing Commission giver to judges when deciding whether to reduce a defendant's sentence based on lowered guidelines includes an express requirement that the "court shall consider the nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or the community that may be posed by a reduction in the defendant's term of imprisonment in determining: (I) whether such a reduction is warranted; and (II) the extent of such reduction." In other words, the USSC does not call for retroactive application of reduced guidelines without regard for public safety. Rather, the USSC expressly calls for judges to consider, on a case by case basis, whether reducing a sentence for an inmate poses a danger to any person or the community.
That all said, while this op-ed seems to me to be taking unfair pot shots at the US Sentencing Commission, I think it is wise to suggest that Congress can and should feel urgency to enact its own federal sentencing reform if it is concerned in any way with how the US Sentencing Commission has been trying to reduce the federal prison population. Both the Sentencing Commission and the US Department of Justice have been telling Congress for a number of years that federal prisons are badly overcrowded and are using up too much of the federal crime control budget. The Commission's decision to reduce drug sentences across the board and to make these changes retroactive reflect, in part, a wise recognition by the Commission that it needed to do something significant ASAP to reduce federal prison overcrowding. Notably, though many members of Congress have now been talking seriously about federal sentencing reforms for nearly three years, no actually refoms have become law.
November 2, 2015 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)
All the sentencing news that's fit to print in New York Times
I am to very pleased to see that the two lead stories in today's national section of the New York Times are two criminal justice reform stories that are close to my heart. Here are the headlines and links:
In addition, inspired by the Supreme Court hearing this morning a capital case involving questionable jury selection, the New York Times also has this notable editorial and op-ed article on the topic:
Sunday, November 01, 2015
The simple, sound and shrewd ACCA/Johnson fix in SRCA 2015
I have now had a chance to give extra thought to the proposed statutory changes appearing in Section 105 of the Senate's Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (basics of SRCA 2015, S. 2123, here). When I first looked at this Section, labelled an "Amendment to certain penalties for certain firearm offenses and armed career criminal provision," I was a bit surprised to see it did not seem to directly address or respond to the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Johnson v. United States striking down a portion of the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague. But upon reflection, I have come to the conclusion, as reflected in the title of this post, that the proposed statutory changes appearing in Section 105 of SRCA constitute a simple, sound and shrewd way to fix some of the broader ACCA problems that Johnson reflects. Let me explain my thinking here.
1. Though the Johnson vagueness ruling addressed the most confounding statutory provision of ACCA (the so-called "residual clause"), the ruling is really just a symptom of the broader ACCA disease. That broader disease concerns the fact that, under current federal law, the same basic offense of being a felon in possession of a firearm (FIP) has a statutory maximum prison sentence of 10 years UNLESS the offender has three ACCA-qualifying priors, in which case the offender faces a mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence. Because the stakes of what qualifies as an ACCA prior is now so consequential, there is (understandably) lots and lots of litigation over what state priors trigger ACCA.
2. The Johnson ruling, culminating a decade of Supreme Court (and lower court) struggles with one clause defining ACCA predicates, eliminated one source of uncertainty and litigation by declaring that clause unconstitutionally vague. But lots of other parts of ACCA have also generated uncertainty and litigation, and the Johnson ruling did nothing to resolve or minimize the importance of all that uncertainty and litigation. Moreover, if Congress were to try to just "fix" the language of the ACCA residual clause that Johnson struck down, litigation would be sure to follow concerning the meaning of any fix language.
3. Into this enduring ACCA morass comes Section 105 of SRCA which, through a relative tweak, arguably fixes all these problems by raising the FIP statutory prison maximum to 15 years while lowering the ACCA mandatory minimum to 10 years. Through this simple change, there will no longer be a critical imperative for prosecutors (or probation officers) or sentencing judges (or appellate courts) to figure out in every close case whether an FIP offender qualifies for ACCA. If SRCA 2015 becomes law, in the many cases that legally are "close calls," federal judges will reasonably conclude that a prison sentence in the range of 10 to 15 is about right, and there will be no need to have a major legal fight over what exactly qualifies as an ACCA predicate. (In addition, if Section 105 of SRCA 2015 is enacted, judges will have greater discretion to punish harshly the worst FIP offenders who do not trigger ACCA and will also still be compelled to give at least 10 years to FIP offenders who clearly qualify for ACCA penalties.)
4. The US Sentencing Commission's recent statement concerning SRCA 2015 discusses why its own extensive research on mandatory minimums support this reform (and why it would, in turn, be just to make this change retroactive):
The Commission observed [in its extensive study of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions] that the ACCA’s mandatory minimum penalty can apply to offenders who served no or minimal terms of imprisonment for their predicate offenses, which increased the potential for inconsistent application insofar as the 15-year penalty may be viewed as excessively severe in those cases. To mitigate both the over-severity and disparate application of the ACCA, the Commission recommended that Congress consider clarifying the statutory definitions in the ACCA and reduce its severity.
5. By making its ACCA changes retroactive, SRCA 2015 not only could bring more equitable and just outcomes to many offenders previously subject to severe ACCA terms based on debatable interpretations of ACCA priors, it also could potentially short-circuit lots of complicated (and expensive) post-Johnson habeas litigtion that might well divide lower courts and take years to resolve through layers of complicated federal appeals. (Post-Johnson litigation is already starting to divide lower courts on some issues, and lots of enduring litigation messiness (and costs) seem inevitable without the SRCA fix and its retroactivity provision.)
I could go on and on (especially to praise the particular way SRCA 2015 makes its ACCA fix retroactive), but I fear this post is already more than long enough. And I am be especially interested in hearing from those laboring in the post-Johnson ACCA litigation trenches concerning whether they share my latest feeling that the SRCA 2015 fix may now represent the best of all possible ACCA worlds.
November 1, 2015 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)
Friday, October 30, 2015
SCOTUS grants cert on quirky aspect of federal gun prohibition case
As reported in this SCOTUSblog post, headlined "Court grants review in firearm-possession case," the Supreme Court decided today to take up a federal criminal case involving gun rights. But, interestingly, as Amy Howe explains in the post, the Court did not accept for review the Second Amendment issue lurking in the case:
This afternoon the Court issued an initial group of orders from its October 30 Conference, adding one new case to its merits docket for the Term. The Justices had considered Voisine v. United States at two earlier Conferences before granting review today.
At issue are the convictions of two Maine men, Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong, for violating a federal law that prohibits the possession of firearms and ammunition by individuals who have previously been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Both men allege that their convictions under Maine law for simple assault and misdemeanor domestic violence assault, respectively, do not automatically qualify as misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence for purposes of the federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), because both provisions of Maine law can be violated by conduct that is merely reckless, rather than intentional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected that argument, and the federal government urged the Court to deny review, but the Justices today disregarded that recommendation.
Notably, however, the Court agreed to review only the recklessness question; it declined to review a second question presented by the petition, which asked the Justices to rule on whether the ban on possession of firearms by individuals convicted of domestic violence violated their rights under the Second Amendment.
"IQ, Intelligence Testing, Ethnic Adjustments and Atkins"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper authored by Robert M. Sanger and available via Bepress. Here is the abstract:
In Atkins v. Virginia the U.S. Supreme Court declared that executing the intellectually disabled violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In Atkins, the Court relied heavily on medical standards, which indicated that individuals with an IQ of approximately or below seventy and who met the other criteria for intellectual disability were ineligible for the death penalty. Twelve years later, in Hall v. Florida, the Court evaluated a Florida statute that created a bright line rule, making anyone whose IQ was above seventy eligible for execution, regardless of other factors suggesting the defendant was, despite his IQ score, intellectually disabled. Finding the statute violated the Constitution, the Court stated that the Florida statute’s bright line rule made the possibility too great that an intellectually disabled person would be executed.
Since Atkins, some prosecution experts have begun using so-called “ethnic adjustments” to artificially raise minority defendants’ IQ scores, making defendants who would have been protected by Atkins and its progeny eligible for the death penalty. This Article details this practice, looking at several cases in which prosecutors successfully adjusted a defendant’s IQ score upward, based on his or her race. The Article then turns to the arguments put forth by these prosecutors for increasing minority defendants’ IQ scores, namely that it would be improper not to adjust the scores. Statistically, some minority cohorts tend to perform worse on tests than White cohorts; prosecutors argue that this discrepancy is not based on intellectual inferiority, but rather that there are testing biases and behavioral factors that cause minority test-takers to underperform. Thus, the argument goes, minority IQ scores should be increased to control for these biases and behavioral factors.
Evaluating the merits of these arguments, this Article concludes that ethnic adjustments are not logically or clinically appropriate when computing a person’s IQ score for Atkins purposes. This Article looks at epigenetics to explain the discrepancies in IQ scores, concluding that environmental factors — such as childhood abuse, poverty, stress, and trauma — can cause decreases in actual IQ scores and which can be passed down from generation to generation. Therefore, given that individuals who suffered these environmental factors disproportionately populate death row, ethnic adjustments make it more likely that individuals who are actually intellectually disabled will be put to death. Ultimately, after looking at the Supreme Court’s affirmative action jurisprudence, this Article concludes that the practice of ethnic adjustments for the purpose of determining eligibility for the death penalty violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and would not survive strict scrutiny.
Florida finally completes execution three decades after triple murderer sentenced to death (nonunanimously)
As reported in this local article, headlined "Orlando man on death row executed for 1985 murders," Florida carried out a notable death sentence last night. Here are the basics, which highlight that the case involved issues that the Supreme Court has taken up in recent years:
Though it took 30 years for Jerry Correll to receive his death sentence, the process to kill him took 10 minutes. Correll, one of Orange County's most notorious killers, was pronounced dead at 7:36 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison after receiving a lethal injection that included the controversial sedative midazolam.
About two dozen witnesses watched as the 59-year-old Orlando man lay on a gurney covered with a white sheet from the neck down, his hands covered in bandages, his wrists strapped down and IVs in his arms. When the curtain surrounding him rose, Correll looked to his right and mouthed the words, "Thank you," to a man wearing a cross in the front row. Asked whether he wanted to say any last words, Correll responded to the leader of the execution team, "No, sir."
Correll had been on death row for three decades after stabbing to death his ex-wife, Susan; their 5-year-old daughter, Tuesday; and Susan's mother and sister in 1985. Police and prosecutors described the murders at the Conway-area home as among the most bloody and gory they had ever seen....
The victims' family members released a statement saying they were "at peace in knowing justice had finally been served." "Jerry Correll chose to take the lives of four beautiful, innocent people on June 30, 1985," the statement said. "People who are still loved and missed by their family and friends 30 years later. The consequences of those actions should be no less than death itself."...
The execution was the first in the nation since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that allowed the use of midazolam, a sedative that is part of the three-drug protocol used in Florida executions.... Correll becomes the second inmate executed in Florida this year and the 91st since 1979, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
A U.S. Supreme Court case regarding whether all death-penalty decisions should require a unanimous jury verdict in sentencing death ... is pending.... A jury of 10 women and two men, selected in Sarasota because of the publicity locally, convicted Correll of four counts of first-degree murder after a weeklong trial. Jurors voted 10-2 that he should die.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Did former House Speaker Hastert get a sweetheart sentencing deal from federal prosecutors?
The question in this post is prompted by this lengthy new Politico article headlined "Hastert's sweet deal: Lawyers question whether federal prosecutors are following guidelines." Here are excerpts:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s guilty plea in a hush-money case has some lawyers asking whether the former speaker is getting a sweetheart deal.
At a court hearing in Chicago Wednesday, the prosecution and defense unveiled Hastert’s plea bargain under which he admitted to a felony charge of structuring $952,000 into 106 separate bank withdrawals to avoid federal reporting requirements. The two sides agreed that sentencing guidelines call for Hastert to receive between zero and six months in jail.
But legal experts say those guidelines arguably call for a much longer sentence—closer to two to three years or more, including a potential enhancement for obstruction of justice. And some lawyers say they’re baffled that prosecutors would buy into a calculation that opens the door to Hastert getting a sentence of probation. “It seems like a sweet deal,” University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said. “It’s just hard to understand.”
The indictment in the case also charged Hastert with lying to the FBI about what he did with the money, concealing that he paid it to a longtime associate in an effort to hide past misconduct. In the plea deal, Hastert admitted to misleading the FBI, but prosecutors agreed to drop the false statement charge....
The agreement between prosecutors and Hastert’s defense that the zero-to-six-month sentencing range is applicable to his case is not the end of the matter. A probation officer will also calculate the range and could disagree with the parties. Durkin will ultimately decide what the guidelines call for. Under the plea deal, Hastert retains the right to appeal the sentence to the 7th Circuit.
Under a 2005 Supreme Court decision, the judge is required to consult the guidelines but he can impose a more or less severe sentence. Experts in structuring cases say judges often sentence below the guidelines, especially in so-called “clean money” cases where the government does not allege that the funds were the product of illegal activity like drug dealing or were being used to avoid taxes.
"The sentencing guidelines for clean-source money cases are totally out of whack," the ex-prosecutor said. "It's insane to sentence someone for a purely regulatory violation as severely if not more severely than someone who defrauded someone out of $952,000. Having said that, there are a good measure of bad acts here, so maybe there would be some rough justice in it."
Prosecutors have alleged that Hastert paid the $952,000 in illegally structured withdrawals to a longtime associate because of Hastert’s past misconduct against that person, identified in court filings only as “Individual A.” Sources have alleged the behavior involved sexual contact with a male student while Hastert was a coach and high school teacher several decades ago, but the indictment does not mention any sexual aspect to the charges.
Experts say Hastert could not be charged or sued today over such acts years ago because the relevant statutes of limitations have expired. Lawyers say a key factor in Hastert's ultimate sentence could be whether Durkin decides Hastert's underlying misconduct is relevant for the purpose of sentencing on the bank reporting charge.
Criminal defense attorney Michael Monico, who co-authored a handbook on federal court practices in Illinois and the greater Midwest, said Durkin will want to know Hastert's motivation for paying out the $3.5 million and the exact nature of the behavior he was trying to hide.
"If I were the judge I would ask about it, I would want to know. I would want to know, what was he hiding?" Monico said. "I think that’s the number one question in the case: Is it relevant to his sentencing what Hastert did to this fellow decades ago? If it isn’t relevant, then probation is OK. If the conduct was despicable then it’s not an appropriate sentence. It seems to me that’s a question the judge has to answer."
October 29, 2015 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8)
States find (unsurprisingly) that civil commitment for sex offenders not a simple solution
This lengthy New York Times article, headlined "States Struggle With What to Do With Sex Offenders After Prison," documents some of the difficulties states have had with sex offender civil commitment programs. Here are excerpts:
Minnesota’s civil commitment program — which detains more people per capita than any other state — is facing an overhaul. Earlier this year, a federal judge found it unconstitutional, calling it “a punitive system that segregates and indefinitely detains a class of potentially dangerous individuals without the safeguards of the criminal justice system.” The judge, Donovan W. Frank, of Federal District Court in St. Paul, is expected to order changes to the program as soon as this week.
Minnesota is not alone in revisiting its policies. In Missouri, a federal judge last month found that state’s program violated people’s right to due process, potentially imposing “lifetime detention on individuals who have completed their prison sentences and who no longer pose a danger to the public, no matter how heinous their past conduct.” Of about 250 people held since Missouri began committing people in 1999, state officials say seven have been granted what the state considers release with courtordered restrictions, though some of those men remain in a group-home-like setting behind razor wire at a state facility.
In Texas, which previously had a unique outpatient method for treating sex offenders civilly committed after their prison sentences, the Republican-dominated State Legislature this year revamped the program after a Houston Chronicle investigation found that none of the hundreds committed to the program had ever graduated from it. The investigation also found that nearly half of the men detained for treatment while living in halfway houses and other facilities were actually sent back to prison for breaking the program’s rules.
“My sense was that we had to make changes or a federal court is going to strike down the whole program, and we need this program — some of these people would scare the hell out of you,” said State Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat who helped push through the overhaul, which included opening a former prison in remote Littlefield to house the detainees. “The way it was, it just looked like incarceration with double jeopardy,” Mr. Whitmire said. “This at least holds out a pathway to graduate.”
Civil commitment gained support in the 1990s amid reports of heinous sex crimes by repeat offenders. Today, 20 states, along with the federal government, detain some sex criminals for treatment beyond their prison time. But not all have been as sharply criticized as Minnesota’s program. In Wisconsin, 118 offenders have been fully discharged from commitment since 1994, and about 135 people have been given supervised release, according to Judge Frank. New York had sent home 30 people and moved 64 people out of secure facilities for the civilly committed and into strict supervision and treatment, Judge Frank wrote.
But the picture in Minnesota looks far different. Since the current program was created in the mid-1990s, civil commitments have soared. The abduction, rape and murder in 2003 of Dru Sjodin, a North Dakota college student, by a sex offender who had been released six months earlier enraged residents and set off a wave of efforts by county attorneys to call on judges to hold such offenders after their prison terms. Minnesota now has the highest population of civilly committed offenders per capita — nearly all men — in the nation, Judge Frank found, and the lowest rate of release. And costs have soared — to about $125,000 per resident per year, at least three times the cost of an ordinary prison inmate in Minnesota, the judge said.
Yet even in a state that is often seen as liberal-leaning, changing the policy is politically fraught. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, faced intense criticism before his last election over whether to release from commitment — with strict conditions — a serial rapist who had admitted attacking at least 60 women. And proposals aimed at paying for regular risk evaluations for committed people, as well as other changes, have stalled in the State Legislature. “It’s really a stalemate now because the House Republicans have made it clear that anybody who supports any kind of step forward is going to be castigated in the 2016 elections,” Mr. Dayton said.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
"Why California's Second-Degree Felony-Murder Rule Is Now Void for Vagueness"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Evan Tsen Lee now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
For years, justices on the California Supreme Court (CSC) have engaged in public soul-searching about whether to overrule the state’s second-degree felony-murder doctrine. Now there is a powerful external reason for the CSC to revisit the question: The United States Supreme Court (USSC) has just struck down the so-called “residual clause” of the federal three-strikes statute as unconstitutionally vague.
Although the immediate intuition of experienced judges and lawyers will be to deny that this decision has any application to the felony-murder rule, this Article will show that, from the standpoint of vagueness, the two provisions are materially indistinguishable.
Monday, October 26, 2015
"Culture as a Structural Problem in Indigent Defense"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Eve Brensike Primus available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Indigent defense lawyers today are routinely overwhelmed by excessive caseloads, underpaid, inadequately supported, poorly trained, and left essentially unsupervised. They face an avalanche of hostility every time they walk into court as judges, prosecutors, and court personnel pressure them to process their clients through the criminal justice system. Many zealous defenders simply burn out and leave the job. Of those who remain, many perform valiantly. But the sheer reality of the difficult task that these lawyers are expected to do is often overwhelming. Especially in contexts where indigent defense lawyers lack institutional support, even lawyers who wish to take their obligations seriously sometimes find themselves overwhelmed and gradually become less sensitive to the routine injustices of the system. Others become cynical and depressed and unhappily continue in the job — aware of the problems, but feeling powerless to effectuate change.
The result is a serious cultural problem in indigent defense, especially in jurisdictions where such defense is handled by lawyers lacking the community and institutional reinforcement that strong public-defender offices can provide. Consequently, many indigent defendants who go through the criminal justice system (as well as the friends and families of defendants who suffer through these ordeals with them) often feel confused, angry, and ignored. They have no faith in the system or in the legitimacy of their convictions. Rather, they experience the criminal justice system as an assembly line to prison for poor people of color.
In this essay, I will argue that attempts at reform should focus on changing this cultural problem in indigent defense delivery systems. As was true in 1961 (when the symposium that this essay celebrates was published), there is now a feeling that change is coming. Countless commissions have issued reports documenting excessive defender caseloads, a lack of independence, and blatant violations of the constitutional right to counsel across jurisdictions and making recommendations for improvement. Many states have developed bipartisan Indigent Defense Commissions to investigate best practices and implement more effective and efficient delivery systems going forward. Legislators have convened working groups and have proposed legislation to address the crisis. President Obama created the Office for Access to Justice, an initiative designed to analyze and think about how to improve indigent defense delivery systems. And symposia abound detailing the problems with indigent defense delivery systems and recommending potential solutions.
A focus on improving the culture of indigent defense delivery systems can and should infuse current reform proposals and inform change going forward. Perhaps this time, we can learn from some of our past mistakes and move toward accomplishing some of the laudable goals that many have been advocating for over fifty years.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Federal judge makes extended pitch for individuals to receive deferred-prosecutions agreements from DOJ
This new CNN story, headlined "Judge: Prosecutors should give drug offenders same break as companies," reports on the remarkable coda that appears at the end of a remarkable federal district court opinion handed down this past week. The start of the CNN story provides a link to the opinion and its highlights:
Some defendants charged with drug crimes should be offered a second chance the way corporations often are. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan proposed this in an 84-page opinion in cases against two corporations this week.
Sullivan approved a settlement that will allow the companies, each facing allegations of bribery to win government contracts, to settle criminal charges. They won't have to plead guilty and won't face trial as long as they stay out of trouble in the future.But he used the opinion to make a broader point about what he sees as a disparity in how the legal system treats corporations and nonviolent offenders.
"Drug conspiracy defendants are no less deserving of a second chance than bribery conspiracy defendants," Sullivan wrote. "And society is harmed at least as much by the devastating effect that felony convictions have on the lives of its citizens as it is by the effect of criminal convictions on corporations."Sullivan, who is in Washington, D.C., asked why companies get a shot at "rehabilitation" when many individuals do not.
Here are just a couple of notable paragraphs from the remarkable closing sections of US v. Saena Tech Corp. penned by Judge Sullivan:
Although the Court approves the two deferred-prosecution agreements in these cases, the Court observes that the current use of deferred-prosecution agreements for corporations rather than individual defendants strays from Congress’s intent when it created an exclusion from the speedy trial calculation for the use of such agreements. The Court is of the opinion that increasing the use of deferred-prosecution agreements and other similar tools for individuals charged with certain non-violent criminal offenses could be a viable means to achieve reforms in our criminal justice system....
The Court respectfully requests the Department of Justice to consider expanding the use of deferred-prosecution agreements and other similar tools to use in appropriate circumstances when an individual who might not be a banker or business owner nonetheless shows all of the hallmarks of significant rehabilitation potential. The harm to society of refusing such individuals the chance to demonstrate their true character and avoid the catastrophic consequences of felony convictions is, in this Court’s view, greater than the harm the government seeks to avoid by providing corporations a path to avoid criminal convictions. If the Department of Justice is sincere in its expressed desire to reduce over-incarceration and bolster rehabilitation, it will increase the use of deferred-prosecution agreements for individuals as well as increase the use of other available resources as discussed in this Opinion.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Notable new group advocating for sentencing reforms: Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration
I was intriguing and pleased to receive this press release this morning, titled "130 Top Police Chiefs and Prosecutors Urge End to Mass Incarceration." The release explains the creation and commitments of a notable new public policy group. Here are excerpts from the press release (with links and emphasis from original):
Today 130 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and attorneys general from all 50 states join together as a surprising new voice calling for the end to unnecessary incarceration in the U.S. while maintaining public safety.
The new group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, marks an unprecedented partnership among the nation’s top law enforcement leaders to push reforms to reduce incarceration and strengthen public safety. At a press conference today in Washington, D.C., police chiefs from six of the largest U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Houston, and New Orleans, will announce their policy agenda, featured in a Statement of Principles.
President Barack Obama will host members of the group at the White House tomorrow, where group leaders will speak on why they believe reducing imprisonment while protecting public safety is a vital national goal....
“As the public servants working every day to keep our citizens safe, we can say from experience that we can bring down both incarceration and crime together,” said Law Enforcement Leaders Co-Chair Garry McCarthy, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. “Good crime control policy does not involve arresting and imprisoning masses of people. It involves arresting and imprisoning the right people. Arresting and imprisoning low-level offenders prevents us from focusing resources on violent crime. While some may find it counterintuitive, we know that we can reduce crime and reduce unnecessary arrests and incarceration at the same time.”
Members of the group will work within their departments as well as with policymakers to pursue reforms around four policy priorities:
• Increasing alternatives to arrest and prosecution, especially mental health and drug treatment. Policies within police departments and prosecutor offices should divert people with mental health and drug addiction issues away from arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment and instead into proper treatment.
• Reducing unnecessary severity of criminal laws by reclassifying some felonies to misdemeanors or removing criminal sanctions, where appropriate.
• Reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum laws that require overly harsh, arbitrary sentences for crimes.
• Strengthening ties between law enforcement and communities by promoting strategies that keep the public safe, improve community relations, and increase community engagement.
“Our decision to come together reflects the deep commitment among law enforcement’s ranks to end unnecessary, widespread incarceration,” said Law Enforcement Leaders Co-Chair Ronal Serpas, former Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department. “As leaders of the law enforcement community, we are committed to building a smarter, stronger, and fairer criminal justice system. We do not want to see families and communities wrecked by our current system. Forming this new organization will allow us to engage policymakers and support changes to federal and state laws, as well as practices, to end unnecessary incarceration.”
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Federal judge decides (finally!) that Congress has limited DOJ prosecution of state-legal marijuana businesses
As regular readers may recall, Section 538 of a spending bill passed late last year by Congress forbids the use of money by the Department of Justice to interfere with State laws implementing medical marijuana programs. The meaning and application of this federal spending limitation on DOJ has been the subject of much dispute and some notable litigation, and yesterday brought a big ruling by US District Judge Charles Breyer. This article from California, headlined "Major victory for marijuana dispensary in federal court," provides the details:
Lawful medical cannabis operators across America scored a major victory in federal court [after] United States District Judge Charles R. Breyer ordered the lifting of an injunction against one of California’s oldest lawful dispensaries, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana.
Judge Breyer ruled that newly enacted Congressional law — the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment — prevents the government from prosecuting the Fairfax-based Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, and its founder Lynette Shaw. The ruling in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California will have far-reaching legal impact, attorneys say....
In December, Congress de-funded the Justice Department’s war on medical marijuana in the states. Howver, the Justice Department has been narrowly interpreting Congressional law to continue the crackdown. The law’s authors contend Justice is breaking Congressional law by going after state-legal cannabis activity.
In June, Shaw’s attorney Greg Anton motioned for the Court to dissolve the injunction against Shaw, citing the new Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment (Section 538). Judge Breyer ruled, “the plain reading of [Congressional law] forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extent that MAMM operates in compliance with state California law.”
Judge Breyer ruled WAMM had been complying extensively with state law. “The mayor of the Town of Fairfax [stated] MAMM was operating as a model business in careful compliance with its local use permit in a ‘cooperative and collaborative relationship’ with the community,” Breyer noted in his ruling.
Judge Breyer’s ruling hands a shield to every state-legal pot shop facing federal action, lawyers state. It sets a precedent that will likely chill federal prosecutors eyeing state-legal medical cannabis enterprises, said the law office of attorney Robert Raich, through a spokesperson.
“We finally have a federal judge who is taking the authors of the spending amendment seriously when they say the intent and its wording should be interpreted so that the federal government should not be spending resources prosecuting individuals complying with state law.”
It represents a major setback for the Department of Justice, which had hoped Rohrabacher-Farr would be interpreted far more narrowly.
The full ruling by Judge Breyer is available at this link.
Some previous related posts:
- Defense moves to postpone federal marijuana sentencing based new law ordering DOJ not to prevent states from implementing medical marijuana laws
- Should ALL federal marijuana sentencings be postponed now that Cromnibus precludes DOJ from interfering with state medical marijuana laws?
- Notable developments in dispute over meaning and application of Section 538 limiting DOJ funding
Arkansas Supreme Court stays execution to allow lethal injection litigation
As reported in this AP article, a partial ruling in favor of the state today by the top court in Arkansas was insufficient to allow the state to move forward with a number of scheduled executions. Here are the details:
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a lower-court judge overstepped his jurisdiction by halting the executions of eight death row inmates. But the high court immediately granted its own stay to give the inmates time to challenge a new state law that bars Arkansas from disclosing its execution-drug supplier.
The justices sided with the state in agreeing to toss this month's order by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. Still, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was disappointed that the executions, the first of which was scheduled for this week, remained on hold. "While the Supreme Court's decision is not about the merits of the case, it is unfortunate that this further delays justice for the victims. I will continue to defend Arkansas's lethal injection statute and fight for the victims and their grieving families," Rutledge wrote in a statement Tuesday.
The high court also refused to order Griffen to schedule an earlier hearing in the case. He set the next hearing for March, just months before one of the state's execution drugs is set to expire. The attorney general's office had asked for a faster timetable, arguing that defense attorneys were trying to delay the case until the drug was no longer usable.
The prisoners are challenging the constitutionality of the state's new secrecy law, saying they need information about where and how the state's execution drugs were made to determine whether they will lead to cruel and unusual punishment. They also argue that the law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information, but the state has said the agreement was not a binding contract.
The inmates also are challenging Arkansas' three-drug execution protocol, focusing on the use of the drug midazolam. The sedative was implicated after inmates gasped and groaned during longer-than-expected executions in Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona. "We realize there is a lot of litigation yet lying in front of us. But we feel the decision of the Supreme Court was the appropriate decision in this case," said Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the inmates. "The state made a binding commitment to provide us with this information and we are entitled to this information."
"Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Tools for Change"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Jason Nance available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The school-to-prison pipeline is one of our nation’s most formidable challenges. It refers to the trend of directly referring students to law enforcement for committing certain offenses at school or creating conditions under which students are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system such as excluding them from school.
This article analyzes the school-to-prison pipeline’s devastating consequences on students, its causes, and its disproportionate impact on students of color. But most importantly, this article comprehensively identifies and describes specific, evidence-based tools to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that lawmakers, school administrators, and teachers in all areas can immediately support and implement. Further, it suggests initial strategies aimed at addressing racial implicit bias, which is a primary cause of the racial disparities relating to the school-to-prison pipeline. The implementation of these tools will create more equitable and safe learning environments that will help more students become productive citizens and avoid becoming involved in the justice system.
Monday, October 19, 2015
The title of this article is the title of this interesting new article by Rachel Harmon I just noticed on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
It is no exaggeration to say that arrests are the paradigmatic police activity. While many debate the necessity of particular arrests, neither participants in the criminal justice system nor contemporary critics have seriously considered whether law enforcement – as a general matter - requires arrests.
This essay challenges the long-held assumption that, even if not every arrest is legitimate, arrests as a general matter are worthwhile because they are critical to law enforcement goals. As recent news events have suggested, arrests are more harmful than they first seem, not only to the individuals arrested but also to their families and to society as a whole.
More importantly, our traditional justifications for arrests - starting the criminal process and maintaining public order – at best support a much more limited practice of arrest than we currently permit. Overwhelmingly, arrests can be replaced with alternatives, even for serious crimes, and neither public safety nor public order will likely much suffer. As a result, whether or not arrests are fairly imposed on individuals, contemporary arrest practice is illegitimate because the coercion it involves is largely unnecessary.
New York Times editorial rightly frames debate over federal judges' expungement power
Regular readers may recall this recent post highlighting the interesting (and hip?) legal issue arising in federal court lately concerning the inherent power of federal judges to expunge a federal conviction. This effective New York Times editorial, headlined "How to Get Around a Criminal Record," spotlights some of the unfortunate reasons this legal issue is now coming up for debate. Here are excerpts:
In May, a federal judge in Brooklyn took the extraordinary step of expunging the conviction of a woman he had sentenced to five years of probation more than a decade earlier for her involvement in an insurance fraud scheme that netted her $2,500.... The move was significant because there is no federal law that allows for expungement — the permanent sealing of a criminal record to the general public....
Some 70 million to 100 million people in the United States — more than a quarter of all adults — have a criminal record, and as a result they are subject to tens of thousands of federal and state laws and rules that restrict or prohibit their access to the most basic rights and privileges — from voting, employment and housing to business licensing and parental rights. Some of these collateral consequences make sense — like preventing people convicted of molesting children from working in schools. But many have no relation at all to the original offense.
The woman whose record Judge Gleeson expunged was hired repeatedly for social-work or health-care jobs, and then fired after employers ran a background check. As the judge wrote, it is “random and senseless” that her “ancient and minor offense should disqualify her from work as a home health aide.”
The federal government lags far behind in reducing the burdens of a conviction. About half the states allow some convictions to be expunged; almost all allow expungement for arrest records and other non-conviction records. Some expungements are automatic, while others require a petition to the court. Of course, expungement is not a cure-all. The vast majority of employers now run background checks, many using error-strewn databases that often fail to delete sealed records.
A better, increasingly popular approach is a “certificate of rehabilitation,” which state judges issue as a way of removing certain restrictions and encouraging employers and others to take a chance on someone despite his or her record.
Another solution is the executive pardon, which restores rights lost after a conviction. Pardons were once a common method of relief from injustice, and some state governors still use it vigorously. Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware has issued almost 1,600 pardons in six years. But President Obama, like his recent predecessors, has almost entirely abandoned the practice.
Mr. Obama’s former attorney general, Eric Holder, understood the importance of giving people with criminal records a better chance at finding jobs and regaining their foothold in society. And yet the Justice Department is reflexively fighting Judge Gleeson’s expungement order, calling it “judicial editing of history.”
If the White House or Congress made a real effort to alleviate the crippling consequences of criminal records — by increasing pardons, or passing laws to give courts more options to lessen or remove those burdens — there would be no need for judges to play the role of editors.
Some prior related posts:
- US District Judge John Gleeson finds extraordinary circumstances to order expungement of old federal fraud conviction
- DOJ indicating it will appeal Judge Glesson's remarkable federal expungement order
- "Expunging America's Rap Sheet in the Information Age"
- "Clean Slate: Expanding Expungements & Pardons For Non-Violent Federal Offenders"
- "Administering Justice: Removing Statutory Barriers to Reentry"
- Federal judicial power to expunge old convictions getting lots of (hip?) attention in EDNY
October 19, 2015 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
"13 Words That Could Mean Freedom for Many: The debate over the federal ‘residual clause’"
The title of this post is the headline of this effective Marshall Project piece discussing some of the sentencing guideline fall out of the Supreme Court's Johnson ACCA vagueness ruling. I recommend the full piece, which starts this way (links from original):
Erskine Smith was 24 when he pleaded guilty to selling cocaine in Pittsburgh. Before the plea, a letter from the government estimated his sentence at 108 months to 135 months, or about nine to 11 years. But once he pleaded guilty, Smith received a presentence report that floored him: the report set the sentence at a mandatory 292 months to 365 months, or about 24 to 30 years. A judge sentenced him in 1993 to 30 years in prison.
The primary reason for the extra years: Two prior “crimes of violence” that the court agreed made Smith a career offender. Smith had punched a man at age 18 and assaulted another in his hotel room at 20. Each conviction was for simple assault, a Pennsylvania misdemeanor, for which he served no jail time. But the federal government classified the crimes as violent felonies, a designation that meant Smith would be sentenced under the career offender guideline of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which boosts sentences for people who have previously been convicted of two violent or drug felonies.
Each year, about 2,000 people are sentenced under the career offender guideline. For about three-quarters of them, the most recent crime is drug-related. Though the sentencing guidelines have been advisory since 2005, experts say judges still tend to rely on them. Federal non-career drug offenders get an average of nearly 69 months, while career drug offenders get an average of nearly 169 months, according to data from 2005 to 2014 analyzed by the Federal Defenders.
But a June Supreme Court ruling may get some of them, including Smith, a new sentence. In Johnson v. United States, the Court struck down the the less-than-sexily named “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act, deciding it was unconstitutionally vague. Because of the decision, many people sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act will get at least five years knocked off their sentence.
The same clause appears in the career offender guideline, and defense lawyers are hoping it will meet the same fate. They are now asking federal appellate courts to apply Johnson to the career offender guideline and resentence long-serving prisoners who have not benefited from recent, more publicized, reforms.
Some prior related posts:
- SCOTUS finds, per Justice Scalia, that ACCA residual clause is unconstitutionally vague
- A (way-too-quick) Top 5 list of thoughts/reactions to the votes and opinions Johnson
- What does Johnson mean for the past, present and future of the career offender guidelines?
- How many hundreds (or thousands?) of ACCA prisoners could be impacted by a big ruling in Johnson?
- How many federal prisoners have "strong Johnson claims" (and how many lawyers will help figure this out)?
- Eleventh Circuit panel categorically rejects Johnson vagueness attack on career offender guidelines
- New amicus brief to Eleventh Circuit seeking reconsideration of Johnson vagueness challenge to career-offender guideline