Tuesday, October 20, 2015
"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
Saturday, October 17, 2015
"The Decline of the Virginia (and American) Death Penalty"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Brandon Garrett now available via SSRM. Here is the abstract:
The American death penalty is disappearing. Death sentences and executions have reached the lowest levels seen in decades. Public support for the death penalty has declined. More states have abolished the death penalty or imposed de facto moratoria. Even the states formerly most aggressive in pursuit of death sentences have seen death sentences steadily decline. Take Virginia, which has the highest rate of executions of any death penalty state, and which has executed the third highest number of prisoners since the 1970s. How times have changed. There are now two or fewer trials a year in Virginia at which a judge or jury even considers imposing the death penalty. Still more surprising, over one half of those trials in Virginia now result in a life sentence (11 of 21 cases from 2005 to present at which there was a capital sentencing hearing resulted in a life sentence).
Why is this happening and in Virginia of all places? In this study of the decline in the Virginia death penalty, I examine every capital trial since 2005, a group of 21 trials, and I compare those to a group of twenty capital trials from 1996 to 2004. The law on the books has not meaningfully changed in ways that would make it harder to obtain death sentences in Virginia. However, in 2004 regional capital defense resource centers were created to handle capital cases. From 1996 to 2004, the crucial sentencing phase at which the judge or jury decided whether to impose the death penalty was typically cursory, averaging less than two days long. In the more recent trials, the average was twice that — four days — and still more striking was the increase in numbers of defense witnesses called, greater use of expert witnesses, and the added complexity of sentencing proceedings. Only seven counties have imposed death sentences in the past decade in Virginia. The changed understanding of effective mitigation, together with improved defense resources, may help explain the decline.
I examine additional evidence from North Carolina and Florida, situating the role of other factors such as national trends in homicide rates, and conclude by describing heightened Eighth Amendment concerns with the scattered state of the American death penalty.
Friday, October 16, 2015
"Should judges who sit on the Sentencing Commission rule on the legality of sentencing guidelines?"
The question in the title of this post is the title of this great new posting authored by Andy Hessick at Notice & Comment – A Blog from the Yale Journal on Regulation. I urge readers to check out the whole commentary, and here is a taste:
Judge Pryor is hardly the first judge to hear a case involving the Sentencing Guidelines while serving as a member of the Commission. But the practice raises some questions. Our system is suspicious of judges hearing cases in which they have an interest. As James Madison said in Federalist 44, “[n]o man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” Judge Pryor does not have a personal interest at stake in the case, but he does have an interest in his capacity as a member of the Commission. Holding that the vagueness doctrine does not apply to sentencing guidelines protects his work on the Commission from future challenges of that sort.
His participation in the decision also raises separation of powers concerns. The sentencing guidelines are legislative in nature. A judge who both sits on the Commission and rules on the Commission’s guidelines acts as both judge and legislator. Of course, judges sit on committees that create all sorts of rules―evidence, civil procedure, etc. But those committees prescribe rules for the administration of the courts. Sentencing guidelines are different. They prescribe terms of imprisonment. Anxiety about deprivations of liberty at the hands of the government is a major reason the Constitution separates powers.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
New amicus brief to Eleventh Circuit seeking reconsideration of Johnson vagueness challenge to career-offender guideline
In this post just a few days after the US Supreme Court ruled that a key clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act violated "the Constitution’s prohibition of vague criminal laws" in Johnson v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2551 (2015) (available here), I flagged the question of how Johnson would impact application of the career offender guideline of the US Sentencing Guidelines. Notably, the Justice Department has consistently conceded Johnson-based constitutional problems with the existing career offender guideline because the key phrase found vague in Johnson is part of the guideline definition of a career offender. And a few appellate rulings have assumed without deciding that Johnson creates problems for existing career offender guideline sentencing.
But, as noted in this post a few weeks ago, an Eleventh Circuit panel in US v. Matchett, No. 14-10396 (11th Cir. Sept. 21, 2015) (available here), squarely addressed this issue and ruled that Johnson and its vagueness problem just do not apply to advisory sentencing guidelines. I considered this ruling suspect, and thanks to Carissa Hessick and David Markus, I have now been able to play a role in explaining to the full Eleventh Circuit just why. Specifically, Carissa primarily drafted and I primarily tweaked an amicus brief that David helped finalize and file today urging en banc review in Matchett. The full brief can be downloaded via SSRN, and here is how it gets started:
The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines dramatically increase a defendant’s sentencing range if she has at least two prior convictions for a “crime of violence,” which U.S.S.G. § 4B1.2(a)(2) defines to include crimes that “involve conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” As the panel in this case acknowledged, that definition is identical to the definition in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), which the Supreme Court in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), found to be unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Due Process Clause.
Nevertheless, the panel in this case held that § 4B1.2(a)(2) is not unconstitutionally vague, reasoning that the vagueness doctrine does not apply to the now-advisory Sentencing Guidelines. That conclusion is inconsistent with Supreme Court decisions on the vagueness doctrine and the Sentencing Guidelines. The panel’s decision also upsets the careful balance that the Supreme Court has struck between uniformity and discretion in federal sentencing after United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). Finally, the panel decision fails to appreciate that it faced a unique situation in which a Guideline contains language identical to a federal statute declared void for vagueness by the Supreme Court. Both the narrow basis for that decision, as well as ordinary Commission practice of reviewing and revising the Sentencing Guidelines, ensure that few Guidelines will become susceptible to serious vagueness challenges. This Court accordingly should grant en banc review.
October 15, 2015 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Prospect of civil commitment leads UK judges to refuse to extradict child sex offender back to US
A helpful reader alerted me to this notable story about a notable legal ruling from across the pond last week. The piece is headlined "Judges refuse to extradite 'paedophile' unless his human rights are guaranteed," and here are excerpts:
UK judges are refusing to extradite an alleged American paedophile who has been on the run from the FBI since 2007 until they have received an assurance that his human rights will not be breached.
The two judges sitting at the High Court in London made it clear that if no assurance is given they will refuse to hand over Roger Giese, 40, to stand trial in California, where is charged with sexually abusing a boy under the age of 14 from 1998 until 2002. The former choir master has been living in a village in Hampshire under a different name and working for a PR company.
An extradition request from the United States was certified by the Home Office in May 2014, and Giese was arrested on June 4 last year. But Magistrates' Court District Judge Margot Coleman refused the request last April.
She ruled there was "a real risk" that Giese would be subjected to an order for civil commitment - a form of indeterminate confinement in a secure facility - if convicted of a series of sexual offences against the boy. Judge Coleman said such an order would be a "flagrant denial" of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The US government appealed against Judge Coleman's decision, but today it was upheld by the High Court, which gave the US authorities a deadline to assure the court that, if Giese was found guilty, "there will be no attempt to make him the subject of a civil commitment order".
Lord Justice Aikens and Mr Justice Holroyde stated in a joint written judgment that Judge Coleman was right to conclude that extradition would be "inconsistent" with Giese's ECHR rights. The judges said that if no assurance was given "in due time", the US government appeal for the right to extradite "must be dismissed".
Giese is wanted in Orange County, California, for allegedly committing "lewd acts" with a child. He is alleged to have befriended the boy in 1998, when he was working as a voice coach for the All-American Boys Chorus. He fled the US eight years ago just as he was about to stand trial.
According to a Mirror newspaper investigation, he set up home with a new partner in the Hampshire countryside. There was no suggestion she knew about his past. Together, the pair built a PR company with clients including travel giants Thomas Cook....
California is one of 20 states in the USA which have a system of civil commitment, the High Court heard. A commitment order can be imposed against "a person of unsound mind" deemed to be dangerous who has been convicted in the criminal courts and served a sentence for certain types of sexual offence.
The High Court judges said the fact that the US government was not prepared to state that no petition for civil commitment would be filed in the case of Giese did give rise to an inference that there was a real risk of that happening.... But the judges added that Giese's extradition was not being sought to make him subject of a civil commitment order but so that he could stand trial "in respect of 19 serious charges of sexual offences" against a young boy. They ruled the US government should be given a further opportunity to offer "a satisfactory assurance" that if found guilty "there will be no attempt to make him the subject of a civil commitment order".
The full 27-page ruling referenced in this article can be accessed at this link.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Lots of talk about all the talk about jurisdiction during SCOTUS oral argument in Montgomery
Given that the Supreme Court added on its own question about its jurisdiction to review a state habeas application of Teague when granting cert in Montgomery v. Louisiana, I was not all that surprised that a number of Justice were quite eager to debate the issue with the advocates during oral argument on Tuesday. And, there are now helpful reviews of the Montgomery oral argument and the jurisdiction issue from Lyle Denniston here at SCOTUSblog and from Kent Scheidegger here at Crime & Consequences and from Chris Geidner here at BuzzFeed.
In addition, my terrific research assintant this afternoon sent me his summary take concerning the argument for sharing here:
In today’s oral argument for Montgomery v. Louisiana, a majority of the time was spent discussing whether or not the Court had jurisdiction to address the merits. While the merits were discussed, neither the Justices nor the advocates addressed them at length or with much vigor.
Justices Scalia and Alito led the charge against the Court’s jurisdiction. They were deeply concerned by the Louisiana Supreme Court’s deliberate voluntariness in adopting Teague’s retroactivity standards. In their view, if the Court ruled that it had jurisdiction and then decided the merits in a way the Louisiana Supreme Court found unfavorable, the Louisiana Supreme Court could simply elect to abandon Teague effectively overruling the Court’s decision in this case. I think it is safe to say, based on the oral arguments, that Justices Scalia and Alito are voting that the Court lacks jurisdiction to address the merits here. Given that, I would say Justice Thomas will also vote that the Court lacks jurisdiction.
Nonetheless, Justices Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor made it quite clear that they will be voting in favor of the Court’s jurisdiction. Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg made similar manifestations.
On the merits, Justices Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor suggested that they would find Miller’s rule retroactive. Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg were markedly silent on this point. Justices Scalia and Alito were the only vocal opponents of petitioner’s arguments on the merits, but assuming both they and Justice Thomas vote against the Court’s having jurisdiction, such manifestations are moot.
The most perplexing figure in today’s arguments was the Chief Justice. He spoke infrequently and did not tip his hand in any overt way. However, he did make one pretty incredible point regarding the merits. He suggested that simply “provid[ing] parole” to individuals given mandatory LWOP sentences for homicides they committed as juveniles would be a remedy to this problem. To be fair, he made this suggestion, but did not necessarily endorse it as the right move or the proper disposition of the case. Still, it is a bold proposition coming from the Chief Justice.
Lots of tea leaves (readings may vary) from SCOTUS arguments in Montgomery and Hurst
I have now had just enough time to skim the SCOTUS oral argument transcripts in Montgomery v. Louisiana (which is here) and in Hurst v. Florida (which is here). Both transcripts showcase, albeit in somewhat different ways, all the complicated and intersecting jurisprudential issues in play in both cases.
At this stage, and based perhaps more on my pre-argument beliefs than on what I surmised from my first review of the transcripts, I would predict narrow wins for the defendants in both cases. And by narrow, I mean holdings that are fairly fact-based, case-specific and that also produce somewhat split rulings. But maybe others read the tea leaves in these transcripts differently, and will share their insights in the comments.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Montgomery wards: noticing the lack of originalism analysis of sentencing finality
As noted in this prior post, I have been doing a series of posts in preparation for the US Supreme Court hearing oral argument in Montgomery v. Louisiana, and today's post is of the "dog that didn't bark" variety. Specifically, upon quickly reviewing the 20+ briefs that have been submitted in Montgomery (all of which can be found via this SCOTUSblog page), I noticed that there was essentially no discussion of what an originalist constitutional interpretation would have to say about finality/retroactivity doctrines like Teague and their application to Eighth Amendment doctrines or sentencing outcomes more generally. (Notably and tellingly, a number of briefs discussing the jurisdictional issue flagged by SCOTUS in Montgomery do provide some originalism analysis of that issue. But these briefs, nor any of those just focused on the finality/retroactivity issue, had anything to say about how an originalist perspective might inform the Court's work in this case.)
For those who are not big fans of originalist constitutional interpretation, perhaps the absence of any discussion or debate in the Montgomery briefing about what the Framers would have thought about Eighth Amendment retroactivity is a welcome development. But as I sought to spotlight in this recent law review article and this blog post last year, I think it would be interesting and potentially quite useful to examine at some lengthy whether and how the Framing generation considered finality/retroactivity issues. Of particular note, as I explain in my article, the text of the Constitution itself reveals, at least indirectly, that the Framers likely did not have an especially strong commitment to criminal justice finality interests:
The Constitution’s text can be read to suggest the Framers were decidedly eager to provide or preserve opportunities for defendants to seek review and reconsideration of their treatment by government authorities. Article I, Section 9 instructs Congress that the “Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended,” Article II, Section 2 provides that the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States,” and Article III, Section 2 provides that the Supreme Court “shall have appellate Jurisdiction.” These provisions codify in our nation’s charter all the traditional mechanisms long used by individuals to challenge or seek modification of the exercise of government power through criminal justice systems. These provisions alone may not support a strong originalist claim that the Framers disfavored treating criminal judgments as final. Nevertheless, by precluding Congress from suspending habeas review, by empowering the President to grant clemency, and by authorizing the Supreme Court to hear appeals, the Constitution ensured that criminal defendants in a new America would have various means to seek review and reconsideration of the application of governmental power even after an initial criminal conviction and sentencing.
In part because I am neither a historian nor especially enthralled by originalism, I did not pursue these ideas in this SCOTUS amicus brief that I helped submit in the Montgomery case. But I was hoping that maybe someone or some group drawn to originalism would discuss what an originalist constitutional interpretation might have to say about finality/retroactivity doctrines like Teague and their application to Eighth Amendment doctrines or sentencing outcomes more generally. One Justice who often seems drawn to Eighth Amendment originalism, Justice Thomas, almost never asks questions, and thus I am not expecting him to bring up the issue during oral argument. But maybe I can dream, at least for the next few hours, that Justice Scalia might enjoy puzzling the advocates by asking a question on this front during argument.
Prior posts in this series and concerning finality matters:
- Montgomery wards: gearing up for SCOTUS juve LWOP retroactivity case
- Montgomery wards: might SCOTUS decide it lacks jurisdiction to resolve juve LWOP retroactivity case?
- Montgomery wards: certain victims' family members voicing support for juve murderers getting a chance at resentencing
- Examining "sentence finality" at length in new article and series of posts
- Finality foundations: is it uncontroversial that "conviction finality" and "sentence finality" raise distinct issues?
- Is it fair to read the Constitution as evidence the Framers were not fans of finality?
- Form, function and finality of sentences through history: the Founding Era
Does the Sixth or Eighth Amendment matter more for jury's role in capital punishment?
The question in the title of this post is the primary uncertainty likely to impact Supreme Court debate over Florida's capital punishment system during tomorrow's scheduled oral argument in Hurst v. Florida. Helpfully, Lyle Denniston has this lengthy preview post at SCOTUSblog titled "Defining the jury's role on death penalty," and here are excerpts:
For years, the Supreme Court has been engaged in an energetic effort to enhance the role of the jury in criminal courts. No part of that has been more actively pursued than deepening the jury’s involvement in sentencing — a part of the process long dominated by trial judges. A new case from Florida, set for argument at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, provides a new test.
Florida is the last state to hold out against a common requirement that jurors must be unanimous in both specifying why a convicted individual is eligible for a death sentence and recommending a sentence. Juries in Florida death penalty cases have only an advisory role to begin with, and even that influence on the judge is potentially lessened by the lack of unanimity and by the judge’s authority to make the key decisions anyway.
The Court is examining the case of a brutal slaying at a Popeye’s fast-food restaurant in Pensacola, Fla. (Hurst v. Florida), to determine how far a state may go to assign the important decisions on death sentencing to the judge. The Justices attempted to curb that role, and give more of it to the jury, in a 2002 decision but the Florida Supreme Court has essentially exempted the state’s capital punishment process from that ruling.
In Ring v. Arizona thirteen years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a judge may not make the factual findings about “aggravating factors” — the seriousness of the crime that can make an individual eligible to be sentenced to death — because that role under the Sixth Amendment belongs to the jury. The Court has said repeatedly that, if a potential sentence is to be made more severe, the enhancement must be based upon the jury’s findings.
The Court, however, has never ruled that juries must be used in the sentencing phases of a case in which a death sentence is a possibility, and it has never ruled that a jury recommendation of a death sentence must be by a unanimous vote. It has allowed guilty verdicts by less than unanimous votes in cases involving lesser crimes. The case set for a hearing next Tuesday could provide new interpretations on both of those issues....
Florida law splits up the roles on death sentencing between the jury and the judge. The jury’s advisory role is to ultimately recommend a sentence to the judge. To do that, the jury weighs aggravating and mitigating factors and decides whether to recommend a death sentence. It can make that final recommendation on a split vote — it must be at least seven to five, as it was in Hurst’s case. But there is no need for even a majority of jurors to agree on even one of the aggravating factors the jurors as a group had apparently indicated did exist.
The sentencing duty then shifts to the judge, who does the same weighing process of the two kinds of factors; in doing so, the judge is not bound by what the jury concluded. The judge then decides for or against a death sentence, again with no duty to follow the jury’s recommendation.
The Florida Supreme Court, upholding that process as used in Hurst’s case, found no constitutional problem with the role of either the jury or the judge. The state court divided four to three, with the dissenting justices arguing that the Florida approach violates both the Sixth and Eighth Amendments and deviates from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ring v. Arizona.
Hurst’s lawyers took the case on to the Supreme Court, raising two multi-faceted questions, with most of them focusing on the split role of judge and jury. The Court granted review in March, rephrasing the issue to be whether the Florida scheme violates either the Sixth Amendment or the Eighth Amendment “in light of this Court’s decision in Ring v. Arizona.” The order did not specify whether it would consider Hurst’s argument that he also had a claim of mishandling in his trial of a mental disability claim, but the Court did not appear to have accepted that for review and it has dropped out of the case.
Hurst’s brief on the merits largely separates the arguments between the Sixth Amendment, claiming that provision is violated by the jury’s limited role in finding whether Hurst was eligible for a death sentence, and the Eighth Amendment, claiming that provision is violated by allowing the judge to impose the sentence after a split verdict by the jury. However, he also levels a separate Sixth Amendment challenge to the judge’s role in imposing a death penalty....
Florida’s brief on the merits noted that the Supreme Court has examined its capital punishment scheme at least four times before and has not found it to be flawed under the Constitution. The state also insisted that Hurst’s lawyers had exaggerated what is required under Ring v. Arizona. That decision, it contended, only mandates a role for the jury in the death-eligibility analysis, and does not insist that it have a role in the actual selection of the sentence to be imposed.
As fans of Ring v. Arizona should recall, a few of the Justices still on the Court now considered these issues to be primarily of Sixth Amendment concern (Justices Scalia, Thomas and Ginsburg), whereas some other of the Justices still on the Court viewed these issues primarily from an Eighth Amendment perspective (Justices Kennedy and Breyer). And, notably, the four newer Justices have had a lot of distinct (and differing) things to say about both the Sixth and Eighth Amendments in recent years. How all this will add up to a majority ruling in Hurst remains to be seen, but I will suggest that anyone sentenced to death in Florida after a non-unanimous jury recommendation already ought to be getting ready to file a new habeas petition as soon as we get a ruling in Hurst.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
"The Future of Parole Release: A Ten-Point Reform Plan"
The title of this post is the title of this timely and intriguing new paper authored by Edward Rhine, Joan Petersilia and Kevin Reitz now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This article lays out a 10-point program for the improvement of discretionary parole release systems in America. Taken together, our recommendations coalesce into an ambitious model that has never before existed in the US. Even if adopted separately, our recommendations would work substantial incremental improvements in the current practices of all paroling systems.
The article is written by three authors who have taken sharply different views on the fundamental question of whether contemporary determinate or indeterminate sentencing systems have been the more successful systems across American states. Likewise, the authors have given different advice to jurisdictions on whether parole release should be retained, abolished, or reinstituted (Rhine 2012; Petersilia 2003; Reitz 2004). Nonetheless, the authors agree that discretionary parole-release is an important feature of U.S. sentencing and corrections that will not disappear in the foreseeable future — and all three share a common interest in improving those systems as much as possible. Indeed, regardless of one’s views on the “determinacy/indeterminacy” debate, it would be irresponsible not to give assistance to the majority of states that continue to vest meaningful authority over prison sentence length in paroling agencies.
Federal judicial power to expunge old convictions getting lots of (hip?) attention in EDNY
It is perhaps fitting that in the Eastern District of New York, home to hipster haven Brooklyn, has become the central location for an important new discussion and debate over important (and hip?) questions concerning the legal authority of federal judges to expunge old convictions. The always great Collateral Consequences Resource Center has highlights of some of the goings on via these two new posts:
The first of these above-referenced posts discusses this fascinating amicus brief filed this past week in one of two federal expungement cases before US Distrct Judge John Gleeson, a brief which the judge requested and which merits it own separate future post.
The second of the posts from CCRC spotlights that, perhaps unsurprisingly, now that Judge Gleeson has suggested federal judges might have some authority to expunge old convictions, other judges are being asked to consider doing the same.
In my view, these matters are (and should continue to be) hot and hip not only for persons interested in criminal justice reform issues, but also for those interested more general in federal court powers and what a judiciary can and should do given gaps in statutory answers to importance criminal justice questions.
Friday, October 09, 2015
Ohio tells FDA it can be legal to import sodium thiopental to carry out death sentences
In this post a few months ago, I reported on a letter sent by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation Correction (ODRC) expressing concern that Ohio might be trying to import illegally the drug it needed to carry out scheduled executions. Now I can report on an interesting official response sent today from ODRC back to FDA. In a four-page letter, ODRC provides an extended explanation for how, in Ohio's view, it could be legal for it to import certain drugs needed to carry out executions.
The full letter from ODRC to FDA, which is available for downloading below, merits a careful read by anyone closely following the challenges many states are having securing needed drugs for executions. As a kind of summary, here is how the ODRC letter starts and concludes:
Your June 26, 2015 letter to Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), Gary Mohr, referenced some unspecified information you had received about Ohio's "inten[t] to obtain bulk and finished dosage forms of sodium thiopental." Based on this information, you referenced two federal court decisions, Beaty v. FDA, 853 F. Supp. 2d 30 (D.D.C. 2012) and Cook v. FDA, 733 F.3d 1(D.C. Cir. 2013), and sought to "remind [Ohio] of the applicable legal framework" for importation of sodium thiopental. Contrary to the implication in your letter that the importation of sodium thiopental is currently prohibited, there is a legal framework for a state, if it so chooses, to import sodium thiopental in accordance with both the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and the June 2012 Court Order issued by Judge Leon in Beaty. Further, please be advised that if at some point in the future the State of Ohio should choose to pursue the importation of sodium thiopental or any other drug that may be used to carry out a sentence of lethal injection, Ohio has no intention of breaking any federal laws or violating any court orders in an attempt to procure the legal drugs necessary to carry out constitutionally approved and court-ordered death sentences....
Given the specific facts and parameters of those [above-referenced] decisions, it is clear that importation of sodium thiopental is not completely prohibited by Judge Leon's 2012 Orders. That is, importation of sodium thiopental is not prohibited provided that [five key conditions are met]....
Thus, we believe that if a state were to attempt to import sodium thiopental under these five conditions, then the specific terms of the Beaty injunction would not apply. In other words, the FDA would not be permanently enjoined from permitting that shipment into the United States, and that it would be lawful and permissible for a state to proceed with such lawful importation.
The responsibility to carry out lawful and humane executions when called upon by the courts to do so is enormous, and it is a responsibility that ODRC does not take lightly. To that end, ODRC has no intention of attempting to procure drugs for lethal injection in a manner that would violate a proper interpretation of the FDCA. And, as the federal agency tasked with enforcing the FDCA and subject to the Court Order in Beaty, we would be happy to begin a dialog with the FDA as to how best achieve this goal.
Prior related post:
"The Supreme Court’s Johnson v. United States Ruling: A Vagueness Doctrine Revolution?"
The title of this post is the title of this helpful "Legal Backgrounder" coming from the Washington Legal Foundation and authored by David Debold and Rachel Mondl. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the start and end of the reader-friendly piece:
Apart from the direct effect of Johnson on ACCA sentences, the decision marks an important step in the Court’s vagueness jurisprudence. Also not to be overlooked is Justice Thomas’s concurrence, which likened the vagueness doctrine to the much-maligned concept of substantive due process, thus raising questions about the legitimacy of a vagueness doctrine in the first place. In the end, though, the debate over the legitimacy of substantive-due-process rights should have no bearing on the Court’s void-for-vagueness precedents, because vague laws offend traditional notions of procedural due process — that is, the process by which the government may deprive a person of life, liberty, or property....
More than an opinion on mandatory-minimum sentences, Johnson provides a welcome clarification of the law on unconstitutional vagueness. Yet it remains to be seen how far-reaching the decision will be. The majority opinion widens the opportunities for challenges to laws where previous challenges would not have been possible under a vague-in-all-applications regime. Time will tell whether more of those challenges will succeed, or, instead, whether Johnson is relegated to “unique” status, its result ordained by the profound and repeated inability of the Supreme Court and courts of appeals to craft a principled, workable standard for applying a peculiar type ofstatute. One thing is certain: Johnson will not be the last word on the vagueness doctrine.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Astute review of (too-often neglected and really critical) back-end criminal justice developments
The October issue of Governing magazine has this lengthy new article that effectively spotlights aspects of criminal justice punishment systems that have too often been ignored or overlooked. The article merits a read in full, and its extended headline highlights why everyone should be interested in the stories within: "The Changing Relationship Between Ex-Criminals and Their Parole Officers: Rather than acting as former offenders' enemies, parole and probation officers are now working to be their mentors. Can it reduce recidivism?". Here are excerpts:
Oftentimes, parole and probation officers are the only positive role models offenders have. About a decade ago, criminologists began asking if parole and probation visits were a missed opportunity for law enforcement. What if officers developed a more supportive relationship with offenders? What if they demonstrated to clients that they weren’t just checking boxes and delivering sanctions? The working theory was that given some personal attention, offenders might be more receptive to advice about resolving conflicts and avoiding crime.
Amid a flurry of academic journal articles and pilot projects, researchers from the University of Cincinnati developed EPICS, short for Effective Practices in Community Supervision, a new model for structured face-to-face meetings between officers and their clients. While universities in Australia and Canada produced similar approaches based on the same underlying theory, EPICS has become the go-to model for parole and probation in much of the United States. Since 2006, more than 80 state and county criminal justice departments have adopted EPICS....
By focusing on behavioral change, rather than just threats of being thrown back in jail, EPICS and similar efforts may help break the cycle of incarceration. “I don’t think the majority of people on supervision like being criminals,” says Scott Taylor, who runs the department of parole and probation in Multnomah County. “They just can’t figure how to get out of it.”
Law enforcement agencies in this country have been engaged in community supervision for more than 150 years, basing their practice on the idea that some convicted criminals can reintegrate into society, so long as they meet with assigned officers on a regular basis. Community supervision takes two primary forms: probation and parole. Generally speaking, probation is an alternative to incarceration, and parole is early release from prison. People on probation tend to be convicted of less serious offenses than people on parole....
EPICS is part of a larger change that is developing within the nation’s parole and probation systems. Parole boards are under scrutiny for keeping people in prison without explaining why they don’t qualify for supervised release in the community. Many states have changed sentencing requirements so that nonviolent offenders are increasingly the responsibility of local jails and community supervision agencies, not state prisons. Parole and probation officers are using risk assessment tools to concentrate services on the people who are most likely to reoffend.
Since 2000, anywhere from 4.5 million to 5 million adults have been under community supervision in a given year, but as prisons come under increasing pressure to lower their inmate populations, the number of offenders on parole and probation is certain to grow. In the past, parole and probation agencies have generally ignored research that suggests ways to reduce recidivism; the field has been stuck in a mode of monitoring and enforced compliance. As more offenders are released to community supervision, however, agencies are showing an interest in ideas designed to cut down on criminal behavior. EPICS is one of those ideas.
October 7, 2015 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)
"Why 21 year-old offenders should be tried in family court"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable Washington Post commentary authored by Vincent Schiraldi and Bruce Western. Here are excerpts:
Just over 100 years ago, there was no separate court for juveniles anywhere in the world. Adolescents were viewed as smaller versions of adults, were prosecuted under the same laws and often sent to the same prisons.
But in 1899, a pioneering group of women — Jane Addams, Lucy Flower and Julia Lathrop — persuaded the state of Illinois to create a separate court to handle juveniles’ cases individually, be more rehabilitative and less punitive and ensure that youthful mistakes wouldn’t haunt youngsters throughout their lives. The family court was a smashing success, spreading to 46 states and 16 countries by 1925 and decidedly reducing recidivism compared with trying children as adults.
But while family court’s founding mothers got a lot right, the setting of 18 as the court’s maximum age was an arbitrary choice based on the mores of the time rather than hard evidence. It’s time we expanded the protections and rehabilitative benefits of the family court to young adults.
Research in neurobiology and developmental psychology has shown that the brain doesn’t finish developing until the mid-20s, far later than was previously thought. Young adults are more similar to adolescents than fully mature adults in important ways. They are more susceptible to peer pressure, less future-oriented and more volatile in emotionally charged settings.
Furthermore, adolescence itself has become elongated compared with that of previous generations. Today’s young people finish college, find jobs, get married and leave home much later than their parents did. Just 9 percent of young adults were married in 2010, compared with 45 percent in 1960.
Non-criminal law and practice frequently recognize these developmental differences. States prohibit young adults from smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, possessing firearms, gambling and adopting children. You can’t serve in the House of Representatives until age 25, it costs more to rent a car as a young adult and you can stay on your parents’ health insurance until 26. However, despite the developmental differences between young and fully mature adults, criminal law draws a stark, scientifically indefensible line at 18. This has disastrous public safety outcomes. For example, 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds released from prison are rearrested and about half return to prison within three years, the highest recidivism rate of any age cohort.
Fortunately, there has been growing innovation overseas along with some noteworthy U.S. experiments designed to address the challenges and opportunities this transition-aged population presents. The age of family court jurisdiction in Germany and the Netherlands is 21 and 23, respectively. Many European countries have separate correctional facilities for young adults. In Finland, young people can earn accelerated release from prison by participating in educational and professional training programs....
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch recently convened an expert panel to explore developmentally appropriate responses to young adults caught up in the justice system. “Research indicates that . . . we may have a significant opportunity, even after the teenage years, to exert a positive influence and reduce future criminality through appropriate interventions,” she said. This “offers a chance to consider new and innovative ways to augment our criminal justice approach.”
Such thinking will undoubtedly face political head winds in some places, but improved outcomes can be used to build support with the public. Frequently, U.S. juvenile justice practice moves adolescents in the opposite direction — from family court into adult court and, too often, adult prisons. An estimated 247,000 people under 18 were tried as adults in 2007, and more than 5,000 adolescents are incarcerated in jails and prisons. There, they are at greater risk of sexual assault and experience higher rearrest rates vs. youth retained in the juvenile justice system. Any reforms for young adults need to also reduce this destructive practice of transferring young people into the maw of the adult system.
Given advances in research and successful innovation here and abroad, now is the time for practice to catch up with science — whether it is raising the family court’s age to 21 or 25 or otherwise creating a separate approach to young adults that reflects their developmental needs and furthers public safety.
Previewing Kansas capital case day for SCOTUS argument
The Supreme Court will be spending the morning today talking a lot about how Kansas administers its death penalty. (The official nickname for Kansas is the Sunflower State, but perhaps the Justices will be thinking of the state's unofficial nickname of Bleeding Kansas.) Helpfully, SCOTUSblog and Crime & Consequences provides previews. Here are links and leads from their efforts:
The Justices closed out last Term with a high-profile death penalty case, holding that Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures do not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The decision in that case may be best known for Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in which he suggested that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment is back before the Court again tomorrow, albeit with lower stakes, this time in a set of challenges to the procedures used to sentence three Kansas inmates to death. The oral arguments and the Court’s eventual decision may tell us more about whether some of the Justices’ discomfort with the death penalty will translate into additional protections for defendants in capital cases or whether the Justices will instead remain — as they were in the Oklahoma case — sharply divided.
Even among people who deal with violent crime all the time, there are some crimes of such revolting depravity, such pure evil, that they knock us back in our chairs just reading about them. The United States Supreme Court considers such a case tomorrow. It is the notorious case of brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, whose crime spree culminated in a case called the Wichita Massacre.
UPDATE: This short post-argument Reuters piece reports that the "U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared poised to rule against two brothers challenging their death sentences for a 2000 crime spree in Kansas that included the execution-style murders of four people on a snowy soccer field."
Tuesday, October 06, 2015
The title of this post is the title of this notable paper about a notable federal sentencing provision authored by Miriam Baer and now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This essay, written for the Wayne Law Review’s 2014 Symposium on white collar crime and sentencing, examines the rising popularity of the “sophisticated means” enhancement under Section 2B1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Over the past decade, the rate at which federal courts apply the enhancement in criminal fraud cases has more than tripled.
This Essay considers several possible explanations for the enhancement’s increasing prevalence, including the possibilities that: (i) fraud offenders as a whole have become more sophisticated; (ii) federal prosecutors are investigating and charging more sophisticated frauds; and (iii) the enhancement’s meaning has, over time, gradually expanded to include additional conduct, a phenomenon I refer to as “sentencing creep.” With this final explanation in mind, the Essay concludes with some practical advice for reinvigorating the enhancement as a useful sorting device.
"Federalism, Federal Courts, and Victims’ Rights"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Michael Solimine and Kathryn Elvey available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
A striking development in American criminal justice in the past forty years is the widespread adoption and acceptance of the rights of victims, at both the federal and state levels. A notable exception to this innovation has been the repeated, unsuccessful attempts, continuing to the present day, to pass a Victims’ Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The considerable scholarly literature on the VRA has not rigorously examined the putative need for the VRA from a federalism perspective, a task this article undertakes.
The article examines the history of the victims’ rights movement, and of the repeated attempts to pass the VRA. We argue that both supporters and critics of the VRA have not convincingly addressed federalism issues raised by the potential adoption of the VRA. In contrast, we argue that functional principles of federalism suggest that the VRA and nationalization of victims’ rights is unnecessary. On the other hand, we argue that there is one way that the federal government can recognize state development of victims’ rights. In habeas corpus actions in federal court, challenging state court convictions, we argue that victims of state crimes should be permitted and encouraged to participate in those proceedings, in ways not generally permitted to date.
Monday, October 05, 2015
Previewing the early criminal law cases on the SCOTUS docket
In this post at the Federalist Society blog, Kent Scheidegger provide an effective preview of the handful of Supreme Court cases dealing with criminal law issues that are to be heard by the Supreme Court in the first few weeks of its new Term. As regular readers know and as Kent notes, a number of the early cases involve the death penalty, and this recent Wall Street Journal article highlights the capital case concentration in an article headlined "Supreme Court Docket Loaded With Death-Penalty Cases."
But before the capital case kvetching gets started in earnest, the first criminal justice case to be heard by the Justices comes on Tuesday with Ocasio v. United States. At SCOTUSblog here, Rory Little has this lengthy preview of Ocasio, which gets started this way:
The Court’s first criminal case of the Term presents a real brain teaser: may a defendant be convicted of conspiracy to commit an offense, when he has the intent necessary to commit the offense but his co-conspirator does not? The case arises in the specific context of the unusual federal Hobbs Act extortion statute, and getting to the specific question initially requires some complex explanation. But unless I misunderstand it, the general question is as old as the common law.
Via summary reversal, SCOTUS rejects state court determination of ineffective defense
At the end of this long SCOTUS order list (which kind of marks the official start of a new Supreme Court term, OT15) is a short per curiam opinion in Maryland v. Kulbicki, No. 14-848 (S. Ct. Oct. 5, 2015). The opinion provides a notable win for prosecuors, starting and ending this way:
A criminal defendant “shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” U. S. Const., Amdt. 6. We have held that this right requires effective counsel in both state and federal prosecutions, even if the defendant is unable to afford counsel. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U. S. 335, 344 (1963). Counsel is unconstitutionally ineffective if his performance is both deficient, meaning his errors are “so serious” that he no longer functions as “counsel,” and prejudicial, meaning his errors deprive the defendant of a fair trial. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). Applying this standard in name only, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that James Kulbicki’s defense attorneys were unconstitutionally ineffective. We summarily reverse....
Given the uncontroversial nature of [Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis] CBLA at the time of Kulbicki’s trial, the effect of the judgment below is to demand that lawyers go “looking for a needle in a haystack,” even when they have “reason to doubt there is any needle there.” Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374, 389 (2005). The Court of Appeals demanded something close to “perfect advocacy” — far more than the “reasonable, or CBLA competence” the right to counsel guarantees. Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 8 (2003) (per curiam).
Kulbicki’s trial counsel did not provide deficient performance when they failed to uncover the 1991 report and to use the report’s so-called methodological flaw against Peele on cross-examination. (We need not, and so do not, decide whether the supposed error prejudiced Kulbicki.) The petition for writ of certiorari is granted, and the judgment of the Court of Appeals for Maryland is reversed.
Saturday, October 03, 2015
"Why Don’t Courts Dismiss Indictments? A Simple Suggestion for Making Federal Criminal Law a Little Less Lawless"
The title of this post is the title of this notable Green Bag article authored by James Burnham. Here are excerpts from the article's introduction:
Many lawyers are familiar with the problem of overbroad, vague federal criminal laws that ensnare unwary defendants and perplex the lawyers who defend them. It is a recurring theme in academic literature and it featured prominently in Justice Kagan’s recent dissent in Yates v. United States, where she described “the real issue” in the case as being “overcriminalization and excessive punishment in the U.S. Code.”... [Many commentators] often jump directly to the Constitution as the solution to this problem, specifically the Due Process Clause and an emphasis on fair notice as a way to narrow vaguely worded statutes.
That is a good idea, but it overlooks a tool for combating overcriminalization that is, perhaps, simpler and more readily available than the heavy artillery of constitutional law–making it easier for criminal defendants to secure a legal ruling before trial on whether their alleged conduct actually constitutes a federal crime. Implementing this basic reform would require nothing more than applying the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which already contain provisions for dismissing indictments that are materially identical to the familiar 12(b)(6) standard and the rules for dismissing civil complaints. Yet the same federal judges who routinely dismiss complaints for failure to state a claim virtually never dismiss indictments for failure to state an offense. The judiciary’s collective failure to apply the dismissal standard in criminal proceedings that is a staple of civil practice plays a central role in the ever-expanding, vague nature of federal criminal law because it largely eliminates the possibility of purely legal judicial opinions construing criminal statutes in the context of a discrete set of assumed facts, and because it leaves appellate courts to articulate the boundaries of criminal law in post-trial appeals where rejecting the government’s legal theory means overturning a jury verdict and erasing weeks or months of judicial effort.
Courts should eliminate this anomalous difference between criminal and civil procedure. There is no good reason why federal prosecutors cannot abide by the same pleading standards as civil plaintiffs. That is what the rules already provide. And holding prosecutors to that reasonable standard would go a long way toward making federal criminal law a little less lawless.
Thursday, October 01, 2015
SCOTUS grants review in 13 new cases, including capital and federal sentencing appeal issues
As reported here by Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog, the Justices of the US Supreme Court today officially added a baker's dozen of new cases to its merits docket via this order list. One of the grants is a capital case from Pennsylvania that is already garnering media attention, and these excerpts from the SCOTUSblog posting suggests there is a lot of interesting new matters for criminal justice fans to consider:
The judicial disqualification case the Court will hear (Williams v. Pennsylvania) will give the Court a chance to clarify when the rights of an individual are violated when a member of a state supreme court joins in ruling on a case in which that judge has been accused of bias because of a former role in the case.
Four years ago, in its decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., the Court ruled that it violates constitutional due process when a member of the West Virginia Supreme Court cast the deciding vote in a case in which the judge had accepted large campaign donations from the mining company involved in the case.
One of the issues that the Court agreed to consider in the new Pennsylvania case is whether that precedent on judicial qualification also applies when the challenged judge did not cast a deciding vote. The judge involved — then Pennsylvania’s chief justice, Ronald D. Castille (who has since retired) — joined in a unanimous ruling by the state supreme court that reinstated a death sentence for a Philadelphia man, Terrance Williams.
Williams, then eighteen years old, was convicted in 1986 of murder, robbery, and criminal conspiracy in the killing of Amos Norwood and was sentenced to death. Williams contended that Norwood was a sexual predator who had preyed on underage boys, including Williams at the age of thirteen.
Later, when Williams case went before the state supreme court, his lawyers sought to have Chief Justice Castille disqualified, arguing that he had as a Philadelphia prosecutor authorized the decision to seek a death sentence for Williams, voiced strong support for the death penalty when running for a seat on the state supreme court and cited Williams’s case as an example of his “tough on crime” record. The case before the state’s highest court involved a claim that prosecutors had withheld evidence that would have aided in Williams’s defense. The state court rejected that challenge. The chief justice denied the recusal motion without explanation, and refused Williams’s request to refer it to the full court.
The commonwealth government of Puerto Rico gained Court review Monday of its claim that, since Congress gave it self-governing powers in 1950, it has the power to pass its own laws as a sovereign government, like any state in the Union. Thus, it argued, its legislature has full authority to pass criminal laws. And, as is important in this case, it has the independent right to prosecute someone for a crime even if the federal government has already prosecuted that same crime.
That argument was rejected by Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court, which concluded that Puerto Rico and the federal government were part of the same sovereignty — that of the United States. Puerto Rico, it decided, gets its power to legislate from Congress. Because the two governments are not separate sovereigns, the court declared, it would violate the Constitution’s ban on double jeopardy for a person to be tried by both Puerto Rico and federal prosecutors.
The case (Puerto Rico v. Valle), although focused on the double jeopardy issue, will apparently required the Court to decide just what constitutional significance to assign to the 1950 law on which Puerto Rico based its claim of sovereign powers....
In the other nine cases that the Court accepted for review, the questions are summarized as follows:
Utah v. Strieff — if police learn about an outstanding arrest warrant during a street or traffic stop that turns out to have been illegal, does the Fourth Amendment bar the use of any evidence obtained as a result of a search at the time of the arrest....
Duncan v. Owens — does it violate federal habeas law for a judge during a criminal trial to state a position on the accused person’s motive, based on evidence not introduced at the trial.
Taylor v. United States — must the government in a case under the Hobbs Act prove that robbery of a drug dealer does actually affect interstate commerce.
Molina-Martinez v. United States — what effect should a federal appeals court give to a district court’s ruling applying the wrong Sentencing Guideline range to a convicted individual.
Basic elements of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
As I write this, I am watching (at this link) the tail end of speeches being given by a series of US Senators discussing their pleasure and thanks concerning the bipartisan agreement to propose the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (which I will start calling SRCA 2015). Here are links to two documents provided by the Senate Judiciary Committee summarizing what appears in this bill:
Here ais the full text of the summary document:
Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.
Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant’s criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.
Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.
Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.
Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively
Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.
Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records
Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses
WOWSA!! And the more detailed section-by-section analysis suggests that lots and lots of badly over-sentenced federal offenders subject to extreme mandatory minimum sentencing provisions in not-so-extreme cases (including folks I have represented or filed amicus briefs on behalf of like Weldon Angelos and Edward Young) might be able to get retroactive relief if this legislation becomes law!! Thus, to summarize, just the introduction of SRCA 2015 is a huge development, and I strongly believe its provisions can will significantly reshape the federal sentencing and prison system if (and I hope when) it becomes law.
Though I will still need to see the precise text before I will be in a position to really assess all that appears in this bill, these summary documents confirm my hope that this bill was likely to be among the biggest and most ambitious federal sentencing reform efforts we have seen since the enactment of the Sentencing Reform Act more than three decades ago. Mega-kudos to all involved, Senators and staffers and advocates of all stripes, and now let's see if all the good mojo that this SRCA 2015 represents might get this bill through the Congress in the coming weeks!!
UPDATE: The full text of the SRCA runs 141 pages, and the folks at FAMM have it available at this link.
October 1, 2015 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22)
Montgomery wards: might SCOTUS decide it lacks jurisdiction to resolve juve LWOP retroactivity case?
As noted in this prior post, I am doing a series of posts in preparation for the US Supreme Court hearing oral argument in Montgomery v. Louisiana in large part because I find the substantive issues that surround Eighth Amendment retroactivity so dynamic and interesting. But, critically, the Justices ordered briefing on a preliminary question for consideration in the Montgomery case: "Do we have jurisdiction to decide whether the Supreme Court of Louisiana correctly refused to give retroactive effect in this case to our decision in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ____ (2012)?"
I have a terrific research assistant drafting summaries of various amicus briefs submitted in Montgomery (all of which can be found via this SCOTUSblog page). Here is how he summarized and assessed this amicus filing which was requested by the court to make the argument against jurisdiction:
The United States Supreme Court appointed Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP (“WFG”) to file an amicus brief arguing that the Court lacks jurisdiction to address the merits of whether or not Miller applies retroactively in state collateral proceedings. That is, the Court has charged WFG with the task of arguing that the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision that Miller does not apply retroactively cannot be reviewed by the Court.
WFG’s amicus brief argues against the Court’s jurisdiction in two steps. First, WFG argues that whether or not Miller is retroactive in the state collateral review context can only present a federally reviewable issue if Teague is binding in such proceedings. Second, WFG argues that Teague is not binding in state collateral review proceedings because its holding was predicated upon a federal statute and nothing more. Consequently, Montgomery presents no question of federal law and so any opinion on the merits of the Miller retroactivity issue would be only advisory (or so goes WFG’s argument). Thus, the Court lacks jurisdiction to address the Miller retroactivity issue in Montgomery, at least in the case’s present procedural posture.
WFG’s argument turns entirely on the way in which the Louisiana Supreme Court adopted Teague some 23 years ago in a case called Taylor v. Whitley, 606 So. 2d 1292 (La. 1992). In that case, the Louisiana Supreme Court, in addressing the retroactive application of new constitutional rules, stated:
[W]e have yet to consider the issue of retroactivity on collateral review in light of Teague. We now do so and adopt the Teague standards for all cases on collateral review in our state courts. In doing so, we recognize that we are not bound to adopt the Teague standards. [. . .] [W]e now adopt Justice Harlan’s views on retroactivity, as modified by Teague and subsequent decisions, for all cases on collateral review in our state courts. Taylor, 606 So. 2d at 1296–97.
WFG argues that since the Louisiana Supreme Court expressly held that it was “not bound to adopt the Teague [retroactivity] standards,” its subsequent retroactivity decisions, while based entirely on Teague and its progeny, do not “fairly appear to rest primarily on federal law or be interwoven with federal law” such that the presumption of federal jurisdiction articulated in Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1044 (1983), applies.
While this is surely one reading of Taylor, it is a narrow one. The argument can be made (and was made by both parties in this case, see Brief of Court-Appointed Amicus, Montgomery v. Louisiana, (No. 14-280), at 10) that the Court does have jurisdiction under the Long presumption.
Taylor supports this argument. The Taylor court states throughout its opinion that it is closely following and examining the federal case law on retroactivity. See Taylor, 606 So. 2d at 1293 (“In order to address the issue of retroactivity, we begin by tracing the evolution of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in this area.”). Further, while the Taylor court stated that it did not feel compelled to adopt the Teague standards, it definitively held that it was adopting those standards and was doing so “as modified by ... subsequent decisions” for all cases in Louisiana under collateral review. Id. at 1297. In this way, Taylor supports the notion that Louisiana state law does not just “rest primarily on federal law” and is not just “interwoven with federal law,” but evolves with federal law in a expressly lock-step manner.
As a consequence, Louisiana law vis-à-vis retroactivity in state collateral review proceedings is (arguably) federal law vis-à-vis retroactivity in federal collateral review proceedings as expressed by Teague and “subsequent decisions.” Accordingly, if ever the presumption of jurisdiction embodied in Long applied in a case, this would be the case. To be fair, WFG’s argument is unsurprising given its task. Nonetheless, it will in all likelihood be a minor opening act to the main event during oral argument.
I share my RA's sentiment that it is very unlikely a majority of the Supreme Court will decides it lacks jurisdiction in Montgomery, and I suspect relatively little of the oral argument will be focused on this issues. But I suspect the Chief Justice (and perhaps a few other Justices) may be eager to use Montgomery to contend that state courts are never obligated to apply any part of the Teague doctrines that now control federal court retroactivity decisions. Consequently, this issue may get more attention in the argument and in the ultimate opinion than some may want.
Prior posts in series:
"President Obama and the Power of Mercy"
The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times editorial. Here are excerpts:
The power to grant mercy to someone who is serving an unjustly long sentence is one of the most important constitutional powers a president has to counteract the frequent excesses of the federal criminal justice system. Between 1885 and 1930, presidents issued more than 10,000 grants of clemency. But in recent decades the practice has fallen into irrelevance. Starting with President Ronald Reagan, pardons and sentence commutations have become little more than a lottery or a game of personal connections, often doled out in the waning days of an administration.
Until recently, President Obama was the least merciful president of modern times. In the past year, he has done more — his totals now stand at 89 sentence commutations and 64 pardons. (A commutation shortens or ends a sentence being served, while a pardon erases the conviction and restores any rights lost as a result.) This is a step in the right direction, but there are many thousands more in prison who are deserving of executive clemency....
The Office of the Pardon Attorney, a division in the Justice Department, has the job of sifting through tens of thousands of clemency petitions.... [But], the clemency process should be removed from the Justice Department entirely.
The idea has been proposed before, but it is gaining new and notable supporters, including Margaret Love, who served as pardon attorney under Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, and who until recently defended the department’s role. In a new law review article, however, she says the department is “determinedly and irreconcilably hostile” to clemency.
It should be no surprise that pardon lawyers working in the Justice Department are loath to second-guess the convictions and sentences obtained by the department’s prosecutors. The solution, as Ms. Love and others argue, is to move the clemency process into the White House itself, and to give it enough money to operate effectively. As many states have already discovered, a clemency commission — ideally representing a wide range of perspectives from the justice system — can handle more petitions with greater transparency and predictability than a pardon attorney with a very small staff.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Missouri Supreme Court considering constitutional challenge to lifetime sex offender registration for 14-year-old offender
As reported in this local article, headlined "Missouri’s juvenile sex offender registry challenged as unconstitutional," the top court in the Show Me state heard argument today on a notable constitutional question involve a juve sex offender. Here are the details:
A 14-year-old Missouri boy’s vicious sexual assault on his adult sister landed him in the juvenile justice system. But should it land him on the Missouri sex offender registry for the rest of his life?
That’s the question the Missouri Supreme Court is being asked to answer by attorneys for the St. Louis boy, identified in court documents as S.C.. The court heard oral arguments on the case Wednesday morning and took the matter under advisement.
Attorneys for S.C. argue that subjecting a juvenile to the same registration requirement imposed on adult sex offenders is cruel and unusual punishment, and it contradicts the goal of the juvenile justice system to “rehabilitate and reintegrate.” They say several studies show that juvenile sex offenders are no more likely to commit sex offenses as adults than other juveniles.
“Lifetime sex offender registration has no relationship to the goal of protecting society from re-offenders and yet imposes severe hardship on juvenile offenders by impairing their ability to rehabilitate and function as productive members of society,” according to documents filed by S.C.’s lawyers.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office argues that S.C.’s appeal should be dismissed. They say that Missouri is following federal law in requiring certain juveniles to register as offenders, and federal appeals courts have upheld the constitutionality of similar laws in other states.
“The risk posed by someone who, like S.C., has attempted to forcibly rape another, creates a sufficient basis...to mandate actions that will protect the public against the likelihood of similar future offenses,” the state says in its written answer to the appeal.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri has filed a brief supporting the boy’s case. “When children are treated and punished as adults, we see constitutional difficulties,” said Gillian Wilcox, an ACLU staff attorney in Kansas City....
Under Missouri law, most juveniles placed on the registry are removed when they turn 21. But those, like S.C., who were 14 or older when they committed certain serious crimes, have to register as adults when they turn 21.
Statewide, more than 300 people are now on the registry for crimes committed while juveniles.... Once on the adult registry, placement is for life, and the law does not allow for a way to petition for removal....
In its arguments in support of S.C., the ACLU of Missouri cites research by social scientists that shows that requiring lifelong sex offender registration for juveniles can actually increase their chances of recidivism because offenders “find themselves isolated from important social, educational and family networks.”
“No opportunity exists for children or their counsel to present evidence demonstrating they should not be required to register publicly for the rest of their lives,” the ACLU argues.
Attorneys for the state, however, argue that appeals courts have found that sex offender registry laws are not criminal punishments, but are civil in nature and are designed with the “rational basis” of giving the public information about individuals who pose “a significant risk.”
Education Secretary calls on state and local governments to "put a new emphasis on schools rather than jails"
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today gave this notable speech at the National Press Club. The lengthy speech covers a lot of ground, but it is especially focused on the "linkage between education, or a lack thereof, and incarceration" and calls upon government to reorient funding to prioritized education over criminalization. Here are excerpts from the speech, which merits a read in full:
I want to lay out an idea today that will strike some as improbable or impractical, but which I think is essential. It's about setting a different direction as a society, a different priority — one that says we believe in great teaching early in our kids' lives, rather than courts, jails and prisons later....
The bet we're making now is clear. In the last three decades, state and local correctional spending in this country has increased almost twice as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education. Ask yourself, "What does that say about what we believe?"
Leaders at the state and local levels have the power to change that — to place a bet on getting it right with kids from the start, and on the power of great teaching in particular.
I'm not pretending for a second that schools can do this alone — that they can replace efforts to deal with poverty, hunger, homelessness, or other ills that affect our young people. But the facts about the impact of great teaching are too powerful to ignore....
The linkage between education, or a lack thereof, and incarceration is powerful. More than two-thirds of state prison inmates are high school dropouts. And an African-American male between the ages of 20 and 24 without a high school diploma or GED has a higher chance of being imprisoned than of being employed.
Today, our schools suspend roughly three and a half million kids a year, and refer a quarter of a million children to the police each year. And the patterns are even more troubling for children of color — particularly boys — and for students with disabilities.
We cannot lay our incarceration crisis at the door of our schools. But we have to do our part to end the school to prison pipeline. That's going to force us to have difficult conversations about race, which I'll get to in a moment.
But I want to start by talking about bold new steps our states and cities can take to get great teachers in front of our neediest kids. It's hardly a secret that it's challenging to recruit and keep fantastic teachers in the schools where the needs are greatest. The rewards of that work are extraordinary — but it's an incredibly hard job.
So here's an idea for how you put a new emphasis on schools rather than jails. If our states and localities took just half the people convicted of nonviolent crimes and found paths for them other than incarceration, they would save upwards of $15 billion a year.
If they reinvested that money into paying the teachers who are working in our highest-need schools and communities — they could provide a 50 percent average salary increase to every single one of them. Specifically, if you focused on the 20 percent of schools with the highest poverty rates in each state, that would give you 17,640 schools — and the money would go far enough to increase salaries by at least 50 percent.
I've long said great teachers deserve to be paid far more. With a move like this, we'd not just make a bet on education over incarceration, we'd signal the beginning of a long-range effort to pay our nation's teachers what they are worth. That sort of investment wouldn't just make teachers and struggling communities feel more valued. It would have ripple effects on our economy and our civic life. ...
There are lots of ways to go about this, and ultimately, local leaders and educators will know what's best for their community. But the bottom line is that we must do more to ensure that more strong teachers go to our toughest schools.
Right now, in far too many places, glaring and unconscionable funding gaps create all the wrong incentives. To take just one example — and there are many — the Ferguson-Florissant school district in Missouri spends about $9,000 per student. Eleven miles away, in Clayton, funding is about double, at $18,000 per student. How is that a plan to give kids a fair start?...
Let's invest more in the adults who have dedicated their professional careers to helping young people reach their full potential. And let's place a new emphasis on our young people as contributors to a stronger society, not inmates to pay for and warehouse.
I'm not naïve about doing all of this overnight. And for those already in the system, we can't just walk away from them — we also have to invest in education, career training, treatment, and support programs that help young people who are already involved in the criminal justice system become contributing members of our society. That's why we are starting the Second Chance Pell program, to give those who are incarcerated a better chance at going to college.
To be totally clear, I'll repeat that we are talking about savings that come from alternative paths that involve only nonviolent offenders. This is not about being soft on dangerous criminals — this is about finding ways, consistent with wise criminal justice policies, to reapportion our resources so we prevent crime in the first place....
I'm convinced that making a historic bet on getting it right from the start would pay massive returns for our families, our communities, our society and our nation's economy. According to a 2009 McKinsey report, the achievement gap between us and other top-performing nations is depriving the U.S. economy of more than $2 trillion in economic output every year.
A separate study found that a 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates would reduce murder and assault arrest rates by approximately 20 percent. And a one percent increase in male graduation rates would save up to $1.4 billion in the social costs of incarceration. So you don't have to be a liberal romantic to like the idea of investing up front in our kids. A hard-nosed look at the bottom line will take you to the same place.
I recognize that what I've just laid before you is ambitious. But, if we're serious about eliminating the "school to prison pipeline," a shift in funding is only part of what we need to do. In truth, there's a lot more we need to get right....
Taking the essential steps to expand what we know works in education should be a no-brainer. But there's more to it than just budgets and policies. Perhaps the hardest step of all is taking an unsparing look at our own attitudes and decisions, and the ways they are tied to race and class. In the wake of Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere, this has become a central discussion for many in America, and rightly so — if belatedly. Those of us in education cannot afford to sit back.
Let's recognize, up front, that this is among the hardest conversations we can have in education. People enter this field out of love for students and the genuine desire to see them excel and thrive. Yet we also know that suspension, expulsion and expectations for learning track too closely with race and class.
As the author Ta-Nehisi Coates recently pointed out, our high rates of incarceration, our high numbers of high school dropouts, and our high rates of child poverty are not unrelated problems....
It's difficult work, challenging centuries of institutionalized racism and class inequality. But I firmly believe a hard look at ourselves is an essential part of becoming the nation we strive to be — one of liberty and opportunity, regardless of the circumstances of your birth.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
New papers looking closely (and differently) at offender-based sentencing considerations
I just noticed via SSRN these two new papers that take very different approaches to considering offender-based factors at sentencing:
First-Time Offender, Productive Offender, Offender with Dependants: Why the Profile of Offenders (Sometimes) Matters in Sentencing by Mirko Bagaric and Theo Alexander
Evidence-Based Sentencing: Public Openness and Opposition to Using Gender, Age, and Race as Risk Factors for Recidivism by Nicholas Scurich and John Monahan
#BESTEA: "Will the Supreme Court 'peck away at' capital punishment?"
The title of this post is has my silly new SCOTUS hashtag along with the headline of this new ABA Journal article previewing the death penalty cases that the Supreme Court will hear in the next few weeks as it starts #BESTEA. (This silly hashtag is explained in this prior post.) Here is an excerpt:
On Oct. 7, the court will hear arguments in cases from Kansas that raise procedural questions. The key question is whether the Eighth Amendment requires that a jury considering a death sentence be given explicit instructions pointing out that mitigating circumstances do not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Kansas Supreme Court concluded that such an instruction was required, and the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review Kansas v. Gleason and Kansas v. Carr.
On Oct. 13, the justices are scheduled to hear arguments in Hurst v. Florida, another case that addresses death penalty sentencing procedures. In Florida, a defendant may not be sentenced to death without a factual finding of at least one aggravating factor. The jury weighs aggravating and mitigating factors, and it makes a recommendation to the trial judge about whether death should be imposed. The jury’s recommendation need not be unanimous. But Florida law also requires the judge to independently weigh aggravating and mitigating factors. The judge must give the jury’s recommendation “great weight” under state precedents, but he or she can override the recommendation in extraordinary circumstances.
"Heroin, Murder, and the New Front in the War on Drugs"
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy and effective new Vice article. Here are excerpts:
It can be tough to find a true villain among the legions using and selling opioids, two groups that often overlap. This is especially true given that for many, heroin use was preceded by the abuse of widely-prescribed opioids like OxyContin, which as of 2013, was responsible for more deaths than heroin....
But prosecutors across America are dusting off old statutes to pursue full-fledged murder charges against dealers and even fellow users and friends who pass or sell heroin to a person who then dies of an overdose. Possible sentences include life without parole. The law-and-order crackdown is taking place at a moment when prominent figures in both major parties are, for the first time in decades, seriously considering reducing a jail and prison population that has grown to well more than 2 million — and curbing a war on drugs that has persistently failed to dampen the appetite for the stuff....
So far, the number of such charges that have been filed, and the criteria by which prosecutors are deciding to use them, remain murky. The phenomenon has received little attention from legal scholars and activists, and the charges have surprised defense lawyers who end up handling the cases....
So far, it seems like plenty of smalltime hook-ups are getting caught in the fray. In September 2013, Joseph L. Robinson, an Illinois man living near near St. Louis, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for selling a man who later died two-tenths of a gram of heroin — for $30. Jim Porter, a spokesperson for Southern District of Illinois US Attorney Stephen Wigginton, says there was nothing else that made the crime particularly heinous. If there had been, he says, the sentence could have been even longer.
The prosecutions also run counter to the widespread adoption of harm-reduction policies like equipping first responders with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, as well as "good Samaritan" laws, which offer limited legal protection to people who call 9-1-1 to report a drug-related medical emergency. But those laws typically offer immunity from low-level possession charges and not for drug dealing, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — let alone for drug-related murder charges. Prosecutors hope that harsh charges will deter dealers and keep drugs away from users, but they could also convince drug addicts to flee the scene and leave someone dying on the floor.
The charges could even encourage violence on the part of dealers determined to silence informants. "To bring punitive criminal justice responses to these situations will not prevent the underlying concern and will likely only exacerbate the situation due to those involved not speaking to police or emergency personnel, or even becoming violent to avoid such charges," Art Way, Colorado director for the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization critical of the drug war, writes in an email. "Much of the violence involved in and around the drug trade involves the intimidating or killing of informants or those considered to be informants."...
In the Cleveland and Toledo area, Steven Dettelbach, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, is charging dealers under a federal law that potentially carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence for a drug-dealing offense resulting in death or serious injury—and mandatory life for someone with a prior felony drug conviction. In Cuyahoga County, there were 198 heroin-related deaths in 2014, according to the Northeast Ohio Media Group. "Federal penalties are extremely serious, and the people who are out there dealing what amounts to poison need to get the message that this is going to be treated like a homicide," Dettelbach tells VICE in an interview.
Though former Attorney General Eric Holder instructed federal prosecutors to pursue harsh mandatory minimums more judiciously in 2013, that doesn't mean they won't seek long sentences for drug crimes, according to Dettelbach. Rather, he says his office is focusing such charges on the most serious of offenders, particularly those dealing heroin mixed with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has been linked to many overdose deaths. "The fentanyl issue is actually now becoming more acute than the straight heroin issue," Dettelbach says. "In my mind, I will just tell you it's hard to be a dealer in fentanyl and claim that you don't know its going to kill some people."
Federal prosecutors in states around the country, including Oregon, Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, are filing these kinds of charges in response to opioid deaths. In Southern Illinois, Porter says that their office began to file such charges after Wigginton's 2010 appointment, and that he has so far won 11 convictions. In July, a federal judge in Kentucky sentenced a man to life without parole for dealing oxycodone to a user who died; that district's US Attorney's Office said it was "the first time in Kentucky that a life sentence was imposed in an overdose death case involving prescription drugs."...
State prosecutors also appear to be pursuing harsh charges with growing frequency. In Wisconsin, prosecutors charged 71 people with first-degree reckless homicide by drug delivery in 2013, an increase from 47 in 2012, according to USA Today.
In New Jersey, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato has made these sorts of charges a focus, and his office is training police around the state on how to investigate heroin-related deaths. "We kind of call it our checkmate charge," says Al Della Fave, a spokesperson....
State and federal laws don't limit these charges to major dealers, or to those who act with malicious intent. In New Orleans, Chelcie Schleben and her reported ex-boyfriend Joshua Lore currently face life without parole for the February 2014 fatal overdose "murder" of 23-year-old Kody Woods. The charges are severe "even by extreme Louisiana standards," says Stephen Singer, a professor at Loyola Law School and Schleben's lawyer.
Louisiana already has the highest number of nonviolent offenders serving life without parole, according to a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report, and state drug sentences tend to be extraordinarily harsh. Last year, Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation lengthening the possible sentence for repeat heroin dealers to 99 years.
In Charleston, West Virginia, prosecutors have charged Steven Craig Coleman with murder in connection with a February heroin-related death. Rico Moore, Coleman's lawyer, is mystified by the charges. "He's a drug user," Moore says. "He's not as they allege—he's not a drug dealer... It makes absolutely no sense to punish someone who's an addict." According to Moore, Coleman's opioid addiction stems from his abuse of lawfully-prescribed drugs. Coleman is poor, he says, his mother died from drug use, and his father is an addict....
In Ohio, prosecutors don't yet have the ability to seek the harshest penalties available under state law for these deaths—but they want them. Last September, Hamilton County Prosecutor County prosecutor Joseph T. Deters announced involuntary manslaughter charges for involvement in a fatal intoxication, the first time, according to their office, such charges had been filed in county history. Deters took the opportunity to complain that the the law should "be strengthened to allow us to charge these kinds of cases as murder... If the law is changed, drug dealers would then be facing the possibility of life in prison for selling the drugs that take too many lives."
Last year, legislation to that effect passed the state house in Ohio with Attorney General Mike DeWine's enthusiastic support. Republican State Rep. Jim Butler, who introduced the legislation, plans to reintroduce a bill altered to better ensure that mere users are not the ones prosecuted for deaths. But he wants to tack on an increase in sentences for drug trafficking as well. "I think what we need to do is be tougher on drug traffickers and be more compassionate to drug users," he says.
Monday, September 28, 2015
A busy (and diverse) week for execution plans and capital concerns
Over the next three days, three condemned murderers are scheduled to be executed in three different states, and in each case a different pitch is being made to try to halt the execution. Here are the basics:
Tuesday, September 29: Georgia is scheduled to execute Kelly Gissendaner, who would be the first woman executed by the state in 70 years. She was convicted in February 1997 of conspiring with her lover to kill her husband. (The lover, who took a plea deal and testified against Gissendaner, is serving a life sentence and he will be eligible for parole in 2022.) The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles announced today it would consider additional pleas for clemency at a hearing the morning of the scheduled executions.
Wednesday, September 30: Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Richard Glossip, who was the lead litigant in the challenge to Oklahoma's execution protocol which a divided Supreme Court rejected in Glossip v. Gross. He was convicted (again) a 2004 retrial of conspiring with a co-worker to kill their boss. (The co-worker, who took a plea deal and testified against Glossip, is serving an LWOP sentence.) The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, in a split vote today, declined to halt Glossip's execution after having delayed it earlier this month based principally on renewed claims of Glossip's innocence.
Thursday, Oct 1: Virginia is scheduled to execution Alfredo Prieto, who is a foreign national and whose guilt in a number of killings seems to be uncontested. He was first sent to California's death row for the rape/murder of a teenage girl before being transferred and sentenced to death in Virginia five years ago for the 1988 killing of two college students. His lawyers assert he is intellectually disabled and apparently want him sent back to California to have his disability claim considered on the other coast.
For the sake of assessing my ability to prognosticate in the capital arena, I will on Monday predict that at least one, perhaps two, but not all three of these executions will be completed this week. Anyone else care to make predictions about any or all of these cases on the eve of what will surely be a mid-week full of capital conversations and litigation.
Are we about to start the #Best Ever SCOTUS Term for Eighth Amendment?
The silly question in the title of this post is my effort to coin a silly hashtag (#BESTEA = Best Ever SCOTUS Term for Eighth Amendment) for the start of a new Supreme Court Term in which a number of notable Eighth Amendment cases/issues are set to occupy the Justices. Over at SCOTUSblog, Rory Little provides this effective preview of what #BESTEA is all about in this lengthy post titled "As the 2015 Term opens: The Court’s unusual Eighth Amendment focus." I recommend reading Rory's post in full, and here is just a taste (with links from original):
Last June, the Supreme Court’s Term ended not with the same-sex marriage opinions (announced three days earlier), but rather with Justice Stephen Breyer’s surprising and comprehensive opinion (joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) in Glossip v. Gross, which announced that both Justices now “believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.” Justice Antonin Scalia responded that if the Court were to grant merits review on that question, then he correspondingly “would ask that counsel also brief whether” longstanding Eighth Amendment precedents, “beginning with Trop [v. Dulles (1958)], should be overruled.” Meanwhile, in the Glossip argument, Justice Samuel Alito had candidly described the many aspects of capital litigation as “guerilla war against the death penalty,” while Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan had remarked that the Court was being asked to approve an execution method akin to “being burned alive.” Needless to say, the Justices are deeply divided about the meaning and application of the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause.
Which makes it all the more interesting that in the Term that will open on October 5, five of the thirty-four cases in which the Court has granted review involve Eighth Amendment issues, four of them the death penalty. All five cases will be argued in the first three argument weeks of the Term (four in October, and the fifth on November 2). One can expect that the smoldering embers of the Glossip debate will be quickly reignited. This Term may be the biggest Eighth Amendment term in forty years (since Gregg v. Georgia in 1976).
Here is a quick rundown of what is coming up:
1. Gleason and Carr — October 7...
2. Kansas v. Carr and Carr (Question 2) — October 7...
3. Montgomery v. Louisiana — October 13...
4. Hurst v. Florida — October 13...
5. Foster v. Chatman (Warden) — November 2...
After the Justices’ “long Conference” on September 28, at which they will address hundreds of cert petitions that have piled up since the summer recess began, the Court will announce review in a number of new cases of great import. Some may well divert attention from what appears to be an unusual focus on Eighth Amendment cases and questions. But the granting and argument of five Eighth Amendment cases to open the Supreme Court’s 2015 Term signals, I think, the deep cultural (as well as economic and federalism) concerns that Americans in general seem to have regarding capital punishment. In at least some of these cases — with that of the Carr brothers being the best example — there seems to be no doubt about guilt. The horrific character of multiple rapes and murders is undeniable. Yet in Carr, while affirming the defendants’ guilt, the Kansas Supreme Court nonetheless found reason to vacate their death sentences. Such cases thus starkly showcase the divergent views on the Eighth Amendment — and a nine-Justice Court is not different in this regard from much of America. So stay tuned for what may be the most dramatic Supreme Court discussion of Eighth Amendment values since its re-affirmation of capital punishment statutes long before the Justices’ law clerks were born.
In part because I want a short-hand way to describe all these cases, and in part because I am a sill fool, I am likely to turn #BESTEA into an on-going meme in this bloggy space as the Supreme Court Term kicks off. If readers like the idea, I hope folks will tell me so in the comments and perhaps join me in using this short-hand. And if you hate the idea, perhaps I will grow to as well.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Wisconsin appeals court urges state's top court to review use of risk-assessment software at sentencing
This local article, headlined "Court may review use of defendant-risk tool," reports on a Wisconsin appellate court ruling that has urged the state's top court to consider a challenge to the use of risk-asssesment at sentencing. Hetre are the details:
Wisconsin's highest court could decide whether judges are violating thousands of criminal defendants' rights by using specialized software to assess whether they are a risk to society.
Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions, or COMPAS assessments, are routinely used by judges in all Wisconsin counties, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab. The tool is intended to help judges determine the risk a defendant presents to the community as well as the potential to commit another crime. Judges use the results to help decide whether a defendant should be sentenced to prison or instead offered alternative sentences such as probation.
Questions arose after a 2013 La Crosse County case, when Circuit Judge Scott Horne relied in part on a COMPAS assessment to decide that Eric Loomis was not eligible for probation. At sentencing, the judge said the assessment suggested Loomis presented a high risk to commit another crime, according to court records. Loomis, who was convicted of taking and driving a vehicle without the owner's consent and fleeing an officer, was sentenced to six years in prison.
Loomis appealed, questioning the scientific validity of the assessment. Attorneys for Loomis assert that COMPAS was not developed to assist sentencing decisions, but to determine program needs for offenders, according to court records. Proprietary rights held by the company that developed the tool prohibit defendants from challenging the assessment's methodology, leaving Loomis and other defendants with little recourse, according to court filings. The Loomis appeal also questions the use of gender-specific questions during the assessment to help determine potential risk. Federal civil rights laws prohibit courts from relying on gender when making sentencing decisions.
The appeals court opted not to rule in the case, instead asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter. Although judges are given training on how to use COMPAS, the appeals court is asking the higher court to decide whether using the tool violates defendants' rights, either because defendants are not allowed to challenge the scientific basis of the assessments or because gender is taken into consideration. "There is a compelling argument that judges make better sentencing decisions with the benefit of evidence-based tools such as COMPAS,” the Court of Appeals wrote in a Sept. 17 filing. “Yet, if those tools lack scientific validity, or if defendants cannot test the validity of those tools, due process questions arise.”
The software-based assessment, created by Colorado-based Northpointe Inc., eliminates the need for judges and corrections officers to rely on manual assessment procedures, which are often more subjective and discretionary, to assess risk. Wisconsin began using the assessment more than four years ago, Staab said.
The referenced appellate court certification opinion is available at this link, and it begins this way:
We certify this appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide whether the right to due process prohibits circuit courts from relying on COMPAS assessments when imposing sentence. More specifically, we certify whether this practice violates a defendant’s right to due process, either because the proprietary nature of COMPAS prevents defendants from challenging the COMPAS assessment’s scientific validity, or because COMPAS assessments take gender into account. Given the widespread use of COMPAS assessments, we believe that prompt supreme court review of the matter is needed.
First Circuit panel reverses stat max drug sentence based on co-defendant disparity
A panel of the First Circuit handed down a lengthy and significant sentncing opinion yesterday in US v. Reyes-Santiago, No. 12-2372 (1st Cir. Sept. 23, 2015) (available here). Here is how the majority opinion begins:
Appellant Jorge Reyes-Santiago ("Reyes") was among 110 defendants charged in a two-count indictment with drug and firearms offenses arising from a massive drug ring operating in public housing projects in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Most of the high-level members of the conspiracy, Reyes among them, pled guilty pursuant to plea agreements. Other than for Reyes, the sentences imposed on Count One, the drug count, ranged from 78 months to 324 months, the latter imposed on the chieftain of the enterprise. Reyes received the stiffest Count One sentence: 360 months. In this appeal, he seeks resentencing on Count One on three grounds: the government's alleged breach of his plea agreement, the sentencing court's alleged inappropriate conduct in demanding witness testimony, and the disparity between his sentence and those of similarly situated co-defendants. Reyes also claims the district court erred in ordering a 24-month consecutive sentence for his violation of supervised release conditions imposed in an earlier case.
We find merit in the disparity argument. Ultimately, in sentencing the lead conspirators, the district court refused to accept stipulated drug amounts only for Reyes, listed as Defendant #9 in the indictment, and for the conspiracy's kingpin, Defendant #1. Although sentencing courts have the discretion to reject recommendations made in plea agreements, and need not uniformly accept or reject such stipulations for co-defendants, they nonetheless must impose sentences along a spectrum that makes sense, given the co-defendants' criminal conduct and other individual circumstances. In this case, after reviewing Presentence Investigation Reports ("PSRs") and sentencing transcripts for the leaders in the conspiracy, we conclude that the rationale offered by the district court for the substantial disparity between Reyes's sentence and the sentences of others above him in the conspiracy's hierarchy is unsupported by the record. We therefore must remand this case to the district court for reconsideration of Reyes's sentence.
"Johnson v. United States and the Future of the Void-for-Vagueness Doctrine"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Carissa Byrne Hessick now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Last Term, in Johnson v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Armed Career Criminal Act as unconstitutionally vague. The Johnson opinion is certain to have a large impact on federal criminal defendants charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm. But it is also likely to have other important consequences. The language deemed vague in Johnson is similar or identical to language in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and other statutes. What is more, the Johnson opinion elaborates on the void-for-vagueness doctrine in important ways. Those elaborations ought to make vagueness challenges easier to win in the future.
This Commentary examines the implications of Johnson. It also briefly discusses Justice Thomas’s concurrence. Justice Thomas refused to join the majority opinion, instead opting to decide the case in Johnson’s favor on statutory construction grounds. In addition to his statutory construction analysis, Justice Thomas questioned the constitutional basis of the void-for-vagueness doctrine. Justice Thomas’s approach to the vagueness doctrine, if adopted by other members of the Court, could eviscerate the notice function of the doctrine.
Monday, September 21, 2015
Eleventh Circuit panel categorically rejects Johnson vagueness attack on career offender guidelines
In this prior post a few days after the US Supreme Court ruled that a key clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act violated "the Constitution’s prohibition of vague criminal laws" in Johnson v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2551 (2015) (available here), I flagged the possibility that Johnson could impact past, present and future sentencings pursuant to the career offender guideline of the US Sentencing Guidelines.
Since then, I believe that the Department of Justice has consistently conceded Johnson-based constitutional problems with the existing career offender guideline because the key phrase found vague in Johnson is also used in the guideline definition of a career offender. In addition, as noted in this post from last month, the US Sentencing Commission has proposed amending the career offender guideline to eliminate the Johnson-problematic definition of a crime of violence. And I believe at least a few appellate rulings have assumed without deciding that Johnson creates problems for existing career offender guideline sentencing.
But today an Eleventh Circuit panel in US v. Matchett, No. 14-10396 (Sept. 21, 2015) (available here), squarely addresses this issue and rules that Johnson and its vagueness problem just do not apply to advisory sentencing guidelines. Here is how the Matchett opinion gets started:
This appeal presents an issue of first impression for this Court: whether the vagueness doctrine of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to the advisory Sentencing Guidelines. Calvin Matchett pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and now challenges both the denial of his motion to suppress the firearm and the calculation of his sentence. Police Officer Jesse Smith stopped Matchett when he saw Matchett carrying a flat-screen television in a residential neighborhood on a weekday morning. After speaking with Matchett, Officer Smith frisked him based on his confrontational demeanor and the risk that he had a burglary tool that could be used as a weapon. When Officer Smith found a loaded handgun in Matchett’s pocket, Matchett fought with Officer Smith for over three minutes in an attempt to flee. The district court did not err when it denied Matchett’s motion to suppress. It also correctly determined that Matchett’s previous convictions for burglary of an unoccupied dwelling were crimes of violence and that Matchett’s resistance created a substantial risk of death or bodily injury in the course of fleeing from a law enforcement officer. We reject Matchett’s argument that the definition of “crime of violence” in the Sentencing Guidelines is unconstitutionally vague in light of Johnson v. United States, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015). The vagueness doctrine applies only to laws that prohibit conduct and fix punishments, not advisory guidelines. We affirm.
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)?
Sunday, September 20, 2015
"Risk Assessment in Criminal Sentencing"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by John Monahan and Jennifer Skeem now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The past several years have seen a surge of interest in using risk assessment in criminal sentencing, both to reduce recidivism by incapacitating or treating high-risk offenders and to reduce prison populations by diverting low-risk offenders from prison. We begin by sketching jurisprudential theories of sentencing, distinguishing those that rely on risk assessment from those that preclude it. We then characterize and illustrate the varying roles that risk assessment may play in the sentencing process.
We clarify questions regarding the various meanings of “risk” in sentencing and the appropriate time to assess the risk of convicted offenders. We conclude by addressing four principal problems confronting risk assessment in sentencing: conflating risk and blame, barring individual inferences based on group data, failing adequately to distinguish risk assessment from risk reduction, and ignoring whether, and if so, how, the use of risk assessment in sentencing affects racial and economic disparities in imprisonment.
"Mass Incarceration Has Become the New Welfare"
The title of this post is headline of this interesting recent Atlantic commentary authored by Alex Lichenstein. It is, in part, a response to this major Altantic piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates, titled "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration," but it has lots more too it. Here are excerpts:
When Ta-Nehisi Coates says that America’s bloated and enormously expensive dependence on imprisonment has created a “social service program … for a whole class of people,” he hits the nail on the head. Perhaps correctional expenditures — police, courts, jails, prisons, halfway houses, parole offices, and all the rest — are better classified as “welfare” expenditures.
Mass incarceration is not just (or even mainly) a response to crime, but rather a perverse form of social spending that uses state power to address a host of social problems at the back end, from poverty to drug addiction to misbehavior in school. These are problems that voters, taxpayers, and politicians — especially white voters, taxpayers, and politicians — seem unwilling to address in any other way. And even as this spending exacts a toll on those it targets, it confers economic benefits on others, creating employment in white rural areas, an enormous government-sponsored market in prison supplies, and cheap labor for businesses. This is what the historian Mike Davis once called “carceral keynesianism.”
What created this system? Coates suggests that 50 years ago policymakers and pundits refused to heed — or willfully misread — Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dire warnings about the dissolution of the “Negro family” and his rather inchoate “case for national action.” Rather than redressing the problem of racism and “Negro” poverty, instead they turned to the expansion of a criminal justice system in the name of “law and order.” Although Coates is justifiably hard on Moynihan — for his sexism and faith in patriarchy, for his subsequent reactionary politics, and most of all for lacking the courage of his convictions — like the historian Daniel Geary, he sees the Moynihan of 1965 as a closet supporter of affirmative action.
But, in characteristic fashion, he goes beyond this, asking readers to think in new ways about disturbing phenomena that they may take for granted. Bringing together Moynihan’s concerns about black family structure with the cold fact of mass incarceration produces a striking conclusion: Mass incarceration actually causes crime. In its long-term impact on the black family, mass incarceration has many of the disintegrative effects that Moynihan attributed to slavery. It certainly has a similar multigenerational impact; the children of imprisoned people have a much higher chance of themselves being incarcerated as adults....
The terrible failures of America’s criminal-justice system can actually, from a certain perspective, be seen as policy successes. The high rate of recidivism suggests that prisons fail to rehabilitate those who are locked up. Yet if two-thirds of parolees return to prison, perhaps it is because the economy offers them no jobs and the welfare state excludes them as ex-felons. Their return to the social services provided by incarceration, from this angle, makes a degree of sense. And the point of Coates’s essay is that these people the economy has no room for and the state is unwilling to care for are, as they have always been, disproportionately of African descent....
Coates is right: To reform criminal justice requires “reforming the institutional structure, the communities, and the politics that surround it.” Mustering the requisite political and social resolve to make those changes may seem impossible. But consider this: How would the nation react if one out of every four white men between the ages of 20 and 35 spent time in prison?
Friday, September 18, 2015
Shouldn't former federal judge Mark Fuller now be federally prosecuted for perjury?
The question in the title of this post prompted by this new AP article, headlined "Judicial Conference says former federal judge's conduct was reprehensible, impeachable." Here are the details:
Judicial investigators told Congress this week that a former federal judge — arrested last year on a domestic violence charge — had demonstrated "reprehensible conduct" and there was evidence that he abused his wife several times and made false statements to the committee reviewing his behavior.
The Judicial Conference of the United States, in a report to Congress this week, said former U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama brought disrepute to the federal judiciary and that his conduct might have warranted impeachment if he had not resigned this summer.
In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee [which can be accessed here], the Judicial Conference noted Fuller's resignation, but said the severity of Fuller's misconduct and its finding of perjury led it to turn the information over to Congress for whatever action lawmakers deem necessary. "This certification may also serve as a public censure of Judge Fuller's reprehensible conduct, which has no doubt brought disrepute to the Judiciary and cannot constitute the 'good behavior' required of a federal judge," Judicial Conference Secretary James C. Duff wrote in a Sept. 11 letter to House Speaker John Boehner....
The Judicial Conference wrote that there was substantial evidence that the judge "physically abused Kelli Fuller at least eight times, both before and after they married, which included and culminated in the assault that took place on Aug. 9, 2014, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia." The conference wrote that Fuller denied under oath to the investigating committee that he ever hit, punched or kicked his wife, and that the investigating committee considered those to be false statements. The Judicial Conference also cited a separate incident, on which it did not elaborate, saying Fuller in 2010 made a false statement to the chief judge that caused a disruption in operations and a loss of public confidence in the court.
The House committee is not releasing the full report, which contains some sensitive victim information. Fuller was placed on leave after his arrest. In May, he announced that he was resigning effective Aug. 1. The Judicial Council of the U.S. 11th Circuit at the time said Fuller's actions might have warranted impeachment, but the reasons for the determination were not released until this week.
Fuller was appointed to the bench in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush. He is perhaps best known for presiding over the 2006 public corruption trial of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.
As celebrity white-collar attorneys surely recall, in recent times a number of prominent public figures ranging from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to Marion Jones to 'Lil Kim to Scooter Libby have been federally prosecuted for alleged acts of perjury that seems far less serious and consequential than what the Judicial Conference has found former judge Mark Fuller committed. Absent some prominent explanation for why a federal perjury prosecution would not be worthwhile in this setting, I will be mighty disappointed and a bit concerned if Fuller does not face sanctions for his apparent criminal behavior in this matter. (Critically, I am not — at least not yet — asserting that Fuller should be imprisoned for his lying under oath to cover up his misbehavior and stay in his position as a federal judge. But I am saying (former state DA prosecutor) Fuller ought to at least face federal criminal charges and be subject to the heat that comes with a formal federal prosecution.)
Ohio judges pushing for "truth in plea bargaining"
My Columbus Disptach this morning has this notable new article about a notable new push for a new criminal procedure rule concerning plea bargaining practices here in the Buckeye state. The article is headlined "Plea deals must reflect crime committed, judges demand," and here are excerpts:
Judge Michael P. Donnelly had seen enough by the time his spreadsheet of plea deals in sexual-assault cases reached nearly 200. In each case, the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser crime that bore no factual resemblance to what occurred, allowing many to avoid sex-offender registration requirements.
Many rape cases involved pleas to aggravated assault, a crime involving serious bodily harm in which the defendant was provoked by the victim — a scenario common in a drunken bar fight but wildly inconsistent with rape. “It’s sidestepping the truth. It’s legal fiction, nothing more than a lie,” said Donnelly, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge. “No one can defend this process. There is no ethical defense.”
With Donnelly leading the charge for change, the Ohio Supreme Court — unless legislators object — could amend court rules to require charges in felony plea deals to be factually based — to reflect what actually occurred. “Ending the charade” would promote transparency and foster public accountability in the justice system, Donnelly said. “We can be allowing pleas to something that everyone knows didn’t happen.”
The court’s rules commission has advanced the proposal by moving to seek public comment on the changes in Criminal Rule 11 as part of the early steps of a lengthy process leading to approval or rejection. The Ohio Judicial Conference, which represents the state’s judges, is on board with the change, calling “often convenient” plea agreements “contrary to the objectives of the justice system.”
Advocates for sexual-assault victims also support the change, saying pleas to lesser, unrelated offenses leave victims’ trauma unacknowledged and victims feeling “like the justice system let them down.”
Criminal-defense lawyers oppose the change, saying that it would unfairly limit their options in representing criminal defendants and could increase the number of cases going to trial. “While (plea deals) may be factually incorrect, from a justice perspective it is the right thing to do,” said Ohio Public Defender Timothy Young. “We have punishments that are not proportional to everyone who commits a crime because not every crime, while of the same name, is of the same nature.”
Barry Wilford, public-policy co-director of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said, “Truth in plea bargaining is an easily stated expression, but it begs the question, ‘What is the truth?’ ” Prosecutors and defense lawyers, with the ultimate approval of judges, “have to have some freedom, some negotiating room. ... There’s give and take by both sides. Each side has its objectives. The law should permit them that liberty,” Wilford said.
Donnelly’s study of 197 cases between 2008 and 2012 that resulted in plea agreements that he determined were not based on the facts represented only about 5 percent of the 3,700 sexual-assault cases handled in Cuyahoga County, an official said. “Sometimes, you take the sure thing to get someone off the street and hold them accountable,” said Joseph Frolik, spokesman for Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who took office in 2013.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien agrees with Donnelly that plea deals “should resemble what the conduct was.” He and his assistants work to base plea agreements on the factual circumstances of cases and preserve sex-offender registration, often by using lesser and included “attempted” offenses, such as attempted rape, he said. “It’s been on everyone’s radar for a number of years. Anyone who has been doing it to an improper degree probably already has changed that practice,” O’Brien said.
Greene County Common Pleas Judge Stephen A. Wolaver leads the Ohio Supreme Court’s criminal-rules committee and believes truth-in-plea-agreements should be adopted to foster public confidence in courts. “If you are going to handle a case based on the fact a person committed a crime, transparency says they should have committed that crime. If there is no fact basis for a particular crime, the question is raised, ‘Was there actually justice?’ ” Wolaver asked.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Prez Candidate Bernie Sanders announces plan to restore federal parole and eliminate private prisons
As reported in this new USA Today piece, headlined "Sanders seeks to ban private prisons," a US Senator on the presidential campaign trail has come out with a distinctive and ambitious criminal justice reform proposal. Here are the basics:
Sen. Bernie Sanders said he hopes to end the “private, for-profit prison racket” with the introduction Thursday of bills to ban private prisons, reinstate the federal parole system and eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants held in detention.
The Vermont independent, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced the “Justice is not for Sale Act” with Democratic Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Bobby L. Rush of Illinois. It would bar the federal government from contracting with private incarceration companies starting two years after passage.
“The profit motivation of private companies running prisons works at cross purposes with the goals of criminal justice,” Sanders said. “Criminal justice and public safety are without a doubt the responsibility of the citizens of our country, not private corporations. They should be carried out by those who answer to voters, not those who answer to investors.”...
Ellison said the private-prison industry spends millions each year lobbying for harsher sentencing laws and immigration policies that serve its bottom line. “Incarceration should be about rehabilitation and public safety, not profit,” he said.
The legislation would reinstate the federal parole system, abolished in 1984, and increase oversight of companies that provide banking and telephone services for inmates. It also would end the requirement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintain 34,000 detention beds.
Sanders said the bill represents only a piece of the major criminal justice reforms he believes are needed, but he’s convinced the issue can find bipartisan support. “Making sure that corporations are not profiteering from the incarceration of fellow Americans is an important step forward.”
The full text of the Justice is Not for Sale Act of 2015 can be accessed at this link, and it is a very interesting read. Perhaps not surprisingly, the media is so far focused on the provisions of the bill seeking to eliminate use of private prisons. But I think the provisions in the bill that are the most important and could be, by far, the most consequential are those that would reintroduce parole in the federal system.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Oklahoma's top criminal court stays execution of Richard Glossip for two weeks
As reported in local news pieces here and here, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin late yesterday refused to delay today's scheduled execution of Richard Glossip amid concerns about his factual guilt. But today the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution for death row inmate Richard Glossip. Here are the basics:
Just before 12 p.m. Wednesday, a stay has been granted for him until September 30. Late Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Mary Fallin said she will not grant Glossip a stay of execution. Just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, Glossip’s attorneys filed the appeal with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. It's their last avenue to stop the execution.
Court documents released on Wednesday stated that, "Due to Glossip's last minute filing, and in order for this court to give fair consideration to the materials included with his subsequent application for post-conviction relief, we hereby grant an emergency stay of execution for two weeks. The execution of Richard Eugene Glossip shall be reset, without further order, for September 30, 2015."
During a news conference on Wednesday, the Director of Oklahoma Department of Corrections said he does not know the reasons behind the stay, and that at this time, they are shutting down all procedures.
Prior related post:
- New gossip about claim of innocence in Glossip
- Does Glossip case reveal Oklahoma's prosecutors as immoral and its judges lacking in moral fiber?
Attorney for Dylann Roof, Charleston church mass murderer, suggests plea to avoid death sentence
As reported in this local piece, headlined "Accused gunman in Charleston church shooting proposes guilty plea," a high-profile mass murderer is apparently prepared to cut a plea deal to try to avoid a state capital prosecution. Here are the details and context:
An attorney for the man accused of gunning down nine people at a historic black church in South Carolina said on Wednesday his client is willing to plead guilty to state murder charges if the move would spare him a death sentence.
A guilty plea by Dylann Roof, 21, in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole also would spare the victims' families and shooting survivors from the trauma of trial proceedings, attorney Bill McGuire said.
His remarks came during a hearing in Charleston over whether a judge will release 911 calls and police reports about the June 17 massacre during a Bible study meeting at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. Judge J.C. Nicholson in July blocked the release of investigative materials in the state's murder case against Roof, who is white, citing concerns about graphic photos of the crime scene and emergency calls that might have recorded the sounds of victims.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, who is prosecuting Roof in federal court, said the families and survivors were "re-traumatized" every time they heard, saw or read something about the killings. He argued for the documents, including coroner's reports and witness statements, to remain sealed. "It may take years before people are ready to see that," Williams said.
Jay Bender, an attorney for news organizations challenging the gag order, asked the judge to review documents and photos to decide whether some could be released. Media outlets have argued that transparency ensures a defendant's right to a fair trial. "There is an alternative to the imposition of a cloak of secrecy over what has happened in Charleston," Bender said....
In addition to state murder charges, Roof faces 33 federal hate crime and weapons charges that also could result in a death sentence but federal prosecutors have not said if they will pursue that in their case. The federal charges are based on evidence that Roof targeted the black victims because of their race and "in order to interfere with their exercise of religion," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.
A few prior related posts:
- Should it be the state or feds (or both!?!) that capitally prosecute racist mass murderer Dylann Storm Roof?
- Thanks to death penalty, one of worst racist mass murderers gets one of best defense lawyers
- South Carolina prosecutors begin pursuit of death penalty again Charleston church mass murderer
Split en banc Third Circuit struggles through how to review and assess Alleyne error
A decade ago, way back in the early Blakely and Booker days, this blog covered lots of cases dealing with lots of Sixth Amendment sentencing problems and circuit court efforts to sort through all the problems. Anyone with a continued fondness for the legal challenges and debates of that era will want to be sure to find the time to read today's work by the full Third Circuit in US v. Lewis, No. 10-2931 (3d Cir. Sept. 16, 2015) (available here). I will provide the highlights via the first paragraph from each of the three opinions.
Here is the start of the plurality opinion in Lewis:
Jermel Lewis was sentenced for a crime with a seven-year mandatory minimum — brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence — notwithstanding the fact that a jury had not convicted him of that crime. Instead, he had been convicted of the crime of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, which has a five-year mandatory minimum. Lewis was never even indicted for the crime of brandishing. In Alleyne v. United States, the Supreme Court held that this scenario, i.e., sentencing a defendant for an aggravated crime when he was indicted and tried only for a lesser crime, violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. 133 S. Ct. 2151, 2163-64 (2013). Even though that constitutional issue is settled, we still must address the issue of whether the error that transpired in this case was harmless. We conclude that the error was not harmless because it contributed to the sentence Lewis received. Accordingly, we will vacate Lewis’s sentence and remand for resentencing.
Here is the start of the concurring opinion in Lewis:
Jermel Lewis was charged with and convicted of using or carrying a firearm, but was eventually sentenced on the basis of a different, aggravated crime. Conviction of the aggravated crime would have required proof of an element unnecessary to a using or carrying offense: that Lewis had brandished a firearm. Lewis’s indictment did not charge him with brandishing, nor did the jury find that he had committed that crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet Lewis was subjected to the enhanced mandatory minimum sentence required for brandishing. I agree with the majority that this error demands resentencing; the new sentence should be based solely on the crime with which Lewis was actually charged and for which he was convicted. But I would hold that this error was structural and therefore reversible if properly preserved. Structural errors do not require a court to inquire into whether the error was harmless.
Here is the start of the dissenting opinion in Lewis:
The plurality finds that Jermel Lewis’s substantial rights were affected when he was sentenced to a seven-year mandatory minimum sentence for brandishing a weapon during a crime of violence, despite undisputed and overwhelming testimony that he pointed a gun at many people during a robbery. Though what occurred below was error, in my view, for the reasons explained in Judge Smith’s concurring opinion, the error occurred both at trial and at sentencing. So, upon a review of the uncontroverted evidence presented to the grand and petit juries, I would hold that the error was harmless.
Federal child porn downloaders complaining to judges about Jared Fogle's (too sweet?) plea deal
This local article from Indiana, headlined "Convicted sex offenders object to Fogle's proposed plea deal," reports that at least a couple of incarcerated federal child pornography offenders have written to a federal judge to complain about how federal prosecutors used their discretion to resolve sex offense charges against former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle. Here are the basics:
Sex offenders in prison right now around the country are writing the judge here in Indiana handling the Jared Fogle case, upset over his possible plea deal.
In the letters — one from an inmate in Tucson, the other from an inmate in Florida — both talk about the time they are serving for distribution of child pornography. One is serving a 40-year sentence, the other 16.5 years.
They are critical of Fogle's plea deal that could have him serve 5- to 12.5 years behind bars. They argue they are serving far more time for child pornography, and Fogle is also accused of having sex with underage girls. Both asked for the judge to deny the plea deal. Fogle's sentencing is set for November 19.
These two inmate letters make for fascinating reads and they can be accessed at this link. Among other stories, these letters provide an interesting perspective on how federal prosecutorial discretion can and does contribute to federal sentencing disparity and on how this disparity is perceived by those most impacted by it. Notably, in a post last month I asked, Has Jared Fogle gotten a sweetheart plea deal and/or celebrity treatment for sex crimes?, and the question prompted a good comment dialogue. Obviously, some federal child porn offenders think the answer to this question is obviously yes.
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?
Does Glossip case reveal Oklahoma's prosecutors as immoral and its judges lacking in moral fiber?
The qustion in the title of this post is prompted by this provocative Slate commentary authored by Robert J. Smith and G. Ben Cohen which is headlined "Groundhog Day Nightmare: Oklahoma is about to execute a man who is probably innocent." Here are excerpts from the piece, including sections with the forceful rhetoric parroted in the title of this post:
Oklahoma is set to execute Richard Glossip, despite grave doubts about his guilt. A chorus of people that includes Republican former Sen. Tom Coburn; Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson; and Barry Switzer, the beloved former Oklahoma Sooners football coach, has called for Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to grant a stay of execution. If she does not, and if the Supreme Court does not step in, Glossip will be put to death Wednesday....
In 1997, Justin Sneed killed Barry Van Treese, a motel owner for whom both Sneed and Glossip worked. The police found Sneed’s fingerprints all over the bloody crime scene and in the victim’s vehicle. Sneed later confessed to the killing. The prosecution’s theory at Glossip’s trial was that Glossip pressured Sneed into murdering Van Treese. What evidence supported the state’s theory? Not much....
The prosecution gave him a sweetheart deal: In exchange for his testimony against Glossip, the state waived the death penalty. The problem is that the substance of Sneed’s testimony at trial was invented by the state....
It is bad enough that Sneed received a deal in exchange for his testimony. It is worse that the detective “educated” Sneed about Glossip being the mastermind. But what’s not only unforgivable, but downright immoral, is that the prosecution put forward the Glossip-as-mastermind theory in a capital case, with a man’s life on the line, when Sneed couldn’t even keep his story straight....
If Oklahoma proceeds with this execution, Glossip will not, unfortunately, be the only plausibly innocent man put to death....
Did Georgia execute an innocent man when it killed Troy Anthony Davis? Did Texas execute innocent men when it put Cameron Todd Willingham and Lester Bower to death? Will Oklahoma add to this tragic list if neither Gov. Fallin nor the Supreme Court stops the execution of Richard Glossip? We honestly do not know. And that’s the problem. How do we preserve the integrity of our justice system and our courts if we send condemned inmates to the lethal injection chamber with no more certainty of their guilt than a coin flip?
Given all that is known today about wrongful convictions, the fallibility of our criminal justice institutions, and their fallibility in identifying these potentially fatal errors, the question should not be Is this person innocent? but rather: Is this a case of uncertain guilt? Whatever principles the state seeks to uphold, whether it is the finality of its judgments or deference to juries or state courts, nothing trumps the risk of executing a person where there is some serious doubt as to his or her guilt.
In Richard Glossip’s case, there is more than “some” doubt. There is lots of it. No physical evidence ties him to the crime. There is no motive that withstands scrutiny. The detectives in the case engaged in tactics known to increase the likelihood of witnesses providing false statements. And the state’s chief witness, Justin Sneed, was unreliable at best, with clear motives for lying. Few of us would buy a used car from Justin Sneed. Are we prepared to stake the moral fiber of our justice system on his word? If our answer is no, we must stop the execution of Richard Glossip. His life depends upon it, and so does the soul of our nation’s justice system.
I was a bit dismissive in this prior post of eleventh-hour innocence claims here given that Glossip was twice convicted and sentenced to death (his first conviction was reversed for procedural error). But I cannot help but wonder if my eagerness to question claims of innocence here is a result of my own desire to believe that Oklahoma prosecutors would not be immorally eager to condemn to death (twice) a man based on very weak evidence and that Oklahoma and federal courts would have had the moral fiber to intervene if there was real substance to the innocence claims.
That all said, absent "smoking gun" evidence to provide some more confidence in Glossip's guilt, I can understand why the abolitionist crowd has now garnered broad support for their claim that the Glossip execution should not go forward. Still, I continue to be deeply troubled that a case which produced two jury convictions well over a decade ago, and which has been at the center of the national death penalty debate for nearly all of 2015, is only now struggling at the very minute with what is the most fundamental and basic question in any and every criminal case.
Prior related post:
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
"Unequal Assistance of Counsel"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Peter Joy now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
There is now, and has always been, a double standard when it comes to the criminal justice system in the United States. The system is stacked against you if you are a person of color or are poor, and is doubly unjust if you are both a person of color and poor. The potential counterweight to such a system, a lawyer by one’s side, is unequal as well. In reality, the right to counsel is a right to the unequal assistance of counsel in the United States.
The unequal treatment based on the color of one’s skin is reflected by the racial disparity throughout the criminal justice system in which minority racial groups are involved in the criminal justice system as suspects and defendants at rates greater than their proportion of the general population. This is illustrated by the “driving while black” phenomenon in which law enforcement officers initiate traffic stops against persons of color and subject them to searches at a higher rate than whites, even though law enforcement is more likely to find contraband on white drivers than persons of color.
The Sixth Amendment promises the effective assistance of counsel to every person accused of a crime where incarceration is a possible punishment. This guarantee suggests that everyone, rich and poor, is equal before the law. But the reality of the criminal justice system is much different for the majority of those charged with crimes. If one does not have the financial means to hire effective counsel, or is poor and not lucky enough to have a well-funded, effective public defender or appointed counsel, the defendant’s right to counsel is unequal. This disparity is driven largely by the wealth of the accused and falls most harshly on people of color, who are twice as likely as whites to live in poverty and are accused of crimes at rates much higher than their proportion of the population. As a result, class and race are largely determinative of the lawyer, and often the amount of justice one receives.
This article explores how unequal assistance of counsel contributes to unequal justice. The article begins with a brief overview of racial disparities in the ways laws are enforced. The initial step in the criminal justice system, whether the police stop someone, can lead to arrest, charges, and the need for a lawyer. Next, it analyzes the systemic barriers to effective assistance of counsel at the state level, which is driven largely by excessive caseloads and an ineffective assistance of counsel standard that tolerates bad lawyering. It concludes with strategies for achieving more effective assistance of counsel, which emphasize the ethical imperative to provide meaningful assistance of counsel, the importance of data collection by public defender systems, and systemic litigation that positions assistance of counsel claims prior to trials.