Sunday, May 11, 2014

"It's time to televise executions"

The title of this post is the headline of this new CNN opinion piece authored by trial consultant Richard Gabriel.  Here are excerpts:

In 1936, the last public execution in the United States was held in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was witnessed by more than 20,000 people, including hundreds of reporters.  From that point forward, states decided that executions needed to be private affairs, held in small rooms and witnessed only by agents of the state, lawyers, family members of the victim and a handful of journalists.

In the years since Owensboro, the states -- with the approval of the U.S. Supreme Court -- have refined their definition of humane executions by utilizing firing squads, electric chairs and gas chambers.  The states further sanitized the execution process by developing the lethal injection method, turning it into a medical procedure complete with operating table, intravenous injections and considerable ethical questions for doctors and pharmaceutical companies who have sworn to "do no harm."

None of these refinements in execution technology has anything to do with "humane" methods.  There is no real measurement for how painful a death prisoners suffer when they are being hanged, shot, gassed or electrocuted, no matter how quickly they die. Lethal injection simply gives us greater psychological distance from killing another human being, making it feel more like a doctor-prescribed procedure than an execution....

It is natural to be both horrified and angered at the senseless and brutal killings committed by a convicted murderer.  It is natural to want revenge -- to visit the pain we imagine the victim suffered onto his or her perpetrator.  But there is a difference between punishment and revenge, no matter how we dress it up with legislation and legal procedures.  We have built a system of laws to raise us above those we judge.

In this system we have built, we must be honest and ask ourselves, "Is vengeance justice?" If we want truly to codify revenge, let's not pretend. Let's admit that we are willing to live with the byproducts of our retribution. Let's admit that we are willing to kill a number of innocent people. Let's admit that it is fine to execute a disproportionate number of minorities. And let's admit that we want condemned murderers to suffer like they made their victims suffer. Let's not dress the execution up as a medical procedure.

And by all means, let's televise it. Let's watch them pump the drugs into a condemned man or woman, strapped to a gurney. Let's hear their last words.  Let's watch them writhe and twitch, or listen as they groan and their last breath quietly leaves their body.  Let's watch them die.  Let us see what we are really choosing when we vote to implement the death penalty in our state.

Many Americans support the death penalty in principle. But, as a juror in a capital case, it is different when you look across that courtroom and stare into the eyes of the accused. At that point it is real, and not just a principle. You will decide whether that person dies.

Let's make the death penalty real. Let's open the blinds and stare into the eyes of those we condemn to death.  Let's be honest about what the death penalty really is. And then we can choose what kind of society we really want to be. 

May 11, 2014 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Friday, May 09, 2014

Connecticut debate spotlights how fights over death penalty can impede other needed reforms

Long time readers know that one of my enduring frustrations with debates over the fate of death penalty concerns how this debate can sometimes get in the way of other important criminal justice work.  A notable new example of this dynamic was on display this week in Connecticut, as evidenced by this local article headlined "Juvenile Sentencing Bill Fails Second Year In A Row." Here are the basic details:

A barrage of amendments, a planned Republican filibuster over the merits of reviving the death penalty, and recent charges against a Milford teen in the fatal stabbing of a classmate scuttled a criminal justice bill on the last day of the 2014 session.

The bill would have offered inmates serving long prison sentences for crimes they committed at a young age a chance at freedom.  The measure was crafted in response to two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, in 2010 and 2012.  The court held that life sentences for offenders younger than 18 are unconstitutional and that juvenile offenders must be given a "meaningful opportunity" to seek release.

The legislation cleared the House of Representatives on a broad and bipartisan vote in early April. But for the second year in a row, it failed to come up in the Senate by midnight Wednesday, when the General Assembly adjourned.  Republicans signaled to Democratic leaders that they were going to block the bill by filing 22 amendments, including one to reinstate the death penalty in Connecticut for convicted terrorists and another to eliminate a program that aims to rehabilitate prisoners by offering them credit toward early release....

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams said there were enough votes to pass the measure. But, facing Republican opposition and wanting to avoid votes on controversial issues like the death penalty, Williams opted not to bring the bill up....

The proposed bill was based on recommendations by the non-partisan Connecticut Sentencing Commission. It would have permitted prisoners who committed crimes as teenagers and are serving prison terms of 20 years or less to be eligible for a sentence review after they had served 60 percent of their time.  Inmates serving 50 years or more could receive that "second look" 30 years into their sentences.  The proposal would not have guaranteed freedom for the inmates but would have given them the opportunity to argue their case at a special parole hearing with highly restrictive criteria.

"We're disappointed with what happened in the Senate," said David M. Borden, a retired state Supreme Court justice who chairs the Sentencing Commission, the panel charged with reviewing criminal justice policy and proposing legislation.  The commission's members include prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, corrections officials and the state victims advocate.  "When you look at the bill dispassionately and look at the facts dispassionately and clear away all the underbrush of things that don't have anything to do with it, it's a very good bill," Borden said Thursday.  "To the extent politics got in the way, well, we live in the real world ... we'll take the consequences."

The commission will meet in June and determine whether it will push for the measure again in 2015.  "I don't think there's going to be a strong sentiment for giving up this fight," Borden said.  He said 70 inmates in Connecticut already have filed cases seeking revisions in their sentences, based on the two Supreme Court rulings.  "This bill would have set down reasonable parameters for how these cases should be handled," Borden said.

In the absence of legislation setting a legal framework, the decision of how to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings likely will be left to state courts, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday. "Don't be surprised if it goes to court,"  Malloy said. The courts "will do what the [legislature] should have done and perhaps do more." 

May 9, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Legal Institutions and Social Values: Theory and Evidence from Plea Bargaining Regimes"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new empirical paper by Yehonatan Givati now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

How do social values shape legal institutions across countries? To address this question I focus on one important legal institution -- the use of plea bargaining in criminal cases.  I develop a model in which the optimal scope of plea bargaining depends on social values. Specifically, a lower social emphasis on ensuring that innocent individuals are not punished, and a greater social emphasis on ensuring that guilty individuals are punished, lead to a greater use of plea bargaining.  Using unique cross-country data on social preferences for punishing the innocent versus letting the guilty go free, as well as an original coding of plea bargaining regimes across countries, I obtain results that are consistent with the model.

May 9, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Examining "sentence finality" at length in new article and series of posts

I am pleased to report that an article I completed in conjunction with a wonderful symposium on "Finality in Sentencing" for the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy is now in print and available in full via this SSRN link.  

The full title of my article is "Re-Balancing Fitness, Fairness, and Finality for Sentences," and here is the abstract: 

This Essay examines the issue of “sentence finality” in the hope of encouraging more thorough and reflective consideration of the values and interests served — and not served — by doctrines, policies, and practices that may allow or preclude the review of sentences after they have been deemed final.  Drawing on American legal history and modern penal realities, this Essay highlights reasons why sentence finality has only quite recently become an issue of considerable importance.  This Essay also suggests that this history combines with modern mass incarceration in the United States to call for policy-makers, executive officials, and judges now to be less concerned about sentence finality, and to be more concerned about punishment fitness and fairness, when new legal developments raise doubts or concerns about lengthy prison sentences.

Regular readers know I have commented in the past in this space about my fear that too much stock and weight is often put on "sentence finality" (as distinct from "conviction finality"), and this article provided me the first real opportunity to think and write about this issue more thoroughly and systematically.  And yet I fear I am only scratching the surface of various important conceptual and practical issues in this Wake article; as a result, I may end up writing a lot more on this topic in the months and years.  

In service to my stated goal "to encouraging more thorough and reflective consideration of the values and interests served — and not served — by doctrines, policies, and practices that may allow or preclude the review of sentences after they have been deemed final," I am planning in the days ahead to reprint and discuss in separate posts a few of the ideas and themes that find expression in this article.  For now, I am hopeful that readers will check out the full article and perhaps let me know via comments if they find this topic of sufficient interest and importance so as to justify many additional posts on sentence finality.

May 7, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Constitution Project issues big new report calling for broad reform of capital punishment administration

As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, a big new report by The Constitution Project recommends more than three dozen changes to the administration of the death penalty in the US.  Here are the basic details:

The death penalty should be overhauled "from the moment of arrest to the moment of death," and the lethal drug cocktail used in Oklahoma's botched execution last week should be abolished in favor of a single drug, according to a bipartisan panel of criminal justice experts.

The committee, which included death penalty supporters who have been responsible for carrying it out, recommended using a single anesthetic or barbiturate approved by the Food and Drug Administration to bring on death, as well as 38 other changes.

"Without substantial revisions — not only to lethal injection, but across the board — the administration of capital punishment in America is unjust, disproportionate and very likely unconstitutional," said committee member Mark Earley, who was a Republican attorney general of Virginia when the state carried out 36 executions.

The study by the panel at the Constitution Project, a Washington legal research group, is billed as one of the most comprehensive reviews of the ultimate punishment ever undertaken in the U.S....

Particularly timely is the report's recommendation that the most commonly used drug protocol for lethal injections — a barbiturate for anesthesia, followed by a muscle relaxant to stop breathing and an electrolyte to stop the heart — be replaced by large doses of a single anesthetic or barbiturate. The report said that difficulties in obtaining the proper drugs, complicated procedures for mixing them and the lack of trained medical staff willing to administer them have led to unnecessary suffering on the part of the condemned....

The committee that undertook the two-year study was led by Mark White, former governor of Texas; Gerald Kogan, former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court; and attorney Beth Wilkinson, who helped prosecute the Oklahoma City bombing case. The panel included former FBI Director William S. Sessions and several prosecutors and judges, as well as death penalty opponents....

White said the report should be useful to Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., whom President Obama asked to examine how the death penalty is carried out in light of what happened in Oklahoma.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a pro-death-penalty group in Sacramento, disputed the Constitution Project's claim that its report was bipartisan. "The Constitution Project always takes the side of the defendants," Scheidegger said. "Their claim to be neutral is dishonest." But he said he agreed with the one-drug approach to capital punishment.

The report says state and federal courts too often refuse to hear claims of new evidence presented by prisoners on death row and use other procedural means to deny prisoners their rights. It calls on states to adopt new procedures to evaluate whether a defendant is intellectually disabled. It urges new federal standards for forensic labs and examiners, and says they should operate independently from law enforcement, which would be a major change.

The report also says states should no longer execute people for "felony murder," in which someone who participates in a crime resulting in death can be convicted of murder even if he or she did not do the killing.

The 200+ page report by The Constitution Project is titled "Irreversible Error: Recommended Reforms for Preventing and Correcting Errors in the Administration of Capital Punishment," and it can be accessed at this link.

May 7, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

"The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences"

The title of this post is the title of the massive report released last week by the National Research Council (which is the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering).  The report runs more than 450 pages and can be accessed at this link

I was hoping to get a chance to review much of the report before posting about it, but the crush of other activities has gotten in the way.  Fortunately, the always help folks at The Crime Report have these two great postings about the report:

I hope to be able to provide more detailed coverage of this important report in the weeks to come.

May 6, 2014 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

California Supreme Court decides Miller demands altering presumption for juve LWOP

As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Ruling could reduce life-without-parole terms for juvenile offenders," the California Supreme Court issued a significant post-Miller ruling about juve murder sentencing in the state.  Here are the basics:

In a decision likely to reduce life-without-parole sentences for teenage offenders, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday that judges are free to hand down 25-year-to-life terms for older juveniles convicted of serious crimes and must consider the defendants' youth before sentencing.

Before the unanimous ruling, California law had been interpreted as requiring judges to lean toward life without parole for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds convicted of murder with special circumstances.  The decision overturned decades of lower-court rulings and gave two men who were 17 at the time they killed the opportunity to have their sentences reconsidered by trial judges.

The court said the sentences should be reviewed because they were handed down when state law was being misconstrued and before the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2012 that judges must consider a juvenile's immaturity and capacity for change. The ruling, written by Justice Goodwin Liu, stemmed from appeals in two cases.

In one, Andrew Lawrence Moffett robbed a store and his accomplice killed a police officer in Pittsburg, Calif. Moffett was convicted of murder, robbery and driving a stolen vehicle. Because the victim was a police officer and Moffett used a gun during the crime, he was subject to life without parole. In the other case, Luis Angel Gutierrez killed his uncle's wife while living with the family in Simi Valley. He received life without parole because the jury determined he had murdered Josefina Gutierrez while also raping or attempting to rape her.

"Because Moffett and Gutierrez have been convicted of special circumstance murder, each will receive a life sentence," wrote Justice Goodwin Liu for the court. "The question is whether each can be deemed, at the time of sentencing, to be irreparably corrupt, beyond redemption, and thus unfit ever to reenter society."

Certain juvenile offenders became subject to life without parole when voters passed Proposition 115, the 1990 "Crime Victims Justice Reform Act." State appeals' courts ruled that the law required judges to favor imposing life without parole over a sentence that allowed for release after 25 years. For two decades, those rulings stood.

But Monday's decision said the lower courts had erred in the interpretation of the law. "Proposition 115 was intended to toughen penalties for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder by making them eligible for life without parole upon a finding of one or more special circumstances," Liu wrote. But he said neither the wording of the ballot measure nor any of the official analyses resolved whether "the initiative was intended to make life without parole the presumptive sentence." The court concluded it was not.

Four justices joined a separate opinion to stress that California judges may still sentence older juveniles to life without parole, despite the 2012 Supreme Court ruling. Justice Carol A. Corrigan, who wrote the concurrence, said the high court's ruling came under a law that was different from California's and involved mandatory lifetime sentences for much younger children.

Attorneys in the case said it was uncertain whether Monday's decision would apply retroactively to cases in which appeals have already been completed. Courts across the country have been divided over whether the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on juvenile sentencing applied retroactively, the lawyers said.

The full ruling in California v. Gutierrez, No. S206365 (Cal. May 5, 2014), is available at this link.

May 6, 2014 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Habeas and the Roberts Court"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new article by Aziz Huq.  Here is the abstract:

Postconviction habeas comprises about seven percent of federal district courts’ dockets and between eight and twenty percent of Supreme Court certiorari work.  Scholars of all stripes condemn habeas as an empty ‘charade’ lacking ‘coherent form.’  They urge as a result root-and-branch transformation. Contra that consensus, this Article first advances a descriptive hypothesis that the Roberts Court’s habeas jurisprudence is more internally coherent than generally believed — even if its internal logic has to date escaped substantial scholarly scrutiny.

The Article develops a stylized account of the Roberts Court’s recent jurisprudence as an instrument for sorting at the front end of litigation be-tween cases warranting either less or more judicial attention. This account suggests that the Roberts Court titrates judicial attention by streaming cases into one of two channels via a diverse set of procedural and substantive mechanisms.  In Track One, petitioners obtain scanty review and almost never prevail. In Track Two, by contrast, petitions receive more serious consideration and have a more substantial (if hardly certain) chance of success. This stylized account of the case law enables more focused investigation of the values that the Roberts Court pursues through its current articulation of habeas doctrine — and this is the Article’s second task.

Drawing on both doctrinal analysis and law-and-economics models of litigation, the Article explores several possible justifications for the Court’s observed bifurcated approach. Rejecting explanations based on state-centered federalism values, sorting, and sentinel effects, the Article suggests that some conception of fault best fits the role of a central organizing principle.  This aligns habeas with constitutional tort law, suggesting a previously unexamined degree of interdoctrinal coherence in the Roberts Court’s attitude to discrete constitutional remedies. While the central aim of this Article is positive and descriptive in character, it concludes by examining some normative entailments of habeas’s persistence in a bifurcated state.  Specifically, I suggest that a better understanding of the Court’s fault-based logic casts skeptical light on existing reform proposals, and is at least consistent with the possibility that habeas could still serve as a tool in some larger projects of criminal justice reform.

May 6, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, May 05, 2014

Notable two-part account of constitutional "Case for Gradual Abolition of the Death Penalty"

I just learned about these two notable new articles by Kevin Barry available via SSRN:

From Wolves, Lambs (Part 1): The Eighth Amendment Case for Gradual Abolition of the Death Penalty

This spring, the Connecticut Supreme Court will decide a novel issue in all of modern death penalty jurisprudence. The issue is this: Can a state gradually abolish its death penalty, that is, can it leave in place the sentences of those currently on death row but abolish the death penalty going forward? This Article argues that it can. As a matter of statutory construction, “prospective-only” repeals of death penalty legislation are not given retroactive effect. Although constitutional questions are admittedly less straightforward, prospective-only repeal does not offend either the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments. The death penalty remains constitutional per se under the Eight Amendment, and “as applied” challenges fare no better. Under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, rational reasons abound for abolishing the death penalty while maintaining death row intact.

Apart from the thorny legal question before the Connecticut Supreme Court, prospective-only repeal gives rise to two other difficult questions. The first is a pragmatic one: From the perspective of the abolition movement, is it wise to abolish prospective-only? The second is a moral one: Is it right to tell those who committed murder on Day 1 that they must remain on death row, while eliminating the death penalty for those who commit murder on Day 2? This Article answers both questions in the affirmative. Prospective-only death penalty repeal promises both retraction of the death penalty and preservation of the status quo and is therefore a useful tool for winning states with inmates on death row to the cause of abolition. Furthermore, by retaining the death penalty for some so that no others will ever face a similar fate, legislators transform an immoral punishment into an arguably moral sacrifice. This is the uneasy morality of gradual abolition; from wolves, lambs.

From Wolves, Lambs (Part 2): The Fourteenth Amendment Case for Gradual Abolition of the Death Penalty

Can a state abolish its death penalty for future crimes while retaining it for those already on death row? This turns out to be a novel question in modern death penalty law, one that has not been answered in nearly a century. In 2014, in the case of State v. Santiago, the Connecticut Supreme Court will be the first court in modern times to answer the question. This Article predicts that the answer to the question will be yes.

Although the Connecticut Supreme Court will be the first court to answer this question in almost one hundred years, it will not be the last. Two inmates remain on death row in New Mexico following that state’s prospective-only repeal in 2009, five inmates remain on death row in Maryland following that state’s prospective-only repeal in 2013, and Kansas and Delaware, with a total of twenty-eight inmates on death row, are poised to abolish their death penalties prospective-only in the near future. If the Connecticut Supreme Court upholds Connecticut’s repeal in Santiago, the way will be clear for other courts to uphold legislation abolishing the death penalty prospective-only.

This Article is the second of two articles examining the emergence of this new trend of “gradual abolition” of the death penalty, by which state legislatures eliminate the death penalty for future crimes only and the executive retains it for those on death row. It begins with a discussion of the legislature’s strategic decision to abolish the death penalty prospective-only — a time-tested strategy that helped to end another infamous American institution: slavery. This Article next turns from the legislature to the courts, concluding, that prospective-only repeal does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment; rational reasons abound for repealing the death penalty for some but not all, and due process is not offended by retaining death row intact.

Lastly, this Article points the way forward — to the future of those who remain on death row and capital offenders who await sentencing post-repeal. It argues that, post-repeal, the executive should grant clemency and capital sentencing juries should return life sentences — not because it is unconstitutional to execute post-repeal, but because it would be an unfairness of the highest order. Indeed, there is no record of a death row prisoner ever being executed after prospective-only repeal of the death penalty; hopefully, there never will be.

May 5, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

SCOTUS summarily reverses grant of summary judgment to police in excessive force suit

The Supreme Court this morning issued a summary reversal in an intriguing little case from the Fifth Circuit.  Here is how the per curiam opinion in Tolan v. Cotton, No. 13-551 (S. Ct. May 5, 2014) (available here) gets started:

During the early morning hours of New Year’s Eve, 2008, police sergeant Jeffrey Cotton fired three bullets at Robert Tolan; one of those bullets hit its target and punctured Tolan’s right lung. At the time of the shooting, Tolan was unarmed on his parents’ front porch about 15 to 20 feet away from Cotton.  Tolan sued, alleging that Cotton had exercised excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  The District Court granted summary judgment to Cotton, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that regardless of whether Cotton used excessive force, he was entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate any clearly established right.  713 F. 3d 299 (2013).  In articulating the factual context of the case, the Fifth Circuit failed to adhere to the axiom that in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”  Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U. S. 242, 255 (1986).  For that reason, we vacate its decision and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Intriguingly, Justice Alito (joined by Justice Scalia) write separately to complain about this ruling only being a form of error correction and "that the granting of review in this case sets a precedent that, if followed in other cases, will very substantially alter the Court’s practice."

May 5, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Sunday, May 04, 2014

"Criminals Get All the Rights: The Sociolegal Construction of Different Rights to Die"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new article available via SSRN authored by Meredith Martin Rountree.  Here is the abstract:

In the United States, different people have different rights to die. After sketching the legal standards for hastening death, this article uses empirical research on “volunteers,” death-sentenced prisoners who hastened execution by dropping their appeals, to argue for integrating into adjudications of requests to hasten execution a Fourteenth Amendment analysis comparable to that used in medical cases.

The article discusses socio-legal influences contributing to death-sentenced prisoners’ simultaneously more expansive and less protective right to assistance in dying. Further, it contends that death-sentenced prisoners are more successful in hastening death not simply because of their sentence, but because the law is responding to differently defined social problems. Paradoxically, in this case, the more expansive right reflects and furthers social marginalization.  In addition to raising important questions about the legitimacy of the American death penalty, the Article illuminates the different ways in which rights to accelerate death can be implemented.  In so doing, the Article contributes to the increasingly pressing political debate over ordinary Americans’ ability to end their own lives.

May 4, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Noting challenges for mandatory minimum sentencing in Pennsylvania in wake of Alleyne

This local story from Pennsylvania, headlined "Mandatory sentencing disrupted by Supreme Court," discusses some of the difficult issues arising in the Keystone state as a result of the Supreme Court's Sixth Amendment ruling in Alleyne last year. Here are some details:

For the second time in a month, a Common Pleas Court judge has declared a mandatory sentencing provision inserted into a drug trafficking charge unconstitutional because it contradicts a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down in June of last year.  Judge Phyllis Streitel, in a one-page order issued Tuesday, said the provision that would set a prison term at three years for the defendant, Demetrius Aaron Hardy of Las Vegas, Nev., could not be applied to him in the formal charges leveled by the prosecution without butting up against the high court’s decision....

Alleyne has set prosecutors across the state, including in Chester County, scrambling to add the minimum mandatory provision to drug charges.  It has also led to a slew of challenges to the moves, including an earlier county case that is now before the state Supreme Court.  “It’s a mess,” said one veteran West Chester defense attorney familiar with the appeals but who spoke on the condition on anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the matter.  “Most of the judges are finding these cases to be unconstitutional.  It has go to be fixed by the legislature, or else there won’t be any more mandatories.”

Mandatory sentences gained popularity in the 1980s, and are now commonplace in many drug prosecutions.  District attorneys appreciate them because they add a level of security in what sentence a particular defendant will receive.  Judges are uncomfortable with them at times, because they remove a level of discretion they have in sentencing individual defendants.  And defense attorneys bristle at them, because they give the prosecution added leverage during plea negotiations with the threat of imposing a mandatory minimum should the defendant seek to go to trial....

Streitel issued a similar order on April 25 in the case of a 49-year-old West Nantmeal man, Dennis “Spanky” Alenovitz, who was arrested in early 2013 on charges that he sold methamphetamine to an confidential informant from his home on Pumpkin Hill Road over a two-month period. Alenovitz is also represented by Green.

The weights of the methamphetamine Alenovitz is alleged to have sold would have in the past automatically set his mandatory prison terms at three or four years, depending on the transaction, should be the prosecution asked the judge sentencing him to impose it.  But under the Alleyne ruling, the weight of the drugs triggering those mandatory sentences would have to be determined by a jury hearing Alenovitz’s case, not a judge, and be proven beyond a reasonable doubt....

Judge David Bortner had already ruled in another county case that adding mandatory provision to a criminal charge was unconstitutional.  That case, involving a Kennett Square man arrested by state police in April 2012, involves a mandatory sentence for selling drugs in a school zone.  That case is currently before the state Supreme Court on appeal by the prosecution.  It is among 11 such cases the court has agreed to hear to sort out the constitutionality of the provision, including ones from Montgomery and Luzerne counties....

Whether or not the mandatory provisions added to the charges are upheld or thrown out, the cases against Hardy, Alenovitz, and the defendant in Bortner’s case are not going to disappear; they will still be charged with selling drugs. If convicted, they would also still be subject to possible prison terms — even as long as the mandatory sentences the prosecution is seeking. But the eventual sentence in those cases would be up to a judge, not a prosecutor.

May 3, 2014 in Blakely in the States, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, May 02, 2014

"Kids, Cops, and Sex Offenders: Pushing the Limits of the Interest-Convergence Thesis"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper newly posted on SSRN and authored by David Singleton. Here is the abstract:

Sex offenders are today’s pariahs — despised by all, embraced by none.  During the past twenty years, society’s dislike and fear of sex offenders has resulted in a flood of legislation designed to protect communities from them.  These laws include residency restrictions, which bar convicted sex offenders from living near places where children are expected to be found.  Given this climate, do lawyers who for sex offenders have any hope of winning justice for their clients?

In 2005, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (“OJPC”) began a three year-advocacy campaign against Ohio’s residency restrictions.  At first OJPC lost badly — in both the courts of law and public opinion.  But after losing the initial legal challenge, OJPC transformed its seemingly lost cause into a winning effort.  It did so by borrowing an idea from Professor Derrick A. Bell.

Professor Bell is famous, among other things, for his interest-convergence thesis. According to Bell, blacks achieve racial equality only when such progress it is in the interests of whites.  The classic example of Bell’s theory is his explanation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  According to Bell, the Court desegregated public schools not for moral reasons but because doing so would improve America’s credibility on racial issues during the Cold War.

OJPC eventually prevailed in its challenges to residency restrictions because it aligned the interests of sex offenders with society’s interests in protecting children from sexual abuse.  Not only did OJPC win two important legal challenges but it also transformed the local media narrative about residency restrictions.

Kids, Cops and Sex Offenders: Pushing the Limits of the Interest-Convergence Thesis begins by telling the story of OJPC’s advocacy — both before and after employing an interest-convergence strategy. The article then poses and answers three questions: (1) whether it is appropriate to attach the “interest-convergence” label to OJPC’s sex offender advocacy given that Bell’s thesis is “historically descriptive rather than a recommendation for future-oriented strategies,” according to Professor Stephen Feldman, a leading scholar; (2) whether interest-convergence theory explains the victories OJPC won for its clients; and (3) assuming that interest convergence has value as an advocacy tool, whether it potentially presents a downside for the marginalized clients the lawyer seeks to serve.  I conclude the article with a discussion of a course I developed called Complex Problem Solving for Lawyers, which teaches law students to incorporate Bell’s interest-convergence theory into advocacy on behalf of despised groups like sex offenders.

May 2, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 01, 2014

"Procedural Rights at Sentencing"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article by Carissa Byrne Hessick and F. Andrew Hessick.  Here is the abstract:

In determining which constitutional procedural rights apply at sentencing, courts have distinguished between mandatory and discretionary sentencing systems.  For mandatory systems ― systems that limit sentencing factors and specify particular punishments based on particular facts ― defendants enjoy important rights including the right to a jury, the right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to notice of potential sentencing aggravators, and the right not to be sentence based on ex post facto laws.  By contrast, for discretionary systems ― systems that leave the determination of sentencing factors and how much punishment to impose based on particular facts to the judge’s discretion ― defendants do not enjoy these protections.

This Article challenges this discrepancy.  It argues that, given the rationales underlying each of these rights, there is equal reason to apply these rights in discretionary sentencing systems as in mandatory ones.  As it explains, procedural rights regulate the means by which facts are found and the manner in which courts use those facts, and consequently are critical to discretionary systems.  Just as in mandatory sentencing systems, judges in discretionary systems must make factual findings to determine the appropriate sentence to impose.  The Article argues that the various justifications for providing fewer procedures in discretionary schemes are based on misconceptions about the nature of discretion at sentencing and inaccurate historical analysis.

May 1, 2014 in Advisory Sentencing Guidelines, Blakely Commentary and News, Blakely in the Supreme Court, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Two interestingly different rulings on two of the even Amendments from the Fourth Circuit

A helpful reader aleerted me to the fact that the Fourth Circuit issued some interesting criminal justice rulings yesterday.  US v. Carter, No. 12-5045 (4th Cir. Apr. 30, 2014) (available here), concerns a notable Second Amendment claim and gets started this way:

Following his conviction and sentencing for possessing two firearms while being an unlawful user of and addicted to a controlled substance (marijuana), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3), Benjamin Carter appealed, contending that § 922(g)(3) infringed on his right to bear arms, in violation of the Second Amendment. We vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the district court to allow the government to substantiate the fit between § 922(g)(3) and the government’s important interest in protecting the community from gun violence.  See United States v. Carter (“Carter I”), 669 F.3d 411 (4th Cir. 2012).  After taking evidence from both sides, the district court held that the government had carried its burden in justifying the regulation of guns under § 922(g)(3), and Carter filed this second appeal.

Because we agree with the district court that the government adequately demonstrated a reasonable fit between its important interest in protecting the community from gun violence and § 922(g)(3), which disarms unlawful drug users and addicts, we now affirm.

US v. Ramirez-Castillo, No. 13-4158 (4th Cir. Apr. 30, 2014) (available here), concerns a notable Sixth Amendment claim and gets started this way:

In this appeal, we review the propriety of a prison sentence imposed subsequent to a jury trial in which the jury made two specific factual findings but never returned a guilty verdict.  Saul Ramirez-Castillo (“Appellant”) challenges his conviction and sentence for possession of a prohibited object by a federal inmate.  On December 14, 2011, Appellant was charged in a single-count indictment with “knowingly possess[ing] prohibited objects, that is, two homemade weapons,” while an inmate at a Federal Correctional Institute in Estill, South Carolina (“FCI Estill”), in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1791(a)(2), (b)(3), and (c).  A jury trial was held on September 25, 2012.  At the conclusion of the evidence, the district court charged the jury with determining: (1) whether the first object at issue was a “weapon”; and (2) whether the second object at issue was possessed by Appellant. The jury answered “yes” to each question, but was never asked to determine whether Appellant was “guilty” or “not guilty” of the charged offense. Although the jury never returned a guilty verdict, the parties proceeded to sentencing on February 21, 2013.  Appellant was sentenced to 33 months’ imprisonment, to be served consecutively to his prior undischarged term of imprisonment of 66 months.

Because we conclude the district court violated Appellant’s right to have a jury determine his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, we vacate Appellant’s conviction and sentence, and we remand the case to the district court.

I cannot help but find a bit of functional irony in the reality of the Carter and Ramirez-Castillo results: an illegal alien possessing weapons in federal prison prevails on his Sixth Amendment jury rights claim, while an American marijuana user in his home loses in his Second Amendment gun rights claim.

May 1, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download McDade opinion

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

Double execution scheduled for tonight in Oklahoma drawing international interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent related posts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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