Saturday, May 18, 2013
A (dynamically?) dormant death penalty in Dorothy's domocileThe playfully alliterative headline for this post is spurred by this lengthy and effective local piece headlined "The Kansas death penalty has cobwebs." Here are excerpts:
It may be weeks before Kansans know if prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Kyle Flack, accused of killing four people in Franklin County this spring. It will take far longer — 10 years or more — before anyone in the state is actually put to death for a crime.
And that time gap, advocates on both sides of the death penalty debate say, suggests the state remains deeply uneasy about the punishment — an ambivalence that muddies its value. “When a law isn’t applied, it isn’t really a law,” said David Muhlhausen, a death penalty supporter and expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Capital punishment opponents aren’t eager to speed up executions, of course. But they say the state’s lengthy death penalty procedure is costing taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and other expenses without significantly improving public safety. “Constituents have said to me, ‘We have a theoretical death penalty, but we don’t carry it out in practice,’” said Mary Sloan, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty. “So if we’re not going to carry it out in practice, why do we pay all that cost?”
No one has been put to death in Kansas since 1965. “Kansas is 10 years and $20 million away from its first execution,” predicted lawyer and capital punishment opponent Sean O’Brien of Kansas City.
But death penalty supporters say the state’s ultimate sanction shouldn’t be judged solely by the number of times it’s actually used. The mere threat of death — or decades locked in isolation, waiting for death — plays an important role, they say, in the state’s justice system.
Kansas lawmakers reinstated the state’s death penalty in 1994. Since then, 13 men have been condemned to death for murder. All remain alive. Only nine sit on the state’s death row, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections’ website. The others’ sentences were reduced after appeals and plea agreements, or have been vacated pending a new trial.
Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court validated rewritten capital punishment laws, only two states with death penalty statutes — Kansas and New Hampshire — have not executed a single inmate.
The long gap between capital crime and capital punishment in Kansas is the result of several interlocking factors, experts say. The state’s death penalty law is narrow, providing a way for even the most brutal killers to escape the punishment. Some prosecutors use the death penalty more as a negotiating tool than a criminal sanction, and some politicians remain ambivalent about executions, as do many residents in the state.
And the courts play a critical role. All death sentences in Kansas are automatically reviewed by the state’s Supreme Court. It’s uniquely allowed to “scour the record” for trial and sentencing errors in capital cases, even those not raised by defense lawyers. That further raises the chances for delays....
This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider Kansas death row inmate Scott Cheever’s case — he claims his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination was violated during his trial and sentencing for killing a sheriff....
In 2003, a legislative audit examined the state’s death penalty expenses in the previous decade. Kansas, the audit found, had spent or would spend almost $20 million on its 14 death penalty cases, including cases where the death penalty was sought but not granted. By contrast, taxpayers spent $6.3 million on eight cases where the prosecutors did not ask for death in a murder case.
The most expensive death penalty case involved Johnson County’s John E. Robinson Sr., convicted on two capital murder counts. Ten years ago, the state said Robinson’s case would cost taxpayers $2.4 million, a bill that has continued to grow. “Nobody in his right mind defends the death penalty because it saves money, anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances,” O’Brien said. “Because it doesn’t.”...
Gov. Sam Brownback said last week that his view on capital punishment has changed in recent years, putting him to the left of most in his Republican Party. He now believes it should be reserved for inmates who pose a future threat to society, using Osama bin Laden as an example. “You’re always looking to protect life,” he said. “That’s a very narrow definition of the use of the death penalty.”
Brownback’s views on capital punishment in Kansas, though, may be less important than they appear. Even if he is re-elected in 2014, it’s unlikely he would still be in office when any death row clemency requests might be filed. But they do suggest many Kansans, even some conservatives, remain uncomfortable with the ultimate sanction....
Some prosecutors and supporters, though, say keeping the death penalty on the Kansas books remains important. Studies show the death penalty is still a deterrent, Heritage’s Muhlhausen said, although the effect drops in states that don’t actually carry it out.
Other experts dispute his conclusion. The Kansas murder rate is 3.5 per 100,000 people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In Missouri, it’s 7 murders per 100,000. Both have the death penalty, but only Missouri has carried it out in recent years. Iowa has no death penalty. Its murder rate is 1.3 per 100,000 people.
But even the threat of capital punishment can focus a defendant’s attention on plea agreements that spare victims’ families from long trials, some lawyers say. In most agreements, almost all future appeals are waived, ending the trauma of court appearances and media stories about the crime. Additionally, death penalty defendants have more to worry about than death.
Paul Cramm represented Edwin Hall, now serving a sentence of life without parole after pleading guilty to murdering Kelsey Smith. Clients, Cramm said, are often as worried about the conditions of death row as they are about the execution chamber itself, which encourages plea deals. Death row inmates are kept in El Dorado, Kan., in isolation from almost all other prisoners. Most defendants realize “the likelihood of an acquittal or a finding of not guilty is not real high,” Cramm said. “The likelihood of being executed in your lifetime is not real high. So I guess what we’re negotiating for is, what sort of life do you want to have while you’re incarcerated?”...
Asked if the gap between sentence and execution in Kansas is too long, Brownback hesitated for several seconds. “I’ve been at the chambers in Lansing, where the death penalty would have to be administered,” he said. “That’s a very sobering place to see.
“But I think it’s kind of actually worked for the state,” he added. “Most Kansans would look at it as wanting this to be very, very, very sparingly used.”
Friday, May 17, 2013
On (wrong?) constitutional grounds, split Sixth Circuit panel gives full retroactive effect to new FSA crack sentencesWith thanks to all the folks who alerted me while I was dealing with other matters, I am finally back on-line and able to report on a remarkable new split panel runing by the Sixth Circuit today in US v. Blewett, No. 12-5226 (6th Cir. May 17, 2013) (available here). The start of the majority opinion (per Judge Merritt) will highlight for all federal sentencing fans why this ruling is a very big deal:
This is a crack cocaine case brought by two currently incarcerated defendants seeking retroactive relief from racially discriminatory mandatory minimum sentences imposed on them in 2005. The Fair Sentencing Act was passed in August 2010 to “restore fairness to Federal cocaine sentencing” laws that had unfairly impacted blacks for almost 25 years. The Fair Sentencing Act repealed portions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that instituted a 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine, treating one gram of crack as equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine for sentencing purposes. The 100-to-1 ratio had long been acknowledged by many in the legal system to be unjustified and adopted without empirical support. The Fair Sentencing Act lowered the ratio to a more lenient 18-to-1 ratio. However, thousands of inmates, most black, languish in prison under the old, discredited ratio because the Fair Sentencing Act was not made explicitly retroactive by Congress.
In this case, we hold, inter alia, that the federal judicial perpetuation of the racially discriminatory mandatory minimum crack sentences for those defendants sentenced under the old crack sentencing law, as the government advocates, would violate the Equal Protection Clause, as incorporated into the Fifth Amendment by the doctrine of Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954) (Fifth Amendment forbids federal racial discrimination in the same way as the Fourteenth Amendment forbids state racial discrimination). As Professor William J. Stuntz, the late Harvard criminal law professor, has observed, “persistent bias occurred with respect to the contemporary enforcement of drug laws where, in the 1990s and early 2000s, blacks constituted a minority of regular users of crack cocaine but more than 80 percent of crack defendants.” The Collapse of American Criminal Justice 184 (2011). He recommended that we “redress that discrimination” with “the underused concept of ‘equal protection of the laws.’” Id. at 297.
In this opinion, we will set out both the constitutional and statutory reasons the old, racially discriminatory crack sentencing law must now be set aside in favor of the new sentencing law enacted by Congress as the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The Act should apply to all defendants, including those sentenced prior to its passage. We therefore reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for resentencing.
The start of the dissent (per Judge Gilman) will highlight for all federal sentencing fans why this ruling seems sure to get en banc and/or Supreme Court review:
I fear that my panel colleagues have sua sponte set sail into the constitutional sea of equal protection without any legal ballast to keep their analysis afloat. To start with, they “readily acknowledge that no party challenges the constitutionality of denying retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act to people who were sentenced under the old regime.” Maj. Op. 6. Opining on this unbriefed and unargued issue is thus fraught with the likelihood of running aground on the shoals of uncharted territory.
As the title of my post hints, though I really like the effort, I am not sure a Fifth Amendment equal protection theory provides a strong constitutional foundation for giving the new crack sentences retroactive effect. But I have long thought, in the wake of the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act and the USSC's implementation of its new 18-1 crack guidelines retroactively, that a proper application of the Eighth Amendment could and should provided a reasoned and reasonable basis to give full retroactive effect to all the provisions of the FSA.
If (dare I say, when) this notable Blewett ruling gets subject to further review, I hope to have a chance to fully explicate (perhaps via an amicus brief) my Eighth Amendment approach to reaching the conclusions reached by the majority here on distinct constitutional grounds. In the meantime, we have an interesting Friday ruling to debate through the weekend.
May 17, 2013 in New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Thursday, May 16, 2013
When can and how should sex offenders be responsible for harming property values?The provocative question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent local article from Pennsylvania headlined "Judge: Sex offender not required to buy victim's property." Here are excerpts:
A Lehigh County couple who say a neighbor who admitted molesting their child should be forced to buy their property apparently won't get their wish.
County Judge Michele A. Varricchio has shot down the Upper Milford Township couple's unusual request that sex offender Oliver Larry Beck be required to purchase their $235,000 property, according to court records. Varricchio issued the order last week, explaining that forcing a sex offender to buy the home of a victim living in his neighborhood would "open the proverbial floodgates."
"This court finds it against public policy to require a defendant to purchase a plaintiff's property in a nuisance case," Varricchio wrote. The judge added that ordering the home purchase would "impose almost limitless liability on a property owner by every other neighbor who claims difficulty selling his or her property, regardless of the proximity to the alleged nuisance."
Varricchio was ruling on preliminary objections in a lawsuit filed against Beck, along with Beck's wife and mother. The couple whose daughter was molested by Beck filed the suit in December asking a judge to order Beck to buy their home and pay for the child's pain and suffering and for other damages. They claim the property is virtually unmarketable....
They still are eligible to seek damages for their child's suffering and for the loss in value of their property, although Varricchio said they are not entitled to be paid for the total value of the property. Varricchio's order says that that the victim's family should amend the lawsuit to provide details and proof of the loss in the value of their property.
"There is no doubt that the parents have a right to enjoy their own residence and property without the invasion and interference caused by [Beck]," Varricchio wrote. "Property rights are protected by the United States Constitution, but the equal protection clause affords both plaintiffs and defendants that protection."...
There is some scientific evidence that sex offenders lower property values. Two economics professors at Columbia Business School in 2008 studied the effect, finding that the value of homes within one-tenth of a mile of a sex offender dropped by an average of 4 percent.
The suit accuses Beck of sexual assault, infliction of emotional distress, fraud and negligence, among other claims. It also names as defendants Beck's wife and mother, claiming both knew or should have known of Beck's attraction to young children.
Beck, now 65, pleaded guilty in 2011 to indecent assault of a child under 13 and served time in prison. He is out of prison, but under Megan's Law must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Investigators said that in February 2011, Beck lured the victim, then 7 years old, into his house by saying he wanted to show her a bear's head mounted in his basement. After telling the girl to feel the bear, Beck told her to take off her shirt and pants and then assaulted her, according to court records.
Beck's attorney, Robert J. Magee of Allentown, wrote in a court brief that the demand for the home purchase was "not appropriate or authorized under a legal or equitable theory." He added that the victim's family is still able to use and enjoy the property. He added, "This is just a type of injury that allows for no recourse, an injury without a remedy."
Varricchio also dismissed the couple's request that Beck pay their attorneys' fees. In addition, she dismissed a claim against Beck's wife that she be held partly liable for their property value loss.
May 16, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Abortion doc cuts post-conviction deal to get formal LWOP rather than face (symbolic) death penaltyAs reported in this ABC News story, "Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell agreed ... to serve two life sentences and waive his right to an appeal in order to avoid the possibility of being condemned to death." Here is more about the case and the deal cut:
While there are many justifiable complaints about the high costs associated with the administration of the death penalty, this outcome provide a prime example of the cost savings that the death penalty can sometimes help generate. Only the prospect of the death penalty made this post-conviction deal possible, and the cost to the Pennsylvania court systems from direct and collateral appeals could have been considerable absent this deal.
Gosnell was convicted of first degree murder on Monday in the deaths of three babies who were born live and then killed by severing their spinal chords with scissors.
As part of the deal, Gosnell, 72, will serve two life sentences without the possibility of parole or the opportunity to appeal. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against Gosnell, but because of his advanced age it was deemed unlikely that he would live long enough for death penalty appeals which can last decades.
Gosnell is expected to be sentenced Wednesday. He will also be sentenced on a conviction of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a female patient who was given a lethal dose of sedatives and pain killers in 2009.
The guilty verdicts came on Monday, the jury's 10th day of deliberations. Gosnell was accused of performing late-term abortions on four babies who were born alive, but were then allegedly killed by Gosnell. He was cleared in the death of one of the infants.
For two months, the jury heard often grisly testimony, including from members of Gosnell's staff. Eight staffers have pleaded guilty to several crimes. Prosecutors said none of the staff were licensed nurses or doctors.
Recent related post:
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
In praise of NTSB seeking to save more innocent lives with tougher DUI lawsI was very pleased to see the news today, like this report from CNN, concerning a new recommendation to lower the level at which a driver is to be considered over the limit. Here are the details:
A common benchmark in the United States for determining when a driver is legally drunk is not doing enough to prevent alcohol-related crashes that kill about 10,000 people each year and should be made more restrictive, transportation safety investigators say.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended on Tuesday that all 50 states adopt a blood-alcohol content (BAC) cutoff of 0.05 compared to the 0.08 standard on the books today and used by law enforcement and the courts to prosecute drunk driving....
The idea for a tighter standard is part of a safety board initiative outlined in a staff report and approved by the panel to eventually eliminate drunk driving, which accounts for about a third of all road deaths in the United States.
Hersman said progress has been made over the years to reduce drunk driving, including a range of federal and state policies, tougher law enforcement, and stronger advocacy. But she said too many people are still dying on America's roads. The board acknowledged that there was "no silver bullet," but that more action is needed at the federal and state levels.
"In the last 30 years, more than 440,000 people have perished in this country due to alcohol-impaired driving. What will be our legacy 30 years from now?" Hersman asked. "If we don't tackle alcohol-impaired driving now, when will we find the will to do so?"
Lowering the rate to 0.05 would save about 500 to 800 lives annually, the safety board said....
The NTSB investigates transportation accidents and advocates on safety issues. It cannot impose its will through regulation and can only recommend changes to federal and state agencies or legislatures, including Congress. But the independent agency is influential on matters of public safety and its decisions can spur action from like-minded legislators and transportation agencies nationwide. States set their own BAC standards.
The board also recommended on Tuesday that states vastly expand laws allowing police to swiftly confiscate licenses from drivers who exceed the blood alcohol limits. And it is pushing for laws requiring all first-time offenders to have ignition locking devices that prevent cars from starting until breath samples are analyzed.
In the early 1980s, when grass-roots safety groups brought attention to drunk driving, many states required a 0.15 BAC rate to demonstrated intoxication. But over the next 24 years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups pushed states to adopt the 0.08 BAC standard, the last state falling in line in 2004.
The number of alcohol-related highway fatalities, meanwhile, dropped from 20,000 in 1980 to 9,878 in 2011, the NTSB said. In recent years, about 31 percent of all fatal highway accidents were attributed to alcohol impairment, the NTSB said....
The NTSB cited research that showed most drivers experience a decline in both cognitive and visual functions with a BAC of 0.05. Currently, more than 100 countries on six continents have BAC limits set at 0.05 or lower, the safety board said. The NTSB has asked all 50 states to do the same.
A restaurant trade association, the American Beverage Institute, attacked the main recommendation, saying the average woman reaches 0.05 percent BAC after consuming one drink.... A beer industry trade group said it would examine NTSB's recommendation for lowering the blood-alcohol threshold. "However, we strongly encourage policymakers to direct their efforts where we know we can get results: by focusing on repeat offenders and increasing penalties on those with BAC of (0.15) or more," said Joe McClain, president of the Beer Institute....
The NTSB recommended last December that states require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders and said states should improve interlock compliance.
I concur with the recommendation coming from the Beer Institute that states get tougher ASAP on repeat drunk drivers and those caught driving with high BACs. But I think that should be done in addition to defining the legal limt for BAC lower, coupled with technological sanctions for first offenders. Specifically, as I have often noted in prior posts, states that require ignition locks for convicted drunk drivers have seen a marked decline in highway fatalities. Unless and until someone can prove to me that tipsy driving is more valuable than innocent human lives, I will praise any and all efforts by NTSB and others to do everything reasonable to reduce the harms of drinking and driving.
Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:
- Why do we worry so much more about sex offenders than drunk drivers?
- Technology versus toughness to combat drunk driving
- More examples of undue leniency shown to repeat drunk drivers
- "Some Coloradans drive until they kill"
- New York about to require ignition locks as mandated punishment for drunk driving
- Effective commentary complaining about undue leniency for drunk drivers
- Alcohol industry resistant to federal support for more DUI prevention technology
- Notable report on Oregon's use of technology to combat drunk driving
- Ignition lock law in Kansas seeming responsible for huge drop in DUI fatalities
Monday, May 13, 2013
After three PA murder convictions, which form of LWOP will abortion doctor get?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to the notable state criminal trial verdicts in a high-profile case reported in this new New York Times article. Here are the conviction and sentencing basics:
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a West Philadelphia doctor known for performing late-term abortions, was found guilty on Monday on three of four counts of first-degree murder.
The verdict came after a five-week trial in which the prosecution and the defense battled over whether the fetuses Dr. Gosnell was charged with killing were alive when they were removed from their mothers. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty when the trial moves into the sentencing phase on May 21....
The jury of eight women and four men acquitted Dr. Gosnell of one first-degree murder charge involving an aborted fetus. He was also acquitted of third-degree murder in the death of a 41-year-old patient but was found guilty of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in that case.
The gruesome nature of the crimes that Dr. Gosnell was accused of and the squalid conditions in his clinic had fueled arguments on both sides of the abortion debate. Anti-abortion campaigners used the case to reinforce their argument that the practice is immoral, while abortion rights advocates warned that it underlined the need to ensure the availability of properly regulated abortions....
Prosecutors had argued that Dr. Gosnell murdered seven late-term infants who would have survived if he or his assistants had not given them a drug designed to cause “fetal demise” and then plunged scissors into their necks to ensure that they were dead. But the prosecution suffered a setback last month when Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart threw out three of the seven first-degree murder charges without giving a reason. That left Dr. Gosnell facing four charges of first-degree murder, as well as one charge of third-degree murder in connection with the death of the patient.
In defense arguments, Mr. McMahon argued that there was no evidence that any of the fetuses were born alive and that his client was therefore not guilty on any of the murder counts. He also told jurors that the death of the patient, a refugee from Bhutan, was due to existing medical problems and not to an overdose of an anesthetic administered by Dr. Gosnell’s unlicensed assistants, as prosecutors had said....
Mr. McMahon declined to say whether he would appeal or how he intends to keep his client off death row....
Clinic workers who appeared as witnesses for the prosecution said some of the fetuses appeared to move or make noises. One, known as Baby D, was delivered into a toilet and appeared to make swimming motions before one of Dr. Gosnell’s assistants cut its neck, according to a worker cited during closing arguments by Edward Cameron, an assistant district attorney.
Mr. Cameron and another assistant district attorney, Joanne Pescatore, also told the jury that Dr. Gosnell kept the severed feet of aborted fetuses in dozens of jars around his clinic, the Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia.
According to a January 2011 grand jury report, Dr. Gosnell’s patients were covered with bloodstained blankets, treated with unsterilized instruments and surrounded by cats that were allowed to defecate in the building. To bolster their argument that Dr. Gosnell subjected his patients to filthy and dangerous conditions, prosecutors presented the jury with a dirty procedure table and a stained ultrasound probe.
The question in the title of this post reflects the current reality that all death sentences in Pennsylvania are functional LWOP sentences in the modern era. Through there are over 200 murderers now on Pennsylvania's death row, the state over the last 40+ years the state has only executed three defendants who waived all of their appeals.
Because Gosnell is already 72 years old, it seems very unlikely that all Gosnell's appeals of any death sentence would be completed and the PA execution back-log cleared before Gosnell dies in prison of "natural causes." (Indeed, even if Pennsylvania started ASAP to execute 10 condemned prisoners each year, it would take until 2034 to carry out just existing death sentences.)
So, whether formally or functionally, Gosnell is all but certain now to serve an LWOP sentence. Still, apparently seeking a symbolic victory, PA prosecutors apparently plan to invest a lot of money and energy trying to ensure Gosnell serves this sentence on death row rather than elsewhere.
Noting some new GOP sentencing reform voices inside the BeltwayThis notable new article, amusingly headlined "An End to the Jailhouse Blues?", authored by By John Gramlich and appearing in CQ Weekly discusses what I am inclined to call the "new right on criminal justice reform" on the Hill. Here are excerpts:
Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons and that mandatory-sentencing laws disproportionately harm minorities and tie judges’ hands. Lately, they have been joined in those criticisms by Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party-backed Republican with White House aspirations. “I think the Republican Party could grow more if we had a little bit more of a compassionate outlook,” the Kentuckian says.
Paul is emblematic of a quiet but unmistakable shift among conservatives in Congress when it comes to criminal justice. Not only are Republicans engaging in a serious debate about relaxing federal criminal penalties — an idea that was once anathema to lawmakers who worried that their next campaign opponent would label them “soft on crime” — they are leading the discussion.
The House Judiciary Committee, which has poured cold water on Democratic priorities since Republicans regained control of the chamber in 2010, last week created a bipartisan, 10-member task force that will conduct a six-month analysis of the estimated 4,500 crimes on the federal books.
The task force will examine “overcriminalization” in the federal justice system and evaluate what Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte calls an “ever-increasing labyrinth” of criminal penalties, some of them for relatively minor crimes in which perpetrators may not have realized they were breaking the law. The Virginia Republican cited the example of an 11-year-old girl who “saved a baby woodpecker from the family cat” but received a $535 fine because of a federal law banning the possession of a migratory bird.
The panel will be led by law-and-order Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Virginia Democrat Robert C. Scott, an outspoken critic of more-contentious criminal policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing, which the task force will also evaluate. A diverse range of groups endorses the effort, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
At the same time, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal prison spending, Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, plans to work with his Democratic ranking member, Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, to create a separate task force to review all aspects of the rapidly growing federal correctional system. Wolf is outraged that federal prisoners are not provided more opportunities to gain work experience and believes the Bureau of Prisons is holding too many people, including ill older inmates who no longer pose a threat to society. A report by the Justice Department’s inspector general recently came to the same conclusion.
“If you’re 68 years old and you’re dying of cancer and your life expectancy is seven months, why do we want to keep you in prison?” Wolf says.
Then there is Paul, who perhaps more than any other Senate Republican aligns with Democrats on sentencing issues. Paul is co-sponsoring a bill with Democratic Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont that would allow federal judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences under certain conditions — a so-called “safety valve” that effectively would do away with congressionally mandated punishments in many cases. Similar House legislation is co-sponsored by Scott and another Kentucky Republican, Thomas Massie. “Some of the sentencing has been disproportionately unfair to African-Americans, and so I am for getting rid of the mandatory minimums or letting judges override them,” Paul says.
He argues that young drug offenders, in particular, are vulnerable to overly harsh punishments and points out that each of the past three presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — was “accused of doing drugs as a kid.... Had they been caught, none of them would have ever been president,” he says. “Just by luck of not being caught, they did fine. But a lot of kids don’t.”...
If Republicans sound kinder and gentler on criminal justice today than they did two decades ago, their perspective has been guided by cold, hard numbers.
Goodlatte last week cited statistics showing that Congress has added an average of 500 new crimes to the law books in each of the past three decades. Those federal crimes overlap with scores of existing penalties for the same crimes enacted by the states, which handle the vast majority of the nation’s criminal trials.
The creation of hundreds of new federal crimes, combined with mandatory minimum sentencing laws and the 1984 elimination of parole for federal offenders, has resulted in a steady and costly uptick in the federal prison population. The federal corrections system is now the largest in the country, much larger than state systems in Texas and California.
In fiscal 2006, the Bureau of Prisons had 192,584 inmates. Five years later, the number had grown 14 percent to 218,936, according to a November report by the Justice Department inspector general.
Massie, formerly the top elected official in Lewis County, Ky., says his perspective has been shaped by his experience managing a local budget, where he says his “biggest line item” was incarceration. The first-term lawmaker backs a bipartisan corrections overhaul that Kentucky enacted in 2011 and said Republicans on the federal level should embrace similar changes because mass incarceration runs counter to established GOP principles on government spending. “I call it socialism with constrained mobility,” Massie says. “You’re paying for all their medical costs. You’re paying for all their food, all their housing. You’ve got to have air conditioning. Jails are not cheap.”
While the dialogue may be changing, passing legislation, as always, is another story. Even the idea of studying the criminal justice system proved too controversial in the Senate in 2011, when a national commission proposed by former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia fell to partisan fighting.
The House task force might agree to weed out relatively minor crimes such as possession of a migratory bird — the kind of regulations Republicans tend to view as government overreach — but it may be less inclined to rethink the mandatory minimum sentences that many Democrats abhor....
While the challenges are clear, those who support the GOP-led discussion surrounding criminal justice say it is encouraging that the debate is happening at all. It’s a significant step forward that a bipartisan group of legislators is really for the first time looking in a very serious way at ways to try to get their arms around this behemoth,” says John G. Malcolm, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Some recent and older related posts:
- Wall Street Journal pitch for the Prez to get behind the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013
- "Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"
- Justice Safety Valve Act gets bipartisan introduction in House of Representatives
- Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
- Potent new quote from AG Eric Holder: "Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason"
- Could Romney appeal to independents and minorities with bold crime and punishment vision?
- "Right on Crime: The Conservative Case for Reform" officially launches
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- NAACP head recognizes Tea Party favors some progressive criminal justice reforms (and sometimes more than Democrats)
May 13, 2013 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Ohio prosecutor upset public unwilling to pay higher taxes to make his job easierThe title of this post is my proposed alternative headline for this local article discussing recent sentencing law reforms in Ohio (made by a Republican legislature and signed in law by GOP Governor John Kasich). The actual headline from the local paper is "Prosecutor: Sentencing changes damaging judicial system," and here are excerpts (with the prosecutor's telling comments highlighted by me):
In light of a recent trial in which a Springfield man was convicted in Athens County Common Pleas Court of three counts of trafficking in cocaine, Prosecutor Keller Blackburn discussed how the man will face a lesser sentence thanks to House Bill 86 and said the legislation changes in sentencing is hurting the state’s judicial system.
Michael Turner, 29, sat through a four-day trial before a jury found him guilty of two third-degree felony counts of trafficking in cocaine and one second-degree count of trafficking in cocaine. When he was indicted in August of 2011, the charges he faced carried a maximum prison sentence of 18 years with at least eight years being mandatory. However, after House Bill 86 passed through legislation, the maximum he can now be sentenced is only nine years. A sentencing date has yet to be set.
Blackburn explained that House Bill 86 not only made a distinction between cocaine and crack cocaine and the weights of the drugs, but it also significantly changed the prison sentences associated with lower level felony crimes. Prior to the changes, fifth-degree and fourth-degree felonies carried the real possibility of prison time. Now, probation or jail time is more likely for first-time offenders. Third-degree felony crimes carried a maximum of five years in prison but now only three can be ordered....
“It’s balancing the budget on the backs of local taxpayers on felony cases,” he added. “There’s a reason things are felonies and others are misdemeanors. Local communities are supposed to pay for misdemeanors and the state is supposed to pay for felonies. Now felony fives, fours and some threes are paid for by the counties.”
While Blackburn does not believe the sentencing changes affects the criminal mind much, he does point out the differences it makes after the fact. “When you change the numbers, then negotiations get more difficult. If someone is only risking six additional months by not taking a deal, they’ll go to trial. It harms negotiations and pass costs to local communities,” Blackburn said.
According to Blackburn, there are around 600 cases that come across his desk in a year. He said it’s not possible for the prosecution and defense to try that many cases, nor is it possible for the courts to handle such a load and taxpayers cannot afford that many cases. He said there is also additional stress placed on the probation department.
“The principles and purposes of sentencing used to be to punish the offender and protect the public. It’s now to punish the offender and protect the public in the most economical manner. That’s not what’s supposed to be happening but that’s what legislation has decided,” Blackburn said....
“You start taking tools out of the toolbox. Maybe the person with 24 balloons of heroin does need an intensive treatment program but maybe we know they just sold twice and we just missed them,” the prosecutor said. “Maybe they are one of the major spokes in the wheel and all I can do is put them on probation when the probation department is underfunded.”
“The problem is money and they don’t want to put any more money into prisons so they’re not willing to make many changes,” said Blackburn.
Based on the prosecutor's comments here, it does not seem at all accurate to say, as does this article's headline, that a new sentencing law is "damaging [Ohio's] judicial system" in any way. Rather, by enabling more defendants to go to trial and by making sure communities cover certain costs, it would appear the new sentencing law may actually be strengthening the judicial system in the Buckeye State.
Rather, what really seems to be bothering Prosecutor Keller Blackburn is that Ohio's new sentencing laws make plea negotiations "more difficult" and may lead to more defendants exercising their constitutional right to a jury trial. Pulling back the curtain as to what prosecutors really care about, Backburn laments that he is losing one of the tools he wants in his toolbox so he can determine the fate of a defendant's future without the complications or challenges of proving to a jury or judge why this fate is appropriate or cost effective. And dang those voters and legislators, concludes Blackburn, they are unwilling to put more of their hard-earned money into making his job as a prosecutor easier.
"Sentencing Bill Could Cost Taxpayers $760 Million Over 10 Years"The title of this post is the headline of this recent report concerning the projected price tag for a sentencing proposal being discussed as an approach to dealing with Chicago's gun violence. Here are the details:
A bill designed to reduce gun violence by increasing gun-crime sentences could end up costing Illinois taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to an investigation by NBC Chicago and The Chicago Reporter.
State Representative Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) has proposed a bill to increase Illinois’ minimum mandatory prison sentence for gun violators from one year to three years. "We have to make sure individuals are afraid, frankly, of the law, and afraid of the consequences," Zalewski said. "I think three years sets a high bar that if you’re found guilty of the offense, you’re going to face serious consequences. You’re not going to be right back out on the street."
But critics say the bill is nothing more than "political theatre." What’s more, it’s prohibitively expensive, according to opponents like John Maki, Executive Director of the John Howard Association, a local prison-watchdog group. "It’s going to add about 4,000 inmates in about three years," Make explained. "It’s going to explode the budget."
The results of a study done by NBC Chicagos partner, The Chicago Reporter, would seem to support that view. The Reporter analyzed all criminal cases in Cook County Criminal Court from 2000 through 2011, and estimated that it cost taxpayers more than $5.3 billion to imprison Chicago criminals during that period. If those sentencing costs were extrapolated to include the increased prison time resulting from Zalewski’s gun-sentencing bill, The Reporter estimates the bill to taxpayers would have increased by an additional $760 million during that same time period....
As for the potential added expense of these expanded prison sentences, Zalewski is part of a separate discussion in Springfield, aimed at freeing up space in Illinois’ overcrowded prisons. The discussion centers around reducing the number of non-violent offenders — people convicted of such offenses as prostitution or drugs, for example — to make room for these more violent gun offenders.
Discussing this idea and similar gun sentencing proposals making the rounds in other states, Daniel Denvir has this recent commentary in The New Republic. Its headline captures its themes: "The Worst Gun Control Idea Has Bipartisan Support: Why states should not pass new mandatory minimums for firearm possession."
May 12, 2013 in Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Friday, May 10, 2013
Are there (and/or should there be) special death penalty rules for female murderers?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article in the Christian Science Monitor, which is headlined "Jodi Arias case: What's trend line on women getting the death penalty?." Here are excerpts:
Whether Jodi Arias gets her wish — to be executed rather than spend her life in prison — is now up to the Arizona jury that on Wednesday found her guilty of brutally murdering her one-time boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in a jealous rage on June 4, 2008, in a Phoenix suburb.
The jury must consider whether the cruelty, brutality, and depravity of her attack on Mr. Alexander deserves a sentence of death, a finding that would make Ms. Arias the fourth woman to be awaiting execution on Arizona’s death row. (The state has not executed a woman since Eva Dugan, a cabaret dancer, was hanged in 1930.) Against that possibility, jurors will weigh potential mitigating circumstances, such as Arias's allegations of abuse, which she outlined at length during the trial....
The Maricopa County jury will deliberate against a backdrop of evolving societal views about female murderers. On one hand is a somewhat chivalrous sense that women are not capable of brutality at the same level as men and resort to it under extenuating circumstances — such as sexual abuse that Arias claimed at the hand of her victim. On the other is a sense that women can indeed be cold-blooded killers who are every bit as deserving of execution as male murderers.
James Acker, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany, describes the “competing theories" this way. One is that "this is about chivalry, where we’re all bending over backward to make sure no women, or members of the fairer sex, are treated this way, versus the less-sexist notion that women ... who do [commit capital murder] somehow tend to lose their identity as female and become a demonic killer that overwhelms the definition of a woman — that to dispatch someone to execution you almost have to relegate them [to being] outside the human family." Still, he adds, "it’s more difficult to do that with a woman than a man.”
The Arias case alone probably won’t provide much of a guidepost to the direction of sentiment in the US regarding executing women. But the sentencing phase comes at a peculiar time in the annals of death row — chiefly that the share of women murderers entering death row has stayed constant even as the percentage of men sentenced to die has noticeably dropped.
Recent related post:
Notable new Oregon bill to allow some young sex offenders to get off registryIn this recent post about the Second Amendment rights of registered sex offenders prompted a lengthy comment thread about who does and does not end up on sex offender registries. With that discussion fresh in mind, I found this AP story about a bill making its way through the Oregon legislature interesting:
Some young offenders convicted of having sex with underage partners would be able to request the crime be removed from their records under a bill narrowly passed by the Oregon House on Wednesday. Voting 31 to 27, the House sent the bill to the Senate with little discussion.
Under the bill, in order for adult offenders to apply to have their records erased, coercion or force could not have been used in the sex act. Other conditions include completion of all required court-ordered programs and treatments.
Proponents say the current punishment for such sex offenders does not fit the crime. Opponents say people convicted of sex crimes often reoffend and should not be able to have their records expunged. "Individuals who commit sex offenses ... this isn't their first time and it won't be their last," said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins, who opposes the bill on behalf of the Oregon District Attorneys Association. To say an act is consensual when it involves a person who is too young to give consent is indefensible and minimizes the law, Vitolins said.
For offenders to have their records cleared under the proposed law, they could be no more than five years older than the victim, and the victim must be at least 14. For sex crimes committed by a minor, the victim must be at least 12 and the age difference can be no more than three years.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, a sponsor, brought the legislation forward after hearing from a constituent who was 14 when his friend's parents reported him to the authorities for engaging in inappropriate behavior — which did not involve intercourse — with their young daughter. "This is the difference between a life of hopelessness and a future for this individual," the Portland Democrat told lawmakers last month.
Among those testifying for the bill was Matthew Shettles, who served three years' probation on a charge of sex abuse for having sex with his girlfriend in 2004 on the night of his high school graduation. In written testimony, Shettles said he had just turned 18 at the time and she was five weeks shy of 15. A counselor learned of the encounter and was required by a mandatory reporting law to inform authorities, he said.
He said having a sex crime on his record has made it difficult to get hired and rent an apartment. Employers and housing agencies often run criminal background checks. "It doesn't seem reasonable that a guy who had sex with his girlfriend should have to pay for the rest of his life," Shettles said in the written testimony.
Under the bill, only sex crimes that meet a specific set of requirements could be erased from an offender's record. Among other things, the person must have successfully applied to be removed from the state's sex offender registry and cannot have been convicted of other serious crimes.
May 10, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Cleveland police report supports Aggavated Murder capital charges against Ariel CastroI asked in this post yesterday whether Ariel Castro, the monster who abducted and sexually tortured three young women in Cleveland, could and should possibly face the death penalty under Ohio law. Based on the newly released police report, discussed in this CBS News piece, I am now convinced that Castro can reasonably be charged with with Aggravated Murder pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2903.01. Here are the key facts supporting this conclusion:
New details on the women's harrowing ordeal were confirmed in a police report obtained Wednesday by CBS News.... [Michelle] Knight told police, according to the report, that Castro impregnated her "at least 5 times," but that each time he would starve her and then punch her in the stomach to induce a miscarriage.
Here are the key provisions of ORC 2903.01, with the terms in bold and some italics that highlight the basis on which Ohio prosecutors could charge Aggravated Murder against Castro:
2903.01 Aggravated murder.
(A) No person shall purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy.
(B) No person shall purposely cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy while committing or attempting to commit, or while fleeing immediately after committing or attempting to commit, kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated robbery, robbery, aggravated burglary, burglary, trespass in a habitation when a person is present or likely to be present, terrorism, or escape.
Critically, I do not mean here to assert that state prosecutors must now seek the death penalty in their prosecution of Castro. I can envision lots of sound reasons for local prosecutors to decide not to seek the punishment of death here -- especially if Castro's three primary victims indicate a strong disinclination to go through the difficulties (and media sensation) of a full-blown capital trial and the inevitable appeals that would likely follow if a jury imposed a death sentence.
But I do mean to assert that state prosecutors should now be considering how they will present to an Ohio grand jury the evidence which could support a charge of Aggravated Murder based on Casto's alleged repeated purposeful efforts to unlawfully terminate Michelle Knight's pregnancies.
Because Ohio legislators amended the state's Aggravated Murder provisions to expressly include "purposely caus[ing]... the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy," Ohio law now expressly reflects a state policy decision that a defendant who intentionally and unlawfully terminated a pregnancy could face an Aggravated Murder charge. Based on the facts appearing in the recently released police report, Ariel Castro is the poster child for the kind of "unlawful pregnancy terminator" who, in my view, should be facing charges of Aggravated Murder under Ohio law.
Recent related post:
- Could and should the death penalty be on the table in the Cleveland kidnapping and sexual torture case?
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Feds and Jeff Skilling cut resentencing deal to fix new guideline range at 168 to 210 monthsAs had been previewed a public notice to victims from the Justice Department last month (noted here), federal prosecutors and former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling have reached a deal concerning unresolved matters before Skilling's resentencing. This Reuters article details the basics of this notable high-profile sentencing development:
Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron Corp chief executive, could be freed from prison nearly a decade sooner than originally expected, under an agreement with federal prosecutors to end the last major legal battle over one of the biggest corporate frauds in U.S. history.
The agreement calls for Skilling to see his federal prison sentence reduced to as little as 14 years, down from the 24 years imposed in 2006. It could result in Skilling's freedom in late 2018, with good behavior.
In exchange, Skilling, 59, who has long maintained his innocence, agreed to stop appealing his conviction. The agreement would also allow more than $40 million seized from him to be freed up for distribution to Enron fraud victims.
A resentencing became necessary after a federal appeals court upheld Skilling's conviction but found the original sentence too harsh.... Wednesday's agreement, which is subject to court approval, recommends that Skilling be resentenced to between 14 and 17-1/2 years in prison, including time already spent there. Skilling has been in prison since December 2006.
A helpful readers forwarded to me the 7-page sentencing agreement, which can be downloaded below. Here are the essential pieces of the deal:
The Government and the defendant agree that, based on the previous decisions of the Fifth Circuit with respect to proper calculation of the United States Sentencing Guidelines range and this Court's prior sentencing rulings on October 23, 2006, the United States Sentencing Guidelines provide that the defendant should be resentenced using an adjusted offense level of 36 and a criminal history category of I, resulting in an advisory guidelines range of 188 to 235 months of imprisonment.
For the reasons set forth below as "Relevant Considerations," the Government and the defendant agree to recommend jointly that the District Court apply a one-level downward variance and resentence the defendant using an adjusted offense level of 35, pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Given that the defendant is located in criminal history category I for resentencing purposes, the jointly recommended adjusted offense level will result in a jointly recommended guidelines range of 168 to 210 months of imprisonment.
Neither the Government nor the defendant will seek any variance or departure from the jointly recommended guidelines range. The Government may allocute at sentencing, but the Government will not take a position regarding the particular sentence the District Court should impose within the jointly recommended guidelines range.
The defendant agrees to waive all potential challenges to his convictions and sentence, including a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, appeals, and collateral attacks, except as set forth [below]....
Neither the Government nor the defendant will appeal a sentence imposed within the jointly recommended guidelines range. However, the Government and the defendant each reserve the right to appeal a sentence imposed outside this range.
May 8, 2013 in Enron sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Could and should the death penalty be on the table in the Cleveland kidnapping and sexual torture case?
Like perhaps many others, I have feelings ranging from horror to disgust to macabre interest as facts emerge from Cleveland concerning the many awful crimes committed on at least three young women for a decade. This USA Today story provides just a small flavor of what the victims may have endured for years upon years upon years:
Cleveland police say they'll delay "deep questioning" of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight as they get acclimated to their families and freedom. While the three appear to be in good health, a disturbing tale of sexual assault, physical abuse, bondage and other horrors is already emerging....
The Castro brothers allegedly forced all three women to have sex, resulting in up to five pregnancies, according to a report by Cleveland's WKYC-TV. The station, quoting unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that the Castros also beat the women while they were pregnant, with several unborn children not surviving....
A law enforcement official said there is some evidence that the victims were held in chains during at least part of their captivity. The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, did not elaborate on other conditions of their confinement or whether they were ever moved from the home.
In addition, Khalid Samad, a former assistant safety director for the city, said law enforcement officials told him that the women were beaten while pregnant, with unborn children not surviving, and that a dungeon of sorts with chains was in the home.
I cannot help but wonder if the Supreme Court's decision to categorically precluding consideration of the death penalty for even repeat and aggravated child rape in its 2008 Kennedy opinion might well have come out differently had this horrific Cleveland story been known at that time. Perhaps because I am a blood-thirsty SOB or just because I know what kind of justice I would want if someone abducted and sexual tortured my children in a dungeon for a decade, my guttural first sentencing thought in this case is some regret that a team of men who rape and torture young girls for over four presidential administrations cannot even face the prospect of our ultimate punishment for these kinds of crimes.
That said, as the title of my post here hints, Ohio law might provide a real and realistic basis to purpose a death penalty charge if there is significant evidence showing that the offenders, through physical abuse and forms of torture, "purposely ... cause[d] ... the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy." If the defendants beat their victims with an intent to cause them to miscarry, they could well be prosecuted in Ohio with Aggravated Murder pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2903.01(B).
Of course, a lot more facts are going to need to be known and analyzed before anyone should jump to the conclusion that capital murder charges are possible in this high-profile case. But because Ohio's statutes expressly reference "unlawful termination of another's pregnancy," I would expect and certainly hope that local prosecutors are already thinking about bringing homicide charges as well as rape and kidnapping charges in this case. Ohio's legislators, by having amended the state's Aggravated Murder provisions to expressly included purposely causing the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy, indicated an interest in the possibility that the "worst of the worst" sorts of "pregnancy terminators" should possibly face the death penalty. Based on the facts so far known, I feel very comfortable asserting that the defendants in Cleveland are likely among the "worst of the worst" sorts of "pregnancy terminators."
May 8, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack
"The Exchange of Inmate Organs for Liberty: Diminishing the 'Yuck Factor' in the Bioethics Repugnance Debate"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Jamila Jefferson-Jones now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract (which prompts for me a reaction of "cool" rather than "yuck"):
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour granted clemency to Jamie and Gladys Scott on December 29, 2010. This decision indefinitely suspended their double life sentences and freed them after 16 years in prison for armed robbery. The price of their liberty: Gladys’ kidney.
The story of the Scott Sisters’ release and the condition imposed upon Gladys Scott reflexively elicits an intense negative response on the part of the listener who likely is focusing on the “yuck factor” — a strong sentiment that what they just heard is unfair, unseemly, or just plain wrong.
What happens, then if the Scott Sisters’ story is replicated — if it is multiplied across prison populations? Were programs put into place that allowed prison inmates to trade their kidneys (or portions of their lungs, livers or pancreases) for liberty, it follows that the “yuck factor” would be multiplied exponentially. However, it must be noted that in confecting his peculiar clemency condition, Governor Barbour chose a course of action that was, ironically, unobjectionable to the civil rights community (including the state’s Black activist community) that was clamoring for the release of the Scott Sisters. If one were to cast the civil rights community as guardians of (or at least stakeholders regarding) the interests of poor and minority communities, the Scott Sister’s clemency case is particularly intriguing in that they cheered, rather than crying, “Yuck!” and objecting to the terms of release imposed by the Governor. The outcry from some bioethicists notwithstanding, this scenario begs the question of why we should not allow other prisoners — those to whom serendipity has not provided an ailing sister — to do the same and whether it is in fact possible to do so while avoiding, or at least mitigating repugnance.
This article contemplates whether the National Organ Transplant Act’s (“NOTA”) prohibition against the trading of organs for “valuable consideration” should include an exception that would allow state and federal prison inmates to donate organs in exchange for release or credit toward release. Such a stance surely raises questions regarding whether the state would be coercing the forfeiture of body parts as punishment or in exchange for freedom. Moreover, critics may question the potential effects on the criminal justice system of allowing those facing incarceration to bargain their bodies, and conceivably, their long-term health, in exchange for reduced prison terms. Therefore, such an inmate organ donation program is only feasible if a system is confected to remove the “yuck factor” ostensibly by removing coercion from the equation and by addressing the other concerns that mirror those addressed in the living donor sales debate. Such a program would need to reframe the legal context in which the Scott Sisters’ clemency condition was crafted into one in which a great measure of power and choice resides instead in the hands of the inmate participants.
May 8, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
"The Case for Full Restitution for Child Pornography Victims"The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN co-authored by Paul Cassell, James Marsh and Jeremy Christiansen concerning an issue that has riven the federal circuit courts and seems destined for SCOTUS consideration before too long. Here is the abstract:
This Article explores the issues of restitution to the victims of child pornography and other federal sex offenses in depth and contends that Congress meant what it said in Section 2259 — specifically that child pornography victims must receive an award for the “full amount” of their losses from any defendant convicted of harming them. This approach is consistent not only with the plain language of the statute but the well-established tort principle that any intentional wrongdoer is jointly and severally liable with other wrongdoers for an innocent victim’s losses. Requiring defendants to pay for the full amount of the losses that they have caused will address the significant financial losses suffered by child pornography victims.
May 7, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Are sexy and jobless now the best adjectives to describe federal criminal justice in SD Ohio?The somewhat bizarre and silly question in the title of this post was my reaction to this somewhat bizarre and not-so-silly article in my own Columbus Dispatch this morning concerning the US Attorney and (former) Chief Federal Public Defender in the Southern District of Ohio. Here are the details:
It turns out that at least one Columbus lawyer ranks pretty high in sexiness. According to a popular business- and technology-news website, the No. 2 sexiest lawyer in America is the city’s own Carter Stewart, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
“He doesn’t know how he got on the list,” said Fred Alverson, a spokesman for Carter’s office in Columbus. “By that, I mean we don’t know how he got noticed, but we’re honored he’s at the top of the list.” Stewart, 44, is a Harvard Law School graduate and has been in his current job since 2009.
First on the Business Insider list, not surprisingly, is California Attorney General Kamala Harris. President Barack Obama called her “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country” at a fundraising event in early April.
Though his animal magnetism was never brought up, Stewart’s opposite number, Steve Nolder, made an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show last week. Daily Show reporter and comic Aasif Mandvi traveled the country to learn how the federal sequestration is affecting people, and he came to Columbus to interview Nolder, the federal public defender for the Southern District of Ohio.
A straight-faced Nolder told Mandvi he hadn’t had to fire any employees in his office because of the automatic federal spending cuts. Instead, he fired himself. “That’s stupid,” Mandvi blurted out. After that, Mandvi took Nolder to “the only place he can now afford to eat” — a Columbus soup kitchen.
Nolder’s decision to ax his own position is no joke. He has been with the public defender’s office in Columbus since it opened in 1995 and has been moved to tears several times when talking about his decision to leave the job he loves.
I have embedded the Daily Show segment in which Steve Nolder appears at the very end of the end. Though I am not exactly an expert on sexy (and though I am surely biased toward folks who are follicly-challenged like me), I think Nolder might be able to give Carter Stewart a run for his money on that adjective. Jokes aside, though, I wish there was a well-staffed US criminal justice research commission (hint: USSC) or federal department focused on the administration of justice (hint: DOJ) who would be regularly reporting to the press and others on the seemingly very serious impact that the sequester seems already to be having on the day-to-day operation of the federal criminal justice system.
Recent related posts on federal sequester:
- Should anyone eager to see federal criminal justice reform be rooting FOR the sequester?
- Smarter Sequestration: simple statutory ways to save prison monies (and avoid federal furloughs?)
- "How the Sequester Threatens the U.S. Legal System"
- Lots on sentencing, sequester and other stuff at "Hercules and the Umpire"
Corrupt state supreme court judge and sister facing state sentencing in PAAs reported in this local article, headlined "Former Pennsylvania Justice Orie Melvin, sister face sentencing today," a high-profile corruption case in the Keystone State has finally reached the sentencing stage. Here are the basics:
Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and former court aide Janine Orie will be sentenced today by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus.
Prosecutors, in briefs filed before the court last month, are seeking incarceration for Ms. Orie Melvin and for her sister, who were convicted in February of misusing state-paid employees in Ms. Orie Melvin's campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009. The sisters were found guilty of theft of services, conspiracy and misapplication of government funds. Janine Orie was also convicted of tampering with evidence and solicitation.
In their briefs, Ms. Orie Melvin's defense attorneys asked for probation, citing her dedication to public service, charitable work and her devotion to her family and the hardship incarceration would bring upon her family, including her six children and elderly father.
The sisters were charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Among the allegations were that staffers wrote speeches, drove Ms. Orie Melvin to campaign events and worked the polls....
At the time of the verdict, Matt Mabon, the jury foreman, explained that the jury couldn't reach a decision on the official oppression count, which was connected to the employment of Lisa Sasinoski, chief law clerk for the justice who was a witness. Because there were competing versions of whether she was fired or resigned, jurors couldn't reach a decision, he said.
Ms. Orie Melvin voluntarily stopped hearing cases before the high court when she was indicted a year ago, just hours before the court issued an order suspending her to "preserve the integrity" of the system. That same day, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a recommendation that she be suspended with pay pending resolution of the criminal case, but in August, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Justice Orie Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.
Justice Orie Melvin fought unsuccessfully to have the charges against her dismissed, claiming that the Supreme Court itself should have jurisdiction over the allegations and not the criminal courts. A month after the verdict, on March 25, Ms. Orie Melvin announced, in a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett, that she would resign May 1 "with deep regret and a broken heart."...
Jane Orie is serving a 21/2- to 10-year prison term for using her staff for her own and Ms. Orie Melvin's campaigns and for forging documents to cover it up. She was found guilty in March 2012 of 14 of 24 counts against her, including ethics violations, theft of services, tampering with evidence and forgery.
Assistant district attorney Lawrence Claus is seeking consecutive sentences of incarceration in the aggravated range for Ms. Orie Melvin. The standard range is probation to 30 months, versus 48 months in the aggravated range. For Janine Orie, the standard range is probation to 27 months and up to 45 months in the aggravated range.
UPDATE: I am very pleased to see from this local article, headlined "Orie Melvin must write apology letters to Pennsylvania judges on photos of herself," that the sentence for the former judge includes a serious shaming sanction. Here are the awesome basics, about which I will blog more in a future post:
Disgraced former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin was sentenced today to house arrest followed by probation and ordered to send handwritten apologies on photographs of herself to every judge in the Commonwealth.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus sentenced Orie Melvin to three years' house arrest with two years' probation to follow.
A jury found Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie guilty on Feb. 21 of using judicial staff, as well as the staffers of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to work on the campaigns in 2003 and 2009 for the Pennsylvania high court.
Orie Melvin, 56, was found guilty on six of seven counts against her, including conspiracy, theft of services and misapplication of government funds. She resigned from the Supreme Court in March.
She must serve in a soup kitchen three times a week and can otherwise only leave her house for church.
Judge Nauhaus also ordered that an official county photographer take a photograph of Orie Melvin, on copies of which she must apologize to each of Pennsylvania's judges. She must pay for the cost. He ordered a deputy to handcuff her and the photo was taken of her in handcuffs.
Her sentence also includes $55,000 in fines, a prohibition on using the title "justice" during her term and handwriting apologies to former members of her campaign staff and that of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, whom she made engage in illegal work.
May 7, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, May 06, 2013
New bipartisan House Judiciary Committee task force to examine overcriminalizationAs reported in this Wall Street Journal article, Congress is creating a new federal criminal justice task force to address the problem of Congress creating too much federal criminal justice. The article is headlined "Task Force Aims to Lighten Criminal Code: Bipartisan Congressional Initiative Targets Bloated Federal Provisions Cited by Critics for Driving Up Incarceration Rates," and here are excerpts:
Congress plans this week to create a new, bipartisan task force to pare the federal criminal code, a body of law under attack from both parties recently for its bloat.
The panel, which will be known as the House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013, will comprise five Republicans and five Democrats. It marks the most expansive re-examination of federal law since the early 1980s, when the Justice Department attempted to count the offenses in the criminal code as part of an overhaul effort by Congress.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D., Va.) said he expected the committee to work through consensus. "We've been warned it's going to be a working task force and it means we'll have to essentially go through the entire code," he said.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.) a longtime champion of overhauling the code, will lead the task force. He is expected to reintroduce a bill he has tried to get through several congresses that would cut the size of the criminal code by a third. "Overcriminalization is a threat to personal liberty and an expensive and inefficient way to deal with a lot of problems," he said.
In a city with deep political divisions, the expansion of federal criminal law has created a coalition of allies from opposite sides of the aisle, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, the libertarian Cato Institute, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association. Legal experts estimate there are 4,500 criminal statutes and tens of thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties, including prison.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts figures some 80,000 defendants are sentenced in federal court each year. In recent years, states have reversed years of steady increases by reducing their prison populations while the number of people held at the federal level has continued to climb. Federal lawmakers and legal experts attribute part of the continuing increase to the rise in criminal offenses and regulations that carry prison time and the creation of laws that don't require knowledge of wrongdoing.
Democrats have long opposed the growth of parts of the system, blaming mandatory minimums for the increase in the federal prison population, especially the rise in African-American inmates. For Republicans, the encroachment of federal law into areas that could be handled by the states is a top concern....
Other committee members include Rep. Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) and Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.). Recommendations made by the task force will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R., Va.) said in an interview.
As the first sentence of this post suggests, I am not especially optimistic about the prospects for a new federal criminal justice entity doing a robust job of curtailing the size and scope of the federal criminal justice system. Nevertheless, simply the creation of this new task force, as well as its composition and commitment to work via consensus, suggests that at least a few persons inside the Beltway have come to realize there can and should be bipartisan efforts to shrink the considerable costs of the massive modern federal criminal justice system.
Should the top 1% get sentenced extra tough for defrauding Social Security?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable report of an interesting federal sentencing proceeding taking place today in Minnesota. Here are the basics:
A North Oaks couple will be sentenced Monday for defrauding the Social Security Administration of more than $300,000 in medical assistance despite a family net worth of $11 million. James and Cynthia Hood pleaded guilty in October to falsely claiming $332,000 in medical assistance payments for their seriously disabled children over five years.
Prosecutors are recommending a 41- to 50-month sentence for James Hood, but no prison time for Cynthia Hood ecause of the critical role she plays in caring for her two disabled children. One is autistic and the other has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen is expected to sentence the couple in a hearing beginning at 11 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.
The U.S. attorney’s office stated it “does not object to a non-incarcerative sentence for Cynthia Marsalis Hood, which includes home confinement, community service and a fine.” She should normally receive a prison sentence of 27 to 33 months for her conduct, federal prosecutors said in a memorandum last month.
The Hoods’ three children are 15-year-old triplets. Two of them are described by the prosecutors as “severely disabled.” Cynthia Hood sleeps next to one child “on a nightly basis” to keep her airways clear, in addition to helping “with all toileting and bathing needs.”...
The prosecution’s recommendation for a lighter sentence cites specific paragraphs from federal guidelines that indicate Cynthia Hood may have cooperated with the federal investigation. When they pleaded guilty in October, she and her husband paid the U.S. Marshals Service $484,312 as part of the plea agreement....
James Hood is a retired professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the couple “decided to relocate to Minnesota to take advantage of the health care and educational resources available for their children,” the court documents state.
Social Security Income (SSI) benefits for a child require that a parent and child have no more than $2,000 in income and assets, excluding a house and vehicle. “SSI is meant to be a resource of last resort,” prosecutors wrote. However, in a benefits interview in February of 2006, Cynthia Hood lied, claiming her husband lived in Louisiana and she was the sole legal guardian of her children, authorities said. She also lied about her assets and said she only had $1,400 in the bank, they said.
She failed to disclose that she and her husband owned a house in Louisiana that they had listed for sale at $278,000, that she held at least 16 bank accounts while he had 68 bank accounts, and that their combined interest income in 2006 was $183,000, prosecutors said. Her husband also owned a farm in Batavia, Iowa, that consisted of 180 acres of timber and farmland where corn and soybeans grew, with an income in 2005 of $187,910 that included $19,000 in state and federal agricultural payments.
The documents state that Cynthia Hood was purportedly unaware that for three years, they also received Medicaid payments from Louisiana for their children, thereby defrauding both Minnesota and Louisiana at the same time. The medical payments Hood received in Minnesota included more than $20,000 per year in salary to serve as a personal attendant for her children and $30,000 for a wheelchair-accessible elevator installed in the Hoods’ North Oaks home.
I would like to see the proverbial "book" thrown at these white-collar scoundrals, but I do not see the value or need for that book to include costly federal incarceration for either of these defendants.
In my view, it would be far more fitting to require James Hood to do 3+ years of community service rather than spend time (and taxpayer money) getting three squares and a cot in some low-level federal prison facility. I think Mr. Hood could and should be ordered as part of probation to helping truly poor people secure the Medicaid funding they deserve or ordered to spend time back in New Orleans helping truly needy folks still struggling with post-Katrina challenges.
UPDATE: This follow-up press report reports on the the sentencing outcomes for the Hoods, which appear to track the recommendations made by prosecutors:
A wealthy North Oaks woman will serve no prison time for defrauding Medical Assistance of $332,000. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen sentenced her to probation instead, saying her two severely disabled children “are very, very dependent on you.”
Ericksen ordered Cynthia Hood, 55, to pay a $300,000 fine, but said she was entitled to the lighter sentence because she was not the fraud’s ringleader, cooperated with authorities in investigating her husband, and was essential to caring for the children.
Her husband, James Hood, 69, was sentenced to 3½ years in prison and must pay a $200,000 fine. Erickson called his actions “despicable.”
May 6, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack