Thursday, October 31, 2013
"Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States"
The title of this post is the title of a notable new report from The Vera Institute of Justice available at this link. Here is a synopsis of the report's coverage via the Vera website:
Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates than the United States and make much greater use of non-custodial penalties, particularly for nonviolent crimes. In addition, conditions and practices within correctional facilities in these countries — grounded in the principle of “normalization” whereby life in prison is to resemble as much as possible life in the community — also differ markedly from the U.S.
In February 2013 — as part of the European-American Prison Project funded by the California-based Prison Law Office and managed by Vera — delegations of corrections and justice system leaders from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania together visited Germany and the Netherlands to tour prison facilities, speak with corrections officials and researchers, and interact with inmates. Although variations in the definitions of crimes, specific punishments, and recidivism limit the availability of comparable justice statistics, this report describes the considerably different approaches to sentencing and corrections these leaders observed in Europe and the impact this exposure has had (and continues to have) on the policy debate and practices in their home states. It also explores some of the project’s practical implications for reform efforts throughout the United States to reduce incarceration and improve conditions of confinement while maintaining public safety.
October 31, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Baltimore Sun praises federal sentencing judge for his part in a "national conversation about pot"I am intrigued and pleased to see this new Baltimore Sun editorial noting and praising the recent work by a Maryland federal district judge when sentencing a set of marijuana traffickers (first noted here). The editorial carries the headline "A national conversation about pot; Our view: Court's ruling in drug-smuggling case reflects the federal government's changing role in enforcing marijuana laws." Here is an excerpt:
A ruling handed down by a federal court this week strongly suggests that recent changes in state laws governing marijuana are now being reflected in how federal drug laws are enforced and will further change the conversation about marijuana use in America.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar acknowledged that new reality when he sentenced Scott Russell Segal this week to nearly five years in prison for his role in smuggling hundreds of kilograms of marijuana to Howard and Anne Arundel counties from California and New Jersey. Under federal sentencing guidelines Mr. Segal could have received eight to 11 years behind bars.
But the judge used his discretion to cut that penalty nearly in half, saying the federal government's response to the legalization of marijuana in some states had raised concerns of "equal justice" if federal law mandated significantly harsher punishments than state laws for the same crime. In doing so he clearly had in mind the Justice Department's recent announcement that it would not seek to block state laws legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use....
Judge Bredar briefly wondered aloud whether underground sales of marijuana were comparable to the black market in untaxed cigarettes in terms of the seriousness of the threat posed to society. But the truth is that, unlike black market cigarettes, the gangs that deal in illegal marijuana have gotten a lot more violent in recent decades, a function of the widespread continuing limited supply and high demand for pot as well as of the easy availability of guns. That's a direct consequence of the drug's prohibition, just as the gang wars of the 1920s and '30s were a result of attempts to ban legal sales of alcohol. Part of the wisdom of Judge Bredar's ruling lies in the recognition that we don't want to repeat the same mistake again.
Overall, the court's decision was a reasoned attempt to take into account all these factors in order to balance the strict requirements of the law against changing public perceptions of marijuana's impact on public health and safety. Ultimately some new consensus about the benefits and dangers of legal marijuana will emerge and be codified in a coherent body of law. But we are not there yet, and until that happens cases like this will provide the forums through which our national conversation on the subject is conducted.
Recent related post:
- Do nationwide reforms now call for federal judges to sentence below the guidelines in all marijuana cases?
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Do nationwide reforms now call for federal judges to sentence below the guidelines in all marijuana cases?The question in the title of this post is one that I have been thinking about for quite some time, but it has now taking on some real-world salience in the wake of a couple hearings and sentencing decisions by a federal district judge in Baltimore. Two recent reports from the Baltimore Sun, headlined "Federal judge weighs shift on marijuana sentences," and U.S. judge says government view on marijuana raises 'equal justice' issue" (available here and here, respectively), suggests that at least one federal district judge believes the answer to the question in the title of this post is yes. Here are details drawn from both press reports:
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
A federal judge said Friday he would consider lighter-than-normal sentences for members of a major suburban marijuana smuggling organization — the latest fallout of the drug's legalization in several U.S. states.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar noted that federal authorities announced this summer they would not pursue criminal cases against dispensaries and others legally handling marijuana in states where the drug has been legalized.
Bredar, who called the hearing to discuss the issue, said it might be more appropriate to compare the defendants in the Maryland marijuana case to smugglers of improperly taxed cigarettes rather than treat them as hardened drug traffickers. "It's a serious thing," Bredar said of the group's operation, "but it's not the same as dealing heroin."...
Friday's hearing involved defendants convicted of running a smuggling operation that imported large quantities of marijuana to Howard and Anne Arundel counties from California and New Jersey and laundering the proceeds through an eBay business located in a Jessup warehouse. Twenty-two of the 23 people charged in the case have been convicted; charges against one were dismissed.
Earlier this month, Bredar canceled all of the scheduled sentencings in the case and announced his plan to hold a hearing on changes in Justice Department policy that allow marijuana handlers such as dispensaries and cultivation centers to operate openly in states where marijuana is legal....
At issue in the Maryland case, Bredar said, is whether that shift means the government has decided the drug is less serious now than when federal sentencing guidelines were formulated. "Has the federal government changed its enforcement policy?" Bredar asked.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith said the topic was an appropriate one to discuss, but argued that marijuana remained a serious drug and noted that the case involved guns and violence. She suggested it might be more appropriate to compare marijuana dealing to trafficking in illegally obtained prescription pain pills rather than to cigarette smuggling....
And on a sliding scale of regulated substances, Bredar said, he thought marijuana had moved away from hard drugs and toward tobacco.
Sentences in federal cases are based on guidelines that take into account drug quantities and other circumstances in advising judges on the appropriate prison time. Those rules already recognize that dealing heroin is much more serious than dealing marijuana.
For example, all else being equal, a defendant convicted of dealing between one and three kilograms of heroin would face between nine and 11 years in prison, as would someone who sold between 1,000 and 3,000 kilograms of marijuana. At the same time, a cigarette trafficker would have to evade $100 million in taxes to face that length of prison sentence — a vastly greater weight in tobacco.
The guidelines are advisory and judges can take other factors into account when deciding a sentence. Bredar said he would take particular note of two of those factors when sentencing the defendants: He wants to make sure that defendants around the country are being treated equally and that the sentences reflect the seriousness of the offense....
A federal judge in Maryland handed down lighter prison sentences Monday to defendants in a huge marijuana distribution case, saying that such offenses are "not regarded with the same seriousness" as they were just a few decades ago.
U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar said the federal government's response to marijuana legalization in some states — notably the decision not to pursue criminal cases against dispensaries and others handling the drug in accordance with those states' laws — raises concerns of "equal justice."
In handing down a nearly five-year sentence, Bredar said he felt Scott Russell Segal had committed a significant crime for his role moving hundreds of kilograms of marijuana and laundering the proceeds.
But the judge used his discretion to ignore federal guidelines, which equate marijuana with harder drugs like heroin and called for Segal to receive eight to 11 years in prison. A second defendant also got a shorter sentence than called for in the guidelines. "It's indisputable that the offense is not regarded with the same seriousness it was 20 or 30 years ago when the sentencing guidelines … which are still in use, were promulgated," Bredar said.
October 29, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Detailing new state reform efforts to ensure kids get treated as kids by criminal justice systemToday's New York Times has this big story about modern juvenile justice reforms under the headline "A Bid to Keep Youths Out of Adult Prisons." The piece is mostly focused on a recent reform in Colorado, but here is an excerpt discussing the national trends:
In a reversal of the tough-on-crime legislation that swept the nation in the late 1980s and ’90s, nearly half of the states have now enacted one or more laws that nudge more young offenders into the juvenile justice system, divert them from being automatically tried as adults and keep them from being placed in adult jails and prisons.
Sarah Brown, a director of the criminal justice program at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the shift stems from a decline in juvenile crime, concerns about the costs of adult prisons and a growing understanding of adolescent brain development showing that the young have a greater potential for rehabilitation.
The Supreme Court has increasingly taken neurological research into account on juvenile justice issues — most recently in a 2012 case, Miller v. Alabama, which barred mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for those who committed their crimes before they turned 18. Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion in the case cited adolescents’ “diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change.”
Eleven states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia, have passed laws that keep most young offenders out of adult jails and prisons. Eight states, including California, Missouri and Washington, passed laws that alter mandatory minimum sentencing for young offenders charged as adults. Four — Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and Mississippi — have broadened the powers of their juvenile courts, enabling them to take cases of juveniles who would have automatically been tried as adults. And 12 states, including Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Utah, have adjusted the laws governing the transfer of young offenders into the adult system in ways that make it more likely that they will be tried as juveniles.
Many of these bills have passed with bipartisan support in states both Republican and Democratic and with the testimony of the young who are affected and their families, said Liz Ryan, the president of Campaign for Youth Justice, which recently issued a report on the shifts.
October 29, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Monday, October 28, 2013
NY Times editorial (poorly) urges better assessments of "Why Prisons Are Shrinking"Today's New York Times has this new editorial headlined "Why Prisons Are Shrinking" making these important points:
The mandatory sentencing movement that swept the United States beginning in the 1970s drove the state prison population up from less than 200,000 to about 1.4 million today and made corrections the second-fastest-growing state expense after Medicaid. But bipartisan sentencing reforms in a growing number of states are starting to reverse that trend — causing the prison population to decline by about 3.8 percent since 2009.
Underlying the state reforms is a relatively new and more sophisticated way of using data about the offender — including criminal history, drug abuse and instances of antisocial behavior — to assess the likelihood of that individual’s committing a new crime. And by examining arrest, sentencing and probation data, the states can revise policies that might be driving people back into prison unnecessarily....
Despite the merits of a risk-assessment approach, a report issued earlier this year by the Council of State Governments Justice Center said that many states are still flying blind, because they don’t have the resources to gather data. Moreover, the study noted, handling high-risk and low-risk offenders in the same way is a big mistake, because “low risk individuals have an increased likelihood of recidivism when they are oversupervised or receive treatment or services in the same programs as medium- and high-risk individuals.”
There are proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies. More states need to adopt these approaches.
I am fully supportive of the ideas and themes in this editorial, but a lot more could and should be said at this dynamic moment of sentencing and corrections reform. For example, in the wake of the lastest crime data indicating a spike up in national violent and property crimes (discussed here), this editorial should be stressing the need and importance of a careful state-by-state examination of where crime is going up and whether new (and still emerging) data on changes imprisonment rates and crimes rates provide critical new lessons concerning what we can now conclude about the connections between crime and punishment.
In addition, I think this editorial (and other advocacy concerning these critical issues) ought to be urging sustained examination and analysis of a handful of big jurisdictions in which stories of crime and punishment have been especially dynamic over the last few years. Specifically, I strongly believe that the big states of California, Illinois, New York and Texas, all of which have diverse urban and rural regions and all of which have changes its sentencing laws in diverse ways in recent years, should be a special focal point for sorting through and fairly assessing "proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies."
Last but not least, federal sentencing realities and reform discussions — as well as the interesting "new politics" of criminal justce reform — should be brought into these discussions ASAP. The federal prison population continues to grow despite the reforms ushered in by the Fair Sentencing Act, and it is now unclear whether or when any additional proposed federal sentencing reforms will get through Congress and if any of these reforms will effectively incorporate "proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies." More broadly, I think this editorial (and other advocacy concerning these critical issues) should be urging Congress — and especially those eager to support state rights and state-level solutions — to help provide states with the "the resources to gather data" and build on successful reform efforts. (For example, I have long believe the feds ought to be conducting a kind of "race to the top" federal funding competition to motivate the better development and analysis of state-level crime and punishment data.)
Just a few of many recent related posts:
- Uh-oh: BJS reporting significant spike up in violent and property crime for 2012
- FBI releases 2012 crime statistics showing stability in relatively low crime rates
- New National Academy of Sciences effort seeking to unpack the crime decline
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- Alabama rolls out new presumptive sentencing guidelines (which prosecutors mostly oppose)
- Guess which state has the highest rate of incarceration of black men in the entire US?
- "Three myths about conservatives and criminal justice" ... which are really stories about (slowly) changing modern realities
- Federal sentencing reform: an unlikely Senatorial love story and a Booker double-dose?
- Could significant federal criminal justice reforms become more likely if the GOP wins Senate in 2014?
October 28, 2013 in National and State Crime Data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Sunday, October 27, 2013
"Democracy on Display: A Case for Public Sanctions"The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new piece by Zachary Baron Shemtob now available here via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This article begins by discussing the work of Jason Brennan, who argues that voter ignorance is inherently and instrumentally problematic to democratic governance. I then apply this point to the contemporary criminal justice system and penology. I argue that voters’ lack of knowledge here is both unjust on those punished and, using the recent work of William J. Stuntz and others, has resulted in egregious consequences.
The majority of the article focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of public punishments, concluding that such sanctions have great potential to challenge citizens’ ignorance of our penal system. Ultimately, the goal is not to offer any sort of definitive conclusion, but to begin a long-overdue discussion on the role of public ignorance in our broken prison system, and one way in which such ignorance might be dispelled.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
In dissent, Judge Bright laments Eighth Circuit affirmance of 115 months in prison PLUS two life sentences for repeat bank robber
Dissenting from a panel affirmance today in US v. Scott, No. 12-3131 (8th Cir. Oct. 22, 2013) (available here), Judge Bright expressed these (and other) notable points about what he clearly considers an unreasonable sentence:
The sentence of 115 months in prison plus two life sentences imposed on Michael Scott by the district court represents a prime example of what may be called “gilding the lily.” It is unreasonable and excessive. For all practical purposes, the roughly 39-year mandatory minimum sentence in this case — for a defendant who is 56 at the time of sentencing — would have itself amounted to a sentence of life imprisonment. I ask what more is required. The sentence in this case is unreasonable and simply represents an effort to send a message of being tough on crime. But that’s not the purpose of a sentence....
As an appellate judge, I add another observation. The federal courts are now entering a new era of sentencing. Eric H. Holder, Jr., the United States Attorney General, has recently called for a new approach to criminal sentencing in the federal courts. The Attorney General emphasized the harsh reality that, as it stands today, “our system is in too many respects broken.” Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, United States Department of Justice, Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates (Aug. 12, 2013), available at http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/ag/speeches/2013/ag-speech-130812.html. Indeed, I agree with the Attorney General that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” Id.
The clearly excessive sentence imposed in this case illustrates very graphically the broken criminal justice system in the federal courts. Here, had Scott received a 39-year sentence — which the parties agreed was the mandatory minimum sentence in this case — he would be in prison until he was 95 years old. Yet the district court felt the need to impose a 115-month sentence followed by two life sentences. The district court justified the sentence by emphasizing Scott’s “criminal history and the need to protect the public.” But just how much protection does the public need from a 95- year-old man — assuming Scott were to live that long? According to the National Vital Statistics Reports, at the time he was sentenced, Scott was expected to live for another 27 years, or until he is about 83 years old.... A 39-year sentence would have been more than enough to serve as a deterrent and an appropriate punishment for a series of bank robberies, during which no one fired a gun and no one was physically injured. But instead, the district court imposed a substantially unreasonable sentence that is greater than necessary to accomplish the goals of sentencing. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). This sentence is not justified and is improper and I will not affirm a sentence that is obviously too harsh and imposed simply to appear tough on crime.
I would reverse and remand this case with instruction to the district court to impose a sentence no greater than a 39-year sentence.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times editorial explains why "Mandatory-minimum sentencing doesn’t work"Continuing an important on-going debate in Illinois over use of mandatory minimum sentences to deal with the problem of violent gun crimes, the Chicago Sun-Times today has this extended editorial headlined "Mandatory-minimum sentencing doesn’t work." Here are excerpts:
Mandatory minimum sentences, touted by some as a cure for gun crimes, are little more than a power grab by prosecutors. The intent of a mandatory minimum sentence is to make sure that people convicted of certain serious crimes get prison time and not a slap on the wrist, such as probation. But in the real world, that’s not what happens.
In the real world, this is what happens: Mandatory minimums, dictated by law, make it impossible for judges to use common-sense discretion when imposing sentences, so judges must nail some poor sap who simply made a foolish mistake with the same harsh sentence they would impose on a hardened criminal. But those mandatory minimums do nothing to reduce the ability of prosecutors to use discretion when deciding what charges — light or heavy — to file against a defendant. The indirect result is that prosecutors, not judges, set the sentence.
Mandatory sentencing is a fiction. It simply takes the decision-making for sentencing away from judges sitting in open court, where their actions can be questioned by higher courts, and hands that huge power and responsibility to prosecutors, who make their decisions behind closed doors, never to be challenged.
Legislation that might be called to a vote this week in Springfield would triple Illinois’ mandatory minimum sentence from one to three years for people convicted of the illegal use of a weapon, and it would broaden the kinds of crimes covered. An earlier version advanced out of committee in the spring legislative session, but ultimately died. The bill is backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and the families of some gun crime victims. McCarthy says 108 shootings or murders so far in 2013 would have been prevented had the bill already been a law this year. He cited the case of Bryon Champ, convicted in 2012 of the unlawful use of a weapon, who is accused of taking part in a September drive-by shooting that injured 13 in Chicago’s Cornell Square Park.
Clearly, we all wish Champ — if in fact he was one of the drive-by shooters — had still been behind bars. But what about other sorts of gun-possession offenders who would qualify for same mandatory minimum sentence? Would we really send an 87-year-old woman who lives in a dangerous neighborhood to prison for three years for illegally keeping a gun as protection? Should state Sen. Donne Trotter really have gone to prison for three years when a gun was found in his luggage at O’Hare Airport?
It’s a question that will come up more often in Illinois when the concealed carrying of weapons becomes legal next year, and people — forgetting they are armed — try to carry guns into prohibited places. Should those people go to prison for three years as well?
The thinking behind mandatory minimum sentences is that prosecutors can be better trusted than judges to mete out tough punishment. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez criticizes judges for being “quite lenient.” But most judges in the criminal court system are former prosecutors. And from 2010 through 2012, about 14,000 people were charged in three categories of unlawful use of a weapon, but the number of convictions was less than half of that. Changing sentences in cases where there is no conviction wouldn’t make any difference.
In analyzing the bill, the University of Chicago Crime Lab estimated that putting more people in prison would lead to 3,800 fewer crimes per year, including 400 fewer serious violent crimes. But the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council calculates that had the stricter mandatory minimum law been in effect from 2010 through 2012, it would have boosted prison costs by about $393 million. A Department of Corrections note attached to the legislation last spring estimated the bill would result in an increase of 3,860 inmates, with additional operating costs of $701,712,300 and construction costs of $263,130,300 over 10 years. That money would have to come from somewhere. If that leads to smaller police forces or cutting out effective programs to prevent recidivism, we might wind up with more gun crime than before.
Julie Stewart, president of Washington-based Families Against Mandatory Minimums, noted in a Feb. 17 Chicago Sun-Times op-ed that Chicago’s murder rate actually jumped 16 percent after Illinois imposed its current one-year mandatory minimum in 2011. And a report released Thursday by the Northwestern School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic concludes mandatory sentences would not deter crime....
On the national level, the Obama administration is trying to curb mandatory minimum sentencing, which is an idea that goes back to the 1980s. Illinois should be doing so as well.
October 21, 2013 in Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Why are murder rates so high in Puerto Rico and might criminal law be to blame?A thoughtful reader responded to this recent post on violent crime rates in New York City and Chicago with these interesting comments:
I wonder why I rarely see coverage on your blog of the high crime rate in Puerto Rico, which has a per capita murder rate six times higher than the rest of the U.S (and, which, if it were on the mainland, would probably be occupied by the National Guard by now). The USAO has been borrowing state prosecutors to process criminals; jails are overflowing; the federal government seeks capital punishment in some very egregious cases although the local constitution and popular opinion opposes it. These seem to be items of relevance to Sentencing Law and Policy.... Please help to draw attention to the depressing, yet interesting, criminal issues facing the island.
Upon my request, this helpful reader suggested the following links to draw more attention to the "depressing, yet interesting, criminal issues facing" that lovely island:
A dated article from the Miami Herald explaining that federal prosecutors in Puerto Rico are more aggressively using the Hobbs Act and firearm offenses to take cases away from local prosecutors in order to increase prison times and hold people without bail (which is argued to increase victim cooperation).
Thursday, October 17, 2013
"The Federal Death Penalty and the Constitutionality of Capital Punishment"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Scott Howe recently posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The federal death penalty results in few executions but is central to the larger story of capital punishment in the United States. In the last decade, federal statutes governing the federal death penalty seem to have exerted outsize influence with the Supreme Court in its development of “proportionality” doctrine, the rules by which the Justices confine the use of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In three cases rejecting capital punishment for mentally retarded offenders, juvenile offenders and child rapists, the Court noted that federal death-penalty statutes would have conferred protection against federal death prosecutions.
These decisions, and current federal death-penalty law, suggest that the Court could resolve certain nuanced proportionality problems by restricting the death penalty in the states. However, for observers who hope to see the Court eventually use proportionality analysis to abolish the death penalty or greatly restrict its use, these developments seem to carry mostly negative implications. The relatively broad application of federal death-penalty law would weigh against sweeping proportionality restrictions on the death penalty for murder. However, the article explains why the Court’s proportionality analysis fails adequately to consider low execution rates and why the rarity of federal executions, if persistent, should undermine any notion that federal death-penalty law and practice supports a national consensus favoring capital punishment for ordinary murder.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
"Three myths about conservatives and criminal justice" ... which are really stories about (slowly) changing modern realitiesThe title of this post is drawn from the headline of this recent FoxNews opinion piece by Vikrant Reddy, a senior policy adviser for Right On Crime. Here are excerpts, after which I explain my addition to the headline:
Over the summer, Americans were embroiled in fierce debates about NSA surveillance, Syria, and — of course — ObamaCare. Attorney General Eric Holder’s August 12th address on criminal justice reform, however, hardly made a blip on the national radar.
Observers who were surprised by this fundamentally misunderstand conservative views on criminal justice. Indeed, Holder himself quite possibly misunderstands conservative views on the subject. Three bits of conventional wisdom on this topic are completely wrong.
1. The conservative position on criminal justice is simply “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”
Prominent conservatives like Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Ed Meese are committed to reducing the incarceration of many nonviolent offenders while also enhancing public safety through effective community corrections and law enforcement. After Holder’s August policy address, Grover Norquist and Richard Viguerie essentially asked, “What took you so long?”
Increasingly, conservatives argue that prisons are necessary to incapacitate violent and career criminals but sometimes grow excessively large and costly like other government programs.... Conservatives appreciate the role that prison expansion has played in reducing crime, but they also recognize that incarceration has diminishing returns....
Citing recidivism rates of around 66% in some states, Newt Gingrich and Mark Earley observed: “If two-thirds of public school students dropped out, or two-thirds of all bridges built collapsed within three years, would citizens tolerate it?”
2. “Red states” are resistant to criminal justice reform.
In just the last three years, conservative legislatures and governors in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota enacted major reforms to avert future prison growth that redirect some nonviolent offenders to drug courts, electronic monitoring, and strong probation with swift and certain sanctions to promote compliance.
In 2012 and 2013, Georgia’s conservative legislature and Republican governor, Nathan Deal, passed perhaps the nation’s most sweeping adult and juvenile correctional reform bills. In 2011, an important prison reform bill was signed by John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio.
Texas, in particular, is a national reform model. A 2007 legislative estimate projected that over 17,000 new prison beds, at a cost of $2 billion, would be needed in Texas by 2012. State legislators instead expanded community-based options like probation, accountability courts, and proven treatment programs—for a fraction of the cost of prison expansion....
3. Conservative prison reforms are just a response to deficits and will be reversed once budgets are flush again.
Prison reform makes fiscal sense, especially in the wake of a recession that severely tightened state budgets, but this is not the only motivation behind conservative reform efforts. Texas, for example, began its reforms when it enjoyed a budget surplus.
Conservatives are principally concerned with public safety. Troubling recidivism statistics suggest that some low-level, nonviolent offenders who are incarcerated actually emerge from prison more dangerous than when they entered. Conservatives want to ensure that non-violent offenders amenable to rehabilitation can resume their lives as law-abiding citizens, productive employees, and responsible parents.
They are particularly concerned about the effect of sentencing policies on families, the bedrock institution of society. Overwhelming social science evidence — and common sense — indicates that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to perform poorly in school, engage in juvenile crime, and be incarcerated themselves.
Addressing this problem means using prison less for some nonviolent offenders and using community supervision more — but tough supervision that requires offenders to provide restitution to their victims, get drug treatment, keep stable jobs, and support their families.
I very much like this op-ed, but it strikes me as neither accurate nor fair to call the quoted claims "myths" as much as prior realities that are slowly changing. Indeed, the main reason so many "red states" have been leading some of the modern reform movement lately is because of the extreme and dire budget consequences now evidence in the wake of prior "lock 'em up and throw away the key" laws and practices long embraced by conservatives in these red states.
Perhaps the clearest proof that conservatives have been (and still tend to be) fans of the lock'em up approach to criminal justice comes from the latest statistics on state-by-state incarceration rates. This DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics press release about the latest official data on incarceration rates highlights the following telling data:
In 2012, states with the highest imprisonment rates included Louisiana (893 per 100,000 state residents), Mississippi (717 per 100,000 state residents), Alabama (650 per 100,000 state residents), Oklahoma (648 per 100,000 state residents), and Texas (601 p er 100,000 state residents). Maine had the lowest imprisonment rate among states (145 per 100,000 state residents), followed by Minnesota (184 per 100,000 state residents), and Rhode Island (190 per 100,000 state residents).
Though there are lots of factors other than politics and policies that impact crime and incarceration realities in various states, these data demonstrate it is hardly mythical to believe that conservate policy-makers and opinion leaders have historically (and still today) favor lock'em up approaches to criminal justice.
Some recent and older related posts:
- When and how will state GOP leaders start cutting expensive criminal justice programming? (post from Nov 2010 right after elections predicting new Republican Govs would have to lead some reform efforts)
- Examining the politics of crime and punishment in modern gubernatorial settings
- "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"
- Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
- Senators Durbin and Lee come together to introduce "Smarter Sentencing Act"
- Does Senator Ted Cruz agree with GOP Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul about the need for federal sentencing reform?
- Could significant federal criminal justice reforms become more likely if the GOP wins Senate in 2014?
- "The most interesting part of [Rand Paul's] speech was his widely anticipated defense of drug law reform."
- "Prison-Sentence Reform: A bill to give judges flexibility to impose shorter sentences deserves conservatives’ support."
- Another notable GOP member of Congress advocating for federal sentencing reform
- Senator Rand Paul talking up restoring voting and gun rights for felons, as well as sentencing reform
Thursday, October 10, 2013
US District Judge Gleeson assails DOJ use of MM sentencing threats to force pleasRegular readers have of late become familiar with the remarkable series of opinions being issued by US District Judge John Gleeson in which he forcefully expresses his deep concerns with how federal prosecutors can and will use mandatory minimum sentencing provisions to distort the operation of the federal criminal justice system. Judge Gleeson's latest opinion in this series was handed down yesterday in US v. Kupa, No. 11-CR-345 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 9, 2013) (available for download below), and its full 60 pages are must-read material for federal sentencing fans. The opinion can not be easily summarized, but its conclusion provide a flavor of what comes before:
Some prior posts noting Judge Gleeson's recent sentencing opinions:
I sentenced Lulzim Kupa to a 132-month term of imprisonment for a variety of reasons. The most important by far was because I could, that is, I was not required to impose a sentence of life in prison for his nonviolent drug trafficking offense. And the only reason for that is Kupa buckled under the enormous pressure that looming sentence placed on him. The prior felony information ushered that 800-pound gorilla into the case at the eleventh hour and it took the case over. Once it was filed, everything that followed was done with all eyes on the draconian sentence that a jury’s verdict of guilty would require me to impose. It snuffed out an imminent trial at which Kupa wanted to do what our Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee him: hold the government to its burden of proving him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And indeed the desire to snuff out that trial was reason the sole reason the prosecutor filed it.
Throughout, I have assumed that both the drug offense mandatory minimums and the onerous enhancements triggered by prior felony informations are here to stay, at least in some form. After all, as a circuit judge wrote in 2009, “[t]he Judicial Conference of the United States for almost 20 years, and the Sentencing Commission for almost 10 years, have pleaded with the judiciary committees of Congress to do something about the serious injustices that these long, mandatory minimum sentences impose -- to no avail.” [footnote citing Gonzalez-Ramirez, 561 F.3d at 31 (Merritt, J., concurring).] I have also assumed the constitutionality of using prior felony informations as bludgeons in federal prosecutors’ efforts to get defendants to plead guilty. But arguing that it is not illegal for prosecutors to use prior felony informations to produce the guilty pleas and sentences described above is no way to defend such a wayward policy. Attorney General Holder’s admirable leadership toward sentencing reform should lead him to refocus his attention on prior felony informations. If DOJ cannot exercise its power to invoke recidivist enhancements in drug trafficking cases less destructively and less brutally, it doesn’t deserve to have the power at all.
- Former US Attorney, and now District Judge, makes pitch to AG Holder on mandatory minimum charging
- Former federal prosecutor urges "Mandatory minimums for kingpins only"
- US District Judge Gleeson assails drug guidelines in another potent opinon
October 10, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
"Anormative Conceptions of Punishment and Humanitarian Ideals"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN authored by the prolific and profound Michael Tonry. Here is the abstract:
For the past quarter century, scholars have identified and attempted to explain large differences and changes over time in countries’ penal policies as expressed in their imprisonment rates. Explanations differ, and imprisonment rates change, sometimes radically, but one thing has remained the same. The countries atop the rankings have consistently included the United States, South Africa, Russia, the Baltics, Ukraine, and Belarus.
What distinguishes them, and more recently England and Wales, which has led the Western European league tables for two decades, is that they are countries in which punishment discourses, policies, and practices take little account of the interests of offenders. "There but for the grace of God…" empathy is largely absent. Mainstream retributive and consequentialist theories of punishment appear to have little influence. Policies and practices, and the implicit punishment theory might best be described as anormative.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
How should the law — federal or state — deal with a 10-year-old serious sex offender?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article from the Wall Street Journal about a remarkable federal juvenile prosecution. The article is headlined "Federal Youth Case on Trial: Prosecution of 10-Year-Old on Sex Charges Stokes Debate Over Juvenile Justice." Here is how it starts:
Two years ago federal prosecutors won a delinquency finding against a boy accused of engaging in sex acts when he was 10 years old with other young boys on an Army base in Arizona—one of the youngest defendants ever pursued by the U.S. Justice Department.
The case, now being reviewed by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, could open a new front in a long-running debate about how to handle juvenile sex offenders, whose cases generally have been tried in state, not federal, courts. The records are sealed because the defendant was tried as a juvenile, but the case came to light in September at an appellate hearing in San Francisco that was open to the public.
The boy's appeal involves a thorny legal question: Should children be prosecuted for sex acts with other children under a federal law that the boy's lawyers say was designed to target adult predators? The fight also highlights a broader debate over tagging juveniles as criminal sex offenders, a label that can land them a spot on registries that track offenders and limit where they can live.
The boy was found delinquent — guilty in juvenile-court parlance — on charges of aggravated sexual abuse against five boys between the ages of 5 and 7, under a statute that makes it illegal to engage in a sexual act with a person younger than 12 regardless of whether physical force is involved. The boy was sentenced to five years' probation, including mandatory psychological treatment, lawyers on the case said. He must also register as a sex offender in certain states, according to his lawyer.
"I think this is really overreaching on the part of the government," Keith Hilzendeger, a federal public defender representing the boy, said in an interview. He added that he had "never heard of a federal case where a person is 10."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Ferg said outside the courtroom that federal prosecutors took the case because of "the severity of the conduct" and because it took place on Fort Huachuca, the Army base where the boys lived with their families. "My opinion is this is the best thing that could've happened to the kid," said Mr. Ferg, adding that the case included allegations of anal penetration, repetitive behavior and threats. He said that prosecutors considered, "What can we do with this child to make sure this doesn't happen again?"
Sunday, October 06, 2013
More evidence of the sad perversity of California's administration of the death penaltyAs the title of this post reveals, I have now decided that the best adjectives to describe the administration of the quasi-dormant death penalty in California are sad and perverse. This new local article, headlined "Serial killer's death sentence revives capital punishment debate," highlights why:
In 1977, 19-year-old Larry Roggasch cracked open a six-pack of beer, pouring three on his little sister's freshly covered grave in their native San Jose, and made a promise: He would see that the man who raped, strangled and dumped her on a Marin County hillside be punished.
Thirty-six years later, judgment day looms for serial killer Joseph Naso, who at age 79 will become the oldest person ever sentenced to death in California when a judge next month pronounces his penalty for the murders of 18-year-old Roxene Roggasch and three other Northern California prostitutes.
But Larry Roggasch doesn't know whether he can bear to watch Naso receive what seems to him a hollow sentence. With an ongoing moratorium on executions in California and hundreds of convicted murderers awaiting capital punishment, there is virtually no chance the state will ever put Naso to death.
"It's a joke; he's never going to be executed," said Roggasch, a 56-year-old commercial fisherman. "He's going to live out the rest of his life safe and comfortable in his own cell on death row. That's why I want him to go to mainline prison," Roggasch continued. "He needs to suffer, like them -- not just my sister, all of them."
In California, the death penalty appeals process takes so long that men half Naso's age on death row are more likely to die of natural causes or kill themselves than be executed by the state. And while they wait on San Quentin State Prison's death row, they lead a relatively comfortable existence, with single cells and access to the best attorneys fighting for prisoners' rights.
But on the heels of voters narrowly choosing to preserve the death penalty last year, California's district attorneys and peace officers are readying a proposition for the 2014 ballot that they say would expedite executions once the state lifts its moratorium on lethal injection drugs. Among those spearheading the effort are District Attorneys Steve Wagstaffe of San Mateo County, Jeff Rosen of Santa Clara County and Mark Peterson, whose Contra Costa County territory has been the scene of death penalty defendants mocking the threat of capital punishment in recent years.
"Some individuals facing murder charges would prefer the death penalty to life without parole because they believe the conditions on death row are better than among the general population," said Larry Barnes, a private defense attorney and death penalty expert. "They harbor the opinion that with some 720 men on death row, unless they are very young, they don't stand a chance of being executed."
Such was the case with Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll plaza killer Nathan Burris, who practically begged Contra Costa County jurors to give him the death penalty at his trial last year for the jealousy-fueled ambush killing of his ex-girlfriend and her friend.
"If I was in Texas, I'd be terrified," Burris said from the witness stand in 2012. "California is not real. The death penalty means nothing to me but time to hang out and do what I'm going to do."
In the same courtroom three years earlier, Edward Wycoff received the death penalty for the ambush slayings of his sister and brother-in-law in El Cerrito. He told jurors that he deserved an award, not the death penalty, but still wanted the one-to-a-cell status that death row provides.
Between California resuming executions in 1992 and the beginning of the state's judicially imposed moratorium in 2006, just 13 men who exhausted their appeals have been executed. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation counts 722 men and 20 women currently on death row, nearly 300 of whom have had their sentences affirmed by the Supreme Court. Experts say it takes 12 years on average for condemned inmates in California to exhaust their appeals, more than twice the national average for death penalty states.
Meanwhile, the costs mount; by one estimate, the state has spent more than $4 billion on death penalty trials, appeals and incarceration since 1978. "The death penalty process is broken, there is no dispute about that," said Peterson, who is part of Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings, a coalition of district attorneys, law enforcement professionals and victims' rights advocates in the process of raising $1.7 million to get on the November 2014 ballot an initiative they believe would cut the appeal process in half and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year....
But Ana Zamora, senior policy advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said Peterson and his coalition face "a serious uphill battle. The death penalty system is so broken beyond repair, there is no fixing the system that won't cost millions and millions and won't put at risk executing innocent people," she said.
In the meantime, San Quentin's death row more and more resembles a geriatric ward. Killer and serial rapist Darryl Kemp currently holds the distinction as the oldest person to be sentenced to death in advance of Naso's Nov. 8 sentencing. Kemp was 73 when he slept through his 2009 trial and sentencing for the rape and murder of a Lafayette mother three decades earlier.
It was the second death sentence for Kemp, who killed just four months after he was released from San Quentin in 1978 after a California Supreme Court ruling that made capital punishment unconstitutional and commuted all death sentences to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Today, at age 77, Kemp is in the preliminary stage of his appeal that will stretch for years.
I would like to believe that some kind of successful initiative campaign in California could somehow succeed in making the state's death penalty system less sad and perverse. But I suspect and fear that it is the deep ambivalence of California's populace, politicians and population of lawyers concerning a truly functional capital punishment system that has led to the current mess, and I doubt any set of formal legal changes are likely to be able to effectively transform the system's sad and perverse realities anytime soon.
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Second Circuit finds substantive due process problems (and others) with penile plethysmography testing for convicted sex offenderThanks to a number of helpful readers, I have not missed the news of a notable sentencing ruling by a Second Circuit paenl today in US v. McLaurin, No. 12-3514 (2d Cir. Oct. 3, 2013) (available here). Here is how the opinion starts:
David McLaurin, a convicted sex offender, was required by federal law to register any change in his address. He failed to do so and, following his guilty plea, was sentenced in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont to fifteen months’ imprisonment and five years of supervised release. As a condition of his release, McLaurin was required to “participate in an approved program of sex offender evaluation and treatment, which may include . . . plethysmograph examinations, as directed by the probation officer.” Judgment, United States v. McLaurin, No. 11 Cr. 113 (WKS), Dkt. No. 28 (D. Vt. Aug. 22, 2012), J. App. 9.
This examination involves the use of a device know as a plethysmograph which is attached to the subject’s penis. In some situations, the subject apparently may be required, prior to the start of the test, to masturbate so that the machine can be “properly” calibrated. The subject is then required to view pornographic images or videos while the device monitors blood flow to the penis and measures the extent of any erection that the subject has. The size of the erection is, we are told, of interest to government officials because it ostensibly correlates with the extent to which the subject continues to be aroused by the pornographic images.
McLaurin objected to this requirement as unnecessary, invasive, and unrelated to the sentencing factors specified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and therefore impermissible as a discretionary condition of supervised release. See 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(1). The district court nonetheless imposed the requirement without reference to the statutory goals of supervised release or to any expected benefits to the public or to McLaurin. McLaurin now appeals.
We hold that this extraordinarily invasive condition is unjustified, is not reasonably related to the statutory goals of sentencing, and violates McLaurin’s right to substantive due process. We therefore vacate the condition.
October 3, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack
"Risk Redux: The Resurgence of Risk Assessment in Criminal Sanctioning"The title of this post is the title of this new paper available via SSRN and authored by John Monahan and Jennifer Skeem. Here is the abstract:
After almost four decades of “just deserts,” the past several years have seen a remarkable resurgence of risk assessment as an essential component of criminal sanctioning. In this article, we review current practice in the incorporation of risk assessment into the sanctioning systems of several illustrative states, and describe the major dimensions on which state practices differ. We then elaborate the various meanings ascribed to the foundational concept of “risk” in criminal sanctioning, and contrast “risk” with what are now often called “criminogenic needs,” the fulfillment of which ostensibly reduce an offender’s level of “risk.” Finally, we address the choice of an approach to risk assessment in sentencing, particularly in the resource-starved state of current correctional practice.
Monday, September 30, 2013
How common are DVD submissions as mitigation evidence as part of federal sentencing?The question in the title of this post is prompted by a somewhat amusing discussion toward the end of a Ninth Circuit panel opinion released today in US v. Laurienti, No. 11-50294 (9th Cir. Sept. 30, 2013) (available here). The following passage from the opinion provides the context for the question:
Laurienti claims for the first time on appeal that the district court committed plain error when it did not read the last two pages of his sentencing memorandum or view a DVD he had submitted. We review these contentions under the same plain error standard applicable to his claim that the district court did not listen to his evidence in mitigation. We reject these contentions for two reasons.
First, the court provided Laurienti the opportunity to present the substance of those materials during sentencing. Laurienti did so, and the court listened to his position.[FN7]
Second, and more importantly, the court explained why further considering those materials would not change its decision. The court specifically stated that it had reviewed numerous letters from Laurienti’s family, friends, and business associates. The court did not, however, find these materials persuasive in light of Laurienti’s apparent attempts to avoid making restitution payments. Considering the cumulative nature of the DVD, and the fact that the court allowed Laurienti to discuss his sentencing position at length, Laurienti has failed to establish that the court’s refusal to consider the exhibits amounted to plain error requiring reversal.
[FN7] We note in passing that the time that the attorneys and this court have spent on the issue of the unread two pages and unwatched DVD was, in all likelihood, far more extensive (and, for the parties, expensive) than if the court had simply read and watched what was before it. As Benjamin Franklin astutely observed, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Under the circumstances, I am not suprised or troubled by the Ninth Circuit's resolution of this issue, though I can understand why a defendant might be both surprised and troubled that a judge at sentencing would report that he had not bothered to watch a DVD the defense team had created for the occassion. This, in turn, leads me to wonder if mitigation DVDs are common submissions by the defense in some federal courts or for some sets of defendants (and also whether judicial disregard of such DVDs submissions might also be common).
A few prior related posts:
- Interesting sign of the modern high-tech sentencing times
- "Documentation, Documentary, and the Law: What Should be Made of Victim Impact Videos?"
September 30, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
"Does Liberal Procedure Cause Punitive Substance? Preliminary Evidence from Some Natural Experiments"The title of this post is the title of this very interesting new paper on SSRN authored by the always interesting Donald Dripps. Here is the abstract:
The late, and justly celebrated, William Stuntz made many contributions to the literature on criminal procedure. Among these is the arrestingly counter-intuitive thesis that the Warren Court’s pro-defense procedural rulings made a causal contribution to the “punitive turn” in the substantive criminal law. This article, contributed to a symposium on Criminal Justice at the Crossroads held at USC on June 7, 2013, and forthcoming in the Southern California Law Review, aims to test this thesis empirically.
Before the Warren Court, criminal procedure was not uniform across the states. Some were more liberal and some more conservative. The article argues that these differences set up natural experiments. We would expect the Warren Court’s decisions to provoke more powerful reactions in jurisdictions where local practice was more radically transformed. We can assess whether conservative jurisdictions increased the severity of the substantive law faster than counterpart jurisdictions with more liberal baseline procedures.
The article measures punitiveness according to an index of prisoners per homicide. It codes eight US jurisdictions as liberal or conservative in their pre-Warren Court criminal procedure. Generally similar jurisdictions with marked differences in their criminal procedure are then compared: liberal California with conservative New York, liberal Illinois with conservative Ohio, liberal Kentucky with conservative Maryland, and liberal DC with conservative Virginia. The data in general do not support Professor Stuntz’s claim that liberal procedural rulings encouraged more punitive substance.
Further study is warranted. The available evidence, however, does not suggest the existence of a general substance-procedure feedback loop that should cause judges, legislators, or law enforcement officials to hesitate to adopt otherwise justified reforms.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Boston Globe says "Eric Holder shouldn’t seek death for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev"This new Boston Globe editorial argues that the top US prosecutor ought not seek the punishment of death for the last living Boston Marathon bomber. Here is part of the paper's pitch:
In the raw days after the Marathon bombing in April, Mayor Tom Menino spoke for many Bostonians when he raised the prospect of executing those who were responsible. Though normally a death penalty opponent, Menino said that the barbarity of the attackers, who killed four people and maimed dozens, might sway him.
Now, as surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces trial, that question looms for federal prosecutors, who are in the midst of a lengthy process to decide by Oct. 31 whether to seek the 19-year-old’s death by lethal injection. It’s certainly understandable why many friends, family, and supporters of the victims hope prosecutors will seek the ultimate vengeance against the man they believe masterminded the bombing along with his older brother, Tamerlan. Still, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should decide against it....
In addition to the extra cost of capital prosecutions — cases can exceed $10 million — death penalty cases drag on for years, through numerous appeals. Such lengthy proceedings would ensure that the Marathon bombing case lingers in the spotlight, compounding the sense of injury to victims. Many people would feel compelled to defend Tsarnaev on the basis of his youth, lack of past offenses, and being under the influence of his older brother — all factors that would mitigate against a death sentence. Years of proceedings, and their potential culmination in a death sentence, would also give Tsarnaev what he and his brother apparently sought: publicity and notoriety. Much better to let Tsarnaev slip into obscurity in a federal prison cell, and stay there.
It’s possible that prosecutors are keeping the death penalty on the table primarily to use as leverage against Tsarnaev, hoping that he will agree to plead guilty, skip a trial, and accept life imprisonment in order to save his life. Such a strategy raises worries about fairness under any circumstances, since it puts enormous pressure on defendants to give up their right to a trial. In this case, it’s also unnecessary. The evidence against Tsarnaev is overwhelming, and prosecutors should have nothing to fear from bringing the case to trial.
Beyond the details of this particular case, of course, lies the deeper question of whether the death penalty itself is ever right. There is no national consensus on the death penalty, and Holder needs to be sensitive to differences of public opinion. The bombing was a terrorist act aimed at this Commonwealth, where the death penalty has been repeatedly debated and repeatedly rejected. A recent Globe poll found that Boston residents oppose the death penalty for Tsarnaev by a solid margin. Of course, the attorney general should be under no legal obligation to consider the temper of the city. But perhaps it will give him the cover to make the right call. If Massachusetts can reject the death penalty, even after the most awful crimes, so can Holder.
Some recent prior posts:
- Does Boston bombing provide still more support for my federal-only death penalty perspective?
- "Balancing the State and Federal Roles in Boston Bomber Case"
- Bad news for hard-core death penalty fans: Judy Clarke joins defense team for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
- "The Boston Bomber Should Face The Possibility Of The Death Penalty"
- How can/will Boston bombings victims reasonably "confer" with prosecutors and be "reasonably heard" in proceedings?
- "Boston Bombing Suspect Is Indicted on 30 Counts"
- Will a jury get a chance to embrace or reject death penalty in Boston bombing case?
- Intriguing sparring over federal capital recommendation procedure in Boston bombing case