Tuesday, April 12, 2016
"Accounting for Prosecutors"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting looking new paper by Daniel Richman now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
What role should prosecutors play in promoting citizenship within a liberal democracy? And how can a liberal democracy hold its prosecutors accountable for playing that role? Particularly since I’d like to speak in transnational terms, peeling off a distinctive set of potential “prosecutorial” contributions to democracy — as opposed to those made by other criminal justice institutions — is a challenge. Holding others — not just citizens but other institutions – to account is at the core of what prosecutors do. As gatekeepers to the adjudicatory process, prosecutors shape what charges are brought and against whom, and will (if allowed to) become shapers of citizenship. They also can can promote police compliance with legal and democratic norms. Because the prosecutorial role in case creation is largest when crimes are not open and notorious, prosecutors can also play an outsized role in the bringing of cases that target instances of illegitimate subordination (including domestic violence) and corruption that are antithetical to a liberal democracy.
After considering ways in which prosecutors might promote democratic values, I explore (quite tentatively) how prosecutors can be held to account. Working from existing practices and structures, I consider how we might promote their potential contributions through legal and institutional design with respect to reason-giving obligations; geographic scale; insulation from direct political influence, and modulation of their message.
Interesting alternative sentencing being used in Thailand for drunk drivers
Regular readers know that I have long viewed drunk driving as a much-too-common, potentially-deadly offense that I fear is not regularly punished appropriately to best reduce recidivism and the extraordinary harms to public safety and property that this offense too often produces. Consequently, I was intrigued to see this new article about a new kind of sentencing being tried for this offense in the Land of Smiles. The piece is headlined "Thai drunk drivers to do morgue work in 'shock sentencing' strategy," and here are the details:
Drunk-drivers in Thailand will be sentenced to community service in morgues in an attempt to combat the world’s second highest road death rate. The plan to confront offenders with the risks of their actions in starkly morbid fashion was unveiled as the country embarked on its most dangerous time on the roads – the Thai new year holidays.
In a country with a notoriously poor road safety record, the ruling junta hopes the initiative will drive home the message that drink driving and reckless driving is lethal. "Traffic offenders who are found guilty by courts will be sent to do public service work at morgues in hospitals," said Police Col Kriangdej Jantarawong, deputy director of the Special Task Planning Division.
"It is a strategy used to make traffic offenders afraid of driving recklessly and driving while they are drunk because they could end up in the same condition. It is aimed to be a deterrent, a way to discourage people."
The “shock sentencing” strategy was approved by the Cabinet as the kingdom prepared for the extended Songkran new year festivities that formally begin on Wednesday. There is much higher traffic than normal as millions return to their home villages, while the festivities are also marked by heavy consumption of alcohol, including by drivers. Nominal helmet laws for motorcyclists are widely flouted.
The combination means the celebrations are accompanied by carnage on the roads each year. The government’s safety campaign bluntly refers to the holiday week as “The Seven Days of Danger”. The death toll has been increasing in recent years, despite government crackdowns and awareness campaigns. The authorities have also said that they will immediately impound the cars of motorists driving under the influence.
"We originally had community services at hospital wards (for offenders)," said Nontajit Netpukkana, a senior official at the department of probation. "But we think the intensity that comes from working in a morgue will help give those doing community service a clearer picture of what happens after accidents caused by drink driving.”
Monday, April 11, 2016
"The Battle Against Prison for Kids"
The title of this post is the headline of this new article from The Nation. The piece's subtitle is "We’re feeding children into a system that breaks them," and here is how it gets started:
For as long as youth prisons have existed in the United States, so too has the pretense that there are no youth prisons. Early 19th-century reformers who sought to remove children from the harsh adult penal system established new institutions specifically for the detention of youths. They didn’t call them prisons, but Houses of Refuge, dedicated to the discipline and reform of newly coined group, “juvenile delinquents.” Founded with ostensibly laudable intent, the institutions were overcrowded fortresses, riddled with abuse, serving to institutionalize strict social control over poor and immigrant communities. That is, they were prisons.
And so began the unending march of euphemisms, in which children’s prisons have been known by any other name — residential treatment facilities, youth camps, youth-development centers, to name a few — exposing juveniles to many the same cruelties and racial discriminations of the adult prison system. In the two centuries since its formal birth, the juvenile-justice system has changed radically, while youth prisons have hardly changed at all. It’s as if the clock on reform stopped in the turn-of-the-century Progressive Era and has only recently started shakily ticking again.
Last year, before the election spectacle swallowed the news cycle whole, juvenile-justice reform made headlines as a keystone in President Obama’s legacy-construction efforts. Overdue political action from state houses has gained serious ground in removing youths from adult prisons. On any given day, 10,000 juveniles are housed in adult facilities, where they are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than in juvenile institutions (a monstrous statistic, especially considering the prevalence of sexual abuse in youth facilities). The necessity of getting kids out of our shameful adult system cannot be overstated. It’s a limited achievement, though. And even as more and more youth prisons close, we must be vigilant against “alternatives” that press the same oppressive, discriminatory stigmas of criminality and delinquency onto kids outside prison walls.
New Orleans judge threatening to turn public defender funding crisis into a public safety problem
This local article from the Big Easy reports on notable efforts by a local judge to make sure it is no longer easy for public officials to ignore the problem of inadequate funding of public defenders to represent indigent criminal defendants. The article is headlined "New Orleans judge orders release of seven inmates charged with serious felonies because of lack of money for defense, but men will remain jailed pending an appeal," and here are the basic details:
In a potentially blockbuster ruling, an Orleans Parish judge on Friday ordered seven indigent inmates released from jail because of a lack of state money for attorneys to represent them amid a squeeze on public defense funding in New Orleans and across Louisiana.
However, Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter stayed his order, which also included a suspension of the men’s prosecutions, pending an appeal from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office. Assistant District Attorney David Pipes told Hunter an appeal is coming, and Hunter gave him 10 days. The seven men will remain behind bars pending the outcome of that appeal.
All of them face serious felony charges — including murder, armed robbery and aggravated rape — and all have been deemed indigent. Most have spent more than a year behind bars, going months without legal help on their cases, attorneys said.
Hunter ruled that the lack of state funding for the seven men’s defense violated their Sixth Amendment rights and that the resulting uncertainty on when their cases might move forward warrants their release. “The defendants’ constitutional rights are not contingent on budget demands, waiting lists and the failure of the Legislature to adequately fund indigent defense,” Hunter wrote in his 11-page ruling, portions of which he read from the bench.
“We are now faced with a fundamental question, not only in New Orleans but across Louisiana: What kind of criminal justice system do we want? One based on fairness or injustice, equality or prejudice, efficiency or chaos, right or wrong?”
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office said the district attorney “believes that releasing defendants charged with serious acts of violence poses a clear and present danger to public safety, and he intends to appeal the ruling.” Spokesman Christopher Bowman added, “It appears that the judge’s ruling declares that a legislative act — namely the most recent budget — violates the Louisiana Constitution.”
Tulane Law School professor Pam Metzger, who is representing all seven in their bid for release, said she was “thrilled that the judge appreciates the extraordinary constitutional obligations of providing poor people with counsel and due process of law.” She said she was disappointed that Hunter stayed his ruling but that attorneys would continue pressing to free the men.
In addition to Metzger, each of the men has an attorney appointed by Hunter. But in his ruling, Hunter said the appointment of private attorneys without any state money available for early witness and defendant interviews, filing motions and strategizing “makes a mockery of the Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.”
Hunter was following directions laid out in a 2005 Louisiana Supreme Court decision on when judges can halt prosecutions because of a lack of adequate indigent defense funds. The court said a judge can stop a case “until he or she determines that appropriate funding is likely to be available.” The “absence of a date certain” when that money will come, Hunter found, also violates the right to due process guaranteed in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Louisiana Constitution’s edict for the Legislature to “provide for a uniform system for securing and compensating qualified counsel for indigents.”...
Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton’s office had turned away the seven cases, citing a severe budget shortfall, bloated workloads and the loss of several experienced attorneys in his office.
Hunter, who has taken drastic measures during past funding shortfalls at the Public Defenders Office — he ordered the release of several inmates after Hurricane Katrina — doled out the seven men’s cases to private attorneys, who promptly sought a halt to the prosecutions and the men’s release. They said they can’t do any work on the cases unless they get money to pay for investigators and other expenses.
Hunter’s ruling came after a series of hearings in his courtroom that began in November with testimony from Bunton and Jay Dixon, who heads the Louisiana Public Defender Board, among others. They testified that indigent defense in Louisiana is facing a crisis because of a system in which local offices are funded largely through fines and fees leveled on criminal defendants, mostly for traffic violations. Those revenues have slid steadily over the past several years, in some parishes more than others. All told, almost a dozen district public defenders across the state have instituted austerity programs.
In New Orleans, that has meant a hiring freeze since last summer and, beginning in January, a refusal by Bunton’s office to accept appointments in serious felony cases — now at 110 and counting — because of a lack of experienced attorneys to handle them, according to Bunton. “Obviously, the charges involved in these cases are really serious, so I do think folks should be concerned about public safety,” Bunton said Friday. “We wouldn’t need to be in this position if (the state) provided the resources that are necessary under the constitution. You can only prosecute as fast as you can defend, and if you can’t defend, you can’t prosecute.”...
The defenders’ funding troubles may be getting even worse. In Baton Rouge, lawmakers grappling with the state’s deep budget morass have threatened deep cuts in the $33 million in annual state funding that has supplemented local revenue, making up about a third of the overall funding for indigent defense across the state. The Louisiana Supreme Court has in the past endorsed a halt to prosecutions until adequate funding becomes available. But it has stopped short of ordering action by the Legislature.
At a recent hearing, Metzger described an “abject state of financial crisis. There is no money to fund these defenses. ... The cause of the delay rests entirely with the state. The Legislature has been on notice not simply for weeks or months or years but for decades.”
In a legal filing last week, however, Cannizzaro’s office described the private attorneys seeking to be relieved from the cases as bent on “nothing less than anarchy” by pressing for the defendants’ release and a halt to their prosecutions, while “hoping for a paycheck” at the expense of justice. “They are seeking to bring down a system they disagree with rather than protecting the rights of those individuals this court has appointed them to represent,” Pipes wrote.
A statement from Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Hunter’s ruling “a miscarriage of justice on all sides” and urged the judge “for the sake of the victims and their families” to “reconsider putting alleged murderers back on the streets, like Darrian Franklin.”
“The state needs to live up to its obligation by fully funding the public defender, and the judge should continue to work on getting the State to appropriately fund its responsibilities,” the statement read.
Thursday, April 07, 2016
"Reconceptualizing the Eighth Amendment: Slaves, Prisoners, and 'Cruel and Unusual' Punishment"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting new article by Alex Reinert now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The meaning of the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause has long been hotly contested. For scholars and jurists who look to original meaning or intent, there is little direct contemporaneous evidence on which to rest any conclusion. For those who adopt a dynamic interpretive framework, the Supreme Court’s “evolving standards of decency” paradigm has surface appeal, but deep conflicts have arisen in application. This Article offers a contextual account of the Eighth Amendment’s meaning that addresses both of these interpretive frames by situating the Amendment in eighteenth and nineteenth-century legal standards governing relationships of subordination. In particular, I argue that the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment” was intertwined with pre- and post-Revolutionary notions of the permissible limits on the treatment of slaves.
The same standard that the Framers adopted for the treatment of prisoners in 1787 was contemporaneously emerging as the standard for holding slaveholders and others criminally and civilly liable for harsh treatment of slaves. Indeed, by the middle of the nineteenth century, constitutional law, positive law, and common law converged to regulate the treatment of prisoners and slaves under the same “cruel and unusual” rubric. Thus, when the Supreme Court of Virginia referred to prisoners in 1871 as “slaves of the State,” the description had more than rhetorical force.
Going beyond the superficial similarity in legal standards, examining how the “cruel and unusual” standard was explicated in the context of slavery offers important insights to current debates within the Eighth Amendment. First, the contention by some originalists that the Punishments Clause does not encompass a proportionality principle is in tension with how courts interpreted the same language in the context of slavery. Indeed, relationships of subordination had long been formally governed by a principle of proportional and moderate “correction,” even though slavery in practice was characterized by extreme abuse. Second, to the extent that dynamic constitutional interpretation supports limiting criminal punishment according to “evolving standards of decency,” the comparative law frame used here raises questions as to how far our standards have evolved. This, in turn, should cause commentators and jurists to reconsider whether the twenty-first century lines we have drawn to regulate the constitutional bounds of punishment are adequate to advance the principle of basic human dignity that is thought to be at the heart of the Eighth Amendment.
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
The title of this post is the title of this timely new piece by William Berry now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
When the Court interprets the Constitution to accord a new right to criminal offenders, the question quickly becomes which prisoners might benefit from the new rule. The current retroactivity doctrine relies on a confusing substance-procedure dichotomy. Drawn from Teague v. Lane, this test often results in lower court splits on the retroactivity question. Just this term, the Supreme Court has already decided the question of retroactivity in one case — Montgomery v. Louisiana, and has granted certiorari in another — Welch v. United States.
This Article rejects the substance-procedure dichotomy and offers a competing theoretical frame for considering the question of retroactivity. Specifically, the Article develops the concept of “normative retroactivity,” arguing that retroactivity should relate directly to the normative impact of the new rule on previous guilt and sentencing determinations. Further, the article advances a doctrinal test for assessing normative retroactivity of new rules of criminal constitutional law that combines the normative impact of the rule with a balancing test that weighs the applicable values of fundamental fairness and equality under the law against the competing values of finality, comity, and government financial burden.
April 6, 2016 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 05, 2016
"How Drug Warriors Helped to Fuel the Opioid Epidemic"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic piece. Here is how it starts and ends:
Despite almost 50 years of the drug war — a policy that creates black markets, enriches drug cartels, and fuels killing zones in scores of cities, even as it causes the United States to cage more human beings than any other democracy in the world — it remains extremely easy for Americans to acquire the most addictive, deadly drugs.
“Overdoses from heroin, prescription drugs, and opioid painkillers have overtaken car accidents to become the leading cause of injury-related deaths in America,” The Economist reports. “In 2014, they were responsible for 28,647 deaths. Between 2001 and 2014, deaths from heroin overdoses alone increased six-fold, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. On average, 125 people a day die from drug overdoses, 78 of them from heroin or painkillers. These numbers have been compared to deaths from HIV in the late 1980s and 1990s.”
Had the War on Drugs merely failed to prevent this epidemic, even as it destabilized numerous countries and undermined domestic liberties, it would be an abject failure. But federal drug policy has actually been worse than useless in heroin’s rise.
In a saner world, American researchers and patients would’ve spent the last several decades experimenting with marijuana to maximize its potential as a pain reliever. Pot use isn’t without health consequences, but is much less harmful than many prescription drugs. Instead, drug warriors fought to stymie marijuana research, keep pot illegal, and stigmatize medical marijuana as a dangerous fraud, even as doctors prescribed more opioid painkillers — that is, medical heroin. Many get addicted, and when the pills run out, they seek a street substitute....
“What has made it previously difficult to emphasize treatment over criminal justice,” President Obama said last month, “is that the problem was identified as poor, minority, and as a consequence, the thinking was, it's often a character flaw in those individuals who live in those communities, and it's not our problem they're being locked up. One thing that's changed in this opioid debate is that it reaches everybody. Because it's having an impact on so many people, we're seeing a bipartisan interest in addressing this problem … not just thinking in terms of criminalization or incarceration, which unfortunately has been our response to the disease of addiction."
But even today’s reformers are far too timid. The War on Drugs rages daily, and it is still a catastrophe. The catastrophe is rooted in the black markets that federal policy creates. It is exposed by the urban killing zones that those markets guarantee. It is shown to be futile by the ease of acquiring the most addictive drugs despite prohibition. And it is exacerbated by decades of efforts to prevent milder drugs from serving as substitutes. End it.
"Keeping Track: Surveillance, Control, and the Expansion of the Carceral State"
The title of this post is the title of this new article by Kathryne Young and Joan Petersilia which reviews a trio of criminal justice books. Here is the abstract:
This Review argues that an important root cause of our criminal justice ails can be found in the social processes that comprise the system’s daily activities and forms of control over individual Americans — processes largely taken for granted. To explore the ground level interpersonal interactions that underpin the criminal justice system, we engage three recent books: Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship by Professors Charles Epp, Steven Maynard-Moody, and Donald Haider-Markel; On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Professor Alice Goffman; and The Eternal Criminal Record by Professor James Jacobs.
Substantively and methodologically, the books might first seem an odd trio. But together, they reveal the importance of a key phenomenon: “surveillance” in the word’s broadest sense — keeping track of people’s movements, histories, relationships, homes, and activities.
Monday, April 04, 2016
Senators Grassley and Feinstein convening hearing on whether DOJ is "Adequately Protecting the Public" from state marijuana reforms
This recent press release from US Senate's Caucus on International Narcotics Control details that this caucus has a hearing scheduled to explore how the federal government is keeping an eye on state-level marijuana reforms. (Exactly what this has to do with international control is unclear, but big-government drug warriors on both sides of the political aisle like Senators Grassley and Feinstein have never really been too keen to worry about limiting government growth in this arena.) Here are the basic details on what is prompting this hearing:
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Co-chairman of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control, will hold a hearing entitled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?”
In August 2013, the Obama Administration decided to effectively suspend enforcement of federal law on marijuana in states that legalized it for recreational use. But to disguise its policy as prosecutorial discretion, the Administration also announced federal priorities that it claimed would guide its enforcement going forward. These priorities include preventing marijuana from being distributed to minors, stopping the diversion of marijuana into states that haven’t legalized it, and preventing adverse public health effects from marijuana use. At the time, the Justice Department warned that if state efforts weren’t enough to protect the public, then the federal government might step up its enforcement or even challenge the state laws themselves. This put the responsibility on the Department of Justice to monitor developments in these states, develop metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of its policy, and change course if developments warranted.
But a report from the Government Accountability Office that Grassley and Feinstein requested found that the Administration doesn’t have a documented plan to monitor the effects of state legalization on any of these priorities. Moreover, according to the report, officials at the Department could not even say how they make use of any information they receive related to these priorities. Grassley and Feinstein are convening this hearing to explore this problem.
What I find most notable and disconcerting about this hearing is that it claims to be exploring whether the big federal government bureaucrats inside the Beltway at DOJ who are very far removed from direct public accountability are "protecting the public" from state reforms in Alaska and Colorado and Oregon and Washington which were enacted directly by the public through voter initiatives.
Cross posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.
Sunday, April 03, 2016
The title of this post is the title of this great-looking new paper authored by Shima Baradaran Baughman now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Constitutional checks are an important part of the American justice system. The Constitution demands structural checks where it provides commensurate power. The Constitution includes several explicit checks in criminal law. Criminal defendants have the right to counsel, indictment by grand jury, trial by jury, the public or executive elects or appoints prosecutors, legislatures limit actions of police and prosecutors, and courts enforce individual constitutional rights and stop executive misconduct. However, these checks have rarely functioned as intended by the constitution and criminal law has failed to create — what I call — “subconstitutional checks” to adapt to the changes of the modern criminal state.
Subconstitutional checks are stopgaps formed in the three branches of government to effectuate the rights in the constitution when the system is stalled in dysfunction, when one branch has subjugated the others, or when two or more branches have colluded with one another. The need for sub constitutional checks is evident in the criminal arena. In the modern criminal state, plea agreements have virtually replaced jury trials, discipline and electoral competition between prosecutors is rare, separation of powers does not serve its purpose because the interests of all branches are often aligned, and individual constitutional rights have little real power to protect defendants from the state.
As a result, the lack of structural constitutional checks in criminal law has lead to constitutional dysfunction. Though never recognized as such, constitutional dysfunction in criminal law is evidenced by mass incarceration, wrongful convictions, overly harsh legislation, and an inability to stop prosecutor and police misconduct. This Article sheds light on the lack of constitutional checks by performing an external constitutional critique of the criminal justice system to explore this structural gap in the three branches and concludes that creating subconstitutional checks has the potential of reducing criminal dysfunction and creating a more balanced criminal justice system.
A more positive spin on clemency developments and more positive aspects
Regular readers may grow somewhat tired of hearing me kvetch about President Obama being much more willing to talk the talk than walk the walk when it comes to criminal justice reform generally and clemency developments in particular. For that reason (and others), I invited always sunny Lisa Rich to provide for blogging her sunny perspective on clemency events that transpired at the White House last week. Here is what she was kind enough to send my way for posting:
A somewhat sentimental post by Lisa A. Rich, former director of Legislative & Public Affairs at the U.S. Sentencing Commission and current director of the Texas A&M School of Law Residency Externship Program in Public Policy:
Last Week, I had the privilege of joining not only the tireless advocates of the Justice Roundtable and White House staff but over two dozen recipients of clemency spanning four presidencies during the Justice Roundtable and White House Briefings on “Life After Clemency.”
Personally, it was a joy to see all of the people — Nkechi Taifa, Mark Osler, Cynthia Rosenberry, Jesselyn McCurdy, Julie Stewart, Margy Love, and so many others who have been working tirelessly to answer the Obama Adminstration’s call to action on clemency. I am in awe of the ceaseless dedication these advocates demonstrate every day in their pursuit of hope and justice for those human beings who deserve a chance to be something so much more than a statistic in our cycle of mass incarceration. These advocates and those for whom they do their jobs are the role models I discuss in my classes and they are the ones who inspire me to be better.
But more than my personal connection with those I miss because I am no longer living in D.C., the events over these past three days were important for two reasons. First, all of us, including the President and White House staff saw and heard what hope is all about. We heard from clemency recipients about heartache, mistake, and loss being turned into determination, faith, and commitment. We heard people who genuinely want to make their communities and their lives better, stronger, and happier. I am delighted that policymakers inside and outside of Washington are taking the opportunity to get to know these people — as people, not numbers, not workload, not files on a desk.
Second, I was pleased that two of my students were in the audience — and in fact had been given the opportunity to be involved in preparing for these events. As part of Texas A&M School of Law’s new externship program in public policy, these students got to see policymaking in action from start to finish; they got to see firsthand the effects of both good and bad policy decisions. Their experiences may not seem all that different from the hundreds of law students who go to D.C. and elsewhere each semester to partake in policy but it actually was a defining moment for me and them. These students are the future policymakers and advocates. To me, the events of these past three days were not just about hope for those impacted by outdated laws and poor decision making, but hope that the next generation of lawyers, policymakers, and advocates being trained by the brilliant people who participated in these events will learn from our mistakes; that they will engage in sound decision making based on evidence and best practices; that they will carry on the work done so well by so many. As an advocate and a teacher that is what hope is all about.
Might the US be willing to learn from the German prison experience?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Huffington Post commentary by Vincent Schiraldi, headlined "What we can learn from German prisons." The commentary provides a bit of a preview of this segment to air tonight on 60 Minutes under the title "This is prison? 60 Minutes goes to Germany: Germany's prison system keeps convicts comfortable, costs less and has lower recidivism rates, but would Americans ever accept it?". Here is the start of the Huffington Post piece:
On Sunday, April 3, 60 Minutes will air a story on several U.S. delegations to German prisons by advocates, researchers and public officials that should be mandatory viewing for anyone who works in or cares about America’s massive prison problem. In a country that has only a fraction of our incarceration rate, even Germany’s deepest-end prisons are humane and decent in ways that, at least at present, are difficult to fathom in the U.S. context.
The groups who funded or organized the trips - the Vera Institute of Justice, John Jay College of Justice, and the Prison Law Office - hope to change that. Inspired by these delegations, when I was working for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Criminal Justice, I organized a study tour to one of the prisons they had visited - the Neustrelitz Prison near Berlin, which houses adolescents and young adults.
The place couldn’t have been more different than a U.S. prison or juvenile facility. In fact, it was a bit of both, because young people are allowed to be tried in Germany’s juvenile courts up to age 21, unlike U.S. juvenile courts whose jurisdiction expires somewhere between ages 16 and 18, depending on the state.
The young people we met were all involved in programming from farming, to wood shop, to metal work, to in-depth therapy. The freedom of movement was extraordinary, with most youth sleeping in unlocked rooms at night and eventually going on home visits and transitioning out to daytime work, returning to the facility at night. Sentences were much shorter than those experienced by people locked up in the U.S., which partially explains why only 79 out of every 100,000 Germans are behind bars, compared to America’s world-leading incarceration rate of 700 per 100,000.
Saturday, April 02, 2016
"Unfinished Project of Civil Rights in the Era of Mass Incarceration and the Movement for Black Lives"
The title of this post is the title of this newly published article authored by Nicole Porter. Here is the piece's introduction:
American criminal justice system has been dominated by relentless growth for the last forty years. The culture of punishment, in part driven by political interests leveraging “tough on crime” policies and practices marketed as the solution to the “fear of crime,” has been implemented at every stage of the criminal justice process: arresting, charging, sentencing, imprisonment, releasing, and post-incarceration experiences in the era of mass incarceration.
While it may not excuse criminal offending, the destructive effects of mass incarceration and excessive punishment are visited disproportionately upon individuals and communities of color and reinforce that the project of the civil rights revolution remains unfinished. In recent years, there has been growing consensus across ideological lines to address mass incarceration. Yet, policy changes are incremental in approach and do not achieve the substantial reforms needed to significantly reduce the rate of incarceration and its collateral impacts. Incremental policy reforms include: reducing the quantity differential between crack and powder cocaine that results in racially disparate sentencing outcomes at the federal level and in certain states; reclassifying certain felony offenses to misdemeanors; expanding voting rights and access to public benefits for persons with felony convictions; and adopting fair chance hiring policies for persons with criminal records.
The Movement for Black Lives, or Black Lives Matter, offers a new public safety framework to finish the project of civil rights in the era of mass incarceration. This movement has a sophisticated analysis that seeks to address the underlying structural issues that result in poor policy outcomes for communities of color, including high rates of incarceration. The public safety framework does not excuse criminal offending, but offers a new approach of viewing justice-involved persons — a disproportionate number of whom are African American and Latino — as worthy recipients of public safety responses not dominated by arrests, admissions to prison, or collateral consequences.
Aligning a Black Lives Matter framework with public safety strategies expands policy responses beyond the criminal justice system to evidence-based interventions demonstrated to reduce criminal offending. Research shows that early childhood education, quality healthcare, and targeted employment programs can help reduce recidivism and prevent justice involvement. More importantly, the Black Lives Matter framework can help to shift norms away from the punitiveness that dominates U.S. criminal justice policy.
Thursday, March 31, 2016
Extraordinany (and extraordinarily timely) issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
The March 2016 issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science has an extraordinary collections of essays by an extraordinary array of legal scholars and sociologists and criminologists under the issue title "The Great Experiment: Realigning Criminal Justice in California and Beyond." Though many of the articles focus on California's unique and uniquely important recent criminal justice reforms experiences, all folks interested in and concerned about sentencing and corrections reform in the United States ought to find the time to read most or all of the articles in this collection.
The special editors of this issue, Charis Kubrin and Carroll Seron, authored this introduction to the collection under the title "The Prospects and Perils of Ending Mass Incarceration in the United States." Here is an excerpt from that introduction:
This volume of The ANNALS represents the first effort by scholars to systematically and scientifically analyze what Joan Petersilia (2012) has described as “the biggest criminal justice experiment ever conducted in America.” She went on to note that “most people don’t even realize it’s happening,” a point underscored by Franklin Zimring in the volume’s concluding remarks. At a historic moment in which imprisonment patterns across the U.S. are shifting for the first time in nearly 40 years, the California case is ripe for in-depth examination. The political landscape around decarceration is also shifting in ways that do not fit the debate of the last 40 years. The initiative behind the prison buildup was largely an offshoot of more conservative, law and order political agendas, but as the nation debates a move toward prison downsizing and decarceration, there is support from both the Left and the Right for this fundamental shift in policy (Aviram, this volume; Beckett et al., this volume) — unusual bedfellows at a time of political polarization. While this political convergence will no doubt be contested, as Joan Petersilia emphasizes in the volume’s preface, it nonetheless represents an important moment to have a systematic, rigorous, and scientific evaluation of California’s experiment and its implications on hand for policy-makers.
"A Fatally Flawed Proxy: The Role of 'Intended Loss' in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines for Fraud"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Daniel Guarnera now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Of all federal criminal defendants, those convicted of fraud are among the most likely to receive a sentence below the term recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The most important (and controversial) driver of fraud sentences under the Guidelines is the economic loss — actual or intended, whichever is greater — resulting from the crime.
This Article examines the role of the “intended loss” calculation. The U.S. Sentencing Commission designed the intended loss enhancement to function as a rule-oriented proxy for defendant culpability. By applying the framework of rules and standards, this Article argues that culpability, by its nature, is too multifarious a concept to be accurately represented by a single variable. Furthermore, a recently-enacted amendment to the definition of intended loss — which restricts its scope to losses “that the defendant purposely sought to inflict” — will only exacerbate the problem by excluding a significant subset of plainly culpable conduct.
Rather than attempt to fine-tune the intended loss calculation any further, this Article contends that the purposes of sentencing in general (and the goals of the Guidelines in particular) would be better served by enabling judges to conduct a more standard-based inquiry into the wide array of facts that can bear on culpability. It evaluates several proposals that would give judges greater discretion while, at the same time, minimizing the risk of unwarranted sentencing disparities.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
GOP frontrunner Donald Trump says "some form of punishment" would be needed for women who have abortions if procedure is made illegal
This recent article at The Crime Report, headlined "Trump On Crime: Tough Talk, Few Specifics," highlighted how hard it is to figure out Donald Trump's policy position on various criminal justice issues (in which I was quoted):
Most experts we talked to say it’s hard to distinguish the rhetoric from the policies. “[The Trump campaign] has not issued a platform yet, so I’m not sure that I’d take anything that he’s been saying as an actual criminal justice policy,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.
“What’s really frustrating, is that (he’s) like a cardboard candidate; you know what his pitch is but you don’t know anything else beyond that,” said Prof. Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School. “And maybe he doesn’t either.”
Berman suggests half-jokingly that there’s a “simple answer” to the question of what Donald Trump believes about criminal justice. “Who the hell knows?” he said.
On many policy issues, Trump has sidestepped detailed responses by pointing to his experience in real estate and suggesting that good dealmakers keep their positions ambiguous at the start of any negotiation. That seems to apply to his approach to justice as well. Asked about specific criminal justice reforms, Trump often changes the subject back to supporting police or vague answers about needing to be “tough.”
But today GOP frontrunner Trump is making headlines for talking about criminal punishment in an especially controversial setting. This FoxNews piece, headlined "Trump says abortion ban should mean punishment for women who have procedure," provides the details:
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said Wednesday said that if abortion were illegal in the United States, then women who have the procedure should be punished. Trump made the comments during a taping of an MSNBC town hall that will be aired later Wednesday.
Host Chris Matthews pressed Trump to clarify, asking him whether abortion should be punished and who ultimately should be held accountable. “Look, people in certain parts of the Republican Party, conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should,’” Trump said. The candidate later put out a statement saying: “This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination.”...
When asked specifically at the town hall what he thought, the New York businessman answered, “I would say it’s a very serious problem and it’s a problem we have to decide on. Are you going to send them to jail?”
“I’m asking you,” Matthews prompted.
“I am pro-life,” Trump said.
Matthews pressed on, asking again who should be punished in an abortion case if it were illegal.
“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said.
“For the woman?” Matthews asked.
“Yeah,” Trump responded, adding later that the punishment would “have to be determined.”
His rivals seized on the remarks. Ohio Gov. John Kasich later told MSNBC “of course women shouldn’t be punished.” An aide to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted: “Don't overthink it: Trump doesn't understand the pro-life position because he's not pro-life.”
With all due respect to the statement made by an aide to Senator Ted Cruz, it seems to me that Donald Trump actually understands — and may be taking more seriously than many other politicians — the oft-stated pro-life position that life begins at conception and that abortion it at least somewhat akin to homicide.
The National Right to Life Committee, the nation's oldest and largest pro-life organization, states expressly here that in the US "over 40 million unborn babies have been killed in the 40 years since abortion was legalized and more than 1.2 million are killed each year" and that "medical science has known conclusively that every individual's life begins at the moment of fertilization." Pro-Life Action League states expressly here that "killing an unborn child is inherently wrong, and therefore can never be justified regardless of circumstances. It is no more just to kill an unborn child in order to avoid hardship than it would be to kill a toddler to avoid hardship. Because the unborn child is unseen, it is easier for society to condone killing him or her, though this is morally indistinguishable from killing any child at any stage of development." The American Life League similarly states expressly here that "abortion is a direct attack on a preborn child which kills; it is murder."
If one genuinely believes that any abortion involves the intentional "killing" of a human life, that it is "morally indistinguishable from killing any child at any stage of development," and that "it is murder," and thus an act which should be criminally prohibited (like all other forms of intentional homicide), then I would hope that one ought also be genuinely committed to criminally punishing, at least to some extent, any and every person intentionally involved in this act of intentional killing which "morally indistinguishable from killing any child at any stage of development."
In modern society, we threaten to punish all sorts of persons (at least with fines) for all sorts of petty crimes like overtime parking and illegal copying of a DVD and loitering. I believe I am understanding and showing respect to the views and claims of persons who are pro-lifer when I surmise they consider any intentional abortion to be a societal wrong that is far more serious than, say, overtime parking or loitering. If that is right, then I also think it would be fair to say that Donald Trump is actually understanding and showing respect for the views and claims of persons who are pro-life when he suggests that women intentionally involved in obtaining illegal abortions ought to be subject to at least "some form of punishment."
Prez Obama commutes the sentence of 61 more federal drug offenders
As reported in this Washington Post piece, "President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 inmates Wednesday, part of his ongoing effort to give relief to prisoners who were harshly sentenced in the nation’s war on drugs." Here is more on this notable clemency news:
More than one-third of the inmates were serving life sentences. Obama has granted clemency to 248 federal inmates, including Wednesday's commutations. White House officials said that Obama will continue granting clemency to inmates who meet certain criteria set out by the Justice Department throughout his last year.... Since the Obama administration launched a high-profile clemency initiative, thousands more inmates have applied. Another 9,115 clemency petitions from prisoners are still pending....
But sentencing reform advocates said that many more prisoners are disappointed they have not yet heard from the president about their petitions. “Sixty-one grants, with over 10,000 petitions pending, is not an accomplishment to brag about,” said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and an advocate for inmates petitioning for clemency. “I know some of those still waiting, men who were grievously over-sentenced, who have reformed themselves, and never had a record of violence. My heart breaks for them, as their hope for freedom — a hope created by the members of this administration — slips away.”
The White House has argued that broader criminal justice reform is needed beyond the clemency program. “Despite the progress we have made, it is important to remember that clemency is nearly always a tool of last resort that can help specific individuals, but does nothing to make our criminal justice system on the whole more fair and just,” said White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston. “Clemency of individual cases alone cannot fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies. So, while we continue to work to resolve as many clemency applications as possible — and make no mistake, we are working hard at this — only broader criminal justice reform can truly bring justice to the many thousands of people behind bars serving unduly harsh and outdated sentences.”
Among those granted clemency on Wednesday was Byron Lamont McDade, who had an unusual advocate in his corner. The judge who sent McDade to prison for more than two decades for his role in a Washington-area cocaine conspiracy personally pleaded McDade’s case for early release. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said McDade’s 27-year punishment was “disproportionate” to his crime, but that he had no choice but to impose the harsh prison term in 2002 because of then-mandatory sentencing guidelines. Over the years, the judge had urged the Bureau of Prisons and the White House to reduce McDade’s sentence to 15 years. He received no response until now....
On Thursday, the White House will hold an event called Life after Clemency that will include former inmates and their attorneys, along with some prison reform advocates. The president’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, is meeting with advocates, former inmates and family members of prisoners Wednesday at the White House for an event about women and the criminal justice system.
This White House Press release provides basic details on the full list of 61 offenders who today learned that they now have a "prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2016." Many of those listed appear to have been involved in a crack offense, though other drug cases sentenced both before and after Booker can be found in the group. Notably, this NACDL press release reports that "25 of [these 61 offenders] were applicants whose petitions were supported by Clemency Project 2014." This White House blog post authored by White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston provides more details and context concerning these grants:
Today, the President announced 61 new grants of commutation to individuals serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws. More than one-third of them were serving life sentences. To date, the President has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals – more than the previous six Presidents combined. And, in total, he has commuted 92 life sentences.
Underscoring his commitment not just to clemency, but to helping those who earn their freedom make the most of their second chance, the President will meet today with commutation recipients from both his Administration and the previous administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. During the meeting, the commutation recipients will discuss their firsthand experiences with the reentry process and ways that the process can be strengthened to give every individual the resources he or she needs to transition from prison and lead a fulfilling, productive life.
Building on this conversation, tomorrow the White House will host a briefing titled Life After Clemency with advocates, academics, and Administration officials to discuss and share ideas on the President’s clemency initiative and ways to improve paths to reentry. In addition to officials from the White House and the Department of Justice, experts, academics, and commutation recipients will share their expertise and insights on returning to society after years behind bars. To watch the briefing live, tune in tomorrow, Thursday, March 31, at 2:00 PM EDT at www.whitehouse.gov/live.
"Sentencing Reductions versus Sentencing Equality"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting and timely new paper by Susan Klein now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was enacted by an odd conglomeration of Democrat and Republican who agreed that federal sentences should be based upon relevant offender and offense characteristics, not including such things as race, gender, geography, ideological bent of the sentencing judge, or citizenship. That goal has become lost and less relevant in today’s world of draconian and mandatory minimum sentencing, especially in the drug trafficking, child pornography, and fraud arenas. Mass incarceration has run rampant. Sentences are so out-of-whack with most basic principles justice that the fact that female offenders may receive slightly lower prison terms than their male counterparts should no longer be the very top of our reform agenda.
This is not to suggest that scholars and the public shouldn’t be concerned with sentencing disparity, especially based on race. However, the disparity between federal and state sentences is so much wider (and occurs so much more frequently) than the disparity among similarly-situated federal offenders that the latter appears less of a significant issue in absolute terms. Whatever reform capital policy-makers and scholars retain should be poured into championing alternatives to criminalization (such as fines, drug treatment, and apologies) and alternatives to long prison terms (such as probation and parole). Reforms must focus on discovering what offenses we could safely decriminalize, and what programs are effective in keeping individuals out of prison in the first place (or in curbing recidivism once incarceration has occurred).
If giving judges more discretion at sentencing means lower average prison terms, this will probably rebound to the benefit of our minority populations as a whole, even if it might mean that in particular cases minority defendants receive slightly higher sentences for the same conduct as their white counterparts. Likewise, if sentencing, parole, and probation decisions based upon “risk assessment” leads to lower overall incarceration rates, we may have to tolerate this even if it generates higher risk numbers for certain minority offenders. Critics of every substantive criminal-law and sentencing reform proposal need to remember the big picture, and not lose sight of the forest of mass incarceration for the trees of unwarranted sentencing disparity.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Oklahoma creates Death Penalty Review Commission full of prominent folks .... which will likely achieve ....?
Though I generally think of myself as an optimist, this notable news item out of Oklahoma, headlined "Oklahoma Bipartisan Death Penalty Review Commission formed, supported," triggers the cynical little voice in my head that comes out when I hear about the creation of a blue-ribbon commission in the sentencing arena. (For those curious about aesthetic backstories, this Wikipedia entry highlights why we color expert panels blue instead of, say, having pink-ribbon commissions.) Before I go cynical, here are the details of the latest governmental gathering of note:
A group of prominent Oklahomans joined together Monday (March 28) to form a blue-ribbon, bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission. The Commission will conduct what a press statement called “the first-ever independent, objective and thorough review of the state’s entire capital punishment system.”...
“Oklahoma has an opportunity to lead the nation by being the first state to conduct extensive research on its entire death penalty process, beginning with an arrest that could lead to an execution,” said former Gov. Brad Henry, of Henry-Adams Companies, LLC, one of the group’s co-chairs.“The Commission includes distinguished Oklahomans with differing views and perspectives on capital punishment who are donating their time to work together on a research-driven review,” he said.
Joining Gov. Henry as co-chairs are Reta Strubhar, a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (1993-2004) and an Assistant District Attorney of Canadian County (1982-1984); and Andy Lester, of the Spencer Fane law firm and a former U.S. Magistrate Judge for Western District of Oklahoma who served on President Ronald Reagan’s Transition team for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (1980-1981).
Members of the Commission have experience in a variety of aspects of the capital punishment system, including victim advocacy, policymaking, prosecution, defense, and judging. They also include leading lawyers, business leaders, and scholars. In addition to the co-chairs, the members are Robert H. Alexander, Jr., of The Law Office of Robert H. Alexander, Jr.; Howard Barnett, President of OSU-Tulsa; Dean Andrew Coats, Dean Emeritus of OU College of Law; Dean Valerie Couch, Oklahoma City University School of Law; Maria Kolar, Assistant Professor of OU College of Law; Rob Nigh, Chief Public Defender, Tulsa County; Christy Sheppard, a victims’ advocate; Kris Steele, Director of The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) and former Speaker of the House; and Gena Timberman, founder of The Luksi Group.
“Our goal is to provide a resource for Oklahomans to allow them to make informed judgments about our state’s capital punishment system that, we hope, will benefit both Oklahoma and the country as a whole,” said Henry.
Though I have long been a fan of any "research-driven review" of any sentencing system, I am not optimistic based on my own experiences in Ohio that this kind of death penalty review commission will be able to achieve all that much other than producing a lengthy report that will be embraced or rejected by political leaders based entirely on their already established views on the death penalty. This cynical prediction is based on how an array of ABA reports on state death penalty systems and how a recent Ohio Death Penalty Task Force report was received.
Critically, I do not mean to be asserting that this Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission is unimportant or sure to inconsequential. But I do mean to assert that basic political dynamics rather than refined policy analysis defines and often limits the possibilities for reforming the administration of the death penalty.
Monday, March 28, 2016
A week of extraordinary reporting and commentary via The Crime Report
Regularly readers are perhaps used to me regularly praising The Crime Report for its impressive original reporting and interesting commentaries on an erray of criminal justice issues. This post is another in this series, prompted by the fact that I have been meaning to do distinct posts about nearly a dozen pieces I saw over at TCR just over the last (too busy week). I remain hopeful I will get a chance to blog separately about some of the pieces below that I find more interesting or important, but for now I am going to have to be content to urger everyong to click through a read everyone of these linked piece:
"Time, Death, and Retribution"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Chad Flanders now available via SSRN. To call this article timely and just dead on is both accurate and punny. Here is the abstract:
The heart of a Lackey claim is that when a death row inmate is kept waiting too long for his execution, this delay can amount to cruel and unusual punishment — either because they delay is itself cruel and unusual, or because the execution on top of the delay is. All Lackey claims brought by death row inmates have failed, but not for want of trying. The usual complaint against Lackey claims is that those who, by their own appeals, delay their execution date cannot turn around and use that delay as an argument against their death sentences. I agree with other scholars that this argument is incorrect. However, even if it is true that prisoner choice cannot make an otherwise unconstitutional sentence constitutional, Lackey claims can — and should — fail if the courts adopt a certain theory of retribution, what I call “intrinsic desert retribution”. Examining that type of retribution, distinguishing it from other retributive theories, and showing how intrinsic desert retribution can refute most Lackey claims, is one of this article’s major contributions. In doing so, it breaks with most of the scholarly literature, which tends to be sympathetic to Lackey claims.
But the fact that Lackey claims may survive given a certain theory of retribution does not make that theory something the state may permissibly pursue. And this is the second major contribution of the article: to make the case that retribution may in fact not be a permissible state purpose. In short, Lackey claims do not fail because they are too strong — they fail because they are not strong enough. The Supreme Court has traditionally held that the state may permissibly put someone to death because of retribution. But the Court has also said, in other contexts, that the state may not pursue certain aims. The state cannot promote religion, for one; nor can it adopt policies based solely on “animus” against a certain class of persons. My article suggests that when the state adopts retribution as a goal in capital punishment, and pursues that goal even after years of delay, then retribution starts to look more and more like something that, while it may be morally right, cannot be a goal the state can legitimately pursue.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
Wouldn't (severe? creative?) alternatives to incarceration be the best response to animal cruelty convictions?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local story of a high-profile sentencing of a high-profile defendant convicted of multiple misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. The piece is headlined "Former Raven Terrence Cody sentenced to nine months in Baltimore County animal cruelty case," and here are the details:
Baltimore County judge sentenced former Ravens player Terrence Cody on Thursday to nine months in jail in an animal cruelty case that drew interest across the country. Cody, 27, was convicted in November of multiple misdemeanors in connection with the death of his dog, Taz, last year, as well as two misdemeanor drug charges. Prosecutors said Taz starved to death.
Cody faced the possibility of more than two years of incarceration. More than 5,000 people signed an online petition urging Judge Judith C. Ensor to impose the maximum sentence. Ensor said that she did not discount the petition but that she had to make an independent decision based on the case. "My responsibility is to listen and to make the best decision I can," she said at the sentencing hearing.
Defense attorney Joe Murtha acknowledged that Cody neglected Taz but said that Cody loved the animal and didn't intend for it to die. He said that Cody was emotionally incapable of caring for the dog and that he suffers from depression. "His level of depression is so significant that he's become just isolated," said Murtha, who added that his communication with his client has been limited because of Cody's depression.
Prosecutor Adam Lippe discounted the idea that Cody was depressed. He argued for the maximum amount of jail time — 905 days. "I'm sure every defendant awaiting sentencing is depressed," Lippe said.
Lippe said during the trial that the dog starved to death at Cody's former home in Reisterstown over a period of at least a month. Cody testified at the trial that he believed Taz was suffering from worms.
Cody spent $8,000 to buy and import Taz, a Canary mastiff, from Spain. He took the animal to a Reisterstown animal hospital a few hours before it died. The dog, which once weighed at least 100 pounds, was down to less than 50 pounds at that point. Cody — whose nickname at the University of Alabama was Mount Cody — was drafted by the Ravens as a defensive lineman in 2010. The team released him when he was indicted last year.
After the trial last year, Cody was acquitted of two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty. Ensor, who presided over the bench trial, said Thursday she was convinced that Cody did not torture Taz intentionally. "I remain firm" in that belief, she said.
The judge also sentenced Cody to probation before judgment for illegally possessing an alligator and for possessing drug paraphernalia. Police found a gas-mask bong and a 6-foot-long green glass bong in the home. She imposed suspended sentences for several counts, including a marijuana charge. She also sentenced Cody to 18 months of supervised probation and said he must undergo mental health treatment. During the probation period, he is not allowed to own or possess an animal. Cody will serve the sentence at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson.
Cody's girlfriend, Kourtney J. Kelley, 28, was also convicted in the animal cruelty case. She was sentenced last month to 60 days and has since been paroled. She was found guilty of five counts in connection with neglecting Taz. Cody, wearing a black hoodie and jeans, briefly addressed the court, saying he accepted responsibility. He also said he believed Kelley should not have been punished in the case....
Lippe said he was satisfied with the sentence. He said Cody had other dogs that were "fat and happy," but for some reason he treated Taz differently. "I can't explain to you why he decided to kill this animal," Lippe said. "It makes no sense at all."
I am huge aminal lover within a family which has always cared greatly about pets both usual (e.g., my dog and cat are hanging with me as I type this) and unusual (e.g., I have a bunch of parrot, angel fish and hermit crab stories). Consequently, I fully understand how emotional so many folks get about animal cruelty and why there is often strong support for imposing the harshest possible sentences on those persons who get convicted of animal cruelty crimes.
Nevertheless, as the question in the title of this post suggests and to parrot the words of the local prosecutor in this case, it really makes so sense at all to me to view lengthy terms of incarceration as the most efficacious response to these sorts of crimes. Specifically, to focus on this case, did prosecutor Adam Lippe really think the citizens of Baltimore would be better off if former NFL player Terrence Cody served nearly 3 years in a local jail (at significant taxpayer expense) rather than, say, spending the next few years trying to get back into the NFL to make large sums of money that could be donated to animal protection societies or working publicly on helping animals as a part of community service program?
I fully understand the potential incapacitative benefits of incarceration for dangerous people with a history of seriously risky or harmful behaviors. But unless there is strong reason to believe Terrence Cody is a real danger to others, I think the the citizens and animals of Baltimore could and would be much better served through severe and creative alternatives to incarceration in a case like this. But, problematically in the US and as part of our transformation into "incarceration nation," it seems that nearly all prosecutors and most members of the general public embrace the notion that the only way to be tough is through extended (and costly) periods of incarceration.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
"To change the world, start with prisons"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable FoxNews commentary authored by Christian Colson. Here are excerpts:
One Easter weekend, I accompanied my father, Charles Colson, to a prison in South Carolina. We held a worship service on Death Row, and about 20 men came out of their cells to sing songs and listen to my dad give a message about the resurrection of Jesus.
My father, whose books on Christian life and thought have sold more than 5 million copies, could have spent Easter weekend in more influential pulpits. He could have commanded an audience of thousands of Christians who were well-resourced and well-connected, rather than men in prison jumpsuits. But instead, every Easter for decades following his release from prison in 1975 for a Watergate-related crime until his death in 2012, he chose to go back behind bars to celebrate with the incarcerated. My father understood that if we want to change the world, we must start behind bars.
The criminal justice system may not seem like the place to initiate cultural renewal, but no place could be better. When our nation’s 2.2 million prisoners are held in conditions that do little to help address the roots of criminal behavior, they remain likely to continue in a criminal lifestyle after they are released.
Prisoners might seem like improbable standard bearers for cultural transformation, but my dad believed wholeheartedly that whenever prisoners are transformed, they will transform the culture of their prisons and society at large....
Prisons are full of untapped potential. Under the right conditions, many people — like my father — can pay their debt to society, prepare for a new future and make the most of their second chance. A variety of prison programs that address the roots of criminal behavior through education, mentoring, substance-abuse treatment and more have been shown to reduce recidivism.
Legislation based on restorative values can support this goal. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, now making its way through Congress, would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons to implement and incentivize programming to reduce rates of re-offense. This is good news not just for prisoners but for everyone affected by crime and incarceration. When recidivism rates go down, more children grow up seeing their parents outside of a prison waiting room. There are fewer victims. Communities have a chance to flourish as they benefit from the contributions of members who are successfully reintegrating.
At the first Easter, mourners gathered at the tomb of a man who had been executed with criminals. There seemed to be no future for his followers, a small group of poorly educated misfits with no worldly power or influence. And yet, the nascent Christian movement transformed the culture of the Roman Empire and the entire modern history of the world.
When my dad spent “Resurrection Sunday” behind bars with prisoners, including those condemned to die, he often invoked that first Easter, where the hope of the Gospel emerged from a sealed tomb that was supposed to be as secure as any prison.... As Easter reminds us, the change the world most needs sometimes comes from unexpected places.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Notable new comments and commitments on criminal justice reform from GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan
This notable new article about a notable new speech by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, headlined "Paul Ryan just gave a remarkably candid speech and admitted one of his biggest policy mistakes," has significantly increased my optimism about some form of federral sentencing reform moving forward in Congress this year. Here are the details:
House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a candid speech about the "State of American Politics" on Wednesday, during which he admitted that he too hasn't always lived up to what he believes is a high-standard of political discourse.
A member of the audience asked Ryan after the speech if he had been persuaded differently on any policy position he has held and was willing to admit he was wrong.
Ryan — who earlier repeated an apology he had made in 2014 for a past statement about America's supposed "makers and takers" when discussing poverty in the country — said he had been wrong about criminal justice. "One of the things that I learned is that there are a lot of people who've been in prison that committed crimes that were not violent crimes," he said. "Once they have that mark on their record, their future is really bleak."
He said that, when he came to Congress in the late 1990s, he was a staunch supporter of tough crime laws. He admitted that both his own party and Democrats overcompensated at the time. The policies, he said, "end up ruining their lives and hurting their communities where we could've have alternative means of incarceration, instead of basically destroying someone's life. I've become a late convert."
"Criminal-justice reform is something I never thought of when I was younger," he continued. "Be tough on crime, be tough on crime." Ryan said criminal-justice reform bills would be brought to the House floor soon. He pledged to "advance this."
"I didn't necessarily know this before, but redemption is a beautiful thing. It's a great thing," he said. "Redemption is what makes this place work. We need to honor redemption. We need to make redemption something that is valued in our culture and our society and in our laws."
Ryan's candid comments on poverty and criminal-justice reform came at the end of a powerful speech about the current discourse in American politics, which he lamented would end up making Americans "distrust institutions" and "lose faith in government."
"Why Dylann Roof is a Terrorist Under Federal Law, and Why it Matters"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Jesse Norris now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
After white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans at a Charleston, South Carolina church, authorities declined to refer to the attack as terrorism. Many objected to the government’s apparent double standards in its treatment of Muslim versus non-Muslim extremists and called on the government to treat the massacre as terrorism. Yet the government has neither charged him with a terrorist offense nor labelled the attack as terrorism.
This Article argues that although the government was unable to charge him with terrorist crimes because of the lack of applicable statutes, the Charleston Massacre still qualifies as terrorism under federal law. Roof’s attack clearly falls under the government’s prevailing definition of domestic terrorism. It also qualifies for a terrorism sentencing enhancement, or at least an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines, as well as for the terrorism aggravating factor considered by juries in deciding whether to impose the death penalty.
Labelling Roof’s attack as terrorism could have several important implications, not only in terms of sentencing, but also in terms of government accountability, the prudent allocation of counterterrorism resources, balanced media coverage, and public cooperation in preventing terrorism. For these reasons, the Article contends that the government should treat the Charleston Massacre, and similar ideologically-motivated killings, as terrorism.
The Article also makes two policy suggestions meant to facilitate a more consistent use of the term terrorism. First, the Article proposes a new federal terrorism statute mirroring hate crime statutes, which would enable every terrorist to be charged with a terrorist offense. Second, simplifying the definition of terrorism to encompass any murder or attempted murder meant to advance an ideology would avoid the obfuscation invited by current definitions. However, even without such changes, the government still has the authority and responsibility to treat attacks such as Roof’s as terrorism for nearly all purposes.
A few prior related posts:
- Should it be the state or feds (or both!?!) that capitally prosecute racist mass murderer Dylann Storm Roof?
- Thanks to death penalty, one of worst racist mass murderers gets one of best defense lawyers
- South Carolina prosecutors begin pursuit of death penalty again Charleston church mass murderer
- Attorney for Dylann Roof, Charleston church mass murderer, suggests plea to avoid death sentence
- Just why is DOJ still uncertain about seeking death penalty against Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof?
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Making an empirical case for the relative efficacy of post-Plata realignment in California
A trio of criminologists make a data-driven case for some positive aspects of California's experiences with realignment in this Washington Post opinion piece headlined "Releasing low-level offenders did not unleash a crime wave in California." Here are excerpts (with a link to the report that provides the empirical basis for its claims):
Some fear that reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes and letting low-level offenders back on the streets — key components of prison reform — could produce a new and devastating crime wave. Such dire predictions were common in 2011 when California embarked on a massive experiment in prison downsizing. But five years later, California’s experience offers powerful evidence that no such crime wave is likely to occur.
In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that California’s wildly overcrowded prisons were tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the state to reduce its prison population by some 33,000 people in two years. In response, the state enacted the controversial California Public Safety Realignment law, known in legislative shorthand as AB 109.
With a budget of more than $1 billion annually, “realignment” gave each of the state’s 58 counties responsibility for supervising a sizable class of offenders — the “triple nons,” or non-serious, nonviolent, non-sex offenders — formerly housed in state prisons. Each county received unprecedented flexibility and authority to manage this population as it saw fit.
Recently, we brought together a group of distinguished social scientists to do a systematic, comprehensive assessment of California’s prison downsizing experiment. The results, published this month in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, show that California’s decision to cede authority over low-level offenders to its counties has been, for the most part, remarkably effective public policy and an extraordinarily rich case study in governance....
To answer questions about the relationship between prison reform and crime rates, we not only compared statewide crime rates before and after the downsizing but also examined what happened in counties that favored innovative approaches vs. those that emphasized old-fashioned enforcement.
Clearly, our most important finding is that realignment has had only a very small effect on crime in California. Violent crime rates in the state have barely budged. We’ve seen no appreciable uptick in assaults, rapes and murders that can be connected to the prisoners who were released under realignment. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it; by and large, these offenders were eligible for release because of the nonviolent nature of their crimes.
On the other hand, a small uptick in property crime can be attributed to downsizing, with the largest increase occurring for auto theft. So is this an argument against realignment and against prison reform more broadly? We think not. The cost to society of a slight increase in property crime must be weighed against the cost of incarceration.
Take the example of auto theft. Our data suggest that one year served in prison instead of at large as a result of realignment prevents 1.2 auto thefts per year and saves $11,783 in crime-related costs plus harm to the victims and their families. On the other hand, keeping someone behind bars for a year costs California $51,889. In purely monetary terms — without considering, say, the substantial economic and social hardship that imprisonment can create for prisoners’ children and other relatives — incarcerating someone for a year in the hope of preventing an auto theft is like spending $450 to repair a $100 vacuum cleaner.
Turning to the question of which counties’ strategies were most successful, we have another important early finding: Counties that invested in offender reentry in the aftermath of realignment had better performance in terms of recidivism than counties that focused resources on enforcement. As other states and the federal government contemplate their own proposals for prison downsizing, they should take a close look at what these California counties are doing right.
I have long been saying that California is a critical state to watch in the sentencing reform discussion, and I am pleased to see that a "group of distinguished social scientists" have so far concluded that the state's realignment experiences in the wake of the Supreme Court's Plata "has been, for the most part, remarkably effective public policy." But, critically, thanks to voter initiatives, California's recent sentencing reform efforts have not been confined to realignment: in 2012, California voters passed reforms to the state's three strikes laws via Prop 36, and in 2014 California voters passed reforms to what crimes are treated as felonies via Prop 47. And, notably, though some in law enforcement were quick to complain after AB 109 that realignment was responsible for a uptick in property crimes in the state, of late the focus of crime concerns and criticism has been Prop 47.
As I have repeatedly said in this space and others, I think it is especially problematic that California does not have the help of a independent sentencing commission that could and should seek to track and assess all these moving sentencing reform parts in the state. In the absence of such a body, we all will have to rely on empirical and advocacy work done by outside researchers and policy groups concerning the effects of sentencing reform on the west coast.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
"Voices on Innocence"
The title of this post is the title given to a collection of short essays by a number of notable authors now available at this link via SSRN. Here is the abstract for the collection:
In the summer of 2015, experts gathered from around the country to sit together and discuss one of the most pressing and important issues facing the American criminal justice system — innocence. Innocence is an issue that pervades various areas of research and influences numerous topics of discussion.
What does innocence mean, particularly in a system that differentiates between innocence and acquittal at sentencing? What is the impact of innocence during plea bargaining? How should we respond to growing numbers of exonerations? What forces lead to the incarceration of innocents? Has an innocent person been put to death and, if so, what does this mean for capital punishment? As these and other examples demonstrate, the importance and influence of the innocence issue is boundless. As the group, representing various perspectives, disciplines, and areas of research, discussed these and other questions, it also considered the role of innocence in the criminal justice system more broadly and examined where the innocence issue might take us in the future.
This article is a collection of short essays from some of those in attendance — essays upon which we might reflect as we continue to consider the varying sides and differing answers to the issue of innocence. Through these diverse and innovative essays, the reader is able to glimpse the larger innocence discussion that occurred in the summer of 2015. As was the case at the roundtable event, the ideas expressed in these pages begins a journey into an issue with many faces and many paths forward for discussion, research, and reform.
Friday, March 18, 2016
Making the (Trumpian?) case for winning the drug war via full legalization
This cover story of the April 2016 issue of Harper's magazine is authored by Dan Baum and is headlined "Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs." And, as I mean to suggest via the headline of this post, this article may be channeling what GOP Prez candidate front-runner Donald Trump really thinks about how to improve modern drug policy in the US. (Recall that I had this post on my marijuana reform blog, way back when Trump first announced his serious run for the Oval Office last summer, which highlights that Trump not all that long ago had once suggested full legalization would be the only way to "win" the drug war.) Here are is an except from the first part of the lengthy Harper's piece:
Nixon’s invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the growing cost of the drug war is now impossible to ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment that doesn’t end at the prison gate; one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.
As long ago as 1949, H. L. Mencken identified in Americans “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” an astute articulation of our weirdly Puritan need to criminalize people’s inclination to adjust how they feel. The desire for altered states of consciousness creates a market, and in suppressing that market we have created a class of genuine bad guys — pushers, gangbangers, smugglers, killers. Addiction is a hideous condition, but it’s rare. Most of what we hate and fear about drugs — the violence, the overdoses, the criminality — derives from prohibition, not drugs. And there will be no victory in this war either; even the Drug Enforcement Administration concedes that the drugs it fights are becoming cheaper and more easily available.
Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to change course. Experiments in alternatives to harsh prohibition are already under way both in this country and abroad. Twenty-three states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow medical marijuana, and four — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska — along with D.C., have legalized pot altogether. Several more states, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, will likely vote in November whether to follow suit.
Portugal has decriminalized not only marijuana but cocaine and heroin, as well as all other drugs. In Vermont, heroin addicts can avoid jail by committing to state-funded treatment. Canada began a pilot program in Vancouver in 2014 to allow doctors to prescribe pharmaceutical-quality heroin to addicts, Switzerland has a similar program, and the Home Affairs Committee of Britain’s House of Commons has recommended that the United Kingdom do likewise. Last July, Chile began a legislative process to legalize both medicinal and recreational marijuana use and allow households to grow as many as six plants. After telling the BBC in December that “if you fight a war for forty years and don’t win, you have to sit down and think about other things to do that might be more effective,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos legalized medical marijuana by decree. In November, the Mexican Supreme Court elevated the debate to a new plane by ruling that the prohibition of marijuana consumption violated the Mexican Constitution by interfering with “the personal sphere,” the “right to dignity,” and the right to “personal autonomy.” The Supreme Court of Brazil is considering a similar argument.
Depending on how the issue is framed, legalization of all drugs can appeal to conservatives, who are instinctively suspicious of bloated budgets, excess government authority, and intrusions on individual liberty, as well as to liberals, who are horrified at police overreach, the brutalization of Latin America, and the criminalization of entire generations of black men. It will take some courage to move the conversation beyond marijuana to ending all drug prohibitions, but it will take less, I suspect, than most politicians believe. It’s already politically permissible to criticize mandatory minimums, mass marijuana-possession arrests, police militarization, and other excesses of the drug war; even former attorney general Eric Holder and Michael Botticelli, the new drug czar — a recovering alcoholic — do so. Few in public life appear eager to defend the status quo.
A few prior related posts:
- Just what is Donald Trump's position now on modern marijuana reforms (and the modern drug war)?
- "Make No Mistake: Hillary Clinton is a Drug Warrior"
- Shouldn't front-runner Donald Trump be asked about drug war and federal marijuana policies at GOP debate?
Monday, March 14, 2016
"The Tyranny of Small Things" observed during local sentencing proceedings
I have long told my student that you can learn a lot by just watching, and this new paper on SSRN authored by Yxta Maya Murray reinforces this point in an interesting sentencing setting. The paper is just titled "The Tyranny of Small Things," and here is the abstract:
This legal-literary essay recounts a day I spent watching criminal sentencings in an Alhambra, California courthouse, emphasizing the sometimes quotidian, sometimes despairing, imports of those proceedings. I take leave of the courthouse marshaling arguments that resemble those of other scholars who tackle state overcriminalization and selective enforcement. My original addition exists in the granular attention I pay to the moment-by-moment effects of a sometimes baffling state power on poor and minority people. In this approach, I align myself with advocates of the law and literature school of thought who believe that the study (or, in this case, practice) of literature will aid the aims of justice by disclosing buried yet critical human experience and emotions.
Sunday, March 13, 2016
"Feds want convicted journalist to serve 5 years, his lawyers ask for no prison time"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting ArsTechnica article previewing an interesting federal sentencing scheduled for later this month in federal court in California. Here are the particulars with all links from the original article to the parties' sentencing submissions and related materials:
Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to impose a sentence of five years against Matthew Keys, who was found guilty last year on three counts of criminal hacking under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That federal law, which was passed in 1984, was what the late activist Aaron Swartz was prosecuted under. Last year, President Barack Obama called for Congress to expand prison sentences for those found guilty under this law.
Keys worked previously as an online producer for KTXL Fox 40, a Sacramento, California-based television station. Prosecutors argued that in December 2010, shortly after his dismissal, he handed over login credentials to a Tribune Media content management system (CMS), which allowed members of Anonymous to make unauthorized changes to a Los Angeles Times story. (At the time, both companies were both owned by Tribune Media.) Those changes amounted to a short-lived prank: they lasted only 40 minutes, and there is little evidence that the prank was widely noticed. Criminal charges were not filed until March 2013.
Even after he was found guilty, Keys continued to deny the government’s narrative. In a brief interview with Ars after his trial concluded, he described the prosecution’s theory as "total bullshit."
"A sentence of five years imprisonment reflects Keys’s culpability and places his case appropriately among those of other white-collar criminals who do not accept responsibility for their crimes," Matthew Segal, an Assistant United States Attorney, wrote in the Thursday sentencing memorandum.
In the 12-page filing, Segal explained that, although Keys initially "succeeded in deflecting suspicion away from himself," the FBI changed course after it reviewed chat logs found on the computer belonging to Wesley "Laurelai" Bailey, a former Anonymous member. Those chat logs between Bailey and Ryan Ackroyd (aka "Kayla"), included a line where Kayla wrote: "Iol he's not so innocent and we have logs of him too, he was the one who gave us passwords for LA times, fox40 and some others, he had superuser on alot of media." Segal explains further that Keys’ attack was "an online version of urging a mob to smash the presses for publishing an unpopular story," adding that Keys employed "means that challenge core values of American democracy."
Keys’ defense lawyers filed their own sentencing memorandum on Wednesday, asking the court to impose no prison time at all or go with a "non-custodial sentence." The 69-page filing goes to great lengths to illustrate Keys lengthy history in journalism, going way back to his elementary school days when he edited the school bulletin. "In recent years, Matthew’s sacrifices have paid off in the form of impactful journalism that has received national attention," wrote Jay Leiderman, his attorney, who has also worked on many other Anonymous-related cases. "His stories have encouraged discourse, influenced policy and won the attention and accolades from his peers in the industry, public interest groups and even law enforcement officials."
Leiderman also notes that if the government’s recommendations stand, "[Keys] faces a far more severe sentence than any member of Lulzsec served. 60 months, which the Government seeks, would be more than any person engaged in hacking crimes during this period — by about double!"
I am a bit sorry I am not teaching my sentencing class this semester because the issues raised in this case and the parties' filing provide a great primer on guideline calculation disputes and the application of post-Booker sentencing jurisprudence based in the factors set forth in 3553(a). (I am teaching a 1L legal writing class in which students have to develop variance arguments for a white-collar offender, and I may urge my students to look at the parties' submissions for inspiration.)
March 13, 2016 in Booker in district courts, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)
"Why We Would Spare Walter White: Breaking Bad and the True Power of Mitigation"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting-looking article authored by Bidish Sarma and recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
What if Walter White had been captured by the federal authorities? Considering that he committed the murders of many individuals and orchestrated many more in the course of building and running his global meth trade, the prosecution would be able to seek the ultimate punishment against him. But, would a jury give him the death penalty? Walt’s gripping journey stirred within viewers a range of complex emotions, but even those revolted by his actions must concede that it is extraordinarily difficult to envision a random collection of twelve people unanimously agreeing that he deserves a state-sanctioned execution. Indeed, it seems that many of us actually rooted for Walt throughout the series, even when we struggled to understand why.
This Essay explores the answer to the question of why we would spare Walter White from the death penalty. Its exploration underscores the critical importance of “mitigation” — a capacious term that refers to evidence introduced by capital defense lawyers to persuade jurors to hand down something less harsh than a death sentence.
Breaking Bad, through its masterful construction of its core narrative, situated us to empathize with Walt, to view him as someone we could understand, to feel about him the way we might feel about a friend or colleague or neighbor. Whether we argued vociferously in online forums that his actions were nearly always justified or simply watched with a suppressed but distinct hope that he might emerge as a partially redeemed man, many of us never condemned Walt. We did not want him to die an undignified death at someone else’s hands. In fact, we were relieved that death came to him on his own terms. And, if he had been captured, we would not have sent him to the death chamber. Knowing Walt — understanding his “mitigation” — bent us towards mercy.
To start, this Essay explains how a capital trial unfolds and sets out the factors that jurors must take into account when they decide whether to choose death for a convicted capital defendant. After establishing the basic framework for the death-determination in Part I, this Essay focuses on Walter White’s hypothetical penalty phase in Part II. It describes both the “aggravating” evidence the prosecution would use to persuade jurors that death is the appropriate punishment and the “mitigating” evidence the defense would use to persuade jurors that a sentence less than death is appropriate. Part II concludes with an explanation of why a jury likely would not sentence Walter White to die.
Part III steps back to identify distinct conclusions that we could draw from viewers’ prevailing willingness to ride with Walt until the end. It concludes that it would be unwise to dismiss Walt as a fictitious outlier. Rather than ask ourselves what makes Walt’s particular case for mercy special, we should ask ourselves how the show managed to make him so real. Breaking Bad’s storytelling proved so powerful that the show’s writers were themselves amazed that viewers continued to stand by Walt’s side through it all. If we would spare Walter White, surely we would spare many others facing capital punishment. But to get there, we need to do more than hear that they have struggles and triumphs of their own; we need to walk with them on their journeys. We must feel like we did when the last episode of Breaking BadI began — wondering exactly how things will end, but unwilling to bring that end by our hands.
March 13, 2016 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Rep Lamar Smith makes case against federal sentencing reform by questioning success of Texas reforms
One recurring theme of many advocates for federal sentencing reform is that state-level reforms, lead notably by Texas, have been successful at reducing incarceration levels without seeing an increase in crime. But at the end of this new Washington Times commentary, headlined "How weak prison terms endanger the innocent: Mandatory minimums keep the guilty behind bars to pay their debt to society," US House Representative Lamar Smith from Texas questions whether Texas reforms have truly been effective. Here are some notable excerpts from the piece:
Congress should be wary of reducing federal prison sentences. Unfortunately, much of the discussion on sentencing laws has focused on the criminals. What about the victims of their crimes? What about the dangers of putting these offenders back out on the streets where many prey again on law-abiding citizens?
The lives and property of innocent Americans are at stake. Past experience should persuade us not to weaken penalties, which could lead to thousands of dangerous criminals being released into our communities....
Supporters of lower prison sentences also argue that judges need more discretion. They say that a one-size-fits-all penalty does not allow for consideration of mitigating factors, which might be necessary to determine a fair sentence.
But prior experience with judicial discretion in sentencing counters this claim. It is exactly the problem of too much discretion in the hands of activist judges that fueled the decades-long crime wave that preceded mandatory minimum sentences. Furthermore, judicial discretion led to widespread discrepancies in sentences, even when the circumstances were similar.
The minimum sentencing structure ensures that judges apply a uniform penalty based on the crime, not on the judge’s subjective opinion. Criminals receive equal punishment for equal crimes. And the removal of hardened criminals from our streets for longer periods of time helps make our neighborhoods safer....
In my home state of Texas, new policies sought to reduce incarceration time and focus resources on treatment and post-release supervision. Yet almost one-quarter of inmates released have been rearrested and sent back to prison within three years. Early release programs don’t appear to be working.
Mandatory minimums help keep these individuals behind bars where they belong. That’s one explanation for why crime rates remain down. The purpose of criminal law is to punish bad behavior, deter criminal acts and protect the American people. Releasing prisoners too soon could condemn many Americans to becoming victims of violence. This can be avoided if prisoners are not released before their sentences have been served.
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
"Criminal Injustice: A Cost Analysis of Wrongful Convictions, Errors, and Failed Prosecutions in California's Criminal Justice System"
Criminal (In)justice examines 692 individuals who were prosecuted and convicted in California state or federal courts, only to have their convictions dismissed because the government prosecuted the wrong person, because the evidence was lacking, or because the police, defense, prosecutors, or court erred to such a degree that the conviction could not be sustained. The 692 individuals subjected to these failed prosecutions spent a total of 2,346 years in custody, and their prosecutions, appeals, incarceration, and lawsuits cost California taxpayers an estimated $282 million when adjusted for inflation. Eighty-five of these cases arose from a large group exoneration — the Rampart police corruption scandal — and are discussed separately in a later section of this report.
The remaining 607 convictions, all of which were reversed between 1989 and 2012, illuminate a dark corner in California’s criminal justice system. These 607 individuals spent a total of 2,186 years in custody. They burdened the system with 483 jury trials, 26 mistrials, 16 hung juries, 168 plea bargains, and over 700 appeals and habeas petitions. Many of the individuals subjected to these flawed prosecutions filed lawsuits and received settlements as a result of the error, adding to the taxpayer cost. Altogether, we estimate that these 607 faulty convictions cost taxpayers $221 million for prosecution, incarceration and settlement, adjusted for inflation. This estimate is only a window onto the landscape of possible costs, as it does not include the often unknowable costs suffered by those subjected to these prosecutions.
The sections below provide a review of these 607 cases and offer some recommendations for change.
The first section, Characteristics of Injustice, paints a collective picture of the cases in our sample. Compared to California’s average, the individuals subjected to these errors were disproportionately prosecuted for violent crimes, especially homicide. This may be because prosecutions for violent crime are more likely to generate error than prosecutions for other crimes, though that question was beyond the scope of our research. Whatever the reason, failed prosecutions for violent crime account for a greater percentage of the wasted $221 million than failed prosecutions for other crimes. Indeed, flawed homicide convictions alone account for 52% of the $221 million, in part because these homicide cases took an average of 11 years to resolve and generated more lawsuits and civil settlements.
The second section, Causes of Injustice, catalogs the multitude of errors, dividing them into eight categories: eyewitness identification errors, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective defense counsel, judicial mistake during trial, Fourth Amendment search and seizure violations, inadequate police practices before trial, unreliable or untruthful official testimony (officer or informant), and failure of prosecutorial discretion.
Prosecutorial misconduct and eyewitness identification were the most common errors in the flawed homicide prosecutions. When broken down by type of error, prosecutorial misconduct accounted for more of the cost in our sample than any other type of error. By contrast, the most common errors in our sample were Fourth Amendment search and seizure errors, and judicial mistake. These errors were resolved relatively quickly, however, and resulted in relatively little cost.
The third section, Costs of Injustice, walks through the cost analysis. It documents the many hurdles raised by the California Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board. This section also identifies many of the additional costs not captured by our methodology, including costs arising from wrongful misdemeanor convictions, flawed juvenile convictions, and cases that resolved prior to conviction, among others. These unaccounted costs highlight the fact that this report documents only a portion of the vast unknown waste in California’s criminal justice system — but it is at least a beginning.
Criminal (In)justice ends with a section on Next Steps and Recommendations. The problems presented in this report are undoubtedly complex, and each of them individually could be subject to its own investigation. This report does not attempt to comprehensively define the universe of best practices that will solve all of the issues raised. Instead, it identifies promising avenues for reform and highlights practices and jurisdictions that are leading the way. In particular, in 2006 the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued a report containing detailed recommendations regarding eyewitness identification, false confessions, informant testimony, problems with scientific evidence, and accountability for prosecutors and defense attorneys. The recommendations represent the unanimous views of a diverse group of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, law enforcement, and other stakeholders. To date, however, many of the substantive reforms have not been adopted, compromising public safety and leaving our criminal justice system at risk of endlessly repeating the errors catalogued here. (The report can be found at www.ccfaj.org.)
Tuesday, March 08, 2016
Judge John Gleeson invents and issues a "federal certificate of rehabilitation"
Thanks to this post at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, I see that US District Judge John Gleeson has issued yet another remarkable opinion concerning the collateral consequences of a federal criminal conviction and what he thinks he can do as a federal judge in response. Here is how the 33-page opinion in Doe v. US, No. 15-MC-1174 (EDNY March 7, 2016)(available here) gets started:
On June 23, 2015, Jane Doe moved to expunge a now thirteen-year-old fraud conviction due to its adverse impact on her ability to work. The conviction has proven troublesome for Doe because it appears in the government’s databases and in the New York City Professional Discipline Summaries. In other words, the conviction is visible to a prospective employer both as the result of a criminal background check and upon examination of her nursing license. Numerous employers have denied Doe a job because of her conviction. On more than one occasion, she was hired by a nursing agency only to have her offer revoked after the employer learned of her record. Despite these obstacles, Doe has found work at a few nursing companies, and she currently runs her own business as a house cleaner. Doe’s two children help to support her, and during periods of unemployment, her parents have also assisted her financially.
The government opposes Doe’s motion, contending that federal district courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction to expunge a conviction on equitable grounds. The Second Circuit has ruled, however, that “[t]he application of ancillary jurisdiction in [expungement] case[s] is proper.” U.S. v. Schnitzer, 567 F.2d 536, 538 (1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 907 (1978). Accordingly, I have weighed the equities in this case, which are grounded in my understanding of Doe’s criminal conviction and sentence; I was the judge who presided over her jury trial and imposed punishment.
I conclude that while Doe has struggled considerably as a result of her conviction, her situation does not amount to the “extreme circumstances” that merit expungement. See id. at 539. That said, I had no intention to sentence her to the unending hardship she has endured in the job market. I have reviewed her case in painstaking detail, and I can certify that Doe has been rehabilitated. Her conviction makes her no different than any other nursing applicant. In the 12 years since she reentered society after serving her prison sentence, she has not been convicted of any other wrongdoing. She has worked diligently to obtain stable employment, albeit with only intermittent success. Accordingly, I am issuing Doe a federal certificate of rehabilitation. As explained below, this court-issued relief aligns with efforts the Justice Department, the President, and Congress are already undertaking to help people in Doe’s position shed the burden imposed by a record of conviction and move forward with their lives.
Sunday, March 06, 2016
In praise of (impossible?) request tasking Government Accountability Office with accounting for "the cost of crime in the United States"
I was quite pleased to discover this notable press release from the House Judiciary Committee reporting on a notable letter sent by two Representatives to the Comptroller General. Here is the substantive heart of both the press release and the letter:
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study the cost of crime in the United States to better inform members of the House Judiciary Committee as it continues its bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative. In 2014, there were nearly 1.2 million violent crimes and 8.3 million property crimes in the United States, generating substantial costs for Americans, communities, and the country. In a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Goodlatte and King request that the GAO study this issue and breakdown the cost of crime for federal, state, and local governments.
Below is the text of the letter....
Dear Comptroller General Dodaro:
In June of last year, the House Judiciary Committee launched a criminal justice reform initiative. Over the ensuing months, the Committee has addressed a variety of criminal justice issues through legislation. In order to assist our efforts in this endeavor, we are writing to you regarding our concerns about the cost of crime in the United States. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were an estimated 1,165,383 violent crimes and an estimated 8,277,829 property crimes in 2014. Undoubtedly, these and other crimes generate substantial costs to society at individual, community, and national levels.
Accordingly, we seek the assistance of the Government Accountability Office in fully investigating the cost of crime in the United States. Specifically, we are interested in:
- The cost of Federal and State crimes to victims of crime:
- Total cost
- Cost by state
- The cost of crime to the United States economy and to state economies
- The cost of crime to Federal, State, and local governments
- The cost of crime, per year:
- Per type of criminal offense
- Average cost per criminal
- Average cost per victim
- The rate of recidivism of offenders who are released from terms of imprisonment, and the costs described under #1 through #3 for crimes committed by such offenders subsequent to their release
We look forward to working with you so that GAO can expeditiously complete this important task.
I am already very excited to see what the GAO comes up with as it takes up this request to "study the cost of crime in the United States." Indeed, upon seeing this press release, I started thinking it was quite notable and somewhat curious that there apparently has not been any prior requests for the GAO to engaging in what I agree is an "important task."
That said, I think this task has to start with important and challenging questions that are integral to defining what kinds of "Crimes" and what kinds of "costs" are to be included in this study and its efforts at accounting. Notably, this letter references the "nearly 1.2 million violent crimes and 8.3 million property crimes in the United States" as reported by the FBI, but this accounting leaves out what would seem to be some of the most wide-spread significant crimes in America according to various measures of nationwide illegal behaviors each year, namely drunk driving (with over 100 million estimated yearly incidents) and marijuana trafficking (over 50 million estimated incidents). Should the GAO leave out drunk driving incidents unless one includes a physical harm to persons or property? Should the GAO leave out marijuana offenses altogether in its accounting even though roughly half of all drug arrests nationwide are for these offenses and those arrests have various obvious economic costs to governments?
Ultimately, though, the challenge of defining what "crimes" to consider pales in comparison to defining what "costs" to consider in this kind of study. The majority of violent crimes recorded by the FBI are aggravated assaults, which are "an unlawful attack by one person upon another for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury." And these kinds of assaults seem to come in all shapes and sizes in 2014 according to FBI data: Of those reported to law enforcement, "26.9 percent were committed with personal weapons, such as hands, fists, or feet. Firearms were used in 22.5 percent of aggravated assaults, and knives or cutting instruments were used in 18.8 percent. Other weapons were used in 31.9 percent of aggravated assaults." Can GAO reasonably guess that the "costs" to a victim of being severely beaten by fists are less (or perhaps more) than the costs of being shot? Do these costs turn significantly on the nature of the victim based on their age, health, gender or professional activities? If such an assault requires a person to say in bed for a week to recover, should we say the "costs" of missed acitivities are the same or are different for, say, a sales clerk or a student or an unemployed person?
Critically, as the image reprinted here highlights, doing these calculations is possible if you make a lot of assumptions. Indeed, the Rand Corporation has run these numbers in the past, although many questions and concerns could obviously be raised about its accounting decisions.
Saturday, March 05, 2016
"From Mass Incarceration to Mass Control, and Back Again: How Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform May Lead to a For-Profit Nightmare"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new and timely article now available via SSRN and authored by Carl Takei. Here is the abstract:
Since 2010, advocates on the right and left have increasingly allied to denounce mass incarceration and propose serious reductions in the use of prisons. This alliance serves useful shared purposes, but each side comes to it with distinct and in many ways incompatible long-term interests. I f progressive advocates rely solely on this alliance without aggressively building our own vision of what decarceration should look like, the unintended consequences could be serious.
This Article describes the current mass incarceration paradigm and current left-right reform efforts. It then outlines how, if progressives do not set clear goals for what should replace mass incarceration, these bipartisan efforts risk creating a nightmare scenario of mass control, surveillance, and monitoring of Black and Brown communities. Finally, the Article explains why this mass control paradigm would lay the groundwork for a heavily-privatized, extraordinarily difficult-to-end resurgence of mass incarceration in subsequent decades.
March 5, 2016 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7)
Friday, March 04, 2016
"The Absence of Equality and Human Dignity Values Makes American Sentencing Systems Fundamentally Different from Those in Other Western Countries"
The title of this post is the title of this new article now available via SSRN authored by Michael Tonry. Here is the abstract:
Concern for equality and human dignity is largely absent from American sentencing. Prison sentences are imposed much more often than in any other Western country and prison terms are incomparably longer. The greater frequency of imprisonment is a product of punitive attitudes and politicization of crime control policies. The longer terms result partly from abolition of parole release in every jurisdiction for all or some inmates, but mostly from the proliferation since the mid-1980s of mandatory minimum, three-strikes, life without parole, and truth-in-sentencing laws.
The ideas that offenders should be treated as equals and with concern and respect for their interests largely disappeared, though they had been animating values of earlier indeterminate and determinate sentencing systems. Their disregard is evident in the nature of contemporary laws but also in low-visibility policies and practices including the near absence of meaningful systems of appellate sentence review, low standards of proof — or none at all — at the sentencing stage, and the absence of policies that limit the weight given to past convictions in the sentencing of new offenses or set standards for sentencing of people convicted of multiple offenses.
Thursday, March 03, 2016
Indiana county prosecutor seeks re-election by bragging about "proudly over-crowding our prisons"
As reported in this Reason blog posting, a local prosecutor in Indiana is pursuing reelection by bragging about being proud to overcrowd the state's prisons. The full headline of the posting, along with the picture, provides the essentials of this notable story: "Indiana Prosecutor Bradley Cooper Is 'Proudly Over-Crowding our Prisons': Cooper's new campaign flyer brags about the people he's put in prison for decades over drug sales and minor theft." Here is more from the blog post about this local prosecutor and his record:
As American conservatives and liberals alike embrace criminal justice reform, those opposed are blatantly bragging about their overcriminalization agendas. One particularly gross example: a new campaign mailer from Johnson County, Indiana, Prosecutor Bradley D. Cooper, which announces that he has been busy "proudly over-crowding our prisons."
The flyer also features mugshots from convicted criminals, along with what they were found guilty of and what prison sentence they were given. It includes a man who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for selling meth, a man convicted of manslaughter who died while in prison, and a man who received a 40-year sentence for burglary.
In the latter case, William A. Russell was arrested after breaking into someone's home and stealing $52. For that offense, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A trial court also determined that he was a "habitual offender," which qualified him for a sentencing enhancement of 20 years.
Another of the offenders featured is Amanda Smith, a schizophrenic woman who drowned her son in 2012 while he was on a court-ordered overnight visit from foster care; she claimed it was God's will and turned herself in immediately afterward. Smith's lawyers argued for her to be sent to a state mental hospital, but a judge sentenced her to 55 years in state prison instead.
Last year, Cooper made a fuss that a man accused of forcible rape was only eligible to receive 63 years behind bars, pursuant to a 2014 change to Indiana's criminal code. Previously, the man could have received a maximum sentence of 168 years in prison. Cooper called the sentencing-reform measure the "hug a thug" law and accused the state of coddling violent criminals.
For more about this local prosecutor professional history and accomplishments, his office's website includes this bio and this resume for Bradley D. Cooper. Interestingly, I believe that Prosecutor Bradley attended the same law school as frequent blog commentor federalist, and thus I would be especially eager to hear from federalist (or others) whether they think this kind of campaign slogan is unsavory or perhaps even unethical.
Has the federal Adam Walsh Act been a success and should it be reauthorized?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent press release coming from the office of Senator Chuck Grassley, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is titled "Grassley Introduces Bill to Aid States, Public in Tracking Sex Offenders." Here is how it begins:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today introduced legislation to assist states in preventing future abuses by registered sex offenders. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act Reauthorization helps to improve tracking of sex offenders through federal support of state registries and dedicated resources to target offenders who fail to comply with registration requirements.
“Preventing sex crimes, especially by known offenders, requires a team effort by law enforcement at every level. Congress has passed laws to promote a unified approach to sex offender registration and notification. This bill will help to ensure that our state and local law enforcement officials continue to have the federal resources and assistance they need to successfully track offenders with a history of crimes against children,” Grassley said.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 established nationwide notification and registration standards for convicted sex offenders to bolster information sharing between law enforcement agencies and increase public safety through greater awareness. Grassley’s bill reauthorizes key programs in the 2006 act to help states meet the national standards and locate offenders who fail to properly register or periodically update their information as the law requires.
Specifically, Grassley’s bill reauthorizes the Sex Offender Management Assistance Program, a federal grant program that assists state and local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to improve sex offender registry systems and information sharing capabilities. The bill also authorizes resources for the U.S. Marshals Service to aid state and local law enforcement in the location and apprehension of sex offenders who fail to comply with registration requirements.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act is named for a six-year-old Florida boy who was kidnapped and murdered in 1981. Adam’s father, John Walsh, worked closely with Congress to develop the 2006 law and the reauthorization that was introduced today. Cosponsors of the bill include senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Candidly, I am not entirely sure what would be the best metrics for judging the "success" of the Adam Walsh Act, and perhaps that should be the question in the title of this post. So, dear readers, I would be eager to hear thoughts both on how we ought to assess the success of the AWA and also on whether it ought to be reauthorized.
March 3, 2016 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14)
Wednesday, March 02, 2016
Are death penalty advocates troubled by plea deal, presumably urged by families of two slain Viriginia college students, that allows a double murderer to escape any real punishment?
The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this news story about an expected plea deal which seem to allow a high-profile double-murderer in Virginia to, in essence, avoid suffering any real punishment for murdering two college students. The article is headlined "Report: Matthew to be spared death penalty in Va. student murders," and here are the details (with my emphasis added):
Two remarkably similar murder cases that amplified concerns about campus safety are expected to end when a Virginia man enters a plea deal that will spare him a possible death sentence. Jesse LeRoy Matthew Jr., 34, is expected to enter pleas resolving the Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington cases Wednesday, according to Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert N. Tracci. The prosecutor did not disclose the terms of the plea agreement ahead of the hearing.
Sources told CBS affiliate WTVR Matthew is expected to plead guilty to first-degree murder and intent to defile in both cases. WTVR reporter Laura French reports via Twitter that Matthew is expected to serve four life sentences with no eligibility for parole. The deal will spare him the death penalty, sources told the station.
The former hospital orderly and cab driver is charged with capital murder in the September 2014 death of 18-year-old University of Virginia student Graham. He also faces a first-degree murder charge in the 2009 death of Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student. He already is serving three life prison terms for a sexual assault in northern Virginia.
According to authorities, Graham and Harrington were young women in vulnerable straits when they vanished in Charlottesville five years apart...
Graham's disappearance, which came at a time of rising national concern about sexual assaults and other crimes on college campuses, prompted a massive search. Her body was found five weeks later on abandoned property in Albemarle County, about 12 miles from the Charlottesville campus and 6 miles from a hayfield where Harrington's remains had been found in January 2010.
After police named Matthew a person of interest in Graham's disappearance, he fled and was later apprehended on a beach in southeast Texas. He was charged with abduction with intent to defile, a felony that empowered police to swab his cheek for a DNA sample. That sample connected Matthew to the 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax, a Virginia suburb of Washington, according to authorities. The DNA evidence in the Fairfax sexual assault, in turn, linked Matthew to the Harrington case, authorities have said.
The charge against Matthew in the Graham case was later upgraded to capital murder, giving prosecutors the option to seek the death penalty.
Both the Harrington and the Graham families are supportive of the deal, WTVR reports. Both families requested to give victim impact statements at the Wednesday afternoon hearing.
When I first saw the headline of this local story, I was puzzled by the willingness of Virginia prosecutors to let a defendant who is already serving multiple life sentences for other crimes now avoid any capital prosecution for two horrific murders. But, after reading that "the Harrington and the Graham families are supportive of the deal," I presume that these families strongly urged the prosecutors to take this kind of deal in order to conclude legal proceedings quickly and to allow them to get a measure of closure.
Assuming I am right that this plea deal is at the behest of the families of the victims, I am genuinely interested to hear from death penalty advocates about whether they think this outcome is ultimately a serious injustice. I surmise that some (many? most?) death penalty advocates think it is an injustice anytime a first-degree murderer escapes a capital prosecution and possible execution. In this case, given that the double-murderer is already serving life sentences for other crimes, this plea deal to additional life sentences means, functionally, Matthew is going to receive no real punishment at all for murdering Graham and Harrington.
Because I am a something of a death penalty agnostic, and especially because I am a strong supporter of taking very seriously the sentencing interests of crime victims in all cases, I really am not sure how I feel about this outcome. But I am sure I would like to hear the opinions of others, especially those who genuinely believe, as did Immanuel Kant, that the "satisfaction of justice" demands the execution of certain killers.
Mark Holden, GC at Koch Industries, makes "The Factual Case for Criminal Justice Reform"
As regular readers know, various groups and persons associated with the wealthy and politically active Koch brothers have been very supportive of state and federal sentencing reform efforts. Continuing in that tradition, Mark Holden, who is senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries, Inc., has authored this new Medium commentary titled "The Factual Case for Criminal Justice Reform." I recommend the piece is full (with all its links), and here are excerpts:
These days, it’s hard to find legislation in Washington, D.C. that has bipartisan support. It’s even harder to find legislation that will help people improve their lives instead of making their lives worse.
Yet that’s exactly what both houses of Congress are currently doing through criminal justice reform legislation. The Senate is considering the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. It contains a series of long overdue reforms that have been tried at the state level and have been proven to reduce crime, lower spending on incarceration, reduce incarceration rates, and give people a better chance at leading a productive and fulfilling life once they’re released from prison.
There’s little doubt that the current system is dysfunctional. American criminal justice is too often inconsistent with the promises of the Bill of Rights. We have a two-tiered system, with the wealthy and the well-connected experiencing a much better system than the poor, oftentimes regardless of guilt or innocence. A growing number of Americans recognize this — nearly 80 percent of the country supports reform. So do many prosecutors and judges. For example, liberal federal Judge Rakoff of the Southern District of New York and conservative Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have raised awareness that innocent people are pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit because they cannot effectively defend themselves against the power of the government. That is why calls for reform are growing so loud from both ends of the political spectrum that Congress can no longer ignore these problems, which have festered for more than three decades.
The numbers speak for themselves. Over the past decades more and more Americans are put behind bars, sometimes for crimes they didn’t commit or with punishments that are not consistent with the crime. The result has been a skyrocketing prison population that ruins lives and wastes money. At the federal level alone, the number of prisoners has increased by 795 percent in the past 35 years. Federal and state spending on prisons also increased over this timeframe to $8 billion annually, which is 3 to 4 times more per capita than we spend on education. America is now the world’s largest jailer, with only 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And there are as many Americans with a college degree as there are Americans with a criminal record.
As more people get caught in this system, it breaks apart families, destabilizes communities, increases poverty, and makes it harder — if not impossible — for people to rejoin society after they’ve served their sentence. Why? Because criminal convictions are accompanied by countless collateral consequences that burden people for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes the need for reform. As demand for reform grows louder, the defenders of the status quo are mobilizing. Their argument is simple: Reforming the criminal justice system will endanger society and put people’s lives at risk. But these claims have no basis in reality. In fact, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will have the opposite effect.
Many of its most important provisions are modeled after successful reforms from states such as Georgia, Utah, Kentucky, and Texas. In the past decade, more than half of states have passed a variety of changes to their criminal justice systems. Some lowered mandatory minimums — non-negotiable sentences that can run into the decades — for low-level offenders. Others gave judges greater discretion in sentencing. And still more tried a variety of other worthwhile reforms, including prison reform and expungement of past criminal records so worthy individuals seeking redemption could put their past mistakes behind them and have a fresh start when leaving prison.
The results speak for themselves. While the federal imprisonment rate increased by 15 percent over the last decade, the state rate fell by 4 percent. This didn’t lead to an increase in crime, either. No less than 32 states saw drops in both the percentage of people imprisoned and the overall crime rate. Put another way: Criminal justice reform made society safer.
We need federal reforms along the same lines. That’s what the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would do, which is why it has broad support from law enforcement. It contains a variety of reforms that would enhance public safety and make the criminal justice system more fair and humane....
Will lawmakers seize this opportunity to make people’s lives better, or will they fall prey to fear-mongering? For the sake of the least fortunate in society, I certainly hope they make the right choice.
Some prior related posts on Koch family efforts in support of criminal justice reform:
- Koch Industries give "major grant" to NACDL to help with indigent defense
- Highlighting that George Soros and the Koch Brothers agree on the need for criminal justice reform
- Another sign of the modern sentencing times: notable sponsor for "How the Criminal Justice System Impacts Well-Being"
- ACLU to devote $50 million to political efforts to attack mass incarceration
- Big talk from Charles Koch about big (money) criminal justice reform efforts
- "Inside The Koch Campaign To Reform Criminal Justice"
- A test for the Kochs' influence: seeking justice and freedom for Weldon Angelos
- "Do the Koch Brothers Really Care About Criminal-Justice Reform?"
- Should there really be so much left-leaning distrust for the Koch brothers' criminal justice reform work?
- Charles Koch Institute produces great set of short videos urging crimnal justice reforms
March 2, 2016 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, March 01, 2016
Former AG Mukasey delivers "clear" message to GOP on SRCA: "Law enforcement asks you to pass this bill."
The Hill has now published this notable new op-ed authored by Michael Mukasey and Ronal Serpas under the headline "Federal sentencing reform will aid law enforcement." Here are excerpts:
The Senate is back in session amid recent warnings from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that federal sentencing reform would jeopardize public safety. They say the country cannot risk reform.
As a former attorney general under President George W. Bush who has overseen thousands of prosecutions, and a police chief with three decades of experience, we have dedicated our lives to the safety of this country.
We can firmly say that sentencing reform done right will not harm public safety. In fact, it will enhance it. We were some of the original supporters of the 1990s “tough on crime” laws. After decades of enforcing them, we and our colleagues — police chiefs and U.S. attorneys — now recognize many provisions, like overly harsh sentencing, went too far.
Much has been learned in the last 25 years about who should be locked up and for how long. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act recalibrates sentencing policy to meet the needs of the 21st century. Lowering mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crimes will reduce unnecessary incarceration. This will allow us to better direct law enforcement resources to arresting, prosecuting, and punishing the most serious and violent criminals.
That’s why we and 130 of our law enforcement colleagues wrote to congressional leadership urging them to pass the act. Those standing with us include two former U.S. attorneys general, two directors of the FBI, 21 sitting police chiefs and 68 former U.S. attorneys.
Our message to Republican leadership is clear: Law enforcement asks you to pass this bill. Targeted and appropriate sentencing is a superior approach to controlling crime....
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act offers a better path forward. It would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for repeat nonviolent drug offenders. And it would allow judges more discretion to depart from mandatory minimums for low-level offenders if — after hearing specific circumstances of the crime — they feel it is appropriate.
Contrary to what opponents have claimed, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will not swing open the prison doors and release thousands of hardcore violent criminals onto the streets. Every single prisoner eligible for early release will be carefully scrutinized by judges. And only if the judges feel it’s appropriate will they release them. This judicial check ensures the worst criminals will remain where they belong — in prison — while those who pose little threat can get off the taxpayers’ tab and begin productively contributing to society.
The bill would also expand the use of mandatory minimums for offenders with previous convictions for violent crimes, and it creates new mandatory minimums for terrorism-related crimes, giving federal law enforcement additional mechanisms to keep those most dangerous behind bars.
Now is the time for Congress to act. Reducing the population of our overcrowded prisons is one of the few goals on which those on the left and right agree. We want to make it clear where law enforcement stands: Not only is passing federal legislation to reform mandatory minimum sentences necessary to reduce incarceration, it will also help us keep crime at its historic low.
Some recent prior related posts on SRCA:
- Basic elements of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
- Leading distinct GOP Senators make the case for federal sentencing reform via SRCA 2015
- Senate Judiciary Committee moving forward next week on Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
- Submitted testimony from witnesses at SRCA 2015 hearing (and member statements) now available
- SRCA 2015 passes through Senate Judiciary Committee by vote of 15-5
- US Sentencing Commission provides estimates on likely impact of sentencing reforms in SRCA 2015
- Former AG Michael Mukasey and other former DOJ leaders urge Senate to move forward with vote on sentencing and corrections reform
March 1, 2016 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)
Monday, February 29, 2016
Highlighting the enduring lack of transparency about pleas and the work of prosecutors ... and the problems this may create
The folks at The Crime Report continue to do a lot of notable reporting about a lot of the notable issues discussed at the recent Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This recent piece, headlined "A 'Draconian' System Where the Innocent Plead Guilty," reports on a keynote speech by Judge Jed Rakoff and discussion of the need to bring more light to the dark spaces of plea bargaining and prosecutorial practices. I recommend the piece in full, and here are some excerpts:
The U.S. criminal justice system is broken and needs to be fixed is a message you rarely hear from a well-respected senior federal judge. But that’s exactly what Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York detailed during a keynote address at the 11th Annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Friday
“We created this monster and it’s taken on a life of its own,” said Rakoff, speaking critically of judges who everyday impose “terrible sentences” and send people to prison for extremely long periods of time without questioning the system....
Rakoff detailed how he’s seen the system change in the past few decades, from a time where a much higher percentage of court cases went to trial (15 percent of court cases at the federal level 20 percent at the state level) to now where, after tough-on-crime laws swept the nation, only 3 percent of federal cases, and 5 to 6 percent of state cases, go to trial. The rest are settled with plea bargains. He called the plea bargaining process a “system of totally secret justice” where prosecutors, hold all the cards and are able to get a vast majority of defendants to plead guilty to charges when faced with extremely long sentences — imposed through sentencing guidelines or mandatory minimums.
Julie Seaman, a professor at the Emory University School of Law and Board President of the Georgia Innocence Project, said it’s now a system where “it’s completely rational for an innocent person to plead guilty,” because there is so much risk involved in going to trial.
The panel — also featuring Keir Bradford-Gray of the Philadelphia Defender Association, Matthew Johnson of John Jay College, exoneree Rodney Roberts and moderated by John Hollway, executive director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School — detailed problems of this “assembly-line” style form of justice where police are under pressure to solve cases quickly, prosecutors are under pressure to clear cases and public defenders are overworked and under resourced.
And it’s all done behind closed doors, they say, away from public scrutiny. “This is a system, because it’s so totally un-transparent, is it inevitably going to lead to some serious mistakes,” Rakoff said.
There has arguably never been more data and more transparency in the U.S. criminal justice system than there is now. Researchers, journalists, politicians and the public have more access to data on prison and jail populations, as well as crime statistics including the number of reported crimes and arrests. That data has played a large part in changing peoples’ minds about mass incarceration — and arguably without that data, you wouldn’t see elected officials of both parties rolling back sentencing laws. But data doesn’t exist for plea deals, which is where the decisions that dramatically impact millions of lives are made. There is a plethora of information available to the public on how offenders enter the system and where they end up, but missing is information on what happens in the middle.
Rakoff says this is a problem that has fueled mass incarceration – and also because when innocent people decide to plead guilty in order to avoid long sentences, we never know the truth. He said there is too much disparity in pleas that are offered and we don’t know enough about what goes on behind closed doors. “No one ever knows what the truth is, no one ever knows what the facts are,” Rakoff said.
Friday, February 26, 2016
"Internalizing Private Prison Externalities: Let's Start with the GED"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting and timely new piece by David Siegel recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Prison education is a remarkably good investment for society, yet an increasing proportion of inmates have no access to it because the operators of the prisons in which they are held have a powerful incentive not to provide it: they make more money that way. Critics and analysts of private prison operators have suggested various incentive structures to improve their performance, but most jurisdictions focus on the operator’s cost to the contracting entity. The social costs imposed by foregoing prison education are not part of the arrangement between a private prison operator and a jurisdiction with which it contracts. Although these costs are real and substantial to the inmates who bear them, because the inmates are not parties to the contract, these costs are externalities.
Imposing these social costs on prison operators could improve the conditions for inmates in their custody and is very likely to improve these inmates’ success after release. Unlike more complex strategies for imposing incentives on correctional programs to reduce recidivism, prison education is a known, straightforward rehabilitative strategy whose provision can be measured quite easily at the point of release. There is even a well-accepted metric for prison education administered by an independent third party: the General Educational Development Test (GED). This article proposes using the GED to internalize the cost of reduced or poor inmate education by imposing financial penalties on private prison operators whose inmates do not obtain, or make progress toward, a GED during their incarceration. This would provide the social benefits of inmate education, alter private prison operators’ behavior at minimal administrative cost, and most importantly, benefit inmates being released.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
"Judging Federal White-Collar Fraud Sentencing: An Empirical Study Revealing the Need for Further Reform"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper now available via SSRN authored by Mark Bennett, Justin Levinson and Koichi Hioki. Here is the abstract:
White-collar federal fraud sentencing has long been fraught with controversy and criticism. As a result, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s intensive multi-year examination of sentencing for fraud crimes generated tremendous interest among the Department of Justice, criminal defense organizations, the academy, and a wide-range of advocacy groups. In November 2015, the Commission’s publicly announced proposed amendments became law without Congressional change. These amendments, while commendable in process and purpose, fall short of sorely needed reforms that would serve to realign white-collar fraud punishments with legitimate penal justifications. This Article portrays the recent historical tension between the Federal Sentencing Commission and federal judges, and presents the results of an original empirical study that demonstrates clearly the continuing need for significant reforms.
The Article begins by framing the problem of fraud sentencing within modern criminal law, and examines the statistical reality of economic crime sentencing since the 1980s, which has been increasingly characterized by downward departures from harsh recommend minimum sentences. It then details an original empirical study we conducted on 240 sitting federal and state judges, just as the new sentencing guideline amendments were passing untouched through Congress. This study presented judges with a realistic pre-sentence report for a multimillion-dollar economic crime, and asked judges to sentence the defendant. We found that a remarkable 75% of federal district court judges sentenced the defendant to the precise minimum sentence of a possible seven year range. The study further compared the judges’ sentences across judicial cohorts and evaluated the role of judges’ individual sentencing philosophies, age, religion, and the political party of the appointing president. Despite a range of interesting differences in sentencing philosophy and self-reported attitudes found based on these factors, federal judges’ overwhelming agreement regarding minimum sentencing largely transcended their other differences.
The Article considers the results of the study in the context of the revised guidelines as well as scholarly reform suggestions, and offers five specific proposals to reform the guidelines, beginning with significant cuts to the so-called “loss table” as well as the specific offense characteristics that frequently lead to near-nonsensical sentencing guidelines.
February 24, 2016 in Data on sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)
What does (closet libertarian?) GOP front-runner Donald Trump now really think about the drug war and criminal justice reform and Prez clemency?
Based on his personal and professional history, as well as a number of his prior positions on a range of social and economic issues, I have long assumed the essential political views and commitments of Donald Trump to be what might be called "pragmatic libertarianism." I say that in part because most successful private businessmen in the United States, in addition to being generally pragmatic, tend to have at least some hint of a libertarian streak on at least some issues (e.g., think of the Koch brothers or Peter Lewis). More to the point, as I have flagged in prior posts here and on my marijuana reform blog, Donald Trump once embraced the libertarian view that full legalization would be the only way to "win" the drug war.
But, of course, Donald Trump the Presidential candidate has sounded far more authoritarian than libertarian on the campaign trail, especially with respect to domestic issues. He conveniently says that he has now changed his mind about abortion and thus now is pro-life rather than pro-choice. He also has expressed in vaious ways disaffinity for marijuana legalization (though his position seems to get more and more nuanced as time goes on, as highlighted in posts here and here from my marijuana reform blog). Then again, to the extent a single idea summarizes Trump's modern politics, it would seem to be "anti-establishment"; I think it is accurate to describe The Establishment, on both the left and the right, to be quite statist and generally anti-libertarian.
I say all this not to claim that Donald Trump is the most libertarian candidate still with a serious chance to become President (although this might be true). Rather, I say it in order to try to figure out whether, when and how the candidate now seemingly most likely to represent the GOP on the national stage for the bulk of 2016 will articulate his latest thinking about federal criminal justice issues ranging from statutory sentencing reform of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders to federal responses to state marijuana legalization to the robust use of federal clemency powers.
Obviously, how the last five or six US presidents have approached these federal criminal justice issues, both politically and practically, has had a huge impact on the nature and reach of our nation's federal and state criminal justice systems. Before I can even figure out whether I should be terrified by the prospect of a President Trump, I really am eager to hear more about his current thoughts on these important criminal justice fronts. Critically, not only would Trump's discussion now of these issues help me better understand long-term what would a President Trump might actually do, I think they could have a big short-term impact on the work of the current Congress and the current President (and even the current Supreme Court) in these areas.
With apologies for my (silly?) Prez Trump musings in the wake of his latest "yuge" win in Nevada, I am eager to hear lots of thought from lots on readers on this political and legal front.
Vera Institute of Justice launches "The Human Toll of Jail"
I received an email this morning announcing the launch of a notable new project by The Vera Institute of Justice. Here is the heart of the email (with a few links) detailing what the project is all about:
The Human Toll of Jail [is] a national storytelling project about the uses and abuses of jails in the United States, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.
The Human Toll of Jail uses poignant essays, videos, comics, and photojournalism to tell the stories of Americans who have been caught up in local justice systems as well as highlight unexpected voices for reform from the frontlines — including judges, prosecutors, healthcare providers, and others. Along with every story featured here, the project offers additional resources with research, policy analyses, and best practices that address the larger questions and issues around local jails. Stories in the project include:
INSIDE THE MASSIVE JAIL THAT DOUBLES AS CHICAGO’S LARGEST MENTAL HEALTH FACILITY — Since drastic budget cuts left thousands of Chicagoans without access to reliable mental health care, all too many are getting their only real treatment when they land behind bars.
RETURN TO RIKERS — After two decades of incarceration, Patrick went back to Rikers Island for the first time in 20 years — to visit his son. His story is told here as comics journalism.
THE JAIL WITHOUT BARS — At one Idaho correctional facility, an innovative approach is built on a commitment to the site’s workers and an investment in the inmates’ success. The result is a jail that looks nothing like the ones you’ve seen on TV.
A NEW APPROACH TO PROSECUTION — Local prosecutors across the country wield enormous power to make decisions that affect the flow of people in and out of often-overcrowded jails. With that power in mind, the district attorney in one California county wants to upend the way we think about his job responsibilities.
JUDGING WITHOUT JAIL — Many states have made moves to end the fruitless cycle of arrest and incarceration by moving nonviolent defendants out of prosecution and into more productive intervention programs. One New Orleans judge has seen just how effective this approach can be.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan explains "Why It's Time to Legalize Drugs"
This new Huffington Post commentary, titled "Why It's Time to Legalize Drugs," is authored by Kofi Annan, who served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006. Here is part of his pitch:
Nowhere is [the] divorce between rhetoric and reality more evident than in the formulation of global drug policies, where too often emotions and ideology rather than evidence have prevailed.
Take the case of the medical use of cannabis. By looking carefully at the evidence from the United States, we now know that legalizing the use of cannabis for medical purposes has not, as opponents argued, led to an increase in its use by teenagers. By contrast, there has been a near tripling of American deaths from heroin overdoses between 2010 and 2013, even though the law and its severe punishments remain unchanged.
This year, between April 19 and 21, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs and the world will have a chance to change course. As we approach that event, we need to ask ourselves if we are on the right policy path. More specifically, how do we deal with what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has called the "unintended consequences" of the policies of the last 50 years, which have helped, among other things, to create a vast, international criminal market in drugs that fuels violence, corruption and instability? Just think of the 16,000 murders in Mexico in 2013, many of which are directly linked to drug trafficking.
Globally, the "war on drugs" has not succeeded. Some estimate that enforcing global prohibition costs at least $100 billion (€90.7 billion) a year, but as many as 300 million people now use drugs worldwide, contributing to a global illicit market with a turnover of $330 billion a year, one of the largest commodity markets in the world.
Prohibition has had little impact on the supply of or demand for drugs. When law enforcement succeeds in one area, drug production simply moves to another region or country, drug trafficking moves to another route and drug users switch to a different drug. Nor has prohibition significantly reduced use. Studies have consistently failed to establish the existence of a link between the harshness of a country's drug laws and its levels of drug use. The widespread criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs, the over-crowded prisons, mean that the war on drugs is, to a significant degree, a war on drug users -- a war on people.
Africa is sadly an example of these problems. The West Africa Commission on Drugs, which my foundation convened, reported last year that the region has now become not only a major transit point between producers in Latin America and consumers in Europe, but an area where consumption is increasing. Drug money, and the criminality associated with it, is fostering corruption and violence. The stability of countries and the region as a whole is under threat.
I believe that drugs have destroyed many lives, but wrong government policies have destroyed many more. We all want to protect our families from the potential harm of drugs. But if our children do develop a drug problem, surely we will want them cared for as patients in need of treatment and not branded as criminals.
Latest notable comments by Attorney General Lynch about sentencing reform developments
Via email alert,I received notice that AG Loretta Lynch is giving this lengthy speech today in DC at the at the National Association of Attorneys General Annual Winter Conference. The speech covers a lot of federal and state criminal justice issues, and this section concerning sentencing policies and reform seemed worth spotlighting here:
Through the Smart on Crime initiative — launched by my predecessor, Eric Holder, in 2013 — we’re directing our prosecutorial resources at the most serious crimes, while investing in diversion and treatment programs like drug courts and veteran’s courts. And we’re placing a renewed focus on rehabilitation and reentry in order to reduce recidivism, promote public safety and ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals can return to their communities as productive citizens with a meaningful new chance at a better life.
As we all know, improving rehabilitation programs and reentry outcomes doesn’t just help formerly incarcerated individuals; it’s also good for our communities as a whole. More than 600,000 people are released from federal, state and local prisons every year and their ability to stay on the right path and stay out of the criminal justice system has a tremendous impact on the safety of our neighborhoods and the strength of our nation. That’s why the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which I am proud to chair, has brought together more than 20 federal agencies to curb recidivism and foster better prospects for employment, education, housing, healthcare and child welfare. It’s why the Department of Justice is forging partnerships with the Departments of Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development and others to boost opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals and eliminate unnecessary collateral consequences of incarceration. And it’s why our Office of Justice Programs has offered nearly 750 Second Chance Act grants since 2009, totaling more than $400 million to support reentry efforts in 49 states.
Beyond these and other efforts at the Department of Justice, we are working with Congress to support meaningful legislation that combines front-end sentencing reforms and back-end corrections reforms. Over the past several months, we’ve seen important progress: sentencing and corrections legislation has been reported out of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have spoken out about the pressing need for reform. The Department of Justice will continue to support federal sentencing laws that reduce the overreliance on mandatory-minimum sentences and improve federal probation and supervised-release programs.
Of course, the Department of Justice and the Obama Administration cannot do this work alone. As the chief law enforcement officers of this country’s states and territories, you have the ability to bring about much-needed change. Over the past several years, many of you have led the way in helping enact justice system reforms in your own jurisdictions. This Administration has supported your work through efforts like the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), which helps states identify the drivers of rising corrections costs and develop solutions to reduce spending and increase public safety. JRI is currently active in 24 states and the experiences of states like Georgia and North Carolina demonstrate that JRI-involved states can both achieve significant reform — including reductions to incarceration rates — and produce savings while simultaneously enhancing public safety. Since 2011, Georgia’s prison population has dropped by 8 percent, instead of growing by 8 percent as projected, saving funds and reducing crowding. North Carolina’s prison population has decreased by almost 3,400 people since 2011 and the state has used savings from the closure of 10 prisons to add 175 probation and parole officers and to invest in intervention and treatment programs. At the same time, North Carolina’s crime rate has plunged 11 percent.
We will continue to support programs like JRI — and additional efforts that seek to make our criminal justice system more efficient, more effective and more fair across the board. In fact, President Obama’s budget for this coming fiscal year would invest $500 million in states’ comprehensive criminal justice reform efforts as part of the “21st Century Justice Initiative” — supporting a range of projects, from improving policing, to reducing unnecessary incarceration, to bolstering re-entry services. This is an exciting and groundbreaking initiative and I am hopeful that Congress will move forward in support of its goals.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Because Michigan lacks the death penalty, can and should feds consider capital charges against admitted Uber mass murderer?
This new AP article, headlined "Uber driver admits to fatal Michigan rampage," prompts the question in the title of this post now that it seems there were be no questions about guilt in the latest horrific mass shooting. Here are the disturbing particulars:
The Uber driver suspected in a series of three random shootings in Michigan admitted carrying out the seemingly random attacks that killed six people, a prosecutor said Monday. Jason Dalton waived his right against self-incrimination before making the statement to authorities, Kalamazoo County prosecutor Jeff Getting said.
Dalton's statements to police were used to file charges of murder and attempted murder Monday, two days after the shootings in the Kalamazoo area. Dalton appeared briefly in court to hear the charges. He was ordered held without bond and will get a court-appointed attorney.
The shootings occurred in a restaurant parking lot, outside an apartment building and at a car lot. Two victims remain hospitalized.
Meanwhile, an Uber passenger said he called police to report that Dalton was driving erratically more than an hour before the shooting rampage began.
Matt Mellen told Kalamazoo television station WWMT that he hailed a ride around 4:30 p.m. Saturday. He said driver Jason Dalton introduced himself as "Me-Me" and had a dog in the backseat.... "I'm upset because I tried contacting Uber after I had talked to the police, saying that we needed to get this guy off the road," Mellen said....
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said Uber is cooperating with law enforcement officials, and he believes the company will "help us fill in some timeline gaps." Investigators are particularly interested in communication between Dalton and Uber, as well as customers he might have driven, the sheriff said.
Questions about motive and Dalton's frame of mind are "going to be the hardest to answer for anybody," Fuller said. He expects some answers to emerge in court, but he doubts they will be satisfying. "In the end, I ask people, because I keep hearing this question of why, 'What would be the answer that would be an acceptable answer for you?' They have to think about it for a moment, and they say, 'Probably nothing.' I have to say, 'You are probably correct.' I can't imagine what the answer would be that would let us go, 'OK, we understand now.' Because we are not going to understand."
If Dalton is convicted, the murder charges carry a mandatory life sentence. Michigan does not have the death penalty.
Authorities allege that he shot the first victim outside of an apartment complex and that he shot seven others over the next several hours. Police have not provided a motive. The victims had no apparent connection to the gunman or to each other.
The attacks began early Saturday evening outside the Meadows apartment complex on the eastern edge of Kalamazoo County, where a woman was shot multiple times. A little more than four hours later and 15 miles away, a father and his 17-year-old son were fatally shot while looking at cars at a car dealership. Fifteen minutes after that, five people were gunned down in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Four of them died....
A man who knows Dalton said he was a married father of two who never showed any signs of violence. Gary Pardo Jr., whose parents live across the street from Dalton in Kalamazoo Township, described him as a family man who seemed fixated on cars and often worked on them.
I do not know enough about federal jurisdiction in capital cases to feel entirely confident that the feds would have a sure-fire jurisdictional basis to take over the prosecution of Jason Dalton. But if one looks at the crimes that have landed some others on federal death row (listed here thanks to DPIC), most involve many fewer murders than Dalton committed. And the fact that Dalton was apparently "on the job" for a notable national (internet?) company when he randomly slaughtered six innocent people and critically wounded two others.