Monday, February 10, 2014

Registered sex offender makes case against sex offender registry

Guy Hamilton-Smith, a registered sex offender and law school graduate who has so-far been denied the opportunity to become a member of the bar, has this new op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader under the headline "Sex-offender registry misguided thinking." Here are excerpts:

I am a sex offender. I know well the tremendous power of those words. In 2007, I pled guilty to possession of child pornography.

Nothing here is meant to defend what I did or to minimize the gravity of my actions. I had a major problem with pornography, and I was far too deep in denial and too scared to reach out to anyone.  Help eventually came when my girlfriend discovered child porn on my computer and went to the police.  I was then and remain grateful to her for taking that step.

As I went through the legal process after my arrest, I developed a keen interest in the law, and a sincere desire to advocate on the behalf of those who are hated, who are lost, and who are forgotten.  With luck, I managed to win acceptance to law school despite my conviction.  I worked harder than I'd ever worked in my life, because I knew I'd have a lot to do to overcome my past.  I did well in school, graduated, secured a job at a law firm after disclosing my past, and applied to take the bar exam.  Recently, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that I will not be allowed to take the bar exam until I am no longer on the sex-offender registry, which will be another 18 years from now.

But the point I want to make is not about me. It isn't about my case. I am not here to say whether the court's decision was right or wrong. The principles at play are much larger than me.  

Strange as it may sound coming from a felon and a sex offender, I believe in the necessity of punishment.  How else, after all, are people supposed to make amends for the harm that they cause? ... I believe in many ways that my life was saved by virtue of my arrest.  I am sensitive to the fact that my crime, and the crimes of others on the sex offender registry, are serious. I do not mean to denigrate the plight of victims, as I was also a victim at one point in my own childhood.

My point, rather, is simply this: punishment that becomes unmoored from considerations of proportionality, redemption and reintegration becomes poison, and we — society, victims and perpetrators — become diminished by it.

Nowhere is this more evident than the sex-offender registry.  Those who find themselves constituents of the registry are routinely and uniformly denied the same second chance afforded to so many other criminal defendants after they have served their sentences.  

The impetus behind the registry is the popular belief that sex offenders always commit new sex crimes.  That view, however, is at odds with data from the Department of Justice and others....

I know that I am not a sympathetic figure by virtue of my crime.  I know that I can never change the past or undo the things that I have done.  My hope here is that we can have a discussion in this country that is long overdue — namely, what it is that we hope to achieve from our system of criminal justice.

February 10, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 09, 2014

"Can Deserts Be Just in an Unjust World?"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new essay now available via SSRN authored by the always interesting Michael Tonry.  Here is the abstract:

The problems of “just deserts in an unjust world” received little attention before the widespread revival of support in the 1970s for retributivist theories of punishments.  The problems are two: whether deep social disadvantage should be recognized as an excusing or mitigating defence in the criminal law, and whether it should be recognized as an appropriate basis for mitigating the severity of punishment.  Most legal analysts oppose recognition of social disadvantage defences.  Most retributivist philosophers recognize the difficulty of the problem but waffle about appropriate responses.  The few who write about it oppose mitigation of sentences.

Those views fail to acknowledge the existence of social science evidence on human development that makes clear that many offenders offend for reasons for which no plausible case can be made that they are morally responsible.  Formal excusing and mitigating defences, and the appropriateness of deep disadvantage as a justification for mitigation of punishment, should be recognised.

February 9, 2014 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Another round of "affluenza" discourse as juve judge order rehab for teen DUI that killed four

As reported here via this CNN piece, headlined "Judge orders Texas teen Ethan Couch to rehab for driving drunk, killing 4," the Texas juvenile case which brought the term "affluenza" into the sentencing lexicon was formally completed yesterday.  Here are some of the latest details:

A judge on Wednesday ordered that Ethan Couch -- who drove drunk and caused a crash, killing four people and injuring two -- go to a lock-down residential treatment facility. State District Judge Jean Boyd had already decided the Texas teenager would serve no jail time. He was sentenced last year to 10 years' probation.

His story made national headlines after a witness claimed Couch was a victim of "affluenza" -- the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy. That particular defense, however, played no part in the judge's decision, Couch's lawyer told reporters on Wednesday. Court proceedings were closed to the public.

"She (Boyd) said it (affluenza), and specifically mentioned that that was not a basis for her decision," said attorney Reagan Wynn. "She heard all the evidence and she made what she thought was the appropriate disposition." The judge ordered that Couch's parents pay for the treatment facility, which was not identified. It was also unclear how long Couch might stay there.

As part of his probation, the teen must refrain from using drugs or alcohol. He will also not be allowed to drive. If Couch violates the terms of his probation, he could face up to 10 years behind bars. "I think he can be rehabilitated given intensive therapy and I hope that he gets it," Wynn said about the teen. "The juvenile system is about rehabilitation and if it's going to be about rehabilitation, she (Boyd) absolutely made the right decision."

Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash, disagrees. He told reporters he has no doubt that money played a role in the case. "Had he (Couch) not had money to have the defense there, to also have the experts testify, and also offer to pay for the treatment, I think the results would have been different," he said Wednesday after the proceedings....

Prosecutors were similarly disappointed with the judge's decision. They had asked for the maximum of 20 years behind bars. "This has been a very frustrating experience for me," said prosecutor Richard Alpert. "I'm used to a system where the victims have a voice and their needs are strongly considered. The way the system down here is currently handled, the way the law is, almost all the focus is on the offender."

Prior related post:

February 6, 2014 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Senator Rand Paul telling fellow conservatives to focus on criminal justice reform

Regular readers know I have become a huge fan of Senator Rand Paul because he seem eager to highlight that his principled disaffinity for big government extends to modern criminal justice system.  In turn, I was excited, but not all that surprised, to see this Politico report concerning a recent speech by Senator Paul in which he preached about the importance (and political value) of conservatives giving serious attention to criminal justice reforms:

In the speech sponsored by the American Principles Project, a deeply conservative organization with a special focus on social issues, Paul offered up jokes and wry commentary. But he also sought to bridge the oft-perceived gap between libertarians and strict social conservatives.

“‘Libertarian’ …doesn’t mean ‘libertine,’” he said. “To many of us libertarian means freedom and liberty. But we also see that freedom needs tradition.”

He added: “I don’t see libertarianism as, you can do whatever you want. There is a role for government, there’s a role for family, there’s a role for marriage, there’s a role for the protection of life.” Paul stressed that the value of marriage is economic, as well as “moral” and “religious,” and that those virtues can be communicated through families and communities as well as through the government.

He also singled out criminal justice reform as one area that could help the Republican Party expand and improve its brand. “I think there are things we can and should talk about, as Christians, who believe in forgiveness,” he said. “I think the criminal justice system should have some element of forgiveness.”

Paul, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, has been a crusader on the issue of reforming sentencing for drug-related crimes and finding alternative methods for dealing with non-violent drug offenders. He noted that that’s not a typical Republican policy priority, but advocated talking “about these issues” and taking them to minority communities, where, he said, disproportionate numbers of people are hit hard by tough drug policies.

“I think these are things we can look at,” Paul said. To applause, he continued, “I’m not talking about legalization. I’m talking about making the criminal justice system more fair and giving people a second chance when they serve their time.”

Some recent and older related posts:

February 6, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

"The Perverse Effects of Efficiency in Criminal Process"

The title of this post is the title of this great-looking new paper by Darryl Brown now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The need for greater efficiency in legal process is an undisputed premise of modern policy, and efficiency’s virtues hardly merit debate, notably by the U.S. Supreme Court. A central part of the story of modern adjudication is the steady gains in case processing efficiency. This, above all else, explains the “vanishing trial” and its replacement by civil settlement and, in criminal courts, by plea bargaining.

Defining efficiency in any context, however, is a more complicated endeavor than courts, policymakers, and many commentators commonly acknowledge. It requires first defining ends and means, and even whether a given practice is an end or a mean. Jury decision making, for example, was once an end of trial process that served public interests beyond rendering verdicts. Over time it has become merely a means; case resolution became the overriding dominant goal. Making a process more efficient can thus change both its nature and purposes. Moreover, efficiency’s consequences are more ambiguous than is often recognized. Producing any product more cheaply — including criminal convictions — can have a range of effects. It can reduce production costs if demand is constant; it can help to meet rising demand without a rise in production costs; it can also generate greater demand for the good.

This Essay develops these ideas in criminal adjudication and links adjudication’s efficiency-driven transformation to the expansion of criminal law enforcement and punishment in recent decades. By lowering the unit-cost of convictions, efficient adjudication can encourage more prosecutions and marginally subsidize more incarceration. In the process, efficiency has redefined adjudication’s aims and reordered its priorities, valuing clear, measurable aspects such as numbers of convictions and devaluing qualitative components related to juries, participation, the substantive nature of judgments, and perhaps factual accuracy.

February 5, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, February 01, 2014

"Why Retributivism Needs Consequentialism: The Rightful Place of Revenge in the Criminal Justice System"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper now available via SSRN and authored by Ken Levy. Here is the abstract:

Consider the reaction of Trayvon Martin’s family to the jury verdict. They were devastated that George Zimmerman, the defendant, was found not guilty of manslaughter or murder. Whatever the merits of this outcome, what does the Martin family’s emotional reaction mean? What does it say about criminal punishment – especially the reasons why we punish? Why did the Martin family want to see George Zimmerman go to jail? And why were – and are – they so upset that he didn’t?

This Article will argue for three points. First, what fuels this kind of outrage is vengeance: the desire to see defendants like George Zimmerman be forced to “pay” for the harms that they needlessly and culpably inflict on others. While this point may seem obvious, it isn’t. Most people repudiate revenge and therefore the notion that it plays any role in the criminal justice system.

Second, this attitude toward revenge is misguided and needs to change. We need to recognize that vengeance not only does but should play a significant role in motivating criminal punishment. Our vengeful reactions to harmful crimes are not ugly or shameful; on the contrary, they manifest a deep valuation of victims and a bitter denunciation of individuals who actively renounce this valuation through their criminal behavior.

Third, these two points have significant implications for the two main theories of criminal punishment: “retributivism,” which says that criminals should be punished in order to give them their “just deserts,” and “consequentialism,” which says that criminals should be punished in order to bring about such good consequences as deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. Traditionally, these two theories have been at war with one another. But I will show how recognizing revenge as a motivation and justification for punishment can help to end this war and bring these two theories together.

February 1, 2014 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Unsurprisingly, AG Holder authorizes pursuit of death penalty against Boston bomber

I just received via e-mail this notice from DOJ, titled "Statement by Attorney General Eric Holder Regarding the Case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev."  Here is the full text of the linked material:

Attorney General Eric Holder today released the following statement regarding the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev:

“After consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and the submissions made by the defendant’s counsel, I have determined that the United States will seek the death penalty in this matter. The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.”

Some prior related posts:

January 30, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Diverse perspectives on victims having diverse perspectives on sentencing

Regular readers know I am a fan and supporter of giving crime victims the opportunity and right to have their voices heard throughout the sentencing process.  Some of the reasons why are effectively articulated in a recent post by Paul Cassell at The Volokh Conspiracy, "Why crime victims need their own voice in the criminal justice process." Here is an excerpt from the post responding to a common concern expressed by defense attorneys (and noting one of my own recent posts):

I have also heard defense attorneys argue against victim participation by claiming that this is ganging up on the defendant — double counting the prosecution’s view by adding in the victim’s view.  Here again, that’s not quite right.  While victims often are aligned with prosecutors, other times they may align with defense attorneys.  Victims’ interests are not necessarily the same as prosecutors’ interests.  Indeed, restitution may be an area where victims and defendants could make common cause.  While prosecutors focus on long prison terms, victims are often worried about receiving compensation for their injuries.  Victims might prefer, for example, a sentence under which the defendant is placed on work release and can make payments towards restitution instead of one that simply locks him up and throws away the key.  Doug Berman has made exactly this same point about U.S. v. Paroline & Amy, explaining in a recent post that shifting our focus away from purely punitive criminal justice responses is why he is cheering for Amy to win a complete victory before the Supreme Court.   My former law clerk and now federal defender, Benji McMurray, has expanded on this point at length in “The Mitigating Power of a Victim Focus at Sentencing,” 19 FED. SENT’ING RPTR. 125 (2006).

A notable example of the potential mitigating impact of victim input about sentencing is emerging in a Colorado capital case, about which Andrew Cohen has written in this notable new Atlantic piece headlined "When Victims Speak Up in Court — in Defense of the Criminals; A death penalty case in Colorado has generated an unusual fight between a district attorney and two parents who oppose capital punishment against the man who murdered their son." Here is how the article starts:

One of the most profound changes in criminal justice over the past 40 years has been the rise of the victims' lobby. Essentially shut out of the core of the process until the 1970s, the victims' rights movement today can cite legislation from sea to sea, chapter and verse under both federal and state laws, that broadens the rights of victims to participate in the trials of those accused of harming them or their families. The Department of Justice's 2012 "Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance," for example, totals 66 pages and barely scratches the surface of what similar state guidelines reveal.

The immutable trio that once existed in criminal cases — judge, prosecutor, and defendant — now almost always resembles a quartet.  Victims have a voice — and they use it. All 50 states now allow some form of "victim impact statement" at sentencing.  Because such statements are often so compelling to jurors, defense attorneys frequently seek ways to blunt their impact.  But these efforts almost always fail.  Even judges who are sympathetic to the constitutional rights of defendants, who fret about the prejudicial impact of victim testimony, say they are bound by legislative declarations broadening the scope of victim participation in criminal cases.

But a pending Colorado case raises a profound question that few judges (or prosecutors or jurors) ever have to confront: What happens when the victims of violent crime seek to speak out on behalf of the defendant and not the state?  What happens when the family member of a murder victim seeks leave to beg jurors at sentencing to spare the life of the man who killed their son?  What responsibility does the prosecutor have in that case? What obligations do the courts have?  Do victims' rights sound only when they favor the government and the harshest sentence, or do they sound as well when they cry out for mercy?

So far, the prosecutor in the case, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, has answered those questions clearly: He wants to block one couple's efforts to speak out against the death penalty for the man who murdered their child.  Brauchler has filed a motion in a pending case seeking to bar Bob and Lola Autobee from participating in the sentencing phase of the trial of Edward Montour, their son's killer.  The law only guarantees the rights of victims to "discuss the harm that resulted from the crime," Brauchler argues.  But I haven't been able to find a single victims' right advocate who believes that's true.

Of course, it is not always (and perhaps not even often) that a victim's voice will be for realtive leniency, as this local news segment from Massachusetts highlights.  This piece is headlined "Victims' Families Want Tougher Sentencing For Juvenile Offenders," and it sets up recorded interviews this way:

The judicial system is designed to disregard emotion. Only the letter of the law matters. But a ruling handed down last week by the state Supreme Judicial Court stirred up a lot of emotion. Following the lead of the US Supreme Court, the SJC ruled mandatory life sentences for juvenile murderers are unconstitutional. The decision set the minimum time served at 15 years, and now the families of some murder victims are making an impassioned plea to keep those killers locked up longer.

January 30, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What are the virtues and vices of criminal justice localism ... especially with respect to pot prohibition?

The question in the title of this post is an effort to encourage input on the broader questions raised by a mini-debate that Rob Mikos and I are now having over at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.  I started the discussion with a post suggesting advocates of marijuana reform should be pleased localities in Colorado and Washington and elsewhere can preserve pot prohibition in their community, and Rob explained why he disagreed in a subsequent post.  Here are links to these posts:

Informed sentencing fans and advocates know, of course, that these local control and related localism issues are not unique to modern marijuana reform movements. Concerns about how local officials apply or resist state-wide laws are often raised in the context of (1) the death penalty, where we often see wide variations in when and how local DAs pursue capital charges, and (2) sex offender regulations, where we often see local laws limiting where registered sex offenders can live or can go.

As a general fan of criminal justice federalism and localized democracy, I often see the virtues of letting localities have some significant control over how controversial and contestable state-wide criminal justice policies get applied in individual communities. That said, I also can see the vices of letting each and every county or neighborhood adopt and enforce its own particularized criminal code. Ergo, I am interested in reader insights of the question of criminal justice localism, perhaps with special focus on marijuana reform but also with respect to other prominent modern sentencing issues as well.

January 29, 2014 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Noting the high costs of seeking to give Jodi Arias death penalty fame rather than LWOP pain

This new AP story, headlined "Arias defense costs Ariz. taxpayers $2 million and counting," reinforces my sense that state taxpayers will often be the folks most harmed by some prosecutorial decisions to aggressively pursue the death penalty.  Here are the basics:

Jodi Arias' legal bills have topped $2 million, a tab being footed by Arizona taxpayers that will only continue to climb with a new penalty phase set for March, officials said Monday.

Arias, 33, was convicted of murder in May, but the jury couldn't reach a verdict on her sentence. Prosecutors are now pursuing a second penalty phase with a new jury in an effort to get the death penalty.  Trial is set for March 17.  The former waitress and aspiring photographer has been held in jail in Maricopa County awaiting her fate while her legal bills continue to mount.

As of Monday, the county had paid $2,150,536.42 for her court-appointed attorneys, expert witnesses and other costs associated with her case, Maricopa County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick told The Associated Press.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has refused to provide a tally of how much it has cost to prosecute the case, citing a court order that attorneys not discuss Arias-related matters.

Arias admitted she killed her boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in 2008 at his suburban Phoenix home but claimed it was self-defense. He suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, had his throat slit and was shot in the forehead in what prosecutors argued was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage when Alexander wanted to end their affair.

The case captured headlines worldwide and became a cable television staple with its tales of sex, lies and a brutal killing while every minute of the trial was broadcast live. This time around, the judge will be limiting media coverage in hopes of avoiding the same publicity. There will be no live video coverage of the second penalty phase, and electronic devices will be banned, meaning reporters won't be able to provide real-time updates via Twitter as occurred during her first trial.

Under Arizona law, while her murder conviction stands, prosecutors have the option of putting on a second penalty phase with a new jury.  If the second panel fails to reach a unanimous decision, the death penalty will automatically be removed from consideration, and the judge will sentence Arias to spend her entire life behind bars or be eligible for release after 25 years.

 I have to guess that the second penalty phase now in the works and just the direct appeals if Arias gets sentenced to death will end up costing Arizona taxpayers another million or more in defense costs. And then there will surely be a number of costly habeas appeals, too, if Arias is on death row. Considering also the state court and state prosecutorial expenses, I do not think it inflated to assert that Arizona taxpayers are likely to end up spending at least $5,000,000 just to have Jodi Arias set and kept on death row.

As the title of this post highlights, this multi-million dollar expense seems like a great waste of state resources because the effort to send Arias to Arizona's death row has raised the profile of her case and helps ensure Arias is now forever a hero to the anti-death-penalty community. In addition, Arizona already has over 125 murderers on its death row but only gets around to executing a few each year, and thus Arias is likely to die of natural causes before being executed by the state even if sent to death row. Had Arizona prosecutors been able to cut a deal with Arias to take the death penalty off the table, at least after the first jury could not decide on a sentence, taxpayers would have saved a lot of money and Arias would likely now just be facing the pain of LWOP rather than the fame that comes with being a high-profile capital defendant.

I make these points not to defend Arias but rather to highlight the significant budgetary costs of seeking the death penalty in hard cases. I also could not help but research where all this Arizona taxpayer money now wasted on a fight over murderous Arias might have been better used. This lengthy Arizona budget document seems to reveal that the Arizona Crime Victims Programs -- which is under the authority  of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission and "provides support to all agencies that assist and compensate the victims of crime" -- has an annual budget of around $5,000,000. I am inclined to think that most folks, even those who support the death penalty in many cases, probably would share my view that it would have been a better use of state tax resources to double the funds for crime victims programming rather that keep seeking a death verdict that likely will never get carried out.

Related posts:

January 28, 2014 in Celebrity sentencings, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

You be the judge: should guidelines be followed in federal sentencing of elderly nun and two other peace activists?

22_Sister-Megan-Rice-300x231The question in the title of this post is based on this notable Reuters story, headlined "Activists face sentencing for Tennessee nuclear facility break-in." Here are the interesting details, with emphasis added concerning the recommendations of the federal sentencing guidelines:

An elderly nun and two other peace activists are set to be sentenced on Tuesday on their federal convictions for damage they caused breaking into a Tennessee defense facility where enriched uranium for nuclear bombs is stored.

Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed admitted cutting fences and making their way across the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in July 2012, embarrassing U.S. officials and prompting security changes.

The three were convicted by a federal jury last May of damaging a national defense premises under the sabotage act, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and of causing more than $1,000 of damage to U.S. government property.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for Rice, 83, to receive up to a little more than seven years in prison; Walli, 65, more than nine years; and Boertje-Obed, 58, more than eight years.  The defendants have been in custody since their conviction. Prosecutors have asked that the defendants receive sentences in line with federal guidelines. The defendants have asked for lesser sentences.

Bill Quigley, one of the attorneys of the defendants, said that all three are in good health, but that Rice, who turns 84 January 31, is "freezing cold in jail."

"They're all in great spirits and they're very much at peace about being sentenced," Quigley said.  "We're hoping for significantly less time.  People are even praying and hoping they'll be released."

Defense attorneys argued in court documents that the three were "completely nonviolent" when they were arrested.  "They used the occasion to present symbolically their passion for nuclear disarmament," defense lawyers wrote. The three activists have received more than 2,000 cards and letters of support from around the world.

Prosecutors contended the break-in at Y-12, the primary U.S. site for processing and storage of enriched uranium, disrupted operations, endangered U.S. national security, and caused physical damage that cost more than $8,500 to repair.  "The United States believes that the defendants should be held accountable for their deliberate choices and accept the appropriate consequences for their actions," prosecutors said in court documents.

The activists admitted cutting several fences, walking through the complex for hours, spray-painting slogans and hammering on the walls of the facility.  When a guard confronted them, they offered him food and began singing.

I wonder how most Americans would react (especially the folks at FoxNews) if Sister Megan Rice had been caught and convicted of breaking into an uranium-enrichment facility somewhere near Tehran, and Iranian prosecutors were advocating that, at age 84, Sister Rice should be held accountable by having to spend another six years in an Iranian prison.  Of course, that is not what Sister Megan Rice did: she broke into a uranium-enrichment facility in Tennessee, and it is American prosecutors who are advocating that she should be held accountable by having to spend another six years in an American prison.  That obviously makes all the difference in the (western) world.

This recent article from Mother Jones, headlined "Nun Faces up to 30 Years for Breaking Into Weapons Complex, Embarrassing the Feds," provides a lot more background on this case.  It concludes with this explanation of the religious background for the criminal actions by these activists:

The three imprisoned activists are members of the Plowshares Movement, a Christian peace initiative founded in 1980 when the brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan and six others trespassed onto the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and hammered on the nose cones of missiles.  The movement takes inspiration from Isaiah 2:4: "And they will hammer their swords into plowshares" — the part of the plow that tills the soil. Plowshares actions typically involve the pouring of blood and the symbolic gesture of hammering weapons — in this case, the walls of the Y-12 uranium warehouse.

"They feel that nuclear weapons are the single greatest threat to God's creation that exists in the world today," [fellow activist Ralph] Hutchison says.  "They think that there is a faith imperative.  Nuclear weapons represent the ultimate anti-God.  Anything that God is for — compassion, hope, promise of a future, health, security — they think are completely contradictory to the idea of nuclear weapons."

UPDATE: This Knoxville News Sentinel article reports on the now-interrupted sentencing today:

With snow coming down and federal officials closing the courthouse early, Judge Amul Thapar, prosecutors and attorneys agreed Tuesday to delay the sentencing of three protesters who broke into the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. They determined there wasn’t enough time to complete the sentencing before the doors closed at 2:30 p.m. on the Howard H. Baker Jr. U.S. Courthouse.

The sentencing has been rescheduled to 9 a.m. on Feb. 18. Sister Megan Rice, an 83-year-old Catholic nun, Rice, who’ll turn 84 in two days, Michael R. Walli, 64, both from Washington, D.C., and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, from Duluth, Minn., were convicted in May on federal charges of attempting to injure the national defense and depredation of government property.

Earlier Tuesday, the judge ordered the three to pay $52,953 in restitution, waiving interest and allowing payments to be made quarterly. The costs include repairs to fences, spray washing and cleaning the exterior of the plant’s storehouse for bomb-making uranium and additional security expenses.

January 28, 2014 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 26, 2014

GOP leaders now getting what Mitt missed: drug war reform may make good politics (as well as being principled) for small-government conservatives

Jindal and perryTwo years ago, just when Mitt Romney was finally sewing up the Republican nomination and could pivot his campaign toward wooing general election voters, I wrote this post suggesting it might be shrewd for Romney to consider trying to appeal to independents, young voters and minorities by talking up sentencing and drug war reforms. I followed up these ideas via this April 2012 Daily Beast commentary suggesting Romney should consider embracing "what Right On Crime calls the 'conservative case' for criminal-justice reform, and in doing so appeal to groups of independent and minority voters (especially young ones) while demonstrating a true commitment to some core conservative values about the evils of big government."

Two years later, it is (too) easy for me to assert that Mitt Romney might be preparing his own State of the Union address now had he taken my advice on this front.  Nevertheless, I am hardly the only one who came to see that Mitt missed the boat with younger and minority voters.  Romney himself commented that his campaign "fell short ... in being able to speak openly and effectively to minority populations," and this post-election post-mortem done by RNC Chair Reince Priebus highlighted that "young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the [GOP] represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country."

These 2012 issues all came to mind again when I read this interesting new post by Alex Kriet over at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.  The post is titled "More politicians backing marijuana reform," and it notes that "the past few days have seen a number of prominent Republican politicians express support for easing marijuana laws." Alex provides excerpts from recent comments by Governors Christie, Jindal and Perry and noted that they are "three Republicans rumored to be considering 2016 presidential bids [who are all] expressing support for easing drug laws."

Of course, even among leading conservative voices, these three prominent GOP Governors are coming a bit late to the sentencing and drug war reform table.  The Right on Crime movement has now been going strong for more than three years, with conservative stalwarts like Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Grover Norquist signing on to this statement of principles that "we must also be tough on criminal justice spending ... [to reconsider our] reliance on prisons ... [which can] have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders — making them a greater risk to the public than when they entered."  And, two of the most prominent elected Tea Partiers, Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, have been co-sponsors and prominent supports of bill to reform some of the harshest and most rigid aspects of the federal sentencing system. 

Regular readers know I have long asserted that anyone truly and deeply committed to oft-stressed conservative principles of constitutionally limited government, transparency, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and free enterprise should be troubled by the size and power of modern American criminal justice systems, especially at the federal level. But Alex's astute observation that many GOP leaders considered viable national candidates for 2016 are now talking up sentencing and drug war reforms suggests that Republican leaders are now getting what Mitt missed — GOP talk of serious criminal justice reform (especially at the federal level) may now be very smart politics as well as being in keeping with prominent conservative principles.

Some recent and older related posts:

January 26, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

"Sex offender fights registry by registering his registerers"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting Washington Post article discussing an efforts of, and challenges facing, one registered sex offender seeking to showcase the realities of being a registered person.  Here are excerpts:

If nothing else, Dennis Sobin is not your typical ex-con.

At first glance, he looks like the model returning citizen: After serving more than a decade in prison, Sobin, 70, returned to the District, started a gallery for prison art and ran for mayor. His nonprofit organizations have received grants from George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts and, in 2010, he appeared on the cover of the Washington City Paper .

But Sobin is also sex offender. A former pornographer who’s appeared on “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show” and “Geraldo,” Sobin was convicted of sexual performance using a minor in 1992 in Florida. So, every 90 days, Sobin must report to D.C.’s Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), and his photo appears on D.C.’s public registry.

Sobin thinks it’s unfair. So, for his latest act, Sobin has decided to protest his treatment by creating his own online data base and registering the people who monitor him at the sex offender registry. Now, in an unusual case that will be heard on Tuesday, a D.C. Superior Court judge will decide whether a court employee can file a civil protection order to prevent Sobin from posting her photo on his anti-registry registry, www.idiotsregistry.info, and distributing her photograph on fliers.

“Here at www.IdiotsRegistry.info you will find the names of politicians and public figures who have encouraged the creation of, or have refused to denounce, government registration websites that target citizens for harassment,” Sobin’s site reads. “In the tradition of Nazi registration of Jews and Gypsies and the Salem lists of alleged witches, modern government registries are unfair and un-American.”

Stephanie Gray, who works for CSOSA, is asking the court to force Sobin to remove her picture from the site. Sobin, who was under Gray’s supervision until she got another position at the agency, did not mince words when criticizing Gray. “Face of Evil: ‘Registry Specialist’ Stephanie Gray shoots icy stare,” Sobin posted under a photo of Gray. “Gray requested and received a transfer due to the guilt she felt in her loathsome job.”

Sobin said his action was inspired by Supreme Court rulings which hold that sex offender registries are not punitive and do not constitute double jeopardy. “If it’s not punishment to be on a list, we thought we’d put the people who do the registering on a list,” he said.

Gray took another view. “He writes derogatory information about me,” Gray wrote in her request for a protection order. “I have been move[d] from the Sex Offender Registry and he continues to trash the bldg. where I am with pictures he has taken of me without me knowing.”

Should Sobin prevail,“It would send a message to all sex offenders in the District of Columbia,” according to a petition filed by Gray’s attorneys which accused Sobin of stalking. “Convicted criminals required to report to CSOSA could harass them with impunity under the guise of protected political speech.” Gray, through her attorneys, declined comment, as did CSOSA.

Sobin has found an ally: the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief on his behalf. “We think there are some significant First Amendment issues,” said Art Spitzer, legal director of ACLU’s D.C. office, who pointed out that Gray is not alleging physical harm. “Domestic violence laws are supposed to protect people from crimes, but not hurt feelings. . . . People are allowed to embarrass each other and make each other feel bad when making a political point.”...

Should Sobin win, Gray’s civil protection request will be denied, but D.C.’s sex offender registry will not be affected. But, Sobin said, he’ll have struck a blow for free speech and shown the flawed logic behind the registry — even if there’s collateral damage.

“Ms. Gray happens to be a very sensitive, compassionate individual who is on the registration list,” Sobin said. “It’s a war. . . . They’re involved in this registration thing and unless they move themselves out, we’re going to oppose them.”

January 26, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Bring back the firing squad for the death penalty: The best way to dispatch the monsters among us"

Sqaud_s640x499The title of this post is the headline of this interesting and provocative new commentary by Tammy Bruce appearing in the Washington Times. Here is much of the discussion:

Has the left’s attempt to use the lethal-injection process to ban the death penalty backfired? Consideration of firing squads for implementing the death penalty is not a fringe issue and would bring back the humaneness the left claims it wants in the process.

As often as I can, I laud the importance, value and decency of the death penalty. As a feminist, I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life as an advocate for women, educating on violence against women and agitating for justice for women in a system that far too often forgets the victims on the receiving end of a beast’s rage.

Wiping monsters from the face of the earth is a good thing, and the death penalty provides the ultimate statement from society that we refuse to pamper the heinous and cold-blooded among us. Victims’ families also deserve the closure and respect of a society that takes decisive action against those who dared to rip their worlds apart.

Now, with the use of DNA evidence to confirm guilt, the argument of mistakenly executing an innocent man is also off the table. We all want to eliminate doubt, and modern science now allows us to do just that.

So last week I was especially pleased to see lawmakers in Missouri and Wyoming arguing for the use of the ultimate in fast and humane executions — the firing squad. Finally, common sense is prevailing after years of trying to placate the left by doing everything possible to make an execution seem like a visit to the spa. The only thing we aren’t doing while “putting to sleep” the most craven among us was reading them a bedtime story and surrounding them with puppies.

This renewed call for firing squads hasn’t come out of the blue. A shortage of the drugs (owing to the one U.S. drug manufacturer responding to pressure from anti-death penalty activists) used in the three-drug execution cocktail has forced states to determine exactly how they can carry out the process while making sure the condemned doesn’t get too uncomfortable.

Me? I’d feed the jerks more than a few cocktails (martinis to be exact), put them behind the wheel of a Pinto and let them loose in one of those crash-dummy test ranges. I’d enjoy telling them freedom is just past that brick wall over there and invite them to hit the gas. Next.

A case in point just last week: Dennis Maguire was finally put to death after being found guilty of the torturous and sadistic murder of Joy Stewart in 1989. Joy was seven months pregnant when Maguire raped and sodomized her, slit her throat and stabbed her to death. Her body was then dumped in the woods.

The coroner thinks her unborn baby possibly survived the initial assault and could have lived hours more in his dead mother’s womb. Carl would have been his name. Joy’s husband, Kenny, unable to cope with the atrocity of what happened to his family, killed himself a week before Maguire’s trial.

Finally last week, Ohio got on with the business of execution a quarter of a century after Maguire had been sentenced to die. Yet the media and anti-death-penalty trolls were beside themselves when Ohio opted to execute Maguire with a two-drug cocktail instead of the usual three. The hand-wringing over the possibility that rapist-murderer-child-killer Maguire wouldn’t see kittens in his dreams before dying in his sleep was pathetic....

The lethal-injection system, by its very process, gives credence to the notion that executing someone is a bad thing and, therefore, needs to be made “nice.” Executing the evil among us is a necessary thing, but for those who insist it be compassionate, the firing squad is the answer. Quick, painless and inexpensive, it is, in fact, the ultimate in humane dispatching.

I can hear those, some of whom are well-meaning, who worry about the lives of monsters, appalled about the imagined cruelty and inhumanity of my argument. I’ll tell you what’s inhumane — forcing the innocent to watch society herald the murderers in our midst.

The inhumanity is ignoring the innocent whose worlds were destroyed by craven savages like Maguire, condemning their families to lives devoid of closure and whatever peace might be possible. The death penalty provides justice to those who deserve it. It’s time we take that seriously, end the atrocious delays in executions and bring back the humaneness of the firing squad.

Some recent related posts on Ohio's struggles and execution by firing squad:

January 25, 2014 in Baze lethal injection case, Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

"Murder, Minority Victims, and Mercy"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting looking paper that just appears on SSRN and is authored by Aya Gruber.  Here is the abstract:

Should the jury have acquitted George Zimmerman of murder? Should enraged husbands receive a pass for killing their cheating wives? Should the law treat a homosexual advance as adequate provocation for killing? Criminal law scholars generally answer these questions with a resounding “no.”  Theorists argue that criminal laws should not reflect bigoted perceptions of African Americans, women, and gays by permitting judges and jurors to treat those who kill racial and gender minorities with undue mercy.  According to this view, murder defenses like provocation should be restricted to ensure that those who kill minority victims receive the harshest sanctions available.  Equality is thus achieved by ratcheting up punishment.

There is a similar bias in assessment of the death penalty, where those who kill racial minorities are treated more leniently than those who kill whites and are often spared execution.  But the typical liberal response here is to call for abolition rather than more frequent executions.  Equality is thus achieved by ratcheting down punishment.

This article asserts that the divergence between the accepted scholarly positions on the provocation defense and capital punishment can be explained by provocation critics’ choice to concentrate on spectacular individual instances of leniency toward those who kill gender minorities and death penalty theorists’ tendency to view the entire institution of capital punishment as racist and retrograde.  The article then provides the institutional sketch of noncapital murder law currently missing from provocation analysis by discussing sentencing practices, the demographic composition of murder defendants, and the provocation defense’s potential role as a safety valve.  It concludes that inserting institutional analysis into the critical assessment of provocation might undermine the prevailing scholarly dogma supporting pro-prosecution reform.

January 25, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, January 24, 2014

How could AG Eric Holder justify refusing to authorize the death penalty process for Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

The question in the title of this post is my reaction to this new New York Times article headlined "U.S. Weighs Pursuit of Death Penalty for Suspect in Boston Bombing."  I really mean this question to be more of a friendly suggestion and challenge to readers who are strongly opposed to the death penalty in all cases, in part because I suspect AG Holder would have a hard time developing a sound (and politically effective) public justification for not starting the federal death penalty process.  So, abolitionists, use the comments to ghost write a speech for AG Holder to justify not authorizing a capital prosecution in this case.  Here is the start of the NY Times article to provide for all the essential background for this question and challenge:  

Since the federal death penalty was reinstated, in 1988, attorneys general have authorized it for about 500 defendants. By the end of the month there may be yet another: the accused Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. must decide by Jan. 31 whether to pursue the death penalty, but even if he does so, it is far from certain that Mr. Tsarnaev would actually face execution.  Of those 500 defendants, only three have been executed, the last one a decade ago, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel.

Still, Mr. Holder’s job is not to weigh the probabilities of Mr. Tsarnaev’s execution. Instead, he must decide whether the aggravating factors that might justify death in this case, like the indiscriminate killing and maiming of innocent people, outweigh any mitigating factors, such as the possibility that Mr. Tsarnaev, who was 19 at the time, was under the sway of his older brother.  

While Mr. Holder has said he does not personally support the death penalty, he has authorized its use several times, and many legal experts expect he will do so again in this case.

Some prior related posts:

January 24, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why the #@$%! is Justin Beiber's sentencing exposure so low for underage DUI?

The foul-mouthed question in the title of this post was my reaction to reviewing the details in this AP article concerning the charges brought and sentencing ranges in play following troubled pop star Justin Beiber's arrest for drunk driving early this morning.  Here are the basics:

Justin-bieber-mug-600A judge set pop singer Justin Bieber's bail at $2,500 Thursday after police say he drag-raced down a Miami Beach street while under the influence of alcohol. He was charged with DUI, driving with an expired license and resisting arrest.

Bieber was arrested after police said they saw him speeding down a residential street in Miami Beach in a yellow Lamborghini. Officers say he had an expired license, was initially not cooperative when he was pulled over and smelled of alcohol. Police say Bieber later admitted that he had been drinking, smoking marijuana and taking prescription medication....

R&B singer Khalil Amir Sharieff was arrested in the same incident. He is charged with driving under the influence, and his bond was set at $1,000. Police said Khalil was driving a Ferrari. Both Bieber and Khalil appeared briefly in court wearing bright red jail fatigues. They remained silent while defense attorney Roy Black negotiated bond.

Black, a high-profile lawyer whose clients have included Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith, said he thought the case would proceed "hopefully as any other case would" in light of Bieber's celebrity status.

Authorities say Bieber was arrested after police saw him and Khalil racing two luxury vehicles down the street at 4:09 a.m., with two other vehicles apparently being used to block off the area. Police say Bieber was clocked at 55 to 60 mph in a 30 mph zone. Earlier Thursday, police chief Ray Martinez said at a news conference that the singer was initially not cooperative when the officer pulled him over. Martinez said the singer also had an invalid Georgia driver's license and admitted to smoking marijuana, taking prescription medication and drinking.... Bieber failed a field sobriety test and was taken to the Miami Beach police station for a Breathalyzer, police said. Results haven't been released....

The street where police say Bieber was racing in mid-Miami Beach is a four-lane residential street divided by a grass median dotted with palm trees. Along one side of the street are small apartment buildings, and on the other side are a high school, a youth center, a golf course and a city firehouse....

Thursday's arrest is just the latest in a series of troubling incidents. Bieber has been accused of wrongdoing in California, but has never been arrested or charged. He is currently under investigation in a felony vandalism case after a neighbor reported the pop star threw eggs at his house and caused thousands of dollars of damage....

Under Florida law, people under the age of 21 are considered driving under the influence if they have a blood-alcohol content of .02 percent or more - a level Bieber could reach with one drink.

For a first DUI offense, there is no minimum sentence and a maximum of six months, a fine of $250 to $500, and 50 hours of community service. For anyone under 21, there is an automatic six-month license suspension. A first conviction for drag racing carries a sentence of up to six months, a fine of $500 to $1,000 and a one-year license suspension....

The Florida arrest likely won't affect Bieber's immigration status. According to U.S. immigration law, authorities do not revoke an individual's visa unless the person has been convicted of a violent crime or been sentenced to more than one year imprisonment.

Immigration attorney Ira Kurzban says neither driving under the influence nor driving without a license can make an individual eligible for deportation. Nor would either of those offenses keep Bieber from being readmitted into the U.S. "He's not subject to deportation because of a DUI offense," said Kurzban, "nor is driving with an expired license a deportable offense."

Long-time readers know that, while I think the scale of punishments for many offenses (especially nonviolent ones) in the US is often much too harsh, I have long viewed the scale of punishments for drunk driving to be way too lenient.  In my view based on the innocent lives ended and permanently damaged every day by drunk drivers, the offense of DUi is one of the most persistent and enduring threat to public safety and one that I think modern criminal justice systems out to be do a heck of a lot more to deter and prevent.

For reasons that should be clear from the above description of Justin Beiber's offense conduct, it would seem as though he has committed one of the most aggravated forms of DUI here: he is an underage drinker, was in a residential neighborhood, was going twice the speed limit, resisted arrest, and (I suspect) was very drunk on numerous intoxicants while drag racing. For all those reasons, I want the book thrown at this dangerous (and famous) criminal. But apparently the worst sentence he can possibly get is "six months [in jail], a fine of $250 to $500, and 50 hours of community service." Yeesh.

As I have said before and as I know I will say again: my interest in deterring and incapacitating drunk drivers makes me eager to see rich, celebrity offenders get slammed with every reasonable shaming and alternative sanction possible ranging from having to forfeit their cars to losing driving privileges for years to paying enormous fines IN ADDITION TO whatever prison term is thought to send the right kind of message concerning these kinds of offenses. Sadly, though, I suspect Beiber will end up just getting a slap on the wrist after Roy Black trains him to say he was sorry, and we all will have to worry about whether and when there will be a next time Beiber (and maybe some of his beiliebers) spill blood rather than just oil on a neighborhood road.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

January 23, 2014 in Celebrity sentencings, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"'Friend to the Martyr, a Friend to the Woman of Shame': Thinking About the Law, Shame and Humiliation"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Michael L. Perlin and Naomi Weinstein now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This paper considers the intersection between law, humiliation and shame, and how the law has the capacity to allow for, to encourage, or (in some cases) to remediate humiliation, or humiliating or shaming behavior.  The need for new attention to be paid to this question has increased exponentially as we begin to also take more seriously international human rights mandates, especially -- although certainly not exclusively -- in the context of the recently-ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a Convention that calls for “respect for inherent dignity,” and characterizes "discrimination against any person on the basis of disability [as] a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person..."

Humiliation and shaming, we believe, contravene basic fundamental human rights and raise important constitutional questions implicating the due process and equal protection clauses.  Humiliation and shaming practices include “scarlet letter”-like criminal sanctions, police stop-and-frisk practices, the treatment of persons with mental disabilities in the justice system, and the use of sex offender registries.  Humiliation and shame are detrimental in the ways that lead to recidivism, inhibit rehabilitation, discourage treatment, and injure victims.  They also directly contravene the guiding principles of therapeutic jurisprudence, especially in the context of its relationship to the importance of dignity in the law, and potentially violate international human rights law principles as well.

In this paper, we will explore how humiliation and shaming are bad for all participants in the legal system, and bad for the law itself.  We will urge that humiliating and shaming techniques be banned, and that, this ban will enhance dignity for the entire legal system and society as a whole.  First, we consider the meaning of shame and humiliation.  Then, we briefly discuss principles of therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) and its relationship to the significance of dignity, and then consider recent developments in international human rights law, both of which are valuable interpretive tools in this conversation. Next, we consider how the United States Supreme Court has considered these concepts in recent cases.  Following this, we consider several relevant areas of law and policy from the perspective of how overt shaming is employed: scarlet letter punishments, use of the police power, treatment of institutionalized persons with mental disabilities and elders, and sex offender registry law.  We then, using a TJ filter and drawing on international human rights law principles, examine why these shaming tactics are contrary to bedrock principles of the legal system: the mandates to honor dignity, to minimize recidivism, and to enhance rehabilitation.

January 21, 2014 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, January 20, 2014

Explaining why I am rooting so hard for "Amy" in Paroline

Oral argument in the fascinating Supreme Court case of Paroline v. United States now is just a couple of days away, and this new AP article provides effective background on the case while also helping to spotlight some reasons I am rooting hard for "Amy" and her advocates to prevail:

The case being argued at the Supreme Court on Wednesday involves a Texas man who pleaded guilty to having images of children engaged in sex acts on his computer.  Doyle Randall Paroline is appealing an order holding him responsible for the full amount of losses, nearly $3.4 million, suffered by the woman known as Amy.  Of the several hundred incriminating images on Paroline's computer, just two were of Amy.

Advocates for child pornography victims say that holding defendants liable for the entire amount of losses better reflects the ongoing harm that victims suffer each time someone views the images online. The threat of a large financial judgment, coupled with a prison term, also might deter some people from looking at the images in the first place, the advocates say.

Thirty-four states, dozens of victims' rights and child advocacy groups, local prosecutors and members of Congress are urging the court to uphold the ruling against Paroline by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

No one has intervened on Paroline's behalf. But his lawyer, Stanley Schneider of Houston, said in court papers that there is no link between the restitution ordered by the appeals court and Paroline's conduct. "An award of $3.4 million against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate," Schneider said....

The Obama administration is trying to steer a middle course. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said the government agrees with Amy that her injury comes from the widespread viewing on the Internet of the assaults by her uncle. "The real question is whether ... a court must impose all of Amy's aggregate losses on each defendant. On that issue, Amy and the government take different views," Verrilli told the court. The administration said the correct answer is greater than zero and less than the entire amount and said trial judges should make the determination....

Regardless of the outcome of the court case, Congress could change the law. The U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that lawmakers consider doing just that to eliminate confusion among federal judges about the right way to calculate restitution....

Since 2005, there have been about 2,000 prosecutions in federal court that, like Paroline's, included images of the rapes, for which Amy's uncle spent about 10 years in prison and paid a few thousand dollars for counseling sessions for Amy.... Courts so far have awarded restitution in 182 cases and Amy has collected $1.6 million. Of that total, $1.2 million came from one man.

Typically, the court-ordered awards and the amounts collected have been much smaller, as little as $50 in one case, according to Justice Department records. Many judges have ordered no payments at all, Marsh said. The restitution law does not allow Amy to receive more than the lifetime estimate of her losses, Marsh said. But until the 5th Circuit ruling, Marsh said, "She has been forced to go around the country endlessly seeking out defendants with assets. It's endless, and it takes a toll on the victim."

If upheld, the ruling would change the equation.  Courts would not have to determine exactly how much harm any one defendant caused Amy.  Instead, all defendants would be liable for the entire outstanding amount, raising the possibility that a few well-heeled people among those convicted might contribute most, if not all, of the remaining restitution. Marsh said such an outcome would be just, and wealthy defendants could fight among themselves about who should pay what. "It's really about shifting the burden from the innocent victim to the people who are responsible," Marsh said.

Long-time readers know that I take a consequentialist view on most sentencing and punishment issues, and I strongly believe better consequences will prevail if all persons convicted of unlawfully downloading Amy's picture are all jointly liable for the full amount of her documented economic losses.  As the AP article suggests, if Amy wins then only the richest porn downloaders will end up paying her the most money in restitution.  But if DOJ's vague approach prevails, the richest porn downloaders will likely end up spending lots of money on lawyers in order to aggressively argue at sentencing that they should not have to pay much or any restitution to Amy or other victims.

More broadly, I actually think better consequences can and will ultimately prevail for future federal defendants convicted of unlawfully downloading child porn if Amy prevails in this case.  This is because I think, in light of the instructions of 18 USC 3553(a), federal judges would in the future be fully justified (and arguably even required) to generally impose a shorter federal prison sentence on a child porn defendant if and whenever that defendant is to be held jointly liable for the full amount of documented economic losses.  (Intriguingly, Doyle Randall Paroline himself got sentenced only to two years in prison, while the average downloader of child porn prosecuted in federal court these days gets a prison term of nearly a decade.)    

In her reporting and commentary on this issue (noted here and here), Emily Bazelon has rightly suggested that having child porn downloaders pay for their crimes through full restitution award (rather than through very lengthy prison terms) makes for better outcomes not only for victims but also for society.  As she has explained:

[J]oint and several liability ... works like this: Other victims following in Amy’s footsteps would target the rich child-pornography defendants.  Then it would be up to those men to find the others who are also legally responsible.  This would allow many more victims to recover than the alternative: The victims have to sue the defendants they can find one by one, while courts award restitution in what would probably be relatively small amounts.  If the Justice Department is really worried about fairness, it could create a compensation fund defendants could pay into for the benefit of more victims.

Money can make a huge difference for victims of sexual abuse.  For Amy [and other like victims], it has meant access to counseling and a safety net when they have struggled with school and work, as they both have at times.  Restitution makes far more sense than the enormously long prison sentences men often serve for collecting child pornography. Congress was right to see the value of restitution.  The Supreme Court should too.  And then lawmakers and judges should also recognize that the prison terms for possession of child pornography have become too harsh.

Because DOJ is not completely on Amy's side, and because some of the more conservative Justices have in the past expressed some constitutional concerns about some victims getting big awards in tort suits, I do not think it a certainty that Amy will prevail in this matter.  But because this is technically a statutory interpretation case, and because the briefs on Amy's side have done such an effective job highlighting reasons to think Congress would want Amy to prevail in this battle of equities, I think she has a pretty good chance to prevail.

A few (of many) prior posts on Paroline and child porn restitution issues:

January 20, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Notable new research from Pew about the success of parole in New Jersey

Too often we only hear a lot about parole policies and practices when there is a high-profile story of some parolee committing some terrible crime following parole release.  And, problematically, those kinds of headline-grabbing stories can lead to changes in laws and practices that might not be wise if and when broader information and data are considered. 

In light of these realities, I am very pleased to have just stumbled across a good-news story about parole practices appearing in this little research report published by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project and titled simply "The Impact of Parole in New Jersey." Here is the report's overview:

Nearly 700,000 offenders were released from U.S. prisons in 2011. Ensuring their successful re-entry into the community remains a critical issue for public safety. A new analysis of New Jersey data, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, shows that inmates released to parole supervision are less likely to be rearrested, reconvicted, and reincarcerated for new crimes than inmates who serve, or “max out,” their full prison sentences and are released without supervision. The two groups return to prison at nearly identical rates, however, because parolees can be sent back for technical violations—such as failing drug tests or missing meetings—that are not associated with committing new crimes.

These findings demonstrate not only that supervision can make a decisive difference in controlling criminal behavior among released offenders, but also that technical revocations unrelated to new crimes reduce the cost savings of parole. This brief discusses the findings in depth and examines their implications for states’ corrections policies.

January 16, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack