Friday, May 17, 2013
On (wrong?) constitutional grounds, split Sixth Circuit panel gives full retroactive effect to new FSA crack sentencesWith thanks to all the folks who alerted me while I was dealing with other matters, I am finally back on-line and able to report on a remarkable new split panel runing by the Sixth Circuit today in US v. Blewett, No. 12-5226 (6th Cir. May 17, 2013) (available here). The start of the majority opinion (per Judge Merritt) will highlight for all federal sentencing fans why this ruling is a very big deal:
This is a crack cocaine case brought by two currently incarcerated defendants seeking retroactive relief from racially discriminatory mandatory minimum sentences imposed on them in 2005. The Fair Sentencing Act was passed in August 2010 to “restore fairness to Federal cocaine sentencing” laws that had unfairly impacted blacks for almost 25 years. The Fair Sentencing Act repealed portions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that instituted a 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine, treating one gram of crack as equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine for sentencing purposes. The 100-to-1 ratio had long been acknowledged by many in the legal system to be unjustified and adopted without empirical support. The Fair Sentencing Act lowered the ratio to a more lenient 18-to-1 ratio. However, thousands of inmates, most black, languish in prison under the old, discredited ratio because the Fair Sentencing Act was not made explicitly retroactive by Congress.
In this case, we hold, inter alia, that the federal judicial perpetuation of the racially discriminatory mandatory minimum crack sentences for those defendants sentenced under the old crack sentencing law, as the government advocates, would violate the Equal Protection Clause, as incorporated into the Fifth Amendment by the doctrine of Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954) (Fifth Amendment forbids federal racial discrimination in the same way as the Fourteenth Amendment forbids state racial discrimination). As Professor William J. Stuntz, the late Harvard criminal law professor, has observed, “persistent bias occurred with respect to the contemporary enforcement of drug laws where, in the 1990s and early 2000s, blacks constituted a minority of regular users of crack cocaine but more than 80 percent of crack defendants.” The Collapse of American Criminal Justice 184 (2011). He recommended that we “redress that discrimination” with “the underused concept of ‘equal protection of the laws.’” Id. at 297.
In this opinion, we will set out both the constitutional and statutory reasons the old, racially discriminatory crack sentencing law must now be set aside in favor of the new sentencing law enacted by Congress as the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The Act should apply to all defendants, including those sentenced prior to its passage. We therefore reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for resentencing.
The start of the dissent (per Judge Gilman) will highlight for all federal sentencing fans why this ruling seems sure to get en banc and/or Supreme Court review:
I fear that my panel colleagues have sua sponte set sail into the constitutional sea of equal protection without any legal ballast to keep their analysis afloat. To start with, they “readily acknowledge that no party challenges the constitutionality of denying retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act to people who were sentenced under the old regime.” Maj. Op. 6. Opining on this unbriefed and unargued issue is thus fraught with the likelihood of running aground on the shoals of uncharted territory.
As the title of my post hints, though I really like the effort, I am not sure a Fifth Amendment equal protection theory provides a strong constitutional foundation for giving the new crack sentences retroactive effect. But I have long thought, in the wake of the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act and the USSC's implementation of its new 18-1 crack guidelines retroactively, that a proper application of the Eighth Amendment could and should provided a reasoned and reasonable basis to give full retroactive effect to all the provisions of the FSA.
If (dare I say, when) this notable Blewett ruling gets subject to further review, I hope to have a chance to fully explicate (perhaps via an amicus brief) my Eighth Amendment approach to reaching the conclusions reached by the majority here on distinct constitutional grounds. In the meantime, we have an interesting Friday ruling to debate through the weekend.
May 17, 2013 in New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Friday, May 10, 2013
Are there (and/or should there be) special death penalty rules for female murderers?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article in the Christian Science Monitor, which is headlined "Jodi Arias case: What's trend line on women getting the death penalty?." Here are excerpts:
Whether Jodi Arias gets her wish — to be executed rather than spend her life in prison — is now up to the Arizona jury that on Wednesday found her guilty of brutally murdering her one-time boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in a jealous rage on June 4, 2008, in a Phoenix suburb.
The jury must consider whether the cruelty, brutality, and depravity of her attack on Mr. Alexander deserves a sentence of death, a finding that would make Ms. Arias the fourth woman to be awaiting execution on Arizona’s death row. (The state has not executed a woman since Eva Dugan, a cabaret dancer, was hanged in 1930.) Against that possibility, jurors will weigh potential mitigating circumstances, such as Arias's allegations of abuse, which she outlined at length during the trial....
The Maricopa County jury will deliberate against a backdrop of evolving societal views about female murderers. On one hand is a somewhat chivalrous sense that women are not capable of brutality at the same level as men and resort to it under extenuating circumstances — such as sexual abuse that Arias claimed at the hand of her victim. On the other is a sense that women can indeed be cold-blooded killers who are every bit as deserving of execution as male murderers.
James Acker, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany, describes the “competing theories" this way. One is that "this is about chivalry, where we’re all bending over backward to make sure no women, or members of the fairer sex, are treated this way, versus the less-sexist notion that women ... who do [commit capital murder] somehow tend to lose their identity as female and become a demonic killer that overwhelms the definition of a woman — that to dispatch someone to execution you almost have to relegate them [to being] outside the human family." Still, he adds, "it’s more difficult to do that with a woman than a man.”
The Arias case alone probably won’t provide much of a guidepost to the direction of sentiment in the US regarding executing women. But the sentencing phase comes at a peculiar time in the annals of death row — chiefly that the share of women murderers entering death row has stayed constant even as the percentage of men sentenced to die has noticeably dropped.
Recent related post:
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
"D.C.’s Race Disparity in Marijuana Charges Is Getting Worse"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary by Rend Smith appearing in Washington's City Paper. Here are excerpts (with links from the original):
[D]ozens of marijuana activists converged on the National Mall to celebrate 4/20 and push for the drug's legalization. If photos and videos are any indication, most of the attendees were white. As a black man, I find their efforts laudable and hearteningly altruistic. D.C.'s campaign against marijuana is racist. If it wasn't, District marijuana enforcement would look a lot less abominable.
In 2010, I wrote about how Jon Gettman, a public policy professor at Shenandoah University, pored through the city's 2007 marijuana arrest records to discover the District had arrested more pot offenders per capita than any other jurisdiction in the country. Gettman also found that the overwhelming majority of pot miscreants the city went after that year — 91 percent — was black.... In 2007, a black person was eight times more likely to be arrested for a District marijuana offense than a white person, even though researchers have exposed what any college pot dealer can tell you from the comfort of his Barcalounger: Members of both racial groups consume cannabis at nearly equal rates.
D.C.'s dope divide is just as striking when you zoom out. According to arrest numbers obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department and crunched by a statistician, between 2005 and 2011, D.C. cops filed 30,126 marijuana offense charges. A staggering number of those — 27,560, or 91 percent — were filed against African-Americans. Only 2,097 were filed against whites.
Blame-the-victim folklore contends that pot-arrest asymmetries, which show up in various cities around the country, are about blacks smoking outside and getting their pot on street corners. Recent studies contradict that. And if D.C.'s shameful pot disparity was about anything but racial bias, we'd see it narrowing.
Instead, though the number of black and white pot charges filed fluctuated from year to year, reefer charges filed against blacks rose 6 percent and declined 10 percent for whites between 2005 and 2011.
Over the last decade, the federal city's black population has wavered as its white population shot up. If municipal pot arrests were impartial, that should have equaled more white potheads learning what the inside of a squad car looked like as arrests of black potheads became scarcer. Latinos, moving into the city in steady if not overwhelming numbers, for instance, saw their pot arrests rise 40 percent between 2005 and 2011, from 93 pot charges to 153.
Also, at a time when weed has become another chic amenity, there's a good chance that the city's affluent whites have most of D.C.'s stash. Last year, Washingtonian ran a gleeful article about the massive amount of weed rambling through D.C.'s elite neighborhoods courtesy of drug-dealing stroller moms and tony pot-delivery services....
The only politician explicitly working to address the dope divide is longshot at-large D.C. Council candidate Paul Zukerberg, who's made marijuana decriminalization part of his platform. He attributes the disparity to cops using stop-and-frisk powers on young black males. "In D.C., we’re giving young people twice as many marijuana arrests as high school diplomas," he writes on his website.
Other D.C. politicians I contacted, like Mayor Vince Gray, wouldn't comment on the matter or didn't return messages. But when I mentioned the dope divide to Police Chief Cathy Lanier (who told the Washington Post she’d tried weed as teen) during an email exchange last year, the top cop seemed concerned. “Broad statement,” she wrote. “Mixed feelings on enforcement here...” When I tried to get Lanier to say more, she referred me to her spokesperson, who told me that MPD doesn't insert itself into politics.
Unsurprising (and justifiable?) gender sentencing disparities in NJ teacher-student sex casesAs detailed in this local story, an award-winning, 31-year-old female teacher in New Jersey avoided any prison time at her sentencing yesterday following a plea to sex charges after an illegal relationship a 15-year-old student. Here are the basics:
Erica DePalo was in the prime of her teaching career. Just 31-years-old, with nearly a decade of teaching behind her, letters show the Essex County Teacher of the Year was loved by students and respected by colleagues. But hidden behind her cheerful facade was a woman suffering from extreme depression and anxiety, DePalo’s lawyer told the court — leading to an illicit sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student....
The former West Orange high school teacher, who admitted to the relationship with her student, was sentenced in state Superior Court today to a three-year suspended sentence, which means she will not serve any prison time if she cooperates with the conditions of her parole. DePalo also must register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law and cannot seek public or government office nor have any contact with the victim.
The non-custodial plea was largely influenced by DePalo’s psychiatric condition at the time of the sexual relationship, attorneys said. Months before DePalo began the relationship with the boy, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, [defense attorney Anthony] Alfano said. A doctor incorrectly prescribed anti-depressants which affected her sense of entitlement and judgment....
In court, DePalo took responsibility for the affair, apologizing to the victim in a quivering voice, tears running down her cheeks. "I feel nothing but remorse for my actions and deep, deep sadness for all I’ve lost because of them," she said.
Police charged DePalo in August with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. The first two charges were dropped as part of the plea deal. If DePalo had gone to trial and been convicted, she could have faced up to ten years in prison.
The non-custodial sentence was previously criticized by West Orange superintendent James O’Neil as too lenient. Both Alfano and Assistant Prosecutor Tony Gutierrez said the victim’s family consented to the plea. Gutierrez said the 15-year-old boy, who was a student in DePalo’s honor’s English class, was the only victim and that the relationship lasted a few weeks.
Alfano said gender was never brought up in plea negotiations, referencing a Star-Ledger analysis of 97 cases which revealed men serve about 40 percent longer jail terms and go to prison more often than women in these cases.
The referenced analysis on the study of NJ teacher-student sex cases appears in this companion article, which provides this accoutning:
Critics have called the punishment for the former Essex County teacher of the year too lenient and reflective of a double standard that disproportionately penalizes men for similar relationships with students.
A Star-Ledger analysis of 97 cases in New Jersey over the past decade reveals significant disparities: Men are on average sent to jail in more cases and receive longer sentences. The data about 72 men and 25 women also shows:
• Male defendants went to prison in 54 percent of cases compared with 44 percent of cases for female defendants;
• Men averaged 2.4 years in prison compared with 1.6 years in prison for women, or 50 percent more time;
• Ninety-three of the 97 cases ended in plea deals;
• Forty-seven cases ended in noncustodial sentences, which typically involved pre-trial intervention programs or probation.
There are various reasons for the disparities in these cases, experts say, including the perception that girls and women need to be protected and are more vulnerable than their male counterparts, the availability of evidence, and the willingness of the student to participate in the prosecution.
"There’s a general societal disposition that does continue to treat women as the gentler sex, so typically the threshold for sending women to prison is higher," said Martin Horn, director of the New York State Sentencing Commission and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
All cases studied involve teachers, substitute teachers, coaches or school personnel who admitted to, or were convicted of, engaging in sexual relationships with students connected to their school. "Juries and judges sort of make a consideration about how exploitative the crime is and how predatory the perpetrator is," Horn said. "The system is supposed to make discriminations or make distinctions between individuals based on their perceived levels of culpability."
Most of the 97 cases analyzed were described in reports as consensual in nature (though not in the eyes of the law). In New Jersey, the age of consent is 16, but a person in a supervisory role, such as a teacher, can be guilty of sexual offenses even if a student is 16 or 17.
Because New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts does not keep separate records on sex crimes committed by educators, The Star-Ledger used reports filed by the state Board of Examiners detailing teacher license suspensions. The suspension reports that described inappropriate student relationships were cross-checked with court records to obtain necessary information. This is not inclusive of every teacher-student case in the past 10 years.
April 30, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack
Monday, April 29, 2013
"Is 100 Years a Life Sentence? Opinions Are Divided"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Sidebar column in the New York Times by Adam Liptak. Hard-core sentencing fans should realize from the title that this is a story about one of the many doctrinal questions gurgling in lower courts three years after a landmark Eighth Amendment SCOTUS ruling. Here are excerpts from the column:
If people who are too young to vote commit crimes short of murder, the Supreme Court said in 2010, they should not be sentenced to die in prison. That sounds straightforward enough. But there are two ways to understand the decision, Graham v. Florida.
One is formal. The court may have meant only to bar sentences labeled “life without parole.” On that understanding, judges remained free to impose very long sentences — 100 years, say — as long as they were for a fixed term rather than for life....
The other way to understand the decision is practical. If the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment requires that young offenders be left with a glimmer of hope that they may someday be released, it should not matter whether they were sentenced to life in so many words or as a matter of rudimentary actuarial math.
The lower courts are split on how to interpret the Graham decision, and the Supreme Court seems to be in no hurry to answer the question. Last week, the justices turned away an appeal from Chaz Bunch of Ohio, who was convicted of kidnapping and raping a woman in a carjacking when he was 16. He was sentenced to 89 years. Even assuming he becomes eligible for early release, he will be 95 years old before he can leave prison.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, upheld the sentence, even as it acknowledged that there were two ways to approach the matter.... Until the Supreme Court speaks, Judge Rogers wrote, there is no “clearly established federal law” to assist Mr. Bunch, who was challenging his state conviction in federal court.
Applying the reasoning of the Graham decision to long fixed sentences, Judge Rogers added, “would lead to a lot of questions.” An appeals court in Florida last year listed some of them in upholding a 76-year sentence meted out to Leighdon Henry, who was 16 when he committed rape.
“At what number of years would the Eighth Amendment become implicated in the sentencing of a juvenile: 20, 30, 40, 50, some lesser or greater number?” Judge Jacqueline R. Griffin wrote for the court.
Mr. Henry is black and was born in 1989. The life expectancy of black males born that year was 64, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Life expectancy in prison is shorter than it is outside. Wherever the line is, then, a 76-year sentence would seem to be past it. “Could the number vary from offender to offender based on race, gender, socioeconomic class or other criteria?” Judge Griffin asked.
That is a reasonable question. But Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., said it was the wrong one. “The idea isn’t to get the person as close to death as possible before you deal with the possibility of their release,” he said. It is, rather, to give juvenile offenders a sporting chance, perhaps after decades in prison, to make the case that they deserve to get out, he said....
The number of juvenile offenders serving de facto life terms because of very long sentences is probably in the hundreds. Some of the appeals court judges who have upheld such sentences did not sound enthusiastic about the task. “Without any tools to work with, however, we can only apply Graham as it is written,” Judge Griffin wrote. “If the Supreme Court has more in mind, it will have to say what that is.”
April 29, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Graham and Sullivan Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Thursday, April 18, 2013
"Race and the Disappointing Right to Counsel"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Gabriel (Jack) Chin now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Critics of the criminal justice system observe that the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright has been unfulfilled. They decry both the inadequate quality of representation available to indigent defendants, and the racially disproportionate outcome of the process. Some hope that better representation can help remedy the gross overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal justice system. This essay is doubtful that better lawyers will significantly address that problem.
When the Supreme Court decided Gideon, it had two main purposes. First, it intended to protect the innocent from conviction. This goal, while imperfectly achieved at best, was explicit. Since Gideon, the Court has continued to recognize the importance of claims of innocence at trial, with important, pro-defense decisions in the areas of confrontation, jury fact-finding, the right to present a defense and in other areas.
The Court's second goal was to protect African Americans subject to the Jim Crow system of criminal justice. But, as it had in Powell v. Alabama, the Court pursued this end covertly and indirectly; the Court attempted to deal with racial discrimination without explicitly addressing it. This timidity was portentous. Gideon did not mark the beginning of a judicial project to eliminate race from the criminal justice system root and branch; three years after Gideon, the Court allowed prosecutors to exercise peremptory challenges of jurors based on race. Since Gideon, the Court has made it practically impossible to invoke racial bias as a defense; so long as those charged are in fact guilty, discrimination in legislative criminalization, in enforcement and in sentencing practices are essentially unchallengeable.
Since Gideon, racial disproportionality in the prison population has increased. Not only might Gideon not have solved the problem, it may have exacerbated it. To the extent that Gideon improved the quality of counsel available to the poor, defense lawyers may be able to obtain favorable exercises of discretion in investigation, prosecution and sentencing for indigent white defendants that they cannot for clients of color. For these reasons, racial disparity likely cannot be remedied indirectly, with more or better lawyers. Instead, the remedy lies in directly prohibiting discrimination, and having fewer crimes on the books, fewer arrests, and fewer prosecutions.
I am very pleased to see Jack Chin's willingness to note not only that Gideon may not have solved the problem of a racialized criminal justice system, but even that Gideon "may have exacerbated it." In many ways, Jack's piece here is another articulation of this recent provocative New York Times op-ed by Paul Butler last month, headlined "Gideon’s Muted Trumpet," which highlighted various ways in which the modern criminal justice evolved for the worse during half century after Gideon became the law of the land. And I echoed another variation on these ideas when I asked in this post, "Did Gideon enable the war on drugs, the sentencing severity revolution and modern mass incarceration?."
I do not surmised that Jack or Paul are saying, and I know that I am not saying, that Gideon was wrongly decided or that our current criminal justice system would be better without Gideon. But I do think we are all eager to encourage reflection on the reality that there may be a lot more wrong with our modern criminal justice systems than poor funding and poor functioning of some defense lawyers.
Recent related posts:
- "The Right to Counsel: Badly Battered at 50" (at a great moment for hope and change)
- Great symposium at Washington & Lee on Gideon a half-century later
- Did Gideon enable the war on drugs, the sentencing severity revolution and modern mass incarceration?
Monday, April 15, 2013
Interesting coverage of media coverage of crime and prison punishments
Thanks to this post at How Appealing, I discovered that the the March / April 2013 issue of Columbia Journalism Review has a set of articles concerning the ways in which the media covers (and has trouble covering) some modern crime and punishment stories. I am very pleased to see the Columbia Journalism Review provide this significant coverage of aspects and limits of modern media coverage, not only because I sorta/kinda play the role of a new media journalist on-line through this blog, but also because these articles are part of a broader issue devoted to the modern media's less-than-inspiring "coverage of race, class, and social mobility."
As regular readers will not be surprised to hear from me, I think issues of crime and punishment are among the most central and least examined aspects of our enduring struggles with the array of dynamic issues relating to race, class, and social mobility in the United States. Thus, I am not only generally happy to see coverage of media coverage of crime and prison punishments, but I am particularly pleased that this issue of the Columbia Journalism Review links its article to the broader concerns of "coverage of race, class, and social mobility."
With that wordy preview, here are links to the set of pieces appearing in the the March / April 2013 issue of Columbia Journalism Review that all look like must-reads:
"Dark shadows: In Washington, murder turns out to be color-coded" by Clay Shirky
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Latest proof that every issue, including gay marriage, has a sentencing angleOne of many reasons I love to obsess over sentencing is because I see sentencing issues in everything other issue of public or private concern. Indeed, as my students (and reader of this blog) often hear from me, I see any and every issue of public policy concern to really be a crime and punishment issue in some way. The latest proof of this sentencing-is-everything perspective comes today with a gay marriage spin thanks to this new article from the New York Daily News. The piece is headlined "Openly gay daughter of Colombo gangster pleads for mercy in sentencing," and here are excerpts:
As federal sentencing gurus know, there is a long-running (and never quite resolved) debate over whether and how "family ties and responsibilities" can and should impact a federal sentencing decision. This story provides a timely reminder that whether and where same-sex marriage is allowed can and will, in turn, impact whether and how defendants with gay relatives can and will be able to tell a more modernized story of the importance of "family ties and responsibilities."
The openly gay daughter of Colombo gangster Dennis Delucia has outed her father as a supporter of same-sex marriage. In a moving letter seeking mercy from the judge who will sentence him, Donna Delucia says her father is a family man in the truest sense.
“My dad was the one who told me he would love me no matter what I would do or tell him,” Donna Delucia wrote to Judge Kiyo Matsumoto. “I finally came out at 22 years old. My mother did not handle it well and pushed me away .... I was scared, frightened and afraid of my dad’s reaction,” she continued in the letter filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.
“My dad accepted me, embraced me and has supported me. His love and acceptance helped me through the rough times and growing pains.”
Dennis Delucia, 71, a reputed capo in the crime family, pleaded guilty last year to extortion and faces 46 months in prison. He admitted using a couple of extra-large goons who made him look like a “midget” to intimidate the operator of a rival gambling club in the Bronx.
She conceded her father is a “chauvinist” and recalled his “king of the castle” views that included prohibiting her brothers from cleaning off the dinner table because they were boys. But after Donna fell in love with her partner and informed him they were planning to have a baby, the mobster cried. “He made me so proud,” Donna wrote.
Delucia helped pay for Donna and her spouse to move from Philadelphia to New York where same-sex parents pass parental rights to their partner. Today, they live in Kentucky, “far from the hype of Italian-Americans,” where they are raising their 9-year-old son. “Please let him come home,” Donna begged the judge. “I want my son to spend long days with his grandfather. I want him to know my dad.”
April 11, 2013 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Monday, April 08, 2013
Notable perspective on notable class disparities in federal sentencingI received via this e-mail from a helpful ready the following blog-friendly comment (with links) that I believe merits sharing in this space:
I was reading your blog post about the return of debtors' prisons for those who fail to pay court fines in Ohio, and appreciate your concern about a two-tiered sentencing system: those who can afford to pay, and those who can't.
You may be interested in a similar phenomena in the Brooklyn federal courts where a defendant who has a business which employs others often gets probation because the judges don't want his employees to lose their jobs. Isn't this favored treatment for the capitalist class, and a penalty for the poor who don't employ others?
Reputed Gambino associate Anthony Scibelli got off with just probation last Friday because the sentencing judge also was reluctant to imprison Scibelli over "concern that incarceration would jeopardize the jobs of 200 employees at his firm" as reported by John Marzulli for the Daily News.
In 2008 another Brooklyn federal judge spared alleged Gambino soldier and Brooklyn restaurateur Joseph Chirico from prison on a money laundering conviction as then reported by Kati Cornell for the New York Post: "Judge Jack Weinstein said he was hesitant to cut Chirico a break, but wanted to ensure Chirico's workers stay employed."
Friday, April 05, 2013
Potent new quote from AG Eric Holder: "Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason"I am very pleased to have seen from this new Politico article that Attorney General Eric Holder last night stressed the need for national criminal justice reform at the end of a major speech delivered at the 15th Annual National Action Network Convention. The full text of the lengthy speech is available at this link, and here is some of the context for the potent quotable stressed above:
[W]e must also move to improve our nation’s criminal justice system — and to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency, and fairness at every level. We’re providing increased support for programs offering quality legal representation to those who cannot afford it, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright — a landmark ruling, handed down 50 years ago last month, which held that every defendant charged with a serious crime has the right to an attorney.
We’re also asking larger questions about the mechanisms of our criminal justice system as a whole – and, where appropriate, exploring ways to recalibrate this system and ensure that it’s as fair and effective as possible.
Already, this urgent need has driven the Administration to advocate — successfully — for the elimination of the unjust 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. As we speak, it is propelling us to become both smarter and tougher on crime by facilitating more effective policing at the state and local levels; broadening the impact of innovative prevention, intervention, enforcement, and reentry programs; using intelligence-based strategies to target federal law enforcement resources and assistance to the areas where they’re most needed; and seeking new ways to help crime victims — especially victims of sexual assault — to make their lives whole again.
Our reform efforts are also driving us to engage allies like the Department of Education — and others — to confront the “school-to-prison pipeline” that transforms too many educational institutions from doorways of opportunity into gateways to the criminal justice system. They are informing essential programs like the Department’s Defending Childhood Initiative and the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention — which are helping to rally federal leaders, state officials, private organizations, and community groups to examine how we can better understand, address, and prevent youth exposure to violence — as victims or as witnesses. And these efforts are inspiring us to forge new partnerships like the Federal Interagency Reentry Council — a group I first convened in 2011, which brings together leaders from 20 federal agencies to address barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face in rejoining their communities, to promote best practices, and to confront these and related issues as more than just criminal justice problems.
The sheer number of Americans contending with these challenges is staggering. Well over two million people are currently behind bars in this country. As a nation we are coldly efficient in our incarceration efforts. One in 28 children has a parent in prison. For African American children, this ratio is roughly 1 in 9. In total, approximately 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons every year. Nine to 10 million more cycle through local jails. And 40 percent of former federal prisoners — along with more than 60 percent of former state prisoners — are rearrested or have their supervision revoked within three years after their release.
Now, there’s no question that incarceration has a role to play in our criminal justice system. But there’s also no denying that widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels imposes a significant economic burden — totaling nearly $83 billion in 2009 alone — along with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate. As a nation — and as a people — we pay a high price whenever our criminal justice policies fall short of fairly delivering outcomes that deter and punish crime, keep the American people safe, and ensure that those who pay their debts to society have the chance to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
This is why — as we look toward the future — we must promote public safety and deterrence while at the same time ensuring efficiency and fairness. I am concerned by a troubling report released by the United States Sentencing Commission in February, which indicates that — in recent years — black male offenders have received sentences that are nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. The Department of Justice is determined to continue working alongside Congressional leaders, judges, law enforcement officials, and independent groups — like the American Bar Association — to study the unintended collateral consequences of certain convictions; to address unwarranted sentencing disparities; and — where appropriate — to explore ways to give judges more flexibility in determining certain sentences. Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason. It is time to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about our criminal justice system. Statutes passed by legislatures that mandate sentences, irrespective of the unique facts of an individual case, too often bear no relation to the conduct at issue, breed disrespect for the system, and are ultimately counterproductive. It is time to examine our systems and determine what truly works. We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to rehabilitate, and to deter — and not simply to warehouse and forget.
I am so excited to now see that our nation's top law enforcement officer is now expressly saying, without reservation and in no uncertaint terms, what I have long believed about the big government waste in our massive modern criminal justice systems: "Too many people go to too many prisons for far too long for no good law enforcement reason." I hope that, in addition encouraging that "ask ourselves some fundamental questions about our criminal justice system," that he will actively take the many possible steps within his power to get some of the people in prison for too long to ensure those who are now being just warehoused are no longer forgotten.
New ACLU of Ohio report documents "contemporary debtors’ prisons"As reported in this local article, headlined "Poor unfairly jailed for failing to pay fines, report says," a new report by the ACLU of Ohio makes a set of provocative assertions about crime, punishment and modern economic realities. Here are the basics:
The ACLU of Ohio's report is titled "The Outskirts of Hope" and is available at this link. Here are a few paragraphs from the report's introduction:
Courts in at least seven counties routinely jail Ohioans for owing court fines and fees, in violation of the state constitution and laws and against a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, according to a new study released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor says the report raises issues that “can and must receive further attention.”
While many defendants can pay their fines and walk away, for Ohio’s poor a fine “is just the beginning of a process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time,” the report says.
The ACLU documented debtors prison practices in Springboro mayor’s court and municipal courts in Hamilton County, Sandusky, Norwalk, Parma, Mansfield and Bryan....
Other courts, including Moraine mayor’s court, employ policies such as arresting defendants for not showing up for hearings where they’re supposed to explain why they haven’t paid their fines, said Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio communications director. The hearings are sometimes scheduled weekly, increasing the chances that the defendant will eventually miss one and face a bench warrant, he said....
The ACLU calls on the Ohio Supreme Court to issue administrative rules to require courts to hold hearings to determine whether a defendant is unable to pay fines owed or if they’re just unwilling. Even if a defendant is just refusing to pay, he or she is supposed to be credited $50 per day spent in jail against the debt.
Jailing people costs between $58 and $65 per night, plus the time spent by officers and clerks to track the person down, arrest them, book them into the jail and file paperwork. Often the costs exceed the debts owed. “It is not a good deal for the taxpayers. (The defendants) aren’t not paying because they don’t feel like it. They’re not paying because the literally have no money,” Brickner said. Brickner said it creates a two-tier justice system for those who are able to pay fines and those who can’t.
The resurgence of contemporary debtors’ prisons sits squarely at this intersection of poverty and criminal justice. While this term conjures up images of Victorian England, the research and personal stories in this report illustrate that debtors’ prisons remain all too common in 21st century Ohio. In towns across the state, thousands of people face the looming specter of incarceration every day, simply because they are poor.
Taking care of a fine is straightforward for some Ohioans — having been convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine, an affluent defendant may simply pay it and go on with his or her life. For Ohio’s poor and working poor, by contrast, an unaffordable fine is just the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines. The U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code all prohibit debtors’ prisons. The law requires that, before jailing anyone for unpaid fines, courts must determine whether an individual is too poor to pay. Jailing a person who is unable to pay violates the law, and yet municipal courts and mayors’ courts across the state continue this draconian practice. Moreover, debtors’ prisons actually waste taxpayer dollars by arresting and incarcerating people who will simply never be able to pay their fines, which are in any event usually smaller than the amount it costs to arrest and jail them.
The Outskirts of Hope documents how contemporary debtors’ prisons work in Ohio and profiles some of the real people who have been impacted by this system. The constant threat of incarceration has left an imprint on each of these individuals’ lives, interfering with their families, health, employment, and housing. By shining a light on this dark practice in Ohio, this report hopes to move our state towards the promise of greater justice and fairness for those with the fewest resources.
April 5, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
"Judge to retire after sending racist Obama email"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article following up on a federal judiciary story that generated some blog-worthy discussions around a year ago. Here are the basics (followed by back-story links to prior posts):
Montana's chief federal judge will retire following an investigation into an email he forwarded that included a racist joke involving President Barack Obama.
U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull had previously announced he would step down as chief circuit judge and take a reduced caseload, but he informed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that he now intends to fully retire May 3. The appellate court posted a statement by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski on its website Tuesday announcing Cebull had submitted the retirement letter.
The March 29 letter comes after the appellate court's Judicial Council issued a March 15 order on the investigation into the February 2012 email, but appellate court spokesman David Madden could not say whether Cebull resigned because of the order. "The misconduct process is confidential. I am not privy to what the order said nor do I know what Judge Cebull's motivations were," Madden said in Wednesday email.
The council's order will remain confidential during an appeal period, which concludes May 17, Madden said. The council will make an announcement after Cebull's retirement takes effect, he said, but added that he was unable to answer when the order or the letter will be released to the public.
A Cebull aide directed calls for comment to Clerk of Court Tyler Gilman, who said Wednesday that Cebull would not have any comment other than the court's statement. He declined to release the resignation letter or describe what it said.
Cebull wrote a letter of apology to Obama and filed a complaint against himself after The Great Falls Tribune published the contents of the email, which included a joke about bestiality and the president's mother.
The Billings judge forwarded the email from his chambers to six other people on Feb. 20, 2012, the newspaper reported. Two other groups also demanded an investigation, with one, the Montana Human Rights Network, starting an online petition calling for Cebull's resignation.
Kim Abbott, the network's co-director, said Wednesday she was pleased with the announcement but hopes to see the results of the investigation. "The email really called into question his ability to treat women and people of color fairly, so we're happy Montanans will get to appear before a different judge," Abbott said.
The complaints were referred to a special committee appointed by the appellate court to investigate whether Cebull's email constituted misconduct. Kozinski's statement said the committee submitted a report to the Judicial Council in December after "a thorough and extensive investigation" that included interviews with witnesses and Cebull and going over related documents. The council issued its order based on that report....
Cebull previously said he would take senior status March 18, which would have allowed another judge to be appointed while he continued working with a reduced caseload. U.S. Sen. Max Baucus then formed a committee to replace Cebull and another judge taking senior status, with Baucus recently recommending that Obama appoint state District Judge Susan Watters of Billings to take Cebull's spot on the bench.
The new chief federal judge, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen, plans to meet with other judges to discuss how to handle the Cebull's cases, Gilman said. Cebull was a Billings attorney for nearly 30 years before becoming a U.S. magistrate in Great Falls in 1998. He became a district judge in 2001 and has served as chief judge of the District of Montana since 2008.
Related prior posts (all from March 2012):
- Should Congress investigate federal judge who forwarded racially charged email about President Obama?
- Apologies, inquiries and calls for resignation involving Chief Judge Cebull
- "Blinded by the Hate: The Real Problem With Judge Cebull's Email"
- NY Timeseditorial calls for Chief Judge Cebull to resign over email incident
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Did Gideon enable the war on drugs, the sentencing severity revolution and modern mass incarceration?
The provocative question in the title of this post is the result of my latest personal ruminations over how to "celebrate" the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright this month. Much of the discussion I have seen looks back at the Gideon case, reviews the ruling's import, and then laments that funding for lawyers for poor defendants remains inadequate.
But this provocative New York Times op-ed by Paul Butler, headlined "Gideon’s Muted Trumpet," provides some broader context for how modern criminal justice has evolved over the last half century after Gideon becomes the law of the land. Here are excerpts, with a few lines emphasized by me to help explain the provocative question in the title of this post:
Fify years after the Supreme Court, in Gideon v. Wainwright, guaranteed legal representation to poor people charged with serious crimes, low-income criminal defendants, particularly black ones, are significantly worse off.
Don’t blame public defenders, who are usually overwhelmed. The problem lies with power-drunk prosecutors — I know, because I used to be one — and “tough on crime” lawmakers, who have enacted some of the world’s harshest sentencing laws. They mean well, but have created a system that makes a mockery of “equal justice under the law.” A black man without a high school diploma is more likely to be in prison than to have a job.
A poor person has a much greater chance of being incarcerated now than when Gideon was decided, 50 years ago today. This is not because of increased criminality — violent crime has plunged from its peak in the early 1990s — but because of prosecutorial policies that essentially target the poor and relegate their lawyers to negotiating guilty pleas, rather than mounting a defense.
After Gideon, things got better for poor defendants in the short term. Thousands who had not had lawyers at trial were released from jail. Many states and localities created public defenders’ offices. But political and legal developments soon eroded those achievements.
The so-called war on crime greatly expanded criminal liability. A prosecutor can almost always find some charge: there are over 4,000 crimes on the federal books alone. Recreational drug use is one of the more popular activities in America, but racial minorities suffer the brunt of drug-related convictions.
In part because of federal grants to states to incarcerate drug offenders, the United States experienced the largest increase in incarceration in the history of the free world. Our population is less than 5 percent of the world’s but we have nearly 25 percent of its prisoners. When Gideon was decided, about 43 percent of defendants were indigent. Now, over 80 percent are....
Today over 90 percent of accused people plead guilty. It’s rational, because the costs of being wrong are just too high. As a young prosecutor, I enjoyed having all this power. I worked on a case against a property clerk who was stealing supplies from a government office. We set up a sting, in which an undercover agent acted as a buyer of stolen merchandise. Each time the clerk committed to selling more stolen goods, his potential sentence increased by five years. We got the guilty plea we wanted.
The Supreme Court has famously stated that the prosecutor’s interest “is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” In our adversarial system, however, those are just words on paper. Gideon, meanwhile, is an underfunded mandate. Some public defenders are forced to juggle over 2,000 cases per year, as the journalist Karen Houppert found in a new book, “Chasing Gideon.”...
The Supreme Court recently extended Gideon’s reach to the plea bargaining process, a potentially encouraging development. But, as the federal judge Jed S. Rakoff has written, the main problem is not defense lawyers’ “ineffectiveness” but prosecutors’ “overconfidence.”
Poor people lose, most of the time, in our criminal justice system not just because indigent defense is inadequately financed, although it is, and not because public defenders are ineffective, although some are. They lose because prosecutors and lawmakers treat them like losers. That is the real crisis of American indigent defense.
The points I have highlighted above provide the foundation for my rumination that without the Gideon ruling in 1963, many of the "political and legal developments" stressed by Butler might not have happened or even have been possible. The decade after Gideon is when the modern "drug war" got started, and it is still going pretty strong four decades later; around the same time, as the commitment to rehabilitation in sentencing was assailed, lawmakers and prosecutors embraced more rigid and severe sentencing structures; and these forces were critical components in the multi-decade march toward modern mass incarceration. I must wonder if these policial and legal development would have taken place the same way, or at all, if lawmakers and prosecutors did not feel confident that poor defendants' rights would always be safeguarded because they now had a constitutional right to a lawyer.
Readers familiar with the late great Bill Stuntz's ground-breaking scholarship will rightly think I am channelling some of his insights about the ways in which landmark Warren Court criminal procedure rulings provided a critical precursor to modern criminal justice problems. Critically, I absolutely do not mean to assert or suggest — nor do I read Stuntz's work to assert or suggest — that Gideon and other landmark Warren Court rulings directly caused a host of modern criminal justice problems. But I do not think it is mere coincidence that the American criminal justice landscape started to change dramatically, and often for the worse, not too long after the Supreme Court responded to Clarence Gideon's trumpet call for the constitutional right of all criminal defendants to get a lawyer's assistance.
That all said, I absolutely do not think Gideon was wrongly decided, nor am I suggesting that modern complaints about indigent defense being inadequately financed are overstated. Rather, I am just eager in this forum to encourage everyone to "celebrate" Gideon by considering broadly what modern American criminal justice might look like if Gideon never became a name in our constitutional lexicon.
Recent related posts:
- "The Right to Counsel: Badly Battered at 50" (at a great moment for hope and change)
- Great symposium at Washington & Lee on Gideon a half-century later
Thursday, March 07, 2013
Noting the intersection of mental illness and gender in incarceration nation
This recent article in the Denver Post, headlined "Two of three women in Colorado prisons diagnosed with psychological disorders," provides a notable window into the impact and import of issues of mental illness and gender with regard to who commits crimes and gets sent to prison for their crimes. Here is how the piece starts:
The number of Colorado female prisoners diagnosed with psychological disorders has risen sharply to more than twice the level of male prisoners.
The women are almost without exception victims of severe sexual and physical abuse, experts say. They cycle through jail and prison, often because they don't get adequate treatment or community support.
"The trauma histories are extreme," said Theresa Stone, chief of mental health at Denver Women's Correctional Facility. "It's hard to hear what these women have been through."
While most women are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, a certain percentage of them are committing increasingly violent acts, Stone said.
"Women are in many cases extremely violent," she said. "I think we're seeing the impact of abuse and mental illness."
The state prison system has in recent years taken great strides in diagnosing and addressing the needs of mentally ill women, Stone said. There is drug counseling, psychological treatment and group therapy. Some women live in highly structured therapeutic communities in special pods. The first step was identifying the true scope of the problem, Stone said.
In 2001, a Colorado Department of Corrections review determined that 39 percent of women incarcerated in Colorado were diagnosed with some type of mental illness. A Dec. 31 report says that 67 percent of those women are mentally ill.
That is slightly lower than the national rate of women incarcerated in prison. According to a December 2006 Department of Justice study, 73 percent of women in state prisons nationally have some type of mental disorder. Within the general population, 12 percent of women have a diagnosed mental disorder, the same report says.
The percentage of men in Colorado prisons with a diagnosed mental illness also increased dramatically in the same time frame — from 18 percent to 30 percent — but the ratio is less than half the level of female inmates.
The percentage of female prisoners suffering mental conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, has always been high but many women hadn't been diagnosed, experts say. Many of the women also had declined to seek treatment until they were behind bars.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
You be the prosecutor: what state sentence should be sought for Joan Orie Melvin and her sister?
Regular readers know that, often on the eve of a high-profile or unique sentencing proceeding, I urge folks to imagine being the judge and to propose a just and effective sentence for the defendant. (See, e.g., prior "you be the judge" posts involving a rouge federal judge, a Ponzi schemer, the "Spam King", and an NBA star.) Earlier this month, however, I generated a notable sentencing debate by changing the script via this post in which I encouraged folks to imagine being a federal prosecutor tasked with recommending a federal sentence for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife after it was clear that they intend to plead guilty to political corruption charges stemming from their misuse of campaign finance monies. (See "You be the prosecutor: what federal sentence should be sought for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife?".)
As the title of this post reveals, I think it valuable to encourage readers again to think as a prosecutor about sentencing recommendations for political corruption. But, as explained via this local story, "Judge sets May 7 sentencing for Joan Orie Melvin," the high-profile upcoming sentencing I have in mind is in state court and concerns a prominent state jurist and her sister after a trial conviction on multiple charges:
Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus has scheduled suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's sentencing for May 7, the judge's staff said Wednesday.
A jury on Feb. 21 found Melvin, 56, of Marshall guilty on six criminal charges dealing with her misuse of state-paid employees to campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009. The jury deadlocked on a seventh charge of official oppression.
The jury also convicted her sister and former staffer, Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless on six related charges. Information on her sentencing date wasn't available. A third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, 51, of McCandless is serving 2 1⁄2 years to 10 years in state prison on similar charges.
Obviously, the exact specifics of the crimes and the political positions of Jesse Jackson Jr. and Joan Orie Melvin are quite different. Nevertheless, the underlying criminal behavior is arguably similar, as is the basic background of the offenders in relevant respects (e.g., both convicted defendants came from prominent political families, had a record of electorial success, and have considerable parental responsibilities). Of course, Jackson Jr. and his wife are due to be sentenced in the federal no-parole system in which judges must impose exact sentences subject only to a 15% reduction for good prison behavior, whereas Melvin and her sister are to be sentenced in the Pennsylvania with-parole system in which judges general impose sentences in term of broad ranges. Further, the Jacksons pleaded guilty and have expressed remorse, whereas Melvin and his sister both execised their trial rights and were found guilty on nearly all charges by a jury.
Differencea aside, I am eager to hear what readers think state prosecutors ought to be recommending as a sentence for Joan Orie Melvin and her sister. Do you think they merit a longer or shorter sentence that what the Jacksons are facing? Do you think the fact that state sentencing in Pennsylvania involves possibility of parole should lead to state prosecutor to urge for a much longer sentence in the Melvin case than federal prosecutors are urging in the Jackson case? Do you disagree with my general notion that these crimes are in some ways comparable given that they were prosecuted in different jurisdictions (even though, I think, the feds could have prosecuted both cases)?
I raise these points not only because I see high-profile, white-collar sentences as provide a great setting for debating sentencing issues, but also because I think efforts to compare the sentencing treatment of seemingly similar defendants can often distract from the task of seeking to impose the most just and effective sentence for a singular defendant. Ergo my interest in reader views on both the upcoming sentencing in this high-profile state political corruption case and how it should be compared to the upcoming sentencing of the Jacksons in federal court.
Recent related posts:
- You be the prosecutor: what federal sentence should be sought for Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife?
- Jacksons plead guilty and federal prosecutors recommend significant prison terms for both
February 28, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, State Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
New Sentencing Project report notes recent changing racial make-up of prison populationsAs summarized in this New York Times article, "[i]ncarceration rates for black Americans dropped sharply from 2000 to 2009, especially for women, while the rate of imprisonment for whites and Hispanics rose over the same decade, according to a report released Wednesday" by The Sentencing Project. Here is more:
The full 26-page report from The Sentencing Project is titled "The Changing Racial Dynamics of Women’s Incarceration," and it is available at this link.
The declining rates for blacks represented a significant shift in the racial makeup of the United States’ prisons and suggested that the disparities that have long characterized the prison population may be starting to diminish.
“It certainly marks a shift from what we’ve seen for several decades now,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, whose report was based on data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the Justice Department. “Normally, these things don’t change very dramatically over a one-decade period.”
The decline in incarceration rates was most striking for black women, dropping 30.7 percent over the ten-year period. In 2000, black women were imprisoned at six times the rate of white women; by 2009, they were 2.8 times more likely to be in prison. For black men, the rate of imprisonment decreased by 9.8 percent; in 2000 they were incarcerated at 7.7 times the rate of white men, a rate that fell to 6.4 times that of white men by 2009.
For white men and women, however, incarceration rates increased over the same period, rising 47.1 percent for white women and 8.5 percent for white men. By the end of the decade, Hispanic men were slightly less likely to be in prison, a drop of 2.2 percent, but Hispanic women were imprisoned more frequently, an increase of 23.3 percent.
Over all, blacks currently make up about 38 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons; whites account for about 34 percent. More than 100,000 women are currently incarcerated in state or federal prisons. The overall rate of incarceration varies widely from state to state, as does the ratio of blacks to whites and Hispanics.
But the trend is clear, Mr. Mauer said, adding that no single factor could explain the shifting figures but that changes in drug laws and sentencing for drug offenses probably played a large role. Other possible contributors included decreasing arrest rates for blacks, the rising number of whites and Hispanics serving mandatory sentences for methamphetamine abuse, and socioeconomic shifts that have disproportionately affected white women.
Alfred Blumstein, an expert on the criminal justice system at Carnegie Mellon University, said his own findings from research he conducted with Allen J. Beck of the Bureau of Justice Statistics also indicated that the rate of incarceration for blacks was declining compared with that for whites. “A major contributor has been the intensity of incarceration for drug offending,” Dr. Blumstein said, “and that reached a peak with the very long sentences we gave out for crack offenders, stimulated in large part by the violence that was going on in the crack markets.”
But crack cocaine has become far less of an issue in recent years, he noted, a fact reflected in revisions of federal sentencing laws. And inmates serving time for crack offenses are now emerging from prison, “so there would be a disproportionate black exodus from prison that as a result would be reflected in a lowering of the incarceration-rate ratio,” he said.
Mr. Mauer said that especially for black women, the drop in incarceration compared with whites was “all about drug offenses.” In New York State, for example, where the overall prison population has dropped substantially, for women “virtually the entire decline was a decline in drug offenses,” he said. Increasingly severe drug laws and stiff sentences for drug offenses resulted in disproportionate numbers of black women going to prison, he said, “and now they are disproportionately benefiting from reductions in that area.”
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
New poll indicates most Maryland citizens do not support death penalty repeal efforts
This new article, headlined "Washington Post poll finds most Marylanders in favor of death penalty," reveals that the on-going effort by many elected Maryland representatives to repeal the state's death penalty runs contrary to current public opinion in the state. Here are the basic (which includes a link to the poll data):
A majority of Marylanders want to keep the death penalty on the books despite widespread skepticism across the state about whether capital punishment is a deterrent to murder or is applied fairly, a new Washington Post poll has found.
Sixty percent of adults in the poll say that Maryland law should allow for the death penalty, while 36 percent support replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole....
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has made repeal of the death penalty a top priority in the 90-day legislative session. Debate could begin in earnest on the issue later this week in the Senate, where a narrow majority of members are on record supporting O’Malley’s repeal bill. Prospects in the House of Delegates are also considered strong.
Some of the arguments O’Malley is making appear to resonate among Marylanders. By nearly 2 to 1, those polled say that the death penalty is not a deterrent to murder and does not lower the murder rate. And most who respond that way say they feel strongly about their view. Moreover, nearly one-third of Marylanders — including nearly a half of African Americans — say capital punishment has been applied unfairly in the state. That’s another argument O’Malley has advanced in a state where five men sit on death row but no executions have taken place since 2005.
Yet even when those arguments are stated explicitly, as well as questions that critics have raised about the morality of capital punishment, support for repeal is tepid among the public — which could ultimately decide the issue. If a repeal bill passes the General Assembly, opponents are expected to take advantage of a provision in the state Constitution that allows citizens to petition new laws to the statewide vote. If enough signatures are collected, the issue would appear on the ballot in November 2014....
There are deep divisions over the death penalty based on party affiliation, race, gender and other demographics. More than half of Democrats oppose capital punishment, while three-quarters of Republicans support it. About six in 10 men support the death penalty, while women are nearly evenly divided. Whites support capital punishment by a margin of about 2-to-1, while a majority of African Americans are opposed....
The Post poll was conducted Feb. 21-24, among a random sample of 1,156 adult residents of Maryland. The results from the full survey have a margin of error or plus or minus 3.5 percent.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Grey Lady has lots of sentencing stories fit to print today
Seemingly just conincidentally, the New York Times has these three notable sentencing-related pieces in its print edition today. Here are the headlines and the start of the stories in the order they appear in the paper:
On the editorial page here, "Unjust Mandatory Minimums":
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. recently said that his top priority is to improve the criminal justice system. He can start by pushing Congress and the United States Sentencing Commission to fix the unfair problem of excessive mandatory minimum sentences.
On the B section coverpage here, "Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases":
Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations.
On the D section coverpage here, "Prison and the Poverty Trap":
Why are so many American families trapped in poverty? Of all the explanations offered by Washington’s politicians and economists, one seems particularly obvious in the low-income neighborhoods near the Capitol: because there are so many parents like Carl Harris and Charlene Hamilton.
For most of their daughters’ childhood, Mr. Harris didn’t come close to making the minimum wage. His most lucrative job, as a crack dealer, ended at the age of 24, when he left Washington to serve two decades in prison, leaving his wife to raise their two young girls while trying to hold their long-distance marriage together.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Lengthy discussion of Miller in Michigan through lens of one female murdererThis lengthy new AP article, headlined "Sentenced to life at 16, woman hopes for freedom," provides a details account of the implications and application of the Supreme Court's Miller ruling in Michigan (and elsewhere). As the headline suggests, the bulk of the piece is focused on one female offender, but these excerpts highlight some broader part of the story:
There are more than 2,000 Barbara Hernandezes in this country -- men and women sentenced to live and die in prison for murders committed when they were teens. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a long-awaited ruling, wrestling with questions that have confounded the justice system for years: Should teens convicted of the most brutal crimes be punished just like adults? Or should their youth matter?
The ruling was dense with legal references and focuses on faraway cases. But in its 64 pages, the court offered new hope to inmates in 28 states. "Imposition of a State's most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they were not children," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court's majority.
Despite the justices' strong words, they declined to settle the many complex questions inherent in resolving these cases. Instead, they left it to people in statehouses and courthouses, in living rooms and law offices and prison cells. In Michigan and many other states, the challenge now is to decide whether, and how, this new standard of fairness is supposed to confront the stern justice of the past.
That won't be easy. In the closing hours of Hernandez's trial, the prosecutor urged jurors to focus solely on her role in killing James Cotaling, a 28-year-old auto mechanic who, on a Saturday night in May 1990, told his fiancee he was going out to buy a Mother's Day card at Kmart, but never came home. "This would be the type of case where it would be easy to feel sorry for Barbara Hernandez, but you all promised me at jury selection that sympathy would play no role in your deliberations," said the prosecutor, Donna Pendergast. "You can't look at who this defendant is. You have to look at what she did."
Now, more than two decades later, the Supreme Court says that is not enough. But to comply with the court's words will take more than just a change in legal process. It could well force the system to revisit the distant past and appraise its meaning, to again confront the details of terrible crimes and to take measure of childhoods left behind long, long ago....
More than two decades later, the Supreme Court says juvenile defendants' lives must be weighed when they are sentenced. Critics and supporters of the ruling agree it will change sentencing of juveniles in the future. But what should judges do with those already serving life? If the new ruling applies to them, too, what should happen next?
Lawyers for prisoners want resentencing hearings to consider factors set out by the court, including lack of maturity at the time of the crime, family background, vulnerability to negative influences and the role the teen played in the killing. But officials in state after state have taken widely varying paths to resolution.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing judges to reduce sentences to 25 years to life if an inmate shows remorse and is working toward rehabilitation. In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad commuted all juvenile life sentences to 60 years, a decision widely seen as flouting the Supreme Court's directive. Pennsylvania lawmakers set minimum sentences of 25 years for defendants 14 or younger convicted of first-degree murder, while those 15 to 17 would have to serve at least 35 years.
In Michigan, the issue is being hashed out on three fronts. In the legislature, state Rep. Joe Haveman introduced bills late last year allowing for possible parole of juvenile lifers after 15 or 20 years, depending on their age at the time of the crime. But Michigan's parole board has a reputation for releasing very few lifers and Haveman said he's not sure how to address that. He chose not to pursue passage and is meeting with a group, including prosecutors and defenders, to propose new bills for this year. "I think the public is ready to look at alternative thinking and alternative sentences, than to just say let's throw people in prison and not think about them again," Haveman said.
A federal judge ruled in January that Michigan laws mandating life sentences for teens convicted of first-degree murder are unconstitutional. But state Attorney General Bill Schuette contends the ruling applies only to five inmates who brought the case. Without a new law, the issue has also landed in state courts.
When a bailiff calls the Michigan Court of Appeals to order on a Tuesday morning in mid-October, so many people rise from the often empty gallery, Presiding Judge Michael J. Talbot's eyebrows dart up in surprise. Technically, today's only case is that of Raymond Curtis Carp, 22, convicted with his older half-brother of a 2006 armed robbery that led to the killing of a St. Clair County woman. Carp was 15; his lawyer is contesting Carp's life sentence, citing the Supreme Court's Miller ruling.
But the courtroom is full because all acknowledge Carp is a proxy for more than 360 other Michigan inmates sentenced to life as teens. After nearly four hours of arguments, the judges sound stumped. "I can't ignore the fact that there's a crisis pending that requires action," Talbot, the judge, says. "What are we going to tell them (inmates), that we'll see you in a year or two and maybe something will happen?"
When he adjourns, the room buzzes with talk about what the court will do. A month later, Talbot's panel ruled that the Supreme Court decision does not apply retroactively and rejected Carp's request; the state Supreme Court is expected to weigh an appeal later this year.
"Whether it be the state court or the federal court or the legislature ... the clear injustice of someone being held under a cruel and unusual sentence won't continue in the state," said Deborah LaBelle, an Ann Arbor attorney leading challenges to Michigan's juvenile sentencing laws. "I think it's too bad we're not there. But I'm still hopeful."
February 17, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Friday, February 15, 2013
Wall Street Journal covers USSC's new Booker report (and its unusual coverage)The Wall Street Journal has a pair of new pieces based on the US Sentencing Commission's recently released Booker report. This main one has this provocative headline "Racial Gap in Men's Sentencing," and here are excerpts:
Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found. That racial gap has widened since the Supreme Court restored judicial discretion in sentencing in 2005, according to the Sentencing Commission's findings, which were submitted to Congress last month and released publicly this week.
In its report, the commission recommended that federal judges give sentencing guidelines more weight, and that appeals courts more closely scrutinize sentences that fall beyond them.
The commission, which is part of the judicial branch, was careful to avoid the implication of racism among federal judges, acknowledging that they "make sentencing decisions based on many legitimate considerations that are not or cannot be measured."
Still, the findings drew criticism from advocacy groups and researchers, who said the commission's focus on the very end of the criminal-justice process ignored possible bias at earlier stages, such as when a person is arrested and charged, or enters into a plea deal with prosecutors.
"They've only got data on this final slice of the process, but they are still missing crucial parts of the criminal-justice process," said Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who has analyzed sentencing and arrest data and found no marked increase in racial disparity since 2005....
In the two years after the Booker ruling, sentences of blacks were on average 15.2% longer than the sentences of similarly situated whites, according to the Sentencing Commission report. Between December 2007 and September 2011, the most recent period covered in the report, sentences of black males were 19.5% longer than those for whites. The analysis also found that black males were 25% less likely than whites in the same period to receive a sentence below the guidelines' range.
The Sentencing Commission released a similar report in 2010. Researchers criticized its analysis for including sentences of probation, which they argued amplified the demographic differences.
In the new study, the Sentencing Commission conducted a separate analysis that excluded sentences of probation. It yielded the same pattern, but the racial disparity was less pronounced. Sentences of black males were 14.5% longer than whites, rather than nearly 20%.
Jeff Ulmer, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, described the commission's latest report as an improvement but said it was "a long way from proving that [judicial discretion] has caused greater black-white federal sentencing disparity."
For reasons that will be obvious if you click through to the story, I especially enjoyed this companion piece appearing at the WSJ Law Blog under the headline "After 'Anonymous' Attack, Sentencing Body Seeks Blogger's Help."
Recent related post:
- US Sentencing Commission releases (and provides on-line here only) new Booker report
- Summary of key USSC findings in its big new Booker report
February 15, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack