Friday, July 04, 2014

Another July 4th open thread seeking comments on liberty and freedom in the USA

Blogging is likely to be light this holiday weekend as I am on the road visiting family.  But, as I has happened before, the morning of July 4 makes me eager to highlight some prior Independence Day blogging and to urge readers to use this space to comment on the state of liberty and freedom in the United States.

Some prior July 4 posts:

Obviously, the last couple of years I have not done special July-4th themed posts, but I sometimes think all of my posts on crime and punishment are infused with inherent Americana.

July 4, 2014 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Seeking nominations for top sentencing stories of 2013

As time permits over the next few days, I likely will review the blog archives for 2013 and begin to assemble a list of what I consider the top sentencing stories for the year coming to a close. As is usually the case, significant sentencing decisions by the Supreme Court will be sure to make the list. But at least a few other development emerging from other courts and other branches are sure also to be noted.

As the title of this post reveals, I welcome and encourage input from readers as I think about what 2013 wrought.

December 28, 2013 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Crime Report lists "Ten Most Significant Criminal Justice Stories of 2012"

I always enjoy end-of-the-year Top 10 lists, especially when they deal with matters of crime and punishment.  Consequently, I was both excited and intrigued by this lengthy new piece at The Crime Report titled "The Ten Most Significant Criminal Justice Stories of 2012." Here is the set-up to the list, followed by the Top 10 (click through to see discussion of each item on the list):

Even in a year marked by heart-wrenching tragedy, we believe it’s important not to lose sight of  developments in criminal justice that promise to improve the lives of millions of Americans — and even make us safer — as we enter 2013.

For our second annual ”Top Ten” list, The Crime Report asked readers, contributors  and columnists to join us in nominating the stories and issues they believe have had the most significant impact during 2012 — and will bear watching over the next year.

We won’t pretend the list is definitive.  And perhaps, in a reflection of the kind of year it has been, not all the choices represent “positive” impacts. 

But as we’ve also noted this year, criminal justice appears to be one of the few areas of our national life where there is broad bipartisan agreement on the shape of an agenda for change.

That’s worth celebrating in 2012.

Later this week, we’ll be running the second part of our annual feature: the top policymakers or newsmakers in criminal justice during 2012....


1. Supreme Court LWOP decision in Miller v Alabama: progress on Juvenile Justice...

2. Passage of Marijuana Legislation in Washington and Colorado...

3. The Connecticut School Shootings and Mass Gun Violence...

4. Trayvon Martin and the intensifying conflict over gun control... 

5. Social Impact Bonds and DOJ’s “Investment in Innovation”...

6. Three Strikes Reform in California...

7. Camden (NJ) fires its cops...

8. Connecticut and Capital Punishment... 

9. Prison-to-College Pipeline...

10. Pro Bono Requirement for New York Bar...

I personally think #2 on this list is a MUCH bigger deal than anything else on this list. Also, I think the rejection by Californian voters of the effort to repeal the state's death penalty via ballot initiative should be high on this list. And I would love to hear from readers their views on what they think is wrong (or right) about this Top 10 list (which may inform my own end-of-year sentencing law and policy list in the weeks ahead).

December 18, 2012 in Recap posts, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Weekend thoughts on the SCOTUS week that was and the one to come?

After a long dry spell for sentencing fans, last week brought lots of notable SCOTUS action in the criminal justice arena with the messy Williams ruling on Monday and then the crisp defense wins in Southern Union and Dorsey on Thursday.  And this coming week is sure to bring us not only juve LWOP rulings in Jackson and Miller, but also decisions concerning Arizona's immigration law, the Stolen Valor Act and, of course, health care reform, all of which seem likely to have significant modern criminal justice implications.

So, with that set up, I encourage everyone to share (via comments here or e-mails to me) any new and/or deep thoughts about all this SCOTUS action.  Here is one: in light of the outcomes in Dorsey and Southern Union, I am expecting the defendants in Jackson and Miller to prevail either 5-4 or 6-3 and I am expecting the ruling to be fairly narrow.  (Of course, I am often wrong when developing these kinds of expectations, so do not make book on these predictions.)

Recapping posts on last week's SCOTUS criminal justice work:

June 24, 2012 in Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A recap and request concerning today's big SCOTUS sentencing action

In part because my head is still spinning much too fast after reading the Supreme Court's work today in  Southern Union (basic here), and Dorsey (basics here), I think I am going to get "off the grid" for at least the next few hours. 

Before doing so, I will recap via links below my posts on these cases, and also make this request to any and all fellow sentencing nuts: please use the comments to this post (or send me an e-mail) to report any highlights from other blogs or the traditional media concerning reactions to these opinions.  I have already seen this FAMM press release about the Dorsey ruling, and I suspect a lot more commentary will follow. 

I will be grateful to any and all who help me identify the most interesting or notable reactions (and I will happily provide space for thoughtful guest-posts if/when readers want to develop detailed commentaries too intricate or important to lurk only in the comments).  Thanks.

Today's posts on today's SCOTUS sentencing stuff:

June 21, 2012 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 29, 2011

An effective review of the SCOTUS year that was(n't much)

Writing in The National Law Journal, Tony Mauro and Marcia Coyle have put together this lovely review of Supreme Court highlights from 2011.   The piece is headlined "Aside from Wal-Mart, few huge cases at high court; In business cases, there were rulings that pleased and angered both sides."  Here is the start of the piece along with are a few of the passages discussing some criminal justice SCOTUS happenings from the year that was:

The year 2011 at the U.S. Supreme Court was the calm before — and after — the storm.

The Court was no longer fodder for the State of the Union address, as it was in 2010. Few of the cases it decided in 2011 had the incendiary impact of the Citizens United decision of 2010 — or of the high-profile cases it will decide in 2012. The Court has agreed to hear cases on the Affordable Care Act, redistricting in Texas, Arizona's tough immigration law, broadcast indecency and environmental regulation, among others.  For a Court that views itself as apolitical and above the fray, 2012 will place the justices in the headlines plunk in the middle of a presidential campaign....

Other highlights and lowlights of this year at the Supreme Court: ...


California fared worse than Arizona in 2011. A bitterly divided Court, citing "needless suffering and death" in California prisons, upheld a court order requiring the state to reduce its prison population by an estimated 40,000 prisoners within two years to relieve overcrowding. The decision in Brown v. Plata, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, drew a stinging dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote that the Court was affirming "what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation's history." The state also lost the violent video game wars when the justices struck down on First Amendment grounds the state law barring the sale or rental of those games to minors.


To underscore the crowded conditions in California jails in the Plata case, Kennedy added some dramatic photographs in an appendix to his majority opinion.  Drawn from the trial record, they looked like photos from a magazine exposé or a documentary.  The use of photographs, maps or other images is extremely rare in Supreme Court decisions, and usually confined to redistricting cases or border disputes.  North Carolina lawyer Hampton Dellinger, who once catalogued the use of photos in Court rulings, said the practice should remain rare.  "Justices have plenty to disagree over, wielding words alone," he opined. "With today's visual technologies — more manipulable than ever — any movement towards making photos a regular part of the Court's opinions will likely lead to more arguments among the justices rather than less."...


The Court also continued a revolution begun in 2004 to revitalize the Sixth Amendment's confrontation clause. The justices, whose divide in these cases is not along the usual ideological lines, held that prosecutors may not introduce a forensic lab report containing a testimonial certification through the in-court testimony of an analyst who did not sign the document or personally observe the test.  The revival of the confrontation clause continued this term with a case heard in December....


Scalia once said writing dissents made life bearable.  By that measure, June 9 was a red-letter day.  He dissented in Sykes v. U.S. and introduced a new word to the Supreme Court lexicon.  Kennedy wrote the 6-3 majority opinion, interpreting the Armed Career Criminal Act.  The Court found that fleeing from a law enforcement officer counted as a violent crime for purposes of the law.  That, Scalia said, represents "a fourth ad hoc judgment that will sow further confusion.  Insanity, it has been said, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.  Four times is enough."  He did not stop at implying his colleagues were nuts.  Scalia made mincemeat of Kennedy's analysis in what he called the majority's "tutti-frutti opinion."

December 29, 2011 in Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Intriguing list of "Ten Most Significant Criminal Justice Stories of 2011"

Over at The Crime Report, this new special report sets forth a list of "The Ten Most Significant Criminal Justice Stories of 2011." Here is part of the set up authored by Stephen Handelman, Executive Editor of The Crime Report, and then just the list without the accompanying descriptions:

What we want to celebrate and take note of — more than anything else — are developments in criminal justice policy, practice and theory that challenge preconceptions and break new ground; and that are worth following up in 2012.   Lists are inevitably subjective. Your list may be different from ours — and that’s fine.  We want to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas — and criticism.

Some of our choices cover ideas and approaches begun years before--but for one reason or another showed special promise or produced interesting and replicable results in 2011. Many of the programs that attracted headlines or commentary this year in fact had their roots in the paradigm-busting ideas of a few hardy thinkers as much as a decade ago.

One final note, which we can’t over-emphasize: this list includes notable accomplishments on both the left and the right of the spectrum: we honor both the Right on Crime movement begun by conservatives and new civil rights activism by Eric Holder’s Justice Department — underlining The Crime Report’s rigorous non-partisanship.

1.  Right on Crime

2.  Eyewitness ID

3.  Hawaii HOPE experiment

4.  Non-incarceration interventions utilized by San Francisco

5.  Changing rape definition

6.  Think Outside the Cell

7.  New Media In Criminal Trials

8.  DOJ Website

9.  Revival of US DOJ civil rights division

10.  Justice Realignment (California)

As is the case with most "Top 10" lists, I find some of these choices compelling and others curious.  In my view, the biggest omission is the decline in the nation's imprisoned population for the first time in many decades (which is also taking place at the same time as a continue decline in crime rates).

December 28, 2011 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

ACLU blog provides series of notable year-end posts

I am pleased to see that the folks at the ACLU have had the energy and inspiration to do a series of posts recapping the year that was in criminal justice news and developments.  Here are links to these posts:

December 27, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Recap posts, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seeking guest posts for 2011 sentencing "Year in Review" posts

When time and energy permits, I have had a habbit around the holiday season to develop some "Year in Review" kinds of posts for this blog (often with always-fun Top 10 lists).  Examples can be found from 2004 here and from 2005 here and here and from 2006 here and from 2007 here and from 2009 here and from 2010 here (I am not sure what the heck happened in 2008).

Time and energy may allow another such post in the weeks ahead, but this year I thought it might be fun and informative to encourage interested folks to send me fodder for guest posts in the "Year in Review" spirit.  I neither expect (nor really even desire) folks sending me comprehensive lists on all sentencing fronts, but I would especially welcome targeted year-end review (or even next-year preview) posts on particular topics. 

With luck, lots of different folks can and will send me via e-mail some (cut-and-paste- friendly) copy that reviews, say, the federal sentencing year or the drug sentencing year or the celebrity sentencing year or the legislative developments of the year or whatever else you might be interested in sending my way. 

December 15, 2011 in On blogging, Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Mid-year thoughts on (slow?) 2011 for sentencing stories

As folks get back to work after the long holiday weekend, I have been thinking about what might become big sentencing stories through the second half of 2011. Nothing really major jumps to mind, perhaps in part because this current year has been relatively calm on various sentencing fronts.

In the death penalty arena, the Supreme Court issued no big rulings this past Term, and no major capital cases appear on the Court's horizon. illinois' decision to abolish the death penalty made for big news, though capital punishment had been functionally dead for a decade there already. Other states continue to struggle getting drugs needed for executions, though we have still had the usual pace of 4 or 5 executions each month nationwide through 2011.

In the federal sentencing arena, the US Sentencing Commission's retroactive application of the new lower crack guidelines is consequential (though not surprising). But Congress seems not yet interested in any broader sentencing reform in the wake of last year's passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. Likewise, while the Justice Department and perhaps the USSC will keep expressing concerns about troublesome features of the federal sentencing status quo, I doubt either will be proposing or pushing major reforms anytime soon.

Because of tight budgets and crowded prisons, state sentencing reforms have been the most dynamic and dramatic in the first part of 2011. And, thanks to the Supreme Court's Plata ruling, California is among the states having to prioritize sentencing and corrections reform.

Of course, for defendants, prosecutors and counsel directly impacted by 2011 developments to date, this year has already been eventful. But after more than half a decade in which a landmark SCOTUS ruling, or a Justice transition, or a national election made headlines through the summer months, right now 2011 feels a bit sleepy by comparison to this blogger

July 5, 2011 in Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 sentencing stories of 2010

Without too much reflection or enough sustained thought, I offer below my quick take on the Top 10 sentencing stories of 2010.  I urge readers to question my choices (or to ask for clarifications for why some of these items make the list and why others were left off):

10.  Congress's near-miss failure to pass the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010

9.  California's near-miss failure to legalize marijuana

8.  US Sentencing Commission gets new members and a new chair after lots of notable guideline amendments all while the Booker federal sentencing system soldiers on

7.  Republican take over of the US House of Representatives and many state governorship along with the emergence of a Right on Crime movement

6.  The continued stable(?) state use of the death penalty with 9 or 10 death sentences and 4 to 5 executions per month nationwide all while lethal injection litigation soldiers on

5.  SCOTUS transition with Justices Stevens being replaced by Justice Kagan

4.  The leveling off of prison growth in the states with many looking to reduce prison populations mostly for budgetary reasons

3.  The Supreme Court's landmark Sixth Amendment ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky

2.  Congress's passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

1.  The Supreme Court's landmark Eighth Amendment ruling in Graham v. Florida

December 31, 2010 in Recap posts, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Any thoughts on top sentencing stories for 2010 ... and 2011?

If time, energy and family allow, I will likely do a post in the next few days in which I review my top 10 sentencing stories for 2010.  A couple of the top 10 entries are pretty obvious, such as the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act by Congress and the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling in Graham v. Florida.  But there are lots of other top possibilities, ranging from the near-miss pot legalization ballot initiative in California to the news of reductions in state prison populations to the emergence of Right on Crime.

As I look back and reflect on my own top 10 for 2010, I encourage readers to do the same and also to share their thoughts via the comments to this post.  Relatedly, as the headline of this post hints, I am already starting to look ahead to what may be brewing as top stories for next year.  Though I doubt I will make any crazy bold predictions about sentencing developments in 2011, readers are certainly encouraged to channel their inner Jeane Dixon to make forecasts in the comments.

December 29, 2010 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Heinz sentencing year: 2009 all about anticipation...

Ketchup For my last post of 2009, I will recap the year in sentencing by showing my age and referencing the classic Heinz ketchup ads with the Carly Simon song "Anticipation."  Specifically, my basic take on 2009 as a year in sentencing is that nothing all that dramatic, dynamic or consequential happened, but a lot of potentially dramatic, dynamic or consequential events have been teed up for 2010.  

For example, the Supreme Court has granted cert and/or heard argument on an array of very significant sentencing cases on issues ranging from the constitutionality of juve LWOP to the reach and application of Blakely and Booker, ranging from the effect of defense lawyer’s wrong advice on the collateral consequences of a guilty plea to various challenges to various new federal sex offender laws.  But there really was not a major landmark SCOTUS sentencing ruling in 2009, so we all await the fireworks from the Justices in 2010.

Similarly, Congress was full of talk of sentencing reform.  Senator Jim Webb rolled out a bill for creating a special commission to study mass incarceration and related sentencing issues in a comprehensive fashion, and other federal bills addressed in more limited ways a various important crime and punishment topics.  And yet, none of these bills seemed to get particularly close to passage despite a political environment that would seem to present a special opportunity for legislative reforms.  Still, the stage seems set for some movement on some legislative fronts, perhaps starting with the crack/powder disparity, in 2010.

Likewise, both the US Sentencing Commission and the US Department of Justice were engaged in a long-term review and reassessment of modern federal sentencing realities.  Neither institutional player rolled out any major reform proposal in 2009, but it seems possible (and perhaps likely) that both will move forward in some new (and perhaps bold) new directions in 2010. 

In the arena of the death penalty, the biggest 2009 development might have been the slight uptick in the number of execution and Ohio's successful adoption of a new one-drug lethal injection protocol.  But it won't be until 2010 that we get to see if Ohio's path-breaking will lead a march by other states on a new execution path.

Regular readers may recall my series of posts at the start of 2009 wondering what might the year have in store for: executive clemency and the federal judiciary and its criminal caseload and the death penalty in the US and punishment theory and incarceration rates and Second Amendment jurisprudence and sex offender law and policy and drug sentencing law and policy and the US Sentencing Commission.  As suggested above, I think the answer has been "not much."  But I think a whole lot may be in store for 2010.  And, assuming health and happiness in the year ahead, I hope and expect to cover all the action in this space.

Happy 2010 to everyone!

December 31, 2009 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Any thoughts on the top sentencing stories of the year?

This time of year always lends itself to end-of-year reflections, and I have started reflecting on some of the biggest sentencing stories.  I would welcome reader input on what should be deemed the biggest sentencing stories of 2008. 

Lethal injection litigation, prison overcrowding problems, post-Gall/Kimbroughcircuit rulings, crack retroactivity issues, clemency craziness, and election year debates and developments can all make a case for being the top sentencing story of the year.  And, if I am forgetting others, I trust helpful readers will make sure nothing big gets overlooked.

December 27, 2008 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, August 11, 2008

What were the biggest (or most blogworthy) sentencing stories while I was away?

Though I was only on-line a few times while away, thanks to terrific guest bloggers I was able to keep up with major sentencing developments by reading my own blog.  The story that was most dynamic and dramatic during my time away was the debate (and legal appeals) concerning Texas's (ultimately successful) efforts to execute Jose Medellin (basics here and here).  But the story I find most interesting is the surprising decision by a military commission to sentence Salim Hamdan, the Yemeni national who was Osama Bin Laden’s driver, to only 66 months following his conviction on charges of providing support to terrorism.

The fact that Hamdan received such a relatively short sentence — which is years shorter than the average sentence given to crack defendants in federal courts — provides an outcome-specific irony to all the legal and political wrangling over military tribunals.  In addition, the fact that Hamdan was sentenced by a jury, rather than by a judge (as per standard military justice procedure), puts an interesting twist on the years of post-Blakely debate concerning Sixth Amendment jury trial rights.

Though the guest-bloggers did a great job covering so many sentencing stories, I am sure some notable sentencing tid-bits have slipped below the radar.  Readers are encourage to use the comments or e-mail to spotlight stories from recent weeks that merit more attention.

August 11, 2008 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, December 28, 2007

A year-end perspective on various sentencing-related topics

paThough I have already provided this quickie sentencing year-in-review, I am pleased to see around the web more thorough year-end reviews on various sentencing-related topics:

December 28, 2007 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thinking about the top sentencing stories for 2007

Over at TalkLeft, Jeralyn in this post rightly takes Time magazine to task for this extraordinarily lame  list of the top 10 crime stories of 2007.  Of course, this got me thinking about the top sentencing stories of 2007, and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the possibilities.  By any measure, 2007 has been an amazing sentencing year, and I am not sure how to rank the significance of all these events:

I have listed the death penalty stories last because they likely impact the fewest defendants, even though they tend to get the most media attention.  Readers are, of course, encouraged to note in the comments any other big stories I missed in this quick list.

December 26, 2007 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Recapping a remarkable sentencing week

Though I still think the weeks surrounding the Supreme Court's 2004 Blakely decision may have been the most remarkable for sentencing developments in modern times, this past week certainly was remarkable for so many reasons.  Here is a abridged review of what make this past week so noteworthy:






December 16, 2007 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Set your DVRs for "The Trials of Darryl Hunt"

Darrylposter A favorite reader reminded me than tonight at 8pm is the HBO premiere of the "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," an award winning documentary about a wrongful conviction in North Carolina.  Here is a snippet from HBO's synopsis of the movie:

In 1984, Deborah Sykes, a young white newspaper reporter, was assaulted, raped, sodomized and stabbed to death just blocks from where she worked in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Though no physical evidence implicated him, Darryl Hunt, a 19-year-old black man, was ultimately convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison.

Ten years later, DNA testing proved that Hunt did not rape Sykes, and cast serious doubts on his involvement in her murder, but he spent another decade behind bars for a crime he did not commit. The eye-opening HBO documentary THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT tells his riveting story — and the story of those who fought to clear his name.

More than a decade in the making, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT examines a community and criminal justice system subject to racial bias and tainted by fear. Hunt was charged with Deborah Sykes' murder largely on the strength of an eyewitness identification by a former Ku Klux Klan member, and convicted by a jury of 11 whites and one black.  It wasn't until 2004, through the help of an investigative series by Winston-Salem journalist Phoebe Zerwick, that he was finally cleared.

Over that 20-year span, his defense attorneys and public supporters never stopped fighting for him. In February 2007, the city of Winston-Salem compensated Hunt $1.65 million for his wrongful conviction and incarceration, and he also received $358,545 in compensation from the state of North Carolina.

Told from the point of view of the principal subjects — Mark Rabil, the unyielding defense attorney, and Hunt, the wrongfully convicted man — the film challenges the assumption that all Americans have access to unbiased justice.  Hunt's real-life courtroom drama reflects systemic issues of broad national concern: the liabilities of cross-racial eyewitness identification, prosecutorial misconduct, inexperienced defense attorneys assigned to capital cases, racial bias in death penalty cases, and errors in police procedure....

As Hunt's story unfolds, it becomes a textbook example of how the presumption of innocence can be subverted when a city's need to solve a gruesome crime, fed by sensational media coverage, leads to a rush to judgment that validates a flimsy case. In addition to clearing their own client, the defense team is ultimately instrumental in identifying the real killer, who is now behind bars.

April 26, 2007 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, January 22, 2007

Busy non-capital sentencing times

January has already been quite a sentencing month.  Though death penalty issues are capturing a lot of attention (details here and here and here), the sentencing news has been dynamic on many fronts.  Because I am always eager to ensure capital stories do not eclipse other developments, here is a recap of some of this month's non-capital highlights:






January 22, 2007 in Recap posts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack