Wednesday, April 16, 2014
"Let the Burden Fit the Crime: Extending Proportionality Review to Sex Offenders"
The title of this post is the title of this paper by Erin Lynn Miller, which I just noticed via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Under current due process doctrine, punitive damages awards against civil defendants are reviewed for "proportionality" with the underlying misconduct, in accordance with traditional principles of retribution in punishment. This Comment argues that the same proportionality analysis could and should be applied to review statutes imposing harsh civil restrictions on the lives of released sex offenders who have already served their criminal sentences.
The argument first proceeds by way of analogy. Like punitive damages in the civil context, sex offender restrictions are (1) in tension with the principle of fair notice of punishment, (2) imposed via a structurally defective procedure, (3) directed against a socially disfavored group, and (4) punitive in nature. It is these justifications that the Supreme Court has offered for reviewing the proportionality of punitive damages. Adapting the proportionality test developed in the punitive damages case BMW v. Gore, this Comment then outlines four factors that courts could use to review sex offender restrictions under the Due Process Clauses.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
NY Times editorial laments "Echoes of the Superpredator"
While traveling, I missed this recent New York Times editorial discussing the persistence of tough juve sentencing laws after superpredator fears have receded. Here are excerpts:
News reports — usually featuring images of glowering black teenagers — warned of the coming wave of violence that would flood the country. Respected criminologists bought into and amplified the hysteria. Most destructively, almost every state passed laws making it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults, by increasing the number of crimes or reducing the age that triggered adult prosecution — and in some cases eliminating the minimum age altogether....
Two decades later, it’s easy to look back in judgment, but it would be a mistake to think the nation has fully moved beyond that mind-set. Many states continue to punish juveniles as harshly as they can, even though the Supreme Court has held in a series of landmark rulings since 2005 that young people are “constitutionally different” from adults....
Some states have taken the court’s rulings, and its reasoning, to heart. Since the ruling in Miller, five states have abolished juvenile life without parole in all cases. In March, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that provides parole review for any juvenile who serves at least 15 years in adult prisons. Similar legislation is pending in Connecticut and Hawaii.
But other states keep fighting to prevent their juvenile offenders from ever having the chance to see the light of day. Michigan now gives judges the “choice” of imposing a minimum sentence of 25 to 60 years instead of life without parole. Courts in other states have refused to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling retroactively, stranding many of the more than 2,000 inmates who were sentenced before the Miller decision.
The issue is not, as supporters of mandatory sentencing would have it, about going easy on criminals. No one is ordering judges to release inmates who are not rehabilitated, or who pose a threat to society. Rather, it is about giving legal meaning to the neurological, psychological and emotional vulnerabilities of young people. Those who make mistakes — even terrible ones — should not be sentenced to die in prison.
The myth of the superpredator helped spawn a generation of misguided laws that treated young people as adults, despite evidence that doing so actually increases recidivism. Most of these laws remain in effect. The Supreme Court has rightly begun to dismantle their constitutional foundations, but some states are determined to act as if it were always 1995.
Recent related post:
Friday, April 11, 2014
Was it "disrespectful" to the judiciary (or, in fact, quite helpful) for AG Holder to order prosecutors not to oppose application of pending drug sentencing guideline reduction?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this National Review article, headlined "Judge: Holder ‘Disrespected’ Judicial Branch In Sentencing Change," about a verbal skirmish that emerged during yesterday's US Sentencing Commission meeting to approve formally a small reduction in all federal drug guideline sentences (basics here). Here are excerpts:
The United States Sentencing Commission Thursday unanimously approved an amendment to revise sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders, but not before one commissioner accused Attorney General Eric Holder of having “disrespected” the judicial branch’s role in sentencing reform.
“I regret that, before we voted on the amendment, the Attorney General instructed Assistant United States Attorneys across the Nation not to object to defense requests to apply the proposed amendment in sentencing proceedings going forward,” Judge William Pryor, Jr. said at a public hearing in Washington. “That unprecedented instruction disrespected our statutory role, ‘as an independent commission in the judicial branch,’ to establish sentencing policies and practices under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.”...
In August, Holder revealed his “Smart on Crime” initiative, which includes recommendations for reduced sentencing, without consulting with the Sentencing Commission — an independent agency within the judicial branch tasked with setting such policies. Although the sentencing reforms themselves were not controversial, Holder’s cavalier approach to separation of powers, including a March memo in which he “instructed the Assistant United States Attorneys across the Nation not to object to defense requests to apply the proposed amendment in sentencing proceedings going forward,” irritated commissioners and alarmed supporters of constitutional separation of powers.
The amendment approved Thursday, aims to reduce federal prison overcrowding by reducing non-violent drug trafficking offenders’ sentences by 17 percent. Holder did not attend the meeting. Instead, Commissioner Jonathan Wroblewski responded to what he called Pryor’s “very, very, very serious charge.” Wroblewski insisted that what the Attorney General did was “not only lawful, but in the greatest respect of the Justice Department,”
Chief Judge Ricardo Hinojosa stated that he was “surprised” by Wroblewski’s statement. He concurred with Pryor that Holder is setting a “dangerous precedent,” noting that two years ago, the Justice Department testified that it was not ready for reductions in sentencing, but that “all of a sudden, because the Attorney General says so” the DOJ has changed its course.
The meeting concluded with Chief Judge Patti Saris applauding the commission for its unanimous vote. But observers joined Pryor and Hinojosa in condemning Holder’s high-handed approach to constitutional boundaries. “For those committed to the rule of law, the question now goes beyond whether reducing sentences for dealers in dangerous drugs is wise. It’s whether the Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer in the United States, is committed to following the law as it exists, or, instead, as he wants and speculates it might become,” William G. Otis a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said in a statement.
My first reaction to this piece was to be intrigued and pleasantly surprised that Bill Otis was quoted criticizing the nation's top prosecutor for how he seeks to exercise his lawful prosecutorial discretion. (Notably, the author of this NRO piece seems to suggest that the AG should have felt some need to "consult" with a judicial branch agency before announcing a major prosecutorial initiative; I am pretty sure, based on prior debates over the potential problems with unreviewable prosecutorial discretion, that Bill does not believe it would be wise or even constitutional to expect federal prosecutors to have their charging policies reviewed by the judicial branch.)
My second reaction to this piece was to wonder if most federal judges agreed with Judges Pryor and Hinojosa that it was disrespectful and dangerous for the AG to instruct his prosecutors not to object to defense requests to apply the proposed reduced drug guidelines ASAP. This issue is dynamic and challenging in part because if AG Holder had instructed prosecutors to object to application of these new guidelines until they formally became law in November, then defendants would likely start requesting sentencing delays in all federal drug cases throughout the bulk of 2014. Because there are about 500 federal drug sentencings every week, this in turn would mean federal district judges nationwide would be receiving motions for sentencing postponements nearly every day for the next seven months.
Notably, just because AG Holder instructs his prosecutors not to object to the application of the proposed new drug guidelines, no judge is in turn obligated to follow the proposed drug guidelines. Rather, judges now just have an easier time applying this new guidelines, if they so desire, without having to put all their drug cases on hold until November. That is the context for the DOJ ex-officio representantive on the Commission, Jonathan Wroblewski, suggesting that AG Holder is actually seeking to help and show respect for the judiciary via his instructions to federal prosecutors.
That all said, if the substance of the drug guideline reform proposals now adopted by the Commission were very controversial (i.e., if the Commission itself was split) or if there was reason to believe that Congress and the President might formally reject the drug guideline reform proposal (i.e., if there was wide and vocal expressed opposition), then I think the concerns expressed by Judges Pryor and Hinojosa might be more compelling. But since these judges themselves both voted with the unanimous Commission to lower the drug guidelines, and since there is momentum in Congress for even more drug sentencing reform, I do not really find AG Holder's exercise of his lawful discretion in this setting all that disrespectful or dangerous.
Some recent related posts:
- US Sentencing Commission suggests lowering drug guideline sentences across the board!
- Attorney General to testify about drug guideline reform before US Sentencing Commission
- Notable talk of sentencing reform at CPAC conference
- Effective Heritage analysis of federal MMs and statutory reform proposals
- Smarter Sentencing Act passes Senate Judiciary Committee by 13-5 vote
- Will Tea Party players (and new MMs) be able to get the Smarter Sentencing Act through the House?
- Previewing what AG Holder will say about drug sentencing to US Sentencing Commission
- US Sentencing Commission to vote on reducing drug sentencing guidelines
Thursday, April 10, 2014
First Circuit hears argument on whether Eighth Amendment might limit deportation as collateral consequence
This National Law Journal piece, headlined "Court Weighs Whether Deportation Fits Crime," reports on an interesting case that was argued before the First Circuit yesterday. Here are highlights:
A federal appellate court heard oral arguments Wednesday about whether immigration judges must consider whether deportation amounts to disproportional punishment for a legal permanent resident following a criminal conviction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit weighed that question in Hinds v. Holder.
Rogelio Blackman Hinds, 59, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is fighting an August 2013 Board of Immigration Appeals ruling upholding his removal. U.S. Immigration Judge Steven Day ordered Hinds ordered Hinds removed to Panama in March 2013 because of drug and firearms convictions for which he served 18 years in prison.
Hinds claims he should be allowed to stay because he’s lived in the United States for nearly 40 years, is married to a U.S. citizen and fears being targeted by a Panamanian gang to which he says his co-defendant belongs. Moreover, one of his five adult children is severely mentally and physically disabled and requires constant care.
Hinds also claims severe health problems that may be linked to his military service, including epilepsy, anemia, high blood pressure and post-traumatic stress headaches. His brief argues that the Fifth Amendment and Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment, require proportionality review....
Amici who have lined up to support Hinds include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Immigration Council, the Post-Deportation Human Rights Project at Boston College, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of law professors.
Judges Jeffrey Howard and O. Rogeriee Thompson sat on the panel with District of New Hampshire Chief Judge Joseph Laplante, sitting by designation. Howard asked Hinds’ lawyer, Zac Hudson, an associate at Washington’s Bancroft, “What would be the mechanics of doing the balancing you want to have done?”
Hudson replied that if the court ruled in Hinds’ favor without reaching the constitutional questions it “wouldn’t have to delineate a standard.” The review would be based on the judge’s individual analysis, he said.
Howard then asked Hudson which precedent best supports his argument. “It’s all the due-process cases we cite,” Hudson replied. “Lawful permanent residents have the full protection of the U.S. Constitution.”
Aimee Carmichael of the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation argued that Hinds wants criminal protections extended to civil proceedings. “The Eighth Amendment does not apply [and he] has not demonstrated that the agency has denied him due process,” she said.
"Death Delayed Is Retribution Denied"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Russell Christopher now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Does death row incarceration for upwards of thirty years or more impermissibly impose the suffering of additional punishment or permissibly bestow the benefit of death delayed and thus the enjoyment of life extended? Most commentators conceive of it as an unconstitutional additional punishment that is either cruel and unusual or disproportionally excessive. Most courts construe it as a constitutional nonpunishment that the death row prisoner opts for and benefits from. Sparking a long-running debate at the Supreme Court, Justices Stevens and Breyer view prolonged death row incarceration as unconstitutional additional punishment. Terming their view as “meritless” and “a mockery of our system of justice,” Justice Thomas finds it constitutional.
Attempting to break this impasse, this Article undertakes the first comprehensive assessment of death row incarceration under what the Supreme Court enthrones as the primary justification for the constitutionality of capital punishment — retributivism. Assuming that retributivism does justify capital punishment per se, this Article demonstrates that the combination of capital punishment plus substantial death row incarceration violates retributivism. Whether such incarceration constitutes additional punishment aggravating capital punishment or a life-extending, beneficial mitigation of capital punishment, the combination is unjustified under retributivism and thus perhaps unconstitutional.
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Lots of notable sentencing activity via the Sixth Circuit on this hump day
I have long found that Wednesday seems to be a popular day for circuit sentencing decisions, and today the Sixth Circuit was involved in two notable sentencing actions.
One action involves the decision, noted in this order, to grant en banc review in US v. Mateen, a statutory interpretation case concerning "whether a state sexual offense that does not necessarily involve a minor or ward can trigger the sentencing enhancement under 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(2)." The (split) Mateen panel held that the sentence enhancement was not applicable, and the en banc grant suggest a majority of the Sixth circuit judges may not agree.
The other action involves a lengthy decision in a MDMA sentencing appeal, US v. Kamper, No. 12-5167 (6th Cir. April 9, 2014) (available here), which gets started this way:
Defendants-appellants Glenn Kamper and Joe Head appeal their respective 144-month sentences imposed for their roles in a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute MDMA (also known as 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine or “ecstasy”) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Head and Kamper both appeal their sentences as procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Kamper argues that the MDMA-to-marijuana equivalency ratio underlying his Guidelines sentencing range is based on faulty science, and that the district court erred when it justified its refusal to reject the Guidelines ratio with institutional concerns. We conclude that the district court misunderstood its authority to reject and replace a Guidelines equivalency ratio based on policy disagreements, but conclude that the district court’s error was harmless. We reject Kamper’s other arguments regarding the reasonableness of his sentence as without merit. Head argues that the district court erred in applying sentencing enhancements for his aggravating role in the criminal conspiracy and for obstruction of justice. We conclude that Head’s sentence must be vacated because the district court erred in applying a sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court with respect to Kamper, but REVERSE the judgment of the district court with respect to Head and REMAND for resentencing.
Retro Report provides reminder of "When Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear."
The New York Times together with Retro Report puts together articles and videos looking back a media coverage and the aftermath of high-profile stories of years gone by. The latest production is available here under the headline "hen Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear." Here are excerpts from the article that goes along with the great 10-minute video on the topic:
Social scientists like James A. Fox, a criminologist, warned of “a blood bath of violence” that could soon wash over the land. That fear, verging on panic, is the subject of this week’s segment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories from years ago and explore what has happened since.
What happened with the superpredator jeremiads is that they proved to be nonsense. They were based on a notion that there would be hordes upon hordes of depraved teenagers resorting to unspeakable brutality, not tethered by conscience. No one in the mid-1990s promoted this theory with greater zeal, or with broader acceptance, than John J. DiIulio Jr., then a political scientist at Princeton. Chaos was upon us, Mr. DiIulio proclaimed back then in scholarly articles and television interviews. The demographics, he said, were inexorable. Politicians from both major parties, though more so on the right, picked up the cry. Many news organizations pounced on these sensational predictions and ran with them like a punt returner finding daylight.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. Instead of exploding, violence by children sharply declined. Murders committed by those ages 10 to 17 fell by roughly two-thirds from 1994 to 2011, according to statistics kept by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mugged by reality, a chastened Mr. DiIulio has offered a mea culpa. “Demography,” he says, “is not fate.” The trouble with his superpredator forecast, he told Retro Report, is that “once it was out there, there was no reeling it in.”
It certainly had consequences. It energized a movement, as one state after another enacted laws making it possible to try children as young as 13 or 14 as adults... Many hundreds of juveniles were sent to prison for life, though in the last few years the United States Supreme Court has ruled that such sentences must not be automatic, even in murder cases. Individual circumstances and possible mitigating factors should be weighed, the justices said....
The superpredator scare fit neatly with a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to rising crime that had taken hold even before the ‘90s. Many states are now moving in the opposite direction, if only because incarceration is expensive, in both its human toll and its burden on strapped government budgets....
Fears about predators, super or not, have not entirely disappeared. Of late, some are concerned about what is called “the knockout game.” It involves a young man or group of young men punching a stranger on the street. This is cast essentially as a black-on-white crime, perhaps a gang initiation rite. No question, such assaults have taken place. But are they part of an organized “game”? In New York, the police seem unsure if they amount to more than isolated incidents.
As for superpredators, not everyone has abandoned the notion. In the ‘90s, Mr. DiIulio called those youngsters “remorseless” and “impulsive,” describing them as unburdened by “pangs of conscience.” Hmm, said Richard Eskow. Or words to that effect. Mr. Eskow, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future, wrote for The Huffington Post two years ago that he knew a group of people who matched those very descriptions. They were, he said, the reckless bankers and Wall Street high rollers who almost brought the United States economy to its knees a few years ago.
Fourth Circuit deepens (via dramatic split opinion) circuit split over fixing sentencing problems via 2255 motions
Though one needs to be a hard-core federal sentencing or habeas aficionado to really enjoy all the action, even casual fans may want to check out the extraordinary work of a Fourth Circuit panel yesterday in Whiteside v. US, No. 13-7152 (4th Cir. Apr. 8, 2014) (available here). Excerpts from the three separate opinions provides a flavor of all the action, but a full read is needed to understand and appreciate the passion that is reflected in the passages quoted below.
To begin, writing for the panel majority, Judge Gregory explains the legal basics at the outset:
This case presents the question of whether a federal inmate may use a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion to challenge a sentence that was based on the career offender enhancement under the United States Sentencing Guidelines when subsequent case law reveals the enhancement to be inapplicable to him. We find that he may, and in doing so hold that the mistake results in a fundamental miscarriage of justice that is cognizable on collateral review. For the reasons stated below, we grant a certificate of appealability, vacate the petitioner’s sentence, and remand the case for resentencing.
More than 30 pages later comes a concurring opinion by Judge Davis that runs only two pages, but effectively highlights the heart of the issues splitting this panel (and the circuit courts more generally). Here is an excerpt:
I am pleased to join Judge Gregory’s extraordinarily compelling opinion, which fully responds to the dissent’s overwrought and formalistic protestations that our judgment here presages an end to law as we know it. (Evidently, it is not enough simply for the dissent to say that there is no miscarriage of justice shown on this record.)
The dissenting opinion is hopelessly pleased with itself. This is not surprising, as it prostrates itself at the altar of finality, draped in the sacred shroud of judicial restraint....
In any event, what’s remarkable is that, as viewed through the lens of our good friend’s dissenting opinion, it is perfectly fine for the United States Department of Justice, which is to say the Executive Branch, to bypass supposed reverence for finality on a case-by-case basis, through waivers of limitations and other devices, see ante, Maj. op., n.6, but the Third Branch is duty-bound never to acknowledge instances in which law’s interest in finality must give way to competing values rooted in our shared abhorrence of manifest injustice. To devolve to the Executive Branch sole authority to identify a cognizable miscarriage of justice amounts to judicial abdication, not judicial restraint. Such an approach enjoys no legitimate place in our scheme of institutional checks and balances. The Third Branch’s transcendent role, in our enviable but imperfect system of criminal justice, is to afford protection from the loss of individual liberty resulting from profoundly erroneous decision-making, and not least of all, erroneous decision-making by the Third Branch itself, as in this very case.
The dissenting opinion favors what’s “finished” over what’s “right” and thereby blinks at a profound miscarriage of justice. It is wrong to do so.
Finally, Judge Wilkinson provides an addition 30+ pages to explain his views about why the panel majority gets this matter so very wrong. Here is how his lengthy opinion starts and ends:
Deangelo Whiteside was properly designated a career offender in the course of his federal sentencing proceedings. Now, years later, the majority vacates that sentence. In invalidating Whiteside’s sentence, the majority creates a circuit split over whether career-offender designations are cognizable on collateral review, and ignores settled law as to whether changes in circuit precedent can reset the statute of limitations for post-conviction review of federal criminal proceedings. The majority opinion represents a dramatic expansion of federal collateral review that is unsupported by law or precedent. It makes a shambles of the retroactivity doctrines that have long safeguarded the basic finality of criminal convictions. It disrupts the orderly administration of our criminal-justice system....
The Great Writ stands for the fundamental proposition that government too is subject to the given law. Here the government observed the law; it is, sadly, a court that accords no meaning to that fact. How is it that requiring someone to serve a sentence lawfully imposed and constitutionally rendered becomes a “plain injustice” and a “fundamental unfairness”? Maj. Op. at 29. This path vindicates no fundamental liberty. It only transforms collateral review into a double of direct review, a redundant mechanism for routine error correction, deployed to unsettle sentences that were imposed years earlier under governing law, in accordance with unexceptionable procedure, and by a sovereign acting in accordance with its sovereign duty to protect citizens from those who repeatedly violate its criminal laws.
For the aforementioned reasons, and because I view this decision as wholly wrong and deeply damaging to our criminal-justice system, I respectfully dissent.
Friday, April 04, 2014
"Should T.J. Lane's 3 life sentences get another look from the appellate court?"
The title of this post is the question in the headline of this local editorial discussion of a high-profile school shooter who might be the type of juvenile murderer that even the US Supreme Court would conclude can be given a juvenile LWOP sentence. Here are a few excerpts:
The lawyer for Chardon High School shooter T.J. Lane wants an appellate court to overturn Lane's three consecutive life sentences for the 2012 shootings in which three students died and three were wounded on the grounds that the sentencing judge didn't explicitly consider Lane's age — 17 at the time of the crime — as a mitigating factor in the sentencing. A recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling in another case said a judge must specifically address the age of a juvenile defendant when sentencing a youth to life without parole. Geauga County prosecutors say the appeal is frivolous because Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry was well aware of Lane's age throughout the proceedings and that his age also featured prominently in the many reports on T.J. Lane's psychological state and life going back to kindergarten that Fuhry had before him at sentencing.
Does Lane's lawyer raise a valid point or should the three life sentences stand? Editorial board members share their thoughts on this case...
Thomas Suddes, editorial writer: The appeal of T.J. Lane's sentencing is a perfect example of why so many Ohioans, like Charles Dickens' Mr. Bumble, think "the law is a ass — a idiot." First, Lane pleaded guilty to killing three students, and wounding three others, in Chardon High School's cafeteria. His guilty plea is a fact. There is no question about his guilt, no doubt his guilty plea was voluntary. Those, too, are facts. Second, Lane's sentence — three consecutive life terms in prison without parole — was, is, eminently just. Third, unless an Ohioan was on Mars, virtually everyone who knew of the Chardon murders, and just about everybody in Ohio did know about them, also knew that Lane was 17 when he embarked on his homicidal rampage....
The facts of the sentencing that resulted from the Cincinnati case are whatever those facts are. But no rational bystander can claim that Fuhry was unaware of, or failed to take into account, Lane's age when he murdered. Everyone charged with a crime is entitled to a vigorous legal defense, but given the facts of the Lane case, and his guilty plea, this appeal represents the privileging of form over substance. In Lane's case, justice was done. And justice was seen to be done. And justice requires the dismissal of this appeal.
Kevin O'Brien, deputy editorial page editor, The Plain Dealer: Age is an arbitrary measure that often comes into play in the law. People under 21 cannot legally consume alcohol — a rule made based on the supposition that allowing otherwise would be detrimental to social order. T.J. Lane’s lawyer is making a general argument about 17-year-olds that doesn’t fit the specifics of his client’s case. Lane knew what he was doing in the school cafeteria, and he certainly was aware that it was wrong. He knew what he was doing at his sentencing hearing, when he wore his disgustingly boastful T-shirt. He is a cowardly assassin who, far from showing any remorse, has gone out of his way to compound the emotional hurt to his victims’ loved ones. He is right where he belongs, and three consecutive life sentences are perfectly appropriate.
Elizabeth Sullivan, opinion director, Northeast Ohio Media Group: Judges should consider a young offender's age when sentencing someone to life in prison without any possibility of parole. The Ohio Supreme Court is absolutely right about that, and if any judge fails to do so, he or she should be challenged on it. But it seems the most trivial of technicalities to suggest that Judge David Fuhry in Geauga County didn't consider T.J. Lane's age simply because he didn't explicitly reference it in his sentencing decision. Lane's age was a factor throughout this case, whether or not the judge spoke to it during sentencing. That's why this appeal is likely going nowhere. And if the appellate court takes a second look, what then? Two consecutive life terms instead of three? All the data before the judge at the time of sentencing pointed to the fact that T.J. Lane, a clearly disturbed and dangerous young man, should be locked up for life.
Christopher Evans, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group: The cold-blooded executions of three Chardon High School students and the wounding of three others, the lack of remorse and the contempt for the families, the community and the justice system made Lane ageless. He wasn't 17. He was psycho. The smirk, the handwritten "Killer" T-shirt — which mirrored the one he wore when he opened fire in the school cafeteria — and his offensive comments to the packed courthouse all speak to that. Lane earned every minute of those three life sentences for the three lives he took. But we're better than T.J. Lane. Reduce his sentence to two life sentences without parole. I can live with that.
Prior related post:
- Is TJ Lane eager to be the "uncommon" juvenile murderer who can constitutionally get an LWOP sentence?
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Terrific upcoming NYU Law conference on "Mercy in the Criminal Justice System"
I am very pleased and very excited that on April 15 this year I will be spending all day thinking and talking about something other than my income tax forms. That is because, as detailed in the program linked at the bottom of this post, I will be spending that day attending and speaking at the Sixth Annual Conference of the NYU Law School's Center on the Administration of Criminal Law. This year's NYU Center conference is focused on clemency and related topics.
The full official title for the event, which runs from 10am to 4pm at NYU Law is "Mercy in the Criminal Justice System: Clemency and Post-Conviction Strategies," and the keynote speaker is White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler. Here is a brief account of the panels and participants scheduled to surround the keynote:
Panel 1: The Role of Law Schools in Delivering Clemency and Post-Conviction Assistance.
This panel will discuss how law schools are providing critical services to prisoners through clemency clinics and other mechanisms, and will also provide practical training on how to effectively prepare clemency petitions, post-conviction motions and provide other reentry support to prisoners.
Moderator: Prof. Mark Osler, University of St. Thomas Law School. Panelists: Prof. Anthony Thompson, NYU Law; Prof. J.P. “Sandy” Ogilvy, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University; Harlan Protass, Esq., Clayman & Rosenberg; Prof. Joann M. Sahl, University of Akron Law School.
Panel 2: What We Can Learn About Clemency From the States.
This panel will examine the different ways clemency and pardon petitions are administered in selected states with effective systems.
Moderator: Nancy Hoppock, Executive Director of the CACL. Panelists: Lt. Governor Matthew Denn, State of Delaware; Hon. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., King & Spalding and former Governor of Maryland; Margaret Love, Esq., former U.S. Pardon Attorney; Jorge Montes, Esq., former Chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
Panel 3: The Future of Clemency.
This panel will discuss recent developments in federal clemency and where clemency could and should be headed in the future.
Moderator: Prof. Rachel E. Barkow, NYU Law. Panelists: Amy Baron-Evans, National Federal Defender Sentencing Resource Counsel; Prof. Paul G. Cassell, University of Utah Law School; Prof. Douglas A. Berman, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law; Sam Morison, Esq.; Dafna Linzer, Managing Editor of MSNBC.com.
Persons can register for this great and timely conference at this link.
April 2, 2014 in Clemency and Pardons, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Forecasting the uncertain present and future of federal legislative sentencing reform
Writing for CQ Weekly (which calls itself the "definitive source for news about Congress") John Gramlich has this fascinating and lengthy new article about the state of federal sentencing reform efforts. The piece is headlined "The Prison Debate, Freshly Unlocked," and here are excerpts from a piece that merits a full read:
A bipartisan Senate coalition intent on shrinking the swollen federal prison population will see its toughest test yet in the weeks ahead. Party leaders face the delicate task of shepherding legislation through a politically charged chamber that could ease punishment for tens of thousands of felons — in an election year, no less.
The political stakes, particularly for Democrats, are substantial. Control of the Senate is up for grabs in November and if Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada presses forward with a debate over crime and punishment, he could force members of his own caucus to cast difficult votes on a subject that has haunted the party in the past. Many vulnerable Democrats want to focus on jobs rather than softening criminal penalties.
Despite the risks, it’s clear that Congress is closer than it has been in decades to slowing the growth of the federal prison population, which has ballooned to about 216,000 today from 25,000 in 1980. Overhaul supporters have covered their bases, building consensus and deliberately pushing legislation through the committee process. But floor consideration will pressure any cracks in the coalition, given lingering reservations from influential lawmakers in both parties and opposition from prosecutors, which could stoke public fears about crime.
Reid has two bills on his slate, both of which would cut criminal penalties for a broad cross-section of federal offenses. One would slash mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenders by as much as 60 percent and give judges more leeway to impose lighter penalties than those set out in statute. It also would allow crack cocaine users and dealers who were sentenced under a system that Congress abolished in 2010 to seek shorter sentences retroactively.
The other measure would allow as many as 34,000 currently incarcerated inmates — more than 15 percent of the federal correctional population — to leave prison early, provided they successfully complete rehabilitation programs first.
Both bills have support from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, further undermining the decades-old caricature of party orthodoxy on criminal justice: that Republicans are “tough on crime” while Democrats are “soft.”...
Predicting the outcome of an election year Senate debate about criminal justice is not easy. Reid is still weighing whether to bring the legislation up in a year in which his party is at risk of losing control of the Senate for the first time since 2007.
And even if legislation passes the Senate, finding a path through the House is more difficult. The House Judiciary Committee has set up a task force to examine sentencing and prison population issues. But House leadership has, so far, shown no interest in taking up companion bills to the Senate measures. House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said his panel “is taking a comprehensive look at the prison reform issue, and plans to continue its review over the next several months.”...
Lobbying from law enforcement organizations could still prove pivotal in this debate, particularly if it focuses on the specter of increased crime. The sentencing bill sponsored by Durbin and Lee has sparked notable opposition from the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, a prosecutors’ group that took the rare step of publicly breaking with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. — their boss — to denounce the legislation and warn that it could endanger public safety....
Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Police ... has its own concerns about any proposals that might reduce time behind bars. The group is still evaluating both bills. “The argument that we hear most often for reducing the prison population is cost,” James Pasco, the executive director of the group’s legislative advocacy center, says. “Well, you know, the fact of the matter is if somebody commits a crime serious enough for lengthy incarceration, it’s at variance with common sense to suggest that’s not a good penalty just because it costs too much.”
“We have had conversations with the administration and we’ve had conversations with both sides in Judiciary, and they are aware of our apprehensions [about the bills],” Pasco added. “But the game really begins now.”
Bipartisan opposition from a handful of holdouts could make for speed bumps on the floor, if not outright problems. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of the Judiciary panel, warned that the early-release bill could endanger public safety because “we do not know the facts of any of the 34,000 inmates estimated to be affected by this bill.”
Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, also withheld his support for the early-release bill by voting “present” in committee. Leahy expressed concerns that the measure, which would let lower-risk inmates earn credits allowing them to transfer from prison to halfway houses and other forms of supervision, could worsen “racial and socioeconomic disparities in our prison system” and place an unfunded mandate on the Bureau of Prisons by requiring the agency to do widespread risk assessments on the inmates it incarcerates.
Holder has endorsed the sentencing measure, but stopped short of endorsing the early-release proposal, telling the U.S. Sentencing Commission in March that it needs changes to make it “as good as it might be.”
The sentencing bill also faces likely amendments. In an interview with CQ Roll Call, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said he and fellow Judiciary member Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, are working on an amendment that would scale back some of the bill’s sentencing reductions.
Republicans, for their part, are divided about whether they want both measures to reach the floor at all. Tea-party-backed members such as Lee and Paul support both bills, but Cornyn and the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, represent the party’s establishment wing and support only the early-release measure. “If Sen. Reid would take up the prison reform legislation, I think then it has a good chance of passing. It’s got good, strong bipartisan support,” Cornyn, the Senate minority whip, says. “If they’re going to try to pair it with the sentencing reform, I think that’s a problem.”
In the Senate, where opposition from even a single member can stop legislation dead, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is still evaluating his options to oppose both bills. Sessions, another member of the Judiciary Committee and a former federal prosecutor who helped broker a new law in 2010 to reduce sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses, voted against both of the new proposals in committee.
“One of the reasons people want to reduce sentences is because the crime rate is down,” Sessions said. “They think that just happened. But a fundamental reason is we enhanced enforcement, we enhanced the likelihood that you’d be apprehended and actually convicted, and we enhanced the penalties. I believe the changes in the law that they have proposed are larger and more impactful than the sponsors fully realize.”
Though I sincerely hope I am very wrong, I take away one fundamental message from this story (aided, in part, by reading between the lines): the real chance of passage of any significant federal sentencing or prison reform legislation this year seems slim, at best.
"Alleyne on the Ground: Factfinding that Limits Eligibility for Probation or Parole Release"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Nancy King and Brynn Applebaum now available via SSRN. The piece contends that the Supreme Court's Sixth Amendment ruling in Alleyne v. United States last Term renders a number of state sentencing systems constitutionally suspect, and here is the abstract:
This article addresses the impact of Alleyne v. United States on statutes that restrict an offender’s eligibility for release on parole or probation. Alleyne is the latest of several Supreme Court decisions applying the rule announced in the Court’s 2000 ruling, Apprendi v. New Jersey. To apply Alleyne, courts must for the first time determine what constitutes a minimum sentence and when that minimum is mandatory. These questions have proven particularly challenging in states that authorize indeterminate sentences, when statutes that delay the timing of eligibility for release are keyed to judicial findings at sentencing. The same questions also arise, in both determinate and indeterminate sentencing jurisdictions, under statutes that limit the option of imposing either probation or a suspended sentence upon judicial fact finding.
In this Article, we argue that Alleyne invalidates such statutes. We provide analyses that litigants and judges might find useful as these Alleyne challenges make their way through the courts, and offer a menu of options for state lawmakers who would prefer to amend their sentencing law proactively in order to minimize disruption of their criminal justice systems.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Could Oklahoma ruling declaring drug secrecy unconstitutional impact execution plans nationwide?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Reuters article, headlined "U.S. executions set for possible delay after Oklahoma court decision." Here are excerpts:
An Oklahoma judge ruled on Wednesday the state's secrecy on its lethal injections protocols was unconstitutional, a decision that could delay executions in other states where death row inmates are planning to launch similar challenges.
County district court judge Patricia Parrish ruled the state violated due process protections in the U.S. Constitution by not providing the name of the drug supplier, the combination of chemicals and the dosages used in executions. Oklahoma's attorney general said the office will appeal.
Oklahoma and other U.S. states have been struggling to obtain drugs for executions. Many pharmaceutical firms, mostly in Europe, have imposed sales bans because they object to having medications made for other purposes used in lethal injections. The states have looked to alter the chemicals used for lethal injection and keep the suppliers' identities secret. They have also turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies that can mix chemicals.
But lawyers for death row inmates argue drugs from compounding pharmacies can lack purity and potency and cause undue suffering, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. "Judge Parrish's decision is a major outcome that should have a reverberating impact on other states that are facing similar kinds of transparency issues," said Fordham Law Professor Deborah Denno, who specializes in the legalities of lethal injections....
Legal experts expect more states to face challenges that will delay executions, but if they settle transparency issues, many will resume putting inmates to death. "Almost every state is hiding part of the process, or is attempting to," said Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center....
For now, several of the 32 states with the death penalty are keeping mum about business transactions for execution drugs. Texas, which has executed more prisoners than any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, has obtained a fresh batch of the drug it uses for its executions. But Texas will not identify the supplier, citing "previous, specific threats of serious physical harm made against businesses and their employees that have provided drugs used in the lethal injection process," the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a statement.
Alabama said this week it has run out of one of the main drugs it uses, putting on hold executions for 16 inmates who have exhausted appeals and face capital punishment. It is also looking at ways to keep the name of drug providers secret. Inmates in Missouri, which carried out an execution this week, have sued the state over execution protocols that include layers of secrecy.
Arizona said on Wednesday it had to change its lethal injection cocktail because it could not obtain the drugs it once used. "Being lost in the conversation and political maneuvering is the fact that family of murdered loved ones are paying the ultimate price as they wait for justice to be carried out," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in a statement.
Some related prior posts:
- Is undue "secrecy" in the execution process a constitutional problem?
- "Lethal Injection Secrecy Post-Baze"
- "Compound Sentence: States keep mum on where lethal injection drugs are made"
Monday, March 24, 2014
What procedural rights should juve killers have at parole proceedings?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this intriguing article in the Boston Herald headlined "Killers convicted as teens could make bids for parole concessions." The piece highlights some of the intriguing and potentially controversial procedural issues that necessarily arise if and whenever a state has to figure out just what it means to give serious juvenile offenders a meaningful chance to secure parole release from a life sentence. Here are the details:
A killer whose court victory cleared the way for dozens of lifers convicted as teens to seek freedom is expected to make new demands before a judge today, including giving cons the opportunity to cross-examine anyone who argues against their release. But Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said Gregory Diatchenko — who was 17 in 1981 when he plunged a knife through the face and heart of 55-year-old Thomas Wharf in Kenmore Square while screaming, “Give me your money, you (expletive),” — is asking too much.
“What he’s asking for would essentially give him a new trial on a first-degree murder charge for which he was already found guilty. This is a case of a convicted killer being given an inch and now demanding a mile,” Conley said.
The Supreme Judicial Court, in a controversial bombshell decision dropped on Christmas Eve that mirrored a 2012 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that keeping teen killers behind bars without a chance of parole was cruel and unusual punishment because children under age 18 lack the ability to appreciate their crimes. The court, ruling on an appeal by Diatchenko, found teen killers should be given a “meaningful opportunity to be considered for parole suitability” after 15 years of incarceration.
A single SJC justice, Margot Botsford, will hear Diatchenko’s arguments today for new Parole Board rules for those convicted of murder as teens. Lawyers for Diatchenko and the Parole Board did not respond to requests for comment. Conley’s office said Diatchenko’s requests include having an appointed hearing attorney, expert defense witnesses, and the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses against him.
Conley contends, “The SJC has determined that this defendant is entitled to a parole hearing. He shouldn’t also be afforded an unprecedented array of tactics to use at that hearing.”
Steve Brodie of Groveland, whose daughter Beth was bludgeoned to death in 1992 at age 15, told the Herald he is alarmed to learn hearings could include cross- examination. “We don’t know where it ends,” Brodie said. Richard Baldwin, 37, who was 16 when he killed Beth Brodie, is among 61 lifers whose hearings for parole are expected to begin soon.
Personally, I do not view a defendant's request for an attorney and an opportunity to present and cross-examine witnesses at a significant sentencing proceeding to amount to a demand to "be afforded an unprecedented array of tactics." But then again, it is easy for a lawyer and law professor like me to say that the traditional trial procedures secured for defendants by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments ought to be given very broad application in parole proceedings.
The US Supreme Court has never thoroughly considered or carefully articulated exactly which traditional trial rights defendants retain or lack throughout traditional parole decision-making, though SCOTUS jurisprudence suggests that all defendants retain at least some minimal due process rights in parole proceedings. Critically, though, these important procedural issues have not (yet) been seriously explored in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent substantive and procedural Eighth Amendment decisions in Graham and Miller concerning limits on juve LWOP sentencing.
March 24, 2014 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack
SCOTUS grants cert to explore how many procedural angels can dance on a habeas pin
The snarky title of this post is my reaction to the one cert grant today by the Supreme Court in a capital case from Texas, Jennings v. Stephens [Order List available here]. Upon first seeing news of a grant in a capital case from Texas, I was hoping that the Justices might be taking up some meaty substantive death penalty issue.
But, as the Order List explains, "petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to Question 4 presented by the petition." And here, as summarized via this case page at SCOTUSblog, is that question:
Whether the Fifth Circuit erred in holding that a federal habeas petitioner who prevailed in the district court on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim must file a separate notice of appeal and motion for a certificate of appealability to raise an allegation of deficient performance that the district court rejected even though the Fifth Circuit acquired jurisdiction over the entire claim as a result of the respondent’s appeal.
Though I could be wrong on the fact here, I would guess that this specific federal habeas procedural issue arises maybe a couple of times each year at most. It is pretty rare that federal habeas petitioners prevail in the district court, and surely rarer still that a circuit court would on appeal thereafter ding that petitioner on a procedural issue. When there are thousands of cert petitions from defendants raising issues that could impact tens of thousands of criminal cases, I am both intrigued and annoyed that SCOTUS decides to take up a case likely to impact at most a handful of capital cases.
Of course, this issue of habeas procedure is obviously a very big deal to death row petitioner Jennings, and a number of Justices are likely troubled by how the Fifth Circuit handed this case. But would not a summary reversal be a more efficient and effective way to deal with this issue if a majority of Justices are troubled by the procedural maneuver pulled by the Fifth Circuit?
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Illinois Supreme Court deems Miller ruling substantive and thus retroactive
As reported in this Chicago Tribune piece, headlined "Ruling allows new hearings for 100 convicted killers," earlier today the Illinois Supreme Court "ruled that state prison inmates serving life without parole for murders they committed years ago as juveniles will receive new sentencing hearings." Here is more about the ruling:
The ruling means that the inmates, some of whom were as young as 14 when they committed murder, will be allowed to present evidence to mitigate their responsibility and obtain a shorter sentence that would allow them to be set free at some point. Prosecutors will be able to offer to try to persuade judges to re-impose the life sentences....
With the ruling, Illinois joins states such as Iowa, Massachusetts and Texas in deciding a 2012 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court applies to prisoners whose crimes were committed before the ruling. Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Louisiana are among the states that have refused....
“A minor may still be sentenced to natural life imprisonment without parole so long as the sentence is at the trial court’s discretion rather than mandatory,” the Illinois Supreme Court wrote in today’s unanimous opinion written by Justice Charles Freeman.
The ruling in Illinois v. Davis, No. 115595 (Ill. March 20, 2014) (available here), provides this account of its retroactivity assessment:
As the Iowa Supreme Court recognized: “From a broad perspective, Miller does mandate a new procedure. Yet, the procedural rule for a hearing is the result of a substantive change in the law that prohibits mandatory life-without-parole sentencing.” State v. Ragland, 836 N.W.2d 107, 115 (Iowa 2013). In other words, Miller places a particular class of persons covered by the statute — juveniles — constitutionally beyond the State’s power to punish with a particular category of punishment — mandatory sentences of natural life without parole. See Miller, 567 U.S. at ___, ___, 132 S. Ct. at 2464, 2468; Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, 1 N.E.3d 270, 277 (Mass. 2013). Since Miller declares a new substantive rule, it applies retroactively without resort to Teague. See Schriro, 542 U.S. at 351-52 & n.4.
Also, we find it instructive that the Miller companion case, Jackson v. Hobbs, arose on state collateral review. Notwithstanding its finality, the Court retroactively applied Miller and vacated Jackson’s sentence. While our analysis is independent as a matter of Illinois law, the relief granted to Jackson under Miller tends to indicate that Miller should apply retroactively on collateral review. See People v. Williams, 2012 IL App (1st) 111145, ¶ 54; People v. Morfin, 2012 IL App (1st) 103568, ¶ 57.
We observe that defendant and several amici assert that this court should depart from Teague and adopt a different rule of retroactivity. However, we do not rely on Teague in our analysis because we view Miller as a new substantive rule, which is outside of Teague rather than an exception thereto. Accordingly, we need not and do not address this argument. See People v. Campa, 217 Ill. 2d 243, 269-70 (2005) (reviewing court will not decide nonessential issues or render advisory opinions).
March 20, 2014 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Idaho officials struggle to calculate capital case costs
As reported in this new AP article, headlined "Idaho death penalty cost report finds limited data," officials in The Gem State has been finding it hard to do a complete accounting of capital case costs. Here are the details:
A new report from Idaho's state auditors shows that sentencing a defendant to life in prison without parole is less expensive than imposing the death penalty. But the Office of Performance Evaluations also found that the state's criminal justice agencies don't collect enough data to determine the total cost of the death penalty. The report was presented to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Wednesday by Hannah Crumrine and Tony Grange.
Idaho is one of 32 states with the death penalty, but two of those states — Oregon and Washington — have moratoriums on executions. Idaho has executed 29 people since 1864, but only three since 1977. Keith Eugene Wells was executed in 1994, Paul Ezra Rhoades was executed in 2011 and Richard Leavitt was executed in 2012.
It's difficult to determine just how much imposing the death penalty costs, Crumrine told the committee, in part because most of the needed data is unavailable. Law enforcement agencies typically don't differentiate between the costs of investigating death penalty murder cases and non-death penalty murder cases, and jail and prison staffers don't track the transport costs to bring a condemned prisoner to court cases versus a regular prisoner.
The researchers were able to determine some costs, however: Eleven counties have been reimbursed more than $4.1 million for capital defense costs since 1998, and the state appellate public defender's office has spent nearly half a million dollars on death penalty cases between 2004 and 2013. The Idaho Department of Correction spent more than $102,000 on executing Leavitt and Rhoades.
In any case, it's clear that death penalty cases cost more than sentencing an offender to life without parole, according to the report, in part because it takes longer for the appeal process to come to an end in death penalty cases. And the ultimate penalty is seldom imposed: The report found that of the 251 first-degree murder cases filed from 1998 to 2013, prosecutors sought the death penalty in 42 and it was imposed in just seven cases.
Of the 40 people sentenced to death in Idaho since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977, 21 have had their sentences overturned on appeal or are no longer sentenced to death for other reasons, 12 are still appealing their cases and four died in prison. Just three were executed during that time span.
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter wrote a letter responding to the report, stating that he believes state agencies have been diligent in accounting for and containing costs. Otter wrote that though the report raises the question of whether tax dollars are spent wisely on capital punishment, he continues to support the death penalty laws.
Monday, March 17, 2014
DC Circuit gives disconcertingly short-shrift to Antwuan Ball's many significant sentencing claims
Very long time readers with very good memories may recall the array of notable post-Booker issues that surround the sentencing of Antwuan Ball following his conviction for crack distribution in Washington DC. As first noted in this prior post (from June 2008!), Ball put the government to its burden of proof concerning allegations of a massive drug conspiracy and murders; a very lengthy jury trial led to Ball being acquitted in November 2007 on every count of a massive racketeering, drug conspiracy and murder indictment save for one crack distribution count related to a $600, half-ounce, hand-to-hand crack-cocaine deal in 2001.
Fast forward to 2011 and, as reported here, the feds are urging the district judge to rely heavily on all sorts of alleged/claimed wrongdoing by Ball to impose a max statutory sentence of 40 years on the crack charge. (Significant side note: in light of the passage of the FSA and Supreme Court's subsequent Dorsey ruling, I am not sure 40 years was in fact the proper stat-max for Ball, but more on that point later.)
Relying on the prosecution's allegations that Ball was the leader of a huge crack consipracy (claims which the jury rejected), the district judge apparently calculated Ball's guideline sentence range to be 292 to 365 months (though again, due to the FSA, I am not sure that was the right guideline range circa March 2011). This NACDL amicus brief filed in January 2013 indicates that Ball's guideline range would have been only 51 to 71 months absent consideration of acquitted conduct.
As reported here, District Judge Richard Roberts at sentencing declared that he "saw clear evidence of a drug conspiracy [and imposed on Ball a 225-month prison sentence] for his conviction of the 2001 hand-to-hand drug transaction." At the time of Ball's 2011 sentencing, I noted here that I was quite pleased the acquitted conduct issues preserved in this notable case, and I suggested "some circuit has to question at least the substantive reasonableness of a sentence that is greatly elevated on the basis of acquitted conduct."
Now fast forward exactly three more years, and I find myself quite disturbed and troubled by how the acquitted conduct issues (and other issues) were given seemingly quite short shrift by a panel of the DC Circuit in its ruling late last week in US v. Jones, No. 08-3033 (DC Cir. Mar. 14, 2014) (available here).
For starters, as I read the panel opinion in Jones, I find myself persistently wondering whether and how the district court at Ball's 2011 sentencing may have been influenced by the pre-FSA crack statutes and guidelines before the Supreme Court in Dorsey subsequently made clear that post-FSA rules should apply to all post-FSA sentencings. This issue is not discussed in the Jones opinion (and perhaps it was not raised/preserved), but uncertainty about the application of the FSA at the time of sentencing might arguably alone be reason enough to require resentencing for Ball.
More fundamentally, to reject Ball's acquitted conduct claims, the DC Circuit opinion in Jones only cites to (now dated) post-Booker precedents from all the circuits via this discussion (my emphasis added):
Although we understand why appellants find sentencing based on acquitted conduct unfair, binding precedent of this court establishes that the practice does not violate the Sixth Amendment when the conduct is established by a preponderance of the evidence and the sentence does not exceed the statutory maximum for the crime. See United States v. Settles, 530 F.3d 920, 923-24 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Watts, 519 U.S. 148, 156-57 (1997) (per curiam)); Dorcely, 454 F.3d at 371 [D.C. Cir. 2006] (“[A] sentencing court may base a sentence on acquitted conduct without offending the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.”). This is true even when consideration of the acquitted conduct multiplies a defendant’s sentence severalfold. See Dorcely, 454 F.3d at 370-71. Appellants, in effect, ask us to reconsider Settles and Dorcely. But not only do those decisions bind us, no subsequent decision by the Supreme Court or another circuit calls their validity into question. Cf. FED. R. APP. P. 35(b)(1) (suggesting contrary decisions by the Supreme Court or by another court of appeals as grounds for en banc review). Indeed, since the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory federal sentencing guidelines and freed judges “to exercise broad discretion in imposing a sentence within a statutory range,” United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 233, 243-44 (2005), every numbered circuit has addressed the constitutionality of sentencing based on acquitted conduct, and each one has reached the same conclusion reached by this court. See United States v. White, 551 F.3d 381, 384-86 (6th Cir. 2008) (en banc); United States v. Mercado, 474 F.3d 654, 656-58 (9th Cir. 2007) (collecting cases from every numbered circuit but the Sixth).
I have emphasized a phrase from the middle of this paragraph because I actually believe there are at least two SCOTUS rulings since the DC Circuit addressed this issue in Settles and Dorcely that arguably "calls their validity into question." Specifically, just from 2013, the Supreme Court's Peugh decision (basics here) and especially its Alleyne decision (basics here and here) provide a reasonable basis to question the continued validity of severe acquitted conduct guideline enhancements. A fair reading of Alleyne suggests that judicial fact-finding as to facts which "alter the prescribed range of sentences to which a defendant is exposed and do so in a manner that aggravates the punishment" can be constitutional problematic even if these facts do not raise the applicable statutory maximum sentence.
Critically, I am not asserting that the 2013 SCOTUS rulings Peugh and/or Alleyne now require reversal of old circuit precedents upholding major acquitted conduct enhancements. But I do strongly believe that 2013 SCOTUS rulings Peugh and/or Alleyne raise significant new questions about old circuit precedents upholding major acquitted conduct enhancements. Consequently, I find this cursory treatment of what strikes me as a significant sentencing issue in a significant case to be disconcerting.
That all said, perhaps the "optimistic" way to read this opinion is as an invitation to Ball and others to see en banc review of old circuit precedent upholding major acquitted conduct enhancements. At the very least, given that Ball still likely has a decade in federal prison left for his $600, half-ounce, hand-to-hand crack-cocaine deal in 2001, I hope he seriously considers pursuing further appeals of his sentence.
Some old posts on the Ball case and acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements:
- Extended examination of ugliness of acquitted conduct enhancement
- Latest chapter in notable federal acquitted conduct case from DC
- "When Acquitted Doesn't Mean Acquitted"
- Practitioner’s Note: Acquitted Conduct in the News (Again)
- Strong commentary on acquitted conduct sentencing
- Sincere questions about acquitted conduct sentencing
- Amicus brief in Sixth Circuit acquitted conduct case focused on statutory issues
March 17, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack
Sunday, March 16, 2014
NY Times sees "A Rare Opportunity on Criminal Justice"
The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new New York Times editorial about federal sentencing reform. Here are excerpts:
The current Congress is the place where virtually all legislation, however urgent or reasonable, goes to die. Yet out of this stew of partisan mistrust and dysfunction there may come one promising and unexpected achievement: the first major reforms to America’s broken criminal justice system in a generation.
Two bipartisan bills now under consideration aim to unwind our decades-long mass incarceration binge and to keep it from happening again. This fact is remarkable not only because of Congress’s stubborn standstill, but because crime and punishment has long been one of the most combustible issues in American politics....
The Smarter Sentencing Act — introduced in the Senate last year by Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, and Mike Lee, the Utah Republican — would halve mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug crimes, which currently stand at five, 10 and 20 years. It would also give judges more discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum in some cases, and it would provide a chance at early release for thousands of inmates sentenced under an older law that disproportionately punished crack cocaine offenders.
The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, introduced by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, and John Cornyn, the Texas Republican, would allow low-risk prisoners to earn credit for early release by participating in education, job training and drug treatment programs.
Reforms like these were unthinkable even a few years ago, when the Republicans’ longtime tough-on-crime dogma — echoed by Democrats who fearfully fell into line — drove irrational sentencing laws. Why have things changed so quickly? In a word, money — or the lack of it. The bloated Bureau of Prisons eats up nearly $7 billion a year, a quarter of the Justice Department’s entire budget. Politicians like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, and Mr. Lee have become the public face of the conservative turnabout, and they deserve credit for their efforts, but it’s important to remember that almost none of this would be happening without the need to save money.
In fact, many of the reforms now under consideration at the federal level began in reliably conservative states, where budget crises long ago demanded sweeping and lasting change. In Texas, which incarcerates more people than any other state, lawmakers have adopted alternatives to prison, such as drug courts and improved community supervision programs, that help keep people from reoffending. The result has been a steady decline in the prison population and the closing of three state prisons, even as crime rates go down. As Mr. Cornyn told The Times, “From Texas’s perspective, the evidence is in.”
Since 2000, 29 states have moved to cut back on mandatory sentences, particularly for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders, according to a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice.
Some prosecutors and politicians warn that all this reform comes at a serious risk to public safety, but the experience of multiple states shows otherwise. Reserving prison for the most violent offenders saves money, and antirecidivism programs targeted at low-risk inmates protect public safety.
Whether the concern is too much government, too little money, or the inherent unfairness of locking people up for years for no good reason, the energy from both the right and the left is converging, and the moment for meaningful reform has arrived.
Though I share the general perspective that there is a “fierce urgency of now" for federal sentencing reforms, I disagree that money explains these recent developments at the federal level. States, especially red states, have been at the forefront of modern sentencing reforms because of the need to balance budgets without raising taxes, but the feds have long shown a willingness to borrow money for any and all federal priorities. Rather, I think there is a new generation of politicians and voters who no longer view crime as much more salient concern than just and effective punishment.
Younger and more diverse politicians and voters appreciate that too much government and punishment can be as worrisome as a bit more crime, and that is what I think we are now finally getting a much more balanced federal political discourse about these issues than we did a generation ago. (Notably, the Baby Boomers were the first major generation who did not directly experience/witness the harms/problems of Prohobition and totalitarian regimes, so it makes some sense that generation would embrace a big criminal justice system eschewed by their parents and their children.)
March 16, 2014 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Top Texas criminal court, in split ruling, decides Miller is to be applied retroactively
As reported in this Austin American-Statesman article, headlined "Court tosses out sentence for Austin killer," the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled this past week that the US Supreme Court's Miller ruling is to apply retroactively. Here are the basics:
The state’s highest criminal court Wednesday ordered a new sentence for Terrell Maxwell, who is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for shooting an Austin man in the head during a 2007 robbery. Maxwell was 17 at the time of the shooting, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that his automatic sentence of life without parole violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment when applied to defendants who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.
The 5-4 ruling left intact Maxwell’s conviction for capital murder in the death of Fernando Santander, who was shot while sitting in a van in the parking lot of his apartment complex near Rundberg Lane. Two accomplices testified that Maxwell shot Santander when the 31-year-old, startled to find a gun pointing at his cheek, quickly raised his hands in surrender, court records show.
The Texas court split on whether a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling — Miller v. Alabama, which established that automatic no-parole sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional — applied retroactively to defendants like Maxwell.
Writing for the Texas court’s majority [opinion available here], Judge Cathy Cochran said the Miller ruling required that Maxwell be given the opportunity to argue in court that life without parole was not an appropriate sentence. The Miller ruling did not prevent life without parole for juvenile murderers, Cochran wrote. But before such a sentence can be imposed, jurors must consider “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison,” she noted.
Two dissents — written by Judges Michael Keasler and Paul Womack, joined by Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Judge Barbara Hervey [available here and here] — said the Miller ruling should not be applied retroactively....
Texas no longer allows the practice, but 17 Texans are serving life without parole for murders committed while they were juveniles between 2005 and 2009. In 2005, Texas juries were given the choice between execution and life without parole for those convicted of capital murder. Because capital punishment was unconstitutional for offenders younger than 18, a guilty verdict meant a mandatory life sentence without parole for teens tried as adults.
Four years later, the law was amended to ban no-parole sentences for juveniles. Several legislators said the move was intended to correct an oversight in the 2005 law, but the no-parole ban was not made retroactive.
March 15, 2014 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack