Friday, April 12, 2013
Terrific SCOTUSblog preview of Kebodeaux and SORNAA helpful reader reminded me not only that the Supreme Court has a last few criminal justice cases slated for oral argument the next few weeks as its term winds down, but also that one sex offender case, US v. Kebodeaux, due to be argued next week raises a host of intricate legal issue. Helpfully, Steven Schwinn sorts through Kebodeaux via this terrific (and very lengthy) post at SCOTUSblog titled "Argument preview: Can Congress punish a former sex offender for failure to register?". Here are highlights from the analysis section of the preview:
This is a narrow case. It involves a defendant who represents a relatively small and, with time, diminishing class of individuals (those with sex-offender convictions pre-SORNA). It involves a defendant who is subject to SORNA by virtue of his military conviction, and not his interstate travel. And it involves a challenge to SORNA’s penalty provision, and not its other provisions (including its registration provision, although it may be hard to separate the two here)....
In short, this is no broadside challenge to congressional authority to require sex-offender registration. Instead, it is a very narrow case. And we can expect the Court to address it that way.
Still, bigger issues are likely to emerge in the arguments. Thus, look for the Court to press the government for limits on congressional authority, and to ask the government about federal intrusion into areas of traditional state concern. In other words, some on the Court are likely to worry about whether the government’s theories lead to an expansive federal power that can encroach too far on the states.
On the other hand, look for the Court to ask Kebodeaux about the sweep of federal power under Comstock, especially when Kebodeaux came under federal authority because of his military service, and not because of his interstate travels. Look for the Court also to test Kebodeaux’s theory of federal control pre-SORNA, given the full sex-offender registration scheme under the Wetterling Act (including the federal penalty for failure to register, and also including the federal financial incentives for states to create their own registrations and other features of the Act). The Court could see SORNA’s application to Kebodeaux as only a modest additional exercise of federal authority, given these considerations.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
"The most interesting part of [Rand Paul's] speech was his widely anticipated defense of drug law reform."The title of this post is drawn from this early report via Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post concerning Senator Rand Paul's notable policy speech today at Howard University. Here is some context and more content from Rubin's strong first-cut analysis of Senator Rand's efforts (with one particular line emphasized by me):
Regular readers (and certainly my dad and close friends) know that my political commitments lean toward the libertarian, and thus I was inclined to be a fan of Senator Rand Paul from the get-go. More broadly, as regular readers and others surely know, I strongly believe our modern federal criminal justice system ought not be so committed to costly big national government one-size-fits-all solutions for what seem, at least to me, to often be local small community diverse problems. Thus, I am especially excited that Senator Paul is apparently committed to bringing his libertarian perspective to the arena of federal criminal justice reform.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delivered an important and intriguing speech at Howard University as part of his determined effort to expand the reach of the GOP and take his message everywhere.
His remarks, as prepared for delivery, highlighted the best and the worst aspects of his thinking, and they left some question marks....
The most interesting part of the speech was his widely anticipated defense of drug law reform. “I am working with Democratic senators to make sure that kids who make bad decisions, such as non-violent possession of drugs, are not imprisoned for lengthy sentences. I am working to make sure that first-time offenders are put into counseling and not imprisoned with hardened criminals. We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake.” He described two young men, one white and privileged and the other mixed race and modest in income, who could have had their lives ruined by a drug arrest. He concluded with a kicker: “Instead, they both went on to become presidents of the United States. But for the grace of God, it could have turned out much differently.”
He then explained his opposition to mandatory minimum sentences:
"Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy-handed and arbitrary. They can affect anyone at any time, though they disproportionately affect those without the means to fight them. We should stand and loudly proclaim enough is enough. We should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence. That’s why I have introduced a bill to repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences. We should not have drug laws or a court system that disproportionately punishes the black community."...
It was a nervy effort on his part, and a sincere one, I think, to explain his views to an audience not enamored of his party or philosophy. He should do more of it, and in more concrete terms, to persuade and explain how his philosophy works and why liberalism doesn’t.
He is a force to be reckoned with; liberals and conservatives ignore him at their own risk. If nothing else, he demonstrated that a forceful reiteration of history can illuminate the Republican Party and that conservatism deserves a fair hearing. That’s more than 90 percent of Republicans have done.
But the single sentence I have highlighted above reflect a different theme and one that strikes a different chord with my own philosophical commitments. Saying that "We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake," reflects not a unique political philosophy but rather suggests a kind of personal moral philosophy grounded in a deep commitment to (1) recognizing the reality of human fallibility, and (2) embracing the potential for human improvement and achievement even after a human mistake is made.
Of course, if one really accepts this kind of deep moral commitment and wants criminal laws to reflect this commitment, there are a whole lot of important sentencing implications beyond reform of federal drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing terms. Such a personal moral philosophy, at least in my view, would necessarily call for eliminating the death penalty and LWOP for any and all first offenders, and it might even call for eliminating any imprisonment any and all first offenders. But I do not want to, at least right now, start setting out a script for just how Senator Rand Paul should seek to operationalize his political and personal philosophies. For now I just want to (a) celebrate the fact that he is really starting to talk the talk on long-needed federal criminal justice reforms, and (b) continue to get excited about how he will be soon walking the walk on long-needed federal criminal justice reforms.
Some recent and older related posts:
- "Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"
- Could Romney appeal to independents and minorities with bold crime and punishment vision?
- "Right on Crime: The Conservative Case for Reform" officially launches
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- NAACP head recognizes Tea Party favors some progressive criminal justice reforms (and sometimes more than Democrats)
- Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
April 10, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack
Amnesty International reports on latest state of death penalty around the globeAs reported in this New York Times article, yesterday Amnesty International released its annual compilation of capital punishment trends. Here are the basics:
At least four countries that had not used the death penalty in some time — India, Japan, Pakistan and Gambia — resumed doing so last year, the rights organization Amnesty International says in its annual compilation of capital punishment trends.... Nonetheless, its yearly review, released early Wednesday in London, said the overall shift away from death sentences and executions continued in 2012.
“In many parts of the world, executions are becoming a thing of the past, ” Salil Shetty, secretary general of the organization, said in a statement. Amnesty said only 21 countries were recorded as having carried out executions in 2012, the same as in 2011, but down from 28 countries a decade earlier.
It said at least 682 executions were known to have been carried out worldwide in 2012, two more than 2011, and at least 1,722 death sentences were imposed in 58 countries, compared with 1,923 imposed in 63 countries the year before....
Amnesty also pointed out that its compilation excluded what it said were the thousands of executions it believes were carried out in China, where the number of capital punishment cases is kept secret. The organization said it still believed China remained the world’s top executioner.
Besides China, the top executors in 2012, Amnesty said, were Iran with 314, Iraq with 129, Saudi Arabia with 79 and the United States with 43. The report also noted that only nine American states executed prisoners in 2012, compared with 13 the year before, and that in April, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolish the death penalty.
The full AI report and additional related information can be accessed from this link.
Saturday, April 06, 2013
"Toward a Right to Litigate Ineffective Assistance of Counsel"The title of this post is the title of this timely new paper by Ty Alper. Here is the abstract:
The Supreme Court's decisions in Martinez v. Ryan and Maples v. Thomas have been hailed as evidence of the Court's increasing willingness to grant some relevance to the competence of postconviction counsel. While this may be true, for the vast majority of defendants convicted of noncapital crimes, the rulings provide little in the way of immediate assistance because most such prisoners have no federal habeas counsel and therefore no means to take advantage of the procedural protections Martinez and Maples provide.
In this Article, I argue that, in these cases, the Court has taken a step closer to recognizing not necessarily a broad right to postconviction counsel but rather a narrower yet critical right to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel in at least one forum. At least with respect to claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, the Court appears to be moving toward recognition that the right to raise such claims is as important as the right to raise record-based claims typically brought by constitutionally required appellate counsel. My view is that this development is both far more significant than any signals the Court has sent with respect to the provision of postconviction counsel generally, and more likely to eventually vindicate the bedrock principle embodied in Gideon v. Wainwright.
Friday, April 05, 2013
Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
I suspect that US Attorney General Eric Holder and US Senator Rand Paul do not have the same position on a lot of different issues. And yet, today in the post right after this post covering a big speech by AG Holder in which he suggests exploring ways "to give judges more flexibility in determining certain sentences," I get to highlight this new op-ed in the Washington Times by Senator Paul which assails federal minimum sentencing laws for taking sentencing authority "away from the jury and judge."
I urge everyone to read Senator Paul's op-ed in full, and here are just a few passages that prompted me to find and post the picture that accompanies this posting:
Mandatory minimums reflect two of the biggest problems in Washington: The first problem is the idea that there should be a Washington-knows-best, one-size-fits-all approach to all problems, be they social, educational or criminal. This approach leads to our second problem: Washington’s habit of undermining the system our Founding Fathers created. Their system left as much power as possible in the hands of local and state officials, and sought to treat people as individuals, not as groups or classes of people.
Last year in my community, a family lost one of their sons to an overdose. They almost lost their other son to a mandatory minimum sentencing. Federal law requires a mandatory 20-year sentence if a death occurs, even an accidental one. If prosecutors had charged the surviving brother in federal court, he would have received a mandatory 20-year sentence.
When a crime is committed, it should fall to the local prosecutor, judge and jury to determine the guilt or innocence, as well as determine the just punishment for the crime. In the current system of federal mandatory-minimum sentencing, the authority is taken away from the jury and judge, and given by the legislature to the executive. Prosecutors already have tremendous power because they collect the evidence and choose which crimes to charge. If a mandatory penalty is attached to that crime, the prosecutor then exerts much influence over the entire procedure, including the sentence.
Our Founding Fathers went to great lengths to prevent the executive and prosecutors from obtaining too much power. The Fourth Amendment was written to stop overzealous searches, and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments were written to establish full due process as an inalienable right.
Ignoring these rights comes with several tangible costs. In the last 30 years, the number of federal inmates has increased from 25,000 to nearly 219,000. That is nearly a 10-fold increase in federal prisoners, each of whom cost the taxpayers $29,027 a year to incarcerate. The federal prison budget has doubled in 10 years to more than $6 billion.
Half of the people sentenced to federal prison are drug offenders. Some are simply drug addicts, who would be better served in a treatment facility. Most are nonviolent and should be punished in ways that do not require spending decades in a federal prison, with meals and health care provided by the taxpayers.
For these reasons and others, last week I joined my colleague Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, in introducing a bill that would authorize judges to disregard federal mandatory-minimum sentencing on a case-by-case basis.
Some might think it is unusual for a conservative Republican to join a liberal Democrat on such a bill, but contrary to popular belief, the protection of civil liberties and adherence to the Constitution should be a bipartisan effort....
I will speak more about this in a speech I am giving at Howard University on April 10. I hope to engage conservatives and liberals in a discussion of how the federal government should handle mandatory minimums and the reforms needed to secure our Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. How much of our liberty are we willing to yield to the government in the name of a false sense security? This is a debate that crosses many issues, and deserves full and fair exploration.
Ever the sentencing geek, I am already giddy in anticipation concerning Senator Paul's upcoming speech on these issues at Howard University. The setting is notable in part because way back in 2007, as blogged here and here, then-Senator Obama gave a big speech about the need for federal criminal justice reforms. I would be foolish to assert that talking the talk about criminal justice at Howard University is a key step toward becoming US President, but I do not think it is foolish to assert that Rand Paul has (in my view, wisely) perhaps figured out that it may be politically valuable to speak forcefully and in constitutional terms about the need for significant federal criminal justice reform.
Some recent and older related posts:
- "Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"
- Could Romney appeal to independents and minorities with bold crime and punishment vision?
- "Right on Crime: The Conservative Case for Reform" officially launches
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- NAACP head recognizes Tea Party favors some progressive criminal justice reforms (and sometimes more than Democrats)
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
For blogging about circuit sentencing opinions, three is a magic number
Because I have been on the road a lot lately (and will be on the road again starting tomorrow), I have had precious little time to keep up with or blog about notable recent circuit sentencing opinions. And today I feel extra overwhlemed, in part because potentially blog-worthy opinions have been handed down in the last few days in nearly every federal circuit. But, as the title of this post and the classic picture is meant to suggest, on this the third day of the month there are three new opinions from all three of the three-magical circuits that merit taking the time for a blog shout-out:
From the Third (3 x 1) Circuit, we get US v. Zabielski, No. 11-3288 (3d Cir. Apr. 3, 2013) (available here), which starts this way:
In United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), the Supreme Court held that the United States Sentencing Guidelines could not constitutionally be applied as diktats. Rather than scrap the Guidelines entirely, the Court left them intact as advisory and trial judges may vary from them, within reason, after applying the relevant provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). Before doing so, it is important that trial judges accurately calculate the Guidelines range and correctly rule on departure motions. Failure to accomplish either of these tasks typically will cause us to vacate and remand for resentencing. In some cases, however, the procedural error committed by the sentencing court is so insignificant or immaterial that prudence dictates that we hold such error harmless. Because we view this appeal as one of those cases, we will affirm Appellant Mark Zabielski‘s judgment of sentence.
From the Sixth (3 x 2) Circuit, we get US v. Doyle, No. 12-5516 (6th Cir. Apr. 3, 2013) (available here), which starts this way:
After moving to Tennessee, Rashan Doyle was charged with failure to register as a sex offender, in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 2250(a), to which he pleaded guilty without a plea agreement. The district court sentenced Doyle to three years and one month in prison followed by ten years of supervised release, upon which the district court imposed four special conditions, numbered three, four, six and eight. Doyle appeals the district court’s imposition of these four special conditions of supervised release. Because the district court erred procedurally by failing to explain its reasons for imposing the special conditions, and because the record does not otherwise illuminate the reasons for them, we VACATE the district court’s imposition of the special conditions of supervised release and REMAND for resentencing proceedings consistent with this opinion.
From the Ninth (3 x 3) Circuit, we get US v. Augustine, No. 12-50061 (9th Cir. Apr. 3, 2013) (available here), which starts this way:
In the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (“FSA”), Pub. L. No. 111–220, 124 Stat. 2372, Congress addressed the inequitable disparity between the sentences prescribed for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The question in this case is whether a defendant sentenced for a crack cocaine offense before the FSA was enacted is eligible for a reduced sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). We hold, consistent with all circuits to have addressed the issue, that the FSA’s lowered mandatory minimums are not available to such individuals.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
A challenging clemency claim of capital "innocence" for Ohio death row defendantThis new AP story, headlined "Ohio Man Who Killed 6-Month-Old Girl Seeks Mercy," highlights the perhaps unique and uniquely difficult clemency contentions being made by a condemned killer in Ohio. Here are the details from the start of the press story:
Condemned killer Steven Smith's argument for mercy isn't an easy one. Smith acknowledges he intended to rape his girlfriend's 6-month-old daughter but says he never intended to kill the baby.
The girl, Autumn Carter, died because Smith was too drunk to realize his assault was killing her, Smith's attorneys argued in court filings with the Ohio Parole Board, which heard the case Tuesday. And Ohio law is clear, they say: A death sentence requires an intent to kill the victim.
"The evidence suggests that Autumn's death was a horrible accident," Smith's attorneys, Joseph Wilhelm and Tyson Fleming, said in a written argument prepared for the board. They continued: "Despite the shocking nature of this crime, Steve's death sentence should be commuted because genuine doubts exist whether he even committed a capital offense."
Smith, 46, was never charged with rape, meaning the jury's only choice was to convict or acquit him of aggravated murder, his attorneys say. However, rape was included in the indictment against Smith as one of the factors making him eligible for the death penalty. Under Ohio law, an aggravated murder committed in the course of another crime — such as burglary, robbery, arson or the killing of a police officer or child — is an element that can make someone eligible for capital punishment.
The Richland County prosecutor said Smith continues to hide behind alcohol as an excuse and calls Smith's actions "the purposeful murder of a helpless baby girl."
Prosecutor James Mayer told the board in his written statement that the girl's injuries were consistent with a homicide that contradicts Smith's claim he didn't intend to kill her. "The horrific attack upon Autumn Carter showed much more than Smith's stated purpose," Mayer said.
Mayer said Monday he didn't know why Smith wasn't charged with rape, but he said it wasn't part of a trial strategy.
Monday, April 01, 2013
Interesting split Fourth Circuit finds police lies made subsequent plea involuntaryThe Fourth Circuit today has a very interesting split panel opinion that might be seen as an example, at least by the defense bar, of bad facts making for good plea agreement law. Here is how the majority opinion in US v. Fisher, No. 11-6781 (4th Cir. Apr. 1, 2013) (available here), gets started:
Judge Agree wrote a lengthy dissenting opinion in Fisher, which makes these initial observations about the panel's ruling:
It is axiomatic that, "to be constitutionally valid, a plea of guilty must be knowingly and voluntarily made." United States v. Brown, 117 F.3d 471, 473 (11th Cir. 1997). And "a guilty plea is not knowingly and voluntarily made when the defendant has been misinformed" as to a crucial aspect of his case. Id.
In this extraordinary case, the law enforcement officer responsible for the investigation that led to the defendant’s arrest and guilty plea himself later pled guilty to having defrauded the justice system in connection with his duties as an officer. Regarding this case specifically, the officer admitted to having lied in his sworn affidavit that underpinned the search warrant for the defendant’s residence and vehicle, where evidence forming the basis of the charge to which the defendant pled guilty was found. We hold that the officer’s affirmative misrepresentation, which informed the defendant’s decision to plead guilty and tinged the entire proceeding, rendered the defendant’s plea involuntary and violated his due process rights. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s decision holding otherwise and remand for further proceedings.
The majority opinion concludes that Fisher’s plea of guilty was involuntary because of "affirmative misrepresentations" made by Officer Lunsford in applying for the search warrant that uncovered evidence against Fisher. In so doing, the majority relies on an independent theory of prosecutorial misconduct purportedly grounded in Brady v. United States. Indeed, while the majority avers that its holding is based on Brady v. United States, its application of the "material misrepresentation" standard in this case lacks support in any published case from any court. While the majority attempts to distinguish the several cases militating against Fisher’s claim to relief, it identifies no authority actually in support of its position. In short, I am at a loss to identify the basis in due process jurisprudence upon which the majority opinion bases its decision.
With that handicap, I address below the theories presented by Fisher in his brief on appeal and conclude he is not entitled to withdraw his guilty plea. As the learned district court judge correctly determined, Fisher is bound to his guilty plea, and the majority opinion articulates no reasoned basis founded in the established precedent of the Supreme Court, or any other court, to decide otherwise.
Unanimous SCOTUS summary reversal of Ninth Circuit on right-of-appoint-counsel
A long day of meetings has meant it has taken me nearly all day to note today's notable Sixth Amendment ruling from the Supreme Court in Marshall v. Rodgers, No. 12-382 (S. Ct. Apr. 1, 2013) (available here). The Rodgers ruling is a unanimous, per curiam summary reversal of the Ninth Circuit, and the start and end of the short SCOTUS opinion highlights its nuances:
Respondent Otis Lee Rodgers, challenging his state conviction, sought a writ of habeas corpus from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. He claimed the state courts violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel by declining to ap- point an attorney to assist in filing a motion for a new trial notwithstanding his three prior waivers of the right to counseled representation. The District Court denied respondent’s petition, and he appealed to the Court ofAppeals for the Ninth Circuit, which granted habeasrelief. 678 F. 3d 1149, 1163 (2012). Because the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that respondent’s claim issupported by “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” U. S. C. §2254(d)(1), its judgment must be reversed....The Court expresses no view on the merits of the underlying Sixth Amendment principle the respondent urges. And it does not suggest or imply that the underlying issue, if presented on direct review, would be insubstantial. This opinion is instead confined to the determination that the conclusion of the California courts that there was no Sixth Amendment violation is not contrary to “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” §2254(d)(1).
The petition for a writ of certiorari and respondent’smotion to proceed in forma pauperis are granted. The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Two notable resentencing stories via the New York Times
Continuing its recent notable extra interest in an array of modern sentencing stories, today's New York Times has two pieces that are both must reads for all sentencing fans. And because neither story enables simply summarization, I will just here reprint the headlines and the links:
Ever the nerdy and obsessed sentencing law professor, I could readily imagine teaching a week of classes about either of these noteworthy cases. But I wonder if readers think one or the other of these modern sentencing stories merits some extra blog attention.
March 29, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
"Toward a Common Law of Plea Bargaining"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Wesley Oliver available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This article contends that Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper, holding that defendants have a right to an effective criminal negotiator, are landmark decisions, but not because they will cause the reversal of any substantial number of convictions. These opinions could have a far greater impact than that. These opinions may cause criminal defense lawyers to embrace their role as negotiators. The recognition that negotiation is as central to their duty under the Sixth Amendment as litigation should cause them to study the negotiation tactics and experiences of their colleagues just as they now very effectively learn from their trial and appellate skills. The opinions also encourage trial courts, in crafting remedies for ineffective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining, to inquire into a reasonable prosecutor’s motives for offering a plea lost by counsel’s ineffectiveness. In so doing, post-conviction courts would be crafting advisory guidelines for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
Plea bargaining has become an unregulated process, with enormous power vesting in the hands of prosecutors, over the forty years since the Supreme Court acknowledged the existence of criminal negotiations. Separation of powers concerns and respect for the power of parties to contract have caused academic proposals for direct judicial regulation of the plea bargaining process to be largely ignored. By nudging defense lawyers to re-envision their role in the system and giving post-conviction courts an opportunity, as they are crafting remedies, to comment on the appropriate exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the Supreme Court has created circumstances permitting the indirect regulation of plea bargaining.
Decades of cases from the Supreme Court have made limitations on prosecutors in this process seem constitutionally impossible. In a decision appearing to relate only the role of defense counsel, the Court may have found a way, consistent with long-standing constitutional principles, to impose some oversight on the previously unchecked prosecutor.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Sixth Circuit panel grants habeas relief to Tennessee defendant sentenced in violation of BlakelySadly, I no longer get ample opportunities to blog about Blakely Sixth Amendment sentencing issue these days -- though I suppose this could change if (and when?) the Supreme Court give these issues a new boost via a big ruling in Alleyne in the near future. Joyfully, this morning brings a little Blakely-era nostalgia via the Sixth Circuit's habeas grant in Lovins v. Parker, No. 11-5545 (6th Cir. Mar. 28, 2013) (available here). This extended decision gets started this way:
After a Tennessee state court jury convicted petitioner Derry Lovins of second-degree murder, the state trial court judge made additional factual findings and enhanced Lovins’s sentence from twenty to twenty-three years based on those findings. In this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Lovins raises various claims of trial error and argues that the threeyear sentence enhancement was unconstitutional under the rule of Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), because the sentence was enhanced based on facts that were not found by a jury. The history of Lovins’s requests for relief in state court is byzantine, but the legal principles are not. Lovins’s direct appeal was not final until almost three years after the Blakely decision, and therefore Blakely applies to his case under the clearly-established retroactivity rules of Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314 (1987), and Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). For this reason, and because the procedural default doctrine does not bar our review of the merits of Lovins’s Blakely claim, we REVERSE the district court’s denial of relief, and we conditionally GRANT a writ of habeas corpus on the Blakely sentencing claim only. We AFFIRM the district court’s denial of relief on all of Lovins’s other claims.
March 28, 2013 in Blakely in Appellate Courts, Blakely in the States, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Death penalty repeal moves forward in Delaware while faltering in Colorado
The latest sign of the sentencing times is that death penalty repeal bills are getting extended consideration in many states. And, as these two local article reveal, the fate of these bills are often unpredictable. Here are the headlines and leads from the latest developments in two states:
From Delaware, "Delaware Senate votes to repeal death penalty":
Senate Bill 19, an act to repeal the death penalty in Delaware, narrowly passed the state Senate Tuesday with a vote of 11-10. A discussion spanning almost three hours in the Senate Chamber garnered impassioned testimonies from police officers, legislators and families as well as state attorneys of either support or opposition for the death penalty.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Karen E. Peterson, D-Stanton, issued an amendment to the bill which she introduced that afternoon. The amendment removed the retroactive provision which stated that “any person who has been sentenced to death prior to the effective date of this act shall instead be punished by imprisonment for the remainder of the person’s natural life without benefit of probation or parole or any other reduction.” Meaning, the 17 men on Delaware’s Death Row would still get the death penalty.
From Colorado, "Death penalty repeal effort blocked by two Democrats":
Two Democrats broke ranks Tuesday and voted against a bill to repeal Colorado’s death penalty, killing the measure and ending a week-long legislative soap opera surrounding it.
A week after the House Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on House Bill 1264 after hearing nine hours of public testimony, the panel took up the measure again Tuesday afternoon. Even as the hearing began, the sponsors scrambled to determine whether they had the votes to pass the legislation out of the committee; and, upon realizing they did not, they pushed ahead with an up or down vote anyway rather than tabling the measure.
After an hour of discussion, the measure went down on a 4-6 vote with two Democrats, Reps. Lois Court of Denver and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood joining the panel’s four Republicans and voting no.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Pennsylvania Supreme Court addresses Miller's impact for some of its state's juvenile murderersAs reported in this local news article, headlined "Supreme Court: Juvenile killer to get new sentencing," Pennsylvania's top court handed down today a long-awaited ruling concerning the sentencing of juvenile offenders in the Keystone State. Here are the basics via this news report:
Teenage killer Qu'eed Batts will receive a new sentencing hearing for the gang-ordered murder he committed in Easton when he was 14, but he could still end up spending the rest of his life in prison nonetheless.
That's what advocates on both sides of Batts' case said Tuesday following a long-anticipated Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on how the state should address Batts and nearly 500 other once-youthful murderers whose automatic life without parole sentences were declared unconstitutional last year by the nation's highest court.
Given the federal ruling that such sentences are cruel and unusual punishment, Batts must be given a new sentencing hearing in which he receives a maximum sentence of life and a minimum sentence determined by the judge, said the opinion by Justice Thomas Saylor.
But what that minimum sentence might be was unanswered by court, with advocates for juveniles acknowledging that it probably could still be a life sentence, or a prison term that is so long that it is, in essence, life. "That could be anything," said Robert Schwartz, the executive director of the Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia, which argued on behalf of Batts. "It appears that it also could be a minimum of life. There is absolutely nothing to guide [the sentencing judge's] discretion."
In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court addressed an issue that it struggled with during oral arguments in September: What to do over the fate of Batts and other juveniles murderers serving a now-unconstitutional sentence. The court rejected the stance taken by the Juvenile Law Center: that youths serving life terms should be resentenced under the charge of third-degree murder, which can bring at most 20 to 40 years in prison.
Northampton County First Deputy District Attorney Terence Houck said the ruling was a victory for prosecutors that leaves open the possibility that Batts should never be released, as Houck plans to argue at resentencing. "All they are saying is that there has to be a minimum. That minimum can be 150 years," Houck said, adding: "I don't think Batts should ever get out. He's the poster boy for life in prison." Batts, now 21, shot to death 16-year-old Clarence Edwards and wounded 18-year-old Cory Hilario in 2006 in the West Ward....
Under state law, murders in the first and second degree must result in a life sentence, with no other punishment possible — the exact scenario the nation's top court deemed unconstitutional for those under 18....
Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of juveniles jailed for life, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which opposes that penalty. Pennsylvania has 444 such inmates, followed by Michigan at 346 and Louisiana at 332, the Washington, D.C.-based group says. The Juvenile Law Center puts Pennsylvania's number closer to 480, including one inmate in Graterford State Prison who has spent 59 years behind bars.
The extended majority opinion in Pennslyvania v. Batts is available at this link, and a brief concurrence is available at this link. A quick read of the ruling suggests to me that Deputy DA Terence Houck is right to view this ruling as a victory for prosecutors: in addition to rejecting claims that the defendant should be subject to sentencing under a lesser-degree of homicide, the Batts court also rejected any claim that the Pennsylvania Constitution's prohibition of "cruel punishment" should be interpreted to give juvenile defendants any more protection than the US Constitution and its prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment."
Finally, while the news report suggests this ruling resolves the fate of all juve LWOP sentences in Pennsylvania, my quick review of the Batts opinion suggests that the ruling does not address any Miller retroactivity rulings. For some reason, I had thought retroactivity issues were before the Pennsylvania's top court, but the Batts ruling states in its first sentence that it "concerns the appropriate remedy, on direct appeal, for the constitutional violation occurring when a mandatory life-without-parole sentence has been imposed on a defendant convicted of first-degree murder, who was under the age of eighteen at the time of his offense" (emphasis added).
How Appealing has a round up of additional press coverage concerning the Batts ruling here.
March 26, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
"Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new press release now available at the website of Senator Patrick Leahy. Here is how it starts:
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday to allow judges greater flexibility in sentencing federal crimes where a mandatory minimum punishment is considered unnecessary.
The bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 expands the so-called “safety valve” that allows judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum in qualifying drug cases to all federal crimes. By giving judges this greater flexibility, they will not be forced to administer needlessly long sentences for certain offenders, which is a significant factor in the ever-increasing Federal prison population and the spiraling costs that steer more and more of the justice budget toward keeping people in prison, rather than investing in programs that keep our communities safe.
“As a former prosecutor, I understand that criminals must be held accountable, and that long sentences are sometimes necessary to keep criminals off the street and deter those who would commit violent crime,” Leahy said. “Our reliance on mandatory minimums has been a great mistake. I am not convinced it has reduced crime, but I am convinced it has imprisoned people, particularly non-violent offenders, for far longer than is just or beneficial. It is time for us to let judges go back to acting as judges and making decisions based on the individual facts before them. A one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing does not make us safer.”
Paul said that “Our country’s mandatory minimum laws reflect a Washington-knows-best, one-size-fits-all approach, which undermines the Constitutional Separation of Powers, violates the our bedrock principle that people should be treated as individuals, and costs the taxpayers money without making them any safer. This bill is necessary to combat the explosion of new federal criminal laws, many of which carry new mandatory minimum penalties.”
Because Senator Leahy is doing some notable work today on the drone and immigration reform fronts, I suspect that today's introduction of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 will not get as much attention from the MSM as I might think it merits. That said, I expect (and hope) that this story will get some broader attention due to the fact that GOP rock-star Senator Rand Paul is the other big initial player in this important federal sentencing reform effort. (To start, I am very pleased to see that John Gramlich has produced this lengthy and informative piece about the bill in CQ Roll Call.)
Not surprisingly, the folks at Families Against Mandatory Minimums are excited about this development, and this new FAMM press release details some additional notable content that FAMM has produced in conjunction with this new bill. Here are excerpts and links:
FAMM President Julie Stewart today hailed the introduction of The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (S. 619), a bipartisan federal bill that would save taxpayer dollars by reserving scarce federal prison beds for the most dangerous offenders. The bill creates a “safety valve” that allows federal courts to impose sentences below the mandatory minimum sentence under specific conditions. The legislation was introduced on March 20 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Stewart also announced the release of a new FAMM report entitled, “Turning Off the Spigot: How Sentencing Safety Valves Can Help States Protect Public Safety and Save Money.” The report details how eight states have embraced sentencing safety valves as a way of reducing prison populations and saving money, while at the same time protecting public safety....
The report concludes by recommending a safety valve that is similar to the Justice Safety Valve Act sponsored by Senators Paul and Leahy. FAMM plans to distribute the report to state legislators across the country who sit on crime-focused legislative committees."
For a comprehensive overview of the Justice Safety Valve, including the bill text, a summary of its benefits, profiles of individuals who would have been eligible for relief, and likely questions and answers, click here.
To download FAMM’s report, “Turning Off the Spigot: How Sentencing Safety Valves Can Help States Protect Public Safety and Save Money”, click here.
Talk of reforming prison realignment in CaliforniaAs reported in this new AP piece, "Republican lawmakers proposed a package of bills on Tuesday intended to counter what they see as a growing threat to public safety from sending some inmates to county jails instead of state prisons." Here is more:
The 13 bills seek to counter the effects of prison realignment in 2011 by improving supervision of parolees and increase penalties for sex offenders and those who illegally possess or sell firearms. The measures also would send more convicts back to prison to ease the burden on local jails while protecting counties from lawsuits.
"Republicans recognize that we must close the worst realignment loopholes," said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.
The bills' chances are uncertain in a Legislature controlled by Democrats. The measures were proposed nearly 18 months after Gov. Jerry Brown's prison realignment took effect, sending inmates convicted of lower-level crimes to county jails instead of state prisons....
A related bill was rejected last week on a party-line vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill, AB2 by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would have sent paroled sex offenders back to state prisons, instead of county jails, if they fail to register as sex offenders.
The proposals have the backing of Diana Munoz, mother of Brandy Arreola, 21, of Stockton, who was permanently injured last year by her boyfriend, Raoul Leyva, a parole violator who had been released early from jail because of overcrowding. Leyva, 34, was convicted last month of attempted voluntary manslaughter and injuring a spouse, with enhancements for causing brain injury and paralysis.
"If realignment didn't exist ... my daughter would be living her life normally," Munoz said as her daughter sat in a wheelchair by her side. "The state is responsible for what's happened to her. They should never have let him out."
Other bills in the Republican package would impose prison instead of jail time for criminals who remove their GPS-linked tracking devices; send all sex offenders who violate their parole back to prison' and have state parole agents, rather than county probation agencies, supervise all released sex offenders. The proposals come amid rising concerns over the consequences of Brown's realignment law that took effect in October 2011.
The number of paroled sex offenders who are fugitives in California is 15 percent higher today than before realignment; counties are housing more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more in jails designed for stays of a year or less; and inmate advocacy groups are beginning to sue counties over the same type of poor housing and treatment conditions that led to years of litigation and billions in additional costs for the state.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
"Fun with Numbers: Gall's Mixed Message Regarding Variance Calculations"The title of this post is the title of this notable new student note by Nicholas Deuschle now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This Comment seeks to resolve an unaddressed issue stemming from recent developments in the Supreme Court’s sentencing jurisprudence. In Gall v. United States, the Supreme Court required that appellate courts "consider the extent of the deviation" of criminal sentences imposed outside the Sentencing Guidelines range. The Court, however, provided little guidance as to what this requirement means. Specifically, how should appellate courts calculate that deviation from the Sentencing Guidelines?
Monday, March 18, 2013
Gov O'Malley explains his reasons for seeking Maryland's death penalty repealIn Politico, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has this new opinion piece headlined "Repealing Maryland's death penalty." Here are excerpts:
In Maryland, we govern by results: when a public policy works, we choose to invest in it. On the other hand, when a public policy does not produce results, we invest our limited resources instead in things that are proven to work.
Capital punishment is expensive and the overwhelming evidence tells us that it does not work as a deterrent.
Therefore, rather than continuing to throw taxpayers’ money at an ineffective death penalty, our state has chosen – with bipartisan support – to replace capital punishment with a more effective and cost efficient public policy: life without parole. We are the first state below the Mason-Dixon line to do so, but I believe other states will follow suit.
Capital punishment is not a deterrent, it is not fool-proof, it is administered with great racial disparity, it costs three times as much as life without parole, and there is no way to reverse a mistake when an innocent person is wrongly convicted.
In 2011, the average murder rate in states where there is a death penalty was 4.9 per 100,000 people. In states without it, the murder rate was lower. It was 4.1 per 100,000 people.
Between 2000 and 2011, an average of 5 death row inmates were exonerated every year. In Maryland, between 1995 and 2007, our state’s reversal rate for the death penalty was 80 percent.
By 1999 the city of Baltimore had become the most violent and drug addicted city in America. Through all the preceding decades of rising violence, the death penalty was on the books and did absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening. Effective policing, expanded drug treatment, smarter strategies, new technologies to solve crime and target repeat violent offenders — these are the things that work to drive down violent crime.
Just as the death penalty did not prevent Baltimore from becoming the most violent city in America in the 1990s, it also contributed nothing at all to Baltimore’s historic reductions in crime over the last decade. Nor has the death penalty had any positive impact on our more recent statewide success in Maryland, in driving down violent crime and homicides to three-decade lows.
Every dollar we throw at maintaining an ineffective death penalty is a dollar we are not investing in the strategies and tactics that actually work to save lives. If we want better results, we must make better choices. We have a responsibility to do more of the things that work to save lives. So too, do we have a responsibility to stop doing things that are wasteful, expensive, and do not work....
Improving public safety is the most fundamental responsibility of our government. The death penalty does not make us stronger or more secure as a people. It is expensive, ineffective, and wasteful as a matter of public policy; it is unjust as historically applied; and its imperfections can and do result in the occasional killing of innocent people. That is why, in Maryland, we have replaced the death penalty with the punishment of life without parole.
Recent related posts:
- Maryland legislature moves one step closer to repealing state's death penalty
- New poll indicates most Maryland citizens do not support death penalty repeal efforts
- After state senate vote, Maryland appears poised to repeal its (already dormant) death penalty
- As Maryland takes another step toward capital repeal, limbo looms for five on state's death row
- Will Maryland voters even get a chance to reconsider repeal of state's death penalty?
Friday, March 15, 2013
"Bills take aim at federal marijuana ban"The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new article in today's USA Today. Here are excerpts:
A few House members have begun a broad effort to overturn a 43-year-old federal ban on marijuana and say they're prepared to keep up the pressure even if it takes years. About 10 lawmakers, mostly liberal Democrats, are writing bills that will serve as legislative guideposts for the future if the GOP-controlled House, as expected, ignores their proposals during this Congress.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said it's time to end the federal ban because 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana and many other states are exploring that option in response to growing public pressure. "Maybe next year, maybe next Congress, but this is going to change. And the federal government will get out of the way," he said. "I'm very patient. I've been working on this one way or another for 40 years, and I think the likelihood of something happening in the next four or five years is greater than ever."
Peter Bensinger, a former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, urged lawmakers to keep the ban despite the pressure to legalize pot. Advocacy groups, which have spent a lot of money over the years to push legalization, gloss over the negative effects of marijuana though studies show people do get hooked and smoking pot impairs judgment and could cause cancer like cigarettes, he said. "Legalizing it is going to cost lives, money, addiction, dependency," Bensinger warned in an interview Wednesday.
A number of lawmakers share that view, which is why previous congressional attempts to decriminalize marijuana went nowhere. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., acknowledged that getting any marijuana bill through a bitterly divided Congress — which is consumed by debates over spending, gun regulations and other matters — won't be easy.
"It will take more states moving in the direction Washington and Colorado have before there's a sufficient pressure on (Congress) to change the law," he said. "It's harder to get the attention of members of Congress from states where the legal status has not been changed because it's simply not a relevant issue for their constituents."...
Though legalization advocates argue pot has proven benefits such as relieving chronic pain and is not addictive, the federal government cites other studies showing pot has no medical benefits and acts as a "gateway," leading users to try even more dangerous drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
According to a 2011 federal survey, about 18 million people over the age of 12 have used marijuana at some point in their lives, making pot the country's most-popular illegal drug under federal law. That means 7% of the nation's 12-and-over population has used pot at some point.
The legalization push in the House has very little bipartisan support. The 10 lawmakers co-sponsoring Polis' bill include California Democrat Barbara Lee, who represents San Francisco, New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Manhattan, and one Republican, Californian Dana Rohrabacher, a Tea Party libertarian from conservative Orange County. Blumenauer's bill has six co-sponsors, including Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, but no Republicans....
California became the first state to allow the use of pot for medical purposes in 1996. Seventeen other states — Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Michigan and Vermont — and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Almost all of these states have set up patient registries to keep track of medical marijuana users. Eleven states allow marijuana dispensaries.
In November, voters in Colorado and Washington took the unprecedented step of legalizing recreational use as well. Nowhere in the world is it legal to grow and distribute pot, but that will be legal in those two states once authorities work out the regulatory details, according to Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
Recreational-use ballot measures are likely in California and Oregon in the next few years, though Californians rejected similar language in 2010 and Oregonians said no in 2012.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, lawmakers filed medical marijuana bills in 17 states this year: West Virginia, Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, North Carolina, New York, New Hampshire, Missouri, Mississippi, Minnesota, Maryland, Kentucky, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Florida and Alabama.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said if the federal ban is overturned in this Congress, liberal states are likely to adopt legalization laws within a decade. "Anywhere the saltwater touches the West Coast, there will be legalization. All of New England will move in this direction reasonably quickly," St. Pierre said.
Legalization will take years to become reality in conservative America, just as it took states such as Oklahoma a long time to allow alcohol sales after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, St. Pierre said. Unless the federal ban is lifted, all current and future state laws will violate the Controlled Substances Act, a 1970 U.S. statute that classifies marijuana as a dangerous, addictive drug with no medicinal value.
The broad push in the House comes as the Obama administration grapples with how to respond to the state pot laws. Attorney General Eric Holder is likely to announce the administration's plan soon.
Lots of notable death penalty news and notes from both coasts
The biggest death penalty news to close out this week would appear to be the repeal news out of Maryland, highlighted by this new AP article headlined, "Md. Poised to Be 18th State to Ban Death Penalty." But, thanks to links of lots of coverage from How Appealing, here are some other notable capital stories coming from the other end of the country: