Thursday, June 18, 2015
Terrific Marshall Project coverage of "How Germany Does Prison"
Among the great stuff at The Marshall Project these days is a series of original pieces authored by Maurice Chammah as he and a delegation of American officials tour the German prison system. So far there have been three daily reports, and here are the full headlines and links:
Here is an excerpt from the second of these pieces, which highlights themes of the series:
[I]t was clear that this trip would be as much about the United States as about Europe. Germany’s system of sentencing (15 years is the longest most people go to prison here unless they are demonstrably dangerous) and incarceration (open, sunny prisons, full of fresh air, where prisoners wear their own clothes) serves as a reference point for reflecting on the punitive mentality that has come to define the U.S. justice system....
On Monday, as we visited Heidering Prison.... Bernie Warner, the corrections secretary of Washington, noticed the faint smell of smoke — all the prisoners can smoke here, unlike their counterparts in the U.S. Inmates live in rooms and sleep in beds, not on concrete or steel slabs with thin padding. They have privacy—correctional officers knock before entering. Prisoners wear their own clothes, and can decorate their space as they wish. They cook their own meals, are paid more for their work, and have opportunities to visit family, learn skills, and gain education. (Inmates are required to save money to ensure that they are not penniless upon release.)
There are different expectations for their corrections officers — who are drawn primarily from the ranks of lawyers, social workers, and mental health professionals to be part of a "therapeutic culture" between staff and offenders — and they consequently receive more training and higher pay. There is little to no violence — including in communal kitchens where there are knives and other potentially dangerous implements. And the maximum time inmates spend in any kind of punitive solitary is eight hours.
"Find a [security] camera,” Gregg Marcantel, the corrections secretary of New Mexico, said as he walked through the prison’s main corridor. “There aren’t any!” When he heard that prisons in Berlin have 33 physicians to care for 4,200 inmates, Marcantel’s response was a hearty, “Good God!” That’s a ratio of about 1 doctor for 127 prisoners. In Virginia's state system, according to a recent count, there was one doctor for every 750 inmates. We walked through pristine white cells that looked more like dorm rooms at a liberal arts college than the steel and concrete boxes most U.S. prisoners call home. The toilets and sinks were white and ceramic, nothing like the stainless steel bowls bolted to the wall in many U.S. prisons (Heidering Prison opened in 2013, but such toilets have been installed in older prisons as well). Most prisoners have knives and forks in their cells. Though the prisoners cannot access the Internet, they have telephones in their rooms, and they can call anyone — even the media. “We have nothing to hide,” Detlef Wolf, vice governor for Heidering Prison, said with evident pride....
Administrators here freely work terms like “human rights” and “dignity” into speeches about their prison system, and Germans appear to view people who commit crimes as medical patients (the word “prognosis” came up a lot to describe the status of an inmate). There is little stigma after prisoners finish their sentences — employers in Germany generally do not ask job applicants if they have a criminal record, according to Michael Tonry, a University of Minnesota professor on the trip who’s studied corrections systems in the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, the cultural norms were so foreign that it was pretty much impossible to imagine them taking root in the U.S.
Once the shock wore off, the questions came, and they reflected the political and professional concerns of those doing the asking. Many of the leaders here who have been elected or appointed — including Marcantel of New Mexico and Jeff Rosen, the elected district attorney in Santa Clara, California — wanted to know about victims. Do their desires for retribution play any role in sentencing here? (In the U.S., they are often allowed to read “victim impact statements” before juries assess punishment, and prosecutors often consult with them). Do sensational murders lead to the passage of more punitive laws?
The Germans had trouble making sense of these questions. There were a lot of blank stares. In Germany, prosecutors and judges are not elected. As career civil servants, they are insulated from public opinion. Their work is more “technical,” said Gero Meinen, who directs the prison system in Berlin. The role is to protect the rational system of correction — which aims to restrict freedom the least amount necessary — from the retributive impulses that individual victims and society in general might feel. Now it was the Americans’ turn for blank stares.
Besides the surprise, other emotions lingered just below the surface. A few travelers were skeptical, and will be looking for ways in which things might be worse than they appear throughout the rest of the week.
Sunday, May 03, 2015
“Catching American Sex Offenders Overseas: A proposal for a federal international mandated reporting law”
The title of this post is the title of this notable new law review article authored by Basyle Tchividjian, which I just came across. Here is an excerpt from the end of the piece's introduction:
In Asia alone, over 62,000 Americans visit each year for the purpose of sexually victimizing children.4 These numbers do not include other parts of the world, nor the United States citizens who reside overseas and sexually abuse children. This considerable problem requires a bold and practical response that has proven to be effective in the United States. It is time that federal law catch up to the states and mandate its citizens who are overseas to report Americans who are suspected of sexually abusing children in foreign countries.
Section II of this Article provides a brief foundational history of mandated reporting laws in the United States. Section III outlines the increased involvement of the federal government in promoting mandated reporting laws. Section IV summarizes the modern state of mandated reporting, and Section V analyzes the effectiveness of the current law. Section VI shifts the focus to the growing problem of United States citizens sexually victimizing children in foreign countries. Section VII introduces and analyzes the PROTECT Act, exposing a significant gap in the ability to enforce this federal law. Section VIII proposes a federal international mandated reporting law that will help close the gap and allow the PROTECT Act to achieve its objective of identifying and prosecuting United States citizens who sexually abuse children overseas.
May 3, 2015 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Indonesia executes by firing squad eight of "Bali nine" for drug offenses
As reported in this New York Times article, "the Indonesian government executed eight drug convicts after midnight on Wednesday, including seven foreigners." Here is more:
The executed prisoners, from Australia, Brazil and Nigeria, along with one Indonesian, were shot by police firing squads about 12:25 a.m. local time at a site outside the gates of Pasir Putih prison on the island of Nusa Kambangan off the southern coast of Java, according to the attorney general’s office.
The authorities granted the stay of execution to Mary Jane Veloso, 30, a Philippine citizen, after the Philippine government requested her assistance in a human trafficking case involving a woman who surrendered to the Philippine police on Tuesday....
The mass execution was the second in Indonesia this year. In January, five foreign drug convicts and one Indonesian convicted of murder were shot by firing squads on the island.
On Saturday, the attorney general’s office gave 72 hours’ notice to the latest group of condemned prisoners, their legal teams and their respective embassies that the executions would be carried out. On Monday, an Australian prisoner, Andrew Chan, married his Indonesian fiancée in a small ceremony at the prison. A French citizen who was also originally on the list to be executed won a two-week reprieve from the State Administrative Court in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, which will hear his challenge to a clemency rejection by President Joko Widodo.
Shortly after taking office last October, Mr. Joko declared that Indonesia was facing “a national emergency” of drug abuse, and he rejected 64 clemency appeals from death row drug convicts, most of them foreigners. Saying Indonesia had a right to exercise its drug laws, Mr. Joko’s government rejected international pleas to cancel the executions, including from Ban Kimoon, secretary general of the United Nations.
The executions have angered some of Indonesia’s largest aid donors, including Australia and the European Union. Australia announced on Wednesday that it would withdraw its ambassador to Indonesia, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the deaths of Mr. Chan and another Australian, Myuran Sukumaran, as a dark moment in Australia’s diplomatic relations with Indonesia.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Is US push for sentencing reform progressive enough to embrace progressive "day fines"?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable New York Times article about fine punishment for speeding in Finland. The piece is headlined "Speeding in Finland Can Cost a Fortune, if You Already Have One," and here are excerpts:
Getting a speeding ticket is not a feelgood moment for anyone. But consider Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman. He was recently fined 54,024 euros (about $58,000) for traveling a modest, if illegal, 64 miles per hour in a 50 m.p.h. zone. And no, the 54,024 euros did not turn out to be a typo, or a mistake of any kind.
Mr. Kuisla is a millionaire, and in Finland the fines for more serious speeding infractions are calculated according to income. The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too. The ticket had its desired effect. Mr. Kuisla, 61, took to Facebook last month with 12 furious posts in which he included a picture of his speeding ticket and a picture of what 54,024 euros could buy if it were not going to the state coffers — a new Mercedes. He said he was seriously considering leaving Finland altogether....
The Nordic countries have long had a strong egalitarian streak, embracing progressive taxation and high levels of social spending. Perhaps less well known is that they also practice progressive punishment, when it comes to certain fines. A rich person, many citizens here believe, should pay more for the same offense if justice is to be served. The question is: How much more?...
At the University of Helsinki, Jussi Lahti, 35, a graduate student in geography, said that he could understand why Mr. Kuisla was upset, but that he considered the principle of an equal percentage fair. And, he added, Mr. Kuisla “had a choice when he decided to speed.”
The size of Mr. Kuisla’s ticket nonetheless drew considerable attention here as television shows and newspapers debated the merits of Finland’s system, which uses a complex formula based on income to calculate an individual’s fines. Some wondered whether the government should stop imposing such fines for infractions at relatively low speeds. Some suggested that a fine so big was really a form of taxation. But the idea that the rich should pay heavier fines did not seem to be much in question. “It is an old system,” said Pasi Kemppainen, chief superintendent at the National Police Board. “It may lead to high fines, but only for people who can afford it.”
In fact, the Finnish “day fine” system, also in use in some other Scandinavian countries, dates to the 1920s, when fines based on income were instituted for all manner of lesser crimes, such as petty theft and assault, and helped greatly reduce the prison population. The fines are calculated based on half an offender’s daily net income, with some consideration for the number of children under his or her roof and a deduction deemed to be enough to cover basic living expenses, currently 255 euros per month.
Then, that figure is multiplied by the number of days of income the offender should lose, according to the severity of the offense. Mr. Kuisla, a betting man who parlayed his winnings into a real estate empire, was clocked speeding near the Seinajoki airport. Given the speed he was going, Mr. Kuisla was assessed eight days. His fine was then calculated from his 2013 income, 6,559,742 euros, or more than $7 million at current exchange rates.
Someone committing a similar offense and earning about 50,000 euros a year, or $54,000, none of it capital gains, and with no young children, would get a fine of about 345 euros, or about $370. Someone earning 300,000 euros ($322,000), would have to pay about 1,480 euros ($1,590). When the “day fine system” was devised for petty crimes, Finland did not even have any speed limits on its roads. Those did not arrive until the 1970s....
Until he was issued the speeding ticket, Mr. Kuisla used his Facebook page largely to post pictures of his winning horses or the lobbies and bars of the hotels he owns. But the ticket seemed to focus his attention on Finnish policies that he said discouraged entrepreneurs, apparently a reference to the country’s progressive tax system and its high inheritance taxes. High earners can face an income tax rate of more than 50 percent. “Finland is now an impossible country to live in for people with a large income and wealth!” he posted on March 2.
But online comments in newspapers suggested a strong showing for the other side. “This says a lot about the times when the stinkingly rich can’t even take their fines for crimes, but are immediately moving out of the country. Farewell, we won’t miss you,” said one post in The Helsingin Sanomat, a daily newspaper and website....
Mr. Kuisla’s $58,000 ticket is not even the most severe speeding ticket issued in recent years. According to another daily newspaper, Ilkka, Mr. Kuisla himself got an even bigger fine in 2013 when he was going about 76 m.p.h. in a 50 m.p.h. zone. That ticket was for 63,448 euros, about $83,769 at the time. Bigger yet was the ticket issued to a 44-year-old Nokia executive in 2002, when he was caught blowing through Helsinki on his Harley motorcycle and was hit with a $103,600 fine, based on a $12.5 million yearly income.
Both tickets were appealed and in the end reduced. Usually, appeals are based on financial issues, such as a one-time sale of stock that year. But judges have great leeway, experts said. Mr. Kuisla ended up paying 5,346 euros for the 2013 ticket.
Long-time readers know that I am a huge fan of economic sanctions, and I have long thought that the Scandinavian "day fine" approach to punishment for lower-level crimes to be much more fair and effective than short terms of incarceration. I think it is fair to claim (and perhaps complain) that these kinds of day fine operate more like taxes than like traditional punishments; whatever label is attached, I suspect that defendants (especially rich ones) drive much more carefully in jurisdictions where an infraction is likely to have a real financial bite. Among other potential benefits, a "day fine" approach to certain lower-level "quality of life" offenses might prompt law enforcement to concentrate more of their policing resources in richer rather than poorer neighborhoods.
Perhaps needless to say, I doubt the billionaires who support sentencing reform in the US on both the left (George Soros) and the right (the Koch brothers) are likely to get behind a progressive "day fine" approach to devising effective alternatives to prison. But maybe all the folks now protesting police abuses in Baltimore and elsewhere might consider urging police department to adopt such an approach to police discipline (with the monies, I would urge, going to victim restitution funds).
April 27, 2015 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Canadian Supreme Court declares gun mandatory minimums unconstitutional
A helpful reader alerted me to a notable sentencing ruling from our northern neighbor reported in this press account headlined "Supreme Court quashes mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes: Court upholds Ontario ruling that struck down mandatory minimum sentences of 3 and 5 years." Here are the basics:
The Supreme Court of Canada dealt the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda a serious blow Tuesday by striking down a law requiring mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving prohibited guns. The 6-3 ruling, penned by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, said the statute was unconstitutional as it upheld a 2013 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that labelled the law cruel and unusual.
The ruling said the mandatory minimum sentence could ensnare people with "little or no moral fault" and who pose "little or no danger to the public." It cited as an example a person who inherits a firearm and does not immediately get a license for the weapon. "As the Court of Appeal concluded, there exists a 'cavernous disconnect' between the severity of the licensing-type offence and the mandatory minimum three-year term of imprisonment," McLachlin wrote for the majority.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement that the government will review the decision to determine "next steps towards protecting Canadians from gun crime and ensuring that our laws remain responsive."...
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said there is a place for mandatory minimums in certain situations, noting that past Liberal governments have introduced them for "extreme crimes."
"But I think the over-use of them that the Supreme Court has highlighted, by this Conservative government, isn't necessarily doing a service to Canadians, both by not necessarily keeping us that much safer and also wasting large amount of taxpayers dollars on unnecessary court challenges," he told reporters in Oakville.
Keeping Canadians safe is cited by the government as the reason for its tough sentencing laws. McLachlin took aim at that justification in her ruling. "The government has not established that mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment act as a deterrent against gun-related crimes," she wrote. "Empirical evidence suggests that mandatory minimum sentences do not, in fact, deter crimes."
The court was deciding two appeals involving mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes brought by the Ontario and federal attorneys general. The top court upheld the appeal court's quashing of both the three-year mandatory minimum for a first offence of possessing a loaded prohibited gun, as well as the five-year minimum for a second offence.
The Ontario and federal governments argued that the minimums do not breach the charter protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The new sentencing rules were enacted in 2008 as part of a sweeping omnibus bill introduced by the federal Conservatives.
The full ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada is available at this link.
April 15, 2015 in Gun policy and sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
"Lex Mitior: Converse of Ex Post Facto and Window into Criminal Desert"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting and timely new piece on SSRN authored by Peter Westen. Here is the abstract:
In 2009 New Mexico prospectively repealed the death penalty. Three years later in 2012, New Mexico prosecuted a defendant for a capital murder that was committed before repeal, and it sought to subject him to the death penalty. If state prosecutors had prevailed with the jury, they would have secured the very kind of sentence — death — that state officials had been lauded in Europe for outlawing three years earlier.
A prosecution like New Mexico’s could never occur in Europe, and not merely because Europe has long outlawed the death penalty. It could never occur because, in contrast to the law of most American jurisdictions, European states embrace a doctrine known as “lex mitior” (“the milder law”). The latter doctrine is a counterpart to the ex post facto prohibition. Both doctrines both concern retroactivity in criminal law, but they are the converse of one another.
The ex post facto doctrine prohibits retroactivity by prohibiting the state from prosecuting persons under criminal statutes that either retroactively criminalize conduct that was hitherto lawful or retroactively increase penalties for conduct that, while unlawful all along, was hitherto punishable less severely. In contrast, lex mitior mandates retroactivity by mandating that criminal defendants receive the retroactive benefits of repealing statutes that either decriminalize conduct altogether or reduce punishments for it. After surveying laws in the United States regarding the retroactive effect of ameliorative repeals, the author addresses whether punishing offenders under harsher laws that obtained at the time of their conduct can serve consequentialist and/or retributive purposes of punishment. He concludes that, although doing can be morally justified under limited circumstances, typically it is not — a conclusion that bears upon lex mitior’s proper scope, whether it consists of a binding norm (as it is among European nations), a nonconstitutional norm (as it presently is within the United States), or, when legislative intent is uncertain, a function of the rule of lenity.
Thursday, April 02, 2015
Amnesty International reports on death penalty administration around the world
Via this webpage, Amnesty International provides a report in multiple languages on what it can confirm about the use of the death penalty throughout the world in 2014. This AI blog posting, headlined "Death Penalty: 607 executions – the story behind the numbers," provides some highlights from the report and some backstory:
The numbers behind our latest overview of the global use of the death penalty, released today, tell a chilling story: 607 people were executed in 22 countries and at least 2,466 men and women were sentenced to death in 55 countries in 2014 alone. But, alarming as they are, the figures paint a partial picture of the true extent to which people are hanged, shot or given the lethal injection across the world.
The reality is likely to be much gloomier but many governments refuse to come clean about how many people they kill each year. In countries such as Eritrea, Malaysia, North Korea and Syria, very little information about the use of the death penalty is available due to restrictive state practice or political instability.
In others, such as Japan, executions are carried out without notice, and prisoners are left waiting on death row every day wondering if it will be their last. In Belarus, the only country in Europe to still use the death penalty, family members of executed prisoners usually only find out the fate of their loved ones when they visit them at the prison only to be told their relative is no longer there.
China, the country believed to execute more individuals than the rest of the world put together, considers information about the death penalty a “state secret”, just like Vietnam. The Chinese authorities have claimed that the number of executions in the country has decreased since the Supreme People’s Court began reviewing all death penalty cases in 2007. Unfortunately, this claim is impossible to corroborate....
That is the “glass half empty”. But the story does not end there. Despite the alarming number of people sentenced to death and executed, most of the world is moving in the right direction - away from the ultimate punishment.
In 2014, the number of recorded executions dropped by almost 22% in comparison to 2013. Fewer executions were recorded in all regions, except Europe and Central Asia, in 2014 than in 2013.
In 1945, when the United Nations was founded, only eight countries had abolished the death penalty. Today 140 states are abolitionist in law or practice.
Friday, March 27, 2015
NY Times Magazine covers modern prisons at home and abroad
I am pleased to see that this week's New York Times Magazine has three significant pieces about prisons. Here are the headlines and teasers from this webpage:
The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison: The goal of the Norwegian penal system is to get inmates out of it.
Prison Planet: Different nations take very different approaches to the convicts they deem the most dangerous.
Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison: For years, conditions inside the United States’ only federal supermax facility were largely a mystery. But a landmark lawsuit is finally revealing the harsh world within.
Monday, February 02, 2015
Getting a European perspective on crowded prisons
This new Wall Street Journal article, headlined "Overcrowding Puts Strains on Europe’s Century-Old Prisons," highlights that the US does not have the most densely populated prisons in the world even though we have the largest total prison population. Here are some details from the article:
While cities and states across the U.S. are selling off prisons as the inmate population shrinks, Europe faces the opposite challenge: how to cope with chronic overcrowding in old, cramped jails.
The fortresslike structure of Forest prison is in the otherwise chic Saint-Gilles district of Brussels. Built in 1910 to house 380 inmates, it currently holds 600, most of whom are awaiting trial. In two of the four wings, three inmates are held in 90-square-foot cells designed for one. Two share bunk beds while the third has a mattress on the floor. They eat there and share a toilet. In the other half, prisoners have individual cells but no running water. They must relieve themselves in a bucket that can go unemptied for 48 hours....
“It is medieval,” said Vincent Spronck, who became warden four years ago after a decade working in other prisons. “I didn’t know these conditions still existed until I got here.” The problem isn’t limited to Forest or even Belgium.
In central London, the 170-year-old Pentonville Prison houses 1,303 men in a space designed for 913. An official report found “significant, easily visible vermin infestations,” dirty cells, and rampant drug abuse, and suggested shutting it down.
La Modelo in Barcelona, built in 1904, held 1,781 inmates in space designed for 1,100 when it was last inspected by a team from the intergovernmental Council of Europe, the continent’s human-rights watchdog. Lisbon Central Prison (built 1885) has an official capacity of 886, but was holding 1,310 prisoners in May 2013. Korydallos Prison, built in the 1960s in Athens, should hold 840 people, but held 2,300 in April 2013.
“The whole structure is in a state of crisis,” said Hugh Chetwynd, head of division for the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Overcrowding means “staff struggle to keep proper control, so they resort more to excessive force.” Prison populations per capita are growing in most European countries....
One solution is to send prisoners abroad. Belgium pays €43 million ($48 million) a year to the Netherlands to hold 600 prisoners over the border in a former military barracks in Tilburg. Belgium and Italy, which also has a long-term overcrowding problem, are building new prisons, but some experts argue this doesn’t resolve the problem. “You build big prisons…that leads to higher population rates,” said Peter Bennett, who was warden at four prisons before becoming director of the London-based ICPS. “All the research shows that sending people to prison doesn’t reduce the crime rate.”
Still, while there appears to be no strong relationship across countries between incarceration and crime rates, the crime rate in the U.K. has fallen as the prison population has risen. Peter Cuthbertson, director of the Center for Crime Prevention, said taking serial criminals off the streets cuts crime. “If you don’t do anything else,” he said, a criminal “can easily end up committing hundreds of crimes a year.” He said that longer sentences reduce recidivism rates and while overcrowding isn’t ideal, his solution is to build more prisons.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
George Toca now a free man ... and SCOTUS now lacks a live Miller retroactivity case
This local article from Louisiana, headlined "George Toca, La. inmate at center of debate on juvenile life sentences, to go free," reports on a remarkable turn of events in a case that was supposed to serve as the means for the Supreme Court to address the retroactivity of its Eighth Amendment Miller ruling. Here are the details:
A state prisoner from New Orleans who recently landed at the center of national legal debate about mandatory life sentences for youthful offenders won his freedom Thursday after 31 years in prison. Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office agreed to vacate his murder conviction.
George Toca, 47, is set to go free after pleading guilty instead to two counts of attempted armed robbery and one count of manslaughter from a 1984 stickup that ended with his best friend, Eric Batiste, fatally shot outside a convenience store on South Broad Street in Broadmoor.
Toca’s release almost certainly means the U.S. Supreme Court will scrap a scheduled hearing this spring on whether its 2012 decision in a case known as Miller v. Alabama, barring mandatory life sentences for juvenile convicts, is retroactive. The high court in November took up Toca’s case, above others, to settle an issue that affects about 1,000 convicts in Louisiana and three other states that have refused to apply the court’s ruling to older juvenile lifers.
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office said the DA will join in a motion with Toca’s attorneys to withdraw the Supreme Court case.
Toca, appearing briefly in court Thursday morning, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter count under an “Alford” plea, meaning he did not admit guilt but conceded that strong evidence could have led to his conviction. He returned to Angola State Penitentiary for processing, with his release expected late Thursday or Friday.
Newly elected Criminal District Court Judge Byron Williams granted the joint motion in a case that the Innocence Project New Orleans had pursued on Toca’s behalf for more than a decade. DA’s Office spokesman Christopher Bowman credited a warming relationship with Innocence Project attorneys, along with Toca’s productive years behind bars, for the decision to let him go free on the reduced charges.
Bowman called it “a just outcome,” also citing the vehemence of Batiste’s family in urging Toca’s release and the fact he will remain on parole for another 30 years under the deal. “In light of all those facts, the district attorney believed he was no longer a public safety risk,” Bowman said. “The District Attorney’s Office ... is not afraid to take a look at older cases.”...
Bowman insisted that the DA’s decision to come to a deal on Toca’s release was unrelated to the pending U.S. Supreme Court case, in which Cannizzaro’s office had been gearing up to argue against the retroactive application of Miller v. Alabama.
The high court didn’t ban states from sentencing some young killers to life without parole. But the 5-4 majority opinion insisted that courts must first weigh a defendant’s youth, adding that “we think appropriate occasions for sentencing juveniles to this harshest possible penalty will be uncommon.” The court said “youth matters for purposes of meting out the law’s most serious punishments,” citing “children’s diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change” when compared with adults.
In legal filings, Cannizzaro’s office argued that it would be a fool’s errand to force local judges, years or decades later, to discern a long-ago juvenile’s capacity for change. Advocates for juvenile lifers argued that the task would be made easier because judges can review an inmate’s record while behind bars. And they saw Toca’s case as a promising bellwether for what the high court justices might do....
According to the state, 272 Louisiana inmates had been sentenced as juveniles to life without the possibility of parole as of April 2013 — the bulk of them, like Toca, having been sentenced before the U.S. Supreme Court decision. State Supreme Courts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota also have found that Miller v. Alabama does not apply retroactively, setting up the fight at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Toca’s vacated conviction and release will leave the issue unresolved for now, said Cara Drinan, an associate professor of law at Catholic University of America. Still, she expects the Supreme Court to take up the retroactivity question relatively soon in some other case, now that it has signaled its interest in settling the issue. “For George Toca, this is a victory and a great thing,” Drinan said. “For those of us looking at the bigger issue, and for the hundreds of people waiting for a resolution, we’ll have to wait.”
With overwhelming public support, Japanese Justice Minister continues with capital punishment
As reported in this news article, "Japan is to continue applying the death penalty after over 80 percent of the country's population expressed their support for the measure, media Thursday cited Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa as saying." Here is more:
A recent government survey revealed that 80.3 percent of respondents backed the death penalty, while 9.7 percent felt that it should be abolished. Kamikawa termed the results as positive and said strict and careful measures would continue in this regard.
She said there was no intention of revising the current policy in the short term, despite having hinted at times the possibility of introducing life sentences for capital crimes. "Most people believe it is unavoidable for those who committed extremely malicious crimes to face (execution)," Kamikawa said, according to the Asahi daily newspaper.
Kamikawa also made a reference to the global trend against the death penalty and the petition by activists for Japan to end capital punishment. "It is a problem associated with what country Japan should be, and it is (the Japanese people's) business," she said.
Eleven convicts have been executed since the current government took office in December 2012. Japan, along with the US, is the only developed and democratic country that still imposes the death penalty.
I tend also to include India on a list of "developed and democratic country that still imposes the death penalty," but maybe some would dispute characterizing India as developed.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Notable political debate over adding LWOP to punishments in Canada
The lengthy press article from Canada, headlined "Tories to table life in prison without parole, shifting legal landscape," spotlights an interesting debate over LWOP sentences up north. Here are excerpts:
The Conservative government is developing legislation that would mean some murderers will have no hope of release from prison. The new penalty would apply to several categories of those convicted of first-degree murder: killers of police and jail guards, anyone who kills during a sexual assault, kidnapping or act of terrorism and for especially brutal murders. The current penalty for first-degree murder is an automatic life sentence with the first chance for a parole review after 25 years, and the supervision of parole authorities for life.
The planned legislation has yet to be approved by cabinet, a source said. The departments of Public Safety and Justice, which are working together on the new bill, were told to speed up their work after a man shot two Mounties in St. Albert, Alta., on Jan. 17, killing one. The bill is expected to be introduced within a couple of weeks of a new terrorism bill coming on Friday, the source said....
A spokesperson for Justice Minister Peter MacKay declined to comment directly on the categories outlined by The Globe, but quoted the Throne Speech of October, 2013, saying: “Canadians do not understand why the most dangerous criminals would ever be released from prison. We are currently reviewing options to ensure that a life sentence actually means life.”...
The United States is one of the last democracies with the death penalty, and all states but Alaska have the penalty of “life without parole.” The U.S. Supreme Court says life without parole shares some characteristics with the death penalty in that it alters an offender’s life by a “forfeiture that is irrevocable.” Prisoner advocates have dubbed it “the other death penalty,” and “death by incarceration.”
Since Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, the homicide rate has fallen from 3.08 victims for every 100,000 people to 1.44, its lowest rate since 1966. “It is so patently a sentence that reeks of vengeance that it’s hard to have a sensible political debate,” Archie Kaiser, a specialist in criminal law at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law in Halifax, said of life without parole. Vengeance is “really something we have cast aside in Canada, at least since we removed the death penalty.”
Gary Clewley, a defence lawyer in Toronto whose clients are mostly police officers, said the law professor “confuses vengeance with legitimate public indignation. You can’t compare a trial and appellate process at great public expense where people are guaranteed legal counsel and a trial of their peers to a lynch mob.”...
Until now, the Conservative government has taken an incremental approach to life penalties. In 2011, it removed the “faint-hope clause,” which allowed those convicted of murder to apply to a jury after 15 years for the right to an early parole hearing. Also in 2011, it allowed judges to add together the periods of parole eligibility for multiple murders. Two Canadians have been sentenced under the provision, including Justin Bourque, 24, sentenced to life with no eligibility for 75 years in the shooting deaths of three Mounties in New Brunswick last spring....
The cost could be enormous: Canada has 1,115 offenders who were sentenced to life for first-degree murder, of whom 203 have been released on parole; the average cost to keep a man in maximum security is $148,000, compared with $35,000 on parole, figures from Correctional Service Canada show. Forty years in jail would cost nearly $6-million for one person in maximum-security, and $6-billion for 1,000.
As of 2006, lifers on parole had killed 58 people. That category includes those such as Robert Bruce Moyes, sentenced to life as an armed bank robber, who, while on parole killed seven people in Abbotsford, B.C., in 1996. In recent years, the website of Correctional Service Canada has described those serving life sentences as “the most likely to succeed on parole.” A spokesperson said on Monday the agency could not identify, for privacy reasons, the last first-degree murderer released on parole who killed again, nor how many have done so since 1976.
Monday, January 26, 2015
"The Unconvincing Case Against Private Prisons"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing recent article by Malcolm M Feeley just now appearing on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In 2009, the Israeli High Court of Justice held that private prisons are unconstitutional. This was more than a domestic constitutional issue. The court anchored its decision in a carefully reasoned opinion arguing that the state has a monopoly on the administration of punishment, and thus private prisons violate basic principles of modern democratic governance. This position was immediately elaborated upon by a number of leading legal philosophers, and the expanded argument has reverberated among legal philosophers, global constitutionalists, and public officials around the world. Private prisons are a global phenomenon, and this argument now stands as the definitive principled statement opposing them.
In this Article, I argue that the state monopoly theory against privatization is fundamentally flawed. The Article challenges the historical record and philosophy of the state on which the theory is based, and then explores two other issues the theory wholly ignores: private custodial arrangements in other settings that are widely regarded as acceptable if not exemplary and third-party state arrangements that are universally hailed as exemplary.
The Article presents first-of-its-kind empirical data on private prisons in Australia, discusses the implications of readily available information on juvenile facilities, and explores interstate compacts on prisoner transfers. The Article maintains that the state monopoly theory erroneously asserts that privatization is inconsistent with the modern state, and concludes with a call for policymakers and judges to imbue their future privatization decisions with local knowledge and time-honored pragmatism.
Sunday, January 04, 2015
"Switzerland has too many criminals and too few prisons"
The title of this post is from the first sentence of this recent AP article headlined "Switzerland mulls plan to export prisoners." Here is more about a notable European nation having a problem all to common in the US:
Now the Justice Ministry is reportedly considering a proposal to export convicts to neighboring France and Germany. Swiss prisons chief Thomas Freytag told public broadcaster SRF in a program aired late Friday that the country's correctional facilities are at more than 100 percent capacity.
Prisons in the French-speaking cantons (states) of western Switzerland are said to be particularly overcrowded. It's unclear when the Justice Ministry would decide on the plan, and whether France or Germany would be prepared to let Swiss inmates do their time there.
Left out of this brief story is the basic fact that Switzerland, at recent count, has less than 7,000 prisoners in the whole country and an incarceration rate that is only about 1/8th of the incarceration rate in the United States. For comparison, consider that the US state of Virginia has a state-wide population that is a little lower than Switzerland's, but it has more than 30,000 prisoners (and that count excludes a few thousand federal prisoners coming from Virginia).
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Praise for Texas justice embracing "Right on Crime" from across the pond
This new BBC article, headlined "Why Texas is closing prisons in favour of rehab," provides a notable example of the rest of the world taking note (and praising) the "right on crime" movement. The piece is authored by a Danny Kruger, a former speechwriter for UK's prime minister David Cameron, and here are excerpts:
Coming from London to spend a couple of days in Texas last month, I was struck most of all by how generous and straightforward everyone was. Talking to all sorts of different people about crime and punishment, the same impression came across: We expect people to do the right thing and support them when they do. When they don't we punish them, but then we welcome them back and expect good behaviour again. It's not naive, it's just clear.
For years that straightforward moral outlook translated into a tough criminal justice system. As in the rest of the US, the economic dislocations of the 1970s, compounded by the crack epidemic in the 1980s, led to a series of laws and penal policies which saw the prison population skyrocket. Texas, for instance, has half the population of the UK but twice its number of prisoners.
Then something happened in 2007, when Texas Republican Congressman Jerry Madden was appointed chairman of the House Corrections Committee with the now famous words by his party leader: "Don't build new prisons. They cost too much." The impulse to what has become the Right on Crime initiative was fiscal conservatism — the strong sense that the taxpayer was paying way too much money to fight a losing war against drugs, mental ill-health and petty criminality.
What Madden found was that too many low-level offenders were spending too long in prison, and not reforming. On the contrary, they were getting worse inside and not getting the help they needed on release. The only response until then, from Democrat as well as Republican legislators, was to build more prisons. Indeed, Mr Madden's analysis suggested that a further 17,000 prisoners were coming down the pipe towards them, requiring an extra $500m (£320m) for new prisons.
But he and his party didn't want to spend more money building new prisons. So they thought of something else — rehab. Consistent with the straightforward Texan manner, the Congressional Republicans did not attempt to tackle what in Britain are known as "the causes of crime" — the socio-economic factors that make people more disposed to offend. Instead, they focused on the individual criminal, and his or her personal choices. Here, they believe, moral clarity and generosity are what's needed.
Though fiscal conservatism may have got the ball rolling, what I saw in Texas — spending time in court and speaking to offenders, prison guards, non-profit staff and volunteers — goes way beyond the desire to save money. The Prison Entrepreneurship Programme, for instance, matches prisoners with businesspeople and settles them in a residential community on release. Its guiding values are Christian and its staff's motives seem to be love and hope for their "brothers", who in turn support the next batch of prisoners leaving jail.
The statutory system is not unloving either. Judge Robert Francis's drugs court in Dallas is a well-funded welfare programme all of its own — though it is unlike any welfare programme most of the 250 ex-offenders who attend it have ever seen. Clean and tidy, it is staffed by around 30 professionals who are intensely committed to seeing their clients stay clean and out of jail, even if that means sending them back to prison for short periods, as Judge Francis regularly does when required....
Immediate, comprehensible and proportionate sanctions are given for bad behaviour, plus accountability to a kind leader and supportive community. This is the magic sauce of Right on Crime.
Far from having to build new jails for the 17,000 expected new inmates, Jerry Madden and his colleagues have succeeded in closing three prisons. I visited one by the Trinity River in Dallas, now ready for sale and redevelopment. They spent less than half the $500 million earmarked for prison building on rehab initiatives and crime is falling faster than elsewhere.
This, then, ticks all the boxes - it cuts crime, saves money and demonstrates love and compassion towards some of the most excluded members of society. It is, in a sense, what conservatives in America and Britain dream of — a realistic vision of a smaller state, where individuals are accountable for their actions and communities take responsibility for themselves and their neighbours. It is a more positive version of the anti-politics — anti-Washington, anti-Westminster — tide that seems to be sweeping the West.
December 3, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, October 27, 2014
Prosecutors in South Africa indicate they plan to appeal Pistorius outcome
As reported in this article, headlined "South Africa prosecutors to appeal against Pistorius sentence," it appears that the Blade Runner is not done running from serious legal difficulties. Here are the bascis:
South Africa’s state prosecutor plans to appeal against Oscar Pistorius’s culpable homicide conviction and five-year prison sentence for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, it said on Monday.
Nathi Mncube, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said the NPA expected to file papers in the next few days. Until the papers were filed, it would not announce the grounds for appeal, it said.
But Pistorius’s conviction for culpable homicide has drawn criticism from some legal commentators. After the athlete, a double-amputee who starred at the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, was sentenced last week, there was more controversy when lawyers said he could serve as little as 10 months, or a sixth of the five-year term.
In South Africa, an appeal can only be made on a matter of law, “where we think . . . the judge made an error in interpretation and in the manner in which she applied the law to the facts”, Mr Mncube said.
Pistorius had been charged with premeditated murder after shooting Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law graduate, four times through the locked toilet door in a bathroom at his home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. But Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that the prosecution failed to show Pistorius had intent to kill, while saying there was “no basis on which this court could make inferences of why the accused would want to kill the deceased”. Instead, she appeared to believe Pistorius’s version of events, despite describing the 27-year-old as a “poor” and “evasive” witness.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
"How Changes in American Culture Triggered Hyper-Incarceration: Variations on the Tazian View"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Christopher Slobogin now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
American imprisonment rates are far higher than the rates in virtually every Western country, even after taking into account differing rates of crime. The late Professor Andrew Taslitz suggested that at least one explanation for this puzzle is the relative lack of “populist, deliberative democracy” in the United States.
This article, written for a symposium honoring Professor Taslitz, examines that thesis from a comparative perspective, looking in particular at how differences between American and European attitudes toward populism, capitalism, religiosity, racial attitudes and proceduralism may have led to increased incarceration rates. It also tries to explain another puzzle that has received little attention: why these cultural differences, which have existed for some time, only had an impact on incarceration rates after the 1960s.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Graphic representation of female prisoners around the world
I just tripped across this interesting piece and infographic published last month via Forbes. The piece is headlined "Nearly A Third Of All Female Prisoners Worldwide Are Incarcerated In The United States," and here is the text that goes along with the infographic:
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly a third of all female prisoners worldwide are incarcerated in the United States of America. There are 201,200 women in US prisons, representing 8.8 percent of the total American prison population.
China comes a very distant second to the United States with 84,600 female prisoners in total or 5.1% of the overall Chinese prison population. Russia is in third position -- 59,000 of its prisoners are women and this comes to 7.8 percent of the total.
Across the world, 625,000 women and children are being held in penal institutions with the female prison population growing on all five continents.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Bladerunner Oscar Pistorius sentenced to five years in prison for killing girlfriend
As reported in this lengthy CNN piece, "Oscar Pistorius' fall from grace culminated Tuesday with a five-year sentence in the shooting death of his girlfriend." Here is more:
The sentence was imposed for the charge of culpable homicide, which in South Africa means a person was killed unintentionally, but unlawfully. Under South African law, he will have to serve at least one-sixth of his sentence -- 10 months -- before he can ask to be placed under correctional supervision, usually house arrest, instead....
During his trial, the double-amputee sprinter often sobbed at the mention of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp's name. He insisted that he mistook her for an intruder when he shot her through a toilet door on Valentine's Day 2013. But there was very little visible reaction from Pistorius as the sentence was read out in the Pretoria court.
Speaking to CNN's Robyn Curnow in the last few weeks before his sentencing, Pistorius told her that he would respect and accept the decision of the court and that he was not afraid of imprisonment. He said he hoped to contribute while in prison by teaching people how to read or start a gym or running club. "Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society," his uncle, Arnold Pistorius, told reporters. "As an uncle, I hope Oscar will start his own healing process as he walks down the path of restoration. As a family, we are ready to support and guide Oscar as he serves his sentence."
The Steenkamp family's lawyer, Dup De Bruyn, said in a statement: "The family is satisfied. They are glad that it is over and are satisfied that justice has been done."
The prosecution had asked for a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for Pistorius. After the ruling Tuesday, South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority said it had not yet decided whether to appeal Judge Thokozile Masipa's verdict that he is not guilty of murder. Pistorius' defense had called for a sentence of house arrest and community service. There was no immediate reaction from the defense team on the sentencing. Both sides now have a 14-day period in which they can choose to lodge any appeal, according to CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps....
Giving her reasoning Tuesday, Masipa emphasized that the decision on sentencing would be "mine and mine alone." She pointed out that sentencing is not an exact science but relies on an assessment of elements, including the nature and seriousness of the crime, the personal circumstances of the accused and the interests of society.
She said she would also take into account the factors in sentencing of retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. In any case, she said, "sentencing is about achieving the right balance."
In her final remarks, Masipa dismissed evidence given by probation officer Annette Vergeer that prison would not be able to accommodate Pistorius' disability, saying her testimony was based on outdated information and sketchy. She said Pistorius would not present the prison system with an "insurmountable challenge."
The judge added that she felt that Pistorius' vulnerability had been overemphasized in the evidence given and that his excellent coping strategies -- shown in his ability to compete with able-bodied athletes -- had been overlooked. He would be able to continue treatment for physical problems and mental health issues while in prison, she said.
In terms of the seriousness of the offense, Masipa said Pistorius had shown gross negligence in shooting into a small toilet cubicle, knowing there was someone inside who could not escape. He also knew how to handle firearms, she said, adding that these were "very aggravating" factors.
On the other hand, mitigating factors include that Pistorius is a first offender and remorseful, Masipa said. She also mentioned his contribution to society in giving his time and money to charities and inspiring others with disabilities to believe they could succeed.
Perhaps seeking to preempt criticism from those who'd like to see either a tougher or more lenient sentence, Masipa pointed out that the purpose of the court is to serve the public interest, not make itself popular. She also indicated that her sentence wasn't affected by Pistorius' fame. "It would be a sad day for this country if the impression was to be created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous," she said.
The judge also highlighted the loss suffered by Steenkamp's family, which has had a negative effect on her father's health. Steenkamp was young, vivacious and full of life at the time of her death, she said. "The loss of life cannot be reversed. Nothing I say or do today can reverse what happened," she said.
Previous related post:
October 21, 2014 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Monday, October 13, 2014
"Will Oscar Pistorius serve any prison time for killing Reeva Steenkamp?"
The question in the title of this post is the first line of this AP article headlined "Factors that may affect if Pistorius spends time in prison." Because I know very little about South African sentencing law and procedure, I found this AP article quite informative, and here are excerpts:
Judge Thokozile Masipa began hearing testimony Monday before deciding what sentence the double-amputee Olympic athlete should serve. Pistorius was acquitted of murder in Steenkamp's shooting death but convicted of a lesser charge of culpable homicide, or killing Steenkamp through negligence. It has a wide range of possible sentences in South Africa, from a fine and no prison time to as much as 15 years in jail....
Judge Masipa will hear testimony from a small number of witnesses called by the defence and then prosecution before deciding on Pistorius' sentence. The defence began presenting witness testimony on Monday, arguing why the judge should be lenient. Prosecutors could call Steenkamp's family members to show that Pistorius should be sent to prison for years because of the suffering he has caused....
Pistorius' lawyers cited what they say is his remorse and previous good character as reasons for a lenient sentence. Defence lawyers began by calling a psychologist who has counselled the athlete since he killed Steenkamp. Dr. Lore Hartzenberg testified that Pistorius was a "broken man" wracked with grief following the shooting, and had lost his reputation, his friends and his career. The defence hopes her testimony -- which focused on what she said was Pistorius' emotional pain following an accidental killing -- will help persuade Masipa that Pistorius is remorseful, has suffered already and shouldn't be sent to prison because he needs ongoing therapy.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel countered that Pistorius was "still alive" and Steenkamp wasn't and that should be considered....
Pistorius' work with charities before the Feb. 14, 2013 shooting was listed extensively by his agent, Peet van Zyl, who was also called by the defence. Van Zyl's testimony was designed to paint the Paralympic champion as a generally good person who had no previous criminal record. He also said that Pistorius had lost all his athletics endorsements because of the court case and had already been punished financially.
A social worker from South Africa's department of correctional services was the only one of the three defence witnesses who testified on the first day of the hearing to suggest a sentence. Joel Maringa said three years of "correctional supervision" would be appropriate, where Pistorius would be partly under house arrest and have to do community service, but would also be able to train and attend athletics meets.
Nel fiercely criticized that suggestion, saying it was "shockingly inappropriate" after Pistorius killed someone. The prosecution, which sought a murder conviction, has insisted that Pistorius should go to prison because of the level of negligence he displayed when he fired four hollow-point bullets through a toilet cubicle door in his home and into a small space without checking who was inside.
Masipa's options are wide-ranging: She could order a fine and a suspended prison sentence, meaning the 27-year-old Pistorius spends no time in jail unless he offends again. But she could also sentence him to up to 15 years in prison. In between those two scenarios, Masipa could order he be put under house arrest for a period. Pistorius could apply for parole after serving half of any prison sentence.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Criticizing the tenure of AG Eric Holder based on the death penalty as a human rights issue
This extended New Republic commentary authored by Mugambi Jouet, somewhat inaccurately titled "What Eric Holder — and Most Americans — Don't Understand About the Death Penalty," takes shots at Holder's specific record on the death penalty:
Attorney General Eric Holder's recent resignation announcement prompted a flurry of assessments on his six years of service under President Obama. He let Wall Street off too easy. He was a hero to the poor. He compromised civil liberties in the name of national security—and defended civil rights better than any attorney general before him. But the debate over Holder’s record has overlooked one of the most important aspects of his legacy. Holder has been profoundly at odds with the rest of the Western world on one of the most significant human rights issues of our time: the death penalty.
All Western democracies except America have abolished capital punishment and consider it an inherent human rights violation. America further stands out as one of the countries that execute the most people. Thirty-nine prisoners were executed by the United States in 2013. While that figure marked a continuing decline in the annual number of U.S. executions, it still placed America fifth worldwide, right behind several authoritarian regimes: China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.
No federal prisoner has been executed since 2003, yet Holder’s decisions could ultimately lead this de facto moratorium to end, as he authorized federal prosecutors to pursue capital punishment in several dozen cases. "Even though I am personally opposed to the death penalty, as Attorney General I have to enforce federal law," Holder has argued. Prosecutors actually have the discretion not to pursue the death penalty at all — at the risk of losing popularity — since enforcing the law does not require pursuing capital punishment as opposed to incarceration....
Holder notably approved the decision to seek the death penalty in the federal trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of perpetrating the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 — and whom a majority of Americans want to be executed. Nevertheless, the state of Massachusetts has abolished the death penalty and only 33 percent of Boston residents support executing Tsarnaev as opposed to sentencing him to life in prison without parole. However, Holder’s decisions supporting capital punishment have hardly been limited to terrorism cases. For example, he authorized the recent decision to seek the death penalty for Jessie Con-Ui, a Pennsylvania prisoner accused of murdering a federal correctional officer....
The death penalty is rarely framed as a human rights issue in America, unlike in other Western democracies. That's partly because the principle of human rights plays a very limited role overall in the legal and political debate in the U.S., where "human rights" commonly evoke foreign problems like abuses in Third World dictatorships — not problems at home.
The situation is different on the other side of the Atlantic, where the European Court of Human Rights tackles a broad range of problems facing European states, from freedom of speech to labor rights, discrimination, and criminal justice reform. National human rights commissions also exist in multiple countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, and New Zealand. These bodies focus mostly or exclusively on monitoring domestic compliance with human rights standards. On the other hand, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, an arm of the U.S. Congress, focuses on the human rights records of foreign countries.
The relative absence of human rights as a principle in modern America is remarkable given how U.S. leaders actively promoted the concept in its infancy. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invoked “human rights” in his “Four Freedoms Speech” of 1941. Eleanor Roosevelt was among the architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. As the human rights movement progressed in later decades, Martin Luther King said in 1968 that “we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights.”
Even though Holder regards King as one of his models — and despite his proposals to make the U.S. penal system less punitive and discriminatory — the nation’s first black attorney general hardly put human rights at the center of his agenda.
The death penalty is far from the only human right issue where America stands apart from other Western democracies. America effectively has the world’s top incarceration rate, with 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. America is likewise virtually alone worldwide in authorizing life imprisonment for juveniles. Its reliance on extremely lengthy periods of solitary confinement has been denounced by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. The extreme punishments regularly meted to U.S. prisoners are generally considered flagrant human rights violations in other Western countries. Nevertheless, Holder argued that America has “the greatest justice system the world has ever known.”
By the same token, no other modern Western democracy has gone as far as America in disregarding international human rights standards as part of anti-terrorism measures. This trend has been epitomized by indefinite detention at Guantanamo and the torture of alleged terrorists under the Bush administration. These practices have sharply divided U.S. public opinion but only a segment of Americans have depicted them as “human rights” abuses....
[T]he limited weight of human rights in the U.S. legal and political debate is not without consequences. Human rights are a far stronger basis to oppose practices like the death penalty or torture than the administrative arguments frequently invoked in America. The human rights argument against such practices is largely based on the premise that they violate human dignity....
Holder's narrow focus on problems with the administration of capital punishment suggests that he is among the many U.S. public officials and reformers who believe they have no duty to assess the “moral” issues regarding the death penalty. Whether this stance is justified or not, it seems quite exceptionally American in the modern Western world. Most contemporary European, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander jurists probably would disagree with the notion that it is not their duty to assess whether executions violate human dignity.
Martin Luther King, who considered the death penalty an affront to human dignity, argued that “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” Perhaps Eric Holder — and his boss, Barack Obama — would have been willing to argue that the death penalty is dehumanizing if they did not fear losing popularity.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Reviewing how death is different (but still being used) in Japan
This new piece from The Economist, headlined "The death penalty in Japan: Hanging tough," discusses the on-going debate over capital punishment in the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are excerpts:
It is one of the anomalies of Japan’s approach to the death penalty that a stricken conscience can bring the system grinding to a halt. At least two Japanese justice ministers have refused to sign execution orders, most recently Seiken Sugiura, a devout Buddhist who oversaw a 15-month moratorium from 2005 to 2006. But Japan’s new justice minister, Midori Matsushima, seems unburdened by such doubts.
Ms Matsushima, who took office this month, has swatted away demands to review the system. Japan is one of 22 nations and the only developed country — apart from America, where it is falling out of favour — that retains capital punishment. “I don’t think it deserves any immediate reform,” she said last week: in her view the gallows are needed “to punish certain very serious crimes”.
Calls for a review have grown since the release earlier this year of Iwao Hakamada, a 78-year-old who spent 45 years of his life in a toilet-sized cell awaiting execution. A Japanese court said the police evidence that put him behind bars in 1966 was probably fabricated. Mr Hakamada, dubbed the world’s longest-serving death-row prisoner, is awaiting a fresh verdict later this year. Prosecutors have lodged an appeal against his retrial.
Opponents are hoping that the state’s stubborn fight to wheel another elderly man back to the gallows (he is severely ill and suffers from advanced dementia) may trigger debate and a backlash. But critics face an uphill struggle. Japan’s media largely steers clear of the topic. Ms Matsushima points to public support of over 85% on carefully-worded surveys put out by the cabinet: respondents reply to whether execution is “unavoidable if the circumstance demands it”.
Mr Hakamada would not be the first elderly or infirm inmate to be hanged in Japan. On Christmas day in 2006, Fujinami Yoshio, aged 75, was brought to the gallows in the Tokyo Detention Centre in a wheelchair. Even the openly abolitionist Keiko Chiba, who was justice minister from 2009 to 2010, failed to make a dent in the system. In July 2010 she signed and attended two executions in a bid, she said, to start a public discussion that quickly petered out.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Long-incarcerated mass murderer given right to end his life in Belgium
A helpful reader alerted me to this fascinating article from overseas headlined "Serial murderer and rapist, 50, given right to die under controversial Belgian euthanasia laws." Here are excerpts:
A serial murderer and rapist has been given the right to end his life under controversial Belgian euthanasia laws, it has emerged. Frank Van Den Bleeken, 50, has been behind bars for 30 years and has no hope of release because of his intensely violent urges. Now judges in Brussels have agreed that Van Den Bleeken can commit suicide with the help of medics.
Jos Vander Velpen, the prisoner’s lawyer, said: ‘Over recent years, he has been seen by several doctors and psychologists and their conclusion is that he is suffering, and suffering unbearably.’
It will be the first time that a Belgian legal ruling about euthanasia which specifically applies to a serving prisoner has been handed down. It was rubber stamped by the country’s Justice Ministry, which is ultimately responsible for everyone serving time in jail.
In all cases, patients must be conscious and have presented a ‘voluntary, considered and repeated’ request to die. Mr Vander Velpen said his client met all such conditions, and for the past four years had felt he ‘couldn’t stand to live like this any longer and could no longer accept the pain’.
Van Den Bleeken will be transferred from his prison in Bruges to a hospital, where he will be euthanised. Like every other country in the Union, Belgium does not have a death penalty, and technically doctors will only be helping Van Den Bleeken die.
Van Den Bleeken himself said in recent TV documentary: ‘If people commit a sexual crime, help them to deal with it. Just locking them up helps no one — neither the individual, society or the victims. ‘I am a human being, and regardless of what I’ve done, I remain a human being. So, yes, give me euthanasia.’
Despite being a mainly Roman Catholic country, Belgium has always been at the forefront of liberalising euthanasia laws. It made euthanasia legal in 2002, making it only the second country in the world to do so after Holland. Last year alone, Belgium euthanised a record 1,807 people.
Van Den Bleeken has only left prison once in the past three decades — to attend his mother’s funeral. A Belgian justice ministry spokesman said Van Den Bleeken would be euthanised ‘shortly’ at this own request.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the decision to grant Van Den Bleeken a right to die, as evidenced by this companion commentary piece headlined "Why should our sister's killer be allowed to die with dignity when our suffering goes on?". Here is an excerpt of that piece providing some more context:
Van Den Bleeken is the first serving prisoner to be granted the right to die because of psychological torment. Another Belgian inmate was euthanised last year but he suffered from an incurable physical illness. But, as a direct result of the ruling, 15 other Belgian prisoners have already applied for euthanasia, even though the death penalty was abolished in 1996.
The case has renewed controversy about state-sanctioned suicide and raised serious ethical concerns. But it also calls into question the very nature of punishment and whether murderers and rapists should “suffer” for their heinous crimes or get treatment and rehabilitation.
Medics warn that euthanasia must not become an alternative to treatment while prison reformers insist it must not become a back-door return to the death penalty.
The country’s leading euthanasia advocate is also opposed to Van Den Bleeken’s death. Professor Wim Distelmans, chairman of the Belgian Board of Control for Euthanasia ... said: “It is wrong to allow him to end his life like this.” But Nikhil Roy, Director of Programmes at Penal Reform International, said: “While people are in prison it is the responsibility of the prison authorities to provide adequate care and opportunities for rehabilitation. This case highlights the lack of adequate therapy for prisoners and the fact that mental health issues are widespread in prisons around the world.”
September 18, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Thursday, August 07, 2014
Greek priest helps poor inmates buy their way out of Greek prisons
This new AP article, headlined "In Greek crisis, priest roams prisons to buy inmates their freedom," reports on what might be viewed as a remarkable "alternative sentencing" program in Greece and the noble role played by a clergy to make the system a bit less economically unfair. Here are the details:
In Greek justice, money talks ...: Some inmates jailed for minor offences are allowed to buy their freedom — at an average rate of five euros per day.
With the rich at a clear advantage, Greek Orthodox priest Gervasios Raptopoulos has devoted his life to paying off the prison terms of penniless inmates.
The soft-spoken 83-year-old with a long white beard and black robes has helped more than 15,000 convicts secure their freedom over nearly four decades, according to records kept by his charity. The Greek rules apply only to people convicted of offences that carry a maximum five-year sentence, such as petty fraud, bodily harm, weapons possession, illegal logging, resisting arrest and minor drugs offences.
His work, however, is getting harder. Gervasios, 83, has seen his charity's funds, which all come from private donations, plummet in Greece's financial crisis. And there has been a sharp rise in inmates who can't afford to pay their way out of prison. "Where people would offer 100 euros ($135), they now give 50 ($67). But that doesn't stop us," he told The Associated Press in an interview.
The crisis, which has worsened already hellish prison conditions, makes his efforts even more pressing. "Our society rejects inmates and pushes them into the margins," he said. "People often say: 'It serves them right.'"
While behind bars, inmates also need money to buy necessities such as toilet paper and soap when the often meagre supplies provided by prison run out. Gervasios helps them, too, either with cash or handouts.
Greece has a prison population of about 13,000 — far above capacity — forcing authorities to cram inmates into police holding cells as they wait for a place in jail. Gervasios' charity allocates up to 500 euros ($675) for each prisoner they help, but the amount needed varies. Sometimes a small sum goes a long way. "Once, we gave a man 8.5 euros, which was what he lacked to gain his freedom," he said....
Many prisoners released by his efforts in Greece are foreigners. If they die in prison, the charity pays for their bodies to be taken home. Since launching the charity in 1978, Father Gervasios has received several state awards, including one of the highest civilian honors granted by the government. The Justice Ministry, responsible for Greece's prisons, is unstinting in its praise.
"For decades now, Father Gervasios Raptopoulos has carried out exceptional work, offering human warmth and solidarity to prisoners," said Marinos Skandamis, the ministry's secretary-general. It is inmates and prison staff who are the most grateful. "We would send him papers concerning prisoners who could be freed with a cash payment, and details on what they were in prison for," said Costas Kapandais, a former governor at Greece's Komotini and Diavata prisons. "He didn't turn down a single request."
Thursday, June 05, 2014
Will Canada's courts continue to strike down mandatory minimums as unconstitutional?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting recent commentary in a Canadian paper sent my way by a helpful reader. The piece by Lisa Kerr is headlined, "Mandatory minimums for drug crimes have no future in Canada: As the B.C. Court of Appeal prepares to hear the first major challenge to mandatory minimums, there’s reason to think the policy will be rightly short-lived." Here are excerpts:
This week, the B.C. Court of Appeal hears the first major challenge to the latest symptom of a punitive plague: mandatory incarceration for a drug crime. The defendant, 25-year-old Joseph Lloyd, lives in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, where he struggles with addiction and regularly interacts with the court system. In the past, local judges could use their expertise to craft an individualized punishment for people like Lloyd. Community supervision, drug programming, or specific amounts of jail time could target his specific circumstances.
New legislation compels judges to impose a minimum one-year prison term on all individuals who meet a handful of criteria. Judges can no longer consider whether it is in the public interest to incarcerate someone like Lloyd, or for how long. They can no longer consider whether a person will lose housing or employment. While one year in a chaotic jail is unlikely to help a struggling individual to recover stability, that is a judge’s only option unless the law is struck down.
In the United States, the removal of discretion from sentencing judges is the central cause of its famously high rate of incarceration. There are nine million prisoners in the world. Over two million of them are in the U.S....
The arrival of mandatory sentences does not herald the “Americanization” of Canadian crime policy. The deep principles of our criminal justice system cannot be dismantled overnight. Our prosecutors are not a bloodthirsty lot — they are largely anonymous and professional public servants. Unlike many of their American counterparts, Canadian prosecutors are not subject to elections and public scrutiny. They are better positioned to pursue a broad notion of the public interest, rather than just long prison sentences.
Canadian judges are also likely to resist interference by politicians who are detached from the daily reality of human misery faced in criminal courts. And they have the tools to do so. While Canada and the U.S. have identical language in the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” the prohibition has been interpreted very differently in the courts.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for a third offence of stealing golf clubs. In 1987, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down the only previous attempt at automatic incarceration for drug crime: a seven-year term for drug trafficking. So far, mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offences are unconstitutional in this country.
Canadian institutions are likely to resist this untimely American policy transplant. There is no collapse of faith in our courts, there is no crime wave, and there is no Southern Strategy. Joseph Lloyd should encounter a court system that is free to encounter him.
Friday, May 23, 2014
"Treating Prisoners With Dignity Can Reduce Crime"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new National Journal commentary authored by Nicholas Turner and John Wetzel. The piece's subheadline is "In Europe, prisoners work for real wages and even cook for themselves. And when they leave prison, they don't come back." And here are excerpts:
It sounds like the first line of a joke: "Three state corrections teams and some experts who are old hands at visiting prisons go to meet their warden counterparts in Germany and the Netherlands in mid-January to see what they could learn."
But it's a true story — and what high-level delegations from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania learned through the Vera Institute of Justice's European-American Prison Project is no laughing matter. What we learned, in fact, has serious and timely boots-on-the-ground implications....
For those of us who visited Germany and The Netherlands, the approach to sentencing and the prison philosophy we saw astonished and inspired us. Not only are far fewer people imprisoned, but even those who have committed serious violent crimes serve far shorter sentences.
In these European countries, prisons are organized around the belief that, since virtually all prisoners will return to their communities, it is better to approach their incarceration with conditions as close to "normal" as possible — with the addition of treatment, behavioral interventions, skills training, and needed education — and to remove them from communities for the shortest possible time so that institutional life does not become their norm.
Inmates live in rooms and sleep in beds, not on concrete or steel slabs with thin padding. Inmates have privacy — correctional officers knock before entering — they wear their own clothes, and can decorate their space as they wish. They cook their own meals, are paid for work that they do, and have opportunities to visit family, learn skills, and gain education. Inmates are required to save money to ensure that they are not penniless upon release. There are different expectations for their corrections officers — who are drawn primarily from the ranks of lawyers, social workers, and mental health professionals — to be part of a "therapeutic culture" between staff and offenders, and consequently receive more training and higher pay. There is little to no violence — including in communal kitchens where there are knives and other "dangerous" implements. And their maximum time in any kind of punitive solitary is eight hours.
Prison policies grounded in the belief that prisoners should be treated with dignity were startlingly effective — and have eminently pragmatic implications here at home. The adverse social and economic outcomes for former prisoners in the U.S. are severe — and they are concentrated in communities that are already struggling mightily. With 95 percent of our nation's incarcerated individuals eventually returning home from prison — and 40 percent going right back to prison within three years — we would do well to heed the strategies used in these nations to teach prisoners how to be good and productive citizens that can rebuild their communities....
Are there challenges to wholesale reform? Of course. Money. Infrastructure. Strains of racial division borne of our history and heterogeneity. And, cultural differences especially as relates to violence may mean that some European practices may not translate smoothly to the U.S. Yet we are at a moment of potential for significant shifts. It will require legislation and policy change, including rethinking sentencing for lower offenses and reducing the time for those who must be in prison. But the notion that we should strive to create an environment within our prisons conducive to our goal — to return good citizens to our communities — is a challenge we can and must meet.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Corruption nets former Israeli prime minister a six-year prison sentence
As reported here via CNN, Israel's former "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison for taking bribes while mayor of Jerusalem." Here are more details concerning this high-profile crime and punishment from the promised land:
Olmert was also fined 1 million shekels (about $289,000), Israeli state radio IB reported.
Olmert was convicted in March of receiving about $161,000 in bribes related to a controversial Jerusalem housing project called Holyland. The judge acquitted Olmert on a third count of bribery. The developer of Holyland, Hillel Cherney, had been previously convicted of bribing Olmert and other high-level officials in exchange for Holyland approvals.
Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003. Olmert, an attorney who in 1973 became the youngest person ever elected to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009. He announced his resignation shortly after police recommended corruption charges against him.
In August 2012, he was convicted of breach of trust and acquitted on two corruption-related charges after a trial that lasted nearly three years. He was given a 3-month suspended jail sentenced and fined about $19,000 in that case....
Prosecutors accused him of double-billing government agencies for travel, taking cash from an American businessman in exchange for official favors and acting on behalf of his former law partner's clients.
Friday, May 09, 2014
"Legal Institutions and Social Values: Theory and Evidence from Plea Bargaining Regimes"
The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new empirical paper by Yehonatan Givati now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
How do social values shape legal institutions across countries? To address this question I focus on one important legal institution -- the use of plea bargaining in criminal cases. I develop a model in which the optimal scope of plea bargaining depends on social values. Specifically, a lower social emphasis on ensuring that innocent individuals are not punished, and a greater social emphasis on ensuring that guilty individuals are punished, lead to a greater use of plea bargaining. Using unique cross-country data on social preferences for punishing the innocent versus letting the guilty go free, as well as an original coding of plea bargaining regimes across countries, I obtain results that are consistent with the model.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Is SCOTUS now no longer all that interested in criminal justice issues?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this chart concerning the make-up of the Supreme Court's merits docket this Term from the latest Stat Pack put together by the folks at SCOUTSblog. The chart highlights that nearly 75% of the merits docket this Term involves civil cases. In addition, this SCOTUSblog list of cert grants for October 2014 reveals that only one of nine grants for the next Term involves a criminal law issue (and that issue, as noted here, seems stunningly minor).
When Justices Alito and Sotomayor first joined the Court, it seemed as though they brought some extra interest and extra attention to the criminal justice part of the SCOTUS docket. But of late it seems as though the Court is more eager to avoid rather than take up some important criminal justice matters.
Notably, there are any number of big lurking criminal justice issues relating to the Second (right to carry), Fourth (GPS tracking), Sixth (applications of Apprendi and Booker) and Eighth Amendments (applications of Graham and Miller). I have an inkling that some of these matters will end up on the October 2014 docket, but this post perhaps highlights that I have a hankering for some more major criminal cases to be on the docket.
Saturday, April 05, 2014
"Is the Death Penalty Starting to Make a Global Comeback?"
The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing Slate commentary. Here are excerpts:
An Indian court today sentenced three men to death for the horrific gang rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai last year. They are the first to be sentenced under India’s tough new anti-rape law.
The sentence hammers home something that’s been obvious for some time now: After appearing to be on the verge of abolishing the death penalty entirely, India has now firmly rejoined the ranks of the world’s executioners. It’s one of a number of countries — including some of the world’s largest democracies — that have recently re-embraced capital punishment.
A 1983 Indian Supreme Court decision allows for capital punishment in only the “rarest of the rare” cases, and from 2004 to 2011 the country didn’t carry out any executions at all. From 1995 to 2012, it carried out only three. Then in 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the last surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, was hanged in secret in what appeared to be an unusually swift and haphazard execution. The Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru was hanged under similar circumstances last year. Seventy-two people in total were sentenced to die in India last year, including four of the men involved in the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi in 2012 — a case that shocked the country and prompted the drafting of laws aimed at speeding up the prosecution of rapists.
India’s not the only country heading in this direction. Amnesty International’s 2013 death penalty report noted that executions were up 15 percent last year — and that’s not even counting China, where the number of executions is a state secret. Just three countries — Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia — accounted for 80 percent of executions, but to my mind, the most interesting recent trend has been been the countries that, like India, have been bucking the general global movement away from the death penalty.
In 2012 Japan carried out its first executions since 2010. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, four rounds of “secret executions” have taken place. Nigeria carried out its first executions in seven years last year and Indonesia its first in five years. Vietnam resumed them after an 18-month pause with the execution of seven people by lethal injection.
It’s true that in terms of number of countries, the world is moving away from the death penalty. According to Amnesty’s numbers, 37 countries had the death penalty in 1994, compared with 22 today. In Europe and Latin America, the practice has essentially been entirely banished and an increasing number of African countries are reviewing their laws.
On the other hand, with the exception of Brazil, where it’s banned, and Russia, where it’s legal but abolished in practice, the world’s 10 biggest countries are all death penalty states. With India, Japan, and Indonesia rejoining the U.S., the world’s largest democracies are death penalty countries and the practice has heavy popular support in all of them.
UPDATE: This interesting international article highlights related death penalty developments under the headline "Vietnam is sentencing corrupt bankers to death, by firing squad."
Thursday, March 27, 2014
"Global Executions Rise With Help From Iran and Iraq"
The title of this post is the headline of this new piece via Time reporting on new worldwide execution data assembled by Amnesty International. Here are the basics:
A steep rise in the number of people executed in Iran and Iraq caused the total number of executions worldwide to rise 15 percent last year, Amnesty International said Thursday. Almost 80 percent of all known executions were recorded in only three countries: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In 2013, the number of executions in Iraq went up to 169, while Iran saw them rise to 369. At least 778 people were put to death in 2013, the rights group said, compared to 682 in 2012.
China is still thought to execute the most people, though exact numbers are kept secret. Kuwait, Nigeria, Indonesia and Vietnam last year all resumed their use of capital punishment. But there has been a general decline in the total number of countries using capital punishment in the last 20 years. Many countries who executed people in 2012 did not do so in 2013, including Gambia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Notable (and amusing?) account of an execution method gone to the dogs
In various settings, some folks are quick to point out that the United States is uniquely punitivie in its use of imprisonment compared to all other nations in the world and also that the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty. And advocates for sentencing and corrections reform (myself included) sometimes contend that the US ought to try to learn from the policies and practices of other nations. These realities came to mind when I read this notable recent article sent my way by a helpful reader reporting on a recent high-profile sentencing and punishment in another part of the world:
The execution of Jang Song Thaek, the No. 2 man in North Korea, took Beijing by surprise and will adversely affect bilateral relations. Beijing's displeasure is expressed through the publication of a detailed account of Jang's brutal execution in Wen Wei Po, its official mouthpiece, in Hong Kong, on Dec 12.
According to the report, unlike previous executions of political prisoners which were carried out by firing squads with machine guns, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides. Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called "quan jue", or execution by dogs.
The report said the entire process lasted for an hour, with Mr Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader in North Korea, supervising it along with 300 senior officials. The horrifying report vividly depicted the brutality of the young North Korean leader. The fact that it appeared in a Beijing-controlled newspaper showed that China no longer cares about its relations with the Kim regime.
Amusingly, as this new Reuters piece reports, it now appears that the "international media frenzy over reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle had been executed by throwing him to a pack of dogs appears to have originated as satire on a Chinese microblogging website." Here is more:
One of the pitfalls of reporting on North Korea is that few independent media have offices there and visiting media are tightly controlled in a country which ranks among the lowest in global surveys of press freedom. Because of the lack of first hand information, many lurid stories about the country gain credence.
Trevor Powell, a Chicago-based software engineer, who first spotted the link to the Weibo post and reported it on his own blog said that analysts and experts were "still all missing the obvious fact that the original source of the Wen Wei Po story was a tweet from a known satirist or someone posing as him/her." Powell blogged about the post here.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
New guidelines for sentencing sex offenses promulgated in the UK
This notable new story from across the pond, headlined "Sex offences sentencing overhaul: More emphasis on long-term impact on victims as celebrities have fame used against them," highlights that sentencing rules in other nations also often get ratcheted up following public concern about too lenient sentences in high-profile cases. Here are the basics:
Celebrities who commit sex-offences could see their public image used against them when being sentenced as part of an overhaul of decade-old sentencing guidance for judges in England and Wales. Sex-offenders who are considered to have abused their position of power may be handed longer jail sentences when the guidelines come into effect in April 2014.
Previous “good character” may be considered as an aggravating factor when it has been used to commit a sexual offence, new guidelines drawn up by the Sentencing Council said. The guidelines cover more than 50 offences including rape, child sex offences and trafficking and focus more on the long-term and psychological impact on victims than the previous 2004 guidelines. They also introduce a higher starting point for sentences for offences such as rape of 15 years.
The new guidance was drawn up by the Sentencing Council after a public consultation and research was undertaken with victims groups, medical practitioners, police, NGOs, magistrates and judges. “Across the justice system, changes have been made to ensure that the alleged offenders' behaviour and the context and circumstances of the incident are scrutinised, rather than the credibility of the victim,” Chief Constable David Whatton, national policing lead for violence and public protection, said....
The guidelines come following a series of high-profile sex offence cases, including revelations about disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile, that lead to high numbers of sex attack victims coming forward. Cases involving grooming gangs in Rochdale and Oxford separately raised questions about social care and attitudes held towards victims....
While the Sentencing Council can recommend a starting point, offenders can still only receive the maximum sentence available at the time the offence was committed.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
So many notable marijuana stories and so little time to blog 'em all
As my my Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform seminar winds down with students working on final papers, local, state, national and international stories concerning modern marijuana reform efforts is really starting to heat up. Here are headlines and links from just today's latest news of note:
From CNN here, "Uruguay to legalize marijuana, Senate says"
From the Denver Post here, "Colorado officials, pot businesses clash over inventory tracking"
From ESPN magazine here, "Smoke screen: It's time for the NFL to embrace a new pain reliever: marijuana"
From the Huffington Post here, "Polls Suggest California Is Poised To Legalize Marijuana In 2014"
From Politicker here, "Pols Begin Push to Legalize Marijuana in New York State"
From the San Jose Mercury News here, "San Jose medical marijuana crackdown begins after council vote on regulations"
I would be interested in reader perspectives on which of these stories seems the most notable and/or consequential for sentencing law and policy in particular or for American criminal justice more generally.
Cross posted in part at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Poland asks Connecticut not to send murderer to death row
I just saw this intriguing domestic death penalty story from Connecticut with a notable international spin. The piece is headlined "Poland's president challenges state's death penalty," and here are excerpts:
In what could spark an international incident, the president of Poland is demanding the state not execute a former Trumbull man for the terrifying 2006 murders of a city woman, her 9-year-old daughter and a Milford landscaper.
"We strongly believe the death penalty should not be imposed," Agniestka Torres, vice consul and head of the legal section for the Polish consulate general in New York, told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers. "It doesn't matter what crimes he committed."
The government of the Republic of Poland this week notified Gov. Malloy and the Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane that it objects to Richard Roszkowski -- whose parents were Polish -- getting the death penalty. Torres said the appeal comes directly from their president, Bronislaw Komorowski, who recently signed a law banning the death penalty in all circumstances.
Roszkowski was born in the U.S., but both his parents, who are now dead, emigrated from Poland and Roszkowski visited Poland when he was a child. "As far as we are concerned Mr. Roszkowski is a Polish national and is covered by our laws," Torres said....
This latest development adds to an already controversial status for the state's death penalty. In the last 60 years only one person, convicted serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed in this state and that was in February 2005.
Last year Malloy, an opponent of the death penalty, signed a law abolishing it for any new crimes. However, the law left in place the 10 men currently on death row. That portion of the law is currently under appeal.
Last week jury selection was completed for the death penalty hearing against the 48-year-old Roszkowski. His hearing is set to begin Jan. 7.
In May 2009 a Bridgeport jury found Roszkowski guilty of two counts of capital felony, three counts of murder and one count of criminal possession of a firearm for the Sept. 7, 2006, shooting deaths of 39-year-old Holly Flannery, her daughter, Kylie, and 38-year-old Thomas Gaudet.
Although the same jury that convicted Roszkowski of the crime subsequently found he should get the death penalty, the verdict was overturned on a technicality and a new penalty hearing was ordered. At least one of the jurors selected for the new death penalty hearing appears to be of Polish heritage....
Roszkowski's lawyers did not deny he killed the victims but presented nationally recognized medical experts and death penalty opponents who testified Roszkowski has brain damage caused by earlier car crashes, hepatitis and long-term drug use. The families of the victims declined comment because they are expected to testify in the upcoming hearing.
Among other interesting questions raised by this story concerns whether and how the defense lawyers for this mass murderer ought to be able to bring up these international issues during the penalty trial. Could and should Roszkowski's lawyers be able to argue to the jurors that sentencing Roszkowski to death would cause an international incident and hurt US-Polish relations? Could and should Roszkowski's lawyers be able to have members of the Polish consulate general testify for the defense at the penalty trial?
Monday, November 11, 2013
"Sentence Appeals in England: Promoting Consistent Sentencing through Robust Appellate ReviewThe title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Briana Rosenbaum now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Unlike in most areas of the law, federal courts of appeals in the United States defer to trial courts on many issues of sentencing law and policy. As a result, the power to decide sentencing law and policy is often at the discretion of individual district court judges. Law reform scholars have long decried the disparity, lack of transparency, and legitimization concerns that this practice raises. These concerns are heightened in the post-Booker sentencing regime, where the advisory nature of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines undermines those Guidelines’ ability to further sentencing consistency.
The deferential approach to federal sentence appeals is in sharp contrast to the approach in England, where the appellate court conducts de novo review of sentencing law and policy to develop a common law of sentencing that is independent of the English sentencing guidelines. The English model of appellate review suggests a new way to design the role of appellate courts in the federal system: from bodies that merely enforce guidelines to further consistency of sentencing outcomes, to bodies that develop sentencing law to further consistency of sentencing approach.
In this paper, I explore the primary functional, institutional, and normative arguments behind the resistance to robust appellate review in the federal appellate courts and study the English model as a means of evaluating these critiques. Ultimately, I suggest that the federal courts of appeals borrow England’s “mixed deference approach” to sentence appeals, including de novo review of sentencing law and principles. Doing so will promote greater sentencing consistency without either over-enforcement of the Guidelines or unwarranted encroachment of sentencing discretion.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
"Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States"
The title of this post is the title of a notable new report from The Vera Institute of Justice available at this link. Here is a synopsis of the report's coverage via the Vera website:
Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates than the United States and make much greater use of non-custodial penalties, particularly for nonviolent crimes. In addition, conditions and practices within correctional facilities in these countries — grounded in the principle of “normalization” whereby life in prison is to resemble as much as possible life in the community — also differ markedly from the U.S.
In February 2013 — as part of the European-American Prison Project funded by the California-based Prison Law Office and managed by Vera — delegations of corrections and justice system leaders from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania together visited Germany and the Netherlands to tour prison facilities, speak with corrections officials and researchers, and interact with inmates. Although variations in the definitions of crimes, specific punishments, and recidivism limit the availability of comparable justice statistics, this report describes the considerably different approaches to sentencing and corrections these leaders observed in Europe and the impact this exposure has had (and continues to have) on the policy debate and practices in their home states. It also explores some of the project’s practical implications for reform efforts throughout the United States to reduce incarceration and improve conditions of confinement while maintaining public safety.
October 31, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
"Anormative Conceptions of Punishment and Humanitarian Ideals"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN authored by the prolific and profound Michael Tonry. Here is the abstract:
For the past quarter century, scholars have identified and attempted to explain large differences and changes over time in countries’ penal policies as expressed in their imprisonment rates. Explanations differ, and imprisonment rates change, sometimes radically, but one thing has remained the same. The countries atop the rankings have consistently included the United States, South Africa, Russia, the Baltics, Ukraine, and Belarus.
What distinguishes them, and more recently England and Wales, which has led the Western European league tables for two decades, is that they are countries in which punishment discourses, policies, and practices take little account of the interests of offenders. "There but for the grace of God…" empathy is largely absent. Mainstream retributive and consequentialist theories of punishment appear to have little influence. Policies and practices, and the implicit punishment theory might best be described as anormative.
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Australia's top court rules on the importance of disadvantaged background at sentencingThis article from down under, headlined "Indigenous disadvantage does not diminish over time, High Court rules," reports on an interesting sentencing ruling from the other side of the globe. Here are the details:
Disadvantage caused by a person's Indigenous heritage does not diminish over time and should be taken into account in sentencing of criminal offences, the High Court has found.
Lawyers for William Bugmy, a 31-year-old from Wilcannia convicted of assaulting a guard inside Broken Hill prison in 2011, had asked the court to consider principles for recognising Indigenous disadvantage in sentencing.
Bugmy, who has been been in and out of jail since he was 13, was initially handed a reduced sentence for his offence because of the severe disadvantage he had suffered as an Indigenous man over a prolonged period.
The New South Wales Criminal Appeals Court recognised the so-called Fernando Principles, which take into account an offender's Aboriginal, cultural and social background, but the Crown appealed against the decision. The judge of the court ruled the Fernando Principles diminish over time, particularly for repeat offenders, and added another year and a half to his sentence.
But today the High Court overturned that decision, finding that a long criminal record does not diminish the extent to which Aboriginal disadvantage can be taken into account -- a key element of the case.
The High Court heard Bugmy had grown up in a home where alcohol abuse was common. He had seen his father stab his mother 15 times. Felicity Graham from the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service says Bugmy has suffered from a series of disadvantages throughout his life....
Ms Graham says the court's decision was being watched closely by Indigenous Australians and lawyers around the country. Ms Graham says the court's ruling could bring down the number of Indigenous Australians in prison.
"The High Court has directed sentencing courts to give full weight to the background factors relating to Aboriginality and social disadvantage and so this certainly could have an impact on the trends of over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system," she said.
Bugmy's aunt Julie travelled to Canberra for the hearing and told the ABC she hoped any reduction in her nephew's sentence would set a precedent. "The outcome I'm hoping will be for all Aboriginal people," Ms Bugmy said. "It's not just about William and growing up in Wilcannia. You've got the Aboriginal disadvantage: it's there for health, work, employment -- there's no employment."
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Lengthy discussion of "Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior"The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable lengthy new article at The Atlantic by Doran Larson. The piece carries the subheading "'Open' prisons, in which detainees are allowed to live like regular citizens, should be a model for the U.S." Here is a snippet from the piece:
Nordic prisons are not all open facilities. Closed prisons here date to the mid-19th century, copied from Philadelphia’s Eastern State, or New York’s Auburn, back when those prisons represented models of humane treatment. To an American eye, these prisons look like prisons: 10-meter walls, cameras, steel doors. I’ve heard men describe Scandinavian closed-prison conditions in ways that echo those of the American prison where I have led a writing workshop since 2006: officials intent on making life onerous, long hours in lockup, arbitrarily enforced rules.
Yet inside the four high-security prisons I’ve visited in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, common areas included table tennis, pool tables, steel darts, and aquariums. Prisoner art ornamented walls painted in mild greens and browns and blues. But the most profound difference is that correctional officers fill both rehabilitative and security roles. Each prisoner has a “contact officer” who monitors and helps advance progress toward return to the world outside—a practice introduced to help officers avoid the damage experienced by performing purely punitive functions: stress, hypertension, alcoholism, suicide, and other job-related hazards that today plague American corrections officers, who have an average life expectancy of 59.
This is all possible because, throughout Scandinavia, criminal justice policy rarely enters political debate. Decisions about best practices are left to professionals in the field, who are often published criminologists and consult closely with academics. Sustaining the barrier between populist politics and results-based prison policy are media that don’t sensationalize crime—if they report it at all. And all of this takes place in nations with established histories of consensual politics, relatively small and homogenous populations, and the best social service networks in the world, including the best public education. Standing outside a Nordic closed prison, the American son would have felt perfectly at ease. But inside, northern Europe’s closed facilities operate along the lines of humanism that American prisons abandoned early, under a host of pressures -- such as overcrowding, the push to make prisons profitable by contracting out collective labor, the use of unpaid prisoners as private farmhands, and, since 1973, the rise of an $80 billion mass incarceration industry. There is also the matter of scale. The prison population of Sweden (6,900) is less than half the population of Rikers Island at its height (14,000). Several prisons in the U.S. each hold nearly twice the prison population of Finland. This is not simply the difference between large and much smaller countries. U.S. incarceration rates are the highest in the world, about 10 times those throughout Scandinavia, which are among the world’s lowest.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Do deterrence concerns justify four death sentences in India for gang rape or is it retributive justice?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times review of the recent sentencing for four rapist and the broader problems of sexual violence in India. The piece is headlined "Many Doubt Death Sentences Will Stem India Sexual Attacks," and here are excerpts:
There was no mistaking the whoop of joy that rose outside Saket District Court on Friday, when word got out that four men convicted in last December’s horrific gang rape and murder had been sentenced to death by hanging. People burst into applause. They hugged whoever was beside them. They pumped the air with their fists....
But some of India’s most ardent women’s rights advocates hung back from Friday’s celebration, skeptical that four hangings would do anything to stem violence against women, a problem whose proportions are gradually coming into focus. “I think a lot of people were hugging each other because they thought this evil is localized, and it will be wiped out, and that is not the case,” said Karuna Nundy, a litigator who has argued before India’s Supreme Court. “The sad truth is that it is not a deterrent.”
From the moment it broke, the story of the 23-year-old woman who became known as “Nirbhaya,” or “fearless,” awoke real rage in the population. Hoping for a ride home from a movie theater, she and a male companion boarded a private bus, not realizing that the six men aboard had been cruising Delhi in search of a victim. After knocking her friend unconscious, they took her to the back of the bus and raped her, then penetrated her with a metal rod, inflicting grave internal injuries. An hour later, they dumped the pair out on the road, bleeding and naked. She died two weeks later of her injuries....
After intensive public discussion of the case, some changes followed with extraordinary speed. Reports of rape have skyrocketed; in the first eight months of this year, Delhi’s police force registered 1,121 cases, more than double the number from the same period in 2011 and the highest number since 2000. The number of reported molestations has increased sixfold in the same period.
The government created a fast-track court for rape cases and introduced new laws, criminalizing acts like voyeurism and stalking and making especially brutal rapes into a capital crime. Scholars have delved into the social changes that may be contributing to the problem, as new arrivals in India’s huge cities find themselves unemployed and hopeless, stuck in “the space below the working class,” as the writer Rajrishi Singhal recently put it in an editorial in The Hindu.
But many were thinking of something more basic — punishing the six (one, a juvenile, got a three-year sentence in August, and the driver was found dead in his cell in March) who attacked the woman in the bus. It was those people who found their way to the Saket courthouse on Friday. Many came like pilgrims, hoping to find closure in a case that had haunted them. Kiran Khullar arrived in a wheelchair, accompanied by her daughter, 17. “I have come here as a mother,” she said. “I came here only to see these men get the death penalty.”
A 62-year-old grandmother, Arun Puri, had scribbled the words “Hang them! Hang them!” on her dupatta, a traditional scarf. Asked whether she felt sorry for the defendants’ parents, she did not flinch. “If these men were my children,” she said, “I would have strangled them to death myself.”
Rosy John, 62, a homemaker watching the furor outside the courtroom, said her only objection to the death sentence was that it was too humane a punishment. “After death, they will get freedom,” she said. “They should be tortured and given shocks their whole life.”
In fact, it is unlikely the four men will be executed swiftly. The order must be confirmed by India’s High Court, and all four defendants may appeal to the High Court, the Supreme Court and the president for clemency. Some 477 people are on death row, inching through a process that often drags on for five or six years. Three people have been executed since 2004, and there were no executions for eight years before that.
Sadashiv Gupta, who defended one of the men, a fruit seller named Pawan Gupta, said he had assured his client that the sentence was likely to be commuted to life in prison, as most are. “I told him: ‘You are going to get the death penalty. Take it in stride, and don’t panic,’ ” said Mr. Gupta, sweating in his stiff white collar outside the courthouse. “I think he shall not be hanged.”
Polls show that Indians remain ambivalent about using the death penalty, with 40 percent saying it should be abolished, according to a survey by CNN, IBN and The Hindu, a respected daily newspaper. For many months already, advocates for women have questioned whether death sentences in the December case would distract people from the more difficult question of why Indian girls and women are so vulnerable to sexual violence.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
"International Trends in Prison Privatization"The title of this post is the title of this notable new research paper from The Sentencing Project. Here is how the report was summarized in an e-mail I received today:
[Just released is] a new report of The Sentencing Project that analyzes the growth of private prisons internationally. In International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization, by Cody Mason, we find that at least 11 nations on five continents have followed the lead of the United States in contracting with profit-making entities to operate prisons.
Key findings of the report include:
• International use of private prisons is predominantly found in English-speaking countries, including Australia, Scotland, England and Wales, New Zealand, and South Africa.
• While the United States maintains the highest number of individuals held in private prisons, other nations incarcerate a higher proportion of prisoners privately. Leading nations in this regard are Australia (19%), Scotland (17%), and England and Wales (14%).
• Reports from a number of countries indicate that private prisons have experienced problems relating to violence, drug use, and inefficiency in operations.
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Domestic and international marijuana legalization making headlines
According to the news headlines, today appears to be yet another significant day for those eager to see movement toward the ending of national and international pot prohibition. Here are the stories catching my eye:
Monday, July 22, 2013
ECHR on LWOP: guest post on what Vinter might mean for extradition to US
As noted in this post earlier this month, a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights involving UK nationals declared that LWOP sentences without any prospect of release amount to inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners. And, as discussed in this follow-up post, I am intrigued by what the decision in Case of Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom (available via this link) could mean for sentencing law and practices in the US.
Helpfully, my OSU colleague John Quigley was kind enough to write up this thoughtful explanation of what Vinter could mean for US extradition practices:
For the United States, the significance of the case is that the European Court of Human Rights has previously ruled that an extradition request must be denied if the individual would be subjected in the requesting state to treatment or punishment that would violate Article 3 if carried out by a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights. A few years ago, a man named Ralston Wellington was wanted in Missouri on a murder charge. He had gone to the UK, and US authorities requested his extradition. He argued that he might be subjected to life without parole in Missouri and fought extradition on that basis, invoking Article 3. Wellington was extradited in 2010, but only after the matter went up to the House of Lords, then the highest rung in the UK judicial ladder, where sentencing procedures in Missouri were analyzed in detail.
After the Vinter judgment, a person in Wellington’s situation would stand a better chance of avoiding extradition. Given what the European Court said, as related above, if the US seeks extradition for surrender to the authorities of a state where a life sentence may be imposed, a UK court could find the person extraditable only if it appeared that a procedure would be available (and would be made known to the person at time of sentencing) to review the sentence, and that release would be a possibility as result of such review.
While the Vinter case concerned the UK, it would apply equally to all states that are party to the European Convention on Human Rights, currently numbering 47. Thus, a fugitive from the United States in any of these 47 states of Europe could mount a challenge to extradition.
The likely outcome would be that prior to surrendering the individual, the requested state would require an assurance from the United States that the individual would not be sentenced to a life term that would violate Article 3 if imposed by a European state. The matter would be handled on the US side by the Department of State, which could decide against giving an assurance, in which case extradition would likely be denied, or decide to give an assurance, in which case a surrender would likely ensue. If the prosecution were in a state of the United States, the Department of State would doubtless confer with the authorities of that state before deciding what to do.
If the Department of State were then to give an assurance, the individual would likely be surrender and transported to the state in question. There it would be up to prosecuting authorities in the relevant county how to proceed. In a case decided in 1989 by the European Court of Human Rights, the United States gave an assurance to the UK that an individual sought on a murder charge in Virginia (and at the time under arrest in London) would not be subjected to capital punishment. Soering v. United Kingdom (also available on the European Court website). The county prosecutor in Virginia had gained an indictment for capital murder, and that indictment was still in effect at the time of the surrender. The prosecutor subsequently dropped the capital specification.
What is not clear as a matter of US law is the situation that would obtain were a prosecutor to refuse to honor an assurance given by the Department of State. Suppose the state prosecution continued, and a life sentence were imposed with no provision for a review or possible release. Such a refusal would put the United States in violation of the international commitment it made to the requested state. But it would not be the first time that state authorities in the United States put the federal government in violation of an international commitment with respect to the handling of a criminal case. See Medellin v. Texas, 552 US 491 (2008). The US Attorney General would have a basis for suing the state to force it to honor the international commitment. In all likelihood, the matter would be resolved such that the assurance would be honored. But it is not obvious just how that would come about.
Recent related posts:
- European Court of Human Rights finds UK use of LWOP sentences violated human rights convention
- ECHR on LWOP: thoughts on Vinter and possible US impact
Sunday, July 14, 2013
European Court of Human Rights finds UK use of LWOP sentences violated human rights conventionAs reported in this piece from The Guardian, last week brought a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. The article's headlined provide the basics: "Whole-life jail terms without review breach human rights — European court; Three murderers, including Jeremy Bamber, have right to review of sentence, but ECHR judgment doesn't make release imminent." Here is more about the ruling and early reaction thereto:
Whole-life jail sentences without any prospect of release amount to inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, the European court of human rights has ruled. The landmark judgment will set the ECHR on a fresh collision course with the UK government but does not mean that any of the applicants — the convicted murderers Jeremy Bamber, Peter Moore and Douglas Vinter — are likely to be released soon.
In its decision, the Strasbourg court said there had been a violation of article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. The judgment said: "For a life sentence to remain compatible with article 3 there had to be both a possibility of release and a possibility of review."
The court emphasised, however, that "the finding of a violation in the applicants' cases should not be understood as giving them any prospect of imminent release. Whether or not they should be released would depend, for example, on whether there were still legitimate penological grounds for their continued detention and whether they should continue to be detained on grounds of dangerousness. These questions were not in issue."
The appeal was brought by Vinter, who murdered a colleague in 1996 and after being released stabbed his wife in 2008; Bamber, now 51, who killed his parents, his sister Sheila Cafell and her two young children in 1985; and Moore, who killed four gay men for his sexual gratification in 1995.
The judges in the grand chamber at Strasbourg, the appeal court above the ECHR, found by a majority of 16 to one that there had been a violation of human rights....
Their decision means that the government will now be under pressure to introduce a formal review of whole-life sentences after 25 years. The current law governing release of life prisoners in England and Wales was unclear, the judges said. Those on a whole-life term can be freed only by the justice secretary, who can give discretion on compassionate grounds when the prisoner is terminally ill or seriously incapacitated....
In its judgment, the grand chamber said: "The need for independent judges to determine whether a whole-life order may be imposed is quite separate from the need for such whole-life orders to be reviewed at a later stage so as to ensure that they remain justified on legitimate penological grounds."...
The new British judge on the court, Paul Mahoney, pointed out in his comments that the UK government was "of course free to choose the means whereby they will fulfil their international treaty obligation" to abide by the judgment....
During the original hearing in Strasbourg, Pete Weatherby QC, who represented the three claimants, told the court: "The imposition of a whole-life sentence crushes human dignity from the outset, as it removes any chance and therefore any hope of release in the future. The individual is left in a position of hopelessness whereby he cannot progress whatever occurs."
Commenting on the decision, Rebecca Niblock, a criminal law solicitor at Kingsley Napley LLP, said: "No doubt there will be renewed calls to pull out of the European convention on human rights and repeal the Human Rights Act. Yet Theresa May would do well to keep a sense of proportion: a right to have the sentence reviewed is quite different from a right to be released, and the number of prisoners affected is tiny — 49."
"England and Wales lag behind other European countries in the use of the whole-life sentence — the only other EU country which uses it is Holland. The repeated calls to withdraw from the European convention carry a huge risk of undermining the UK's reputation abroad. There is only so much the UK can say to other countries about their human rights records when they show disdain for judgments which go against them at Strasbourg."
I am unsure about how ECHR rulings impact domestic laws and procedures either in the nation brought before the ECHR or other nations who have adopted the applicable convention. But I am sure, as evidenced by local press stories and commentaries here and here and elsewhere, that this ruling is not being celebrated within the UK. Further, because the decision in Case of Vinter and Others v. the United Kingdom (available via this link) is long and full of nuance, its actual impact may end up somewhat more muted than might be predicted or feared.
That all said, this ruling to me serves as another important reminder that lots of judges when given an opportunity to consider human rights rather than just politics ultimately conclude that a true LWOP sentence is a horrific punishment even for the most horrific of crimes. The US Supreme Court rulings in Graham and Miller, though far more limited and far more divided that this ECHR ruling in Vinter, are in the same vein. And I suspect over time other courts in various other settings will come to similar rulings about true LWOP sentences.
July 14, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
"China threatens death penalty for serious polluters"The title of this post is the headline of this notable Reuters article from a few weeks ago that I just came across. Here is how it gets started:
Chinese authorities have given courts the powers to hand down the death penalty in serious pollution cases, state media said, as the government tries to assuage growing public anger at environmental desecration.
An increasingly affluent urban population has begun to object to China’s policy of growth at all costs, which has fuelled the economy for three decades, with the environment emerging as a focus of concern and protests.
A new judicial interpretation ... would impose “harsher punishments” and tighten “lax and superficial” enforcement of the country’s environmental protection laws, the official Xinhua news agency reported. “In the most serious cases the death penalty could be handed down,” it said.
“With more precise criteria for convictions and sentencing, the judicial explanation provides a powerful legal weapon for law enforcement, which is expected to facilitate the work of judges and tighten punishments for polluters,” Xinhua said, citing a government statement. “All force should be mobilised to uncover law-breaking clues of environmental pollution in a timely way,” it added.
Previous promises to tackle China’s pollution crisis have had mixed results, and enforcement has been a problem at the local level, where governments often heavily rely on tax receipts from polluting industries under their jurisdiction.
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
Released sex offenders in Great Britain soon to be required to take regular polygraph testsAs reported in this article from across the pond, a novel (and apparently somewhat efficacious) approach to sex offender monitoring is being expanded in part of Great Britain after a successful pilot program. The article is headlined "Lie detector tests set to be introduced to monitor sex offenders: Politicians expected to approve law allowing compulsory polygraph tests of sex offenders released into community," and here are excerpts:
MPs are expected to clear the way for the introduction of compulsory lie detector tests to monitor convicted sex offenders across England and Wales from next January.
The national rollout of US-style mandatory polygraph tests for serious sex offenders who have been released into the community after serving their prison sentence follows a successful pilot scheme. The trial was carried out from 2009-11 in two Midlands probation areas and found that offenders taking such tests were twice as likely to tell probation staff they had contacted a victim, entered an exclusion zone or otherwise breached terms of their release licence.
Continuing concerns about the reliability of the tests and misinterpretation of the results mean they still cannot be used in any court in England and Wales. But it is expected that the compulsory polygraph tests will be used to monitor the behaviour of 750 of the most serious sex offenders, all of whom have been released into the community after serving a sentence of at least 12 months in jail.
The tests involve measuring reactions to specific questions by monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and levels of perspiration to assess whether the subject is being truthful. The results will be used to determine whether they have breached the terms of their release licence or represent a risk to public safety and should be recalled to prison.
The power to introduce compulsory lie detector tests was put on the statute book six years ago in the Offender Management Act 2007. On Tuesday MPs will debate secondary legislation in the form of a statutory instrument to come into force from 6 January 2014. The House of Lords will be asked to approve it later this month.
The justice minister Jeremy Wright said: "Introducing lie detector tests, alongside the sex offenders register and close monitoring in the community, will give us one of the toughest approaches in the world to managing this group.
"We recently announced the creation of a National Probation Service tasked with protecting the public from the most high-risk offenders. They will be able to call on this technology to help stop sex offenders from reoffending and leaving more innocent victims in their wake."
Hertfordshire police used the tests in a pilot scheme in 2011 to help decide whether to charge suspected sex offenders and gauge the risk they posed to the public. "Low level" sex offenders were involved in the original pilot. At least six revealed more serious offending and were found to pose a more serious risk to children than previously estimated. A further trial was ordered but at the time the Association of Chief Police Officers voiced caution about the adoption of such tests: "Polygraph techniques are complex and are by no means a single solution to solving crimes, potentially offering in certain circumstances an additional tool to structured interrogation," a spokesman said.
Polygraph testing is used in court in 19 states in America, subject to the discretion of the trial judge, but it is widely used by prosecutors, defence lawyers and law enforcement agencies across the US.
I find curious that this article speaks of "US-style mandatory polygraph tests"; I am not aware of any US jurisdiction that uses mandatory polygraph testing as part of a program of sex offender monitoring. That said, I would not be at all surprised if some jurisdictions in the US were to consider such a requirement if there is good reason to believe that such testing does a reasonable job of sorting out more (and less) dangerous released sex offenders.
Though I suspect a number of civil rights and civil liberties groups in the US would be quick to express concerns about mandatory polygraph tests of sex offenders, I tend to be open-minded about the use of any form of technocorrections that might serve as a means to both increase public safety and ultimately offender liberty. For if post-release polygraph testing serves as a means to better assess enduring threats from more-dangerous released sex offenders, then other sex offenders can and should be able to rely on such a program to argue for allowing earlier release of some likely less-dangerous sex offenders (e.g., those who download child pornography but have never been involved in any contact offenses).
July 2, 2013 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Reentry and community supervision, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
With overcrowded prisons and under court order, Italy is the California of Europe when it comes to punishment practicesThis lengthy new article from the International Business Times prompts my post title because it details how Italy is struggling through prison problems that sound a lot like what California continues to deal with. The piece is headlined "Italy’s Overcrowded Prisons: A Growing Tragedy Of Epic Proportions," and here are excerpts:
Prisons across Europe are facing an overcrowding crisis -- a manifestation of at least three trends: tougher sentencing by judges (particularly for drug-related offenses), a painfully slow justice system and lack of money to build new facilities to accommodate the excess number of inmates.
This crisis is particularly acute in Italy, where correctional facilities are bursting at the seams with an avalanche of convicted men and women. According to the Prison Observatory of Antigone, a Rome-based prisoners' rights organization, almost 67,000 inmates are housed in Italian facilities that were designed to hold only 45,000 -- meaning they are at a capacity of more than 140 percent, among the highest rates in the European Union, where the average capacity is just under 100 percent.
The situation in Italian prisons has become so grave that in January of this year, the European Court of Human Rights declared that Italy had just one year to improve conditions in the country's prisons, while ordering Rome to fork over 100,000 euros ($132,000) to seven inmates who raised a test case with the court. “Their conditions of detention had subjected them to hardship of an intensity exceeding the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention, and violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the court stated.
Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano (who has no real power to influence public policy) agreed with the court's ruling, saying it amounted to "a mortifying confirmation of the persistent failure of our state to guarantee the basic rights of detainees awaiting judgment and serving sentences.” He added that "decisions can no longer be postponed to overcome a degrading reality for the inmates and for the prison guards.”...
Three years ago, having declared a state of emergency in the nation's prisons, the government unveiled a plan to spend 675 million euros ($900 million in 2013 currency) to build 11 new prisons and as well as extensions to existing jails. But the financial collapse has largely scuttled that program.
As in France, many Italians are being jailed for minor crimes -- about 60 percent of convicted prisoners are serving terms of less than three years. Moreover, about 38 percent of all inmates in Italy are drug offenders (versus figures of 14 percent in Germany and France and 15 percent in England and Wales). In addition, 42 percent of Italy’s prisoners are pre-trial detainees (versus a European average of 28.5 percent); while more than one-third of inmates are immigrants.
"There are so many people awaiting trial for six, seven, eight months," said Cesare Cececotto, an inmate at Regina Coeli, a famous prison in Rome. Another inmate named Giuseppe Rampello complained to Reuters about the large number of foreigners in prison. "We are talking about a prison where you can be in a cell with people with six different languages, six different habits, where there is one who prays as an observant Muslim five times a day and another who swears five times a minute," the 63-year-old inmate said....
In northern prisons, foreigners far outnumber Italians – Antigone said that in jails in Milan and Vicenza, more than 60 percent of inmates are foreign, while in the mountain territories of Trentino Alto Adige and Valle d’Aosta, the proportion reaches nearly 70 percent. Cececotto quipped that as the only Italian in his cell, “Thank God, I speak a bit of English and a bit of Spanish.”
In its 2012 report, Antigone declared that "the heart of the prison problem is the penal code.” Napolitano's wish to reform prison sentencing guidelines was compromised by political infighting and the change in government earlier this year. "Something must be done because the prisons are close to collapse," a senior prison official, Margherita Marras, told Reuters....
An inmate named Claudio told Inter Press Service about conditions in his Vicenza facility in March 2013 -- where he had to share a 7.6 square-meter (80 square foot) cell with two other people and stay there 21 hours per day. “Once you excluded the space taken up by beds and drawers, each inmate was left with 90 centimeters (35 inches) to himself. We had to take it in turns to stand up,” he said. “There was no possibility for (inmates) to engage in any activity.”
The crisis in Italy’s prisons is nothing new. As long ago as 1995, the New York Times published an article warning: “Bursting Population Overwhelms Italy’s Prisons.” That piece, written by Celestine Bohlen, noted for example that so many prisoners were housed in Milan’s San Vittorio facility that police were forced to relocate some 400 inmates elsewhere, some to as far away as the isle of Sardinia.
At that time, Italy had 54,000 prisoners in a system designed to hold only 29,000. After almost two decades the problem has only worsened. “The continuous increase in the jails overcrowding and the significant presence of foreign prisoners makes pursuing the rehabilitative aim of punishment extremely complex and often in vain,” Napolitano told the head of the Italian prison administration department....
Ornella Favero, director of Ristretti Orizzonti, said overcrowding could be relieved by providing a significant number of inmates, especially pre-trial detainees and non-violent drug offenders, access to noncustodial sanctions, including alternatives like fines, community service, house arrest and treatment for drug addiction. In Spain, Germany and France, more than 100,000 convicts are outside of prison walls – the corresponding figure in Italy is less than 20,000.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Noting distinct criminal sentencing responses to "hacktivism" in the US and the UKThis new piece from Salon highlights the severity of the US sentencing system relative to our friends across the pond. The piece is headlined " U.K. hacker sentencing highlights U.S. overreach: LulzSec members in Britain receive maximum of 15 months, while hacktivist Jeremy Hammond faces life in prison here." Here is how it starts:
Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond has already spent 14 months in pretrial detention at federal prison in New York. He awaits trial for his alleged involvement in the famed LulzSec Stratfor hack and faces up to 42 years in prison. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, sentencing of admitted LulzSec hackers in Britain highlights the severity of the U.S. approach to hacktivism. Three young men in the U.K. pled guilty to activity attributed to the Anonymous offshoot; their charges mirror those facing Hammond, while the extent of punishment is wildly disparate.
As activist publicity organization Sparrow Media pointed out Thursday, “three English co-defendants who plead guilty to being members of the Lulzsec hacktivist group were today sentenced by a UK court. Ryan Acroyd, the most technically experienced of the three, received the longest sentence -- he will spend 15 months in prison.”
Monday, April 22, 2013
Law and Contemporary Problems devotes March 2013 issue to sentencing reform around the worldI am so very pleased to see that available on line here is the full March 2013 issue of the journal Law and Contemporary Problems, which is devoted to providing a "Global Perspective on Sentencing Reforms." The issue has a dozen articles, some of which are focused on state sentencing reforms, some of which are focused on federal sentencing reforms, and some of which are focused on sentencing reforms in the UK and Germany and elsewhere. And all of the article look like must reads for sentencing geeks like me. The Foreward to the Issue is authored by by Professor Oren Gazal-Ayal of the University of Haifa, and here are excerpts from the start and end of this introduction:
The articles published in this issue of Law and Contemporary Problems examine the effects of different sentencing reforms across the world. While the effects of sentencing reforms in the United States have been studied extensively, this is the first symposium that examines the effects of sentencing guidelines and alternative policies in a number of western legal systems from a comparative perspective. This issue focuses on how different sentencing policies affect prison population rates, sentence disparity, and the balance of power between the judiciary and prosecutors, while also assessing how sentencing policies respond to temporary punitive surges and moral panics.
The effects of sentencing guidelines are highly contested and debated among scholars. As a result, there are a number of outstanding questions regarding the actual effects of such guidelines. For instance, do sentencing guidelines transfer sentencing powers from the judiciary to prosecutors? Should the guidelines bear some of the responsibility for the surge in prison population in the United States? Has the lack of guidelines helped Germany constrain its prison population? Do sentencing guidelines help mitigate the effects of punitive surge, or, on the other hand, do they facilitate the punitive effect of moral panics? Do guidelines effect racial and ethnic disparity in sentencing? And how should guidelines be structured?...
The articles in this issue are the out come of a conference on sentencing reform that was held at the University of Haifa, Faculty of Law in February 2011. The conference and this issue address the effects of sentencing reforms from a global perspective, relying mainly on empirical research. The result is, as in most such attempts, incomplete. But we did come closer to answering some of the pressing questions — though only to find out that many new questions hide behind the answers to the old ones. It seems that sentencing, a topic that has been the focus of academic debate for centuries, will continue to attract this much needed attention for centuries to come.