Monday, October 07, 2013
Fifth Circuit panel declares substantively unreasonable (and plainly erroneous) an above-guideline child porn sentenceI am always pleased to see examples of post-Booker reasonableness review being given some more teeth in the circuits, and a panel ruling released today by the Fifth Circuit in US v. Chandler, No. 12-30410 (5th Cir. Oct. 4, 2013) (available here), shows that even defendants convicted of child porn offenses can sometimes benefit from appellate judges taking reasonableness review seriously. Here are excerpts from the start and heart of the of the panel opinion in Chandler:
Richard Chandler pleaded guilty to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise. At sentencing, the district court varied upward by 127 months over the recommended Guidelines range to impose 420 months of imprisonment. We find that the district court erred by increasing Chandler’s sentence based on the fact that he was a police officer. We remand for re-sentencing....
The parties agree that the district court correctly calculated Chandler’s Guidelines range as 240-293 months. In the PSR, the probation officer stated that he had not identified any factors warranting a departure or variance from the Guidelines range. Chandler did not file objections to the PSR, but he filed a Motion for Deviation from Sentencing Guidelines, arguing that a significant downward departure from the Guidelines was justified in his case because the sentencing scheme for possession of child pornography is unfair and the circumstances of his offense warranted leniency. The district court rejected Chandler’s motion, noting that Chandler was not a “mere possessor” because he had repeatedly posted child pornography. The district court ultimately imposed a sentence of 420 months of imprisonment, an upward variance of 127 months from the top of the Guidelines range. The district court found that the non-Guidelines sentence was justified by the nature and circumstances of the offense, particularly Chandler’s abuse of his public office as a law enforcement officer, his use of other people’s internet connections to attempt to hide his participation in the scheme, and the fact that he posted child pornography 117 times, mostly with children 8 to 14 years of age. Chandler did not object to the sentence. Chandler filed a timely notice of appeal....
Some of the comments made by the district court here, such as those stating that by being a police officer Chandler has placed himself in a different category and should be held to a higher standard, are similar to those in Stout and could be interpreted to cross the line into impermissible reliance on Chandler’s socioeconomic status as a police officer.
To the extent that the district court’s comments regarding Chandler’s position are findings that Chandler abused his position of trust or that the offense was more serious because of Chandler’s position, the district court likewise erred. Though we are mindful that our review in this case is only for plain error, our circuit precedent is clear that a defendant’s status as a police officer, standing alone, is not a justifiable reason to increase a sentence....
[T]hough the district court stated multiple times that it was varying upwards because Chandler abused his position, the district court did not rely on any facts showing that Chandler acted in his capacity as a police officer in posting child pornography on the internet. There is no evidence in the record that he used or exploited his position as a police officer, or used any knowledge or skills he gained from that position, to commit the offense or attempt to hide it.
The district court’s error was compounded by its mischaracterization of the conduct involved in Chandler “stealing” other people’s “identities” or “internet addresses.” The only description of this conduct in the record is in a sentencing memorandum filed by the government, which states that Chandler used other people’s unsecured wireless connections. Though the government refers to this as “stealing,” it essentially amounts to logging onto an open wireless network. While we agree with the government that such activity could have caused innocent people to be subject to investigation, it clearly is not equivalent to identity theft or any sort of skilled hacking activity, though the district court discussed it as if it required highly technical knowledge that Chandler acquired as a police officer.
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Second Circuit finds substantive due process problems (and others) with penile plethysmography testing for convicted sex offenderThanks to a number of helpful readers, I have not missed the news of a notable sentencing ruling by a Second Circuit paenl today in US v. McLaurin, No. 12-3514 (2d Cir. Oct. 3, 2013) (available here). Here is how the opinion starts:
David McLaurin, a convicted sex offender, was required by federal law to register any change in his address. He failed to do so and, following his guilty plea, was sentenced in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont to fifteen months’ imprisonment and five years of supervised release. As a condition of his release, McLaurin was required to “participate in an approved program of sex offender evaluation and treatment, which may include . . . plethysmograph examinations, as directed by the probation officer.” Judgment, United States v. McLaurin, No. 11 Cr. 113 (WKS), Dkt. No. 28 (D. Vt. Aug. 22, 2012), J. App. 9.
This examination involves the use of a device know as a plethysmograph which is attached to the subject’s penis. In some situations, the subject apparently may be required, prior to the start of the test, to masturbate so that the machine can be “properly” calibrated. The subject is then required to view pornographic images or videos while the device monitors blood flow to the penis and measures the extent of any erection that the subject has. The size of the erection is, we are told, of interest to government officials because it ostensibly correlates with the extent to which the subject continues to be aroused by the pornographic images.
McLaurin objected to this requirement as unnecessary, invasive, and unrelated to the sentencing factors specified in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and therefore impermissible as a discretionary condition of supervised release. See 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(1). The district court nonetheless imposed the requirement without reference to the statutory goals of supervised release or to any expected benefits to the public or to McLaurin. McLaurin now appeals.
We hold that this extraordinarily invasive condition is unjustified, is not reasonably related to the statutory goals of sentencing, and violates McLaurin’s right to substantive due process. We therefore vacate the condition.
October 3, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack
Should downloading a few pics of child porn result in attorney's disbarment?The question in the title of this post concerning a notable collateral consequence of some convictions is prompted by this fascinating cover story from the October 2013 issue of the California Lawyer magazine. (Hat tip: How Appealing.) The story is headlined "Unfit to Practice? The state Supreme Court must decide whether a lawyer's possession of child pornography requires summary disbarment," and here is how the piece begins:
Gary Douglass Grant is a lawyer with a big problem. In 2007 the civil litigator and former captain in the Army Reserves, now 56, was a JAG lawyer assigned to Los Alamitos Army Airfield when an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation in Virginia tracked hits on approximately 18 commercial child pornography websites. ICE agents in Project Flicker, as it was known, located a number of active and retired military members, civilians, and contractor employees - several of whom had Top Secret or higher clearances - who allegedly used their military email addresses to register for PayPal accounts to access the images.
One of the 16 individuals identified that summer was Gary Grant. A search of computers at his Aliso Viejo home revealed that he had sent over the Internet an image depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct; Orange County sheriff's deputies arrested him a year later. Investigators had found that between 2001 and 2007 Grant accumulated more than 100,000 digital pornographic images, much of it legal adult material. But mingled among those images were pornographic pictures of children. An analyst who examined the seized files found 19 photos and a videotape of youths who appeared to be between 14 and 16 years old - "possibly minors."
The Orange County District Attorney charged Grant with three counts of California Penal Code section 311.11(a), possession of obscene matter of a minor in a sexual act. Prosecutors gave Grant and his lawyer a CD with at least 100 sexual images of children retrieved from Grant's computers.
From the outset, Grant gave specific orders to his criminal defense attorney: "Defend this to the nth degree, because no way, no how, did I knowingly possess child pornography."
Ultimately, though, Grant conceded there were sexual images of underage girls on his computer. He said he had found the photos repugnant and deleted them. But even deleted images may remain on a hard drive, and that's where forensic computer analysts in this case located them. In April 2009 Grant admitted he had temporarily possessed two "unsolicited electronic images" of children, received by email while he was downloading other pornography. He pleaded guilty to one count of felony possession; prosecutors agreed to drop the other two charges. The judge sentenced Grant to 90 days in jail and three years of probation, and ordered him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He did not appeal his conviction or sentence.
Grant joined a twelve-step fellowship known as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. But by autumn he had violated the terms of his probation by downloading adult pornography to his computer and by "sex-texting" two former girlfriends. The violations brought Grant an additional 183 days of jail time - more than twice his original sentence.
Based on the felony conviction, the State Bar of California automatically placed Grant on interim suspension pending further disciplinary proceedings. A State Bar Court trial judge later recommended that Grant be disbarred because his felony involved moral turpitude. His lawyer challenged that characterization, and the severity of the discipline. When the Review Department recommended only a suspension, the prosecutors appealed. Now Grant's case is pending before the state Supreme Court, where it has been fully briefed and awaits oral argument. (In re Grant, No. S197503 (Cal. Sup. Ct).)
At issue is the State Bar's ability to exact the ultimate sanction - disbarment - pursuant to a summary procedure that permits neither consideration of mitigating factors nor whether that sanction is appropriate. What began as one man's compulsion to accumulate pornography has become a challenge to the moral-turpitude-per-se standard, and the State Bar's procedures associated with it. Ultimately the Grant case could result in changes to disciplinary proceedings that affect hundreds of matters.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Second Circuit reverses below-mandatory-minimum sentence for distributing child pornographyThe Second Circuit via a lengthy panel decision today in US v. Reingold, No. 11-2826 (2d Cir. Sept. 26, 2013) (available here), reverses a decision by Judge Jack Weinstein to sentence a young defendant who distributed child pornography below the applicable five-year mandatory minimum term based on the Eighth Amendment. Here is how the majority opinion gets started:
Corey Reingold pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Jack B. Weinstein, Judge) to one count of distributing child pornography. See 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2). The United States now appeals from that part of the June 21, 2011 judgment of conviction as sentenced Reingold to 30 months’ incarceration. The government contends that the district court erred in refusing to impose the minimum five-year prison term mandated by 18 U.S.C. § 2252(b)(1) on the ground that applying such a punishment to this immature 19-year-old defendant would violate the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. See U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The government further disputes the district court’s Sentencing Guidelines calculations. The district court explained its sentencing decisions both on the record and in a 401-page opinion accompanied by 55 pages of appendices. See United States v. C.R., 792 F. Supp. 2d 343 (E.D.N.Y. 2011). Having carefully reviewed that opinion, the applicable law, and the record as a whole, we conclude that the district court erred in both respects identified by the government. We therefore remand the case to the district court with directions that it vacate the sentence and resentence the defendant consistent with this opinion.
I will not have a chance to review closely the 56 pages of Reingold until late tonight, though a quick skim suggests this ruling is a must-read for any and everyone working on sentencing issues in child pornography cases in the federal courts.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Litigation prompting California city to give up Halloween sex offender posting lawAs reported in this Los Angeles Times piece, headlined "O.C. city likely to drop Halloween law aimed at sex offenders: A lawsuit challenges a city of Orange law requiring sex offenders to post signs to discourage trick-or-treaters," it appears that just the filing of a constitutional lawsuit is prompting reform of a local ordinance. Here are the basics:
An Orange County city will probably toss out a law requiring registered sex offenders to post a sign in front of their homes on Halloween to discourage trick-or-treaters after it was hit with a federal lawsuit alleging the practice is unconstitutional.
Registered sex offenders in the city of Orange are legally required to post a sign on Halloween, no smaller than 12 by 24 inches, that reads, "No candy or treats at this residence." Violators face a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday on behalf of an individual identified only as "John Doe," alleges the law violates the 1st Amendment rights of registered sex offenders and puts them, and anyone living with them, at risk of physical and emotional harm.
"If you think about it, a lot of older kids go out to trick rather than treat," said Janice Bellucci, an attorney and president of the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group. "All you have to do is look for the house with the sign."...
Bellucci filed a similar lawsuit last year to strike down a Simi Valley ordinance that also required people convicted of sex crimes to post a sign. That law also banned them from putting up Halloween displays and outside lighting on Oct. 31. But the day before the Simi Valley law went into effect, federal court Judge Perry Anderson issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from enforcing the sign provision.
The judge let stand provisions of the ordinance that keep sex offenders from turning on outside lights, decorating their homes and answering their doors to trick-or-treaters....
In Orange, no registered sex offenders have been cited since the ordinance was adopted, said City Atty. Wayne Winthers. When the city passed the law in February 2010 officials counted 81 registered sex offenders, with 81% of them having convictions involving minors, according to city records.
There was no need for the group to file the lawsuit, he said, since the city had been in contact with Bellucci and the City Council was expected to discuss the issue next week in closed session. "I read the district court's [Simi Valley] ruling and I don't see any reason why the court would look at ours any differently," said Winthers, who said he intended to ask the council to remove the sign requirement from the Halloween ordinance. "Our intent wasn't to bring any unnecessary harm or scrutiny to any particular individual," Winthers said. "We just wanted to protect children."
Saturday, September 07, 2013
Legal twists and turns continue in controversial rape sentencing case from MontanaAs reported in this local article, there were a number of notable court developments on Friday in the Montana child rape sentencing case that has garnered national attention. Here are the basics:
Recent related posts:
The Billings judge who drew local and national condemnation for sentencing a former Senior High teacher to 30 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old student canceled a second sentencing hearing on Friday after the Montana Supreme Court intervened in the case.
But District Judge G. Todd Baugh did address an audience of mostly media representatives for about 10 minutes, explaining the legal and procedural history of the Stacey Rambold rape case that has grabbed headlines across the country for the past two weeks.
Less than an hour before Baugh stepped into the courtroom, the Montana Supreme Court issued an order canceling the hearing, telling Baugh that he could not legally change Rambold's sentence as he intended. "We conclude that the stated intent of the District Court to alter the initially imposed oral sentence in today's scheduled hearing is unlawful and that proceeding should be arrested," the order stated.....
The hearing Baugh wanted to hold in order to change Rambold's sentence was opposed by both the Yellowstone County Attorney's Office and Rambold's defense attorney, who argued that Baugh did not have the authority to change the sentence after announcing it in court last week. In its order, the Supreme Court also said it "takes no position on the legality of the imposed sentence, and will address the parties' arguments in that regard on appeal."
Attorney General Tim Fox released a statement later Friday that his office would proceed with the appeal, which was filed on Tuesday. "While it's good that Judge Baugh recognizes that his August 26 sentence of Stacey Rambold is contrary to the law, today the state Supreme Court affirmed that Judge Baugh has no authority to amend the sentence unless ordered to do so by the Supreme Court," Fox said.
Though he did not impose a new sentence, Baugh went ahead with the unusual hearing. The hearing began 1:40 p.m., and Baugh announced that he had decided on Thursday, before the Supreme Court intervened, to cancel the hearing he intended to hold aimed at re-sentencing Rambold....
A reporter from the New York Times and a crew from CNN were among the media representatives at the hearing, which was held on the record with a court reporter and court clerk present. Baugh told the gathering that he had also on Thursday signed a written judgment altering the sentence he imposed orally against Rambold on Aug. 26. The judge said the new sentence was 15 years in prison, with all but two years suspended, which he said is the minimum legal sentence in the case.
Less than two weeks ago, Baugh sentenced the 54-year-old Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended and credit for one day served. After reviewing the Supreme Court order, Baugh said, he put a note in the file withdrawing that written judgment and signed a new judgment reflecting his original sentence.
Baugh said the confusion over the mandatory minimum sentence in the case "shouldn't have had to be addressed at all." The confusion could have been avoided if "I had been more alert" or if prosecutors had addressed the issue at Rambold's Aug. 26 sentencing hearing. At that hearing, the prosecution argued that Rambold should receive a sentence of 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.
Baugh instead imposed the sentence requested by Rambold's defense attorney, Jay Lansing. The sentence caused a national outrage, not only for the prison term imposed on the former teacher, but for the words the judge used to explain the sentence. Baugh said the victim, Cherice Moralez, who committed suicide in 2010, was "older than her chronological age" and was in some control of the relationship with Rambold.
The judge apologized for the statements two days later, but critics have continued to call for his resignation. Baugh explained on Friday that the case began with the charges filed in 2008, but resulted in an unusual deferred prosecution agreement in July 2010 after Moralez's death.... Baugh said the sentencing hearing on Aug. 26 happened almost six years after the crimes. Rambold was found to be treatable in the community, and had committed no new crimes, he said.
"It seemed to me a suspended sentence was the most appropriate," Baugh said. The case will now proceed to the appeal process, the judge said.
- "Protesters Demand Montana Judge Resign Over Rape Sentencing"
- New hearing ordered by Montana judge in case involving controversial 30-day child rape sentence
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
New hearing ordered by Montana judge in case involving controversial 30-day child rape sentenceAs reported in this local article, headlined "Judge orders new hearing on controversial rape sentencing," a high-profile state sentencing case from Montana took another notable twist this afternoon. Here are the details:
Saying the sentence he imposed on a former Billings teacher for the rape of a student may be illegal, Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh has ordered a new hearing.
In an order filed Tuesday, Baugh set a hearing for Friday at 1:30 p.m. to determine whether the sentence he imposed last week on Stacey Dean Rambold should be revised. Baugh said in the order that the mandatory minimum sentence Rambold should have received appears to be two years, not the 30-day sentence that Baugh ordered on Aug. 26.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito called Baugh’s order an "unusual occurrence." Twito has been consulting with the Montana Attorney General’s Office to determine whether to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court. "The state will review the issue and we will be prepared to be in court on Friday," Twito said in response to the judge’s new order.
Rambold, a former Senior High teacher who admitted to raping a 14-year-old female student who later committed suicide, received a sentence of 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended. He was given credit for one day previously served.
The sentence, and statements made by Baugh at the hearing last week, drew international attention and calls for Baugh’s resignation.
Recent related post:
Utah (re)considering its approaches to sex offender sentencingThe Salt Lake Tribune has this notable new article about its prison population and sex offender sentencnig under the headline "Utah sex offender policy in spotlight as numbers soar: More prisoners, longer sentences but funding for treatment stays flat, triggering concerns." Here are excerpts:
A dramatic increase in the number of sex offenders incarcerated in Utah over nearly two decades is raising questions about how the state deals with such crimes and concerns about whether all inmates are able to get needed treatment before they return to their communities.
The number of sex offenders in state custody has more than doubled — to 2,194 or 31 percent of the prison population — since 1996, the last year Utah lawmakers approved an increase in treatment funding. Although Utah’s incarceration rate is significantly lower than that of other Western states and the U.S., it leads surrounding states when it comes to the percentage of prison inmates who are sex offenders.
One reason for that: Lawmakers have taken a tough stance on sex offenses, setting stiff penalties, such as a law passed in 2008 that set a 25-years-to-life penalty for child rape. “Our culture has a very strict credo, a moral sense, of what is appropriate sexually and what is not appropriate sexually,” said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns and a member of the Criminal Justice Appropriations subcommittee. “That may be why we incarcerate a little bit more.”
The state’s approach also has historically been shaded by the view that “once a predator, always a predator” — a misconception that may finally be poised to shift with the accumulation of evidence that shows treatment works, Hutchings said. “The discussion is not over, but it’s happening in earnest,” Hutchings said. “The mind-set for a long time has been what are we going to get by putting this money into treatment. Why not focus instead on mandatory minimum sentences and keeping these people locked away.”...
The numbers reflect that philosophy of warehousing inmates. Today, more sex offenders in Utah are sent to prison rather than placed on probation, and they serve longer sentences. In 2012, for example, 92 percent of first-degree felony sex offenders went to prison, up from 72 percent in 1988. During that period, the length of time served has doubled....
Still, “The reality is we are talking about a very large group of people at the prison who are some day going to get released,” said Jonathan Ririe, a Utah psychologist who works with sex offenders in the community. And that makes investing in treatment, as well as supervision outside of prison, critical, he added....
Utah inmates convicted of first-degree felony sex offenses who were released from prison during the past five years had, on average, served 7½ years. But some serve far longer....
One Utah analysis of inmates who completed treatment showed about 20 percent returned to prison within a year, compared with 42 percent of those who did not complete treatment. In both groups, most offenders returned because of parole violations rather than because they committed new crimes.
A 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any crime. That report also found that 5.3 percent of all sex offenders were rearrested for a sex crime within three years of being released. The percentage was even lower — 3.3 percent — for child molesters.
Ririe said it is “frustrating” that Utah’s approach has been to continually adopt more stringent sentencing guidelines that lump sex offenders together rather than adopting a system that appropriately categorizes offenders by risk factors and allows judges and the parole board a greater role in assessing them individually.
Second Circuit panel hints that SORNA might be subject to some Commerce Clause challengesA helpful reader alerted me to a notable Second Circuit panel opinion today in US v. Robbins, No. 12-3148 (2d Cir. Sept. 3, 2013) (available here), in which the court hints that federal sex offender registration laws might at some point be subject to new Commerce Clause challenges in the wake of the Supreme Court's work in the "Obamacare" cases. Here is how the opinion in Robbins gets started:
In August 2011, after traveling from New York to Nevada, defendant-appellant Nathan Robbins knowingly failed to update his registration as a sex offender, as he was required to do under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”), 42 U.S.C. § 16913. He subsequently pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a), which makes it a crime for someone who is required to register under SORNA to travel in interstate commerce and knowingly fail to update his registration. Despite his plea, Robbins retained the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statutes he admitted violating, and he brings just such a challenge here.
This Court has previously held that Congress acted within its powers under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause when it enacted SORNA. See United States v. Guzman, 591 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 2010). Since then, however, the Supreme Court has revisited and further clarified — if that is the appropriate word — the reach of Congress’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce . . . among the several States.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3; see Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012) (“NFIB”). Robbins invites us to revisit our holding in Guzman in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in NFIB.
We decline Robbins’ invitation not because his arguments all lack force, nor because the constitutionality of SORNA — particularly when applied within the states — is beyond question, see United States v. Kebodeaux, 570 U.S. ___, No. 12-418, slip op. at 5 (U.S. June 24, 2013) (Roberts, C.J., concurring in the judgment) (“The fact of a prior federal conviction, by itself, does not give Congress a freestanding, independent, and perpetual interest in protecting the public from the convict’s purely intrastate conduct.”), but because the constitutionality of SORNA as applied to Robbins remains unaffected by any limitations on Congress’s Commerce Clause power that may be found in NFIB. Still bound by the precedent set in Guzman, we therefore AFFIRM Robbins’ conviction.
Monday, September 02, 2013
"Against Juvenile Sex Offender Registration"The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Catherine Carpenter now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Imagine if you were held accountable the rest of your life for something you did as a child?
This is the Child Scarlet Letter in force: kids who commit criminal sexual acts and who pay the price with the burdens and stigma of sex offender registration. And in a game of “how low can you go?,” states have forced children as young as nine and ten years old onto sex offender registries, some with registration requirements that extend the rest of their lives.
No matter the constitutionality of adult sex offender registration — and on that point, there is debate — this article argues that child sex offender registration violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Once a sex offender, always a sex offender is not an apt adage when dealing with children who commit sexual offenses. Low recidivism rates and varied reasons for their misconduct demonstrate that a child’s criminal sexual act does not necessarily portend future predatory behavior. And with a net cast so wide it ensnares equally the child who rapes and the child who engages in sex with an underage partner, juvenile sex offender registration schemes are not moored to their civil regulatory intent.
Compounding the problem is mandatory lifetime registration for child offenders. This paper analogizes this practice to juvenile sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida. This article argues that mandatory lifetime registration applied to children in the same manner as adult offenders is cruel and unusual punishment because it violates fundamental principles that require sentencing practices to distinguish between adult and child offenders.
Scrutiny of child sex offender registration laws places front and center the issue of what it means to judge our children. And on that issue, we are failing. The public’s desire to punish children appears fixed despite our understanding that child offenders pose little danger of recidivism, possess diminished culpability, and have the capacity for rehabilitation. In a debate clouded by emotion, it is increasingly clear that juvenile sex offender registration is cruel and unusual punishment.
September 2, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack
Friday, August 30, 2013
"Protesters Demand Montana Judge Resign Over Rape Sentencing"The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times report on the continuing controversy over what seems to be a disturbingly lenient state sentence for a child rape conviction. Here are some of the latest developments in a story that seems to have become a cause for CNN and other media outlets:
Angry that a Montana judge sentenced a former teacher who had admitted to raping a 14-year-old student to only a month in jail, several hundred people gathered outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings on Thursday, demanding that the judge resign. The victim committed suicide three years after the rape, just before her 17th birthday.
The decision by Judge G. Todd Baugh of State District Court on Monday to suspend the teacher’s 15-year prison term, combined with remarks he made about the rape victim during the proceeding, has sparked outrage in Montana and around the country, with online petitions gathering more than 30,000 signatures in a few days. During the sentencing, Judge Baugh said the victim “seemed older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher.
The death of the victim, Cherice Morales, who was a student of Stacey Dean Rambold, contributed to delays in the prosecution of the case, which was originally filed in 2008.
Judge Baugh later apologized for his remarks, telling The Billings Gazette: “I don’t know what I was thinking or trying to say. It was just stupid and wrong.” He defended the one-month sentence, however, and in doing so made a remark that further angered many protesters. “Obviously, a 14-year-old can’t consent,” he said, but then added: “I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”
Marian Bradley, who heads the Montana chapter of the National Organization for Women and helped organize the rally on Thursday, said that the judge needed to step aside and that state lawmakers needed to consider mandatory sentencing for convicted rapists. “It’s highly unusual to get several hundred people to show up for a protest in Billings,” said Ms. Bradley, a longtime rape crisis volunteer. “Everyone here is outraged.”...
Mr. Rambold, 54, a former technology teacher at Billings Senior High School, pleaded guilty in April to a felony count of sexual intercourse without consent. The charges were first brought in 2008, and his prosecution was deferred in 2010 after Ms. Morales’s suicide raised concerns among prosecutors that a conviction would be difficult to obtain without the victim’s testimony.
Under a three-year agreement, Mr. Rambold attended an outpatient program for sex offenders, and if he had completed it, the charges would have been dismissed. But after he violated the terms of the program last fall, prosecutors brought charges against him again earlier this year and he pleaded guilty to one count, which brought him back to court for sentencing on Monday.
Though I am troubled when folks start calling for a judge's head based on limited information about a seemingly misguided sentencing decision, it is understandable why the judge's sentencing decision here has prompted outrage given the the facts that are publically known about this case. Interestingly, as now reported in this new Billings Gazette article, "Judge G. Todd Baugh, who has drawn international criticism for sending a convicted rapist to prison for only 30 days, issued a sentencing addendum Thursday afternoon, offering a formal explanation of his decision in the case." That three-page addendum may not end the protests, in part because Judge Baugh says in this Addendum that some key facts influencing the sentencing decision that cannot be publically disclosed.
Long-time readers will not be surprised to hear me suggest that Montana lawmakers not respond to one ugly case by passing new mandatory sentencing statutes. In lots of other settings, we can and do reasonably expect and hope that appellate review will provide a means to correct very wrong trial court rulings. Intriguingly, this new CNN article reports that the local prosecutor here is considering an appeal and seems to believe that there already was a statutory provision that would have required at least a two-year prison term for the defendant here. If the sentencing decision causing outrage and protests cannot be reviewed under existing Montana law, I hope that problem becomes the focal point of any legislative reform rather than the creation of new mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
"Is it fair for sex offenders to stay listed on a registry for life?"The title of this post is the headline of this recent lengthy article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here are excerpts:
On one side of the latest debate over Missouri’s sex-offender registry are people such as Daniel Ray Winfrey. In 1991, when Winfrey was 15, he and three others raped and murdered sisters Julie and Robin Kerry at the Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis.
Winfrey testified against his co-defendants in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence. Though back in prison, he has been paroled twice since his conviction. At those times, he was free but still listed on the state’s sex-offender registry website. That website, Gov. Jay Nixon argues, is the only way for most neighbors and others to know of the potential danger while such offenders are among them.
“You wouldn’t want to know if one of these guys moved in next door?” Nixon asked last week. He was defending his veto of a bill that would remove from the website all offenders who, like Winfrey, were under 18 when they committed their crimes.
On the other side are people such as Ali Nemec’s fiancé. He was 17 when he was arrested for having child pornography on his computer. Now 24 and still listed on the registry website, he’s had difficulty at work, has been been turned away from housing and lives with his parents.
“We can’t go to a park, we can’t go to a mall. If there’s an event with our friends near a school, we can’t go,” said Nemec, 23, of St. Peters. “He made a mistake ... (but) he is not the boy that he was. There’s no reason to ruin him for the rest of his life.”
The registry is today’s ultimate “scarlet letter.” Long after they’ve served their time, sex offenders remain barred from parks and schools and limited in their employment and housing options. Their names and faces are posted on the Internet, easily accessible to friends and neighbors.
In Missouri, they stay listed for life, even if they were juveniles when they committed their crimes. The state Legislature passed this year a bill to change that. Nixon vetoed it, potentially setting up an emotionally charged veto fight next month.
The bill would remove from the sex-offender registry website hundreds of offenders such as Nemec’s fiancé and Winfrey, whose crimes were very different but who were both under 18 when they committed them. By one estimate, the bill would cull about 870 names from the more than 13,000 on the site, in addition to future offenders in the same situation.
Those offenders would still be listed on the registry itself, accessible to law enforcement and anyone from the public who requests the information. But the bill would allow the offenders to petition for complete removal from the registry starting five years after the end of their sentences.
“These kids have served their debt to society. They are adults now and haven’t done anything wrong since,” said Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, a co-sponsor of the measure. He and others note that listed offenders have high unemployment rates because many employers won’t hire them. “We’re just trying to give them another shot at being productive citizens.”
Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill in July, arguing that it makes no distinction between relatively minor offenders and those who used force or violence. In a news conference at St. Louis police headquarters last week, defending the veto amid the backdrop of uniformed officers, the governor warned that the measure could make Missouri a haven for sex offenders from other states who want to hide from their pasts....
In Missouri, and nationally, the issues connected to sex-offender registries — who should be on them, how long they should stay listed — have been in flux for years, with opposing interests battling to tighten or loosen the requirements.
The concept behind the lists is that because of the high rate of repeat offenses among sex offenders, the public needs to be warned of their whereabouts even after their sentences are served. Civil libertarians have long argued that this amounts to an unconstitutional open-ended punishment, but courts have generally upheld the registries....
Missouri’s system is tougher than some because once a person is on the list, he or she is on it for life, regardless of the severity of the original crime or the offender’s age at the time. Illinois, in contrast, has a lifetime tier and a 10-year tier, based on the details of the crime. People who commit crimes as juveniles have to register, but they aren’t listed on the registry’s public website....
Critics claim that the registry nets are cast so widely they often catch people who most would agree aren’t sexual threats. One commonly cited example are the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders, who had consensual sex with teenage lovers, sometimes when they themselves were teenagers. Critics say those pitfalls in the system are especially ominous in Missouri, where juvenile crimes are listed for life.
August 27, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Debate continues after Mizzou Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off registriesAs reported in this AP piece, headlined "Vetoed bill could affect 870 Mo. sex offenders," the Show Me state is showing all of us how a focused debate over juvenile sex offenders can play out these days. Here are the basics:
A Missouri bill removing the names of juvenile sex offenders from public registries could affect hundreds more people than originally estimated and help hide the whereabouts of some high-profile offenders, Gov. Jay Nixon said Wednesday.
The Democratic governor pointed to new figures and specific examples of sex-offenders as he traveled to St. Louis and Kansas City to try to build a case for why legislators should sustain his veto of the bill.... Republican legislative leaders have said the measure is a likely target for a veto override, noting that it passed originally with overwhelmingly support.
Under the bill, people who are younger than 18 when they commit sex offenses would no longer appear on law enforcement websites that list the home addresses and physical description of sex offenders. Adults who are currently listed because of sex offenses committed as juveniles also could be removed from the public registry five years after their convictions or release from prison.
Supporters of the bill have said the public registries leave a permanent mark on adults who may have been convicted as teenagers for consensual sexual activities with younger juveniles. They have said such people deserve a second chance outside of the public spotlight.
The bill passed the House 153-0 and the Senate 28-4 earlier this year. Nixon has said the legislation would weaken state laws and undermine public safety....
"The leadership of the House may be ready to help violent sex offenders hide from the public and law enforcement, but their victims, and the millions of Missourians who use these websites to help keep their families safe, are not," Nixon said.
The governor's office distributed information about specific sex offenders who could be removed from the list if lawmakers were to override his veto. Among them is Daniel Winfrey, who was 15-years-old in April 1991, when sisters Julie and Robin Kerry were raped and killed at the Chain of Rocks Bridge over the Mississippi River in the St. Louis area. Winfrey pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and rape after agreeing to testify against several others involved in the crime.
Other offenders that the governor's office cited as likely to be removed from the public registry included men who had been convicted as juveniles of rape, sexual assault and sodomy against children who were ages 5, 6, 7 and 8.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the legislation would benefit people who committed "heinous" acts. "These aren't Romeo and Juliet people we're talking about here," Holste said.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
"North Carolina appeals court strikes social media ban for sex offenders"
The title of this post is the headline of this local press report on a notable intermediate state appeals court ruling today. Here are the details:
The full 21-page opinion in NC v. Packingham, No. 10 CRS 57148 (N.C. App Aug. 20, 2013), is available at this link.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down North Carolina's ban on registered sex offenders using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The court said the ban in N.C. General Statute 14-202.5 "is not narrowly tailored, is vague, and fails to target the 'evil' it is intended to rectify."
"The statute violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, and it is unconstitutional on its face and as applied. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's judgment," wrote the court.
The ruling centered around a Durham case in which Lester Gerard Packingham appealed his felony conviction for accessing a commercial networking site last year. According to the trial records, the Durham Police Department was looking at evidence that registered sex offenders were using the websites MySpace and Facebook, and an officer recognized Packingham's photo on Facebook.
The North Carolina law says registered sex offenders may not use commercial social media sites if they know the site "permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages."
But in its ruling, the appeals court said the law "arbitrarily burdens all registered sex offenders by preventing a wide range of communication and expressive activity unrelated to achieving its purported goal [of preventing contact with children.]"
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper wanted the law but admits it may have to be rewritten, but he will try to appeal the North Carolina Supreme Court. Cooper notes that there are still laws on the books that investigators can use to charge suspects with soliciting children online. However, he believes we need a law to try to prevent child sex crimes before they happen....
If Cooper's attempt at an appeal fails, he says he will go back to the legislature to see if they can craft a new sex offender social media law that will withstand a legal challenge.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
New Nebraska study suggests sex offender registry changes pushed by feds may do more harm than goodAs reported in this notable local piece, headlined "UNO report: Nebraska sex offender law 'founded more on public emotion than good science'," an important new study suggests that state sex offender registry laws have perhaps been made less effective as a result of reforms prodded by new federal sex offender laws. Here are highlights from the report on the report:
A newly released report questions whether public safety has improved since Nebraska adopted a state law that requires all convicted sex offenders to be listed on a public website.
The law, known as the Adam Walsh Act, was passed in 2009, but has been criticized as being too harsh on former offenders who committed minor crimes, are low risks to reoffend and have now become productive, law-abiding citizens....
On Monday, a report done by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Consortium for Crime and Justice Research concluded that the Adam Walsh Act “was founded more on public emotion than good science, which is its fundamental shortcoming.”
The 58-page document stated that Nebraska’s previous system of sex-offender registration, which required only that the highest risk offenders be listed publicly, “did not seem to be broken.” The report, though, stated that it could not be discerned if the previous, or new, registration system was superior in deterring repeat sex offenses.
The adoption of the Adam Walsh Act in Nebraska was controversial and spawned a lawsuit by a group of convicted sex offenders, who said it violated their constitutional rights. It was also praised for removing the subjective decision of whether an offender was at low or high risk to reoffend....
Prior to 2009, only the names and photographs of sex offenders who had committed the most serious offenses and were deemed by the patrol as most likely to reoffend were publicized on the patrol’s website. Under the old system, those who committed minor offenses and were considered a low risk were required to register with law enforcement agencies, but their information wasn’t made public.
Nebraska’s Adam Walsh Act, Legislative Bill 285, required that all sex offenders — low risk and high risk — have their photos and addresses posted on the state website, and to report to local law enforcement officials. The photos are to stay for 15 years for misdemeanor offenses, but as long as 25 years to life for more serious offenses.
The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee two years ago discussed whether to exclude low-risk offenders from the public website, but instead decided to seek more information, via the UNO report, which cost $60,000....
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the UNO report provides better data for lawmakers on which to judge the effectiveness of sex offender registries. He said his committee may look at revamping the registration requirements of lower-risk offenders, but that overall, the report showed him that it’s not necessary to repeal the entire Adam Walsh Act. “I don’t see that changing registration laws and going back to tiering them is the answer,” Ashford said.
The senator added that the report’s data will aid his effort to reform state criminal sentences to ease the state’s chronic prison overcrowding. Treating sex offenders outside of prison must be considered, Ashford said, because among state prison inmates, sex offenders make up one of the largest categories....
Among the UNO report’s other findings:
» Recidivism rates for sex offenders were low — more than 97 percent do not reoffend — but were lower following the passage of the Adam Walsh Act. For instance, the recidivism rate for Level 2 (medium-risk) offenders was 0.5 percent after passage of the act and 2.5 percent before....
» Registries that show the addresses of offenders could provide a false sense of security because most sex offenders do not commit crimes in their own neighborhoods. Only 7 percent of such crimes were committed within a mile of an offender’s residence.
The full report, titled simply "Nebraska Sex Offender Registry Study," is available at this link.
Monday, July 29, 2013
FBI sweep leads to multiple rescues and arrests involving sexually exploited childrenAs reported in this new Washington Post piece, headlined "FBI raids in 76 cities save 105 kids forced into prostitution; 150 others arrested" the feds have been conducting a multi-day, multi-city sweep on persons involved in child prostution. Here are the basics:
Authorities rescued 105 children who were forced into prostitution and arrested 150 pimps and others in a three-day law enforcement sweep in 76 American cities, the FBI said Monday. The victims, almost all girls, range in age from 13 to 17.
The largest numbers of children rescued were in San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver and New Orleans. The campaign, known as Operation Cross Country, was conducted under the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative.
“Child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across the country,” Ron Hosko, assistant director of the bureau’s criminal investigative division, told a press conference. The FBI said the campaign has resulted in rescuing 2,700 children since 2003. The investigations and convictions of 1,350 have led to life imprisonment for 10 pimps and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.
For the past decade, the FBI has been attacking the problem in partnership with a non-profit group, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. John Ryan, the head of the center, called the problem “an escalating threat against America’s children.”
I cannot help but wonder whether and how the many hundreds of federal prosecutions of persons guilty only of downloading child porn on their computers plays a role in the success of Operation Cross Country and the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative. If there is evidence to indicate that the frequent prosecution and tough sentencing of persons guilty of downloading child porn in fact plays a significant role in helping the feds crack down on child sex trafficking, I would be much less trouble by how these cases often get handled. In my experiences in a few cases, however, many downloaders of child porn getting the sentencing book thrown at them had no connection with actual child sexual abuse offense and were not able to provide the feds with helpful information about anyone directly involved in such abuse.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Is 898-year federal sentence symbolic and meaningful or senseless and misguided?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this federal sentencing story out of Texas, headlined "Victim Assaulted by Fake Producer Finds Closure in Sentencing," which was sent my way by Josh Blackman. Here are the basics:
898 years is what a Gemase Lee Simmons will now have to serve for 39 counts of various bank fraud and child pornography offenses. Simmons would tell young men and women that he had a modeling agency and as part of their "sessions" would take naked pictures of some of them.
Bianca Love, a victim, told the judge in federal court that Simmons had scammed her out of money and sex.
Jailers also informed the judge that while waiting for his sentencing Simmons had managed to get other sexual predators to perform sex acts on him. According to investigators Simmons told 2 other prisoners that it was part of a test the U.S. Attorney's Office administered. Simmons told them he would help them to pass it so they would get less time.
For a much more literary account of this case, I discovered this fascinating opinion discussing the defendant and his crimes. The opinion is authored by Chief District Judge Fred Biery (WD Texas) to explain his conclusion, after a bench trial, that Simmons was guilty of all the counts against him (and likely many more). This opinion is a must read in part because, in less than four pages, it makes reference to, inter alia, The Wizard of Oz, Catch Me if You Can, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Dante's Inferno. In addition, in response to a quote from the defendant's trial testimony, the judge in this opinion drops a footnote which simply reads: "LOL".
Though I really enjoyed reading the opinion linked above and I can see why Chief Judge Biery was eager to throw the book at Gemase Lee Simmons, I still question the decision to impose a sentence of 898 years. (In addition, as Josh suggested to me, such an extreme sentence might give the defendant here a non-frivolous claim on appeal that his sentence is unreasonable.) I tend not to be a fan of legal fictions or of treating the imposition of hundreds of years in prison as just numbers on a page. While I suspect that a life sentence was not possible because none of the charges carried such a statutory term, I also suspect that a potent message without such a crazy number would have been sent had Chief Judge Biery imposed a terms of, say, 100 years.
That all said, the fact that Chief Judge Biery imposed a sentence of 898 years caught Josh's attention and mind, and perhaps that was part of what Chief Judge Biery hoped to achieve with this remarkable sentencing term. And if Chief Judge Biery were to write another sensational (and short) opinion to explain his lastest decision in this case, I might well come to the conclusion that the societal ends justify the sentencing means here.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
"Juveniles, Sex Offenses, and the Scope of Substantive Law"The title of this post is the title of this notable new article by Carissa Byrne Hessick and Judith M. Stinson now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Substantive criminal law is an important factor in determining whether a juvenile will be tried as a juvenile or transferred to adult court. In particular, the gravity of the offense with which the juvenile is charged is a key component of most states’ discretionary waiver statutes, and it disproportionately influences judges when deciding whether to transfer juveniles. As a general matter, sex offenses are considered serious crimes. And a number of serious sex offenses are criminalized because of the victim’s age. These severe penalties reflect a policy determination on the part of legislatures that when sexual activity is illegal, either in whole or in part, because of the age of one of the participants — a category of crimes that we refer to as "age-determinative sex offenses" — participation in that activity is a serious crime.
The question we seek to answer in this Article is whether the justice system ought to distinguish between adult and juvenile offenders for these age-determinative sex offenses when assessing the seriousness or gravity of these crimes. We believe it should. In particular, this Article argues that, when the juvenile is in the same peer group as the victim — that is to say, the age difference between the victim and the offender is not large — substantive criminal law should recognize that an age-determinative sex offense is not nearly as serious as it would be if committed by an adult.
Monday, July 08, 2013
"In Opposition to the Mandatory Registration of Juvenile Sexual Offenders"The title of this post is the title of this short paper by David Katner, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The mandatory registration of juvenile sex offenders incorrectly assumes that the same dynamics of adult sex offenders apply to juveniles. In doing so, this group of juveniles is labeled and placed in a category that will ultimately hinder their development, rather than contribute to their rehabilitation. Accordingly, this mandated registration will have a negative effect on these individuals along with society as a whole based upon how they are perceived by others in the community and their lack of ability to contribute to the greater good.
Thursday, July 04, 2013
Missouri Gov vetoes bill to take juve sex offenders off state registryAs reported in this AP story, headlined "Nixon vetoes sex offender measure," the Governor of Missouri is apparently concerned this holiday week that a bill passed by his state's legislature will provide for too potential much freedom for juvenile sex offenders. Here are the basics:
Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday vetoed legislation that he said would remove sex offenders who commit their crimes as juveniles from websites that let the public know who they are, a day after he signed a measure that strengthens laws against sexual offenses.
Nixon said the vetoed measure is too broad. “It would grant this relief to juvenile sex offenders regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted to include forcible rape, forcible sodomy and child molestation,” said Nixon, who was state attorney general before becoming governor.
“Moreover, the bill would deprive victims of sex offenses the opportunity to be heard before an offender is removed from the very websites that are designed to protect victims and other members of the public.”...
State lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to decide whether they will try to override any vetoes.
On Tuesday, Nixon signed a criminal justice bill that includes a change to what constitutes rape. It had been defined as having sex with another person by use of “forcible compulsion,” which includes the use of a substance to physically or mentally impair another without his or her knowledge or approval. The new law broadens that to include instances in which someone is incapacitated, is incapable of consent or lacks the capacity to consent.
July 4, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack