Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"On Emotion, Juvenile Sex Offenders, and Mandatory Registration"

The title of this post is the title of this paper authored by Catherine Carpenter recently made available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

It is both unremarkable and true that juveniles are different from adults. United States Supreme Court decisions over the past decade have highlighted the extent of the differences.  Yet, played out against the backdrop of sex offender registration laws, the conversation takes an abrupt turn.  Rather than differentiating between adult and juvenile offenders, federal sex offender registration laws require juveniles convicted of certain sex offenses to face the same onerous registration and notification burdens as their adult counterparts.

Tracking the shift in sex offender registration models from “likely to reoffend” to “conviction-based" assessment, this article argues that “conviction-based” assessment is an unstable proposition when applied to child offenders for two fundamental reasons. First, juvenile offenders lack intentionality and purpose that adult offenders possess, thereby diminishing the value that a conviction carries.  Further, and more importantly, studies reveal that the commission of juvenile sex crimes does not portend future predatory behavior, raising the question of the purpose of registration for this class of offenders.

Ultimately, the legislative push to require juvenile sex offenders to suffer serious register and notification burdens demonstrates convincingly the pitfall that impacts the entire debate over sex offender registration.  Emotional rhetoric controls the legislative agenda, even in the face of compelling arguments to the contrary.

March 27, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Should sex offender have to pay an annual fee for their monitoring?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article from Michigan, headlined "ACLU, other groups object to Michigan bill pushing annual sex offender fee."  Here is how it starts:

A bill to require the more than 40,000 people on Michigan's sex offender registry to pay an annual fee is igniting a debate over who should bear the costs for operating and maintaining the state's system used to track offenders.

Registered sex offenders already are required to pay a one-time $50 fee, but some lawmakers want to charge them $50 every year to cover the $600,000 a year cost to operate the database. The state says the move could bring in about $540,000 more in revenue each year.

Sex offenders "put themselves onto this registry by their actions," said Republican Sen. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, who is sponsoring the legislation that is headed to the Senate floor, but not yet scheduled for a vote. "Therefore, they need to pay a fee to maintain it."

But opponents, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, say it's merely a feel-good measure that ignores experiences in other states where the promise of more revenue falls well short of expectations and is an overly burdensome cost for registered sex offenders who already struggle to find housing and jobs.

March 24, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (43) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Talk of reforming prison realignment in California

As reported in this new AP piece, "Republican lawmakers proposed a package of bills on Tuesday intended to counter what they see as a growing threat to public safety from sending some inmates to county jails instead of state prisons."  Here is more:

The 13 bills seek to counter the effects of prison realignment in 2011 by improving supervision of parolees and increase penalties for sex offenders and those who illegally possess or sell firearms.  The measures also would send more convicts back to prison to ease the burden on local jails while protecting counties from lawsuits.

"Republicans recognize that we must close the worst realignment loopholes," said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

The bills' chances are uncertain in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.  The measures were proposed nearly 18 months after Gov. Jerry Brown's prison realignment took effect, sending inmates convicted of lower-level crimes to county jails instead of state prisons....

A related bill was rejected last week on a party-line vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.  The bill, AB2 by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would have sent paroled sex offenders back to state prisons, instead of county jails, if they fail to register as sex offenders.

The proposals have the backing of Diana Munoz, mother of Brandy Arreola, 21, of Stockton, who was permanently injured last year by her boyfriend, Raoul Leyva, a parole violator who had been released early from jail because of overcrowding.  Leyva, 34, was convicted last month of attempted voluntary manslaughter and injuring a spouse, with enhancements for causing brain injury and paralysis.

"If realignment didn't exist ... my daughter would be living her life normally," Munoz said as her daughter sat in a wheelchair by her side. "The state is responsible for what's happened to her. They should never have let him out."

Other bills in the Republican package would impose prison instead of jail time for criminals who remove their GPS-linked tracking devices; send all sex offenders who violate their parole back to prison' and have state parole agents, rather than county probation agencies, supervise all released sex offenders.  The proposals come amid rising concerns over the consequences of Brown's realignment law that took effect in October 2011.

The number of paroled sex offenders who are fugitives in California is 15 percent higher today than before realignment; counties are housing more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more in jails designed for stays of a year or less; and inmate advocacy groups are beginning to sue counties over the same type of poor housing and treatment conditions that led to years of litigation and billions in additional costs for the state.

March 20, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Comments on Steubenville outcomes: "Juvenile Court is supposed to be better than this"

Steubenville-rape-case-wide-landovMy Ohio State College of Law colleague Kimberly Jordan, who helps runs OSU's Justice for Children Project, sent me the following interesting (sentencing-related) comments following today's verdicts and sentences in the (surprisingly?) high-profile juvenile sex offense case in Steubenville, Ohio:

The intersection of social media, teen drinking, small town football, and sex led to two young men, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, being adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court this weekend -- the equivalent of a guilty finding if the boys had been adults at the time of the incident.  Their being found guilty is not a huge surprise; the prosecution did a tremendous job pulling thousands of text messages and social media posts to make their case.  The surprise is that the court failed to adequately address their disposition, or imposition of the sentence.  From all appearances, no investigative work was done by the court post-adjudication.  That means no pre-sentence investigation, social history, or risk assessment tool was utilized to determine what punishment was appropriate for these boys.  Their attorneys, in prior hearings, had presented letters and documents to the court to argue for their pre-trial release, but did not have the opportunity today to present any witness testimony or other information before Judge Lipps ordered them remanded to juvenile prison.

This is one unique function of juvenile court; judges are given wide latitude in fashioning a disposition that serves to meet the needs of the child and hold him accountable for his offense.  As an attorney, though, I am shocked at the serious deprivation Trent and Ma’lik are now facing, without any attention paid to their mental health, possible intervening life circumstances, prior participation (or not) in rehabilitative services, and individual strengths and weaknesses.  Yes, they did the crime, but juveniles are not subject to mandatory sentences.  Trent and Ma’Lik were not tried as adults.  They could have been, having been charged with the serious crime of rape.  The prosecutor handling the case for the State of Ohio has the discretion whether to ask the juvenile court to bind over, or transfer the juvenile’s case to adult court.  Certain categories of offense are automatically transferred, but rape is not one of them (the legislature could certainly include it, but has wisely left transfer for the murder categories of crime).  In order for the juvenile court to exercise discretion to transfer a case to the adult criminal court, it must make a finding that the particular juvenile is not amenable to juvenile court treatment.  Given that Trent and Ma’lik had never been in trouble with the juvenile court before, this likely would have been an uphill battle for the prosecution.

Since the case stayed in juvenile court, only juvenile court sentences -- called dispositions -- were available if the boys were found guilty.  Here, Judge Lipps utilized the most severe punishment possible for Trent and Malik -- commitment to The Department of Youth Services (DYS), or juvenile prison.  Both boys will be assessed for their treatment needs once at the facility, including undergoing assessments to determine their level of risk for re-offending in a sexual manner.  They will be treated like inmates, but they will also go to school and receive counseling, likely both in groups and as individuals.  Their stay at DYS will be determined by the amount of progress they make in meeting their treatment goals. Trent, however, will serve a minimum of two years in DYS, while Ma’lik will serve a minimum of one year.  They can both be held until they are 21 years old.

Some might wonder whether a 4-5 year juvenile sentence is enough punishment for these boys’ actions.  In Ohio, juveniles can be sentenced to both juvenile and adult time if they are deemed “Serious Youthful Offenders.”  Again, the individual prosecutor handling the case has the decision making power; the ultimate determination is made by the juvenile court.  The court has to decide that, “given the nature and circumstances of the violation and the history of the child, the length of time, level of security, and types of programming and resources available in the juvenile system alone are not adequate to provide the juvenile court with a reasonable expectation” that the purposes of the juvenile court will not be met. O.R.C. 2152.13(D)(2)(a)(i).  This boils down to a judge believing that the juvenile court’s punishment will not be enough to either rehabilitate the child, or is not adequate to hold the child accountable for his actions, or both.

Regardless of whether the boys serve anywhere close to the maximum sentence, there will be a determination, at the end of their prison stay, about whether they will have to register as sex offenders.  That determination is rightly made after the provision of rehabilitative services at DYS.  At the time of their release, the court will hold a hearing to determine the effectiveness of their treatment, and determine whether registration is necessary to protect the public.

Juvenile court was the right place for Trent and Ma’lik.  Regardless of the circumstances surrounding them in Steubenville football and politics, their actions were ones of teenagers.  Criminal, hurtful, and horrid acts, but ones that they can learn from.  They are not hardened criminals and their lives are not over.  Hopefully, their future interactions with the court, in addressing their treatment and possible registration issues, will be more focused on their individual rehabilitative efforts, so that all is not lost for these young men.

March 17, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Sentencing Policy Adjudication and Empiricism" with a focus on federal child porn sentencing

The title of this post is drawn from the basic title of this notable new and timely article by Melissa Hamilton now on SSRN and just titled "Sentencing Policy Adjudication and Empiricism."  Here is the abstract, which highlights why this piece is especially a must-read for anyone working on federal child porn cases:

Federal sentencing is in disarray with a raging debate pitting Congress, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the federal judiciary against each other.  Ever since the Supreme Court rendered the federal guidelines as merely advisory in United States v. Booker, the rate of variances from guidelines’ recommendations has increased.  After the Supreme Court in Kimbrough v. United States ruled that a sentencing judge could reject the crack cocaine guideline for a policy dispute with a Commission guideline, the variance rate has risen further still.  While Booker/Kimbrough permits the judiciary some discretionary authority, it is threatening to the Commission and the legitimacy of its guidelines.

The downward variance rate is at its most extreme with a very controversial crime: child pornography offending.  The courts are in disagreement as to whether, as a matter of law, a sentencing judge has the authority to use a Kimbrough-type categorical rejection of the child pornography guideline. Through a comprehensive review of federal sentencing opinions, common policy objections to the child pornography guideline are identified. The guideline is viewed as not representing empirical study, being influenced by Congressional directives, recommending overly severe sentences, and resulting in both unwarranted similarities and unwarranted disparities. The issue has resulted in a circuit split. This article posits a three-way split with four circuit courts of appeal expressly approving a policy rejection to the child pornography guideline, four circuits explicitly repudiating a policy rejection, and three circuits opting for a more neutral position.  A comprehensive review of case law indicates that the circuit split is related to unwarranted disparities in sentencing child pornography offenders nationwide. This assessment was then corroborated by empirical study.

The Sentencing Commission’s dataset of fiscal year 2011 child pornography sentences were analyzed to explore what impacts policy rejections and the circuit split may have on actual sentences issued.  Bivariate measures showed statistically significant correlations among relevant measures.  The average mean sentence in pro-policy rejection circuits, for example, was significantly lower than in anti-policy rejection circuits.  A multivariate logistic regression analysis was employed using downward variances as the dependent variable.  Results showed that that several circuit differences existed after controlling for other relevant factors, and they were relatively consistent with the direction the circuit split might suggest.

The article concludes that the child pornography guideline suffers from a multitude of substantial flaws and deserves no deference.  It also concludes that there are no constitutional impediments to preventing a district judge from categorically rejecting the child pornography guideline.  Booker and its progeny stand for the proposition that there are no mandatory guidelines, even if a guideline is the result of Congressional directive.

Some recent related posts:

March 16, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Third Circuit panel discusses at length all the problems with SORNA

The start of the Third Circuit panel's lengthy opinion today in US v. Reynolds, No. 08-4747 (3d Cir. Mar. 14, 2013) (available here), explains the current mess that is certain federal sex offender registration laws better than I could. Here goes (with footnotes removed):

This case returns to us after the Supreme Court’s review in Reynolds v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 975 (2012). Remand requires that we reach the merits of Reynolds’s claim that the regulatory rule upon which his indictment was based was promulgated in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).  This claim gives rise to three questions: (1) What is the appropriate standard of review of an agency’s assertion of good cause in waiving the APA’s notice and comment requirements?  (2) Did the Attorney General have good cause to waive these requirements in promulgating a rule governing the retroactivity of the Sex Offender and Registration Notification Act’s (“SORNA”) registration requirements?  (3) If the Attorney General lacked good cause to waive the requirements, was Reynolds prejudiced by the failure to comply with the APA’s notice and comment requirements?

The courts of appeals are divided on each of these questions.  On the first question, the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits have determined that the arbitrary and capricious standard is the appropriate standard for reviewing the Attorney General’s actions, the Fourth and Sixth Circuits have not stated a standard but appear to use de novo review, and the Ninth Circuit has explicitly avoided the question.  On the second question, the Fourth and Eleventh Circuits have held that the Attorney General had good cause to waive notice and comment, while the Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits have held that he did not.  On the final question, the Fifth Circuit has held that the Attorney General’s lack of good cause does not prejudice defendants, while the Sixth Circuit has held that it is prejudicial.

We conclude that we need not decide the appropriate standard of review today because the Attorney General’s assertion of good cause cannot withstand review even under the most deferential standard available.  We also conclude that the Attorney General’s lack of good cause is prejudicial to Reynolds.  Accordingly, we will vacate Reynolds’ conviction.

March 14, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Notable debate in Wisconsin over new state child porn sentencing law

Regular readers are quite familiar with (and perhaps even tired of) the long-running debates over federal child pornography sentencing laws. But, as detailed in this local article from Wisconsin, headlined "New law limits judges' power in child pornography cases," similar issues and debates arise in states sentencing systems, too.  Here are excerpts from the article, which strikes all the usual themes concerning the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions:

A new law intended to toughen punishment for those convicted of viewing child pornography is drawing criticism from court officials. 

In April 2012, state lawmakers passed into law a mandatory, minimum three-year prison sentence for the felony offense.  Under a clause in the old law, judges had the discretion to order lesser penalties depending on the circumstances of the case.

Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, who sponsored the mandatory penalty, testified that judges were letting too many offenders stay out of prison. “Sentences of less than 3 years were meant to be issued sparingly but became the standard,” Honadel said.

State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said the law was conceived as a way to provide consistent sentences for all offenders who commit the same crime.  “Prior to this, sentences were all over the map. In a judicial sense, this probably wasn’t the best way to operate,” Thiesfeldt said. “Anytime you can establish standards of fairness, that’s a good thing.”...

Fond du Lac County Circuit Court Judge Peter Grimm, who has worn the hat of a public defender and district attorney before his election to the bench 22 years ago, says judges need discretion in sentencing to ensure the punishment fits the circumstances of the crime and the criminal.  “These mandatory minimum sentences fly in the face of current judicial training in which judges are trained to use evidence-based sentences designed to let judges make the best decision based on the facts of the case,” said Grimm. “Judges should not be locked into a minimum sentence because the legislature wants to be tough on crime.”

Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg has mixed feelings concerning the new law. “The law does take discretion away from the judges.  The judge is no longer able to go below the minimum (sentence) even in the face of strong mitigating evidence,” Klomberg said.  “The prosecutor now has greater power in the sentencing process as the decision on the charge will be a decision on the minimum allowable sentence after conviction.”

Klomberg also recognizes that the new law could impact settlement in cases involving child pornography.   “The defendants in these cases are often willing to plead to the charges in hopes of convincing the judge to go below the minimum,” Klomberg said.  “Under the new law, there is no possibility, and it may result in more trials.”

Defense attorney and former Fond du Lac County District Attorney Michael O’Rourke disagrees with a one-size-fits-all approach.   “Each case and each defendant are different and judges should have the ability to fashion a sentence that is good for both the community and aids defendants in rehabilitation,” O’Rourke said

The former prosecutor says judges need discretion in sentencing to ensure the penalty doesn’t outweigh the crime.   “The retired 63-year-old with no previous record who went to an adult porn site and was browsing and clicked onto a site that includes child pornography and then looks at a couple of pictures is different than the person who may already have a record, or who is actively seeking child porn,” O’Rourke said.  “Some peer-to-peer sites will download thousands of images in seconds onto a computer and the individual has seen none of them.  A judge should have the discretion to consider that.”

Wisconsin’s new child pornography law offers one exception to the minimum sentence, Thiesfeldt said.  Several cases involving teens trading inappropriate pictures by cell phone prompted lawmakers to include a clause in which a judge can issue lesser penalties if the offender is no more than four years older than the child depicted.

March 12, 2013 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, March 11, 2013

Split Eighth Circuit panel weighs in on child porn restitutution issues

A few weeks ago, as reported in this post, the Sixth Circuit in US v. Gamble ended any betting on how that court was going to sort through the circuit-splitting issues concerning awards of restitution in child porn downloading cases.  Today, the majority of an Eighth Circuit panel in US v. Fast, No. 12-2752 (8th Cir. Mar. 11, 2103) (available here), was quick to adopt the majority approach to these issues (hat tip to How Appealing), via an opinion that gets started this way:

Robert M. Fast pled guilty to one count of receiving and distributing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2). The district court ordered him to pay $3,333 restitution to Vicky — the pseudonym for the child-pornography victim whose images were on Fast’s computer — under 18 U.S.C. § 2259. Vicky challenges the restitution award by direct appeal and in a petition for mandamus.  She argues that Fast need not proximately cause the losses defined in subsections 2259(b)(3)(A) through (E) to be liable for them, and that the district court misinterpreted the “full amount of [her] losses” under section 2259(b)(1).  Because she lacks standing as a nonparty to bring a direct appeal, this court grants the motions to dismiss by Fast and the government.  Having jurisdiction over her mandamus petition under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771(d)(3), this court denies her petition.  

Judge Shepherd authors an extended dissent, which gets started this way:

I concur with respect to sections I, II, and III of the majority’s opinion. I dissent with respect to sections IV and V, and with respect to the judgment, because I would follow the Fifth Circuit’s approach and hold that only damages awarded under 18 U.S.C. § 2259(b)(3)(F) are subject to a proximate cause requirement. See In re Amy Unknown, 701 F.3d 749, 752 (5th Cir. 2012) (en banc).  Consequently, I would grant Vicky’s petition for mandamus relief and remand for the district court to recalculate her losses.

As I have noted before (and likely will have an opportunity to mention again in the future), it seems only a matter of time before the Supreme Court will feel it has to take up these issues in some manner.

A few more recent and some older related federal child porn restitution posts:

March 11, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Neighborhoods Seek to Banish Sex Offenders by Building Parks"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article in today's New York Times.  Here are snippets:

Parents who pick up their children at the bus stop in this city’s Harbor Gateway neighborhood say they often see men wearing GPS ankle bracelets and tell their children to stay away.  Just up the street, 30 paroled sex offenders live in a single apartment building, including rapists and child molesters. More than 100 registered sex offenders live within a few miles.

So local residents and city officials developed a plan to force convicted sex offenders to leave their neighborhood: open a tiny park.

Parents here, where state law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a public park, are not the only ones seizing on this approach. From the metropolis of Miami to the small town of Sapulpa, Okla., communities are building pocket parks, sometimes so small that they have barely enough room for a swing set, to drive out sex offenders.  One playground installation company in Houston has even advertised its services to homeowners associations as an option for keeping sex offenders away.

Within the next several months, one of Los Angeles’s smallest parks will open here in Harbor Gateway, on a patch of grass less than 1,000 square feet at the corner of a busy intersection.  But even if no child ever uses its jungle gym, the park will serve its intended purpose.  “Regardless of whether it’s the largest park or the smallest, we’re putting in a park to send a message that we don’t want a high concentration of sex offenders in this community,” said Joe Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer who now represents the area on the City Council.

While the pocket parks springing up around the country offer a sense of security to residents, they will probably leave more convicted sex offenders homeless. And research shows that once sex offenders lose stable housing, they become not only harder to track but also more likely to commit another crime, according to state officials involved with managing such offenders.

“Putting in parks doesn’t just break up clusters — it makes it impossible for sex offenders to find housing in the whole city,” said Janet Neeley, a member of the California Sex Offender Management Board.  “It’s counterproductive to public safety, because when you have nothing to lose, you are much more likely to commit a crime than when you are rebuilding your life.”

Restrictions on where sex offenders can live, which have been passed in most states, have already rendered most residential areas in many cities off limits.   The number of homeless sex offenders in California has increased threefold since 2006, when the latest residency restrictions were passed, and a third of sex offenders on parole are now homeless, according to reports from the Sex Offender Management Board....

Mr. Buscaino said he supported housing for sex offenders, but said the pocket park would improve the quality of life in Harbor Gateway. “Let’s house them, absolutely, but not in a high-population area like this one,” he said.

Many of the sex offenders who live near Harbor Gateway have been placed there with the help of parole officers, precisely so they would not end up on the street.  The landlord of some nearby apartments where dozens of sex offenders on parole live, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said that keeping paroled sex offenders together in transitional housing actually kept the community safer because it places controls on them even after they leave prison....

In some urban areas, however, there is already nowhere left for sex offenders to legally live.  In Miami, dozens of convicted sex offenders camped under a bridge, unable to find any other shelter, until the encampment was broken up several years ago.  Another camp in Miami, where a dozen offenders slept on the sidewalk, was dispersed last year when Marc Sarnoff, a city commissioner, had three pocket parks built in the neighborhood.

Mr. Sarnoff said he did not know where the offenders ended up.  “There has to be a strategy in place so they don’t just live on the sidewalk,” Mr. Sarnoff said.  “We need more resources in place so these guys don’t reoffend. But that’s beyond the city’s resources.  It has to be at the state level.”

March 10, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 07, 2013

DOJ agrees with US Sentencing Commission that child porn guidelines are badly broken

Thanks to a helpful reader, I have learned that earlier this week a representative of the US Department of Justice sent a lengthy and detailed letter to the US Sentencing Commission concerning its recent huge child pornography federal sentencing report (basics here and here).  Disappointingly, as of this writing, I cannot seem to find a copy of this important and interesting letter on the website of either the DOJ or the USSC.   ButI have a pdf copy of the letter, which is dated March 5, 2013, and I have posted the full 7-page letter below.

The lengthy letter needs to be read in full by any and everyone concerning with federal child porn sentencing dynamics.  And these sentences from the first page highlights that DOJ agrees with the USSC's basic conclusion that the current child porn federal sentencing guidelines are badly broken:

[T]he Department agrees with the Commission's conclusion that advancements in technologies and the evolution of the child pornography "market" have led to a significantly changed landscape -- one that is no longer adequately represented by the existing sentencing guidelines.  Specifically, we agree with the Report's conclusion that the existing Specific Offense Characteristics ("SOCs") in USSG § 2G2.2 may not accurately reflect the seriousness of an offender's conduct, nor fairly account for differing degrees of offender dangerousness.  The current guidelines can at times under-represent and at times over-represent the seriousness of an offender's conduct and the danger an offender possesses.

Download DOJ letter to USSC on CP report

As I suggested in this recent post, now that the US Sentencing Commission has said that the current federal guidelines for child pornography are broken, it not longer seems proper for these guidelines to be given much weight and it seems plainly improper for within-guideline CP sentences to still carry a presumption of reasonableness on appeal. Now that the Justice Department has officially stated that it agrees with the USSC's position on these guidelines, I wonder if federal prosecutors will not be not merely authorized, but actually required, to agree with the common defense arguments in CP cases that the current guidelines should be afforded little or no weight in the broader 3553(a) analysis.

Indeed, in light of this DOJ letter, which details the many ways ways in which the current CP guidelines are broken, perhaps circuit courts should begin to adopt a blanket presumption of unreasonableness for any and every within-guideline child porn sentence. (Of course, that presumption could be rebutted if and when a district judge were to explain how other 3553(a) factors justified a within-guideline sentence in a child porn case. But, in light of what the USSC and DOJ are saying about the flaws of the current CP guideline, it would seem only logical now to view any within-guideline child porn sentence as presumptively flawed rather than presumptively sound.)

Recent related posts:

March 7, 2013 in Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The many (impossible?) challenges of federal child pornography sentencing

The title of this post is inspired in part by the US Sentencing Commission's recent report, which highlights many of the flaws with the current child porn sentencing guidelines and set forth a number of ideas and needs for effective reform (basics here and here).  But what is really driving it is this new local article reporting on a federal sentencing in Maine, headlined "‘There will be no more victims,’ judge tells man at child pornography sentencing."  First, here are the basics of the sentencing story:

“There will be no more victims of Walter Mosher,” a federal judge told the 65-year-old convicted sex offender Monday in sentencing him to more than a dozen years in prison for possessing child pornography.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock sentenced Walter A. Mosher Jr. of Hampden to 12 years and seven months behind bars. The judge also ordered him to remain on supervised release for life when he is released.

Mosher is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center on one count of gross sexual assault. Mosher reported to police through his attorney that he molested a boy under the age of 14 between Feb. 1, 2011 and March 1, 2012, according to the sentencing memorandum filed in federal court by his attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor. Mosher pleaded guilty to the Class A crime Nov. 21 at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Woodcock was allowed to consider Mosher’s recent guilty plea as “relevant conduct” in connection with the possession of child pornography charge, even though the victim was not depicted in the images found on Mosher’s computer. The federal judge focused on the sexual abuse of the child as he directed his comments at Mosher.

“There are some cases in this court that cry out for justice and yours is one of them,” Woodcock told Mosher shortly before sentencing him. “This was an inexplicable and hideous violation of trust. What we’ve seen today is just the tip of the iceberg of pain you have caused.” A parent of the victim told the judge that Mosher needed “to go away, and go away for a very long time.”

Mosher was required to register as a sex offender because he was convicted in 1986 in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton in connection with the molestation or abuse of 15 minors, according to the sentencing memorandum. Since serving 11 years on the 1986 charges, Mosher was not charged with another crime until he was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 15, 2012, according to court documents.

In an emotional statement, Mosher described in graphic detail how he was sexually abused as a child by a female relative. He said that when he committed his earlier crimes, he was going through a divorce and drinking heavily. “I am deeply ashamed and sorry for what I have done,” he told Woodcock. “I don’t know why I have done these things. I have no idea how I got to a place to do these horrible things.”

Mosher has been held without bail since his arrest the day after he was indicted. Mosher pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in June in federal court. According to court documents, Mosher’s computer contained images of child pornography, specifically digital images and videos that were produced using minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct....

Because of his 1986 convictions, Mosher faced a minimum of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. On the gross sexual assault charge, Mosher faces up to 30 years in state prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

Even without knowing any more that these most basic details about the defendant in this case or the particulars of his crime, it is easy to see all the tough questions facing Chief Judge Woodcock: e.g., should the defendant's federal child porn sentence here be longer (or shorter) given that he is surely soon to get a lengthy state sentence for gross sexual assault? should the defendant's recidivism at such an advanced age mean that a federal sentence now should try to ensure Mosher dies in prison, or should the sentence at least offer the defendant a glimmer of hope that he might be able to be free again in his 80s? With the facts of the criminal and the defendants criminal history so troublesome, should the defendant get much (if any) credit for pleading guilty and accepting responsibility?

I could go on and on highlighting all these challenges in this one case, but what really caught my attention when reviewing this article was these notably disparate headlines below the piece noting "similar articles":

In turn, a quick search for headlines from the same local Maine paper (the Bangor Daily News) revealed these additional sentencing headlines concerning the disposition of child porn charges over just the last 24 months:

A quick click through to a number of these article reveals that there are a number of striking parallels as well as a number of striking differences in the offenses and offenders in these cases.  Nevertheless, I still find notable and telling that even in a small and seemingly homogeous federal district like Maine, here is an accounting of the number of months in prison given to 10 child pornography offenders (going from lowest to highest sentence):

6 months; 12 months; 60 months; 84 months; 151 months; 192 months; 192 months; 240 months; 300 months; 340 months

The point of my post here is not to assert or even suggest that any of these referenced sentences is right or wrong or should be higher or lower.  Without spending a lot more time looking through the facts of all these cases, I think it is extremely hard to reach even a tentative conclusion about this pattern of sentencing result.  But that is my main broader point: there is, of course, a pressing interest and enduring goal for everyone involved to try to determine the "right" sentence in federal child pornography cases not only in each individual case, but also across a range of cases.  But, these cases all necessarily raise so many important and challenging issues, I wonder and worry if the goal to get federal child pornography sentencing "just right" is a kind of "fool's gold" that many will pursue at a great cost but ultimately with little of value to show from the pusuit.

Recent related posts:

March 5, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 03, 2013

"Should defendants’ age, health issues be sentencing factors?"

The question in the title of this post is the sub-heading of this notable article appearing in my own local Columbus Dispatch, which carries the main headline "Seniors argue for less time in prison." Here are excerpts:

Is prison more of a punishment if a defendant is 50 rather than 20? Some defense attorneys are debating that issue in federal court as they seek to minimize prison sentences for defendants 50 or older.

“We’re seeing it a lot,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah A. Solove said. The issue is at the heart of an unprecedented second appeal that Solove has filed over the prison sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge James L. Graham on a Knox County man, Richard Bistline.

Graham originally sentenced Bistline, 70, of Mount Vernon, in 2010.  The sentence, for possessing child pornography, was one day in prison plus 10 years of supervised probation. Solove appealed, saying the sentence was too lenient.  The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Graham to resentence Bistline, saying the original penalty “does not reflect the seriousness of his offense.”

In January, Graham ordered the same sentence but added three years of home confinement as part of Bistline’s probation. The judge said he didn’t order more prison time because he was concerned about Bistline’s age and health problems, which included two strokes and a heart attack a year ago.  He questioned whether Bistline would get adequate medical care in prison.

Solove, who prosecuted the case, had asked for a five-year prison term, which was a bit less than is called for in the sentencing guidelines determined by the court. Graham maintained that would be “a life sentence, or more accurately, a death sentence,” for Bistline.

Graham said last week that judges can consider age and infirmity in sentencing, and he does that if a defendant is not a danger to the public. “I was completely satisfied in this case that he was not.  Your job as a judge is to figure out which one of these defendants are the really bad guys you need to put away.”

In another case, Laura E. Byrum, an assistant federal public defender, is arguing that her 64-year-old client should get a prison sentence that’s shorter than the guidelines call for, in part because of his age and health problems.   Robert W. Burke of 767 Bracken Court, Worthington, pleaded guilty to one count of receiving child pornography, and the guidelines call for a 20-year prison term.

Byrum has asked for a 10-year prison term followed by 20 years of supervised release. She argues that the life expectancy of a man Burke’s age is 18 years, and his is likely shorter because he has skin cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  Twenty years is a “virtual death sentence,” she wrote in her sentencing memorandum.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Hill said the federal prison system can handle most of the typical health problems associated with aging. “Going to prison isn’t easy for anyone, but that is the consequence of breaking the law,” she said. “We’re not sure that being nearer to the grave gives you license to be a criminal.”

According to a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch, state and federal prisons held 124,440 prisoners who were 55 or older in 2010.  That was a 282 percent increase from 1995, at a time when the total number of prisoners rose by 42 percent.

Prior related posts:

March 3, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Doesn't the new USSC report necessarily rebut any appellate "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline child porn sentences?

Regular readers know that I have never been a fan of the so-called "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences adopted by some circuit courts after Booker .  This is because, despite its repeated reference and application in the circuits which have adopted it, there has yet to be any appellate rulings which explores — or, for that matter, even expressly discusses — when and how this “presumption” can be rebutted on appeal of a within-guideline sentence and what might be the legal consequences of any such (phantom) rebuttal. In actuality, this purported "presumption" is really just the means some circuits use to declare that any and every within-guideline sentence is functionally immune from substantive reasonableness review: notably, in the eight+ years since Booker, not a single within-guideline sentence has ever been found substantively unreasonable in the circuits that have embraced this so-called “presumption.”

That I said, I remain ever hopeful that those circuits which embrace the so-called "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences will try to give some sensible and functional meaning to this appellate review standard. And, as the question in the title of this post suggest, I think the US Sentencing Commission's new report on federal child pornography sentencing (basics here), provides a unique opportunity to give the review standard some real meaning. I come to this conclusion after seeing this key passage (from p. xviii) in the executive summary of the new report:

The current sentencing scheme in §2G2.2 places a disproportionate emphasis on outdated measures of culpability regarding offenders’ collecting behavior and insufficient emphases on offenders’ community involvement and sexual dangerousness.  As a result, penalty ranges are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders. The guideline thus should be revised to more fully account for these three factors and thereby provide for more proportionate punishments.

In short, the US Sentencing Commission is saying that the current federal guidelines for child pornography are broken because they give too much significance to some offense factors and too little to others, and thus guideline-calculated ranges for child porn offenses are "too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders." Put even more directly, the USSC is here declaring that the existing child porn guidelines are not a reasonable means to ensure just, effective and proportionate punishment.

This basic reality in turn prompts my query, which is designed to promote circuits which generally apply the "presumption of reasonableness" for within-guideline sentences to now recognize (and expressly hold) that this appellate presumption does not apply in any case involving the child porn guidelines. In saying this, I am not asserting that this new USSC report necessarily connoted that any and all within-guideline child porn sentence must be declared (or even presumed) substantively reasonable. But I am asserting that, because the USSC has now clearly declared that the existing guidelines now set forth "penalty ranges [that] are too severe for some offenders and too lenient for other offenders," it would be both unjust and obtuse for a circuit court to now presume any within-guideline child porn sentence is substantively reasonable.

Recent related post:

February 27, 2013 in Booker in the Circuits, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentencing around the world, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sixth Circuit weighs in with instructions on restitution sentencing in child porn cases

A helpful reader alerted me to a notable ruling by a Sixth Circuit panel today in US v. Gamble, No. 11-5394 (6th Cir. Feb 27, 2013) (available here).  Here is how the majority opinion gets started:

In unrelated child pornography convictions, both James Gamble and Shawn Crawford were ordered by their respective district courts to pay over $1,000,000 in restitution to “Vicky,” the pseudonym of one of the individuals depicted in the images they possessed or received.  Restitution was ordered jointly and severally under 18 U.S.C. § 2259, which makes restitution mandatory for “the full amount of the victim’s losses” in child exploitation cases.  Because the district courts did not require a showing of proximate cause between the losses and the defendants’ offenses, and this circuit’s case law requires such a showing, the cases must be remanded so that this analysis can take place. On remand, moreover, the district court must reconsider the extent to which the defendants must pay restitution where they share responsibility for Vicky’s injuries with hundreds of other child pornography viewers.  Finally, while Gamble additionally appeals his within-Guidelines prison sentence, it is substantively reasonable.

Judge Kethledge adds a brief and very interesting sepearate opinion which starts and ends this way:

I join all but part II.B of the Court’s thought ful opinion.  I do not join that part because I would direct the district court to make a more flexible and open-ended determination of each defendant’s share of responsibility for Vicky’s losses....

In determining the amount of a restitution award under § 2259, the courts can only do their best.  It seems to me that a more flexible inquiry, focused on moral fault, and using all the evidentiary tools at the c ourt’s disposal, is the way to accomplish that end.

As I have stressed before, it is only a matter of time before the Supreme Court has to take up these issues, and this Sixth Circuit opinion provides the Justices with additional thoughtful reading for when they do.

February 27, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on federal child porn sentencing

As reported in this official press release, this morning "the United States Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress its comprehensive report examining federal sentencing policy in child pornography cases." Here is more from the press release, which serves as a partial summary of the 468-page(!) report (which is available in full here):

Although still only a small percentage of the overall federal caseload, child pornography prosecutions have grown significantly during the past decade and now account for nearly 2,000 federal cases each year.  That growth reflects the increasing role of the Internet in child pornography offenses.  Before the Internet, law enforcement officers had significantly curtailed the child pornography market in the United States.

Significant technological changes in offenders’ conduct have occurred since the federal penal statutes and sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses were last amended comprehensively a decade ago.  Child pornography offenders today typically use Internet technologies such as peer-to-peer file-sharing programs that enable offenders to distribute, receive, and collect child pornography images more easily and in greater quantities than when the current penalty structure was established.  Several penalty enhancements in the guidelines for child pornography offenses,such as use of a computer, now apply to typical offenders.  As a result, prison sentences for efendants convicted of federal child pornography offenses have almost doubled in the last decade to approximately five years for possession and 11 years for receipt and distribution.

Judge Saris concluded, “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision.  Child pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines.”

The Commission’s study found that approximately one in three federal child pornography offenders had a known history of engaging in illegal sexual misconduct prior to or in conjunction with their federal child pornography offenses.  Such illegal behavior ranged from sexual assaults against children to “non-contact” sex offenses such as soliciting self-produced sexual images from minors in on- line communication. The Commission’s recidivism study also concluded that approximately 7 percent engaged in illegal sexual misconduct after serving their sentences for federal child pornography offenses.  Both figures should be considered conservative because such offenses are underreported....

Judge Saris stated, “The Commission will continue to study child pornography sentencing practices, and looks forward to working with Congress on developing a sentencing scheme that serves to better distinguish offenders, thereby reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities in these serious crimes.”

All the pieces of this important new report are available via this link. The press release summary alone suggests there is considerable food for sentencing thought in this important new USSC report, and I am going to start my view by reading closely the 26-page executive summary available here.

I expect a lot more posts on this topic will following the days ahead. And in addition to digging into the substance of this report, I also will be keeping on eye on how federal officials in other branches and the media respond to what the USSC has to say.

February 27, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Monday, February 25, 2013

California unable to keep up with sex offender who disable GPS tracking devices

The Los Angeles Times has this new article highlighting yet another dysfunction in California's operation of its criminal justice system.  The full headline provides an effective summary of the lengthy piece: "Paroled sex offenders disarming tracking devices: Thousands of high-risk parolees are removing GPS monitors, often with little risk of serving time, because jails are too full to hold them.  Some have been charged with new crimes."  Here is how the article gets started:

Thousands of paroled child molesters, rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in California are removing or disarming their court-ordered GPS tracking devices — and some have been charged with new crimes including sexual battery, kidnapping and attempted manslaughter.

The offenders have discovered that they can disable the monitors, often with little risk of serving time for it, a Times investigation has found.  The jails are too full to hold them. "It's a huge problem," said Fresno parole agent Matt Hill. "If the public knew, they'd be shocked."

More than 3,400 arrest warrants for GPS tamperers have been issued since October 2011, when the state began referring parole violators to county jails instead of returning them to its packed prisons.  Warrants increased 28% in 2012 compared to the 12 months before the change in custody began.  Nearly all of the warrants were for sex offenders, who are the vast majority of convicts with monitors, and many were for repeat violations.

The custody shift is part of Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature's "realignment" program, to comply with court orders to reduce overcrowding in state prisons.  But many counties have been under their own court orders to ease crowding in their jails.   Some have freed parole violators within days, or even hours, of arrest rather than keep them in custody. Some have refused to accept them at all.

Before prison realignment took effect, sex offenders who breached parole remained behind bars, awaiting hearings that could send them back to prison for up to a year.  Now, the maximum penalty is 180 days in jail, but many never serve that time.  With so little deterrent, parolees "certainly are feeling more bold," said Jack Wallace, an executive at the California Sex Offender Management Board.

Rithy Mam, a convicted child stalker, was arrested three times in two months after skipping parole and was freed almost immediately each time.  After his third release, his GPS alarm went off and he vanished, law enforcement records show.  The next day, he turned up in a Stockton living room where a 15-year-old girl was asleep on the couch, police said.  The girl told police she awoke to find the stranger staring at her and that he asked "Wanna date?" before leaving the home.

Police say Mam went back twice more that week and menaced the girl and her 13-year-old sister, getting in by giving candy to a toddler, before authorities recaptured him in a local park.  He is in custody on new charges of child molestation.

Californians voted in 2006 to require that high-risk sex offenders be tracked for life with GPS monitors strapped to their bodies.   The devices are programmed to record offenders' movements and are intended, at least in part, to deter them from committing crimes. The devices, attached to rubber ankle straps embedded with fiber-optic cable, transmit signals monitored by a private contractor.

They are easy to cut off, but an alarm is triggered when that happens, as it is when they are interfered with in other ways or go dead, or when an offender enters a forbidden area such as a school zone or playground.  The monitoring company alerts parole agents by text message or email.

Arrest warrants for GPS tamperers are automatically published online.  The Times reviewed that data as well as thousands of jail logs, court documents and criminal histories provided by confidential sources.  The records show that the way authorities handle violators can vary significantly by county.

I am pleased that the LA Times is looking into how GPS tracking of sex offenders is working (or not working) in California these days.  But I am disappointed that this article, which is quick to present a few ugly examples of bad criminals committing more crimes because of the failings of GPS, does not even try to explore whether overall sex offender recidivism rates are down since GPS tracking got started in California.

Whether it is the innocent person wrongly convicted or the guilty pedophile wrongly freed, it is always going to be easy for reporters to find anecdotes to document a singular failing of any part of a massive criminal justice system.  It is much harder to determine — and yet ultimately much more important for making sound reforms — whether and how any particular part of a massive criminal justice system is doing more harm than good and thus needs to be drastically reformed or just tweaked.

February 25, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, February 04, 2013

Guest post: "Victims of Human Trafficking Can Vacate Convictions in NY"

As regular readers know, I welcome guest posts from all quarters, and I was pleased when prominent New York criminal practitioner Arkady Bukh (firm website here) sent me this extended discussion of an important legal issue:

It has long been a fact that the victims of human trafficking, especially sexual trafficking, suffer not just from their abusers, but also from a criminal record that they carry with them the rest of their lives. This record can keep them from turning their lives around by keeping them from regular employment, good credit and in general ruining their overall reputation in the community. How sad is it that someone coerced or sold into sexual slavery at the age of 13 cannot obtain a normal life even when their abuser has been caught or they have escaped from them. At the present time there are seven states that have enacted legislation to clear the criminal records of the victims of human trafficking and they are: New York, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Vermont, Washington and Hawaii. This is a brief overview of the law as it presently stands in New York State.

a) The New York Vacating Convictions law at this time can only be applied to persons that have been convicted of two crimes: 1) New York Penal Law §230.00 – Prostitution; 2) New York Penal Law §240.37 Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense.

b) This statute states that there is not official documentation of trafficking required for a victim to qualify, however, if they do have official documentation such as a letter from the Dept. of Health stating that they were a victim of human trafficking then there is a presumption created that their convictions were from trafficking. There is no evidence such as this required in the New York Law and personal affidavit is accepted.

c) Importantly the New York law does NOT MANDATE that victims bringing their motions for vacatur to have to prove that they have exited prostitution or have entered some sort of "rehab" type of program in order to gain this remedy. However, in order to insure that victims can come forward even years after their victimization has ended to clear their conviction history, the legislation has included the following paragraph for their benefit, not as a mandate:

A motion under this paragraph shall be made with due diligence, after the defendant has ceased to be a victim of such trafficking or has sought services for victims of such trafficking, subject to reasonable concerns for the safety of the defendant, family members of the defendant, or other victims of such trafficking that may be jeopardized by the bringing of such a motion, or for other reasons consistent with the purpose of this paragraph. N.Y. CRIM. PROC. LAW §440.10(1)(i)

d) A major aspect of the victimization of these people is that they have often been threatened with death or injury to themselves or family members by their abusers. For this reason, the NY law allows a victim's motion to be made with privacy allowed to the petitioner. Legal Services and other advocacy groups have made these petitions using only the victim's initials, much the way a minor is often protected in the family courts.

e) The New York creates actual vacatur for the victim which is stronger than an expungement which may be offered by other states. A vacatur is actually the closest thing to erasing the convictions of the victim where in some states that after an expungement the petitioner must then ask the records to be sealed. New York State does not have an expungement remedy for any crime which is why this is done as a vacatur actually vacating the convictions and creating a clean record.

f) If the victim has met all the requirements of this law and is a victim of human trafficking, the Judge has no discretion not to vacate the convictions and dismiss the accusatory instruments. The elements needed to be met are: 1) was a victim of human trafficking, 2) was charged with the crimes and 3) these crimes that they have been charged with were due to the fact of human trafficking.

g) However, a Judge may have discretion to take any additional action they deem reasonable such as possibly vacating other offenses that they consider part of the whole trafficking life of the victim.

h) This law is retroactive and can cover any convictions the victim incurred prior to the law being enacted.

It is a positive thing that New York passed this legislation in 2010 and a good thing that six other states have similar laws on their books. However, it is very sad that 43 states have yet to take this action to protect the victims of human trafficking, especially at a time when this crime has become more and more prevalent. Many victims of trafficking are brought to this country illegally by their abusers and this law makes it possible for them to obtain legal status. "The Board of Immigration Appeals has rules that when a state court vacates a judgment of conviction based on a procedural or legal deficit,..…the conviction is eliminated for immigration purposes".

New Jersey along with other states such as Florida are looking at legislation strengthening their laws against human trafficking, it can just be hoped that at the same they will add legislation that will vacate the convictions of those victims of this crime.

February 4, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Rethinking Restitution in Cases of Child Pornography Possession"

The title of this post is the title of this article newly posted on SSRN and authored by Jennifer A.L. Sheldon-Sherman. (The piece is especially timely in light of yesterday's New York Times magazine cover story discussed here). Here is the abstract:

Child pornography is increasingly prevalent in today’s society and is now one of the fastest growing Internet activities. Unlike producers, possessors of child pornography do not actively engage in the physical and sexual abuse of children. However, possessors are viewers of this documented abuse and rape, and can be, therefore, similarly responsible for the perpetual victimization of innocent youth.

In 1994, Congress sought to protect victims of sexual exploitation and child pornography with the passage of the Mandatory Restitution Provision, 18 U.S.C. § 2259. While the meaning of § 2259 seems to unambiguously require restitution from defendants convicted of production, distribution, and possession of child pornography, courts’ interpretation of the provision have been less clear. Courts unhesitatingly order restitution in cases where the offender is responsible for the production of child pornography and is, therefore, directly linked to identifiable victim harm. More problematic, however, are cases where a victim seeks restitution against a defendant who did not produce the pornography but rather possessed it. In these cases, courts confront the issue of whether a victim must prove a causal connection between the defendant’s possession of the pornography and the victim’s alleged harm.

To date, the literature has focused on whether § 2259 contains a proximate cause requirement. I seek to advance this discussion, arguing that regardless of the interpretation of § 2259, the statute is not an appropriate means of compensating victims while also ensuring fairness for defendants. Accordingly, the statute as it currently operates is inefficient and unjust. This Article addresses that injustice, evaluating the underlying controversy regarding restitution for victims of child pornography possession under § 2259, discussing the judiciary’s approach to the issue, analyzing the difficulty in awarding restitution under § 2259 in cases of child pornography possession, and advocating a reformed system for issuing restitution in these cases.

January 28, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fascinating NY Times magazine cover story on child porn victims and restitution

27cover-sfSpanToday's New York Times magazine has this remarkable cover story headlined "The Price of a Stolen Childhood," which provides a fascinating profile of the two young women now at the center of legal disputes in federal courts nationwide over restitution sentences imposed upon defendants who download child pornography. The lengthy article has too many interesting facets to effectively summarize, but here is one snippet telling early parts of the legal aspects of the story:

Six months after [the first] sentencing [which included a restitution award in October 2008], [Amy's lawyer James] Marsh went after another child-pornography defendant, Arthur Staples, a 65-year-old sheriff’s deputy in Virginia, who had chatted online with an undercover detective and expressed an interest in young children. Staples sent one image of a young girl (not Amy), and he was caught with more than 600 pictures on his computer, including hers. Staples agreed not to appeal any sentence or restitution judgment. The judge sentenced him to 17½ years, and made the unusual move of ordering him to pay all of Amy’s claim. To Marsh’s surprise, Staples turned out to have $2 million in assets. He has since paid $1.2 million to Amy.  (Marsh says the government let Staples’s wife keep part of the estate.) While Amy has been turned down for restitution by some courts, which have stated that there was not enough proof that any one man who viewed her pictures was responsible for the harm she has suffered, she has won more than 150 cases, totaling $1.6 million. Most of the amounts aren’t large: $1,000 or even $100, paid out in checks as small as $7.33.

Nicole has also been pursuing restitution.  Her lawyer, Carol Hepburn, did her own research and got in touch with Marsh when she learned about the claims he was bringing for Amy. The two lawyers now collaborate on ideas and strategy, though they represent their clients separately. Since receiving her first check for $10,000, Nicole has collected more than $550,000, mostly in small amounts from 204 different men. So far only a few other child-pornography victims have gone to court for restitution. Many may not know there is a legal remedy; others don’t know their images have circulated....

Study after study links child sexual abuse to psychological trauma, addiction and violent relationships in adulthood. There is almost no research, however, that deals with the specifics of Amy and Nicole’s experiences: What additional harm comes from knowing that pictures of your childhood exploitation are circulating widely?

The Supreme Court actually addressed this question in its 1982 decision upholding child-pornography bans. “‘Pornography poses an even greater threat to the child victim than does sexual abuse or prostitution,’” Justice Byron White wrote, quoting from a book about abused children. “‘Because the child’s actions are reduced to a recording, the pornography may haunt him in future years, long after the original misdeed took place.’”

David Finkelhor, a sociologist who directs the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, sees the moral weight of the Supreme Court’s proclamation, but not the empirical proof.  “The evidence doesn’t yet tell us to what extent the experience of being a pornography victim aggravates the experience of the sexual abuse itself,” he told me. “How do you separate it out?”

Courts have disagreed on this question.  In at least a dozen cases, defendants have appealed restitution decisions and mostly won.  In five of those cases, federal appeals courts have expressed skepticism that Amy and Nicole should receive more than nominal restitution.  Two other appeals courts have allowed the young women to recover from individual defendants as members of the group of viewers but, so far, only for amounts of $10,000 or less. (Amy collected a far greater sum from Arthur Staples because he waived his right to appeal.)

January 27, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sex Offender Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Seventh Circuit finds unconstitutional Indiana statute prohibiting sex offenders from social media

The Seventh Circuit today handed down a significant new media and sex offender First Amendment ruling in Doe v. Prosecutor, Marion County, Indiana, No. 12-2512 (7th Cir. Jan 23, 2013) (available here).  Here is how the 20-page unanimous panel ruling gets started:
A recent Indiana statute prohibits most registered sex offenders from using social networking websites,instant messaging services, and chat programs. John Doe, on behalf of a class of similarly situated sex offenders, challenges this law on First Amendment grounds. We reverse the district court and hold that the law as drafted is unconstitutional. Though content neutral, we conclude that the Indiana law is not narrowly tailored to serve the state’s interest. It broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors.

I am pretty sure this is the first significant circuit court constitutional ruling on this kind of state sex offender internet prohibition, and a quick skim suggests that this Doe ruling is a fairly thorough and thoughtful review of the challenging legal and policy issues raised in this setting. I would guess that Indiana will seriously consider seeking en banc review and/or a cert petition in an effort to preserve its statute, but I would also predict that the Justice may think these issues ought to percolate more before granting review.

UPDATE This Politco piece about the Doe ruling provides some information about similar rulings and a statement from the Indiana AG in reaction to the decision:

A similar law in Louisiana was thrown out in February of last year, though the state then passed a revised law requiring sex offenders to disclose their status on social networks, and a Nebraska judge in 2009 blocked parts of a sex offender law that restricted Internet access.

Indiana officials did not know Wednesday whether they would appeal the decision.  “The Indiana Legislature made a policy decision in 2008 that the state’s reasonable interests in protecting children from predators outweighed the interest of allowing convicted sex offenders to troll social media for information.  We have worked with county sheriffs and prosecutors in our defense of the legal challenges to these protections of our children, and we will need to review this 7th circuit ruling to determine the state’s next steps,” Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement.

January 23, 2013 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack